March 31, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Trump Indictment: "The Blows Are Coming from Everywhere, and He Is up Against Many Better Boxers": Jennifer Taub, one of the nation's top experts on white-collar financial crimes, offers her take on the former president's imminent arrest, his chances in court, and why she's celebrating. (Matthew Cooper, March 31, 2023, Washington Monthly)

MC: This may sound obvious, but why are you "overjoyed?"

JT: I think it's because this is somebody who, his entire adult life, has been criminal adjacent, and finally, the law caught up with him. And as someone who wrote a book called Big Dirty Money, I get very frustrated with how the white, wealthy, and well-connected treat our laws as optional--and gain wealth and power through the commission of fraud and the mass victimization of the public. And he is the poster child for that. To see even a modest amount of comeuppance is a reason for joyful celebration.

MC: The conventional wisdom is that this is a weak case, similar to the one against [former U.S. Senator] John Edwards, who was not convicted. Tell me why you think differently.

JT: Well, I guess I would say two things. I don't know that election fraud charges will be part of this. I believe that the falsification of business records charges may be similar to the records charges we saw in the successful conviction of the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation just this December. And so, instead of the analogy being to John Edwards, the more apt analogy is to the successful indictment by Bragg just a few months ago.

What kind of financial records falsification would have been involved with Stormy Daniels?

JT: So, the Trump Corporation says, "Here is a legal expense for Michael Cohen." And if they had just said, "It's a reimbursement for a cash outlay," that wouldn't have been a false record, but they put it down as a "legal expense." It's not a legal expense or a real business expense because that was a personal expense of Donald Trump.

MC: So, Trump reimbursed Cohen $130,000 for the Stormy Daniels hush money...

JT: Well, there are two different numbers. There's also the Karen McDougal case, which might be part of this.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


The Next Stage of Trumpism is Here: Threatened by the law, the former president is saying the quiet part out loud. (Luke Hallam, 3/31/23, Persuasion)

First-wave Trumpism was an economic proposition that fed on racial anxiety, much like the Tea Party earlier in the decade. Its motto was "build the wall." When Britain voted to leave the European Union the following year, first-wave Trumpism was interpreted as the advance guard of a global populist revolt.

If it was a revolution in governance and industrial policy Trump promised, however, it's one he conspicuously failed to achieve in office. His pledge to bring back domestic manufacturing failed to materialize: America shed manufacturing jobs while he was in power. His "big, beautiful wall" was largely a reinforcement of pre-existing infrastructure. His foreign policy had some successes, but was in general a failure even on its own terms.

By the end of his time in office, a second wave of Trumpism had emerged, one that increasingly abandoned the language of economic resentment. An illustrative moment was Trump's Mount Rushmore speech delivered on the Fourth of July weekend in 2020. Flanked by the graven faces of past presidents, he spoke of "a growing danger," declaring, "Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children." It was a pivot to culture--capitalizing, in part, on the progressive zeitgeist of 2020. But it was also a strategic shift: economic populism was not a winning strategy for the incumbent president because Trump, in theory, had his hands on the levers of economic policy and was failing to use them effectively. Newt Gingrich hailed the Mount Rushmore speech as "the most important and historic speech of [Trump's] political career."

Second-wave Trumpism also introduced an existential flavor to the narrative. America didn't just need to be made "great again"; it needed to be saved from cultural forces that threatened its very existence. In time, Trump directly linked this with his own political survival. After he lost the 2020 election he gave the now infamous speech that preceded the storming of the Capitol on January 6. "If you don't fight like hell," he declared, "you're not going to have a country anymore." The message, in contrast to the laundry list of populist grievances from 2015, was clear: the country was staring into the abyss, and Trump, surrounded by enemies on all sides, was the one to save it.

Many people hoped January 6 was the apotheosis of Trump's rhetoric. It was, after all, a clear endorsement of the violence that erupted that day and his supporters took their cue directly from him, even if Trump's language remained somewhat vague and retained a wafer-thin veneer of deniability regarding incitement.

But in the first few months of 2023 the temperature has increased again. As indictments loomed, third-wave Trumpism emerged, and the incitement became more direct. "PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!" he wrote on Truth Social. "IT'S TIME!!!" America doesn't just need to be saved; the crunch point is now. "This is the final battle," Trump had earlier told the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 4th. "Either they win, or we win. And if they win, we no longer have a country."

This is the final battle. With these remarks, Trump positioned himself as the leader not of a political movement, but of a millenarian one. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Is There Anything 'Solar Meadows' Can't Do?: Nourishing pollinators. Recharging groundwater. Preventing erosion. Sequestering carbon. Solar farms, once devoid of life, have become ecological superheroes.  (Elizabeth Hewitt, March 31, 2023, Reasons to be Cheerful)

Amid black-eyed Susans and purple wildflowers growing between rows of solar panels at Connexus Energy's headquarters in Ramsey, Minnesota, Rob Davis has seen hover flies, swallows and a hummingbird moth.

"It's just like being in a nice, natural place," says Davis, Connexus communications lead. "But it's also just a visual delight, because there's so many things to see when you sit and wait."

When the array was installed almost a decade ago, the initial plan was to keep gravel around the panels. Instead, the electricity co-op planted a mixture of flowering plants -- becoming what Davis says was the first pollinator-friendly solar project in the US. 

Now, many others are following suit. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Book Review: How Misinformation Acts Like a Virus: In "Foolproof," psychologist Sander van der Linden argues that we can deploy a cognitive vaccine against propaganda. (CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN, 03.31.2023m Undark)

Another hallmark of conspiracy theorists: rage. "By analysing the language used in hundreds of thousands of tweets from the most popular conspiracy theorists on Twitter, we found that they express much more negative emotions -- particularly anger -- compared to their popular science counterparts," writes van der Linden, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge.

In their analysis of language patterns among conspiracy theorists, his team also found that they tended to "talk much more about other groups and power structures," and they used swear words more often than the comparison group.

Van der Linden proposes that misinformation and conspiracy theories represent "viruses of the mind" that can latch onto the brain and hijack its "basic cognitive machinery." Like other viruses, misinformation spreads via contact with other infected people, but van der Linden asserts that it can be stopped with a "psychological vaccine" -- one that "does not require any needles, just an open mind."

According to van der Linden, the idea that it might be possible to deliver a cognitive vaccine against propaganda was first proposed decades ago by psychologist William J. McGuire, whose research laid the groundwork, van der Linden says, for the concept of "prebunking." McGuire hypothesized that if you gave people detailed warning about the kind of propaganda they would encounter before they were exposed to it, they would be more likely to view it as misinformation and less prone to accept it. McGuire published a summary of his findings in 1970 in a Psychology Today article titled "A Vaccine for Brainwash."

McGuire died in 2007, but van der Linden and his colleagues have built upon his work in numerous experiments. One of these tested a tool that van der Linden's team created to train people to spot misinformation. "Bad News" is an online game that gives players a chance to become nefarious producers of fake news. The game allows players to try out the "six degrees of manipulation" -- techniques that van der Linden's group has identified as hallmarks of misinformation. These include discrediting ("a technique that deflects attention away from accusations by attacking the source of the criticism"); deliberately playing on emotions like fear and moral outrage to get people riled up; provoking polarization; posing as experts or legitimate news outlets; promoting conspiracies; and trolling.

The researchers tested players' ability to spot fake news before and after they'd taken part in the game, and in a dataset of 15,000 trials, they found that "everyone improved their ability to spot misinformation after playing the game," van der Linden writes. People who'd fared worst at spotting fake news in the pre-game quiz made the biggest improvements. But the improvements were modest: "On average, players adjusted their ranking of fake headlines downwards by about half a point (0.5) on the 1-7 reliability scale after playing."

In another experiment, van der Linden's team exposed volunteers to a specific set of real-world misinformation about global warming, but forewarned them that "some politically motivated groups use misleading tactics" to suggest that climate scientists disagree about the causes of climate change (when in fact the vast majority agree humans are to blame). The researchers found that this warning made volunteers less vulnerable to accepting climate misinformation. People exposed to two prebunking scenarios updated their estimates of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change by about 6.5 to 13 percentage points, with the more detailed forewarning producing the biggest improvements. And the findings held regardless of the volunteers' initial attitudes. "We were not just preaching to the converted," he writes.

Van der Linden makes the case that it's possible to inoculate people against misinformation, but if there's one lesson that's come from the Covid-19 pandemic, it's that developing a vaccine is one thing; convincing people to take it presents a whole other challenge.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


DeSantis' Disney fail is a reality check. Authoritarianism is hard. (Ja'han Jones, 3/30/23, MSNBC)

Rather than strip Disney of its special status outright, state legislators in February passed a law creating a new board, with members hand-picked by DeSantis. The board oversees the special district formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, that allowed Walt Disney World to make its own planning and zoning decisions. Predictably, DeSantis loaded the board with people like this conspiracy theorist, who reportedly claimed that estrogen water contamination could be turning people gay.

The new board was still a bad setup for Disney, but allowing the company to keep its special district status at all was a retreat of sorts from DeSantis' initial, illiberal position.

But a newly revealed document shows outgoing board members declared in February that Disney must retain its influence over any future changes to properties in its special district.

As NBC News reported:

The Feb. 8 document, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, grants Disney "prior review and comment" over any changes made to properties in the district, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District and now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

That document also states that the declaration shall be enforceable "in perpetuity" or, if that is deemed unenforceable, "until 21 years after the death of the last surviving descendants of King Charles III, King of England."

Read the full document here.

Take a moment to appreciate the hilarity of Mickey Mouse and friends thwarting the governor's big plan. Growing up, some stores in my neck of the woods would sell T-shirts depicting Mickey Mouse as a gangster, and I always wondered what possible use they could serve. 

March 30, 2023

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How Disney's lawyers brutally mauled DeSantis over control of Disney World (MICHAEL HILTZIK, MARCH 30, 2023, LA Times)

Hilariously, the agreement Disney reached will remain in effect at least until 21 years "after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England," currently living. More on this delicious provision in a moment. First, let's get a legal commentator's opinion of where the Disney-DeSantis battle currently stands.

"DeSantis may well try to toss legally executed agreements in the rubbish," wrote former corporate litigator Joe Patrice on his blog "Above the Law," "but there's not a lot to suggest that the legal team assembled by one of the most powerful entities on the planet... [threw] together a slapdash agreement."

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


NY grand jury votes to indict Donald Trump, sources tell CNN (Kara Scannell, 3/30/23, CNN)
A grand jury in Manhattan has voted to indict Donald Trump - the first time in American history that a current or former president has faced criminal charges, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

From C-SPAN to Court TV is not career advancement. 

Trump Grand Jury Digs Into Hush Money Paid to Second Woman (Joe Palazzolo and Corinne Ramey, Updated March 30, 2023, WSJ))

Manhattan prosecutors investigating Donald Trump's role in paying hush money to a porn star also have been examining a $150,000 payment to a former Playboy model who alleged that she had an affair with the former president, according to people familiar with the matter, raising the prospect that Mr. Trump could face charges connected to the silencing of both women.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Chemists use bacteria to convert CO2 in the air into bioplastic (Prachi Patel, March 30, 2023, Anthropocene)

Plastics and climate change an inextricably linked. Plastics are made from petroleum, and nearly every stage of their production creates greenhouse gas emissions. If plastic production and use grow as usual, by 2030 the emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year, equivalent to emissions from nearly 300 large coal-fired power plants, according to the Center for International Environmental Law.

In an effort to close the carbon cycle, chemical engineers in Korea have harnessed bacteria to efficiently turn carbon dioxide into a biodegradable plastic. This could be "an exceptional strategy for lowering CO2 emission and producing environmentally friendly bioplastics," they write in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


New funds to test hydrogen jet that could fly from Australia to Europe in four hours (Amalyah Hart, 30 March 2023, Renew Economy)

European aerospace firm Destinus has won grant funding to design and test hydrogen-propelled jets capable of supersonic flight - jets the company says could cut flight times between Australia and Europe to around four hours.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Disney quietly took power from DeSantis' new board before state takeover (Steve Contorno, CNN)

Under the agreement - quietly approved on February 8 as Florida lawmakers met in special session to hand DeSantis control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District - Disney would maintain control over much of its vast footprint in Central Florida for 30 years and, in some cases, the board can't take significant action without first getting approval from the company.

"This essentially makes Disney the government," board member Ron Peri said during Wednesday's meeting, according to video posted by an Orlando television station. "This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure."

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Wee the people: Republican Boebert presses DC witness on public urination (Martin Pengelly, 30 Mar 2023, The Guardian)

Allen, DC council chair Phil Mendelson, chief financial officer Glen Lee and Greggory Pemberton of the DC Police Union faced aggressive Republican questioning, mostly regarding policing and crime, including the stabbing last weekend of a staffer to the Republican senator Rand Paul.

But Boebert's fixation on public urination made the biggest splash.

The pro-Trump Coloradan, who has a history of inflammatory behavior, asked: "You led the charge to reform DC's crime laws. Is that correct?"

Allen said: "I chaired the committee that proposal came from, yes."

Boebert said: "You led the charge, yes sir. And these changes are now law here in DC. Correct?"

Allen said: "You mean the revised criminal code? No, those are not the law."

Boebert appeared confused. Mendelson said: "The revised code was rejected by - "

Cutting Mendelson off, Boebert pressed Allen.

"Did you or did you not decriminalise public urination in Washington DC? Did you lead the charge to do so?"

Allen said: "No. The revised criminal code left that as a criminal."

Does the "privacy" of a Moscow hotel room not suffice?

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Massive Tesla solar roof put to work as a "21st Century utility" (Joshua S Hill, 3/30/23, One Step Off the Grid)

Joti Mangat, the chief revenue officer of Hawaii-based solar company Rising Sun Solar, showcased the recently completed roof - made up of 50kW of Tesla's solar glass shingles - on LinkedIn earlier this month.

Mangat says the strapping solar roof, backed by no less than six Tesla Powerwalls, will earn the household $US350 a month from the Swell Energy Home Battery Rewards virtual power plant (VPP) in partnership with Hawaiian Electric.

As One Step Off The Grid reported here, the California-headquartered Swell Energy last year raised $US120 million to roll out 600MWh of rooftop solar based virtual power plants, including 26,000 battery storage systems at homes and businesses across the US.

March 29, 2023

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Redflow inks "non lithium" battery deal in US as demand for long duration storage grows (Sophie Vorrath, 29 March 2023, Renew Economy)

At the other end of the scale, Ameresco and Redflow are also planning to build on Redflow's existing enclosure system to offer a utility-scale solution that is scalable into the hundreds of MWh.

"Our zinc-bromine flow battery offers a non-lithium solution that is fire-safe, has an innovative hibernation feature, and suits a wide range of environments and use cases," said Redflow chief and managing director Tim Harris.

"Additionally, we hope our partnering with Ameresco will initiate other exciting opportunities for our business pipeline and, over time, new markets globally," Harris said.

Brisbane-based Redflow has had a number of key successes in the US market, including a deal to deliver a 2MWh battery solution to the Anaergia bioenergy project in California - at the time the company's largest global battery sale ever.

The companies note that due to the abundant and widely available raw materials the batteries are amde from, they are well-positioned to meet the Inflation Reduction Act's bonus tax credit local content requirements.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The long shadow of Covid-19 myths (Jacob Kushner and Kang-Chun Cheng in Morocco, 28th March 2023, BBC)

Vaccine hesitancy is seen as a problem in many countries, where a complex web of reasons combine to influence people's acceptance of immunisation efforts. France, for example, has some of the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy in the world, which are tied up with public distrust of their government's health policies, poor communication about side-effects and historical scandals in past vaccination programmes. 

March 28, 2023

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Sky-high kites aim to tap unused wind power (Tim Schauenberg, 03/27/2023, Deutsche-Welle)

 At a height of 200 meters (656 feet) and more, winds tend to blow stronger and more steadily than those closer to the ground. 

These winds are so strong, in fact, that they could be used to generate more electricity than we need and significantly more than wind turbines on land can produce. A doubling of wind speed can theoretically generate up to eight times more power.

Moritz Diehl, who heads the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg, said harvesting high-altitude winds is one of the "most promising" technologies for generating renewable energy in the future.

"You see all the sky above conventional turbines, and you think all this wind energy is just blowing there and it's not used," he said.

Stephan Wrage, CEO of the German wind power company SkySails-Power, wants to change that and make the "largest yet untapped source of renewable energy worldwide" suitable for mass use.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The age of average (Alex Murrell, Mar 20, 2023)

In the early 1990s, two Russian artists named Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid took the unusual step of hiring a market research firm. Their brief was simple. Understand what Americans desire most in a work of art.

Over 11 days the researchers at Marttila & Kiley Inc. asked 1,001 US citizens a series of survey questions.

What's your favourite colour? Do you prefer sharp angles or soft curves? Do you like smooth canvases or thick brushstrokes? Would you rather figures that are nude or clothed? Should they be at leisure or working? Indoors or outside? In what kind of landscape? 

Komar and Melamid then set about painting a piece that reflected the results. The pair repeated this process in a number of countries including Russia, China, France and Kenya.

Each piece in the series, titled "People's Choice", was intended to be a unique a collaboration with the people of a different country and culture.

But it didn't quite go to plan.

Describing the work in his book Playing to the Gallery, the artist Grayson Perry said:

"In nearly every country all people really wanted was a landscape with a few figures around, animals in the foreground, mainly blue."

Despite soliciting the opinions of over 11,000 people, from 11 different countries, each of the paintings looked almost exactly the same. 

Genuine art reflects Creation: it is not creative.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Religious Zionism and the Struggle for Israel's Soul: The far right's foothold in the new government has been in the making for a while (Yehudah Mirsky, 3/28/23, New/Lines)

Some in the newer generation of Religious Zionists, raised entirely during the troubled settlement movement in the West Bank, have taken away a bitter lesson: The state and its institutions didn't care about them or even want to listen to their ideas. And so, those who cared about the settlers' future decided that the state would have to be taken over, year by year and bit by bit. One of them was a 25-year-old activist who had once closed down a highway to protest Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, leaving him in administrative detention. His name is Bezalel Smotrich. 

A rabbi's son, Smotrich grew up in Beit-El, a religious settlement in the West Bank. Unlike most young Religious Zionists, he spent years in a yeshiva, and, well past combat age, did only partial military service as an assistant adjutant. He studied law one day a week, not at an elite university but at Kiryat Ono Academic College, one of the small colleges that arose to meet the needs of students who are ineligible for or uninterested in the country's public universities.

Israeli society was getting used to a new kind of Religious Zionist -- Naftali Bennett -- elite commando officer, successful hi-tech entrepreneur, politically right, socially moderate, halakhically observant, but far from religiously intense. For many he seemed to validate a long-cherished dream among an early Religious Zionist party -- the National Religious Party (NRP) -- of full integration into Israeli society. Smotrich and others on the hard right viewed him and his ilk with scarcely disguised contempt. 

Smotrich entered public life as the founder of the "Regavim" movement ("Clods of Earth"), which seeks to counter what it sees as anarchic Bedouin land grabs in the Negev Desert. Smotrich became a member of the Knesset in 2015, in one of the factions into which the old NRP was splintering, beginning a political career in which he formally called for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority in 2017, advocated for Israel to annex the West Bank and sought that Palestinians be given status as residents but not citizens unless they swore full allegiance to Israel. In a brief tenure as transportation minister, he proved himself an adept and capable administrator. 

An ideologue through and through, Smotrich thinks that he has a full understanding of the deeper currents of world history, Jewish history and the innermost processes of Israeli societal structures -- to such an extent that anyone can, with accuracy, pinpoint people's ideological errors and correct them to align with a proper understanding of society and the state. Unlike Religious Zionists of the past, Smotrich and his followers see themselves not as bridging figures between the state and society but as its true, deserving leaders: an intellectual avant-garde, like the Labor Zionist revolutionaries of old but with God on their side. 

And that is just one of the differences between him and his co-leader, Ben-Gvir. 

Born in Jerusalem to second-generation immigrants from Iraq and Kurdistan, Ben-Gvir grew up in the middle-class Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion. Like many Mizrahim (Jews from the Middle East and Central Asia), his family was neither Orthodox nor secular but lived a life best described as traditional: respect for Jewish religion, a deep sense of peoplehood, religious observance less rigorous but deeply felt and faithful and (crucially) not spelled out in ideological terms. 

The vehicle of Mizrahi politics in Israel's recent decades has been the Shas Party, which rose under the magisterial spiritual leadership of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the cunning genius of his political lieutenant Aryeh Deri, now the party's head and close confidante of Netanyahu. Sephardic traditionalism had long avoided the hard-and-fast ideological categories of the religious and secular borne out of the European experience. But starting in the 1980s, after decades of humiliation at the hands of the Ashkenazi establishment, Shas finally adopted the European paradigm, turning its broad traditionalism into a marching ideology. 

Ben-Gvir's own religious-ideological awakening at age 12 during the First Intifada of the late '80s and early '90s, though derived not from Shas but from the teachings of American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the far-right Jewish Defense League who emerged from the heady, radicalized New York of the 1960s and brought its furies to Zion.

A central element of Kahane's theology was revenge -- the Holocaust has so bent the horizons of morals and theology that only Jewish revenge can restore God's place in the world.

Ben-Gvir never met Kahane, who was killed in New York by an Egyptian-born American who was later implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. But coming of age in the furies of the intifada and the convulsions of Oslo and seeking a deep religious identity other than the new Sephardic ultra-Orthodoxy of Shas or the, by now, sectoral ranks of Religious Zionism, Ben-Gvir found himself amid the ranks of Kahane's followers. He first came to public attention in 1995 through the theatricality that has marked his public life; brandishing for the cameras a hood ornament he claims he had taken from Rabin's car, he said that "the same way we got to this ornament, we can get to Rabin."

He became head of the youth wing of Kach (Kahane's political party) and, after high school, studied in Kahane's yeshiva. His youthful radicalism was so extreme that the Israel Defense Forces chose not to induct him into the army.

Over the years, Ben-Gvir became a regular target of Israeli police surveillance, and by early 2009, he had been indicted more than 45 times. Eventually, he went to law school and, after repeated appeals and an acquittal for an outstanding indictment, was admitted to the bar. He regularly represented Jewish activists from the farthest right of the spectrum, who assaulted mosques along with Israeli soldiers, hoping to inflame what to them are the unbridgeable tensions between being both a Jewish and democratic state.

As an attorney, Ben-Gvir proved himself an able advocate and talented showman and slowly made his way toward the political establishment, first as a parliamentary aide to a hard-right Knesset member and then as a candidate for a Kahanist party. Following a series of factional splits in the party, Ben-Gvir was elected to the Knesset in 2021 and subsequently merged his Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party with Smotrich and another one-person party. They ran again in 2022 and met with astonishing success.

In the Knesset, Ben-Gvir kept up his showmanship, moving his office to the deeply contested East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the site of years of protests over the government's plans to evict Palestinian families who had lived there for generations to make way for Israeli settlements. To his mind, the prerequisite to coexistence with the Palestinians is their not harboring any national aspirations at all.

Do Israeli protesters really want democracy? (Orly Noy, March 27, 2023, +972)

But the most critical point of all is the protesters' understanding of the term "democracy" -- an idea they have so intensely mobilized around. In both the so-called Balfour protests and the current ones against the judicial coup, democracy was a central demand; only a limited, albeit persistent, group of anti-occupation demonstrators sought to emphasize the connections between the violation of Palestinian rights in the occupied territories and Israel's ability to maintain a democratic regime.

March 27, 2023

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[T]he Lightyear 2 will be a huge step for clean energy vehicles. The solar-electric design boasts over 500 miles of driving range between charges, thanks to integrated "solar cells" placed on the outside of the vehicle. 

Lightyear also claims the vehicle can be charged three times less than a conventional EV. On top of all that, Lightyear says the vehicle has the smallest energy footprint on the market -- with lifetime emissions being half that of conventional EVs. At an estimated price of less than $40,000, this could be huge for the sustainable vehicle movement. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Will AIs Take All Our Jobs and End Human History--or Not? Well, It's Complicated... (Stephen Wolfram, March 15, 2023, Writings)

Inside ChatGPT is something that's actually computationally probably quite similar to a brain--with millions of simple elements ("neurons") forming a "neural net" with billions of connections that have been "tweaked" through a progressive process of training until they successfully reproduce the patterns of human-written text seen on all those webpages, etc. Even without training the neural net would still produce some kind of text. But the key point is that it won't be text that we humans consider meaningful. To get such text we need to build on all that "human context" defined by the webpages and other materials we humans have written. The "raw computational system" will just do "raw computation"; to get something aligned with us humans requires leveraging the detailed human history captured by all those pages on the web, etc.

But so what do we get in the end? Well, it's text that basically reads like it was written by a human. In the past we might have thought that human language was somehow a uniquely human thing to produce. But now we've got an AI doing it. So what's left for us humans? Well, somewhere things have got to get started: in the case of text, there's got to be a prompt specified that tells the AI "what direction to go in". And this is the kind of thing we'll see over and over again. Given a defined "goal", an AI can automatically work towards achieving it. But it ultimately takes something beyond the raw computational system of the AI to define what us humans would consider a meaningful goal. And that's where we humans come in.

What does this mean at a practical, everyday level? Typically we use ChatGPT by telling it--using text--what we basically want. And then it'll fill in a whole essay's worth of text talking about it. We can think of this interaction as corresponding to a kind of "linguistic user interface" (that we might dub a "LUI"). In a graphical user interface (GUI) there's core content that's being rendered (and input) through some potentially elaborate graphical presentation. In the LUI provided by ChatGPT there's instead core content that's being rendered (and input) through a textual ("linguistic") presentation.

You might jot down a few "bullet points". And in their raw form someone else would probably have a hard time understanding them. But through the LUI provided by ChatGPT those bullet points can be turned into an "essay" that can be generally understood--because it's based on the "shared context" defined by everything from the billions of webpages, etc. on which ChatGPT has been trained.

There's something about this that might seem rather unnerving. In the past, if you saw a custom-written essay you'd reasonably be able to conclude that a certain irreducible human effort was spent in producing it. But with ChatGPT this is no longer true. Turning things into essays is now "free" and automated. "Essayification" is no longer evidence of human effort.

Of course, it's hardly the first time there's been a development like this. Back when I was a kid, for example, seeing that a document had been typeset was basically evidence that someone had gone to the considerable effort of printing it on printing press. But then came desktop publishing, and it became basically free to make any document be elaborately typeset.

And in a longer view, this kind of thing is basically a constant trend in history: what once took human effort eventually becomes automated and "free to do" through technology. There's a direct analog of this in the realm of ideas: that with time higher and higher levels of abstraction are developed, that subsume what were formerly laborious details and specifics.

Will this end? Will we eventually have automated everything? Discovered everything? Invented everything? At some level, we now know that the answer is a resounding no. Because one of the consequences of the phenomenon of computational irreducibility is that there'll always be more computations to do--that can't in the end be reduced by any finite amount of automation, discovery or invention.

Ultimately, though, this will be a more subtle story. Because while there may always be more computations to do, it could still be that we as humans don't care about them. And that somehow everything we care about can successfully be automated--say by AIs--leaving "nothing more for us to do".

It's a deflationary epoch, as labor and energy costs trend toward zero.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Historical Cost of Populism (MORITZ SCHULARICK, CHRISTOPH TREBESCH, MANUEL FUNKE, March 18, 2023, ProMarket)

[W]e conducted a historical analysis on the ups and downs of populist leadership worldwide over the past 120 years and gauged its political and economic fallout. Three main takeaways emerged.

Populism has a long history and it is serial in nature

The first populist president was Hipólito Yrigoyen, who came to power in the general election of Argentina in 1916. Since then, there have been two main populist peaks: during the Great Depression of the 1930s and in the 2010s. The 1980s was the low point for populists in power. However, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, from 1990 onward, populism returned with a vengeance. The year 2018 marked an all-time high, with 16 countries ruled by whom the political science literature describes as populists (more than 25% of the sample). The most recent increase can mainly be attributed to the emergence of a new populist right in Europe and beyond.  

A particularly interesting insight from our long-run data are the recurring patterns of populism over time.  Specifically, populism at the government level appears to be serial in nature, as it is observable in the same countries again and again. We identified long and repeating spells of populist rule. Having been ruled by a populist in the past is a strong predictor of populist rule in recent years. Interestingly, half of the countries in our sample with recurring populist spells saw switches from left-wing to right-wing populism or vice versa.

Populism is economically costly

To study the  economic consequences of populist politics, we measured  unconditionally averaged performance gaps in annualized real GDP growth based on Blinder and Watson's measurement of a Democrat-Republican president performance gap in U.S. postwar data. We found that countries underperformed by approximately one percentage point per year after a populist came to power, both compared to their country's typical long-run growth rate and the (then-)current global growth rate. This is true for the short term of five years and the long term of 15 years after a populist gains power. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Redeeming Pain and Normalizing Uncertainty: A Better Way to Talk About Christian Doubt (Blake Victor Kent, March 08, 2023, Real Clear Religion)

In my latest academic work, however, I formulated hypotheses about suffering and religious and spiritual struggles that contrasted with the viewpoint Yancey helped me develop. I hypothesized that people who are more committed and involved in their faith should struggle less with doubt and feelings of abandonment by God when they suffer. The hypothesis was built on the well-documented proposition that religion (most often measured by service attendance) frequently protects people from a host of negative outcomes.

But in fact, the opposite was true in our study of chronically ill American adults. As suffering increased, religious and spiritual struggles - including doubt, fear of abandonment, and loss of confidence in God's power - also increased, and even more so for those who were highly religious. And that included respondents high in spiritual fortitude, a measure scoring people on their intent to redeem hardship.

As a reader, what I treasured most about Yancey was that he avoided platitudes and legitimated doubt, uncertainty, and fear. But as a researcher, I wondered if I had done the opposite, unconsciously relying on old truisms like "Let go and let God" and "God is good all the time, and all the time God is good."

According to research by the Barna Group, doubt is normal. Fear is normal. Being uncertain about God's power is normal. This is what people need to hear, and not just those who are suffering. My research confirms that some 40% of evangelicals experience attachment insecurities in their relationship with God, meaning they aren't totally confident God is as warm, present, and loving as evangelical preachers make him out to be. This makes everything from Bible reading to prayer to attending worship fraught with uncertainty. [...]

But doubt is not devoid of meaning. Research on post-traumatic growth suggests there are ways through it. Ultimately, I was wrong as a researcher to label religious struggles like doubt and insecurity as "negative" experiences to be avoided at all costs. And despite contemporary platitudes, the historical Christian tradition contains a good deal of wisdom about walking through suffering.

As Yancey wrote when disclosing his diagnosis, "Those who live with pain and failure tend to be better stewards of their life circumstances than those who live with success and pleasure. Pain redeemed impresses me much more than pain removed."

Belief invites doubt, fear, and insecurity - for all of us. So let's move past the platitudes. Instead, let's acknowledge doubt as normal. When we do, we'll be allowed to deal with it - in brutal honesty.

To not doubt is to not think, which is the purpose of belief for many. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Custom, 3D-printed heart replicas look and pump just like the real thing (Jennifer Chu, MIT News)

The team has developed a procedure to 3D print a soft and flexible replica of a patient's heart. They can then control the replica's action to mimic that patient's blood-pumping ability.

The procedure involves first converting medical images of a patient's heart into a three-dimensional computer model, which the researchers can then 3D print using a polymer-based ink. The result is a soft, flexible shell in the exact shape of the patient's own heart. The team can also use this approach to print a patient's aorta -- the major artery that carries blood out of the heart to the rest of the body.

To mimic the heart's pumping action, the team has fabricated sleeves similar to blood pressure cuffs that wrap around a printed heart and aorta. The underside of each sleeve resembles precisely patterned bubble wrap. When the sleeve is connected to a pneumatic system, researchers can tune the outflowing air to rhythmically inflate the sleeve's bubbles and contract the heart, mimicking its pumping action. 

The researchers can also inflate a separate sleeve surrounding a printed aorta to constrict the vessel. This constriction, they say, can be tuned to mimic aortic stenosis -- a condition in which the aortic valve narrows, causing the heart to work harder to force blood through the body.


Cure Bionics was founded by Mohamed Dhaouafi, an entrepreneur who started the company after learning that out of the approximately 30 million people who need prosthetics, only 1.5 million (or 5%) had the ability to obtain them.

After years of research and development, Cure Bionics has now created a prototype limb that can be made via 3D printing. The limb is lightweight and muscle-controlled and can be attached without surgical intervention, which makes it usable for children with amputated limbs, many of whom would have previously had to wait until adulthood to be fitted with a prosthetic.

Each prosthetic arm will feature rotating wrists, plus thumbs and fingers that move at their joints thanks to electrical impulses. Their solar power capabilities mean they can be used in areas where people may not have traditional means to charge or power them. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Behold Ron 'culture war' DeSantis: The Florida emperor with no clothes (Rex Huppke, 3/26/23, USA TODAY)

Consider the recent stumbles by the man GOP presidential primary frontrunner and former President Donald Trump has labeled "Ron DeSanctimonius" and, somehow more insultingly, "Rob."

President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron "Rob" DeSantis, in happier days.
DeSantis referred to Russia's deadly invasion of Ukraine as "a territorial dispute" and was then admonished by Democrats and Republicans alike. So he flip-flopped in an interview with Piers Morgan and called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal." Then on Friday he flop-flipped back to saying: "I care more about securing our own border in the United States than I do about the Russia-Ukraine border."

The Daily Beast ran a lengthy story citing former DeSantis staffers and GOP operatives who painted the governor as someone who "struggles with basic social skills." That story included an anecdote about the governor's allegedly messy eating habits, claiming he once devoured a chocolate pudding dessert with three fingers.

That's dumb, of course, but it yielded this chyron when the Morgan interview was aired on Fox Nation: "RON: I DIDN'T EAT PUDDING WITH 3 FINGERS."

Tough beats, Rob.

March 26, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 10:48 AM


Comer's 'oversight' is focused on phony scandals (Jennifer Rubin, March 26, 2023, Washington Post)

The worst-kept secret in Washington is that Democrats could not be more delighted with the inept, unhinged and entirely unproductive hearings that House Republicans insist on conducting in search of pay dirt on Democrats.

For that, they can thank Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee.

Put in charge of a committee that Republicans have historically used to fan conspiracies and put their opponents on defense, Comer has gotten flak from his own side for failing to come up with much useful to his party. Voters are unimpressed and want the committee to get back to real issues. And Democrats have mocked his loony claims on everything from the Chinese balloon to the Silicon Valley Bank collapse. Outside right-wing media, these "scandals" don't have much (such as facts) to recommend them. But a good deal of the problem lies with Comer.

Comer stomps around, sending up a cloud of dirt that falls mostly on himself. A recent New York Times report pointed to one embarrassing episode in his failed run for Kentucky governor when he leaked private emails to try to discredit an ex-girlfriend who said he abused her and took her to get an abortion...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Luke as Historian (Paul Krause, 3/26/23, Voegelin View)

The world of biblical analysis seems to have two poles in the public imagination. One popular, generally atheistic, and horribly ignorant: the gospels were written--this analysis goes--long after the death of Jesus and passed through oral transmission and are incredibly garbled and unreliable in their final composition. Moreover, they have the trappings of mythopoetic construction. The other analysis, deeply scholarly and scholastic, built on a multitude of familiarity with ancient texts, asserts that while the synoptic gospels were written several decades after the life of Jesus, they fit the genre of ancient biography (and history) and are modeled on the writings of the ancient historians, and are generally reliable texts concerning the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

In his newly published and eminently readable introduction to the vexing questions of Lukan historiography, John J. Peters provides the best cursory introduction to the multifaceted issues that face graduate students and biblical scholars on matters of New Testament historiography. Moving beyond the now largely discredited form criticism of the Rudolf Bultmann and his disciples, Peters provides a readable and well-argued case for Lukan historiography as part of the Greco-Roman literary genre of biography and eye-witness history. Luke among the Ancient Historians, in no qualified terms, argues that the author of Luke "represented himself as a historian of contemporary events." While this is a generally well-known and accepted position in biblical studies, it may come as a surprise to some, skeptic and faithful alike. Wasn't Luke reporting hearsay passed down through multiple generations of oral transmission whose work detailing the life of Christ mirrors mythological poetry as the indoctrinated Neanderthals of the New Atheism like to claim? And wasn't Luke "divinely inspired" and not writing like the ancient historians who shun the muses and God-breathed inspiration as most of the innocently faithful have likely been told? No, and no!

To understand the genre of Luke's gospel, one must understand the various hermeneutical approaches to the New Testament. Further, one must understand how these approaches change over time. The once dominant school known as form criticism, which asserted the New Testament writings based on their literary tropes and patterns were synthesized from preceding generations of oral transmission, is now largely abandoned by most historical critical scholars. While the typical graduate student in biblical studies will be introduced to form criticism in their studies (as I was at Yale), which Peters does for the reader in his opening pages, this introduction to form criticism is simply meant to provide some background to broader New Testament historiographical debates and not meant to be taken as the dominant scholarly paradigm. "Luke-Acts," Peters writes, "belongs to the broad genre of Greco-Roman historiography." Our eminent guide then proceeds to provide the brief history of how the acceptance of the gospels as biography akin to the writings of the ancient historians came to predominate biblical studies and supersede the old form criticism of the past.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What America's Civil War Can Teach Us About Israel'sIsraeli protesters may not realize it yet, but the only way they can protect their own rights and democracy is by allying with Palestinians ( Ian S. Lustick, 3/26/23, Foreign Policy)

There is a good deal of hullabaloo about whether the Jewish state will remain, become, or stop being a genuine democracy, but virtually no discussion of the impossibility of it being both a Jewish state and a democracy when half the country's inhabitants are Palestinian Arabs.

Approximately 6.8 million Palestinian Arabs live under the actual if not formally declared rule of the government of Israel. If half a million non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union are taken into account, this means there are more Arabs living in Israel than there are Jews.

So what is at stake is not just whether Israel is or will be a democracy (or can get away with calling itself a democracy even if it is not). What is at stake, really, is whether a regime of Jewish supremacy will be established so that the full weight of the state's laws can be explicitly used to enforce the disenfranchisement and subjugation of half the population.

Indeed, to sustain itself and protect against Jewish-Arab alliances that could end the racist regime it aims to create, the government will need to not only outlaw Arab participation in politics but also ban activity by Jews that might lead to Arab emancipation. That is why, if the Supreme Court of Israel is successfully neutered, the present government will move to outlaw anti-Zionist (i.e., Arab) parties as just another step toward the eventual exclusion of all Palestinians from political life.

To protect against Jewish-Arab alliances that could end the racist regime it aims to create, the government will need to not only outlaw Arab political participation but also ban activity by Jews that might lead to Arab emancipation.

Of course, some Israelis know very well what they are fighting for, however reluctant they may be to say so out loud. Among them are Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (who is also, within the Defense Ministry, in charge of civilian affairs in Judea and Samaria) and the settlers, fundamentalist ideologues, and ultranationalist activists he represents. With one another they are candid about their aims, but occasionally they let the cat out of the bag in public, as Smotrich did with his comment about needing to "erase" the Palestinian town of Hawara.

A slice of the Israeli Jewish left also knows what is really at stake, having come to understand that the rights of secular liberal Jews, and their hope to live in a country they can experience as sane, are increasingly dependent on Arab political mobilization and Arab votes. The intellectual elite among West Bank and Gaza Palestinians also know that, in the long run, political equality is the fundamental question that will determine their future.

But none of these groups will speak the truth. Smotrich and his followers prefer not to contradict their claim to be democrats by talking about their plans for the permanent political enslavement of Israel's Palestinians. Leftists fear that speaking of Arab rights, or including Arabs and Palestinian flags in demonstrations, will damage prospects for a protest movement that currently presents itself as a carnival of blue-and-white patriotic Zionists. And Palestinians who aspire to eventually live in a state that represents all its citizens, whether named Israel or Israel-Palestine, cannot admit to this for fear of retribution from either the Palestinian Authority (committed officially to the now-defunct vision of a separate Palestinian state) or the "resistance"-oriented street, which is intolerant of programs requiring decades of political mobilization.

Most Israelis, however, do not feel the reality of what this struggle is about. On the right, they are focused on specific opportunities the government's judicial "reforms" open for expanding settlements, ending protections for Arab citizens, increasing ultra-Orthodox subsidies, guaranteeing freedom of ultra-Orthodox men from military service, and expanding religious authority over both personal and public life. Accustomed to viewing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as outside their state, even while living within the domain of its power, they view the Arab problem "through the gunsights" (as the Hebrew expression goes) and see the regime they live in, which privileges Jews over non-Jews, as an unchangeable given in their lives.

Ariel Sharon's stroke is the singular tragedy of modern Israel. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Stuck in a swamp': Saudi Arabia seeks exit from Yemen war (Hashem Osseiran, March 25, 2023, AFP)

Since the Saudi-led military intervention began on March 26, 2015, the kingdom has pounded its impoverished neighbour with air strikes in a conflict that has triggered one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, according to the United Nations.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed through direct and indirect causes, with 4.5 million people internally displaced and more than two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line, according to UN estimates.

Nagi said that "military operations, such as air strikes" are now likely to cease, adding that the priority now is a "diplomatic solution".

The Saudi-led intervention, which marks its eighth anniversary on Sunday, came after the Huthis took control of the capital Sanaa in 2014.

March 25, 2023

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What Worked Against Covid: Masks, Closures and Vaccines: Millions of lives were saved in the three years of the pandemic, but millions more were needlessly lost. And the world is far from ready for the next one. (Tom Frieden, March 17, 2023, WSJ)

Although the protection that vaccination offers against infection wanes after a few months and protection against severe disease decreases somewhat after four to six months, vaccines have been strikingly effective at reducing the risk of death, especially the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. In the U.S. in the last quarter of 2022, people who had been vaccinated and boosted were about one tenth as likely as unvaccinated people to be killed by Covid and half to one third as likely as people who were vaccinated but not boosted.

Until vaccination and effective treatment became available, the primary means of preventing death from Covid was reducing the risk of infection. Disruptive as they were, strategic closures of indoor activities reduced infections and deaths substantially. When people don't congregate indoors, the spread of Covid decreases exponentially. Masks, particularly when worn by people who are infectious as well as people who are exposed, further reduce spread, as does the isolation of infectious patients.

The first year of vaccination alone is credited with averting an estimated 14 million Covid deaths.

Studies from New York City, the U.S. as a whole and 11 European countries all come to a similar conclusion: Indoor closures prevented at least 50% of infections and deaths in 2020, with masking further decreasing spread. New York City's closure of indoor businesses and gatherings in mid-March 2020, for example, reversed the exponential increase in cases and resulted in a rapid decline in deaths, which lag infections by three or four weeks. Deaths in New York City decreased from more than 700 a day in mid-April that year to 300 a day two weeks later and 15 a day by July 1. Closures prevented or delayed many infections until hospitals became less overwhelmed and better treatments and vaccination became available.

In the U.S. and many other countries, however, schools were closed when they could have remained open, with devastating educational, social and economic harms. Mandates to close and open businesses were not tightly tied to real-time data, and the decision-making process of balancing costs and benefits was not transparent, creating avoidable antagonism and distrust. The simple truth that controlling any pandemic is essential for economic progress was often lost, along with many lives that did not have to be.

Masks proved to be surprisingly effective, although public discussion of them has been muddled. Masks have two different benefits: to reduce the amount of virus released into the air from people with Covid (source control) and to protect someone from inhaling the virus from the air (personal protection). Mask-wearing is crucial for source control because approximately half of the risk of spreading Covid occurs when infected people feel fine, either before they become ill or because they never develop symptoms.

Laboratory studies demonstrate that masks reduce the spread of the virus. N95 masks are more effective than surgical masks, which are more effective than cloth masks. When both those who are infected and those who are exposed wear masks, even if only cloth or surgical masks, the decrease in risk of infection is substantial. No mask is perfect, and breakthrough infections can occur, for example, because an N95 mask isn't worn properly or doesn't fit well. Successive variants of SARS-CoV-2 have become strikingly more infectious, making it even more important to wear effective masks when the virus is spreading.

High levels of community masking, including both source patients and exposed people, have been associated with reductions in infections ranging from 10% to 80%, with more protection when there is consistent mask-wearing in high-risk areas such as households.

God bless you, Dr. Fauci. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


Inside the Failed Plan by MAGA World Lawyers to Keep Michael Cohen on the 'Right Page' With Trump: The Daily Beast obtained hundreds of emails and internal documents showing how Cohen went from a Trump confidant to the lead witness against him for paying off a porn star. (Jose Pagliery,  Mar. 25, 2023, Daily Beast)

Talking to reporters on a New York City street, Costello waved around papers saying that grand jurors deserved to see nearly 330 emails tracking his private interactions with Cohen to "see the full picture."

The Daily Beast has reviewed those emails, which do indeed tell a more complete story--one in which the Trump White House tried and failed to keep Cohen in line, eventually positioning him to testify against his former boss.

The emails show an attempt to establish a backchannel running from Cohen--who was suddenly being investigated by the feds over the $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels--all the way to then-President Trump. Costello had long been associated with Trump acolyte Rudy Giuliani, so an opportunity presented itself to establish a Cohen-Costello-Giuliani-Trump chain.

The New York Times previously obtained these emails, using them to document how Cohen turned on Trump. However, this account goes into further detail.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


"The Results on My Screen Were: Raccoon Dog, Raccoon Dog, Raccoon Dog!": Evolutionary biologist Florence Débarre has long been searching for gene sequences from the market in Wuhan. Recently, she made an astounding discovery. What does it tell us about the origins of the coronavirus and the resulting pandemic? (Interview Conducted by Rafaela von Bredow und Veronika Hackenbroch, 25.03.2023, der Spiegel)

DER SPIEGEL: What were you specifically looking for?

Débarre: I was looking for information on a gene sequence that had been shared before and was from the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. You have two ways of accessing a sequence. If you know the identifier, you just enter the identifier, but I was too lazy to look for the identifier, so I just used the search function. I just entered something like "sequences from China. January 2020. Environmental." And there were more sequences than usual. I thought: Wow!

DER SPIEGEL: Did you immediately realize what you had found?

Débarre: The results are displayed in a table, and you have a column for sequence length. And in the sequence length field, a very short sequences was entered, only three nucleotides. It made no sense. I thought they were placeholders and that the data hadn't been entered yet.

DER SPIEGEL: As you and your co-authors write in the recently released report, this happened on March 4. But you only found the actual data five days later?

Débarre: I immediately contacted the people who became my co-authors - as well as multiple other researchers - and asked them about the placeholders. They were surprised, but not much more. I, however, really wanted to know what was going on. Then, on March 9, I went back to the database and just clicked on one of the entries - and I realized that there was data associated with them!

DER SPIEGEL: Gene sequences from samples taken by Chinese researchers in the Huanan market shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic -- samples containing the SARS-CoV-2 virus. What went through your mind when you found them?

Débarre: It was 11:30 p.m. and I was at home on my couch. It was: Wow! I had been waiting for a year, and then suddenly seeing them. But the greatest emotion was the next day ...

DER SPIEGEL: What happened then?

Débarre: My co-authors started downloading the data and my colleague, Alex Crits-Christoph started analyzing it, focusing first on samples that he found particularly interesting. He sent us a file the next day, a sequence he had assembled from one of the samples. He didn't tell us what it was, to give us the pleasure of seeing it for ourselves. I entered it into a program we use to identify sequences, and the result was: raccoon dog, raccoon dog, raccoon dog! So I don't swear, but I didn't just say "wow!"

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Florida parents upset by Michelangelo's 'David' force out principal (Timothy Bella and Hannah Natanson, March 24, 2023, Washington Post)

A Florida charter school principal said she was forced to resign this week after some parents complained about their sixth-grade students being shown images of Michelangelo's "David" statue in class, with one parent believing the art lesson on the Renaissance masterpiece amounted to pornographic material. the Right is at war on schools.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Ron DeSantis' donors and allies question if he's ready for 2024 (Dasha Burns, Jonathan Allen, Allan Smith and Henry J. Gomez, 3/24/23, NBC News)

NBC News spoke with more than 20 GOP strategists, politicians and donors about whether DeSantis can bounce back from adversity -- some of it self-inflicted, some of it the result of constant pressure from Trump -- or is destined to wilt under the white-hot lights of a campaign for the highest office in the land. 

For a governor who prides himself on taking bold stands, and winning on the electoral battlefield, DeSantis has not yet shown the strength that gave some Republicans reason to believe he could compete with Trump.

He just needs to attack Donald enough to inflict some damage before he crumbles.

March 24, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


DeSantis Finds His Voice: A NatCon Culture Warrior Who Praised a Prominent White Nationalist (TIM MILLER,  MARCH 24, 2023, The Bulwark)

There is no role in which the old maxim "personnel is policy" is more apt than that of presidential speechwriter. And there is good reason for that role to hold its exalted place in the mythos of the office.

Trump's "American Carnage" was no doubt shaped by the dark, nativist views of his Gollum-like muse. Obama's West Wing-era hopey-changey optimism was colored by the earnest and youthful pod-bros who wrote for him. And Bush's Chesterton-infused evangelizing was sculpted by the faith of Michael Gerson and Matthew Scully. To say nothing of the last century's legendary scribes for Reagan, JFK, and FDR (whose speechwriters included a multi-Pulitzer-winning playwright).

So I perked up when I heard scuttlebutt a few weeks ago that Ron DeSantis had chosen a speechwriter not from the ranks of the GOP's classically liberal old order, but from the brash online "new right" that is more animated by culture wars and MAGA identity politics than by free markets and free people. [...]

As first reported by the Dispatch last year, Hochman participated in a Twitter Space with white nationalist virgin Nick Fuentes--and lavishly praised him. "We were just talking about your influence and we were saying, like, you've gotten a lot of kids 'based' and we respect that for sure," Hochman said. "I literally said, I think Nick's probably a better influence than Ben Shapiro on young men who might otherwise be conservative."

The only difference between Don and Ron is 7 inches and a hundred pounds. 

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Bragg, DA probing Trump, received death threat letter with white powder (Jonathan Dienst, Dareh Gregorian and Laura Jarrett, 3/24/23, NBC News)

The FBI and NYPD are investigating a letter containing a death threat and white powder that was mailed to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office is investigating former President Donald Trump, law-enforcement sources told NBC News.

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The War and Treaty: Lover's Game (Justin Cober-Lake, 3/24/23, Spectrum Culture)

The War and Treaty rose slowly and then all at once. Tanya Trotter (then Tanya Blount) released her solo album on Polydor way back in 1994, but it didn't capture her remarkable vocal ability and didn't go anywhere. Michael Trotter Jr. served in Iraq, using his gifts to console and inspire fellow soldiers. The two met up, formed a band (and, not inconsequentially, got married) and in 2017 put out an EP. They followed that up with 2018's stunning Healing Tide, which only came out of nowhere if, like most of us, you didn't realize how long the stew had simmered. Since then, they've rapidly gained attention, appearing at the Grand Ole Opry and this year's CMAs. Their early broad take on Americana has become increasingly refined and accessible. With Lover's Game (produced by Dave Cobb), they find peak professionalism without sanding off too many of their edges.

Between Healing Tide and 2020's Hearts Town, the band became a little smoother, moving toward broadly appealing pop. They haven't lost their country roots, and perhaps nothing in their catalog makes that point quite like "Yesterday's Burn." The classic country duet lets both artists show off their vocals and skillful harmonizing. The song segues nicely into the ballad "That's How Love Is Made." The first song showed the healing power of new love while the next one covers the difficult reality of a relationship. The Trotters recognize the work necessary to keep a connection strong, accepting the challenges as well as the joys. It removes the idealism of many love songs without losing the possibility of transcendence.

That kind of idea drives much of the War and Treaty's art. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


The Philosophy of Toxophily, Part III: Archery as wisdom (Sebastian Morello, March 24, 2023, European Conservative)
 Roger Scruton once remarked to me that, "if one is tempted to turn back to oneself, to encounter oneself, one immediately discovers that there's actually nothing there." When he said this, it filled me with horror. In fact, he meant that in the attempt to encounter oneself, one must epistemically isolate oneself, but the isolated self is an illusion, given that I am only I inasmuch as I am I-in-relation-to-You. 

Ideas sundered from the reality from which they're abstracted, especially those that orbit the chief fiction of the 'authentic self,' are at the very zenith of self-deception. Our declining civilisation is one that is in the grip of this illusory condition, which is accordingly expressed by every duped modern, from the teenager routinely taking 'selfies' to the trans-activist who declares his 'true identity' and consequently forces others to say things that both he and they know to be untrue. All such people run roughshod over reality in pursuit of the 'authentic self'--and it's obvious to any sane onlooker that, of course, there's actually nothing there. 

The perennial teaching of all wisdom traditions--one that was raised to the status of holiness by Christianity--is that self-actuation comes by self-forgetting and not by self-discovery. And the perfect overturning of this humanising truth by modernity is the ultimate proof both of our epoch's falsity and malevolence. All this stupidity and chaos is derived from starting one's intellectual quest from the wrong point of departure: with the illusion of the self rather than--like a child pointing and asking "what's that?"--with the (much more interesting) world out there. The person, of course, who gave this error philosophical respectability was Descartes, by whom we continue to be cursed.

The reason why, so often in my writing, I advocate hiking, riding, hunting, and foraging, and why I encourage the learning of real things, from the history of nations to the names of trees, is because I think we're all very unwell and such things are part of my prognosis. Now, I want to add archery to this list of treatments.

All of morality is just an attempt to restrain the self.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


A Utah parent says the Bible contains porn and should be removed from school libraries. Here's their full challenge. (Courtney Tanner, March 23, 2023, Salt Lake Tribune)

"Incest, onanism, bestiality, prostitution, genital mutilation, fellatio, dildos, rape, and even infanticide," the parent wrote in their request, listing topics they found concerning in the religious text. "You'll no doubt find that the Bible, under Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-1227, has 'no serious values for minors' because it's pornographic by our new definition."

The code cited is the Utah law passed in 2022 to ban any books containing "pornographic or indecent" content from Utah schools, both in libraries and in the classroom. It came after outcry from conservative parents groups, who have been pushing to have titles removed.

When you make a law hopelessly vague so you can use it as a weapon, you risk it being turned on you.
Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Sparc Technologies claims "exciting" progress on sodium ion batteries (Giles Parkinson 24 March 2023, Renew Economy)

Australian battery technology group Sparc Technologies is reporting "exciting" developments in its pursuit of sodium ion batteries, an alternative to the prevalent lithium ion.

Sparc has been working with the Queensland University of Technology on how to source sustainable hard carbon anode material for sodium ion batteries, and may have found an answer with green bio-waste and less energy intensive processes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Why America was uniquely vulnerable to COVID (Tina Reed, 3/24/23, Axios)

 "What is clear from our study is that COVID-19 exploited and compounded existing local racial inequities, health disparities, and partisan politics," co-lead author Thomas J. Bollyky, director of the Council on Foreign Relations' Global Health Program in the USA, said in a statement. The combination of local factors increased the burden of disease and the likelihood of poor outcomes, he said.

By the numbers: States with higher poverty, lower rates of educational attainment, less access to quality health care and lower levels of interpersonal trust saw disproportionately higher rates of COVID infections and deaths.

When adjusting the data to account for age and comorbidities, Arizona saw the highest COVID death rate (581 deaths per 100,000 people) in the nation. Washington, D.C. (526 per 100,000) and New Mexico (521 per 100,000) were the second and third worst.

On the flip side, Hawaii had the lowest adjusted COVID death rate with 147 COVID deaths per 100,000 people. It was followed by New Hampshire 215 per 100,000) and Maine (281 per 100,000), respectively.

New England resembles Scandinavia in social trust, so, similarly, citizens took protecting each other upon themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Woman described as 'among the worst' Jan. 6 rioters gets 3-year sentence (Paul Duggan, March 23, 2023, Washington Post)

Riley J. Williams, 24, who was found guilty of six offenses Nov. 21 in U.S. District Court in Washington, apologized at her sentencing for being "disrespectful, hateful and angry at innocent people" during the Jan. 6 mayhem. Back then, she said, she was "a young and stupid girl" who "was addicted to the internet" and believed false claims by President Donald Trump and his supporters about Trump being denied reelection because of massive fraud.

March 23, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


How raccoon dog DNA fits into the COVID-19 origins debate (Erin Garcia de Jesús, 3/23/23, Science News)

The first cluster of coronavirus cases in humans was linked to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China (SN: 1/24/20). Environmental samples taken in 2020 from the southwest corner of the market, where live animals were sold, carried genetic material from both the coronavirus and animals, the Atlantic first reported on March 16.

In some virus-positive samples, computational biologist Alex Crits-Christoph and an international team of colleagues also found DNA from the common raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides). The foxlike animal native to Asia is susceptible to coronavirus infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.  

The fact that traces of both animal and coronavirus were uncovered in the same samples suggest that the virus may have jumped from bats to raccoon dogs or other animals at the market and then to people, the team writes (SN: 7/12/21). It posted its analysis March 20 on Zenodo, a repository where scientists can post research results that have not yet been reviewed by their peers.

This analysis builds on evidence from two studies published in Science in July 2022. In the first study, researchers reported that the genetic diversity of SARS-CoV-2 variants from the pandemic's early days suggest that there may have been two separate jumps from animals to people: one in late November 2019 and another weeks later. The second study used the first known COVID-19 cases and coronavirus-positive environmental samples from the seafood market to identify the southwest part of the market with live animal vendors as the likely epicenter of the pandemic's spread.

In the new analysis, Crits-Christoph, who works from Baltimore for the nonprofit Cultivarium, and colleagues analyzed public genetic data that had been released in early March from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That data, linked to a February 2022 preliminary study from the China CDC (which is now under review at a scientific journal), allowed the team to zoom in on an animal stall in the southwest part of the market that had the most virus-positive samples. A sample from a cart in that stall also contained plenty of genetic material from raccoon dogs, as well as a handful of other animals such as ducks.

There was no evidence of human DNA in that sample, a finding that hints that animals, not necessarily people, were close to the coronavirus in that spot. Raccoon dogs or another animal, the results suggest, might have served as a bridge to take the coronavirus from bats to humans.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Is there a multiverse? (Miriam Frankel, 3/23/23, The Conversation)

The multiverse idea has long been an inspiration for science fiction writers. But does it have any basis in science? And if so, is it a concept we could ever test experimentally?

That's the topic of the third episode of our podcast Great Mysteries of Physics--hosted by me, Miriam Frankel, science editor at The Conversation, and supported by FQxI, the Foundational Questions Institute.

"One way to think of a multiverse is just to say, 'Well, the universe might be really, really big--much bigger than our observable universe--and so there could be other regions of the universe that are far beyond our horizon that have different things happening in them'," explains Katie Mack, Hawking chair in cosmology and science communication at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada. "And I think that idea is totally well accepted in cosmology."

The idea that there could be other parts of the cosmos with different physical laws, processes and histories is hard to ignore. And the concept is consistent with the theories of quantum mechanics, which governs the micro-world of atoms and particles, string theory (an attempt at a theory of everything)--and also with cosmic inflation, which says the infant universe blew up hugely in size during a brief growth spurt, and then continued to grow at a less frantic pace. These theories each give rise to their own version of the multiverse theory.

For Andrew Pontzen, a professor of cosmology at University College London in the UK, quantum mechanics is the best reason to believe in the multiverse. According to quantum mechanics, particles can be in a mix of different possible states, such as locations, which is known as a "superposition". But when we measure them, the superposition breaks and each particle randomly "picks" one state.

So what happens to the other possible outcomes? "There's a brilliant way of understanding this which is to imagine that, actually, the reality we experience is just one kind of facet of a much more complicated multiverse, where pretty much anything that can happen does happen and we just experience one version of events," explains Pontzen. "Although it sounds crazy, it's sort of the least crazy option for understanding how quantum mechanics can be right."

As Fermi asked: Where are they?

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Trump Is Reportedly Obsessed With How His Perp Walk Will Look On TV  (Mike Redmond, MARCH 22, 2023, Uproxx)

Via The New York Times:

He has concentrated on projecting strength and avoiding any signals of shame over his circumstances, an approach that mirrors his handling of repeated political crises and his flair for creating dramatic, made-for-TV moments. Seeing Mr. Trump after a court appearance could also galvanize his supporters, whom Mr. Trump urged over the weekend to protest in the event of his arrest.

"He wants to be defiant -- to show the world that if they can try to do this to him, they can do it to anyone," said one person who spoke to Mr. Trump over the weekend.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Jan. 6 Conspiracy Target Demands Retraction From Tucker Carlson (Justin Baragona, Mar. 23, 2023, Daily Beast)

Ray Epps, the pro-Trump man at the center of a right-wing conspiracy theory about the Jan. 6 riots, has demanded that Tucker Carlson publicly retract the "false and defamatory" claims he's pushed about Epps being a federal agent who incited the Capitol riots. Epps' lawyer Michael Teter sent a letter to Carlson on Thursday urging the host to issue a "formal apology for the lies" he and others at Fox have spread about the former Marine, according to The New York Times. "The fanciful notions that Mr. Carlson advances on his show regarding Mr. Epps's involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection are demonstrably (and already proven to be) false," Teter added. "And yet Mr. Carlson persists with his assault on the truth." In fact, Carlson took aim at Epps as recent as Wednesday night.

 A direct attack on their business model.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Court rejects Trump's urgent bid to keep lawyer's records from special counsel (JOSH GERSTEIN and KYLE CHENEY, 03/22/2023, Politico)

A federal appeals court has rejected Donald Trump's bid to prevent special counsel Jack Smith from obtaining key documents from a lawyer for the former president related to the handling of sensitive national security records discovered at Trump's Florida home last year.

The ruling effectively permits the Justice Department to circumvent Trump's attorney-client privilege after a lower-court judge found that the documents likely contain evidence of a crime. That finding by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell on Friday triggers the "crime-fraud" exception to the usual attorney-client secrecy, the judge ruled.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Matt Taibbi Can't Comprehend That There Are Reasons To Study Propaganda Information Flows, So He Insists It Must Be Nefarious (Mike Masnick, 3/22/23, Techdirt)

Over the last few months, Elon Musk's handpicked journalists have continued revealing less and less with each new edition of the "Twitter Files," to the point that even those of us who write about this area have mostly been skimming each new release, confirming that yet again these reporters have no idea what they're talking about, are cherry picking misleading examples, and then misrepresenting basically everything.

It's difficult to decide if it's even worth giving these releases any credibility at all in going through the actual work of debunking them, but sometimes a few out of context snippets from the Twitter Files, mostly from Matt Taibbi, seem to get picked up by others and it becomes necessary to dive back into the muck to clean up the mess that Matt has made yet again.

Unfortunately, this seems like one of those times.

Over the last few "Twitter Files" releases, Taibbi has been pushing hard on the false claim that, okay, maybe he can't find any actual evidence that the government tried to force Twitter to remove content, but he can find... information about how certain university programs and non-governmental organizations received government grants... and they setup "censorship programs."

It's "censorship by proxy!" Or so the claim goes.

Except, it's not even remotely accurate. The issue, again, goes back to understanding some pretty fundamental concepts that seem to escape Taibbi's ability to understand. Let's go through them.

March 22, 2023

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Would You Eat This 3D Printed Cheesecake? (Nikki Main, 3/22/23, Gizmodo)

Scientists are taking 3D printing to a new level, this time with food. Engineers at Columbia University announced in a newly released study that they have successfully created an edible and possibly delicious cheesecake by using cartridges of food paste and powder in the printer. 

The experiments did not stop at cheesecake but instead extended to other desserts and meats. According to a study published in the NPJ Science of Food, cooking food through a medium such as a 3D printer allows for better control over the nutritional content, leading to healthier food consumption. Printing food has additional benefits and "with more emphasis on food safety following COVID-19, food prepared with less human handling may lower the risk of foodborne illness and disease transmission," the study says.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


AI-generated photo faking Donald Trump's possible arrest, created by Eliot Higgins using Midjourney v5.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


NH Delivers Best Taxpayer ROI, and a Boost to Sununu '24 (Michael Graham, 3/21/23, NH Journal)

For the eighth year in a row, an analysis of taxes, spending, and government efficiency finds New Hampshire taxpayers are getting the best tax-dollar "return on investment (ROI)" in the nation.

WalletHub employed an expert panel to analyze 30 metrics of the quality and efficiency of state-government services across five categories -- education, health, safety, economy, and infrastructure/pollution -- and taking into account the drastically different rates at which citizens are taxed in each state.

Once again, New Hampshire is #1. Its tax burden is the third-lowest in the U.S. while the quality of its government services ranks fourth, making it the only state to rank in the top 10 in both categories.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Sources: Special counsel claims Trump deliberately misled his attorneys about classified documents, judge wrote (Katherine Faulders, Alexander Mallin, and Lucien Bruggeman, March 21, 2023, ABC News)

A federal judge has ruled Trump's attorney must give more testimony...Read More
Prosecutors in the special counsel's office have presented compelling preliminary evidence that former President Donald Trump knowingly and deliberately misled his own attorneys about his retention of classified materials after leaving office, a former top federal judge wrote Friday in a sealed filing, according to sources who described its contents to ABC News.

U.S. Judge Beryl Howell, who on Friday stepped down as the D.C. district court's chief judge, wrote last week that prosecutors in special counsel Jack Smith's office had made a "prima facie showing that the former president had committed criminal violations," according to the sources, and that attorney-client privileges invoked by two of his lawyers could therefore be pierced.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Exclusive: Communications between Stormy Daniels and Trump attorney turned over to Manhattan DA (Kristen Holmes and Tierney Sneed, 3/21/23, CNN)

Communications between adult-film star Stormy Daniels and an attorney who is now representing former President Donald Trump have been turned over to the Manhattan district attorney's office, Daniels' lawyer told CNN.

The exchanges - said to date back to 2018, when Daniels was seeking representation - raise the possibility that the Trump attorney, Joe Tacopina, could be sidelined from his defense of the former president in a case pertaining to Trump's alleged role in a scheme to pay hush money to Daniels.

Daniels' communications with Tacopina and others at his firm include details relating to Daniels' situation, according to her current attorney Clark Brewster, who believes the communications show a disclosure of confidential information from Daniels.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Then we retake Gaza: Hardline minister hails repeal of West Bank Disengagement (Times of Israel, 3/22/23)

A far-right minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government said that a law repealing legislation that ordered the evacuation of four West Bank settlements was a step on the way to re-occupying and resettling the Gaza Strip, a move that she acknowledged would cause "many casualties."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's Toxic New Attack: Black Prosecutors Are 'Racist' (Greg Walters, March 22, 2023, Vice News)

 On Sunday, Trump blasted Manhattan's first Black DA as a "racist in reverse." 

Other targets include Georgia's Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who's eyeing Trump for possible criminal charges over his attempts to flip his 2020 election defeat in that state into a victory. Willis, a Democrat and daughter of a Black Panther, is the first Black woman ever elected to serve as chief prosecutor in Georgia's most populous county. Trump also used the same language to target Attorney General Letitia James, the first Black woman ever elected to statewide office of any kind, who filed a $250 million fraud suit against Trump and his company.

Bragg, Willis, and James all won historic elections to become the first Black men and women to ever hold their offices. But Trump seems to feel it's unfair for Black law enforcement officials to look into his long series of questionable activities. Trump doubles down on these racist attacks by claiming that while these law enforcement officers are looking into his affairs, they're ignoring violent crime in their own urban districts.  

Trump also constantly links Bragg to George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who's become a kind of bogeyman for the hard right, and symbol of antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world.

So "woke."

March 21, 2023

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Against Divorce: David Hume Defends Traditional Marriage: Learning from a religious skeptic's rejection of polygamy and easy divorce. (RUSSELL NIELI, 4/27/11, Law & Liberty)

What Hume has to say about divorce and the happiness of spouses contains his most profound insight into human relationships and the difficulties of sustaining marital happiness. Contrary to what some romantics may think, marital happiness and conjugal human love cannot be sustained by amorous or infatuating passions, Hume says, since they are by nature unstable and fleeting. "Amorous love," he says, "is a restless and impatient passion, full of caprices and variations--arising in a moment from a feature, from an air, from nothing, and suddenly extinguishing after the same manner." Whatever its value may be, no marriage can be sustained by it.

Hume proposed as his alternative the companionate friendship that is fostered by and preserves marriage. This, Hume says, is an affection "calm and sedate ... conducted by reason and cemented by habit, springing from long acquaintance and mutual obligations, without jealousies or fears, and without those feverish fits of heat and cold, which cause such an agreeable torment in the amorous passion." Abiding friendship and the sharing of life's experiences and tasks, says Hume, are what render the married state both endurable and happy.

Does the presence of an option for "voluntary divorce" within a marriage negatively affect the cultivation of friendship between the marital partners and hence their conjugal happiness? It does, says Hume, and it does so in a powerful way. If spouses know they can divorce at will and seek their marital bliss with another partner, the relationship dynamics within marriage, he believed, would be radically altered and in such a manner that diminishes marital stability and marital happiness. With no sense of obligation to stick together through thick and thin, they would be less inclined to work together to iron out their differences and keep their conjugal friendship alive.

There is a paradox here, Hume acknowledges, in that "the heart of man naturally delights in liberty," and the liberty to marry the person of one's affection is acknowledged as an important ingredient in marital happiness. But once married, the liberty of easy divorce has the opposite effect on a couple's happiness, Hume says, and he gives as an historical example the decline in marital happiness that followed Rome's abandonment of its ancient proscription of divorce. Under the older dispensation, says Hume (citing the Roman historian and orator Dionysius Halicarnassus), marriages were generally harmonious and satisfying, as couples "considered the inevitable necessity by which they were linked together and abandoned all prospect of any other choice or establishment." "The heart of man naturally submits to necessity," Hume explains, and it will soon lose "an inclination when there appears an absolute impossibility of gratifying it." The secret to happy marriages thus involves principles of both freedom and constraint, principles Hume readily acknowledges that seem to contradict one another. "But what is man," he muses, "but a heap of contradictions!"

Hume would no doubt agree with the claim of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his prison "Wedding Sermon": "It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love." The no-divorce-option marriage, for Hume, is an institution that binds spouses together through strong social and legal obligations, and gives them permanent incentives to sustain and deepen their mutual friendship and love.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Hundreds of Thousands of Iraqis Were Killed in the War. One Was My Brother.: But I don't share the conventional wisdom that the U.S. invasion, which began 20 years ago this week, was a colossal failure. (Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, March 21, 2023, Free Press)

It is hard to express what it means, if you have lived under an authoritarian regime, to experience freedom. Those who have grown up with the privilege of liberty are lucky not to understand it--and the heavy price you are willing to pay for it if you have lived without it. 

But having the chance to elect your leaders is better than having zero say in who governs you for life. 

Having the chance to speak freely--the barbarous casualty count notwithstanding--is better than being hunted down for the sin of wrongthink.

Having the chance to defend yourself, as the people of Kurdistan have shown--the seemingly insurmountable obstacles notwithstanding--is better than a people so utterly subjugated they lose the will to fight.

Having the chance to pursue an education to the fullest extent of one's intellect--persistent gender inequality notwithstanding--is better than consigning an entire population to illiteracy of anything beyond the books dictated by the regime.

Having the chance to make others laugh--potential persecution for doing so notwithstanding--is better than a life entirely devoid of humor.

Something I learned from my dad early on is that no regime can take that away from you--that questioning of official truths, that ability to think critically. 

This is why, despite everything, despite all of the experts and the conventional wisdom and the unpopularity of my views, I remain optimistic that one day, I will be able to travel back to my old neighborhood. To go back to my old home. To revel in the memories I shared with my family there. Especially with Samir. 

Thanks, W. 
Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Barrett May Be Pivotal in Navajo Nation Water Dispute With US (Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson, 3/20/23, Bloomberg Law)

Eight justices at argument on Monday appeared evenly divided in the dispute over the Colorado River with conservative Neil Gorsuch and his liberal colleagues lining up together.

Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Gorsuch, and Ketanji Brown Jackson leaned toward tribal water access claims. Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh appeared to side with the Biden administration, which is backed by Arizona and other states.

Barrett, a conservative, didn't have a track record in tribal cases on the Chicago-based US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit where she sat before becoming a justice in 2020. She's since ruled both for and against tribal interests, and suggested the possibility of a narrow win for the Navajo in this case.

If textualism means anything it is that the words of the treaty are dispositive

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How a Florida bill could hurt Jewish studies (Adam Kovac March 17, 2023, The Forward)

Since early February, the bill has been winding its way through the state's legislative process. The bill contains language banning "Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Radical Feminist Theory, Radical Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Social Justice, or Intersectionality" -- or schools would risk losing funding. 

The bill also prohibits schools from using state or federal funds to advocate for equity, diversity or inclusion. 

Since its introduction, the bill has been widely denounced among academics, with the American Council of Learned Societies calling it a "danger" to higher education. 

The wording of the bill is so vague that some fear it could have repercussions for courses and programs that are not in the crosshairs of right-wing shibboleths but could become collateral damage. 

"If the wording remains so open and so vague, it's not just Jewish studies that can be affected, it could be any program that legislators find they disagree with," said Rachel Harris, director of Jewish studies at Florida Atlantic University. 

Given the similar vagueness of the "Don't Say Gay" law, the weaponization is presumably the intent.

March 20, 2023

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The Far-Right Is Scared Trump's Call to Protest Is a Trap (Tess Owen, March 20, 2023, Vice News)

[S]ome of Trump's supporters seem to be worried about the possibility of walking into a repeat of Jan. 6, which remains a very sore spot in MAGA-world. Many continue to believe the baseless "fedsurrection" conspiracy theory which claims that FBI agents orchestrated the riot with the goal of smearing Trump supporters. And some feel as though Trump abandoned his loyal flock when they needed him the most, and did little to intervene as more than 1,000 were arrested for their actions on Jan. 6. 

Infowars contributor Paul Joseph Watson polled 1,850 Truth Social users with the question, "Is the potential protest against Trump being arrested a J6-style trap?" to which 85% of respondents voted "yes."

"Should you decide to protest the arrest of President Trump, be mindful of our brothers and sisters who have become victims of instigators," Gregg Phillips, leader of a right-wing election conspiracy group True the Vote who was jailed in November for contempt of court, wrote on Truth Social. "You will be arrested. They are already planning the assault on freedom of speech. Follow your own true north. If it seems odd, [it] probably is a set up."

The Proud Boys, whose top lieutenants are currently on trial for seditious conspiracy in connection to Jan. 6, have been largely quiet on the matter of protesting--at least as far as their public-facing channels are concerned.

Some Proud Boy chapters on Telegram have just shared an article by the far-right conspiracy website Gateway Pundit stating that "peaceful prayer protests" are being called for Trump nationwide. Others have circulated an image of Ray Epps, an Arizona man who unwittingly became the central focus of the "fedsurrection" conspiracy. "If you see this man at a protest next week do not follow him anywhere," North Carolina Proud Boy's chapter wrote on Telegram. "Contact your local Proud Boy chapter and report his whereabouts." 

QAnon influencer "Ghost Ezra" (real name Robert Smart), who has nearly 200,000 subscribers on Telegram, also suggested that any protests over Trump's this week would be teeming with federal agents. 

Everything is a set-up--stay home from now on.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Four more Oath Keepers convicted of Jan. 6 felonies (KYLE CHENEY, 03/20/2023, Politico)

Four more members of the Oath Keepers were convicted Monday of conspiracy to obstruct Congress' Jan. 6 proceedings, bringing the number of members of the group found guilty by juries of felonies related to the Capitol attack to more than a dozen.

On the bright side, they didn't get beat up by drag queens, like the "Proud Boys" this weekend...

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Everything you think you know about homelessness is wrong (A guest post by Aaron Carr, 3/20/23, Noahpinion)

If the primary problem of homelessness is housing, then the primary solution to homelessness is housing. And housing is indeed the solution:

●       Atlanta reduced homelessness by 40% through housing

●       Houston reduced homelessness by 63% through housing

●       Finland reduced homelessness by 75% through housing

●       Tokyo reduced homelessness by 80% through housing

But as important as housing supply is to reducing homelessness, places like Houston also demonstrate the importance of going beyond it.

Houston has always had a significantly lower rate of homelessness than other large cities, like New York City and Los Angeles, because unlike those cities, Houston builds a lot of housing:

But despite its ample housing supply, which, as mentioned, resulted in a lower baseline level of homelessness, Houston has still struggled with this problem. And that is because, while housing supply is vital, it will never ever, ever, ever be enough on its own for families who lack income, the disabled, the elderly, and other highly vulnerable populations.

This is why in 2011 Houston started going beyond supply by implementing the Housing First model, which pairs affordable housing with supportive services for people who are experiencing severe mental illness, drug addiction, and other debilitating issues. And, as a result, something incredible happened - homelessness plummeted:

And while mental health and drug addiction aren't lead factors in homelessness (the vast majority of homelessness is temporary and the vast majority of homeless people just need housing), some homeless people, particularly the chronically homeless (which, again, is a minority of the homeless population), need both housing and supportive services. But if you just give the chronically homeless supportive services without housing, they will still be homeless. Hence why homelessness is primarily a housing problem.

Critics of Housing First will be quick to point to California's gargantuan homeless population as a failure of the Housing First model. But California's homelessness crisis isn't an indictment of Housing First, it's an indictment of California's self-inflicted housing shortage and stratospheric rents, which have overwhelmed the Housing First system.

As the data clearly shows, places with the best track records of reducing homelessness do two things: (1) they build ample housing, thereby preventing many cases of homelessness from occurring in the first place, and (2) have ample subsidized housing, which humanely and effectively addresses the homelessness that does occur.

So in conclusion: places with the highest drug addiction rates, highest severe mental illness rates, highest poverty rates, most generous welfare benefits, and the nicest weather don't have the most homelessness. Places with the highest housing costs do. So we as a society are left with a choice: If we don't want to solve homelessness, we can continue to misdiagnose it. If we do want to solve homelessness, we can build an ample supply of housing and subsidized housing. There's no way around this. The solution is clear. And what happens next is up to us.

The Abolitionist: Bush's homelessness czar has some new ideas. Will liberals listen? (Douglas McGray, JUNE 2004, The Atlantic)

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


The American Right's New Authoritarian Squeeze: Its lust for overseas strongmen shows that it has no love for its own country's political ideals (DANIEL M. ROTHSCHILD, MAR 20, 2023, The UnPopulist)

Now corners of the America First right have found a new hotness: Salvadoran president and emerging caudillo Nayib Bukele. In the past month, Bukele has picked up endorsements from a motley crew of hard-right misfits and grifters, including Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and the top officers of the New York Young Republicans Club, who penned a glowing encomium to Bukele in Newsweek. This enthusiasm moved quickly into the realm of serious publications like The American Conservative and influential thinkers like U.K. political strategist Dominic Cummings.

Bukele, elected El Salvador's president in 2019, burst onto the norteamericano scene shortly thereafter, "investing" over $100 million of the country's treasury in Bitcoin, which is now worth a fraction of what it was at the time of purchase. In 2021, he pushed a bill making Bitcoin legal tender throughout the country--a controversial idea--and requiring every business to accept crypto. It does not seem to be going well, as cash continues to dominate the Salvadoran economy. Earlier this year, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed a bill allowing the issuance of "Volcano Tokens" to build a "Bitcoin City" where mining would be powered by volcanic energy--and I swear I am not making this up.

Unlike many of the emerging authoritarians who are, to borrow from Jay-Z, "loud as a motorbike but wouldn't bust a grape in a fruit fight," Bukele's words are matched by deeds; he has taken up the mantle of law-and-order while sharply curtailing the rule of law in El Salvador. As the Manhattan Institute's Daniel Di Martino explains, Bukele's party removed and replaced a third of the country's highest court with pliant justices who, in contravention of the plain text of the Salvadoran constitution, ruled that Bukele could run for reelection--a race he will probably win.

What put Bukele on the map of the America First set was the opening last month of a new prison, said to be the largest in the Americas, holding some 40,000 prisoners. Bukele released a slick video of himself touring the facility; the video was apparently broadcast nationally, but its real audience was Twitter.

And Twitter is where Bukele shines. With 4.9 million followers in a country of 6.3 million people, it seems safe to assume that most of his followers are not Salvadorans. When Bukele tweets in English, which is much of the time, it's frequently in the argot of the based-and-redpilled crowd; much of it uses slang or references to figures and memes unknown to normies. His audience is not primarily his constituents.

This is just the latest odd but concerning fascination in corners of the American right with strongmen abroad. 

...but the masochist bit of MAGA is wildly under-recognized, the desire to be dominated by a strongman. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


Trump's looming indictment, explained by a legal expert: David Lurie answers the big questions heading into what could be a momentous week. (Aaron Rupar, 3/20/23, Public Notice)

David Lurie is an attorney who practices in New York and writes about the intersection of law and politics. I did a Q&A with Lurie back in November about the DOJ investigation of Trump and ended up so impressed with his legal mind that I asked him if he'd be interested in writing for Public Notice. Thankfully he was up for it, and since then he's done great work in this newsletter on topics ranging from Kevin McCarthy to Bill Barr and Tucker Carlson. [...]

David Lurie [...]

Frankly, if Trump's situation is considered as a federal criminal campaign finance case, the evidence is pretty compelling against him. There were two women who claimed to have affairs with him. One woman [Karen McDougal] was paid for her story by the National Enquirer, which was then run by allies of Trump, but of course they never published anything about it, so she was paid to keep quiet. In the Daniels case, Michael Cohen -- Trump's fixer -- paid the money out of his own pocket, then got reimbursed by Trump right during the heat of the 2016 campaign. It's pretty clear that these were payments not to speak about the affairs in the time period right before the election.

Further, Trump is on record showing that he fully understands the law in this area. In fact, he was recorded in a cable news interview before Edwards went to trial discussing the case and why he didn't think Edwards should be prosecuted even though he didn't like him.

So Trump is well aware of the campaign finance laws, and that's important because knowledge of them is highly relevant to potential culpability. Now, why is that important here, since this isn't a federal campaign finance case? Well, there also are New York campaign finance laws that arguably were violated in connection with these payments.

I want to be very clear here that I am not taking any position on whether there's a valid theory for indicting Trump. There's a lot of speculation about that, but we haven't seen the indictment. We don't know all the evidence, because some of it has been taken in by a grand jury in secret. So I'm speaking in general and frankly somewhat hypothetical terms. But as I said there appears to be a substantial argument that just like the federal campaign finance laws, Trump violated the New York campaign finance laws, and might have done so knowingly. That's relevant because the rumor is that the New York DA is considering bringing a business records falsification case, and the difference between a business records falsification case being a misdemeanor and a felony turns on whether the falsification was related to a known effort to violate another law. So in this case, the other law would most likely be the campaign finance laws.

To be fair, there is no topic about which he could plead ignorance that would seem unlikely.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Trump Investigation You Probably Haven't Heard About (KIMBERLY WEHLE,  MARCH 20, 2023, The Bulwark)

But as it turns out, there's a sixth--this one involves both DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and it implicates conduct since Trump left office and after he was expelled from Twitter and launched his own social media platform, Truth Social.

The matter involves a so-called "blank check company" called Digital World Acquisition. Blank check companies have no established business plan but gather funds and sell shares to investors with the intention of merging with or acquiring another company in the future. The investors have no idea what they will ultimately be investing in. Under SEC rules, after an initial public offering (IPO), a blank check company's funds must be deposited in escrow prior to a transaction and held there until shareholders officially approve a merger. As of 2020, a particular form of blank check company known as "special purpose acquisition companies," or "SPACs," made up 50 percent of the market for IPOs. This figure represents a huge spike prompted by the SEC's temporary inability to approve traditional IPOs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump took advantage of it to launch Truth Social.

In April 2021, Trump's representatives had a videoconference with Patrick Orlando, Digital World's chief executive. A month later, Digital World advised the federal government in securities filings that it had not identified or had discussions with any potential merger targets.

In October, Trump Media & Technology Group merged with Digital World, which provided $293 million in funding it raised in its IPO on September 8, 2021, mostly from big investors who pitched in as much as $30 million apiece. The series of events drew the attention of the SEC, which opened an investigation in December 2021, presumably out of a concern that Trump and Digital World might have secretly planned the merger before going public and failed to disclose their communications to the SEC. According to reporting by the New York Times, the average time for public blank check companies to find a target to merge with and complete a deal is 17 months. Digital World did it within a month of going public. The SEC probe has delayed the Trump Media-Digital World merger indefinitely.


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Online Sleuths Untangle the Mystery of the Nord Stream Sabotage (Matt Burgess, Mar 20, 2023 Wired)

In the absence of official information, OSINT researchers have been trying to plug the gaps by examining the claims of the new reports with public data. OSINT analysis is a powerful way to determine how an event may have unfolded. For instance, flight- and ship-tracking data can reveal movements around the world, satellite images show Earth in near real-time, while small clues in the backgrounds of photos and videos can reveal where they were taken. The techniques have uncovered Russian assassins, spotted North Korea evading international trading sanctions, identified potential war criminals, and documented pollution.

For the Nord Stream blasts, there was little OSINT available. Researchers identified "dark ships" in the area. But underwater, there are obviously limited data sources that can be tapped into--cameras and sensors don't monitor every inch of the pipelines. "OSINT probably won't break this case open, but it can be used to verify or strengthen other hypotheses," says Oliver Alexander, an analyst who focuses on OSINT and has been closely looking at the Nord Stream blasts. "I do think that it's more of a verification tool."

Alexander and others have been examining the claims made so far. The New York Times and Die Zeit both published stories on March 7 claiming a Ukrainian group was behind the sabotage. (Ukraine has denied any involvement.) Die Zeit published more details, claiming German investigators searched a yacht rented from a company based in Poland, knew where the yacht sailed from, and that six people were involved in the operation, including two divers. All of them used forged passports, the publication reported.

The details were enough for OSINT researchers to start tracking down which yacht could have been used. Alexander, as well as contributors to the open-source investigative outlet Bellingcat, started following the breadcrumbs, narrowing down potential vessels. A follow-up report soon named the boat under suspicion as the Andromeda, a 15-meter-long yacht. Webcam footage from the harbor where it is believed the Andromeda was docked shows the movement of a boat around the time reported by the publications. (The Andromeda is reportedly too small to be required to use ship-tracking systems.) Years-old videos and photos of the boat have surfaced. The sleuthing adds public details to the reports.

Similarly, OSINT has been used to debunk Hersh's story claiming the United States was behind the explosions. (Hersh has defended his article, while US officials have said it was false.) Alexander has used, among other things, ship-tracking data to show Norwegian ships were "accounted for" and not in a "position to have placed the explosives on the Nord Stream pipeline, as claimed by Hersh." Another detailed article from Norwegian journalists has similarly poured cold water on Hersh's claims, partly using satellite data.

We should be taking credit for the attack regardless.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rooftop solar payback periods are back down to near record-lows (Rachel Williamson, 3/20/23, OSOTG)

Rising power prices are bringing rooftop solar payback periods back down towards the record low seen in 2020, almost completely wiping out the impact of higher component costs.

New data from the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) shows payback periods are down to 3.4 years for a 7 kilowatt (kW) system, close to the all-time record made in 2020 of 3.3 years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As Scope Of Trump's Lies Emerges, Georgia Indictment Appears More Likely (Mark Sumner, March 20 | 2023, National Memo)

As a number of grand jury cases connected with Donald Trump push toward possible time in court, more and more evidence is leaking to the public that shows just how much effort Trump put into finding some evidence of voter fraud, and just how much lying he was willing to do when that evidence failed to appear.

Last September, it became clear that an internal report prepared at Donald Trump's order had failed to support claims of any issue with voting machines even as Trump's attorneys were in court claiming that Dominion and Smartmatic were secretly using the same software, that Dominion had been founded to serve former Venezuela dictator Hugo Chávez, that the machines were funded by George Soros, and that Dominion's leadership had connections to antifa activists.

However, all of these claims had already been debunked by that internal report prepared expressly for Trump. As The New York Times reported then, it's not as if the people making statements in court were unaware of the findings. They just hid them.

The documents also suggest that the campaign sat on its findings about Dominion even as Sidney Powell and other lawyers attacked the company in the conservative media and ultimately filed four federal lawsuits accusing it of a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Mr. Trump.

In recent weeks, it's become increasingly clear that Trump is terrified. He's been using his social media accounts to attack investigations into his lies about the election, investigations into his connection to Jan. 6, investigations into tax fraud, and investigations into crimes associated with his payoff to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The increasing frequency and vehemence of these posts shows just how certainly Trump seems to believe papers are coming to his door. And soon.

The report viewed by the Post shows that Trump knew his actions in almost every state where his "elite legal team" was clogging the courts were based on outright lies. In Nevada, Trump's lawyers went to court claiming that 1,506 ballots were "cast in the names of dead people." Trump's own investigators actually indicated a number of around 20. And this number is likely too high.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tucker Carlson's fake populism (MICHAEL CUENCO, March 20, 2023, UnHerd)
I shudder whenever I see Tucker Carlson trending in the news. Not because I think he's a fascist or white supremacist, but because I once held him up as the harbinger of a new kind of politics. It wasn't too long ago that Tucker's show featured pointed critiques of free market fundamentalism, the neoliberal consensus, and the general stupidity of Bush-era conservatism. And though he was always prone to rhetorical excess in his coverage of immigration, for instance, I felt he stood for the fundamentally sound principle that sovereignty entailed having ultimate control over one's borders.

This gentleman is trying to differentiate samenesses. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Long COVID Comes Into the LightWe're finally starting to see the truth about the vexing condition. It's not what we thought. (JEFF WISE, MARCH 19, 2023, Slate)

As vaccines rolled out across the country in 2021, researchers at the Mayo Clinic analyzed the symptoms of 108 patients who'd come for post-COVID care. Their results suggested that these patients fell into two main camps. Some, mostly men, suffered severe illness and were still being plagued by symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath. Then there were others, mostly women, who had experienced relatively mild illness, or no symptoms at all, but were subsequently dogged by "widespread pain, fatigue," and "cognitive impairment, including the commonly reported "brain fog." The authors noted that this cluster of symptoms resembled a class of broadly similar conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), all of which can leave sufferers incapacitated for years at a time. [...]

One study of patients in an Israeli health network looked at the incidence of 70 commonly reported long COVID symptoms in 150,000 patients. The researchers found that patients who'd been infected were more likely than people in a control group to suffer for extended periods from certain symptoms, in particular loss of taste and smell, concentration and memory problems, difficulty breathing, weakness, hair loss, palpitations, and chest pain. But the difference between the infected and controls largely disappeared by the end of the first year, and to the extent that they remained, they affected a relatively small number of patients. For instance, 407 of the COVID patients reported having persistent concentration and memory problems at the end of the first year, while 276 of the controls also did. That meant that for every 10,000 people, only about 13 had cognitive difficulties that were attributable specifically to COVID.

The researchers had gone into the project expecting to find a large number of chronic COVID aftereffects. Instead, they concluded that there were actually very few. "As we analyzed the data," the lead authors told Stat in January, "we were surprised to find only a small number of symptoms that were related to COVID and remained for a year post infection and the low number of people affected by them."

It's exactly what was thought.

March 19, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The fringe group that broke the GOP's brain -- and helped the party win elections: The John Birch Society pushed a darker, more conspiratorial politics in the '50s and '60s -- and looms large over today's GOP, argues historian Matthew Dallek. (Ian Ward  Mar 19, 2023, Vox)

Ian Ward
What sort of tactics did the Birchers use in their early days to mobilize the conservative grassroots outside of the party apparatus of the GOP?

Matthew Dallek
Their mission throughout the 1960s was to try to educate the American people about the communist conspiracy, and many of the Birchers -- not all, but many -- were suspicious of the two-party system.

They didn't like democracy, and they believed the only way to save the country was through a kind of shock education -- through controlling the kinds of texts that kids and college students and other Americans were exposed to...

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Trump in panic mode as he braces for likely charges in Stormy Daniels case (Hugo Lowell,  19 Mar 2023, The Guardian)

[T]he frenzied posts from Trump reflected his deep panic and anxiety over the imminence and likelihood of criminal charges, the sources said, not least because he is powerless to stop the district attorney's office from moving forward with a case that will take the US into new legal territory as Trump revs up his 2024 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump and his allies have suggested in recent days that an indictment in the hush money case could benefit him politically - the Republican base might see the years-old case as a genuine "witch-hunt" as he has claimed - but it is also true that Trump himself is deeply fearful of criminal charges.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Some of my GOP colleagues have lost their moral compass on Ukraine (Chris Sununu, March 18, 2023, Washington Post)

"America First" does not mean "America Only." It means putting our interests first -- and that's what opposing Russia in Ukraine does.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a "territorial dispute," as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described it this month. Russia is engaged in a war against an innocent people, and it must be condemned. The United States of America is the greatest country on Earth, and we must stand with our allies around the globe to fight aggressive and dangerous regimes that threaten freedom wherever they are.

Simply opposing aid to Ukraine because President Biden supports it is not a viable foreign policy. To abandon Ukraine would set off a negative chain of events for U.S. interests domestically and abroad. Vladimir Putin is knocking at NATO's doorstep, and without our support -- and the support of our European allies -- Ukraine will fall, resulting in far graver problems for the United States: conflict across Europe.

For generations, oppressive authoritarian rule has quashed religious freedom and limited individual opportunities across the globe. The United States should stand with freedom-loving people and help support emerging democracies wherever they are. The days of being coy on foreign policy are over.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


At center of Fox News lawsuit, Sidney Powell and a 'wackadoodle' email (Sarah Ellison and Amy Gardner, March 16, 2023, Washington Post)

A day after major news organizations declared Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential race, a Sunday-morning guest on Fox News was holding forth on exotic and baseless claims of election fraud -- allegedly deceased voters, ballots supposedly lacking an option to vote for Donald Trump, an "affidavit" from a postal worker claiming to have postdated mail-in ballots -- when host Maria Bartiromo pressed for more details.

"Sidney, we talked about the Dominion software," Bartiromo said on the Nov. 8, 2020, broadcast. "I know that there were voting irregularities. Tell me about that."

The guest was Sidney Powell, a Texas-based lawyer who would soon be ambiguously connected to the Trump legal team mustered to challenge the election results. She stared stiffly into the lights of a satellite TV studio but answered without hesitation.

"That's putting it mildly," Powell replied. "The computer glitches could not and should not have happened at all. That's where the fraud took place, where they were flipping votes in the computer system or adding votes that did not exist."

It was the first of a dozen appearances Powell would make on Fox programs over the next month in which she helped inject far-fetched and debunked claims of widespread fraud into the mainstream -- and which are now at the heart of Dominion Voting Systems' $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox, court documents show.

These appearances helped elevate a once-obscure lawyer to a marquee player in Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election -- and helped keep her claims of fraud on the forefront for millions of loyal Fox viewers, including Trump himself. Powell would continue to appear on Fox for weeks after Dominion protested that it had been unfairly smeared, and as Fox News executives privately agonized that these on-air falsehoods created a problem for the network, according to newly released internal communications and testimony.

She would even appear on Fox programs after a Fox Corp. senior vice president said he had privately begged the White House to disavow Powell.

All you really need to know about MAGA is that they think new outlets that didn't provide a platform for this stuff are elite media.

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


These young female athletes died by suicide. They all had head injuries in common (Amy Woodyatt, 2/06/23, CNN)

Kelly Catlin and Ellie Soutter never met, but they had a lot in common.

Both were commanding athletes: Catlin, a US track cyclist, was a three-times world champion and Olympic silver medalist, and Soutter, a snowboarder, was tipped to be one of Team Great Britain's strongest contenders for the 2022 Winter Olympics, having already won a bronze medal at the 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival.

Both were incredibly smart -- Catlin was studying for a master's degree in computational and mathematical engineering at Stanford University, while Soutter learned to speak French in about six months, according to her father.

At times they almost seemed superhuman. In 2013, after only three weeks of formal training and having broken her wrist, Soutter became British Champion with her arm in a cast. Meanwhile, Catlin, who had a tenderness for children, once rode 80 miles through sleet and snow to speak to a grade school about her Olympic experience.

Yet these two women's lives were tragically cut short after they sustained serious head injuries in their pursuit of sporting greatness and then took their own lives. Catlin was 23, while Soutter died by suicide on her 18th birthday.

Females may be more susceptible to concussion, and they also have worse and prolonged symptoms after their injury than men, according to a review of 25 studies of sport-related concussion published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


ADL research: Conspiracy-minded Americans tend toward antisemitic views (Times of Israel, 3/19/23)

Cross-referencing that data with other questions, the researchers found, for example, that individuals who strongly agreed with the statement "I think that seemingly unconnected events are often the result of secret activities" were also those who agreed with the highest number of anti-Jewish tropes (6.7 on average). Those who strongly disagreed with the above statement agreed with 2.5 tropes on average.

In another instance, people who strongly concurred that "there are secret organizations that greatly influence political decisions" were again the highest in their Jewish stereotypes score (5.2) compared to those who strongly disagreed (2.7).

In a question intended to evoke the Great Replacement Theory, respondents were asked to rate the statement: "There are people who secretly work to make sure immigrants will eventually replace real Americans." Once again, those who strongly agreed scored highest on the Jewish stereotypes believed (6.8) compared to those who strongly disagreed (2.8).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Seven Attributes: The greatness of the United States has always depended on our determination to drive forward -- and strive upward. (The Modern Whig Institute, Mar 13, 2023)

In a study released last year by the Rand Corporation, political scientist Michael J. Mazarr outlined seven key social attributes which serve as the foundations of national competitive success. While the focus of the study was on American standing on the global stage, it's useful to think of these same seven attributes simply in terms of a healthy, functioning society. They are:

national ambition and will

unified national identity

shared opportunity

an active state

effective institutions

a learning and adapting society

competitive diversity and pluralism 

Whigs have much to say about each of these areas. And over time, we've developed many analyses, frameworks and proposals which line up with each of them, and all of them as a whole. But for now, let's look at them -- let's call them the Seven Attributes -- mostly in general terms. [...]

Unified National Identity

America is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants. Everyone in the country, other than Indigenous Americans, can trace their ancestry to somewhere else. Even those whose family line goes back to the landing of the Mayflower and the Colonial Era which followed it must acknowledge their roots lie across the sea, or somewhere in the Western Hemisphere outside the borders of the United States.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a distinctive American identity; far from it. Even at the time of the War for Independence, when virtually all of the Colonists considered themselves British subjects (including many on Washington's own staff, who would toast the King at dinner even as the Revolution raged), the people of the Colonies also thought of themselves as uniquely American. They were self-governing, despising of oppression, insistent on their rights and devoted to their communities long before the ratification of the Constitution would make them actual citizens of a new country.

Since then, the definition of Americanism has often been the subject of heated debate. In our current age, many seek to make it contingent on a particular racial, ethnic or religious background, while others disparage it as nothing more than the cultural institutionalization of our national original sin, slavery. Neither seems willing to accept the American identity for what it truly is: a dedication to shared ideals and the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, as expressed in a common language, and reinforced throughout our history by law and custom. 

None of which is to dismiss our highly diverse cultural heritage, each strand of which contributes to the whole. Nor is it to assert those who come to this country unable to speak English cannot be true Americans; our fundamental principles can be conveyed in almost any language. But as Teddy Roosevelt once famously said, "In this country we have no place for hyphenated Americans." To be one nation means to have one nationality.

For those of us born here and those of us who have emigrated from another land, our Pledge of Allegiance is the same. Each and every citizen -- naturalized, native-born or aspiring -- is a member of "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." We all share a common civic creed. And the individual commitment the Pledge expresses continues for a lifetime; we are eternally part of one People under one Constitution, loyal to just one country, even as we celebrate the heritage of others. 

Shared Opportunity

Whigs are devoted capitalists. We believe in free enterprise, the profit motive, well-functioning markets and our natural right to the pursuit of happiness. But we also understand capitalism can have many variations, and no single iteration may be the correct one in all respects for all places at all times.

In our view, a good starting point in developing sensible economic theory is ordoliberalism, which holds the primary goal of government policy should be the creation of the general conditions necessary for broad-based prosperity: a healthy and consistent legal environment supporting fair competition, sound fiscal and monetary policy to keep the currency stable and inflation low, and an adequate social safety net to promote small business and entrepreneurship. What government should not do is guarantee outcomes. [...]

An Active State

Before the seemingly endless Culture War came to dominate our public discourse, political debate mostly focused on the legitimate differences between the Left and the Right on the proper size of government. "Big government" liberals would square off against "small government" conservatives, the Right accusing the Left of wanting government to do almost everything (which, for some on the Left, was undoubtedly true), and the Left accusing the Right of wanting the government to do almost nothing (to which many on the Right would gladly and enthusiastically agree).

Whigs reject this paradigm. For one thing, there's no tried-and-true way of measuring the size of government. For example, in terms of the number of people working for the federal government, the level has remained fairly constant: in 1982 there were roughly 2.89 million civilian federal employees; in 2021 there were about 2.85 million. Since 1962 the same measure as a percentage of the population has actually dropped by more than half, from just under 3 percent to about 1. 4 percent today (the drop actually exceeds the increase in population). And despite spikes here and there, the story basically stays the same when we look at the total workforce, including contractors.


In terms of taxes and spending, the numbers also have remained fairly constant. In 1982, federal tax revenue amounted to about 18.475 percent of GDP; in 2021 it was 17.599 percent; in 1962 it was 16.505 percent. And it's a similar story for federal spending: in 1982, federal budget outlays were about 22.3 percent of GDP; in 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and sent the number through the roof, they were 20.8 percent. In 1962, the number was just under 17.7 percent.

March 18, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM



Chevrolet now offers a few different models of EVs. The Chevrolet Bolt EV is one of the most popular models, and not just because it has a range of 259 miles on a single charge. 

The Bolt EV is a popular choice because you could get up to $7,500 back (as a tax credit) as part of the federal government's effort to promote clean transportation. That's a serious chunk of change.

And since the Bolt EV has a (relatively) low starting price of around $26,500, when you factor in the tax credit, it's one of the cheapest EVs in the entire country.

The other Chevy EV model available now is the Bolt EUV, which like the Bolt EV, may qualify for a $7,500 tax credit. Also, like the Bolt EV, the EUV model is pretty cheap, starting at only $27,800.

Yeah, but they're way cheaper to operate too...

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Madame Mao's Nietzschean Revolution (DYLAN LEVI KING MARCH 17, 2023, Palladium)

Jiang's philosophy of heroism seems unusual for the wife of China's most famous communist. Marxist analysis doesn't obviously lend itself to individual valorization. But Marx was not Madame Mao's teacher in these matters. That role fell to Friedrich Nietzsche.

Jiang was hardly the only Nietzschean in the red camp. Mao Zedong himself had been exposed to Nietzsche before Marx. Late Qing reformers had picked up Nietzsche's ideas as they visited Japan and Germany; the young Mao devoured their work. The archives preserve Mao's first writing on Nietzsche, scribbled in the margins of Cai Yuanpei's translation of Friedrich Paulsen's A System of Ethics. Mao admired the neo-Kantian Paulsen but had an instinctual sympathy with Nietzsche's view that traditional morality needed to be upended. Only by harnessing powerful, buried forces did Mao see a path toward a new world.

The artists and thinkers of the early Republican period were likewise enthralled by Nietzsche, the rebel philosopher who believed in the power of culture. For those focused on sweeping away the dust of feudal China, his nihilistic attack on tradition and call to overcome slave morality translated well into the post-imperial context. It is no wonder that Nietzsche was idolized by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, who would go on to found the Communist Party.

Even once figures like Chen, Li, and Mao turned left, they continued to absorb Nietzschean ideas. His thinking permeated many of the Bolsheviks, as well as radical Russian intellectuals and artists. Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Aleksandr Bogdanov, and Nikolai Bukharin all refer to Nietzsche explicitly or implicitly. Bukharin and Bogdanov, in particular, drew on him enough to be dubbed "Nietzschean Marxists" by scholars. In the words of historian Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, Nietzsche was "a vital element of Bolshevism," animating an "activist, heroic, voluntaristic, mercilessly cruel, and future-oriented interpretation of Marxism." This line of Soviet cultural revolution intensified under the leadership of Stalin in the 1920s and 1930s: monumental art glorified the proletarian hero. There was even room for the Dionysian excess of the Russian avant-garde, though Stalin eventually turned against it.

Jiang, moving in radical circles in the 1930s, absorbed these ideas. Her study of Nietzsche came through the scholar Lu Xun. Before becoming the patron saint of socialist literature in the People's Republic of China, Lu was its foremost interpreter, translator, and popularizer of Nietzsche. Jiang idolized him, later declaring that while Mao was her political north star, Lu Xun provided her cultural guidance. While his books had been bowdlerized to remove more provocative texts, Jiang kept an unexpurgated 1938 edition of his collected work on her bookshelf deep into the Cultural Revolution, handbound in twenty volumes.

Lu Xun was a Nietzschean through and through. His reading of ​​Thus Spake Zarathustra in Japan in 1902 changed his worldview completely. In "On Cultural Extremism," an essay published in 1908, he pointed to the ideals of Nietzsche as the solution to China's ills--only the will to power of supreme individuals was capable of leading the benighted masses. Jiang would certainly have read "On Satanic Poetry," which Lun wrote under the stated influences of Nietzsche and Lord Byron. In it, he called for spiritual fighters and savage rebels to destroy the ultrastable system of Chinese ethics. Like Maxim Gorky in Russia, Lu's political allies downplayed his Nietzschean sympathies after he moved to the left, but they continued to energize his writing, theory, and criticism until his death in 1936.

When the Communists took control of China in 1949, Nietzsche was in the bloodstream of the party. His thinking would inform the psychopolitical project of creating the New Socialist Man in the ashes of the old society. When Jiang led her Dionysian artistic assault on the Apollonian state, Nietzsche was with her.

The Long War between Anglospheric and European philosophy has always been a disaster for the latter.

Review: Waller Newell's "Tyranny and Revolution: Rousseau to Heidegger" (Paul Krause, 03/08/2023, Merion West)

One of the great lies of modernity is that the ancient world was despotic, totalitarian, and authoritarian while we, by contrast, living in the afterglow of the Enlightenment (the greatest propaganda term ever invented), are freed from that ancient darkness and tyranny. The actual record of history calls this narrative into question. Modernity is witness to the "utopian genocides" of the last 200 years, beginning with the Terror of the French Revolution and proceeding with horrifying mass murderous regimes of the Bolsheviks, Nazis, Maoists, Khmer Rouge, ISIS, and others. Far from some glow of liberty, we live in the era of de-humanizing totalitarianism. How did we go from the noble humanism of the ancients and Christians to the de-humanizing tyranny and terror of the moderns?

This is the question that Waller Newell attempts to answer in his brilliant and provocatively insightful new book, Tyranny and Revolution: Rousseau to Heidegger, which was released this past September. Beginning with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, proceeding through the luminaries of German Idealism and Romanticism--climaxing with Hegel--then marching beyond Hegel to Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, Newell gives a reading of philosophy gone wrong. Horribly wrong. Or did it really go horribly wrong upon a second reading?

At first glance, Rousseau and the men and women inspired by him wanted freedom. Peter Neumann, in his recently translated work Jena 1800, called these men and women "free spirits," who sought the liberation of the soul from what threatened to enslave it. As I noted in the conclusion of my review of that book, "ironically, their ideas have often ended up enslaving and tyrannizing billions more despite the promise of liberation and liberty they desired." Most educational institutions and professors teach Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, even Nietzsche, and sometimes Heidegger as desiring a liberty denied by fraudulent bourgeois liberalism. I can recall from my first exposure to some of these philosophers (like Rousseau) in Advanced Placement European History as a high school student to my more immersive experience as a philosophy undergraduate that many of these philosophers were presented as champions of liberty. This is still the faulty and misleading presentation of them today which clouds our reading of them.

Newell offers a penetrating close and even sympathetic reading of these philosophers (especially Rousseau). But, in doing so, he also reveals the hate and venom at the core of their beliefs. It was not so much freedom that these men wanted, though they hid behind liberty's rhetoric. They wanted war with groups of people they regarded as the corrupters of human innocence and happiness. Their call for liberty and liberation was a veiled expression for their hatred and desire for war and vengeance.

Rousseau, "the intellectual godfather of the French Revolution," gave to the world the "loathsome vision" of the "bourgeois" man who is entirely self-centered, egoistical, and sentimentally apathetic or downright cruel. Today, that rhetoric is now commonplace. In Rousseau's time, it was not. Rousseau's incubation of hatred toward the commercially minded urban professional was then carried forward by subsequent philosophers, none more famous than Karl Marx. More on him in a bit. [...]

I began by noting that these philosophers examined in Newell's fantastic book are really philosophers of resentment. At least Nietzsche openly admitted it though it is not that hard to see it in Rousseau and Marx, when one is not poisoned by their acidic ideologies. Their liberty is premised on a hatred of the other, in whatever form and conjured-up image it takes: the bourgeois, the master, the capitalist, the parasitic materialist, the Christian, the Last Man, the technocratic modern. In that hatred of the other, the seed of tyranny and revolution was nurtured--not as a want for liberty but as a desire to punish those who had taken away some past or future birthright of freedom and happiness.

Identitarianism is a function of these hatreds. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


The true Left is not woke: Progressive activists have forgotten their intellectual roots (Susan Neiman, March 18, 2023, UnHerd)

Take a sentence the New York Times printed shortly after Biden's election: "Despite Vice President Kamala D. Harris's Indian roots, the Biden administration may prove less forgiving over Modi's Hindu nationalist agenda." If you read that quickly, you may miss the theoretical assumption: political views are determined by ethnic backgrounds. If you know nothing about contemporary India, you may miss the fact that the fiercest critics of Modi's violent nationalism are themselves Indian.

Now, the New York Times is neither unique nor particularly leftist, but it does set standards for progressive discourse in more than one country. What concerns me most here are the ways in which contemporary voices considered to be progressive have abandoned the philosophical ideas that are central to any liberal or Left-wing standpoint: a commitment to universalism over tribalism, a firm distinction between justice and power, and a belief in the possibility of progress. All these ideas are connected. The Right may be more dangerous, but today's Left has deprived itself of ideas we need if we hope to resist the lurch to the Right.

This Rightwards lurch is international and organised. The solidarity between them suggests that nationalist beliefs are only marginally based on the idea that Hungarians/Norwegians/Jews/Germans/Anglo-Saxons/Hindus are the best of all possible tribes. What unites them is the principle of tribalism itself: you will only truly connect with those who belong to your tribe, and you need have no deep commitments to anyone else.

Woke is anti-Identitarian.  

March 17, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Comparison of mental health symptoms before and during the covid-19 pandemic: evidence from a systematic review and meta-analysis of 134 cohorts (BMJ 2023;380:e074224, 3/08/23)

Conclusions High risk of bias in many studies and substantial heterogeneity suggest caution in interpreting results. Nonetheless, most symptom change estimates for general mental health, anxiety symptoms, and depression symptoms were close to zero and not statistically significant, and significant changes were of minimal to small magnitudes. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Judge Rules Trump Lawyer Must Testify in Documents Inquiry (Alan Feuer and Maggie Haberman, 3/17/23, NY Times)

A federal judge has ruled that prosecutors overseeing the investigation into former President Donald J. Trump's handling of classified documents can pierce assertions of attorney-client privilege and compel one of his lawyers to answer more questions before a grand jury, two people familiar with the case said on Friday.

In making her ruling, the judge, Beryl A. Howell, found that the government had met the threshold for a special provision of the law known as the crime-fraud exception. That provision allows prosecutors to work around attorney-client privilege when they have reason to believe that legal advice or legal services have been used in furthering a crime.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Is Exercise Actually the Most Effective Antidepressant? (TANNER GARRITY, 3/17/23, Indide Hook)

Here's some not-so-great data on antidepressants:

Only 60% of patients respond positively to antidepressants.
Antidepressants can help people improve 9.6 points on a depression scale, but a placebo can help them improve 7.8 points.
People with depression actually don't have less serotonin than people without depression.
That's not to say SSRIs don't work, only that, according to some data, they're about 25% more effective than a Skittle. (Not to mention, they can induce long-term side effects like weight gain or sexual dysfunction.)

Looking to bridge this treatment gap, researchers have started looking into other options for relief. And somewhat surprisingly, exercise has emerged as a capable alternative.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Unearthed genetic sequences from China market may point to animal origin of COVID-19 (JON COHEN, 3/16/23, Science)

A scientific sleuth in France has identified previously undisclosed genetic data from a food market in Wuhan, China, that she and colleagues say support the theory that coronavirus-infected animals there triggered the COVID-19 pandemic. Several of the researchers presented their findings on Tuesday to the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO), an expert group convened last year by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"The data does point even further to a market origin," says Kristian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist at Scripps Research who attended the meeting and is one of the scientists analyzing the new data. If so, the findings weaken the view of a vocal minority that a virology lab in Wuhan was the likely origin of SARS-CoV-2, perhaps when the coronavirus infected a lab worker who spread it further.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


4Chan Troll Living With His Mom Arrested for Threatening Anti-Nazi Sheriff (Mack Lamoureux, March 17, 2023, Vice News)

A mid-30s 4Chan user who lives in his mom's house was arrested on charges of threatening to kill a Florida sheriff who recently went viral for his anti-Nazi tirade.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


India: How electric vehicles are driving a green transition (Murali Krishnan, 3/17/23, Deutsche-Welle)

With a surging car market, India's transition to electric mobility will be faster as automobile companies make big-ticket investments in the development of infrastructure to facilitate electric vehicle penetration in the country, industry experts expect.

"I am bullish about the EV market. Given the right impetus, rising EV adoption will create an immediate requirement to embrace the next-generation needs of the automotive industry," Jaideep Wadhwa, director of Sterling Gtake E-Mobility, a motor control units' manufacturer for EVs, told DW.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Steve Bannon Is Neck-Deep in Guo Wengui's Allegedly Fraudulent Business Empire: Federal investigators have asked witnesses about Bannon's connections to the far-right mogul. (DAN FRIEDMAN, 3/17/23, Mother Jones)

In late November 2021, Steve Bannon appeared in a live broadcast on GTV, a media outlet that he'd helped his friend Guo Wengui launch a year earlier. Bannon used the appearance to celebrate HCoin, a supposed cryptocurrency that Guo was selling. The currency, Bannon said, was a "monumental" and "extraordinary" success. Bannon also hailed the Himalaya Exchange, Guo's purported platform for trading digital assets like HCoin. Bannon lauded GTV. He even touted Guo's fashion company. These ventures, Bannon suggested, were an opportunity for Guo's fans, mostly Chinese emigres, to hurt China's rulers. "If you look at institutionalization of the counteroffensive to Chinese Communist Party, it's pretty impressive," Bannon gushed.

That was just one of numerous occasions in which Bannon has heaped praise on Guo and his companies, often in venues where his words mostly reach Guo's anti-Communist followers.

On Wednesday, federal agents arrested Guo and accused him, along his former financier William Je, of stealing more than a $1 billion from thousands of Guo's own supporters by soliciting investments in some of the same companies that Bannon has promoted. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Netanyahu Holds the Key to De-escalating Israel's Crisis (Neri Zilber, March 16, 2023, New/Lines)

Because of mass demonstrations along the highways, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced last week to use a helicopter instead of what is usually the 20-minute drive from Jerusalem to Israel's international airport near Tel Aviv. Like a tinpot ruler afraid of his own people, the long-serving Netanyahu also deployed an empty helicopter as a decoy against protesters and to ensure the logistical shame wasn't caught on camera.

In another sign of ignominy, upon arrival at the airport, Netanyahu met with visiting U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who was unable to leave the airport and flew out after only a few hours. The Israeli premier then embarked on a diplomatic trip to Rome, where he and his wife used the long weekend to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Israel these days feels like a country on the brink. In the face of massive public opposition to proposed curbs in the supreme court's powers, Netanyahu's far-right government -- just over two months in office -- is pushing ahead with its plan to radically overhaul the judiciary and arrogate nearly unchecked power to itself.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets for 10 successive weeks, in demonstrations and strike actions, as part of the largest and longest protest movement in Israel's history. The twin pillars of the country's military strength and economic power -- elite combat reservists and tech workers -- are in open revolt and have taken highly public leadership roles in the protests. The shekel has depreciated, Israelis are moving money out of the country, and global credit rating agencies warn of further negative repercussions.

On an almost daily basis, the government appears to be in open warfare, not only against the court (its first and immediate target) but also its own attorney general, legal advisers and national police. Senior ministers have been forced to cancel multiple public appearances because of demonstrations, while Netanyahu's wife, Sara, was recently besieged at a hair salon in swanky north Tel Aviv and had to be extracted by riot police.

"Whoever thinks that a real civil war, of human lives, is a limit that we will not reach, has no clue," said President Isaac Herzog in yet another harrowed primetime address to the nation on March 15. "Precisely now -- in the 75th year of our independence -- the abyss is within touching distance. We are at a crossroads: a historic crisis or a defining constitutional moment."

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


'Dead' Electric Car Batteries Find a Second Life Powering Cities (Peter Yeung, March 13, 2023, Reasons to Be Cheerful)

Last month, a small warehouse in the English city of Nottingham received the crucial final components for a project that leverages the power of used EV batteries to create a new kind of circular economy.

Inside, city authorities have installed 40 two-way electric vehicle chargers that are connected to solar panels and a pioneering battery energy storage system, which will together power a number of on-site facilities and a fleet of 200 municipal vehicles while simultaneously helping to decarbonize the UK's electrical grid.

Each day Nottingham will send a combination of solar-generated energy -- and whatever is left in the vehicles after the day's use -- from its storage devices into the national grid.  The so-called "vehicle to grid" chargers deliver this energy just when it's needed most, during peak evening demand, when people are home cooking, using hot water or watching TV. Later, the same chargers pull energy from the grid to recharge the vehicles in the wee hours of the night, when folks are sleeping and electricity is cheaper and plentiful.

"We are trying to create a virtual power station," says Steve Cornes, Nottingham City Council's Technical Lead. "The solar power and battery storage will help us operate independently and outside of peak times, making our system more resilient and reducing stress on the national grid. We could even make a profit."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


The multiverse: Our universe is suspiciously unlikely to exist--unless it is one of many, says physicist (Martin Rees, 3/15/23, The Conversation)

The conditions of the universe can be described through its "fundamental constants"--fixed quantities in nature, such as the gravitational constant (called G) or the speed of light (called C). There are about 30 of these representing the sizes and strengths of parameters such as particle masses, forces or the universe's expansion. But our theories don't explain what values these constants should have. Instead, we have to measure them and plug their values into our equations to accurately describe nature.

The values of the constants are in the range that allows complex systems such as stars, planets, carbon and ultimately humans to evolve. Physicists have discovered that if we tweaked some of these parameters by just a few percent, it would render our universe lifeless. The fact that life exists therefore takes some explaining.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Shiites the big winners in Iraq since US toppled Saddam (Tony GAMAL-GABRIEL, March 16, 2023, AFP)

Twenty years after US-led forces ousted Iraq's Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, the long-oppressed Shiite majority dominates the country's politics, with all the powers and pitfalls that come with government.

The big winners of the 2003 invasion, Shiite Muslims, despite their frequent internal squabbles, hold preeminence over Sunnis and the ethnic Kurdish minority in post-war Iraq's sectarian power sharing system.

They have ties with, and are watched over by, big neighbour Iran, which can be tricky as Tehran's ruling Shiite clerics have been declared foes of the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In a country of 42 million people where Shiites comprise the majority, two decades of power have also meant Iraq's Shiite figures are now held primarily accountable for the country's many problems.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Analysis: US grid could be 90 percent carbon-free by 2030 with IRA tax credits (ZACK BUDRYK, 03/16/23, The Hill)
Under the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, the American electrical grid could achieve up to 90 percent of its electricity without carbon emissions by 2030, according to an analysis published Wednesday by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The combination of the Inflation Reduction Act and the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law could increase the share of clean electricity from 41 percent in 2022 to between 71 percent and 90 percent by 2030, the report found. Researchers analyzed a broad range of scenarios, accounting for unknown quantities such as future fuel prices and technology costs.

Better to drop all subsidies though and just tax the externalities of fossil fuels.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


'Donald Trump Hates America!' Joe Scarborough Disgusted by Trump Calling the US 'Greatest Threat to Western Civilization Today' (Colby Hall, Mar 17th, 2023, Mediate)

At issue was a recent video released by Trump in which the leading Republican 2024 candidate strongly suggested that the United States is the greatest threat to Western civilization today, not Russia. Morning Joe played a portion of the clip in which Trump said:

Our greatest threat, but the greatest threat to Western civilization today is not Russia. It's probably more than anything else ourselves and some of the horrible USA hating people that represent us. It's the abolition of our national borders. It's the failure to police our own cities. It's the destruction of the rule of law from within. It's the collapse of the nuclear family. And fertility rates like nobody can believe is happening. It's the Marxists who would have us become a godless nation worshiping at the altar of race and gender.

"Blah blah blah," a disgusted Scarborough interrupted before saying, "You know, it's boring to me. What's boring to me is the hatred for America, the hatred from America that you hear spewing from Donald Trump's mouth."

To be fair, he's correct that Russia is no threat. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


March 16, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 3/16/23, Letters from an American)

Yesterday, Tamar Hallerman and Bill Rankin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the special grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, investigating the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in that state, heard yet another recording of former president Trump pushing a key lawmaker--in this case, Georgia House speaker David Ralston--to convene a special session of the legislature to overturn Biden's victory. 

One juror recalled that Ralston "basically cut the president off. He said, 'I will do everything in my power that I think is appropriate.' ... He just basically took the wind out of the sails." Ralston, who died last November, did not call a special session. 

This is the third such recorded call. One was with Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, and another was with the lead investigator in Raffensperger's office. Ralston had reported the call, but it was not public knowledge that there was a recording of it.

Hallerman and Rankin interviewed five members of the grand jury, which met for 8 months and heard testimony from 75 witnesses. The jurors praised the elections system, and one said, "I tell my wife if every person in America knew every single word of information we knew, this country would not be divided as it is right now." Another said: "A lot's gonna come out sooner or later.... And it's gonna be massive. It's gonna be massive."

The special grand jury recommended Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis indict people involved in the attempt to overturn the election. The cases are now in her hands.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Republican Operatives Are Astroturfing Opposition to Solar Power (Molly Taft, February 21, 2023, Gizmodo)

Several grassroots groups opposed to solar projects in local areas may have one thing in common: a Virginia-based group with powerful GOP connections advising them on strategy. National Public Radio and environmental news collective Floodlight published an expose Friday on a group called Citizens for Responsible Solar, a nonprofit founded in 2019, and its substantial influence in fighting renewable energy across the country--and connections to polluters and prominent climate deniers.

The group, according to its website, says its purpose is to "advocate for responsible solar policies that balance the demand for renewable energy with the interests of counties and their residents." But as NPR reports, the founder of Citizens for Responsible Solar, Susan Ralston, has a long resume in GOP politics and relationships with conservative heavy-hitters--she worked for both George W. Bush and Karl Rove. For her anti-solar groups work, Ralston has hired staff members and consultants with similarly strong ties to GOP political figures and dark money groups, including Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

And it looks like Ralston was being paid well by parties with a vested interest in not seeing renewable energy projects succeed. According to NPR, her consulting firm, SBR Enterprises Inc, received almost $300,000 between 2018 and 2020 from the Paul E. Singer Foundation, the charitable giving outlet of wealthy venture capitalist Paul Singer. Singer's investment firm is the largest shareholder of coal company Peabody Energy...

Leading Denier Think Tank Uses AI Image of Dead Whale and Wind Turbines (Molly Taft, 3/16/23, Gizmodo)

Readers of the daily email newsletter of one of the country's leading right-wing, fossil fuel-funded think tanks were treated to a bizarre sight this week: an AI-generated image of a dead whale washed ashore on a beach in front of wind turbines, above a fearmongering story about offshore wind. Unfortunately, what is isolated to one newsletter today could spread around the right-wing ecosystem tomorrow.

I cover climate and read breaking news about renewable energy every day; if there were a real photo of a dead whale in front of a wind farm like this, chances are I would have seen it. Still, the image gave me a jump when I opened the email from the Texas Public Policy Foundation. For a moment, I wondered if I'd somehow missed a huge story about a dead humpback that had washed ashore in front of a wind farm.

The story under the image is old hat for this particular newsletter. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, or TPPF, is one of the leaders in the national right-wing push against renewable energy--specifically against offshore wind. Despite its location in Texas, the group has lent its sizable financial muscle to anti-offshore wind efforts on the East Coast, joining a lawsuit against a project filed by local fishermen and creating an entire movie about the evils of wind energy.

The image is at least recognizably an AI generation: there's the tell-tale uncanny valley nature of the pattern of the debris of the beach, and the blades of the wind turbines are, well, bendy, in a way that you certainly don't see in real life. The biggest giveaway is the DALL-E generator watermark at the lower right hand corner of the image. When I plugged in various search terms, like "beached dead humpback whale in front of offshore wind turbines" into the DALL-E generator, I got images that looked a lot like what was at the top of my newsletter. (Some of mine were much better, not gonna lie.)

March 16, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


The Strongest Evidence Yet That an Animal Started the Pandemic (Katherine J. Wu, MARCH 16, 2023, 5The Atlantic)

This week, an international team of virologists, genomicists, and evolutionary biologists may have finally found crucial data to help fill that knowledge gap. A new analysis of genetic sequences collected from the market shows that raccoon dogs being illegally sold at the venue could have been carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019. It's some of the strongest support yet, experts told me, that the pandemic began when SARS-CoV-2 hopped from animals into humans, rather than in an accident among scientists experimenting with viruses.

Sinophobes hardest hit.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Fox's Tucker Carlson questions 9/11 attacks, complains you'd "lose your job" on TV for bringing it up (ERIC HANANOKI,  03/16/23, Media Matters)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently appeared on a podcast and pushed a central tenet of the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was an inside job, stating: "What actually happened with building 7? Like that is weird, right? It doesn't -- like, what is that?"

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


The GOP Campaign Trail Is Already Getting DeSantis-Proofed: As he explores a run for president, the demanding Florida governor is already coming across as a "nightmare" in the early primary states. (Jake Lahut & Zachary Petrizzo,  Mar. 16, 2023, Daily Beast)

At any given fundraiser or VIP room where he's present, Ron DeSantis is usually easy to find--in the corner, keeping to himself.

Despite having a job that entails exchanging small talk and pleasantries on a daily basis, the Florida governor tends to brush off those obligations and struggles with basic social skills, according to a source close to DeSantis, several of his former staffers, and other GOP operatives who have worked with him and his team. [...]

During his donor retreat in Palm Beach in late February, an attendee stood up and called him "DeSatan," according to Republicans familiar with the outburst.

At his recent book tour stop in Davenport, Iowa, a volunteer English teacher and seasoned caucus enthusiast posed for a photo alongside the governor with the term "fascist" carved out within her design of a paper snowflake.

The governor's aversion to pressing the flesh, and his concern over the risk of unexpected interactions with the public, is already so well-known that early primary state players are working to DeSantis-proof their events in order to attract the flinty would-be candidate and his tight-knit team.

The problem is, hosts often have no idea what the DeSantis team wants.

"Easily the least responsive campaign I've ever dealt with," one veteran event host in an early primary state told The Daily Beast, requesting anonymity to avoid alienating the Florida governor.

"We invite, invite, invite, ping, ping, ping. We don't hear anything," this prominent event host said.

"He's been tighter in his requests than other candidates," a top New Hampshire Republican told The Daily Beast, adding that only former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came to mind as a bigger "nightmare" to deal with.

During his Iowa swing, DeSantis' apparent use of bike racks to create space between himself and a crowd didn't go unnoticed elsewhere. "If they want 50 bike racks, we'll give them 50 bike racks," a New Hampshire GOP lawmaker quipped to The Daily Beast. A representative for DeSantis did not return a request for comment for this story. [...]

Several former staffers for the governor told The Daily Beast almost everything he does is scripted, which, coupled with an aversion to small talk, general pleasantries, and any unplanned interactions with the public, make him difficult to manage ahead of events.

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


Propaganda (Almost) Never Works: Notes on Russian interference attempts. (Hugo Mercier, 3/15/23, Persuasion)

 In January this year, a study by Gregory Eady, Tom Paskhalis, and their colleagues found that the majority (70%) of this Russian propaganda was consumed by only 1% of Twitter users, people who were already staunch Republicans and thus already overwhelmingly likely to vote for Trump. As a result, the fake news shared by the trolls merely preached to the choir. It doesn't seem to have changed anyone's mind. This converges with the result of a 2019 study led by Chris Bail, which found that interacting with accounts from the Internet Research Agency had no impact on the political opinions and behaviors of Twitter users.

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Tossed Salads and Scrambled Meigs: Time to go nuclear. (Jonah Goldberg, Mar 16, 2023, The Remnant)

James Meigs, Manhattan Institute senior fellow and contributing editor at City Journal, makes his Remnant debut in today's wildly wonky exploration of clean energy, tech policy, and environmentalism. He and Jonah kick things off by talking about the elephant('s foot) in the room--nuclear power--before seamlessly transitioning to the terrifying subject of artificial intelligence. Come for the well deserved nuclear boosterism; stay for the existential dread provoked by the idea of malevolent chatbots ruling the meatspace.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


In the mob's eyeline: A senior Republican's close brush revealed in new Jan. 6 footage (KYLE CHENEY and JORDAIN CARNEY. 03/15/2023, pOLITICO)

The footage is the latest example of how close powerful government figures came to a direct brush with the mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters. Rioters came within 40 feet of then-Vice President Mike Pence during his own evacuation, according to evidence released by the Jan. 6 select committee. And then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, accompanied by his own security detail, came within sight of rioter Joshua Pruitt while waiting for an elevator.

"The security detail and Senator Schumer reversed course and ran away from the elevator, back down the ramp, away from Pruitt," according to a "statement of facts" agreed to by prosecutors and Pruitt in connection with his plea deal.

Fulton County investigators have another recording of a Trump phone call pressuring a Georgia official (Kristen Holmes and Jason Morris, 3/15/23, CNN)

Fulton County investigators have an audio recording of a phone call that former President Donald Trump made to the Georgia House speaker to push for a special session to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 victory in the state, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Fulton County special grand jury, which investigated Trump's actions in the state after the 2020 election, heard the recording of Trump's call to David Ralston, according to five of the jurors who spoke anonymously to the AJC. A source confirmed to CNN the existence of the recording, which hasn't been made public.

Information is deadly to ideology. 

March 15, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


A viral moment reinforces the hollowness of 'woke' as an attack (Philip Bump, March 15, 2023, Washington Post)

She was on the show to promote a book she wrote with another conservative writer, Karol Markowicz, a book that purports to demonstrate how "radicals" are "indoctrinating" young people in America. Mandel began the interview by asserting that there is "sort of a woke reimagining of our society" that is "happening in a lot of different ways" -- spurring Gray to eventually ask her what she meant by the term "woke."

Mandel paused.

"So -- I mean -- woke is sort of the idea that ..." She paused for an extended period. "I -- this is going to be one of those moments that goes viral."

In fairness to Mandel, most of the interviews she's done for her book are with interviewers who use "woke" in the same vague sense as she does. So she started over.

"I mean, woke is something that's very hard to define," Mandel said. "And we've spent an entire chapter defining it. It is sort of the understanding that we need to -- totally reimagine and re- -- redo society in order to create hierarchies of oppression." Another pause. "Sorry. It's hard to explain in a 15-second sound bite."

"Take your time," Gray replied. But her co-host, Robby Soave, jumped in, assuring Gray that "it's definitely something that you know what it is when you see it."

We might rephrase that slightly: "Woke," as often deployed by the right, refers to something emanating from or related to culture war issues that you understand as or want to portray as bad. You know it when you see it in the sense that "woke" is applied to a broad array of rhetoric and actions that share no common thread beyond being anathema to the political right.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


PODCAST: Better Call Paul (Jonah Goldberg, Mar 15, 2023, The Remnant)

Paul Bloom--Jonah's favorite psychologist and author of the new book Psych: The Story of the Human Mind--returns to the Remnant for some intensely eggheady conversation on the workings of the human brain (a three-pound wrinkly mass, as Paul puts it). The two spend the episode leapfrogging between different controversies in the field of psychology, each more complex than the last, with enough speed to make your head spin. From the nature of consciousness, to René Girard's understanding of identity, to controversial conceptions of the mind, there's something to delight--and confuse--everyone, least of all our future AI overlords.

PODCAST: Paul Bloom on Psych, Psychology, and the Human Mind (Russ Roberts, Feb 27 2023, Econ Talk)

Do psychologists know anything? Psychologist Paul Bloom says yes--but not the things that you might think. Bloom discusses his book Psych with EconTalk's Russ Roberts and what the field of psychology can teach us about human intelligence, consciousness, and unhelpful instincts. They also discuss just how far psychology is from a true understanding of the human mind, and why, according to Bloom, that might not be such a bad thing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


William Golding and the curse of the dreamWe must resist the lure of utopianism (Samuel Mace, 3/15/23, The Critic)

As Anna Neima writes in The Utopians:

Utopias are a kind of social dreaming. To invent a "perfect" world-in a novel, a manifesto or a living community, is to lay bare what is wrong with the real one.

The desire of utopianism to create something brand new is often paradoxically led by those stating their own humility. Does utopianism really provide humility in guiding mankind towards its destined and natural path? Whilst some such as Isiah Berlin have argued utopianism assumes that man has a fixed, unalterable, common goal that binds us together, that is perhaps not quite true. Utopianism is a story about the way mankind should be, and all stories need a good "villain". Movements seeking to create paradise on earth, especially those denouncing the world as it is, often find "enemies" within and outside the movement. Those "enemies" deny mankind the chance to fulfil its true nature by challenging the eternal truth that would free us all. 

When utopian ideas are put into practice, they are liable to descend into chaos through a desire for perfection. The drive of perfection threatens not just the progress already made, but also leads to its leaders forgetting themselves. As they breed radicalism, initially innocent and even beautiful ideas turn in on themselves and create something dangerous and ugly.

The Anglospheric rejection of Reason helped insulate us from Utopianism.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Gender dysphoria in young people is rising--and so is professional disagreement (Jennifer Block, investigations reporter,  23 February 2023,  BMJ 2023;380:p382)

The AAP conference is one of many flashpoints in the contentious debate in the United States over if, when, and how children and adolescents with gender dysphoria should be medically or surgically treated. US medical professional groups are aligned in support of "gender affirming care" for gender dysphoria, which may include gonadotrophin releasing hormone analogues (GnRHa) to suppress puberty; oestrogen or testosterone to promote secondary sex characteristics; and surgical removal or augmentation of breasts, genitals, or other physical features. At the same time, however, several European countries have issued guidance to limit medical intervention in minors, prioritising psychological care. [...]

More adolescents with no history of gender dysphoria--predominantly birth registered females2--are presenting at gender clinics. A recent analysis of insurance claims by Komodo Health found that nearly 18 000 US minors began taking puberty blockers or hormones from 2017 to 2021, the number rising each year.34 Surveys aiming to measure prevalence have found that about 2% of high school aged teens identify as "transgender."5 These young people are also more likely than their cisgender peers to have concurrent mental health and neurodiverse conditions including depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, and autism.6 In the US, although Medicaid coverage varies by state and by treatment, the Biden administration has warned states that not covering care is in violation of federal law prohibiting discrimination.7 Meanwhile, the number of private clinics that focus on providing hormones and surgeries has grown from just a few a decade ago to more than 100 today.4

As the number of young people receiving medical transition treatments rises, so have the voices of those who call themselves "detransitioners" or "retransitioners," some of whom claim that early treatment caused preventable harm.8 Large scale, long term research is lacking,9 and researchers disagree about how to measure the phenomenon, but two recent studies suggest that as many as 20-30% of patients may discontinue hormone treatment within a few years.1011 The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) asserts that detransition is "rare."12

Chloe Cole, now aged 18, had a double mastectomy at age 15 and spoke at the AAP rally. "Many of us were young teenagers when we decided, on the direction of medical experts, to pursue irreversible hormone treatments and surgeries," she read from her tablet at the rally, which had by this time moved indoors to avoid confrontation. "This is not informed consent but a decision forced under extreme duress."

Scott Hadland, chief of adolescent medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, dismissed the "handful of cruel protesters" outside the AAP meeting in a tweet that morning. He wrote, "Inside 10 000 pediatricians stand in solidarity for trans & gender diverse kids & their families to receive evidence-based, lifesaving, individualized care."13

They come to us needing mental health care and we indulge their whims.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Fossil grid smashed by year of weather extremes, as renewables look smarter than ever (Rachel Williamson 15 March 2023, Renew Economy)

"Nearly 500 reports of downed overhead wires, services to 163,000 electricity customers affected, and the failure of high voltage transmission infrastructure causing an isolation of South Australia from the National Energy Market." [...]

Rooftop solar is useful in this regard, because it removes demand from the broader grid, and has already proven itself during warm weather in 2021. For households and small businesses, solar can be combined with battery storage to provide power when the grid is down.

But what about larger-scale renewables?

Andrew Blakers, emeritus professor of engineering at the Australian National University, says extreme weather events are a further reason to speed up the shift away from the traditional hub-and-spoke electricity model to protect the whole grid.

"There might be a few solar farms or wind farms that get damaged by freak weather, a cyclone that goes further south than normal, but when you have thousands of wind and solar farms spread over a million square kilometres, connected with tens of thousands of transmission lines, you have a network that is inherently stable, much more stable than the hub and spoke model," he told RenewEconomy.

"It's really hard to knock out ten thousand generating and interconnecting nodes. not to mention five million rooftop solar homes with electric vehicles and home batteries. We will end up with a much more robust energy system."

Already the distributed energy system is proving itself: earlier this month wind and solar eased the pressure on ageing fossil fuel generators as heat waves surged across NSW.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


India's newfound lithium riches could fuel tech revolution (MONIKA CHAUDHARY, MARCH 15, 2023, Asia Times)

In February 2023, India's government announced that the Geological Survey of India found around 5.9 million tonnes of lithium reserves in the Salal-Haimana region of Jammu and Kashmir.

Lithium is sometimes termed "white gold" for its strategic importance as an essential metal in electrification. But India faces several challenges in capitalizing on its lithium deposits.

The discovery of lithium in Jammu and Kashmir expands India's known lithium reserves. Lithium deposits have previously been found in Karnataka, Kerala and Rajasthan. Australia is the largest producer of lithium in the world with 50% of global supplies, while Chile, Argentina and China account for 23%, 14% and 12% of production respectively.

Better hurry; we'll have replaced it soon.

March 14, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Moooove over: How single-celled yeasts are doing the work of 1,500-pound cows: Cowless dairy is here, with the potential to shake up the future of animal dairy and plant-based milks (Laura Reiley, March 12, 2023, Washington Post)

The first course was a celery root soup lush with whole milk. The last was a spice cake topped with maple cream cheese frosting, served with a side of ice cream. And then a latte with its fat cap of glossy foam. In all, a delicious lunch. Maybe a little heavy on the dairy.

Only this dairy was different. It was not the product of a cow or soybean or nut. The main ingredient of this milk was made by microbes in a lab, turned into tasty and recognizable food, and then served to a hungry reporter.

Lab-grown meat is coming. But lab-grown dairy has already arrived.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Floating solar panels could provide over a third of global electricity (JOHN TIMMER, 3/13/2023, Ars Technica)

The cost of solar power has dropped dramatically over the past decade, making it the cheapest source of electricity in much of the world. Clearly, that can mean cheaper power. But it also means that we can potentially install panels in places that would otherwise be too expensive and still produce power profitably.

One of the more intriguing options is to place the panels above artificial bodies of water, either floating or suspended on cables. While more expensive than land-based installs, this creates a win-win: the panels limit the evaporation of water, and the water cools the panels, allowing them to operate more efficiently in warm climates.

While the potential of floating solar has been examined in a number of places, a group of researchers has now done a global analysis and find that it's huge. Even if we limit installs to a fraction of the surface of existing reservoirs, floating panels could generate nearly 10,000 TeraWatt-hours per year, while keeping over 100 cubic kilometers of water from evaporating.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Georgia may be turning purple. It's definitely turning green. (Marqus Cole, 3/14/23, RNS)

As Georgia makes moves to become a green giant, the Christian value of "loving your neighbor" could be an animating force for changing the narrative in the state from a divisive political one of "turning purple" to a unifying values-based vision for "transitioning to green."

With the benefits of more local jobs, cleaner air and better health, Georgia's clean energy transition is taking green policies out of the heated political arena and doing what some may deem a miracle -- getting Republicans and Democrats to agree.

Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff reflected recently to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I think there's broad bipartisan support in Georgia ... for securing energy independence, for ensuring that there is a robust supply of affordable energy that's not destroying our environment." 

Meanwhile, the all-Republican Georgia Public Service Commission, with a major push from Republican Commissioner Tim Echols, also recently tripled the budget for Georgia Power's Make Ready Program, putting $53 million toward upgrading electric vehicle charging stations over the next three years.

Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled Georgia House of Representatives passed House Bill 406, expanding EV-charging opportunities across the state, by a vote of 161-0. Imagine finding that kind of bipartisan consensus on anything right now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


DeSantis Grooms a Cheap Import From Hungary (Robert Tracinski, 3/14/23, The UnPopulist)

Let's take a look at the elements of the Orbán model.

It begins with economic controls, which is one of the things that differentiates the nationalist model from old small-government Reaganism. The key to this model is not to oppose government subsidies and regulations, but to harness them. Orbán, for example, spends a lot of time railing against the European Union--and then makes sure that he gets to distribute billions in EU subsidies on which the Hungarian economy depends, directing the money to his political supporters and, for example, arbitrarily denying energy subsidies to cities run by mayors in the political opposition.

As H. David Baer, a contributor to The UnPopulist, recently pointed out to me, Orbán offers much the same terms Vladimir Putin extended to Russian businessmen 10 to 15 years ago: "You can live a normal life, so long as you keep your head down," either by staying out of politics or by playing along with the regime.

This is precisely the deal DeSantis has been attempting to impose on one of his state's big employers, the Walt Disney Company. It is hard for a governor to squeeze a company that can easily move its economic activity across state lines. But Disney has one big, fixed asset that DeSantis can use as leverage: its giant resort in Orlando. So as Reuters reports, he just appointed his own hand-picked board to control the local district that provides Disney World with its infrastructure:

The bill, which DeSantis signed into law in February, authorizes the governor to appoint five supervisors to operate the quasi-government entity, overseeing municipal services, such as fire protection, public utilities, waste collection, and road maintenance. ...

But DeSantis' agenda reaches beyond operational minutiae. "Leaders must stand up and fight back when big corporations make the mistake, as Disney did, of using their economic might to advance a political agenda," DeSantis wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece. "We are making Florida the state where woke goes to die."

By corporations "advancing a political agenda," DeSantis means opposing his agenda. This is a transparent attempt to make businessmen subservient to their political masters, as I have argued elsewhere.

Notably, this is stated very specifically in terms of threatening Disney over the supposedly "woke"--i.e., left-leaning content--of its media enterprises. As one of the new DeSantis-appointed overseers of Disney World put it, "My hope is that Walt Disney's vision will be restored and the woke ideologies will be removed from Disney forever." This echoes another element of Orbánism: control of the media. Orbán used harassment and starvation--depriving independent media of government advertising--to force a takeover of Hungarian mass media by a foundation run by his cronies.

DeSantis' conflict with Disney began with the company's opposition to his so-called "Don't Say Gay" law, which harnessed a gay panic to impose broadly worded controls on what can be said in schools and what books can be carried in school libraries. Ditto for Hungary, where Orbán has also passed laws against so-called "homosexual propaganda."

But it doesn't stop with the excuse of protecting children. In Hungary, Orbán has attempted to exert control over higher education as well. Five years ago, the Orbán regime harassed and forced out the Central European University, a world-class academic program. In its place, Orbán has used billions in government funds to prop up the Matthias Corvinus Collegium, an academic program that is less impressive but has a curriculum built around nationalism. All of this is money that is not going into Hungary's existing universities, nor into its notoriously underfunded primary and secondary schools.

DeSantis seems intent on copying this with his takeover of New College, a small liberal arts school within the Florida public university system. He has stacked the board of trustees with conservative culture warriors who quickly fired the university's president and talked about firing much of its faculty. A particularly revealing comment came from trustee Chris Rufo--a conservative activist who made his name crusading against "critical race theory" as a catchall for left-of-center views:

We will be shutting down low-performing, ideologically-captured academic departments and hiring new faculty. The student body will be recomposed over time: some current students will self-select out, others will graduate; we'll recruit new students who are mission-aligned.

It is a frank admission that the college will now have an explicit ideological mission, and students will be expected to align themselves with it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Is Ron DeSantis Flaming Out Already?: The Florida governor has a plan to win the Fox News primary--and lose everything else. (David Frum, 3/14/23, The Atlantic)

Even his allies found this medley of past hawkishness and present evasiveness worrying--especially because he was on record, in 2014 and 2015, urging the Obama administration to send both "defensive and offensive" weapons to Ukraine after the Russian annexation of Crimea. So last night, DeSantis delivered a more definitive answer on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show.

DeSantis's statement on Ukraine was everything that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his admirers could have wished for from a presumptive candidate for president. The governor began by listing America's "vital interests" in a way that explicitly excluded NATO and the defense of Europe. He accepted the present Russian line that Putin's occupation of Ukraine is a mere "territorial dispute." He endorsed "peace" as the objective without regard to the terms of that peace, another pro-Russian talking point. He conceded the Russian argument that American aid to Ukraine amounts to direct involvement in the conflict. He endorsed and propagated the fantasy--routinely advanced by pro-Putin guests on Fox talk shows--that the Biden administration is somehow plotting "regime change" in Moscow. He denounced as futile the economic embargo against Russia--and baselessly insinuated that Ukraine is squandering U.S. financial assistance. He ended by flirting with the idea of U.S. military operations against Mexico, an idea that originated on the extreme right but has migrated toward the Republican mainstream.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Why 'MAGA' is so appealing to older Republicans (Philip Bump, March 14, 2023, Washington Post)

The most interesting question in the CNN poll, though, focused on views of American diversity. Here, the divide between younger and older Americans was clear: Younger Republican primary voters were more likely to see the increased diversity of the U.S. -- "having an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities in the U.S.," as the question put it -- as enriching American culture rather than as a threat.

Among Republican primary voters 65 and over, a majority said this increased diversity was a threat. Among those under 50, views ran more than 2 to 1 in the opposite direction.

Trump clearly hopes to stoke this sentiment. Here, the chicken-egg situation is more clear. Even in the 2016 primaries, concerns about perceived discrimination against Whites was a better predictor of support for Trump than economic status. Trump unquestionably leveraged this sense; it seems clear that he shares the concern. (Just this week, he declared that he was facing possible indictment in New York because the prosecuting D.A., a Black man, was "racist.")

We can follow the logical chain here. If you think that America is being eroded by increased diversity, you see a less-diverse America as a better America. In that context, what does "making America great again" imply?


Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


Researchers Say They've Come Up With a Blueprint for Creating a Wormhole in a Lab (NOOR AL-SIBAI, 3/14/23, Futurism)

Humans may have gotten one step closer to figuring out how to make wormholes thanks to fascinating new research.

That's at least according to Hatim Saleh, a research fellow at the University of Bristol and co-founder of the startup DotQuantum, who claims to have invented what he calls "counterportation," which "provides the first-ever practical blueprint for creating in the lab a wormhole that verifiably bridges space," according to a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Scientists transform algae into unique functional perovskites with tunable properties (SPX, Mar 14, 2023)

Perovskites are materials that are increasingly popular for a wide range of applications because of their remarkable electrical, optical, and photonic properties. Perovskite materials have the potential to revolutionize the fields of solar energy, sensing and detecting, photocatalysis, lasers, and others.

The properties of perovskites can be tuned for specific applications by changing their chemical composition and internal architecture, including the distribution and orientation of its crystal structure. At the moment, the ability to influence these properties is massively limited by manufacturing methods. A team of scientists at TU Dresden was able to create perovskites with unique nano-architectures and crystal properties from algae, taking advantage of years of evolution of these single-celled organisms.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Westphalia vs. Appomattox: The Problem with the New World's Approach to Geopolitics (Miguel Nunes Silva, March 14, 2023, European Conservative)

Following the Thirty Years War and the Treaties of Westphalia, Europeans were forced to accept the limitations of their topographical realities and abandon their normative aspirations. Catholics and protestants, while representing clear and distinct moral agendas, both failed to consecrate the continent to their normative claims. This, in turn, led to tolerant coexistence under the principle 'cuius regio eius religio,' which holds that the leader of a given state may dictate the religion that the people are to follow. [...]

The Southern Confederacy naïvely chose to wage a European style war, standing their ground against the centralizing offensives of the unionists in an attempt to exhaust the North's morale by attrition. Fatally, neither did the South possess the resources to fight a war of attrition against the industrialised North, nor did the terrain lend itself to a European style secession. It took 2 years for Robert E. Lee's staff to comprehend the strategic reality and decide on a march on the North to compete for the continent as a whole and impose their separatist solution on the North. Nevertheless, in 1863 this incursion resulted in the Gettysburg defeat and the end of the Confederacy's strategic initiative. Carl Schmitt was famously of the view that "the sovereign is he who legislates on the exception," and in the instance of North American federalism the southern states were seeking an exception to the North's moral model; a confederate sovereignty would have allowed the South to legislate autonomously in matters of trade tariffs and slavery. Implicitly, this outcome could only be achieved by defeating Washington, D.C.; New York; and New England, as well as imposing the Union's dismantlement. Yet, the solution of tolerant coexistence was impractical in a territorial continuum without many natural barriers, and General Grant demonstrated precisely this point by overwhelming the South's frontlines with superior military numbers and economic power. He then proceeded to dismantle the South's oligarchic society during Reconstruction, cementing the North's dominion with the support of the newly emancipated former slaves--and under the close surveillance of the federal occupation forces.

The South's capitulation in Appomattox, however, did much more than settle the American Civil War: it aborted the emergence of ethnic territorial divisions in the northernmost New World. Had the Confederacy been successful, the Ohio River would have constituted a sovereign border, not just between between states, but also between Dixie and Yankee--leading potentially to the creation of regional nation states. Conversely, the coercive reunification and the Lincoln-Grant state-building model meant that the issue of civic identity would now be necessarily derived from much more basic common denominators. The original English puritanical republic had transformed into a continental sovereign. Such a space could not possibly base its identity on European ethnic traits, since national cultures were too many in number and too diverse. Nor could it be based on territory since that was massive. As for religion, it was too sensitive to politicise.

The synthesis thus focused on the legal-constitutional system, which was totemised, sacralising the Founding Fathers and the myth of the Revolutionary War for independence. After all, the legal system inherited from the Anglo-Saxon homeland was already institutionalised, it was a common reference for all citizens that could be compared and differentiated from Latin systems to the south and monarchical ones to the north.

Puritanism mattered chiefly, as indeed Tocqueville himself had already remarked, in that the puritanical mentality prevented a true separation between Church and State, since the Law existed as a kind of national sacrament. If, on the one hand, such an obsession guarantees some respect for the founding principles and prevents dramatic regime changes which might disrupt the Rule of Law--as is often the case in the Old World--on the other, the self-perception of the North American people as distinct and predestined gives rise to the idea of American exceptionalism. The 'city upon a hill' following her 'manifest destiny' can never acknowledge horizontal rules of conduct between sovereign states; the extraordinary is incompatible with the ordinary.

This is a misreading of the Founding.  The genius of American exceptionalism is its universalism.  It is precisely because the Anglosphere holds...:

...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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

that we redefined sovereignty.  We made the key component the consent of the governed.  Anywhere that necessary condition does not exist, the regime is not legitimately sovereign and we have a moral obligation--not always realized--to intervene on the behalf of the citizenry. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


DeSantis Calls U.S. Support of Ukraine Distraction From More Vital Interests (John McCormick,  March 13, 2023, WSJ)

Mr. DeSantis' statement places him in a position similar to one taken by former President Donald Trump, who called the war "disastrous" during a campaign appearance Monday evening in Davenport, Iowa, and said if re-elected he would work to rapidly negotiate an end. 

Both men have taken positions in contrast to strong support for Ukraine offered by other declared and prospective GOP presidential candidates, including former Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

To be fair, the Trumpists are still upset that America intervened in the Confederacy. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The mystery of Alice in Wonderland syndrome (Roberta Angheleanu, 13th March 2023, BBC)

Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS) affects the way people perceive the world around them and can distort how they experience their own bodies and the space it occupies. These can include distortions in vision as well as time. Imagine seeing people's faces change into dragon-like faces all your life. This symptom is only one of the 40 types of visual distortions characteristic of Alice in Wonderland syndrome. Some patients also describe seeing different body parts added to the people in front of them, such as a shortened arm attached to the face of the person sitting in front of them. Other symptoms include seeing people or objects moving in slow motion or moving unnaturally fast or not at all. Their hearing can also be affected - sufferers can hear loved ones speaking oddly slow or unnaturally fast. And they report seeing objects or their own body parts shrinking or swelling in front of their eyes, creating the sensation that they are themselves changing size, just as Josh experienced.

It is this last symptom that led to the disorder's name, after Lewis Carroll's fictional character, who shrinks after drinking a potion and then grows after eating cake. Carroll himself may have even been inspired by perceptual distortions himself, perhaps brought on by migraine auras - temporary visual disturbances that often occur in migraine sufferers. Others have suggested the author could have suffered from Alice in Wonderland Syndrome that was triggered by epilepsy, substance misuse or even an infection.

Oddly, there is not an industry to shorten to their bodies to the size they perceive themselves.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


March 13, 2023  (Heather Cox Richardson, 3/13/23, Letters from an American)

[T]he more important news of the day is likely the meeting in San Diego, California, between President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom.

These three countries make up the new AUKUS security pact, announced on September 15, 2021, designed to provide a military counter to China's influence in the Indo-Pacific region. (The Five Eyes alliance of those three countries plus Canada and New Zealand focuses on sharing intelligence.) Today's meeting, and its announcement that AUKUS will create a new fleet of nuclear-powered (but not nuclear-armed) submarines, brings that pact to a new level.

At the meeting today, the U.S. announced it will share its nuclear propulsion technology with Australia and will increase U.S. submarine construction capacity. The U.K. announced it will increase its defense spending. And Australia will buy at least three nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S.

The U.K. and Australia will build new nuclear-powered submarines for their own navies. Sailors from the fleets will train together, and U.S. and U.K. submarines will increase their visits to Australian ports. Eventually, the alliance will create its own nuclear-powered submarines, the SSN-AUKUS.

America is not Nationalist.

March 13, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM



Professor Nicky Eshtiaghi, lead researcher at RMIT University, and her colleagues have created a magnetic nano-pillared adsorbent that can remove smaller microplastics at a much faster rate than any currently existing technologies.

The adsorbent takes the form of a powder additive, which is added to water and attracts microplastics and dissolved pollutants. "This whole process takes one hour, compared to other inventions taking days," says Ph.D. candidate Muhammad Haris, the study's first author. 

It can also "remove microplastics that are 1,000 times smaller than those that are currently detectable by existing wastewater treatment plants," according to Eshtiaghi.

"The results suggest a promising pathway to addressing the removal of mixed contaminants from water in a single process and highlighting its potential in resolving critical industrial and domestic wastewater treatment," the team's study abstract reads.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM



This year, Canadian manufacturing company Xaba unveiled Project Arrow, an electric concept car with a completely 3D-printed chassis, CleanTechnica reports.

Until now, cars have been manufactured using specialized machinery that cuts, bends, and welds metal into shape. Because the process uses so many individual, specific machines, manufacturers need huge factories for production. 

The capabilities of these machines also limit design possibilities. For example, if a designer wanted to make a component hollow to reduce weight, but a hollow version is harder to make than a solid version, the final car might be manufactured with the heavier solid component to save time and money.

Now, 3D printing offers an alternative. This technology uses materials like plastic, resin, metal, or concrete that start out as a liquid but cool to become solid. 

According to Explain That Stuff!, the printer builds this material into a 3D shape by adding flat layers one after another. The shape is controlled by a computer, programmed with a model of the finished product. With the right equipment and materials, this method can print anything from toys to houses.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Company aiming to create oxygen on moon finds process to make steel plants cleaner (SUE SURKES , 12 March 2023, Times of Israel)

The first stage of steel production is to produce iron, which exists in the earth as iron oxides. Iron oxides are mined and then put into very high-temperature blast furnaces with coal to cause the oxygen molecules in the former to bind with the carbon in the coal. The byproduct is carbon dioxide, a key global warming gas.

Helios has discovered that sodium -- used to make table salt -- can be used instead of carbon-rich coal. The sodium molecules connect with the oxygen molecules in the iron ore to form sodium oxide. Sodium oxide can then be separated back into sodium and oxygen, and the latter is released into the air. The sodium can then be reused.

The idea of using sodium in the steel industry came out of the company's ongoing work on a lunar oxygen-producing reactor, aimed at separating oxygen from iron oxides found in lunar rock.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM



Instead of building solar farms on undeveloped land, Conniff argues that we should be building them on top of or over existing structures, such as parking lots.

"The appeal of parking lots and rooftops," he writes, "is that they are abundant, close to customers, largely untapped for solar power generation, and on land that's already been stripped of much of its biological value."

Building a canopy with a solar array over a parking lot, he goes on to say, would not only generate clean energy for the surrounding area, but would also provide shade for the cars and people underneath.

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


Fox News braces for more turbulence as second defamation lawsuit advances: New York court greenlights $2.7bn suit against news channel by election company Smartmatic over 2020 presidential election lies (Ed Pilkington, 13 Mar 2023, The Guardian)

So far, attempts by Fox lawyers to have the Smartmatic case dismissed have fallen on stony ground. Last week the New York state supreme court in Manhattan gave the green light for the case to proceed against Fox News, the Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, the former business anchor Lou Dobbs and Trump's former lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Smartmatic, a global election technology company headquartered in London, lodged its defamation suit in February 2021. "The Earth is round," was the complaint's striking opening sentence. "Two plus two equals four. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election ... "

The complaint goes on to argue that, contrary to these indisputable facts, Fox News broadcast a series of blatant lies in support of Trump's stolen election conspiracy theory. "Defendants did not want Biden to win the election. They wanted President Trump to win re-election ... They also saw an opportunity to capitalize on President Trump's popularity by inventing a story."

To prop up that story, the lawsuit claims, Fox needed a villain. That villain was Smartmatic.

Smartmatic claims that more than 100 false statements were broadcast by Fox News hosts and guests. Smartmatic was falsely said to have been involved in 2020 election counts in six battleground states - in fact, it was present only at the count in Los Angeles county.

Fox broadcast that Smartmatic shared its technology with Dominion, when in fact the two companies had no communication and regarded each other as rivals. Smartmatic was in cahoots with foreign governments in a conspiracy to rig the vote for Biden, Giuliani said on Bartiromo's show - a claim that the company disputes as false and defamatory.

Fox also described Smartmatic as having been founded in Venezuela at the behest of corrupt dictators. In fact, it was founded by Antonio Mugica and Roger Piñate in 2000 in Boca Raton, Florida, in the wake of the "hanging chad" fiasco, with the aim of using technology to restore people's faith in election results.

To be fair, can we expect people who drink bleach and eat horse dewormer to be discerning about what news they consume?

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


McCarthy's Sleazy Deal With Hard Right Working Out Brilliantly -- For Democrats (Barbara Morrill, March 13 | 2023, National Memo)

For example, a vital oversight hearing to finally learn why a social media company kept Republicans from seeing pictures of Hunter Biden's penis, prompting a group of former Twitter executives to be hauled in and accused of pedophilia, all while getting yelled at for having community moderation, not to mention being threatened with prison time for unspecified crimes. Sadly for Republicans, the most memorable moment was when we learned that Donald Trump was really mad about a celebrity being mean to him on Twitter, with this memorable exchange being officially entered into the Congressional Record:

NAVAROLI: Would you like me to give the direct quote?

FROST: Yeah.

NAVAROLI: Please excuse my language. This is a direct quote, but Chrissy Teigen referred to Donald Trump as a "[**** *** ****."

A moment in congressional hearing history unmatched since Watergate, when Alexander Butterfield admitted that Richard Nixon had a recording system in the Oval Office.

YIKES, sounds like Ron DeSantis Story Hour.

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM


An Ivermectin Influencer Died. Now His Followers Are Worried About Their Own 'Severe' Symptoms. (David Gilbert, March 13, 2023, Vice News)

Just before 7 am on March 3, Danny Lemoi posted an update in his hugely popular pro-ivermectin Telegram group, Dirt Road Discussions: "HAPPY FRIDAY ALL YOU POISONOUS HORSE PASTE EATING SURVIVORS !!!"

Hours later, Lemoi was dead.

For the last decade, Lemoi had taken a daily dose of veterinary ivermectin, a dewormer designed to be used on large animals like horses and cows. In 2021, as ivermectin became a popular alternative COVID-19 treatment among anti-vaxxers, he launched what became one of the largest Telegram channels dedicated to promoting the use of it, including instructions on how to administer ivermectin to children.

But the corpse is worm free!

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Giving the middle finger is a 'God-given right,' says Quebec judge (Jacob Serebrin, 3/08/23,  The Canadian Press)

"To be abundantly clear, it is not a crime to give someone the finger," the judge wrote in his Feb. 24 ruling. "Flipping the proverbial bird is a God-given, Charter-enshrined right that belongs to every red-blooded Canadian. It may not be civil, it may not be polite, it may not be gentlemanly. Nevertheless, it does not trigger criminal liability."

Police arrested Epstein, a 45-year-old teacher, on May 18, 2021, as he returned home from a walk. Earlier in the day, he had run into a neighbour -- Michael Naccache -- who lived on the same Beaconsfield, Que., street and with whom he had previous conflicts.

Naccache, 34, swore at Epstein and threatened him while holding a power tool "in a menacing way," the judge found. Epstein replied with two middle fingers and continued walking.

or you may be mercy-killed. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


255 US investors warn Netanyahu overhaul may dampen cash infusions from abroad (Times of Israel, 3/13/23)

Over 250 US-based financial investors warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his government's planned judicial overhaul could chill new infusions of cash into Israel, the latest signal of potentially devastating economic fallout should the controversial legislation go through.

"Many leaders in the business community will feel compelled to reevaluate their reliance on Israel as a strategic destination for investment, sourcing talent, building engineering centers, and maintaining intellectual property," read a letter signed by 255 investors, according to Channel 12 news, which first reported on the missive Sunday.

"It will also become increasingly difficult to advocate for and defend Israel internationally."

Ariel Sharon's stroke is the great tragedy of Israel. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Remember Me at My Best: Memory and Forgiveness in David Copperfield (Sophia Klomparens, 3/13/23, Voegelin View)

Let us put it this way. To remember someone at their best is to choose to tell the story that redeems them. It is an act of forgiveness. It acknowledges that there is more than one story that you could tell about this person, and perhaps one of those stories is more complete, but the other is kinder. To remember someone at their best is to tell the kind story.

In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul says that "love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." This may seem a mysterious and, frankly, absurd claim. What could it possibly mean for love to believe all things? Besides, St. Paul tells us in the same breath that love keeps no record of wrongs, which sounds equally ridiculous. All of us certainly keep a record of wrongs--perhaps many records of wrongs. But could "believing all things" mean acting against our instincts? Could "believing all things" mean choosing to think of everyone--even our enemies--at their best?

At the climax of David Copperfield, Steerforth makes a request of David. By making that request, Steerforth acknowledges that he has done things--or in this case, that he will do things--that overshadow the memory of the kind protector who saved young David all those years ago. He may commit sins that transform him from an object of love into an object of hatred. He may never repent, and if that happens, David will be forced to make a choice: Will I honor my old friend's last request of me, even though it is difficult? Will I choose to think of him at his best?

After Steerforth drowns in a terrible storm, he washes up on the shore. Poor David is the first to find the dead body of his old friend; as the narrator, he tells us, "I saw him lying with his head upon his arm, as I had often seen him lie at school." David sees Steerforth as he was at school--mature, good, kind, protective. At this low point, when David has every reason to hate Steerforth for ruining the life and reputation of a dear friend, he continues to think of Steerforth at his best.

The trouble is that it is much easier to remember someone at their worst, especially if they were once dear to you. It is significantly less painful to denigrate someone in your mind, to reduce all their fullness and complexity down to a single event or action, than it is to remember their best, most noble moments. It hurts to miss a real human being. But if you remember a monster, you succeed in deadening your own pain. No one misses a monster. These are the stories, however, that will make us hard and bitter when we retell them, even just to ourselves. On the other hand, there are stories that will make us richer, fuller, wiser--and more open to love. When we fail to think of others at their best, we are really marring our own souls.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Florida surgeon general's Covid vaccine claims harm public, health agencies say (Associated Press,  12 Mar 2023)

US health agencies have sent a letter to the surgeon general of Florida, warning that his claims about Covid-19 vaccine risks are harmful to the public.

The letter was sent to Joseph Ladapo on Friday by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It was a response to a letter Ladapo wrote to the agencies last month, expressing concerns about what he described as adverse effects from Covid vaccines.

"It is the job of public health officials around the country to protect the lives of the populations they serve, particularly the vulnerable," said the federal letter, which was signed by the FDA commissioner, Robert Califf, and CDC director, Rochelle Walensky.

"Fueling vaccine hesitancy undermines this effort."

Ladapo was appointed by the Republican governor of Florida, the prospective Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, in 2021.

No one can be surprised that MAGA leaders and media hold their adherents in contempt and are undertaking efforts to keep them uneducated, but it is an odd strategy to actively seek to harm them. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Republicans brace for Tim Scott's entrance into 2024 race (MAX GREENWOOD, 03/12/23, The Hill)

In a speech at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, last month that some Republicans saw as a warm-up to a presidential stump speech, Scott criticized President Biden, accusing him of exploiting "the painful parts of America's past." But he also struck a note of unity, describing himself as a "messenger of hope."

"I see 330 million Americans getting back to celebrating our shared blessings again, tolerating our differences again and having each other's backs again," Scott said. "This is what I see. A new American sunrise. Even brighter than before."

Doug Heye, a Republican strategist who first met Scott during his time in the House, said that the South Carolina senator isn't the kind of person to back down from a fight, but described him as a kind of happy warrior who could offer voters a much-needed change from Trump's combativeness. 

"There are those voters, but that's not the entire party or the entire primary voter makeup," Heye said. "He is aggressive and he is a fighter, but he does so with a smile on his face. And after six years of Donald Trump, there's an exhaustion for a lot of people who want new voices and fresh voices, and I think Scott represents that very well." 

...but he's such a contrast to Donald and Tiny Trump he should be able to get some purchase.

March 12, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


A former producer of the largest Fox show calls Trump supporters inbred 'terrorists' (Sarah K. Burris, March 12, 2023, raw Story)

In an exchange with Carlson and Shah, the former Trump adviser, explained that Sidney Powell claimed that she had an affidavit that would prove a link between Dominion and Venezuela. Shah called it absurd.

"Might wanna address this, but this stuff is so [****] insane. Vote rigging to the tune of millions? C'mon," Shah wrote.

Carlson's then-producer, Alex Pfeiffer, followed up: "It is so insane but our viewers believe it so addressing again how her stupid Venezuela affidavit isn't proof might insult them."

Shah encouraged Carlson to talk about it, saying it was "not new info, not proof" and then to quickly "pivot to being deferential."

Pfeiffer, who now runs his own public affairs company according to his LinkedIn page, called the wavering "surreal."

"Like negotiating with terrorists," he told the other men. "But especially dumb ones. Cousin [*****] types not Saudi royalty."

"Pander faster, I hear banjos..."

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


A Tampa teen was racially harassed by her teacher. He's bullied students for years. (Bethany Barnes, 3/12/23, Tampa Times)

Until her teacher brought up her race, it had been an otherwise unremarkable American government class at Wharton High. One of Melanie Copeland's parents was Black, the other white. Her teacher, Todd Harvey, wanted to know what she put as her race on government forms.

What she should put, he told her, was "mutt."

Melanie struggled to process what was happening. Did her teacher really just call her a dog?

She remembers Harvey grinning, while she and other students sat stunned.

Mr. Harvey is a tall, mercurial white man who has taught in Hillsborough County Public Schools since the late '90s, after working as a salesman and briefly pitching in the minor leagues for the Kansas City Royals. He's spent the bulk of his career at Wharton High, which serves mostly students of color.

The impact of Melanie's 2017 encounter with Mr. Harvey has been lasting, proving so haunting she wrote her college admission essay about it. The summer after her high school graduation, she read a Tampa Bay Times story about Blake High mishandling sexual harassment complaints that later prompted the federal government to investigate.

Melanie emailed the Times.

"I thought I was the only one who had a serious problem with Hillsborough County trying to sweep things under the rug," she wrote.

What she didn't know is that students and parents had complained about Mr. Harvey since before she was born.

Yeah, but the bookshelves in his classroom are exquisitely curated!

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Fox News Edits Out Trump Saying He Might've Let Russia 'Take Over' Parts of Ukraine (Justin Baragona, Mar. 07, 2023, Daily Beast)

Donald Trump has long insisted that the Ukraine war would have never happened if he were still president, going so far as to blame the "rigged election" on Russia's unprovoked invasion while claiming he had the magic words to stop the fighting "immediately."

During a radio interview with Fox News host (and longtime confidant) Sean Hannity on Monday, the twice-impeached ex-president finally revealed how he personally would have prevented the war. According to Trump, all he needed to do was let Russia "take over" parts of Ukraine.

Not that he generally pays his debts, but Donald never did pay off on his promise to reward Vlad if he interfered in the election. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


FBI: Michigan man threatened to "kill anyone who tries to take my guns" (Shawna Chen, 3/12/23, Axios)

A Michigan man has been arrested and charged with illegally possessing firearms after repeatedly threatening to kill President Biden, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), FBI agents and LGBTQ people.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Tucker Carlson still promotes Jan. 6 Capitol attack lies -- and sympathetic audiences believe them (Steve Reilly and Khaya Himmelman, March 7, 2023, Grid)

The repetition of false claims is a method of deflection, experts said. Partisan actors continue to push false narratives about Jan. 6, and sympathetic audiences continue to believe them, because they reframe the blame away from the people responsible for inciting the events whom they view as allies, senior analyst for NewsGuard Lorenzo Arvanitis said.

"Spreading and believing these narratives is both politically and morally expedient," he said.

And, like Carlson, those who spread misinformation about Pelosi and Jan. 6 likely know that what they are saying is not true, said Inga Kristina Trauthig, researcher at the Propaganda Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. It's simply a way for Republicans, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), to try to discredit their political opponents.

"If you want to do harm to your political opponent that is a tactic to discredit main figures," Trauthig said. "And if that works, then you home in on that."

It's also about playing the long game. Repeating these false narratives about the attack on the Capitol is a way for the Republican Party and its allies to prepare for the next election cycle, said Yotam Ophir, professor of communication at the University at Buffalo. While lying is generally considered discrediting to the speaker, when the lie is expedient to political allies the lies can work to discredit the subject of the lie. In this case, it's a strategy to delegitimize figures on the left, and promote the persistent narrative that Democrats are attempting to systematically cheat their way into power, he added.

News organizations like Fox News that work with right-wing figures to amplify lies about Jan. 6 are "conducting an unhealthy, systematically biased relationship between one party and one media channel," Ophir said. For Fox News, he said, these lies are profitable because it's a way to drive engagement. [...]

Fact-checking works insofar as people who see the fact checks are more accurate for having seen it, said Ethan Porter, professor of media and public affairs and of political science at George Washington University. But, Porter emphasized, even though fact checks work in reducing belief in misinformation, they are still limited.

When we speak about misinformation, he added, we aren't simply talking about its effect on the accuracy of people's beliefs, but on other attitudes, too.

"It might be the case that if you if you were exposed to misinformation about Jan. 6, the effects are not just going to be measurable on the accuracy of your beliefs about Jan. 6," he said, "but it might further radicalize you, or it might lead you to become skeptical of democracy, or it might have these sorts of other downstream effects on you."

In other words, the ability of fact checks to influence these other downstream effects appears to be limited.

And then, of course, there are those who more deliberately resist fact checks about Jan. 6 specifically to avoid exposure to anything that might interfere with their partisan predilections. "From the perspective of the average Republican, misinformation persists because fact-check exposure is pretty limited," Porter said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Cut the politics. Phonics is the best way to teach reading. (The Editorial Board, March 11, 2023, Washington Post)

The so-called reading wars have been raging for decades now, sometimes pitting teachers against publishers or publishers against academicians -- and also sometimes, as too many things do these days, pitting progressives against conservatives or Democrats against Republicans. That's unfortunate, because -- as perhaps too few things do these days -- the debate over how best to teach children to read lends itself to a conclusive answer. That's phonics.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Orwell, Camus and truthOn honesty as an attitude (William Fear, 12 March, 2023, The Critic)

One phrase from Nineteen Eighty-Four should be familiar to us all, even to those who might not have actually read the novel: 

There comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death.

Except of course, these words are not Orwell's at all. This is a quote from Albert Camus' novel La Peste, which was published two years before Nineteen Eighty-Four, in 1947. Of course, the formulation of two and two making five has a history that predates both Orwell and Camus, but Orwell used a very similar version of it as far back as 1939, in a review of a book by Bertrand Russell in Adelphi:

It is quite possible that we are descending into an age in which two plus two will make five when the Leader says so

The similarity between these lines is patent. Is it possible that Camus got the idea from Orwell's article? Yes, but such things are nearly impossible to prove. Still, it is not important whether Camus was taking influence from Orwell's writing (although an interesting possibility). What's important about this example is that it exposes common ground. These quotes embody a foundational principle that united their work: a shared anxiety over the fragility of truth.  

The political turbulence of twentieth-century Europe forced both Camus and Orwell to confront the question of truth as a matter of necessity, even and especially among their own colleagues and friends. When Orwell returned from Spain, he found that many of his fellow journalists had taken the view that Stalin was - by all accounts - a force for good. As a result, he found his pieces were being declined by publications that would've normally accepted them. One such publication was the New Statesman, the editor of which - Kingsley Martin - rejected one of Orwell's pieces on the grounds that it contravened the "political policy" of the paper. Understandably, annoyed Orwell, as many of his comrades from the POUM and other socialist militia groups were still facing incarceration and torture at the hands of pro-Soviet militant groups in Spain. He said in a letter to an editor of the New Statesman, "I think it would be better if I did not write for you again ... I have got to stand by my friends, which may involve attacking the New Statesman when I think they are covering up important issue". 

This debacle would foster in Orwell an enduring hatred of Kingsley Martin, Orwell going so far as to move tables when he saw Martin at lunch, so that he didn't have to look at his "corrupt face".

Camus had similar problems in Paris. When Camus published The Rebel in 1951, it made him very unpopular indeed with his own side, creating a rift between Camus and his fellow intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre. Camus' reputation as a public intellectual would suffer as a result of the publication of The Rebel, as its condemnation of Marxism led many intellectuals on the left to ostracise him. Andy Martin's book The Boxer and The Goal Keeper (2012), features a questionable but nevertheless illustrative anecdote about how tense things became: while defending Arthur Koestler in an argument against Merleau-Ponty, Camus became so riled by Merleau-Ponty's indifference to the Soviet purges, that Camus wrangled him into a headlock and threatened to punch him. Camus, it seems, was a passionate man in every respect. Camus wrote about the effect this ideological abandonment had on him in his private letters: "everyone is against me, is remorselessly seeking a share in my destruction; no one ever proffers his hand, comes to my aid, shows me affection for who I am."

Both Camus and Orwell are rightly credited with being "antitotalitarian" writers. And yet their reasons for being so are not wholly political. They were antitotalitarian not just because they opposed totalitarian regimes, but because they both understood that the totalitarian mindset requires you accept that truth comes from ideology. If the ideas say something is true, it becomes true, and is true. For Fascists and Communists, ideology is not merely a set of values or beliefs, but a cohesive explanation of the past, present and future of mankind. This is what Camus referred to in The Rebel as the desire "to make the earth a kingdom where man is God". Orwell and Camus both understood the dangers of such thinking, and sought to repudiate it in their work.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Tolerance of Texts (Joseph Pearce, March 9th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)

As Chesterton reminds us, angels can fly because they take themselves lightly whereas the devil falls through the force of his own gravity. Those who spurn humility and follow the creeds of Pride take themselves far too seriously. Theirs is the only perspective permissible. Other perspectives are offensive and must not be tolerated.

Against such Pride, we can counter with the words attributed (erroneously) to Voltaire: "I may disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

In the final analysis, freedom is not possible without freedom of speech, and tolerance is not possible without the tolerance of texts with which we disapprove. The lack of such tolerance leads to the banning of books and the banning of people. Ultimately, so history proves, it leads to the burning of books and the mass execution of people.

It's fun watching Tiny Trump and co. both rage at the Left over Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl and at the possibility a schoolkid might read about Jim Crow,

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bill Sammon, the Deer HunterHow the former managing editor of Fox News kept his head while everyone else seemed to be losing theirs. (Chris Stirewalt, Mar 6, 2023, The Dispatch)

Like all people through all time, many Americans today would like to have the good things that come from wealth and power but not to face the hard choices that the pursuit of these things invariably bring to those who wish to be ethical people. They set out to succeed as political leaders, or business tycoons, or celebrities, or journalists, but don't think about the implications. And when the time comes to pull the trigger--to risk reelection, economic loss, influence, or audience in order to do what they set out to do--they fail.

Too few of us are like my old boss, Bill Sammon, who, as managing editor for the Fox News Channel, faced extraordinary pressure to flinch at a crucial moment in the work he had set out to do as a journalist. Americans now know some of the story about how Sammon stayed steady and purposeful when his bosses and so many at our then employer were surrendering to fear. 

"Weak ratings make good journalists do bad things," Bill wrote to me in a private email during the period of panic at Fox following our correct call of Arizona for Joe Biden in 2020. I didn't remember the email until I read it in the wall-to-wall coverage of the suit against Fox by Dominion Voting Systems. But I did remember how steady and sure he was, and how I counted on him to keep his head while everyone else seemed to be losing theirs. 

But now the story is out, including how Bill was sacrificed to send "a big message with Trump people." I got tossed overboard, too. But sacking Bill is the only part that still sticks in my craw. I know how good he was, and how he stayed straight even when the weight of the world was coming down on him.

"Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular," David Hume wrote in A Treatise of Human Nature. "The rules of morality therefore, are not conclusions of our reason."

March 11, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Judge says jury in E. Jean Carroll case can see 'Access Hollywood' tape and testimony of two other accusers (Tierney Sneed and Kara Scannell, 3/10/23, CNN)

A federal judge on Friday said that E. Jean Carroll, in her defamation case against former President Donald Trump, can use as evidence the testimony of two other sexual assault accusers as well as the "Access Hollywood" tape, in which he bragged about being able to grope women.

US District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected Trump's request that the judge block the accusers from testifying at trial. Trump also asked the judge to block the Access Hollywood tape from being played at the trial.

Carroll, the former magazine columnist who sued Trump for defamation after he denied raping her in the mid-1990s, has indicated that she will call Natasha Stoynoff and Jessica Leeds, two women who came forward with allegations against Trump in 2016, as well as use their videotaped depositions.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


Republicans Went All In On Partisan Probes -- And Have Nothing To Show (Laura Clawson, March 11 | 2023, National Memo)

"Jordan is overextended and short-staffed, biting off much more than he can chew," a former Sen. Chuck Grassley staffer tweeted in late February. "This is doomed to fail." One of the quoted tweets on that came from an EpochTV host, who added, "Is it once again all talk & no action from the GOP - this time from the Weaponization Committee?" And Fox News' Jesse Watters said, "Make me feel better, guys. Tell me this is going somewhere. Can I throw someone in prison? Can someone go to jail? Can someone get fined?" [...]

And the subcommittee's first hearings are not going to have made it easier to sell potential staffers on the career-building opportunities here. Jordan is using the hearings to float one false story and conspiracy theory after another--for instance, misquoting his own witnesses, who told Twitter that a possible hack-and-leak operation law enforcement was warning social media companies about might involve Hunter Biden. Former Twitter executive Yoel Roth said under oath that as far as he remembered, the specific warning about Hunter Biden came from someone at another tech company, but Jordan claimed it came from the government. If you're a lawyer looking to make your career, you have to be pretty far off in Sidney Powell territory to think that being associated with that level of evidence-based claim is going to help.

"There is a feeling right now that this will simply be a Fox News clip generator -- this really needs to be a comprehensive, well-resourced examination of the security state," an unnamed "person familiar with the committee's operations" told the Post. "It can't be a way for members to get three- to five-minute hits on the Sean Hannity show. If they want this to be real, it has to be done right."

But right now all the Republican investigations are exactly that: Fox News clip generators. And Jordan isn't the only committee chair drawing some internal criticism. Punchbowl News reports that James Comer, chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, is drawing some gripes as he announces one investigation after another without making much of an impact. 

Except on the sheep, who think they must be winning! 

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Rupert Murdoch: Fox News fired Kimberly Guilfoyle for 'inappropriate behavior' (MARTHA ROSS, March 10, 2023, East Bay Times)

After her departure from Fox, Guilfoyle became a contributor to Newsmax. Along with One American News Network, Newsmax aggressively pushed false claims of voter fraud. In its lawsuit, Dominion alleges that Fox News hosts and executives harbored doubts about such claims but promoted them anyway because they worried about losing audience to Newsmax or OAN.

The idea that Murdoch wanted Guilfoyle gone adds weight to the New Yorker report, published a month before the 2020 election. The report suggested that Guilfoyle had to leave Fox News, where she had worked since the mid-2000s, because of sexual harassment allegations made by a former assistant. Before the New Yorker report, the popular explanation for Guilfoyle's departure from Fox was that she wanted to avoid conflicts of interest posed by her new romance with Trump Jr.

Reporter Jane Mayer detailed allegations in a 42-page draft complaint, which said that Guilfoyle showed lewd photos of male genitalia to colleagues, regularly discussed sexual matters at work, urged the assistant "to submit to a Fox employee's demands for sexual favors," and exposed herself to the assistant while asking for a critique of her naked body.

The story furthermore described efforts by Guilfoyle to cover up the allegations, citing well-informed sources who said the network paid the former assistant up to $4 million to avoid a trial.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Man accused of painting 'groomer' on Md. libraries charged in child porn case (Jasmine Hilton, March 10, 2023,, Washington Post)

A 31-year-old Takoma Park man alleged to have spray-painted the word "groomer" on two Maryland library buildings last year in an act of hate directed at LGBTQ people has been charged with possessing child pornography, according to charging documents.

Q is a false flag op. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ron DeSantis's book ban mania targets Jodi Picoult -- and she hits back (Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, March 10, 2023, Washington Post)

There's a big problem with DeSantis's claims: The people deciding which books to remove from classrooms and school libraries didn't get the memo. In many cases, the notion that banned books meet the highly objectionable criteria he detailed is an enormous stretch.

This week, Florida's Martin County released a list of dozens of books targeted for removal from school libraries, as officials struggle to interpret a bill DeSantis signed in the name of "transparency" in school materials. The episode suggests his decrees are increasingly encouraging local officials to adopt censoring decisions with disturbingly vague rationales and absurdly sweeping scope.

Numerous titles by well-known authors such as Jodi Picoult, Toni Morrison and James Patterson have been pulled from library shelves. The removal list includes Picoult's novel "The Storyteller" about the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor who meets an elderly former SS officer. It contains some violent scenes told in flashbacks from World War II and an assisted suicide.

There's a reason people don't want their children to learn about things like Jim Crow and the Holocaust...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Young Women Fight Loneliness--Walking Together in the Park by the Hundreds (Chavie Lieber, March 10, 2023, WSJ)

At the height of the pandemic, walks became a daily serotonin boost for many. Walking even got a sexy rebrand from the TikTok crowd, complete with "hot-girl walk" accessories and a Spotify playlist. Now it's become a group activity, as walkers look to expand their social horizons. Instagram and TikTok have helped the "girls who walk" trend reach cities including Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Houston, Miami, Dallas, Nashville, San Francisco, Phoenix and Philadelphia. Groups meet weekly and some draw hundreds of attendees.

While walking groups might bring to mind women of a certain age power-walking and gossiping with neighbors, these newly formed clubs are drawing younger city dwellers looking to make new connections.

"It can be hard to make friends in a big city, especially during the winter when you're inside for weeks on end," said Micaila Marcinko, a 25-year-old Chicago native who started Chicago Girls Who Walk last March. "This is pretty easy. You just show up and walk."

Ms. Kohn said she was walk-skeptical growing up, always turning down her mom's invitations to stroll while on vacation. But now she's an evangelist. 

Many of the women at her walking group in New York said they attended for the social component.  Darinka Sutic, 29, said she had just moved to Jersey City, N.J., from Kansas for a job promotion and didn't have many friends in the area. She struck up a conversation with Karen Benedetto, a 23-year-old advertiser who was also trying City Girls Who Walk for the first time. 

"I've been staring at this on TikTok for like a year and my roommate is out of town this weekend so that was my excuse to come," said Ms. Benedetto. 

Leanna Peters-Williams, 38, learned about the group on Instagram and has attended roughly 10 walks.  

"It really feels like a community," said Ms. Peters-Williams, who was there with her 10-year-old daughter and her medical aide.  

An unacknowledged source of the current loneliness is the war on fraternal organization. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Here's Why the Science Is Clear That Masks Work (Zeynep Tufekci, Mar. 10th, 2023, NY Times)

Why aren't there more randomized studies on masks? We could have started some in early 2020, distributing masks in some towns when they weren't widely available. It's a shame we didn't. But it would have been hard and unethical to deny masks to some people once they were available to all.

Scientists routinely use other kinds of data besides randomized reviews, including lab studies, natural experiments, real-life data and observational studies. All these should be taken into account to evaluate masks.

Lab studies, many of which were done during the pandemic, show that masks, particularly N95 respirators, can block viral particles. Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist who has long studied airborne viral transmission, told me even cloth masks that fit well and use appropriate materials can help.

Real-life data can be complicated by variables that aren't controlled for, but it's worth examining even if studying it isn't conclusive.

Japan, which emphasized wearing masks and mitigating airborne transmission, had a remarkably low death rate in 2020 even though it did not have any shutdowns and rarely tested and traced widely outside of clusters.

David Lazer, a political scientist at Northeastern University, calculated that before vaccines were available, U.S. states without mask mandates had 30 percent higher Covid death rates than those with mandates.

Perhaps the best evidence comes from natural experiments, which study how things change after an event or intervention.

Researchers at Mass General Brigham, one of Harvard's teaching hospital groups, found that in early 2020, before mask mandates were introduced, the infection rate among health care workers doubled every 3.6 days and rose to 21.3 percent. After universal masking was required, the rate stopped increasing, and then quickly declined to 11.4 percent.

In Germany, 401 regions introduced mask mandates at various times over three months in the spring of 2020. By carefully comparing otherwise similar places before and after mask mandates, researchers concluded that "face masks reduce the daily growth rate of reported infections by around 47 percent," with the effect more pronounced in large cities and among older people.

Brown, who led the Cochrane review's approval process, told me that mask mandates may not be tenable now, but he has a starkly different feeling about their effects in the first year of a pandemic.

"Mask mandates, social distancing, the other shutdowns we had in terms of even restaurants and things like that -- if places like New York City didn't do that, the number of deaths would have been much higher," he told me. "I'm very confident of that statement."

So the evidence is relatively straightforward: Consistently wearing a mask, preferably a high-quality, well-fitting one, provides protection against the coronavirus.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What key players at Fox News said about the network and its viewers (Sarah Ellison, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff and Shelly Tan, March 10, 2023, Washington Post)

Paul D. Ryan
Board member

"I see this as a key inflection point for Fox ... A solid pushback (including editorial) of his baseless calls for overturning electors, etc. will undoubtedly accrue pushback and possibly a momentary ratings dip, but will clearly redound to our benefit in terms of credibility."
-- Text messages to Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, Dec. 6, 2020.

Paul D. Ryan, a former speaker of the House and leading light of the GOP before his brand of intellectual conservatism was swamped by the MAGA movement, joined the Fox Corp. board after leaving Congress. He has urged the party to move on from the former president, saying that Republicans "lose with Trump."

In correspondence uncovered by Dominion, Ryan texted to the Murdochs in December 2020 that he thought that Fox was at a "key inflection point." In calling for pushback of Trump's baseless claims, Ryan hoped the network could appeal to center and center-right voters.

"The sooner we can put down the echoes of falsehoods from our side, the faster we can get onto principled loyal opposition," Ryan wrote. "I truly hope our contributors, along with Tucker, Laura, and Sean get that and execute."

Poor sweet Paul Ryan.  One can kind of understand the reluctance of conservatives to reckon with the racist reality of the Tea Party, but to not grasp it by 2021 was dangerous naivete.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest: Evidence for Lukianoff's reverse CBT hypothesis (Jon Haidt, Mar 9, 2023, After Babel)

In May 2014, Greg Lukianoff invited me to lunch to talk about something he was seeing on college campuses that disturbed him. Greg is the president of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), and he has worked tirelessly since 2001 to defend the free speech rights of college students. That almost always meant pushing back against administrators who didn't want students to cause trouble, and who justified their suppression of speech with appeals to the emotional "safety" of students--appeals that the students themselves didn't buy. But in late 2013, Greg began to encounter new cases in which students were pushing to ban speakers, punish people for ordinary speech, or implement policies that would chill free speech. These students arrived on campus in the fall of 2013 already accepting the idea that books, words, and ideas could hurt them. Why did so many students in 2013 believe this, when there was little sign of such beliefs in 2011?

Greg is prone to depression, and after hospitalization for a serious episode in 2007, Greg learned CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). In CBT you learn to recognize when your ruminations and automatic thinking patterns exemplify one or more of about a dozen "cognitive distortions," such as catastrophizing, black-and-white thinking, fortune telling, or emotional reasoning. Thinking in these ways causes depression, as well as being a symptom of depression. Breaking out of these painful distortions is a cure for depression. 

What Greg saw in 2013 were students justifying the suppression of speech and the punishment of dissent using the exact distortions that Greg had learned to free himself from. Students were saying that an unorthodox speaker on campus would cause severe harm to vulnerable students (catastrophizing); they were using their emotions as proof that a text should be removed from a syllabus (emotional reasoning). Greg hypothesized that if colleges supported the use of these cognitive distortions, rather than teaching students skills of critical thinking (which is basically what CBT is), then this could cause students to become depressed. Greg feared that colleges were performing reverse CBT.  [...]

In September 2020, Zach Goldberg, who was then a graduate student at Georgia State University, discovered something interesting in a dataset made public by Pew Research. Pew surveyed about 12,000 people in March 2020, during the first month of the Covid shutdowns. The survey included this item: "Has a doctor or other healthcare provider EVER told you that you have a mental health condition?" Goldberg graphed the percentage of respondents who said "yes" to that item as a function of their self-placement on the liberal-conservative 5-point scale and found that white liberals were much more likely to say yes than white moderates and conservatives. (His analyses for non-white groups generally found small or inconsistent relationships with politics.) 

I wrote to Goldberg and asked him to redo it for men and women separately, and for young vs. old separately. He did, and he found that the relationship to politics was much stronger for young (white) women.

Identity politics trains people to behave like victims.

March 10, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Kevin McCarthy joins the insurrection (Dana Milbank, March 10, 2023, Washington Post)

The benighted McCarthy has been amassing this impressive body of obtuseness for some time. If ignorance is bliss, the California Republican has been in nirvana for years now.

How about Trump's speech on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, provoking the sacking of the Capitol?

"I didn't watch it," McCarthy said.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) calling the insurrectionists' rampage a "normal tourist visit"?

"I don't know what Congressman Clyde said," quoth McCarthy, and "I didn't see it."

When his own designated negotiator reached a bipartisan agreement to form a commission to probe the Jan. 6 attack (a commission McCarthy ultimately killed)?

"I haven't read through it."

Trump, in a recorded phone call, demanding Georgia's secretary of state "find" enough votes to overturn the election results?

"I have to hear it first."

Trump telling four congresswomen of color (three of them U.S.-born) to "go back" where they came from, prompting chants of "send her back" among his rallygoers?

"I didn't get to see the rally."

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) harassing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) with shouts and slander just off the House floor?

"I didn't see that. I don't know what happened."

Trump's ludicrous allegation that former GOP congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough may have murdered a staffer?

"I don't quite know about the subject itself. I don't know this subject well."

Trump's scandalous claim that Democrats inflated the death toll from a hurricane in Puerto Rico to "make me look as bad as possible"?

"I haven't read it yet," McCarthy pleaded.

At best, McCarthy's willful cluelessness is just a dodge. But this week, McCarthy's see-no-evil approach was just plain evil.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Scientists find a way to suck up carbon pollution, turn it into baking soda and store it in the oceans (Laura Paddison, 3/10/23, CNN)

Scientists have set out a way to suck planet-heating carbon pollution from the air, turn it into sodium bicarbonate and store it in oceans, according to a new paper.

The technique could be up to three times more efficient than current carbon capture technology, say the authors of the study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


In Florida, far-right groups look to seize the moment (SERGIO OLMOS & JIM URQUHART, 3/10/23, NPR)

Two of the men wear white gaiters with the acronym of their white nationalist group, National Socialist Florida, written in the typeface of German WW II propaganda posters. One of the men kneels down in the alley and takes off his backpack. He removes a commercial grade laser projector that retails for about $3,000. Smaller than a loaf of bread, compact, powerful and mobile.

Josh Nunes, the leader of the small band of white nationalist extremists, keeps a lookout for police while the other man aims the laser onto the skyscraper, careful to avoid helicopters flying overhead and possible detection. He projects a rolling ticker tape onto the building that reads, "Why are child friendly drag shows legal? @ Ron DeSantis." Nunes cranes his neck to see how it looks. [...]

Nunes and his group first tried the laser projections last year during a college football game. They projected a message onto the stadium that read, "Kanye is right about the Jews!" The line was a nod to recent anti-Semitic rants by the artist and business mogul Ye, formerly known as Kanye West. On that night Nunes says he brought along the leader of another small neo-Nazi group in Florida to observe and "to see if it was worth picking up."

Nunes and his group regularly coordinate with other far-right groups, forming what the advocacy organization Anti-Defamation League calls an unprecedented level of coordination among white nationalist groups in Florida.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


The Boogaloo Bois Are Plotting a Bloody Comeback: 'We Will Go to War' (Tess Owen, March 8, 2023, Vice News)

[T]he breaking point for the government was when a Boogaloo Boi murdered two law enforcement officers in California. The DOJ formed a task force to investigate anti-government extremists and the FBI began knocking on doors. Six months later, almost as quickly as these floral-shirted militants had materialized on American streets, the Boogaloo Bois disappeared from public view. Even Dunn hung up his Hawaiian shirt, changed his phone number, got a job at a county jail, and laid low for a while. 

The sudden disappearance of the Boogaloos fueled speculation that the slew of DOJ investigations and arrests had literally taken them off the board--perhaps destroying the movement forever. "The fact of the matter is the FBI won," a once-prominent Boogaloo from Texas recently wrote online. 

While it's true that the threat of prosecution caused the Boogaloo Bois to lower their profile, the fierce anti-government ideology underpinning the movement never went anywhere. And now, the Boogaloo Bois appear to be regrouping, plotting their public comeback to coincide with what many fear could be a tense, even violent, presidential election season. 

In the last six months, the Boogaloo Bois have returned to Facebook and are using the platform to funnel new recruits (and "OG Bois") into smaller subgroups, with the goal of coordinating offline meet-ups and training, according to data obtained by the Tech Transparency Project and shared exclusively with VICE News. They're posting propaganda videos, guides to sniper training and guerilla warfare, and how-tos for assembling untraceable ghost guns. "The Bois are back in town," declared a member of one of the new groups. (Facebook deleted many of the groups after VICE News reached out for this story.)

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Over 200 Donald Trump Documents to Be Handed Over in Huge Court Defeat (ALEKS PHILLIPS,  3/10/23, Newsweek)

It comes after FBI agents raided Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida in August 2022 to obtain documents from his time in the White House under the Presidential Records Act (PRA). More than 13,000 documents were seized, 103 of which were classified.

The ruling by Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia, on Thursday marks a stunning legal defeat for Peter Navarro, a former assistant to the president, who oversaw trade policy and, in the last few weeks of the Trump presidency, published a report alleging widespread election fraud.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Statement on 'Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses' review (

The Cochrane Review 'Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses' was published in January 2023 and has been widely misinterpreted.

Karla Soares-Weiser, Editor-in-Chief of the Cochrane Library, has responded on behalf of Cochrane:

Many commentators have claimed that a recently-updated Cochrane Review shows that 'masks don't work', which is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation.

It would be accurate to say that the review examined whether interventions to promote mask wearing help to slow the spread of respiratory viruses, and that the results were inconclusive. Given the limitations in the primary evidence, the review is not able to address the question of whether mask-wearing itself reduces people's risk of contracting or spreading respiratory viruses. 

All one need do is look at some numbers on a topic that the Right hasn't lost its mind over--the reduction in flu during the pandemic response--to know that their talking points are garbage. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Spotting sprouts of democracy (The Monitor's Editorial Board, March 10, 2023, CS Monitor)

For the first time in nearly 20 years, there is evidence that "the world's long freedom recession may be bottoming out," according to Freedom House in its latest global survey. Political rights and civil liberties gained ground in 34 countries and lost in 35 - the narrowest gap since 2005. After tracking such data for a half-century, Freedom House finds "heartening proof that democratic progress is always possible."

"So long as human beings remain true to their natural yearning for liberty, authoritarians will never be secure, and the global movement for democracy will never be defeated," the report stated.

A few factors help explain the shift on rights and liberties. As countries have emerged from the pandemic, basic freedoms have been restored. Russia's aggression in Ukraine has stirred democracies to a more vigorous defense of shared values. In every region, the report found, authoritarian regimes are facing growing popular backlashes against corruption, state violence, and controls on dissent.

The post-Liberal future is Liberal. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Thank you, Kevin McCarthy and Tucker Carlson (Paul Waldman, March 9, 2023, Washington Post)

Certain political leaders inspire grudging respect or even fear from their opponents, but let's face it: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is not among them. His latest political gambit, a ham-handed attempt to rewrite the history of the Capitol insurrection in collaboration with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, was not just a spectacular faceplant. It turned out to be a service to all of us. [...]

[T]he logical howler at the heart of Carlson's presentation was impossible for all but the most deluded Trump devotees to ignore. Displaying snippets of video in which the Jan. 6 rioters were momentarily calm is the equivalent of a murder suspect saying, "Why aren't we talking about all the people I didn't kill?"

Here's where it gets interesting, though. As influential as Carlson is on the right, the first installment of his revisionist version of Jan. 6 was met with a torrent of condemnation -- much of it from Republicans.

At a news conference, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) prominently associated himself with U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger's dismissal of Carlson's narrative as "offensive and misleading." Sen. Kevin Cramer (N.D.) called it "just a lie." Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) said "I think it's bulls--t." Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) called it "dangerous and disgusting." Rep. Dan Crenshaw (Tex.) mocked Carlson's "silly" effort to "convince people that nothing bad happened."

The last time so many Republicans condemned something that appeared on Fox News, it was when the network accurately called Arizona for Joe Biden on election night in 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Text Shows Carlson Promoting Holocaust Denier On White Nationalist Hub (Eric Hananoki, March 10 | 2023, National Memo)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson shared the work of David Cole, a Holocaust denier who writes for a white nationalist hub that carries headlines like "The Trouble with Blacks" and "Our De Facto Antiwhite Apartheid." Carlson's reading list is the latest revelation in the recently released tranche of documents from the Fox News/Dominion lawsuit.

If Israel ends the Occupation, the Right will not even have to pretend anymore. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


The World's First 3D-Printed Rocket Is About to Launch (RAMIN SKIBBA, MAR 10, 2023, Wired)

AN ALMOST ENTIRELY 3D-printed rocket is ready to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, then head for low Earth orbit.

Scheduled for a three-hour launch window that opens at 1 pm Eastern time tomorrow, the inaugural launch of Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket will constitute a major milestone for the California-based startup, and for expanding the use of 3D printing in the space industry.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Latin America poised to become renewable energy giant: report (Joshua Howat Berger, March 9, 2023, AFP)

Latin America is poised to become a major renewable energy producer, with nearly a billion solar panels' worth of large-scale clean-electricity projects slated to come online in the next seven years, a report found Thursday.

In welcome good news for the climate-change race, researchers said Latin American countries had more than 319 gigawatts of utility-scale solar- and wind-power projects due to be launched by 2030 -- equal to nearly 70 percent of the region's total current electrical capacity from all sources combined.

"Rich in wind and solar resources, Latin America has the potential to be a global leader for renewable energy," said the report by the Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a US-based non-profit that tracks clean-energy development.

The Third World stands to renewables as post-war Germany and Japan did to industrialization, able to steal a march.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


NYT - "Another Stronger Than Expected Jobs Report" - Our Monthly Jobs Day Report (Simon Rosenberg, March 10th, Hopium Chronicles)

The March BLS jobs report is out and its another remarkably strong one - 311,000 jobs! While things have slowed a bit, as we hoped, the "can do" American spirit is clearly alive and well. With this new data my monthly jobs tracker clocks in at:

33.8m jobs - 16 years of Clinton, Obama

12.4m jobs - 25 months of Biden

1.9m jobs - 16 years of Bush, Bush and Trump

Biden's 12.5m jobs is 6 times as many jobs as were created in the 16 years of the last 3 Republican Presidencies, combined. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Jim Jordan's Weaponization Subcommittee Keeps Firing Blanks (FREDERICK BARON AND DENNIS AFTERGUT,  MARCH 10, 2023, The Bulwark)

Jordan's vacuous Twitter Files hearing appeared to be an effort to distract from the negative response to his hearing on February 9 resurrecting random MAGA grievances. That first hearing led off with 89-year-old Senator Chuck Grassley as a witness complaining that it was Hillary Clinton and Democrats, and not Donald Trump's campaign, who had "colluded with the Russians."

At that hearing, the subcommittee's top Democrat, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, aptly called out Jordan for "weaponizing Congress" and using his subcommittee as "a place to settle scores, showcase conspiracy theories, and advance an extreme agenda that risks undermining Americans' faith in our democracy."

Even Fox News host Jesse Waters moaned to Republican committee members, "Tell me this is going somewhere."

After that first hearing, Jordan shifted attention to his claim that he had "dozens" of "FBI whistleblowers" with knowledge of FBI misconduct directed at Trump. In response, Democratic subcommittee members released a 316-page report documenting that Jordan's staff could point to only three such witnesses, none of whom actually had direct knowledge of such misconduct.

All three witnesses reportedly endorsed an "alarming series of conspiracy theories"; they were "directly connected to a network of extreme MAGA Republican operatives"; and they were disgruntled former FBI officials receiving financial or other support from Trump allies. In short, they were hardly paragons of credibility.

An unnamed Republican called Jordan's performance "amateur hour," suggesting that by advancing conspiracy theories in future televised hearings, Jordan "would make us look like morons."

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Normandy's English connection: The region combines ancient and modern splendours with an eye turned ever northwards (Matthew Lloyd Roberts, March 2023, The Critic)

For English travellers to France in the first half of the eighteenth century, Normandy held a certain allure and familiarity. Despite the many marked differences that came with crossing the channel, Englishmen felt themselves unexpectedly at home in Normandy. Projecting a medieval history that lingered in the popular imagination onto their built environment, one such gentleman wrote in a published travel account of 1701 that "All public Buildings, and some private in Roan [Rouen], are built by the English." 

The antiquary and librarian Andrew Ducarel declared that "NORMANDY does so nearly resemble OLD ENGLAND, that we could scarce believe ourselves to be in FRANCE," commenting on a vernacular architecture of half-timber and thatch he recognised from his travels in Hertfordshire and Rutland.

An oolitic limestone that verges between clotted cream and brilliant white

The foundations of such insistent recognition lie in a feeling of shared cultural heritage between this region of France and England, most strongly expressed by Ducarel when he visits the tapestry at Bayeux, relating a hardly believable account of the ignorance of its custodians. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM

LOVE STORY (profanity alert):

Why Are So Many Guys Obsessed With Master and Commander?: 20 years after its release, the mildly successful historical nautical drama has become an inescapable hit with a certain type of movie fan. (GABRIELLA PAIELLA, March 8, 2023, GQ)

If you kidnapped a hundred of Hollywood's top minds and forced them to work around the clock, they could not engineer a more exquisite Dad Movie. Though Master and Commander is ostensibly about the Surprise sailing to intercept a French enemy warship, the battle scenes, exhilarating as they may be, are few and far in between. The bulk of the film--and the heart of its charm--is instead a meticulous rendering of daily life at sea: the monotony of hard labor, the palpable threat of scurvy, the dirty-faced sailors who sleep in close quarters and grin through yellowed teeth. (You know it smells crazy in there.) Even better? All the screen time devoted to close conversations between Aubrey and Maturin, and their two-dude violin and cello jam sessions. You come away with a sense of satisfaction at their accomplishments and camaraderie, and just a bit of longing over a bygone way of life. [...]

[W]hile posting about Master and Commander is popular with an irony-adjacent crowd, the love for it is all sincere. Many of the film's most vocal fans are in their thirties. If they originally saw it in their tween or teen years, their relationship with the movie only deepened as they grew older. Think of it as the male biological clock: Alex Yablon, who works for the New York City Council, said that he rewatched the movie after the birth of his first child. He's since listened to eight of the original source material audiobooks--with only 12 left to go.

"For me, personally, there's a lot of stuff that I have gotten into as I have accepted that I'm in my mid-thirties, that I'm a dad, that I'm boring now. I do boring [***], I read boring history books, and I mostly am pretty fine with that. I'm okay with being a little bit of a goofy, boring dad," Yablon told me. "And I think that the way of sheepishly admitting that and kind of making fun of that a little bit is by being into such a cliché dad thing: naval adventure stories."

Despite any surface-level irony, everyone I talked to adopted a tone of reverence and awe when speaking about the movie. They would get a misty, far-away sound in their voice, almost as if they were on the bow of a ship, gazing out over the open ocean, ponytail flapping in the breeze.

Will Menaker, the co-host of the popular leftist podcast Chapo Trap House, said, "I don't know how there could be ironic fans of a movie that's this brilliant--a movie that does onscreen everything movies promise. What's bad about this movie?"

"I always think of the scene where Aubrey and Maturin are playing their cello and violin--you're hearing that and it's just sort of taking you around the ship and it's all very quiet. And then there's just a moment where the camera goes underneath the boat and it's a shot of the anchor trailing through the ocean as you hear the slightly muffled sounds of Aubrey and Maturin's music," he continued. "I just always am so struck by the beauty of that moment and the fact that every single conceivable detail about the social hierarchies and physical maintenance of this vessel is so lovingly crafted. It's the historical verisimilitude of it and just how it does a very rare thing for movies of this nature--it's like the battles are almost incidental."

Sure, there are no female characters in the movie (except for the ship, and the wooden lady on the ship). But overall, the masculinity of Master and Commander, especially as modeled by Aubrey, is overwhelmingly wholesome and positive. Any nostalgia for the traditionalism in the movie is less reactionary and more about the healthy male bonding between the characters.

"You've got a bromance for the ages in Aubrey and Maturin," Menaker said. "They're just [***]ing buds and they play their violins together as they're traversing the Cape of Horn. It's awesome." Writer David Grossman told me that Master and Commander is "a deeply felt vision of non-toxic masculinity," while Alex Yablon pointed to it as "a portrait of healthy homosociality." Even director Taika Waititi once called it his favorite romance movie.

Russell Crowe is also particularly magnetic. Rachel Millman, the writer and Wrestlesplania podcast host who once remarked on Twitter that, "every February becomes Master and Commander month on here," brought up his specific appeal. "He's very much a 'dudes rock' type of guy," she said. "I don't think dudes rock is exclusive to men anymore. You're underselling yourself when you're like, 'This is a thing for boys.' No, it's just the attitude of 'that guy rocks, he does what he wants, he's great.'"

The idea that it could be fulfilling to live and work on the HMS Surprise--again, a 19th century ship, with all that entails--is also part of the allure for the modern viewer. I recently rewatched Master and Commander early one morning and found myself overtaken by wistful bonhomie. Wouldn't it feel satisfying to spend each day doing industrious and meaningful ship work, I thought, and then retire to candlelit dinners and violin-playing each night? As New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane put it in his review, "we feel ourselves to be in good company with these men, and strangely jealous of their packed and salted lives."

Grossman pointed to the friendship crisis among American men. "When you're in your thirties, you're looking for this sort of community. This is the age when settling down starts to happen," he said. "Friends start to drop off and you have to take more active steps to find a community of male friends, and more guys report loneliness. I guess seeing that rich community strikes some as, 'yeah, that's what I want--just to be on a ship with 150 other guys.'"

There is the beginning of insight here: consider too that Katherine Ross is superfluous to Butch and Sundance, Ingrid Bergman to Casablanca and even Jean Simmons to Spartacus. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Tucker Carlson knows his viewers want to be lied to: Their feelings don't care about your facts. (Aaron Rupar and davidrlurie, 3/10/23, Public Notice)

Ultimately, however, Carlson gave up on such hedging.

Over the ensuing weeks and months, Carlson appears to have realized that he had underestimated his own viewers' gullibility, and failed to recognize the depth of their desire to believe the election had been stolen. His own messages to his audience became all the more untethered from reality. 

In late 2021, Carlson hosted a special strongly suggesting that the January 6 attack wasn't actually the doing of Trump and his supporters, but rather was the product of an FBI false flag operation meant to entrap them. Fast forward another 16 months, and Carlson is now regularly heard on air claiming that Biden's victory was an injustice of historic significance. 

On Monday, for instance, Carlson declared: "In retrospect, it is clear the 2020 election was a grave betrayal of American democracy."

Carlson's latest gambit is to selectively present the 1/6 footage McCarthy gave him to reframe the insurrection as an honorable protest against a stolen election -- something of a last stand for a lost cause. 

In support of this revisionist history, Carlson played, and replayed, snippets of tape showing the insurrectionists during moments in which they were not vandalizing the Capitol or attacking police officers. It's a bit like insisting arsonists get a bad rap because people don't pay enough attention to all the times they aren't burning things down.

Carlson plainly has no concern that the "revelations" he's offering up are readily shown to be false. For example, he contended Monday that it's a mystery how the "QAnon Shaman," Jacob Chansley, entered the Capitol, suggesting he might have been invited in by police.

But footage of Chansley's entry into the Capitol is readily available. And it shows he was among the first wave of vandals to break in.

Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger also immediately stated that Carlson's claim about police officers serving as Chansley's tour guides was "outrageous and false," explaining that the officers "did their best to use de-escalation tactics to try to talk rioters into getting each other to leave the building." But no matter -- even after the police chief spoke out, Carlson just kept insisting Tuesday and Wednesday that his out-of-context footage showed police and Chansley working together.

Being exposed as a bald faced liar by people outside the right wing media-sphere is plainly of no concern to Carlson. His finger is constantly on the pulse of his audience, and he's wary only of losing their allegiance by telling them facts they don't want to hear.

For Carlson, the "credibility" he feared Fox might lose by acknowledging Trump's Arizona loss is not preserved by telling viewers the truth. Rather, it's maintained by telling them what they want, and are willing, to believe, no matter how false the presentation may be.

March 9, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Twitter and Elon Musk Face Legal Risks in FTC Probe (Ryan Tracy, March 9, 2023, WSJ)

After a series of incidents in which the company broke its promises to protect users' privacy and security, Twitter effectively agreed to put itself in the penalty box. It has been under an FTC order since 2011, and last year agreed to new, more-intrusive sanctions as part of a $150 million settlement of new alleged violations.

If Twitter doesn't live up to the commitments it made under that deal, the FTC could seek more severe financial penalties and sanctions.

"Unless Twitter can really prove to the FTC that it is adhering carefully to the new consent decree, which has lots of provisions that are supposed to ensure compliance-monitoring, record-keeping, all those things, then they're going to get another enforcement case," said David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor who previously ran the FTC's consumer-protection bureau.

Cobun Zweifel-Keegan, managing director at the International Association of Privacy Professionals, said the rapid-fire changes being made at Twitter could expose the company to legal risks, if regulators determine that the changes weren't deliberated carefully as required under the FTC order.

"Any time a decision is being made very quickly, that could easily raise questions in the mind of a regulator about whether a compliance, design and review process is being followed," Mr. Zweifel-Keegan said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Trump Lawyer Admits to Falsehoods in 2020 Fraud Claims (Alan Feuer, Mar. 9th, 2023, NY Times)

Jenna Ellis, a lawyer who represented President Donald J. Trump after his loss in the 2020 election, admitted in a sworn statement released on Wednesday that she had knowingly misrepresented the facts in several of her public claims that widespread voting fraud led to Mr. Trump's defeat.

The admissions by Ms. Ellis were part of an agreement to accept public censure and settle disciplinary measures brought against her by state bar officials in Colorado, her home state. Last year, the officials opened an investigation of Ms. Ellis after a complaint from the 65 Project, a bipartisan legal watchdog group.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


The Pentagon is funding experiments on animals to recreate 'Havana Syndrome' (LARA SELIGMAN, 03/09/2023, Washington Post)

This news of the ongoing animal testing, which has not previously been reported, comes after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence determined last week that there is no credible evidence that a foreign adversary wielding a weapon caused the health incidents.

Gluten intolerance, dairy intolerance, peanut allergies, Havana Syndrome, Iranian schoolgirls, gender affirmation, long Covid...

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


New York prosecutors offer Trump a chance to testify before grand jury (Shayna Jacobs and Josh Dawsey, March 9, 2023, Washington Post)

In New York state, the target of a criminal investigation can request an alert when a case against them is being heard by a grand jury. The requirement is designed to give the target a chance to be heard by the panel in his own defense.

"Everyone will advise him not to go in," said a Trump adviser who is one of the three people with knowledge of the situation that confirmed the notification.

No defense attorney has ever voluntarily let Donald testify because he's a human perjury trap. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


ROY THOMAS ON THE HISTORY OF DOCTOR STRANGE: The legendary editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics shares secrets about the once-obscure sorcerer-superhero in his introduction to the new collection from The Folio Society (ROY THOMAS, 3/09/23, CrimeReads)

Yes, strange as it may seem--and hard as it may be to believe today, with two cinematic blockbusters now under his sash and key roles in several other super-hit films as well--back in the 1960s and for decades afterward, Doctor Stephen Strange was one of Marvel's less important, and least popular, marquee-level heroes. (In fact, Marvel editor Stan Lee later revealed the hero was nearly christened 'Mr Strange', but instead he got promoted to being an actual doctor, because Marvel already had a 'Mr Fantastic.')

He started off his four-color life in a mere five-page throw-away story by scripter Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963), basically just filling space behind a cover feature wherein the Human Torch battled the Wizard and Paste Pot Pete. . . and with another five-page science-fiction vignette taking up half of the mag's remaining oxygen. 'Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic!' was therefore the inevitable choice to lead off this volume of some of the greatest sagas starring the man who would eventu- ally become the Marvel Universe's Sorcerer Supreme. It wasn't a bad little adventure, introducing both Doc and the otherworldly villain Nightmare, who's been bedeviling him ever since.

Two additional Dr. Strange five-pagers were spread out over the following four issues, and by the fourth Doc story--'The Ori- gin of Dr. Strange' in Strange Tales #115 (December 1963)--it's clear that the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko team are running on all cylinders. And, as usual, the result whenever Lee and Ditko were, even briefly, on the same page creatively is nothing less than spectacular: a backstory that gives the mustachioed wizard a very human, even tragic background (as a greedy, self-indulgent surgeon who loses the use of his hands--and thus his livelihood, even his reason for existing--in an auto accident) that contrasts starkly with the Lost Horizon-influenced renewal of life he finds in what some then referred to as 'the Mystic East.' This was far from the first pop-cultural artifact to be influenced by James Hilton's 1933 novel that introduced the hidden land called Shangri-La (and even more so by the 1937 movie version), but it was definitely the best and most enduring of those offshoots. For this story, the page count was increased from five to a whole eight.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


The Most Interesting Think Tank In American Politics (MOLLY BALL , MARCH 7, 2023, TIME)

Niskanen (pronounced Niss-CAN-enn) was founded in 2014 by Jerry Taylor, one of Washington's great mad geniuses. A thinker of uncommon intellectual flexibility and charisma, Taylor blazed a 30-year trail through the world of policy thought before flaming out in scandal. But he started out as a conventional movement conservative--a "wild-eyed Reaganite," as he describes it today.

As a college student at the University of Iowa in the 1980s, Taylor worked for the political campaigns of Sen. Chuck Grassley and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. When his college loans ran out, he ditched school and moved to D.C. to work for the American Legislative Exchange Council, the influential pro-business state-level conservative lobbying group. After a few years, he was recruited by Cato to work on environmental issues. Climate change was just starting to come on the public radar as an issue, but it hadn't yet acquired a polarizing left-right valence. (The conservative UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, for example, was at that time an early evangelist for addressing "global warming.") Taylor's job was to change that, convincing right-wingers that the science was a sham and the "solutions" being proposed would constitute an unwarranted attack on Americans' liberty and prosperity.

Taylor had no background in the subject, but he read voraciously and had a knack for marshaling evidence to make persuasive arguments. For more than 20 years, he was wildly successful in a role he describes as Cato's "lead climate denier." The doubts he helped to sow became conventional wisdom on the right, lending ammunition to Republicans who blocked climate action for decades. But over the years, Taylor grew uncertain about his own conclusions. The more he looked at the evidence, the harder he found it to deny that the scientists sounding the alarm about climate were correct. He naively assumed his objective-minded allies in the libertarian movement would, like him, want to follow the data where it led. Instead, he found his views distinctly unwelcome among his colleagues.

Taylor left Cato, proclaimed himself a climate hawk, and founded his own think tank. He named it after William Niskanen, a former Reagan economic adviser and Cato co-founder whose 2011 death led to a power struggle in which the Koch brothers sued to seize control of the institute. To inhabitants of the insular world of professional libertarians, the name was an obvious middle finger to Taylor's former home. (To everyone else, "Niskanen" meant nothing; the name remains a puzzling albatross for the organization.) In his new incarnation as a climate denier who'd seen the light, Taylor was instantly embraced by the environmental movement. The center was soon flush with money from liberal foundations.

Taylor oriented the nascent organization around his broadening doubts about libertarian ideology, which he increasingly saw as overly rigid and fixated on the wrong things. He made common cause with an emerging cohort of thinkers who questioned libertarianism's traditional home on the right side of the political spectrum. Libertarian values could just as easily lead to an embrace of left-wing causes like same-sex marriage and drug decriminalization, but organizations like Cato tended to ignore those issues in favor of a relentless focus on shrinking government. "Liberaltarians," led by Taylor's former Cato colleague Brink Lindsey, argued that the Bush Administration had betrayed libertarians with its foreign adventurism and big-government excess, and called for a "new fusionism" of libertarians and the political left.

When I met him in 2015, shortly after Niskanen's founding, Taylor was fixated on the idea that libertarianism's anti-statism was counterproductive to its supposed project of maximizing individual liberty. The Nordic countries, he pointed out, combine a robust welfare state with a strongly capitalist ethos. (Hammond would later articulate this agenda as "the free-market welfare state.") At the time, I found Taylor interesting but not particularly relevant: Niskanen seemed to be serving a niche within a niche.

Then Trump was elected, and suddenly Taylor had a lot of company among right-wing apostates. Scores of D.C. conservatives in good standing--Hill staffers and lobbyists, opinion journalists and advocates, lawyers and party veterans--found themselves politically homeless, appalled by the new President's actions. Taylor invited them to Niskanen, where he began hosting a secret, off-the-record weekly gathering called the Meeting of the Concerned.

"It was sort of comically sad," Bill Kristol, the former Republican commentator and operative, recalls of the meeting's early days. "As each Republican politician, organization and institution capitulated to Trump, it was like, 'There goes another one.'" It was at one of these meetings that Kristol met a young lobbyist named Sarah Longwell. The two would go on to found Defending Democracy Together and the Bulwark, cornerstones of a now-robust center-right anti-Trump infrastructure.

Conservative solutions to liberal problems.
Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Have we reached electricity's carbon-free tipping point? (JOHN QUIGGIN 9 MARCH 2023, Inside Story)

Total electricity demand is currently a bit over 25000 terawatt hours a year, growing at an annual rate of around 3 per cent. So, to meet the growing demand, we need to generate an additional 750 terawatt hours from solar and wind. (Other carbon-free sources, such as hydro and nuclear, have been essentially static.)

Assuming solar PV generates at full power for 2000 hours per year, each gigawatt of solar capacity generates an annual two terawatt hours of electricity. Meeting additional demand with solar alone therefore requires adding between 375 gigawatts of solar PV per year, with any shortfall made up by wind.

The good news is that is already happening.

March 8, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 PM


House GOP's COVID Hearing Features Advocate Of Racist Theories About Genetics (Jennifer Bendery, Mar 8, 2023, HuffPo)

Wade, a British author and former New York Times science writer, wrote a book called "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History" that was widely denounced by the scientific community for misrepresenting research into human population genetics.

One passage from his book reads, "Populations that live at high altitudes, like Tibetans, represent another adaptation to extreme environments. The adaptation of Jews to capitalism is another such evolutionary process."

In another passage about Africans' economic conditions, Wade wonders whether "variations in their nature, such as their time preference, work ethic and propensity to violence, have some bearing on the economic decisions they make."

Met one Nativist, you've met them all. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


House GOP organizing trip to see jailed Jan. 6 defendants, led by Marjorie Taylor Greene   (EMILY BROOKS AND MYCHAEL SCHNELL, 03/08/23, The Hill)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is working with House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) to schedule a trip for members of Congress to visit the Washington, D.C., jail where Jan. 6 defendants are being held.

Even the water buffalo insurrectionist has to be able to do better than that.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Most in new poll view 'woke' as positive term (JULIA SHAPERO - 03/08/23, The Hill)

A majority of Americans in a new poll have a positive association with the term "woke," understanding it to mean "to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices."

The USA Today-Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that 56 percent agreed with the more positive definition, while 39 percent had a negative association with the word

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Revealing Fox News texts point to the right's long war on the truth (Greg Sargent, March 8, 2023, Washington Post)

Not long after Fox News correctly called the 2020 presidential election for Joe Biden, a senior Fox Corp. executive privately lamented that the network's brand was "under heavy fire from our customer base." The executive suggested Fox viewers might "feel like they have been somehow betrayed."

This fear -- that viewers might see telling the truth about Donald Trump's loss as betrayal -- was widespread inside the network, according to newly released texts among Fox News figures. In the texts, they fumed that candor about 2020 was driving the audience away, prompting viewers to defect to competitors who offered a more comforting cocoon. On the air, some of those personalities kept doling out what they privately admitted were lies.

This is one of the most extraordinary scandals to ever buffet a major American network. But it also points to an even bigger story: The right wing media's long war on the truth. For decades, conservative media outlets have expressly sought to build and capture an audience that would accept only their version of events, and would be cordoned off to place them beyond the reach of mainstream news sources entirely.

Facts are fatal to ideology--they can't be allowed to penetrate the bubble.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Fox News Created a 'Safe Space' for Its Audience: The network didn't want to upset its audience with the truth about the 2020 election. (Jonah Goldberg, Mar 8, 2023, The Dispatch)

If you search for "safe space" on Fox News' website you'll get over 46,000 results. Not all of them are about those woke snowflakes who need trigger warnings and cry rooms. But a whole lot of them are. 

For instance, in 2017, shortly after Donald Trump's inauguration, Tucker Carlson grilled a college professor about a student who came into her classroom crying about the election. "As the adult shouldn't you say, 'You know, it was an election, and it was democratic, and nobody got cancer, nobody died, and maybe you should toughen up a little?'"

Would that Carlson and the rest of Fox's leadership had a similar attitude toward their own audience, the average age of which is 56. 

The Right is the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Murdoch confided Trump was going 'increasingly mad' as Fox pushed false claims (Rosalind S. Helderman, Emma Brown and Amy Gardner, March 7, 2023, Washington Post)

In the weeks after the November 2020 election, Rupert Murdoch, the powerful chairman of Fox Corp., fretted that Donald Trump, the president he had supported, was going "increasingly mad."

He vented about the pollsters who worked for him at Fox News. "I hate our Decision Desk people!" he wrote in one email as the network -- driven by analysis from the unit -- prepared to declare that Joe Biden had won the election.

He worried some ideas proposed by Trump's allies to convince state legislatures to reject Biden victories in key swing states "sound ridiculous" and could lead to "riots like never before."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Available evidence still points to covid originating from spillover (Angela Rasmussen and Saskia Popescu, March 7, 2023, Washington Post)

To be clear, all the evidence available for scrutiny points to the pandemic originating from transmission from live animals to humans -- zoonotic spillover -- at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China.

Two studies (one co-authored by one of us) published in 2022 in the U.S. journal Science mapped the verifiable earliest cases, environmental samples collected at the Huanan market, records of animal sales at the market, social media data and susceptibility data about the animals. Triangulating all this demonstrated that the pandemic started with two independent spillover events at the market, or just upstream in the common supply chain where the animals were sourced or transported.

The Huanan market is roughly the size of a soccer field. It is about nine miles away -- across the Yangtze River -- from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the only lab in that city known to have an active research program on coronaviruses.

No other explanation, including a laboratory origin at the Wuhan Institute or the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is consistent with the existing body of evidence. There have been numerous attempts to challenge the quality of these data and the analysis or to present original research supporting a lab leak. Only one has survived peer review.

The facts cannot be refuted by undisclosed evidence that merited the Energy Department's low-confidence rating. This bar is cleared by information that is "scant, questionable, fragmented" or information from which "solid analytical conclusions cannot be inferred."

This focus on labs overlooks the real and enduring biosecurity risk: cities where people and animals live in close contact.

Zoonotic spillover is not rare. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tucker Carlson's January 6 Revisionist History (Noah Rothman, Mar. 7th, 2023, National Review)

At one point, Chansley is even escorted through a small cordon of officers, suggesting that the "Q Shaman" saw law enforcement "as his allies." The New York Post draws the conclusion to which Carlson led it, citing a statement by USCP saying the overwhelmed officers were trying to "de-escalate" the situation. "But that does not explain why Chansley, who was unarmed, was able to walk past seven more officers without being apprehended," the Post avers. Yes, it does.

This is hardly the only excruciatingly well-documented example of outmanned police officers calmly engaging with demonstrators, clearing the way for or corralling intruders in the Capitol complex, or retreating to more defensible terrain. Nor is this specific act of deference by Capitol Police officers remarkable. The Post later confirmed that the officer featured in Carlson's footage, Officer Keith Robishaw, spoke with HBO documentarians about his experience with Chansley.

"The sheer number of them compared to us, I knew ahead there was no way we could all get physical with them," Robishaw said. "I walked in behind [Chansley], and that is when I realized I am alone now. I was by myself." Their extensive interaction in the Senate chamber, where Robishaw was surrounded by dozens of other disruptive demonstrators, was filmed up close by New Yorker correspondent Luke Mogelson. You can watch it here. Robishaw's unheeded demands that the demonstrators evacuate the premises indicates, at the very least, that he was no one's "tour guide."

Carlson later asks "what did Chansley do" to deserve the months he's already spent in a jail cell for his conduct on that day. The answer established in court by his guilty plea was criminal obstruction of a federal investigation, for which a judge sentenced him to the "low end" of the prison terms prescribed in federal sentencing guidelines: 41 months.

Suffice it to say the lone officer confronting Chansley was reduced to de-escalatory tactics, in part because his colleagues were engaged in a desperate attempt to secure his flank. That leads us to Carlson's second contention: The attack on the Capitol was no "riot."

"Very little about January 6 was organized or violent," the Fox host maintains. "Surveillance video from inside the Capitol shows mostly peaceful chaos." This is a contention that some Republican members of Congress have made citing available footage, to which the general public has supposedly never been privy.

"Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures," said Representative Andrew Clyde during a 2021 Oversight Committee hearing. "You know, if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit." Again, this tortured interpretation of events rests on the assumption that viewers are unfamiliar with or willing to compartmentalize hours of footage demonstrating the extent of the ongoing violence on the Capitol steps.

For those with the requisite curiosity, ProPublica produced an impressive interactive database of footage of the Capitol riot that allows users to bounce in real time from events inside the Capitol to the Capitol steps and around the complex. Most of those videos were culled from posts provided by users of the pro-Trump social-media website Parler, which suggests the conspiracy to hide these videos from the public was spectacularly inept.

Those videos show hours of vicious hand-to-hand combat outside the building, the officers' crowd-control efforts inside the building, and, yes, even the rare moments of relative placidity in areas like Statuary Hall and the Capitol Rotunda. Again, you can watch the footage for yourself (which the January 6 committee played) to determine just how reverential the demonstrators, some of whom called repeatedly for the hanging of American elected officials even in those moments of relative calm, really were.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'I Hate Him Passionately': What Tucker Carlson Says About Trump in Private (Aidan McLaughlinMar 7th, 2023, Mediate)

In one text conversation between Carlson and an unknown staffer on Jan. 4, 2021, just days before the riot at the U.S. Capitol, the prime time star wrote, "We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights."

"I truly can't wait," he added.

When the unknown staffer replied that they believed the madness would cool down by mid-February, Carlson decried Trump.

"I hate him passionately," Carlson said.

March 7, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Tucker Carlson ripped by Capitol Police, GOP senators for mischaracterizing Jan. 6 (KYLE CHENEY, 03/07/2023, Politico)

Asked about the portrayal of Jan. 6 on Carlson's show, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) described the day as a violent attack and said any effort to "normalize that behavior is dangerous and disgusting."

"I was here. It was not peaceful. It was an abomination," added Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) "You're entitled to believe what you want in America, but you can't resort to violence to try to convince others of your point of view."

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell held up Manger's letter during his weekly briefing with reporters, saying that he would "associate myself entirely with the opinion of the chief of the Capitol Police about what happened on January 6th."

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


Republicans gaslight voters on their covid response and failed policies (Jennifer Rubin, March 7, 2023, Washington Post)

You would think that politicians who trafficked in conspiracy theories and misled Americans about the danger of covid-19 and the effectiveness of vaccines wouldn't want to dwell on their record. Well, you would be wrong. Among the most brazen lies MAGA Republicans propagate is that compared with those "elite" blue states, red states responded to covid in a superior way that demonstrated the excellence of the right-wing approach to governance. In fact, when it comes to covid and other polices, red states have little to brag about.

No one has pandered to anti-vaccination, anti-science skeptics more than Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. [...]

So how did Florida do? As of Monday afternoon, it had the 12th highest death rate from covid and the eighth highest rate of infection. As of last month, it had the second highest number of cumulative child covid cases.

Sign up for The Checkup With Dr. Wen, a newsletter on how to navigate the pandemic and other public health challenges

But it's not just Florida. Red states in general have had far higher death rates than blue states. Of the five states with the highest death rates -- Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Mexico -- GOP governors led all but New Mexico during the height of the pandemic. Governors who bucked the trend of covid denial led all five jurisdictions with the lowest death rates (Hawaii, Vermont, Utah, Puerto Rico and D.C.).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ron DeSantis Embraces the High Heel (CHRISTINA CAUTERUCCI, MARCH 07, 2023, Slate)

One of the few reliable truths in electoral politics is that voters like tall presidents.

The average U.S. president is about two inches taller than the average U.S. man, who is 5'9". Recent presidents have skewed even larger: Every president since Jimmy Carter (5'9.5") has been 5'11.5" or taller. We haven't elected a president smaller than the average man in nearly 130 years, when short king William McKinley won his election.

"We are a species that equates larger size with maturity, leadership and sex appeal," wrote Jay Mathews in the Washington Post in 1999. "If we were like some insects, where adults are smaller than larvae, we might not think this way. But we do."

So it stands to reason that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is thirstily gunning for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, would want to, let's say, amplify his stature. Rumor has it that the governor is around 5'9".

He basically can't appear on stage with Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nelson Mandela's African National Congress Has Violated Everything He Stood ForThe anti-apartheid icon's hope for a 'better life for all' has been decimated by the party he once led (Kwangu Liwewe, March 7, 2023, New/Lines)

To address issues of inequality, the ANC-led government introduced the policy of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which was designed to redress racial imbalance in the country's economy. Its intention was to enhance the participation of Blacks in the economy by providing employment equity, skills development and preferential procurement. Twenty-eight years later, some South Africans argue that BEE is an irrelevant policy because it only serves the interests of politically connected individuals.

"The ANC failed to transform our economy so that everyone can benefit. The generation after Mandela are narrow-minded and only focus on their own political faction, own color and ethnic group interests. BEE only serves a certain section of the chosen few," laments the South African economist and political scientist, William Gumede. Gumede told New Lines that the ANC was not ready to govern after the fall of apartheid because it was only experienced in opposing its oppressors and not in governing a complex country.

"Blacks were not part of the economy during apartheid, so they did not have the skill set. The ANC kicked out almost all the whites with the skills from government positions. They then appointed their loyalists, who did not have a clue," Gumede concludes.

The leader of the United Democratic Movement, Bantu Holomisa, who headed the Republic of Transkei from 1987 to 1994 (an enclave created by the apartheid government for Blacks), told New Lines that South Africa prospered during the first 10 years after abolishing apartheid because Mandela accommodated all interest groups, as he was interested in unity. "When he left, there were already signs that the comrades didn't want to make use of other people they didn't know, no matter how experienced they were," said Holomisa. "The ANC wanted to use this transformation as a license to loot and they have looted on a massive scale, and they appointed their inner circle who are now their gatekeepers."

One of the leaders in the sprawling township of Orange Farm, however, feels that Mandela and the ANC failed Black people at the onset of negotiations with the apartheid government. "They made a lot of compromises and didn't consult the grassroots. They rushed to discuss democracy and reconciliation before justice and restitution," Richard Makolo told New Lines. "Now most Blacks are poor and have nothing to show for their freedom."

A damning recent report by the World Bank, released in 2022, reveals that inherited circumstances, such as location, gender, age and parental background, explain some of the inequality in South Africa. Ten percent of the population owns more than 80% of the wealth. Introducing race into the analysis further exacerbates the inequities.

"South Africa, the largest country in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), is the most unequal country in the world, ranking first among 164 countries," the report said. The World Bank's stunning conclusion is a far cry from Mandela's aspirations when he walked out of Victor Verster Prison and spoke of ending inequality.

"There must be an end to white monopoly on political power, and a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly democratized," Mandela asserted.

Four years after Mandela's release, the ANC won a landslide victory and emerged as the most successful political party in the 1994 elections. South Africans believed the ANC would deliver on its promises of a "better life for all." The party went on to win five successive general elections. Now, three decades later, the ANC's popularity is waning due to the broader crisis of governance.

In the 2022 local government elections, the ANC won fewer than 50% of their races for the first time since democratic rule began. This disillusionment of its supporters continues to grow as local municipal governance deteriorates. Service-delivery protests are common around the country because the government fails to distribute resources such as water, sanitation, infrastructure, housing and land.

"We've got a party that is losing support and I don't think they will get 50% of the vote in the 2024 national election. I seriously see a coalition government in the offing," Steve Gruzd, head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Program at the South African Institute of International Affairs, predicted in an interview with New Lines.

While the ANC is still the largest party in South Africa, its hegemony has most likely ended. "Never again shall we put all our eggs in one basket. Away with one-party dominance. It has shown that it breeds corruption," said Holomisa.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The radicalization of the Israeli elitesIn the struggle against the far-right government's plans for total control, Israel's elites could bring the regime to a breaking point. (Nimrod Flaschenberg February 14, 2023, +972)

This collective panic is widespread but is especially potent among the upper classes - both upper-middle-class supporters of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, and the millionaires and billionaires who sit atop Israel's finance and tech sectors. In the past few weeks, since Netanyahu and Levin announced their plans for judicial overhaul, substantial portions of Israeli and foreign capital have gone into defensive mode: venture capitalists are contemplating withdrawing funds from Israeli businesses, wealthy Israelis are gradually moving their money abroad, and young, privileged professionals who do not possess an EU passport are scrambling for one.  [...]

There's a possible "run on the banks" dynamic at play: the protesters are convinced that the end of democracy is near, therefore they expect the worst. The pragmatic conclusion is to hedge their losses. These small actions, such as moving some funds abroad, signal that the panic is real. The media picks up on this elite discontent and reports the developments using alarmist messaging, which serves only to fuel the public's panic. This dynamic is still relatively localized, but there are signs that it will continue to grow if the government pushes ahead with its legislative agenda.  [...]

Israeli elites -- start-up millionaires, self-styled liberals from the Tel Aviv suburbs, urban left-leaning intellectuals, and former military officers -- are all rapidly becoming estranged from the state. The people who acted as privileged rulers are now finding themselves far from the centers of power, and this enrages them. The fact that the Israeli center, which rose to prominence in the last two decades by shunting the Palestinian issue and focusing on economic prosperity, now considers the state a threat means that further radicalization is possible.

It is strange to speak about elite radicalization, but this is precisely what is happening. The antagonisms within the Israeli ruling classes are becoming more acute. And among the most striking evidence of this radicalization are the signs of erosion in militarist nationalism within the anti-Netanyahu camp. 

Centrist voters are now openly talking about not sending their children to the army if the reform passes. Reservists are marching against the government, waving the emblems of their army units. This type of resistance, in which military service is being overtly politicized, is unprecedented among mainstream Zionist communities. And all the while, there is prevalent talk of divestment from the Israeli economy for political reasons -- an action which, when proposed by Palestinians and the BDS movement, is taken as clear evidence of antisemitism.

Thanks, Bibi!
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


This geothermal startup showed its wells can be used like a giant underground batteryIF Fervo Energy's field experiments work at commercial scale, it could become cheaper and easier to green the grid. (James Temple, March 7, 2023, MIT Technology Review)

In late January, a geothermal power startup began conducting an experiment deep below the desert floor of northern Nevada. It pumped water thousands of feet underground and then held it there, watching for what would happen.

Geothermal power plants work by circulating water through hot rock deep beneath the surface. In most modern plants, it resurfaces at a well head, where it's hot enough to convert refrigerants or other fluids into vapor that cranks a turbine, generating electricity. 

But Houston-based Fervo Energy is testing out a new spin on the standard approach--and on that day, its engineers and executives were simply interested in generating data. 

The readings from gauges planted throughout the company's twin wells showed that pressure quickly began to build, as water that had nowhere else to go actually flexed the rock itself. When they finally released the valve, the output of water surged and it continued pumping out at higher-than-normal levels for hours.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nearly everyone is exposed to unhealthy levels of tiny air pollutants, study says (Kasha Patel, March 6, 2023, Washington Post)

Nearly everyone -- 99 percent of the global population -- is exposed to unhealthy levels of tiny and harmful air pollutants, known as PM 2.5, according a new study released Monday in Lancet Planet Health. The findings underline a growing urgency for policymakers, public health officials and researchers to focus on curbing major sources of air pollution, such as emissions from power plants, industrial facilities and vehicles.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Kevin McCarthy aide tasked with defusing the GOP's debt limit bomb (Jeff Stein, Leigh Ann Caldwell and  Theodoric Meyer, March 6, 2023, Washington Post)

When McCarthy spoke, he thanked people who had played an instrumental role in his career. But the crowd of bigwigs -- corporate executives, elite lobbyists and top Republicans such as Reps. Steve Scalise (La.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) -- gave only one standing ovation that night, according to two people in attendance: It was for Dan Meyer, McCarthy's chief of staff.

Despite more than three decades working in the upper echelons of Republican politics, Meyer, 68, is not a household name. And yet no other person -- save McCarthy -- is expected to play a more pivotal role this year in trying to steer House Republicans through a series of potentially explosive conflicts with the White House and each other over the nation's spending and debt, with the fate of the global economy hanging in the balance.

While Capitol Hill waits to see how McCarthy wields power, his most important adviser has already emerged as a source of comfort for those in establishment Washington nervous about the prospect of a U.S. default later this year. Although McCarthy has vowed to "change Washington as we know it today," he has tapped the consummate insider -- a former lobbyist connected to the old Republican guard who is widely respected among Democrats -- to lead his office. And that alone has assured many former colleagues on K Street that Republicans will find a way to raise the federal debt limit later this year without triggering an economic crisis, despite warnings from conservatives about the budget fight ahead.

All his negotiations are going to be with the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Jim Jordan scrambles amid claims "weaponization" probe is a dud (Sophia Cai, 3/06/23, Axios)

Criticism of Jordan escalated over the weekend, after the New York Times reported that three witnesses Jordan had cast as FBI "whistleblowers" provided little information and had touted various conspiracy theories. Two had received financial help from an ally of former President Trump.

A 316-page report compiled by Democrats dismissed the testimony, saying that "nearly all of the Republicans involved in this investigation -- the witnesses, some of the members, and certainly their outside operators" -- are linked by a desire to whitewash the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Whatever else it may be, no one can deny that MAGA is hilarious. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Democracy Can Be Trusted Because Citizens Can Be Trusted (ROBERT LOWRY CLINTON, 3/06/23, Public Discourse)

[A] significant source of our mistrust of voters is that moral and philosophical subjects are misrepresented as scientific and technical ones, which need training in order to be understood. Mortimer Adler offers a helpful way of thinking about the differences between the scientific and philosophical domains. Philosophy--especially moral philosophy--unlike scientific expertise, is based largely on common sense and common experience. Scientific knowledge, on the other hand, requires extensive training and observational tools.

Moral judgment is available to everyone, and many of the issues that matter to voters are not scientific or technical. Elites on both sides of the aisle often pretend they are, perhaps to befuddle people into thinking that only "experts" can speak authoritatively on them. But these issues really are moral or philosophical, on which an ordinary person with common sense and good judgment has as much authority to speak as a Stephen Hawking. For example, most of the controversial issues driving the "culture wars" are moral or philosophical in nature: issues of sexual morality (the sexualization of children, the morality of homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage, abortion as birth control), of the respective roles of parents versus the state in the raising and education of children, of the place of critical race and gender theory in schools, of the role of religion in public life, of immigration policy, to name just a few. Such issues have little if anything to do with science. They do, however, require sound moral judgment--something our elites have provided precious little of lately. And again, despite the rhetoric of the culture wars, Americans historically tend to have good sense about moral issues, even the most controversial ones. that elites trust the hoi polloi. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The myth of China's military might (Edward Luttwak, March 7, 2023, UnHerd)

In China's case, a manpower shortage undercuts military spending in the PLA's ground forces and naval forces, and soon it will affect manned air units as well. The PLA ground forces now stand at some 975,000, a very small number for a country that has 13,743 miles of borders with 14 countries -- including extreme high-mountain borders where internal combustion engines lose power, jungle-covered borders where remote observation is spoiled by foliage, Russian-river borders with endemic smuggling, and the border with India's Ladakh where an accumulation of unresolved Chinese intrusions have forced each side to deploy substantial ground forces, with at least 80,000 on the Chinese side.

Except for Ladakh, which now resembles a war-front, borders are not supposed to be guarded by army troops but by border police. And China did in fact have a substantial dedicated border force, but it was abolished for the same reason that the PLA ground army is so small: a crippling shortage of physically fit Chinese men willing to serve in these regions. Cities and towns, by contrast, do not seem afflicted by such severe manpower shortages, leading to the weird phenomenon on Nepal's main border crossing to Tibet where, according to an acquaintance, a group of freezing Cantonese city policemen were checking travellers and "guarding the border". (They said they had been "volunteered" for two months.)

Even the Party's strong-arm "People's Armed Police" -- China's equivalent of the uniformed and combat-armed French Gendarmerie, Italian Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza, and Spain's Guardia Civil -- is affected by the refusal of young Chinese men to serve. Its 1.5 million total may sound like a lot, but Italy has 150,000 Carabinieri and Finanzieri for a 60-million population -- 10% of the numbers for 5% of the population. And Italy does not have to allocate vast numbers of armed men to corral and control Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang, Tibetan herdsmen or severely disaffected Mongols.

There are no such conclusive comparisons to determine the impact of manpower shortages on the air and naval forces, but here there is another consideration: much more than the ground army, which continues to accept some recruits of low intelligence, the naval and air forces really do need recruits who can absorb technical skills quickly enough to maintain competence as their personnel turns over. High-glamour roles such as pilots will always attract enough bright people, but these days air and naval forces need high skill levels across the board, and that is the PLA's Achilles' heel: bright young Chinese are possibly the planet's most civilian-minded population, least inclined to serve under the command of a military hierarchy. More money would only help to induce them to volunteer if there were a concurrent economic downturn. There is one right now, as it happens, with very high youth unemployment numbers declared to be around 20%. But that is hardly a stable remedy for a demographic and cultural reality with deep roots in Chinese history; it's a key reason for the long sequence of foreign conquest dynasties that ruled China until 1912. They could do so because their Turkic, Manchurian and Mongol populations preferred to serve as soldiers rather than farmers, while with the Han Chinese it was the other way round.

They are feared due to Identity, not capability.

March 6, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Gödel's Proof And Einstein's Dice: Undecidability In Mathematics And Physics - Part II (Jochen Szangolies, 3/06/23, 3 Quarks)

But both Turing's and Gödel's results share a similarity in the way their theories seem to extend their scope beyond the originally intended domains. Gödel found that he could encode arbitrary number-theoretical statements into numbers; Turing found that his 'A-Machines' were themselves objects of the theory of computation he intended them to represent. For Turing Machines, this property is called universality: they are themselves objects of their own 'universe'--like the dreamer inhabiting their own dream. It is this property that enables the success of modern computers: whatever their design, they can all perform the same computations--if need be, by explicit simulation, running, say, a virtual Windows machine on a Mac.

If we leave this universe, we also break free of the paradox: suppose we have access to an 'oracle' that can tell us whether a given program halts. Giving a TM access to this oracle, we obtain what Turing called an 'O-Machine'. As this now can perform computations that no TM can perform, it is no longer a member of their universe, but inhabits some separated realm. As long as it only takes TMs as its object, no paradoxical consequences ensue.

But now suppose we 'enlarge' the universe to include O-Machines, and ask for a solution to their halting problem: again, we find the same old troubles resurface, and undecidability return once more--the O-Machine halting problem is undecidable for O-Machines.

Thus, undecidability seems to emerge whenever a theory's substrate--the axioms of number theory, Turing's A- and O-Machines--becomes the theory's own object. The analogy to physics is immediate. Many theories are such that they apply to a limited set of phenomena. Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism describes phenomena concerning the behavior of charges in electric and magnetic fields--a comprehensive, but clearly delineated subset of the (physical) universe. These can be studied 'from the outside': the theory has a limited scope.

But any putatively fundamental theory, claimed to apply to literally everything in the universe, leaves no 'outside' from which its phenomena can be appraised--it leaves no room for a 'detached observer': any possible observer must themselves be an object of the theory. Thus, once a physical theory is universal in this sense, we are in a situation much like that of Gödel and Turing. It is then only natural to look for analogous consequences, as well.

This circumstance has been noticed several times in modern physics. One of the earliest examples, in fact, is due to philosopher Karl Popper, originator of the falsificationist approach to the philosophy of science. In 1950, Popper, in a two-part paper entitled Indeterminism in Quantum Physics and in Classical Physics, considers 'near-Gödelian questions', and proposes that they imply 'the physical impossibility of predicting [...] certain physical events; or [...] an indeterminism of a kind somewhat similar to the one implied by quantum physics'.

However, the task Popper has in mind really is that of self-prediction: asking an agent about their future state. Important work along related lines was done by the eminent quantum logician Maria Luisa Dalla Chiara, who in 1977 explicitly considered the famous 'measurement problem' of quantum mechanics in light of the Gödelian results, by the Austrian mathematician Thomas Breuer, and the Viennese physicist Karl Svozil.

These results largely concern Gödelian phenomena as applied to quantum theory. Wheeler's intuition, however, was quite different: that undecidability might be a foundational principle of quantum theory. That, in other words, quantum theory is quantum because of undecidability. This is a more daring possibility: if it is correct, then it would imply that classical physics was never an option--that the impossibility of predicting certain outcomes is, in fact, a necessary feature of any putatively 'universal' theory.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A New York Town Once Thrived on Fossil Fuels. Now, Wind Energy Is Giving a Lift.Wellsville, a 20th-century boomtown with a refinery, gets a second act making parts for wind turbines (Jimmy Vielkind, March 5, 2023, WSJ)

WELLSVILLE, N.Y.--This former oil town almost 300 miles from the coast is emerging as one of the early winners in the push to develop offshore wind in the Atlantic Ocean.

The hulking steel components of wind turbines slated to rise out of the ocean east of Long Island are being welded at the Ljungström factory, which for 100 years has sold parts to coal-fired power plants. Plant managers here said their pivot to wind has meant hiring 150 more people and could reopen a facility that has been dormant for several years.

The renewed economic activity has brought new jobs and perspective to some here in Wellsville, a town of 7,000 people about 80 miles south of Rochester that blossomed in the 20th century serving the fossil-fuel economy. As the nation strives to meet a goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions--including enough offshore wind to power 10 million homes--by 2030, the U.S. could see more places with historical ties to traditional energy markets try their hand in renewables.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Superman Became a Christ-Like Figure in American Culture (Roy Schwartz, March 6, 2023, LitHub)

The first seeds were sowed with the development of his childhood years, largely by other writers. The one undeniably evocative motif that was there from the beginning is of a child sent down from the heavens by his father. But originally, he wasn't found by the Kents and raised in Smallville. In his first appearance, baby Superman is found by a "passing motorist" and turned over to a city orphanage, where he grows up. When the origin is revised a year later he's still raised in an urban environment, but this time he's found and adopted by Mary--same as Jesus's mother--and her unnamed husband. By 1951 Mary had changed to Martha, her husband named Jonathan and the hometown became Smallville.

With all the pieces in place, Clark's upbringing resembled Jesus's; both were born far beyond and raised in small towns. Both had surrogate fathers who were humble laborers, Jonathan a farmer and Joseph a carpenter. Both are celestial by nature and human by nurture, and it's the years of living as normal people that allowed them to experience, understand and cherish humanity.

With the onset of WWII the patriotic Superman quickly became an infallible American icon, and in the patriarchal, sanitized, comics-censuring 1950s he grew to resemble Christ in his saintly perfection. Though he hasn't been that way since at least the mid-1970s, it's a public image he still contends with.

But where Superman really first became a Christ figure is 1978's Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve. His father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is a white-haired man dressed in luminous white, reminiscent of God in Medieval and Renaissance art. In dialog evocative of New Testament passages, he tells his child, "The son becomes the father, and the father, the son" and "They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son."

It marks a fundamental shift in Superman's mythology, from a baby sent to Earth by desperate parents so he can be saved to a son sent to Earth by a benevolent father to become its savior. It recast the Last Son of Krypton as a reimagined Son of God, which became a central theme in later films and shows--though not the comics, which have largely stayed true to the original narrative.

The movie is otherwise suffused with Christian allusions, like Kal-El's spacecraft resembling a Star of Bethlehem/Christmas tree topper and Superman saving mankind from its own sin in the form of Lex Luthor's greed, to the point that director Richard Donner received death threats over the sacrilege.

These themes were further expanded in 1980's Superman II, in which the villain, General Zod (Terence Stamp), is given a tweaked origin story; the leader of Krypton's army, he attempts a coup but fails, and is cast by Jor-El to the Phantom Zone, a prison dimension of "eternal living death." He escapes, seeking to destroy the son of his jailer and place himself ruler of mankind.

It's the story of Lucifer Morningstar in Milton's Paradise Lost, and Zod is even remodeled from his comic book look with slicked-back hair and a widow's peak, sharply manicured beard, and a black and crimson outfit, resembling the popular image of the devil since Goethe's Faust. Superman, accordingly, is cast in the role of Jesus.

In the comics, the first real Christ allegory wasn't until the 1992-1993 storyline "The Death and Return of Superman." A yearlong opus spanning multiple series, it begins with Superman battling the monster Doomsday. Superman endures a Passion to stop him, stigmatically cut by Doomsday's spikes in lieu of thorns and nails, ultimately sacrificing himself to save Metropolis and the world. The issue of his death, Superman Vol. 2 #75, ends with Lois cradling his body like Michelangelo's Pietà.

When a vigil is held at his monument, people carry signs reading "Savior" and "He died for you," and shortly after, his sepulcher is found empty. Four Supermen then appear, false messiahs claiming his name or mantle (just as Jesus warns in Matthew & Mark). One of them, Cyborg Superman, is revealed to be a genocidal villain, and the real Parousia occurs in the nick of time for Superman to save mankind from the great deceiver, completing the scriptural arc.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Human Beings Are Stewards, Not Slaves to God: The biblical concept of imago Dei sets the Judeo-Christian narrative apart from other ancient origin stories. (ALEXANDRA O. HUDSON, FEBRUARY 27, 2023, Christianity Today)

I explored many different origin stories from around the world while creating a video series called "Storytelling and the Human Condition" for The Teaching Company and Wondrium (formerly The Great Courses). And even though I was raised in an evangelical Christian home, I was struck by how much I took for granted in the Judeo-Christian anthropology when I compared it to others.

In the Judeo-Christian worldview, the origin story of humankind is defined by the imago Dei: the notion that God created human beings in his image. And when I compared the creation narrative in Genesis to other ancient origin stories from the Mesopotamian region, this concept hit me in a new way.

Genesis reveals important information about the character of the Judeo-Christian God. There is a single Creator who acts upon the world with intention and brings order out of chaos. There is a purpose to it all. It is all done in a peaceful environment: The phrase "Let there be" is sufficient to bring whole new creations into being.

After the creation of the cosmos, earth, and animals, God creates Adam and Eve--suggesting that humankind is the pinnacle of the created world. Human beings bear the imprint of the divine, as we share in the nature of the God who created us. The imago Dei means that we have dignity as well as a responsibility to steward the rest of the created world.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Reagan, Religion, and the Evil Empire (Joseph Loconte, March 6, 2023, Providence)

"The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one," Reagan told a gathering of evangelicals on March 8, 1983. "At root it is a test of moral will and faith." It was this conviction that lay at the heart of Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, delivered forty years ago. It is hard to think of another world leader who could combine, convincingly, the themes of spiritual salvation, the reality of evil, and the nature of the totalitarian state:

"Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness-pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the State, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

Secular elites in the academy and in the media, of course, excoriated Reagan for his "simple-minded" and "Manichean" approach to U.S. foreign policy. It is easy to forget the mood of the hour: Conventional liberal wisdom was that the United States and the Soviet Union had equally flawed political systems. They must work to "converge" and compromise for the sake of world peace.

Reagan took this liberal dogma to the woodshed. Quoting from C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, he warned his religious audience not to be deceived by smooth-talking Soviet leaders, "quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices." He cautioned against the dangerous temptation of "blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire." In this outlook--as popular today as it was a generation ago--Reagan saw the sin of spiritual pride.

Although Reagan believed deeply in American exceptionalism, he was not blind to the nation's shortcomings. Although labeled a racist by today's left, Reagan spoke candidly about America's racist history: "Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal." It is a remarkable fact that the same president who extolled America as a "shining city on a hill" also lamented its "legacy of evil," a record of ethnic and racial hatred that has deeply burdened America's democratic journey.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


South Australia enjoys 80.1 pct wind and solar share in blackout-free summer (Giles Parkinson, 6 March 2023, Renew Economy)

South Australia has maintained its extraordinary and world-leading share of wind and solar, which accounted for more than 80 per cent of its local electricity demand over the latest summer that officially ended last week. [...]

Wind accounts for the bulk of the output in the summer, at 46 per cent, but rooftop solar accounts for 26 per cent (despite its daytime limitations). in the summer of 2007/08, renewables totalled just 2.6 per cent.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Good and Evil in Tolkien's The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (Pedro Blas Gonzalez, 3/06/23, Voegelin View)

The wars that take place in Tolkien's work originated in the quest for the power of evil forces. Careful readers of The Silmarillion can trace the origin of evil to Melkor's defiance of Eru Ilúvatar, the "One": "And he descended upon Arda in power and majesty greater than any other of the Valar, as a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire; and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that withers with heat and pierces with a deadly cold." From the beginning of The Silmarillion, Melkor becomes intent on destroying and defiling everything that Eru Ilúvitar has planned for Arda (Earth) and the beings with which it will populate this world.

The Silmarillion is the philosophical groundwork that explains the causes of the events in The Lord of the Rings. It is a cosmological work that establishes Tolkien's ontology: the origin of Being and its varied manifestation as becoming. The Silmarillion is also a work of philosophical anthropology that answers the question: what is the nature of man? Tolkien addresses this question by fashioning man's nature alongside other beings, such as dwarves, immortal elves, and a host of evil entities that dominate the struggle between good and evil.

Man, who Tolkien introduces in a rather late stage of development in his epic legendarium, is said to be blessed with death. Death? This seemingly counterintuitive idea, at least judging by the postmodern corruption of human reality, is an existential drama that man must embrace and live to fruition. Death, which delivers man to the afterlife, Tolkien suggests, is life-affirming.

TOLKIEN AND THE GIFT OF MORTALITY (Anna Mathie, November 2003, First Things)

[W]hen chance or boredom finally led me to leaf through them one day, I came upon what I still find the most exquisitely sorrowful moment in a book filled with exquisitely beautiful sorrow.

The wise and good Arwen, who has given up her elvish immortality to be the mortal Aragorn's queen, is overcome at his deathbed and pleads for him to stay with her longer. He refuses, saying that it is right for him to go with good grace and before he grows feeble. Then he tells her:

I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men.

Arwen replies that she has no choice:

I must indeed abide the Doom of Men whether I will or nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Numenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Elves say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.

In this new and bitter knowledge, she goes away alone after Aragorn's death, "the light of her eyes . . . quenched . . . cold and gray as nightfall that comes without a star." She dies alone in the dead land of Lorien, where deathless Elves once lived.

For Arwen, otherwise infinitely wiser than we, death is the one unknown, a new and unexpected discovery. Aragorn knows better; he knows, as all mortals should, that comfort is impossible and even unworthy in the face of death. Yet he still holds fast to what Arwen has only known as an abstract theological tenet: that death is truly God's gift.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


I opposed Jimmy Carter, but I praise him (Jeff Jacoby, 2/28/23, The Boston Globe)

"During the early weeks of the administration, officials spoke out against harassment and human rights violations in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Uganda," the State Department notes on its website. Under Carter, the department began the practice of annually reporting on the status of human rights in other countries -- including countries friendly to the United States. Granted, the president's record when it came to advancing liberty and democracy was far from perfect. On one occasion, he described Romania's brutal despot Nicolae Ceaușescu as a ruler who believes "in peace, in personal freedom, [and] in enhancing human rights." And while he rightly denounced the repression of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, he never held the Sandinista junta that deposed him to the same standard. Nonetheless, Carter's elevation of human rights as a factor in foreign affairs set a laudable standard -- one that too few presidents since have aspired to emulate.

Something else too few presidents do is admit that a major assumption they brought to the job was wrong.

Carter came to the White House willing to believe the best of the Soviet Union, which was then led by Leonid Brezhnev. In an address at The University of Notre Dame, Carter advised Americans to jettison their "inordinate fear of communism." But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 woke him up to the reality of Soviet malevolence. To his great credit, he said so. Moscow's aggression "has made a more dramatic change in my opinion of what the Soviets' ultimate goals are" than anything he had previously observed, Carter confessed in a TV interview. Soon after, he announced the Carter Doctrine, declaring that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its interests in the Persian Gulf. He also ordered a military buildup, setting the stage for Ronald Reagan's later expansion and the ultimate US victory in the Cold War.

To err is human. To acknowledge error and correct it is not easy. Carter did so -- openly and frankly. Even after all these years, his candor deserves applause.

He deserves still more applause for his role as the Great Deregulator. During his time in the Oval Office, he supported legislation to strip away costly and counterproductive regulations that had stifled competition and innovation in numerous industries, from airlines to railroads to trucking. 

March 5, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


The Reservist Protests Prove Netanyahu Has Lost the Patriot Card (Anshel Pfeffer, Mar 5, 2023, Ha'aretz)

Sunday's report by Haaretz military correspondent Yaniv Kubovich on the refusal by nearly all reserve pilots of the Israel Air Force's 69th Squadron to join in a training exercise this week, and their plans to attend the pro-democracy protest instead, is an unprecedented political move by reservists.

In recent weeks, thousands of reservists have made similar statements. However, this was a concerted action by 37 out of 40 reservists - all flying with one of the IAF's most strategic squadrons, identifying specifically as members of one small and elite unit. (The 69th is the only squadron operating the long-range F-15I fighter-bomber.) Unsurprisingly, it resonated more than any other reservist protest. [...]

What we're seeing now, though, is on a scale never seen before - both in the number of reservists openly saying they'll refuse to serve if the judicial overhaul goes through, because it will be "serving a dictatorship," in the wide variety of elite units represented in the protest; and also in the backing they have received from a wide swath of Israeli society and from senior figures in the security establishment (including former chiefs of staff).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



A startup based in Tunisia is creating 3D-printed prosthetic limbs that cost a fraction of the price of the prosthetics currently on the market. 

Its prosthetics are usable for children, which is not normally the case for similar products. And as if that wasn't enough, they are also charged by solar power.

Cure Bionics was founded by Mohamed Dhaouafi, an entrepreneur who started the company after learning that out of the approximately 30 million people who need prosthetics, only 1.5 million (or 5%) had the ability to obtain them.

After years of research and development, Cure Bionics has now created a prototype limb that can be made via 3D printing. The limb is lightweight and muscle-controlled and can be attached without surgical intervention, which makes it usable for children with amputated limbs, many of whom would have previously had to wait until adulthood to be fitted with a prosthetic.

Custom, 3D-printed heart replicas look and pump just like the real thing (Jennifer Chu, 3/04/23, MIT News)

MIT engineers are hoping to help doctors tailor treatments to patients' specific heart form and function, with a custom robotic heart. The team has developed a procedure to 3D print a soft and flexible replica of a patient's heart. They can then control the replica's action to mimic that patient's blood-pumping ability.

The procedure involves first converting medical images of a patient's heart into a three-dimensional computer model, which the researchers can then 3D print using a polymer-based ink. The result is a soft, flexible shell in the exact shape of the patient's own heart. The team can also use this approach to print a patient's aorta -- the major artery that carries blood out of the heart to the rest of the body.

To mimic the heart's pumping action, the team has fabricated sleeves similar to blood pressure cuffs that wrap around a printed heart and aorta. The underside of each sleeve resembles precisely patterned bubble wrap. When the sleeve is connected to a pneumatic system, researchers can tune the outflowing air to rhythmically inflate the sleeve's bubbles and contract the heart, mimicking its pumping action. 

The researchers can also inflate a separate sleeve surrounding a printed aorta to constrict the vessel. This constriction, they say, can be tuned to mimic aortic stenosis -- a condition in which the aortic valve narrows, causing the heart to work harder to force blood through the body.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

Biden's ESG Veto Is RevealingHe says he'll block a bipartisan resolution that protects worker savings from political investing (The Editorial Board,  March 3, 2023, WSJ)

Republicans in Congress are forcing President Biden to issue his first veto, and they're getting bipartisan help. The Senate and House this week voted to overturn a Labor Department rule that lets retirement fund managers use worker savings for political causes.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Jon Tester on Wednesday joined Republicans to pass a resolution repudiating the DOL rule. As Mr. Manchin explained, the rule lets retirement plan fiduciaries consider environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors and "prioritizes politics over getting the best returns for millions of Americans' retirement investments."

The Biden rule reversed a Trump-era clarification of the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (Erisa), which required retirement plan fiduciaries to consider solely "pecuniary" factors that have a "material effect" on investment risk or return. Erisa is intended to prevent retirement funds from using savings for their own purposes.

The Biden rule protects fiduciaries from lawsuits for considering ESG factors that could be "relevant" to investment performance such as a company's greenhouse-gas emissions or workforce diversity. 

This is, of course, false.

ESG Investing After the DOL Rule on "Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights" (Max M. Schanzenbach (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law), and Robert H. Sitkoff (Harvard Law School), on Thursday, February 2, 2023, )

In late 2022, the Department of Labor under President Biden promulgated a new rule on "Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights," superseding the Department's 2020 rule promulgated under President Trump. Numerous media reports suggested that the 2022 Biden Rule permits or even encourages ESG investing, in contrast to the 2020 Trump Rule, which was reported to be hostile to ESG investing. These reports are wrong. This summary aims clarify the effect of the Biden Rule and what has changed from the Trump Rule.

In brief, the 2022 Biden Rule largely reaffirms the Department of Labor's longstanding position, compelled by binding Supreme Court precedent, that an ERISA fiduciary may use ESG investing to improve risk-adjusted returns but not to obtain collateral benefits. Subject to a few nuanced changes of limited practical import, the Biden Rule is largely consistent with the 2020 Trump Rule and earlier regulatory guidance.

Just as importantly, it reflects a rather complete misapprehension of ESG's impact on businesses, Does good ESG performance lower the cost of capital? (Felicia Jackson, 14 July 2022, SG Voice)

Robin Nuttall, who leads McKinsey's ESG and regulatory work has said that a McKinsey analysis of over 2,000 research papers suggested a better ESG ratings score should equate around a 10% lower cost of capital, although the definition of 'better' remains fairly flexible. Alternatively MSCI analysis from 2020 shows only fractional differences between cost of capital for the highest performing and lowest performing companies, in terms of ESG factors.

What's interesting here is that there is a stronger correlation between low performing ESG scores and a higher cost of capital. The MSCI analysis showed higher ESG-rated companies were more competitive and generated above normal returns, often leading to higher profitability and dividend payments, especially when compared to low ESG-rated companies.

At the very least, research suggests that high performing ESG scores correlate to greater resilience in the face of systemic risk - certainly ESG stocks performed well during COVID, losing less than companies operating under BAU approaches.

At the same time, previous research from Bank of America Merrill Lynch showed a correlation between companies with poor environmental and social records and bankruptcy filings. Fifteen out of 17 bankruptcies in the S&P500 from 2005 to 2015 were from companies with a poor track record.

So it will surprise no one that since ESG is good for business, it is already incorporated into their practices, Nearly All Large Global Companies Disclose ESG Information (Soyoung Ho, March 1, 2023, Thomson Reuters)

For the third year in a row, more big global companies disclosed environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters than in previous years, with 95 percent having done so in 2021, the latest year available. The percentages were 92 in 2020 and 91 in 2019.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Gramsci in Florida: How the US right stole the ideas of the Italian Marxist in its war on the woke. (Alberto Toscano, 3/05/23, New Statesman)

An administrative coup at the New College of Florida designed to morph it into a conservative bulwark; the purging of black critical thought, activism and history from advanced placement (AP) courses in African American Studies; and now a bill proposing to ban gender studies, critical race theory and intersectionality from all state-funded higher education institutions - DeSantis has built his brand on shifting the culture war from a war of position to a war of manoeuvre. This terminology, drawn from the writings of the 20th-century Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, is not alien to the DeSantis project. The principal intellectual agitator in the right's witch hunt against CRT, Christopher Rufo - appointed by DeSantis to the governing board at New College - has repeatedly invoked the one-time leader of the Italian Communist Party.

As with other such mentions of the Sardinian Marxist by the right it evinces no direct acquaintance with his writings, and follows a schematic template: having recognised the inevitable defeat of communist revolution in the West and its lack of traction among the working classes, Gramsci, the author of the Prison Notebooks, forged a strategy of elite takeover of key cultural institutions (schools, media, entertainment, publishing) by what National Review writer Nate Hochman has called a "Gramscian vanguard" set on sapping Western Christian liberal-democratic civilisation from the inside. Though analogous to the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory - Jewish-German Marxist philosophers in exile undermining America by seeding sexual disorder and black revolution - Rufo's variant seems to mute the anti-Semitic dog whistle and accord black thinkers greater, if nefarious agency. According to his conceit, critical race theory was the product of mainly black law professors (especially Derrick Bell and Kimberlé Crenshaw) adopting a Gramscian strategy to undermine American values for the sake of a nihilist mix of racial identity politics and anti-capitalism.

For Rufo, this Gramscian strategy has been so successful in the wake of the Sixties' cultural revolution that no facet of the US state is immune. That is why, as he stated in a speech at Hillsdale College (the Trumpian higher education institution which stands as a model for DeSantis's university putsch), "the solution is not a long counter-march through the institutions. You can't replace bad directors of diversity, equity, and inclusion with good ones. The ideology is baked in. That's why I call for a siege strategy." This strategy demands rhetorical aggressiveness: it must mobilise grassroots resentment; its aim is to decentralise the education system in keeping with the tried and tested menu of home-schooling, vouchers, school choice and privatisation.

Some of Rufo's radical-conservative co-thinkers have engaged in rhetorical acrobatics to argue that DeSantis' executive activism is not a mark of statism, but a temporary aid to what Sixties activists referred to as the "long march back" of the right through culture and administration. But Rufo, for all of his ignorance about Gramsci, seems to have understood that Gramsci never suggested that the moment of coercion could be bypassed altogether. In fact, unable to develop a conservative bloc among educators and scholars, DeSantis and other Republicans have had to resort to frivolous if destructive fatwas against critique. The "long march" might be summed up as dominance without hegemony. After all, as Roderick Ferguson (one of the thinkers purged from the AP curriculum) has astutely noted: "When do you go after literature and speech via legal means? You go after literature and speech through the law when you realise you have lost ideologically."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Democratic socialists swept out of power in Nevada (Natasha Korecki, 3/04/23, NBC News)

Nevada Democrats have ousted a slate of democratic socialists who took over the state party two years ago, ending a troubled reign marked by divisions and infighting.  

Judith Whitmer was booted from her position as chair in a Saturday vote, with a new slate headed by Nevada Assemblywoman Daniele Munroe-Moreno assuming control of the party.

Munroe-Moreno, who is the first Black woman elected to lead Nevada Democrats, was backed by a slew of elected officials as well as the so-called Reid Machine, the powerful organization first brought together by the late Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump goes after DeSantis on Social Security at CPAC (Shelby Talcott, Mar 4, 2023, Semafor)

At a private pre-CPAC speech reception for VIPs and raffle winners, former President Donald Trump took to the stage to chants of "we want Trump!" In attendance was a jumble of MAGA characters, from well-known rally attendees like the "Front Row Joes" and "Brick Man" to Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, Nigel Farage and former administration official Kash Patel.

During the speech, Trump focused in part on Social Security, which he's been vocal about vowing to protect in recent weeks. In particular, he appeared to target Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, one of his potential opponents, over the topic.

The orangutan as weapon.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Utopian Fantasies vs. Real Happiness in Samuel Johnson's "Rasselas" (Mitchell Kalpakgian, February 27th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)

As a result of his experience both in and out of the Happy Valley, his conversations with Epicureans, Stoics, shepherds, rulers, and philosophers, and the rich and the poor, Rasselas gains an honest, realistic idea about happiness gathered from real life, not abstract theories.

The first universal truth that strikes him is that no place is utopia--neither the Happy Valley, the palace of the Bassa of Egypt, nor the quiet pastures of the shepherds. None of these places satisfies all man's emotional, mental, or material needs. Rasselas gains a second invaluable truth: no human being is ever perfectly happy or escapes some degree of restlessness or unfulfilled desires--neither the learned astronomer nor the ignorant maids in the harem, neither political rulers nor simple shepherds, neither the hermit nor the married. A third truth Rasselas discovers is "the insufficiency of human enjoyments" to satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart--an insight he acquires from his visit to the pyramids, a monument to "that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life and must be always appeased by some employment." Even the wealthiest and most powerful, who count their possessions but have nothing to do, must invent some activity, wasteful or frivolous, to divert the boredom or restlessness that oppresses them. This insufficiency of human pleasures to gratify the longings of the soul for infinite happiness awaits fulfillment in the next life that Rasselas' sister Nekayah calls "the choice of eternity."

Although human life is not utopia or paradise but "a state in which much is to be endured and little to be enjoyed," as Imlac observes, it offers greater or lesser degrees of happiness depending on the practice of the art of living. 

Eschewing Reason meant that the English-speaking world never succumbed to Utopianism. Even in its mildest form, the Founders rejected Locke's theorizing because the State of Nature was too fanciful. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Tyre Nichols Tragedy: Yes, a Law Could Help, Rep. Jim JordanCitizens, police victims and good cops would benefit from Congress' ending 'qualified immunity' (James Craven, 3/03/23, The UnPopulist)

[I]n an important sense, Rep. Jordan is wrong. Laws may not stop a particular crime, but they can change the broader incentives in the justice system. Right now, many police reforms fail because there is rarely a strong incentive to enforce them. This, in turn, is because of the Supreme Court doctrine of "qualified immunity," which in a majority of cases protects police who've abused their power from the consequences of their actions, leaves victims without restitution and removes the pressure on departments to police themselves. Following George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police, Congress considered ending qualified immunity, but failed to act. It should do so now.

Consider what would happen if this tragedy had not garnered national attention--as most cases do not. The federal Department of Justice doesn't have the resources to regularly prosecute state and county police whose transgressions, unlike those against Nichols, escape the spotlight of a State of the Union address. Would local prosecutors go after Memphis police, on whom they regularly rely for court testimony, to prosecute the men who killed Tyre Nichols? That's unlikely, too. Police prosecutions remain incredibly rare, because without enormous public pressure, the political will for our government to police itself just isn't there.

Yet police violence always leaves behind a victim or a victim's family, and they have every reason to take officers to court. But in determining whether Memphis must make amends to Nichols' mother for its officers' killing her son, a court could completely ignore whether the police transgressed department guidelines or fresh edicts from Congress. The court's primary inquiry would be whether the police have qualified immunity: a judicial doctrine that protects police (and other public officials) from legal liability if they haven't violated "clearly established law."

There is no justification for treating certain citizens differently under law.

March 4, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


We can overcome vaccine hesitancy. Just look at the HPV shot. (Rachel DuRose, Mar 4, 2023, Vox)

In 2005, a year before the HPV vaccine became available, there were an estimated 20 million people living with the virus in the United States. In the same year, 10,370 people were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3,710 people died from cervical cancer. Even today in the United States, around 13 million people are infected annually with HPV, and one in 10 women infected are at risk of cervical cancer.

When it was introduced in 2006, the HPV shots held out the hope that widespread vaccination of adolescents -- before they were infected with the virus -- could drastically reduce connected cancer rates. Despite that, parents were initially apprehensive about immunizing their children, an uneasiness that largely stemmed from the idea of their kids having sex as well as concerns over the shots' long-term side effects.

But healthcare workers were able to address these concerns by generally talking parents through their anxieties. They also homed in on the long-term benefit of preventing cancer, which hugely overwhelms any of the vaccine's possible side effects. As a result of these efforts, cervical cancer rates among vaccinated girls and young women have decreased by nearly 90 percent since 2006, potentially saving thousands of lives.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


The GOP's epic defeat on health care is laid bare in North Carolina (Paul Waldman and  Greg Sargent, March 3, 2023, Washington Post)

Just after the Affordable Care Act fully took effect in 2014, around two dozen GOP-run states were refusing to implement the ACA's expansion of Medicaid. This left millions of Americans languishing in a needless crisis, all because ACA-despising Republican legislators were turning away enormous sums of federal cash earmarked to cover their state's poorest adult residents.

But in the near-decade since, health-care advocates have painstakingly overcome that opposition, and many of those states have now embraced the expansion. Between this and the failure of years of ACA repeal drives, the GOP has essentially been routed in the Obamacare wars.

The scale of this defeat is evident in big news out of North Carolina, where leaders in the GOP-controlled legislature announced a deal Thursday to accept the expansion. 

Health Care Reform was always inevitable and RomneyCare/Heritage/Obamacare was a rather moderate proposal that a co-operative GOP could have improved.  Instead, we turned our party into a racist swamp and got stuck with a plan we failed to influence.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Showdown before the raid: FBI agents and prosecutors argued over Trump (Carol D. Leonnig, Devlin Barrett, Perry Stein and  Aaron C. Davis,  March 1, 2023 , Washington Post)

Prosecutors argued that new evidence suggested Trump was knowingly concealing secret documents at his Palm Beach, Fla., home and urged the FBI to conduct a surprise raid at the property. But two senior FBI officials who would be in charge of leading the search resisted the plan as too combative and proposed instead to seek Trump's permission to search his property...

Orange privilege...
Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


120 US Jewish leaders: Smotrich 'should not be given a platform in our community': Calls against welcoming minister slated to address Israel Bonds confab next week in DC expand to include more mainstream and prominent voices, including former ADL and AIPAC chiefs (JACOB MAGID, 3/04/23, Times of Israel)

The Religious Zionism chair was already a controversial figure both at home and abroad for his long history of remarks against the LGBTQ community, Arabs, Palestinians and non-Orthodox Jews.

While boycotting a sitting Israeli minister might not have been a step characteristic for mainstream Jewish groups in the US to take, it appears to have been normalized after Smotrich said Wednesday that "the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out" and that "the State of Israel should do it."

Those comments came amid an outpouring of shock and horror in Israel and abroad after one Palestinian was killed, hundreds were injured, dozens of buildings and dozens of vehicles were by hundreds of settlers who ransacked the Palestinian town of Huwara where two Israeli brothers were shot dead in a terror attack hours earlier.

"As American Jews committed to Israel's future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state; to a robust U.S.-Israel relationship; and to Jewish peoplehood that fully encompasses Israeli and Diaspora Jewish communities, we are opposed to Bezalel Smotrich visiting the United States later this month in his capacity as Israel's finance minister, and we call on all pro-Israel Americans to understand that welcoming Smotrich here will harm, rather than help, support for Israel," the 120 Jewish leaders said in the Friday statement organized by the center-left Israel Policy Forum.

"Smotrich has long expressed views that are abhorrent to the vast majority of American Jews, from anti-Arab racism, to virulent homophobia, to a full-throated embrace of Jewish supremacy. To this list, we can now add his endorsement of violence against innocents based on their ethnic heritage," they continued.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Feds allow Diablo Canyon to stay open while seeking 20-year extension (NADIA LOPEZ, MARCH 2, 2023, Cal Matters)

Federal regulators today granted an exemption that will allow the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to stay operating while it pursues permission to keep operating past 2025.

The decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission means Diablo Canyon can keep running under its current license as Pacific Gas & Electric seeks full approval to extend its lifespan. PG&E has until Dec. 31 to submit its renewal application, which must outline issues related to safety and integrity of the aging reactors.

PG&E said it will seek permission to keep the plant, now slated for shutdown in 2025, operating for up to 20 additional years -- the full extent that is customary for a nuclear power plant application.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Iran announces discovery of large lithium deposit (New Arab, 04 March, 2023)

According to a United States Geological Survey (USGS) report published in 2022, a total of 89 million tons of lithium have been identified worldwide. Australia, Chile, Argentina and China are the main producers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


How America Soaks the Affluent: The income tax code is steeply progressive, as 2020 IRS data show. (The Editorial Board, March 3, 2023, WSJ)

The Internal Revenue Service recently released its income and tax statistics for 2020, and they show the top 1% of earners paid 42.3% of the country's income taxes. That's a two-decade high in the share of taxes the 1% pay.

That same 1% reported earnings of 22.2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) on their tax returns, which means the share of taxes paid by the top 1% as a group is roughly double their share of income. Whatever else you say about the current tax code, there's no denying that it is steeply progressive.

Begging the question why we penalize income at all.  Penalize consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


March 3, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 3/03/23, Letters from an American)

Rather than permit them to establish a false narrative, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and the top Democrat on the weaponization subcommittee, Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), today released a deeply researched and footnoted 316-page report that shreds the Republicans' story. 

The report reveals the Republicans' "dozens and dozens of whistleblowers" are, so far at least, three witnesses--whistleblower is actually a specific category and they do not meet that standard--who have left the FBI and have complained that the agency is biased against "conservatives." Two of them lost their security clearances before they left, and while committee Republicans refused to show Democrats the men's suspension notices, one revealed in his testimony that the notice arrived after he had improperly accessed documents from the FBI's classified system. All three embrace a number of conspiracy theories. Under oath, they provided only right-wing accusations of bias without being able to attest to any first-hand knowledge of the things they alleged. 

The witnesses did not come forward on their own; they were identified by former administrators in the Trump administration, including fervent Trump loyalists Kash Patel and Russell Vought. Patel provided money and legal services to two of the witnesses and found one of them a job at Vought's right-wing think tank, the Center for Renewing America, after he left the FBI.

The witnesses were all fervent Trump supporters who were sympathetic to those involved in the January 6th attack. One of them claimed that the January 6th attack was a "set-up" and that it was "a larger #Democrat plan using their enforcement arm, the #FBI." He described the FBI as "the Brown Shirt enforcers of the @DNC," a reference to Nazi Storm Troopers. Another has repeatedly called for the FBI to be "defunded," "dismantled," "dissolved," "aborted," "abolished,"  and "completely eliminated and eradicated from the federal government."

In a section of the report titled "An Analysis of Witness Testimony Shows That Committee Republicans Are Working to Advance a Politically Motivated Messaging Campaign Unsupported by the Evidence," Nadler and Plaskett show how the witness testimony directly rebutted the Republicans' talking points. Under examination, the witnesses disproved that the Department of Justice was trying to pad its case numbers regarding domestic violent extremism, that it had diverted resources from child abuse cases to pursue January 6 offenders, and that the FBI had overreacted to threats of violence against school administrators and local political officials, all Republican talking points. 

The Democrats provided extensive evidence to suggest that Patel was egging on the witnesses to help push Trump's fight against the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Biden administration. 

Democrats challenge credibility of GOP witnesses who embrace false Jan. 6 claims (Justine McDaniel, March 3, 2023, Washington Post)

House Republicans vowing to uncover a "weaponization" of the federal government against conservatives have so far called witnesses who have not presented any evidence of wrongdoing at the Justice Department and FBI but have peddled conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to Democrats on the panel who have heard their interviews.

The three witnesses who have participated in transcribed interviews, all former FBI officials, have shown no firsthand evidence of the politically motivated misconduct Republicans say they are investigating. But they have variously promoted dissolving the FBI, cited baseless claims that the Jan. 6 insurrection was planned by Democrats, that rioter Ashli Babbitt was murdered, and made Nazi allusions, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said in a 316-page report released Thursday night. In addition, they said, two of the witnesses were paid and supported by Kash Patel, an ally of former president Donald Trump.

"There is reason to doubt the credibility of these witnesses. Each endorses an alarming series of conspiracy theories related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, the Covid vaccine, and the validity of the 2020 election," Democrats wrote in the report. "One has called repeatedly for the dismantling of the F.B.I. Another suggested that it would be better for Americans to die than to have any kind of domestic intelligence program."

March 3, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Revealed: Jim Jordan's FBI 'whistleblowers' were paid by Trump ally and spread J6 conspiracy theories (Matthew Chapman, March 02, 2023, Raw Story)

A trio of witnesses being called as "whistleblowers" by the GOP committee investigating the "weaponization" of government were paid off by a Trump ally and spread conspiracy theories, reported The New York Times on Thursday.

"The first three witnesses to testify privately before the new Republican-led House committee investigating the 'weaponization' of the federal government have offered little firsthand knowledge of any wrongdoing or violation of the law, according to Democrats on the panel who have listened to their accounts," reported Luke Broadwater and Adam Goldman. "Instead, the trio appears to be a group of aggrieved former F.B.I. officials who have trafficked in right-wing conspiracy theories, including about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the Capitol, and received financial support from a top ally of former President Donald J. Trump."

"The roster of witnesses, whose interviews and statements are detailed in a 316-page report compiled by Democrats that was obtained by The New York Times, suggests that Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the panel, has so far relied on people who do not meet the definition of a whistle-blower and who have engaged in partisan conduct that calls into question their credibility," said the report. "And it raises questions about whether Republicans, who have said that investigating the Biden administration is a top goal, will be able to deliver on their ambitious plans to uncover misdeeds at the highest levels."

To be fair, Trumpist loons is the best they can offer.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Screaming for Silence (Roberto De La Noval, 9/08/15, Curator)

What might this dissolution of world, self, and belief amount to? Sheer negation or deconstruction? Not so, and the climactic track of It's All Crazy, "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate," shows why. One of the band's most beloved and brilliant songs, "The King Beetle" presents the clearest picture of the apophatic theology in mwY's music. Weiss sings the tale of a colony of beetles who regularly wonder in amazement at the fire burned on their estate every year, the "Great Mystery," as the beetles call it. The Beetle King offers generous rewards for any citizen who can carry back the Great Mystery to the King, and a professor and an army lieutenant volunteer for the task. Both fail; the former due to presumption that his knowledge qualified him for contact with the fire, and the latter because of the delusion that his strength could prepare him to face the great unknown. The King's wrath toward the lieutenant appears in one of the band's most dramatic lines: "The Beetle King slammed down his fist,/  'Your flowery description's no better than his/ We sent for the Great Light and you bring us this./ We didn't ask what it seems like--/ we asked what it is.'" With these words, the Beetle King takes leave of his family and kingdom to fly straight into that Great Light, the "blazing unknown," as Weiss calls it. The result is a chorus from his subjects, proclaiming, "Our Beloved's not dead, but His Highness instead/ has been utterly changed into fire." The chorus continues its chant, "Why not be utterly changed into fire?" until the final, hushed note of the song.

This is the apophatic vision of God championed by the great religious traditions: to strip the self of concepts which hinder the attainment of mystical union with the One whose very being cannot be touched without the complete loss--or transformation--of self. The chorus' final cry comes from the collection of Sayings of the Desert Fathers, specifically from the counsel of early Christian desert father Abba Joseph to Abba Lot. Lot inquires of Joseph what else he can do to further his monastic vocation, and Abba Joseph responds by raising his hands to heaven, his fingers becoming like ten lamps of fire. He then asks Abba Lot the very question Weiss poses to his listeners at the end of "The King Beetle." Seen in this light, the apophatic extremism of mwY is a necessary purgation before encountering the greater mystery of God.

One final look at the lyrics of a song from Foxes, this time from the closing track, "Son of a Widow," will paint a picture of the process and results of such a mystical union. The song begins with Weiss plaintively singing, "I'll ring your doorbell/ until you let me in./ I can no longer tell/ where You end and I begin." The main guitar begins its slide downward just as Weiss finishes the word 'doorbell,' coming in at such a similar pitch that the listener can easily mistake the guitar for a continuation of Weiss' voice. The same effect occurs again in the next line, but this time the guitar comes in as Weiss sings "tell," creating the same continuing effect, but also effecting a union between voice and guitar which parallels the union of human and divine Weiss sings of.

This union is accomplished through incessant supplication ("ring your doorbell until you let me in"), an allusion to Jesus' parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18 (which itself connects with the title of the song). Like a lone grape on a vine, longing for the company of the other grapes that have been already plucked, Weiss suggests this union can only be accomplished by being pressed into wine. Here the band plays with Jesus' statement in John 15 that he is the "true Vine" in which his disciples live. To know the life of that vine, to truly become one with it, the grape must lose itself, its form, and its life: it must be crushed. And that--to let go of ideas, of the world, and selves in order to become one with the One, "Alone to the Alone"--is the apophatic theology of mwY's music.

In the end, apophatic theology only makes sense within a religious tradition: it is the negative side of what we say about God, a purgative for the positive affirmations of what religious believers trust to be true. MwY's music pushes listeners to examine again and again what they say and what they believe, not so that they might dispense with faith, but that they might not let their theological language and beliefs solidify into the idols humans relentlessly construct in the place of the true God. we put words in His mouth. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Pandemic Murder Wave Has Crested. Here's the Postmortem. (Justin Fox, 3/03/23,  Bloomberg)

The shocking rise in murders that began in the summer of 2020 looks as if it may have played out. In the nearly complete tally of 2022 homicide statistics from 93 US cities compiled by AH Datalytics, murder and non-negligent manslaughter was down 5% from the year before.

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


There is no lab leak theory: It's still just vibes in search of a hypothesis (Jonathan M. Katz, 3/01/23, The Racket)

A decade ago, I traced a deadly epidemic back to a politically explosive source. It was the fall of 2010, and Haiti was reeling from a massive cholera epidemic. Rumors flew that the outbreak was caused by United Nations peacekeepers. Some variations on these rumors were extremely far-fetched.1 Many were politically motivated. But within the rumors was a testable hypothesis: that a specific group of U.N. soldiers at a specific base had introduced the disease in a specific way--by dumping infected sewage into the country's main river system.

Now I could have written a story based on the rumors alone. I could have done a meta-analysis over whether we were "allowed" to have the debate over cholera's origins at all. But I was a journalist living in Port-au-Prince. So I went to the base -- a riverside outpost of recently arrived soldiers from Nepal -- and found the first hard evidence implicating the U.N. That first story kicked off years of research by myself, epidemiologists, and others. It was not easy: The U.N. and its partners in the U.S. government covered up and fought us every inch of the way. But in the end, we established an evidentiary timeline showing when, where, and as close as we could get to how the U.N. introduced cholera to Haiti. Six years later, I extracted a grudging admission from the U.N. Secretary-General.

Given that experience, you might think I'd have been among the first to buy into the allegations of the "lab leak" origin of COVID-19. Indeed, I've heard through the grapevine that some of my old Haiti cholera crew are buying the hype. But I'm not. At least not yet. That is because the lab leak is still missing the key element of the U.N. cholera story that made it more than just a bunch of rumors: an actual, coherent theory of the case that could be refuted or confirmed.

When you peel back the label, it seems "lab leak" is a jaunty alliteration that papers over a variety of wildly different, often mutually exclusive, ideas. It isn't a theory but a bundle of loose hypotheses that contradict each another on basic facts: the nature of the virus in question, the timeline of introduction -- even the identity of the lab at which the alleged leak occurred.

Now, even those contradictions in and of themselves are not necessarily disqualifying. Science famously evolves, and multiple competing ideas can exist at once. But I can't help but notice that whenever one of these myriad "theories" gains cultural currency, even proponents of directly contradicted hypotheses claim vindication. It is as if they don't actually care what happened, so long as it affirms their notions of who was wrong and whom the guilty party should be. It's maddening to watch--especially as someone who thinks that finding the origins of an epidemic is important.

Not coincidentally, all the "lab leak" enthusiasts also continue to pump "Havana Syndrome".

Lab can't leak what it never had (The Editorial Board, 3/03/23)

After all this time, there's no evidence any lab in the world had the SARS-CoV-2 virus or any virus that could have been tweaked to make SARS-Cov-2 prior to the pandemic. 

That's the ground truth from which every discussion of the origins of the virus must proceed. A lab can't leak what it hasn't got. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Trump's Prosecution Primary Has Already Begun. It's Going to Be Wild. (Cameron Joseph, March 3, 2023, Vice News)

Welcome to the prosecution primary, where Trump's legal threats are moving faster than the political calendar. 

The biggest action of the next few months won't take place on the campaign trail, but in the hushed conference rooms of District Attorneys and the Department of Justice, where prosecutors will decide whether to indict the former president. Three separate groups of prosecutors are preparing to make charging determinations within the next few months, ahead of next year's GOP primaries. Many independent legal experts now think Trump's indictment looks like a matter of time--including some who were once highly skeptical Trump would ever be charged. 

That means law enforcement officials in Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Manhattan are primed to have an outsized, early influence in the race. 

If Trump is indicted in the first half of 2023, a criminal trial could start before the end of this year, or in the first half of 2024. The resulting possible scenarios seem outlandish to even consider: Will we see a Trump mug shot this summer? If Trump is released on bond, will he do presidential debates wearing an ankle monitor? If he is charged, and refuses to abandon his campaign, will he finally succeed in splitting the GOP? 

First he needs to destroy Timy Trump, then the perp walk.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Ron DeSantis loses his cool with a reporter after failing to answer a question on how his Ukraine policy would differ from Biden' (Tom Porter, March 3, 2023, Business Insider)

Ron DeSantis lost his cool with a reporter when challenged over how his policy on the war in Ukraine would differ from President Joe Biden's, amid speculation the Florida governor is poised to launch a 2024 presidential bid.

DeSantis was profiled Thursday by The Times of London, which was granted a relatively rare level of access to the Republican rising star. The Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News network frequently interviews DeSantis.

David Charter, a US Editor at The Times, wrote that DeSantis showed a "flash of temper" when asked about Ukraine.

"I ask about Ukraine and he says that 'there's a critique of Biden, and I think I'm sympathetic to it in the sense that, is our policy just do whatever Zelensky wants? Or do we have a concrete idea of what we're trying to achieve exactly?'" Charter wrote.

"When I ask him how it should be handled differently, he refers to Biden being 'weak on the world stage' and failing at deterrence, but as that is not answering how it should be handled now, I ask again. DeSantis does not have anything to add: 'Perhaps you should cover some other ground? I think I've said enough.'"

Timy Trump stamping his size 8 cowboy boots.

Florida's Blueprint for America's Media (KYLE POPE, 3/03/23, CJR)

Some of DeSantis's anti-media ploys are old favorites, like stonewalling public-records requests and bullying reporters who write articles that he doesn't like. Trump did these things, too, but in a sense, DeSantis is playing the bad cop to Trump's Pick me! approach, in which he seemed to grant reporters nearly unlimited access even as he publicly pilloried their employers. DeSantis, by contrast, largely shut out the mainstream media during his reelection campaign in Florida last year.

DeSantis is dangerous in more insidious ways, too. Last month, according to a report in Politico, he urged Florida's Republican-controlled state legislature to consider a slate of breathtaking anti-press measures. The proposals go beyond the usual efforts to gut libel laws, including lowering the threshold for when a "public figure" can sue a media outlet. In a serious threat to investigative reporting, Florida's legislature is now looking at a provision to specify that comments made by anonymous sources in news stories would be presumed false for the purposes of defamation lawsuits.

The Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, covering the legislation, wrote that it's reasonable to assume that any anti-press legislation will leech out of Florida:

Given the governor's clout in Tallahassee, it stands a solid chance of passage this spring in the Republican-controlled state Legislature and would likely spur more defamation cases in Florida, legal experts say. Because of the clear-cut constitutional questions, the legislation could eventually be appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where at least two justices have already signaled they are interested in revisiting libel law and press protections.

Ironically, this is in some ways a delicate dance for DeSantis, who has squared an antipathy for the mainstream media with a public embrace of Fox News. Fox, as I wrote last week, is now fighting a defamation suit, in which its primary defense is rooted in the very legal framework that DeSantis is hoping to weaken. DeSantis seems happy to present himself as a practitioner of journalism--or at least memoir--as he promotes his book, which was published by a unit of Rupert Murdoch's empire. (In a review in the New York Times, Jennifer Szalai noted this conflict and was otherwise scathing of the book, writing that, although DeSantis's first book "was weird and esoteric enough to have obviously been written by a human, this one reads like a politician's memoir  churned out by ChatGPT.")

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


Is it Morning in America, or High Noon?: The question we need to ask ourselves isn't so much what we choose to do, it's what we choose to believe about ourselves. (Justin Stapley, 3/03/23, Self-Evident)

Contrary to the very forceful and negative responses of people like John Wayne, I enjoy High Noon and find value in the realist approach. I recognize the foibles and failings of fallen man and understand that human nature often fails to live up to its potential. I think High Noon demonstrates one of the cycles we often see in the history of human society. People blessed with peace and prosperity, thanks to the sweat, blood, and tears of those who came before, often demonstrate a distinct lack of gratitude for what they have and a cowardly unwillingness to defend the things they take for granted. I don't think every story we tell has to be one where everyone does the right thing and all's well that ends well. The extraordinary must be contrasted with the common, the ordinary, and the indifferent if it's to be valued.

But, just like the cycle evident in the film, popular culture and society go through these cycles of gratitude and ingratitude, hopefulness and cynicism, bravery and cowardice. High Noon's darker theme was a big deal when it was released. But its narrative does not stand out much in contemporary society. Indeed, we are so awash with cynicism and nihilism in cinema, in anti-heroes and villains who are "just misunderstood," that what stands out are those rare moments of stark black and white (derided as campy or too uncomplicated by critics). And in our broader culture, in things like politics and how we interact with each other on social media, we have gotten ugly, petty, and cruel. We don't just disagree. We hate. We don't just dismiss. We cancel and hound. It would be very easy to conclude that it's High Noon in America, and those few who try to stand for values and their principles are going to stand alone.

Beloved Children, [...]

For it was more than human tragedy. Much more than Alger Hiss or Whittaker Chambers was on trial in the trials of Alger Hiss. Two faiths were on trial. Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when faith dies. At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those things which men hold good, including life, to defend it. At issue was the question whether this man's faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith it was that this society is sick beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads for its swift extinction and replacement by another. At issue was the question whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to distort and pervert the facts.

At heart, the Great Case was this critical conflict of faiths; that is why it was a great case.

Whittaker Chambers

Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism  (Robert D. Kaplan, June 1999, Atlantic Monthly)

In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, [Henry] Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite--notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.


You ever had an epiphany--one of those moments where the scales fall from your eyes, the light dawns, the voices speak, and in one blinding insight that which was obscure becomes crystal clear? I had one this morning and am very angry with myself for not realizing this before. David Gregory, NBC's White House Correspondent, was on Imus in the Morning today and he was asked about George W. Bush's U.N. appearance tomorrow. He revealed that--with half the nation and most of the world expecting the President, like a dutiful and chastened schoolboy to present a kind of book report about Saddam trying to develop nuclear weapons, and then grovel for a UN mandate to do something about it--Mr. Bush is instead going to confront the member nations and the institution itself and ask: What more do you need? He'll discuss the many UN resolutions that Saddam has violated and ask what the purpose of the body is if they're unwilling to enforce their own diktats. He'll demand, though one assumes politely, that either the UN act immediately in accordance with its own previous decisions, or we'll act for them. And with that, like Jake Blues entranced by The Reverend Cleophus James, I saw the light: this is High Noon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2002 1:11 PM

President's Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly (Remarks by the President in Address to the United Nations General Assembly, New York, New York, 9/12/2002)

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


India's Lost Opposition (Debasish Roy Chowdhury, 3/03/23, Persuasion)

A year away from the election, Modi still towers over his rivals. His politics of ultranationalism mixed with muscular Hinduism has perceptibly moved Indian politics to the right. His personal popularity, the BJP's deep pockets (the party is the prime recipient of electoral funding), its well-oiled party machinery, grass-roots reach, control over a servile media and governing institutions such as the Election Commission and law enforcement agencies all give him an air of invincibility. 

Modi has also been cementing his grip on power through a carefully cultivated cult of personality and suppression of dissent and civil liberties. This month, after the release of a BBC documentary highlighting Modi's role in religious violence in Gujarat state in 2002, tax authorities launched a 60-hour raid on the BBC's India offices. Last week, a Congress spokesman was dramatically deplaned and arrested for merely misnaming Modi's middle name. Discrimination against minorities, especially Muslims, is rising in an increasingly brazen project to remake India's secular republic as a Hindu majoritarian state. Lynchings and open calls for genocide of Muslims are now fairly routine. So is the brutalization of Muslim lives by state governments controlled by the BJP, for example the new trend of bulldozing Muslim homes on the pretext of unproven criminality and the targeting of Muslim men in interfaith relations on charges of "love jihad."

As a result, the stakes are extraordinarily high for next year's elections. India has already been falling rapidly in democracy rankings since Modi's rise to power. Sweden's V-Dem Institute now considers it a "electoral autocracy." Modi's critics fear that one more term for him will irreversibly alter India's constitutional inclusivity and destroy its democracy. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


George Santos, MAGA 'It' Girl (Shawn McCreesh, 3/03/23, New York)

To you, Representative George Santos might be one of the most noxious, if also plainly ridiculous, figures in American public life right now. But last Friday night at the Beach Cafe, a pub on East 70th street beloved by right-wingers, he's the "It" girl. His wrists are bedizened with bling from Hermès and Cartier, and fawning fans line up for selfies. [...]

Sitting beside Santos, smirking, is his bald and bearded 31-year-old "director of operations." His name is Vish Burra. He's a former drug dealer from Staten Island who, while he worked for Steve Bannon, was the guy you went through if you wanted to check out the contents of Hunter Biden's laptop. (He once hosted a viewing party of the laptop's contents.) He also did crisis comms for Matt Gaetz, and, along with Santos, was part of a mini-MAGA cabal that took over the New York Young Republican Club. The club is run by Burra and Santos's buddy, Gavin Wax. He couldn't make it to the Beach Cafe for the party Friday because he was off in Hungary, meeting with members of the country's semi-fascist government.

Burra and Wax were the ones who put on the Young Republicans' most recent holiday gala; that was the one at which Marjorie Taylor Greene said that, had she and Bannon planned January 6, "We would have won. Not to mention, it would've been armed."

"I couldn't have staged that any better," gushes Burra. His own rantings at that gala ripped off chunks of Mussolini's 1935 "wheel of destiny" speech justifying the invasion of Ethiopia. ("To acts of war, we shall answer with acts of war ...")

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Resist the Post-liberal Temptation (ANDREW T. WALKER, February 26, 2023, National Review)

Because definitions matter, liberal democracy in its usage here denotes a regime established to secure and administer a just order by respecting an individual's natural rights through a system of ordered liberty, the rule of law, and constitutional procedure.

According to various critiques, liberal democracy has strayed so far from its Judeo-Christian beginnings that its problems are not merely comparable to a head cold that will eventually go away, but to a terminable disease from which death is imminent. We could call this the declensionist critique, from the likes of individuals like Stephen Wolfe, author of the much-discussed The Case for Christian Nationalism. A similar narrative holds that liberal democracy was flawed from its foundation because it was premised on a false anthropology organized around maximizing liberty instead of protecting religion, family, and social cohesion. We could call this the foundationalist critique, evident in the works of figures like Patrick Deneen in Why Liberalism Failed.

Though grouped under the broad umbrella of "post-liberalism," proponents of these narratives are not monolithic. Indeed, Wolfe, though he despises what he calls the "liberal creedalist project," nonetheless has distanced himself from the "post-liberal" label. Moreover, not all of their critiques are unfounded: America has strayed from its initial Protestant moral ecology. All, however, seem to converge around the consensus that America as we know it requires "regime change" -- a systemic restructuring of our politics and culture. [...]

[T]he post-liberal revolutionary zeal is the direct opposite of a Burkean conservatism that champions American constitutionalism. Indeed, some post-liberals are downright hostile to the idea of distributing power to an entire population instead of to a select few competent to oversee a robust common good. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Washington's Favorite Republican Is Making All the Right Moves (Michael Schaffer, 3/03/23, Politico)

Showing up on schmoozy, talky media platforms? Check: Sununu just hit network Sunday talk shows an impressive three weeks in a row last month. If you don't count the shows on conservative networks, that's three more times than fellow Republican not-quite-candidates Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo and Tim Scott managed in the entire previous year. For those who like to witness their high-minded gabbing in the flesh, the Atlantic announced yesterday that Sununu will appear, along with a roster of notables including Nancy Pelosi and Brad Raffensberger, at a "Future of Democracy" session the venerable publication is organizing at this month's South by Southwest festival.

Punching right against Republican ultras? No doubt: In media appearances, Sununu reliably distances himself from culture warriors, election deniers and anyone who would wink at political violence like last year's attack on Paul Pelosi. Book the New Hampshire governor on a Beltway interview show or make him the subject of a lengthy profile in an elite publication and you'll hear him deride Trumpism as an electoral "loser" or denounce the Republican "echo chamber." But he's also apt to make somewhat less familiar critiques -- decrying the failures of the 2017-2018 GOP political trifecta, say, or taking a "Face the Nation" shot at Ron DeSantis, whose battle with Disney over the firm's allegedly woke priorities he described as "the worst precedent in the world" (because it violates free-market principles).

Paeans to bipartisanship? Naturally -- and, better yet, they come couched in reflections on the can-do culture demanded by being governor of a small state, working in the sort of cooperative political milieu permanent Washington's media brass tends to fetishize. Sununu speaks in Lincolnesque terms about the workings of New Hampshire's Executive Council, the bipartisan body that governors must consult about all but the smallest contracts and requires people to debate in close proximity. In one recent interview, he said the job of leaders right now is to "take down the heat" inflaming American politics.

Given this record, you might be thinking it's just about time for Sununu to get himself invited to give remarks at one of those backslappy Washington galas that draw members of the elite media and their insider guests. In fact, Sununu, overachiever that he is, touched that station of the cross an entire year ago. Donning white tie and tails, he brought down the house at the annual dinner of the Gridiron Club with a routine that included calling Trump "fucking crazy," to the delight of an audience that included Anthony Fauci, Merrick Garland, Adam Schiff and a paltry two GOP legislators.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Sir Launcelot Battles the Truth: A familiar tale raises strangely modern questions about truth, nobility, and personal character. (Shawn Phillip Cooper, 3/03/23, Law & Liberty)

Mark Lambert addresses Launcelot's apparent transformation from being Arthur's best knight to being a murderous and unrepentant liar by arguing that "Lancelot is acting within a shame system rather than a guilt system," in which the crucial distinction is not whether Launcelot is objectively guilty (in the modern sense), but whether he can be shamed by someone proving the charge through the means available for resolving disputes in the Arthurian court: trial by combat. Lambert writes that:

What matters for Lancelot here is not the fact of his guilt or innocence of the adultery and his personal awareness of that fact, but the public recognition of the charge, the public machinery for making the charge good, and the way the public accusation and public "making good" affect his reputation and the queen's. [. . .] The important thing is not one's own knowledge of what one has done (the inner life is not very significant in Malory), but public recognition of one's actions.

This passage seems disturbingly prophetic when read alongside today's social and news media, and it foregrounds the essential point that Launcelot's understanding of reality is not confined solely to the literary world of the Morte. Lambert himself writes that, "It is Malory himself, not just his characters, for whom honor and shame are more real than innocence and guilt." But Lambert's observation is not only true of the fifteenth-century Malory: it is also true of twenty-first-century people, many of whom seem now to live within a shame system rather than a guilt system.

The misinformation virus (Elitsa Dermendzhiyskais, Aeon)

The classic experiments to correct misinformation date to the late 1980s. Subjects were given news briefs from the scene of a fictional warehouse fire, one of which mentions a closet with volatile materials - cans of oil paint and gas cylinders - others report 'thick, oily smoke', 'sheets of flames' and 'toxic fumes' that put the firefighters' lives at risk. A further brief cites the police investigator on the case stating that the closet was, in fact, empty, before the report ends with the fire finally put out.

Having read the briefs, subjects had to answer a series of questions meant to probe their grasp of the correction made by the police investigator. It seems a simple test yet, across a multitude of studies, people repeatedly fail it. In one experiment, as many as 90 per cent of the subjects linked the fire's toxic nature or intensity to the cans of oil paint and gas cylinders, despite none being found in the closet. More surprisingly, when asked directly, most of these participants readily acknowledged the empty closet. Researchers have reported similar results many times, including using blatantly direct retractions ('there were no cans of paint or gas cylinders'). Yet no matter how clear the correction, typically more than half of subjects' references to the original misinformation persist. What's remarkable is that people appear to cling to the falsehood while knowing it to be false. This suggests that, even if successfully debunked, myths can still creep into our judgments and colour our decisions - an outcome referred to in the literature as 'the continued influence effect'.

The guilt is so often hard-earned. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


The Supreme Court Hears Arguments in the Challenge to Biden's Student-Loan Giveaway (George Leef, 3/03/23, James Martin Center)

Last year, President Biden announced that he would cancel student-loan debts of up to $20,000 for millions of borrowers. While that policy had been under discussion since the first days of his administration, only after the announcement did the administration's lawyers advance a legal justification for the action--that it came under the 2002 HEROES Act.

That law was passed to allow the Secretary of Education to waive or modify student debts for service members or others suffering financial hardships "as a result of wars, military operations or national emergencies." Biden's legal team came up with the argument that, since the law pertained to "emergencies" and the Covid pandemic had been deemed an emergency, the president was acting within his authority.

Many pointed out that the president himself had said that the Covid "emergency" was over and that, since the passage of the HEROES Act, Congress had declined to enact bills that would have directly dealt with student-loan cancellation. In short, the government's argument was a gigantic stretch.

Biden overreached on student loans. But the court shouldn't stop him. (The Editorial Board, March 1, 2023, Washington Post)

[M]r. Biden's student debt forgiveness scheme is far more expansive -- and a questionable reading of the two-decade-old law. When lawmakers passed it in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it is unlikely they were envisioning a future president issuing audacious, across-the-board student loan relief, as opposed to, say, pausing loan payments while soldiers are deployed in a foreign war or helping hurricane survivors rebuild. The straightforward reading of the law's purpose is that it permits aid targeted at those who would struggle to repay their loans as a direct result of a serious emergency.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Ron DeSantis Usually Avoids the Press. For Murdoch, He'll Make an Exception. (Michael M. Grynbaum, March 2, 2023, NY Times)

Presumably, few Republican primary voters reside in Britain. But The Times of London, one of England's oldest and most respected papers, is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire has already thrown its considerable influence behind the prospect of a DeSantis presidential bid.

The governor appears to be returning the favor.

As he kicks off a promotional tour for his new memoir (published by Mr. Murdoch's HarperCollins), Mr. DeSantis took Salena Zito, a conservative columnist at The New York Post (owned by Mr. Murdoch's News Corp), on a tour of his hometown in Florida, and he appeared on Fox News (owned by Mr. Murdoch's Fox Corp) for interviews with Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, Jesse Watters and the co-hosts of "Fox & Friends." Excerpts from his memoir appeared in The Post and on

By contrast, Mr. DeSantis's press secretary recently said the governor would not engage at all with journalists at NBC News or MSNBC. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


March 2, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


A win against Russia - outside Ukraine ( The Monitor's Editorial Board, March 1, 2023, CS Monitor)

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has been clarifying for Europe about its values - democratic values that helped restrain the ethnic nationalism of its own past wars and now drives Moscow's aggression. The latest example is an agreement brokered by the European Union to normalize ties between Serbia and Kosovo, nearly a quarter century after a war between them left thousands killed.

The two states in the Balkans, both remnants of the former Yugoslavia, accepted an 11-point plan on Feb. 27 to improve ties, respect each other's borders, and deal with the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo, a nation of mainly ethnic Albanians. If implemented, the plan would deal a blow to Russia's attempts to control states in Europe with Slavic or Orthodox Christian populations such as Serbia.

The invasion forced Serbia to take steps to partially distance itself from Moscow, such as seeking alternatives to Russian gas and oil. Serbia also voted for a United Nations resolution condemning the invasion and refusing to recognize Russia's annexations of eastern Ukraine.

Serbia's decision to accept the EU plan "should bring what everyone has been defending for years - peace, coexistence, a better life for Serbs and Albanians," wrote Zorana Mihajlović, a former minister under President Aleksandar Vučić, on Instagram. The move might also help accelerate Serbia's candidacy for membership in the EU.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


Beauty Is Truth, Truth Beauty: Aesthetics and the Perception of Accuracy (Mane Kara-Yakoubian, 1/03/23, Areo)

John Keats. Portrait by Joseph Severn (1821-23)
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
--John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (1819)

In recent decades, empirical studies have found that aesthetics can influence assessments of credibility, evaluations of goodness and even judgements of accuracy. The more aesthetically pleasing something is, the more credible, good and accurate it is perceived to be.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 PM



A team of engineers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, has developed a tiny, flexible robotic arm that's designed to 3D print material directly on the surface of organs inside a living person's body.

The futuristic device acts just like an endoscope and can snake its way into a specific location inside the patient's body to deliver layers of special biomaterial to reconstruct tissue, clean up wounds, and even make precise incisions -- an amazing jack-of-all-trades they say could revolutionize certain types of surgery.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


What does Tinubu's victory mean for Nigeria (UMAR YUNUS, 3/02/23, TRT World)

Of all the presidential polls in Nigeria since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999, this year's election tops the rest in terms of springing surprises.

The Labour Party, which had won just a handful of seats in previous elections, pulled off the most stunning result this time when its presidential candidate Peter Obi vanquished Tinubu in his fortress Lagos State. To put matters in context, Tinubu is often called the "godfather of Lagos", Nigeria's commercial hub, which he led as governor for two terms.

The Lagos victory paved the way for the Labour Party to claim the majority of National Assembly seats in several South East states, as well as Abuja, ousting serving senators and representatives along the way. 

Another surprise, also delivered by the Labour Party, is winning Nassarawa and Plateau States in North Central Nigeria, the home state of APC national chairman Abdullahi Adamu, and the Director General of APC and sitting governor, Simon Lalong, respectively. Lalong also lost his bid to become a senator.

Other surprises of this election include Atiku Abubakar's PDP winning both Katsina and Yobe, the home states of President Muhammadu Buhari and Senate president Ahmad Lawal. And the relatively unknown NNPP won Kano state, a traditional APC stronghold, by a wide margin.

This election differs from previous elections in many ways.

There were three strong contenders instead of two, as was the case in the past. The emergence of an LP candidate made the contest more competitive. The difference between the three contenders in the final result has significantly narrowed.

Vote buying has also substantially reduced, unlike in the past when electorates were offered cash to vote for specific candidates. This was possible mainly due to recent efforts by the Central Bank of Nigeria which introduced redesigned currency notes just weeks before the elections. This is believed to have hurt some politicians who might have stashed cash for vote-buying.

The use of advanced technology, such as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Results Reviewing Portal (IReV), is an improvement in past elections. These innovations effectively reduced electoral irregularities such as vote buying, ballot snatching, rigging, over-voting, underage voting, multiple voting and other misconduct associated with elections in Nigeria.

This election witnessed a massive participation of the youth. It's believed that these young people, aggrieved mainly by the present economic hardships in the country, partook in the process of pushing for a better government. 

.,..and if Nigeria develops good governance it should get the seat. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Feds arrest Michigan man who plotted to kill Jewish elected officials in the state (ANDREW LAPIN, MARCH 1, 2023, JTA)

Jack Eugene Carpenter III, a resident of Tipton, Michigan, had tweeted on Feb. 17 that he was "heading back to Michigan now threatening to carry out the punishment of death to anyone that is jewish in the Michigan govt if they don't leave, or confess," according to the FBI's affidavit. There are several prominent Jewish elected officials in the state, including Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and a handful of state senators and representatives. [...]

On a Twitter account the FBI linked to Carpenter, he claimed to be a former employee of the University of Michigan who "was fired for refusing to take experimental medication," apparently referring to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Frequency illusion: When seeing is believing, not fact (Esteban Pardo, 3/02/23, Deutsche-welle)

A frequency illusion is a cognitive bias , which takes place in the mind and affects the way we perceive the world around us.

Arnold Zwicky, a linguistics professor at Stanford University in the US, coined the term frequency illusion in 2005.

The idea was that we become more aware of things when we learn about them for the first time and that that can cause us to think that they are happening more often than they are in reality.

For example, if you buy a new red car, you may start seeing red cars more frequently and think that more people are buying red cars, or that red cars are trendy, when in reality it is possible that the number of red cars hasn't changed at all.

If we counted the number of red cars, or checked official statistics for car sales, we may indeed find that there are more red cars on the roads. But we're talking about the perception of facts here, rather than the facts themselves. 

And that's important because such perceptions, or frequency illusions, can affect the way we think and make decisions in our daily lives. We may, for example, overestimate crime rates when crimes are covered more frequently in the media.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Global clean energy growth offset rise in CO2 emissions last year, IEA says (Emma Newburger, 3/02/23, CNBC)

Global energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide rose less than anticipated in 2022 thanks to the growth of clean energy sources like solar, wind, electric vehicles and heat pumps, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Thursday.

Global emissions from energy rose by less than 1% last year to a new high of over 36.8 billion tons, as renewables helped limit the impacts of a global rise in coal and oil consumption, according to the IEA analysis. By comparison, global emissions from energy rose by 6% in 2021.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Shell Energy adds last of 16 solar batteries to "landmark" virtual power plant (Sophie Vorrath, 2 March 2023, Renew Economy)

Sixteen regional commercial New South Wales government offices will soon act as a rooftop solar fuelled virtual power plant, as the last of 16 battery systems are installed for the landmark project.

The innovative VPP, installed and operated by Shell Energy in partnership with the NSW state government, has been designed to aggregate the battery storage units as a grid stabilising or bolstering resource.

The initiative by Property & Development NSW (PDNSW) will use the batteries to store excess solar output and feed up to 1,280kWh of energy back into the electricity network during peak demand periods.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Please Lie to Me, Tucker (MONA CHAREN  MARCH 2, 2023, The Bulwark)

Does it strike you as outrageous to suggest, as Fox News host Tucker Carlson has, that President Joe Biden's slow response to the toxic spill in East Palestine, Ohio is evidence that he doesn't care about white people? Carlson put it this way: "East Palestine is overwhelmingly white, and it's politically conservative. That shouldn't be relevant, but it very much is. . . . [It's] a poor benighted town whose people are forgotten, and in the view of the people who lead this country, forgettable." Not to be outdone in the racial sweepstakes, Charlie Kirk denounced Biden's "war against white people."

If you're disgusted by that, you may understand how some conservatives felt in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina became the occasion for charging George W. Bush with racism. Jesse Jackson told CNN, "I saw five thousand African Americans on the I-10 causeway. It looked like Africans in the hull of a slave ship." He also claimed that when churches were contacted about offering aid, they first demanded to know whether the victims were black or white. During NBC's telethon for hurricane relief, Kanye West famously declared that "George W. Bush doesn't care about black people." Those sentiments got a good airing on major TV outlets. (That West wound up on the Mar-a-Lago patio 17 years later in company with a Nazi suggests that perhaps he shouldn't have been treated as an oracle back then.)

March 1, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Unusual Groupings of Justices Decide Two Cases Involving Contradictory Applications of Textualism - SCOTUS Today  (National Law Review, February 28, 2023)

The day's second case, Bittner v. United States, also offers an interesting array of Justices. The case concerns the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and its implementing regulations that require U.S. persons with certain financial interests in foreign accounts to file an annual report known as an "FBAR"--the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. The statute imposes a maximum $10,000 penalty for non-willful violations of the law. The government argued that penalties for such violations apply to each account not accurately or timely reported (Bittner had five such accounts), while Bittner argued that the BSA authorizes a $10,000 maximum penalty per report, not per account. Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court in favor of Bittner's interpretation of the law, i.e., that non-willful violations are to be penalized on a per-report basis. However, he was joined only by four other Justices, the Chief Justice and Justices Alito, Kavanaugh, and the putatively liberal Justice Jackson, who even joined Justice Gorsuch in a separate opinion expatiating on the background of the statute and case law history. In the opposite corner of the ring, we find a group of dissenters led by Justice Barrett, who was joined by Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, and Kagan, who argued for the per-account penalty theory. 

The non-Ideologues are a majority.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Blinken Eyes U.S. Inroads in Central Asia as Ukraine Rattles Nerves (Shaun Tandon, 3/01/23,  AFP)

Days after the anniversary of the Ukraine invasion, the top U.S. diplomat will hold talks Tuesday in Kazakhstan and then Uzbekistan and meet jointly with foreign ministers of all five ex-Soviet Central Asian states in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

Donald Lu, the top U.S. diplomat for South and Central Asia, said the United States was realistic that the five nations were not going to end their relationships with Russia or their other giant neighbor, China, which has been boosting its own presence.

But he said Blinken would show that the United States is a "reliable partner" and different from Moscow and Beijing.

"We have something to offer in terms of engagement economically, but we also have something to offer in terms of the values that we bring to the table," Lu told reporters.

History Ends everywhere.