August 31, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Massive school satisfaction gap pits parents against everyone else (April Rubin, 8/31/23, Axios)

76% of parents believe their K-12 students are receiving a quality education, according to new data from an annual Gallup survey.

But just 36% of adults overall said they were satisfied with K-12 education in the country.

What do consumers know about products?

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


China risks losing the battle of market perceptions (WILLIAM PESEK, AUGUST 31, 2023, Asia Times)

Accurate or not, a narrative is taking hold that China's growth "miracle" is over and that "Japanification" risks abound. It doesn't make it so, but in these social media-driven meme-stock times, in which algorithmic trading trumps gut-feeling responses to global uncertainties, false narratives can take on a life of their own. And damaging ones can metastasize quicker than Xi's inner circle may realize.

Along with unfavorable demographics, China confronts slipping exports, growing risks from the decoupling/derisking dynamics of recent years and persistent questions about China's true innovative powers.

Even in these asinine times, there is nothing funnier than the Left/Right ranting about the "failure" of Liberalism.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Is Long COVID Linked to Mental Illness? (GRACE HUCKINS, JUNE 26, 2023, Slate)

No serious doctor would deny that the mind and body are intimately linked--many would even argue that it is meaningless to differentiate between the two, since the mind is really nothing more than the brain. But it wasn't just the right-wing Floridians looking to minimize long COVID who responded to her results. Pieces by mainstream journalists have suggested that linking depression and long COVID is tantamount to accusing all long COVID sufferers of being malingerers.

As of yet, there is no conclusive proof that stress or mental illness can contribute to long COVID. But since Roberts' paper, several other studies have found associations between post-COVID symptoms and mental illnesses like depression. None of this research proves that mental illness plays a role in causing long COVID--it might not play any direct role at all--but some experts see the connection as a promising path toward understanding, and treating, the condition. As long as the idea that mental illness is somehow less "real" than physical illness persists, however, investigating that link remains a risky proposition--both for the researchers, who might expose themselves to intense online criticism, and for the patients, who could see such studies weaponized against them.

"Being 'real' or not is a very false dichotomy," says Tracy Vannorsdall, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins. "And it doesn't do our patients, or our scientific thinking, any good."

It's why God gave us placebos.

August 30, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Not Everything We Call Cancer Should Be Called Cancer (New York Times / August 30, 2023)

"You have cancer."

Ask anyone who has been told this: It's terrifying.

That's one reason we need to rethink what we call cancer. Despite amazing advances in our understanding of the disease, we have neglected to update how we define what has been called "the emperor of all maladies."

Some cancers have extraordinarily low risks of altering the quality or length of life but get lumped in with those that do. And that often leads to unnecessary treatment, disfigurement, side effects and a constellation of other psychologic, relationship and financial issues.

We are oncologists with expertise in prostate and breast cancers. We believe the medical community must reconsider what we call cancer in its earliest manifestations. So do a growing number of cancer experts around the world.

Our understandable, but hysterical, reactions to anything even hinting at cancer lead us to myriad poor, or even fatal, reactions and unsupported beliefs. 

PODCAST: Vinay Prasad on Cancer Screening (EconTalk, Aug 28 2023)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Oppenheimer, Nukes & Communists (Mark Tooley, August 30, 2023, Providence)

Oppenheimer's sophisticated social circle of Communists and other pro-Soviet leftists recalls the magnetic pull of the USSR and of Marxism-Leninism on many, many smart people in the 1930s and 1940s.  Their choices perplex us today.  Wasn't Stalin murdering millions in the 1930s?  How could any decent person possibly sympathize with such a regime?

For Oppenheimer's smart set, and for many others, the Soviets offered, at least from afar, a vision of justice that seemed elusive in Depression-era Western capitalist economies.  Capitalism seemed to be self-destructing while the Soviet Union offered cohesion and confidence, if drenched in blood.  That the Soviets, at least initially, opposed Naziism and the Axis powers, while the West appeased, also added to their luster.  Many communists in the West awoke from their delusions after Stalin's pact with Hitler, which launched WWII.  But the German invasion of the Soviet Union reignited old sympathies.  Some Americans and others who leaked atomic secrets to the Soviets believed America's allies had a right to such technology. Afterall, the Soviets were bearing the brunt of Nazi fury.  America was collaborating atomically with the British, they reasoned, so why not the Soviets?

The American and other Western communists of the 1930s and 1940s of course are without excuse.  They were seduced by a murderous great evil. Their willful naivete was sinful and disastrous.  The spies who leaked the atomic secrets to the Soviets were especially reprehensible.  

Even the theoretical excuse was demolished by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.  After that you were just a Stalinist.

August 29, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


The Rise and Fall of 'Havana Syndrome' (Robert Bartholomew and Robert W. Baloh, September/October 2023, Skeptical Inquirer)

This would not be the first time that victims of a dubious condition have received compensation. During the 1980s, keyboard operators in a certain region of Australia experienced an epidemic of over-use injuries dubbed repetition strain injuries (or RSI). However, keyboard operators in other countries had dramatically lower numbers of neuromuscular complaints. This was also true for other regions of Australia. There is now considerable evidence that those affected were experiencing an array of mundane symptoms that Australian medical community and victims attributed to a new cause. Others were suffering from anxiety. Complicating matters was the lure of potential compensation payouts (Bell 1989; Lucire 1986).

During the nineteenth century in the early days of rail travel, accidents were common, resulting in a flurry of claims by British passengers seeking compensation for spinal injuries. Many victims walked away with no obvious physical injury only to later report an array of symptoms such as back pain and headaches; this became known as "railway spine." Despite a lack of objective evidence confirming the condition, it was widely accepted in the medical community that the victims were suffering from inflammation of the spinal cord resulting in spinal compression. A consensus eventually emerged that the symptoms of railway spine were in fact the result of psychological trauma (Jones and Wessely 2005, 2).

Havana Syndrome, RSI, and railway spine all feature a lengthy list of ambiguous, commonly reported symptoms, yet governments saw fit to offer the victims compensation. Even after the new scientific consensus emerged that each condition was a social construction, a small number of scientists continued advocating for the old paradigm, refusing to admit their error, perhaps out of embarrassment or the belief it could harm their reputation. There is even a name for this behavior: belief perseverance, a form of confirmation bias whereby people select certain information and ignore contrary material that does not support preexisting views. The history of science is replete with examples where scientists have advocated for a particular position only to have their claims discredited. Instead of admitting this, they refuse to accept the consensus of the scientific community and continue to double down on their claims.

In 1923, American sociologist William Isaac Thomas wrote, "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences" (Thomas and Thomas 1929). This is not more evident than in the case of Havana Syndrome. Instead of letting the evidence drive their beliefs, people too often let their beliefs drive the evidence. This resulted in people seeing what they wanted to see. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM

EVERYONE SHOULD (self-reference alert):

Reading Bits of The Power Broker Again (C.T. May, 8/29/23, Splice Today)

My aim isn't to learn anything by reading the book. I just want to finish it. I'll settle for getting close, and the rest can wait until my next stage of life. For now I proceed blindfolded and out of order, pecking at the structure here and there, making inroads until the whole deal lies within reach. Not a scholar's attitude. More the attitude of an outgunned general or a fragile conquistador. Obama read the whole book at 22, but that's him.

This was the book on the Grandfather Judd's bedside table when he died.  Wish I'd had a chance to talk to him about Moses, given his own role in Dewey's Albany machine and NYC legal circles. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Did Israel's national security minister just admit to apartheid policies? (Jonathan Guyer, Aug 29, 2023, Vox)

Israeli leaders rarely articulate in clear terms that separate legal systems rule over Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the same area. To do so would be to recognize the split realities, which Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights groups have documented as apartheid. But Israeli politicians have preferred to obscure this reality.

That is, until an incendiary settler-politician serving in the extreme-right Israel government caused a stir in Israel last week when he described the situation almost exactly as human rights groups have -- not accidentally, as a slip of the tongue, but very much on purpose.

"My right, the right of my wife and my children to move around Judea and Samaria" -- the biblical names for the West Bank -- "is more important than freedom of movement for the Arabs," National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir told Israel's version of Meet the Press. "My right to life comes before freedom of movement."

"Sorry, Mohammad, but that's the reality," Ben-Gvir paused to say, turning to a member of the TV panel, journalist Mohammad Magadli, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

No one hates just Mexicans. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Conservative Wisdom or New-Right Dreams? (John Grove, 8/28/23, Public Discourse)

What is sometimes called the "New Right" is a medley of various factions--national conservatives of various stripes, Claremonsters, Catholic integralists, and American postliberals. There are many important differences between these groups, but a certain tendency runs across many of them: namely, they increasingly adopt, consciously or unconsciously, a particular understanding of the nature of political activity. Political power, and therefore all political action, is presented as a means by which a preconceived, substantive, and comprehensive social order is brought into being by a concerted, planned effort. Politics is a zero-sum power struggle among advocates of comprehensive visions. The state, at least eventually, assumes the role of a comprehensive authority, ordering all below it according to a preconceived understanding of the "highest good." As Adrian Vermeule--who is the most forthright about this tendency--puts it, postliberal activists "possess a substantive comprehensive theory of the good," and seize opportunities to "bring about its fulfillment."

Some on the New Right fully embrace this similarity to the Left, arguing that the Left has achieved such a total victory that their vision of political life has been vindicated. Conservatives must learn from their approach, merely substituting good, right-wing ends for bad. We must "move past conservatism as a mindset" and past the old constitutional order, argues one Claremont-affiliated scholar. Integralists suggest that conservatives' cultural failures mean that "they have no alternative but to use the state for the furtherance of their ends." Arguing "Against Religious Liberty," a national conservative acknowledged that "The Left understands the end of politics." And in an admiring profile of Antonio Gramsci, a former staff writer at National Review argued: "One need not abandon long-standing conservative principles . . . to see the merits of the 'long march' strategy as an organizing objective." Or--taking a different tack--we must make ourselves, as one integralist urged, into the "party of the state."

The Right is the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


August 28, 2023 (HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, AUG 29, 2023, Letters from an American)

Those charges are not about anything Trump said. The 45-page indictment acknowledges Trump's right to speak about the election and even to lie that he had won, and the Department of Justice did not charge him with incitement. The indictment charges Trump with being part of three conspiracies: one to defraud the United States by "using dishonesty, fraud, and deceit" to stop the lawful government function of determining the results of a presidential election, a second conspiracy to obstruct the lawful January 6 congressional proceeding to count and certify the results of the presidential election, and a third conspiracy to take away from other Americans "a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States--that is, the right to vote and to have one's vote counted."  

Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith's office had asked the judge for a January 2 start date, saying the date "serves the public's interest and the interests of justice, while also protecting the defendant's rights and ability to prepare for trial." (A Politico Magazine/Ipsos poll from August 18-21 bears out this position: it shows that 61% of the American people believe that Trump should go to trial for election subversion before the Republican primaries.)  

Trump's lawyers countered with a proposal to start the trial in April 2026, an extraordinary request that they attributed to the need to sift through enormous amounts of evidence--12.8 million pages worth--but which might well have been an attempt to get the judge to split the difference and give Trump a court date in 2025, after the 2024 election. 

Trump has told his aides he intends to solve his legal problems by winning the next election. 

Today, Department of Justice prosecutor Molly Gaston responded to Trump's request by noting that 7.8 million pages of that material either came from Trump himself--tweets, for example--or from those associated with him, or had been public for months already. She noted that Trump's lawyers themselves have publicly called the case a "regurgitation" of the report from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, and noted that the Department of Justice had been careful to make sure the new material it provided is easy to review. 

Trump lawyer Alina Habba didn't help the Trump camp yesterday when she told Fox News Sunday that Trump wouldn't need to prepare for his many legal cases because he's "incredibly intelligent."

August 28, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Misogynistic influencers are dabbling in antisemitism. In a sense, it's more of the same (Emily Tamkin, August 23, 2023, The Forward)

Offering listeners and viewers of the manosphere a dose of antisemitism offers them the same thing as misogyny does: an easy explanation. It might not be true, but it is simple and comforting. In a sense, the impulse behind misogyny and antisemitism, and their appeal, are the same.

...all the "others" are inferior. No one hates just Mexicans.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


World is installing 1GW of solar a day, new figures show (Sophie Vorrath 28 August 2023, Renew Economy)

An average of more than 1GW a day of new solar is being installed around the world, according to forecasts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, with China contributing at least half of that amount.

August 26, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Martin Luther and the transformative power of individual conviction (Duncan Williams, 26 August 2023, Christianity Today)

One practice that troubled Luther deeply was the sale of indulgences. The Church claimed that these indulgences could grant remission of sins in exchange for monetary donations. Luther's growing understanding of the Bible led him to challenge this practice and the broader authority of the Church itself. He believed that salvation was a matter of faith alone and that the Bible should take precedence over the traditions of the Church. [...]

The impact of Martin Luther on modern Christianity is immeasurable. His teachings and the Reformation he ignited set in motion a series of events that transformed the religious and cultural landscape of Europe and, ultimately, the world.

The Reformation gave rise to religious pluralism, allowing individuals to explore different interpretations of Christianity and contributing to the diversity of denominations we see today.

Luther's translation of the Bible into German made the Scriptures accessible to ordinary people and inspired translations into other languages, fostering a widespread practice of reading and studying the Bible.

Moreover, Luther's emphasis on individual faith and conscience laid the groundwork for broader principles of individual rights and freedoms, which would influence the development of democracy. The separation of religious authority and political power, a consequence of the Reformation, contributed to the secularisation of society, paving the way for the secular societies we see today.

Once religion, economics, and politics were freed from compulsion the rest followed: Liberalism.  Having been Created in His image, we all have equal rights in such matters subject only to the restrictions we agree at mutually and apply to ourselves. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Russell Moore's Diagnosis of Evangelical America: A review of 'Losing Our Religion.' (Michael Reneau, Aug 26, 2023, The Dispatch)

Moore focuses Losing Our Religion on a handful of wider issues in which he sees American evangelicals largely failing to live up to their own theology: credibility, authority, identity, integrity, and stability. He's at his best when he turns particular shibboleths in on themselves, highlighting how they are not only wrong in themselves but also fail to achieve their desired ends. 

Take Christian nationalism, which Moore defines as "the use of Christian words, symbols, or rituals as a means to the end of shoring up an ethnic or national identity." Those who carry its banner--such as some January 6 insurrectionists--and back a "politically enthusiastic version of Christianity" or a "religiously informed patriotism" may think they are doing their Christian duty by baptizing the law of the land. But Moore argues they're actually imitating the enemy they seek to fight: "Christian nationalism cannot turn back secularism, because it is just another form of it."

Through these critiques, Moore implicitly asks whether Christians believe what they say they believe--that the good news of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection that they preach on Sundays is sufficient to change individual hearts--even in what they'd call a wayward culture.

Christian nationalisms and civil religions are a kind of Great Commission in the reverse, in which the nations seek to make disciples of themselves, using the authority of Jesus to baptize their national identity in the name of the blood and of the soil and of the political order. The gospel is not a means to any end, except for the end of union with the crucified and resurrected Christ who transcends, and stands in judgment over, every group, every identity, every nationality, every culture. Christian nationalism might well "work" in the short term in cementing bonds of cultural solidarity according the flesh. But apart from the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins.

Moore later points to Ireland as an example of how cultural Christianity--albeit of a much different sort than what evangelicals would profess--can undermine itself. The once thoroughly Catholic Ireland, particularly on abortion and divorce, has now swung the other way. The blame, Moore argues, doesn't fall on liberal boogeymen. "Did these massive and unpredictably sudden changes happen because of dramatically improved mobilization or messaging tactics by the (to use an American framing) 'cultural Left?'" No, he answers. They happened because of the moral failures of the scandal-plagued Catholic Church itself. "It was because people who once revered the church came to believe that the church did not itself believe what it taught."

Moore peppers the book with personal experiences of how fellow church leaders, largely within the SBC, attacked him for criticizing Trump or the SBC's response to various scandals. Many of those interactions, as Moore relates them, reflect what you expect of leaders who want to maintain their own influence. "This is not how you play the game," Moore says one such leader told him. "You give them the 90 percent of the red meat they expect, and then you can do the 10 percent of side stuff that you want to do, on immigrants or whatever."

Such failures of personal integrity take the brunt of Moore's criticism. He's especially critical of a tendency to forgo the right conduct or peddle lies due to ambition, influence, or plain old convenience. 

...than Evangilicals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


National homicide rates on pace for record one-year reduction (Jonathan Blanks, 2 AUG 2023, FREOPP)

As the nation approaches the dog days of summer, some good news has appeared in the criminal justice space. According to Jeff Asher of AH Datalytics, the national murder rate is on pace for a potentially record decline-currently about 12 percent-over the course of one year. [...]

While it is far too soon to celebrate a massive drop in homicides for the year, the trend is a very encouraging rebuke of tough-on-crime commentators who insisted the protests of the last few years had made America unsafe again. As Asher notes in the Atlantic:

Murder is down 13 percent in New York City, and shootings are down 25 percent, relative to last year as of late May. Murder is down more than 20 percent in Los Angeles, Houston, and Philadelphia. And, most significantly, murder is down 30 percent--30 percent!--or more in Jackson, Mississippi; Atlanta, Georgia; Little Rock, Arkansas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and others.
Other cities experiencing reductions of more than 20 percent include Baltimore (22 percent), Charlotte (27 percent), and San Antonio (40 percent).

Although both political parties like to point fingers at the other, these represent both red states and blue ones; big cities and smaller ones. While no one can be sure as to why these numbers are going down, that more than two thirds of the cities reporting homicide data are holding steady or trending lower than last year is a very welcomed improvement.

August 25, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


New paint gives extra insulation, saving on energy, costs, and carbon emissions (Mark Golden, Stanford University, 8/14/23,

Stanford University scientists have invented a new kind of paint that can keep homes and other buildings cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, significantly reducing energy use, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Space heating and cooling accounts for about 13% of global energy use and about 11% of greenhouse gas emissions. The new paints reduced the energy used for heating by about 36% in experiments using artificial, cold environments, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They reduced the energy needed for cooling by almost 21% in artificial warm conditions. In simulations of a typical mid-rise apartment building in different climate zones across the United States with the new paint on exterior walls and roofs, total heating, ventilation, and air conditioning energy use declined 7.4% over the course of a year.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


INTERVIEW: How We Read Locke with Claire Rydell Arcenas (Daniel Kennelly, Nov 23 2022, City Talk)

What led you to write a book about John Locke?

One day when I was in graduate school, I found myself knee-deep in National Union Catalogs (a kind of old-school WorldCat) at the Hoover Institution Library. I had gone in search of nineteenth-century editions of John Locke's Second Treatise. To my surprise, however, I discovered that no American press had published the Second Treatise between 1773 and World War I. This was shocking to me, because I knew (or, rather, thought I knew) that the Second Treatise had always been Locke's most influential work--that it was, in fact, one of the founding texts of the American political tradition. So discovering this absence suggested to me that the story of Locke in America was more complex, and perhaps more interesting, than I had realized. As a result, I decided to abandon my preconceptions and start asking basic questions about who Locke was for past generations of Americans. This book is a product of my investigations.

How does your take on Locke's influence on early American political thought differ from conventional readings?

Conventional readings tend to impose our modern vision of Locke as the founding father of liberalism back onto the eighteenth century. This means that they focus exclusively on the work for which Locke is best known today--his Second Treatise--and the extent to which the Founding Fathers (especially Thomas Jefferson) were influenced by it in the Revolutionary era. As a result, our understanding of Locke's political influence in early America has been shaped more by twentieth- and twenty-first-century concerns than by the actual experiences of people living in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

In contrast, America's Philosopher seeks to understand Locke through the eyes of its historical subjects. It shows that Locke's influence on early American political thought was both more complicated and more interesting than we'd previously imagined. Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries absolutely read and engaged with Locke's political writings, but they didn't think of Locke primarily as a political philosopher. Nor did they read Locke's political work in isolation. Nor, after the 1770s and across the nineteenth century, did they understand Locke's political thought as a positive influence on the development of American intellectual life or political institutions. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War, Americans began to reevaluate Locke's political writings and increasingly interpreted them as incompatible with their "modern" commitments to what was coming to be known as "political science." The Second Treatise, for example, came under attack for its reliance on thought experiments, such as the state of nature and the social contract. And another work that early Americans attributed to Locke--his plan of government for the Carolina colony in North America in the 1660s--was often held up as an example of how abstract political theorizing was doomed to failure, no matter how wise or virtuous its practitioner.

Nothing more becomes the opponents of Liberalism than their psychotic obsession with a man who had nearly no influence on the Founding.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Make Trade Free Again (Samuel Gregg, 8/17/23, Law & Liberty)

The US economy's well-being is never far from most Americans' minds. That is one reason why advancing the free trade case to Americans today should be heavily focused on how trade liberalization contributes substantially to bolstering America's economy: i.e., reducing import barriers, diminishing export subsidies, and limiting opportunities for the government to use economic carrots and sticks to direct trade between America and other nations. The result is greater wealth and overall economic welfare for Americans in the long term.

The evidence for this is frankly overwhelming. We know, for example, that trade liberalization accelerates GDP growth. Back in 2008, a World Bank analysis of trade's impact upon growth estimated that, between 1950 and 1998, "countries which liberalized their trade regimes experienced annual average growth rates that were about 1.5 percentage points higher than before liberalization." A more recent International Monetary Fund 2017 study of the trade-growth relationship illustrated how trade across borders significantly contributes to increases in per capita income. It estimated that "a one percentage-point increase in trade openness raises real per capita income by 2 to 6 percent."

How then does trade liberalization help deliver more growth for America? First, free trade widens the number of potential customers for American businesses while simultaneously facilitating an expanding division of labor across borders. That leads to more specialization which in turn stimulates more efficiency and productivity on the part of American businesses. This reduces prices for American consumers and incentivizes American workers to gravitate to more productive economic sectors where higher wages are invariably to be found. Moreover, under free trade conditions, the value of American workers' real wages also increases insofar as they can buy more goods and services which have, thanks to trade liberalization, become less expensive.

Second, the competition from abroad sparked by ever-expanding trade makes American businesses more resilient and adaptable. Exposure to greater foreign competition means that American companies know that their viability is perpetually open to challenges from existing and potential domestic rivals but also international competitors. This incentivizes them to evaluate over and over again what they are doing and why they are doing it. The bigger the competition, the more American businesses are subject to unrelenting pressures to innovate, reassess their comparative advantage, streamline their organization, shrink costs, find less-expensive inputs, take their products into new markets, reorganize their distribution systems, and thereby lower their prices while maintaining profit margins.

If the United States can steel itself to make trade free again, Americans as individuals and America as a nation will win in the long term.

Such competition can be unsettling for American businesses and workers alike. The alternative, however, is an America cowering behind tariff walls, pretending that people abroad aren't willing to work as hard or harder than Americans, and imagining that foreigners will somehow be magically less innovative than Americans. It also involves deluding ourselves that politicians and technocrats can know how to engineer the optimal makeup of a $26.8 trillion economy both now and into the future via tariffs and industrial policies. Lastly, it means Americans are denying that most expressions of economic nationalism are really about promoting sectional interests and have little to do with 330 million Americans' long-term economic welfare.

Free Trade with Free People

The economic case for free trade is relatively straightforward and hard to refute. At its core is Smith's key insight that people's pursuit of their private interests plus an absence of privilege advances the general welfare.

Nonetheless, the best free trade thinkers have always acknowledged that we live in a world of geopolitical rivalries and in which nations are forever trying to reinforce their security. These realities are further complicated by the fact that the same world contains many not particularly free countries. The governments of some such nations (Iran, North Korea, Russia, etc.) are hostile to America. Yet others (most notably, China) have failed to fulfill some of their WTO commitments.

No realist trade liberalization policy can ignore these facts. This is one reason why the 2023 Freedom Conservatism Statement of Principles (full disclosure: I am an original signer) underscores "free trade with free people" as part of its call for a return to greater economic liberty throughout America.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


What if Your Town Doubled as a Residential Power Grid? (DNUYZ, August 24, 2023)

Here's another way Californians are trying to adapt: microgrid communities. Kaya Laterman recently wrote about them in The New York Times.

These are energy-resilient communities that can operate independently from a larger municipal electrical system when necessary, by generating their own electricity (often using solar panels) and storing it in batteries for later use.

The goal is for the communities to be able to withstand power outages, something that feels increasingly necessary in a time of worsening wildfires and devastating heat waves.

Proponents of fossil fuels advocate thralldom instead.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Beyond the Copernican principle: A radical idea rethinks humanity's place in the cosmos (Adam Frank, 8/24/23, Big Think)

With his usual mix of a poet's ear and scientist's acumen, Gleiser gives us a grand tour of astronomy, physics, and astrobiology to set the stage for asking the question: How can we matter in such a vast Universe? Detailed descriptions of the evolution of planets and life lead him to a startling conclusion: There can only be one Earth. It is from that vantage point that a new perspective on ourselves and our future emerges.

That ten billion trillion number certainly tells us that the cosmos has had a lot of planets on which to run experiments with life and civilization. But what it does not reveal is how specific the outcome of those experiments will be. The details of evolution on each world will be extraordinarily contingent on so many accidents that no two worlds will have the same history. That might seem like a small point, but when we add the evolution of life into the mix, those accidents start to matter.

Take the balance of land and water. Earth is approximately two-thirds covered by oceans. Why only two-thirds and not more or less? It turns out the delivery of water to the planet came through its early bombardment by comets and asteroids. The exact number of those planetary interlopers was a complete accident. In fact, we should expect that most planets will lie on the extremes of water delivery. Either they got so much water through comet impacts that all basins are entirely filled, and the water rises above whatever continents exist, or they got almost no water at all. This means most planets will either be water worlds or desert worlds. The almost half and half mix we ended up with may be very improbable. This has huge implications for the specifics of life's evolutionary trajectory on each world. On Earth, tidal regions at the intersection between ocean and land played an important role in our world's biological linages.

What all this means is we will not find another Earth. Our planet's history is unique, and as a result, so is its life. There may be other planets with life, but they will have their own trajectories -- including the possible development of minds. The origin of self-awareness on Earth is likely to have attributes that reflect our planet's specific history. That means we are likely to be utterly and particularly unique in all the Universe.

It's a Homocentric Universe.

August 24, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Trump Co-Defendant's 'Risky Gamble' Backfires in Georgia (Daily Beast, August 24, 2023)

Willis referenced Chesebro's motion specifically in her Thursday filing. "Without waiting on any objection as to the sufficiency of Defendant's Kenneth John Chesebro's filing, the State request that this Court specially set the trial in this case to commence on October 23, 2023, which falls within the term of the next succeeding regular court term after the July-August 2023 term," her motion read.

Chesebro's request for a speedy trial was "the legal equivalent of throwing a bomb into the proceedings and gambling that Willis wasn't ready," Tamar Hallerman, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter covering the Fulton County proceedings, wrote on Twitter.

Indeed, legal experts called it a "risky gamble" that appears to have backfired after Willis showed her readiness to push ahead.

"Kenneth Chesebro's asking for early trial date may undercut Trump and others' claiming they need a super long time to prepare for trial," tweeted Ryan Goodman, former special counsel of the Department of Defense.

Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, echoed a similar sentiment.

Chesebro "thought he was calling Willis' bluff on her readiness to go to trial," she tweeted. "He was not. Willis is not here to play."

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Barbie's Quiet Rebuke of Transhumanism (Elayne Allen, 8/06/23, Public Discourse)

This freedom from biological limitations is part of what makes Barbieland a successful matriarchy. Women aren't constrained by messy relationships with men or busy with childrearing. Socrates' imaginary city only approximated this post-biological ideal through political intervention: the city selectively breeds and raises children away from their parents to fulfill their preassigned functions. Biology is minimized because it interferes with a perfectly just society. But in Barbieland, biology is eliminated altogether because it would interfere with female omnipotence.

Amusingly, the one thing that constrains Barbies is their rigorous displays of femininity. Without biology to anchor their femaleness, feminine social conventions are the sole ground of womanhood. The result is that Barbies are the most cartoonish version of women: pumps, pink, and politeness in extreme.

There's also no death in Barbieland. Barbie lives a happy, carefree existence until suddenly, during a dance party, she asks her fellow Barbies and Kens whether they ever think of dying, which halts the entire dance floor. Soon after, her feet become flat, losing the distinctive Barbie arch. Death and flat feet are the traits of mere mortals, and Barbie must enter the real world to recover her original plastic selfhood.

Amusing Satire

What is Barbie supposed to teach us?

The movie certainly doesn't present Barbieland as a model regime. Those who think the city is a refreshing lesson about the trials of womanhood and the inadequacies of men miss the movie's deeper layers. So does anyone convinced the movie is anti-man (as Jack Butler pointed out in National Review). Nor is the movie anti-motherhood, despite jests about pregnant dolls being weird.

All of these interpretations take Barbieland too literally. Near the end of the movie, Barbie helps restore Barbieland to feminine justice after a brief coup of the Kens. But once the Barbie army retakes the motherland, Barbie wants to leave: her former home lost its magic. After spending time in the real world, she wants to be human. She wonders hopefully whether Ruth Handler, the inventor of the Barbie doll, is her mother. Visions of mothers, children, and family end up pulling her away from the land of plastic. Barbie wants to be part of a family, have human relationships, and take on a human body, but Barbieland cannot fulfill any of these desires.

At best, Barbieland offers a satire of and escape from the difficulties women face in real life. Gloria and Sasha, a mother and daughter duo in the movie, leave the real world for Barbieland as a temporary haven from the frustrations and pressures of being women. Barbieland has a certain appeal to them and especially captivates Gloria, a mom with an active imagination and thirst for adventure. Gloria, who works a clerical job at Mattel, the producer of Barbies, had a certain nostalgia for the doll's overwrought girliness. Barbie's world captures the sheer fun of being woman and isn't bogged down by the complexities of relationships and sex. A land of girls' nights, omnipresent pink, and witless men is an amusing getaway. But women ultimately want human men, not dull shells of masculinity; and the citizenship in Barbieland requires abandoning one's own humanity, and losing one's womanhood along the way. This is why Gloria, Sasha, and Barbie eventually all return home to the real, human world.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Geothermal energy: Are we entering a golden age? (Gero Rueter, 8/24/23, Deutsche-Welle)

Across the world, geothermal energy is mainly used for heating swimming pools, buildings, greenhouses and for urban heating systems. Water up to 200 degrees C is pumped from boreholes up to 5,000 meters deep. The heat is then extracted and the cooled water is pumped back in through a second bore.

This method of heat capture is feasible worldwide, inexpensive and increasingly popular in countries that lack volcanic activity. According to assessments by the Renewables Global Status Report, the installed capacity of geothermal heat plants is around 38 gigawatts worldwide -- more than double the capacity of geothermal power plants that generate electricity.

To date, China (14 GW), Turkey (3 GW), Iceland (2 GW) and Japan (2 GW) are the leaders in developing deep geothermal energy, heating more and more city districts and greenhouses. In Germany, the city of Munich enjoys inexpensive geothermal heating and has set its sight on using the technology to make the sector climate neutral by 2035.

The German government is also looking at further developing deep geothermal energy to create a nationwide climate-neutral heat supply by 2045.  According to studies, deep geothermal energy could generate around 300 terawatt hours of heat annually from an installed capacity of 70 GW -- more than half the future heat demand of all buildings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


There Was a 'War' With China, and the United States Won (Erik Gartzke, 8/24/23, Real Clear World)

The travails besetting China's economy may well derail what a growing number of observers see as an "inevitable" path to a U.S.-China war.

Scholars and pundits have highlighted a potentially catastrophic dynamic known variously as a "power transition," "commitment problem" or more recently as "the Thucydides Trap." This theory predicts war between countries as they transition in relative power. The prospect of China and the United States, the two largest economies in the world, facing off against each other --- with their respective nuclear arsenals --- is more than a bit disconcerting. Fortunately, the danger of war, at least in the form attributed to Thucydides, may just have passed.

The term "Thucydides Trap" was coined by Political Scientist Graham Allison, who shamelessly rebranded an extensively researched phenomenon as his own in a series of articles and a 2017 book. Prior to discovering the China threat, Allison anticipated another form of doom: "nuclear terrorism is not just inevitable, but more likely than not in the decade ahead." In the almost two decades since Allison wrote these words, we have been fortunate that he was wrong.

A power transition, or Thucydides Trap, is a claim about the timing of a major war. A powerful but declining nation may have strong incentives to attack a rising challenger while there is still time--while the declining state continues to be more powerful than its challenger--rather  than waiting and suffering the consequences of its decline. This seems on its face to be an important and salient warning about Sino-U.S. relations. As Allison puts it, "judging by the historical record, war [between China and the United States] is more likely than not."

You can't have a Clash of Civilizations when there is only one.

The simple truth is that, in order to become a serious global power China would have to adopt capitalism/democracy/protestantism, at which point it is a partner, not a rival. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Republican Debaters Agreed on One Thing: They Hate Vivek Ramaswamy (Matt Lewis, Aug. 24th, 2023, Daily Beast)

Everyone hates Vivek. That was the biggest takeaway from the Fox News debate on Wednesday night. And who can blame them? [...]

Out of the gate, he looked pompous and oleaginous, with what can only be described as a smarmy, s[***]-eating grin that belied his sharp elbows. Regarding the slickness, Christie observed that he sounded "like ChatGPT." And regarding the elbows, at one point, even Sen. Tim Scott--you know, the optimistic guy who has a reputation for being too nice--even accused him of "being childish."

Ramaswamy's first line--"I want to just address the question that is on everyone's mind at home tonight. Who the heck is this skinny guy with a funny last name?"--essentially plagiarized Barack Obama. Christie, who was on the ball, called him on it. (Ramaswamy responded by reminding us of the time Christie hugged the former president following Hurricane Sandy's devastation of large parts of New Jersey.)

During a later exchange, Ramaswamy took issue with Pence's anti-Putin stance, saying "The USSR doesn't exist anymore." It was reminiscent of Obama's 2012 debate line to Mitt Romney: "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back." Channeling Obama was, shall we say, an unusual move for a guy ostensibly seeking the Republican nomination.

Anyone who dared disagree with Ramaswamy wasn't just wrong, they had their motives questioned. Chris Christie, he said, was campaigning to get a paid MSNBC contributor gig. Christie's trip to Ukraine was to pay homage to his "pope," Volodymyr Zelensky. Of Nikki Haley's support of Ukraine, he averred, "I wish you well in your future career on the boards of Lockheed and Raytheon."

"You have no foreign policy experience, and it shows," Haley told him. Speaking of Vladimir Putin, she said, "This guy is a murderer, and you are choosing a murderer" over a pro-American country [Ukraine].

August 23, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Case closed?: a review of France on Trial: The Case of Marshal Pétain by Julian Jackson (ANNE FREADMAN BOOKS 23 AUGUST 2023, Inside Story)

Did the court action against Pétain really put France on trial? This is the question that pervaded the trial and pervades the book.

From the moment of liberation, de Gaulle insisted that France was a nation of resisters that had been betrayed, in Jackson's words, "only by a handful of traitors who needed to be punished." To understand this belief, we need to remember that the Gaullist resistance was a nationalist movement, and ideologically conservative. We also need to remember that de Gaulle's principal aim from 1944 on was to have France recognised as a participant in the war effort and accepted among the Allies at the negotiating table for decisions concerning postwar Europe.

Jackson is sympathetic with this account, deeming it "necessary." But it was necessary only in the relatively short term; in the longer term, it has been a major cause of France's difficulty in coming to terms with its history. It surely lends respectability to the national nostalgia for a "certain idea of France," a nation -- notably not a "state" -- whose "greatness" would rest on its ideological and cultural homogeneity.

As Jackson remarks elsewhere, France's wartime population consisted of resisters -- a small number at the start, more towards the end -- a great number of supporters of Pétain and Vichy, and many people on the fence, waiting to see how the cards would fall. Even if attitudes had been more homogeneous, France could not be tried, if only because a criminal trial necessarily focuses on the accused person and his or her intentions, as was reiterated several times during the proceedings.

At the same time, some prominent intellectuals acknowledged at the time that France as a whole shared some responsibility, that "each of us was complicit," in the words of one. One of the defence lawyers argued that "if Pétain was guilty so were the French -- so was France"...


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Putin's isolation intensifiesNon-Western powers are increasingly contributing to global pressure on Russia (LAWRENCE FREEDMAN 23 AUGUST 2023, Inside Story)

One of the more persistent narratives surrounding the Russo-Ukraine war is that Russia has used a combination of information and diplomatic campaigns to deny Ukraine the support it might have expected from the "Global South." The countries of the southern hemisphere have never actively supported Russia or endorsed its aggression, but many have abstained in key votes in the United Nations and refused to engage with Western sanctions.

The explanations for this attitude tend to focus on these countries' past connections with Russia and irritation with the West more than their lack of sympathy for Ukraine. The governing African National Congress in South Africa, for example, recalls Soviet support in the long struggle against apartheid. India has found Russia a useful strategic partner in the past and a source of advanced weapons. China and Russia entered into what was described in glowing terms as friendship "without limits" prior to the full-scale invasion.

The West, meanwhile, has been criticised for its focus on Ukraine's plight compared with its relative indifference to the humanitarian catastrophes of the ongoing wars in Africa and the Middle East. During the war's early stages the Biden administration framed the conflict as one between democracy and autocracy, which did not impress many of the relatively autocratic governments in the Global South. Lastly, members of the Global South consider the United States and its allies, notably Britain, hypocritical about a "rules-based international order" given their actions in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.

Yet this narrative has become more nuanced over the course of this year. Partly this is because of efforts by Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Biden administration to mend fences with these countries. Partly the shift reflects irritation with Russia over its stubborn and wholly unrealistic stance on what might serve as the basis for a peace settlement. A third factor is the harmful impact of Russia's actions on food and energy prices.

For all these reasons, countries in the Global South are starting to find an equidistant position harder to sustain and are starting to take diplomatic initiatives of their own. These may be harder for Russia to resist than those sponsored by the West.

August 22, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Witness in Trump docs case changed testimony after switching lawyers, special counsel says (NBC News, August 22, 2023)

Yuscil Taveras, the director of information technology at Mar-a-Lago, changed his testimony regarding efforts to delete security camera footage at Trump's Florida club in July after changing from a lawyer paid for by Trump's Save America PAC to a public defender, according to the filing.

The revised testimony led to last month's superseding indictment against Trump and his two co-defendants.

Taveras decided to change lawyers after learning he was being investigated for making false statements during his previous grand jury testimony in Washington, D.C., according to Tuesday's court filing.

"Immediately after receiving new counsel, Trump Employee 4 retracted his prior false testimony and provided information that implicated Nauta, (Carlos) De Oliveira, and Trump in efforts to delete security camera footage, as set forth in the superseding indictment," the filing said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


X briefly allows anti-Leo Frank 'community note' as antisemitic content spikes (PHILISSA CRAMER, 8/22/23, JTA)

A "community note" saying falsely that Leo Frank, the victim of an antisemitic lynching in 1915, was guilty of raping and murdering a young girl appeared and disappeared several times over the weekend on X, the platform known until recently as Twitter.

Community notes, which allow users to contribute additional context about tweets, were expanded in late 2022 as new owner Elon Musk's favored tool for battling misinformation on the platform. But the community note about Frank offers the latest indication that the technology can be misused.

The point of the takeover was to allow MAGA to speak its mind. It's silly to pretend surprise at what the Trumpists think.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Xi Jinping: Hater of God (Rebeccah Heinrichs, August 22, 2023, Providence)

By falsifying the Word of God so overtly, Xi has earned a new title in addition to General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the President of the People's Republic of China; in addition to all these, Xi is also what the book of Romans calls a "hater of God."

This is, of course, not the first time Marxism has taken on Christianity. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously wrote in the Communist Manifesto (1848) that "...communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality..." Given the anti-theistic nature of Marxism, Christians have unsurprisingly long grappled with how to rhetorically respond to communist ideas. Two such Protestant evangelists, though not well known for their anticommunism, used their vocations, at different times and places, to contend for the faith and help others see the wickedness of Marxism and its variants.

The first is Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), the "Prince of Preachers" and longtime pastor of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle. Although there is no evidence they ever met, Marx and Spurgeon resided in London concurrently. The atheist Marx sought converts through calls for bloody revolution to establish a classless utopia. In contrast, Spurgeon sought converts to Christianity through evangelism, preaching the gospel of redemption of individuals through faith in death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Unlike Marx's promise of a man-made utopia, Christianity offered gradual and partial individual sanctification over the course of the Christian's earthly life, enduring challenges, and hardship, until that final eschatological outcome when God-- not man-- establishes the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Though Spurgeon did not take on Marx by name, his sermons warned of the wickedness of Democratic Socialism. And, though there is no evidence Marx referenced Spurgeon by name, when asked whom he most detested, Marx's closest comrade Engels reportedly said it was Spurgeon.

The other evangelist is Carl F.H. Henry. As church historian Caleb Morell has written, Henry taught an invite-only class for evangelical elites in Washington, DC dubbed the "Hilltoppers" between 1962 and 1964. In these classes, Henry taught the necessity of a "biblically grounded, publicly articulated evangelical worldview as the only intellectual defense against Communism."

An example from Henry's notes, includes the following rebuke of Marxism's appeal towards immediate man-made Utopianism:

[T]he Marxist vision presupposes an Edenic "primal period of communal life" interrupted by the "original sin" of "private property." Man's plight, therefore, is located not in alienation from God but from "the material means of production." Redemption, for the Communist, is not found in Christ but through "a proletarian rebellion, which will destroy private ownership of the means of production, by a world revolution and usher in a classless society." Paradise, for the Communist, is not the new heavens and new earth where Christ rules, but "the vision of a classless society." Just as the eschatological hope of Christianity fuels present perseverance through trials, the Communist concept of paradise "fuels and fires Marxist social zeal and gives it a religious character." As Henry explained in another place, "Marx (unwittingly to be sure) borrows from the biblical view the emphasis on understanding history as a stimulus to transforming it."

Xi seems to know, as Marx did, that Christianity poses at least two major obstacles to successful Communist rule. First, it rejects notions of man-made utopianism and instead looks hopefully to the God-initiated establishment of a new world free from the corrupting effects of sin. Second, it establishes for the disciple of Christ a devotion to the Kingdom of God. This devotion leads to a willingness to live peaceful lives in accordance with earthly laws and civil authorities as long as those laws do not cause Christians to disobey God. This is the crux of Christianity's fundamental conflict with communism and the CCP: Xi seeking to elevate himself above God's law but will find, as all totalitarian leaders have before him, the gates of hell will not prevail, and neither will he. 

Likewise, the Right/Left hates the End of History so much precisely because it does not arrive at Utopia.  Indeed, it does not arrive anywhere.  It simply recognizes that the optimal social arrangement we have discovered so far is based on the recognition of God-given dignity and the resulting necessity of allowing freedom of choice in economics, politics, and religion: capitalism, democracy, and protestantism.  

August 21, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Forget AI - a $100 trillion investment opportunity awaits in clean energy, Schroders says (Joseph Wilkins Aug 17, 2023, Business Insider)

While investor excitement this year has mostly centered around the capabilities of artificial intelligence and technology, Mark Lacy and David Boyce see enormous potential in the clean energy sector. 

Speaking on The Investor Download podcast, Lacy said that there is "comfortably over $2 trillion per annum" feeding into the energy transition market. 

"That's outside of the traditional oil and gas market, and that's a cumulative comfortably of $100 trillion over the 2020 to 2050 period," he said.  [...]

Last month, the International Energy Association reported that the amount of capital investment flowing into the solar sector is set to overtake the amount in oil production for the first time. 

According to the IEA, solar investments are expected to top $1 billion a day in 2023 with over $1.7 trillion slated to flow into clean-energy technologies such as EVs, renewables and storage. Overall, global investment in energy is projected to hit about $2.8 trillion in the current year. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Case Against 'Dead Poets Society' (Elizabeth Grace Matthew, August 17, 2023, America)

Before Keating exerts his influence, Dalton is a place where many boys are thriving. We see boys sneaking transistor radios into dorms, boys contemplating how to steal the girlfriends of public-school athletes, boys forming regular study groups and occasional cheating alliances, boys bustling with the restless physical energy that, more than any other characteristic, defines male youth.

That is, we see boys pushing against the boundaries that their parents and teachers have set--exactly as healthy teens should.

Are those boundaries overly narrow and constraining, and therefore due for reform? In some cases, absolutely--and tragically so. [...]

Still, as anyone who has spent any time around teenagers (especially teenage boys) knows, their primary limitation is not an inability to seize the day; it is an inability to plan for the future. Indeed, teens' impulsivity and recklessness is best met with exactly the kind of regimentation, order and authority that Dalton as a whole was attempting to provide.

This is the same kind of regimentation, order and authority with which adults of every race, religion and class engaged with teenagers until the 1960s. And, of course, it sometimes had its excesses. Any claim to mathematically measure the "greatness" of poems is self-evidently asinine. More important, a father's attempt to make significant life decisions for his healthy and self-aware teenage son, without his input, was bound to be counterproductive in every possible way.

But these excesses of the 1950s educational order, as depicted in "Dead Poets Society," are made-up exceptions that prove the overwhelming rule: Healthy teens need order if they are to court and create developmentally healthy disorder. Being without boundaries to push and structures to push against leads to exactly the type of solipsistic, faux introspection that gives rise to the existential angst for which teens have been known ever since we accepted as a cultural rule that, in the words of Bob Dylan, "mothers and fathers throughout the land" should not "criticize what you can't understand."

But, of course, mothers and fathers can understand just fine. The only thing more anti-intellectual than some self-important college professor presuming to quantify the greatness of Shakespeare is some self-important English teacher presuming to teach impressionable boys to think for themselves by using them to unquestioningly validate his own credulous and oversimplified relationship to romantic verse. Keating demanded, remember, that his students rip out "Understanding Poetry" by the fictional foil, Pritchard--not that they develop arguments for refuting it or, forbid the thought, for agreeing with it. Keating does not want the boys to think for themselves--not really. He does not want them to think at all, in fact. He wants them to feel as he does.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Yes to Life: Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and created a new psychology in which the search for meaning--not pleasure or power--is mankind's central motivational force. (Samuel Kronen, Aug 18 2023, City Journal)

When his father was afflicted with pulmonary edema in the camp, Frankl used a smuggled vial of morphine to ease his pain.

I asked him: "Do you have pain?"


"Do you have any wish?"


"Do you want to tell me anything?"


I kissed him and left. I knew I would not see him alive again. But I had the most wonderful feeling one can imagine. I had done what I could. . . . I had accompanied my father to the threshold and had spared him the unnecessary agony of death.

This was Viktor Frankl: a man who could squeeze out a moral victory from the death of his own father in a concentration camp.

Between the wars, Frankl gained valuable experience working at a youth counseling clinic dealing with teen suicide. After finishing his medical degree, he started working at the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital in Vienna, mostly in the female suicide ward. These were his first courses in suffering.

Suicide remains among the most complex moral issues. It's a testament to Frankl's humanism that he took an unequivocal stance against suicide in almost every instance. "I take the position that even in the case of an actual suicide attempt," he argues in Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything (1946), "the doctor not only has the right but also the duty to intervene medically, and that means to save and to help if, and to the extent that, he can."

Frankl would even develop a procedure, using amphetamines, to revive people who had attempted suicide. This invited the ire of his colleagues, who told him that he was playing the role of fate--including one female colleague who went on to try to kill herself, and whose life Frankl would ultimately save. His response to this criticism was to turn the issue on its head:

It is not I who wishes to play the role of destiny but the doctor who abandons a suicide to his fate, who gives fate free rein and sits on his hands where he could perhaps still intervene to help, who is the one who tries to act the part of destiny. Because if it had pleased fate to really allow the suicide in question to perish, then this fate would certainly have found ways and means to prevent the dying person from falling into the hands of a doctor while there was still time.

It was here that Frankl's vision really took hold. The nihilism of the modern age that lacked moral concern for suicide, Frankl later argued, was, at bottom, the same antilife sentiment motivating Hitler's euthanasia programs.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Europe's Slow Embrace of Genetic-Food Engineering Reality (Bill Wirtz, August 21, 2023, Real Clear Markets)

The European Commission, which is the executive arm of the European Union, recently announced that it intends to loosen rules for gene-edited plants. Seeds derived through gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR Cas-9 have been unavailable for commercialization in Europe since their development, based on legislation dating back to 2001. In a way, Brussels is correcting the record by recognizing that gene-edited crops are different to transgenic crops, which are often referred to as GMOs.

What is interesting is why the European Union, which is generally prone to listening to the arguments of environmental campaigners who vehemently oppose any agricultural innovation (all too often at the doorsteps of the Commission's main offices in Brussels, Belgium), suddenly announces this decision that will be cause for controversial debate over the next few years. The expectation by the EU is that gene-editing will increase varieties while boosting the resilience of crops to climate change, pests, and diseases and to develop plants that require fewer fertilizers. That is both an accurate assessment, but it was equally accurate years ago when the U.S, Canada or Brazil started using the technology effectively. So what changed?

The war in Ukraine has made Europe aware of the vulnerabilities in its food system.

We've been editing crops since Cain.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ridley Scott's Napoleon: Was the French leader really a monster? (Neil Armstrong, 20th August 2023, BBC)

Philip Dwyer, professor of history at the University of Newcastle, Australia, and the author of a three-volume biography of Napoleon, doesn't think so. "You can have a debate about whether Napoleon was a tyrant or not - I'd be leaning towards the tyrant - but he was certainly no Hitler or Stalin, two authoritarian dictators who brutally repressed their own people, resulting in millions of deaths."

Some have even argued that the Empire was a 'police state' because there was a complex system of secret informers keeping tabs on public opinion," he continues. "But very few people - a number of aristocrats more or less involved in plots to overthrow the regime, a couple of journalists - were actually executed by Napoleon for their opposition. If I was going to compare Napoleon to anyone, then I would go back in history to Louis XIV, an absolute monarch who waged unnecessary wars costing thousands of lives.

"So too Napoleon waged wars  - again debatable whether they were necessary or not - costing the lives of millions of people, although we don't know how many civilians were killed directly or indirectly as a result of the wars." [...]

However Charles Esdaile, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Liverpool and the author of several books on Napoleon including Napoleon's Wars: An International History 1803-15, has a different view.

"I see Napoleon as a warlord," he says. "A man who was driven by personal ambition and who was absolutely ruthless. A man who had a very clear vision of the sort of France he needed to construct and, indeed, the sort of Europe he needed to construct, to support his war machine. Any idea that he was some sort of liberator, some sort of a man of the future - essentially this is all part of the Napoleonic legend.

Like his more murderous brethren, he was perfectly Rational.

August 20, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Vivaldi & Others: Agostino Steffani--Missionary Clergyman and Visionary Composer (Kees Vlaardingerbroek,  August 20, 2023, European Conservative)

Just as important as Steffani's chamber duets are the sixteen operas, which combine the best features of Italian opera--melodic richness, great vocal virtuosity, expressive harmonies--with the main achievements of contemporary French opera (an often large role for the chorus and colourful instrumentation, with prominent parts for wind instruments). During the period of 1678-1679, Steffani resided in Paris, where he immersed himself in the French musical style. By blending Italian and French musical styles, Steffani was a pioneer and a model for Handel, Telemann, and Bach.

After 1709, Steffani composed no new operas. As a bishop, however, he was still interested in composing sacred works and vocal chamber music. In the last years of his life, he wrote some of his very finest works at the instigation of the Academy of Vocal Music, a society of aristocratic music connoisseurs, composers, and singers founded in London in 1726, which elected Steffani as its president on the 1st of June, 1727. In addition to previously composed pieces, Steffani sent the Academy newly composed works, including the magnificent five-voice motet Qui diligit Mariam. But at that moment the best was yet to come. In his letter of the 11th of January, 1728--written a month before his death--Steffani offered to send his Stabat mater to the Academy in London. In the same letter, the composer himself called it his masterpiece and the conclusion of his long compositional career.

Steffani's Stabat mater is indeed a musical miracle: the melodies are authentically Italian and utterly compelling, the harmonies as rich as those of Bach, the choruses brilliantly worked out in six voices. The moving late medieval poem about the Virgin Mary standing at the foot of the cross inspired Steffani to create a highly emotional choral work, in which Baroque sensuality and musical learning are perfectly merged. Consequently, the most alienating experience of my career was a conversation with an internationally respected choral conductor who told me he thought it was just a "weird and mediocre piece." That comment did not stop me from organising a highly successful performance of Steffani's Stabat mater at the Saturday Matinee Series in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. To my ears, it is the resounding counterpart to Bernini's overwhelming L'Estasi di Santa Teresa d'Avila (The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa of Avila), even though that sculpture was created almost 80 years earlier.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Rise and Fall of the Project State: Rethinking the Twentieth Century: a review of The Project State and Its Rivals: A New History of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries by Charles S. Maier (Anton Jäger, Fall 2023, American Affairs Journal)

Maier's book offers a new solution to this enigma. In his view, all the classical categories used to describe the twentieth-century state miss its central feature: its orientation around the notion of a project, which could weld business interests, the general population, and state bureaucrats under a single, long-term time horizon. What united Roosevelt's America, Stalin's Russia, Attlee's Britain, Hitler's Germany, Mao's China, and Nkrumah's Ghana, then, was not a diffuse totalitarianism or developmental ideology. Rather, it was their status as project states, which all "had a transformative agenda . . . based on authoritarian and even totalitarian as well as liberal and democratic coalitions seeking to reform sclerotic institutions or societies that seemed unacceptably unequal." Project states thereby tended to "see society as a plasmic whole, sometimes in terms of elites and masses, knowable and controllable through statistical science, biological and legal interventions." The specimen did not come without ancestors, of course--in Maier's view, Napoleonic France and the wartime organization of the U.S. federal government in 1861 already exhibited embryonic signs of a later project state--yet "as a continuing and nonexceptional form of polity," the new creature only "came into its own in the twentieth century."

Maier's category thereby demarcates and unifies. The notion of a "project state" allows us to understand what Mao, Hitler, De Gaulle, Attlee, and Nkrumah had in common. Yet it also clearly separates the twentieth-century state from its pre-1914 antecedents. Although Maier's state never fully abolished capital, it did have a productively agonistic relationship with it: it was able to both discipline and repel those that controlled investment and to direct or claim those resources for itself. It was a state made for and by warfare, yet not exclusively so. To the disgust of neoliberals and New Leftists, it had an eternally uneasy relationship with the public-private divide, both on the social and on the economic front, encouraging higher birth rates while compiling calorific tables.

Above all, it was pitted against the nineteenth-century nightwatchman state, both as a reality and as a metaphor; public authority was to turn itself from a mere facilitator of economic commerce into an active choreographer of social movements. As Maier notes, the hustle and bustle of the traffic jam was replaced by the "ordered direction of the Riefenstahlian march"; under its baldaquin, masses would gather for coordination and instruction, in a rage for order that ran across the whole interwar period. Maier's concept does not rule out internal differ­entiation, of course: "creating the fascist man who would live as a lion and not as a jackal was a different project than raising out of poverty 'one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,'" and Stalin was surprised to see Churchill switch office with Attlee when negotiating the postwar order.

Still, all its forms took an energetic, even invasive interest in the populations that fell under their control: the project state built the National Health Service, transported prisoners to Kolyma, incinerated Dresden and Nagasaki, birthed cybernetics and nuclear power, reduced infant mortality, and cartelized the coal industries. Here was an entity "addicted to transformative agendas," with a lifespan as short as it was eventful: born somewhere between 1914 and 1929, gone between 1973 and 1991. By the close of the 1980s, Maier admits, the project state had given up on its project and was no longer capable of controlling the forces of private capital. It slowly gave up the role of sculpting society, instead leaving the field open to self-experimentation and the emerging entrepreneurs of the self. In the historian's view, its "audacity repelled many at the time and certainly social historians in the century since, but the ambitions constituted a major historical force and deserve empathetic understanding."

Above all, Maier shows, project states met a crisis of leadership. Max Weber, himself an uneasy prophet for the rising project state, already discerned this feature in the late 1910s, when he called on a newly republican Germany to face a "night of icy darkness" with heroism and the "slow boring of hard boards." He was hardly a lonely prophet. On a globe in which the oscillations of the market rather than the turning of the seasons governed an ever-larger portion of human life, "drift" inevitably gave way to "mastery," as Walter Lippmann noted at the dawn of the new age in 1914. Internally, project leadership sought to organize and stratify the suffrage expansion which capitalism had always contained as a promise, yet which made cohabitation between labor and capital difficult. Externally, project states were to guarantee commodity frontiers or what Maier terms "resource empires" that could support increasingly market-dependent metropoles.

Project states, Maier thereby argues, were a product of the First World War, turbocharged by the Second, only faintly surviving into the age of American world-hegemony, finally to teeter in the inflationary 1970s, and fully die out in the unipolar 1990s. Already in the late 1950s, "the poet Stephen Vincent Benet was no longer around to ask us, as he had queried the dead in the 1930s, why we were marching," Maier recollects. "We were being marched for the sake of a concept of citizen­ship that would largely dissolve by the 1960s. . . . [T]he project-state still imposed memories and set a cadence, but the urgency of its causes was weakening." While Maier's students marched against Vietnam, Milton Friedman proposed a marketization of the draft and a replacement of existing social security with a minimal cash grant. From the inside, plans for the silent execution of the project state were being composed.

Predictably, the delusion that you can achieve a project via the state persists only on the Right/Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Justice Thomas's Original Intentions (Adam J. White, August 18, 2023, AEIdeas)

The first essay, published in 1987, is "Toward a 'Plain Reading' of the Constitution--The Declaration of Independence in Constitutional Interpretation." The title itself was a provocation: as conservative judges, lawyers, and scholars coalesced around a constitutional jurisprudence to re-anchor judicial decisions in the original meaning of the Constitution's words, Thomas challenged them to recognize that the words could only be understood as embodying the nation's founding principles, best expressed in the Declaration.

Thomas read the Constitution as "the fulfillment of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, as Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and the Founders understood it." He explicitly rejected Dred Scott's assertion that the Constitution gave no protection to black Americans. Even if early Americans failed to live up to their founding principles, "the Declaration's promise of equality of rights" was the timeless criterion by which government must be judged.

For Thomas, this was a fundamental matter of republican government, in the small-r sense. Liberty was a reflection of each citizen's equality. And the "principle of equality," in turn, "is contained within the republican principle of self-government," he wrote.

It's why Identity is unAmerican.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Putin's War Is Unleashing a Crisis Back Home in Russia (Daily Beast, August 19, 2023)

Pulled out of the brutal prison system and thrown straight into frontline battles where ex-convicts are treated as little more than cannon fodder by Russian generals or Wagner commanders, huge numbers have died on the battlefield. Those who survive are horrifically traumatized.

Several of them have already been accused of gruesome crimes on their return to civilian life. Ivan Rossomakhin, 28, was reportedly accused of murder during an eight-day break back home in the Kirov region after joining the Wagner Group from prison where he had been sentenced to 14 years for murder.

Locals said he had been stumbling around the village, with a pitchfork and ax, making wild threats, "I'll kill everyone! I'll cut up a whole family!" No one was able to stop him before he allegedly killed a woman.

Another convicted killer who was released to go fight in Ukraine has been arrested in connection with the murder of six civilians after he served his stint in the war. Igor Sofonov, 37, was reportedly released from prison to join Storm Z, which is the defense ministry's state-backed version of the Wagner ex-prisoner brigades.

His six alleged victims were found in two burning buildings in the village of Derevyannoye.

August 19, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Storied Cossack Leader Mazepa Helps Ukraine Put Its Stamp On A Monastery Long Linked To Moscow (Rostyslav Khotin, 8/19/23, Radio Free Europe)

As its forces fight to repel a massive Russian invasion, Ukraine is seeking to put its stamp on a sprawling Orthodox Church complex that long loomed over the capital as a symbol of Moscow's influence: the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, or Monastery of the Caves.

To aid that effort, the Ukrainian church that threw off the yoke of the Moscow patriarch in 2019 has enlisted the help of Ivan Mazepa, a leader who lived and died over 300 years ago. An icon of independence in Ukraine, his name is anathema in Russia -- literally.

Mazepa, who as Cossack hetman of the Zaporizhian Host was the top leader of a large swath of Ukraine from 1687 to 1708, was a major patron of the church and helped develop the Lavra, a landmark complex of churches, crypts, and related buildings on the steep right bank of the Dnieper River in central Kyiv.

On July 25, a special commemorative service was held at the Lavra to honor Mazepa on the 336th anniversary of his elevation to hetman in 1687. At that time, the Hetmanate was in a union with Russia.

In 1708, however, Mazepa entered a wartime alliance with Sweden against Tsar Peter the Great, earning the lasting ire of Russia, where he is still branded by the state as a traitor, and a reputation as a champion of independence in Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Lab-Leak Illusion (Jamie Palmer, 19 Aug 2023, Quillette)

I started to take an interest in this debate after Quillette published Philippe Lemoine's critical examination of the lab-leak hypothesis in late 2020. I began following advocates on both sides of the argument on social media, I read Chan and Ridley's book, as well as papers, preprints, blogs, and articles, and I kept an eye on (but did not participate in) the endless discussion threads devoted to the topic proliferating across social media. And by the time I reached saturation point, I'd concluded that, popularity notwithstanding, the lab-leak hypothesis simply doesn't add up.

In what follows I want to explain why. I am neither a scientist nor a science writer, so this will not be a technical essay. Nor will I be offering any original research. This will be a critical analysis of the debate along with some concluding thoughts about how and why the discourse on this topic has diverged so sharply from the available evidence. Although gaps remain in the natural hypothesis of COVID-19's origins, the lab-leak alternative is poorly supported and internally incoherent. The debate only continues because popular consensus is not yet ready to accept this.

II. The Wuhan Labs
The most intuitively compelling argument for a lab accident relates to the proximity of the lab to the outbreak, and it goes something like this:

A coronavirus pandemic began in Wuhan.

Wuhan has multiple virology laboratories studying coronaviruses.
Therefore, the pandemic was almost certainly caused by a laboratory accident.
This isn't really evidence--it's a claim about how we ought to evaluate our priors in the absence of any other information. On the eve of the pandemic, there were two possible routes by which a respiratory virus that originated in bats in rural southern China might reach the central metropolis of Wuhan. It might be sampled during fieldwork by scientists and transported back to a Wuhan lab for research purposes. Alternatively, the virus might be carried into one or more of the city's four wet markets by the illegal wildlife trade. A probability assessment that ignores the presence of wet markets makes no more sense than one that ignores the presence of virology labs. And before any pandemic data became available, there were already good reasons to prefer the market hypothesis.

First, virology labs are a lot safer than wet markets because lab researchers are trained to handle dangerous pathogens and it is in their interests to adhere to strict biosafety protocols governing the research and storage of viruses. That is not to say that accidents never happen. They do. But a priori, a spillover is much more likely to result from the unregulated trade in known vectors of disease than from an accident in a tightly controlled environment. As Lemoine noted, very few people work in virology labs while millions of rural Chinese (not to mention many millions more susceptible animal hosts) are potentially exposed to coronaviruses every year. It is also worth bearing in mind that while the WIV has one of the world's largest collections of coronaviruses, those samples represent a minute fraction of those circulating in the wild.

Second, a natural (or "zoonotic") spillover is supported by copious historical precedence as well as recent experience. 2009 H1N1, Ebola, HIV, SARS, and MERS all spilled from animals into humans without ever seeing the inside of a virology lab, as did countless pathogens before them. Like SARS-CoV-2, the SARS outbreak in 2002-03 occurred hundreds of miles from the bat colonies in which the virus originated. It is thought to have spilled from bats into an intermediate host--probably palm civets--which were then transported to wildlife markets in China's Guangdong Province. There, they infected the traders and customers, who in turn infected their families and colleagues causing an epidemic that eventually spread to 30 countries killing at least 774 people and sickening thousands more.

Before the SARS pandemic, most opposition to China's wildlife trade was focussed on animal welfare. The discovery that it could also pose a mortal threat to public health threw a multibillion-dollar industry into crisis. On April 29th, 2003, China's State Forestry Bureau announced a national ban on wildlife trading and consumption, and in the ensuing crackdown, hundreds of thousands of wild animals were confiscated and destroyed, and thousands of breeders, transporters, and vendors found their livelihoods plunged into uncertainty.

The preventative measures would not last, however, and in a paper for the Environmental Policy and Law journal, published on December 21st, 2021, Peter Li argued that the ban never stood a chance:

The [Chinese Communist] Party's set policy of elevating the national economy from the old and resource-exploitative model of production to a sustainable development model offered the wildlife industry a good opportunity to expand and intensify. The Party's policy guidelines also gave the national and local forestry bureaus a golden opportunity to seek a budgetary expansion in anticipation of greater regulatory responsibilities. The SARS pandemic and the trade ban were an unexpected threat to both the industry and the administrative agencies.
Sustained lobbying by the industry found a sympathetic ear in the CCP, which believed the trade in wildlife to be an engine of rural economic regeneration, and in August 2003, the national ban on wildlife trade and consumption was rescinded. Trading resumed, and when Eddie Holmes visited the Huanan market in late 2014, he found caged wild animals being illegally sold for food, including coronavirus-susceptible raccoon dogs. "By the end of 2017," Li reported, "the wildlife industry had become a gigantic business operation with an annual revenue of 520 billion yuan (US $77 billion)."

When the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announced the discovery of a cluster of novel pneumonia on December 31st, 2019, an epidemiological link to the city's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market had already been established. No epidemiological link has since been found to any other location in the city. Chinese authorities revealed that a novel coronavirus was the causative agent of the new disease on January 7th, and the SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequence was released three days later. When human-to-human transmission was confirmed by China's Health Ministry on January 20th, it opened up the possibility that the Huanan market was merely the site of a superspreader event, not a spillover.

But this hypothesis began to look more improbable as we learned about the manner in which SARS-CoV-2 spread. Like other coronaviruses, community transmission of wild-type SARS-CoV-2 occurred mostly in clusters, with roughly 10 percent of cases responsible for 80 percent of infections. Adam J. Kurchaski, an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Science in May 2020 that "most chains of infection die out by themselves and SARS-CoV-2 needs to be introduced undetected into a new country at least four times to have an even chance of establishing itself. ... If the Chinese epidemic was a big fire that sent sparks flying around the world, most of the sparks simply fizzled out."

It is therefore unlikely (though not impossible) that a single market visitor would have infected enough people to ignite an epidemic. In Wuhan's wet markets, on the other hand, distressed wild animals were trapped in cramped and unsanitary conditions in an enclosed environment through which thousands of people of all ages and susceptibilities passed each day. If any of those animals were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the stalls selling and butchering them would have turned the market into a focus of infection, seeding cases in the surrounding neighbourhood just as the Broad Street water-pump seeded a cluster of cholera cases during the 1854 epidemic in London. In a densely populated city and transportation hub like Wuhan, such a focus of infection would create the ideal conditions for a pandemic.

In June 2021, Xiao and colleagues published the results of a survey of Wuhan's live-animal markets, which one of the authors had conducted between May 2017 and November 2019. Their findings confirmed the presence of susceptible wildlife at the Huanan market and the dangerous conditions in which they were kept for sale and slaughter. "Across all 17 shops," the authors wrote, "vendors reported total sales of 36,295 individuals, belonging to 38 terrestrial wild animal species, averaging 1170.81 individuals per month."

Almost all animals were sold alive, caged, stacked and in poor condition. Most stores offered butchering services, done on site, with considerable implications for food hygiene and animal welfare. Approximately 30% of individuals from 6 mammal species inspected had suffered wounds from gunshots or traps, implying illegal wild harvesting.
This was plainly a disaster waiting to reoccur, if not in Wuhan in 2019, then at another wet market in another Chinese city, irrespective of whether or not that city happened to host one or more virology laboratories. Widespread suspicion that the Wuhan epidemic originated in one of the city's wet markets was not an arbitrary bit of misdirection, it was simply the most logical inference from the information then available. The emergence in 2019 of a novel coronavirus in a Chinese city with four wet markets trading susceptible wild animals most obviously suggested a recurrence of 2002-03. Even the Chinese CDC believed this to be the case.

It has now been conclusively established that the virus was in the market in December 2019. Environmental swabs collected there by the Chinese CDC between January 1st and March 2nd, 2020, yielded 40 positive results, from which three live samples were isolated. By the time the CDC arrived, disinfection teams dispatched by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in the early hours of January 31st had already begun the clean-up operation. The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported that some of the solution used was so powerful that it corroded the disinfection equipment. That any positive samples were recovered at all indicates that the market was awash with virus before the clean-up operation began.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


August 18, 2023 (HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, AUG 18, 2023, Letters from an American)

Do you remember last April, when the president of South Korea (formally the Republic of Korea, or ROK), Yoon Suk Yeol, sang "American Pie" at the U.S. state dinner held in his country's honor? That was part of a historic shift in global, and U.S., foreign policy.

That shift is being marked this weekend at the U.S. president's private retreat in Maryland, Camp David, about 60 miles outside of Washington, D.C., which since President Jimmy Carter's presidency has signaled historically significant diplomatic meetings. (This is one of the reasons why former president Trump's plan to bring Afghanistan's Taliban leaders to Camp David to sign a peace plan was so shocking; in the end, Trump never hosted a foreign leader at Camp David.)

President Biden is meeting at Camp David with President Yoon and Japan's prime minister Fumio Kishida in the first-ever trilateral summit between their countries. Japan and the ROK are two of the largest allies of the U.S. in eastern Asia, but their own history of conflicts has made the idea of a joint summit impossible before now. 

This reminds of the fine Thomas Madden book, Empires of Trust.  America had no need to govern Japan permanently, after defeating her, because our example makes others want to be like us and to trust us as allies.  We are history's greatest empire without the trappings. 

Biden to sign strategic partnership deal with Vietnam in latest bid to counter China in the region (PHELIM KINE, 08/18/2023, Politico)

President Joe Biden will chalk up a fresh victory in his campaign to boost U.S. influence in the Indo-Pacific by sealing a deal with Vietnam next month aimed to draw Hanoi closer to Washington at a time of rising tensions with Beijing.

Biden will sign a strategic partnership agreement with Vietnam during a state visit to the Southeast Asian country in mid-September, according to three people with knowledge of the deal's planning. 

August 18, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Camus and the Crisis of the West: The Rebel considers what happens when human beings are unwilling to live within the limits placed on them by the cosmos.  (Graham Mcaleer, 8/18/23, Law & Liberty)

Camus declares "1789 is the starting-point of modern times" because it is the French Revolution that put into practical shape a torrent of ideas that, finding fault with God's management of the cosmos, demanded "a limitless metaphysical crusade." God had to be replaced and the hunt was on for unity. Practically, this crusade hits high gear in the schemes and crimes of twentieth-century totalitarianism but theoretically all the main goals and failings of rebellion were already sketched in the fantasies of de Sade: "These consequences [of rebellion] are a complete totalitarianism, universal crime, an aristocracy of cynicism, and the desire for an apocalypse." 

To tell his story of modernity, Camus sets the scene with the 6,000 crucifixions of slaves that crushed the rebellion of Spartacus against Rome. A few years after this suppression, he speculates that God chose crucifixion for the execution of Jesus as an act of solidarity, to show that the world was not ultimately divided into slaves and masters, the humiliated and the powerful. God's humiliation on the Cross affirmed the unity of all, the unity of heaven and earth. Little wonder then, Camus contends, that when revolutionaries set out on their angry crusade to separate man from a hapless heaven, they chopped off the head of a divinely installed king. Mordantly, Camus observes that crucifixion demonstrated power in ancient times, in our revolutionary age it will be the scaffold.

Seventeenth-century political theorist and court preacher, Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet had told the French kings: "You are Gods." Grace is discretionary--some receive the grace to be saints, others don't--but Enlightenment thinkers hearkened to the original Christian proposal of equal justice for all. Premised on grace, the French monarchy could only be arbitrary, no matter that it often stepped in to restrain the abuse of the poor by the aristocracy and urban bourgeoisie. The dispute was philosophical, Saint-Just, the "youthful prosecutor" at Louis XVI's trial, declared: "To determine the principle in virtue of which the accused is perhaps to die, is to determine the principle by which the society that judges him lives." 

Rousseau had supplied the principle. "The will of the people is primarily the expression of universal reason, which is categorical. The new God is born." [...]

To complete the revolution, the task was now to truly bring God back down to earth, to make history king. Hegel thus makes reason "an irresistible urge to movement" and in the person of Napoleon, he thought he saw reason become energy. God no longer bestowed sovereignty, natural law was supplanted by the Code Napoleon, and the complete self-made man had arrived. Hegel famously declared the real is rational and the rational is real, but the upshot, Camus points out, is "the conqueror is always right." Reason identified with the propulsive, action "must be performed in darkness while awaiting the final illumination." Till then, there are no rules. Living for the future means we are now rudderless, "precipitated into a world without innocence and without principles." This comes with the consequence that every exercise of power is an experiment, and so Hegel "justifies every ideological encroachment upon reality." The stage is set for the transformative technological totalitarianism of the twentieth century. 

Hegel, argues Camus, is the most ambiguous of all philosophers because his catchy phrase "the real is rational and the rational is real" offers two possible emphases. Politically, you can focus on brute reality (the irrationalism of the Nazis) or unrestrained reason (the Five Year Plans dear to the Soviets). Communism, Camus sardonically says, "aims at liberating all men by provisionally enslaving them all. It must be granted the grandeur of its intentions." Lenin put no faith in populism. Revolution was a strategic, rational affair. "He denies the spontaneity of the masses. Socialist doctrine supposes a scientific basis that only the intellectuals can give it." Here, Enlightenment reason bent on liberating all from God becomes the secret maneuverings of state officers corralling all. Revolution above all must be efficacious, and so Lenin recommends "to use if necessary every stratagem, ruse, illegal method, to be determined to conceal the truth." Political cynicism is the twin of moral nihilism. Truth is a casualty of revolution, and so is freedom. Stalin will make ample use of political trials: "Marxism in one of its aspects is a doctrine of culpability on man's part and innocence on history's." 

The Anglospheric difference was our rejection of Reason, in favor of faith. The rest followed these choices.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Barbie: A Confused Postmodern Masterpiece (Tyler Hummel, 8/18/23, Voegelin View)

As the film depicts it, "Barbieland" is a functionally perfect matriarchy where women have total power and autonomy while Kens (men) exist to adore Barbies and find meaning in receiving attention from them. Upon closer look, though, this seemingly perfect matriarchy is no utopia--it just has the stereotypical appearance of one. When Barbie enters the real world to find the girl playing with her who is grappling with thoughts of mortality and depression, she realizes the real world is a patriarchy--which Ken loves and immediately exports back to Barbieland, turning it into Kenland, which leads to the climatic showdown between Barbie and Ken.

The divide between Barbieland versus Realworld ends up being surprisingly nuanced. The film doesn't resort to just depicting Barbieland as a perfect paradise while the real world is wholly bad. The divide is split along multiple separate and intersecting dualities--matriarchy vs. patriarchy, consumerism vs. meaning, sisterhood vs. motherhood, shallowness vs. authenticity. The shadow of existentialism looms over the film for the educated viewer.
All of these ideas coexist together because the film understands that this is the very real debate about what Barbie dolls represent in our own world and how the dolls represent very real debates and issues between human beings. There is no single answer to what is good or what is bad about Barbie. There is just the reality that Barbie fits into a very complicated world where, as one character puts it, "Women hate women, men hate women, and that is the only thing we all agree upon." Barbie dolls are both a negative reflection of female self-identity and a fun toy that millions of girls love to play with.

The film benefits from Gerwig's propensity towards existential postmodernism--rejecting narratives of good and evil and turning to the nature of the power dynamics at play between the sexes and how men and women act and live in the world they inhabit.

Barbie's opening offers one of its most contentious images--depicting a parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey where young girls smash their baby dolls in the shadow of a towering Barbie, symbolizing the liberation of women from domesticity and their transition under modern corporate feminism. But the movie then offers a deconstruction of this idea. It is very clear that sexism and misogyny are real forces in the world, but Barbie wants to deconstruct and interrogate a larger picture of what it means to be a woman in light of those pressures.

The movie embodies both the positive and negative aspects to the idea of Barbie in the characters of Gloria and Sasha--a mother and daughter with inverse opinions and a bitter estranged relationship. The mother is a put-upon middle-aged woman working as a secretary at Mattel who likes to play with her old Barbie dolls to blow off steam while the daughter is an aggressively hostile high school girl who considers Barbie a tool to promote fascist gender stereotypes and capitalist excess. Fascinatingly, the movie doesn't actually take a side in this conflict but instead depicts the tension of these two ideas as a representation of the intense internal struggle that comes with being a woman and the opposing desires and pressures that creates. The movie holds up both motherhood and sisterhood as virtues, giving Gloria a massive soliloquy about how being a woman means you're never enough to please anyone because you're always failing to live up to the expectations of either virtue.

...than being dismissive of utopianism. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Defend Trump and 'Hammer' Ramaswamy: DeSantis Allies Reveal Debate Strategy (Jonathan Swan, Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman|Aug. 17th, 2023, NY Times)

The trove of documents provides an extraordinary glimpse into the thinking of the DeSantis operation about a debate the candidate's advisers see as crucial.

"There are four basic must-dos," one of the memos urges Mr. DeSantis, whom the document refers to as "GRD."

"1. Attack Joe Biden and the media 3-5 times. 2. State GRD's positive vision 2-3 times. 3. Hammer Vivek Ramaswamy in a response. 4. Defend Donald Trump in absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack."

Even Gunga Din couldn't carry as much water for Donald as Tiny Trump does.

August 17, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Robbie Robertson and The Last Waltz (Christopher Garbowski, 8/17/23, Voegelin View)

Neil Miniturn, author and editor of a major reference work on the documentary, wryly notes "rock & roll does not waltz." Rather it has a highly vivacious nature which is possibly among the reasons that even at its best it was not taken seriously for quite long. The journalist Martha Bayles was among the first to take rock seriously as an art form, arguing the form reached its peak in the mid-1970s. In her Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty & Meaning in American Popular Music (1996), she argues rock flourished when it creatively developed its roots in the blues, becoming more fascicle when it strayed too far from them. This view offers an academic argument for the accomplishment of The Band. The documentary also does more than just rock. Film critic J.P. Tellotte perceptively notes, "What The Last Waltz seems to celebrate . . . are fundamental human tensions, those between life and death, art and reality, the expressive spirit and those limitations it encounters in the self and in our far from expressive world."

At some points the documentary with its art even reaches out to the transcendent. An important song from the musical event helps demonstrate the connection between religion and rock at its peak. The film captures the inspired rendition of The Band's classic "The Weight," with the vocal support of the superlative Gospel group the Staples. The Gospel group did not have to depart from their métier to any great degree in their stirring contribution to this rock song's performance, almost appropriating it from The Band, and demonstrating its debt to their spiritual musical tradition. Deeply moved by the effort and its poignant result one of the vocalists from the Staples at the very end of "The Weight" exclaims: "Beautiful!"

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Talk Therapy's Moral Morass (Robert T. Fancher, 17 Aug 2023, Quillette)

Despite the furious divisions and disagreements riving the mental-health industries, they do agree on one thing: Mental-health care can and should be ethically neutral. Moral transgressions, convictions, and decisions are none of the therapist's business; therapists should leave matters of conscience to the client. At most, therapists will "help" clients "clarify their values." A therapist must not try to "impose values," and certainly not evaluate, nor attempt to remedy, patients' moral shortcomings. The "nonjudgmental therapist" stands as an undisputed imperative of mental-health practice.

In one sense, this describes therapy fairly accurately: therapists generally refuse to pass moral judgment or take clients' moral deficiencies as objects of treatment. In another, it is blatantly false: all schools of thought and their therapists smuggle into care notions of what counts as proper thought and behavior--but they do it without moral argument or justification. In both senses, as we shall see, therapy has pursued ethical neutrality into a moral morass.

Given the near-panicked announcements of a mental-health crisis saturating the media, and clarion calls for more access to mental-health care, this is not a trivial matter. Meeting a mental-health crisis with yet more moral confusion cannot be good. Therapists cripple their own effectiveness, undermine patients' moral lives--hence their lives--and contribute to the unraveling of society rather than bringing the best resources of the scientific and scholarly disciplines to bear on wellbeing, all in pursuit of a confused ideal.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


The Man Who Made the Suburbs White: J.C. Nichols pioneered racial covenants in Kansas City's surrounding enclaves. The country is still grappling with them (MARK DENT, AUG 16, 2023, Slate)

When Nichols started planning communities, in the early 1900s, developers were largely derided as "curbstoners." They bought property, divided it into lots, threw down curbstones, and moved on, oblivious to the future well-being of homebuyers. A transformative idea dawned on Nichols: stringent restrictions.

Also known as covenants, they'd existed for decades, typically as an agreement between a developer and buyer on a single lot, proving unpopular to Americans who didn't want to be controlled on their own property. But Nichols sensed he could foster long-term stability, which would be profitable for him and for homeowners. He initiated restrictions on entire neighborhoods, placing them on the land before any lots were sold--a private zoning system before municipal zoning was widespread. He's credited as the first developer to emphasize the covenants for middle-class areas and to make them self-renew after periods of 25 to 40 years unless a majority of residents objected, ensuring they'd essentially last forever. For enforcement, he set up homeowners associations.

Nichols' restrictions started with a few sentences on neighborhood plat documents and eventually ran for a few pages. They set minimum prices for home construction, mandated single-family housing and banned apartments, required a specified amount of space on the fronts and sides of homes, and regulated routine housing elements like chimneys, trellises, windows, vestibules, and porches.

There were also racial restrictions that barred Black residents from owning or renting homes. An early billboard for Nichols' Country Club District development described the area as "1,000 Acres Restricted." Newspaper ads claimed that Nichols' neighborhoods blocked "all undesirable encroachments" and promised that "complete uniformity is here assured."

"Uniformity" proved to be a helluva business for Nichols: "And we find that the more restrictions we can put on," he wrote in a 1923 Good Housekeeping essay, "the more cheerfully is the land bought."

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Research on the Natural Interest Rate Suggests Stocks Will Soon Soar (Luke Lango, 8/17/23, InvestorPlace)

The natural interest rate - or neutral interest rate - is the real interest rate in the U.S. economy that neither stimulates nor contracts the economy. It is the theoretical "perfect" real interest rate to support the economy at full employment while keeping inflation constant. 

The natural interest rate is commonly denoted as R*. 

While R* is not observable, there are multiple well-proven statistical models to estimate it. The most well-established of these is the Holston-Laubach-Williams (HLW) model. That model uses a variety of economic signals to estimate R* on a quarterly basis. 

The most recent estimate from the HLW model is the Q1 estimate of 0.58%. In other words, the natural interest rate for the U.S. economy is presently estimated to be about 0.6%. 

In the 1960s, R* was around 6%. But as economic productivity improved and natural inflationary pressures eased, it trended downward through the end of the 20th Century. Following the 2008 financial crisis, R* collapsed and stabilized around ultra-low levels of ~0.7%. Briefly, after the COVID-19 pandemic, R* spiked above 1%. And now it has fully returned to (and is actually below) pre-pandemic levels. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Robbie Robertson Was Everyman: How a Canadian-Jewish-Mohawk Indian became the voice of poor white Americana (GEOFFREY CLARFIELD, AUGUST 15, 2023, Tablet)

Jaime Royal "Robbie" Robertson, the guitarist and principal songwriter for The Band, died on Aug. 9, 2023. He was 80 years old.

Robertson was born in my hometown of Toronto, raised by a mother from Canada's Mohawk First Nation and an Anglo-Canadian father, both of them working class. They separated when he was a teenager, at which point his mother revealed that his father was not really his father. His biological father had been a Jewish gambling man but had died by the time Robbie learned of him, and his mother felt it was somehow important that Robbie finally meet his father's brother and sister.

This is the stuff of mythology. An Orpheus-like hero who is born poor, is separated from his father, and then finds out that his father is not really his father. A boy who becomes a young man, who looks "white" but is half "Indian," experiences some of the deep prejudices of Canadian society against native peoples at the time, and then learns about American Roots music from his kin on a reservation.

A boy whose ear is close to the radio in the '50s and early '60s and gets his start playing blues, rhythm and blues, rock, rockabilly, and country in the burgeoning clubs of Toronto during the 1960s. He then meets up with two of the most unlikely outsiders that Toronto has ever hosted, rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins and drummer Levon Helm, both from Arkansas.

In retrospect one can say that Robertson's acquaintance with these two American Southerners was the point when his hero's journey started in earnest. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


The Great Enrichment Was Enriching From the Start (Donald J. Boudreaux,  August 16, 2023, AIER)

Careful quantitative research by economic historians has exposed these horror accounts of the industrial revolution as false. This research shows that inflation-adjusted daily wages began rising no later than 1840, and likely much earlier. Inflation-adjusted annual incomes began rising even sooner as work became more steady. Even in the last half of the 18th century, the households and bellies of ordinary people were growing accustomed to goods and foods that, just a few years earlier, were available only to the rich. The economic historian Peter Mathias found that "quite a lot of evidence suggests that beer sales per head were rising toward the end of the [18th] century; that the working masses were demanding wheaten bread and meat more insistently in the 1780s than when the century opened."

For more on these quantified data, consult the work of, among others, Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell. Of Gregory Clark. Of Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson. Of Jane Humphries and Jacob Weisdorf. Of Mark Koyama and Jared Rubin. And of Deirdre McCloskey. This research overwhelmingly justifies McCloskey's call to rename the past 200 or so years as "the Great Enrichment," with the period commonly called "the industrial revolution" being simply the launch of this Enrichment.

By all means, consult the quantitative data. They're vital.

But consult also the fascinating non-quantitative research of historian Emma Griffin. In her 2013 book, Liberty's Dawn: A People's History of the Industrial Revolution, Griffin reports the results of her deep-dive into 350 personal accounts written by ordinary British workers from the late 18th through the mid-19th centuries. These "autobiographies," as Griffin calls them, unfailingly reveal lives, at home and at work, that were incomparably harder and more perilous than are the lives of Brits and Americans today. Yet they also reveal that these workers overwhelmingly believed themselves to have benefitted from the unprecedented economic change in Britain during the first several decades of the Great Enrichment.

Consider, for example, John Bennett, a carpenter who was born in a rural English village in 1787.

Writing down his memories at the end of his life [recounts Griffin], he asked his children to "Look back and see what troublesome times we had during my bringing up." He told them 'the working classes in my opinion, was never as well off' as they were in the present day.... Bennett saw the developments he observed in the most positive terms. He did not think simply that life had changed. He thought it had done so for the better.

Griffin continues a few lines later:

What is striking is the degree of agreement between the autobiographers concerning the general tenor of the changes they had witnessed. All through the nineteenth century, writers sound the same celebratory notes of improvement and progress....

If wages were higher, what about the possibility that life was simpler and the poor happier back in the old days? James Hawker could not be more scathing about this proposition. He scoffed at the notion that the agricultural labourer 'seemed a Deal happier 60 years ago'.... None of the autobiographers had time for those who fondly reminisced about the past. 'When I hear people talk of the good old days,' thought George Mallard, 'they must be ignorant of what did hapen [sic] in those days. I know it was hard times where I was....

Our writers were not simply commenting on the change in their personal circumstances. They were also reflecting upon the strides that other working men and their families seemed to be making. These writers never lamented the passing of the old days - or 'the bad old times', as they were styled by one writer. There were no fond words for the quite or simplicity that their forefathers had known. To a man, our writers were glad that their grandchildren would never know the life they had once lived....

Gains were tenuous; gains were sometimes lost. Life was still extremely hard and many lived perilously close to the edge of a comfortable subsistence. Yet tenuous gains were preferable to the predictable course of a life devoted to hard labour with no prospect of real improvement. Industrialisation brought immediate and tangible benefits for large sections of the labouring poor. It held out the promise of better wages even to the unskilled and and very poor.

I could go on at length offering similar quotations from Griffin's book

August 16, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden Admits 'Inflation Reduction Act' Had Nothing to Do With Inflation. Do NHDems Still Back It? (Michael Graham, 8/13/23, NH Journal)

After months of unsuccessfully pushing the $5 trillion 'Build Back Better' plan, President Joe Biden and the White House cut its size and gave it a new name: The "Inflation Reduction Act." (IRA). It was enough to get the support of every Democrat in Congress, including the recalcitrant West Virginian, Sen. Joe Manchin.

All four of New Hampshire's congressional Democrats were vocal supporters of the bill, too. AI/Robotics.  The cost of energy and labor is trending towards zero.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Christopher Nolan's Forthcoming "Oppenheimer" MovieA Historian's Questions, Worries, and Challenges (Barton J. Bernstein, 7/11/23, Washington Decoded)

    Whether the AEC's negative "security-risk" judgment in assessing Oppenheimer in 1954 was reasonable, justified, and defensible was a sometimes heatedly contested issue in the mid-1950s, and it is sometimes today. For the most part, the pro-Oppenheimer forces at the time seemed to carry the day in the liberal media. Their own "verdict": Oppenheimer was basically innocent, he'd been viciously pilloried, and his enemies had unfairly done in him.

    Complicating matters, that complex judgment, with its undergirding assumption that Oppenheimer was basically innocent, when now re-examined, is often reconsidered by also employing new materials. They include some letters, a key memoir, an important diary, and Soviet intelligence documents; mostly these sources became available only in the 21st century. They overwhelmingly establish that Oppenheimer, contrary to his wartime and postwar claims, had been a secret Communist Party (CP) member for a period.[11]

    That rather new evidence also leads to a reassessment, and thus taking far more seriously, much negative evidence on Oppenheimer, dating back to about the 1940s, that many historians (including myself), often unwisely in about the 1970s-2002 period, minimized or disregarded. Hence, the interpretive situation--with the use of long-available and also relatively newly available evidence--has markedly changed.[12]

    It is no longer possible, or reasonable, to comfortably conclude, as had many liberal interpreters (including myself), that Oppenheimer in the 1954 hearing was candidly forthcoming about his late 1930s and early 1940s politics. He was not. He lied, and he sought to deceive.

    That suggests that many scientists at the time, and scholars and other writers then and later studying Oppenheimer, and the loyalty-security case, had--for many years--seriously erred. They had trusted him. [...]

Undoubtedly far more important, in terms of his own self, Oppenheimer repeatedly lied during and after World War II to the US government. He thereby concealed his secret Communist Party (CP) membership, of about 1939-1941, and participation in a party cell. The evidence of such CP membership is overwhelming, and that means he also committed perjury on at least a few occasions over a number of years.[24]

    That subject could be discussed in great depth, and at considerable length. What follows however in the next eight paragraphs, is only, basically, a quite brief summary of much of the overwhelming evidence. While some pieces of that evidence might be challenged, as Bird and Sherwin briefly sought to do in their 2005 book and in their 2005 essay, the total evidence, contrary to their unconvincing efforts, is now overwhelming: Oppenheimer had been a member of the Communist Party.

    Haakon Chevalier, once Oppenheimer's friend, informed him in 1964, in a private letter, that Chevalier was writing, in his forthcoming book, of their much earlier Communist Party past. Oppenheimer, bristling, denied that claim that he had ever been a CP member, and he even considered legal action to block Chevalier from making a public charge involving such membership. Chevalier did not make such a public charge, but years later, Chevalier confided in Oppenheimer analyst Jon Else, basically a filmmaker--that Oppenheimer had been a Communist Party member.[25]

    Over the years, other evidence, and strong evidence, also emerged supporting that claim. Barbara Chevalier, though long divorced from Haakon and often contemptuous of him, independently provided her own recollections, in a 1984 diary entry and in 2000s interviews with two separate historians. She corroborated that both Haakon and Robert Oppenheimer had been CP members years earlier. She placed that membership in about 1938-1941.[26]

    The two Chevaliers's claims, despite their acting independently, in their recollections of Robert's CP membership, might be doubted or perhaps dismissed as very frail evidence and thus even suspect. Building firm conclusions on the two Chevaliers's sets of claims might not be convincing to many who want to understand, and to assess, the relevant evidence on Oppenheimer and CP membership.

    But far more substantial evidence also became available. It was provided by a longtime historian (Gordon Griffiths), who was no longer a Communist, and who had broken many years earlier with the party. He had crafted in the 1990s a personal memoir, basically for his family. He was not red-baiting, and his personal memoir, in his lifetime, remained private and probably only in family hands.[27]

    What Griffiths revealed in that unpublished, but thoughtfully crafted, memoir was very significant: He had been for a few years, apparently mostly before Pearl Harbor, a secret CP liaison to a small clandestine CP cell in Berkeley; that cell included both Oppenheimer and Chevalier. Griffiths wrote, "Nobody carried a party card," and Griffiths was sure that both men--Oppenheimer and Chevalier--had "considered themselves to be Communists." Griffiths's recollections--not intended for public consumption, and by a man who was writing when still on the American left--constitute powerful evidence. He stated, "[T]he time has come to set the record straight."[28]

    Griffiths's statement on Oppenheimer's CP membership, even if taken alone, cannot be discounted, or dismissed. Added to the independent and basically corroborating evidence from the two Chevaliers, Griffiths's memoir becomes even more powerful, and greatly persuasive, on the CP membership issue. His memoir statement seems, especially when carefully read and thoughtfully assessed, to clinch the case: Robert Oppenheimer had been a CP member.

    But significant added material--quite substantial material--involving Oppenheimer and the CP, drawn from former Soviet sources, later became available. Used primarily by historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, that significant material, often quoted by them in their important 2012 article, seems even further to tighten an already very substantial case: Robert Oppenheimer had been a secret CP member for a few years.[29]

    The implications of that warranted finding for understanding Oppenheimer, his foes, and the loyalty-security case, are significant. That finding about Oppenheimer can help, and often should, shape important interpretive conclusions about Oppenheimer himself and about that case, and sometimes even about his foes.

August 15, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Unbelievable': Astronomer Claims 'Direct Evidence' of Gravity Breaking Down (Becky Ferreira, August 9, 2023, Vice)

A scientist has observed a "gravitational anomaly" in certain star systems that could potentially upend a fundamental assumption about the universe, according to a new study. 

The anomaly arises when loosely orbiting stars, known as wide binaries, seem to move in ways that defy established models of gravity, which are based on the ideas of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. The mind-bending discovery hints at a possible alternate theory of physics that does not depend on the existence of weird unidentified phenomena, such as dark matter, to explain the phenomena we see in space.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Political Disillusionment Is Growing in Israel's Druze Community: As the country they call home is reimagined, members of the minority group feel increasingly alienated (Babette Helena Stolk, 8/15/23, New/Lines)

Her sentiment is in stark contrast to the Druze community's stance just five years ago, when they were among those leading the movement against the controversial 2018 Israeli nation-state law, which defined Jewish settlements as a "national value," and the right to national self-determination as being "unique to the Jewish people." But since then, a sense of disenfranchisement has been festering among even the most pro-Israeli members of the Druze community, many of whom serve in the country's armed forces.

"If you say that this state belongs only to Jews, it means that Woody Allen has more rights here in Israel than me," Amal Asad, a retired Israel Defense Forces (IDF) brigadier general -- and the first Druze soldier to be promoted to such a position -- told New Lines in an online interview. His commitment to the Jewish state carried him through nearly three decades of service in the military, including the Yom Kippur and first Lebanon wars and, he explained, inspired him to engage politically and lead the 2018 movement.

But since then, he too has succumbed to a deep sense of sadness, feeling left out of Israeli politics and excluded from the very essence of Israeli national identity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Who are the 19 people indicted in the Georgia election case against Trump? (Fox News, August 15, 2023)

Former President Donald Trump was indicted for the fourth time, this time in Georgia, on Monday night along with 18 others who authorities say were involved in illegal efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the state.

Who are the 19 people indicted in the Georgia case?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The LED light revolution has only just begun (Umair Irfan,  Aug 14, 2023, Vox)

The new monarch is the light-emitting diode, or LED, and it's poised to have an enduring reign. Over the past decade, scientists, engineers, designers, and policymakers groomed the LED to rule, coaxing it to do everything an incandescent could do, but with a fraction of the energy. An LED bulb provides the same amount of light as an incandescent while using 90 percent less electricity and lasting 25 times longer. The 2014 Nobel Prize in physics went to the scientists who invented the blue LED.

"This is absolutely an Edison-level revolution in lighting technology," said Morgan Pattison, president of Solid State Lighting Services and an adviser to the US Department of Energy's lighting research program.

August 14, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Republican-controlled states like Oklahoma are rushing to invest in clean energy, even as conservative groups push for more oil and gas (Chris Panella,  Aug 14, 2023, Business Insider)

A solar farm plan in Arkansas, for example, will be the state's largest and power a major nearby US Steel factory by late 2024, which the company Entergy says will help them meet their sustainability goals and cut the steel factory's greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, Texas produced the most renewable energy of any US state in 2021, according to a 2022 report from the American Clean Power Association, and renewable energy sources have kept its power grid stable this summer despite record heat. 

And in Oklahoma, economics takes precedence over politics, as renewables lead to record profits. 

"The environmental benefits are nice," J.W. Peters, president of Solar Power of Oklahoma, told the Times, "but most people are doing this for the financial opportunity." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Gospel Truth: a review of The Scopes Trial: An Encyclopedic History, by Randy Moore and Susan E. Brooks (Ian Dowbiggin, Aug 14, 2023, American Conservative)

The passage of time has not been kind to Mencken's reputation. Moore and Brooks describe him as a "strident racist." Race was a central issue of the whole trial, though most attention then and since has focused on the debate over the evolutionary ancestors of human beings. When he was not lambasting Christian preachers, Mencken declared that "the educated Negro of today is a failure." Jews, in his opinion, were "the most unpleasant race ever heard of." 

The textbook Scopes used to teach biology was George Hunter's 1914 A Civic Biology, a triumphalist account of the theory of evolution. Darwinian natural selection, Hunter wrote, had culminated in "the highest type" of human beings, "the Caucasians." Hunter's book also revealed how at the time belief in Darwinism went hand in hand with eugenics. A Civic Biology is full of statements about the alleged dangers to society of "parasitic" families of criminals, alcoholics, prostitutes, epileptics, and such. Hunter called on governments to prevent the "possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race."

If Hunter's A Civic Biology was rife with eugenic references, it was hardly surprising, given that the 1920s were the heyday of the American eugenics movement. Many scientists like Hunter drew connections between faith in Darwinist evolution and belief in eugenics. In the post-World War I years, numerous American state governments passed legislation permitting the forced sterilization of men and women with disabilities. In 1927 the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell ruled that involuntary sterilization was constitutional. By 1928, 350 American universities were teaching eugenics. By World War II, biologists had rejected much of eugenic theory, but some state laws continued to function into the 1970s.  

Darrow himself was no fan of eugenics, but some of the scientists he brought to Dayton for the defense team were staunch supporters. One wrote that society should engage in "eliminating the unfit by refusing them birth." For his part, Darrow held blunt views about the lives of people with disabilities. "Chloroform unfit children," he advised elected officials. Fifteen years later Nazi Germany did just that.

Mention of medical murder also recalls that another key figure in Dayton during those steamy summer days in 1925 was the clergyman Charles Potter, at the time a Unitarian minister. Darrow invited Potter to be the defense team's religious advisor, but Potter proved to be a wild card, even disagreeing with the defense's position that evolution and Scripture were compatible. Darwinist evolution, Potter asserted, invalidated just about everything in Scripture and orthodox theology, including the existence of God. As a result, he was never called as an expert witness. Potter's headline-seeking did not escape Mencken's sharp eye. "There is a Unitarian clergyman here from New York," Mencken wrote, "trying desperately to horn into the trial. He will fail. If Darrow ventured to put him on the stand the whole audience, led by the jury, would leap out of the courthouse windows, and take to the hills."   

By the end of the 1920s, Potter had resigned from preaching altogether, and in 1938 he helped to found the Euthanasia Society of America. Until the organization changed its name in the 1960s, the ESA tried unsuccessfully to convince state legislators to pass laws removing legal penalties for physicians who killed their patients in the name of mercy. The ESA insisted it supported only voluntary requests for medical assistance in dying, but its members often admitted that they sympathized with people like Darrow who backed the killing of children with disabilities, as well as people with mental illness. Potter's association with the defense reveals that the social Darwinist policies favored by Darrow's legal team contrasted sharply with their stated goal of defending Scopes's individual freedom.

It's not just that Scopes lost then, but Darwinism remains a marginal belief in America to this day.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Clean Energy Future Is Arriving Faster Than You Think (David Gelles, Brad Plumer, Jim Tankersley, Jack Ewing, Leo Dominguez and Nadja Popovich, Aug. 12th, 2023, NY Times)

The cost of generating electricity from the sun and wind is falling fast and in many areas is now cheaper than gas, oil or coal. Private investment is flooding into companies that are jockeying for advantage in emerging green industries.

"We look at energy data on a daily basis, and it's astonishing what's happening," said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency. "Clean energy is moving faster than many people think, and it's become turbocharged lately."

More than $1.7 trillion worldwide is expected to be invested in technologies such as wind, solar power, electric vehicles and batteries globally this year, according to the I.E.A., compared with just over $1 trillion in fossil fuels. That is by far the most ever spent on clean energy in a year.

Those investments are driving explosive growth. China, which already leads the world in the sheer amount of electricity produced by wind and solar power, is expected to double its capacity by 2025, five years ahead of schedule. In Britain, roughly one-third of electricity is generated by wind, solar and hydropower. And in the United States, 23 percent of electricity is expected to come from renewable sources this year, up 10 percentage points from a decade ago.

"The nature of these exponential curves sometimes causes us to underestimate how quickly changes occur once they reach these inflection points and begin accelerating," said former Vice President Al Gore, who called attention to what he termed a "planetary crisis" 17 years ago in his film "An Inconvenient Truth." "The trend is definitely in favor of more and more renewable energy and less fossil energy."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Former FBI Official Issues Ominous Warning on Trump Supporters' Threats (ANNA COMMANDER,  8/12/23, Newsweek)

While appearing on MSNBC on Saturday, Figliuzzi was asked why he thinks there will be more right-wing extremist threats like the one in Utah that happened earlier this week, where Craig Deleeuw Robertson was fatally shot by FBI agents after previously posting ominous messages on social media, including ones aimed at Biden while also showing support for Trump.

"If you remember back to after 9/11, we had this color-coded threat level system that many people thought was confusing and ultimately went away. But if we still have that in place, with regard to domestic threat, we'd be moving from yellow to orange to likely threat occurring. And all of the markers are there," Figliuzzi said, who also works as a contributor to NBC News and has been a frequent critic of the former president in recent years.

In addition, Trump who is running for president again in 2024 has repeatedly come after special counsel Jack Smith, who was chosen by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to oversee its probes into him.

The former president called Smith a terrorist in an appearance on The Mark Levin Show in January and said, "The prosecutor [Smith] should resign, he's got a conflict. He is a terrorist. He is a Trump hater. His best friends are Weissmann and all of these characters, Lisa Monaco at the Justice Department, one of the top officials. This is a disgraceful situation. He should resign!"

During his MSNBC interview, Figliuzzi added: "You referenced Trump now elevating attacks on the people prosecuting him. Judges, witnesses, this is coming. It's already in the works, and when you look at extremist websites, chat rooms, you see the rhetoric. Particularly even against a potential witness, [former Vice President] Mike Pence, who in some corners of the dark web is targeted for being hung again, as if we needed to see that again."

Where's Janet Reno when you need her?

August 13, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Exclusive: Georgia prosecutors have messages showing Trump's team is behind voting system breach (Zachary Cohen Sara Murray, 8/13/23, CNN)

Several individuals involved in the voting systems breach in Coffee County are among those who may face charges in the sprawling criminal probe.

Investigators in the Georgia criminal probe have long suspected the breach was not an organic effort sprung from sympathetic Trump supporters in rural and heavily Republican Coffee County - a county Trump won by nearly 70% of the vote. They have gathered evidence indicating it was a top-down push by Trump's team to access sensitive voting software, according to people familiar with the situation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


How conservative is Net Zero?: The Tories are torching their green roots (ROBERT SAUNDERS, 8/13/23, UnHerd)

Tory environmentalists can point to a strong record on the issue, stretching back to the Fifties. It was Conservative governments that created the Department of the Environment, the National Parks Authorities, the Environment Agency and the Hadley Centre for Climate Research. Tory administrations introduced the Clean Air Acts, the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Environment Act, as well as the Landfill Tax, the Road-Fuel Escalator and, in England, the Plastic Bag Charge. And it was a Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, who made Net Zero a legal obligation.

When global warming first entered public consciousness in the Eighties and Nineties, it was Margaret Thatcher who sounded the most trenchant warnings. Addressing the World Climate Conference in 1990, she accused the world of "playing with the conditions" of life. "We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin", endangering "the biological balance ... on which human life depends". This was a distinctly Conservative environmentalism -- even taking care to warn business that "there will be no profit... for anyone if pollution continues to destroy our planet".

For Conservative environmentalists, this is not simply a record to defend. It is a reminder that there are powerful strands within Conservatism that can be mobilised against its climate sceptics. The first is the instinct to "conserve": the idea on which both "conservatism" and "conservation" are founded. For the Conservative intellectual Roger Scruton, global warming engaged "a fundamental moral idea to which conservatives attach great importance: the idea that those responsible for damage should also repair it". He drew inspiration from the writings of Edmund Burke and his call to partnership "between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born". For Burke, the living were but the "temporary possessors and life-renters" of society. As such, they had a moral responsibility not to "commit waste on their inheritance by destroying at their pleasure", or "to leave to those who come after a ruin instead of a habitation".

That belief intersected with an emphasis, drawn from Christian conservatism, on "stewardship": the belief, as Margaret Thatcher once put it, that humans were not the lords of creation but "the Lord's creatures, the trustees of this planet, charged... with preserving life itself". As she told the Conservative party conference in 1988: "The core of Tory philosophy and the case for protecting the environment are the same. No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy -- with a full repairing lease."

For much of its history, the Conservative Party was pre-eminently the party of the land; rooted, not just in the "landed interest", but in a patriotic commitment to the natural environment.

The combination of stewardship and Puritanism makes it a natural conservative issue.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Postliberal Manifesto: REVIEW: 'Tyranny, Inc.: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty--and What to Do About It' by Sohrab Ahmari (Samuel Gregg, August 13, 2023, Fee Beacon)

[A]hmari argues that capital--in league with judges, politicians, free-market scholars, and think-tanks--has successfully put working Americans at the mercy of big business. Job insecurity reigns, Ahmari states, and justice is routinely denied to employees, consumers, and anyone who lacks "control over most of society's productive and financial assets." This tyranny "is the structural cause behind much of our daily anxiety."

This is not a new critique, let alone a radical one. To varying degrees, it's been core to criticisms made of American capitalism by progressives, New Dealers, Marxists, and Great Society types for decades. Figures ranging from John Kenneth Galbraith to Robert Reich have long insisted that American capitalism must be restructured to correct major imbalances that, they hold, unjustly favor capital at everyone else's expense. A common theme pervading these writings is the need for large, strong unions to defend workers alongside the federal government promoting worker interests.


Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Louis DeJoy: From Trump villain to Biden's clean energy buddy: The postmaster general has struck up an unexpected partnership with the president's green guru, John Podesta. (HAILEY FUCHS, 08/13/2023, Politico)

"The Postal Service's vehicle initiative, and I personally, have benefited from the collaborative spirit of John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President and leader of the Office of Energy Innovation, as well as leaders within the Council on Environmental Quality and the Climate Policy Office," he said in the statement.

Privately, DeJoy has come to embrace the idea that he's now a climate pioneer.

"What I hear him saying is the Postal Service is going to be the greenest delivery company in the nation, and that not using us to deliver packages is going to be like not recycling," the person close to DeJoy said. "He jokingly says that between electric vehicles and reducing our transportation network and our own carbon footprint, he's going to get the Nobel Prize for green."

The electric vehicle issue was not the first time that DeJoy worked with the Biden White House. He partnered with the administration on the initiative to distribute Covid-19 tests through the mail and lobbied Republican lawmakers to support postal reform legislation championed by Democrats.

"He understands his role as non-partisan right now," the person close to DeJoy said.

DeJoy's critics find it hard to believe that he has assumed an apolitical nature. At the time of his selection, not long before the 2020 election, he was lambasted as a Trump mega-donor -- a crony who not only was eager to boost private industry at the expense of the USPS. He also was accused of trying to sabotage the nation's mail delivery in an attempt to thwart the election.

August 12, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


The Totally Not Boring Story of the Most Normal Republican Presidential Candidate (BEN BIRNBAUM, 08/11/2023, Politico)

In another era, Asa Hutchinson -- whose resume includes stints as a Congressman and U.S. attorney, leading roles at the DEA and Homeland Security, and two terms as a popular red-state governor -- would have been a shoo-in for the first debate of a Republican primary, if not an instant contender for the nomination. You might call him the apotheosis of what comedian Bill Maher has dubbed "Republican Classic": Pro-life, pro-gun, pro-free trade; anti-debt, anti-Putin, anti-coup. But Hutchinson has struggled amid the shifting sands of his party. While policy-wise, he remains mostly in lockstep -- as governor, he signed one of the country's strictest abortion bans -- he lacks the fire-breathing, troll-the-libs ethos that animates much of the modern GOP, and has displayed an occasional bipartisan streak (while leading the National Governors Association, he backed President Biden's infrastructure bill).

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


The Ultimate Horror Movie Is Really About Heaven and Hell (NY Times, August 12, 2023)

In "The Exorcist," the opposition of modernity and tradition is dramatized through the two main priest characters, Father Damien Karras and Father Lankester Merrin. Father Karras is a typical clergyman of the modern era, a young liberal Jesuit disillusioned with the priesthood for whom secular learning and even physical exercise have usurped the role of dogma. When the mother of the possessed girl asks him how someone obtains permission for an exorcism, he replies, "I'd have to get them into a time machine and get them back to the 16th century."

By contrast, Father Merrin is an older, traditionally minded scholar-priest, an expert in ancient Near Eastern cultures who accepts the reality of the demonic and fears it. He is an embodiment of what Pope Benedict XVI once called the "hermeneutic of continuity," a refusal to regard the 1960s as the beginning of a new divine dispensation.

The movie suggests that Father Karras's ambivalence about the church has morally compromised the way he sees the world. When he encounters a homeless man who asks him for change ("Could you help an old altar boy?"), he exhibits visceral disgust. He sees not a human being made in God's image but an object of hopelessness for whom he feels neither love nor responsibility.

The contrast between the two priests is central to the film's climax. When Father Merrin arrives to assist Father Karras with the exorcism, he instructs the younger priest to bring sacerdotal vestments, holy water and a copy of "Rituale Romanum," a pre-Vatican II liturgical book that contains the formula used for exorcism.

When Father Karras asks Father Merrin whether he would like to read the facts of the case first, he replies, tersely: "Why?" For Father Merrin, the girl is not a psychiatric patient to be analyzed, her symptoms ticked off as with any other diagnosis, just as the devil is not a mere symbol of the possibility of evil that lurks in every human heart. The girl is actually possessed, and the devil is an actual being, the prince of the fallen angels who "prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls" (in the words of a prayer that before Vatican II had been recited at the end of Low Masses throughout the world).

Father Karras's reluctance to accept the possibility of supernatural evil is intimately bound up in his inability to see God in the face of the poor. It is only by finally acknowledging the reality of supernatural evil -- and the all-pervading goodness of God, of which evil is merely a privation -- that Father Karras is ultimately able to sacrifice his own life to save the girl.

In "The Exorcist," neither the plot nor the characters can be understood from a nonreligious vantage point.

The Culture Wars are a rout.

August 11, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Democracy and the Golden Rule: And what it means for freedom of speech and expression. (Paul D. Miller, Aug 10, 2023, The Dispatch)

The Golden Rule is beautifully simple. It is intuitively fair. The alternative--treating others as you would not want to be treated--is the ethic of every bully, warlord, and tyrant in history. If there is a natural law, the Golden Rule is its first statute. It's also the strongest argument for some form of democracy and civil rights. 

Democracy is the political version of the Golden Rule. I treat you as an equal citizen because I want you to treat me the same way. I recognize and protect your rights and freedoms--free speech, free worship, and more--because I want you to recognize and protect mine.

Other political systems depend on unequal, hierarchical arrangements: ruler over ruled; priest over layman; military over civilian; one race over another; one religion over another; one tribe, culture, tongue, or people over another. No such arrangement can survive the scrutiny of the Golden Rule, because no emperor wants to be treated as a subject. Democracy, conversely, is when the ruled are the rulers.

But taking the political Golden Rule seriously means accepting its full implications. When we recognize other people's right to say, worship, or print whatever they want--when we grant them equal citizenship and liberty--they are going to do and say things that we disagree with.

Restrictions we all agree to apply to ourselves are perfectly acceptable.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Oppenheimer Was a Communist (Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, August 2023, Commentary)

Even before the evidence from the Russian archives, proof that Oppenheimer had been a Communist did not emerge from his enemies or from unreliable witnesses or ambivalent phrases in sketchy documents. Several of his friends, acquaintances, and graduate students--all of whom remained left-wingers--wrote memoirs or gave interviews in which they detailed Oppie's membership in the Communist Party. In an interview for Gregg Herken's 2002 book, Brotherhood of the Bomb, Haakon Chevalier--a professor of French literature--said that he and Oppenheimer had been members of "a 'closed unit' of the Communist Party" at the University of California at Berkeley. (A "closed unit" means a "secret unit.") In 1964, Chevalier had written to Robert to inform his one-time intimate that in a forthcoming memoir called Oppenheimer: The Story of a Friendship, he was going to confirm they had both been Communists. Oppenheimer responded angrily, threatening a lawsuit, and in the published version Chevalier called their unit a Marxist discussion group. Chevalier's widow allowed Herken to read her private journal and memoir, in which she confirmed that both her husband and Oppenheimer had been members of a closed CPUSA unit and noted, "Oppie's [Oppenheimer's] membership in a closed unit was very secret indeed."

Chevalier also identified Oppenheimer as the author of two 1940 pamphlets put out by the "College Faculties Committee, Communist Party of California." Oppenheimer, who was the scion of a wealthy New York family, had also paid for the printing and distribution of those pamphlets. Herken interviewed Philip Morrison, a former Oppenheimer graduate student and then Communist, who claimed that he, Morrison, had taken to the printer a third pamphlet written by Oppenheimer justifying the Soviet invasion of Finland. Still another graduate student, David Hawkins, could not confirm that Oppenheimer was a party member but agreed that Oppenheimer had hosted CPUSA meetings at his home.

Gordon Griffiths, a graduate student and Communist at Berkeley from 1940 to 1942 and later a prominent historian, late in life wrote an unpublished memoir that discussed his role as party liaison with the small Communist faculty group that included both Chevalier and Oppenheimer. In Griffiths' words, the faculty group

met regularly, to the best of my recollection, twice a month, in the evening at Chevalier's or Oppenheimer's house. I brought party literature and collected dues from [Arthur] Brodeur [a scholar of ancient Icelandic sagas] and Chevalier. I was given to understand that Oppenheimer, as a man of independent wealth, made his contribution through some special channel. Nobody carried a party card. If payment of dues was the only test of membership, I could not testify that Oppenheimer was a member, but I can say, without any qualification, that all three men considered themselves to be Communists.

FBI wiretaps at the time and made public decades later provided more corroboration that senior Communist officials considered Oppenheimer to have been a party member. In 1940, the Bureau learned of a private meeting of senior Communists that was to be held at Chevalier's home. Surveillance revealed Oppenheimer's car parked outside the house (a moment depicted in the movie). In December 1943, FBI listening devices picked up a conversation between Steve Nelson, the party's leader in the Bay Area, and Bernadette Doyle, its organizational secretary. In that conversation, Nelson and Doyle spoke of both Robert and his brother Frank as CPUSA members, but Nelson noted that Robert had become inactive. As late as 1945, a bug at a meeting of the North Oakland Communist Club overheard one official state that Oppenheimer was a party member and another call him "one of our men."

Nelson had been a close friend of Kitty Oppenheimer's second husband, Joe Dallet, a Communist Party official killed while serving in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain a few years before Kitty and Robert married. When Nelson moved to the Bay Area in 1939, where one of his tasks was to serve as a liaison with Soviet intelligence agencies, he became friendly with Kitty and Robert. Before Robert joined the Manhattan Project, he told Nelson in general terms about the beginnings of the research into an atomic bomb.  In March 1943, an FBI wiretap recorded Joe Weinberg, an Oppenheimer graduate student and ardent Communist, telling Nelson that Oppie was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with his Communist graduate students. Nelson pressed Weinberg for information about the atomic project and indicated that Oppenheimer had previously told him in general terms about it but had recently become more reticent. A week later, Nelson met with a Soviet intelligence officer from the San Francisco Soviet consulate.

To Bird and Sherwin, none of this evidence was dispositive (and the movie avoids mentioning it). In their eyes, because Oppenheimer never had a party card, he was not a "formal, card-carrying member." But this is wrong-headed. Many Communists never held party cards. Those belonging to professional groups were treated differently from regular Communists. Most important, they were exempted from the work required of most recruits--selling the Daily Worker, manning picket lines, attending rallies, etc.,--because doing so would have revealed their identities. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Trump could face "big picture" RICO case in Georgia, expert says (CBS News, August 11, 2023)

Georgia's RICO statute is considered to be more expansive in scope than the federal code from which it is derived. In Georgia, prosecutors are able to point to a range of organized or related attempts to engage in predicate acts or predicate crimes, which include everything from violent crimes such as murder or arson, to false statements and obstruction of justice.

"The racketeering statute does not look simply at a single crime, it tries to look at the big picture of view," said Morgan Cloud, a law professor at Emory University. 

In order to prove racketeering took place, Cloud said prosecutors must convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that at least two of the racketeering activities are related in terms of method, purpose, or victims. And in Trump's case, Cloud believes "the most important of those would be related in terms of goal or purpose, which was to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia."

"It has to be not just one separate isolated event, but a series of interrelated actions," Cloud said. 

In order to convict under RICO, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there is an enterprise, which can range from a corporation to an informal group of individuals, who undertake criminal actions as part of a shared goal. That is why, if Trump is charged under RICO statutes,  he is likely not alone in being exposed to potential racketeering charges. In 2022, Willis' office sent letters to multiple Trump allies warning that they could face unspecified charges, including Trump's former attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and so-called "fake electors" -- supporters who submitted an illegitimate version of the state's Electoral College vote.

Cloud suggested several key events after the 2020 election could be considered "actions taken as part of that scheme" under Georgia's RICO statute. 

He pointed to three phone calls Trump made to Georgia officials encouraging them to find fraud, including a recorded call on January 2, 2021, between Trump and Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, during which Trump told Raffensperger, "I just want to find 11,780 votes" -- the number he would have needed to overtake then-President-elect Joe Biden in that state. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Bad Ideas Have Bad Consequences (Joseph Pearce, August 10th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)

At the heart of the Enlightenment was the egocentrism of René Descartes' "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am), which placed the individual at the centre of a subjective microcosmos, in which the deified self knows nothing with any certainty but his own thoughts. It is a very short leap from this entrapped perspective, bereft of any contact with the outside world of objective verity, to the belief that I can reinvent myself in my own image. In this light, or darkness, we can see Cartesianism as the progenitor of transsexualism and transhumanism.

At the other end of the Enlightenment spectrum from the idealism of René Descartes is Thomas Hobbes who reduced all existence to mere matter. "All that exists is body," Hobbes insisted, "all that occurs motion". Such philosophical materialism gave rise to the historical determination of Karl Marx, whose ideas have led to the slaughter of tens of millions of people. Yes indeed. There's no doubt about it. Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have bad consequences.

Although Descartes, Hobbes and Marx will be well-known to most vaguely informed people, another major influence on modern thought and culture, somewhat less known, is Auguste Comte. In his book, The Drama of Atheist Humanism, Henri de Lubac devotes considerably more space to Comte than he does to the other three central figures on whom he focuses as being central to the rise of atheism and its godless consequences. De Lubac discusses the ideas of Feuerbach, Marx and Nietzsche in the first part of his book but devotes the whole of the second part to Comte.

The impact of Comte on his own age was summarized by the French philosopher, Émile Saisset: "Herr Feuerbach in Berlin, like Monsieur Comte in Paris, offers Christian Europe a new god to worship - the human race." This divinizing of humanity as the one abstract Being, which all individuals must serve, was Comte's life mission. By the end of the nineteenth century, he had been so successful that Lucien Lévy-Brühl could write that "the positive spirit", which Comte had done more than anyone else to isolate and define, was "so closely interfused with the general thought" of the age that it had become almost unnoticeable and yet ubiquitous, "like the air one breathes".

De Lubac connects Comte's positivism as "the ally of the Marxist and Nietzschean currents" insofar as it has the same ultimate goal: "Like them, it is one of the ways in which modern man seeks to escape from any kind of transcendency and to shake off the thing it regards as an unbearable yoke - namely, faith in God."

Thank the blessed Hume we always understood you can't escape faith.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


In Israel and the U.S., 'apartheid' is the elephant in the room (Ishaan Tharoor, August 11, 2023, Washington Post)

For months, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in defense of their democracy, which they fear may be greatly imperiled by the far-right ruling coalition's desire to curtail the independent powers of the country's judiciary. But the protests have seldom dovetailed with a recognition of the other profound mark against Israeli democracy -- the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the denial to millions of Palestinians the same rights as their Israeli neighbors, including half a million Jewish settlers.

In a letter with more than a thousand signatories, a group of prominent academics in the United States and Israel pointed to this exact "elephant in the room." The statement, which was first published online this past weekend and has been accruing hundreds of signatories daily, called out the "regime of apartheid" that prevails for Palestinians living under Israeli control. And it offers yet more evidence of a shifting discourse on Israel among even some of the Jewish state's staunchest supporters in the United States.

"There cannot be democracy for Jews in Israel as long as Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid, as Israeli legal experts have described it," the letter reads. In the authors' view, it's impossible to separate Netanyahu's quest to extend legislative controls over the judiciary from his far-right allies' desire to annex Palestinian lands and further erode Palestinian rights.

"The ultimate purpose of the judicial overhaul is to tighten restrictions on Gaza, deprive Palestinians of equal rights both beyond the Green Line and within it, annex more land, and ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population," the letter goes on. "The problems did not start with the current radical government: Jewish supremacism has been growing for years and was enshrined in law by the 2018 Nation State Law."

What makes the document striking, beyond its stark language, is the hefty roster of public intellectuals lining up behind it. Those include many figures who are self-described Zionists, like acclaimed historian Benny Morris. In a Wall Street Journal column published last year, Morris questioned the accuracy of using the "apartheid" frame to interpret the conditions on the ground in Israel and the occupied territories. But his position has changed as avowedly extremist members of Netanyahu's Cabinet like National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich openly champion racist, discriminatory policies and push for annexation.

Their rise to power, said Omer Bartov, an Israeli historian at Brown University and one of the lead promulgators of the letter, marks "a very radical shift that brought to the surface" tensions and injustices that have long run beneath Israel's supposedly temporary -- but now more than half-century-old -- occupation of the West Bank. "There's a connection between the occupation and everything it has done over the decades and this attempt by the government to change the nature of the regime of itself," he told me.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


The Montgomery boat brawl and what it really means to "try that in a small town": The viral fight valorized Black resistance -- and punctured Jason Aldean's racist "small town" narrative. (Aja Romano, Aug 11, 2023, Vox)

Then a song comes along like country singer Jason Aldean's risible "Try That in a Small Town." The lyrics and accompanying video are layered with references to Black Lives Matter protests, sundown towns ("see how far you make it down that road"), and white protectionism ("good ol' boys ... we take care of our own"). The video's main location was no less than the site of historical lynchings, a particularly unsubtle jab.  [...]

The white boaters, coming from nearby Selma, had allegedly repeatedly caused trouble at the dock by parking their pontoon illegally in the spot reserved for a large tourist riverboat, the Harriott II. On Sunday, August 5, the riverboat had been waiting for around 45 minutes, with passengers aboard, to dock. Damien Pickett, the riverboat's first mate and co-captain, disembarked in order to move the pontoon boat himself. In response, according to reports, at least three of the boaters attacked Pickett, punching him in the face, beating and kicking him.

This sounds like an all-too-familiar tragedy in progress: white-on-black violence, motivated by a sense of racist entitlement. Speaking to the Daily Beast after the incident, the boat's captain, Jim Kittrell, stressed that the only motive appeared to be racial: "It makes no sense to have six people try to beat the snot out of you just because you moved their boat up a few feet. In my opinion, the attack on Damien was racially motivated." Kittrell's assumption seems to be bolstered by eyewitness testimony: One bystander, a victim's family member, said in a sworn statement that she heard one of the white men drop the n-word before the fighting began.

It's important to consider this incident in the broader context of Montgomery's history, as well. Montgomery, one of the major historical fronts of the civil rights movement, is no stranger to racialized violence. It was there, in 1954, that a young Martin Luther King Jr. took up pastorship at a local church, where he became a spokesperson for the Montgomery bus boycotts alongside Rosa Parks. Through boycotts and years of sustained activism amid tense civil unrest, Montgomery protesters successfully challenged the rule of Jim Crow in the South and ultimately changed the nation. Montgomery also saw devastating segregationist violence throughout this period, including one of the most violent moments in the civil rights movement, "Bloody Sunday."

In 2023, coming after a cultural period of intensifying racialized protests, a group of white people whaling on an unsuspecting and defenseless Black man could have led to tragic consequences or, at the least, traumatized victims and onlookers.

What the video shows happening next, however, flipped the script: Seeing one of their colleagues being attacked, other Black boat workers rushed in to defend him and fight back. Bystanders also joined in, with one teen now known as "Black Aquaman" famously jumping into the water and swimming across the dock in order to help. One man, a person known to the internet as "Folding Chair Guy," gained instant fame when he went after the three attackers with, you guessed it, a folding chair.

The suddenness of the fight, combined with the enthusiasm of the brawlers, the glee of the onlookers, and the fact that everyone had phones out recording the incident, made the Montgomery brawl -- dubbed the Alabama Sweet Tea Party -- into an immediate viral sensation. It produced everything from evocative Twitter reactions to a live swimming pool reenactment to a remix of Ernie Barnes's iconic painting of Black partiers, Sugar Shack. The folding chair was instantly memorialized.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


REVIEW: of Welfare for Markets: A Global History of Basic Income: by Anton Jäger and Daniel Zamora Vargas (Ryne Clos, 8/11/23, Spectrium Culture)

What Jäger and Zamora Vargas are able to show is that UBI could unite disparate thinkers on opposite ends of the political spectrum. For arch-conservative neoliberal economists, it was a way for the state to deal with poverty without stepping on the throats of heroic job-creating capitalists; to reprise one of the book's chapter titles, it could provide welfare without a welfare state. On the other hand, for left-wing (and often anticapitalist) thinkers and activists, UBI could free repressed groups from the paternalistic and normative reach of the state. The New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society policy programs did provide assistance to just about everyone in the United States, but they did so in a highly prescribed way that demanded conformity and assumed a specific way of life (namely, a nuclear family with a home and a single male breadwinner). For both sets of thinkers, then, UBI became a way to escape what they saw as an overly large, overbearing and oppressive state apparatus without abandoning the demand that that state had a duty to care for its people.

...political systems exist to determine how it is distributed.

August 10, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM



[P]olice records obtained by The Intercept under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act reveal that on October 1, 2018, Grusch was committed to a mental health facility based in part on a report that he "made a suicidal statement" after Grusch's wife told him he was an alcoholic and suggested that he get help.

"Husband asked [complainant] to kill him," a police incident report produced by the Loudoun County sheriff states. "He is very angry guns are locked up.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


To Battle New Threats, Spy Agencies to Share More Intelligence With Private Sector (Warren P. Strobel, Aug. 10, 2023, WSJ)

U.S. spy agencies will share more intelligence with U.S. companies, nongovernmental organizations and academia under a new strategy released this week that acknowledges concerns over new threats, such as another pandemic and increasing cyberattacks.

The National Intelligence Strategy, which sets broad goals for the sprawling U.S. intelligence community, says that spy agencies must reach beyond the traditional walls of secrecy and partner with outside groups to detect and deter supply-chain disruptions, infectious diseases and other growing transnational threats.

The intelligence community "must rethink its approach to exchanging information and insights," the strategy says.

Open Source it all.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM



The Biden administration recently approved what will become the nation's largest offshore wind farm to date, with the capacity to power hundreds of thousands of homes. 

In July, the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced its approval to move forward with the construction of Ocean Wind 1, which will be located 13 nautical miles southeast of Atlantic City, New Jersey. The project will include 98 wind turbines and three offshore substations to help get the wind-generated electricity to shore.

This marks the Biden administration's third approval of a commercial-scale offshore wind energy project. The Vineyard Wind project, off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, was approved in May 2021, and the South Fork Wind Project, off the coast of New York and Rhode Island, was approved in November 2021, Quartz reports.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Are You Grieving?: The prayerful poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins embraces a saving romance with the eternal. (Casey Chalk, Aug 9, 2023, American Conservative)

If we are game, the return on investment is substantial. Consider the first half of Spring and Fall:

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

There's the end-rhyme and the invention of a new word ("unleaving"). Pausing to dream of autumn, Hopkins's words seem the perfect accompaniment to a leisurely stroll through some quiet wood resplendent in reds, oranges, and yellows, the leaves crisp and crackling under your shoes. And simultaneously, the English cleric widens the imaginative aperture, comparing those dead leaves to our own lives, and reminding readers that the cynical passing of years, can, if we are not careful, anesthetize us to the wonders of creation all around us.

Hopkins's genius is however far more than clever wordplay and arresting reflections on the natural order. The palpable melancholy pulsating through his poems, and his attempts to contemplate and counter that feeling, is deeply relevant for the contemporary Anglophone world, and particularly its youth, suffering unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. In Carrion Comfort, we read:

Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

Not untwist -- slack they may be -- these last strands of man

In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;

Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

Though he is tempted to revel in self-pity and spiritual darkness, to despairingly untwist his very person, Hopkins refuses. He can preach truths to his heart that conjure up hope, that repudiate the suicidal temptation "not to be." We should be distributing copies of Hopkins to euthanasia-friendly Canada!

Of course, given Hopkins's vocation, religious imagery is embedded in many of his poems. Though, as Ordway observes, these are communicated not via pious platitudes, but through the language of a man well-acquainted with doubts and suffering, yet steadfastly worshipful. In The Windhover, he compares Christ to a beautiful, unpredictable, and even dangerous falcon who possesses "brute beauty and valour and act." Nondum reflects on a God he praises but who does not reply: "Our prayer seems lost in desert ways; our hymn in the vast silence dies." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


GOP Candidate Plagiarized Massive Segments of His College Thesis (Daily Beast, August 10, 2023)

[Right-wing Florida Republican congressional candidate Anthony ]Sabatini's honors thesis--a 2012 treatise on the political legacy of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, titled "A Profound Logic of The Blood"--is wildly plagiarized. [...]
In fact, the very first sentence is plagiarized.

"The twentieth century has seen countless appropriations of the ideas of the philosopher Freidrich [sic] Nietzsche for cultural and political ends, yet nowhere have these attempts been more frequent or important than in Germany," Sabatini wrote at the outset of his thesis. (The honors student misspells "Friedrich" as "Freidrich" throughout the paper.)

A near-verbatim version of that same sentence first appeared 20 years earlier. "The twentieth century has seen countless attempts to appropriate the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche for diverse cultural and political ends, but nowhere have these efforts been more sustained and of greater consequence than in Germany," according to an abstract for an academic book from the University of California Press titled, "The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890-1990" (Aschheim, 1992).

Sabatini actually properly cites a block quote from that same book on the very next page, though he gets the original publication date wrong. (He also somehow still misspells "Friedrich.")

However, it's possible that Sabatini never even opened that book. That block quote--which wasn't written by the author, Aschheim, but was a quote Aschheim had attributed--appears on a Wikipedia page, attributed to Aschheim's book, added in June 2006.

In another example pulled at random, Sabatini lifts from another old Wikipedia entry about Nietzsche's conflicted torchbearer, Martin Heidegger. That passage--which has been widely cited across the internet--comprises a stretch of totally uncited writing so long that it's almost courageous.

Comic gold.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Maybe Facebook's Ruthless Ascent Didn't Make the World More Depressed, Study Says (Mack DeGeurin, 8/09/23, Gizmodo)

"We examined the best available data carefully - and found they did not support the idea that Facebook membership is related to harm, quite the opposite," Oxford Professor and paper co-author Andrew Przybylski said in a statement. "In fact, our analysis indicates Facebook is possibly related to positive well-being."

The peer-reviewed research, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal on Wednesday, analyzed broad trends in three well-being measurements across the different countries between 2008 and 2019 and compared that to data showing the adoption of Facebook users in those same countries. Though people signing up for and using Facebook around the world exploded during that time period, measurements of well-being and satisfaction remained relatively stable across the board.

Specifically, the study found counties with greater average daily active Facebook users had higher levels of positive experiences and life satisfaction than countries with lower average daily active users. 

Gosh, you mean tying into a social network is the opposite of loneliness?  

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Is the New Right Fascist? (JAMES M. PATTERSON , AUGUST 07, 2023, Religion & Liberty)

Since the New Conservative Movement began in the 1960s, and especially since the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, conservatives have traditionally adhered to a consensus of four principles: free markets, anti-totalitarianism, religious values, and limited government. The consensus was robust enough to entertain disagreements over which of the four to prioritize without abandoning any of the principles--until recently.

Starting with the emergence of the "Alt-Right" during the 2010s, a different group of political right-wing ideologues have surfaced to defend very different principles from those of traditional American conservatism. Rather, they are much more closely aligned with European conservatism: economic protectionism, foreign noninterventionism, and an aggressive use of government power. 

The Right is the Left: they're just quibbling over which Identities to serve.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


August 9, 2023 (HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, AUG 9, 2023, Letters from an American)

New York Times journalists Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage, and Luke Broadwater yesterday reported that in a memo dated December 6, 2020, Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro laid out a plan to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election that he acknowledged was "a bold, controversial strategy" that he believed the Supreme Court would "likely" reject. 

Still, he presented the plan--while apparently trying to distance himself from it by writing "I'm not necessarily advising this course of action"--because he thought it "would guarantee that public attention would be riveted on the evidence of electoral abuses by the Democrats, and would also buy the Trump campaign more time to win litigation that would deprive Biden of electoral votes and/or add to Trump's column."  

The plan was essentially what the Trump campaign ultimately tried to pursue. It called for Trump-Pence electors in six swing states Biden had won to meet and vote for Trump, and then to make sure that in each of those states there was a lawsuit underway that "might plausibly" call into question Biden's victory there. Then, Vice President Mike Pence would take the position that he had the power not simply to open the votes but also to count them, and that the 1887 Electoral Count Act that clarified those procedures was unconstitutional. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


The intractability of Republican climate politics (Philip Bump, August 7, 2023, Washington Post)

As part of an exploration of diverging partisan policy views, Gallup on Monday released data on how Democrats and Republicans considered several climate-related concepts. The divergence on climate issues over the past two decades is wider than on most things, with Democrats having embraced climate change as an issue, while Republicans' views slipped (probably largely during the contentious political period that emerged 15 years ago).

In 2003, there was about a 30-point gap between Democrats and Republicans on whether environmental protection should be prioritized over energy development. Now, it's 55 points. Twenty years ago, there was only about a 20-point gap in the extent of concern partisans had about climate change. Now, it's more than 50.

...and market it as a way to create deflation and gain independence from foreign regimes.

August 9, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Atlanta-area prosecutor expected to seek more than a dozen indictments in Trump case (Sara Murray, Jason Morris and Zachary Cohen, 8/09/23, CNN)

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is expected to seek more than a dozen indictments when she presents her case regarding efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia before a grand jury next week, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Hydrogen-powered planes almost ready for takeoff (DHANANJAY KHADILKAR, 8/9/2023, Ars Technica)

A complete hydrogen fuel cell powertrain assembly occupied the pride of place in the pavilion of Beyond Aero at the recently concluded Paris Air Show. That a fuel cell system was the Toulouse-based startup's centerpiece at the biennial aero event is an indication of the steps being taken by a range of companies, from startups to multinational corporations, toward realizing the goal of using hydrogen as fuel in the aviation sector.

"This 85 kilowatt subscale demonstrator was successfully tested a few months ago. Even though in its current form, it serves only ultralight aviation, the successful test of the powertrain is a crucial step in our technical development path for designing and building a business aircraft," Beyond Aero co-founder Hugo Tarlé told Ars Technica.

Tarlé said that the business aircraft would have a range of 800 nautical miles and will be powered by a 1 MW powertrain. "For generating this power, there won't be one big megawatt fuel cell. Instead, it will be multiple fuel cells. It will be based on the same technical choices that we made on the subscale demonstrator--i.e. gaseous hydrogen, fuel cell, hybridization of batteries and electric motors."

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


How India's religious violence is becoming a problem for American politicians (Richa Karmarkar, 8/09/23, RNS)

From President Joe Biden to Indian American congressmembers like Khanna, American politicians are under increasing pressure to account for their courtship of Modi, the leader of a strategically important ally and the world's largest democracy, while ignoring the Indian regime's oppression of religious minorities.

Modi's recent visit to Washington, where he met with President Biden, attended a state dinner and addressed Congress, fully rehabilitated a figure who, in 2005, was refused a visa by the U.S. State Department. At the time, Modi, then chief minister of the state of Gujurat, held a precarious position on the international stage after 1,000 of his constituents, mostly Muslims, died in religious riots. Since being elected prime minister in 2014, his record has improved, but marginalization of minority groups has continued. 

In its 2023 Annual Report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom cited India for its "systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom."

In May of this year, violence erupted in the Imphal Valley of Manipur, in Northern India, after members of the mostly Christian Kuki tribe protested a court order extending benefits to the Meiteis, an ethnic group many Kukis believe the government already favors. After the protest, Kuki were subjected to egregious violence and sexual crimes by Meitei mobs. 

All Joe had to do was not be Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Robot security guard dubbed 'secret agent man' deployed to patrol Ohio sidewalks (Fox News, August 9, 2023)

Crocker Park is an open-air shopping mall located in Westlake - a suburban town located about 15 miles outside of Cleveland - which sees nearly 10 million visitors a year and is home to 1,000 residents in luxury apartments. This month, leaders of Crocker Park introduced SAM, a 420-pound, 5'1″ autonomous robot that will patrol sidewalks and act as a "watchdog," according to a press release provided to Fox News Digital. 

"Our priority has always been to provide a safe and secure environment for everyone who visits our center, and the Knightscope robot will play a crucial role in enhancing our existing security measures," Sean Flanigan, vice president of security at Stark Enterprises, which owns Crocker Park. 

SAM, which was built by California-based robotics company Knightscope, uses 360-degree video streaming and recording video capabilities to monitor areas and alert authorities to any potential issues. The robot can work 24 hours a day, rain or shine. 

"[SAM's] AI algorithms enable it to detect anomalies and issue alerts to the on-site security team in real-time. This augmentation in security is aimed at deterring potential incidents, ensuring a rapid response to any arising concerns, and fostering a safe and welcoming environment for the entire community," Crocker Park explained. 

August 8, 2023

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:28 AM

ALL THAT JAZZ #68: Happy Birthday, Benny!

Benny Carter was born on August 8, 1907.   I've written a number of ATJ posts about his skills as a composer, arranger, bandleader and trumpet player.  Today let's just enjoy the peerless beauty and virtuosity of his playing on his primary instrument, the alto saxophone.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Impact of Vaccines and Behavior on U.S. Cumulative Deaths from COVID-19 (Andrew Atkeson, WORKING PAPER 31525, NBER)

[I] find that vaccines saved 748,600 lives through June 2023. That is, without vaccines, cumulative mortality from COVID-19 would have been closer to 1.91 million over this time period. In answering the second question, I find that behavioral efforts to slow the transmission of the virus before vaccines became widely administered were critical to this positive impact of vaccines on cumulative mortality. For example, with a complete relaxation of these mitigation efforts, vaccines would have come too late to have saved a significant number of lives. Earlier deployment of vaccines would have saved many lives. I find that marginal changes in the strength of the behavioral response to COVID-19 deaths within the range of those responses estimated with the model have a significantly impact on cumulative COVID-19 mortality over this time period.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The nuclear fusion era has arrived, if we choose it (Ethan Siegel, 8/08/23, Big Think)

[T]he ultimate goal is to create virtually unlimited amounts of energy via the process of nuclear fusion, enabling humanity's transition to a clean-energy economy. This would be an economy free from:

the pollutive effects of fossil fuels,
the need to mine and extract rare raw materials,
the risk of a nuclear power plant melting down or exploding,
and the fickle, unsteady supply arising from current green energy sources like wind, hydroelectric, or solar power.

We're all well aware of the pollutive effects of energy generation, as well as the effects that rising carbon dioxide levels are having on global temperatures, water availability, ocean acidification, and many other ecological aspects of our world. We're also keenly aware of the need for a safe, reliable, but extremely productive source of energy in order to power the modern lives of more than 8 billion (and rising) humans on planet Earth. [...]

But in order to get there, it isn't simply enough to generate these nuclear fusion reactions: something we've been capable of doing for more than 70 years. The hydrogen bomb, masterminded by Edward Teller, is a spectacular example of nuclear fusion here on Earth. However, that energy can't be readily converted into usable electrical power, as it's far too great in magnitude -- too much of an "all at once" phenomenon -- to harness.

Instead, we need to generate nuclear fusion reactions in a controlled, repeatable fashion. That fusion energy must be emitted in small doses, either continuously or in bursts, where that energy can then be used to do things like boil water, turn a turbine, or perform mechanical work that can then be extracted and transformed into usable electrical energy, just like conventional power plants.

Then, there will be engineering and efficiency concerns, like:

how can we maximize the net energy gain,
how can we minimize the energy required to initiate the fusion reactions,
how can we generate the needed energy in an on-demand fashion,
how can we transport this fusion-generated energy over long distances,
how can we successfully maintain the equipment used for generating these reactions,
and how do we successfully absorb any stray neutrons emitted in the fusion process, and prevent any radioactive materials generated from these reactions from contaminating our environment?

But in order to get there, we first need to pass the breakeven point: the point at which more energy is generated from fusion reactions than is required to initiate those reactions in the first place.

At the National Ignition Facility, omnidirectional high-powered lasers heat a pellet of material to sufficient conditions to initiate nuclear fusion. The NIF can produce greater temperatures than even the center of the Sun, and in late 2022, the breakeven point was passed for the first time from the perspective of laser energy incident on the hydrogen target relative to the energy liberated from the triggered fusion reactions.

This was a big deal when the National Ignition Facility first announced it in December of 2022, and it's a big deal that they did it again (proving reproducibility) at the end of July 2023: they have demonstrated that they have passed the breakeven point in a fusion reaction. They have achieved a net energy gain, where if you look at the amount of energy that goes into creating the fusion reaction -- the amount of energy incident on the target -- and compare it to the amount of energy that gets generated via fusion in the ensuing reaction, the energy generated is greater than the energy that went into it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden's green energy law is turning out to be huge (Rick Newman, August 7, 2023, Yahoo! News)

The soaring cost of the IRA might make it sound like Congressional Democrats who voted for the bill relied on rigged budget math to pass a law that promptly became a lot more expensive than advertised. But the added cost is also a sign of the IRA's success, because green energy tax incentives are turning out to be way more popular than expected. The cost of the law is rising because there's a lot more private sector investment in green energy, driven by tax breaks included in the law. Given that the law's main purpose was to speed green energy adoption, rising costs mean a faster transition away from fossil fuels and a more muscular response to global warming.

The eagerness to transition--for simple economic reasons--is why we could have achieved the same by taxing carbon to pay for its externalities. But elections have consequences...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Summit in Jeddah shows growing differences between China and Russia over war in Ukraine (Ukrainska Pravda, August 7, 2023)

 ISW said China's growing disagreement with Russia over a settlement to end the war in Ukraine was evident at talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 5-6 August.

ISW noted that "The Financial Times reported that the Chinese representatives at the meeting were 'constructive' and 'keen to show that [China] is not Russia'".

The Financial Times cited a European diplomat present at the talks, saying that the "mere presence of China shows Russia is more and more isolated".

The Chinese delegation, as it was reported, expressed its willingness to participate in the next similar-format meeting. Russia will probably not be at this meeting either.

A Russian insider source claimed that Russia has rejected China's 12-point peace plan for the war in Ukraine [re-presented by the Chinese delegation during talks in Saudi Arabia - ed.] made on February 2023, and that some Chinese elites secretly express that they are dissatisfied with the Russian leadership's actions regarding a peaceful settlement of the war in Ukraine.

August 7, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Don't Give Up on the Dream of a Liberal Israel (MICHAEL WALZER, AUG 7, 2023, Persuasion)

First of all, if Israel's current government succeeds in all its plans, Israel won't be a Jewish state in the simple sense of those two words. It will be a particular kind of Jewish state, requiring adjectives like "ultra-Orthodox" and "ultra-nationalist"--at odds, then, with most of world Jewry. In the Diaspora, Judaism is a pluralist, multi-denominational religion. In the Israel projected by the far right, the state will be actively hostile to the leading diasporic denominations--more so, perhaps, than to Christianity and Islam, though it won't be welcoming to them either. In the largest Diaspora community, the United States, the politics of the Jewish people is overwhelmingly liberal, a kind of cautious center-leftism. This is the historic politics of a minority people that relies for its safety on the rights that liberal democracy guarantees. A truly Jewish state cannot override those rights.

But that's what Israel's government is doing right now: it denies the rights of Israeli Arabs; it represses Palestinians on the West Bank; it entrenches ultra-Orthodox courts that rule again and again against women. And its aim is to make all this legally definitive, part of the very definition of the state.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tech breakthrough could boost states' use of geothermal power (ALEX BROWN, AUGUST 7, 2023, NH Bulletin)

"There have been enormous technological breakthroughs in geothermal," Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis said in an interview with Stateline. "More geographic areas are now eligible and capable of producing inexpensive geothermal energy. You're seeing more and more states addressing geothermal opportunities with the urgency that Colorado is."

In the West, some states see geothermal power plants as a crucial source of "always-on" clean electricity - a resilient energy supply to bolster grids supplied by wind and solar.

At the same time, some lawmakers in Eastern states believe networks of underground heat could replace gas-powered furnaces for many neighborhoods, campuses, and commercial buildings.

In both cases, supporters believe the transition to geothermal could draw on the drilling and pipeline construction expertise of oil and gas workers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. scientists hit new fusion energy milestone (Rebecca Falconer, 8/07/23, Axios)

"Since demonstrating fusion ignition for the first time at the National Ignition Facility in December 2022, we have continued to perform experiments to study this exciting new scientific regime," said Paul Rhien, a spokesperson for the laboratory in an emailed statement first shared with the Financial Times.

"In an experiment conducted on July 30, we repeated ignition at NIF. Analysis of those results is underway, but we can confirm the experiment produced a higher yield than the December test."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Solar power to the rescue as Europe's energy system weathers extreme heat (Kate Abnett and Susanna Twidale, August 7, 2023, Reuters)

"The very significant growth in solar basically compensates for the peaks that are caused by air conditioning," Kristian Ruby, secretary general of electricity industry group Eurelectric, said of the situation in Spain.

Spain and Greece are among the countries that have installed many more solar panels in the face of record high energy prices last year and the quest for increased energy security linked to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

August 6, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


Afghan supreme leader warns fighters against attacks abroad: defence minister  (The New Arab, 06 August, 2023)

Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid said in a speech to members of Afghanistan's security forces, broadcast by state television on Saturday, that fighting outside Afghanistan is not religiously sanctioned "jihad" but rather war, which had been barred by Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.

"If anyone goes outside of Afghanistan for the goal of jihad, it won't be called jihad," Akhundzada said, according to Mujahid.

"If the emir prevents the mujahideen [fighters] from going to battle and they still do it, this is war, not jihad."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Twilight of the Serial Killer: Cases Like Gilgo Beach Become Ever Rarer (NY Times, August 6, 2023)

Even as serial killers came to inhabit a central place in the nation's imagination -- inspiring hit movies, television shows, books, podcasts and more -- their actual number was dwindling dramatically. There were once hundreds at large, and a spike in the 1970s and '80s terrified the country. Now only a handful at most are known to be active, researchers say.

The techniques that led to the arrest of Mr. Heuermann, who has pleaded not guilty to the crimes, help explain the waning of serial killing, which the F.B.I. defines as the same person killing two or more victims in separate events at different times.

It is harder to hide. Rapid advances in investigative technology, video and other digital surveillance tools, as well as the ability to analyze mountains of information, quickly allow the authorities to find killers who before would have gone undetected.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China's Pro-Growth Messaging Blitz Can Only Buoy Markets So Long (Bloomberg, August 6, 2023)

The briefing by the NDRC, the nation's top economic planner, was the eighth since the start of July, nearly the same number it held during the entire second quarter. Yet officials again failed to articulate concrete measures to address the problems ailing the world's second-largest economy and vexing investors, from the property crisis and dire sentiment among private enterprise to stubbornly weak consumer confidence.

"They can only talk up the market for so long," said Christopher Beddor, deputy China research director at Gavekal Dragonomics. "At some point they need to actually deliver."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Scots train ancient dog breed to deter eagle attacks (AFP, August 5, 2023)

Dotted among a small flock of sheep in a field in the Scottish Highlands, Luigi and Peaches, two young working dogs with thick white coats, are busy being trained to keep watch on the skies above.

The pair, who descend from the Roman-era Maremma breed reared by shepherds to protect their livestock from wolves, are learning to guard against Scotland's resurgent sea eagles, formally known as white-tailed eagles.

Once driven to extinction across the British Isles, they have been successfully reintroduced in recent decades but are increasingly blamed for ravaging lambs left to roam the countryside.

August 5, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


God & Freedom Conservatism (Mark Tooley, August 4, 2023, Providence)

The newly launched Freedom Conservatism Declaration, which I signed, extols liberty, the pursuit of happiness, free markets, fiscal sustainability, laws over men, orderly immigration, deference to families and communities, racial equality, a foreign policy premised on national interest with liberty, and freedom of conscience. 

God and religion are not explicitly mentioned. But the statement implicitly assumes a largely biblical perspective about human dignity, the limits of government, private property, equality before the law, the primacy of conscience, protection for families, and statecraft premised on providential realism.

Before signing it, I briefly paused, wondering about the lack of specific mention of God. As a Protestant Christian, should I expect that any declaration of political principles must cite Him? 

The declaration models itself on William Buckley's 1960 Sharon Statement, which cited "transcendent values" realized in "the individual's use of his God-given free will."  Although not citing God, the newer declaration's principles are clearly the legacy of a Christian or at least biblical anthropology. Its signers are from diverse religious backgrounds. That they could affirm these principles, even if not specifying the source, seems a worthy initiative. "Whoever is not against us is for us," as the scriptures say.

Principles about democracy, limited government, private property, and free enterprise, with free speech and conscience rights, including religious freedom, largely originated in Christian-influenced and Hebraic cultures. But they have been universalized. Many of these principles are in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by the United Nations in 1948, and whose 75th anniversary is this year. People around the world of different faiths and no faith affirm these principles, without specifically acknowledging the spiritual source. We can rightly give thanks for the wide affirmation of these principles (amid highly uneven fidelity) without bewailing the absence of specific credit. "The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice," St. Paul remarked. 

It's why post-liberalism is anti-Christian.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Studying the Limits of Human Perfection, Through Darts (New York Times, August 05, 2023)

Today's athletes may be more skilled than their predecessors. But they are often playing with better equipment or technology that can boost their scores. Darts is no exception.

The darts themselves have improved. They've become thinner, making it less likely that previously thrown darts will crowd out the board.

But the triple-20 region has also grown in size, because of a change in the construction of the board. In the early 1990s, the wires that separate the scoring sections were as thick as 1.8 millimeters in diameter, according to Lee Huxtable, a production designer at Winmau, a board manufacturer. But they are now closer to 0.6 millimeters wide.

These small changes have increased the height of the triple-20 region to roughly 9.4 millimeters from 8 millimeters. In addition, the wires are now less rounded and angled toward the target. This means darts are less likely to bounce off the board and more likely to be directed toward the triple-scoring segments.

Scores have improved since the days of the old boards. Thirty years ago, John Lowe won the world championship with a three-dart average -- the standard metric for tracking player performance -- of 84. Smith had a three-dart average of 101 when he won this year's championship.

It's hard to ascertain how much of the improvement is because of the boards and how much credit should go to the athletes themselves. "I know that the players from the '90s, like Eric Bristow, John Lowe, Dennis Priestley and Jocky Wilson, would have 100 percent competed with the players of today," said Phil Taylor, who won 16 world championships from 1990 to 2013.

Tougher tests
In other sports, the challenges have gotten tougher. A standard outdoor competition in recurve archery -- using the traditional bows without wheels or pulleys -- included targets as close as 30 meters until the early 1990s. Now archers shoot from 70 meters. If the 30-meter round were still held today, it would "be kind of boring," said Brady Ellison, a three-time Olympic medalist for the United States. The top archers would essentially never miss.

Top scores from recent Olympics at 70 meters are comparable to the best scores at 30 meters half a century ago. If today's archers were shooting at 30 meters, they might score 358, 359 or even a perfect 360, Ellison said.

(Part of the improvement can be credited to technology: The bows are thinner, so they are less affected by the wind, and made from machined aluminum instead of wood.)

Professional bowling has also opted to set conditions that make perfection harder, so much so that the good league bowlers at your local lanes generally score higher than the pros on tour, said Tom Clark, the commissioner of the Professional Bowlers Association. It's because of the differences in how oil is applied to the wooden surfaces of the lanes. Although virtually invisible, oil patterns in bowling are immensely important and dictate how much the ball will hook.

"House shot," an oil pattern used by most recreational bowling lanes, provides a larger margin of error and usually leads to higher scores. Since the late 1970s, the P.B.A. has used oil patterns called "sport shot," which make the game fairer because they are standardized -- but also make it more difficult because they are less forgiving.

Still, average scores have increased since the first P.B.A. Tournament of Champions. Clark believes "the bowler has gotten better" over the decades.

Who knew bowling had gotten so wild...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Scoop: Biden pushes to end remote work era for feds (Alex Thompson, 8/05/23, Axios)

President Biden is calling for his Cabinet to "aggressively execute" plans for federal employees to work more in their offices this fall after years of working remotely, according to an email sent Friday to every Cabinet member and obtained by Axios.

Making work more costly for the employees and less productive for the employer is foolish,

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Anti-Wokeism Is Kind of a Big Problem for Black Republicans (Jason Nichols, August 4, 2023, Daily Beast)

However, when the Florida Board of Education released its K-12 social studies curriculum, which includes an "African American History Strand," finally some prominent Black Republicans found a voice. The Florida curriculum states that "slaves developed skills, which in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), a GOP presidential candidate whose personal story is about how his family went from "cotton to Congress," told an audience that slavery had "no silver lining" while discussing the brutality of the institution in more detail. Scott then stated that he hoped a presidential candidate "could appreciate that," taking a light jab at his GOP primary rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Former Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), another GOP presidential candidate, was even more forceful in his rebuke when he stated, "slavery was not a jobs program" and that "anyone implying that there was an upside to slavery is insane."

MAGA favorite Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) gave perhaps the softest rebuke of all, essentially asking for an adjustment to the curriculum. And yet, DeSantis still attacked him viciously by accusing him of standing with Vice President Kamala Harris over the state of Florida. DeSantis referred to the other dissenters as "D.C. Republicans" who "accept false narratives." The governor has stood by the curriculum, despite the fact that many people have pointed out it makes the despicable institution of slavery seem like an unpaid college internship.

"Lead Belly warned Black people when traveling through the south to 'stay woke' or be aware of the very real threat of racial violence and terrorism."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Life I Never Intended to Love: Dog Owner (Katherine Bindley, July 28, 2023, WSJ)

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a dog person. One of my earliest memories of a dog is from when I was around 5 years old and a neighbor's golden retriever knocked me face-first into the concrete.

As an adult, I harbored both a mild fear of dogs and a major irritation at their seemingly entitled owners who would bring them into places they don't belong, let them invade my personal space and then say, "She's friendly!"

This made it all the more curious that I should become, during the pandemic, the sole caretaker of a German shorthaired pointer named Bo. He has proved to be an inexhaustible and exhausting daredevil, prone to illness and injury, a chronic whiner who relentlessly demands my attention and takes up most of my time and energy--challenges I hadn't considered or in some cases even knew existed. He cost me a fortune in medical bills and made me spend days disinfecting my apartment. Weirdly, he also turned out to be the surprising way I filled a hole in my life that I never knew existed.

The Wife and kids had never seen me cry, would try to sneak peaks at the end of Field of Dreams to see if that got me going.  Then our dog got run over and they begged me never to cry in front of them again.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Deadly risks': Trump's latest Truth Social threat raises red flags for legal experts (David McAfee, 8/05/23, Raw Story)

Donald Trump on Friday said he was "coming after" those who have gone after him, prompting legal experts to suggest he might be breaking the rules set forth in the Washington, D.C., criminal case in which he's charged with attempting to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump's threat was simple: "IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I'M COMING AFTER YOU!"

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ukraine Attacks Russian Oil Tanker off Crimea (NY Times, August 5, 2023)

The tanker was near the Kerch Strait Bridge, a vital connection for Russia to the Crimean Peninsula, which has been under Russian occupation since 2014. Mr. Malyuk said Ukraine would continue attacking the bridge until Russian forces completely withdraw from Ukrainian lands.

...destroy the entire oil infrastructure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Modelo became America's new favorite beer (Emily Stewart,  Aug 4, 2023, Vox)

A decade ago, Modelo wasn't even a top-10 beer, but it has climbed up the ranks. In 2018, Modelo was America's seventh-top beer in chain retail by dollars. By the beginning of this year, it was second.

A combination of factors have propelled Modelo forward in recent years, said Garrett Nelson, vice-president and senior equity analyst at CFRA Research, in an email, including "the growing popularity of imported beer brands, demographic changes, Constellation's capacity growth to meet the demand, and most recently, the demise of Bud Light."

As more Latino and Hispanic drinkers have reached legal drinking age, their preferences have shifted the overall mix of beer that's selling in the United States. The country's growing Hispanic population has boosted Modelo's growth.

"The Modelo brand over-indexes to un-acculturated Hispanic consumers," said Vivien Azer, a senior research analyst at Cowen, noting that in 2016 the company said 3 points of its revenue algorithm just comes from growth of the Hispanic population in the US. The Wall Street Journal points out that 70 percent of Modelo's consumers were Hispanic in its 2019 fiscal year.

It's also taken off with non-Hispanic consumers, which Constellation told WSJ now represent 45 percent of its base. The website Good Beer Hunting points out that more non-Hispanic households purchase Modelo than Hispanic households, but Hispanics consume more Modelo by volume than non-Hispanics.

August 4, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


"Limitless" energy: How offshore floating solar could power population hotspots (Andrew Blakers & David Firnando Silalahi 4 August 2023, Renew Economy)

Vast arrays of solar panels floating on calm seas near the Equator could provide effectively unlimited solar energy to densely populated countries in Southeast Asia and West Africa.

Our new research shows offshore solar in Indonesia alone could generate about 35,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) of solar energy a year, which is similar to current global electricity production (30,000TWh per year).

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


The Madisonian Case Against Trump: Protecting the republic from people like Donald Trump is the whole point of the U.S. Constitution. (FRANCISCO TORO, AUG 4, 2023, Persuasion)

The founding generation was petrified of the class of events to which January 6th belongs. They were haunted by the worry that in overthrowing monarchical authority they would inadvertently set the new republic on the path first to anarchy and then to tyranny. Rather like the makers of Artificial Intelligence today, Madison, Hamilton and the rest of the gang were acutely aware that they were meddling with awesome powers, and that getting it wrong could have disastrous consequences for the future.

In 1786, these were not academic preoccupations. That year, a Revolutionary War veteran from the Wild West (which, in those days, meant western Massachusetts) led a thousand armed men in a protest movement against the heavy taxes being levied on him and his fellow farmers to pay Revolutionary War debts. Though Daniel Shays' movement was, if anything, scrupulously orderly, what came to be remembered as Shays' Rebellion brought back all the old fears that America's poor would begin revolting all the time.

It was the specter of Shays-style lawlessness, with regular people refusing to acknowledge the legal authority of the institutions of the state, that pushed the founding elite to agree, in 1787, that a constitution creating a strong central government was going to be needed after all. 

James Madison in particular, with his dim view of people's ability to govern themselves on a lasting basis, was obsessed with the need to build protections against mob rule into the United States Constitution. For a popular demagogue to lead a conspiracy to defraud the United States in an attempt to obstruct the lawful results of a presidential election was the stuff of Madison's nightmares.

August 3, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


The growing field of fungus in low carbon, sustainable building materials (Prachi Patel, August 3, 2023, Anthropocene)

A team from Newcastle University in the UK and Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium have grown fungus together with other ingredients to make a material they call myocrete, which can be used for lightweight construction. In another study, researchers from RMIT University in Australia engineered mycelium--the root-like network that is the foundation of fungal colonies--to create a sustainable fire-retardant material that could be used as building insulation or a leather substitute.

Mushrooms and other fungi usually grow in colonies. When mushrooms sprout up in the soil, they are just the tip of an iceberg. They are connected to a large network of white thread-like structures that grow under the soil or on rotting tree trunks, transporting nutrients to the fungus from the environment.

Researchers have tapped into mycelium to make leather substitutes, Styrofoam-like packaging materials, and even biodegradable substrates for electronic circuits.

With myocrete, the UK-Belgium team is trying to address the carbon footprint of the construction industry. Mycelium-based materials have excellent thermal and acoustic properties, which makes them promising for insulation and soundproofing. "They have potential to provide an inexpensive and sustainable class of materials suitable for the replacement of foams, timber and plastics for applications within building interiors," the researchers write.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


The American left and right loathe each other and agree on a lot (The Economist, Jul 13th 2023)

Normally, you need read only the first six or seven words of a senator's sentence to be able to correctly surmise his party. See if you can tell from the next 40 or so, an extract culled from a prominent senator's recent book: "Today, neoliberalism is in. In the eyes of our elites, the spread and support of free trade should come before all other concerns--personal, political and geopolitical. In recent years this has led to a kind of 'free-market fundamentalism'." Suppose you were given a hint. The three proposed solutions for the neoliberal malaise are: "putting Wall Street in its place", bringing "critical industries back to America" and resurrecting "an obligation to rebuild America's workforce".

If you guessed a Democrat--perhaps even more cleverly Bernie Sanders writing in his recent work, "It's ok to be Angry About Capitalism"--you would be wrong. It was in fact Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida and one-time presidential contender, writing in his just-published book, "Decades of Decadence".

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


When Politics Becomes Therapy (Ronald W. Dworkin, 7/30/23, Law & Liberty)

The realm of illusion is more than just the realm of ideology taken to the paranoid extreme. The John Birchers and the Weathermen, the survivalists and the militia groups of the 1990s, exemplified the latter. They saw very specific but unreal threats to the economy, to the American democratic system, to the state of their physical security, or to the social quality of their lives, and they lashed out violently. 

In contrast, in the realm of illusion, people experience unhappiness in their private lives for no clear reason. Some of them may credit that unhappiness to loneliness, yet their unhappiness seems to flow from no obvious source, tapping as well into a weariness they feel toward their daily duties, a bitterness they feel toward the fatuity and soullessness of their relationships--even boredom. They have somehow bruised themselves against the rocks of life. In their unease, they start to dream of a better life. The origins of their dream can be equally hard to pin down, drawing, for instance, from a passion to love others and be loved, from a desire to feel "well" in some existential sense, and from a nebulous faith in humanity. Their dreaming gradually leads them into an illusory world where they find an explanation for their personal unhappiness that is, at best, distantly related to any specific threat coming from the outside world. Then they, too, like radical ideologues, lash out, sometimes violently. 

American politics have traditionally been a fight between competing interests or ideologies. Debates over taxes are an example of the former, and the struggle over racial integration during the early 1970s is an example of the latter. Today, because of people like Elliot Rodger, a new dimension has been added to American politics: fights between competing illusions. People vociferously defend their false version of reality against an opposing false version of reality, as well as against reality itself. 

Eric Hoffer "Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there."

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Why China is not as powerful as the West might think (STUART LAU AND PHELIM KINE, AUGUST 3, 2023, Politico)

Against that backdrop, the Beijing government is now focused on engaging with the West in a less frosty manner, even when it comes to its arch-rival in Washington. Several U.S. officials -- from Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen -- have visited China in recent months, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is expected to go later this summer. An EU-China summit is also in the pipeline, according to one diplomat speaking anonymously because the plans are yet to be finalized.

Beijing is also keen to reassure private businesses in China, but it doesn't seem to be working. 

"What we saw was actually a decrease in the overall confidence level" among 570 EU companies operating in China who took part in a recent survey, according to Jens Eskelund, president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China. "And a lot of that has to do with an increased level of uncertainty where China is, in particular about the Chinese economy," said Eskelund, whose chamber represents 1,700 mostly European companies and entities in China.

Xi consistently demonstrated a preference for the state-owned sector. His most radical moves against the private sector have been targeted at tech giants, even though they're widely considered the best hope for China to compete with the West. On Xi's watch, the Chinese bureaucracy has cracked down on multinational e-commerce platform Alibaba's billionaire-founder Jack Ma, restricted the development of online gaming and private tutorial classes, and heavily regulated data even for foreign companies. 

Some Western companies are already looking elsewhere. According to Eskelund, the EU chamber chief, 11 percent of businesses surveyed last year said they were weighing up whether to leave China. This year, the exact same share of companies reported they had already taken the decision to go.

Fukuyama v. Huntington resembles nothing so much as Ali v. Wepner.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


The New Right's Theory of Power is Insane (NICHOLAS GROSSMAN, JUL 17, 2023, Arc Digital)

In a sharp New York Times column, David French argues that Elon Musk's problems at Twitter show how the "new right's theory of power" has failed. The new right--culture war focused, often very online, rejects small government conservatism as weak--thought Musk buying Twitter would force their cultural preferences onto America, as they believe the old owners did for the left. But American culture is too much of a bottom-up process. Individual preferences and the market are bigger forces, which we're seeing now as advertisers flee, and companies launch Twitter competitors that attract some interest, such as Threads.

It's a good point, but I'm going to take it further: This theory of power is not just wrong, it's insane. Nuts. A distortion of reality. More conspiracy theory than empirical assessment, based on a false premise that stokes feelings of victimization.

Here's how French explains the theory:

"In the new right's telling, the story of contemporary American culture is the story of progressive elite capture of the nation's most important institutions -- from the academy to big business to pop culture to the "deep state" -- followed by its remorseless use of that institutional power to warp and distort American values."

French argues that the new right's counter-strategy of "domination and imposition" isn't working and won't, but he doesn't really interrogate the premise.

The idea that leftists executed a hostile takeover of all major institutions and now use them to persecute conservatives is a foundational truism for the new right. Feeling like a victim of that persecution, and justified in taking drastic action in response, might be the main thing holding the movement together.

As with the Left, increasing public exposure to their ideas increases hostility to the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Burning books, mosques and Muslims: India's bloody burden for the future (Sameena Dalwai, August 3, 2023, Al Jazeera)

[Germany]'s painful modern history is commemorated everywhere -- a police station where the Stasi tortured suspects, a hospital where cruel experiments were conducted upon Roma children, Jewish homes from where families were deported to the gas chambers.

India has never had any such reckoning -- not even over the subcontinent's partition, during which more than one million people were murdered, and 15 million migrated between India and the new state of Pakistan.

We have no plaques, painted walls and hardly any memorials, only memory. Visions carved into the minds of people and passed on from generation to generation.

In Germany, it started with attacks on Jewish trades and bans on their professional work, grew into the capture of Jewish property and homes, but very soon turned to deportation to ghettos, followed by mass murders. All this while non-Jewish Germans watched. Could they have stopped it?

In India, we are watching the rapid poisoning of the collective mind with propaganda that the ancient glory of Hindus was tarnished by Muslim rulers. That contemporary India's rise is being held back by Muslims -- who are blamed for everything from the country's large population and the spread of the coronavirus to anti-women practices and even inflation. From the withdrawal of scholarships for Muslims to amendments to the citizenship law that discriminate against Muslim asylum seekers, the ruling party is leaving no stone unturned to fan the fuels of division.

Periodic violence and lynchings, as in Haryana this week, help push Muslims further and further into ghettos. Muslim women's organisations working towards domestic equality, Muslim youth trying to adopt a liberal way of life away from the community gaze, and children trying to get education and economic mobility are all pushed back into the ghetto. They are then compelled to live a Muslimness that is defined by others -- the Hindu right and self-proclaimed Muslim leaders determine how a Muslim should look, behave and dress. Fanatics from both sides debate over it, clash swords over it.

The voices of the common Muslim - youth, children, women, men and professionals -- are lost. As a result, an unchanging target is preserved for the merchants of hate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM

DONNY REB (profanity alert):

August 2, 2023 (HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, AUG 3, 2023, Letters from an American)

Observers today called out the part of the indictment that describes how Trump and Co-Conspirator 4, who appears to be Jeffrey Clark, the man Trump wanted to make attorney general, intended to use the military to quell any protests against Trump's overturning of the election results. When warned that staying in power would lead to "riots in every major city in the United States," Co-Conspirator 4 replied, "Well...that's why there's an Insurrection Act."

The Insurrection Act of 1807 permits the president to use the military to enforce domestic laws, invoking martial law. Trump's allies urged him to do just that to stay in power. Fears that Trump might do such a thing were strong enough that on January 3, 2021, all 10 living former defense secretaries signed a Washington Post op-ed warning that "[e]fforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory." 

They put their colleagues on notice: "Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic." Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo recalled today that military leaders told Congress they were reluctant to respond to the violence at the Capitol out of concern about how Trump might use the military under the Insurrection Act. [...]

Today, Trump's former attorney general William Barr dismissed the idea that the indictment is an attack on Trump's First Amendment rights. Barr told CNN's Kaitlan Collins: "As the indictment says, they're not attacking his First Amendment right. He can say whatever he wants. He can even lie. He can even tell people that the election was stolen when he knew better. But that does not protect you from entering into a conspiracy. All conspiracies involve speech. And all fraud involves speech. Free speech doesn't give you the right to engage in a fraudulent conspiracy." 

Indictment Mystery: Did Someone Spill About the Trump-McCarthy Jan. 6 Call? (Daily Beast, August 2, 2023)

By choosing to speak as an omniscient narrator for that paragraph, federal prosecutors have left it entirely unclear how they know what was said on that phone call. And that's fueling speculation about a number of possibilities: Is there a recording of the call? Did Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows--who is speculated to have been in the room with Trump at the time--provide an account to investigators? Did McCarthy?

Meadows has remained silent about the matter. (He did not answer a request for comment.) And if McCarthy has been helping out Smith, he's doing his damndest to not make it seem that way. (McCarthy's office also didn't respond to questions.)

Shortly after the indictment was unsealed, McCarthy posted a statement about the Hunter Biden saga and called the indictment "DOJ's attempt to distract from the news and attack the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, President Trump."

While McCarthy knows what was said on that phone call--and said a week after Jan. 6 that Trump "bears responsibility" for the attack on the Capitol--McCarthy quickly mended his relationship with Trump and has stood in the way of any sort of accountability for the former president and his actions surrounding the insurrection.

But according to Herrera Beutler, McCarthy immediately blamed Trump for Jan. 6. She recalled the briefing on a podcast in February 2021.

"He called the president and said, 'Hey, you basically need to get on TV, you need to call these people off,'" she said on the podcast. "And the president's response to him was, 'These aren't my people, these are Antifa.'"

"Kevin, to his credit, responded, 'No, they just came through my window, my staff are running, these are your people, they have MAGA hats on,'" Herrera Beutler continued.

"And the president's response to him was, 'Well, Kevin, I guess they are just more concerned about this election than you are,'" she said.

That closely tracks with the call's description in the indictment. (Beutler, who has since become a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, did not reply to an interview request.)

But that was not the last that the public heard of the phone call. The House Jan. 6 Committee extensively explored the call and the events of that day. They described the phone conversation this way:

"Multiple witnesses told the Select Committee that Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy contacted the President and others around him, desperately trying to get him to act. McCarthy's entreaties led nowhere. 'I guess they're just more upset about the election theft than you are,' President Trump told McCarthy."

But as time went on, McCarthy adopted a different version of the events that day.

August 2, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump is charged under civil rights law used to prosecute KKK violence (Isaac Stanley-Becker and Spencer S. Hsu,  August 1, 2023, Washington Post)

A carload of White men who attacked an interracial couple with rocks and bricks.

A member of the Ku Klux Klan who built a cross, wrapped it in sheets soaked in gas and oil and instructed two others to set it ablaze in front of the home of a family of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent.

Sign up to get email alerts for political commentary, insights and stories from Jennifer Rubin right as she publishes.
A social media influencer who spread misinformation aimed at preventing people from voting.

And now, a former president of the United States.

When Donald Trump was indicted Tuesday and accused of trying to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election, he found himself in the unenviable company of defendants charged under a criminal statute dating to the Reconstruction era.

They are his peers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


US District Judge Tanya Chutkan has been assigned to Trump's indictment. Here's what to know about her. (August 1, 2023)

She is the only federal judge in the District of Columbia that has sentenced January 6 rioters to longer sentences than prosecutors have requested, NBC News reported. In one instance, Chutkan sentenced January 6 rioter Matthew Mazzocco to 45 days in jail despite prosecutors' requests for home confinement for the duration of his sentence, Insider previously reported. 

"Because the country is watching," Insider reported she said during the sentencing, "to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in this country before, for actions and crimes that undermine the rule of law and our democracy."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The association between lead exposure and crime: A systematic review (Maria Jose Talayero  ,C. Rebecca Robbins ,Emily R. Smith ,Carlos Santos-Burgoa,  August 1, 2023, PLOS Global Public Health)

The intent of this study is to complete a systematic review of all studies assessing individual-level exposures to lead and the outcomes of crime and antisocial behavior traits. We included peer reviewed studies that were published prior to August 2022 and were classified as cohort, cross-sectional, or case-control. Studies measuring the outcomes of crime, delinquency, violence, or aggression were included. The following databases were searched using a standardized search strategy: ProQuest Environmental Science Database, PubMed, ToxNet and the Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS). Seventeen manuscripts met our inclusion criteria. Blood lead was measured in 12 studies, bone lead in 3 studies, and dentine lead levels in 2 studies. This systematic review identified a wide range of diverse outcomes between exposure to lead at multiple windows of development and later delinquent, criminal and antisocial behavior. A review of all potential confounding variables included within each study was made, with inclusion of relevant confounders into the risk of bias tool. There is limited data at the individual level on the effects of prenatal, childhood, and adolescent lead exposure and later criminal behavior and more evidence is necessary to evaluate the magnitude of the associations seen in this review. Our review, in conjunction with the available biological evidence, suggests that an excess risk for criminal behavior in adulthood exists when an individual is exposed to lead in utero or in the early years of childhood. 

Donald must have woofed down paint chips like Doritos when he was a kid.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The first hydrogen-powered planes are taking flight (Canary Media, 2 August 2023)

Around the world, commercial air travel accounts for over 2 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. That number is set to soar in the coming years as more oil-burning planes and more passengers hit the skies.

In the near term, airlines and plane manufacturers are working to curb emissions by designing more fuel-efficient engines, electrifying ground operations and increasing their use of ​"sustainable aviation fuel" made from used cooking oil, forestry residues, carbon dioxide and other feedstocks. Last year, alternative fuels accounted for less than 0.1 percent of the total jet fuel used by major U.S. airlines.

Although plant- and waste-based fuels can be cleaner to produce than petroleum-based fuel, they still emit carbon dioxide when burned in engines. Hydrogen does not -- that's why airlines and manufacturers are joining efforts to develop H2-powered aircraft. Fuel cells in particular don't generate harmful nitrogen oxides or fine particulate matter, since they don't burn fuel.

A retrofitted fuel-cell aircraft would emit about one-third less CO2 over its lifetime than an aircraft burning ​"e-kerosene," a type of sustainable aviation fuel made from electricity, water and carbon dioxide, according to the ICCT analysis.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Lionel Messi's Billion-Dollar Impact On US Soccer (JOE POMPLIANO, JUL 29, 2023, Huddle Up)

For example, MLS Season Pass, which is Apple TV's $50/year subscription service to all MLS matches, has seen an explosion in interest since Messi's arrival this month.

And Inter Miami CF has gained 11 million Instagram followers since Messi's signing -- Inter Miami is now the 4th most-followed US sports team on Instagram -- and they now have more Instagram followers than the other 28 MLS clubs combined.

Most Followed US Sports Teams (Instagram)

Golden State Warriors (NBA): 31 million

Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 23 million

Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA): 16 million

Inter Miami CF (MLS): 12 million

Still, gaining social media followers off the back of a 36-year-old intentional superstar that will retire in a few years doesn't guarantee long-term success. So is Messi's move to Major League Soccer a flash in the pan? Or could it be something much bigger?

MetLife Stadium Manchester, Arsenal match sets attendance record
In case you haven't noticed, soccer is having a moment in the United States right now.

There was Lionel Messi's signing and MLS debut, of course. But several of the world's most famous clubs are currently hosting friendlies throughout the United States.

For example, 50,596 people showed up in North Carolina to watch Wrexham AFC take on Chelsea. Over 65,000 people saw a seven-goal Premier League Summer Series match as Chelsea beat 10-man Brighton 4-3 in Philadelphia. NRG Stadium had 67,801 fans in Houston for Barcelona's match against Real Madrid. The Rose Bowl was packed with 70,814 fans for Real Madrid's match against AC Milan. And Arsenal vs. Manchester United set a new soccer attendance record with 82,262 fans at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey-- a number that is significantly higher than the 2022 average home attendance for the NFL's New York Jets (78,009) and New York Giants (76,474).

And it's not just these global football clubs putting up big numbers, either.

Take El Tráfico, for instance. The MLS rivalry between Los Angeles Football Club and the LA Galaxy set an MLS attendance record in July with 82,110 fans at the Rose Bowl.

August 1, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Donald Trump indicted over Jan. 6, election interference (J.D. Capelouto,  Aug 1, 2023, Semafor)

In the latest case, Trump was charged with four federal counts:

Conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding
Obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding
Conspiracy against rights

The indictment alleges that Trump "was determined to remain in power" despite having lost.

Trump "spread lies that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won," the indictment states. "These claims were false, and the Defendant know that they were false."

Orange is the new orange.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Modernity: A Rebellion Against God (George Stanciu, July 31st, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)

Bacon was the first to enunciate the fundamental principle of modern science: "The testimony and information of the sense has reference always to man, not to the universe; and it is a great error to assert that the sense is the measure of things."[vii] But a total rejection of the senses is madness, so to arrive at trustworthy information about nature the senses must be assigned a limited role. In one sentence, Bacon presented the heart of the experimental method, something entirely new to humankind: "The office of the sense shall be only to judge of the experiment, and the experiment itself shall judge of the thing."[viii]

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


RFK Jr's super PAC is mostly funded by a GOP megadonor (Business Insider, July 31, 2023)

Mellon also contributed $53 million to an effort led by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, effectively funding the entire venture himself.

You had him at Identity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'This belongs in the Smithsonian': Inside the meme video operation that swallowed Ron DeSantis' campaign (David Weigel and Shelby Talcott, Jul 31, 2023, Semafor)

The chat in Signal, an encrypted messaging app, offers the first clear look into the "war room" that has defined the Florida governor's candidacy, and is presided over by his high-profile and confrontational director of rapid response, Christina Pushaw. The correspondence obtained by Semafor also offers a glimpse of a strategy that mixes digital aggression and (unsuccessful) attempts to keep the campaign's own activities secret. The messages were set to disappear after one week.

Screenshots of the "War Room" chat reviewed by Semafor included staffers praising a widely-derided and since-deleted video -- originally posted on an anonymous account, "Ron DeSantis Fancams" -- that included a version of the Sonnenrad, a symbol associated with Nazi Germany.

"This belongs in the Smithsonian," wrote Kyle Lamb, the campaign's director of research and data, before the video blew up in the campaign's face. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Beer, barbecue and a bus: Inside Ron DeSantis' awkward comeback effort (Jonathan Allen, Henry J. Gomez, Allan Smith and Emma Barnett, 7/31/23, NBC News)

ROCHESTER, N.H. -- For $1, New Hampshire voters were invited to drink beer with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Saturday in Concord.

But barely more than two dozen people showed up at the New Hampshire Home Builders Association, which slashed the ticket price for the general public from $50 late in the week in order to build the crowd.

By the time the event started, an hour late, there were just 30 people in the room.

For a campaign that promised allies a new approach while shedding staff amid a cash crunch and declining poll numbers, the meet-and-greet with homebuilders was just one of a string of events in Iowa and New Hampshire in recent days that were distinctive less for any change in DeSantis' tack than for the appearance of waning interest in his candidacy.

At least at the outset, DeSantis has reset in name only.

Hampshiremen have met him.  He was never going to be able to withstand human contact.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tucker Carlson's accidental confession (Matthew Teague, August 1, 2023, UnHerd)

His timing was serendipitous, coming in the churn of Donald Trump's first presidential campaign. But Carlson didn't win an audience of millions by accident; he was exceptionally effective at the job, in ways small and large. His pacing, for instance, is impeccable. Speaking on television is hard -- too slow and you're plodding, too fast and you seem nervous -- but Carlson had perfect timing. More importantly, he understood historical timing; as white Americans shifted from majority towards minority, many hardened into a political bloc and eyed institutions with distrust. Carlson recognised the power in their grievance and made a shift alongside them, casting himself as a populist voice for the forgotten and downtrodden.

It was a deft dance with his audience. It required them to forget that he rose to prominence wearing a bow tie, an affectation he began at preparatory school; that he lunched at The Palm on DuPont Circle in Washington, deep inside the Beltway; that he embodied the very Republican establishment against which he raged. It required him to rage for you.

Carlson and his producers pioneered a new style of commentary. Instead of bowing to Jon Stewart's accusations of manufactured outrage, they built a full-scale factory. It worked like this: producers would scour the American landscape for someone -- anyone -- behaving in outlandish ways. Hyper-wokeness worked best, but sheer nuttiness served at a pinch. Then they presented this fringe behaviour as central, as representative of them, the un-Americans who would supplant you.

Identity politics is about emotion; fertile ground for a Lonesome Rhodes.