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.