New York AG Ridicules Trump’s Failed Courtroom Hail Marys (Jose Pagliery, Dec. 18, 2023, Daily Beast)

“Unlike a fine Bordeaux, defendants’ case for a directed verdict does not improve with age,” AG special counsel Andrew Amer wrote in a court filing on Monday. […]

“The motion, as with many of the defendants’ courtroom antics and maneuvers during the course of this trial, is nothing more than a political stunt designed to provide Mr. Trump, his co-defendants, and their counsel with sound bites for press conferences, Truth Social posts, and cable news appearances,” Amer wrote.

But he also noted that those requests only got more ridiculous as time went on, because the evidence presented at trial only made it more clear—not less—that Trump routinely lied on personal financial statements to score bank loans and insurance policies. Justice Arthur F. Engoron shot down every attempt by the Trumps with increasingly exasperated shrugs ranging from “denied” to “absolutely denied.” And he’s expected to toss this one out too—perhaps for the last time.

In Monday’s cheeky, three-page filing, Amer noted that “additional evidence cannot possibly lead to a better outcome” for them.


US nuclear-fusion lab enters new era: achieving ‘ignition’ over and over (Jeff Tollefson, 12/17/23, Nature)

In December 2022, after more than a decade of effort and frustration, scientists at the US National Ignition Facility (NIF) announced that they had set a world record by producing a fusion reaction that released more energy than it consumed — a phenomenon known as ignition. They have now proved that the feat was no accident by replicating it again and again, and the administration of US President Joe Biden is looking to build on this success by establishing a trio of US research centres to help advance the science.

The stadium-sized laser facility, housed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, has unequivocally achieved its goal of ignition in four out of its last six attempts, creating a reaction that generates pressures and temperatures greater than those that occur inside the Sun.


Japan cuts big deals with ASEAN — with one eye on Beijing (Matthew Kendrick, 12/17/23, GZero)

Tokyo committed to an implementation plan for over 130 projects with ASEAN, covering everything from the green economy transformation to cybersecurity to arms technology and equipment transfers.

The joint leaders statement also contained language regarding “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” and the “renunciation of the threat or use of force” — clear references to China’s activities in the South China Sea.

In a separate bilateral deal, Indonesia will get $63.7 million to bolster its maritime security and a Japanese-built patrol boat to boot.

Similarly, Malaysia will get $2.8 million for “warning and surveillance” gear as part of a Japanese program to bolster law enforcement and security in friendly countries.

The Philippines’ coast guard agreed to cooperate more closely with Japan’s. Manila also received advanced Japanese radars last month and is in talks with Tokyo over a formal military pact that could allow mutual troop deployments and training.

Also last month, Japan and Vietnam elevated their mutual relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” and are discussing a potential military deal.


More Americans Than Ever Own Stocks (Hannah Miao, Dec. 18, 2023, WSJ)

About 58% of U.S. households owned stocks in 2022, according to the Federal Reserve’s survey of consumer finances released this fall. That is up from 53% in 2019 and marks the highest household stock-ownership rate recorded in the triennial survey. The cohort includes families holding individual shares directly and those owning stocks indirectly through funds, retirement accounts or other managed accounts.

The data provide the most comprehensive snapshot yet of how the Covid-era explosion in investing has reshaped Americans’ personal finances. Stuck at home during the pandemic with extra cash, millions jumped into the stock market for the first time. The elimination of commission fees on stock trading across U.S. brokerages made investing cheaper than ever.

“It created a whole generation of investors,” said Anthony Denier, chief executive of mobile brokerage Webull U.S.


The decline of beauty: Why has the concept been rejected by the art world? (Pierre d’Alancaisez, 12/18/23, The Critic)

Ask the contestants of Family Fortunes about the purpose of art, and the concept of beauty is sure to top the list. A kindergartner, likewise, would display an instinctive understanding of the word. In exhibition writing and art criticism today, however, it is as though beauty never existed. Tate wouldn’t dare describe a painting as beautiful, and any artist trying to market their work in such terms would be cast out as an amateur. To speak about beauty today is to be reactionary, without the redemption once offered by thinkers like Roger Scruton. In contemporary art discourse, the concept of beauty is essentialist and deterministic and thus of no use.

In our time of general abolition, there may be convincing arguments for the museum’s war on old ideas. But, as the critic Dave Hickey noted already in the 1990s, beauty has been out of favour in the art school for so long that hardly anyone remembers why. Yet, even now, the assault on the beautiful continues. In The Cult of Beauty at London’s Wellcome Collection, beauty has a problem: we have been “obsessed” with it for over three centuries. From Nefertiti to TikTok, the exhibition questions “the influence of morality, status, health, age, race, and gender” on the notion of beauty before dismantling it to make way for a “more inclusive” version.

It is the morality they rebel against.


Trump bemoans record stock market as just making ‘rich people richer’ (Tim Reid, December 17, 2023, Reuters)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record high last week, topping 37,000 and surpassing the previous record set in 2022. In a 2020 debate with Biden, Trump said that if Biden won the election, “the stock market will crash.”

Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election.

In an attempt to give a populist and anti-Biden twist on the new record stock market high, Trump, a self-described billionaire, told a crowd of supporters in Reno, Nevada: “The stock market is making rich people richer.”

For the Right, the problem is that the better the economy the more attractive we are to, and the greater our need for, immigrants.


Where did Hamas come from and what does it want?: A thorough examination of the terror group’s origins is necessary if there is ever going to be a lasting peace (EMILE NAKHLEH, DEC 18, 2023, Reponsible Statecraft)

Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya—Islamic Resistance Movement; the acronym means Zeal) emerged in 1987 in the West Bank and Gaza under the Israeli occupation after the first Palestinian Intifada as an alternative to the secular PLO. Israel, Jordan, and a few other Arab states were concerend about the growing strength of the PLO’s secular nationalist ideology and thus initially supported Hamas’s creation. Like other local Sunni Islamic political parties and movements — for example, PAS in Malaysia, Refah and AKP in Turkey, the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, and the Islamic Movement in Israel — Hamas was grounded in the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hamas’s political program and charter focused primarily on resisting the occupation and the state of Israel. Hamas never followed the Wahhabi Salafi radical Tawhidi doctrine of Islam emanating from Saudi Arabia. In most of its history, Hamas, unlike al-Qaida and ISIS, never subscribed to or practiced global jihad against the perceived enemies of Islam. Its operational context has always been Palestine and its leaders have always been Palestinians. Many of them spent years in Israeli jails where they learned Hebrew. Most of Hamas’s political leaders are currently in exile in different Middle Eastern countries, especially in Qatar with whose leadership they maintained close relations.

Hamas also comprises a political wing, which over the years participated in governing institutions in the West Bank and Gaza, and a military wing (Qassam Brigades) that has built a fighting force and planned and executed military operations against Israel. Hamas is not a monolithic group, which reflects the reality of Palestinian society in Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas’s charter rejects the existence of the State of Israel in Palestine, but its political wing has engaged with Israel, especially since 2007, on pragmatic matters that affect the Palestinians’ daily lives in Gaza and has shown a willingness to accept a two-state solution. […]

The most recent public opinion poll in the West Bank and Gaza shows a significant rise in Hamas’s popularity in both areas with nearly 90% calling on Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president in Ramallah, to resign. The poll, which was conducted between November 22 and December 2, finds that Palestinians view Hamas as the most legitimate group in the West Bank and Gaza.


Javier Milei and the Promise of a New Argentina (ALEJANDRO A. CHAFUEN, DECEMBER 15, 2023, Religion & Liberty)

Despite its name, derived from Argentum (silver), Argentina did not get rich owing to its mineral wealth. The country has little or no silver. Argentina began its road to prosperity only after General Justo José de Urquiza (1801–1870) defeated Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793–1877), the powerful governor of Buenos Aires, then and now the wealthiest province in the country, with the aid of Brazil and Uruguay. Urquiza became president in 1854 and adopted the Constitution inspired by the work of Juan Bautista Alberdi (1810–1884), a legal scholar and political theorist well-versed in economics. The 1853 Constitution created the legal framework that propelled Argentina’s economy.

Argentina endured ups and downs, but from the mid-19th century until the 1930s and ’40s, it experienced high economic growth. In fact, it overcame the Great Depression of 1930 faster than most other countries. However, the financial crisis of the 1930s created incentives for some of the world’s leading intellectual centers to explore new economic policies. Economists at the leading universities around the globe started devising various interventionist and statist schemes. The economic policies of the New Deal, Keynesianism, and fascist corporatism had a worldwide impact. Unfortunately, Argentina copied many of them. Its labor law was a copy of Mussolini’s Carta di Lavoro, for example. Although there have been periods of liberal economic policies during the past eight decades, the trend has continued toward increased interventionism, and the result has been dire poverty. Today, estimates from the Argentine Catholic University Center report that almost 45% of the population lives in poverty.


Utility rate roundup: Decreases for Eversource and Unitil, controversy for Liberty (HADLEY BARNDOLLAR, DECEMBER 18, 2023, NH Bulletin)

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects natural gas prices to decline by 24 percent from last winter. In New England, natural gas is used to produce roughly half of the region’s electricity.

Last year’s exorbitant cost of energy was mainly attributed to the war in Ukraine, the region’s overreliance on natural gas, and extreme weather events, utilities have said.


On Rescuing a “Dead Art Form” — A Landmark Book on Opera in Performance (Joe Horowitz, 8/26/2018, Arts Journal)

During the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when classical music was a lot more ­robust than nowadays, High Fidelity was the American magazine of choice for lay connoisseurs and not a few profes­sionals. Its opera expert, Conrad L. ­Osborne, stood apart. “C.L.O.” was self-evidently a polymath. His knowledge of singing was encyclopedic. He wrote about operas and their socio-cultural underpinnings with a comprehensive authority. As a prose stylist, he challenged comparisons to such quotable American music journalists as James Huneker and Virgil Thomson—yet was a more responsible, more sagacious ­adjudicator. In fact, his capacity to marry caustic dissidence with an ­inspiring capacity for empathy and high passion was a rare achievement.

Over the course of the 1980s, High Fidelity gradually disappeared, and so did C.L.O. He devoted his professional life to singing, acting and teaching. He also, in 1987, produced a prodigious comic novel, “O Paradiso,” dissecting the world of operatic performance from the inside out.

Then, a year ago, he suddenly ­resurfaced as a blogger, at ­conradlosborne.com—a voice from the past. Incredibly, the seeming éminence grise of High Fidelity was revealed to have been a lad in his 30s. And now, in his 80s, he has produced his magnum opus, Opera as Opera: The State of the Art—788 large, densely printed pages, festooned with footnotes and end­notes. It is, without question, the most important book ever written in English about opera in performance. It is also a cri de coeur, documenting the devastation of a single precinct of Western high culture in modern and post­modern times.

Essentially, Tom Wolfe on opera.


Interview: Why ‘Opera As Opera’ Author Conrad L. Osborne Asserts That Artform Is In Creative Decline (David Salazar, 12/23/18, OperaWire)

It all starts with the repertoire. Osborne posits that the main staples of the operatic canon start with the major works of Mozart and stretch through until the operas of Richard Strauss; he calls this the Extended 19th Century or “E-19 for short.” Osborne does note that many operas from before and after this period have become part of the repertoire, but in his view, these works are the ones that are part of the “renewable re-affirmability that sustain our operatic institutions.” Moreover, he notes that operas of this period showcase similarity of content in terms of the music, plot and themes they tell, even if there are marked differences of style throughout the period.

In his view, there is a general “flight from E-19” with new operatic creators placing more emphasis on theory and philosophy with regard to how the artform is created, de-emphasizing the narrative roots that were at the core of major staples.

In musical terms, he points to the “atonalists and serialists, creating a whole new language that forbid diatonic melody and sought to express things in different way.”

The idea was taken up by the musical intellectuals, pedagogues, and institutions, leading to the idea that “simple, expressive melodies” were outdated for expressive purposes.

“And if you did [use melodies], then it had to be so harmonically disguised that the listener couldn’t pick up on it anyway,” he added.

“That’s a central problem as far as opera is concerned,” Osborne further opined. “The singing-actor is the center of the operatic experience and characters are expressed through their individual vocal achievements. If you don’t have melody to sing or take advantage of how the voice has been developed over 400 years or so of operatic history, you don’t have much of anything at the center of the form’s expressive possibilities.”

He noted that the result is opera getting built up of other things.

“Modernism is built up of materials and structure. The content is not the subject. The subject is the materials.”

He referenced the idea that in modern art, the subject of the painting is not what is being depicted, but the paint and canvas itself. In music, the harmonic structures, rhythm, and instrumental timbre are given preponderance over melody in modernism.