April 30, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


How bad is it for Ron DeSantis? He's polling at RFK Jr.'s level (Harry Enten, 4/30/23, CNN)

Things have gotten so bad for DeSantis that a recent Fox News poll shows him at 21% - comparable with the 19% that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has pushed debunked conspiracy theories about vaccine safety, is receiving on the Democratic side.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Simple, Sparse and Profound: David Sexton on Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
"What this book is about is ordinary, normal and everyday, the knowledge that we are mortal..." (David Sexton, April 26, 2023, LitHub)

Ostensibly a work of science fiction, Never Let Me Go is really nothing of the kind. Ishiguro says he's perfectly open to people reading it as a chilling warning about biotechnology but feels they've missed the inner heart of the book if they take it that way. He has certainly given readers nothing to foster such a misread­ing. For the book is set in the past, not the future: "England, late 1990s" it is specified before the novel begins.

The narrator, Kathy H, is thirty-one as the book opens, and has been a "carer" for nearly twelve years. She looks back to her time at a school she remains very proud to have attended, Hailsham, recalling first when she and her friends were children there, and then when they were teenagers, so locating it in the early and later Seventies, perhaps. Then in Part Two, she tells us about their lives afterwards, in "the Cottages" as young adults, perhaps in the early Eighties. But such dating is never precise and there are few contemporary references. There is almost no allusion to technology, beyond humdrum cars, Rovers and Volvos, and old-fashioned cassette tapes and Walkmans.

Almost nothing about the actual biological status of the clones is specified either--neither how they were created, nor how they can make their "donations" and continue for a while to live. Nor are we given any information about changes in society at large. Quite remarkably, there are simply no futuristic, alternative world or science-fiction components to the story. For what this book is about is ordinary, normal and everyday, the knowledge that we are mortal, that our time is limited, death inescapable.

And everything about the way in which it is written, from that absence of technology to the conversational, unremarkable language in which Kathy tells us her story, is calculated to bring it home to us that these are our own lives we are contemplating. In his invariably clear and modest way, Ishiguro describes this radical narrative thus: "The strategy here is that we're looking at a very strange world, at a very strange group of people, and gradually, I wanted people to feel they're not looking at such a strange world, that this is everybody's story."

One caveat: we are all born to die, not to be killed. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ted Cruz Tapes To Be Handed Over to Jack Smith's DOJ Probe (GIULIA CARBONARO, 4/26/23, Newsweek)

A lawyer for Fox News whistleblower Abby Grossberg--the former producer on Tucker Carlson Tonight who's suing the host and other executives at the network--has confirmed that the DOJ's Special Counsel Jack Smith has requested access to some of the recordings in her possession. [...]

While the lawyer didn't specify exactly which tapes Smith asked for--Grossberg said she has about 90 unaired recordings from inside Fox News--MSNBC aired a part of the Ted Cruz tapes where the Texas senator discusses overthrowing the election with Fox's Maria Bartiromo.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


An epochal set: Nielsen: The Symphonies (DG) (Norman Lebrecht, 4/30/23, The Critic)

In 1925, at the age of 60, Denmark's national composer gave in to depression. "If I could live my life again," said Carl Nielsen, "I would ... take a commercial apprenticeship or do some other form of useful work that would lead to a visible final result. The creative artist's lot is not a happy one."

The ending of the sixth is a bad joke without a punchline

Nielsen was working at the time on his sixth symphony, titled "the simple symphony" though it was nothing of the sort. His marriage had broken down, and he was feeling unappreciated. His fifth symphony, in two movements, was packed with impotent rage. The sixth was pared down to semi-disjointed statements, enigmatic and forever unsettling. Nielsen delved deep into himself whilst offering limited rewards to his listeners. The ending of the sixth is a bad joke without a punchline. He is perhaps the most elusive of great composers.

Every decade or so, a conductor attempts to make sense of the six symphonies on record. 

April 29, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Are There Such Things as "Natural" Rights? (HADLEY ARKES,  APRIL 27, 2023, Acton)

It is never out of season to recall James Wilson's line that the purpose of the Constitution was not to invent new rights "by a human establishment," but to secure and enlarge the rights we already have by nature. In radical contrast, the celebrated William Blackstone said in his Commentaries on the Laws of England that when we enter civil society, we give up the unrestricted set of rights we had in the State of Nature, including the "liberty to do mischief." We exchange them for a more diminished set of rights under civil society--call them "civil rights" but they are rendered more secure by the advent of a government that can enforce them. To which Wilson responded, "Is it part of natural liberty to do mischief to anyone?" When did we ever have, as Lincoln would say, a "right to do a wrong"? The laws that restrained us from raping and murdering deprived us of nothing we ever had a "right" to do. And so when the question was asked, What rights do we give up in entering into this government?, the answer tendered by the Federalists was, "None." As Hamilton said in Federalist no. 84, "Here ... the people surrender nothing."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Review: "Uncommon Wrath" by Josiah Osgood (Paul Krause, 04/29/202, Merion West)

The fall of the Roman Republic and the following dictatorship of Julius Caesar are likely the most famous events in Roman history. Not even the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 A.D. has captured our imagination to the degree of the final decades of the republic, with its panorama of personalities, among the most famous being Julius Caesar and Cato the Younger. In his new book, Uncommon Wrath, the eminent classicist Josiah Osgood retells this story through the unflinching and uncompromising rivalry of Caesar and Cato as their personal competition paralyzed the republic and brought it to civil war.

Once upon a time, Cato the Younger was a name as well known as Caesar's. Dante, in his Divine Comedy, had the virtuous and just Cato guarding the realm of Purgatory as souls prepared their ascent into Paradise. Cato was a mighty influence upon the early modern political theorists, who championed republican government and personal liberty against the monarchies of Europe. George Washington was heavily influenced by the speeches of Cato and Joseph Addison's hagiographic drama, often quoting him to rouse the spirits of his soldiers during the direst moments of the American War of Independence. Today, the libertarian think tank Cato Institute is indirectly named after him, taking its name from Cato's Letters penned by Thomas Gordon and John Trenchard in the early 1720s, which excoriated corruption, the lack of moral virtue in politics, and how corruption and immorality are the stepping stones to tyranny. These were, of course, the exact arguments Cato made during the nadir of the Roman republic.

The formative years for Caesar and Cato were during the days of the Catiline Conspiracy. "The age of Catiline," Osgood reminds his readers, "was an age in which virtually everyone in public life was bent on trying to capture the Republic for himself." The Catiline Conspiracy, which saw the Senator Catiline attempt to seize power himself through a cunning plan of murder, riot, and usurpation, was eventually exposed and put down by Cicero, another of the remarkable and famous figures of that era. But "two men of extraordinary excellence" were also intimately involved in dealing with the Catiline Conspiracy: Caesar and Cato.

These two men, however, were very different. Although both had aristocratic lineages, Caesar was a supporter of the populares, whereas Cato was a stalwart stallion of the optimates. The populares referred to the faction of Roman politicians advocating land reform, increases in welfare (bread) allotment to the poor, and debt forgiveness to the masses. The optimates were conservative defenders of Senatorial prerogative, but men like Cato (and Cicero) constantly warned against the militarization of the masses by populare politicians (like Caesar) and widespread corruption within and without the political system. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Ron DeTedious: DeSantis underwhelms Britain's business chiefs (STEFAN BOSCIA, APRIL 29, 2023, Politico)

He hopes to win the hearts and minds of devoted Donald Trump supporters ahead of next year's U.S. election.

But Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis failed to impress British business chiefs at a high-profile London event Friday, in a tired performance described variously as "horrendous," "low-wattage" and "like the end of an overseas trip."

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Here Comes 'Transableism' (WESLEY J. SMITH, January 27, 2023, National Review)

Transableism is a relatively new term for what is known as BIID, for "body integrity identity disorder." The point of changing the identifier from a psychiatric condition (BIID) to an advocacy term (transableism) is to harness the stunning cultural power of gender ideology to the cause of allowing doctors to "treat" BIID patients by amputating healthy limbs, snipping spinal cords, or destroying eyesight.

There have already been cases of rogue doctors disabling BIID patients and bioethicists advocating such actions. But now, the idea is beginning to break into the popular media. Canada's National Post just published a story on the coming trend. From "Becoming Disabled by Choice, not Chance:"

"We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment," says Alexandre Baril, a Quebec born academic who will present on "transability" at this week's Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa. "The person could want to become deaf, blind, amputee, paraplegic. It's a really, really strong desire."

Cutting off healthy body parts not involved with sex is the next logical step after transgenderism:

April 28, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Pence Testimony Is 'Sharply Incriminating Evidence' on Trump: Kirschner (KAITLIN LEWIS, 4/27/23 , Newsweek)

According to previous testimonies given before the House select committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, Trump repeatedly pressured Pence to block Congress' certification of the 2020 election by acting in his role as president of the Senate. Trump also reportedly threatened his former running mate that there would be repercussions if Pence did not halt Biden's victory.

Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor, said during Thursday's episode of his Justice Matters podcast that Pence's testimony against the former president will likely move the DOJ "one giant step closer" toward charging Trump.

"Take it from this old prosecutor," Kirschner said. "Mike Pence's testimony is some of the most sharply incriminating evidence any witness can offer against Donald Trump."

"Donald Trump told Mike Pence, 'If you don't break the law, if you don't do what I'm telling you to do, if you don't help me retain the power of the presidency, then I made the wrong decision four years ago when I selected you as my vice president," Kirschner added, referring to the House select committee hearings that focused on Trump's pressuring of Pence leading up to January 6.

"And now, all of this testimony is in the hands of Special Counsel Jack Smith and is available to the grand jury," he continued. "And friends, indisputably this moves matters one giant step closer to a Donald Trump indictment for his democracy-busting crimes on and around January 6, and that is a damn good thing."

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


On QAnon and the Toxic Longing to Be Part of Something As a Mom: Sara Peterson Dives Into the Dark Side of Momfluencer Culture (Sara Petersen. April 28, 2023, LitHub)

There's another reason white momfluencers might be more likely to spread Q conspiracies or preach about "toxin-riddled" vaccines than to align themselves with a conventional social justice or political group, and that has to do with motherhood. The implied moral goodness of (white) motherhood allows them to easily latch onto Q's fear mongering specifically related to harm toward children.

After interviewing attendees of a "Freedom for the Children" QAnon-centric rally in London for a New York Times article about motherhood and QAnon, Annie Kelly determined that maternal protectiveness was at the root of many white mothers' participation. "Very few brought up QAnon's connections with President Trump, Hillary Clinton or the anonymous 4chan account known as 'Q' that started it all," she writes. "They were here, they said, for the children."

Kelly explains that the nature of our social media landscape is critical to understanding not only the appeal of QAnon but also the ease with which it spreads among mothers who have been traditionally restrained from access to male-only conspiracy groups. As Kelly notes, "QAnon, by contrast, has looked for converts anywhere it can find them, making the slogan 'where we go one we go all' (usually abbreviated to the hashtag #WWG1WGA) its rallying cry."

And if QAnon is looking for moms, what better place to find them than on Instagram, where, according to Instagram's own data, 93% of American mothers consume and share content if not daily, then weekly.

Because the vast majority of the most well known, financially successful momfluencers are still predominantly white, it also makes sense that QAnon would seek out white momfluencers to spread misinformation and fear-mongering infographics. While QAnon has long been associated with anti-Semitism, Mia Bloom, while researching her book Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon, found that racism is also integral to the group's messaging.

Out of 240 QAnon images paired with #savethechildren messages on social media, Bloom and her research team discovered that despite the fact that "the vast majority of children who are trafficked originate from the global south ... the images of the children in the QAnon campaigns were almost uniformly white, usually female, and often badly bruised, bound, or bleeding."

The reasoning, according to Bloom, is that images of white children would appeal to white moms in a way that images of children of color would not.

Bloom also found that while the child in these images was white the vast majority of the time, the adult hand was Black or brown 90 percent of the time, leaning into age-old racist stereotypes vilifying Black and brown men as inherently violent and predatory.

It's easy to label moms trafficking in conspiracy theories as silly or crazy, but doing so not only negates their very real influence and power, it also prevents us from understanding what drives white moms to Q and the alt-right in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Is trans the new anorexia?: Becoming a woman is an unappealing business (Lionel Shriver, April 27, 2023, unHerd)
When teaching freshman composition in New York colleges in the mid-Eighties, I picked up a peculiar pattern in one-on-one conferences with my female students. With improbable frequency, they'd confide that they were anorexic. The term had only entered the popular lexicon about 10 years earlier, and public awareness of the perturbing derangement had been given a huge boost by the pop singer Karen Carpenter's death in 1983. Yet not all these 18-year-old students were disturbingly underweight. It took me a minute to get it. They aspired to be anorexic. Anorexia was a prestige diagnosis.

While some of those students may have been merely flirting with the condition, they were canaries in a very dark coal mine. All too many of their peers were undertaking life-threatening calorie restriction in great earnest. Anorexia was already known to be the very deadliest of all psychiatric ailments. (Wanting to be anorexic, then, is like pining to contract necrosis.) In the Nineties, my natural ghoulish voyeurism inspired me to read several books about obsessive self-starvation, the best of which was Jenefer Shute's harrowing novel Life Size.

So surely this month I jumped at the chance to read Hadley Freeman's Good Girls: A Story and Study of Anorexia? Beginning in 1992, the columnist struggled for many years with the eating disorder, for which she was repeatedly hospitalised for months on end. Yet before diving into what proved a compelling and forthright memoir, I resisted. Honestly? The topic felt dated. Because as a prestige diagnosis, anorexia has been replaced. With trans.

Although Freeman spends half a chapter on the overlap between the two afflictions -- both are "rooted in the belief that if you change your body, you will no longer hate yourself" -- throughout her account I began to notice other intersections.

Both neuroses are clearly communicable.

Probably best not to indulge self-loathing.

An open secret: social contagion is driving the astronomic rise  in teen gender dysphoria: And adults are not immune either (Dianna Kenny, Apr 28, 2023, MercatorNet)

Social contagion in several adolescent behaviours (e.g., mood and emotion, eating disorders, drug use, self-harm, and suicide) has been well established empirically. For example, Madelyn Gould  concluded that

... the existence of suicide contagion no longer needs to be questioned. We should refocus our research efforts on identifying which particular story components promote contagion under which circumstances and which components are useful for preventive programming.

Four mechanisms that may be involved in the social contagion of these behaviours and gender dysphoria are:

Peer contagion: Peer contagion is a process of reciprocal influence to engage in behaviours occurring in a peer dyad/group.  By middle childhood, gender is the most important factor in the formation of peer associations, highlighting the significance of gender as the organizing principle of the norms and values associated with gender identity.

Deviancy training as a mechanism of social contagion: A process whereby deviant attitudes and behaviours are rewarded by the peer group. Young people are particularly vulnerable to peer contagion if they have experienced peer rejection, hostility, and/or social isolation from the peer group.

Co-rumination as a form of social contagion: A process of repetitive discussion, rehearsal, and speculation about a problematic issue within the peer dyad or peer group that underlies peer influence. It is more common among adolescent girls. Being in a friendship that engages in perseverative discussions on deviant topics has been associated with increased problem behaviour over the course of adolescence.

Social media: Nathan and Kristina have argued that: "...[u]nlike the broadcasts of traditional media, which are passively consumed, social media depends on users to deliberately propagate the information they receive to their social contacts. This process can amplify the spread of information in a social network."

Targeted marketing campaigns on and offline generate additional influence. Peer influence and homophily (intrinsic peer similarity) are major factors influencing the behaviour of those embedded in social networks. Peer influence is more likely to trigger positive, self-reinforcing feedback loops, where the imitation of the target individual's behaviour by peers enhances that behaviour in the target individual so that s/he does more of the behaviour which becomes more extreme over time, creating a social multiplier effect.

This effect also occurs in online communities which is enhanced by introducing certain features into the market design of products, such as, in this case, puberty blockade, cross sex hormones, and sex reassignment surgery, and identifying the influential and susceptible users.

Online activity enables, enhances, or triggers potential risks of "copycat" behaviours such as self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders through the normalization of pathological behaviours, or vicarious and social reinforcement of these behaviours.

Is gender dysphoria socially contagious?

Given the strong evidence of social contagion in suicide, self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders, and emotion/mood, especially among adolescents, the role of social contagion in gender dysphoria demands urgent attention. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


April 27, 2023 (HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, APR 28, 2023, Letters from an American)

Catie Edmondson and Carl Hulse in the New York Times yesterday noted that House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) cannot bring his conference together behind a budget plan. He wanted to pass a bill demanding major concessions from President Biden before the Republicans would agree to raise the debt ceiling, both to prove that he could get his colleagues behind a bill and to put pressure on the Biden administration to restore the old Republican idea that the only way to make the economy work is to slash taxes, business regulation, and government spending.

McCarthy was pleased to have passed his measure with not a single vote to spare, but it appears he got the vote because everyone knew it was dead on arrival at the Senate. According to Edmonson and Hulse, McCarthy got the bill through only by begging his colleagues to ignore the provisions of the measure because it would never become law. He urged them to focus on the symbolic victory of showing Biden they could unite behind cuts.

April 27, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Macron's Moral Cowardice is Getting Old (JAKE KROESEN, APRIL 27, 2023, Lone Conservative)

"You are thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't. I think that is 'old' Europe." 

Donald Rumsfeld, the then secretary of defense under President George W. Bush, gave the previous remark back in January of 2003 when asked his view on the positions taken by both German and French officials regarding the United States' eventual use of force in Iraq. Rumsfeld said, "If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the East. And there are a lot of new members... You look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe. They're not with France and Germany [regarding Iraq], they're with the United States." 

The comments Rumsfeld made drew ire from both German and French officials alike. Whatever one may think of Rumsfeld or the Bush administration's later handling of the Iraq war, one cannot deny the important distinction made by Rumsfeld regarding the inevitable split between both 'old' and 'new' Europe. 

Had we heeded Rumsfeld's warnings, Emmanuel Macron's recent statements on China would not have shocked to anyone. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


A Better Baseball Has Arrived (John R. Puri, 19 Apr 2023, Stanford Review)

Baseball has long been afflicted with two critical ills: games are far too long and feature too little action. In 2022, the average game lasted 3 hours and 5 minutes, a half hour longer than in 1975. Meanwhile, the number of balls put in play by hitters has declined considerably. That means fewer base hits, diving plays, nail biting throws to home plate, and everything else that makes baseball worth watching.

What instead has taken center stage? Aside from lengthy staring contests between pitchers and hitters, baseball has become increasingly dominated by strikeouts, which are little more than high-velocity games of catch. Strikeouts, walks, and home runs--none of which involve any real action on the field--are now woefully referred to as the game's "three true outcomes."

As fans must put more time aside to see fewer of the triples, doubles, and stolen bases that they crave, baseball has ceded much of its popularity to inferior games that offer more primal gratification. Once the undisputed champion, baseball is now the country's third favorite sport, falling far behind football, trailing basketball, and barely edging out soccer of all godforsaken games. For the American pastime, this is a sorry state of affairs indeed.

To rectify this grave injustice, something had to be done; baseball did not survive two world wars just to die at the hands of our decimated attention spans. The game needed to change, and the modifications made this year are an excellent place to start.

This season, pitchers are on a strict schedule. No more than thirty seconds may elapse between at-bats, fifteen seconds between pitches with bases empty, and twenty seconds with men on base. They are limited to two unsuccessful pickoff attempts of baserunners; gone are the days of three, four, five consecutive throws to first base with nothing to show for it. Infielders can no longer crowd one side of the field to anticipate a batter who tends to hit in one direction. Paired with enlarged bases, the result is a more offense-friendly environment and a brisker pace of play.

Already, the impact is apparent.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


For Saner Politics, Try Stronger Parties (Gerald F. Seib, April 20, 2023, WSJ)

Today, the movement to weaken the national party structures that began in 1968 has reached its logical result: The power of the two national party organizations has declined so dramatically that they sometimes appear to be bystanders to a political system in which they were once central actors.

This trend, some in both parties believe, is too much of what once seemed a good thing and is now contributing to the polarization and dysfunction of America's political system. The decline of party organizations has opened the way for the rise of more extreme voices and, crucially, turned much of the financing of campaigns over to less-accountable players. The extremes of left and right have been strengthened in the process, and the center hollowed out. Paradoxical as it may sound, the decline of the parties has led to more ferocious partisanship.

"The party organizations are so damn weak," laments Frank Fahrenkopf, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Donna Brazile, a former Democratic national chairwoman, says that "over the years, the parties have been weakened by the new landscape where super PACs and other dark money forces have a stranglehold."

Former Democratic national chairwoman Donna Brazile, in Washington, D.C.. in 2019, says fundraising from other sources has weakened both parties. PHOTO: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES
Changing this situation won't be easy. It would require a bipartisan effort to reverse some well-meaning reforms of recent decades.

Few advocate a return to the old days when a handful of party insiders made key decisions in smoke-filled backrooms. That process often shut out actual voters.

But in an ideal world, the two national parties still would function as the adults in a more open political space--vetting candidates, providing transparent funding for campaigns and making sure responsible leaders are heard. They would give a voice and a home to millions of Americans in the center of the political spectrum who are neither activists nor ideologues but who nonetheless want a seat at the table.

Traditionally, political parties have provided three big M's for candidates and campaigns: mobilization, message and money. Today, a combination of technology and legal changes has sapped the parties' power in all three areas.

There are a few obvious reforms: (1) parties, as private entities, should be allowed to determine who participates in their primaries and caucuses; (2) the parties should utilize the old DNC idea of super-delegates; (3) corporate political contributions should be barred as to individual candidates but unlimited to the parties. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Much of Ronald Reagan's presidency was foreshadowed by Jimmy Carter's policies. (David W. Wise, 4/27/23, LSE)

Little appreciated or acknowledged, however, is how much Reagan's presidency built off Carter policies.

Perhaps the single quote for which Reagan is best known was his remark "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." It is often said that Reagan "won" the Cold War. But it was the supposedly soft Carter who deployed Pershing missiles to Germany and evaluated the deadly and controversial neutron bomb to counter Soviet threats to overrun Western Europe.

It was President Carter who led the United States to boycott the Moscow Olympics. It was the Carter administration that in 1979 began arming the Afghans who were pushing back on the Soviet invasion, a policy continued by President Reagan. Many historians believe that it was the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan that resulted in the collapse of what Mr. Reagan called "the evil empire."

Re-evaluating Carter's economic legacy

As a free market conservative Ronald Reagan was an advocate of minimal regulation. Perhaps his second most famous quotation was. "the nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" Here again the Carter administration planted the seeds starting with the deregulation of the airline industry led by economist, political advisor, and Chair of the Civil Aeronautics Board, Alfred Kahn.

The major plank of Reagan's 1980 campaign was the proposal to effect large reductions in US income taxes. The theoretical foundation on which this policy was based was the so-called Laffer Curve, named after economist Walter Laffer, which held that lower taxes would increase tax revenues both by reducing tax avoidance and also increased productive effort ("supply side") motivated by lower tax rates.

Here again, Carter had foreshadowed Reagan policies. One of the themes of Carter's successful 1976 campaign resulted in the "Tax Reduction and Simplification Act of 1977" which lowered tax rates including a $900 billion reduction in corporate taxes.

On the other hand, there is no question that inflation was the black mark on the Carter presidency and the one thing for which those years are most often remembered. Carter's first Fed appointment, G. William Miller, resisted strong members to fight inflation such that the inflation rate averaged 13.3 percent in 1979.

Forgotten in the footnotes is the fact that Paul Volker, the Federal Reserve chair who strangled inflation out of the economy - one of the biggest achievements of the Reagan administration - was appointed to that position by Jimmy Carter with the express mandate to tackle inflation.

The malaise speech is what most clearly differentiated Carter from Reagan.  The former spoke as if the country's problems were too much for him.  Reagan spoke as if he were eager to take them on and crush them. But it's always worth recalling that the Carter presidency was part of a continuum of uninterrupted conservative governance that historians will essentially trace from Ike to Obama [with Nixon as the outlier]. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


A Study of the Collective Mind: A Review of The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon (Daria Fedotova, April 21, 2023, European Conservative)

One of the best-known works in the field of mass psychology, The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon was first published in French as La Psychologie des foules in 1895 and is still widely studied. As a scientific treatise, it was a product of its time and not immune to imperfections, but it got many core claims right and has prompted further research into the topic to this day. As a philosophical treatise, it contains many significant insights into human nature and the unspoken laws that shape our civilisation. It is well-structured, easy to read, and a great starting point for discussing the masses.

The first four chapters focus on the crowd's collective mind, unity, habits, and the ways it processes information. Le Bon observes that, when a crowd is formed, individual personalities are erased and replaced by common ideas and feelings; a man, therefore, acts in ways he would not on his own. Unlike the thoughts he may develop when isolated, the ideas of the collective have to be understood by all simultaneously and thus must be as simple as possible. They are vivid images guided at best by superficial logic and at worst by flawed intuition--powerful, contagious, and constantly fluctuating. 

The passions of a crowd roar with a primordial strength, and its fears are diminished by the sense of invulnerability, making it capable of both heroic deeds and despicable crimes. However, it has its natural limitations. "Civilisations as yet have only been created and directed by a small intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds," claims Le Bon. "Crowds are only powerful for destruction. Their rule is always tantamount to a barbarian phase. A civilisation involves fixed rules, discipline, a passing from the instinctive to the rational state, forethought for the future, an elevated degree of culture--all of them conditions that crowds, left to themselves, have invariably shown themselves incapable of realising." He further states that their beliefs always assume a "religious" form, characterised by "blind submission, fierce intolerance, and the need of violent propaganda."

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM



Rex Stout began writing before Hammett, Chandler, and Gardner did. Between 1912 and 1917, he published more than thirty stories and four novels, most in pulp magazines. At age twenty-seven, Stout gave up writing to run a company that arranged for schoolchildren to set up savings accounts. The earnings from this business enabled him to move to Europe and launch a second writing career.

The first fruits of that effort put him among authors who were adapting modernist techniques for a wider readership. How Like a God (1929) was called "an extraordinarily brilliant and fascinating piece of work," and Seed on the Wind (1930) made "the Lawrence excursion into sexual psychology seem pale and artificial." Stout was compared favorably with Dostoevsky and Aldous Huxley. In a contemporary survey of the novel, a distinguished academic had no hesitation including Stout in the company of Woolf, Dos Passos, and Faulkner.

Stout mingled with the literati. He met G. K. Chesterton, Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford, and Joseph Conrad. He got fan letters from Havelock Ellis and Mrs. Bertrand Russell. Manhattan tastemakers Mark Van Doren, Christopher Morley, and Alexander Woollcott became close friends.

Yet soon Stout turned his back on experimentation. After the 1929 stock market crash, he needed to make money. [...]

Above all, Wolfe is committed to rationality--or at least as much as a detective in the intuitionist tradition can be. As a boy, Stout steeped himself in Doyle, Freeman, Collins, and other classics, and he admired Christie, Sayers, even Van Dine. He defended the orthodox detective story as a fairy tale "about man's best loved fairy": the belief in the power of reason to serve justice. Wolfe, who grunts and purses his lips and closes his eyes, avoids displays of emotion, especially from women. He is the detached, arrogant, grumpy genius.

Archie Goodwin, as Wolfe describes him in an appreciative mood, is "inquisitive, impetuous, alert, skeptical, pertinacious, and resourceful." He is good with weapons and his fists. He can bluff as well as Wolfe, but in an ingratiating, rapid-fire style. Although no less sensitive to money than Wolfe--he often has to goad his boss into taking a lucrative case--he has a streak of idealism and fair play, perhaps because he hasn't withdrawn from the world. He has pals, including the heiress Lily Rowan and other lady friends, and he enjoys parties.

The contrast between Wolfe and Archie has inclined some commentators to see Stout's accomplishment as a teaming of two prototypical protagonists: the puzzle-solving genius and the hard-boiled man of action. It's true in part, but in the blend both components are changed.

Traditionally the armchair detective commands center stage. The prototype, Baron Orczy's Old Man in the Corner, is both protagonist and narrator. Prompted by a young woman, he recounts his cases in embedded flashbacks. Stout took the armchair detective premise as a formal problem. "Like the restrictions a sonnet writer is held to, Wolfe's chosen way of life offers a challenge that is fun to meet." Stout's solution is to make the assistant participate fully in the action. Archie tells the story, and he is given plenty to do. In some books, Wolfe is offstage for many chapters.

Stout defended the use of a Watson as the best solution to the "purely technical problem" of fair play. The writer must present all the information needed to solve the mystery, but the significance of crucial clues must be played down. A narrating sidekick not only justifies suppressing the detective's thinking, but it provides creative options. "A Watson keeps the reader at the viewpoint where he belongs--close to the hero--supplies a foil for the hero's transcendence and infallibility, and makes the postponement of the revelation vastly less difficult. Also, if your imagination is up to the task of making the stooge a man instead of a dummy, he will be handy to have around in many other ways." Stout seized on the opportunities afforded by a restless, outgoing Watson who could contrast sharply with the great detective while complicating the plot and throwing his own mystifications into the mix. In effect, he turned the Poe-Doyle helper into a coequal protagonist.

Stout believed that what made Holmes attractive was not his reasoning power but his idiosyncrasies. He admired "the thousand shrewd touches in the portrait of the great detective... It is stroked in quite casually, without effort

or emphasis." Archie is by turns frustrated and amused by Wolfe, and his reactions go beyond John Watson's gentlemanly tolerance. Recorded in Archie's respectful mockery, Wolfe's eccentricities and tantrums become diverting. "What makes Wolfe palatable," Donald Westlake notes, "is that Archie finds him palatable."

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Classical, New, or Conservative Liberalism?: Before rebooting America's system of natural liberty, we first need to understand what liberalism is. (Juliana Geran Pilon, 4/20/23, Law & Liberty)

Are American conservatives the real liberals? The question transcends semantics, for paradox is infused in America's bloodstream, the Founders having been at once revolutionary and conservative. The War for Independence was fought not so much to reject the nation that gave the world representative government as to uphold that principle, which the colonists had accused their mother country of betraying. It was by invoking the English tradition that the Founders turned the tables on the British King and Parliament, charging them with violating its sacred values. This was no idle posturing. As Harvard Professor Louis Hartz observes in his seminal book The Liberal Tradition in America, "[a] series of circumstances had conspired to saturate even the revolutionary position of the Americans with the quality of traditionalism--to give them, indeed, the appearance of outraged reactionaries."

But the irony didn't end there: "America piled on top of this paradox another one of the opposite kind," namely, the ineffable novelty of its enterprise. Hartz writes, "It had been a story of new beginnings, daring enterprises, and explicitly stated principles....The result was that the traditionalism of the Americans, like a pure freak of logic, often bore amazing marks of antihistorical rationalism." Hartz is referring to the revolutionary constitutions of 1776 "which evoked, as [Benjamin] Franklin reported, the 'rapture' of European liberals everywhere." The concept of a written constitution thus transcended even the British experience with common law liberalism, thereby becoming "the darling of the rationalists--a symbol of the emancipated mind at work." The secular rationalists evidently failed to appreciate not only the Founders' respect for experience and tradition but also their common embrace of Athens and Jerusalem, which they considered fully complementary.

That was how they understood the system of natural liberty. "Liberalism," by contrast, is of recent vintage. Was the original commitment to what eighteenth-century British thinkers referred to as "the system of natural liberty" rationalist, traditionalist, conservative, radical, universalist, nationalist, democratic, individualistic? Clearly, or rather unclearly, it was none and all of the above. Eminently practical men, the Founders were convinced by facts that freedom is both efficient--that is, conducive to the maximum aggregate prosperity--and right. The impetus was thus profoundly moral and spiritual, based on the principle that each of us had been endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. That we were all equally unequal--in talents, abilities, and personalities--was to them self-evident.

The paradox is one of the Rationalists own creation, particularly treating Locke as important to the Founding.  The fact is his political work was little read and rejected by those who had because it was ahistorical and intellectual. .  

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Is Asa Hutchinson the Ideal GOP Candidate? (Berny Belvedere, Apr 27, 2023, The Dispatch)

There is no such thing as a perfect politician, but as we ponder the possibility of rerunning the 2020 election between two decidedly flawed candidates, it's worth considering what an ideal Republican candidate might look like for 2024.

Let's start with the obvious: someone who is a reliable and unflinching conservative, unafraid to aggressively take on the left. You would also want a candidate with governing experience--such as, say, a hugely successful two-term governor. While we're at it, how about someone who spent significant time in the executive branch--like overseeing the Drug Enforcement Administration and serving as an undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security? And then throw in stints as a U.S. attorney and U.S. congressman, along with practical experience like chairing the National Governors Association, a powerful nonpartisan organization that helps our federalist style of government work smoothly.

Last--but definitely not least--you would want a candidate who has forcefully opposed the worst aspects of Donald Trump's leadership of the Republican Party throughout the last eight years.

Luckily, such a candidate need not be built from scratch but already exists in Asa Hutchinson, whose vast--and vigorously conservative--legislative, administrative, and governing experience, combined with his steadfast refusal to go along with the GOP's troubling descent into Trumpian sycophancy, sets him apart in a field replete with candidates who may have one or the other of these attributes, but not both.

Only nominate governors.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Airman Accused of Leak Has History of Racist and Violent Remarks, Filing Says (Glenn Thrush, Apr. 27th, 2023, NY Times)

Jack Teixeira, the Massachusetts Air National Guardsman accused of posting classified documents online, repeatedly tried to obstruct federal investigators and has a "troubling" history of making racist and violent remarks, Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing late Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


How Ron DeSantis transformed into an anti-public health crusader: DeSantis's surgeon general is accused of manipulating data to justify an anti-vaccine agenda. How did we get here? (Dylan Scott,  Apr 27, 2023, Vox)

In March 2020, in the uncertain first weeks of the pandemic, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis acted and talked like most other politicians. He shut down public schools and prohibited visitors at nursing homes. He expanded testing capacity and closed parks out of what he called a need to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines on social distancing. By early April, he had issued his own version of a stay-at-home order and was urging his state's residents to stay "spiritually together, but to remain socially distant."

Three years later, DeSantis has transformed himself into the face of an anti-"woke," anti-public health movement that blossomed during the pandemic -- the leader of an administration that was willing to not only defy the public health consensus but to control and manipulate information in order to advance its narrative of a crisis that has killed more than 1.1 million Americans, including more than 87,000 Floridians.

A report this month from the Tampa Bay Time revealed that DeSantis's state surgeon general had altered scientific data in order to justify his official position that young men should not receive the Covid-19 vaccine. DeSantis, who has criticized former President Donald Trump for deferring to public health officials like Anthony Fauci, has embraced conspiratorial talking points. He has suggested profits and not public health drove the Covid vaccine campaign and convened a state grand jury to investigate any "misconduct" on the part of drug manufacturers and the scientific community related to the vaccines.

What the hell happened?

What did you think Trumpism was?

April 26, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Tucker Carlson and the revenge of the neocons (Jacob Heilbrunn, 4/26/23, Spectator)

One of Carlson's key contributions to the right was, in fact, to act as a kind of talent scout. For many conservatives the opportunity to appear on his show was like being called upon to be one of the twelve Apostles. With his ability to turn on a dime from comedic to earnest host, Carlson, who emerged from the neocon world, was adept at taking ideas that may have initially appeared outlandish and mainstreaming them.

When I spoke with him on Tuesday, Scott McConnell, the former editor of the American Conservative, said that he wonders whether Carlson's departure will, in fact, make it more difficult for heretical politicians such as Tulsi Gabbard who oppose intervention in Ukraine to win a hearing. He also speculated that Carlson's firing may enable a neoconservative faction to mount a comeback in the GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 AM



Finding a natural source of electricity that is clean and renewable is exciting news and a big step in the direction away from dirty energy -- and toward a cleaner, cooler planet. 

The Australian researchers extracted the Huc enzyme from a bacterium called Mycobacterium smegmatis. It turns out that many bacteria can utilize hydrogen from the atmosphere as an energy source, even in nutrient-poor environments. 

"We've known for some time that bacteria can use the trace hydrogen in the air as a source of energy to help them grow and survive, including in Antarctic soils, volcanic craters, and the deep ocean," Professor Greening said. "But we didn't know how they did this until now."

Not only can Huc turn trace amounts of hydrogen into electric currents, but Kropp's work shows that purified Huc can be stored for long periods of time. 

"It is astonishingly stable. It is possible to freeze the enzyme or heat it to 80 degrees Celsius [176 degrees Fahrenheit], and it retains its power to generate energy," Kropp said. "This reflects that this enzyme helps bacteria to survive in the most extreme environments."

The magical story of Huc keeps getting better, as the bacteria that produce the enzyme can be grown in large quantities, making it a very sustainable resource -- like pulling an endless amount of rabbits out of a hat. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Judge tosses Devin Nunes suit over Esquire article (JOSH GERSTEIN, 04/25/2023, Politico)

A federal judge has thrown out libel suits former Rep. Devin Nunes and his relatives filed over a 2018 Esquire article alleging that a dairy farm owned by Nunes' family members hired undocumented workers.

U.S. District Court Judge C.J. Williams ruled Tuesday that the claims at issue in writer Ryan Lizza's story -- "Devin Nunes's Family Farm is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret" -- were essentially accurate. The judge said that conclusion was fatal to the suits brought by Nunes, his relatives and the company used to operate the dairy, NuStar Farms.

Heck, accuracy is fatal to the Right's whole project.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Audio of Cruz's talk with Fox host sheds light on plan to challenge 2020 results (Jacqueline Alemany and Sarah Ellison,  April 25, 2023, Washington Post)

The Jan. 2, 2021, recording, provided to The Washington Post by Grossberg's attorney, largely mirrors previous reports and public statements made by Cruz about efforts to overturn the election results. But the tape featuring a previously private conversation among Cruz, Grossberg and Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo on the push to deny the certification of Joe Biden's victory on Jan. 6, 2021, sheds new light on the scope of Cruz's scheming to assist Donald Trump in overturning Biden's victory.

Cruz says in the recorded conversation that he successfully organized 11 senators to object to the electoral certification as the mechanism to establish a commission. Cruz was the first senator to object to the electoral college results, joining Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) in challenging Arizona's electoral certification. The Post has previously reported on Cruz's proposal of delaying the certification of the electoral college results to spark a 10-day "audit" that could enable GOP state legislatures to overturn the election results.

Wouldn't the time be better spent investigating his Dad's involvement in the JFK shooting, his avatar's other favorite conspiracy?

April 25, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Taliban kills suspected 'mastermind' of bombing that killed 13 US troops, officials say (Matt Seyler, April 25, 2023, ABC News)

The terrorist allegedly responsible for planning the August 2021 bombing at the Kabul, Afghanistan, airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans was himself killed by Taliban fighters "in recent weeks," U.S. officials tell ABC News.

A senior Biden administration official on Tuesday described the deceased leader of the Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate (also known as ISIS-K or Islamic State Khorasan) as "the mastermind" of the attack, which involved a suicide bomber detonating an explosive device from within the dense crowds desperately trying to enter the Abbey Gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport during the chaotic U.S. withdrawal.

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Health Savings Accounts at 20 (James C. Capretta, 4/24/23, AEIdeas)

The 2003 federal law which created the Medicare prescription drug benefit also authorized consumer-directed Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Twenty years on, HSAs are now frequently offered with employer-sponsored plans and have become an accepted feature of the overall health insurance landscape. However, despite high take-up and growing reserves, HSAs have yet to galvanize consumer pressure and force the suppliers of services to lower their prices. [...]

To build new momentum for consumer-directed health care, some HSA proponents want to make it easier for Americans to contribute to the accounts. Their priority is to sever the connection to HDHPs, and, in some cases, to eliminate altogether the need for enrollment in an insurance plan.

Based on the evidence, this change would lessen the cost savings from HDHPs by removing the incentive for employers to offer such coverage. With lower deductibles, HSAs would become a vehicle for financing care and not a spur for more vigorous price competition.

Bringing more pricing discipline to health care will require changes that go beyond HSAs. In particular, consumers need to be able to compare prices for bundles of shoppable services, which will require standardizing what is being priced. Consumers also need strong financial incentives to select lower priced care even when they have already satisfied their insurance deductibles. Those incentives will not exist without changes to how typical insurance plans operate today.  

To make HSAs more attractive, new reforms should focus on making them more useful vehicles for paying expenses not insured by Medicare. In particular, many Americans remain uninsured for the high costs of long-term care. HSAs could partially fill the gap for some retirees by allowing them to shelter some of their assets from Medicaid if they first use a minimum amount from their HSA reserves before turning to public assistance. Workers would then have stronger incentives to build their HSA reserves while still employed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A closer look at the U.S. pandemic response reached an unsettling conclusion (The Editorial Board, April 24, 2023, The Washington Post)

A year before the outbreak, in early 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services ran a set of four pandemic planning exercises, known as Crimson Contagion. The exercises assumed a new influenza virus was rising out of China, but did not spotlight the possibility of a virus spreading asymptomatically. They also assumed lockdowns and school closures would be short, failed to take into account the need to scale up testing, and assumed the government had enough medicine -- 30 million doses -- to treat the hypothetical flu. "In the Covid war," the report recalls, "there were no such medicines at hand. The temporary lockdown and closures quickly and foreseeably spawned the question: If good medicines are not yet available, what should we do now?"

"The lockdowns could not be sustained," the report says. "But leaders did not develop and communicate practical alternative strategies."

In February 2020, the focus was on containment, with measures such as the travel ban on China and repatriation of Americans, including those stranded on cruise ships. Emergency mobilization efforts "languished," the report noted. There was "confusion and friction about who was in charge of what problems." The government's "crisis action plan" amounted to little more than jargon. "There was little in it about what people would actually do."

On Feb. 24, 2020, President Donald Trump tweeted from India, "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA ... Stock market starting to look very good to me!" But according to the report, that same day, the White House task force concluded "containment was failing." It was time to shift to mitigation. The next day, a high-ranking Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official, Nancy Messonnier, announced that community spread in the United States was inevitable. The stock market dived.

"President Trump was furious," the report recalls. He kept downplaying the danger. "It's going to disappear," he said on Feb. 27. "Everything is really under control," he said Feb. 29.

It was not. The authors of the report show, in detail, how federal crisis management "splintered by the third week of March." HHS Secretary Alex Azar had placed the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, Robert Kadlec, in charge of the HHS effort -- but at the same time, Vice President Mike Pence's staff kicked him off the White House task force. The head of the Food and Drug Administration was not even on the task force for the first month. The CDC was "fractured into too many missions." While some officials recognized the urgency of a crash program of testing and masks, "Kadlec had no money, no real emergency fund."

"By late April, as a frightened and bewildered country became more and more confused about continuing business and school closures, and after some brow-raising comments at a White House briefing in which he discussed treating the virus with light, heat, or disinfectant, Trump essentially detached himself from his own government," the report says. "He moved toward questioning and challenging what other government officials were doing."

"The administration abdicated its wartime responsibility to lead," they add. "It left the battlefield, and the war strategy" to the states and localities. By April, the White House chief of staff concluded the task force was "useless and broken."

Depressing to imagine how many lives would have been saved had we nominated Jeb.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


San Francisco is a postcard from a driverless car future. Here's what it's like. (Heather Kelly, April 24, 2023, Washington Post)

For the most part, Cruise and Waymo's empty cars move like diligent if nervous student drivers, never exceeding the speed limit, coming to a full stop at stop signs and hitting the brakes at the slightest hint of a problem. Often what's most alarming to people isn't how they move, but the sight of an empty car covered in cameras and sensors with a steering wheel moving on its own.

"It's just kind of uncomfortable, eerie, jarring. There's a part of our brains that thinks, this doesn't make sense," said Molly McDermott, a San Francisco public school teacher in the city's Mission District who has lived here for 15 years. "It's a level of future I'm not ready for."

Joyce McKinney lives across from a public park that doubles as an unofficial parking spot for Waymo cars. She'll see as many as three of them lined up on the side of the road, usually parallel parked. Once, one came to a stop in the middle of the road and blocked traffic for 15 minutes. Eventually, the cars spring to life and drive away.

Despite glitches, she said, she thinks they're as good as or better than local human drivers. "I feel far less menaced by the driverless cars than I do by the ones with people."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Swing Voters: Still Not Into the Anti-Woke Stuff: Maybe don't bet the house on convincing swing-voters that CRT and trans stuff are the most important issues in the world? (RICH THAU, APRIL 25, 2023, The Bulwark)

There was a bizarre "Who's on First?" quality to the focus group exchanges when I asked respondents to define the word "woke."

It happened when Scott, a 49-year-old, Republican-registered Trump-to-Biden voter from Monessen, Pennsylvania, took a stab at defining it. Here's a slightly-abbreviated version of our exchange:

Me: Scott, what's the definition of woke?

Scott: Woke is a term that was initiated by right wing media to try to stop the progressive movement under the age of 30, and going against the government and going against corporations to whereas they did not want the upper hand in anything.

Me: Give me a definition, what does it mean? I understand who's charging [others with] it. What does the word "woke" mean?

Scott: The word woke means that it's a scare tactic.

Me: [If] I open Merriam-Webster's dictionary; what's the definition of woke?

Scott: I don't think they have one in there yet, but that's a good question.

Six of the 14 voters could not come up with a definition for woke. Among those who could, the most accurate version came from Jason, 45, from Allison Park, who said, "I think it means awake. And it's used to say a person or a corporation is awake to social issues and focused on these social issues."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Asia must catch up on ESG investing (NIGEL GREEN, APRIL 25, 2023, Asia Times)

The bill cleared the US Congress, when the Senate voted 50-46 to adopt a measure to overturn a Labor Department rule making it easier for fund managers to consider environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors for investments and shareholder rights decisions.

Meanwhile, financial firms in the UK and the European Union have "remained under significant pressure" to comply with ESG rules over the past six months, KPMG's Regulatory Barometer recently revealed.

While there remain difficulties in the US in establishing ESG regulations versus the progress made in Europe, the two global regions are both heading toward greater standardization.

The regulatory push in the area of ESG is being driven by soaring demand by institutional and retail investors. 

ESG investments have become increasingly popular in the past decade as investors look for ways to generate decent returns while supporting companies that prioritize sustainable practices and social responsibility.

However, Asia, on almost all counts, lags behind the rest of the world in terms of demand for ESG investing.

In order to catch up, there's a pressing need to stoke demand with greater, wider awareness about ESG investments and their importance in creating a sustainable future. 

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, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance]

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.

Much of the confusion that the 2022 Biden Rule endorses ESG investing, and that the 2020 Trump Rule opposed it, traces to the original proposals for those rules. The Biden Proposal favored ESG factors by deeming them "often" required by fiduciary duty. The Trump Proposal disfavored ESG factors by subjecting them to enhanced fiduciary scrutiny. However, following the notice-and-comment period, the Department significantly revised those proposals before finalization. Neither final rule singled out ESG investing for favored or disfavored treatment. The final Trump Rule did not use the term "ESG." The regulatory text of the final Biden Rule refers once to ESG investing, but only to state that ESG factors "may" be "relevant to a risk and return analysis," depending "on the individual facts and circumstances." This statement is true for all investment factors, ESG or otherwise.

The heart of the 2022 Biden Rule is the requirement that an ERISA fiduciary must make investment decisions "based on factors that the fiduciary reasonably determines are relevant to a risk and return analysis." The heart of the 2020 Trump Rule was the requirement that an ERISA fiduciary must make investment decisions "based only on pecuniary factors." But a pecuniary factor was defined by the Trump Rule to mean one "that a fiduciary prudently determines is expected to have a material effect on the risk and/or return of an investment." The changes in the Biden Rule from the Trump Rule are thus cosmetic: changing the terms "prudently" to "reasonably," and "material" to "relevant." In practical terms, the Biden Rule replaced the Trump Rule's use of the term "pecuniary factors" with its definition provided in the Trump rule. Crucially, both the Biden Rule and the Trump Rule specify that a "fiduciary may not subordinate the interests of the participants and beneficiaries in their retirement income or financial benefits under the plan to other objectives, and may not sacrifice investment return or take on additional investment risk to promote [other] benefits or goals."

April 24, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Neo-Nazis Wanted to Attack US Power Grid. Instead They're Going to Prison. (Ben Makuch, April 24, 2023, Vox)

In another example of the growing trend of domestic terror plots targeting critical infrastructure, two men were sentenced to years in prison for their roles in a scheme to attack U.S. power stations.

The Department of Justice said Christopher Brenner Cook, 20, and Jonathan Allen Frost, 24, first met in an online chatroom largely dedicated to militant neo-Nazism, where they traded white supremacist literature and eventually began planning attacks on power stations in multiple regions of the country using rifles. The pair recruited others into their plans and met up in-person to target shoot and prepare.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Tucker Carlson out at Fox News (Sara Fischer, 4/24/23, Axios)

The news comes days after Fox News reached a historic 11th hour settlement with Dominion Voting Systems for over $787 million.

It's ethnicist cleansing. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Israel's greatest existential threat is from within, Herzog tells Jewish Federations (CANAAN LIDOR, 23 April 2023, Times of Israel)

Despite external threats, "I am convinced that there is no greater existential threat to our people than the one that comes from within: Our own polarization and alienation from one another," he added.

April 23, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Renewable Energy Is Charging Ahead (Andrea Thompson, April 21, 2023, Scientific American)

Globally, renewables account for about one third of electricity generation--and that share is rising. In 2022 renewable generation capacity grew by a record 295 gigawatts, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Further, renewables accounted for more than 80 percent of all added power capacity last year, the agency reported.

Last year renewables produced more electricity than coal-powered plants for the first time in the U.S. Wind and solar now produce about 14 percent of the country's electricity, up from virtually nothing just 25 years ago. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects that more than half of electric generation capacity added to the nation's grid in 2023 will be from solar energy.

Credit: Amanda Montañez; Source: International Energy Agency
The main reason renewable energy has grown so much in recent years is a dramatic decline in the expense of generating solar and wind power. 

The transition is economics, not ideology, which is why the Right can't stop it.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Illiberal Regimes Hate Modernity But Can't Live Without It: This dilemma makes them unsustainable in the long run but dangerous in the short run (SAMANTHA HANCOX-LI, APR 22, 2023, The UnPopulist)

In January of this year, rightwing media personality Matt Walsh tweeted "Singapore is able to have nice things in part because they execute drug dealers by hanging and arrest even petty vandals and thieves and beat them with a cane until they bleed. We don't have nice things because we aren't willing to do what is required to maintain them." What is striking about this claim is the degree to which even illiberal activists like Walsh, who have made it their mission to oppose the modern world and return us to pre-modern structures of hierarchy and domination, are irretrievably infected by the logic of modernity. On an emotional level, he thinks, "Drug dealers are sinners and should be scourged," But even to himself, he wraps this up in a materialist logic: "Drug dealers should be scourged because that will bring us prosperity."

Everybody wants what modernity offers. And all the illiberals are tying themselves in knots trying to fit their own philosophy to it--hence the bizarre association of technological progress with caning people for smoking weed. Meanwhile, in the America that actually exists, weed is big business: the increasing legalization of marijuana has transformed it into a hundred-billion-dollar a year industry.

I want to explore this tension. My claim is that all contemporary illiberal movements face a fundamental problem: The illiberal's dilemma. On the one hand, everybody wants what modern prosperity offers--power, comfort, security, wealth. On the other hand, illiberals reject what makes modern prosperity possible--freedom, diversity, the continual churn of change. We can taxonomize different varieties of illiberalism according to how they attempt to square this circle--from the herrenvolk democracies to the petro-dictators to the authoritarian capitalists. And perhaps we liberals can take our own lessons from their failures.

The misapprehension of the End of History is so persistent you have to assume much of it is willful.  The point is not that no alternatives to liberal democracy exist, only that they are ineffective. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that as little as 75 minutes a week of moderately intense, non-occupational physical activity substantially lowers the risk of dying from certain types of cancer or heart disease, two of the leading causes of death among adults.

That's just over an hour a week - and half the 150 minutes a week recommended by the CDC - of activity where your heart rate is 50% to 60% higher than when at rest. 

You'll know you're at the right level of activity if you can speak while doing it but not sing, according to the CDC. So, while walking outside might make you feel like singing, in order to reap the health benefits of this walk, you'll have to leave that to the birds. 

This study is the largest ever done on this topic, pooling data from 196 articles and over 30 million participants from nearly 100 study groups, so the results are significant. 

April 22, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


Kremlin tries to build antiwar coalition in Germany, documents show: Marrying Germany's far right and far left is a Kremlin goal, according to a trove of Russian documents reviewed by The Washington Post (Catherine Belton, Souad Mekhennet and Shane Harris, April 21, 2023, Washington Post)

When 13,000 demonstrators gathered at the Brandenburg Gate on Feb. 25 to call for an end to weapons supplies to Ukraine, the protest was led by Sahra Wagenknecht, a member of parliament for Germany's far-left Die Linke party and a firebrand with national ambitions. Wagenknecht decried the prospect that German tanks, soon to be delivered to Ukraine, could once again be used to shoot at "Russian women and men."

"We don't want Germany to be drawn deeper into this war," she said, as she called for the creation of a new peace movement and condemned the bloodshed in Ukraine, without mentioning Russia's invasion.

Among the crowd in Berlin was Jürgen Elsässer, editor of a far-right-wing magazine, and dozens of members of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party who cheered Wagenknecht's calls to cut off Ukraine. Elsässer's Compact magazine had recently declared on its cover that Wagenknecht was: "The best chancellor -- a candidate for the left and the right."

The coming together of political opposites in Berlin under the banner of peace had been percolating for months, though the union remains ad hoc and unofficial. But marrying Germany's extremes is an explicit Kremlin goal and was first proposed by senior officials in Moscow in early September, according to a trove of sensitive Russian documents largely dated from July to November that were obtained by a European intelligence service and reviewed by The Washington Post.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Fox News behaved egregiously, but the settlement was good for the law (George F. Will, April 20, 2023, Washington Post)

Fox News could plop one of its prime time anchors at a desk in the middle of Sixth Avenue, in front of Fox's headquarters, and the anchor could report that John Wilkes Booth killed Marilyn Monroe on the grassy knoll in Dallas's Dealey Plaza. And Fox News would not lose its core viewers.

In recent months there has been an avalanche of evidence that Fox News thinks of its audience as akin to campus snowflakes easily triggered into trauma. And that Fox News should be their "safe space" where viewers will encounter nothing, such as news (e.g., there is no evidence for anything Trump said about 2020 voting irregularities), that might make them sad. Otherwise they might bolt to Newsmax or some other source of solace. Fox News's robust ratings indicate that its viewers' appetite for the preposterous exceeds their pride.

Facts are fatal to ideology, so the Left/Right is better off avoiding them altogether. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


The case for cold weather: German researchers prove what we've known all along: the cold makes us tough (Teresa Mull, 4/21/23, Spectator)

When friends and family who live in warm places send me photos of the beach and brag about taking long walks in the sunshine, I block out their bragging with a defiant flip of my hood and insist that people who live in cold places are tougher. We have more character. True grit. And it turns out that may actually be true. "Cold temperature extends longevity and prevents disease-related protein aggregation," according to a new peer-reviewed study from Germany's University of Cologne. [...]

According to the Medium, "Bad weather actually increases your productivity... [and] research indicates that when the weather is nice, people just can't focus on their work." Colder air has also been proven to "boost your brain activity, improve focus, and help you think more clearly. Numerous studies show that our cognitive functions improve in colder weather."

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM



The hub will operate in conjunction with Li-Cycle's four pre-existing battery recycling centers it calls "Spokes." The Rochester Hub will receive processed battery materials from the Spokes and transform them into battery-grade end-products for reuse in lithium-ion battery production through recycling.

"Once the facility is at full steam, it is projected to be the biggest source of lithium carbonate in the United States," Senator Chuck Schumer said, according to Electrek.

Li-Cycle's Rochester hub will become a significant source of battery-grade materials -- materials of a grade pure enough to be used in batteries -- such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt. This comes as big and exciting news on the EV, environmental, and workforce fronts.

The EV industry and environmental benefits go hand in hand. But with the rise of EVs, which provide a cleaner solution to transportation, one big question has arisen -- what becomes of all of the lithium batteries used to power the vehicles at the end of their life? This, along with the question of where the materials for lithium batteries -- and the batteries themselves -- come from, has made some people wary to celebrate the advancements and uptick in EVs. 

The Rochester hub could provide a solution for both the beginning and end of the lives of lithium batteries.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM



It seems that a price war really is brewing in the EV market. And that's a great thing for consumers.

It's not just new Teslas that have seen a drop in price. The price war has implications for the secondary market as well. Electrek is now reporting that prices for a used Tesla Model 3 are down 21.5% from last year's peak.

The average Tesla Model 3 is now selling for $41,337, down $11,302 over the past six months.

This price drop is reflected across the entire EV secondary market, although no car has seen a bigger drop than the Model 3. According to Electrek, a used Nissan LEAF is down 12% from $25,734, while a used Toyota Prius Prime is down 11.5% from $29,856.

The transition is simple economics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


The Great AI Deflation Bomb (Rich Karlgaard, Apr. 20th, 2023, Forbes)

It's common to hear of 5% central bank rates as a "return to normal." This new normal is presented as a good thing, a return to sensible capitalism, moderation, common sense, where all excess leverage is purged.

A comforting idea, but that's not the future we face. Enter a wild new technology accelerant, generative AI. Only five months ago, most of us, even those who follow technology closely, had never heard of OpenAI, a private research organization founded by Elon Musk and others to make AI easier to use. Then on Nov. 30, OpenAI released to the public its AI app called ChatGPT. Within one week, a million people had signed up, and the AI era suddenly had shifted to warp speed.

ChatGPT's version four took an American law school admissions test in March and scored in the top 10% of test takers, versus the bottom 10% scored by an earlier version. Among the believers in AI's transformative power is Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who says AI is the new platform for the world's enterprise software.

Question: What do you think ChatGPT-like technology (and similar AI apps from Google, Amazon and others) will do to the world's educated, white-collar labor force? Answer: carnage. AI will be the great deflation bomb hitting professional services. The work of 20 corporate communications professionals or paralegals or mid-level programmers will now take only three or four people assisted by ChatGPT versions 5, 6, 20, 50, etc.

And then replace those 3. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Man indicted on federal charges for voicemail threats sent to Maxine Waters (LAUREN SFORZA, 04/21/23, The Hill)

The release states that the indictment filed Friday revealed that Gaherty allegedly called the congresswoman's office four times last year and each contained a threat to Waters, including at least one that threatened to "cut your throat."

The indictment said that Gaherty "knowingly threatened to assault and kill" Waters "with the intent to impede, intimidate, and interfere with victim Congresswoman Waters."

"Threats to harm and kill an elected official impact the intended victim, her entire staff and every constituent who is not receiving services because the elected official is dealing with the security threat," United States Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement. "The entire Justice Department is dedicated to protecting American democracy, which includes combating threats that terrorize officials who have been elected to serve the public."

Gaherty was arrested and charged in connection to this case earlier this month. Court documents said that he had a "history of sending racist, violent threats to other congresswomen," including two other congresswoman of color.

April 21, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Federal prosecutors have considered four possible charges against Hunter Biden (Sarah Fitzpatrick, Tom Winter, Ken Dilanian and Michael Kosnar, 4/20/23, NBC News)

Federal prosecutors have considered charging Hunter Biden with three tax crimes and a charge related to a gun purchase, said two sources familiar with the matter.

The possible charges are two misdemeanor counts for failure to file taxes, a single felony count of tax evasion related to a business expense for one year of taxes, and the gun charge, also a potential felony.

April 20, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Autopsy: "Cop City" Protester Shot by Police Had 57 Gunshot Wounds, No Gunpowder on Hands (EAMON WHALEN, 4/20/23, MoJo)

On Wednesday the DeKalb County Medical examiner released the autopsy results for Manuel Paez Terán, the 26-year-old protester who was killed by a Georgia state trooper during a January 18 raid of campsites set up to stop the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center often dubbed "Cop City."

The autopsy revealed, according to reporting from Fox 5 Atlanta, that Terán suffered at least 57 gunshot wounds and did not have gunpowder residue on their hands. This calls into question the cops' initial explanation, that Terán shot first.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Grandson says Andrew Lester influenced by conservative media (JUDY L. THOMAS AND LUKE NOZICKA, Apr. 19th, 2023. Kansas City Star)

A grandson of the man charged with shooting a Black teen in Kansas City's Northland last week said he was "appalled" and "disgusted" at his grandfather's actions and is thankful Ralph Yarl is recovering.

"I was horrified. I thought it was terrible," Klint Ludwig said of his immediate reaction to hearing about the shooting of the 16-year-old. "It was inexcusable. It was wrong.

"I stand with Ralph, and really want his family to achieve justice for what happened to them. Their child or grandchild or nephew's life was fundamentally changed forever, over a mistake and someone being scared and fearful." [...]

Ludwig, who lives in the Kansas City area, told The Star on Wednesday that he also was disgusted at the way authorities handled the case.

He was critical of the way both police and the Clay County prosecutor conducted the initial investigation, releasing Lester and not charging him after he was first brought in.

"The only reason why he is now receiving charges and an investigation is being held was because of community outreach to bring attention to this," Ludwig said. "The response has been great. It's been amazing to see this solidarity and coming together as a community." [...]

Ludwig said he and his grandfather, who goes by the first name Dan, used to be very close.

"But in the last five or six years or so, I feel like we've lost touch," he said. "I've gotten older and gained my own political views, and he's become staunchly right-wing, further down the right-wing rabbit hole as far as doing the election-denying conspiracy stuff and COVID conspiracies and disinformation, fully buying into the Fox News, OAN kind of line. I feel like it's really further radicalized him in a lot of ways."

Ludwig said his grandfather had been immersed in "a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia."

"And then the NRA pushing the 'stand your ground' stuff and that you have to defend your home," he said. "When I heard what happened, I was appalled and shocked that it transpired, but I didn't disbelieve that it was true. The second I heard it, I was like, 'Yeah, I could see him doing that.'"

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


After high-flying start, DeSantis hits stumbling blocks on road to 2024 (Hannah Knowles, Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey and Maeve Reston,  April 19, 2023, Washington Post)

A few months ago, DeSantis was celebrating his landslide reelection to chants of "two more years!" as enthusiastic fans begged him to run for president. But that momentum has rapidly cooled, confronting DeSantis with a considerably more difficult political outlook for the campaign he is expected to launch after the Florida legislative session ends in May.

Donors, activists and other supporters are increasingly voicing worries that DeSantis has made unforced errors or embraced extreme positions that could hurt him in a general election, including the abortion ban he signed last week. He's had to clarify comments on Ukraine that prompted some criticism in the party. He has struck some Republicans as distant in personal interactions. And Trump has relentlessly attacked DeSantis and expanded his lead over the governor in national polls, while accruing a string of influential endorsements in Florida and beyond. [...]

Rep. Greg Steube, another Florida Republican, told Politico he endorsed Trump after DeSantis regularly left him out of events in Florida and didn't call when he was hurt earlier this year, even though Trump called immediately to check on him.

Some Republicans traced DeSantis's struggle to lock down endorsements in part to his insularity and said he should have done more to cultivate relationships. One person in DeSantis's orbit said a dearth of warm interactions -- even with staff and traditional allies -- has hurt him with endorsements, lawmakers and donors. "He doesn't like talking to people, and it's showing," said this person, who is a vocal supporter of DeSantis.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


What If Your Tesla Could Run on Sodium?: Lithium-ion batteries in today's electric vehicles have a credible new competitor (Stephen Wilmot, April 19, 2023, WSJ)

Cheaper but less powerful lithium iron phosphate, or LFP, batteries once weren't considered a mainstream alternative to those that drive most EVs outside China today, which are rich in nickel and cobalt. Then nickel and cobalt prices rocketed, forcing auto makers to find workarounds as they prepared their EV supply chains for growth. In 2021, Tesla said it would adopt LFP for some lower-range models. Ford, Volkswagen and others have since taken the same route.

Could sodium-ion technology follow the pattern? LFP replaced scarce nickel and cobalt with abundant iron, but doubled down on scarce lithium. As nickel and cobalt prices cooled last year, lithium prices stayed high. Sodium ion in turn replaces scarce lithium with abundant sodium. The price of battery-grade lithium carbonate in China has dropped 60% this year, according to data provider Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. Slower EV sales in the country as subsidies expired are the most obvious reason, but behind the scenes the rise of sodium ion might be another.

The new technology is less powerful than the latest lithium batteries. But it matches the older generations of lithium batteries that are in EVs today, so consumers might not care. And it has other advantages--being less fire-prone and more capable in freezing temperatures.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


'Deeply frustrated': Florida legislators worn out by DeSantis (GARY FINEOUT, 04/20/2023, Politico)

Republican lawmakers are stalling a handful of his key remaining legislative priorities with just weeks left in the annual session. And what started out as whispers in private about unhappiness over the governor are starting to become louder even though Republican lawmakers remain unwilling to speak out publicly against DeSantis because of his power and clout. One House Republican recently told a former legislator he was ready to resign out of frustration over how the session was going.

Part of the angst has been sparked by a grinding session where legislators have pushed through bill after bill -- and chewed up hours of contentious debate -- that's considered integral to DeSantis' expected presidential campaign. DeSantis' announcement this week that he wanted legislators to take aim again at Disney has irritated conservative Republicans loathe to target private businesses.

One GOP legislator privately said: "We're not the party of cancel culture. We can't keep doing this tit for tat." The lawmaker was granted anonymity to speak freely about the GOP governor.

"People are deeply frustrated," said former state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who has been talking to his former GOP colleagues frequently this session. "They are not spending any time on the right problems ... Most legislators believe that the balance of power has shifted too far and the Legislature needs to re-establish itself as a coequal branch of government."

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM



To reduce its impact on air quality and the climate, the San Francisco Bay Ferry has committed to replacing the majority of its vessels with non-polluting alternatives by 2035. The Sea Change is the first of these new environmentally-friendly crafts.

In fact, the LA Times says that the ferry is the first hydrogen-powered maritime vessel operating commercially in the U.S. Unlike other types of fuel, hydrogen fuel cells only produce water when they're used -- no carbon dioxide or other heat-trapping gases. The Sea Change can store enough hydrogen to last for two days in fuel cells that work like batteries.

"We know the future is zero emissions with marine transportation," San Francisco Bay Ferry spokesman Thomas Hall told the LA Times. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Fox News still faces $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit from Smartmatic (Amy B Wang, Elahe Izadi and Patrick Marley, April 19, 2023, Washington Post)

Dominion deposed several prominent Fox executives and personalities including Jeanine Pirro, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. In his deposition, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of parent company News Corp, said of election misinformation "I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it, in hindsight."

Some show Fox executives and hosts, including Carlson, voicing strong doubts about claims from Trump's lawyers; some of those same people, though, expressed fear their audience would reject pushback of false claims and scolded Fox journalists who reported information that questioned the claims. Fox claims many exchanges have been taken out of context.

In a nearly 300-page complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court in February 2021, Smartmatic alleges that Fox News knowingly made "over 100 false statements and implications" about the company, amplifying false information from former president Donald Trump and his allies that Smartmatic played a role in his election loss. In February, a New York appeals court ruled that the case be allowed to proceed.

After Fox News's $787.5 million settlement with Dominion was announced Tuesday, Smartmatic attorney J. Erik Connolly released a statement.

"Dominion's litigation exposed some of the misconduct and damage caused by Fox's disinformation campaign. Smartmatic will expose the rest," Connolly said. "Smartmatic remains committed to clearing its name, recouping the significant damage done to the company, and holding Fox accountable for undermining democracy."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


When nationalism was woke: a review of Revolutionary Spring: Fighting for a New World 1848-1849, Christopher Clark  (Victor Sebestyen, April 2023, The Critic)

As Christopher Clark, Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, explains in this epic work on a crucial and often misunderstood period, this was the only truly European revolution there has ever been. Neither the French revolutions of 1789 or 1830, nor the Russian revolutions of 1905 or 1917, nor the fall of the Soviet regimes in 1989-91 sparked similar crises on a transcontinental scale and at such speed. This happened even in an age when the main means of transport in most of Europe was the horse-drawn carriage and information was provided by newspapers before the development of telegraph wires. Ideas can spread fast even without the internet and social media -- a thought that's difficult to comprehend in the age of 24-hour news. 

Clark's Sleepwalkers showed in a compelling narrative how Europe blundered into war in 1914. Here he vividly captures the drama of the revolutionary moment half a century earlier, over the spring and summer of 1848 amongst insurrectionists on the streets, monarchs and officials in the chancelleries, and cloth weavers in provincial towns. 

It is a complex story, brought alive with a cast of extraordinary characters from "the Dolce and Gabbana extravagance of Giuseppe Garibaldi", to the novelist George Sand (who composed revolutionary bulletins for the short-lived provisional government in Paris), to Alexis de Tocqueville and the Hungarian revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth. 

Later he describes with equal brio the fightback that autumn as counter-revolutions unfolded in Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Berlin and elsewhere. People longed for "order" to be restored. Rebellions were snuffed out, parliaments were shut down, insurgents were arrested, troops returned en masse to city streets, radicals were removed from positions of influence and monarchs restored to their thrones. 

Napoleon III, who mounted a coup in France in 1849 to save the Republic but subsequently declared himself Emperor, said afterwards that order was restored "and this is the end of politics" -- much as some declared that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was the "end of history". Politics and history appear to have survived.

Clark fills in some gaps that might shake British complacency

One significant country avoided revolution in 1848. Here we boast how the stability of Britain's parliamentary institutions and ability to adapt to peaceful change saved us from the European tumult. [...]

Clark argues persuasively that in many countries the revolutions were not a failure. Not all parliaments were closed down after the "restoration"; constitutional monarchies were established in places such as Denmark. Real republican democracies were instituted, as in Switzerland. Twenty years after the Hungarian revolution was crushed, a compromise was reached that gave Hungary an autonomous role in an invigorated Habsburg Empire. 

April 19, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


DeSantis went to Washington, and it did not go well (SALLY GOLDENBERG, 04/19/2023, Politico)

"[DeSantis] is in a much weaker position now than he was a few months ago. Trump is in a much stronger position," said Sarah Longwell, a moderate Republican strategist. DeSantis, she said, has "had a tough few weeks." [...]

Three Florida Republicans joined four of their colleagues in endorsing Trump this week: Rep. Greg Steube announced his backing of the former president Monday night on Newsmax, Rep. John Rutherford tweeted his support Tuesday afternoon and Rep. Brian Mast told CNN he would be with Trump. He later confirmed his support to POLITICO, adding he might chair a committee of veterans backing the ex-president.

In yet another slight, Republican Texas Rep. Lance Gooden issued a statement Tuesday noting he had a "positive meeting" with DeSantis but is still backing Trump.

At the same time, a PAC backing Trump took to the airwaves with an ad claiming DeSantis will cut Social Security and Medicaid -- while mocking him for reportedly once eating chocolate pudding with his fingers. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Bidens made $579K last year, and paid a 23.8 percent tax rate, their returns show (CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO and JENNIFER HABERKORN, 04/18/2023, Politico)

The numbers closely mirrored those from last year, when the Bidens reported paying $150,439 in federal income taxes on $610,702 for an effective tax rate of 24.6 percent.

White House officials again released copies of the first family's tax returns on Tax Day as a demonstration of transparency. Former President Donald Trump had refused to do so while in office and during the 2016 presidential campaign, claiming repeatedly that he was under government audit. With the release of their 2022 taxes, Biden has shared 25 years worth of tax returns that include his years as vice president and an earlier presidential run, according to the White House.

Much of the couple's income was via the president's $400,000 salary. Jill Biden was paid $82,335 for her teaching position at Northern Virginia Community College.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is racism the new socialism? (Malcom Kyeyune, April 19, 2023, UnHerd)

The intellectual tendencies that make up the vitalist movement are broad --in some cases openly nonsensical -- and it is probably fair to say that they have very little broad electoral appeal. What they do say runs the gamut from various oddball interpretations of Nietzschean philosophy and a veneration of scantily clad male underwear models to talking about black criminality and how we live in a "longhouse gynocracy". In general, this is mostly a subculture concerned with edginess and self-referential jargon. Some people are only there to shitpost; others hope to market their own personal "brand" to make money from the sale of protein powders or podcast subscriptions. And finally, a few truly foolish souls clearly hope to use their online notoriety as a springboard into legitimate politics.

One of the leading voices within this subculture -- a person going by the nom de plume of Bronze Age Pervert -- recently had details about his real identity posted online by a rival within these online spaces. BAP, it turned out, was actually a Yale academic from a fairly well-to-do background, with many connections inside what Donald Trump would probably deride as "the swamp". Unfortunately for his online stans, however, he was also Jewish.

Normally, a person being Jewish is hardly cause for scandal or even concern, and certainly not an online civil war. In an online environment where people openly praise Hitler, however, that sort of factual reveal is pretty awkward. Indeed, BAP himself clearly had a habit of playing with fire here, posting tweets such as "I'm an Aryan supremacist and believe in the extermination of hundreds of millions", all to loud cheering from his many fans.

To the shock of absolutely nobody, however, it turns out that the Nazi Germany fandom still has something of an antisemitism problem, even in 2023. The result is many of his former fans feeling legitimately betrayed, while other, more loyal fans have been fighting a bitter battle to try to explain why the online racist movement can't afford to judge people merely based on their ethnic background, because groups of people are really just made up of individuals that can be good or bad. Imagine that.

Now, this all might reasonably lead someone to ask how this could all happen. What sort of appeal would an online space obsessed with "naming the Jew" -- a forum that is often genuinely distrustful of and disgusted by Jewish people -- have for a Yale-educated Jewish man from a well-to-do and academically successful family? But there is very little that is new in the contradictions surfacing on the online Right, because all of them have happened before -- on the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Don't Think You'll Escape DeSantis' Immigration Dragnet Just Because You Are an AmericanHis sweeping bill will go after Florida churches, employers and hospitals (SHIKHA DALMIA, APR 18, 2023, The UnPopulist)

All of this is a naked attempt to court the MAGA base. But DeSantis is not content to simply slam the undocumented population--inside and outside--the state to do so. His bill also would also go after everyone--legal residents, citizens--who help the undocumented. For truth in advertising, Bulwark's Tim Miller brilliantly suggests, the bill should be renamed the "Miep Gies Criminalization Act of 2023" after the woman who hid Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis for two years.

After all, it contains some of the toughest anti-harboring provisions in the country. It would make it a third-degree felony, punishable by five years in prison, to transport into or within Florida an individual who the person "knows, or reasonably should know" is undocumented. This goes much further than the federal law that bans such activity "if it is in furtherance of violation of immigration law." But the Florida bill, according to the National Immigration Forum, would make it illegal to provide transportation and temporary housing services to undocumented immigrants in the state for any reason at all. Churches and faith groups whose very mission requires providing transportation to parishioners without regard to their status will now be exposing themselves to legal jeopardy if they give undocumented folks so much as a ride to services or go to the doctor or supermarket. In a word, the bill criminalizes charity. But if that is not draconian enough, consider what'll happen to mixed-status families which contains some legal and some undocumented members, hardly an uncommon thing among Hispanic communities. It'll become difficult for all of them to even drive together in the same vehicle without the legal ones courting jail (and the undocumented ones of course deportation).

In addition, the bill will stiffen the penalties on employers that hire undocumented people, even imposing the so-called business death penalty by revoking their business licenses. Shutting down American businesses is a curious way to protect American jobs but, truth be told, many other states have tried this idiocy before Florida. Arizona, until recently Ground Zero for draconian immigration enforcement, has already been there and done that with its 2010 Legal Arizona Workers Act. Its effect on the economy was so devastating that the state was forced to stop enforcing the law.

April 18, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Can Israel Be a Democracy for All?It is a mistake to ignore the connection between the attempted judicial coup in Israel and the occupation of the West Bank. (Dov Waxman, March 28, 2023, Dissent)

Although the participation of Palestinian-Arab citizens has been slowly growing, the dominant discourse of the protest movement does not resonate with them. They have long believed that, as the veteran Palestinian-Israeli politician Ahmed Tibi famously put it, "Israel is a democracy for Jews and a Jewish state for Arabs." Israel's Palestinian-Arab minority--which lived under military rule for the first two decades of Israel's existence (from 1949 to 1966), faces persistent discrimination, and is largely excluded from political decision-making--has long regarded Israeli democracy as exclusionary and deeply flawed. Unlike Israeli Jews, they have long insisted that for Israel to be a genuine democracy, it must cease to be a Jewish state--certainly not what the current protest movement is demanding.

Nor is protecting the power and independence of Israel's Supreme Court a cause that inspires and energizes Palestinian citizens of Israel, despite the fact that their rights would be most at risk if the Court is enfeebled; the government could, for instance, disqualify Arab political parties from running for parliament. In a 2022 survey, just 40 percent of Arab citizens expressed trust in the Supreme Court, down from 78 percent in 2012. This decline is understandable given the court's refusal to strike down many illiberal laws that have targeted Arab citizens: notably, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, the 2011 Nakba Law, the 2014 Admissions Committees Law, the 2016 Expulsion of MKs Law, and the 2018 Nation-State Basic Law, which effectively enshrined Arabs as second-class citizens.

For the protest movement to include more Arab citizens of Israel, it would need to address their concerns as well as those of Israeli Jews. Instead of idealizing Israeli democracy and mythologizing the Supreme Court as a bastion of liberalism, the movement could acknowledge the flaws in Israeli democracy and the imperative to improve it so that it genuinely works for all citizens of Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Such a discursive shift could alienate some Israeli Jews, but it could also herald the emergence of an egalitarian pro-democracy movement that reshapes Israeli politics by creating the basis for sustained Jewish-Arab political cooperation. The unprecedented participation of an Arab party (the United Arab List [Ra'am], led by Mansour Abbas) in the previous coalition government suggests that such a possibility exists.

There is, however, another issue that not only discourages Palestinian citizens of Israel from joining the protest movement but also calls into question the movement's professed commitment to democratic principles and values: Israel's military rule over approximately 3 million stateless, disenfranchised Palestinians in the West Bank. (Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem have at least the theoretical ability to receive Israeli citizenship and voting rights.) The occupation is now in its fifty-sixth year, with no end in sight. This repressive regime, which international and Israeli human rights groups now characterize as apartheid, has undoubtedly corroded democracy in Israel.

As long as a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seemed possible, the tension, or contradiction, between Israel's democratic identity and its occupation of the West Bank seemed temporary. But now that a two-state solution increasingly appears impossible, and successive Israeli governments have only entrenched the occupation and advanced the de facto annexation of most of the West Bank, it is more clear than ever that Israel cannot continue to rule the West Bank undemocratically and call itself a democracy. It must either fully enfranchise its Palestinian subjects or withdraw and accept Palestinian statehood. Needless to say, the Israeli government staunchly opposes both of these options, as do most Israeli Jews. In fact, the coalition agreements that Netanyahu signed in December with the far-right Religious Zionism and Jewish Power parties officially announce their intent to annex the West Bank. Moreover, the government's recent decision to give Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of Religious Zionism, significant powers in governing large parts of the West Bank (the Civil Administration, Israel's governing body in the West Bank, is now mostly under his authority) already amounts to de jure annexation, since Smotrich is a civilian politician, not an Israeli military official.

April 17, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


FBI investigating GOP Oklahoma officials caught on tape talking about lynching Black people, murdering newspaper reporters (RICHARD EBERWEIN, 4/17/23, heartland Signal)

GOP officials from McCurtain County, Okla. are being investigated by the FBI after they were caught on tape expressing their frustration about it not being socially acceptable beat up and hang Black people, as well as their desires to hire hitmen to kill newspaper reporters.

In case you wondered when they think America was last great.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The West Is Preparing for Russia's Disintegration (Anchal Vohra, Apr. 17th, 2023, Foreign Policy)

Russia's poor performance on the Ukrainian battlefield, and the growing belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin's nuclear threat shouldn't be taken at face value, has emboldened Western analysts and Russian dissidents to publicly call for "decolonization" of Russia itself. They are referring here to the vast Russian Federation, the successor of the Soviet Union that consists of 83 federal entities, including 21 non-Slavic republics. 

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an independent U.S. government agency with members from the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, and departments of defense, state, and commerce, has declared that decolonizing Russia should be a "moral and strategic objective." The Free Nations of Post-Russia Forum, comprising exiled politicians and journalists from Russia, held a meeting at the European Parliament in Brussels earlier this year and is advertising three events in different American cities this month. It has even released a map of a dismembered Russia, split into 41 different countries, in a post-Putin world, assuming he loses in Ukraine and is ousted. 

Western analysts are increasingly pushing the theory that Russian disintegration is coming and that the West must not only prepare to manage any possible spillover of any ensuing civil wars but also to benefit from the fracture by luring resource-rich successor nations into its ambit. They argue that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 the West was blindsided and failed to fully capitalize on the momentous opportunity. It must now strategize to end the Russian threat once and for all, instead of providing an off-ramp to Putin. 

Negotiations to let Vlad flee Ukraine should begin with self-determination for all the republics.

April 16, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Social-Media Account Overseen by Former Navy Noncommissioned Officer Helped Spread Secrets: An American administrator of the Donbas Girl blogger network uses a pro-Russian persona across online platforms (Yaroslav Trofimov and Bob Mackin,  April 16, 2023, WSJ)

A social-media account overseen by a former U.S. Navy noncommissioned officer--a prominent online voice supporting Russia's war on Ukraine--played a key role in the spread of intelligence documents allegedly leaked by Airman First Class Jack Teixeira, reposting files from obscure online chat rooms.

A purported Russian blogger known as Donbass Devushka, which translates as Donbas Girl, is the face of a network of pro-Kremlin social-media, podcasting, merchandise and fundraising accounts. But the person who hosted podcasts as Donbass Devushka and oversees these accounts is a Washington-state-based former U.S. enlisted aviation electronics technician whose real name is Sarah Bils. 

Russia first intervened in the Donbas part of eastern Ukraine in 2014, and most of the recent fighting has focused on that area.

Ms. Bils, 37 years old, served at the U.S. naval air station on Whidbey Island until late last year, even as the accounts she had established and supervised glorified the Russian military and the paramilitary Wagner Group. They are among the most widely followed English-language social-media outlets promoting Russia's views.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM



The researchers found that their agents could "produce believable individual and emergent social behaviors." For instance, one agent attempted to throw a Valentine's Day party by sending out invites and setting a time and place for the party.

A Smallville mayoral race also included the kind of drama you'd expect to occur in a small town.

"To be honest, I don't like Sam Moore," an agent called Tom said after being asked what he thought of the mayoral candidate. "I think he's out of touch with the community and doesn't have our best interests at heart."

It got even more human than that. Some agents even tried to go to businesses that were closed after certain hours.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Teachers nationwide are flummoxed by students' newfound chess obsession: The fad, fueled by social media stars, has left teachers divided between displeasure and delight (Hannah Natanson, April 15, 2023, Washington Post)

Jeffrey Otterby, a middle school teacher in Illinois, is facing an epidemic of student distraction. When his seventh-graders are supposed to be learning social studies, they are glued to their school-issued Chromebooks. He has taken to standing in the back of the room to monitor their screens, where he can see the online game they're all playing:


"I guess I'm happier they are playing chess rather than some shoot-'em-up game. Actually, I love it," said Otterby, a chess enthusiast. "I just need them to do it at a better time."

Otterby's crop of middle-schoolers in the St. Charles Community district are not alone. Across the country, students from second grade to senior year have stumbled across a new obsession, which is, in fact, a centuries-old game. Interviews with teachers and students in eight states paint a picture of captivated students squeezing games in wherever and whenever they can: at lunch, at recess and illicitly during lessons, a phenomenon that is at once bemusing, frustrating and delighting teachers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why We Need BeautyA Philosophy of Beauty: Shaftesbury on Nature, Virtue, and Art By Michael B. Gill (Reviewed by Lee Trepanier, Apr 16, 2023, University Bookman)

Shaftesbury's view of nature as sublime, beautiful, and precious still resonates with us today. This view was contrary to the predominant perspective of his time, found in such writings as those of Thomas Burnet and John Locke, in which nature was a threat to human survival. Shaftesbury instead argued that nature is beautiful, but he does it in an indirect and meandering way, or, as Gill explains, "his view emerged as a solution to a problem he took to be of the deepest philosophical and personal importance: the problem of how worship of God can be both transportingly emotional and entirely rational."

Shaftesbury's solution to this problem is beauty. To accomplish this, Shaftesbury argues that we need to cultivate an attitude towards nature that is appreciative of its beauty rather than frightened of its power. According to Shaftesbury, beauty is a "Unity of Design"--or, as Gill states, "A beautiful thing is beautiful because all of its parts 'concur in one.'" Shaftesbury believes we are naturally designed to have a positive response to beauty which is both emotional and rational. Appreciation of architecture is an example: a person sees how the building is proportionally designed and delights in knowing these facts. Nature, likewise, invokes such a response when the person's knowledge of nature leads to a greater and deeper appreciation of the beauty of God's creation. Thus our worship of God is at the same time both rational and emotional.

If we come to love God because we appreciate the beauty of nature, then likewise we come to love humanity because we appreciate the moral beauty of virtue. For Shaftesbury, internal harmony, or integrity, is a key attribute of moral beauty, i.e., when one acts according to one's own principles and "all of one's psychological aspects cohering with each other." But internal harmony is not enough. A person must be in harmony with the rest of humanity so that morally beautiful people harmonize with each other. For Shaftesbury, no person is an island entirely of oneself. 

Our appreciation of moral beauty is not merely aesthetic but also moral. Shaftesbury argues for this equivalence--moral beauty and moral goodness--on two grounds. First, "the happiness of a life of moral beauty is based on moral beauty's being constant and in our control." Second, "the happiness of a moral beauty is based on moral beauty's naturalness." As long as moral beauty is constant, by our choice, and rooted in our nature, then it is moral. What we should avoid are the dangers of egoism and partiality because egoism destroys internal harmony while partiality ruins one's relationship with humanity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Whose Constitution, Whose Democracy?Many opponents of Netanyahu's judicial overhaul have called for Israel to finally draft a constitution, but any serious attempt will mean choosing between a democratic state and one that privileges Jewish citizens above all others. (Joshua Leifer, April 13, 2023, NY Review of Books)

From the beginning this movement was patriotic--self-consciously so. Draped in Israeli flags, adorned with army paraphernalia, the demonstrators chanted, "Democracy." Some even called for "equality." What did they mean?

It has been far from clear. Part of what has fueled the largely secular reservists' protest is anger toward the Orthodox, who they believe shirk their national responsibilities, and the fear that the religious parties, empowered in the current coalition, seek to turn Israel into a halachic state, or Jewish theocracy. It was the scale of the reservists' protest this spring, which broke a central cultural taboo in mainstream Israeli society, that prompted Gallant to speak out. He was concerned both that Israel risked compromising its military preparedness and that army service would no longer seem sacrosanct, beyond partisan political divisions. Now, by demonstrating against what they see as the prospect of a right-wing religious dictatorship, these reservists have shown that they exert the ultimate leverage. But until last January they showed no qualms about serving within the apparatus of Israel's apartheid regime in the West Bank. Presumably, if the judicial overhaul is scrapped, they will return to doing so.

Indeed, the protest movement's concept of democracy has often been rather meager. At the Saturday night rallies, powerful former generals and politicians warned the crowds that the dismantling of the judiciary could expose Israeli soldiers to prosecution at the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses by making Israel appear unable to adjudicate such cases satisfactorily. For the most part, Palestinian citizens of Israel have abstained from joining the movement, which has overlooked them almost entirely. The protesters, it can seem, want to protect civil liberties for Jews--freedom of expression, LGBT rights, and gender equality--while preserving the existing infrastructure of Jewish supremacy and maintaining Israel's occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza. They appear oblivious to the fact that a state that legally privileges one ethno-religious group over all others can never be a genuine democracy.

Within the movement, a new demand has emerged since Netanyahu put the legislation on pause: not just to stop the judicial overhaul but to write a formal constitution. Although Israel has a series of what are called Basic Laws that serve a pseudoconstitutional function, it has never had a comprehensive written constitution. Yet the movement's nationalism and its blindness to the occupation--the features that have allowed it to grow large enough to obstruct Netanyahu--all but guarantee that a new constitution will prove impossible to ratify. For no attempt will be able to resolve the fundamental conflict that has bedeviled Israel since its establishment in 1948, a central reason it lacks a constitution in the first place: the irreconcilable contradiction between the country's Jewish-supremacist character and its liberal-democratic aspirations.

Under the terms of the 1947 United Nations resolution that partitioned British Mandatory Palestine and authorized Israel's creation, the new Jewish state was supposed to write such a founding document. Israel's first leaders failed to do so, but not because they didn't try. The drafting fell to the Frankfurt-born, Heidelberg-educated jurist Leo Kohn, then an adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kohn had gained scholarly renown for his work on the 1922 constitution of the Irish Free State, another former British colony. He was also a religious Zionist--an Orthodox Jew and a nationalist. This was another reason for assigning him the task: he was meant to bridge the gap between the demands of the secular Zionist parties and their Orthodox counterparts. That gap had nearly undermined the drafting of Israel's Declaration of Independence, which was signed only at the last minute, before the British Mandate expired in May 1948.

Between 1947 and 1948 Kohn wrote three draft constitutions intended for the nascent state's provisional government. Already in those early years, the tensions that would make ratification impossible were evident. "WE, THE JEWISH PEOPLE," began one of the draft preambles. The document pledged to "rebuild our Commonwealth in accordance with the ideals of Peace and Justice of the Prophets of Israel." But its only recognition that the state would include a significant population of non-Jewish Arabs is in a slight nod to "the rights of the stranger within our gates."

Kohn understood that there was no possibility that the Palestinians, against whom Zionist forces were fighting a war of expulsion, would agree to any constitution and therefore felt it unnecessary to accommodate them. His preamble also reflected the prevailing Zionist sense that non-Jews could never be part of "the people" to whom the state belonged. The problem, then, was how to draft a constitution that reflected this exclusionary conception of national belonging but also, in a decolonizing world, appeared to make the country a procedural democracy.

Israel can have a Constitution and remain Western. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


He applied to be an assassin at RentAHitman.com, then got arrested, FBI says (Jonathan Edwards, April 14, 2023, Washington Post)

An expectant father needed to make money and prosecutors say he thought he had the skills to land a high-paying job. Military experience. Precision. Excitement.

While surfing the internet, the 21-year-old stumbled across a website advertising that kind of opportunity -- so, Josiah Garcia fired off an application, according to recently filed court documents.

The website, according to the FBI: RentAHitman.com.

But RentAHitman is a fake website whose owner relays tips about possible murders-for-hire to law enforcement. On Thursday, a day after FBI agents arrested him, Garcia was charged in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee with using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder-for-hire. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors wrote Friday in a statement.

April 15, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Donald Trump Sinks to a New Low by Dog-Whistling an Old Racist Tune: Insinuating that special prosecutor Jack Smith changed his name might seem like an odd tactic for someone whose family name was Drumpf--unless you know the history. (David Margolick, 4/14/23, The Nation)

Henry Ford, an inveterate anti-Semite from whom Hitler learned much, expounded on these Jewish manipulations a hundred years ago in his Dearborn Independent. "To mollify a suspicion held against them wherever they have lived (a suspicion so general and so persistent as to be explainable only on the assumption that it was abundantly justified) the Jews have been quick to adopt the names and colors of whatever country they may be living in," he explained.

The Jewish "passion for misleading people by names," Ford wrote, had just given "immense camouflage" to those Jews who'd been behind the recent Russian Revolution and, closer to home, misled patrons of the country's leading department stores. "There is an immense difference in the state of mind in which a customer enters the store of Isadore Levy and the state of mind in which he enters the store of Alex May," Ford explained.

But it wasn't only merchants. Take the head of the American Jewish Committee, Louis Marshall. "What could his old family name have been before it was changed for the name of the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States?" Ford asked. (In Ford's eyes, Marshall was guilty not only of deception but also of effrontery.) And actors, too: Charlie Chaplin, Ford speculated, had probably been "Caplan" or "Kaplan." (It hadn't mattered to Ford, either, that Chaplin was not actually a Jew.)
When anglicizing our names threatened Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell's mission to slash Jewish enrollment in the 1920s, Harvard decreed that all applicants must disclose whether their parents had changed their names. Twenty-five years later, during the Red Scare following World War II, the issue flared up again. Seeking to discredit a letter denouncing the House Un-American Activities Committee, Representative John Rankin of Mississippi rattled off the foreign-sounding, Jewish-sounding, birth names of some of the signatories, as if each were a smoking gun.

"Danny Kaye," he said as he went down the list. "We found out that his real name was David Daniel Kaminsky. Another one is Eddie Cantor, whose real name is Edward Iskowitz. There is someone who calls himself Edward Robinson. His real name is Emanuel Goldenberg. There is another one here who calls himself Melvyn Douglas, whose real name is Melvyn Hesselberg." Neal Gabler's biography of Walter Winchell describes the same Rankin calling Winchell "Lipschultz" and declaring, "I am a little skittish about a man who has his nose manicured, his face lifted, his name changed."

Such outing has largely vanished from American life. In her book A Rosenberg by Any Other Name, Kirsten Fermaglich, a historian at Michigan State University, notes that some American Jews have even reclaimed their original family names. But Trump never got the message. Only a few weeks after Smith's appointment, he started with the innuendos. Apart from calling him a "thug," he put Smith's name in scare quotes, then appended a question mark to it. The night before his indictment, he was back at it, referring to "Jack Smith (What did his name used to be?)."

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


How Trump's Lawsuit Against Michael Cohen Could Backfire (DENNIS AFTERGUT, APRIL 15, 2023, Slate)

Vengeance is in Trump's blood, whether it was learned from his father, Fred--described by his niece, Mary Trump, as an emotionally abusive sociopath--or from his master-bully mentor, the disbarred lawyer Roy Cohn.

In this case, Michael Cohen voluntarily cooperated with Manhattan prosecutors investigating Trump's actions. After multiple interviews with the district attorney's office, Cohen testified before the Manhattan grand jury that indicted Trump on 34 counts of false business entries on March 30. The charges against the former president relate to his alleged cover-up of a $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election.

There are two tip-offs that Trump's lawsuit against Cohen was brought in retribution for testifying against his former boss.

First, Trump only sued Cohen after being indicted. Trump could have brought his legal action at any time over the three years since Cohen publicly testified against Trump to Congress in 2019.

Second, Trump's lawyers tripped all over themselves trying to explain why they brought their complaint now. Cohen's conduct, they said, had "reached a proverbial crescendo and has left [Trump] with no alternative but to seek legal redress."

It's the crescendo, stupid!

Our eyes are not lying when we look at Trump and see a vindictive personality demonstrating an obvious, retaliatory motive. The problem for Trump is that his quest for payback often lands him back in the crosshairs of his targets. His suit against Cohen is likely to do just that.

Trump just opened a pathway to discovery--and information for the public--that Cohen had sought in a different lawsuit which a judge reluctantly felt compelled to dismiss last November because of Supreme Court law limiting personal actions against government officials.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Ron DeSantis May Be Getting the Earliest "Campaign Reboot" Coverage in History (BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, APRIL 14, 2023, Slate)

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal published a piece about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's presidential campaign called "Ron DeSantis, Down in Polls and Taking Flak From Donald Trump, Looks to Rebound." The piece says DeSantis is "sharpening" his "message" in order to reassure important party figures that he's still a viable candidate. He's preparing a new ad campaign, making more critical comments about Trump, and hoping to "introduce himself more on a personal level" as a family man who had a "modest upbringing."

None of the elements of this story are unusual; the dispatch about a candidate who is attempting to "reboot" a presidential bid that is "stalling," "flagging," or "stumbling" is a staple of trail reporting. What is unusual about this story is its timing: It's being published in April 2023, and it concerns the 2024 Republican primary, a race that DeSantis has not even officially joined. The campaign that is said to be attempting a "rebound" does not yet exist, although the Journal's sources say he plans to formally enter the race "some time after the state legislative session ends in May."

...you can't out-hate Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


James Webb Space Telescope keeps findings galaxies that shouldn't exist, scientist warns (Andrew Griffin, 4/15/23, The Independent)

"If the masses are right, then we are in uncharted territory," said Mike Boylan-Kolchin, from the University.of Texas at Austin, and the author of a new paper examining the unsual galaxies. "We'll require something very new about galaxy formation or a modification to cosmology. One of the most extreme possibilities is that the universe was expanding faster shortly after the Big Bang than we predict, which might require new forces and particles."

Professor Boylan-Kolchin's paper, 'Stress testing ΛCDM with high-redshift galaxy candidates', has been published in Nature Astronomy this week.

It suggests that the information from the JWST proposes a profound dilemma for scientists. The data indicates that there mighttbe somehitn wrong with the dark energy and cold dark matter paradigm, or ΛCDM, that has been guiding cosmology for decades.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


A robot answers questions about health. Its creators just won a $2.25 million prize (Ari Daniel, 4/14/23, NPR)

Can a robot provide helpful answers to your health concerns? Like, ​​"I'm 39 weeks pregnant and I have a slightly pink discharge." Or "what should I pack in my hospital bag?"

That's the goal of Reach Digital Health, an organization that uses mobile technologies -- SMS and WhatsApp messaging -- to provide helpful health-care information and guidance to people across sub-Saharan Africa who can't easily reach a health-care provider. As a testament to their success, the 15-year-old group just received one of this year's five Skoll Awards for Social Innovation of $2.25 million, presented this week in Oxford, England.

The Skoll Foundation, which invests in and honors social change, selects a group of social innovators each year "whose work targets the root causes of societal problems that are ripe for transformational social change." Other awardees this year included groups tackling the climate crisis, strengthening democracy and promoting economic growth for all.

"Reach Digital Health is working toward a world where marginalized people are safe from disproportionate impacts of disease outbreaks [and] disparities in health outcomes among the most marginalized are eliminated," is the Foundation's rationale for giving the group the award.

April 14, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Meet the Viral Sheriff Who Took on Florida Nazis (Mack Lamoureux, April 14, 2023, Vice News)

When an anti-semitic hate group started harassing Jewish people on camera in Volusia County, Florida, Sheriff Mike Chitwood wasn't having it.

He held a press conference where he outed members of a local hate group and street performer collective the GDL, by publicly showing their faces and outlining their prior convictions. 

"When you're trying to crush a radical group of cowardly scumbags, unity and sunshine destroy it," said Chitwood at the start of the press conference. "The sunshine part we're going to play on the screen so everyone can see how despicable, cowardly, and reprehensible this group is."  

Chitwood brought up the mugshots of the GDL members and then walked those in attendance through the members' prior convictions. These included propositioning a 14-year-old for sex, aggravated assault, murder, terroristic threats and more. He then invited members of the Jewish community up onto the stage to talk. 

Clips of Chitwood's impassioned and insulting words for the neo-Nazis went viral--just this week a New Zealand paper declared the Florida sheriff a "cult icon."  Unsurprisingly the neo-Nazis also caught wind of Chitwood and he's been inundated with death threats (which has led to two arrests), piles of hate mail, and his parents have been doxxed. 

The 59-year-old isn't exactly what would come to a person's mind when thinking about a Florida cop. For starters, he's from Philadelphia, where he spent 18 years on the force, partially in the homicide department. On top of that, despite presiding over a rather conservative area in northern Florida, he's openly supportive of immigrants--something that doesn't appear to have hurt his popularity. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Emmett Till's Murder: The Importance of Seeing and Remembering: A museum exhibition dedicated to Till and his mother collides with the Mississippi governor's proclamation of Confederate Heritage Month. (MARGARET MCMULLAN  APRIL 14, 2023, The Bulwark)

He stuttered because he had polio as a child. To help his speech, he imitated his favorite TV comedians and memorized the Gettysburg Address. He whistled, too.

To prepare Emmett for the racism he would inevitably experience in midcentury Mississippi, his mother gave him instructions: Don't look white people in the eye. Move off the sidewalk when you see one coming.

"Oh, Mama. It can't be that bad," 14-year-old Emmett said.

"Emmett, it's worse than that."

Coming from a concerned mother, these words resonate perhaps even more now, in this era of widely documented and sometimes instantly broadcast police brutality and racial violence. But African-American parents have always felt the need to give their children the talk.

"How do you give a crash course in hatred to a boy who has only known love?" Mamie Till-Mobley later wrote.

In Chicago, before he boarded the train headed south to visit his cousins for the summer, Emmett asked his mother to have his bike fixed while he was away. He promised to pay her back. He gave her his watch to wear while he was gone.

He never did return home alive.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


This Agency's Declassification Work Could Be a Model for Others: A new paper, based on consultations with government officials and others, looks at what the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has done in recent years. (Courtney Bublé, APRIL 13, 2023, Defense One)

About seven years ago the agency, which is a member of the Defense Department and intelligence community, realized that overclassification was getting in the way of executing its mission. Post-Cold War, the agency was established as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency in October 1996 and then after a reorganization and name change from Congress, it became the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in 2003 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

"The agency was taking way too long to get its images and information to soldiers on the battlefield and when they finally did get this material to them, it was either too late to be useful, or it was classified at too high a level for our soldiers to share it with their foreign compatriots who they needed to plan attacks with on the frontlines," said the paper.

In other cases, overclassification was getting in the way of working with allied governments and private companies, the working group found. Therefore, the agency took on a review to see what was getting in the way of serving its customers. 

Officials found during the review that the agency was using 65 different classification security guidebooks: many came over from the legacy agencies when it was created, most "were created to keep information from being released," and in others the instructions were re "conflicting, vague, or subjective," said the report. "[The geospatial agency's] top brass immediately recognized that the classification guides, ostensibly created to protect our national security, were instead impairing it by making it nearly impossible for any [agency] official to properly classify or declassify any information or imagery." 

Within five months, the agency consolidated the guides into a single one to rid any "contradictory, subjective, and vague rules" as well as institute "clear requirements to review any classification appeal within 30 days and to modify the [agency's] security classification guidebook five or more times a year based on the outcome of these appeals." 

The bigger problem is that classification prevents perceived intelligence from being subjected to market forces.
Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Freedom is under assault in Ron DeSantis's Florida (The Editorial Board, April 13, 2023, Washington Post)

The ongoing 60-day state legislative session in Tallahassee, which Mr. DeSantis is treating as a springboard to announce a presidential bid, shows the hollowness of his rhetoric.

Backed by GOP supermajorities in both chambers, Mr. DeSantis is waging frontal assaults on press freedom, reproductive freedom, free enterprise and academic freedom. Meanwhile, in the name of protecting gun rights, he has scaled back prudent safety rules. And now he's poised to target undocumented immigrants, including "dreamers," with what will be some of the cruelest policies in America.

All of this should give pause to those looking to Mr. DeSantis as an alternative to the toxicity of Trumpism. 

He is Trumpist. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Trump's Real Crime Is Opposing Empire (Christian Parenti, April 7, 2023, Compact)

To the frustration of those who benefit from it, Trump worked to unwind the American empire. Indeed, he has done more to restrain the US imperium than any politician in 75 years.

Within a few months of his arrival in the Oval Office, it became clear that Trump's seemingly preposterous rhetoric about ending America's "forever wars" wasn't a joke. Yes, he ordered a few missile and drone strikes here and there, but unlike all of his recent predecessors, he didn't start any new wars. Indeed, he wound down numerous small wars and negotiated a peace settlement in Afghanistan, even if the dirty work of the final withdrawal fell to President Biden.

By early summer 2017, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had become so worried that they held a meeting with Trump at the Pentagon at which they attempted to explain how America's informal empire functions. Trump didn't dig the presentation. Calling his generals "dopes and babies" and "losers," he demanded to know why the United States wasn't receiving free oil from the Middle East. "We spent $7 trillion; they're ripping us off.... Where is the fucking oil?" After the meeting, Trump continued to take an executive-branch-sized hammer to the elaborate political, diplomatic, economic, and military architecture of US global hegemony.

Trump's assault on the foreign-policy status quo is all the more remarkable for the near total lack of literature discussing it. Here is a very brief sketch of what he did: Trump ordered the withdrawal of one-third of all US military personnel from Germany, which is a central fulcrum for the entire American imperial project. The 40 German military installations housing US troops support American military operations in 104 countries and contain an estimated 150 nuclear weapons; among other projects, the military's Africa Command is headquartered in Germany. Trump also ordered the Pentagon to explore withdrawing troops from South Korea, which plays a similar role to that of Germany as a central, high-tech node of US power projection throughout the entire East-Asian region.

Trump likewise drew down the US military role in Syria, even as the foreign-policy establishment urged him to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. He withdrew troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, refused to escalate in Libya, and withdrew almost all US special forces from Somalia. In the rest of Africa, he mused about closing all US embassies--important nodes of Central Intelligence Agency operations.

On the economic and diplomatic front, Trump pursued similar anti-imperial policies. He repeatedly talked about withdrawing from NATO entirely. He insulted European leaders to their faces while he became buddies with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He pulled the plug on the Trans Pacific Partnership, which was to have been the mother of all free-trade agreements and the centerpiece of the "pivot to Asia" sought by Barack Obama. He renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement after having first attempted to scrap the whole thing unilaterally.


Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


How did solar power get cheap? Part I (BRIAN POTTER, APR 12, 2023, Construction Physics)

Solar photovoltaics (PV) have become one of the cheapest sources of electricity. Lazard's estimate of unsubsidized levelized cost of energy (LCOE), the average cost of electricity generated over a plant's lifetime, has utility scale solar PV cheaper than anything except completely depreciated natural gas plants and wind in the very windiest locations. Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) likewise shows that new solar PV plants in the US generate electricity cheaper than anything else except wind power in the best locations.

Solar PV's low cost is the result of it steadily falling in price over many decades. In 1957 solar PV electricity cost roughly $300,000 per megawatt-hour in 2019 dollars. By 2019, in the sunniest locations that had fallen to roughly $20 per megawatt-hour, 15,000 times less. And it's still getting cheaper. In 2021, the DOE set a goal to reduce the cost of solar PV by another 50% by 2030. 

Because of its low cost, while solar PV is still a small fraction of overall electricity generation (around 6% in the US), it's an increasingly large fraction of new electricity generation capacity. Of the 151 gigawatts of planned electricity generating plants tracked by the EIA, 49% of them are solar PV projects.

Similar trends are happening worldwide. Globally, installed solar PV capacity is increasing by roughly 20% to 30% per year. Worldwide solar PV generation went from 34 terawatt-hours in 2010 (around 0.2% of total electricity use) to over 1000 terawatt-hours in 2021, close to 5% of world capacity.

Starting to think the Right may lose its war against the Sun. 

April 13, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Europe needs energy. Moroccan solar may be a clean solution. (Michael Birnbaum, April 13, 2023, Washington Post)

The abundant sun of northern Africa may soon power Europe's homes and businesses, as European leaders consider connecting massive North African solar projects to undersea power cables to free their continent from Russian energy.

The projects would take advantage of the climate quirk that one side of the Mediterranean is far drearier and cloudier than the other, although Europe and North Africa are geographically close. Abundant desert land also makes North African megaprojects far easier than in Europe, where open spaces tend to be agricultural or mountainous.

The sudden need for alternative energy following Russia's invasion of Ukraine means that North African solar projects intended to send electricity to Europe are under active discussion, officials and experts say, as European leaders see a straightforward way to secure large amounts of green power.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Nazi-admiring Jan. 6 rioter sentenced to 3 years in separate weapons case (Salvador Rizzo, April 13, 2023, Washington Post)

A convicted Jan. 6 rioter who expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and studied high-profile killers was sentenced to three years in federal prison Thursday for possessing firearm silencers that he did not register with authorities.

A federal judge said Hatchet M. Speed, 41, a former Navy reservist who held a top-secret security clearance, betrayed "everything he pledged to protect" and posed a danger to society because of his extremist views on political violence and his stockpile of firearms.

"It is difficult to understand how anyone could conclude that the Unabomber and Eric Rudolph and Hitler could be a positive influence on anyone, much less role models worthy of admiration and emulation," said U.S. District Judge Michael S. Nachmanoff, referring to three high-profile killers whom Speed said he was studying.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


Billionaire Harlan Crow Bought Property From Clarence Thomas. The Justice Didn't Disclose the Deal. (Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan and Alex Mierjeski, April 13, 22023, ProPublica)

The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican megadonor to the Supreme Court justice. The Crow company bought the properties for $133,363 from three co-owners -- Thomas, his mother and the family of Thomas' late brother, according to a state tax document and a deed dated Oct. 15, 2014, filed at the Chatham County courthouse.

The purchase put Crow in an unusual position: He now owned the house where the justice's elderly mother was living. Soon after the sale was completed, contractors began work on tens of thousands of dollars of improvements on the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home, which looks out onto a patch of orange trees. The renovations included a carport, a repaired roof and a new fence and gates, according to city permit records and blueprints.

A federal disclosure law passed after Watergate requires justices and other officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000. Thomas never disclosed his sale of the Savannah properties. That appears to be a violation of the law, four ethics law experts told ProPublica.

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


How Often Should People Get COVID Boosters? (Lauren J. Young, April 13, 2023, Scientific American)

The latest studies show the bivalent boosters effectively protect against severe disease and death. The CDC reported in February that mortality rates among people who received a bivalent booster were 14 times lower than in those who had never been vaccinated and three times lower than in people who received the original COVID vaccination series but no booster. Other early estimates also indicate the bivalent booster increases protection against two of the latest Omicron strains, XBB and XBB.1.5, for at least the first three months after vaccination in people who had previously received at least two of the past monovalent vaccine doses.

Notably, the bivalent shots are especially effective against COVID-associated hospitalization in older adults. But U.S. residents older than age 65 have been getting this booster at lower-than-expected rates--just 42 percent of that population has gotten it--says Carlos del Rio, a clinician and epidemiologist at Emory University. "If you're telling me you're 40 and you have no underlying conditions, it's probably not an urgency to get another booster," del Rio says. "But if you're over 65, that's a problem."

Less is known about how long immunity lasts after receiving the bivalent vaccinations. ACIP's COVID vaccine working group, however, says its information on the original monovalent series and boosters suggests protection against hospitalization starts waning four months after a person receives the dose. "It doesn't go to zero," Schaffner says. "After a period of months, it might go from 90 percent to 70 percent. So from a population basis, there still is substantial protection out there."

On an individual basis, however, waning protection gets more complicated--especially in high-risk groups. Studies have demonstrated that monovalent COVID vaccine effectiveness in certain immunocompromised people, particularly organ or stem cell transplant recipients, is lower than in others. "Wouldn't it be appropriate for [high-risk groups] to receive a spring or summer booster if it's been five or six months since they have received the initial bivalent booster? It's a perfectly reasonable question," Schaffner says.

Protection appears to be restored after people receive additional doses over time, according to ACIP. "We are seeing very, very low rates--far less than 5 percent--of severe disease in people who are immunocompromised, well vaccinated and receive standard antiviral treatments," said committee member Camille Kotton, an infectious disease clinician at Massachusetts General Hospital, during February's ACIP meeting. 

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Two studies make a strong case for nuclear power: less pollution, smaller footprint. (Prachi Patel, April 13, 2023, Anthropocene)

Two new studies now present a strong case for nuclear. Air pollution would increase if nuclear plants in the U.S. are shut down, as coal and natural gas plants would step up to fill the gap, according to one study published in Nature Energy. This would result in an additional 5,200 deaths in just one year. The other study, in Scientific Reports, finds that nuclear is the winner in terms of land use and related environmental impact compared to other carbon-free energy sources.

There are about 440 nuclear reactors around the world today providing 10 percent of the world's electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association. In the U.S. that share is 20 percent. France, meanwhile, relies on nuclear for almost 70 percent of its electricity, and others like Belgium and Slovakia get about half from nuclear.

While it faces contention in many countries, nuclear is still the second-largest source of carbon-free electricity after hydropower. And even though solar and wind are racing to replace fossil fuels, nuclear power plants are easier to tie into the power grid.

In a war that has been one self-own after another, perhaps Vlad's greatest accomplishment has been making nuclear politically viable.  Exploit the moment.

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A 19th-century anti-sex crusader is the "pro-life" movement's new best friend (Ian Millhiser  Apr 12, 2023, Vox)

The Comstock Act, an 1873 federal law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, is a relic of an era when free speech, medical privacy, and other rights that modern-day Americans take for granted effectively did not exist.

Nearly every word of this law, which is named after the Gilded Age anti-sex crusader Anthony Comstock, is unconstitutional -- at least under the understanding of the Constitution that prevailed for nearly all of the past 60 years. 

That is a hilarious concession, given that it leaves him with no constitutional ground to stand on. 

April 12, 2023

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This hypersonic hydrogen jet could fly from London to New York in 90 mins (Siôn Geschwindt, 4/12/23, The Next Web)

To achieve such speeds the aircraft would travel at altitudes of over 50km, right at the upper edge of the Earth's atmosphere, where drag is significantly lower. The hypersonic aircraft would use hydrogen-fuelled air-breathing turbojet engines for takeoff and landing, with a separate ramjet rocket engine to take it to hypersonic speeds. The startup claims the jet -- essentially half rocket, half plane -- would be net zero carbon, only emitting heat and water vapour. 

Destinus' first aircraft, capable of carrying 25 passengers up to 7,500km will be ready by the end of this decade, projects Kokorich. Follow-on planes will be progressively larger, seating up to 100 passengers and beyond.

Destinus has been testing its prototype aircraft for the past couple of years, announcing successful test flights of its second prototype -- Eiger -- at an airport near Munich last year. 

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A Liberalism Worth Saving: What's Missing From the Debate Over Liberalism (Russ Greene, April 12, 2023, Providence)

This was not a good showing for liberalism. What went wrong? The most significant problem was the absence of the conservative strain of liberalism.

Conservative liberalism is a core tradition in Western thought, critical to the development and sustainment of the American experiment in liberty. And while McCloskey did cite Adam Smith, she might have noted his warning that society will "crumble" absent "reverence for those important rules of conduct" which is naturally "enhanced" by the belief that "the Deity ... will finally reward the obedient and punish the transgressors of their duty." If Smith is correct about morality and religion, then a liberalism that explicitly rejects the traditional foundations of moral law is destined to collapse. Fortunately, hyper-rationalistic liberalism is not the only brand of liberalism available.

Conservative liberals have included Ronald Reagan, Friedrich Hayek, Frank Meyer, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Edmund Burke. In the present day, Samuel Gregg is a rare example of this tradition. Harper's therefore cannot be faulted for omitting conservative liberals from the discussion. They merely mirrored the broader discourse.

To be sure, the idea of classical liberalism is still frequently cited. Classical liberalism, however, does not precisely denote conservative liberalism, since it is a broader tradition of thought. Increasingly "classical liberalism" used by disaffected men and women of the left who still value free speech and economic growth. This is a welcome development, but it cannot substitute for conservative liberalism.

John Stuart Mill was a classical liberal, if anyone was. Yet as Friedrich Hayek noted, Mill's work suffers from the "cult of the distinct and different individuality." And as usual Mill's false conception of individualism eventually led him towards economic collectivism. Unlike Mill, a conservative liberal will recognize that social restraint is a necessary condition for liberty, as are faith, family, tradition, 

Conservative liberalism is a nuanced, practical approach to politics. It holds competing ideas in tension. This brand of liberalism is not, and likely never will be, an object of mass appeal. Nevertheless, without a cadre of conservative liberals to influence public opinion and policy in a more prudent and gradual direction, consistent with human nature, all attempts to save liberalism will fail, and deservingly so.

Of course, republican liberty is restraint of the individual by the society of individuals. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Massive 'Batteries' Hidden Beneath Your Feet: Aquifer thermal energy storage can use groundwater to heat and cool buildings--decarbonizing homes and businesses in the process. (MATT SIMON, APR 12, 2023, Wired)

A battery holds energy to be used later. Aquifers can be leveraged to do something similar: They can exploit the insulating properties of the Earth to conserve thermal energy and transfer it to and from buildings above ground. The temperature of water in an aquifer tends to stay fairly stable. This provides a way to heat and cool nearby structures with energy stored in water, instead of burning natural gas in furnaces or tapping into fossil-fuel-derived electricity to run air conditioners.

ATES systems consist of two separate wells--one warm, one cold--that run between the surface and the aquifer below. In the winter, you pump groundwater up from a warm well that's around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and run it through a heat exchanger. Combined with a heat pump, this process extracts heat from the groundwater to keep the structures' interiors warm. 

Then you pump that now-cooler groundwater down into the second well. This gives you a cold pool of water--around 45 degrees F--to pump out of in the summer to chill buildings. "You heat up the groundwater by taking out the heat from the building and directly inject it into the other well," says hydrogeologist Martin Bloemendal, who studies ATES at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. "Then in winter, you extract from your warm well." This process alternates indefinitely as the seasons roll on because the groundwater is reused, not consumed. The system could even take advantage of brackish or contaminated aquifers that can't be tapped for drinking water. 

Because the water pumps and other equipment are run on renewable power, like solar or wind, this hyper-efficient energy storage would lower fossil fuel demand and keep a lot of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

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The smearing of Garrett Foster: The far right justifies political violence by villainizing a decent man (RADLEY BALKO, APR 11, 2023, The Watch)

In what has become an all too predictable reaction, the far right has since turned Perry into a martyr. Fever swamp personalities like Mike Cernovich and Tucker Carlson quickly advocated for a pardon, while far right personalities while calling Foster "terrorist," a "rioter" a member of Antifa, and a "BLM boogaloo member."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has already a shown a willingness to take marching orders from Carlson, quickly jumped into the fray, stating that he looks "forward to approving the board's pardon recommendation as soon as it hits my desk."

(Abbott can't do anything without the pardon board's recommendation.)

The entire horrific incident is now firmly enmeshed in the culture war, so no amount of truth is going to burst the Fox News bubble. But it's important to understand why these particular lies about this particular incident are especially dangerous. So let's break all of this down . . .

...the fact he supported BLM means he's not decent nor even white.

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Fossil fuel emissions from electricity set to fall - report (Matt McGrath, 4/11/23, BBC)
The world will likely use less fossil fuels to produce electricity this year in a "turning point" for planet-friendly energy, a new report says.

It would be the first ever annual drop in the use of coal, oil and gas to generate electricity, outside of a global recession or pandemic.

As a result, less warming gases would be released during energy production.

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Anti-'Groomer' Republican Accused of 'Inappropriate Relationship' With Intern (Cameron Joseph, April 11, 2023, Vice News)

A Texas Republican who has led the charge to ban all-ages drag shows because of his deep concern over "the sexualization of our children" is facing allegations of inviting an intern to his home late on a weekend night and serving her alcohol even though she isn't old enough to legally drink.

Men with obsessions tend to indulge in them. 

April 11, 2023

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Sorry Doubters, But Bragg Was Right to Indict Trump (PHILIP ROTNER, APRIL 11, 2023, The Bulwark)

In August 2015, less than two months after he announced his candidacy, Trump held a meeting at his Trump Tower office in New York City with his then-lawyer Michael Cohen and David Pecker, the CEO of American Media, Inc. (AMI), owner and publisher of the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer.

At the meeting, Pecker agreed "to help with [Trump's] campaign."

Pecker's role was to be on the lookout for negative stories about Trump and to alert Cohen and Trump to any such stories before they were published. Pecker has admitted in a non-prosecution agreement that, in furtherance of his agreement with Trump, he had AMI acquire exclusive rights to salacious stories about Trump in order to make sure they were not published "before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election."

This was the so-called "catch-and-kill" scheme.

Pecker and Cohen worked together to catch and kill three stories that could harm Trump's bid for the presidency.

First, AMI made a payment of $30,000--to be reimbursed by Trump--to silence a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have information about a child Trump allegedly fathered out of wedlock.

Next, around three months prior to the election, AMI made another payment of $150,000 to suppress a story from a Playboy model, Karen McDougal, in exchange for her agreement not to speak out about an alleged sexual relationship with Trump. In a conversation captured in an audio recording, Cohen and Trump discussed how to reimburse AMI for the hush money payment to McDougal. (So much for the "I had nothing to do with any of this, it was all just Michael Cohen and David Pecker acting on their own" defense.)

But it is the third catch-and-kill story--the one involving a payment of $130,000 to an adult film actress whose stage name is Stormy Daniels--that has captured most of the national press attention.

Pecker first learned about Stormy Daniels about a month before the presidential election, just days after news broke that Trump had been caught on tape making crude, demeaning, sexist remarks about women on the now-infamous Access Hollywood "grab 'em by the pussy" tape. The public revelation of this recording understandably threw the Trump campaign into a panic of concern that the tape would, as the statement of facts puts it, "harm his viability as a candidate and reduce his standing with female voters in particular."

The timing of Daniels's claim that she had a sexual encounter with Trump while he was married to his current wife Melania added fuel to the public-relations fire that was still raging just days after the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape. Alerted by Pecker, Cohen sprang into action, promptly negotiating an agreement to pay Daniels $130,000 to kill her story.

This is where the criminal scheme began.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A punch in the face for Xi caricature: Taiwan air force badge goes viral (Reuters and CNN's Brad Lendon,  April 11, 2023)

Taiwanese are rushing to buy patches being worn by their air force pilots that depict a Formosan black bear punching Winnie the Pooh - representing China's leader Xi Jinping - as a defiant symbol of the island's resistance to Chinese military exercises.

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5 Things the Leaked Pentagon Documents Reveal About Russia's Army (Moscow Times, 4/11/23)

Here's what the estimated 100 leaked Pentagon documents have revealed about the Russian military:

-- Up to 43,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in action as of early 2023, with an estimated total casualty count between 189,500-223,000. 

That compares with the up to 17,500 Ukrainian soldiers killed in action and 124,500-131,000 casualties reported in the U.S. documents.

Russia's death toll appeared to have been altered to a fraction of the original number before it was circulated on pro-Russian channels on the popular messaging app Telegram.

-- Russia's military appears to acknowledge its setbacks, with the General Staff's National Defense Control Center (NDCC) reporting in February that its forces in eastern Ukraine had "decreased combat capability." 

Inflating threats from our decrepit enemies has led us to allow 100 million unnecessary deaths over the past 80 years. 

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Rooftop solar eats everyone's lunch and sends grid demand to record lows (Giles Parkinson, 11 April 2023, Renew Economy)

The new lows were recorded in the NSW grid - the country's biggest - where network demand fell to 3,957MW at 12.50pm on Sunday, April 9. That was down 173MW from the previous low set in late October last year, and was followed by a new low for "operational demand" of 4,101MW some 10 minutes later.

Both new lows were the result of mild demand and strong output from rooftop solar, which has been rapidly eating into the coal market's lunch in recent years. But on Sunday, it also had dramatic impacts on large scale renewables.

According to data from analysts GPE NemLog2, large scale wind delivered new record highs for both output (1,963MW) and share of grid generation (34 per cent), between 3.15am and 3.25am on Sunday.

But as the sun rose, and rooftop solar served a sizeable share of the relatively low demand, coal was not the only fuel sidelined: Curtailment of large scale wind and solar hit a record high of 2,125MW in NSW as prices went into negative territory and other constraints took hold.


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Conservatism as traditionLiving in the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be (James Vitali, 4/11/23, The Critic)

Benjamin Disraeli offered one of the clearest articulations on the relationship between conservatism and history. In 1867, he gave a speech in Edinburgh where he ruminated on the purpose of the Conservative Party. He also offered some thoughts on the relationship between change, history and the role of the politician. Change, Disraeli suggested, is an inevitable part of human existence, and the question is not whether change should be opposed, but "whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary general doctrines". Disraeli suggested that the Conservative Party was a "national party" that embraced the former perspective, whilst other political persuasions adopted iterations of the latter perspective. 

Disraeli draws out something fundamental about conservatism as a body of thought in this passage. He himself calls these two perspectives on change the "national system" and the "philosophical system" respectively. An alternative way of stating the binary might be the "historical system" and "ahistorical system". In the former, the answer to the question "what is to be done?" is determined historically, from the experiences of the past transmitted through to the present. In the latter, what is to be done is derived from abstract reasoning. Conservative political thought represents the former system; it is intensely preoccupied with history in a way that other ideologies are not, and this manifests itself in a number of ways.

For one, it makes conservatism contextualist. Conservatism suggests that we can only understand ideas when they are situated in contexts, geographical and temporal. "Circumstances," Edmund Burke argued, "give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour, and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind." In contrast, ahistorical systems of thought like liberalism or socialism believe the ideas they advance to be valid universally across time and space, in that what ought to be done ought to be done everywhere and anywhere. For the conservative, the force and weight of ideas comes through their interaction with experience. For liberals or socialists, the force and weight of ideas is innate to them. This contextualism makes it difficult to tie conservatism down to the defence of a particular set of ideas or institutions, for conservatives have defended a variety of institutions and ideas in different moments. History -- context, circumstance -- has always shaped the content of conservatism.

Yet contextualism is not exclusive to conservatism, and it is not what makes conservative thought unique. Nor do conservatives simply settle for a relativism that says ideas only have relevance in contexts and not across time. Conservatives believe that we are given direction about what should be done in the present from consulting the past. It is this that makes conservatism's relationship with history distinctive and profound: the things it values are a historical inheritance, rather than the product of rational deduction. 

It is the refutation of Reason that provided us such an overwhelming advantage in the Long War.

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Laughing at the Enemy: How Ukrainians Weaponize Jokes in the Face of DangerJohannes Lichtman on Wartime Humor in Ukraine (Johannes Lichtman, April 11, 2023, LitHub)

I met Nazar Romanchenko in 2018, when I was living in Lutsk, Ukraine with my girlfriend, where she'd been placed on a Fulbright Fellowship. I was a member of the one coworking space in town, a new building that stood out in a post-industrial district by the river, and Nazar was the office manager. During coffee breaks in the kitchen, he would tell me Ukrainian jokes, often paired with a brief history lesson. My favorite, which I later used for my novel, Calling Ukraine, goes like this:

When God created Eastern Europe, he carved from the earth three hulking nations: a dull gray valley called Germany, an endless white tundra called Russia, and, between the two, a bursting field of yellow flowers called Ukraine.

When the Ukrainian people saw their new home, they could not believe their good fortune. They walked the fertile fields marveling at the richness of the soil, breathing in the crisp air of the Carpathian Mountains, and staring out in awe at the glimmering Black Sea. They looked to the dull German valleys to the west and the barren Russian plains to the east, and then back at the Eden in which they were going to get to spend their lives.

They said to God, "What have we done to deserve such bounty? What have we done to deserve such good fortune? Why have you blessed us with such riches?"

And God said to the Ukrainians, "Let me introduce you to the neighbors."

In the early days of Russia's brutal invasion, when I was back in the United States, Nazar would send me videos of rockets hitting apartment buildings. I would toggle between rage, grief, and deep worry for all the friends and colleagues who had chosen to stay. He and I messaged about questions of safety, information on missile strikes, and how to get funds to grassroots defense and humanitarian groups.

But it didn't take long for Nazar to start sneaking in jokes again. 

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After Matt Taibbi Leaves Twitter, Elon Musk 'Shadow Bans' All Of Taibbi's Tweets, Including The Twitter Files (Mike Masnick, 4/10/23, Techdirt)

On Thursday, Musk's original hand-picked Twitter Files scribe, Matt Taibbi, went on Mehdi Hasan's show (which Taibbi explicitly demanded from Hasan, after Hasan asked about Taibbi's opinions on Musk blocking accounts for Modi in India). The interview did not go well for Taibbi in the same manner that finding an iceberg did not go well for the Titanic. [...]

Hasan: What's interesting about Elon Musk is that, we've checked, you've tweeted over thirty times about Musk since he announced he was going to buy Twitter last April, and not a word of criticism about him in any of those thirty plus tweets. Musk is a billionaire who's been found to have violated labor laws multiples times, including in the past few days. He's attacked labor unions, reportedly fired employees on a whim, slammed the idea of a wealth tax. Told his millions of followers to vote Republican last year, and in response to a right-wing coup against Bolivian leftist President Evo Morales tweeted "we'll coup whoever we want."

And yet, you've been silent on all that.

How did you go, Matt, from being the scourge of Wall St. The man who called Goldman Sachs the Vampire Squid, to be unwilling to say anything critical at all about this right wing reactionary anti-union billionaire.

Taibbi: Look....[long pause... then a sigh]. So... so... I like Elon Musk. I met him. This is part of the calculation when you do one of these stories. Are they going to give you information that's gonna make you look stupid. Do you think their motives are sincere about doing x or y....  I did. I thought his motives were sincere about the Twitter Files. And I admired them. I thought he did a tremendous public service in opening the files up. But that doesn't mean I have to agree with him about everything.

Hasan: I agree with you. But you never disagree with him. You've gone silent. Some would say that's access journalism.

Taibbi:  No! No. I haven't done... I haven't reported anything that limits my ability to talk about Elon Musk...

Hasan: So will you criticize him today? For banning journalists, for working with Modi government to shut down speech, for being anti-union. You can go for it. I'll give you as much time as you'd like. Would you like to criticize Musk now?

Taibbi: No, I don't particularly want to... uh... look, I didn't criticize him really before... uh... and... I think that what the Twitter Files are is a step in the right direction...

Hasan: But it's the same Twitter he's running right now...

Taibbi: I don't have to disagree with him... if you wanna ask... a question in bad faith...


Hasan: It's not in bad faith, Matt!

Taibbi: It absolutely is!

Hasan: Hold on, hold on, let me finish my question. You saying that he's good for Twitter and good for speech. I'm saying that he's using Twitter to help one of the most rightwing governments in the world censor speech. I will criticize that. Will you?

Taibbi: I have to look at the story first. I'm not looking at it now!

By Friday, that exchange became even more embarrassing. Because, due to a separate dispute that Elon was having with Substack (more on that in a bit), he decided to arbitrarily bar anyone from retweeting, replying, or even liking any tweet that had a Substack link in it. But Taibbi's vast income stems from having one of the largest paying Substack subscriber bases. [...]

So, yes, we went from Taibbi praising Elon Musk for supporting free speech and supposedly helping to expose the evil shadowbanning of the old regime, and refusing to criticize Musk on anything, to Taibbi leaving Twitter, and Musk not just unfollowing him but shadowbanning him and all his Twitter Files.

In about 48 hours.

Absolutely incredible.

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Scoop: Nikki Haley campaign memo rips Trump "drama" (Alexi McCammond, 4/11/23, Axios)

 "Donald Trump had a pretty good Q1, if you count being indicted as 'good,'" Haley's campaign manager Betsy Ankney wrote in the memo.

"Still, it's increasingly clear that Trump's candidacy is more consumed by the grievances of the past and the promise of more drama in the future, rather than a forward-looking vision for the American people," the memo went on.

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Judicial overhaul negotiation teams hold talks on anchoring fundamental rights in law (JEREMY SHARON, 4/11/23, Times of Israel)

Negotiation teams for the coalition and opposition parties over the government's controversial judicial overhaul program discussed the possibility of anchoring in law fundamental civil rights on Monday, amid efforts to hammer out a compromise on the shake-up bid.

Such a measure is a key demand of the Yesh Atid party and other opposition factions for any comprehensive solution to the political and constitutional storm that has erupted over the coalition's plans to radically constrain Israel's judicial system.

Excellent discussion here of how we got to this point and what might, hopefully, come of it:

PODCAST: Daniel Gordis on Israel and Impossible Takes Longer (Russ Roberts, Apr 10 2023, EconTalk)

As Israel turns 75, has it fulfilled the promise of its founders? Daniel Gordis of Shalem College talks about his book, Impossible Takes Longer, with EconTalk's Russ Roberts looking at the successes and failures of Israel. Topics discussed include the history of Zionism, the plight of the Palestinians, the Jewishness of the Jewish state, and the current debate in Israel over judicial reform.

As the State of Israel turns 75, author Daniel Gordis asks: Is it a success story?In a new book, 'Impossible Takes Longer,' the thinker explores the parameters he believes the Jewish state should be judged by -- and where it has triumphed and where it has failed (AMY SPIRO , 4/11/23, Times of Israel)

"What I was trying to do was to elevate the conversation about Israel at the time of its 75th anniversary," says Gordis. "The point was really to say, look - the point of the State of Israel was to create a new Jew. It was to reimagine what it would mean to be a Jew, it was to reimagine a Jew who was not weak, and nervous and diasporic, and never at home and not having their own language."

And 75 years later, he says, "we have been so unbelievably successful in meeting those challenges, that it's very hard for many of us - especially younger people - to remember what it was that we were trying to change. Because it was so overwhelmingly successful."

While Gordis sings Israel's praises loudly and emphatically, he also doesn't hold back on criticism. He calls the Sabra and Shatilla massacre an "appalling moral failure," laments that "corruption in Israel has reached staggering proportions," and says the Jewish state "stumbled badly" in its treatment of Ethiopian immigrants and has not just "fallen short" but "failed" in dealing with African migrants. Furthermore, the Chief Rabbinate, he writes, is "anti-intellectual... untouched by modernity, misogynist, corrupt... and often morally vile."

But its biggest failing, he writes, is the one that looms large over every conversation and headline about the Jewish state.

"The single greatest disappointment of Israel's first seventy-five years is the fact that conflict endures," Gordis writes. "Israel's various wars and its enduring conflict with the Palestinians have exacted horrific costs on both sides. Israel's controlling the lives of another people is a moral morass that has without question calloused parts of Israeli society. Waging this war, even if it is a low-grade war, invariably leads to mistakes and at times terrible misdeeds."

In conversation, Gordis says he worked to find a balance between praising Israel for its victories and criticizing the state for where it has failed.

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Donald Trump returning to New York for deposition in $250M civil lawsuit: Sources (Aaron Katersky, April 10, 2023, ABC News)

Former President Donald Trump is scheduled to return to New York City Thursday to sit for a second deposition as part of New York Attorney General Letitia James' $250 million civil fraud lawsuit, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

April 10, 2023

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Here's What Happened After Clarence Thomas' Benefactor Let Scholars Dine Near His Nazi Memorabilia (David Corn, 4/10/23, MoJo)

In April 2019, the Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, which had been created in 2018 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences "to explore how best to respond to the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our political and civic life," conducted a meeting at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The commission was comprised of accomplished academics, artists, government officials, and journalists drawn from across the country. The evening before the session, the members dined at Crow's estate. 

"We were told he had a collection of Americana, some of it from the Revolutionary War," says AAA&S president David Oxtoby, "and we thought that would be a nice connection."

The dinner was held in a section of Crow's library where, according to Oxtoby, no offensive or controversial material was in view. But members were invited to examine the rest of the collection in other rooms, and several who did encountered disturbing items. This past weekend, danah boyd, the tech scholar and Microsoft employee who was a commission member, tweeted about that evening. She said she had been "deeply shaken by the Nazi memorabilia." She added, "Years later, I still shudder thinking about the Nazi uniform decorations in Harlan Crow's house. And the painting... And the 'antebellum' (pro slavery) artifacts."

Ethan Zuckerman, a University of Massachusetts, Amherst professor of public policy, communication, and information, was also part of the group, and he echoed boyd's reaction with his own tweets. He recalled, "What struck me was that Crow clearly knew there was controversy in deciding to keep Nazi artifacts in his house. In a display room off the balcony to his library was a set of swastika emblazoned dishes, silverware and linens," he wrote, explaining that the items were behind a leather cover.

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Ron DeSantis might not be as tough on crime as he says he isIs Florida really a national model for public safety? (Nicole Narea, 4/10/23, Vox)

But there's a problem with DeSantis's attacks on Democrats' policies on crime: It's not clear that crime is lower in Florida than in some of the cities he has criticized. In some Florida cities, the data shows murder rates are significantly higher than in blue cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Experts say there's also no evidence to support that some of DeSantis's signature public safety policies, including doubling down on cash bail, are effective in reducing crime, and other DeSantis crime policies involve considerable trade-offs and uncertainties.

As he preps a potential 2024 presidential run, DeSantis has also eliminated permit requirements to carry a concealed weapon in Florida, where mass shootings have become more common than in any other state except California and gun deaths are on the rise. The governor signed the law last week, following a recent mass shooting at a school in Tennessee and amid a spate of gun violence in Florida. Given that data suggests spikes in violent crime in recent years were driven by gun violence, DeSantis's efforts to make guns more easily accessible should be seen as an affront to public safety.

To be fair, MAGA isn't anti-crime, just anti-black and anti-Latino. So the metrics aren't useful. 

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The Racial Element of Trump's Attacks on His ProsecutorsWhy it matters that he calls them "racist" and "animal." (JILL LAWRENCE,  APRIL 10, 2023, The Bulwark)

Trump's brand is spewing abuse, and he certainly has not spared Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel handling the investigations into the Mar-a-Lago documents and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including the January 6th Capitol attack. Trump has called Smith, who is white, "a terrorist," a "THUG," a "fully weaponized monster," a "Mad Dog Psycho," and a "hit man" for Democrats "who may very well turn out to be a criminal."

But the way Trump goes after black and Hispanic prosecutors and judges poses a special menace because of the example he sets--the permission structure he creates--for white nationalism, white supremacy, racism, antisemitism, and immigrant-bashing. There's no forgetting any of it, from "very fine people on both sides," to "[****]hole countries" like Haiti and African nations, to insulting black people as low-IQ, to "stand back and stand by," to dining at Mar-a-Lago with Nick Fuentes, an antisemitic white supremacist.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Fierce Reality of Beauty (sarah christine george, 4/07/23, Law & Liberty)

In her latest book, The Wounds of Beauty, Princeton Theological Seminary Professor Margarita Mooney Clayton (then publishing as Margarita Mooney Suarez) has convened a cadre of intellectuals who, despite their wide-ranging areas of expertise (among them cheese-making and iconography), share a fervent belief that Beauty is essential both for ultimate happiness and for present flourishing. To some, their enthusiasm may seem a bit extreme. But for Mooney Clayton and her interlocutors, Beauty is not so much a pretty picture as a fierce metaphysical poke. 

"Beauty," notes poet Dana Gioia, "has almost nothing to do with being decorous or pleasant." For him, Beauty is "an experience, a perception through some natural or artistic lens of the underlying order of the universe." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Soros targeted by antisemitic conspiracy theories, hatred amid Trump indictment (ANUJ CHOPRA, 4/10/23, AFP)

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros has long been a bogeyman for the far-right, but Donald Trump's indictment has unleashed a fresh torrent of hate that has also entangled US fact-checkers debunking conspiracies about him. [...]
The conspiracy theorists vilifying Soros, a man who survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary, have sought to push the idea of a wealthy Jew working as a puppet master behind the scenes to promote a liberal agenda.

"Conspiracy theories are often built around the idea that there are powerful forces outside of our control acting on behalf of the global elite to keep the truth from ordinary people," Joshua Tucker, co-director of the NYU Center for Social Media and Politics, told AFP.

"In this case, Soros personifies the evil global elite."

The attacks, observers say, also smack of antisemitism.

The "Republican Party... is once again falling back on their anti-Semitic George Soros conspiracy theories," J Street, a Washington-based Jewish advocacy group, wrote on Twitter.

No one hates just BLM protesters. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Russia killed its tech industry (Masha Borak, April 4, 2023, MIT Technology Review)

Seven days after the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Belugin packed up his and his family's belongings, canceled the lease on his apartment in Moscow, withdrew his kids from kindergarten, and started a new life outside of Russia. Not long after that, he resigned from his position as chief commercial officer for small and medium businesses at Yandex, Russia's equivalent to Google and the country's largest technology company. The war meant that everything would change in Russia, both for him and for his company, Belugin said from his new home in Cyprus: "You have to accept the new rules of having no rules at all in Russia." 

Belugin was far from the only tech worker to leave. In the months after the invasion began, Russia saw a mass exodus of IT workers. According to government figures, about 100,000 IT specialists left Russia in 2022, or some 10% of the tech workforce--a number that is likely an underestimate. Alongside those exits, more than 1,000 foreign firms curtailed their operations in the country, driven in part by the broadest sanctions ever to be imposed on a major economy. 

It has now been over a year since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, with more than 8,300 recorded civilian deaths and counting. The tech workers who left everything behind to flee Russia warn that the country is well on its way to becoming a village: cut off from the global tech industry, research, funding, scientific exchanges, and critical components. Meanwhile Yandex, one of its biggest tech successes, has begun fragmenting, selling off lucrative businesses to VKontakte (VK), a competitor controlled by state-owned companies.

Thanks, Vlad!

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A new solar energy deal will bring power to 140,000 homes and businesses in 3 states (AP, April 6, 2023)

Vice President Kamala Harris announced the deal during a visit to the Qcells solar panel factory outside Atlanta. The South Korean company's corporate parent, Hanwha Solutions Corp., said in January it will invest $2.5 billion to expand its Dalton, Georgia plant and build another plant in nearby Cartersville. Qcells projects it will supply about 30% of total U.S. solar panel demand by 2027, including making solar panel components usually manufactured outside the United States.

A deal announced by Harris calls for Qcells and Virginia-based Summit Ridge Energy to deploy community solar projects capable of generating 1.2 gigawatts of electricity in Illinois, Maine and Maryland. Community solar projects allow people to tap into solar power generated at a shared site rather than on individual rooftops and are a way for renters and those without access to rooftop solar panels to receive the benefits of clean energy.

Community solar results in an average of 10% in annual savings for customers, the White House said. The new plan will require the manufacturing of 2.5 million solar panels at Qcells' plant in Dalton, Georgia -- the largest community solar order in American history, officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



The main factor responsible for the rise in value is that governments -- and consumers -- are turning away from environmentally harmful gas-powered vehicles and looking for modes of transportation with less environmental impact.

A typical gas-powered car produces around five tons of air-polluting carbon dioxide every year. Worldwide, that comes out to around 3.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide gas released from passenger vehicles annually.

Solar-powered cars, conversely, produce zero direct air pollution while running purely on electricity. And since solar-powered cars derive their electricity from the sun, there is no need to worry about using up a finite resource, as gas-powered cars do with dirty energy sources like oil and coal.

April 9, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Texas governor seeks pardon of man convicted of murder in Black Lives Matter shooting (Rich Mckay, 4/08/23, Reuters)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Saturday he is seeking the pardon of an Uber driver convicted of murder a day earlier in the July 2020 shooting death of a man at a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Austin, the state capital.

Abbott, in a post on Twitter, said he will pardon Daniel Perry, 37, a U.S. Army sergeant, as soon as a request from the parole board "hits my desk."

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Why Did Madison Write the Second Amendment? (Carl T. Bogus, 4/08/23, History News Network)

One of many arguments that Henry and Mason deployed in Richmond concerned the militia. Until then, states controlled their militia. But the Constitution gave Congress the power to organize, arm, and discipline the militia. The states were only given the authority to appoint officers and train the militia in accordance with the discipline prescribed by Congress. Time and again, Henry and Mason argued that Congress might "neglect or refuse" to arm the militia, on which the South relied for slave control. "The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practiced in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless - by disarming them," Mason declared. Henry argued that authority to arm the militia implied the authority to disarm it, and he raised the specter of Congress - controlled by a faster-growing, increasingly abolitionist North - doing exactly that.

Southerners lived in terror of slave revolts. In 1739, an insurrection in Stono, South Carolina by 60-100 slaves, armed with stolen muskets, left more than 60 White slaveowners, family members, and militiamen dead. No one knows how large the rebellion might have grown, or what the death toll would have been, if militia had not snuffed out the revolt before the end of its first day. In Eastern Virginia, where many of the Founders lived and the Richmond debate was taking place, enslaved Blacks outnumbered Whites. At night, militia groups patrolled designated areas - called "beats" - to ensure slaves were where they were supposed to be (this is where the terms patrols and policeman's beat originated).

But while militia were essential for slave control, the Revolutionary War had demonstrated they were useless as a military force. Lexington and Concord were the only true militia victories. In the face of the enemy, militia repeatedly threw down their muskets and fled. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War, told the Richmond convention that he "could enumerate many instances" of militia unreliability but would describe just one: how Continental soldiers behaved with "gallant intrepidity" and militiamen fled at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Other Virginians had previously reported much the same. George Washington repeatedly expressed disgust with militia. After Virginia militia bolted without firing a single shot at the Battle of Camden, their own commander told Governor Thomas Jefferson, "[M]ilitia I plainly see won't do." 

April 8, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Science is broken (Tom Chivers, 4/08/23, Semafor)

Academics are judged on how many papers they can publish in high-impact journals -- so much so that their career path is sometimes called "publish or perish." And journals, usually, only publish exciting, novel, positive results.

One way of "finding" positive results is to make up your data -- outright fraud: More than 8,000 biomedical research papers have been retracted for suspected fraud since 2003. Others plagiarize data and text from older studies.

You can even just torture it, and it'll tell you anything you want to hear. In 2011, three researchers published a paper which found -- to the level of "statistical significance" which most journals demand -- that listening to When I'm Sixty-Four by The Beatles made people younger. Not metaphorically younger. Literally younger. Which is, of course, impossible.

They did this as a stunt, to demonstrate that using perfectly normal statistical practice -- in particular, measuring lots of different things and seeing if there were any interesting correlations, a practice called "p-hacking" -- you could find almost anything you liked.

Taken together, journals' demand for novelty and the ubiquity of p-hacking made it essentially inevitable that the results of most published scientific papers in many disciplines would be false.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Trump indictment: The odds are in Alvin Bragg's favor (JAMES D. ZIRIN, 04/06/23, The Hill)

The indictment is a bare-bones pleading, parroting the language of the hoary provisions of §175.10 of the New York Penal Law. It's not what those of us in the trade call a "speaking indictment" that gives a narrative of the crime worthy of a detective novel.

Here's how the 34 counts break down: 11 counts for falsifying invoices; 12 counts for falsifying general ledger entries; 11 checks for falsely characterizing the reimbursements to Michael Cohen for the Stormy Daniels payoff as a legal retainer.

It is apparently the shopworn practice in white-collar crime cases in the Manhattan district attorney's office to file a separate document called a "statement of facts" that puts more flesh on the bareboned charges. If the indictment is the still life, the statement of facts is the landscape. This one is riveting. [...]

How did the scheme allegedly work? At a 2015 meeting, National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Michael Cohen and Trump met and concocted a "catch and kill" plan to prevent any more damaging stories about Trump from surfacing during the presidential campaign.

The result was three instances where they were able to prevent damaging information about Trump from coming to light while he was running for office. The alleged payoff to keep Stormy Daniels quiet, involving $130,000 paid to her through Cohen and a shell company, was expected to be charged. The surprise was the inclusion of the $150,000 payment to another woman, a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal, who was shopping a story about an extra-marital affair she says she had with Trump, and an alleged $30,000 payment to a doorman at Trump Tower with a story, later rejected by Pecker, that Trump had fathered an illegitimate child. That's the scheme. The indictment documents the false statements made to further the scheme, 34 of them.

Trump supporters who had suggested the "catch and kill" scheme was about protecting Melania Trump saw that defense blown apart. Prosecutors say Trump met with Pecker after the election and before the inauguration to thank him for his help with the election. They met again after the election and before the inauguration, where Trump "thanked Pecker for handling the stories of the doorman and Karen McDougal, and invited [the publisher] to the Inauguration."

After Trump became president, he invited Pecker to a White House dinner in the summer of 2017 "to thank him for his help during the campaign." Pecker is cooperating with Bragg's investigation. He was the final witness Bragg brought before the grand jury, and, presumably, we will hear this story in his own voice.

Here's the pièce de la resistance. Trump always claimed that he paid the money not because of the election but to avoid embarrassment to him and his family. But they structured at least one of the deals so they wouldn't have to pay out funds if Trump lost the election. It was never about protecting his family.

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM


Itamar Ben-Gvir: Israel's Minister of Insecurity (Jonathan Reilly and Shikha Dalmia. 4/08/23, The UnPopulist)

[T]he latest kindling was provided by the government's decision to resume evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to make room for Jewish settlers who have been embroiled in a long legal battle trying to acquire property there. (East Jerusalem has been under Israeli control ever since Israel captured it in the 1967 Six-Day War. But Palestinians have never given up their claim to the area and, under international law, Israel is supposed to refrain from settlement activity till the two sides negotiate an agreement. East Jerusalem is also regarded by many as the capital of any future Palestinian state.)

But as Bibi himself called for calm after this week's clashes, Ben-Gvir tweeted, "It's time to rip heads off in Gaza." (Yet, ironically, it is Yoav Gallant's fate that hangs in the balance in Netanyahu's cabinet, not Ben-Gvir's.)

When Ben-Gvir was appointed as head of national security, not only Netanyahu's political opponents protested --but also his supporters.

Assaf Sagiv, one of Israel's leading conservative thinkers and a veteran of the conservative Shalem Center recently expressed dismay that Bibi had reached into the "lunatic fringe" to make his appointment. Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon, Netanyahu's defense minister during a previous term, too denounced the appointment, calling Ben-Grit a "pyromaniac" who'll set the region aflame. Indeed, until now Netanyahu himself wouldn't have his picture taken with Ben-Gvir or share a stage with him.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Clarence Thomas's Billionaire Benefactor Collects Hitler Artifacts (SYLVIE MCNAMARA, APRIL 7, 2023, Washingtonian)

When Republican megadonor Harlan Crow isn't lavishing Justice Clarence Thomas with free trips on his private plane and yacht (in possible violation of Supreme Court ethics rules), he lives a quiet life in Dallas among his historical collections. These collections include Hitler artifacts--two of his paintings of European cityscapes, a signed copy of Mein Kampf, and assorted Nazi memorabilia--plus a garden full of statues of the 20th century's worst despots.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Black unemployment rate hits record low 5 percent (Lauren Kaori Gurley, Abha Bhattarai and Naomi Nix,  April 7, 2023, Washington Post)

The Black unemployment rate sank to a record low 5 percent in March, a testament to the economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Air taxis are coming to Chicago (Alex Fitzpatrick, 4/07/23, Axios)

The plan is for United passengers to be able to hop aboard an Archer eVTOL (electric vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft for a 10-minute cruise to O'Hare -- a trip that can take 45 minutes or longer, depending on traffic.

Archer and United are just two of several companies that hope to use eVTOLs to whisk passengers between urban cores and airports, which often lie on the outskirts of the cities they serve.

eVTOLS are cleaner and quieter than traditional helicopters, making them more feasible for this kind of service.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM

GODLINESS (profanity alert)

Nick Cave on Christ and the Devil: Has religion become a form of rebellion? (NICK CAVE AND FREDDIE SAYERS, 4/08/23, UnHerd)

"In the old days, with The Birthday Party, they were extremely energetic, extremely (I would say) violent, aggressive concerts done by a not-fully-formed person, who held the world in contempt as a sort of default. That was the energy of those concerts -- and that has changed completely. Now I see the world in a completely different way, and see human beings in a completely different way. I see the brokenness of human beings, but also the unbelievable value of human beings. This is something that, back then, I could never have imagined I would have felt. I think it has something to do with becoming a more complete person, through a series of things that have happened to me through my life -- things that have happened to us all, probably."

The Culture Wars are a rout.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


DeSantis' weird theories about the Fed are part of larger pattern (Steve Benen, 4/07/23, MSNBC)

I saw some weird guy on Twitter this week peddling an unhinged conspiracy theory about liberals secretly plotting to use the Federal Reserve and some unnamed digital currency to prevent Americans from buying firearms and gasoline. We've probably all seen assorted oddballs peddling strange ideas online, but this one was a doozy.

Wait, did I say the idea came from some weird guy on Twitter? What I meant to say was that it came from the governor of Florida -- who also happens to be a leading (albeit unannounced) candidate for the Republican Party's 2024 presidential nomination.

The Miami Herald reported this week that Gov. Ron DeSantis has been directing much of his rhetorical fire of late on the Federal Reserve and its Trump-appointment chairman, Jerome Powell. But it was The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell who flagged the GOP governor's amazing recent remarks about the Fed. From Rampell's column:

Don't get me wrong. The Federal Reserve has made mistakes in recent years. It's not immune from criticism, including criticism of its record on financial oversight or inflation. And yet, somehow, it still seems pretty bonkers for a major, supposedly mainstream politician to attack the Federal Reserve for trying to steal your guns. Which is what Florida governor and likely 2024 presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis (R) suggested in recent remarks.

That might sound like an exaggeration. It's not. In remarks that were televised via C-SPAN, the Floridian delivered remarks in Pennsylvania this past weekend that were so odd, I feel like they should've come with a fringe-to-English translation guide.

April 7, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Life Evolves. Can Attempts to Create 'Artificial Life' Evolve, Too?: Do efforts to create life--by cooking up imitations in computers, robots and molecules--point toward a universal definition of biology? (Shi En Kim, April 6, 2023, Scientific American)

What is life? Like most great questions, this one is easy to ask but difficult to answer. Scientists have been trying for centuries, and philosophers have done so for millennia. Today our knowledge is so advanced that we can precisely manipulate life's building blocks--DNA, RNA and proteins--to build biological machines and engineer new genomes. Yet despite all we know, no universal consensus currently exists on life's fundamental definition.

The reason life's definition still eludes us is simple: we know of just one type of life--the kind that exists on Earth--and it's challenging to do science with a sample size of one. This is the so-called N = 1 problem (wherein "N" denotes the number of eligible candidates that scientists can study). No matter how ingenious researchers may be in divining life's general principles from the single instance of which they're sure, they have no way of confirming whether they've done so successfully until N increases. Searching for another instance of life--whether it's found right here on Earth, elsewhere in the solar system or beyond--is one way to expand N. The search has scarcely begun, but it has already consumed billions of dollars and countless hours of labor, even though there is no guarantee that a discovery will ever come.

There is, however, another potential way to solve the N = 1 problem: instead of finding some second genesis for life, some scientists are seeking to create one. The field of artificial life--called ALife for short--is the systematic attempt to spell out life's fundamental principles, either by studying lifeless natural systems that exhibit lifelike behavior or by building artificial systems to compare against nature's creations. Many of these practitioners, so-called ALifers, think that somehow making life from scratch is the surest way to really understand what life is--an approach perhaps best summarized as "build first, explain later."

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


David Koresh, the KKK, and Donald Trump: Two new books help explain the phenomenon of cult figures. (BILL LUEDERS,   APRIL 7, 2023, The Bulwark)

Donald Trump picked Waco, of all places, for the first mass rally of his third bid for the presidency. There, with characteristic unsubtlety, he stood at attention, hand over heart, for an homage to the violence of January 6th, including a song performed by a choir of incarcerated insurrectionists. He assured his audience that "the thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system"--by holding Trump to account for his violations of law--"will be defeated, discredited, and totally disgraced." He intoned, with Koresh-like prognostication, that "2024 is the final battle, it's going to be the big one. You put me back in the White House, their reign will be over and America will be a free nation once again."

Talty, whose previous nonfiction books include A Captain's Duty, co-written with its subject and later made into the Oscar-winning film Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks, does a fine job of shining light on the mechanisms of cult control, as practiced by a sadistic bully. In this respect, Koresh is deeply similar to another book, out this week and timed loosely to the centennial of the emergence of the nation's premiere hate group as a major political force.

A Fever in the Heartland, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Timothy Egan, also focuses on an incomprehensibly charismatic figure: the Klan leader David C. Stephenson, who went by D.C. Stephenson, or "Steve."

Born into wealth with an ingrained sense of privilege, Stephenson rose through the ranks in the early to mid-1920s to become Grand Dragon in Indiana, then the nation's leading hotbed of Klan activity, both in numbers of adherents and the depth of its influence in the political sphere. In 1924, the Klan boasted 400,000 Hoosier members, which was probably only a slight exaggeration. The state had a Klan-affiliated governor, Ed Jackson; its capital city of Indianapolis had a Klan-backed mayor, John L. Duvall; and one of its U.S. senators--James Watson--was, as Egan puts it, Stephenson's "loyal supplicant." All three were Republicans, as were countless local officials, judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, and police officers in Indiana who supported the KKK.

Observed the New York Times in November 1923, "In no State in the Union, not even in Texas, is the domination of the Ku Klux Klan so absolute as it is in Indiana." But the Klan's political influence extended nationwide, as Egan relates: "About seventy members of Congress were faithful to the hooded order, by the Klan's tally. It had sympathetic governors in Georgia, Alabama, and California."

The Klan found its sense of common identity in hatred of others, including black people, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants. Georgia Gov. Clifford Walker, speaking at a Klan rally in 1924, said the United States should "build a wall of steel, a wall as high as heaven" to keep out immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New measurements suggest we are fundamentally wrong about the universe: Puzzle over 'Hubble constant' could suggest many of our basic assumptions are wrong (Andrew Griffin, 4/07/23, The Independent)

"This discrepancy has a huge significance," said Richard Anderson, from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, who led the work, in a statement. "Suppose you wanted to build a tunnel by digging into two opposite sides of a mountain.

If you've understood the type of rock correctly and if your calculations are correct, then the two holes you're digging will meet in the center.

"But if they don't, that means you've made a mistake - either your calculations are wrong or you're wrong about the type of rock. That's what's going on with the Hubble constant.

The more confirmation we get that our calculations are accurate, the more we can conclude that the discrepancy means our understanding of the Universe is mistaken, that the Universe isn't quite as we thought."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What Christ Accomplished Before 'It Is Finished' (ERIC C. REDMOND, MARCH 31, 2023, Christianity Today)

Many of us have heard a sermon preached on the sixth word, "Tetélestai!," which is commonly translated into the English phrase "It is finished!" It is one of the few transliterated Greek verbs many believers are familiar with. On that dark day, Jesus shouted this word from the cross shortly before giving up his spirit--conveying the hope of Good Friday.

Tetélestai comes from the Greek verb teleō. In most ancient Greek contexts, the verb means "to finish, accomplish, or complete." We rightly view this proclamation as Jesus signaling that his death has satisfied the wrath of God fully and forever--that he alone has accomplished the work of atonement, of redemption, and of mediating the way to God.

This statement seems to be the peak of John's presentation of the salvation story--the time to play the Hammond organ, grab the tambourines, lift holy hands, and sing "Hallelujah," for Jesus has paid it all!

But there is another moment in John's Gospel where Jesus states he has finished his work: just one day earlier, on Maundy Thursday--a day that was foreign to me before I stepped into my first pastorate.

He thought He was done...but then He despaired of Himself.  That finished the mission. He finally comprehended Man. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A very bad day for Putin (Frida Ghitis, 4/06/23, CNN)

That date will be forever etched in history. No, not just because of what happened in a courtroom in Manhattan involving a certain former US president, but because of something arguably more consequential despite its lower billing in the headlines. It was the day Finland formally joined NATO.

When NATO members stood solemnly in front of the Alliance's Brussels headquarters, watching Finland's blue and white flag raised alongside the 30 others, the ceremony served almost as a declaration that Putin's war in Ukraine has failed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rank Choice Voting Could Help Cure the GOP's 'Candidate Quality' ProblemUnfortunately, some party faithful view it is as a liberal ploy instead of a way to restore its competitiveness (Jonathan Bydlak, 4/06/23, The UnPopulist)

In the wake of Republicans' disappointing outcome in the 2022 midterm elections, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has told donors privately that the party needs better candidates to keep their majority and expand it--and many House Republicans are now openly discussing potential nominees for 2024. Some GOP operatives are raising red flags about losers from 2022 running again, many of whom are the same candidates Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned about long before Election Day.

In other words, a consensus is quickly developing on the right that candidate quality matters, and for a party that lost the presidency in 2020, did not wrest back control of the Senate in 2022 and largely underperformed in the midterms, it's hard to imagine a more pressing issue for the Republican National Committee to prioritize. But it instead has taken a stand against one of its best potential tools for fixing the problem: ranked-choice voting (RCV). While Republicans have been casting RCV as a "scheme" that increases "election distrust, and voter suppression and disenfranchisement," they're ignoring the strong evidence that Republicans often perform well under voting systems utilizing RCV. In fact, there's a strong case to be made that Republicans benefit more than Democrats.

April 6, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Methane Emissions Are Higher Than Thought From Gulf of Mexico Drilling (Will Sullivan, April 6, 2023, Smithsonian)

Methane emissions from oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico are much higher than the United States government has previously estimated, according to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While burning oil and gas for energy releases greenhouse gases, the production of these fuels contributes its own planet-warming emissions. For the study, researchers flew an aircraft over fossil fuel platforms in the Gulf to measure the carbon dioxide and methane released from them. Burning processes during oil and gas production emit carbon dioxide, while leaks and venting--direct release of gas into the atmosphere--emit methane.

Based on the airplane data, the scientists' estimates of carbon dioxide emissions matched up with those from the government. But they found the average methane emissions are three and 13 times higher than federal and state inventories reported, respectively.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


The Belgian Towns Producing Their Own Green Power (Jan Petter, 06.04.2023, Der Spiegel)

A three-story house with 13 rooms, high ceilings and Art Deco design elements, full of old stained-glass windows, woodcarvings and expressionist art. Bernadette Vandercammen, 67, lives here together with her husband, in the Belgian city of Eeklo. Their energy costs for the extensive home: just 170 euros per month, less than half of what they would have been paying under their old contract.

The fact that Europe's skyrocketing energy prices have not affected the retired couple isn't only because of the heavy, burgandy curtains hanging in the living room and their limited heating during the winter. "It's Ecopower," says Vandercammen with a smile. Her husband nods.

Along with 65,000 other households, the couple are members of Belgium's largest energy co-operative. The co-op produces and delivers green energy to its members at cost. When compared to the large corporations in the industry, Ecopower is just a dwarf, but it is a popular one. Last year, three times more people wanted to join the co-operative than could be supplied with electricity. At the moment, Ecopower is no longer accepting members.

'til every home is a grid.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


The 'Gay Gene' Myth Just Won't Go Away: Young men deserve much better than bad science and bad advice. Myths are no substitution for reality (John Mac Ghlionn, April 6, 2023, European Conservative)

Welcome to the least fun game in the world: the genetic blame game. It has become fashionable to blame our genetic makeup for everything, from laziness and obesity to poor decision making,

Biological determinism, also known as genetic determinism, is the belief that human behavior is directly controlled by an individual's genes or some component of their physiological makeup. This belief fosters a sort of learned helplessness, a refusal to believe that an individual can affect the environment he or she finds themselves in. Just like we have the power to affect our immediate environment, our immediate environment has the power to affect us--often in the most profound of ways.

This brings us back to homosexuality. In 2019, scientists from MIT and Harvard explored whether or not a genetic basis for sexual orientation actually existed. The study, extensive in nature, saw the scientists perform a genome-wide association study on close to 500,000 participants from the U.S., the UK, and Sweden. In short, the 'gay gene' hypothesis was disproved. As the researcher Paul Sullins noted at the time, the study "definitively refutes the idea that being gay is an innate condition that is controlled or largely compelled by one's genetic makeup." The dominant cultural narrative regarding sexual orientation (the "genes made me do it"), insisted Sullins, "simply cannot be true." One of the authors of the study, Andrea Ganna, echoed his remarks, telling the New York Times that it was "basically impossible to predict one's sexual activity or orientation just from genetics." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Trump Loses (and Dems Win) Again: Donald Trump was arrested and once again the rest of his party paid the price (Dan Pfeiffer. Apr 5, 2023, Message Box)

Tuesday was the perfect metaphor for the Republican Party in the Trump era. The former President and current frontrunner for the GOP nomination was arrested, fingerprinted, and arraigned like a common criminal. He endured the ignominy with false bravado and the full support of his party and its media apparatus. Later that night, Trump's party lost yet another winnable election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Trump's Indictment Bodes Well for Democracy : What separates democracies from autocracies is the ability to maintain the rule of law and hold the powerful to account. Regardless of the outcome, the trial of Donald Trump - the first of any US president - could one day be remembered as a turning point in the battle for democracy, in the US and abroad. (Terry Lynn Karl, Apr. 4th, 2023, Project Syndicate)

Like the US, Peru is also trying to hold senior political figures accountable. In the same week that Trump was indicted and Toledo's extradition was finalized, Peruvian prosecutors announced that they are investigating incumbent President Dina Boluarte and former President Pedro Castillo - also for alleged campaign finance violations during the 2021 presidential race. Every one of the six Peruvian presidents elected since 1990 is either in jail, has been in jail, or has faced a detention order.

Before his extradition was cleared, many Peruvians wrongly assumed that the US would protect Toledo, previously a visiting scholar at Stanford University (his alma mater) who had carefully cultivated a status as a democratic icon. (Stanford has since severed ties with Toledo, though individual professors may continue to support him however they wish). Similarly, many Americans also believed that Trump would never be charged and still doubt more indictments are in the works.

In both cases, the fair application of the law was essential. While the backgrounds, personalities, and partisan identities of the combative Trump and less confrontational Toledo could not be more different, they have adopted similar tactics to avoid due process. Both have claimed to be the victims of a politically motivated "witch hunt" and that their respective justice systems have been "weaponized" against them. Trump's supporters have argued that his indictment shows that the US is now a "banana republic," while Toledo claimed that Peru could no longer be considered an election-based system. [...]

Whereas Toledo's past as a champion of Peruvian democracy adds a layer of poignancy to his fall from grace, Trump has always been exceptionally dangerous. Having shifted from being merely an admirer of autocrats to running as an openly fascist candidate in the 2024 presidential election, Trump now presents a clear and present danger to democratic governance worldwide. Despite his extremist rhetoric and promotion of political violence, some opponents tend to attack him as a clownish con artist or an ignorant buffoon, focusing on his style rather than the substance of his message.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Clarence Thomas Secretly Accepted Luxury Trips From GOP Donor (Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott and Alex Mierjeski, April 6, 2023, ProPublica)

In late June 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn't necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet -- and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow's superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow's Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow's sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow's private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow's apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas' financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM



The benefits for employees were obvious: a better work-life balance, more time to relax and take care of matters at home, and less burnout.

But what the study also demonstrates, according to AP, is that this is a viable model for businesses, too. Of the 61 companies that participated, 47 -- more than three-fourths -- saw an increase in revenue compared to the same six-month period last year. Twenty-four of those companies had at least a 34% revenue increase. 

Kirsty Wainwright, general manager of a restaurant called Platten's, which participated in the study, said the benefits go beyond profits, too. 

"I don't think we were really measuring it in terms of profitability," she told AP. "We wanted to measure it in productivity. And actually, the productivity has gone through the roof." 

...comes when you reduce to a four hour day. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Sins of the Father (Eric Pape, The Atavist Magazine)

A small, good-natured boy named Pierce O'Loughlin was growing up between the homes of his divorced parents in San Francisco. Nine-year-old Pierce was accustomed to custody handoffs taking place at Convent and Stuart Hall, the Catholic school he attended. On changeover days, one parent dropped him off in the morning at the hilltop campus overlooking the bay, and the other picked him up in the afternoon. The parents avoided seeing each other. Their split had been ugly.

On the afternoon of January 13, 2021, Lesley Hu, Pierce's mother, arrived at Convent and Stuart Hall for a scheduled pickup. Hu planned to take Pierce to a Coinstar machine to exchange a small bucket of coins for a gift card he could use to buy toys. Then they would go to dinner at a restaurant called House of Prime Rib, because Pierce loved to eat meat.

But Hu's son wasn't waiting for her at the school. Staff told her that he had been absent that day. They didn't know why.

Another mom might have assumed that her child had a cold or that his dad had let him skip school and taken him somewhere fun for the day, but not Hu. She wondered if Pierce had been kidnapped--not by a stranger but by his own father.

Over the course of their marriage, Hu had watched as her now ex-husband, Stephen O'Loughlin, became obsessed with pseudoscience, self-help gurus, and conspiracy theories, spending long nights watching videos online, then sharing the details of fantastical plots with Hu, their friends, and people he barely knew. The COVID-19 pandemic had only made things worse. O'Loughlin huddled for hours at his computer streaming YouTube clips and poring over right-wing websites--what he called "doing research."

One of O'Loughlin's fixations was vaccines. He believed that Pierce had been damaged by the routine inoculations he received as a baby. O'Loughlin was adamant that the boy be given no more shots--not for COVID-19, when a vaccine was eventually authorized for kids, nor for any other disease.

In 2020, Hu had filed for the sole legal right to make decisions about her son's medical care, which would empower her to vaccinate Pierce regardless of what her ex wanted. She felt good about her chances in court. On January 11, as a condition for a continuance he had requested in the medical custody case, O'Loughlin suddenly agreed to let Pierce receive two vaccinations. In retrospect, according to Hu's attorney, Lorie Nachlis, "it all seemed too easy."

When Hu discovered that Pierce wasn't at school, she wondered if O'Loughlin had agreed to the vaccinations only because he was plotting to steal Pierce away before their son could receive them. To Hu it wasn't improbable--her ex seemed that far gone.

Hu and her boyfriend, Jim Baaden, had recently decided to move in together; Hu was planning to tell Pierce the news that evening at dinner. Now Baaden picked Hu up at Pierce's school, and together the couple sped to O'Loughlin's home in San Francisco's posh Marina District, trying not to dwell on worst-case scenarios.

When they arrived outside O'Loughlin's Mediterranean-style apartment building, they noticed that the blinds in the living room, which was on the ground floor of the unit, were drawn but disheveled. For a moment, Baaden recoiled. O'Loughlin was a gun owner. What if he'd barricaded himself and Pierce in the apartment? Baaden imagined O'Loughlin aiming the barrel between the blinds, ready to shoot.

Baaden and Hu approached the building's intercom and buzzed O'Loughlin's apartment. No one answered. Hu began banging on the door to the building and screaming. She considered breaking in, but Baaden told her to call 911 instead.

Hu could not fathom how someone like O'Loughlin--a man of means and privilege--had come to believe outrageous lies. She knew that various misinformation networks and snake-oil salesmen had facilitated her ex's paranoia and exploited his psychological fragility. But Hu had always stayed focused on what she considered her most important task: raising and protecting Pierce.

There would be time in the future to consider, almost endlessly, what happened to O'Loughlin. For now, in a panic, all Hu could do was wonder: Where had he taken their son?

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Freedom Caucus and progressives lock arms -- and that could be bad news for McCarthy (NICHOLAS WU, 04/06/2023, Politico)

"Sometimes the political spectrum is more of a circle than a line. At some point, you might have sometimes-differing motives or different ranges, but you end up [at] the same conclusion, and that's okay," said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a vocal Freedom Caucus member.

There is no reason the Left/Right would support the liberation of the Shi'a and Kurds.

April 5, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Donald Trump calls for defunding federal police after his arrest in New York (Sahil Kapur, 4/05/23, NBC News)

Former President Donald Trump is egging on Republicans in Congress to "defund" federal law enforcement ahead of a government funding deadline this fall.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Passover Seder: The Story of Us (Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove, Apr. 3rd, 2023, Jewish Journal)

Not only does the Haggadah contain multiple narrative threads, but also each thread and each ritual contain a multitude of interpretive possibilities. There is an archaeology to the Haggadah, it is a layered compendium of biblical texts, rabbinic texts, medieval texts, and modern texts interwoven and stitched together, with the seams visible to close readers, embracing a diversity of ages, sages and sensibilities.

But the Haggadah is more than that. Much more.

More of an invitation than a recitation, the Haggadah is engineered to elicit comments and debate from its readers. The Hebrew word "haggadah" doesn't mean "story"; it means "telling," an observation made even more interesting when one considers that the first thing one does in the maggid/telling section is not tell but ask a question: Mah nishtanah? "What makes this night different?"

Unlike every other liturgy, the Haggadah not only allows for interruption but also welcomes it. Unlike every other liturgy, the text of the Haggadah is directed not toward God but to the people sitting across from you at the table. The Haggadah reminds us that our stories are not only endlessly diverse, but also endlessly evolving, as in the case of the sages described in the Haggadah, all of whom continued to find new meanings in each word throughout their lives.

Most of all, the Haggadah is a reminder. It's a reminder that our stories, interpretations and insights--diverse and evolving as they are--must sit side by side, literally and figuratively, with the stories, interpretations and insights of every other Seder participant. Each person, regardless of age, stature or wisdom is an equal stakeholder. Memorable as the rhetorical device of the four children may be, its point is not merely to prompt us to identify with one child or another; its point and power is to remind us that all four children figured out a way to sit at the table together. Who knows if the rabbis described in Haggadah--Eliezer, Akiva and Tarfon (among others)--actually liked each other? What we do know is that they made space for each other, debating until the break of dawn, their insights preserved in the text together with those of other rabbis.

Memorable as the rhetorical device of the four children may be, its point is not merely to prompt us to identify with one child or another; its point and power is to remind us that all four children figured out a way to sit at the table together.

The Haggadah is not just a story of one of us; it is the story of all of us. On one hand, this story is authentic to our respective lived experiences, and on the other hand it is inclusive and interconnected with the lived experiences of others. There is a lexical correspondence between the Hebrew word "haggadah" and the Hebrew root gid, meaning "sinew" or "tendon," that which binds or connects us. That is what the Haggadah is: a story that invites other stories, that connects those stories one to another. It's an inclusive tool of identity formation that binds each participant to a larger narrative and binds the Jewish people together through the ages.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump and the religious Right's unhappy ending (Nicholas Rowan, March 31, 2023, Washington Examiner)

[N]ow that Trump is out of office, his calculation has changed. The deal is off. And, as is often the case, he is the one who broke it. Religious conservatives should see this as a blessing, however -- an opportunity to break from Trump and correlate their politics with their values. [...]

In the following months, Trump became even more combative. Reports dribbled out of Florida as the 2022 midterm elections drew nearer that the former president was dismayed at the enthusiastic response of the pro-life movement, and particularly of its religious arm, to the Dobbs decision. Trump had always stressed that abortion was for state governments to decide and that the problem with Roe, ultimately, was that it was the product of judicial activism. But most of the people who voted for him on the issue did not see it that way. Religious pro-lifers see abortion as primarily a moral problem where concerns over constitutional interpretation are often of secondary importance. And so, in the weeks and months following the decision, many pro-lifers began pushing for a more ambitious strategy. Working it out in the states was good, but to keep energy in the fight, abortion had to remain a national issue. Not long after Dobbs, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a bill that would ban abortion nationally at 15 weeks. It won widespread approval within the movement. That included former Vice President Mike Pence, who during the administration often played liaison to Trump's evangelical voting bloc. Pence praised the initiative as "profoundly more important than any short-term politics."

But this kind of talk freaked out Trump. He was already mulling his next presidential run, and he started to see the very voters who propelled him to victory in 2016 as a liability in 2024. In private, it was said, Trump frequently fretted about abortion and especially the vigor with which pro-lifers were reacting to Dobbs. If they wanted to be "really smart," Trump said, they would focus on limiting late-term abortions, a position that is more popular than heartbeat bills and early trimester abortion bans. In general, Trump wondered if Dobbs might end up being "bad for Republicans."

It didn't take long for Trump to get the answer he wanted. After the 2022 Republican wipeout in the midterm elections, he was quick to place the blame on the most ardent pro-life activists. "It wasn't my fault that the Republicans didn't live up to expectations in the MidTerms," he wrote on Truth Social. "It was the 'abortion issue,' poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters." And, since that wasn't harsh enough, Trump specifically pointed the finger at the many pastors, street activists, and rosary-bearing prayer warriors who had been his most ardent supporters since 2016: "Also, the people that pushed so hard, for decades, against abortion, got their wish from the U.S. Supreme Court, & just plain disappeared, not to be seen again."

This gets at a central quandary for groups considering a tactical alliance with Trump: He considers any deal binding in perpetuity -- but only on his partners. Trump, however, is free of obligation. The genie becomes the one making demands, while his discoverer gets to spend 3,000 years in a lamp. All the while, Trump will disown their contributions and express regret at partnership with them in the first place, discarding and staining the cause in the process.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bridging the gap--from Sonny Rollins to Kendrick LamarThe work of the jazz biographer is getting more and more difficult. But we still need it--and them--to help us understand today's culture (Philip Clark, April 5, 2023, Prospect)

By contrast, Levy's subject--the revered tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins--is still living and, although now 92 and retired from performing since 2014, has much to contribute. But this doesn't mean that Rollins lacks enigma. Why did he, at the height of his powers, temporarily stop performing in public in 1959 and, for two years, practise his instrument underneath Williamsburg Bridge, often for 15 hours a day? 

Another question that has long intrigued me is explicitly musical. Whereas Rollins's close friend John Coltrane moved towards a music of ferocious, passionate freedom, Rollins was always slightly more... guarded. In this respect, the counterpoint with Ayler proves timely. The impact Coltrane's music made on the young Ayler was transformational, and it was Coltrane who arranged for Ayler to be signed to his record label, Impulse. Then the pupil became mentor, as Coltrane learned from Ayler's approach to free jazz, which led his drift away from jazz of regular pulse and recognisable harmonic patterns. 

Rollins, too, went through a period of letting free jazz--what they called at the time "The New Thing" or "Fire Music"--inform his work, but with one fundamental difference. Ayler's and Coltrane's later music shredded the rulebook as defiantly as James Joyce smashed conventional narrative form. But Rollins managed to subvert the same rules and embrace freedom while also remaining (generally) faithful to traditional ideas of song form, pulse and improvisation--which made him some sort of magician. How did he achieve that? 

Levy goes some way to answering that question, and many others, through sheer weight of research: his book sprawls over 725 pages and is so bulky that the source notes have been placed online. But, much like his previous book on Lou Reed, it's also compulsively readable, with a pacey narrative that belies its monumentalism. This is a very current jazz biography, perhaps even state of the art. It's certainly different from the ones I read when finding my feet in the mid-1980s. Back then, one would hear about historically crucial albums by Charles Mingus or Thelonious Monk, but actually hearing those albums could be quite a different matter--especially if, like me, you lived outside of London, in a backwater in the northeast of England. I relied on biographies to effectively stand in for albums I assumed I'd never encounter. They just had to give me something; it almost didn't matter how much.

But now that every album you could reasonably hope to hear can be played at the click of a mouse, the jazz biography must shoulder different responsibilities. However well I knew the nuts-and-bolts of Rollins's music, Levy made me realise how little I knew about the man--and how much the musical minutiae were informed by his background and his political awakening as a teenager. You could be forgiven for thinking, from reading other histories, that all Rollins's experiences were framed by New York City. He was born in Harlem on 7th September 1930 and, during his childhood, pounded the same sidewalks as his musical heroes, who included Ellington and the tenor saxophonists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. 

But circumstances could easily have been different. Rollins was born shortly after his family migrated to the city from the Caribbean island of St Croix. His grandfather Stedman (who was refused entry to the US) had been a singer on the island, specialising in an embryonic form of calypso called quelbe. All Rollins's siblings were born before his family made their move, and his family's cultural reference points were overwhelmingly Caribbean. And so that question I raised earlier, about Rollins's later instinct for musical freedom, starts to answer itself. His most famous compositions, such as "St Thomas" and "Don't Stop the Carnival", turned West Indian tunes into vehicles for improvisation without cluttering their crystalline forms with the harmonic obstacle courses typical of modern jazz. Rollins's compositions, perched in this fertile hinterland between the Caribbean and New York, mapped exactly on to his background.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Biden Is Using Federal Power to Liberate Localities  : The president's quiet effort to free municipalities from the despotism of GOP governors. (Will Norris, April 4, 2023, Washington Monthly)

The penchant of state-level Republicans for squashing municipal policies they don't like has been made easier by the way the federal government has traditionally funded programs to help localities: by routing the money through the states. When Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017, city lawmakers expected the state to pass along the more than $1 billion Congress had appropriated for emergency aid. Instead, they received nothing: The entire package was doled out to largely white, inland communities less affected by the storm. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner accused Abbott of a "money grab." The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development later found that the stunt put Texas in violation of the Civil Rights Act. "Let me just tell you, that remains a sore spot," Turner recently told me. His ire was further piqued when the Texas Department of Transportation announced in February 2021 that it would expand a highway that cuts through the city without changes requested by the mayor and other Houston lawmakers. The planned expansion would displace nearly 1,100 homes, 340 businesses, five churches, and two schools.

In the 21st century, the arrival of an educated, multiracial workforce in places like Houston has collided with the disproportionate power Republicans have accrued at the state level to create a novel political phenomenon: Increasingly blue metro areas are finding themselves up against increasingly red state governments--and losing. If demographics are destiny, governors facing an in-migration pattern that worryingly resembles the long-term marginalization of their conservative politics are exploiting the legal and fiscal preeminence states have over localities in new and extreme ways. "Don't California My Texas" has become Abbott's trademarked mantra. In February, Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene captured the mood when she suggested that red states should block new arrivals from blue states from voting for a period of five years. Governors like Abbott and DeSantis, with the backing of a conservative Supreme Court supermajority determined to buttress the power of states, are steamrolling the will of cities to govern in ways their voters think best.

But that dynamic is not going unchallenged at the national level. One of the least noticed but most profound changes in Washington over the past two years has been a concerted effort by Joe Biden's administration and Democrats in Congress to liberate localities from the overweening power of state governments--a change the Washington Monthly called for in January 2021.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Liberal judge wins in Wis. Supreme Court showdown (ZACH MONTELLARO and MADISON FERNANDEZ, 04/04/2023, Politico)

Liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz crushed her opponent on Tuesday in Wisconsin's Supreme Court election. The outcome of the contest will likely determine the fate of abortion rights and other key issues in the top presidential battleground.

Conservatives currently hold a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court -- an advantage that's helped the right lock in power for the Republican-dominated legislature. But Protasiewicz's win could provide a new check on the state GOP. She will be sworn in this summer.

It's like the Right is addicted to losing elections. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Finland joins NATO in historic shift, Russia threatens 'counter-measures' (Anne Kauranen and Andrew Gray, 4/04/23, Reuters) 

Finland formally joined NATO on Tuesday, its flag unfurling outside the military bloc's Brussels headquarters, in a historic policy shift brought on by Russia's invasion of Ukraine that drew a threat from Moscow of "counter-measures."

Finland's accession, ending seven decades of military non-alignment, roughly doubles the length of the border the North Atlantic Treaty Organization shares with Russia and bolsters its eastern flank as the war in Ukraine grinds on with no resolution in sight.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China on track to triple its terawatt-scale wind and solar target (Joshua S Hill, 5 April 2023, Renew Economy)

The research arm of American banking giant Goldman Sachs has concluded that China is currently on track to generate almost three times more power from wind turbines and solar panels than the government has targeted.

According to a report published by Goldman Sachs in late March, combined capacity from China's solar and wind energy sector will reach 3.3 terawatts (TW) by 2030.

This far outstrips the Chinese government's current target of 1.2TWh.

The conclusion from the report is that, with such an accelerated pace for wind and solar deployment, China could become energy self-sufficient by 2060.

So by 2035.

April 4, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Jan. 6 rioter who said he was following Trump's 'marching orders' and wanted to arrest Biden and Pelosi is found guilty (Ryan J. Reilly, 4/04/23, NBC News)

Jackson said Badalian was "extremely well aware" of the electoral college proceedings on Jan. 6 and how the process worked. "This defendant knew exactly what Jan. 6 was all about," she said. His focus was not on antifa, but on arresting politicians, Jackson said, pointing to messages in which Badalian talked about arresting President-elect Joe Biden and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"No, Mr. Badalian, the Constitution does not give you the right" to arrest the House speaker, Jackson said.

Badalian drove a rented van across the country along with Rodriguez and told members of the groups that he had packed a respirator, masks, snow goggles, kneepads and baseball helmets for the group, according to his indictment.

"Our duly elected leader has called his marching orders, we gotta show up," Badalian wrote in the "Patriots 45 MAGA Gang" chat on Dec. 21. Jackson said Tuesday that the Trump tweet gave the group "the focus it needs," by giving them a time and location.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Florida Is Where the First Amendment Goes to Die: For Ron DeSantis, all is fair in winning the culture war, even attacking constitutionally protected free speech rights (Aaron Terr, 4/04/23, The UnPopulist)

When Ron DeSantis became Florida's governor in 2019, there was reason for optimism about an expansion of freedom of expression in the state. In April of that year, he called on Florida's colleges and universities to adopt the "Chicago Statement." It's a resolution that my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), endorses as the "gold standard" of institutional commitments to free speech on campus because it establishes, for example, that "it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive." That move built on the progress made by passage of the state's speech-protective Campus Free Expression Act in 2018, which codified that same principle.

But things started to go downhill last year when Gov. DeSantis signed the "Individual Freedom" Act (more commonly known as the "Stop WOKE Act") into law. Ironically, the law abridges individual freedom by restricting how faculty at state institutions may speak about controversial subjects like race and sex in the classroom. It lists several concepts that faculty may not "espouse" or "advance," such as the view that an "individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion." That could, taking just one example, make it unlawful for professors to present arguments in favor of affirmative action or reparations for slavery. Whatever one thinks of the merits of those ideas, it's well within a professor's academic freedom to discuss, debate, and take positions on them in class.

FIRE sued to challenge the Stop WOKE Act's higher education provisions on First Amendment grounds. In defending the law, Florida took the astonishing position that faculty at public universities are mere government mouthpieces, rather than scholars with constitutionally protected academic freedom, as the Supreme Court has recognized. That freedom is essential to a university's fundamental mission to produce and disseminate knowledge.

In a ruling last November, a federal court agreed with FIRE (and the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which filed separate suits) and halted enforcement of key parts of the Stop WOKE Act. The court called the law "positively dystopian" and explained that the "First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark." Of course, the state has appealed that decision.

But a court defeat didn't stop Florida lawmakers from stepping up efforts to purge campuses of ideas they dislike. Last month, Florida state legislators introduced House Bill 999 and its Senate counterpart Senate Bill 266. Both are essentially the Stop WOKE Act on steroids. That's right--they're seeking to expand on a law declared unconstitutional by a federal court by adding more First Amendment violations into the mix.

The new legislation, which Gov. DeSantis previewed in January, would impose even more limits on the freedom of students and faculty to discuss and explore ideas in college classrooms and beyond. 

Educated voters oppose Trumpism--they can't afford to allow learning. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


House GOP's Biden investigations sputter out of the gate (JORDAIN CARNEY, 04/04/2023, Politico)

House Republicans charged into the majority vowing an investigative onslaught against President Joe Biden and Democrats.

But they've gotten almost nowhere so far -- and some in the party are getting frustrated.

According to interviews with more than a dozen House Republicans, a sizable chunk of the conference is focused on preventing a banking crisis and a looming debt fight instead of on Biden family oversight or a politicized government panel. At the same time, the party base is chafing at the lack of big bombshells and concrete steps against administration officials to back up all of lawmakers' talk.

The problem for MAGA is that the investigations have been successful.  They have found the nothing that was there to be found. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Taliban carries out deadly raid on ISIL hideout in Afghanistan (Al Jazeera, 4/04/23)

Taliban forces have killed six members of the ISIL armed group (ISIS) in Afghanistan's northern Balkh province during an overnight raid, a Taliban spokesman said on Tuesday.

The raid comes as the Taliban rulers crack down on the regional affiliate of the ISIL group - known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), which has carried out several deadly attacks in recent months killing dozens, including Balkh governor Mohammad Dawood Muzammil last month.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Natural Selection Favors AIs over Humans (Dan Hendrycks, 3/28/23, arXiv:2303.16200v1 [cs.CY] )

 Competitive pressures among corporations and militaries will give rise to AI agents that automate human roles, deceive others, and gain power. If such agents have intelligence that exceeds that of humans, this could lead to humanity losing control of its future. More abstractly, we argue that natural selection operates on systems that compete and vary, and that selfish species typically have an advantage over species that are altruistic to other species. This Darwinian logic could also apply to artificial agents, as agents may eventually be better able to persist into the future if they behave selfishly and pursue their own interests with little regard for humans, which could pose catastrophic risks. To counteract these risks and Darwinian forces, we consider interventions such as carefully designing AI agents' intrinsic motivations, introducing constraints on their actions, and institutions that encourage cooperation. These steps, or others that resolve the problems we pose, will be necessary in order to ensure the development of artificial intelligence is a positive one.

If there's one thing all of us are certain of it is that intelligence designs Darwinism to suit its whims. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Exclusive: Trump to be charged Tuesday with 34 felony counts, but spared handcuffs and mug shot (Michael Isikoff, April 3, 2023 , Yahoo! News)

Donald Trump will be placed under arrest on Tuesday and informed that he has been charged with 34 felony counts for falsification of business records, according to a source who has been briefed on the procedures for the arraignment of the former president.

When we speak of systemic racism....
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump faces setbacks in other probes as NY case proceeds (ERIC TUCKER, 4/03/23, AP) 

The vulnerability Trump faces in Washington alone has become clear over the past month, as judges in a succession of sealed rulings have turned aside the Trump team's efforts to block grand jury testimony from witnesses -- including from his own lawyer and his former vice president -- who were or still are close to him and who could conceivably offer direct insight into key events.

The rulings directing advisers and aides to testify don't suggest that the Justice Department is close to bringing criminal charges, nor do they guarantee that prosecutors can secure testimony valuable to a potential prosecution. But they're nonetheless a key, closed-door win for the government as it investigates whether classified documents were criminally mishandled at Trump's Florida home and the possible obstruction of that probe, as well as efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election.

"I do think when you're talking about an attempted insurrection and the kinds of issues that we're talking about there, there's going to be a lot of arguments on DOJ's side" to get the testimony, said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor and a George Washington University law professor.

Meanwhile, the district attorney in Atlanta is continuing to investigate attempts by Trump and his allies to undo his election loss in Georgia. A special grand jury in February said it believed "one or more witnesses" committed perjury and urged local prosecutors to bring charges.

The former president never testified before the special grand jury, meaning he is not among those who could have perjured themselves. But the report doesn't foreclose the possibility of other charges, and the case still poses particular challenges for Trump, in part because his actions in Georgia were so public.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tennessee House speaker strips Democrats of committee roles after Capitol protest (Vivian Jones, 4/03/23, Nashville Tennessean)

Sexton took the action against Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. Jones and Johnson, along with Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, on Monday, days after they interrupted legislative business to lead protesters from the House floor calling for gun control. [...]

On Thursday, the three House Democrats approached the podium between bills without being recognized to speak -- breaching the chamber's rules of procedure.

With a bullhorn, the three led protestors in the galleries in several chants calling for gun reform. At no point did any demonstrators make their way onto the House floor.

State Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, speaks into a megaphone after interrupting the House session to call for gun control, on Thursday, March 30. With him are Reps. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis. The action came in the wake of The Covenant School shooting that killed six people earlier in the week.
Sexton immediately recessed the chamber, halting legislative business for nearly an hour before it resumed, and ordered security to clear the House galleries.

April 3, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


"Soros-backed": The GOP's favorite attack on the man prosecuting Trump, explained (Zack Beauchamp, Apr 3, 2023, Vox)

[T]he crucial event, the one that truly popularized Soros demonization, was the election of Barack Obama. By that point, Soros had become a major funder of progressive causes -- and Obama's victory had driven the conservative movement off the rails. Conspiracy theories, like the notion that Obama was born in Kenya, became increasingly common in right-wing media.

Glenn Beck's show on Fox News, basically a primetime conspiracy theory hour, focused its fire on Soros. In a 2010 three-part special titled "Exposing George Soros: The Puppet Master?" Beck accused Soros of being the secret hand behind a slew of coups and revolutions in the former Eastern Bloc. "So, what is his target now? Us. America," Beck told his viewers.

This, in case you're wondering, very clearly crossed the line into antisemitism. It's true that Soros supported pro-democracy activists and civil society groups in former communist states -- but that doesn't make him the "puppet master" secretly getting people out into the streets to demonstrate against dictators. The idea that a Jewish financier is secretly masterminding global events against the interests of rooted local conservatives -- it doesn't take a scholar of antisemitism to see what Beck was drawing on here.

Around the same time, the knives were coming out for Soros in Hungary.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Liberalism and Its Discontents: Waller R. Newell's Tyranny and Revolution: Rousseau to Heidegger (John Boersma, 4/03/23, Voegelin View)

Today's political discourse is rife with the prognosis that liberalism is in trouble, evidenced by the rise of anti-liberal and post-liberal thought, each of which maintains that a politics based on material self-interest is incapable of providing the meaning and nobility necessary for its own maintenance.  Waller Newell's Tyranny and Revolution: Rousseau to Heidegger makes clear that this sentiment is not the exclusive preserve of the twenty-first century but is nearly as old as liberalism itself.  Newell's book provides an overview of a strain of thought he terms the German Philosophy of Freedom, which paradoxically both contributed to the rise of the liberal state (in the thought of Georg Friedrich Hegel) and reacted against the emergence of liberal politics (in the writings of Hegel's successors).  Tracing this school from its incipient beginnings in Rousseau's thoughts through Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, Waller Newell posits that the unifying thread that holds these thinkers together is their commitment to restore a classical conception of human existence, one that is rooted in devotion to community and virtue in the face of the dreary utilitarianism of Enlightenment philosophy. 

Actually, they are Enlightened, in their dependence on Reason.  It's the result of believing in Descartes. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Justice Dept. said to have more evidence of possible Trump obstruction at Mar-a-Lago
Ex-staffer's emails, texts are guiding investigators, who increasingly suspect Trump went through boxes after subpoena (Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Perry Stein, April 2, 2023, Washington Post)

The additional evidence comes as investigators have used emails and text messages from a former Trump aide to help understand key moments last year, said the people, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation.

The new details highlight the degree to which special counsel Jack Smith's investigation into the potential mishandling of hundreds of classified national security papers at Trump's Florida home and private club has come to focus on the obstruction elements of the case -- whether the former president took or directed actions to impede government efforts to collect all the sensitive records.

The emphasis on obstruction marks a key distinction so far between the Mar-a-Lago investigation and a separate Justice Department probe into how a much smaller number of classified documents ended up in an insecure office of President Biden's, as well as his Delaware home. 

April 2, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Ergoing Nowhere: Noah Harris says Descartes failed to find absolute foundations for knowledge. (Noah Harris, 4/02/23, Philosophy Now)

My aim here is to point out that any attempt to undertake Descartes' project - to discover what we can know to be certain and free from all presuppositions - is bound to either fail or show that we know nothing. We can go absolutely nowhere in argument without the laws of logic. However, these laws cannot themselves be proven, for we would have to presuppose them in order to construct an argument for them! Therefore we can know absolutely nothing independently of absolutely everything. This failure is crucial for Descartes' project, because his concern was that unless the foundations of his thought were certain and without presuppositions, everything he built upon them ''could only be highly doubtful'' (p.13). So to question everything but the laws of logic undermines his project not at the last hurdle, but at the first.

Recognizing the fact that Descartes failed prevented the Anglosphere from being sucked into the disastrous, Rationalist project and led to our easy triumph in the Long War. Thanks, Dave. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The First Maggid--How Memory Made the Jews (Cole S. Aronson, April 2, 2023, Jewish Review of Books)

Imagine you're an Israelite adult 3,500 years ago. The kingdom that has enslaved you, your parents, and your parents' parents has been ravaged by plagues. You've watched (and been spared) the carnage, but now, you're told, you need to do more than look on. Your family will publicly pledge allegiance to the deity supposedly responsible for the plagues or the tenth one will afflict you together with your oppressors. You kill a lamb and paint your doorpost with its blood to signal that your firstborn has faithful parents. Your children see these things and they ask. . . well, they ask why tonight is different from all other nights.

You don't tell the children they were once slaves in Egypt, because that's all they know. But it wasn't always so, you tell them--long ago, their ancestors enjoyed over a century of freedom under God. God chose to raise the patriarchs up from the idolatry of their native culture and gave them a covenantal life. A famine some generations later compelled the chosen family to live in Egypt, first as guests and then--until now--as slaves. Tonight, God will keep his promise to the patriarchs and restore the Israelites to his service.

What the parents of the Exodus told their children was the very first maggid--the first telling of Passovernight. But the story as originally told didn't commemorate the founding of the Jewish nation. Telling the story founded the Jewish nation.

Until the Exodus, the before-time of the patriarchs was a rumor whispered by strangers subjugated in a strange land. On the Exodus night, teaching the children about God's choice of Abraham converted his descendants into his self-conscious heirs. A free nation was created by restoring a memory of itself. The pageantry of the Sederis often and correctly said to recreate the Exodus night in order to tell a story. The reverse is also true. Jews recreate the Exodus night in part by telling a story that the Exodus parents must have told their own children 3,500 years ago, and with the same function--initiating youngsters into the chosen people of God.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Over 24 hours, rumblings of a reckoning for the right (Philip Bump, April 1, 2023, Washington Post)

Within about 22 hours, the right's political heavyweight and its biggest force in the media were both knocked off balance. And then, soon after the Fox ruling, the right's vocal, aggressive online community got its turn.

Back in 2016, at about the time that alleged affair by Trump was being covered up, one of his fervent supporters began publishing social media posts suggesting that supporters of Trump's Democratic opponent could vote by text message. Douglass Mackey -- then a well-known social-media troll -- created ads targeting likely supporters of Hillary Clinton, like black women, and suggesting that they could cast ballots with their phones. Attempting to keep people from voting is a violation of federal law and, on Friday, a jury convicted Mackey on a conspiracy charge.

The case had long been cast by the right as an effort by prosecutors working for a Democratic administration cracking down on an opposing voice, an attempt to "criminalize memes." A federal jury, presented with an articulation of Mackey's actions and the letter of the law, disagreed. News broke just about 24 hours after the charges against Trump had appeared at the clerk's office in Manhattan.

For years, three central facets of right-wing politics in the United States -- the aggressive online community, the media juggernaut and the leader of the far right -- had run at or past the boundaries without issue. Then, over an exceptional 24-hour period, each stumbled. Mackey will be sentenced. Fox will go to trial. Trump will be arraigned.

As the Right says, if we're going to hold even wealthy ex-presidents and corporations responsible for their wrong-doing, who is safe to break the law?

April 1, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Ron DeSantis Vows To Violate U.S. Constitution To Protect Accused Criminal Donald Trump (S.V. Date, Mar 31, 2023, HuffPo)

"What is he going to do? Stand in the schoolhouse door? Be another George Wallace?" wondered one top Republican consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The myth of America's imperial decline (Doug Stokes, March 31, 2023, UnHerd)

[T]hose who posit the decline of America, and by extension the liberal world order, often get key metrics wrong. For instance, it has been argued that as the unipolar moment fades, so will the dollar's international reserve currency status. Writing in UnHerd, Thomas Fazi recently argued that Western sanctions on Russia have "enhanced the yuan's reserve currency status", while Bloomberg reported that the dollar has reached a "critical inflection point". Even the IMF has signalled alarm.

However, the use of the dollar is based as much on geopolitics as it is on economics. Foreign investors will continue to use the currency not just because of its incredible liquidity as a store of value and medium of global exchange, but because of the US's legal and governance infrastructure. It remains, after all, the currency of choice in foreign-exchange swap transactions, accounting for nearly half of the $6.6 trillion daily foreign-exchange turnover. Of allocated foreign-exchange reserves in late 2022, the dollar accounted for 60% of the world's total. The Euro, by contrast, stood at 20%. The Chinese Renminbi? 3%.

The case for a renewed Sino-Russian axis is equally unfounded. Although Putin recently hosted his "dear friend" Xi at the Kremlin, underlying this friendship is the stark reality of a deepening Russian vassalage to Xi's China. A loss of Russian prestige and status in Ukraine, and by extension an American victory, would prove a mortal blow to Putin's project of contesting the world order that, from the Kremlin's perspective, represents a greater civilisational struggle. Given this existential framing, Putin has little choice but to deepen his reliance on China as a market for Russian commodities and supplies for his war machine (via useful proxies such as North Korea).

Moreover, simmering tensions within the Sino-Russian axis already exist. The Siberian Pacific seaboard, which includes regions such as the Russian Far East and the Amur river basin, is rich in natural resources, such as timber, minerals and fisheries. China's infrastructure and development projects in the region, including through its Belt and Road Initiative, have been primarily economic. As Moscow's dependency grows, China may seek to salami-slice Russian interests, including the eventual reabsorption of the Pacific Seaboard. And this could lead to a weakening of the Federation as a whole, as well as its disintegration in the long term. None of the Central Asian states have supported the invasion of Ukraine, and are increasingly distancing themselves from Putin's integration projects. As such, despite proclamations of brotherly love, the chaotic Sino-Russian axis remains unlikely to become a "soft power" pole around which much of the Global South will seek to organise.

The US, meanwhile, retains an incredible capacity to leverage its military power into structuring the international preferences of politically equal but security subordinate states. The threat posed by the emergent Sino-Russian axis increases its capacity to corral powers as diverse as Sweden, Finland, Taiwan and Japan under its strategic superintendence, all of whom look to the US for protection. Underlined by its newly energised Aukus deal, and growing role within Nato, America's status in major centres of world power remains as strong as it did in the early post-Cold War period.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Remembering Rumpole: John Mortimer's fictional barrister was--like his creator--a rogue redeemed by a fierce commitment to the presumption of innocence. (Kevin Mims, 1 Apr 2023, Quillette)

Horace Rumpole deserves a place alongside Bertie Wooster, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, James Bond, and Father Brown as one of the best creations in all of British popular fiction. The fact that he began his career as a made-for-TV character rather than in the pages of a book, or even a magazine, seems to have worked against him. The brainchild of barrister-turned-writer John Mortimer, Rumpole first appeared on television on December 17th, 1975, in a BBC anthology series called Play for Today.

Mortimer was born 100 years ago this month, and when Rumpole first appeared, he had already been earning a living as a writer since the 1940s. He graduated with a law degree from Oxford in 1943, but then immediately went to work writing documentary films for Britain's Ministry of Information. His first novel, Charade (1947), was based on that experience. The following year, aged 25, he was called to the bar. For the next 35 years or so, he pursued dual careers, as a barrister specializing in the defense of free speech and criminal defendants, and as a writer of stage plays, radio plays, teleplays, essays, memoirs, and novels. After retiring from the bar in 1984, Mortimer continued to put out a book or two a year--most but by no means all of which featured Horace Rumpole--until his death at 85 in 2009.

Some of his early radio and TV plays featured characters that can be viewed as precursors to Horace Rumpole; put-upon barristers struggling for a foothold in the legal profession and largely failing. But it wasn't until 1975 that he finally came up with the character whom, at first, he called Horace Rumbold (the name was changed when it turned out that a real-life barrister already bore that name). That teleplay was called Rumpole of the Bailey, a reference to the Old Bailey, which is the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, where Rumpole plied his trade as a defense attorney.

It was a hit with critics, and the producer of the teleplay, Irene Shubik, hoped to turn it into a regular series. The BBC wasn't interested, so Shubik took the project to Thames Television. The series debuted on April 3rd, 1978, and ran for six episodes. An additional six seasons would follow between 1979 and 1992. Fans of the series will know that Rumpole was brilliantly played by Leo McKern, an Australian actor, and that his wife, Hilda ("She Who Must Be Obeyed"), was played by Peggy Thorpe-Bates for the first three seasons and by Marion Mathie for the final four.

I don't know if he ever acknowledged it, but when Mortimer created Rumpole, he was almost certainly inspired, in part, by Columbo, the American TV series starring Peter Falk. [...]

As Penelope Dimont, the future Mrs. Mortimer published a single novel, Johanna (1947), which hadn't been particularly successful. But after marrying Mortimer, she changed her name to Penelope Mortimer, and published seven more novels, all of them "blatantly autobiographical," according to Graham Lord, author of John Mortimer: The Devil's Advocate. Lord describes the first of these novels, A Villa in Summer, as "a searing account of their increasingly dreadful marriage. A howl of anguish that was barely fiction at all..." While most of Penelope's fiction dealt with her marriage, much of John's fiction was based on his infidelities with other women, infidelities he was happy to flaunt in front of his emotionally troubled wife. Curiously, many of their literary works were dedicated to each other, despite the fact that said works usually contained a hideous fictional portrait of the dedicatee.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Judge undercuts key Fox News defense as he sends Dominion suit to trial (Sarah Ellison, Paul Farhi and Jeremy Barr,  March 31, 2023, Washington Post)

"This is a disastrous decision for Fox," said Jonathan Peters, a media law professor at the University of Georgia. "The case isn't over, no, with the trial on the way and the likelihood of appeals, but going forward I'd much rather have Dominion's arguments."

In his ruling, Davis determined that the conservative cable-news network had undeniably broadcast falsehoods when it allowed allies of Donald Trump to float debunked claims about Dominion supposedly rigging voting machines to boost Joe Biden.

However, Davis said he will leave it to a jury to decide whether Fox knew the statements were false when they aired them or acted recklessly in doing so -- the "actual malice" standard required to prove a case of defamation.

Still, the ruling means that the case goes to the jury with other key elements already decided in Dominion's favor, said RonNell Andersen Jones, a professor and First Amendment scholar at the University of Utah law school.

For example, Davis's ruling asserts that the false statements -- such as the claim that Dominion was created in Venezuela to rig elections for socialist leader Hugo Chávez -- harmed the company's reputation, meaning that the impact on Dominion will not have to be debated at trial.

"The jury will be left to tussle with only the question of how responsible Fox Corporation is for the production and dissemination of the statements [aired on Fox News], and the question of actual malice, along with the fight over damages," Andersen Jones said.

"The checklist of things that Dominion has to prove in order to win the case has just gotten a lot shorter," said Sonja West, a law professor at the University of Georgia.