April 30, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Grinding corn was Frieri's first step toward Padres (Bill Center, April 29, 2011, San Diego Union Tribune)

Ernesto Frieri says much of the credit for his becoming a major league pitcher should go to his grandmother, Zoila Gutierrez.

Between the ages of 12 and 16, Frieri would arise each morning in the village of Sincerin, Bolivar, Colombia, and spend up to two hours turning the crank on the machine that ground the corn for Gutierrez’s tamale business.

“She made 200 to 300 tamales every morning,” recalled Frieri. “I ground all the corn. That’s a lot of corn. I would turn that crank so much I could feel my right shoulder getting stronger by the day.”

“Then I’d help her sell them, 10 cents each in U.S. money. I hated when she woke me up every morning. I hated grinding that corn. But now I thank her every day. I think turning the crank on that machine is why I am here.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Navarro, Puerto Rico baseball great, dies at 105 (DANICA COTO, 4/30/11, Associated Press

The cheerful 5-foot-5 infielder was known for his baserunning skills and became the first Puerto Rican to play in the Negro Leagues.

[Emilio “Millito” Navarro] played in the Dominican Republic with the Escogido Lions in the late 1920s and in Venezuela with Magallanes and other teams in the 1930s. In Puerto Rico, he was the second baseman for the Ponce Lions for nearly 20 years.

He was a shortstop and leadoff hitter for the New York-based Cuban Stars of the Eastern Colored League in 1928, hitting .337 the following year.

In 2008, Navarro threw out a first pitch before a game at Yankee Stadium. He warmed up his arm, waved his hat and made a 30-foot toss on the fly to catcher Jorge Posada(notes). Asked how the sport had changed, Navarro’s eyes widened and he mentioned high salaries.

“I made $25 a week,” he said through a translator.

In an interview last August with The Associated Press, he said he did not have any secrets to a long life but that he enjoyed dancing and the occasional glass of whiskey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


RE: Communion with Paul Krugman (Yuval Levin, 4/29/11, National Review)

In our time, nostalgia is the reigning sentiment of the left in America, and the project of the left is fundamentally reactionary. They’re clinging mightily to the remnants of the old and bankrupt social-democratic dream, and they constantly appeal to a vision of a (mostly imaginary) ideal past. This is very powerfully evident in President Obama’s rhetoric. Here’s a characteristic passage from this year’s State of the Union address:

Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors. If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

Even in those exceptional three decades after the Second World War, things weren’t really anything like this. But for people who were children during that time, it might be possible to imagine it as having been this way. And for people who believe in the power of social-democratic government activism it may even be possible to imagine that it was achieved by such activism.

The Right is reactionary in the sense it wants to return to the utopia it imagines prevailed under the First Way, the Left in its desire to return to the Second. The political wave in the Anglosphere is inexorably towards the Third.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


Obama's swing state blues (Michael A. Memoli, April 29, 2011, LA Times)

A University of New Hampshire poll released Thursday afternoon shows that Obama’s job approval rating among Granite Staters stands at 44%. That’s down just two points from February, but among independents the dip was more pronounced – from 46% to 32%.

In Pennsylvania, which Obama won by double digits in 2008, only 42% of voters think he deserves a second term according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. His approval rating was 51% just two months ago, but has dropped to 42%.

In Florida, which Obama visits Friday, a recent Mason Dixon poll showed that 43% of voters approve of his job performance, including just over one-third of independents.

Even a Democratic-affiliated pollster, Public Policy Polling, saw warning signs in the swing state of Nevada. Their new survey in the Silver State found 45% of voters viewed the president’s performance positively, while 52% disapproved. That survey was conducted just after his visit to Reno last week.

Sure, it's nice to start with CA, NY and IL in your column, but where else won't he be on defense?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Patriots' Gamble on Ryan Mallett Could Pay Dividends Down the Road, Save Quarterback's Reputation (Jeff Howe, Apr 30, 2011, NESN)

There's this genuine, homegrown Southern personality that emanates from Ryan Mallett, the quarterback with a rocket launcher for a right arm.

He comes across as a good guy with a funny side, and the Arkansas product can apparently talk football until he's out of oxygen. That's where being the son of a coach comes into play.

Mallett is the ideal size for a franchise quarterback, standing tall among his peers at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds. And he's got the intangibles, evidenced by a 73-yard scoring drive in the final minute of last September's thrilling victory at Georgia, which was capped off by his 40-yard strike to Greg Childs.

But with that talent, and that personality, and those nerves, what's the deal? Why did he plummet into the third round of a draft that was littered with mediocrity at the quarterback position?

Ryan Mallett focused on the future: QB prospect not concerned what anyone outside of NFL decision-makers think of him (Elizabeth Merrill, ESPN.com)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Republicanism, the morning after: Has the end of the monarchy now slipped out of sight? (David Allen Green, 30 April 2011, New Statesman)

The monarchy looks like it is here to stay a while longer.

The wonderful -- and popular -- spectacle of yesterday's wedding of William and Catherine reminded all republicans that there is a genuine and deep domestic regard for the royal family.

If the sentiments manifested yesterday continue, only a dedicated anti-monarchist would campaign to deprive the British people of the prospect of having their Queen Kate.

Reform ought to reverse directions, giving the Lords and the King increased veto power over the Commons.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Real men don’t tote reusable shopping bags (Mary H.J. Farrell, Apr 28, 2011, Consumer Reports)

Is green the new pink? Maybe so. More than 80 percent of respondents to a new study on sustainability said that going green is “more feminine than masculine.” And if men won’t carry reusable bags or water bottles, or drive a Prius, that’s a problem for marketers, says OgilvyEarth, which conducted the study. “Sustainability could use its Marlboro Man moment.”

“More men identified as Green Rejecters, and the ranks of the Super Greens were dominated by women,” said OgilvyEarth in a press release about its research, adding that most respondents were in the middle. But green’s image problem goes beyond gender differences. Those asked said that going green is too expensive, too niche and only for “crunchy granola hippies or rich elite snobs.”

Stop city collection of garbage. We compost and use totes just to cut down on what I have to haul to the dump.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Ahmadinejad Reportedly Not Showing Up for Work, Sparking Rumors of a Possible Power Shift (Amy Kellogg, April 29, 2011, Fox News)

Deep rifts among Iran’s ruling elite have reached an all-time high in recent weeks, according to sources, who say things have gotten so bad that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have stopped showing up for work.

Iran’s complex power structure has for years been compared to a multi-headed hydra, with multiple points of strength. But the struggle now appears to have boiled down to a showdown between Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – once viewed as Ahmadinejad’s biggest cheerleader.

Only by those who weren't paying attention.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Royal Wedding to Set All Time Record for Web Traffic (Alex Ben Block, 4/29/11, Yahoo)

The ratings for the British royal wedding are still being tallied but early indications are lots of people were watching on TV and online.

Yahoo! said Friday that its live video stream of the wedding set an all time record for traffic, beating the previous record viewing for the Michael Jackson funeral by 21%.

“Overall traffic is surpassing expectations and we are breaking records in terms of traffic and video consumption,” says a Yahoo spokesperson. [...]

Yahoo! Says the requests per second for the wedding surpassed the previous record set by the Japan earthquake with 40,000 per second at the peak, compared to 33,000 per second for the earthquake. [...]

The results, notes the Yahoo! spokesperson, are “especially impressive given that this event happened during non-peak hours.”

“We anticipate total video audience figures to break all previous records,” added the spokesperson.

April 29, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


...Toy Story 4: The Doll is not Your Friend....

Andy is grown up and has kids of his own. We all rejoice when he retrieves a crate from the attic and hands out his childhood favorites to his brood. Buzz, Woody, etc. rejoice in their newly won freedom and the prospect of new owners to play with them....

But it's one of the kids' birthdays and the newest toy to join the household turns out to be Chucky, who proceeds to hunt down his rivals, one by "bloody" one....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


The Case for Cursive (KATIE ZEZIMA, 4/27/11, NY Times)

For centuries, cursive handwriting has been an art. To a growing number of young people, it is a mystery.

The sinuous letters of the cursive alphabet, swirled on countless love letters, credit card slips and banners above elementary school chalk boards are going the way of the quill and inkwell. With computer keyboards and smartphones increasingly occupying young fingers, the gradual death of the fancier ABC’s is revealing some unforeseen challenges.

Gradual death is too good for it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


The Campaign Waiting for Mitch Daniels (Erin McPike, 4/29/11, Politico)

With more than three decades in politics behind him, the governor has done more than develop a Rolodex he could deploy for fundraising, as most point out. The campaign operative in him also has built an organization ready to go whenever he tells them to -- and the media doesn't seem to know it yet. For the past year, he's been playing its members like piano keys as he orchestrates his national rollout.

Anthony Dolan, the chief speechwriter for the entire Reagan presidency, knows Daniels well from the time they worked together and explained, "Mitch has always been a marvel with the news dynamic." He added, "A year ago people were saying ‘Mitch who' and then comes a rollout with more elaborate choreography than a Busby Berkley musical -- we haven't seen the synchronized swimming yet, but I'm sure it's coming."

Indeed, at the same time Daniels has ruminated publicly about whether or not to run -- as Dolan put it, "for a while there the Daniels speculation was crowding out the royal wedding" -- his team also has carefully blocked out time for national reporters to descend on Indiana to profile him, one at a time. And the intrigue has grown.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


The Obama doctrine: Leading from behind (Charles Krauthammer, April 28, 2011, Washington Post)

Obama may be moving toward something resembling a doctrine. One of his advisers described the president’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.”

— Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker, May 2 issue

To be precise, leading from behind is a style, not a doctrine. Doctrines involve ideas, but since there are no discernible ones that make sense of Obama foreign policy — Lizza’s painstaking two-year chronicle shows it to be as ad hoc, erratic and confused as it appears — this will have to do.

And it surely is an accurate description, from President Obama’s shocking passivity during Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution to his dithering on Libya, acting at the very last moment, then handing off to a bickering coalition, yielding the current bloody stalemate. It’s been a foreign policy of hesitation, delay and indecision, marked by plaintive appeals to the (fictional) “international community” to do what only America can.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


German monarchists long for a home-grown royal wedding (Deutsche Welle, 4/28/11)

Knut Wissenbach is one of the many German monarchists who will be eagerly watching the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on television this Friday.

But he'll be a little wistful as he watches the extravagant spectacle in the knowledge that there will be no live broadcast when Prince Georg Friedrich von Hohenzollern ties the knot in August. Germany is, after all, a republic now - the last German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, abdicated in 1918.

In the absence of a meaningful monarchy and the Prussian glory of days gone by, pomp and ceremony no longer have any place in German society.

Wissenbach is chairman of "Tradition und Leben" (Tradition and Life) a group which has been campaigning for the restoration of the monarchy in Germany since 1959. His study is adorned with oil paintings of kings, Prussian uniforms and medals in glass cabinets.

"We want to top democracy," he told Deutsche Welle, laughing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Debt ceiling: More Democrats threaten to vote against raising borrowing limit (Peter Wallsten, Published: April 28, 2011, Politico)

The push-back has come in recent days from Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a freshman who is running for reelection next year. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told constituents during the Easter recess that he would not vote to lift the debt limit without a “real and meaningful commitment to debt reduction.”

Even Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), generally a stalwart White House ally, is undecided on the issue and is “hopeful” that a debt-ceiling bill can be attached to a measure to cut the federal deficit, said her spokesman, Linden Zakula. Klobuchar is also up for reelection next year.

Months ago it seemed unthinkable that Congress might refuse to raise the borrowing limit. Leaders in both parties agreed that failing to do so would risk a default by the U.S. government, which could send interest rates soaring and cut off Social Security checks, as well as salaries for combat troops.

And although many lawmakers and aides say a bipartisan deal is likely, the insistence on conditions by a small but pivotal group of Democrats suggests that any agreement would almost certainly have to include substantial cuts in the deficit — not just to mollify House Republicans but to satisfy Democrats who could be politically vulnerable on spending issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Obama Takes a Page From Nixon's Handbook: Come November 2012, independents will remember the president's earlier appeals to the hard left. (Karl Rove, 4/28/11, WSJ)

[M]r. Obama is making a mistake by following the advice of President Richard Nixon, who argued White House hopefuls must run to their party's flank in the primary and tack back to the center for the general election. While Mr. Obama doesn't face a primary challenge, the White House is worried about the intensity of the Democratic base and feels compelled to feed it red meat now.

This bit of conventional wisdom assumes two things. First, that ordinary voters aren't paying attention now (they are). And second, that veering hard left in 2011 won't limit Mr. Obama's appeal in 2012 (it will). Many swing voters are repelled by the class-warfare rhetoric Mr. Obama uses to fire up the Democratic base. Appealing to envy is usually not a winning formula.

Impressions once created are hard to change. When they do, change is often accompanied by disappointment, as evidenced by what's happened since those hope-filled days of 2008, when independents believed Mr. Obama meant it when he pledged to lead us into new era of post-partisanship.

By 2010, the reality of the Obama presidency—with its spending binges and deficits—had soured voters. The man who promised hope and change was revealed as a calculating politician.

The particular problem for the UR is that the first impressions of him came after he was elected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


The Malthusians who masquerade as Marxists: Both radical and mainstream authors now frequently attack ‘neo-liberalism’ and ‘free-market fundamentalism’. But their alternative to these largely mythical creeds would be far, far worse. (Daniel Ben-Ami, 4/28/11, spiked review of books)

One of the great puzzles of contemporary political debate is what exactly critics of Western governments mean by the term ‘neo-liberalism’. Typically, the concept is associated with the ideas propagated by a familiar cast of conservative villains, including Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Behind the scenes, pulling the strings, are said to be the financial powers of Wall Street and the City of London. But this will not do as a definition. It is rarely made clear whether the ultimate object of their attack is a theory, a set of policies, a phase of capitalism, or something else.

The mystery deepens when it comes to David Harvey, one of the most sophisticated exponents of the concept of neo-liberalism. In the current intellectual climate, it would probably come as a surprise to many to learn that the work of a 75-year-old professor of anthropology and self-proclaimed Marxist is so popular. Yet his 2010 YouTube lecture on the crises of capitalism has received over one million hits. Other critics of neo-liberalism also widely cite Harvey’s many books as authorities on the subject.

Fortunately the publication in paperback of Harvey’s latest book, The Enigma of Capital, provides an opportunity to probe the notion of neo-liberalism more closely. If anyone can spell out exactly what it means it should be him. Indeed, by page 10 he does attempt to define the term: ‘My view is that it refers to a class project that coalesced in the 1970s. Masked by a lot of rhetoric about individual freedom, liberty, personal responsibility and the virtues of privatisation, it legitimised draconian policies designed to restore and consolidate capitalist class power.’

Such a project would be just a matter of preserving the status quo or restoring the status quo ante, which has been and always was marked by ideological/economic/political struggle against the capitalist class. The unique genius of neoliberalism, or the Third Way, or compassionate conservatism, or New Labour, or Clintonism, or whatever you want to call it this year in whichever Anglospheric state we're talking about, is that it seeks to universalize the capitalist class. All of the programs it advocates use capitalist means to turn the lower class into capital owners.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Inflation? Numbers Show Faith in Fed (MARK GONGLOFF, 4/29/11, WSJ)

"You would think, by watching TV or listening to people ranting, that inflation expectations are out of control," said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. "But clearly they are well-contained."

Inflation is rising, driven by higher oil and food prices. On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that the personal consumption expenditure price index, the Fed's favored inflation gauge, rose at a 3.8% annual rate in the first quarter, the biggest increase since the third quarter of 2008.
But looking beyond the next year, inflation worries are surprisingly muted and have actually fallen slightly in recent weeks.

Long-term inflation-expectation gauges, from consumers and from the bond market, remain subdued and are little changed from a year ago. They point to inflation that isn't far above the average of the past decade, when inflation was historically low.

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April 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 PM

Sourdough Pretzels (King Arthur Flour)


3/4 cup lukewarm water*
1 cup unfed sourdough starter, straight from the refrigerator
3 cups King Arthur Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-Gluten Flour* or King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) non-diastatic malt powder or 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
*Add an additional 2 tablespoons water if using high-gluten Lancelot flour.


1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder or sugar
2 tablespoons water
pretzel salt
2 tablespoons melted butter, optional


1) Mix and knead the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a cohesive, fairly smooth dough. It should be slightly sticky; if it seems dry, knead in an additional tablespoon or two of water.

2) Cover the dough and let it rest for 45 minutes. It will rise minimally. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

3) Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface, fold it over a few times to gently deflate it, then divide it into 12 pieces, each weighing about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 ounces.

4) Roll each piece of dough into an 18" rope. Shape each rope into a pretzel.

5) Dissolve the malt in the water. Brush the pretzels with the solution, and sprinkle lightly with coarse pretzel salt.

6) Bake the pretzels for 25 to 30 minutes, until they're a light golden brown. Note: This is correct; there's no need to let the shaped pretzels rise before baking.

7) Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush with melted butter, if desired.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Juanes lets his music do the talking: No translation required (Jed Gottlieb,, April 8, 2011, Boston Herald)

A sort of Colombian Bruce Springsteen/Bono/John Mayer mash-up, Juanes has won a record-setting 17 Latin Grammys, sold more than 15 million albums worldwide and last month packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Unlike Shakira, the 38-year-old may not be shaking his hips with Wyclef Jean on “American Idol,” but he’s connected deeply with another massive demographic: America’s nearly 40 million Spanish speakers.

It’s a pretty wild accomplishment for an ex-headbanger who grew up obsessed with Metallica.

“Yes, my favorite band of all time, Metallica,” he said, laughing over the phone from his home in Miami. “‘Kill ’Em All’ changed my life. But back in the ’80s, when I was playing metal music something changed in me. I was missing something. I started listing to the Latin folk music my parents listened to when I was young. It was the start of a journey, trying to make those roots mine.” [...]

Juanes isn’t naive. He knows a good rock song can only do so much. But he’s hoping music can kick-start our humanity and solve some problems.

“It’s a complicated moment for immigrants now,” he said. “Back (when I arrived) it was a little bit different. There wasn’t this pressure on the Latin community. When I see the news, when I listen to people that come to me with immigration problems, I understand the government is worried. But I see the Latin communities as such an important engine for this economy. These are good people who just want a good life for their families (and) this is an immigrant culture, a culture where immigrants are so important.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


...America would be the #1 seed:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 PM


China census figures reveal ageing and urbanised country (Tania Branigan, 4/28/11, guardian.co.uk)

The figures, released today by the National Bureau of Statistics, underline the enormous challenges facing a country with a rapidly ageing population and huge demographic shifts. They also highlight arguments about the need to reform the country's strict one-child birth control policies.

The number of young people fell sharply as a proportion of the population, with under-14s accounting for just 16.6% of the population, down 6.3 percentage points from 2000. Meanwhile, the number of people over 60 rose by nearly three percentage points, to 13.3% of the total population.

China must now sustain the remarkable development that has made it the world's second largest economy with a shrinking workforce and growing number of dependents.

Officials believe that without the strict one-child policy – which actually allows many in the countryside and some in the cities to have two children – the population would have grown by an extra 400 million people over the last three decades. But it was only supposed to last for 30 years and many now believe the country needs to move towards a uniform two-child policy, to tackle the issue of ageing and perceptions of unfairness.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Seeking peace, Netanyhu must choose state over land: As Netanyahu faces a world gone mad, he must act courageously and wisely. He must present a real plan in Washington for partitioning the land. (Ari Shavit, 4/28/11, Ha'aretz)

For Netanyahu, May 24, 2011, will be a day of to be or not to be. If he does not make a clear and decisive statement on the Palestinian issue, no one will listen to anything else he has to say. If he does not restore to himself the diplomatic credit he has lost, he will not be able to act like a leader in any area. Nor will he survive.

Time is up. There is no more room for ambiguity. Precisely in order to divert the international community from the insane trajectory it is following, Netanyahu must offer it an alternative and sane trajectory. He must formulate a realistic and responsible path to ending the conflict. The end is known: a Palestinian state in modified 1967 borders. Thus, Netanyahu's first historic task is to ensure that this Palestinian state will be demilitarized, will recognize the Jewish state and will enable reasonable solutions to the security problem, the settlement problem and the Jerusalem problem. Netanyahu's second historic task is to ensure the Palestinian state will arise gradually, cautiously and securely.But in order to carry out these two tasks Netanyahu must be generous, courageous and clear.

True, it's not easy. It counters several principles he internalized in his father's home. But when Theodor Herzl saw a contradiction between the state and the land, he chose the state, even if it were established in Uganda. When Winston Churchill had to choose between victory and empire, he chose victory. As Netanyahu faces a world gone mad, he must act courageously and wisely. He must present a real plan in Washington for partitioning the land.

The opportunity for boldness passed with Ariel Sharon's stroke. Bibi can only surrender gracefully.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


Technology Advances; Humans Supersize (PATRICIA COHEN, 4/27/11, NY Times)

For nearly three decades, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel and a small clutch of colleagues have assiduously researched what the size and shape of the human body say about economic and social changes throughout history, and vice versa. Their research has spawned not only a new branch of historical study but also a provocative theory that technology has sped human evolution in an unprecedented way during the past century.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Why Isn’t China Democratizing? Because It’s Not Really Capitalist: The presence of markets and economic exchange does not make a country capitalist. (Dan Blumenthal, April 26, 2011, American)

At first glance, the notion that China is not capitalist seems preposterous. Much of China’s economy is organized around market principles and the country is deeply embedded in the international trading and production system. But the presence of markets and economic exchange does not make a country capitalist. The “founding fathers” of capitalism conceived of it as a moral and social order—a way of ordering economic as well as social life.

At base, the capitalist order is supposed to provide its citizens with three things. First, it provides the opportunity for all citizens to become wealthier. Second, capitalism encourages maximum individual liberty. Citizens are free to pursue the work they want and are rewarded based on enterprise and initiative rather than birthright. At the core of this idea is the notion that property rights are sacrosanct. Individuals own what they buy or make, and are then free to invest, save, and give away charity as they please. Third, capitalism is supposed to ennoble public virtues by encouraging free exchange among citizens and opportunities for self-betterment. Capitalism frees individuals to develop the “better angels of their nature”—sympathy, generosity, integrity, self-reliance, and self-restraint. All of these virtues are conducive to a system of political liberty and democracy. That is why democracy theorists and policy makers assume that free markets are a necessary if not sufficient condition of democracy.

But the Chinese system has made good on only one of these promises, albeit on a massive scale. Almost all Chinese citizens are better off since the abandonment of Maoism. This is no small achievement. Since Chinese leaders allowed markets to operate in the Chinese economy, hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty. But individual liberty consistent with a capitalist order is severely curtailed. Physical and intellectual property are owned by the state and the Party puts stringent restrictions on where a Chinese citizen can invest and save money or give away acquired wealth. “Private” entrepreneurs are at the whim of the Party for the resources they require to form and run enterprises: financing, land, and the enforcement of contracts. Most remarkably, a Chinese citizen is even told how many children to have. A state that engages in forced family planning is shockingly at variance with capitalism’s core tenets.

The last of capitalism’s promises—the ennobling of virtue—has also been undermined by the Chinese state. Absent freedom of association, freedom of religion, and the protection of individual rights, it is very difficult for citizens to be virtuous. The Chinese state prohibits the formation of organizations that it cannot control, thus suppressing charity. In capitalist societies, virtues such as generosity, public spiritedness, and sympathy are often expressed through religious practice. But the Chinese state has repressed religious institutions as well. Moreover, without the protection of property rights or contracts, it is difficult for a Chinese entrepreneur to maintain integrity. It is therefore no surprise that corruption and cheating are endemic to China. And since the state controls the resources the entrepreneur needs, self-reliance cannot flourish.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


US-South Korea Free-Trade Pact Trails EU Agreement (EVAN RAMSTAD, 4/28/11, WSJ)

A European Union free-trade agreement won a key victory from South Korean lawmakers Thursday, further bolstering a proposed deal that U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said could put pressure on U.S. lawmaker to approve a similar package with South Korea.

The step came just as a U.S. delegation led by Mr. Locke toured Seoul to rally Korean support for the U.S.-South Korea free-trade deal. Both pacts are similarly-sized, covering about $70 billion in annual two-way trade and represent some of the largest bilateral trade deals ever completed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM

No-Knead Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread (Ellen Kanner, 4/28/11, Miami Herald)

1 packet dry yeast

2 cups lukewarm water

1 tablespoon honey, honey substitute or molasses

4 cups whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil

3/4 cups uncooked oatmeal

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine yeast, warm water and honey in a large bowl. Stir gently to dissolve yeast, and set aside 10 to 15 minutes, until frothy.

Add flour and mix for 2 to 3 minutes, creating a smooth, moist, not-sticky dough. Work in oil, oatmeal and salt. Cover bowl lightly with a cloth. Set in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough and place in a lightly oiled, 9-inch loaf pan (or shape into a round and place on a lightly oiled 9-inch pie pan.) Cover and let rise for another hour.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Bake bread about 30 minutes, until top is golden brown and crusty and bread sounds hollow when tapped. Makes 1 loaf.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Syria crackdown: hundreds resign from Ba'ath party (Katherine Marsh, 4/27/11, guardian.co.uk)

[W]hile the international community failed to condemn the violence, signs of dissent within government ranks started to grow as over 230 members of the monolithic party that has ruled Syria since 1963 announced their resignation.

"Considering the breakdown of values and emblems that we were instilled with by the party and which were destroyed at the hand of the security forces… we announce our withdrawal from the party without regret," 30 party members from the coastal city of Banias said in a letter.

They accused security forces and pro-government gunmen of opening fire at homes, mosques and churches and inciting sectarian strife between the country's Sunni majority and Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.

The city – which sits near the Alawite's mountain heartland – has seen repeated street protests, which have been met with gunfire, raids and mass arrests by the security forces.

Around two hundred members from the southern Hauran region - which includes the besieged city of Deraa - also stood down, citing the Ba'ath party leadership's complicity with "crimes of the Syrian intelligence agencies".

Deraa, where protests against the Assad regime began six weeks ago, has been surrounded by troops for days, and residents are reportedly running out of food, water and medicine.

Gunfire and sporadic explosions were heard in the city on Wednesday night, after dozens of tanks were seen heading to the city.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Death by Dialogue: What does it mean for the future of Hindi cinema if most films are now in fact conceived, thrashed out and largely executed not in Hindi but in English? Will filmmakers only tell the stories of a minuscule section of the population? (TRISHA GUPTA, 1 May 2011, Caravan)

IT MAY SEEM UNIMAGINABLE to a generation brought up on Abhishek Bachchan’s Bluffmaster! rap and Kareena Kapoor’s size-zero diet, but 20 years ago, Hindi films were not cool. In large numbers of upper-middle-class, English-speaking Indian families, children were banned from watching “that trash”. Even if they grew up watching Hindi films on television (and
later, video) in the company of grandmothers and household help, they would transition, by their teenage years, into thinking of them as a sort of guilty pleasure.

But a decade and a half ago, something changed. The reemergence of the teenybopper romance, now enclosed in the cloying folds of the family, began to wean the middle-class audience away from their TV-VCR viewing and back to the cinemas—which were themselves being revamped into multiplexes. In a kind of reaction to the saccharinesweet, sanitised, mostly foreign locales of these films, there emerged the gritty urban gangster film. For 42-year-old Navdeep Singh, who had been working as an advertising professional in the US, the moment of transformation was coming back home on holiday in 1998 and watching Satya. He went on to direct Manorama Six Feet Under (2007). For 27-year-old scriptwriter Ishita Moitra (whose credits include 2009’s Kambakkht Ishq, and this year’s Always Kabhi Kabhi), then barely in her teens, it was Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995). “Earlier, you spoke to your friends about Batman, but not about the Hindi films you watched. That changed after DDLJ,” says Moitra.

Over the past decade, people like Singh and Moitra—people whose primary language is English—have come to form a larger proportion of the Hindi film industry than ever before. In the changing demographic of Hindi cinema, not just of actors and art directors, but even directors and scriptwriters are people much more comfortable in English than in Hindi. What does it mean, one wonders, for most films to be made in a language that no longer comes easily to their creators? What does it mean for Hindi cinema if most films under that rubric are now in fact conceived, thrashed out and largely executed not in Hindi but in English?

It means you've left the Third World.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM

April 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Justice Department Pushes Warrantless GPS Surveillance (Darlene Storm, Computerworld)

The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court to resolve a conflict among federal appellate courts over the need for a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect's vehicle to covertly track a person. In fact, the Justice Department said that a person traveling on public roads has "no reasonable expectation of privacy" in his movements, even if 'scientific enhancements' are used to help law enforcement with the tracking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


Indiana votes to defund Planned Parenthood (SARAH KLIFF, 4/27/11, Politico)

The bill, which passed the Indiana State House late Wednesday afternoon, would bar the state from entering into contracts with abortion providers, making an exception for hospitals and ambulatory centers. Planned Parenthood of Indiana operates 28 clinics in Indiana, eight of which are Title X funded clinics. The group received about $3 million in federal funding last year. State officials have speculated that the bill, if passed, would lead to the state losing all $4 million in federal family planning dollars that it received last year.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


Another Global Warming Crisis Canceled For Lack Of Evidence (James Taylor, Apr. 27 2011, Forbes)

Global warming alarmists and their allies in the media were ringing the alarm bells last summer after a study in the journal Nature claimed the global phytoplankton population had declined by 40% since 1950. The alarmists and their media allies aggressively focused attention on the study and made the additional assertion that global warming and carbon dioxide emissions must be to blame.

A just-released follow-up study in Nature, however, shows flaws in the original study and documents that the global phytoplankton population has risen, rather than fallen, over the past several decades.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Milan Lucic's Ejection Bogus, As Referees Simply Get It Wrong After Hit on Jaroslav Spacek ( Michael Hurley on Wed, Apr 27, 2011, NESN)

The sport of soccer has a tremendous following worldwide, but in America, it will always struggle to win over the general population. Some sports fans dislike the low scores, but many, many more simply can't stomach the sight of grown men writhing in pain on the ground, looking as if their very lives are in danger, only to see them pop up and sprint down the field seconds later.

The players' intentions, of course, are to convince the official to penalize the opponent, and it's often successful. On Tuesday night, though, that same mentality took center stage at a playoff hockey game, and it's a crying shame.

When Canadians act like Mediterraneans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Report: Denver Broncos Defensive End Jason Hunter Stabbed By Girlfriend (Associated Press, Apr 27, 2011)

Detroit police say Denver Broncos defensive end Jason Hunter has been stabbed and taken to a local hospital.

The owners may have to reach an agreement just to keep their guys out of jail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:50 PM


Tibetan exiles elect PM to take over Dalai Lama's role (Harmeet Shah Singh, 4/27/11, CNN)

A Harvard-educated legal expert was elected head of Tibet's government-in-exile on Wednesday, filling the shoes of the Dalai Lama who said last month he was going to give up his political role.

Born in the tea-growing region of Darjeeling in India, Sangay arrived in the United States in 1995. He received his doctorate in law from Harvard University, where he also was a research fellow in the East Asian Legal Studies program and held events related to Tibet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Jonathan Papelbon’s alter ego frighteningly effective (John Tomase, April 26, 2011, Boston Herald)

So who is Cinco Ocho? He’s best viewed in juxtaposition to Papelbon.

Papelbon is fairly subdued. Cinco Ocho is raging id. Papelbon might lie on the clubhouse couch and play along with Discovery Channel’s “Cash Cab” (he’s better than you’d think). Cinco Ocho is more likely to cause a scene like Sunday’s, when he screamed his ABCs while the rest of the clubhouse tried to listen to their unofficial anthem, “Out Here Grindin’ ” by DJ Khaled after a 7-0 victory against the Angels.

“Now I know my ABCs, next time won’t you sing with me?” Cinco Ocho finished with an unhinged flourish.

“You like that?!” he dared everyone and no one in particular.

For his part, Papelbon has little to say about Cinco Ocho, save for a faint smirk.

“I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m sorry, man. What I think you’re going to have to do is some homework.”

OK, fine. His teammates spelled out a few simple ground rules:

No. 1: Do not talk to Cinco Ocho.

“It’s only scary when you try to talk to him,” Bard said. “I know better. Others try. They get shot down. He’s not a good guy to talk to.”

No. 2: Do not make eye contact with him.

“Everybody loves Pap,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Nobody likes Cinco Ocho.”

No. 3: If you ever meet him in a dark alley, pray to your maker.

“Go the other way,” Saltalamacchia said. “Go the other way as fast you can, because even his best friends don’t stand a chance when Cinco Ocho’s there.”

“That sounds pretty reasonable,” Papelbon allowed.

Right fielder J.D. Drew [stats] laughed when informed of the Cinco rules.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “That doesn’t even make sense. What is he, not human or something? That’s what they’re telling you in your research? Whoever’s giving the intercession on Cinco Ocho’s part has definitely been hoodwinked, I think, with his Cinco Ocho-ness.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:13 PM


Fatah and Hamas Announce Outline of Deal (ISABEL KERSHNER, 4/27/11, NY Times)

While the deal, reached after secret Egyptian-brokered talks, promised a potentially historic reconciliation for the Palestinians, Israel warned that it would spell the end of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In a televised address on Wednesday, even before the Fatah-Hamas press conference, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chief, Mahmoud Abbas.

“The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, “Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


George W. Bush on Panetta, Petraeus Nominations: 'Is This Gossip or Truth?' (George Stephanopoulos, April 27, 2011, ABC News)

Though Bush is pretty determined to stay out of the political fray, I did manage to have him weigh in on the breaking news that CIA Director, Leon Panetta, will move to the Pentagon, replaced by General David Petraeus.

Bush: You know both of them are good men. I have a great respect for David Petraeus. I got to know him well. I also got to know Leon Panetta, not as well as I did David, and both of them are good, good public servants. And I wish them well. Is this gossip or truth?

Stephanopoulos: No, it's truth, we're reporting it this morning. It is done. It's being - It's being announced later this week.

Bush: Well just because you're reporting it, as you might recall... [Laughs] [...]

On gas prices:

Stephanopoulos: Something else that a lot of Americans are dealing with right now these high gas prices? Now that you are a civilian I guess you have to go pump your own gas as well. But what do you say to Americans – and you had to deal with this when you were president as well - who look at these prices going up at the pump and say there must be something you can do about it?

Bush: I mean, I would suggest Americans understand how supply and demand works. And if you restrict supplies of crude, the price of oil is going to go up and it affects gasoline. But you know I really, look I appreciate you giving me the chance to opine on all the issues of the day but as you know I’ve made the decision to support causes I’m interested in without feeling like I’ve got to give an opinion on every issue.

Stephanopoulos: And I recognize that and I do appreciate that. And final word –

Bush: So you're still going to try nevertheless. You haven't lost- you haven’t lost the steps Stephanopoulos. [Laughs]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


House votes to restrict unions: Measure would curb bargaining on health care (Michael Levenson, April 27, 2011 , Boston Globe)

[U]nlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workers’ rights.

Unions fought hard to stop the bill, launching a radio ad that assailed the plan and warning legislators that if they voted for the measure, they could lose their union backing in the next election. After the vote, labor leaders accused House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and other Democrats of turning their backs on public employees.

“It’s pretty stunning,’’ said Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “These are the same Democrats that all these labor unions elected. The same Democrats who we contributed to in their campaigns. The same Democrats who tell us over and over again that they’re with us, that they believe in collective bargaining, that they believe in unions. . . . It’s a done deal for our relationship with the people inside that chamber.’’

If you're going to balance budgets you have to go where the money is.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:55 PM


Movie Review: 'Thor' (Epoch Times, 4/27/11)

Growing tired of the recycled nature of the Hollywood machine, Thor, directed by Shakespearean puppet master, Kenneth Branagh, is approached with some trepidation.

Thor is part of the ensemble for Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie (scheduled for release next year and combining the iconic characters of Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man, amongst others) and is hardly a tentpole name when it comes to the Marvel universe. So it appears something of a gamble to launch such a prospectively lucrative adventure with one of the lesser-known heroes.

Filling in the audience’s blanks, in that you know he has a hammer and that’s about it, we are transported to the wonderfully rendered Asgard, a playground of the gods and one of the universe’s fantastical realms. Brothers Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) share a close relationship, but only one can be the true heir to the throne once Odin (Anthony Hopkins) abdicates. When the heroic but arrogantly headstrong Thor is banished from the kingdom for putting Asgard in jeopardy, he is cast asunder to Earth, and the poetic mechanisms of a house of power that will have attracted Branagh to the project kick in: sibling rivalry, warring Gods, and some suprising humour.

Thor is an unexpected lightning bolt of an experience that without question is the most successful comic book franchise launch of any of the lesser known characters. Even better than Iron Man? Infinitely.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Rude Boys: The birth of the Beastie Boys—an oral history on the 25th anniversary of Licensed to Ill. (Amos Barshad, Apr 24, 2011, New York)


While on the Madonna tour, Yauch and Diamond had given keys to their Chinatown apartment to their buddies, who promptly trashed the place beyond habitability. Diamond’s new apartment, on Hudson Street, became unofficial headquarters. The band was now working on the music that would become Licensed to Ill. Before its release, in the fall, the trio would hit the road as Run DMC’s supporting act on the “Raising Hell” tour, which cemented their stage characters: Generally speaking, MCA was the bad boy, Ad-Rock the cute one, and Mike D the comedian.

Horovitz: That year was basically Mike’s house during the day, writing lyrics, going to the club, going to the studio, going back to the club. We would write and write and write, then read the lyrics out loud to see who liked what. And that’s kind of how we’ve always done it since then. Rick had a drum machine, and I used to go to his dorm room and make beats. I made the beat for LL Cool J’s first single, “I Need a Beat.” I bought an 808 at Rogue Music [the Roland TR-808 was one of the first programmable drum machines] with some of the settlement money.

Diamond: We would start with the music, and then Rick would clean it all up. Rick had the ability to make things sound legitimate and bigger, to make it sound like a record.

Rubin: Each one had a strong personality. When we came up with rhymes, we tried to cast them for the right character and the right voice.

Horovitz: It just sort of happened. It wasn’t like, “Okay I’m going to be like Melle Mel, you’re Kool Moe Dee.”

Diamond: We never broke it down like, “Okay, I’m the baritone.”

Chuck Eddy, music writer (who did a notorious Beasties piece in 1987 for Creem): They were smart, arty Jewish kids from New York, and they created these white-trash burnout characters with the help of Rubin. And they pulled it off. ­

Horovitz: One night at the studio, me and Adam and Mike, we’re waiting outside, drinking beers, and we see Run running down the street screaming, and DMC is way behind him. They were so excited: They’d come up with the idea for our song “Paul Revere” on the way there. We loved Run DMC—and then we were on tour with them. It was like: “Wow, if we’re hanging around with these dudes, it must mean we’re all right.”

DMC: For the first couple of days of the tour, the towns we were playing were in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee—this was the black South. We expected to hear boos, so we were reluctant to be on the side of the stage, to see them get disappointed. But then from the dressing room, we’d hear “Yeaaaaaah! Yeaaahhh!” It was the black audience, praising these dudes. The reason they were so good: It wasn’t white punk rockers trying to be black emcees. They wasn’t talking about gold chains or Cadillacs. They were white rappers rapping about what they did. Real recognize real.

Run: They’d teach me about stupid white-boy stuff, like whippits. “What the hell is a whippit?” “Okay, you take this Reddi-wip thing, you push, you inhale it.” Stuff black people don’t do. I was like, “I don’t know the effects of this foolishness.” I don’t think I did it. With the Beasties, nothing was normal. Ad-Rock bugged me out: He was dating the actress [Molly Ringwald]. It was like, “Wow, now that I look at him, he kind of looks like a movie star.”

Molly ­Ringwald: I finished doing The Pick-Up Artist, and the producer was putting together the music. He brought the Beastie Boys in to talk to them about having a song in the movie, and Adam gave his number to the producer. I went and looked at some music magazines. I was trying to figure out which Adam it was, because I only wanted to call if it was Adam Horovitz. I thought he was really cute.

DMC: The backstage would be so full of beer. I remember one night we got scared. Yauch, he slipped, like it was a banana peel, and went 50 feet in the fucking air, and went down like bam. I know he was hurt. But he just gets up and laughs it off.

Ringwald: I only made it two weeks on tour. I remember New Orleans because I got really drunk—drunker than I’d ever been in my entire life. I drank all the Beastie Boys under the table.

Run: I never hung out late-night, but I would read all the crazy stuff in the tabloids. In my mind, I was wondering, What percentage of this is true? “Oh, man, the Beasties didn’t turn over a car last night, did they?” They were becoming a menace to society.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


More Than 1 Billion People Are Hungry in the World: But what if the experts are wrong? (ABHIJIT BANERJEE, ESTHER DUFLO | MAY/JUNE 2011, Foreign Policy)

But is it really true? Are there really more than a billion people going to bed hungry each night? Our research on this question has taken us to rural villages and teeming urban slums around the world, collecting data and speaking with poor people about what they eat and what else they buy, from Morocco to Kenya, Indonesia to India. We've also tapped into a wealth of insights from our academic colleagues. What we've found is that the story of hunger, and of poverty more broadly, is far more complex than any one statistic or grand theory; it is a world where those without enough to eat may save up to buy a TV instead, where more money doesn't necessarily translate into more food, and where making rice cheaper can sometimes even lead people to buy less rice.

But unfortunately, this is not always the world as the experts view it. All too many of them still promote sweeping, ideological solutions to problems that defy one-size-fits-all answers, arguing over foreign aid, for example, while the facts on the ground bear little resemblance to the fierce policy battles they wage. [...]

Consider India, one of the great puzzles in this age of food crises. The standard media story about the country, at least when it comes to food, is about the rapid rise of obesity and diabetes as the urban upper-middle class gets richer. Yet the real story of nutrition in India over the last quarter-century, as Princeton professor Angus Deaton and Jean Drèze, a professor at Allahabad University and a special advisor to the Indian government, have shown, is not that Indians are becoming fatter: It is that they are in fact eating less and less. Despite the country's rapid economic growth, per capita calorie consumption in India has declined; moreover, the consumption of all other nutrients except fat also appears to have gone down among all groups, even the poorest. Today, more than three-quarters of the population live in households whose per capita calorie consumption is less than 2,100 calories in urban areas and 2,400 in rural areas -- numbers that are often cited as "minimum requirements" in India for those engaged in manual labor. Richer people still eat more than poorer people. But at all levels of income, the share of the budget devoted to food has declined and people consume fewer calories.

What is going on? The change is not driven by declining incomes; by all accounts, Indians are making more money than ever before. Nor is it because of rising food prices -- between the early 1980s and 2005, food prices declined relative to the prices of other things, both in rural and urban India. Although food prices have increased again since 2005, Indians began eating less precisely when the price of food was going down.

So the poor, even those whom the FAO would classify as hungry on the basis of what they eat, do not seem to want to eat much more even when they can. Indeed, they seem to be eating less. What could explain this? Well, to start, let's assume that the poor know what they are doing. After all, they are the ones who eat and work. If they could be tremendously more productive and earn much more by eating more, then they probably would. So could it be that eating more doesn't actually make us particularly more productive, and as a result, there is no nutrition-based poverty trap?

One reason the poverty trap might not exist is that most people have enough to eat. We live in a world today that is theoretically capable of feeding every person on the planet. In 1996, the FAO estimated that world food production was enough to provide at least 2,700 calories per person per day. Starvation still exists, but only as a result of the way food gets shared among us. There is no absolute scarcity. Using price data from the Philippines, we calculated the cost of the cheapest diet sufficient to give 2,400 calories. It would cost only about 21 cents a day, very affordable even for the very poor (the worldwide poverty line is set at roughly a dollar per day). The catch is, it would involve eating only bananas and eggs, something no one would like to do day in, day out. But so long as people are prepared to eat bananas and eggs when they need to, we should find very few people stuck in poverty because they do not get enough to eat. Indian surveys bear this out: The percentage of people who say they do not have enough food has dropped dramatically over time, from 17 percent in 1983 to 2 percent in 2004. So, perhaps people eat less because they are less hungry.

And perhaps they are really less hungry, despite eating fewer calories. It could be that because of improvements in water and sanitation, they are leaking fewer calories in bouts of diarrhea and other ailments. Or maybe they are less hungry because of the decline of heavy physical work. With the availability of drinking water in villages, women do not need to carry heavy loads for long distances; improvements in transportation have reduced the need to travel on foot; in even the poorest villages, flour is now milled using a motorized mill, instead of women grinding it by hand. Using the average calorie requirements calculated by the Indian Council of Medical Research, Deaton and Drèze note that the decline in calorie consumption over the last quarter-century could be entirely explained by a modest decrease in the number of people engaged in heavy physical work.

Beyond India, one hidden assumption in our description of the poverty trap is that the poor eat as much as they can. If there is any chance that by eating a bit more the poor could start doing meaningful work and get out of the poverty trap zone, then they should eat as much as possible. Yet most people living on less than a dollar a day do not seem to act as if they are starving. If they were, surely they would put every available penny into buying more calories. But they do not. In an 18-country data set we assembled on the lives of the poor, food represents 36 to 79 percent of consumption among the rural extremely poor, and 53 to 74 percent among their urban counterparts.

It is not because they spend all the rest on other necessities. In Udaipur, India, for example, we find that the typical poor household could spend up to 30 percent more on food, if it completely cut expenditures on alcohol, tobacco, and festivals. The poor seem to have many choices, and they don't choose to spend as much as they can on food. Equally remarkable is that even the money that people do spend on food is not spent to maximize the intake of calories or micronutrients. Studies have shown that when very poor people get a chance to spend a little bit more on food, they don't put everything into getting more calories. Instead, they buy better-tasting, more expensive calories.

In one study conducted in two regions of China, researchers offered randomly selected poor households a large subsidy on the price of the basic staple (wheat noodles in one region, rice in the other). We usually expect that when the price of something goes down, people buy more of it. The opposite happened. Households that received subsidies for rice or wheat consumed less of those two foods and ate more shrimp and meat, even though their staples now cost less. Overall, the caloric intake of those who received the subsidy did not increase (and may even have decreased), despite the fact that their purchasing power had increased. Nor did the nutritional content improve in any other sense. The likely reason is that because the rice and wheat noodles were cheap but not particularly tasty, feeling richer might actually have made them consume less of those staples. This reasoning suggests that at least among these very poor urban households, getting more calories was not a priority: Getting better-tasting ones was.

All told, many poor people might eat fewer calories than we -- or the FAO -- think is appropriate. But this does not seem to be because they have no other choice; rather, they are not hungry enough to seize every opportunity to eat more. So perhaps there aren't a billion "hungry" people in the world after all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM

Charles Bradley: Hip-Jerking, Heartfelt Soul (Cheryl Waters, NPR: Favorite Sessions)

Charles Bradley's moving performance at Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop in Austin, Texas, backed by the outstanding Menahan Street Band, was a highlight of many memorable shows at SXSW this year. I got a chance to talk with Bradley before this set for KEXP and — despite a life filled with hardship, poverty, pain and loss — he was generous, kind, humble and bursting with a joy for life. He accepts the bad and the good with humility and grace, and I felt so happy that he's finally able to share his talent with a larger audience and devote so much of his time to performing.

If you thought they don't make soul singers like they used to, you likely haven't seen or heard Charles Bradley. Having traveled an unconventional road to success, the 62-year-old soul singer was born in Florida and worked as a chef everywhere from a mental hospital in Maine to Alaska and California. He eventually settled into working as a handyman in Brooklyn, where he now lives. He was only recently discovered singing in a local club by a member of the Menahan Street Band, who helped him along the way to releasing his debut album, No Time for Dreaming, earlier this year on Daptone imprint Dunham Records. As a result, this incredible performer is finally getting the attention he deserves.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Save the Poor by Selling Them Stuff — Cheap: The bottom-of-the-pyramid marketing movement tries to profit the developing world and make a profit at the same time. (Vince Beiser, 4/25/11, Miller-McCune)

For decades, the main model of Third World aid has been the obvious: Give stuff to poor people — be it hydroelectric dams, surplus food or medical equipment. But Western countries have poured some $1.5 trillion into such efforts over the last 60 years, and more than 1 billion people worldwide still live on less than a dollar a day.

The Extreme Affordability program is an experiment with a dramatically different approach to fighting poverty, one that in recent years has generated tremendous buzz among academics, development workers, entrepreneurs and corporate executives. It’s called “bottom of the pyramid” marketing. The idea is to harness capitalism to solve the problems of the world’s poorest — those at the bottom of the global economic pyramid. If you design a useful product for a market rather than for charity’s sake, the theory goes, the target population is more likely to actually want it and use it. If businesses can turn a profit making that product, it not only creates jobs but will keep getting made even if Western donors lose interest. And there should be colossal profits to be made: The world’s poor don’t have much money individually, but there are billions of them.

Get rich by helping the poor. It’s a powerfully alluring idea. A surge of books, symposia, blogs and corporate annual reports champion it. Major organizations, including the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program, have set up programs that support it. Venture capital funds are giving millions to startup firms trying to implement it. MIT, Penn State, Cornell and other top universities in the U.S. and other countries are teaching MBA students about it. “It’s picking up, big time,” says Luiz Ros, manager of a $250 million Inter-American Development Bank fund dedicated to supporting bottom-of-the-pyramid ventures.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Before Manny Became Manny (SARA RIMER, 4/25/11, NY Times)

I stumbled upon the George Washington Trojans of Washington Heights in the spring of 1991. The high school was bursting with new immigrants, and the 25 varsity baseball players were all Dominican.

Mandl invited me to spend the season following the team. He told me he had a great hitter, an 18-year-old from Santo Domingo who got the bat around faster than any other high school player he had seen.

I knew next to nothing about baseball, but even someone with the scantest technical knowledge of the game or the mechanics of hitting could recognize that Ramirez was a star in the making.

I don’t remember the first time I saw that quicksilver swing. What I remember is what it felt like to be there on that rock-hard artificial surface atop the hill next to the high school, among his euphoric teammates and fans shouting his name, merengue blasting from someone’s boom box in the concrete bleachers behind the third-base line, the major league scouts lined up behind home plate as Manny came up to bat in his baggy black-and-orange secondhand uniform and red cleats and slammed one home run after another, day after day.

Up in the stands Manny’s beautiful 16-year-old girlfriend, Kathy Guzman, would practically be swooning. A vendor in a Yankees cap would push a grocery cart serving pastelitos and the sweet, blended orange juice and milk concoction known as a morir soñando: to die dreaming.

Manny, batting .650, walloped 14 home runs in 22 games. Not one of those home runs was on television or saved on videotape. Mandl could barely keep the team in baseballs and gloves let alone think about videotaping his future major leaguer.

But maybe it’s better that way. Those home runs, the memory of them, are part of the Manny that belongs to Washington Heights. He was the shy, happy-go-lucky boy with the perfect swing who everyone knew was going to the major leagues. The boy who loved to hit more than anything else. The boy who worked harder than anyone else. The baby-faced boy who never drank anything stronger than the nonalcoholic Puerto Rican eggnog from the corner bodega he chugged to bulk up.

That was the Manny who at least seemed knowable, before he disappeared behind the wall of all that surreal major league fame and money. Who is the real Manny?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Finish the Job? (JAMES M. DUBIK, 4/25/11, NY Times)

PRESIDENT OBAMA insists that protecting civilians is the only military objective in Libya and air power is the only means we will use to achieve it. But the Libyan government’s attacks on civilians continue, and air power alone will not stop them.

Public pronouncements aside, the unstated strategic aim of the intervention in Libya is to remove Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his regime, and things are not going well. The United States and NATO must accept that there is no easy way out of this war now that we are in it.

In war, leadership is not exercised from the rear by those who seek to risk as little as possible. Washington must stop pretending that we’ve passed the leadership for the Libyan operation on to NATO. We did so in Bosnia, claiming Europe would take the lead, only to have the 1995 Srebrenica genocide jolt us back to reality. Like it or not, America’s leadership has been crucial to most of NATO’s successes. The same will be true in Libya.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Economists in the Wild: Far from damaging brains and killing seals, applying basic economics to the environment preserves it. (Steven F. Hayward, April 22, 2011, The American)

The rapid material advance of the last 200 years has provided more comfortable lives in several meaningful ways: It has led to longer lifespans, conquest of diseases, and the ability of the human population to grow more rapidly and securely than at any time in previous history. (It also has provided the means of transforming social and family relations, liberating women from historically “women’s work” on the farm or in the home.) In other words, human ingenuity, technology, and innovation have largely succeeded, in wealthy nations at least, in approximating the abundance of the Garden of Eden.

However, no exertion on humanity’s part, and no conceivable innovation in technology, can succeed in re-creating the original innocence of humans in the Garden of Eden. There is perhaps a corollary here: This approximation of Eden still partakes fully of human sin.

The central insight of environmentalism is that humanity’s great leap in material progress has come at a high cost to nature: we tear down entire mountains for their minerals; divert rivers and streams and drain swamps to provide water for modern agriculture and urban use; clear large amounts of forests for other uses, often disrupting crucial habitat for rare animal species; and too often dump our waste byproducts thoughtlessly into the air, water, and land.

But this insight contains a paradox. Environmentalism arose precisely because we have mitigated the material harshness of human life through the Industrial Revolution; as Aldo Leopold, author of the classic environmental book A Sand County Almanac, put it: “These wild things had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast.”iv It is no coincidence that environmental sensibility arose first and has its strongest influence in wealthy nations. The affluent society does not wish to be the effluent society. Meanwhile, the poorest and most undeveloped nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America today suffer the worst environmental degradation and have the least public support for environmental protection. The wealth and technological innovation (spurred more by markets than government dictates) of industrialized nations provides the means for environmental improvement and remediation.

Air and water pollution in the United States and Europe, for example, have fallen substantially over the last 40 years (and will continue to abate in the coming decades), although they are still worsening in most underdeveloped nations. Forestlands, according to recent United Nations (UN) data, are expanding in the United States, Europe, and parts of Asia, but are still contracting in underdeveloped nations.

The point is that our conquest of nature through technology and material progress has enabled our increasing appreciation and concern for it. “The wilderness” is now regarded not as an inhospitable realm to avoid or conquer, but as a source of wonder to be celebrated and preserved. This change in outlook, however, extends beyond just our attitudes and sentiments: prosperity has also become the foundation for improving our environment.

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April 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


The Syria Lobby: Why Washington keeps giving a pass to the Assad regime. (WSJ, 4/26/11)

Washington's Syria Lobby is a bipartisan mindset. "The road to Damascus is a road to peace," said Nancy Pelosi on a 2007 visit to Syria as House Speaker. Former Secretary of State James Baker is a longtime advocate of engagement with the House of Assad. So is Republican Chuck Hagel, who in 2008 co-wrote an op-ed with fellow Senator John Kerry in these pages titled "It's Time to Talk to Syria." The Massachusetts Democrat has visited Damascus five times in the past two years alone.

Yesterday, the New York Times quoted a senior Administration official saying the U.S. was reluctant to criticize the Syrian President because he "sees himself as a Westernized leader" and that "he'll react if he believes he is being lumped in with brutal dictators." This was meant as a defense of U.S. policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


Box Office: 'Atlas Shrugged' collapses, even without a NY Times review (Lou Lumenick, 4/25/11, NY Post)

My esteemed colleague Kyle Smith may not qualify as a box-office Nostradamus ("I smell a hit,'' he once wrote of "An American Carol'') but he was certainly on the mark in predicting that "Atlas Shrugged -- Part One'' would flop in his Sunday column a couple of weeks ago.

After a middling performance during its opening weekend that was hyped in some quarters (i.e., The Hollywood Reporter), the per-screen average for this amateurish Ayn Rand adaptation (even Kyle could only muster 2.5 stars' worth of enthusiam for the movie, though he liked its message) plunged to an alarming $1,890 from $5,640 during its opening frame. Overall, the weekend's take was a scant $879,000 -- a whopping 48 percent drop despite adding 166 locations. Which certainly suggest they're running out of audience quick.

That means that at some locations, distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures will be writing checks to theaters to cover the difference between receipts and operating expenses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


A Guide for Those Unwilling to Know Themselves: a review of J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know (Fr. James V Schall, S.J., April 26, 2011, Ignatius Insight)

The modern notion that we postulate our own definition of what is good and what is evil is a disorder that in fact goes back to Genesis and the Fall. It claims that we make what is good and what is evil by our own wills and power. To make this latter claim means logically that we propose ourselves as gods. Then we try to create a better human world only to see our efforts deviate more and more from what it is to be human. Benedict XVI's encyclical Spe Salvi also spelled out this decline.

This world of reason was once understood but it is "lost" because of developments in modern philosophy and politics that presumably have replaced these classic principles with "new" ones. But, as Budziszewski shows, what ended up being lost was our understanding of ourselves and our proper place in the order of things.

Reality—what is—is filled with coherence. Nothing is more ordered than the human being's own structure, something Leon Kass showed quite clearly in The Hungry Soul. Budziszewski again goes over the evidence for design in the universe and in ourselves, evidence that has not gone away with modern science. Just the opposite, in fact. Budziszewski's observations correspond with those of Robert Spitzer in his New Cosmological Proofs for the Existence of God.

The book is filled with pertinent illustrations of the points that Budziszewski wants to make, from his own conversation with students, from his controversies with other scholars, and from what is available in the public order, where human disorder is more and more being legalized and enforced.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this book is not so much the "what we can't not know," something that C. S. Lewis had also made clear. Rather, it is the "furies," as Budziszewski calls them, the "what happens to us" individually and as a society when we reject what cannot be denied. Our souls are never left in peace.

In a sense, this book is a treatise on evil. Budziszewski cites Chesterton's observation that good may stay at a certain even level, but evil never does. It goes downhill, often rapidly, one step at a time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


A Toxic Setback for the Anti-Plastic Campaigners (Jon Entine, April 19, 2011, The American)

Advocacy groups targeting plastic products made with bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates took it on the chin last week.

A comprehensive review by the German Society of Toxicology of thousands of studies on BPA concluded, “[BPA] exposure represents no noteworthy risk to the health of the human population, including newborns and babies.” The group, which included several scientists who have advised regulatory caution on BPA, bucked calls by advocacy groups to lower safe exposure levels.

This is a huge development in this ongoing saga and a major endorsement of the scientific method. Over the past decade, German toxicologists had been among the most aggressive in arguing for precautionary standards when regulating plastic additives. BPA is used to line metal cans and make epoxy products and polycarbonate plastics, including children’s sippy cups. Phthalates are softeners used to manufacture vinyl products, from gym mats to cabling and medical tubing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Financiers Switch to GOP: Hedge-Fund Titans Who Backed Democrats Open Their Wallets for Republicans (BRODY MULLINS, SUSAN PULLIAM and STEVE EDER, 4/26/11, WSJ)

Hedge-fund managers made a big bet on Barack Obama and other Democrats in 2008. Now, with the 2012 contest gearing up, some prominent fund managers have turned their backs on the party and are actively supporting Republicans.

Daniel Loeb, founder of Third Point LLC, was one of the biggest Obama fund-raisers in 2008, rounding up $200,000 for him, according to campaign-finance records. In the decade prior, Mr. Loeb and his wife donated $250,000 to Democrats and less than $10,000 to Republicans.

But since Mr. Obama's inauguration, Mr. Loeb has given $468,000 to Republican candidates and the GOP, and just $8,000 to Democrats. Hedge-fund kings have feelings, too, and the president appears to have hurt them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


The Arab Spring and The Palestine Distraction: Arab peoples aren't obsessed with anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. It's their rulers who are. (JOSEF JOFFE, 4/26/11, WSJ)

Writing in the Financial Times, former U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft intoned: "The nature of the new Middle East cannot be known until the festering sore of the occupied territories is removed." Read: The fate of democracy hinges on Palestine.

So do "Iran's hegemonic ambitions," he insinuated. This is why Tehran reaches for the bomb? Syria, too, will remain a threat "as long as there is no regional peace agreement." The Assad regime is slaughtering its own people for the sake of Palestine? And unless Riyadh "saw the U.S. as moving in a serious manner" on Palestine, Mr. Scowcroft warned, the Saudis might really sour on their great protector from across the sea. So when they sent troops into Bahrain, were they heading for Jerusalem by way of Manama?

Shoddy political theories—ideologies, really—never die because they are immune to the facts. The most glaring is this: These revolutions have unfolded without the usual anti-American and anti-Israeli screaming. It's not that the demonstrators had run out of Stars and Stripes to trample, or were too concerned about the environment to burn Benjamin Netanyahu in effigy. It's that their targets were Hosni Mubarak, Zine el Abidine Ben-Ali, Moammar Gadhafi and the others—no stooges of Zionism they. In Benghazi, the slogan was: "America is our friend!"

The men and women of the Arab Spring are not risking their lives for a "core" issue, but for the freedom of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria. And of Iran, as the Green revolutionaries did in Tehran in 2009.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Pride and Prejudice: Contrarian Speculation on Wall Street’s Future (Peter A. Coclanis, April 21, 2011, The American)

The financial industry certainly has its problems and it deserves its fair share of the blame for the onset of the Great Recession. Moreover, quants and the innovative financial products they “engineered” were at the center of many of the problems that arose. But quants are human (more or less!) and engineering innovations of all types have always been prone to problems early on. Although one can take the analogy too far—obviously, the innovations produced by financial engineers are not based on physical laws in the same way that innovations in construction, electrical, or chemical engineering are—in all of these areas it is humans doing the innovating. And humans, being mortals, sometimes misjudge, miscalculate, and make mistakes.

A quarter century ago, in his classic book To Engineer is Human, Henry Petroski demonstrated rather convincingly that failure is indispensable to successful design. Problems virtually always arise when engineers innovate—think here of collapsing bridges, exploding engines, and crashing airplanes—and, once problems are exposed, engineers have generally set to work on such problems and been able to surmount them over time. In so doing, they have enhanced efficiency and improved people’s lives in many, many ways.

A similar process will likely occur in financial engineering as well. In the past, other types of financial innovations—the discounting of bills of exchange, the creation of futures markets, the advent of non-investment grade (“junk”) bonds, etc.—have had rocky starts and have faced plenty of opposition. Over time, such innovations have generally proved their worth. The same may well hold true even for many of the so-called exotic financial instruments created in recent decades; certainly, some forms of securitization have already shown their value. To fully realize the potential of recent financial innovations, though, we need to develop more sophisticated models of financial markets, learn how to evaluate risk more accurately, and better understand the complexities of human behavior. We will need to make sure that we get right the context in which financial innovation occurs, whether through more effective regulation, better incentive structures, or more training in business ethics, if not all of these things.

But I’m confident that we can do what is necessary, and I’d place my money in particular on places such as D.E. Shaw (which, admittedly, has been having a tough time of late), where brilliant people work and merit rules. Paul Volcker’s line about the ATM being the most important financial innovation of the past 25 years is a good one, but it might not be accurate if Wall Street’s meritorious quants can be tamed. Don’t bet against them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Volt and Leaf ace crash tests (Peter Valdes-Dapena, 4/26/11, CNNMoney)

The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf plug-in cars both earned top scores in crash tests, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Tuesday.

Both vehicles earned the Institute's coveted Top Safety Pick award, given to cars that get the best possible ratings in side and front crash tests as well as the best scores for whiplash protection in rear impacts.

April 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:17 PM


The Consequentialist: How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy. (Ryan Lizza May 2, 2011, The New Yorker)

One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as “leading from behind.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM


How Jeter put A-Rod in the Yankees' 'snubhouse' (SUSANNAH CAHALAN, April 24, 2011, NY Post)

Jeter's unyielding insistence on loyalty and his dislike for A-Rod during the third baseman's early years in pinstripes was so legendary that one Yankee official admitted he was too scared to talk to Jeter about making amends with his teammate.

"It would've been the last conversation I ever had with Derek," the official said. "I would've been dead to him. It would've been like approaching Joe DiMaggio to talk to him about Marilyn Monroe."

Don Mattingly, then the hitting coach and former captain, tried to intervene, citing his own unfriendly history with teammate Wade Boggs. "I faked it with Boggs," he told Jeter. "And you have to fake it with Alex." [...]

[W]hen fans and rival players criticized A-Rod, Jeter deferred instead of defending his teammate.

General Manager Brian Cashman noticed this and asked Jeter to "fake it" with A-Rod.

"You've got to lead them all, the ones you like and the ones you don't," he told him. He asked him to appeal to Yankees fans on A-Rod's behalf.

"I can't tell the fans what to do," Jeter countered.

A-Rod's obsession with Jeter continued, the book says. He constantly asked players and team officials about Jeter -- down to which charity he was currently supporting.

It all came to a head during a Yankees loss in August 2006 to Baltimore.

An easy pop-up hung in the air between A-Rod and Jeter. Both players closed in and Jeter bumped into A-Rod, knocking the ball out of his glove. Jeter shot A-Rod a withering look.

The gesture did not go unnoticed. Cashman pulled Jeter aside and ordered him to knock it off.

"Listen, this has to stop," Cashman said. "Everybody in the press box, every team official, everyone watching, they saw you look at the ball on the ground and look at him with disgust like you were saying, 'That's your mess, you clean it up.' "

A-Rod also felt betrayed by manager Joe Torre, who players said added fuel to the fiery feud.

"He would never call Jeter on anything, but he'd have no problem doing it to Alex," one player told the author.

...but Joe Torre's book made it clear that anyone who wasn't there when they won the first couple rings wasn't to be considered a real Yankee.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox Give Boston Sports Fans a Weekend for Which to Be Truly Thankful (Michael Hurley, Apr 25, 2011, NESN)

Nathan Horton, Rajon Rondo and Carl Crawford As many families around New England wrapped up their Easter Sundays, they had plenty to be thankful for, aside from the good fortune of spending the day with close friends and relatives.

Tough to beat a weekend when you go nine & 0.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


Classified Files Offer New Insights Into Detainees (CHARLIE SAVAGE, WILLIAM GLABERSON and ANDREW W. LEHREN, 4/24/11, NY Times)

The secret documents, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, reveal that most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a “high risk” of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision. But they also show that an even larger number of the prisoners who have left Cuba — about a third of the 600 already transferred to other countries — were also designated “high risk” before they were freed or passed to the custody of other governments.

The documents are largely silent about the use of the harsh interrogation tactics at Guantánamo — including sleep deprivation, shackling in stress positions and prolonged exposure to cold temperatures — that drew global condemnation. Several prisoners, though, are portrayed as making up false stories about being subjected to abuse.

The government’s basic allegations against many detainees have long been public, and have often been challenged by prisoners and their lawyers. But the dossiers, prepared under the Bush administration, provide a deeper look at the frightening, if flawed, intelligence that has persuaded the Obama administration, too, that the prison cannot readily be closed.

Prisoners who especially worried counterterrorism officials included some accused of being assassins for Al Qaeda, operatives for a canceled suicide mission and detainees who vowed to their interrogators that they would wreak revenge against America.

So there are a bunch of really dangerous guys, a bunch we let go after we checked them out, and they weren't tortured. No wonder the UR kept the same system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Europeans shift long-held view that social benefits are untouchable (Edward Cody, April 24, 2011, Washington Post)

Particularly since the global economic crisis erupted in 2008, benefits have begun to stagnate or shrink in the face of exploding government deficits. In effect, the continent has reversed a half-century history of continual improvements that made Western Europe the envy of many and attracted millions of immigrants from less fortunate societies.

In the new reality, workers have been forced to accept salary freezes, decreased hours, postponed retirements and health-care reductions. Employees at Fiat’s historic Mirafiori plant in Turin, rolling back a tradition of union privileges, even pledged to cut back on the number of workers who call in sick when the local soccer team has a match.

Unlike in the United States, where conservatives are so resolved to cut spending that they threatened a government shutdown, Western Europe’s generous welfare programs had generally been embraced by the right as well as the left. Against that background, the new wave of cutbacks seems to signal a dramatic shift in attitude toward benefits that many Europeans had come to see as a birthright and that politicians of any stripe could challenge only at the risk of their careers.

The Racism of the Welfare State (Alberto Alesina, 4/22/02, Project Syndicate)
Many redistributive programs in the US are run by the 50 states. States that are more racially heterogeneous have smaller redistributive programs, even controlling for their level of income. Welfare is relatively plentiful in the overwhelmingly white states of the North and Northwest (Oregon and Minnesota, to cite two examples) and in some states in New England (such as Vermont). It is lacking in the racially mixed Southeast and Southwest.

Continental Europe is becoming, and will become, more ethnically mixed as more newcomers from Eastern Europe and the developing world arrive. Xenophobic parties are on the rise across Europe; in some cases, they are in office. Think of Jörg Haider and the late Pym Fortuyn, or, to a lesser extent, Italy's Northern League. It will not be long before even Europe's more respectable conservative parties reach for rhetoric about "foreigners coming here to feast off of our taxes."

Simply put, when middle-class Europeans begin to think that a good portion of the poor are recent immigrants, their ingrained belief in the virtue of the welfare state will begin to waver. Even Europe's leftist intelligentsia now associates crime and urban squalor with immigration. The step from here to lamenting the high taxes spent on welfare for immigrants is a but a short one.

When this happens - and I say "when," not "if" - there are three possible political responses. One is to close borders to poor immigrants, eliminating any correlation between poverty and immigration. The second is to somehow restrict welfare benefits to "natives." The third is to reduce the size of welfare for all because political support for it is declining.

The first strategy is short sighted and the second odious. I hope that the third one will win out, because it would mean relatively open borders, no discrimination, and less government intervention.

Not to worry: the European welfare state will remain more generous than the stingy American one, but it may become more manageable and less intrusive. The fact that this will come about because of ethnic "animosity" is sad and depressing. The silver lining is that the European welfare state does indeed need trimming!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


A Very Public Intellectual (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, 4/02/11, WSJ)

The problem is that Sontag wasn't sufficiently interested in real-life details, the lifeblood of fiction, but only in ideas. She also wrote and directed films, which were not well-reviewed: I have not seen these myself, but there is time enough to do so, for I have long assumed that they are playing as a permanent double feature in the only movie theater in hell.

"Intelligence," Sontag wrote, "is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas." In her thrall to ideas she resembles the pure type of the intellectual. The difficulty, though, was in the quality of so many of her ideas, most of which cannot be too soon forgot. Her worst offenses in this line were in politics, where her specialty was extravagant utterance.

During the Vietnam War, Sontag went off to Hanoi as one of those people Lenin called "useful idiots"—that is, people who could be expected to defend Communism without any interest in investigating the brutality behind it. There she found the North Vietnamese people noble and gentle, if a touch boring and puritanical for her tastes. Doubtless that trip led to her most famous foolish remark, when she said that "the white race is the cancer of human history," later revising this judgment by noting that it was a slander on cancer. Hers was the standard leftist view on Israel, which was—natch—that it is a racist and imperialist country. All her political views were left-wing commonplace, noteworthy only because of her extreme statement of them.

Some might think Sontag's renunciation of communism an exception to this record of nearly perfect political foolishness. In a 1982 speech at New York's Town Hall, she announced that communism was no more than "fascism with a human face." The remark drove bien-pensants up the (still standing Berlin) wall. Others who had fallen for the dream of communism had got off the train as long as 50 years earlier. And whatever can Sontag have meant by "a human face" to describe a monstrous system of government that in Russia, Eastern Europe, China and Cambodia slaughtered scores of millions of people?

Rounding her political career off nicely, when the Twin Towers were destroyed and nearly 3,000 people murdered, Sontag, in the New Yorker, wrote that the attack was "on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions"—and so America, in other words, had it coming. "Some ideas are so stupid," Orwell said, "that only an intellectual could believe them," and Susan Sontag seems, at one time or another, to have believed them all.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


The Freedom Movement Comes to Syria (FOUAD AJAMI, 4/24/11, WSJ)

After Hama, Hafez Assad would rule uncontested for two more decades. Prior to his ascendancy, 14 rulers came and went in a quarter-century. Many perished in prison or exile or fell to assassins. Not so with that man of stealth. He died in 2000, and in a most astonishing twist, he bequeathed power to his son Bashar, a young man not yet 35 years of age and an ophthalmologist at that.

By then Syrians had fled into the privacy of their homes, eager to escape the ruler's whip and gaze. Rule became a matter of the barracks, the ruling caste hunkered down, and the once-feisty republic become a dynastic possession. Assad senior had come from crushing rural poverty, but the House of Assad became a huge financial and criminal enterprise.

Around Bashar Assad were siblings, cruel and entitled. At the commanding heights of the economy were the Assad in-laws, choking off the life of commerce, reducing the trading families of yesteryear to marginality and dependence. And there was the great sectarian truth of this country: The Alawis, a mountainous community of Shiite schismatics, for centuries cut off from wealth and power, comprising somewhere between 10% and 12% of the population, had hoarded for themselves supreme political power. The intelligence barons were drawn from the Alawis, as were the elite brigades entrusted with the defense of the regime.

For the rulers, this sectarian truth was a great taboo, for Damascus had historically been a great city of Sunni urban Islam. That chasm between state and society, between ruler and ruled, that we can see in practically all Arab lands under rebellion was most stark in Syria.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Fair Chase: On the plains of New Mexico, a band of elite marathoners tests a controversial theory of evolution: that humans can outrun the fastest animals on earth. (Charles Bethea, May 2011, Outside)

AS RIDICULOUS AS THIS spectacle might appear, the men are testing a much-debated scientific notion about when and how ­humans became hunters. Between two and three million years ago, when our australo­pithecine ancestors ventured out of the forests and onto the protein-rich African savanna, they were prey more often than hunter. They gathered plant-based foods, just as their primate brethren did. Then something changed. They began running after game with long, steady strides. Evolutionary biologists like Harvard's Dan Lieberman think the uniquely human capacity for endurance running is a distant remnant of prehistoric persistence hunting.

We can run all day, the theory goes, because there was once a caloric advantage to it. Our two human legs, packed as they are with long slow-twitch muscle fibers, make us better runners over long distances than most quad­rupeds. And our three million sweat glands give us the ability to cool our bodies with perspiration. An antelope, by contrast, sprints—for up to 15 minutes—while wearing a fur coat and relies on respiration (panting) to release the heat that builds up with exertion. Add to the mix our ability to organize and strategize and, well, you can see how persistence hunting might actually work.

In Christopher McDougall's 2009 book Born to Run, a bestseller that examined the history and science of endurance running, Lieberman explained that a successful persistence hunt probably began with scaring the quarry into a long gallop on a hot day. "If you keep just close enough for it to see you, it will keep sprinting away," he said. "After about 10 or 15 kilometers' worth of running, it will go into hyperthermia and collapse."

Of course, "hot" means approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and 10 to 15 kilometers is a low-end estimate. Biologist and ultramara­thoner Bernd Heinrich described it more succinctly in his 2001 book Why We Run: "The sprints cost them dearly in the end."

There's no hard archaeological evidence of persistence hunting, but half a dozen tribes are known to have pursued game this way in the past century: the Aborigines in Australia, the Navajo in the American Southwest, the Seri and Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. Of the tribes thought to practice it, though, only the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert have been seen chasing antelope in recent decades. In the 1980s, South African mathematician Louis Liebenberg joined a successful Bushman persistence hunt for kudu in 107-degree heat. It nearly killed him, too.

The Santa Fe team figured that persistence hunting would work just as well on an American antelope, which may have been something of a blunder. Neither Lieberman nor McDougall nor Heinrich knows of anybody who's caught a pronghorn this way. The speed goat, as it's sometimes called, isn't technically an antelope at all but the lone species of the Antilocapra genus, which evolved to flee the now extinct North American cheetah. The pronghorn's top speed of 60 mph is faster than any African ungulate.

In addition to its swiftness, the pronghorn has lungs the size of water-cooler jugs and wide-set eyes as large as an elephant's. It's capable of 340-degree vision, with acuity comparable to a pair of ten-power binoculars.

Evolutionary biologist David Carrier and his brother, Scott, who wrote the 2001 memoir Running After Antelope, made the single recorded attempt to chase down a pronghorn. Scott, a recreational runner, characterized the elusiveness of the animal, which they pursued in Wyoming, like so: "They blend and flow and change positions. There are no individuals but this mass that moves across the desert like a pool of mercury on a glass table." The brothers failed. The antelope, Scott wrote, "used the terrain to ditch us."

Musuva and his gang are much quicker than the Carrier brothers: the fastest of them has run a 2:10 marathon (six minutes off the world record) and the slowest, Espo­sito, a respectable 2:45. Vegas probably wouldn't like their odds, but who knows? If you believe Lieberman, our mere existence is a testament to our ancestors' success at this tiring pursuit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Mitch Daniels sounds fiscal alarm, but Indiana Republican hesitant to run in 2012 (Dan Balz, 4/24/11, Washington Post)

As the time draws nearer, those who know him best see the tension rising as he weighs the political challenges and family trade-offs. “There’s a fight going on inside him that’s pretty rare,” said one adviser who asked not to be identified, in order to speak candidly.

Asked where he was in his thinking, Daniels replied with a laugh, “Oh, muddled.” Then he turned serious: “I don’t want to leave a misimpression. If we get in, we will go all out, and we know a little about how to do that. So reluctance or hesitation about running doesn’t mean we would be a reluctant candidate if we got there.”

Asked about family considerations — friends say his wife has been opposed — Daniels goes quiet. “I don’t have much more to say about that,” he said. “It’s just a very important factor.”

As he deliberates, calls come into his office, and the offices of his political advisers and friends, with words of encouragement. He has drawn praise from a number of conservative commentators. They see him as someone who can espouse conservative ideas but who believes the GOP must avoid appearing harsh or braying.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush told a Jacksonville audience in February that, among prospective GOP candidates, Daniels was the “only one who sees the stark perils and will offer real detailed proposals.”

Democrats, too, are taking him seriously. Obama advisers see him as a credible general-election candidate, if he can survive a nomination battle. Democrats, with some encouragement from Washington, have begun to step up their criticism of him and to question whether his record will hold up to serious scrutiny.

Daniels’s potential supporters see him as the anti-Obama, a 5-foot-7-inch, motorcycle-riding, balding politician who lacks the charisma Obama displayed during his 2008 campaign but who they believe has the intellectual heft and plainspoken appeal to go toe-to-toe with the president.

In reality, no one can predict how he would fare. His biography includes two terms as governor, service in the Reagan White House, and stints at the conservative Hudson Institute think tank and as an executive at Eli Lilly before joining the George W. Bush administration as budget director.

Daniels’s retail candidate skills — honed by nights spent in the homes of strangers and encounters with voters in coffee shops, fairs and flea markets along the back roads of his state — could play well in Iowa and New Hampshire. But his capacity to generate real enthusiasm across the party remains in question. He is still a blip in the polls.

In a field with many candidates who carry baggage, Daniels’s biggest burdens might be how he would run. Although he is solidly antiabortion, he has called for a truce on social issues to keep the focus on the country’s fiscal problems. That has riled social and religious conservatives and is already drawing criticism from potential rivals.

Daniels’s stock rose earlier this year after he spoke to the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference, where he delivered a sobering speech outlining the fiscal threat he sees looming.

“We cannot deter it,” he said. “There is no countervailing danger we can pose. We cannot negotiate with it, any more than with an iceberg or a great white.”

Daniels also said that night that the changes he advocates require big majorities. “We will need people who never tune in to Rush [Limbaugh] or Glenn [Beck] or Laura [Ingraham] or Sean [Hannity],” he said at CPAC, “who surf past C-SPAN to get to [ESPN’s] ‘SportsCenter.’ ”

In the debate between Ryan and Obama, Daniels knows where he stands. He called Ryan’s proposal for ending Medicare’s defined-benefit structure “exactly the right direction to head,” though he says he is open to other serious alternatives. Asked about Ryan’s proposal to convert Medicaid into a block grant with full flexibility for states, he replied, “Bring it on.” He says that means testing should be part of any solution to restructuring Social Security and Medicare.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


Inside the GOP's Fact-Free Nation: From Nixon's plumbers to James O'Keefe's video smears: How political lying became normal. (Rick Perlstein, May/June 2011 Issue, Mother Jones)

IT TAKES TWO THINGS to make a political lie work: a powerful person or institution willing to utter it, and another set of powerful institutions to amplify it. The former has always been with us: Kings, corporate executives, politicians, and ideologues from both sides of the aisle have been entirely willing to bend the truth when they felt it necessary or convenient. So why does it seem as if we're living in a time of overwhelmingly brazen deception? What's changed?

Today's marquee fibs almost always evolve the same way: A tree falls in the forest—say, the claim that Saddam Hussein has "weapons of mass destruction," or that Barack Obama has an infernal scheme to parade our nation's senior citizens before death panels. But then a network of media enablers helps it to make a sound—until enough people believe the untruth to make the lie an operative part of our political discourse.

Trig Trutherism: The definitive debunker: Salon investigates the conspiracy theory: Is Sarah Palin really the mother of Trig Palin? (Justin Elliott, 4/22/11, Salon)
Trig Trutherism, the surprisingly resilient conspiracy theory that Sarah Palin is not actually the mother of 3-year-old Trig Palin, is experiencing a boomlet thanks to a new academic paper that endorses the concept. Long pursued by the blogger Andrew Sullivan and a significant segment of the Palin-hating left, Trig Trutherism holds that Trig's real mother is either Bristol Palin or some third party, and that Sarah Palin herself faked the pregnancy to avoid embarrassment for her daughter or for political gain or some combination of reasons.

In light of the recent attention this subject has received and the considerable passion it has stirred, Salon embarked last week on an investigation of the circumstances surrounding Trig's birth. The exhaustive review of available evidence that we conducted, along with new interviews with multiple eyewitnesses who interacted with a pregnant Sarah Palin up-close in early 2008 -- most of whom had never spoken publicly about the matter before -- has produced one clear conclusion: Sarah Palin is, indeed, Trig's mother and there is no reason to suspect any kind of a coverup.

We've learned, for instance, that an Associated Press reporter in Alaska who was covering Palin during her pregnancy in early 2008 (before she became a national figure) thoroughly investigated rumors that the pregnancy was a hoax. The reporter directly questioned Palin about the matter in a private meeting in her Juneau office before she gave birth. Gov. Palin responded by voluntarily lifting her outer layer of clothing, offering a clear look at her round belly. The reporter quickly concluded that there was no truth to the rumors and never wrote about them.

So why dive into this old conspiracy theory now?

After all, there's a strong argument to be made that politicians' private lives should not be subject to investigation unless there is suspicion of hypocrisy (e.g., Larry Craig) or some public policy implication (e.g., Mark Sanford). As Atrios put it, "if Trig was sired by Lucifer and birthed from a hippopotamus it's really none of our business." Sullivan has claimed that the birth of Trig, a baby with Down syndrome, played a key role in Palin being chosen for the GOP's 2008 ticket, because it solidified her pro-life credentials. But the idea that this had anything to do with John McCain's decision to tap Palin is easily debunked.

Still, for all of this, Trig Trutherism seems to have gained a significant following. There doesn't appear to be any polling on the Trig question, but when we ran a dismissive post about the Trig Truthers last week, we were deluged with angry emails and tweets. (Sullivan, one of the leading doubters of Palin's pregnancy, wrote a post accusing me of incuriosity and laziness.) Fed up with the attention the subject has received, the Huffington Post took the step this week of banning Trig Truthers. Whether we like it or not, this is a conspiracy theory that has gotten big enough to warrant a response.

Analysis: Obama went too far in critique (FACTCHECK.ORG)

- Obama claimed the Republicans' "Path to Prosperity" plan would cause "up to 50 million Americans "¦ to lose their health insurance." But that worst-case figure is based in part on speculation and assumptions.

- He said the GOP plan would replace Medicare with "a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry." That's an exaggeration. Nothing would change for those 55 and older. Those younger would get federal subsidies to buy private insurance from a Medicare exchange set up by the government.

- He said "poor children," "children with autism" and "kids with disabilities" would be left "to fend for themselves." That, too, is an exaggeration. The GOP says states would have "freedom and flexibility to tailor a Medicaid program that fits the needs of their unique populations." It doesn't bar states from covering those children.

- He repeated a deceptive talking point that the new health care law will reduce the deficit by $1 trillion. That's the Democrats' own estimate over a 20-year period. The Congressional Budget Office pegged the deficit savings at $210 billion over 10 years and warned that estimates beyond a decade are "more and more uncertain."

- He falsely claimed that making the Bush tax cuts permanent would give away "$1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire." That figure — which is actually $807 billion over 10 years — refers to tax cuts for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000, not just millionaires and billionaires.

- He said the tax burden on the wealthy is the lowest it has been in 50 years. But the most recent nonpartisan congressional analysis showed that the average federal tax rate for high-income taxpayers was lower in 1986.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Obama's Awful '70s Show Echoes Jimmy Carter (Eric Alterman, 4/25/11, Daily Beast)

Ask yourself if the following story does not sound like another president we could name The gregarious Massachusetts pol, House Speaker Tip O’Neil, could hardly have been more eager to work with a Democratic president after eight years of Nixon and Ford. But when they first met, and O’Neil attempted to advise Carter about which members of Congress might need some special pleading, or even the assorted political favor or two with regard to certain issues, to O’Neil’s open-jawed amazement, Carter replied, “No, I’ll describe the problem in a rational way to the American people. I’m sure they’ll realize I’m right.” The red-nosed Irishman later said he “could have slugged” Carter over this lethal combination of arrogance and naivety, but it would soon become Carter’s calling card.

Well that was the ‘70s, you say, and America is a different country these days. True enough, but while history never repeats itself, political patterns do. More and more, Democrats are starting to worry they that they have a more um, colorful version of Jimmy Carter on their hands.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


What’s Left of the Left: Paul Krugman’s lonely crusade. (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Apr 24, 2011, New York)

For the first two years of the Obama administration, Krugman has been building, in his columns and on his blog, not just a critique of this presidency but something grander and more expansively detailed, something closer to an alternate architecture for what Obamaism might be. The project has remade Krugman’s public image, as if he had spent years becoming a chemically isolate form of himself—first a moderate, then an anti-Bush partisan, and now the leading exponent of a kind of liberal purism against which the compromises of the White House might be judged. Krugman’s counterfactual Obama would have provided far more stimulus money and would have nationalized Citigroup and Bank of America. He would have written off Republicans and worked only with Democrats to fashion a health-care reform bill that included a so-called public option. The president of Krugman’s dreams would have made his singular long-term goal the preservation of the welfare state and the middle-class society it was designed to create.

...obviously isn't much use in a democracy, nor does it deserve the honorable title of liberalism. It is illiberal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


The End of the Defined Benefit (Michael Barone, 4/25/11, National Review)

The defined benefit is dying. Barack Obama is struggling to keep it alive, but it’s apparent that it’s something that even as bounteously rich a society as ours can’t afford.

Yes, I know that “defined benefit” is not a common household phrase. But most people know what a defined-benefit pension is. It’s when your employer promises to pay you a certain amount of money, pegged to your salary or according to some other formula, when you retire.

Some 30 years ago, most big employers had defined-benefit pension plans. Some private-sector employees still have them, and many government employees do.

But a little-known provision of the 1978 tax law, section 401(k), authorized companies to offer defined-contribution pensions. Instead of promising to pay workers specific amounts years later when they retired, companies would put certain amounts in the employees’ 401(k) accounts.

The employees would own the money and choose among investment options. The money wouldn’t be taxed until it was removed from the 401(k) accounts years later.

It’s easy to understand why employers prefer defined-contribution plans. Once they’ve paid the employees, they don’t have any further obligation.

Many employees like them, too. They have actual money, not a claim on some fund someone else is managing. They can move from one job to another rather than stay with one employer for many years until their defined-benefit pension is fully vested.

April 24, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


Baseball Chapel isn't just an Easter Sunday service: More than 500 volunteer chaplains celebrate services, in English and Spanish, as many as 51 weeks a year. And sports beyond baseball follow suit. (Kevin Baxter, April 23, 2011, LA Times)

The first man to try to organize religion in the locker room was former big league pitcher Clyde King, who, while managing in the minors during the mid-1950s, provided chapel services for his players.

Years later, the idea got a boost from the New York Yankees quite by accident.

Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson, who raised two sons to become ministers, was a frequent churchgoer on the road. But when teammate Mickey Mantle decided to tag along to a Baptist service in Minneapolis in August 1961, the pastor and much of the congregation became confused over who they were worshiping.

"About three minutes before the service was over, we got up to walk out. And not only half the congregation walked out with us, but the pastor came out too," Richardson recalled. "He said, 'I want a picture with Mickey and my son.' "

Yankees broadcaster Red Barber, a Methodist lay minister, heard the story and offered to lead private clubhouse prayer meetings when the team was on the road.

"That really was kind of the start of Baseball Chapel," Richardson said. "And it just kept going from there."

These days, more than 500 volunteer chaplains celebrate prayer services, in English and Spanish, as many as 51 weeks a year wherever professional baseball in played — from the major leagues and the 20 affiliated minor leagues, to training academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and to the clubhouses of teams in the independent Atlantic and Golden leagues.

Dodgers bench coach Trey Hillman even helped popularize the practice in Japan during the five seasons he spent managing in Hokkaido.

Nauss estimates about a third of players and coaches in the major leagues attend at least occasionally. The Dodgers' chapel services regularly draw more than a dozen worshipers; and the Angels, who offer separate services in English and Spanish, draw almost as many.

"It just kind of keeps everybody floored during the week," Hunter said of the services. "If you stray during the week, you go to Baseball Chapel to get you right back on track."

Reporters and photographers are banned from the makeshift chapels for privacy reasons, but the chaplains say the services differ from traditional liturgy in several ways. For starters they're brief, usually lasting less than 20 minutes.

"If you took a snapshot of a Catholic mass at the time where the priest gives his homily, it would be more like that," Nauss said. "Or a Baptist church or a Presbyterian church when the pastor gives his sermon. It's a snapshot of that."

And while all the chaplains are Christian, they say they are open to ministering to players of all faiths.

"I'm there to care for anyone," said Ben Bost, the Angels' Phoenix-based chaplain during spring training last month. "You never know what people are dealing with. And a lot of times it doesn't necessarily relate to any type of specific religious background. Most of the time we're dealing with the normal struggles of life."

The work is serious business, but that doesn't mean there aren't light moments. Bost recalls conducting a spring training chapel in the shower room off the Angels' clubhouse — while a player stood naked under the water behind him.

Another chaplain told Nauss about a big league equipment manager who graciously offered the use of his office for Sunday services. But since the office walls were covered with dozens of centerfolds from men's magazines, the chaplain would arrive early and discreetly tack a shroud over the pictures.

"I remember him saying that he had a message on temptation one week," Nauss said, "and in his line of vision is one picture that he forgot to cover."

Baseball isn't the only sport that offers weekly ecumenical services. On the NASCAR and IndyCar circuits, chaplains minister to hundreds of people, from drivers and their pit crews to family members, track workers and even journalists. Professional golf's touring circuits have been offering similar open events for more than three decades, once drawing a crowd of 2,000 for an Easter service at the 18th green during the Heritage Classic.

"There's a commonality and a unity among chaplaincy that really spreads over sport," said Bost, a former professional golfer who is now a golf ministry director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "And if you brought in people outside of sport — Army chaplains and other people — there would be a common understanding for what's it like."

Bost said the threads to sports ministry are presence, relationship and attitude — basically just being there and being available, and not just on Sunday. In every big league city, baseball chaplains are available all day, every day.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Guantanamo Bay: Why Obama hasn’t fulfilled his promise to close the facility (Peter Finn and Anne E. Kornbluty, April 23, 2011, Washington Post)

The sputtering end of the Obama administration’s plans to prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed in federal court came one day late last month in a conversation between the president and one of his top Cabinet members.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had called President Obama to inform him that he would be returning the case to the Defense Department, a decision that would mark the effective abandonment of the president’s promise to close the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

During the call, Obama did not press Holder to find a way to resurrect the federal prosecution of Mohammed and four co-defendants, according to senior administration officials familiar with the conversation. He did not object. Instead, he called it a pragmatic decision.

It was a fittingly quiet coda to the effort to close the military detention center. For more than two years, the White House’s plans had been undermined by political miscalculations, confusion and timidity in the face of mounting congressional opposition, according to some inside the administration as well as on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the failed effort to close Guantanamo was reflective of the aspects of Obama’s leadership style that continue to distress his liberal base — a willingness to allow room for compromise and a passivity that at times permits opponents to set the agenda.

There's a reason we don't elect legislators to lead.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


US debt and China: a tale of two deficits: Deficit hawks are manipulating mistaken fears about the dollar and the US trade gap to push a highly partisan cuts programme (Dean Baker, 4/22/11, guardian.co.uk)

The reason that we are borrowing from abroad every year is that the United States has a trade deficit of the order of $550bn a year, or just under 4% of GDP. This trade deficit is financed by foreign borrowings. The logic is simple. If the United States buys more than it sells, then it must borrow the difference.

Note that this has nothing to do with the budget deficit. If the United States buys $500bn more from other countries than it sells to other countries, then it must borrow $500bn a year from them, regardless of whether the United States is running a budget surplus or a budget deficit. Foreign borrowing is determined by the trade deficit, end of story.

There are two ways that reducing the budget deficit can affect this picture. First, cutting spending and/or raising taxes can slow the economy, as will likely be the result from the cuts recently pushed through by Congress. If the economy is smaller, then we will buy less of everything, including fewer imports. In other words, if cutting the deficit makes the downturn deeper, then we will have a lower trade deficit. This means that the deficit hawks can reduce our borrowing from bad guys – if their intention is to throw the economy into a severe and prolonged downturn.

The other route through which reducing the fiscal deficit can lead to a lower trade deficit is if it results in a lower-valued dollar. The argument here is that if we get the deficit down, then interest rates would fall. Lower interest rates would make foreigners less interested in buying dollar-denominated assets, like US government bonds.

If foreigners investors are less interested in buy dollar-denominated assets, then they have less need for getting dollars. The reduced demand for dollars would cause the value of the dollar to fall. A lower-valued dollar will then make US goods more competitive in international markets, leading us to buy fewer imports and to increase out exports.

However, this channel for reducing the value of the dollar is not working right now, since many governments – most importantly, China's – are deliberately propping up the value of the dollar against their currencies. They are doing this to sustain their export markets in the United States.

It is very difficult to see why China would be less interested in sustaining its export market in the United States if we reduced our budget deficit. Does anyone believe that President Hu is going to decide that China no longer needs its export market in the United States because we have reduced our budget deficit?

Of course, this is absurd. China's decision to prop up the dollar is not going to be affected by the size of the US budget deficit. Which means that the US trade deficit and our borrowings from China are not going to be affected by the budget deficit. If we are interested in reducing our borrowings from China, then we should be focused on reducing the value of the dollar, not the budget deficit.

So, why do all the deficit hawks talk about borrowing money from China? They do it for the same reason that George HW Bush talked about Willie Horton when he was running against Michael Dukakis. It works.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


After So Many Policy Failures, Are Liberals Now Irrelevant? (J.T. YOUNG, 04/18/2011, IBD)

Liberals upset with Obama's Wednesday deficit speech don't realize what's at stake ... for them. Yes, in part it was about getting the nation's fiscal house in order. And yes, it was about the president's re-election.

But it was wholly about an even bigger question for the left: Can liberals govern America?

To say Washington's fiscal house is overspent is to understate. The federal government spent more in 2010 than the amount of 2001's entire national debt (debt held by the public).

It took in enough tax revenues last year to have balanced the 2003 budget. Yet Washington overspent by more in 2010 than it spent in total in 1991 — or the entire national debt of 1984. The previous two years, federal spending consumed on average one quarter of all America produced. Its overspending has equaled one 10th of all America produced. The nation's debt as a percentage of its economy is almost double (from 32.5% to 62.1%) what it was in 2001.

...although, in fairness, that's entirely a function of the Peace Dividend, which the next president will likewise reap. If Mr. Obama were an executive and understood economics he'd be demanding that dividend right now.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


The Really Smart Phone: Researchers are harvesting a wealth of intimate detail from our cellphone data, uncovering the hidden patterns of our social lives, travels, risk of disease—even our political views. (ROBERT LEE HOTZ , 4/23/11, WSJ)

Advances in statistics, psychology and the science of social networks are giving researchers the tools to find patterns of human dynamics too subtle to detect by other means. At Northeastern University in Boston, network physicists discovered just how predictable people could be by studying the travel routines of 100,000 European mobile-phone users.

After analyzing more than 16 million records of call date, time and position, the researchers determined that, taken together, people's movements appeared to follow a mathematical pattern. The scientists said that, with enough information about past movements, they could forecast someone's future whereabouts with 93.6% accuracy.

The pattern held true whether people stayed close to home or traveled widely, and wasn't affected by the phone user's age or gender.

"For us, people look like little particles that move in space and that occasionally communicate with each other," said Northeastern physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, who led the experiment. "We have turned society into a laboratory where behavior can be objectively followed."

Only recently have academics had the opportunity to study commercial cellphone data. Until recently, most cellphone providers saw little value in mining their own data for social relationships, researchers say. That's now changing, although privacy laws restrict how the companies can share their records.

Several cellphone companies in Europe and Africa lately have donated large blocks of calling records for research use, with people's names and personal details stripped out.

"For the scientific purpose, we don't care who the people are," said medical sociologist Nicholas Christakis at Harvard University, who is using phone data to study how diseases, behavior and ideas spread through social networks, and how companies can use these webs of relationships to influence drug marketing and health-care decisions.

His work focuses on "social contagion"—the idea that our relationships with people around us, which are readily mapped through cellphone usage, shape our behavior in sometimes unexpected ways. By his calculation, for instance, obesity is contagious. So is loneliness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 AM


The Cross (Prince)

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry, he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross
Ghettos 2 the left of us
Flowers 2 the right
There'll be bread 4 all of us
If we can just bear the cross

Sweet song of salvation
A pregnant mother sings
She lives in starvation
Her children need all that she brings

We all have our problems
Some BIG, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry 4 he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross

Ghettos 2 the left of us
Flowers 2 the right
There'll be bread 4 all, y'all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

We all have our problems
Some are BIG, some are small
Soon all of our problems, y'all
Will be taken by the cross

The cross

The cross

[originally posted: 3/25/05]

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April 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Obama Chose The Wrong 2012 Issue (John B. Judis, 4/22/11, New Republic)

[F]or the last five months, Republicans have been harping on deficits as the cause of the economic downturn and continuing unemployment. The economy and jobs are still voters' top concern, but in the latest Gallup poll, deficits and spending come in second. That's not because the Congressional Budget Office suddenly found a river of red ink, or because interest rates shot up, or because the unemployment rate has gone up. It's because Republicans have advanced the deficit as the reason for the problems in economy and jobs. They filled in the gap between fact and perception with the idea that things are getting worse and that the reason they are getting worse is because of the deficits.

I am not sure exactly why Republicans have focused on deficits. I suspect it is a combination of reasons. Some of them don't understand modern economics; many of them want to use the peril of the deficit to justify cuts in government spending on social programs; and some of them, perhaps, want to arrest the recovery to improve their election chances in 2012. But the effect is to nullify Democrats' ability to offer popular programs that will fuel growth, save jobs, and reduce people's insecurity.

Obama has, sadly, bought the Republican argument for why the economy is in trouble. This week, he went to a community college in Northern Virginia to rally students there to the cause of the deficit. Here's my expurgated version:

"For a long time, Washington acted like deficits didn't matter. ... And as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch. ... Now, if we don't close this deficit, now that the economy has begun to grow again, if we keep on spending more than we take in, it's going to cause serious damage to our economy."

Obama has tried to carve a liberal niche within this retrograde political framework by charging that the Republican plan to cut the deficit would get rid of Medicare and would keep the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. That's all well and good, but Obama is still playing on Republican turf. And it might not work. The last Democratic presidential candidate who based his campaign on deficits was Walter Mondale in 1984. Mondale probably would have lost to Ronald Reagan in any case, but he would have won more than Minnesota and the District of Columbia. The other Democratic candidate who tried to make deficits an issue was Al Gore in 2000, and he lost to a candidate he should have defeated easily. And you can be sure that Bill Clinton in 1992 didn't focus on deficits in running against George H.W. Bush.

I know Obama and his political advisers think that by emphasizing deficits they are going to win over independent voters. But as I have argued earlier, Obama is pursuing a political fiction. The independents he needs to attract are primarily white working-class voters in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They may care about deficits as a stand-in for what they see as wasteful spending on undeserving groups. But their primary concern, as they demonstrated in 2008, is jobs and the economy.

...but they are an aesthetic problem, which is far more important as a matter of political narrative. What ought to make them important to Democrats though is the nature of the aesthetic problem. Huge budget deficits are ugly enough to us that they make us believe that government has, in some sense, failed. To the extent that Democrats are the party of government then it is in their best interest to fix the problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


It's a college town, so umpteen copies of Barack Obama's bios were $3 each, but was able to snap up the lone copy of Mark Steyn's America Alone for $1.

Also for $1, spotted a copy of William F. Buckley's Hymnal and just knew it had to be a copy he'd given to Jeffrey Hart, sure enough there's a To Jeff plate inside the front cover.

Didn't buy it, but the best book bit spotted was Queen Victoria, Zombie Hunter, which sports the tag line "She loved her country. She hated zombies."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Sterilizing Those Pesky Humans: Earth Day with Paul Ehrlich (Paul Kengor, 4/23/2011, Townhall)

What Ehrlich wrote is jaw-dropping. Dealing first with pesky Americans, he wrote (pages 130-31):

"[T]he first task is population control at home. How do we go about it? Many of my colleagues feel that some sort of compulsory birth regulation would be necessary to achieve such control. One plan often mentioned involves the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired population size. Those of you who are appalled at such a suggestion can rest easy. The option isn’t even open to us, since no such substance exists. If the choice now is either such additives or catastrophe, we shall have catastrophe. It might be possible to develop such population control tools, although the task would not be simple. Either the additive would have to operate equally well and with minimum side effects against both sexes, or some way would have to be found to direct it only to one sex and shield the other."

As for pesky (non-white) folks in places like India, Ehrlich was less patient. On pages 151-52, he favored “sterilizing all Indian males with three or more children,” and with the direct help of the U.S. government. “We should have volunteered logistic support in the form of helicopters, vehicles, and surgical instruments,” advised Ehrlich. “We should have sent doctors to aid in the program by setting up centers for training para-medical personnel to do vasectomies.” [...]

Today, Ehrlich remains an icon, holding a plum spot at Stanford as the Bing Professor of Population Studies. Because he’s a liberal, a “progressive,” the 78-year-old has gotten away with this, much like Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood matron, who ran a “Negro Project,” spoke at a KKK rally, labeled certain pesky people “human weeds” and “imbeciles” and “morons,” and preached “race improvement.”

For icons of the left, there’s no need to say “I’m sorry.” The sins of the fathers and mothers of the progressive left are buried with the trash, never to be recycled, especially at Earth Day.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Germany considers alcohol ignition locks for drunk drivers (Deutsche-Welle, 4/20/11)

The German government is considering introducing locks that prevent car engines from starting if the driver is intoxicated. Drunk drivers in Germany could keep their license if they agree to have the device installed.

Too late once they've got a conviction on their record, or, even worse, killed somebody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Syrians demand 'overthrow of regime' at mass funerals (REUTERS , 04/23/2011)

Tens of thousands of chanting Syrians demanded the "overthrow of the regime" on Saturday at funerals for scores of people killed by security forces in the country's bloodiest pro-democracy protests, witnesses said.

Funerals were held in Damascus and at least one of its suburbs and in the southern village of Izra'a, where mourners also chanted "Bashar al-Assad, you traitor. Long live Syria, down with Bashar."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Gen. Stark: More than a man with a motto (DAN TUOHY, 4/22/11, New Hampshire Union Leader)

The Friends of Stark Park, joining forces again this Monday with the Sons of the American Revolution, are looking to raise public awareness of the Revolutionary War hero beyond his famous words: "Live Free or Die; Death is not the worst of evils."

A celebration of John Stark Day at the Stark family grave site is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday.

"The significance of it is huge," said Mike Rounds, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. "He made a huge contribution to the American Revolution."

Still, Rounds said, New Hampshire can do more to recognize Stark's role in the Revolutionary War and celebrate New Hampshire's history in the birth of the nation.

Stark (1728-1822) was born in Londonderry, served in Rogers Rangers, fought in the battle of Bunker Hill, and later in the 1777 Battle of Bennington, which led to British Gen. John Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga.

A statue of Revilutionary War Gen. John Stark in Manchester's Stark Park, is ready for General Stark Day on Monday.

It was in 1809 when Stark, unable to make a reunion with his comrades, offered his toast: Live Free or Die; Death is not the worst of evils. It wasn't until 1945 that "Live Free or Die" became the official state motto.

"Now, my men, yonder are the Hessians; they were bought for seven pounds tenpence a man. Are you worth more? Prove it. To-night the American flag floats over yonder hill, or Molly Stark sleeps a widow!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Electric dreams: the charge ahead: A future free of petrol is just around the corner and the race is on to capture the market (Stephen Ottley, 4/23/11, SMH)

The race to find an alternative to fossil fuels has been intensifying and is set to reach a critical moment over the next 18 months.

Electric cars are ready to hit the mass market with Mitsubishi, Nissan and Holden all poised to begin offering Australians the option of ditching the internal combustion engine by the end of next year.

But electric cars are just one part of the alternative, because there will not be a single like-for-like replacement for petrol. Instead, fully electric, range-extended electric, hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, ethanol as well as unleaded and diesel will all compete for our attention.

Electric cars have the early advantage and look set to become the most serious competition to petrol. But a number of obstacles stand between today and the scenario played out above.

Infrastructure needs to be built; vehicle costs need to come down; Australia needs to get more energy from green power; governments need to be more supportive; and, most important of all, consumer attitudes need to change.

While electric cars are ready, perhaps the real question is: are we ready for them?

Electric cars are nothing new. They've been around almost as long as cars powered by the internal combustion engine. But it wasn't until recently that car makers worked out how to build one that offered a useful driving range between recharging, was reliable and was relatively affordable.

Mitsubishi became the first major car maker to offer an electric car in Australia late last year. The tiny i-MiEV city car was offered on a lease arrangement to governments, councils and fleet operators as a would-be teaser of what's to come.

The real breakthrough for electric cars is expected next year when Nissan becomes the first manufacturer to offer a full-size electric hatchback: the Leaf. Later next year Holden is expected to join the electric revolution with its Chevrolet-inspired Volt range-extended electric small sedan.

By producing cars in the most popular segment of the market Nissan and Holden will entice more buyers to make the switch to electric. But even so, both cars are expected to sell in limited numbers for the first couple of years.

That's because while small in size, they won't be small in price. Neither Nissan nor Holden have revealed pricing for their electric cars but they are expected to cost more than $50,000. Nissan Australia's EV [electric vehicle] regional director, Michael Hayes, is confident there will be enough early adopters looking for the next step willing to pay the premium.

''We see [initial Leaf buyers] as the same people that adopted hybrid technology seven, eight years ago,'' Hayes says. ''People who understood the benefits of hybrid technology, they 'got it', and it was in line with their own social conscience and their own agendas. Those people are looking for the next step in personal motoring.''

Extending sales beyond those environmentally conscious early adopters will be the biggest challenges the car makers will face. There are a number of hurdles the industry has to clear, notably implementing charging infrastructure and overcome consumer's ''range-anxiety''; the fear of running out of charge.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


The perils of extreme democracy: California offers a warning to voters all over the world (The Economist, Apr 20th 2011)

It is tempting to accuse those doing the governing. The legislators, hyperpartisan and usually deadlocked, are a pretty rum bunch. The governor, Jerry Brown, who also led the state between 1975 and 1983, has (like his predecessors) struggled to make the executive branch work. But as our special report this week argues, the main culprit has been direct democracy: recalls, in which Californians fire elected officials in mid-term; referendums, in which they can reject acts of their legislature; and especially initiatives, in which the voters write their own rules. Since 1978, when Proposition 13 lowered property-tax rates, hundreds of initiatives have been approved on subjects from education to the regulation of chicken coops.

This citizen legislature has caused chaos. Many initiatives have either limited taxes or mandated spending, making it even harder to balance the budget. Some are so ill-thought-out that they achieve the opposite of their intent: for all its small-government pretensions, Proposition 13 ended up centralising California’s finances, shifting them from local to state government. Rather than being the curb on elites that they were supposed to be, ballot initiatives have become a tool of special interests, with lobbyists and extremists bankrolling laws that are often bewildering in their complexity and obscure in their ramifications. And they have impoverished the state’s representative government. Who would want to sit in a legislature where 70-90% of the budget has already been allocated?

This has been a tragedy for California, but it matters far beyond the state’s borders. Around half of America’s states and an increasing number of countries have direct democracy in some form (article). Next month Britain will have its first referendum for years (on whether to change its voting system), and there is talk of voter recalls for aberrant MPs. The European Union has just introduced the first supranational initiative process. With technology making it ever easier to hold referendums and Western voters ever more angry with their politicians, direct democracy could be on the march.

April 22, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 PM


Grand delusions: Why we're determined to be free (Dan Jones, 19 April 2011, New Scientist)

For now most of us are content to believe that we have control over our own lives, but what would happen if we lost our faith in free will? In recent years some psychologists have been trying to find out. In one study, Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Jonathan Schooler at the University of California, Santa Barbara, asked volunteers to read an excerpt from Francis Crick's book The Astonishing Hypothesis, which argues that "you are nothing but a pack of neurons", with your sense of free will a mere illusion, however persistent. After reading this passage, participants reported weaker belief in free will compared with those who hadn't read it. When given a mathematics test, which presented an opportunity to cheat seemingly without being detected, those whose belief in free will had been eroded were more likely to cheat (Psychological Science, vol 19, p 49).

Another example of the unsettling effects of shaking people's belief in free will comes from the work of Roy Baumeister of Florida State University, Tallahassee. His team asked participants to read either statements that bolstered belief in free will or ones that undermined it. For example: "I am able to override the genetic and environmental factors that sometimes influence my behaviour" versus "A belief in free will contradicts the known fact that the universe is governed by lawful principles of science". The volunteers were then asked how likely they would be to help another person in a range of scenarios, such as giving money to a homeless person or letting someone use their cellphone.

You guessed it: people whose belief in free will was challenged were, on average, less altruistic than the other group. The researchers also found that priming people with anti-free will statements made them behave more aggressively towards strangers, as measured by how much chilli sauce they added to a dish destined to be eaten by someone who had expressed a dislike of hot foods (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol 35, p 260).

We can hardly be surprised that folks hate morality so much they pretend to deny free will.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


The Bible Is Dead; Long Live the Bible (Timothy Beal, 4/19/11, The Chronicle Review)

For many potential Bible readers, that expectation that the Bible is univocal is paralyzing. You notice what seem to be contradictions or tensions between different voices in the text. You can't find an obvious way to reconcile them. You figure that it must be your problem. You don't know how to read it correctly, or you're missing something. If the Bible is God's perfect, infallible Word, then any misunderstanding or ambiguity must be the result of our own depravity. So you either give up or let someone holier than thou tell you "what it really says." I think that's tragic. You're letting someone else impoverish it for you, when in fact you have just brushed up against the rich polyvocality of biblical literature.

The Bible is anything but univocal about anything. It is a cacopho­ny of voices and perspectives, often in conflict with one another. In many ways, those dedicated to removing all potential biblical contradictions, to making the Bible entirely consistent with itself, are no different from irreligious debunkers of the Bible, Christianity, and religion in general. Many from both camps seem to believe that simply demonstrating that the Bible is full of inconsistencies and contradictions is enough to discredit any religious tradition that embraces it as Scripture.

Bible debunkers and Bible defenders are kindred spirits. They agree that the Bible is on trial. They agree on the terms of the debate, and what's at stake, namely the Bible's credibility as God's infallible book. They agree that Christianity stands or falls, triumphs or fails, depending on whether the Bible is found to be inconsistent, to contradict itself. The question for both sides is whether it fails to answer questions, from the most trivial to the ultimate, consistently and reliably.

But you can't fail at something you're not trying to do. To ask whether the Bible fails to give consistent answers or be of one voice with itself presumes that it was built to do so. That's a false presumption, rooted no doubt in thinking of it as the book that God wrote.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


The family that plays together stays together? (University of Texas at Dallas, April 21, 2011, PhysOrg.com)

[P]arents needn’t worry so much, according to Dr. Cuihua (Cindy) Shen, an assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communication at UT Dallas. Her recent research article in the Communication Research journal argues that online games can actually bolster family communication.

“Even though most people think that spending large amounts of time playing online games can be harmful to one's social life, if people play online games with their existing friends and family, game play could actually enhance their social experiences,” Shen said. “An online game thus becomes an additional venue, albeit virtual, for socialization.”

Shen surveyed more than 5,000 gamers about how they use the Internet, their specific activities in the virtual world and their psychosocial well-being for the article, “Unpacking Time Online: Connecting Internet and Massively Multiplayer Online Game Use With Psychosocial Well-Being,” co-written by Dmitri Williams.

According to the study, online games engage 76 percent of all teens and 23 percent of all adults in the United States. Of these games, networked games known as massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) are growing in popularity. The content of these games is based largely on social interactions, which supports the argument that new technologies create social augmentation, as opposed to displacement: “Not only could the Internet enhance one’s everyday communication with family and friends locally and over a distance,” wrote Shen, “it could also enlarge one’s existing social network by bringing together people with shared interest and values in virtual communities.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Syria experiences 'Good Friday massacre': Syria’s security forces stand accused of carrying out a “Good Friday massacre” of more than 50 protesters on one of the bloodiest days yet in the five-week uprising against President (Adrian Blomfield, 22 Apr 2011, The Telegraph)

Across the country, protesters spilling out of mosques were met with live ammunition, sometimes within minutes of Friday prayers ending.

In Damascus, the capital, and towns and cities to the east, west and south, every attempt to challenge the regime was met with the same remorseless vengeance.

By dusk, there were fatalities reported from nine separate demonstrations. Up to 54 people were killed, according to a Daily Telegraph tally of reports by Syrian activists, witnesses and doctors.

Even by the blood-soaked standards of the repression that has characterised the Syrian uprising - at least 220 people have died since protests first began on March 18th - this was killing on a different order of magnitude.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


Here’s Comes the Bus: America’s Fastest Growing Form of Intercity Travel (Joseph Schwieterman, 04/22/2011, New Geography)

Travel by intercity bus is growing at an extraordinary pace: reflecting a rise in travel demand, escalating fuel prices, and investments in new routes. This confluence of factors has propelled scheduled bus service between cities to its highest level in years and has made the intercity bus the country’s fastest growing mode of transportation for the third year in the row. “Curbside operators,” including BoltBus, DC2NY Bus, and Megabus.com, which eschew traditional stations in favor of curbside pickup and provide customers access to WiFi and other amenities, have enjoyed particular success.

The comeback of the intercity bus is noteworthy for the fact that it is taking place without government subsidies or as a result of efforts by planning agencies to promote energy efficient forms of transportation. Instead, it is a market-driven phenomenon that is gradually winning back demographic groups that would have scarcely contemplated setting foot on an intercity bus only a few years ago. Our DePaul University study estimates that curbside operators like Megabus expanded the number of daily departures by 23.9% last year. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, service grew at an even faster rate. [...]

Curbside buses achieve more than 160 passenger-miles per gallon of fuel burned, making them several times more fuel efficient than commercial airplanes and private automobiles, as well as conventional diesel trains. Using the results of a survey we administered to 250 curbside-bus passengers in East Coast and Midwestern revealing how passengers would have traveled had curbside bus service not been available, we estimate that curbside bus service is reducing fuel consumption by about 11 million gallons annually and reducing carbon emission by an estimated 242 million pounds—the equivalent of removing about 23,818 vehicles from the road.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM


Is Equity the Superior Growth Model? (Sarah Treuhaft, David Madland, April 22, 2011, American Progress)

Though some empirical research suggests that inequality is good for growth, a large body of research has found the world to be much more complicated. One significant strand of research finds that there is no tradeoff between equity and growth. In their frequently cited historical analysis, Peter Lindert of the University of California, Davis, and Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard University examine the U.S. economy since colonial times and the British economy over a similarly long period and find no pattern between growth and equality. Instead, they argue that inequality is driven by the supply and demand of labor and capital.

Similarly, researchers such as Oxford University’s Tony Atkinson, Princeton University’s Jonas Pontusson, and Walter Korpi of the Swedish Social Institute have all separately examined whether welfare states designed to increase equality harm economic growth. They all have found strong evidence that it does not.

Perhaps most importantly, a growing body of research argues that inequality is actually harmful to economic growth. Harvard’s Philipe Aghion finds that inequality is negatively related to growth and argues this is largely because of imperfect credit markets that prevent the nonwealthy from making significant economic contributions. And New York University’s William Easterly argues that societies that are not economically polarized have higher levels of growth because they have better institutions and higher levels of human capital accumulation. Easterly analyzed data from 1960 to 1990 in more than 100 countries to conclude that “middle-class societies have more income and growth.”

Then there is the work of Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Dani Rodrik, who studied economic growth in the period between 1960 and 1985 in advanced and developing countries. They find that countries with high inequality have lower subsequent levels of growth and argue this is because the poor in unequal countries promote policies that stunt growth. A host of other researchers have similar findings and arguments.

While most of this research is based largely on analyses of developing countries, a small but growing literature specifically focusing on the United States is finding that equality is good for growth. The University of Geneva’s Ugo Panizza’s econometric analysis of economic growth among U.S. states from 1940 to 1980 shows that equality leads to growth. Similarly, in an econometric study of U.S. economic growth at the state level between 1960 to 2000, Ohio State University’s Mark Partridge found that a greater share of income going to the middle-income quintiles within states leads to higher levels of growth. And after analyzing the growth of 74 U.S. metropolitan regions in the 1980s, Manuel Pastor at the University of Southern California found that greater equality within regions (measured by poverty reductions in central cities) corresponds with stronger regional economic growth (measured by growth in per capita income).

In a paper published by the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank, Randall Eberts of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research and colleagues analyzed growth in 118 regions in the 1994–2004 period and found that racial inclusion and income equality were positively correlated with economic growth measures including employment, output, productivity, and per capita income. A later analysis by Pastor and Chris Benner at the University of California, Davis, found that concentrated poverty, income inequality, and racial segregation exerted a significantly stronger drag on growth in older industrial cities— the same places where growth is most needed—than on cities with stronger markets.

Although the new literature arguing that equality is good for economic growth is still in the early stages, it is clear that the old view of inequality being unambiguously good for economic growth is inaccurate. There is no need to choose between growth and equality.

...we don't have to choose between the two, when we can simply reform the social welfare net so that it boosts savings.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


Obama-Hoyer bond forms as Pelosi rejects budget deal (Mike Lillis and Bob Cusack, 04/22/11, The Hill)

Hoyer’s emergence is partly by political chance. With Republicans controlling the House, Obama and Senate Democrats have been forced to the right.

At the same time, however, GOP leaders in the lower chamber have struggled to rally enough votes to pass legislation, making them reliant on Democrats. The unusual dynamics cater well to Hoyer, a fiscal centrist known for his working relationships with Blue Dogs and GOP leaders.

“If you’re going to have anything done in the House [that’s] bipartisan, Steny Hoyer is going to have to be involved,” said a House Democratic aide who works for a Blue Dog.

Hoyer, who has taken a backseat to Pelosi for a decade, has been quick to seize the opportunity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


The Flight of Japan's Immigrant Workers: Low-paid immigrant workers are fleeing the earthquake zone, and jobs are going begging (Drake Bennett, 4/21/11, Business Week)

The Mar. 11 disaster and the nuclear crisis have badly wounded Japan and its economy—from the tragic loss of life to the destruction of plants and ports. For many businesses, the disaster has had another effect: It has scared off the foreign workers they rely on.

Japan's aging population and extremely restrictive immigration policy, combined with a highly educated younger generation uninterested in menial labor, have created a shortage of workers willing to do the dirty, dangerous, or monotonous work that immigrants do in much of the rest of the wealthy world. Food processing and textile plants, restaurants, farms, and home health-care agencies have had difficulty filling job openings.

To help address that, Japan has created a temporary workforce, mostly from China, under what it calls its foreign worker trainee program. These workers spend three years in Japan, ostensibly learning a skill that they can take home with them. Immigrants rights groups and human rights lawyers, however, charge that the program simply provides companies with cheap, pliant labor while blocking actual immigration. In lawsuits, trainee workers have reported being paid as little as half the minimum wage in their first year. The minimum wage is usually between $8 and $10 an hour.

The aftermath of the earthquake suggests another weakness of the program: Some industries have come to depend on workers who are actively discouraged from putting down roots of any kind. When catastrophe occurs, Japan's trainee workers have little reason to stick around. And while they make up only a small fraction of the overall workforce, they're vital to certain parts of its agricultural, service, and manufacturing sectors. The Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (Jitco), the agency that administers the program, estimates that 70 percent or 80 percent of its more than 150,000 temporary workers have left the country since Mar. 11 and haven't come back.

The Japan Agricultural Cooperative Assn. chapter in Ibaraki, a prefecture at the southern end of the coastal area hit by the tsunami, reports that it lost 387 of its 1,591 foreign trainee workers through the end of March. Half the 1,500 foreign workers at the Hidakaya noodle shop chain went home after the earthquake. Recruit, the biggest manpower agency, is having trouble finding candidates for low-wage openings.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Searching for Hayek in Cairo: To make democracy stick, the Arab Spring now needs an economic revolution. (MATTHEW KAMINSKI, 4/21/11, WSJ)

Before 2005, Egypt was a stagnant and state-dominated economy. But after the opening that year—including the introduction of a flat tax that increased revenues four-fold—average annual growth above 6% beat similar Arab countries like Jordan or Syria. Economic activity started to come out of the shadows. The banking system was cleaned up. Red tape, while still notoriously bad, improved enough for Egypt to make a dramatic jump up to the 18th spot on the World Bank's rankings of easiest countries in which to do business.

Four days into the January protests, President Mubarak fired the government of Mr. Nazif, who now sits in prison. Aside from appeasing public anger, he hoped to secure the military's support. The brass didn't like reforms or Gamal Mubarak, a banker who had his eye on daddy's job. The privatization of state companies—often to benefit Mubarak cronies—and pledges of transparency and competition threatened the military's opaque hold on, it is said, up to a third of Egypt's economy. Two weeks later, after protests swelled, the generals pushed the Mubaraks out.

To the public at large, Gamal Mubarak symbolizes obscene wealth for the elites, while roughly half of Egypt lives on less than $2 a day and can't read or write. "Egypt did very well—just for 100 people," says protest organizer Abdullah Helmy. As Russia showed in the 1990s, privatization without proper domestic competition and rule of law enriches insiders, enrages the rest, and yields limited economic benefits.

But however flawed and limited, the reforms have helped Egypt stomach the economic blows of revolution. Tourism plummeted and Cairo's stock market stayed shut for over a month, until late March. Gross domestic product this year is expected to grow 2.5%, less than half the pre-revolutionary forecast. The interim government is looking for funding from the International Monetary Fund and others to cover a budget hole, but there's little sense of desperation or shortages of food or other staples. Egypt built up reserves to $36 billion; the central bank has used at least $6 billion of it to prop up the Egyptian pound since February.

"The economic developments that Egypt saw in the last five years did not filter to the masses," says Yasser El Mallawany, the chief executive of EFG Hermes, the biggest investment bank in the Middle East. "It was not people friendly. But if the growth [in 2005-10] had not been achieved, I don't know from where you'd feed 80 million people today."

Pity the poor Arabs, they would have their revolution at a point where the chattering classes have despaired of free markets. Those lucky Eastern Europeans were liberated when even the Left was having to acknowledge that only capitalism works.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Patients Are Not Consumers (PAUL KRUGMAN, 4/21/11, NY Times)

Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough.

Except that most people need the car they purchase themselves. Rather few need the "care" that someone else buys for them. Your relationship with the salesman at the dealership is more personal (and professional) than your interaction with the medical system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Nouriel Roubini On The One Big Reason To Be OPTIMISTIC About The National Debt (Joe Weisenthal, Apr. 20, 2011, 2011, Business Insider)

In a note this morning that he put [out] with fellow analyst Arnab Das, [Nouriel Roubini] writes:

The United States has the most manageable fiscal issues of any major advanced economy because federal, state and local revenues as a share of GDP are very low, for cyclical and other reasons. Therefore, fiscal balance can be restored by fiscal adjustment without major economic difficulty in the near term.

In other words, US revenue and spending can be brought closer into line via raising more revenue (as a share of GDP) and so in reality this means raising taxes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Blame Game: Has the green movement been a miserable flop? (Bradford Plumer, April 21, 2011, New Republic)

What the hell went wrong? For months now, environmentalists have been asking themselves that question, and it’s easy to see why. After Barack Obama vaulted into the White House in 2008, it really did look like the United States was, at long last, going to do something about global warming. Scientists were united on the causes and perils of climate change. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth had stoked public concern. Green groups in D.C. had rallied around a consensus solution—a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions—and had garnered support from a few major companies like BP and Duke Energy. Both Obama and his opponent, John McCain, were on board. And, so, environmental advocates prepared a frontal assault on Congress. May as well order the victory confetti, right?

Instead, the climate push was … a total flop. By late 2010, the main cap-and-trade bill had fizzled out in the Senate; not a single Republican would agree to vote for it. Greens ended up winning zilch from Congress, not even minor legislation to boost renewable electricity or energy efficiency. Worse, after the 2010 midterms, the House GOP became overrun with climate deniers, while voters turned apathetic about global warming. All those flashy eco-ads and all that tireless eco-lobbying only got us even further from solving climate change than we were in 2008.

...but then they cast it as a fight between intellectuals and their skeptics, the latter group being the majority of Americans throughout our history. If they wanted to effect change they should have made it a simple matter of patriotism, of liberating America from dependence on foreign oil and sticking it to dictatorships. But there's the rub, they don't care about the change, just the fight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Always locked and loaded: Luke Scott's free-speaking ways may draw concern, but not to those who know him (Amy K. Nelson, 4/20/11, ESPN.com)

The reason I'm even here at this shooting range in late February during baseball's spring training, holding this gun, is that Scott is the left fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, and I'm trying to understand him better. Scott is one of baseball's most complex characters. His questions about President Barack Obama's U.S. citizenship put him in headlines during an otherwise-quiet offseason. He speaks bluntly and with heavy opinions. He's fluent in Spanish and loves Latin culture, but in the clubhouse, he'll make potentially inflammatory comments to a Latino player who is his best friend -- throwing plantain chips at him to keep him in line. He wears religion on his sleeve.

Given all that, the simple assumption is that Scott is a right-wing nut, a borderline racist and a loudmouth redneck ballplayer who should keep his mouth shut.

But it's not that simple. Luke Scott will require a deeper line of thinking. [...]

Scott talks about these basic principles -- honor, integrity, accountability, hard work -- and says they all trace back to the founders of this country. He espouses them frequently, especially to his teammate and close friend, outfielder Felix Pie. The day before going to the shooting range, I mention to Scott that I want to explore his relationship with the Dominican Republic-born Pie, because it's a part of his life that few outside the clubhouse seem to know about.

He smiles.

"Felix is my friend," he says. "I give him a hard time. The reason why I give him a hard time is because there are certain people you deal with and you go up and talk to them, and it doesn't work. They don't understand.

"I tell him about some of the ways he's acted: 'Look, you're acting like an animal, you're acting like a savage.'"

Scott turns to his locker and pulls out a bag of plantain chips.

"So I throw bananas in his helmet. Here are my banana chips to remind him that whenever he acts like an animal, 'Hey, that's what other people are thinking. They're just not telling you, but that's what they're thinking about. And I'm telling you so that you're aware of that so you can make a cognitive decision to not behave like that.' I would want someone to tell me that instead of letting you making a jerk of yourself."

Why would Scott choose potentially loaded words like "animal" and "savage" -- and how can they not offend either his friend or anyone in the locker room who overhears? Most teammates asked about it laugh or smile. They cite it as part of the two players' playful relationship, part of life in a big league clubhouse -- there are things that fly in there that wouldn't in the outside world.

Adam Jones, who is black, says it doesn't bother him because he knows Scott is a good person and the words do not come from a bad place. If it bothered Pie, who is a dark-skinned Dominican, it might be a different situation.

"He's not a redneck racist; his beliefs are his beliefs," Jones says. "Their relationship is uncanny, and Pie ribs him just as much. I don't think Luke means any racist thing by it. Trust me, if I see racism, I'll say some s---. Quickly.

"I've told Luke there are some things you should and shouldn't do that might offend … if he crossed the line I would have already said something."

Everyone seemingly has a similar refrain: From the outside it seems offensive, but if you know Scott, it's harmless.

Joe Inglett and Scott were teammates with the Cleveland Indians' Class A Kinston team in 2002. He says Scott was always opinionated, mostly about religion and guns. He doesn't remember him being very political. Willy Taveras was with the Indians then, too, and Inglett remembers Scott using similar words.

"That's how they talk to each other, you know, how friends talk to each other," says Inglett, now with the Astros. "It's not in a derogatory way, though. I will never, ever take anything he says seriously. He's an A-plus dude."

Pie laughs when asked about the names Scott calls him.

"Like 'Bogeyman?'" Pie says. "Luke is my friend. He's like a brother. It doesn't bother me because I'm the kind of person [where] you're going to know when you do something that bothers me. This is my friend. He doesn't hurt me, people know that. If you met him you can see that, too."

One Orioles team source explains it like this: "He's not John Rocker. He took the time to be bilingual; he spends more time with his Spanish teammates than Americans. This ain't John Rocker, but he says some John Rocker type s---. My question is, why?"

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Why Obama agreed to unleash Predator drones on Qaddafi forces: President Obama has approved the use of Predator drones in Libya. The drones represent a 'unique' capability that NATO needed in an increasingly urban war, Pentagon officials say. (Mark Sappenfield, April 21, 2011, CS Monitor)

The decision points to a clear need in the evolving conflict. Predator drones have proven their value in Iraq and along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for carrying out targeted strikes. In Libya, the war has increasingly moved into urban areas like Misurata, with media reports suggesting Libyan government forces are using unmarked vehicles and dressing like civilians.

NATO forces, which are leading the international coalition against Mr. Qaddafi, do not have armed drones. That gap in NATO's capabilities is further evidence of the indispensable role that the US alone can fulfill in armed humanitarian interventions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


American-born demonstrators wash immigrants' feet: The traditional Christian act of humility, after passage of an Arizona-style illegal immigration bill, is met with a mixed reaction in conservative Cobb County, Georgia. (Richard Fausset, 4/21/11, Los Angeles Times)

[T]hey filed out of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church on Thursday morning to march quietly past the ranch houses and quickie marts and strip malls of suburban Georgia, toward the old town square in Marietta, about eight miles off. There, in imitation of Jesus, who washed his apostles' feet the day before his execution, the American-born among them would wash the feet of a dozen immigrants.

The Maundy Thursday Christian tradition was intended to be an act of humility and solidarity. To some, it was also an act of provocation in Cobb County, a conservative Atlanta suburb where the Latino population grew nearly 80% in the last decade.

"Using Easter and invoking the name of God to advance the open-borders agenda is not only an insult to most thinking Christians, but creepy and transparent," wrote D.A. King, head of the Cobb County-based Dustin Inman Society, which opposes illegal immigration, in an email. "I have seen one of these marches, complete with cross-carrying professional victims and self-comparisons to Christ. It is quite nauseating."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


The Ultimate Baseball Book: a review of The Cambridge Companion to Baseball edited by Leonard Cassuto and Stephen Partridge (Joseph Finder, 4/21/11, Daily Beast)

The eight-page chronology of the game that starts the book is worth the price of admission, almost. The 15 articles and seven short “interchapters” that follow present the Plimptonian hypothesis. But they also serve as a reminder that in a surprising number of ways, the history of baseball over the past century and a half has been the history of the United States. Articles like Leslie Heaphy’s piece on “Baseball and the color line” encapsulate the nation’s complex history of race relations, and Matthew Frye Jacobson’s essay on Curt Flood’s fight for free agency tells a story that still has the power to shock, 40 years later. Chapters on the growth of baseball in East Asia, Japan, and Latin America not only explore the nature of cultural hybridization (and you might even say imperialism), but offer insights into baseball as a microcosm for the global economy, for better or worse. We’re a net importer of baseball to Japan, for instance: Major League Baseball derives income from licensing and touring in Japan, and baseball tourism has become big business for Japanese travel to the U.S. By contrast, baseball has had a major impact on the economies of Latin American nations like Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, which export their best players to the U.S., along with certain questionable practices like steroid use (common in minor-league ball in those countries).

Alone among American sports, arguably, baseball is both art and commerce, with a folkloric tradition approaching religion. No sport has come close to generating the volume or diversity of artifacts—relics, almost—that baseball has, as David F. Venturo points out. Baseball fans are compulsive collectors, whether of broken bats or game-used balls, and thus baseball creates its own sub-economy within the larger economy. Venturo’s essay on the iconic Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card—“the palimpsest on which people write their baseball fantasies”—is fascinating and might even be funny, if anything that goes for $2.8 million at auction can be said to be funny.

The book’s most sobering and valuable article may be the full-length chapter on “Cheating in Baseball.” Cassuto and Partridge have structured this book so artfully that by the time we reach David Luban and Daniel Luban’s essay, their assertion that “cheating belongs to the fabric of the game” makes perfect sense. The preceding articles lay out all the economic and social reasons for cheating, and then the Lubans slip us another one: “the odd seductiveness of cheating in the eyes of fans has to do with our national love-hate relationship with formal rules and authority.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 AM


The Spanish Model: a review of Spain: A Unique History by Stanley G. Payne (Matthew Kaminski, April 20, 2011, New Republic)

Eight decades on, the Civil War is still contentious for historians and politicians. Payne seeks to rescue this complex conflict from mythmakers of various stripes. Though it was a prelude to the clash between totalitarianism (both fascist and, until “Operation Barbarosa” in 1941, Soviet communist) and liberal democracy—both sides in Spain of course carried all three of those banners—the war had uniquely and familiar Spanish roots. The war pitted the revolutionaries of the Republican Left, and its communist allies, against the counterrevolutionaries of the Catholic Right, who were eventually backed by the military. Payne has written elsewhere at length on the war and its causes, and here rather briefly but clearly gives an honest account without favor to either side. While many of its supporters thought they were battling for democracy, the Republican government pushed religious and economic reforms that didn’t enjoy the support, Payne reckons, of more than a fifth of the Spanish public. Though elected in free elections, the Republic ended up trampling on the constitution, arming the unions and welcoming in the Soviets. These were no pure democrats.

No more so, of course, were those on the other side. The military rebelled, won the backing of fascists in Italy and Germany, and committed a larger share of atrocities during and of course exclusively in the purges after the war. The Spaniards were not fascists of the classic type; before the 1936 rebellion, Payne says, the military did not even lean particularly hard to the right. The nationalist right in Spain, he adds (in a judgment that will rankle some), resembled less Germany or Italy of the time than Austria or some of the Central European authoritarian regimes, such as Poland under Józef Piłsudski. Simply put, the absence of a “liberal center” sank the democratic experiment again in the 1930s, though with a far bloodier toll than in past civil conflicts. Spain’s punishment was to end up with Franco for the next forty years, missing out on the democratic awakening in the parts of Europe liberated by the Americans.

The Generalissimo looks slightly better with time, and Payne offers a useful reassessment. Though fully aware of Franco’s crimes and personal limitations, he chalks up the rise of modern Spain in no small part to Franco—“the most successful counterrevolutionary of the 20th century and in terms of the positive transformation of his country, the most successful dictator.” He repressed his opponents, got into bed with Hitler, and kept Spain a dowdy backwater for far too long. Yet unlike most other dictators, Franco did lay the ground for a transition to constitutional monarchy. Payne calls Spain the “first example of a democratization from the inside out, in which the laws and institutions of the authoritarian regime were used to carry out a complete transformation into a democracy.”

Fascists who did not lay the groundwork for the transition to democracy are the rarity. Franco is archetypal, not exceptional.

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April 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Liverpool's mammoth £25m-a-year Warrior kit deal rewrites the record books (Sportsmail, 22nd April 2011, Daily Mail)

Liverpool have wrapped up a £25m-a-year kit deal with Boston-based company Warrior Sports — a record for English football and twice what adidas currently pay.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:35 PM


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...to be mocked by the Pirates

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Invitation to Israeli Leader Puts Obama on the Spot (HELENE COOPER, 4/20/11, NY Times)

A Republican invitation for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address Congress next month is highlighting the tensions between President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu and has kicked off a bizarre diplomatic race over who will be the first to lay out a new proposal to reopen the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

For three months, White House officials have been debating whether the time has come for Mr. Obama to make a major address on the region’s turmoil, including the upheaval in the Arab world, and whether he should use the occasion to propose a new plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

One administration official said that course was backed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the president himself, but opposed by Dennis B. Ross, the president’s senior adviser on the Middle East.

As the administration has been pondering, Mr. Netanyahu, fearful that his country would lose ground with any Obama administration plan, has been considering whether to pre-empt the White House with a proposal of his own, before a friendly United States Congress, according to American officials and diplomats from the region.

There's nothing for Palestine to gain in negotiations with statehood a fait accompli at this point. Israel and America will make concessions after the announcement without the new state having to give anything up.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


Attack on 'blasphemous' art work fires debate on role of religion in France (Angelique Chrisafis, 4/18/11, guardian.co.uk)

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.

Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an "anti-blasphemy" campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon. [...]

Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianize France, launched an online petition and mobilised other fundamentalist groups. The staunchly conservative archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called Piss Christ "odious" and said he wanted this "trash" taken off the gallery walls. Last week the gallery complained of "extremist harassment" by fundamentalist Christian groups who wanted the work banned in France.

Lambert, one of France's best known art dealers, complained he was being "persecuted" by extremists who had sent him tens of thousands of complaint emails and bombarded the museum with spam. He likened the atmosphere to "a return to the middle ages".

France should be so lucky.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Syrians rally in large numbers ahead of massive protests Friday (Daily Star, April 21, 2011)

Syrians took to the streets in large numbers in Homs, Daraa and Aleppo Wednesday as the country’s growing protest movement vowed to stage the biggest rallies to date Friday.

The protests went ahead despite a concession by the government Tuesday which approved legislation ending the state of emergency in force for the last 48 years.
“We are preparing for a huge demonstration Friday,” said an activist in the southern city of Daraa, where anti-government protests first erupted last month and later spread nationwide.

Four-thousand students from Daraa and surrounding areas protested near the city’s Al-Omari Mosque.

Activists also said dozens of students protested Wednesday at Aleppo University in the country’s north, adding there were confrontations on campus between pro- and anti-government students.

In Homs, protesters’ chants demanded “the downfall of the regime,” defying a heavy deployment of security forces and an order by officials to stop all forms of demonstration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Majority of Tea Party supporters oppose cuts to Medicare, Medicaid: poll (Aliyah Shahid, 4/20/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

The government-blasting Tea Party doesn't want any changes to two of the government's biggest programs.

The vast majority of Tea Party supporters - 70% - oppose cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, a new McClatchy-Marist poll found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


The weird popularity of real-life Quidditch: The Harry Potter-inspired game is becoming more than a campus goof. It has full-contact action -- and it has brooms (Robert Ito, 4/19/11, Salon)

It's the second day of the Quidditch Western Cup, and two players, one male, one female, have just collided on the field. Both are flat on their backs, neither one moving, so the EMT walks over to take a look. After a minute or so, one player sits up, her face pink as a bad sunburn; the other is still thinking about getting up, but hasn't quite yet. It was a brutal, high-speed smack, but nothing one wouldn't see at any hard-fought soccer match, except for the fact that the two combatants weren't even playing in the same match. One of them, it seems, had come flying into the other from an adjoining field. And then there are the brooms -- yes, brooms -- which, moments before impact, both players had been gripping between their legs.

Welcome to the wild and weird sport of Muggle Quidditch, where boundary lines are suggestions, four balls are in play at any given time, and every player -- except for the elusive golden Snitch -- dashes about with large, bristly broomsticks held mid-thigh. Six years ago, the game was just a cool idea hatched by a group of students at Vermont's Middlebury College; today, there are more than 700 teams on high school and college campuses worldwide. Adapted from the high-flying sport popularized in the Harry Potter books and movies, the earthbound version boasts a governing body (the International Quidditch Association); a smart, funny magazine (the Monthly Seer); a World Cup competition, which, last year, drew 20,000 spectators; and an ever-expanding base of players and fans from San Diego to Seoul.

After the brooms, the first thing one notices about the sport is just how fast and physical it can be. Here at the Western Cup, a player got hit so hard it knocked out his contact lenses.

...he had extra pairs of bifocals in his knapsack.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


What Defines a Meme?: Our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate and evolve (James Gleick, May 2011, Smithsonian magazine)

What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life.’ It is information, words, instructions,” Richard Dawkins declared in 1986. Already one of the world’s foremost evolutionary biologists, he had caught the spirit of a new age. The cells of an organism are nodes in a richly interwoven communications network, transmitting and receiving, coding and decoding. Evolution itself embodies an ongoing exchange of information between organism and environment. “If you want to understand life,” Dawkins wrote, “don’t think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology.”

We have become surrounded by information technology; our furniture includes iPods and plasma displays, and our skills include texting and Googling. But our capacity to understand the role of information has been sorely taxed. “TMI,” we say. Stand back, however, and the past does come back into focus.

The rise of information theory aided and abetted a new view of life. The genetic code—no longer a mere metaphor—was being deciphered. Scientists spoke grandly of the biosphere: an entity composed of all the earth’s life-forms, teeming with information, replicating and evolving. And biologists, having absorbed the methods and vocabulary of communications science, went further to make their own contributions to the understanding of information itself.

Jacques Monod, the Parisian biologist who shared a Nobel Prize in 1965 for working out the role of messenger RNA in the transfer of genetic information, proposed an analogy: just as the biosphere stands above the world of nonliving matter, so an “abstract kingdom” rises above the biosphere. The denizens of this kingdom? Ideas.

“Ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms,” he wrote. “Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role.”

Ideas have “spreading power,” he noted—“infectivity, as it were”—and some more than others. An example of an infectious idea might be a religious ideology that gains sway over a large group of people. The American neurophysiologist Roger Sperry had put forward a similar notion several years earlier, arguing that ideas are “just as real” as the neurons they inhabit. Ideas have power, he said:

Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet.

In the Beginning was the Word....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Sam Fuld’s Value to the Rays Goes Beyond Numbers (TYLER KEPNER, 4/19/11, NY Times)

Samuel Babson Fuld was 10 pounds at birth, so chunky that the nurse in the delivery room told his parents, Ken Fuld and Amanda Merrill, that their son would grow up to be a football player. They called him Sumo Sam.

He never grew into the body of a hulking lineman or a mammoth wrestler. Sumo Sam adored baseball as a child in New Hampshire, not only playing it but studying the meaning within its numbers. By age 5, he carried around The Complete Handbook of Baseball, a pocket-sized paperback with the statistics of every player in the majors. On long car rides, he would call out totals for hits and at-bats and quiz his parents on the corresponding batting average.

“It was probably a pretty odd hobby for a little kid,” Fuld said. “But it was something that always interested me.” [...]

Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ general manager, said Fuld was a gifted defensive player who ran the bases well, made contact and works good counts. And though it was incidental to the reasons for acquiring him, Fuld is also the kind of player Friedman wanted to be as an outfielder at Tulane, with similar sensibilities.

Friedman worked on Wall Street before joining the Rays, whose front office is renowned for its appreciation of statistics. In Fuld, Friedman said, “We joke that we could use him as our advance-scouting intern.”

Fuld has the background and the aptitude. Drafted in the 10th round out of Stanford in 2004, he applied for an internship at Stats LLC, outside Chicago, following his professional debut at Class A Peoria in 2005. Joe Stillwell, a supervisor in data collection, sent Fuld a tape to analyze, asking him to track the type of pitch, the velocity and the location.

The internship would last only a month or two, so Stillwell needed a person who would not require much training. He picked a challenging pitcher for Fuld to analyze: Cory Lidle, who threw four different pitches at similar speeds, including a splitter and a changeup, which are often difficult to distinguish. Fuld logged in remotely, entered his findings, and easily passed the test.

“Seeing what he could decipher watching a game, he was almost too good to be true,” Stillwell said. “We needed to figure out a way to get him in here.”

Fuld, who has also pursued a master’s degree in statistics from Stanford, said he always wanted to keep his options open for after his baseball career. His parents offer powerful role models: his father is the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire, and his mother is a New Hampshire state senator.

But baseball has directed Fuld’s path. He made the varsity as an eighth grader, and hit so well that he transferred to Exeter Academy for the athletics. He dominated there, too — usually hitting above .500, all while managing Type 1 diabetes — but a major league career seemed far-fetched.

“From when he was young, he had such a good mind for math and statistics that he’s always had a sense of how hard it is to make the major leagues,” Merrill said. “But at the same time, he stuck with his dream.”

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April 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM

Lucinda Williams On Mountain Stage (NPR, 4/18/11)

Lucinda Williams first performed on Mountain Stage in 1989, a full 10 years after releasing her debut Ramblin'. Heard here in her fifth appearance, she brings songs from her highly anticipated latest release Blessed.

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Right whales off Mass. prompt boater alert (Associated Press, April 20, 2011)

A record number of North Atlantic right whales have been spotted off Massachusetts, prompting state officials to warn boaters to stay clear of the endangered animals.

An aerial survey of Cape Cod Bay and surrounding waters on Tuesday identified 101 individual right whales, the most ever spotted in a single day. The previous high came last April when 70 of the whales were spotted during a single aerial survey.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM

The Low Anthem On Mountain Stage (NPR, 4/20/11)

For the making of Smart Flesh, the latest from Rhode Island indie-folk band The Low Anthem, the four members spent three winter month recording in an abandoned pasta sauce factory, capitalizing on its resonant, cavernous sounds. In their second appearance on Mountain Stage, the band recreates the sounds of Smart Flesh, drawing from a variety of musical styles and an even greater variety of instruments; they switch back and forth between 11 instruments during their five-song Mountain Stage set, including World War II-era pump organ, dulcimer, clarinet, trumpet, fiddle and musical saw.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


What makes Americans and Europeans happy? (Deborah Braconnier, 4/19/11, PhysOrg.com)

According to a new research study, Europeans are happier when they have a day off and work less, while their American counterparts would rather be working those extra hours. Published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, the research, led by Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn from the University of Texas, looks at survey results of Europeans and Americans and how they identified being happy.

Based on the study results, Europeans who described themselves as being "very happy" went from 28 percent down to 23 percent as their work hours increased. Americans, on the other hand, remained at 43 percent regardless of how many hours they worked. [...]

Previous research shows that happiness can come from wealth and as a person’s income and employment status increase, so does their satisfaction with life. Americans believe that their hard work is what will move them up the ladder, so they appear happier while working more hours. They believe that by working these hours, they are achieving more and reaching more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


Nation’s largest abortion provider: Planned Parenthood: Ending taxpayer funding must remain a high priority (Charmaine Yoest and Anna Franzonello, 4/18/11, The Washington Times)

Planned Parenthood has been in the business of abortion since 1970. As one affiliate proudly notes, “Planned Parenthood of Syracuse, N.Y., began performing abortions on the first day permitted by the law.”

Since 1970, Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the abortion business has grown tremendously. With each passing year, it performs more abortions, even though the national abortion rate has declined steadily since 1990. Today, Planned Parenthood performs and profits from one in every four abortions in the United States.

Not only is Planned Parenthood increasing its “market share” of the abortion business, abortion is an increasing part of Planned Parenthood.

According to Planned Parenthood’s own reports, 12 percent of its patients in 2009 sought abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics. In 1999, that number was 7.3 percent. Adoption referrals and prenatal clients decreased during the same 10-year time frame.

But if you want to understand how big a role abortion plays in Planned Parenthood’s care of pregnant women, just read its fine print. According to a “fact sheet” detailing its “services” for 2009, affiliates performed 332,278 abortions, saw 7,021 prenatal clients and made 977 adoption referrals. That means for 97.6 percent of its 340,276 pregnant clients, abortion was Planned Parenthood’s provided “service.”

Relying on financial and service data provided by Planned Parenthood and an average cost of abortion provided by the Guttmacher Institute - a former official affiliate of Planned Parenthood - a conservative estimate would find abortion accounting for 37 percent of Planned Parenthood’s health care center income in 2009.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Meet America’s Oldest Minor Leaguer (Ryan O'Hanlon, 4/19/11, Good Men Project)

Andy Tracy plays first base for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s 37 and turns 38 in December. According to Minor League Baseball (MiLB), he’s the oldest American position player in the entire minor league system.

In 16 seasons, he’s played for the Crocs, the Hammerheads, and the Zephyrs. Hell, he’s even been an IronPig. All in all, he’s played for 11 minor league teams and one in Japan. He’s tallied 5,298 minor-league at-bats, playing in 1,511 minor-league games.

In the same time, he’s also played for three major league teams: the Expos, Rockies, and Phillies. He’s had 227 major league at-bats. He’s played 149 games in the big leagues. More than half of them came in 2000, when he played 83 games with the Expos. He hasn’t played more than 15 games since 2001.

So, um, what the hell is this guy doing?

He’s 37, and he’s playing baseball in Reno. His family lives in Columbus. He has a wife of ten years, a four-year-old boy, and a two-year-old girl. He’s riding on coach buses each week, getting daily meal stipends in cities like Fresno and Sacramento. Why keep going?

Well, he’s probably making a decent living, but it’s more than that.

“I still believe I can help a big league team. That’s why I’m still playing,” Tracy told me. “The day I believe that I can’t, I would probably walk away from it. I think I can still help a big league team off the bench.”

Tracy very well might be able to. He’s started off the season well. He’s hitting .389 through six games—a very small sample size. He’s been a minor league All-Star the past three seasons. But he still hasn’t played a major-league game since 2009.

You see, this story was supposed to be about the oldest guys in the minors. Raul Chavez, Brett Tomko, and Marc Kroon are all 38—older than Tracy—but none of them wanted to talk to me. And can you blame them?

Hi, would you like to talk about how you almost made it? What about how you failed? Maybe a few questions about how you were never good enough? Or possibly something about how you couldn’t let go?

But Tracy spoke to me, and I think that says something about him. It says something about his career and, really, about how he’s come to terms with it and how it’s not a failure. You talk to Tracy and you get the feeling that this guy was meant to be the oldest player in the minor leagues.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Israel unveils hiking trail in Galilee for Christian pilgrims (Associated Press, April 15, 2011)

Israel hopes to attract Christian tourists with a new pilgrimage route unveiled this week in the Galilee, a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM

Pokey LaFarge: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, 4/20/11, NPR)

Pokey LaFarge writes and performs original and sometimes traditional music, steeped in American blues, country and Western swing from the days when 78s ruled the record player. LaFarge's music is honest and infused with respect for the era he loves — particularly the '20s and '30s. When you listen to this music as part of a diet of songs from the 21st century, it feels fresh, fun and altogether outstanding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


"Conservative coming out" email prompts expletive from Iowa professor (Brian Montopoli, 4/20/11, CBS News)

An anthropology and gender studies professor at the University of Iowa responded with an expletive to a mass email from a college Republican group promoting "Conservative Coming Out Week," prompting a campus controversy.

As the Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register report, professor Ellen Lewin responded to the email by writing "F*** YOU, REPUBLICANS" from her university email account.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


The Arab Wave (Eugene Rogan, 4/19/11, National Interest)

EGYPT HAS never quite been able to consolidate its desire for democracy in the way of the Turks—even though it is the country that achieved the highest degree of multiparty democracy in the modern history of the Arab world. Though still under British occupation, the Egyptians drafted a new constitution in 1923. It introduced political pluralism, regular elections to a two-chamber legislature, full male suffrage and a free press. A number of new parties emerged on the political stage. Elections attracted massive turnout at the polls. Journalists plied their trade with remarkable liberty.

Yet this almost-golden age of Egyptian politics was rife with factionalism, struggling to find its footing. Three distinct authorities sought preeminence in Egypt: the British, the monarchy and, through parliament, the nationalist Wafd Party. The rivalry between these three proved disruptive to say the least. And the internecine squabbles between the Egyptian political elite played right into the hands of both the king and the British.

The popular nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul may have led his Wafd Party to sweeping victory in Egypt’s first parliamentary election in 1924 and used that mandate to try and negotiate Egypt’s independence from Britain, but autocratic forces remained. At the opposite end of the political spectrum was Ismail Sidqi, who defected from Zaghlul’s Wafd Party. Sidqi was an advocate of a strong monarchy, opposing, as he put it, “the tyranny of the majority over the minority.” He wanted to free the government from its constitutional bonds and rule by decree in partnership with the king.

In the summer of 1930, King Fuad invited Sidqi to form a new cabinet. In accepting, Sidqi assured his monarch that “my policies would start from a clean slate and that I would reorganize parliamentary life in accordance with my views on the Constitution and the need for stable government.” In October of that year, Sidqi introduced a new constitution that expanded the powers of the king. It reduced the number of elected deputies in the parliament and gave the king control over the upper chamber. Sidqi’s constitution reduced universal suffrage, taking voting power from the masses (on whose support the Wafd relied), and concentrated electoral authority in the propertied elite. The powers of the legislature were reduced, as was the length of the parliamentary session, from six to five months, and the king’s powers to defer bills were expanded.

The new constitution was blatantly autocratic and provoked near-unanimous opposition from politicians across the political spectrum and the general public.

The press, refusing to be silenced, did keep up a steady barrage to turn popular opinion against Sidqi’s government. Security conditions began to deteriorate as the public grew more outspoken (Sidqi had always justified autocratic rule in terms of providing law and order). Faced with a nascent anarchy, the British began to agitate for a new government to restore public confidence and curb political violence. In September 1933 the king dismissed his prime minister. Down but not out, he remained one of Egypt’s most influential politicians until his death in 1950, and his machinations against constitutional rule did much to undermine public confidence in Egypt’s fitful Liberal Age.

By 1952, the Egyptian people had lost faith in the institutions of democratic government. Political parties had been platforms of factionalism. The British had played on divisions between the monarchy and the parliament to extend their rule over Egypt. Even the nationalist Wafd Party had lost popular support when, after thirty years, it still had not secured Egypt’s total independence. When a group of military men called the Free Officers Movement led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power in July 1952, the people of Egypt (and of the Arab world at-large) celebrated a new order of forceful, decisive government. Similar revolutions followed in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, ushering in a new age of autocratic rule that would last over half a century.

For six decades now, the Arab world has lived under absolute rule of one form or another. Monarchy has continued primarily in the oil-rich states of the Arabian Peninsula. The only two non-oil monarchies to survive were in Morocco and Jordan, where charismatic kings enjoyed sufficient support to weather the revolutionary 1950s and 1960s. The rest of the region, with the exception of Lebanon’s dangerous sectarian democracy, fell under the control of military-men-turned-presidents and single-party rule. Neither the monarchies nor the praetorian republics were tolerant of opposition. Government monopoly of the press and censorship limited the scope of debate. Constitutions were amended in ways that enhanced the power of government at the expense of citizens’ rights. That Arabs should agree to live under such a miserable social contract only convinced the outside world that Arabs were somehow incompatible with democracy. Reforms and constitutional debates stretching back to the 1830s were forgotten by Arabs and Westerners alike.

SEVERAL FACTORS contributed to making 2011 a revolutionary year in the Arab world. Over the past two decades, the standard of living in the non-oil Arab states has dropped precipitously. Only sub-Saharan Africa scores worse on the un’s Human Development Index. Yet the ruling elite did not share in the suffering of common Arab people. On the contrary, corruption and cronyism enriched those who surrounded kings and presidents in ways that were all too obvious to their citizens. With this growing inequality came deepening resentment as a young and increasingly well-educated population entered the job market . . . only to find that there were no jobs. Worse yet, these aged and corrupt leaders were paving the way for family members to follow them in dynastic succession. Arab citizens faced the prospect of unending restrictions on their political and human rights by rulers who had failed them in every respect—and rebelled. Much to the world’s surprise, it was Tunisia that led the way.

The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi galvanized public outrage against everything that was wrong in Tunisia under President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s reign: corruption, abuse of power, indifference to the plight of the ordinary man and an economy that failed to provide opportunities for the young. After twenty-three years in power, Ben Ali had no solutions. His wife, Leila Trabelsi, and her family soon came to personify cronyism. In Tunisia, it was long common knowledge that the Trabelsis had enriched themselves with government funds, and the rumors were confirmed when WikiLeaks published a number of U.S. State Department reports attesting to much the same. While Mohamed Bouazizi’s tragedy was gaining attention, the Trabelsi family’s extravagances were made public.

On January 4, 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi died of his burns. An individual tragedy, a communal protest movement, a discontented nation, social-networking websites, Arabic satellite television and WikiLeaks: it was the making of the perfect twenty-first-century political storm. When Ben Ali realized that he no longer commanded the loyalty of his army, and that no concessions were going to mollify the demonstrators, he stunned his nation and the entire Arab world by abdicating power and fleeing Tunisia for Saudi Arabia. The Jasmine revolution, as the Tunisians called their movement, had toppled one of the long-reigning autocrats which had dominated Arab politics since the 1950s. Within two weeks, the next revolution would start in Egypt.

“The people should not fear their government,” read a placard in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square, “Governments should fear their people.” The message captured the moment as hundreds of thousands of democracy activists using social-networking platforms to organize their grassroots movement brought the whole of Egypt to a standstill. Known as the January 25 movement, named for the date the demonstrations began, the Egyptian revolution of 2011 witnessed mass protests in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Ismailia, and other major Egyptian towns and cities.

For eighteen days the whole world watched transfixed as Egypt’s democracy movement challenged the Mubarak regime—and won. The government resorted to dirty tactics against the demonstrators. They released convicted prisoners from jail to provoke fear. Policemen in civilian clothes assaulted the protesters in Tahrir Square, posing as a pro-Mubarak counterdemonstration. The president’s men went to theatrical lengths, mounting a horse-and-camel charge on the democracy activists. Yet every attempt at intimidation was repelled with determination, and the number of protesters only grew. Throughout it all, the Egyptian Army refused to support the government and declared the demonstrators’ demands legitimate. As Ben Ali before him, Mubarak recognized his position was untenable without his army’s support. On February 11 he stepped down amid jubilation and wild celebrations in Tahrir Square. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, made up of senior military men, assumed control of the country and dissolved parliament to oversee the transition to democratic government. Mubarak’s fall was thus but the first stage in Egypt’s revolution.

Emboldened by the fall of Egypt’s strongman, popular demonstrations have followed across the Arab world: in Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. The crowds repeat the same Arabic four-word slogan as their North African brethren: al-shaab yurid isqat al-nizam—“The people want the fall of the regime.” Long after Western analysts had dismissed Arab nationalism as a spent force—a bankrupt ideology ever since the Arabs were defeated by Israel in 1967 and the death of Nasser in 1970—the events of 2011 reveal a new and potent form of Arabism. It is clear that what happens in one part of that world is incredibly influential across the rest of the region. Bound by a common language and historic experience, citizens of different Arab states are inspired by each other’s methods and goals. And a crucial part of that historic experience is the struggle to constrain absolutism, resumed in 2011 with a vigor that puts to rest once and for all the myth that the Arabs as a people, or Muslims more generally, are somehow incompatible with democratic values.

Toward a Muslim Solzhenitsyn: An interview with Holland Taylor, co-founder of LibForAll (Matthew Shaffer, 4/18/11, National Review)
After September 11, President Wahid became convinced that his kind of Islam — spiritual, relatively liberal — was needed more than ever. Taylor agreed, left the private sector, and enlisted in Wahid’s campaign. He now spends most of his time in Indonesia, revisiting the West occasionally to keep us posted on his efforts to replicate our experiment in liberty.

Taylor speaks of Islamic radicalism metaphorically as a health problem: “The patient is in critical condition and requires comprehensive treatment.” Roughly speaking, there are two responses to the disease. Where it is virulent, the disease must be contained, quarantined, and destroyed — through sanctions, drones, heat-seeking missiles, daisy cutters, and Special Forces. But long-term eradication requires prevention of its spread, by strengthening vulnerable populations’ immunity. The U.S. Armed Forces have the first task covered; LibForAll is trying to do the latter — through pamphlets, conferences, and debates, intended to refute Islamic extremism from within Islam. Taylor doesn’t discount the importance or efficacy of the War on Terror. But in the long run, he says, “ideology is more dangerous than bombs.” And by the same token, ideology is a more efficacious force for reform.

That conviction has led Taylor to a study of intellectual history — of the conception and gestation of the ideas that eventually led to the birth of the open society in the West, and its failure in the Middle East. “What happened to make the West different from all previous civilizations?” he asks. His tone suggests the question has been on his mind for a couple of decades. “There were particular turning points. We’ve been blessed to have certain visionaries. If you look at our religious tolerance, it’s pretty modern. It’s an Anglo-Saxon, relatively new phenomenon.” And, “those ideas haven’t been safe and secure. If we had lost the war against Hitler, the meaning of the West would have been eradicated.”

The “critical success factors” began with two developments in medieval Europe: religious dissent and a revolution in information technology, i.e., Martin Luther and the printing press. The critical thing Luther did was to challenge “exclusive, political ownership of official, religious truth” — a sentiment today’s papists can appreciate. The printing press enabled the dissemination of ideas and information outside of seminaries. Combine the separation of Truth and State with the wide and relatively quick dissemination of ideas, Taylor says, and you have the seed and soil for an open society.

That seed blooms into enlightenment, and into societies remaking themselves — revolutionizing — on foundations other than divine right. Here Taylor conceives a crucial division in Western intellectual history between Locke and Rousseau. Taylor attributes to Rousseau a secularist, anti-clerical chauvinism, and to Locke a philosophical pluralism and liberal Christianity. Rousseau wanted to “destroy the Church with the State,” to “liberate” man from “tradition and ‘superstition.’” Locke wanted to protect the Church from the State and facilitate the discovery of Christian truth through free debate. “Separation of Church and State developed in America out of animus for the State,” he says. “For Locke, free speech was a technology for discovering religious truth through the exchange of ideas.”

The revolutions and reformations based on that Lockean idea — American and Anglophone — were ultimately successful in producing truly liberal societies. Those based on an anti-clericalism inspired by Rousseau or his intellectual descendants — the Young Turks’ revolution, Mao’s revolution, etc. — produced closed societies. And thus the exceptional paradox of America: The most religiously conservative non-Muslim country in the world is also the most classically liberal. And the equal paradox of China, where neither Cultural Revolution nor economic explosion has undermined authoritarianism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


What's New: Gavin Bryars' Gently Undulating Piano Concerto (Tom Huizenga, 4/19/11, NPR)

Bryars' newly released piano concerto is subtitled "The Solway Canal." It begins with undulating tones deep in the basses, from which low piano notes slowly emerge like the prow of a boat materializing out of early morning mist.

Being a Bryars composition, this is not a conventional piano concerto. Don't expect flashy cadenzas or roller coasters of double octaves. Instead, Bryars' piano is like some indifferent ship captain guiding the music through a calm canal. Along for the ride, a male chorus intones two evocative sonnets by one of Bryars' favorite poets, the Scotsman Edwin Morgan. The sound reminds me of the melancholy shipmen singing from the decks of Wagner's Flying Dutchman. Bryars himself admits that the addition of the chorus was a nod to another odd piano concerto — the one by Feruccio Busoni.

"The Solway Canal" is in a single uninterrupted movement, and though the tempo remains slow, the music has the feeling of constant motion. Rippling, repeating chords in the piano and oscillating figures in the strings give the piece its pulse, propelling the boat forward through water. The tranquil tone echoes the English pastoral school, sounding not too far off from pieces like Vaughan Williams' Flos Campi or Delius' A Song of the High Hills.


Never Failed Me Yet (WQXR)

The tape piece, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, won English composer Gavin Bryars an international success when it was re-released in the 1990s. However, the depth and emotional potency of the works of this improvisatory jazz bassist turned composer still remain relatively under-appreciated in the United States. Q2 aims to throw back the curtain on this titan of contemporary music.

Q2 is proud to launch Never Failed Me Yet: a weeklong celebration of the music of English composer Gavin Bryars. The festival begins Thursday, April 14 with a live audio Webcast from New York City's Guggenheim Museum of Bryars's 1969 masterpiece The Sinking of the Titanic, as performed by the Wordless Music Orchestra.

Listen in April 14-20 for live concert recordings, diverse daily focuses, performance and interview videos and introductions by Bryars himself to over 40 of his evocative and paradigm-shifting pieces.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Cuban communists headed for oblivion (CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER, 4/17/11, www.firmaspress)

An old and disappointed Cuban communist told me, during a recent brief encounter in Madrid: “This Sixth Party Congress reminds me of the atmosphere of sadness and nostalgia one breathes in those theaters that present their last show before being demolished.”

That’s a good metaphor.

Fidel Castro’s generation is now octogenarian. It’s giving its farewell performance. Fidel, 84, had his intestines removed in 2006, and Raúl, almost 80, will leave the stage before long. He gave himself a three-to-five-year period to transfer his authority in full and facilitate a sort of generational relay “so the heirs may continue the revolutionary task.”

What does all that mean? Nothing, except to stay in power. Although Cubans continue to repeat slogans, almost no one believes in Marxism-Leninism, while the government tries to escape from the system’s chronic failures by creating a few spaces that might allow private initiative to alleviate the disaster of collectivism. While they applaud revolutionary mottos, young people call Marx “the little old man who invented hunger.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Belief in Conspiracies Linked to Machiavellian Mindset: New research suggests people are more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they would be willing to personally participate in such a conspiracy. (Tom Jacobs, 4/19/11, Miller McCune)

Know any conspiracy theorists? No doubt they’ve tried to convince you that man didn’t really land on the moon or President Obama was born in Kenya.

In fact, they were imparting genuinely interesting information — about themselves. New research suggests belief in such theories may reveal a Machiavellian mindset.

“At least among some samples and for some conspiracy theories, the perception that ‘they did it’ is fueled by the perception that ‘I would do it,’” University of Kent psychologists Karen Douglas and Robbie Sutton write in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

“These studies suggest that people who have more lax personal morality may endorse conspiracy theories to a greater extent because they are, on average, more willing to participate in the conspiracies themselves.”

...are hardly the sort we'd have in our secret society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


Obama backs lifting income cap for Social Security (Kim Dixon, Apr 19, 2011, Reuters)

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that boosting the amount of individual income subject to Social Security taxes should be considered as a way to put the retirement program on a stronger fiscal footing.

The president's deficit commission late last year proposed raising the income cap on Social Security taxes, now at about $107,000, but Obama has shied away from supporting specific proposals.

Presumably raise means remove.

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April 19, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM

Charles Bradley on Daptone Records

Charles Bradley, at 62, finally putting his own soul on display for the world (Allison Stewart, 4/14/11, ChicagoTribune)

Years ago, after he had spent the better part of his youth and middle age roaming the country but before he became the most promising new soul act of 2011, Charles Bradley worked as a James Brown impersonator known as Black Velvet.

YouTube footage can be found of Bradley as the Godfather of Soul. Heavily pompadoured, shimmying and strutting (less and less as he got older), Black Velvet cut a wide swath through the clubs and cafes of Bradley's adopted hometown of Brooklyn.

It was there, at the Tarheel Lounge in Bed-Stuy, that Bradley/Velvet was discovered by Gabe Roth of Daptone Records, home to hipster soul revivalists Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Bradley's only real contemporary analog.

Roth befriended Bradley, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead to Bradley's debut, the fiery funk-soul revival disc "No Time for Dreaming." It was released in January, when Bradley was 62 years old.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The Stakes in the Middle East (NATAN SHARANSKY, Spring 2011, Jewish Review of Books)

For decades, the policy of the free world toward the Arab and Muslim Middle East was based on a simple principle: The overriding aim was stability, purchased by deals struck with leaders. That the leaders in question were autocrats of one stripe or another mattered little; neither did the cruelty and rank corruption endemic to their rule. To the contrary, tyranny was seen as the guarantor of stability, just as corruption guaranteed that the regimes' friendship could be bought.

And so a pact was struck. Sometimes the terms were transparent, a prime example being the 1993 "peace" deal between Israel and Yasser Arafat. The arch-terrorist's dictatorial powers were openly embraced as ensuring his control of terrorism, while his corruption was underwritten by an international agreement that poured many tens of millions of dollars intended for the Palestinian people into his private slush fund. More often the terms were masked, as in relations between France and Tunisia, or the US and Egypt. But the quid pro quo—support for stability—remained the same, rationalized by considerations of realpolitik and the comforting assertion that we had no right to judge the behavior of societies with moral standards different from our own.

Repeatedly, however, and now definitively, that pact has been exposed as a sham, yielding not stability but its opposite. And, the recent setbacks notwithstanding, the old pact has been no less definitively broken—broken not by us, and not by our partners in Cairo, Tunis, and elsewhere, but by the awakening peoples of the region themselves. This great awakening cannot be wished away. It may be stalled; it may be temporarily forced underground; but it cannot be extinguished forever. Already it has accomplished something historic: shattering the longstanding truism that, unlike "us," the Arab and Muslim peoples of the Middle East have no real desire for freedom, that they are content with living in societies dominated by fear. With tremendous courage, they have done nothing less than to put their lives on the line to inform us otherwise. [...]

The first duty, then, is to speak out, clearly and repeatedly, in unqualified support of the protesters' right to expression, and in no less unqualified sympathy for the cause of democratic dissidents in their struggle against still-existing regimes and their potential non-democratic successors. Strong words in themselves are not sufficient, but they are crucially necessary.

The second duty is to match words with deeds. The aim must be to create the conditions that will enable masses of ordinary people to cross the fear barrier and participate actively and openly in the building of free societies. Only thus will the West avoid falling into the fatal choice of relegitimating dictatorship.

Here the critical point is linkage, whose instrument is the massive amounts of foreign aid the free world has committed to some of the lands in question. By continuing to remain generous, by recruiting other donors from, especially, the oil-rich nations of the Arab world—and by placing clear, verifiable, and enforceable conditions on our largesse—we can decisively help form the essential institutions of an open society: a free press, freedom of religion, rule of law, civil-society reform, the freedom to organize, and the rest. In Egypt and elsewhere, local entrepreneurs can be mobilized to address the dire housing conditions. International human-rights organizations can prove their bona fides by finding and working with local partners dedicated to democratic reform, including students and women's groups. Individuals and groups like those nurtured by the online project Cyberdissidents can be openly strengthened and empowered.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


The Hispanic Century?: A comprehensive look at voter behavior and demographics reveals a momentous prospect: A Hispanic electorate that votes en masse, allies itself with one political party and changes America’s political balance for decades. (Norman Nie, 4/18/11, Miller-McCune)

We examined Hispanic turnout and partisanship in midterm elections — that is, the elections where turnout isn’t significantly affected by charismatic presidential candidates — from 1978 to 2006 by collecting and matching data from several sources. First, we combined more than 150 academic and high-quality commercial public opinion surveys, each of which employed a nationally representative sample of at least 1,000 respondents. In addition to this combined dataset, we added voter turnout data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, creating what we believe is the most comprehensive demographic and voting behavior dataset ever compiled for midterm elections. The data allowed us to examine both overall trends and individual behavior. (Individual level data is not yet publicly available for the 2010 midterm election, but aggregate results are considered here.)

On the surface, the information we gathered supports some common political wisdom: A vast buildup of potential Hispanic voters, primarily composed of immigrant citizens and young U.S.-born Hispanics, has generally tended to favor Democrats but turned out to vote at far lower levels than whites or African Americans during the last three decades.

Our dataset, however, shows that the common wisdom misses a potentially momentous prospect.

Once we accounted for demographic differences known to affect turnout, we found that Hispanics actually vote at rates very similar to those of whites and blacks. In other words, much of the explanation for the low turnout rates for Hispanics is not related to being Hispanic but to Hispanics being younger and having less education on average than whites or blacks.

Similarly, we found that in terms of both party identification and the strength of that partisanship, the differences between whites and Hispanics disappears when individual-level characteristics such as age and education are taken into account. In short, the data suggest that Hispanics have not been genuinely incorporated into the party system or made anything like a deep commitment to either party.

But that incorporation and commitment may come soon.

The large influx of Hispanic immigrants into the United States over the past four and a half decades resembles — in terms of magnitude and proportion — the great immigration wave from southern and eastern Europe that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like today’s Hispanic population, a large body of research shows, these earlier immigrants possessed limited experience with U.S. politics and received few partisan cues from their parents. The Democratic Party captured these voters because the party supported policies that addressed their central concern — the economic turmoil of the Great Depression — while the GOP took a hands-off approach. The resulting Democratic affiliation reorganized American politics for the next 30 years.

Vote-eligible Hispanic immigrants and their U.S.-born children today appear to have a similar lack of political experience and affiliation. In a partisan sense, they are legitimately up for grabs — and consequently sit in a strategic and increasingly important position in American politics.

As their average education level, income, age and familiarity with the political process increase over time, Hispanics can be expected to enter the active electorate in far higher numbers than they have to date. Current conditions — the worst economic dislocation since the Great Depression combined with fierce controversy over an issue of central concern to Hispanics, immigration — provide the salient issues that could move Hispanics to connect deeply with one party or the other. The party that best handles those issues of high importance to Hispanics, our research strongly suggests, could be the beneficiary of a shift in turnout and partisan attachment that alters the balance of political power in America not just for the next presidential or midterm election but for decades.

Because Hispanic allegiance to both parties is weak, the question remains: What can Republicans or Democrats do to seal the Hispanic political deal? [...]

How the immigration issue is resolved and how undocumented immigrants are treated in what could be a long-term economic downturn, are precisely the kind of crosscutting, highly salient issues from which — a long line of political science research shows — strong and long-lasting party ties are made.

When a country has more than 6.6 million families with a head of household and/or spouse who migrated without authorization, immigration policy is, as a matter of factual reality, as much about keeping families together as it is about border control. Many in the Republican Party repudiated the comprehensive immigration reform measures championed by President George W. Bush during his term in office and have instead adopted a strong stance against undocumented immigrants, most notable of which was Arizona’s SB 1070, a law that, among its many controversial facets, requires individuals to prove legal residence in the U.S. on the request of local and state authorities.

Such policies make the Hispanic community wary of the GOP for now. And given the recent ascendance of hard-line, anti-immigration factions within the party, a shift to more immigrant-friendly positions is by no means clear. But the emergence of high-profile Hispanic Republicans in positions of real political prominence could well steer the GOP back toward Bush-style immigration reform and help make Hispanics comfortable with the Republican Party again.

Run, Jeb, run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Münchausen by internet: the sick world of the internet fakers: Why would someone feign a serious illness online? Jenny Kleeman, 4/16/11, Good Weekend: Sydney Morning Herald)

Anyone following her updates online could see that Mandy Wilson had been having a terrible few years. She was diagnosed with leukaemia at 37, shortly after her husband abandoned her, leaving her to bring up their five-year-old daughter and baby son on her own. Chemotherapy damaged her immune system, liver and heart so badly she eventually had a stroke and went into a coma. She spent weeks recovering in intensive care, where nurses treated her roughly, leaving her covered in bruises.

Wilson was frightened and vulnerable, but she wasn't alone. As she suffered at home in Australia, women offered their support throughout the US, Britain, New Zealand and Canada. She'd been posting on connectedmoms.com, an online community for mothers, and its members were following every detail of her progress - through updates posted by Wilson herself, and also by Gemma, Sophie, Pete and Janet, Wilson's real-life friends, who'd pass on news whenever she was too weak. The virtual community rallied round through three painful years of surgeries, seizures and life-threatening infections. Until March last year, when one of them discovered Wilson wasn't sick at all. Gemma, Sophie, Pete and Janet had never existed. Wilson had made up the whole story.

Wilson is one of a growing number of people who pretend to suffer illness and trauma to get sympathy from online support groups. Think of the characters portrayed by Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club, only these support groups are virtual, and the people deceived are real. From cancer forums to anorexia websites, LiveJournal to Mumsnet, trusting communities are falling victim to a new kind of online fraud, one in which people are scammed out of their time and emotion instead of their money. The fakers have nothing to gain from their lies - except attention.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


RNS: Kmiec's gospel falls flat in Foggy Bottom (Daniel Burke, 4/18/11, Religion News Service)

[Douglas] Kmiec, who helped shape an intellectual framework for President Obama's outreach to Catholics during the 2008 campaign, was slammed in a recent State Department report for spending too much time writing about religion.

Kmiec's focus on faith, "based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama's interfaith initiatives ... detracted from his attention to core mission goals," the State Department's Inspector General wrote in a February report made public in early April.

Kmiec, a former lawyer in the Reagan administration and onetime dean of Catholic University's law school, announced he would resign on Aug. 15, which he pointedly noted is the Feast of the Assumption.

The Catholic intellectual fiercely defended his work in separate letters to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Kmiec told Obama his work was "devoted to promoting what I know you believe in most strongly -- namely, personal faith and greater mutual understanding of the faiths of others as the way toward greater mutual respect."

So too is the battered wife sure the husband loves her.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Malthusian Delusions Grip Australia (Ross Elliott, 04/18/2011, New Geography)

The anti-population jihad is nothing new. Thomas Malthus was an 18th century economist and Anglican clergyman, whose ‘Essay on the Principles of Population’ (published 1798) popularised the notion that vice, plague and famine were natural forms of population control. In short, overpopulation would be subject to control by food scarcity.

Maulthusians almost 200 years later, in 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote the blockbuster ‘The Population Bomb’ which warned of imminent mass starvations and famine due to overpopulation.

Now joining the fray is our very own Dick Smith, former super-nerd and founder of Dick Smith Electronics stores, aviator, publisher (of Australian Geographic), entrepreneur and 1986 ‘Australian of the Year.’

Dick’s a popular figure in Australia, and when he speaks people (and the media) listen. But Dick’s suggestion that Australia is overpopulated, and thus requires we need to limit our growth through a two child policy borders on the hysterical. [...]

Doug Saunders is the author of ‘Arrival City,’ a book about the conflicts and change brought on by massive urban migrations. And in this article he explains, “by 2050, most Western countries will have to devote between 27 and 30 per cent of their GDP to spending on retirees and their needs”. This he adds, will produce fiscal deficits in most advanced countries of almost 25 per cent of GDP, making the current crisis seem minuscule by comparison.

This is not a remote or abstract crisis. Countries like Canada will soon be fighting to attract anyone we can get to work – and squeezing as much as we can from the remaining few.

Australia has been fond of comparing itself to Canada. We are both western democracies, operating under similar governance systems. We both have relatively small populations given our geographic size (Canada has 34 million people, we have 23 million) and abundant natural resources. The resource we both lack is people. If Saunders is right about Canada fearing the same demographic problems as Japan (population 127 million), Australia might want to take note.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Dancing with the Assads (Boston Globe, April 19, 2011)

Assad has been performing the same old pirouette for years — assuring US diplomats and legislators that he’s serious about opening up his corrupt police state, but somehow never actually doing it. The wave of popular protests rolling across the country makes it appear that Syrians have lost patience with the Assad regime before Washington did.

A growing toll of martyrs has led protesters to drop earlier calls for piecemeal reforms and to demand instead the fall of the regime. The rebellion only gathered force after Assad, instead of offering reforms in a much-anticipated speech last month, blamed the protests on “a big plot from outside’’ and evoked a conspiracy that serves “an Israeli agenda.’’

The recent WikiLeaks disclosure of modest US financial backing since 2005 for an opposition TV channel broadcasting into Syria only underlines how restrained Washington has been in challenging the Assad regime. The time has come be more demanding.

When even the Globe has had enough, you know dictators are on borrowed time.

April 18, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Ayn Rand: Architect of the culture of death: No philosopher ever proposed a more simple and straightforward view of life than the one Ayn Rand urges upon us. (DONALD DEMARCO, National Catholic Register)

Barbara Branden tells us, in her book, The Passion of Ayn Rand, of how Miss Rand managed to make the lives of everyone around her miserable, and when her life was over, she had barely a friend in the world. She was contemptuous even of her followers. When Rand was laid to rest in 1982 at the age of 77, her coffin bore a six-foot replica of the dollar sign. Her philosophy, which she adopted from an early age, helped to assure her solitude: "Nothing existential gave me any great pleasure. And progressively, as my idea developed, I had more and more a sense of loneliness." It was inevitable, however, that a philosophy that centred on the self to the exclusion of all others would leave its practitioner in isolation and intensely lonely.

Ayn Rand's philosophy is unlivable, either by her or anyone else. A philosophy that is unlivable can hardly be instrumental in building a Culture of Life. It is unlivable because it is based on a false anthropology. The human being is not a mere individual, but a person. As such, he is a synthesis of individual uniqueness and communal participation. Man is a transcendent being. He is more than his individuality.

The Greeks had two words for "life": bios and zoe. Bios represents the biological and individual sense of life, the life that pulsates within any one organism. This is the only notion of life that is to be found in the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Zoe, on the other hand, is shared life, life that transcends the individual and allows participation in a broader, higher, and richer life.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis remarks that mere bios is always tending to run down and decay. It needs incessant subsidies from nature in the form of air, water, and food, in order to continue. As bios and nothing more, man can never achieve his destiny. Zoe, he goes on to explain, is an enriching spiritual life which is in God from all eternity. Man needs Zoe in order to become truly himself. Man is not simply man; he is a composite of bios and zoe.

Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.

The transition, then, from bios to zoe (individual life to personal, spiritualized life; selfishness to love of neighbor) is also the transition from a Culture of Death to a Culture of Life.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:46 PM


60-year-low tax revenues contribute to deficit growth (Patrice Hill, 4/17/11, The Washington Times)

Revenues plunged from their peak of $2.57 trillion in 2007 to reach $2.1 trillion, or 14.8 percent of economic output in 2009 — the lowest level since the 1950s — and taxes remain that low today, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

While that may seem like good news to millions of people filing their federal taxes, that level of revenues is far below the 18 percent historical average and is not sufficient to support a federal government that is waging two wars and has become the primary source of income for a growing population of retirees, economists say.

The collapse in federal revenues has driven the total weight of taxes on the economy to the lowest levels since the 1960s, even when myriad state and local taxes are added in, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

With federal, state and local tax revenues totaling 24 percent of economic output, the OECD said, the United States is in the same category as countries like Turkey and South Korea, which have neither a globe-spanning military to support nor fully developed economic safety-net programs such as unemployment benefits, Social Security and food stamps.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Gathering Clouds for Syria's Assad (Mohamad Bazzi, April 18, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations)

It is especially troublesome for Assad that the unrest started in Sunni areas that traditionally supported the Ba'ath Party and have provided recruits for the Syrian military. On March 6, the police arrested fifteen teenagers who had scrawled anti-government graffiti on several buildings in Deraa. The arrests set off large demonstrations, which led to clashes with security forces and dozens of casualties. Assad and his advisers bungled the initial response: The president failed to offer condolences to the families of those killed or to visit the town, setting off a new round of protests that spread to other areas. As the crackdown intensified, demonstrators also honed their rhetoric from demands for "freedom" and "dignity"--and an end to abuses by the security forces--to calls for Assad's overthrow.

Assad's main goal is to preserve the rule of his Alawite regime in a Sunni-dominated country. (The Alawites, who make up about 12 percent of Syria's population, are an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam.) Unlike the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, it is unlikely that the Syrian military leadership would abandon Assad. Most of the country's generals and top security officials are Alawite, and their fortunes are tied to Assad's survival. Syria is also home to Christian, Druze, and Shiite minorities--about 15 percent of the population--and they tend to support the Alawite regime. Along with many secular Sunnis, these minorities look to Assad as a source of stability, and they fear that his fall could precipitate a civil war.

The Ba'athist regime has a history of using extreme violence to suppress opposition. In 1982, as the Muslim Brotherhood carried out attacks against military and civilian targets in several cities, Hafez Assad dispatched troops to the city of Hama to put down an Islamist uprising. Assad's forces leveled sections of the city, killing an estimated twenty thousand people. Since then, membership in the Muslim Brotherhood has been punishable by death.

While the current wave of protests has been partly inspired by Sunni preachers in some cities and towns, Syria is not facing another Islamist uprising. Like other rebellions in the Arab world, the largest protests have taken place after Friday prayers. But many secular Sunnis, especially in Damascus, are still on the sidelines. If these Sunnis take to the streets in sustained, large-scale protests, then Assad's government will face a grave danger.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


UN Embarrassed by Forecast on Climate Refugees (Axel Bojanowski, 4/18/11, Der Spiegel)

Six years ago, the United Nations issued a dramatic warning that the world would have to cope with 50 million climate refugees by 2010. But now that those migration flows have failed to materialize, the UN has distanced itself from the forecasts. On the contrary, populations are growing in the regions that had been identified as environmental danger zones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Is Sitting a Lethal Activity? (JAMES VLAHOS, 4/17/11, NY Times Magazine)

[Dr. James Levine's] initial question — which he first posed in a 1999 study — was simple: Why do some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight? After assessing how much food each of his subjects needed to maintain their current weight, Dr. Levine then began to ply them with an extra 1,000 calories per day. Sure enough, some of his subjects packed on the pounds, while others gained little to no weight.

“We measured everything, thinking we were going to find some magic metabolic factor that would explain why some people didn’t gain weight,” explains Dr. Michael Jensen, a Mayo Clinic researcher who collaborated with Dr. Levine on the studies. But that wasn’t the case. Then six years later, with the help of the motion-tracking underwear, they discovered the answer. “The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t.

People don’t need the experts to tell them that sitting around too much could give them a sore back or a spare tire. The conventional wisdom, though, is that if you watch your diet and get aerobic exercise at least a few times a week, you’ll effectively offset your sedentary time. A growing body of inactivity research, however, suggests that this advice makes scarcely more sense than the notion that you could counter a pack-a-day smoking habit by jogging. “Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting,” says Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

The posture of sitting itself probably isn’t worse than any other type of daytime physical inactivity, like lying on the couch watching “Wheel of Fortune.” But for most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides — for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


Obama’s Fake Energy Policy: Flex fuel is the solution to our reliance on foreign oil. (Robert Zubrin, 4/18/11, National Review)

This wrecking operation on our economy is being perpetuated by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel of tyrannies and kleptocracies largely hostile or indifferent to the prosperity of the industrialized West. This cartel, which controls 80 percent of the world’s commercially viable oil reserves, is currently limiting its production to 1973 levels — despite a doubling of the size of the world economy in the nearly four decades since. As a result, we and our allies are having our economies looted as oil prices go through the roof, with even worse consequences falling upon the world’s poorest. An oil impost that causes depression in the advanced world can cause starvation in the Third World.

We need to break free of the extortions of this cartel. The only way to do that is to enable our economy to run on low-cost fuels whose production does not depend on resources under OPEC’s control.

Fortunately, such a fuel is available. It’s called methanol, or wood alcohol. It’s a major chemical commodity that can currently be produced in quantity from natural gas, coal, recycled garbage, or any kind of biomass without exception. The cost of production of methanol is about $0.60 per gallon, and its current spot price is $1.20 per gallon, without any subsidy — equivalent in miles per dollar to gasoline at $2.18 per gallon. While not drinkable like ethanol, methanol lacks the carcinogens contained in gasoline, burns cleaner, and is safer to handle — in fact, windshield-wiper fluid is one-third methanol. It is also less likely to cause a dangerous fire in the event of a crash. In short, methanol is cheap, clean, safe, and readily producible from resources that are widely available both here and around the world.

The only problem is that the cars on the road today can’t use it. But this can be readily fixed.

Flex-fuel vehicles can be now be made, at an incremental cost of only about $100 per car, that can run equally well on methanol, ethanol, or gasoline, in any combination, thereby giving the consumer complete fuel choice.

Were Congress to pass a law requiring that all new cars sold in the U.S. be fully flex fueled, it would change not merely the American auto fleet, but the global auto fleet, as foreign car makers would be compelled to switch their lines over to meet the standard. Thus Japanese cars sold in Japan, China, and India would also be flex fueled, as would Korean and European cars marketed worldwide. If we make flex fuel the American standard, it will become the effectively the international standard.

Energy Victory by Robert Zubrin

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


The Incredible Shrinking Obama (PETER WEHNER, 4/25/11, Weekly Standard)

Republicans need to unmask the philosophy guiding modern liberalism when it comes to taxes. What liberals are interested in isn’t growth so much as egalitarianism and redistribution for its own sake. For many on the left, increasing taxes isn’t about economics as much as morality. They believe taxing the wealthy is a virtue, to the point that they would penalize “the rich” even if that has harmful economic consequences. Recall that during a campaign debate, when asked by Charles Gibson about his support for raising capital gains taxes even if that caused a net revenue loss to the Treasury, Obama sided with tax increases “for purposes of fairness.”

Higher taxes would keep our current welfare state in place for only a little while longer. The entitlement apparatus would remain unsustainable. Tax increases might slightly delay, but could not forestall, a fiscal crack-up. The only thing that can is reconfiguring and restructuring our entitlement programs, most especially Medicare. That is what Paul Ryan’s plan does—and what President Obama’s budget avoids doing.

The point cannot be made often enough: Modern liberalism, as embodied in the Obama presidency, is the defender of the status quo.

Of course, the second part of this is that the GOP needs to be the party of putting the welfare state on a sustainable footing, which is what the Right is reacting against.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


Detroit Moves Against Unions: Mayor and Schools Chief Leverage State Law to Force Change, Close Budget Gaps (MATTHEW DOLAN, 4/18/11, WSJ)

A new state law has emboldened the Detroit mayor and schools chief to take a more aggressive stance toward public unions as the city leaders try to mop up hundreds of millions of dollars in red ink.

Robert Bobb, the head of the Detroit Public Schools, late last week sent layoff notices to the district's 5,466 salaried employees, including all of its teachers, a preliminary step in seeking broad work-force cuts to deal with lower enrollment.

Earlier last week, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing presented a $3.1 billion annual budget to City Council in which he proposed higher casino taxes and substantial cuts in city workers' health care and pensions to close an estimated $200 million budget gap.

To save cities they'll have to kill the unions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Sen. Kohl reported no fundraising activity for the first quarter (Shane D'Aprile - 04/18/11, The Hill)

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) reported no fundraising activity in the first quarter of this year.

But he loaned his campaign account $1 million late last year, which was seen as a sign that he'll run for a fifth term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Under Threat: The Shock of the Old (HOLLAND COTTER, 4/18/11, NY Times)

“WHAT happened to Africa?” an art-world friend asked. “It disappeared.”

She was right. Do a quick scan of major exhibitions in big American museums in the past few years and Africa’s barely there. The same with India. Even China, usually an easier sell, is seen only discreetly. Wasn’t the multicultural surge of yesteryear supposed to produce the opposite effect?

There's only one Culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM

K. I. S. S.:

The 30-Cent Tax Premium: Tax compliance employs more workers than Wal-Mart, UPS, McDonald's, IBM and Citigroup combined. (ARTHUR B. LAFFER, 4/17/11, WSJ)

There is a lot more to taxes than simply paying the bill. Taxpayers must spend significantly more than $1 in order to provide $1 of income-tax revenue to the federal government.

To start with, individuals and businesses must pay the government the $1 in revenue plus the costs of their own time spent filing and complying with the tax code; plus the tax collection costs of the IRS; plus the tax compliance outlays that individuals and businesses pay to help them file their taxes.

In a study published last week by the Laffer Center, my colleagues Wayne Winegarden, John Childs and I estimate that these costs alone are a staggering $431 billion annually. This is a cost markup of 30 cents on every dollar paid in taxes. And this is not even a complete accounting of the costs of tax complexity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show (Craig Whitlock, April 17, 2011, Washington Post)

The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country’s autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad’s security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on “armed gangs.”

Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad.

Next year in Damascus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


The Gulf of Mexico's Seafood Rebirth a Year After the BP Oil Spill: One year after the BP oil disaster, marine life is thriving in the Gulf of Mexico and fishermen and state officials are optimistic about the summer season. But locals still battling health problems are angry at the oil giant’s failure to meet its commitments (Rick Outzen, 4/18/11, Daily Beast)

The largest man-made environmental disaster in U.S. history, struck the Gulf Coast on April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded nearly 50 miles off the Louisiana shore, costing 11 men their lives. It would be September 19 before the spill was completely stopped, and U.S. government data show that 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked before the well was capped. At the time, many feared one of the richest eco-systems in the world, the Gulf of Mexico, would take decades to recover.

But a year on, predictions that the gulf would become a dead sea have proven premature. Seafood in the region is thriving as the first anniversary of the explosion approaches. Commercial-fishing and charter-boat captains from Galveston, Texas, to Apalachicola Bay, Fla. are optimistic that their businesses will have a great summer after six years of battling hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina—and the spill.

Scientific research is giving Gulf seafood a clean bill of health.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Environmentalists seek gays' advice on President Obama (ALEX GUILLÉN, 4/18/11, Politico)

Young environmentalists looking for a success story in pressuring a Democratic administration to advance their goals have found it from an unusual source: the gay rights movement.

Environmentalists, especially youth activists that were a large part of President Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral victory, had high hopes for the past two years. But after the death of cap and trade, an oil spill that led to little action from Congress and the GOP gains last fall, disappointment reigns.

For the greens, there are numerous emotional parallels between the green and gay rights movements, most notably frustration over the lack of action on what they see as an obvious endgame.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Oregon's monster mushroom is world's biggest living thing (Jeff Barnard, 6 August 2000, Independent)

The largest living organism ever found has been discovered in an ancient American forest.

The Armillaria ostoyae, popularly known as the honey mushroom, started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope. It has been spreading its black shoestring filaments, called rhizomorphs, through the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows. It now covers 2,200 acres (880 hectares) of the Malheur National Forest, in eastern Oregon.

The outline of the giant fungus stretches 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometres) across, and it extends an average of three feet (one metre) into the ground. It covers an area as big as 1,665 football fields.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Secret of the Indian rope trick is finally revealed: it's a hoax (David Brown, 14 April 2001, Independent)

Peter Lamont, a former president of the Magic Circle in Edinburgh and now a researcher at the city's university, revealed the truth at Edinburgh's International Science Festival last night.

He has discovered that the trick has never been performed and was invented by an American newspaper as part of a circulation drive 111 years ago.

The Chicago Tribune caused a storm when it printed a report from India of a boy climbing an unsupported rope and disappearing at the top. The paper claimed he was followed by a man armed with a sword who also disappeared before parts of the boy's body fell from the sky and landed in a basket at the base of the rope. The man reappeared and emptied out the basket, revealing the boy to be in perfect health.

Versions of the story spread worldwide, but little notice was taken of a short note published by the Chicago Tribune four months after the original story that admitted the article was a publicity stunt. It assumed readers would realise it was a hoax because the story was bylined "Fred S. Ellmore".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Howdy everyone, this is Matt Murphy. Here is a project we all can enjoy. Go to this website and read the directions:


Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to donate money to this worthy charity in the amount of a college football game that makes you happy and/or involved the destruction of a hated rival. If the total amount donated reaches $50,000 in a set time-frame, the site's proprietor has to get a tattoo.

For example, if you're a Nebraska fan and you want to commemorate the 1995 Orange Bowl, you would donate $24.17. You go to the link at the Every Day Should be Saturday website, click on one-time donation, check the option that allows you to choose your amount, type it in, and go the next page, where you fill in some info. At the bottom of that second page, you want to pick the SPECIAL EVENT tab and, next to it in the details area, put EDSBS/[YOUR SCHOOL], so they know who is doing it. Underneath that, you can write "NA" in the address box so they won't send you stuff (you do have to put your address down earlier for the billing, though).

Here is a post I made calling out Colorado fans. I don't normally trash talk this badly on Internet forums, but since the intention is to goad Colorado fans into donating to charity, I figured it was justified:


Not surprisingly, no Colorado fans have donated anything yet that I know of, but one Texas Tech fan did respond to me by donating $70.10 in honor of Nebraska's 2004 annihilation at the hands of Mike Leach. This donation is, so far as I know, the only good thing to come out of the state of Texas since the Alamo, when Texas lost.

Best to everyone,

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 AM


The season of the lambs: Christians are trying to analyse their responsibility for anti-Jewish prejudice, and to examine their own faith's Jewish roots (The Economist, Apr 7th 2004)

FOR the Judeo-Christian world, this is the week. For Jews, celebrations of Passover or Pesach--recalling the children of Israel's escape from Egyptian bondage--reach their central moment. Over a family meal, millions of households have remembered the lamb's blood which the Jews in Egypt daubed on their doors to escape the angel of death. All over the Christian world (this is one of those years when the western and eastern halves of Christendom celebrate on the same date), the story of Easter or Pascha, which draws deeply on Passover symbols, is being relived. As people hail the resurrected Jesus Christ, they rejoice in their own redemption "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish". Thus, in many corners of the world, there is talk of lambs being slain, either literally, or as a metaphor for God incarnate.

For many centuries, the Christians' season of hope was a time of fear in Jewish ghettos, as religious fervour spilled over in murderous anti-Semitic violence. Now, though the demon of anti-Semitism is far from dead--and is on the rise in certain parts--the sort of anti-Jewish sentiments that were directly inspired by Christian preaching are a thing of the past in most areas of the historically Christian world. This has been largely brought about by the deep and searching dialogue between leaders of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as both traditions struggle to make some spiritual sense of the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi death camps.

A token of the new Jewish-Christian understanding is the passage into common, unselfconscious use of the term Judeo-Christian to describe the religious heritage of the western world. Even now, admittedly, the word is not problem-free. Colin Powell, America's secretary of state, stumbled into a controversy last autumn when he said of Iraq that it was "an Islamic country by faith, just as we are Judeo-Christian". Out of deference to Americans of other religions or none, Mr Powell quickly corrected himself, saying "we are a country of many faiths now".

American Muslims nonetheless protested strongly, pointing out that in certain ways--in particular, its reverence for Jesus and Mary--Islam is closer to Christianity than Judaism is. They urged that some new, more inclusive term (Abrahamic, perhaps) be found to describe the commonality between all three monotheistic faiths.

But Mr Powell's use of the term does reflect something real in recent religious history. Over the past half-century, Christians have tried harder than at any time in the previous two millennia to analyse their own faith's responsibility for anti-Jewish prejudice and violence; and to look at their own faith's Jewish roots.

If you attended a seder last week you'll have no problem understanding why Americans put the "Judeo" in Judeo-Christian. At least when telling the story of Exodus, Judaism is a theology of liberation from oppression. Perhaps because the Muslims so quickly became overlords, Islam contains nothing similar.

[Originally posted: 4/07/04]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 AM


iMahNishtanah (App Shopper)

iMah Nishtanah

Learn or refresh reading and singing the Four Questions with your own interactive Mah Nishtanah.

Touch-n-Read technology lets you read along and hear every word. Sing along too!
Record mode makes it easy to practice reading the Hebrew words and automatically saves your last recording. Play your recording anytime for your friends, parents, teachers, or just to hear how you sound.

Play interactive activities to learn the meaning of the words.

• Friendly Touch-n-Read audio allows you to hear each word and read along.
• The full song is sung aloud so you can practice too.
• Interactive pictorial activities and flashcards help you learn the meaning of the words.
• Read or sing along in auto-save record mode.

This is not your father’s Passover!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


Matza and macaroons: As the Jewish festival of Passover nears, Naomi Alderman celebrates its annual food rituals and offers two classic recipes from her grandmother's favourite cookery book (Naomi Alderman, April 16, 2008, Guardian)

The festival celebrates, and at times attempts to relive, the story of the exodus of the Hebrew slaves from their captivity in Egypt. God, so the Bible relates, rescued the Children of Israel from slavery by smiting Egypt with 10 plagues; when Pharaoh finally agreed to release them, they had to leave so quickly that they didn't even have time to allow their bread to rise. So, for the eight days of Passover - this year from sunset next Saturday to sunset on Sunday April 27 - observant Jews eat no bread products, or anything made with flour that could potentially have had time to rise. These foods are called "chametz" and it's the prohibition against owning even a crumb of the stuff during Passover that creates the greatest levels of anxiety. In the preceding weeks, Jewish homes are cleaned with a fervour that borders on obsessive-compulsive. Furniture is pulled out. Books are opened and shaken. Curtains - as if they were known to attract breadcrumbs magnetically - are taken down and washed. [...]

The foods - especially the ritualised Seder meals on the first and second nights of the festival - become all the more alluring for being seen, smelled and tasted only once a year. Matza brei, the soft-yet-crunchy, delicious breakfast made from matza (cracker-like flatbread made from flour and water) soaked in an egg-and-milk mixture, and then fried in walnut oil, transports me instantly back to the kitchen of my grandmother, who died two years ago. I miss her, but I feel close to her again when I cook the meals she used to make - sometimes with her utensils as, being used only one week in the year, Passover cookware survives the generations. I have her recipe book, a battered 1958 edition of Florence Greenberg's Jewish Cookery (an updated and expanded version of Greenberg's first Jewish Chronicle Cookery Book published in 1934), bulging with yellowed recipes cut from newspapers and handwritten notes stuffed between the pages.

Passover, like all ritual, has the ability to telescope time. When I visit my parents' house and eat the same chicken soup my mother always makes, with the same kneidlach - little dumplings made from matza meal and eggs - floating in it, it's not exactly that I'm transported back to childhood. But the continuity between each Passover and all those that have gone before is almost stronger than the continuity between the day before the festival starts and the festival itself. There is a satisfaction, and a sense of permanence and stability, to be found in eating the same foods that I did at that time last year. This feeling swells further with the thought that the same rituals were performed not only by my parents and grandparents but ancestors whose names had been forgotten 100 years ago.

[originally posted; 4/16/08]

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April 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


True Finns Cast Finland Support for EU Bailouts Into Doubt (Arild Moen, 4/17/11, Dow Jones)

National Coalition Party Finance Minister Jyrki Katainen was declared the winner late Sunday, after a finely balanced election which saw the euro-skeptic True Finns emerge as Finland's third largest party.

The True Finns--who are against bailouts for deeply indebted euro-zone countries--won 19% of the vote, adding to the probability that the party could be part of Finland's new coalition government.

That is a dramatic increase from the 4.1% they received in the last election in 2007.

A new Finnish government opposing further bailouts could, in theory, prevent the EU from granting new rescue loans, since they have to be agreed unanimously by all members of the single currency.

The Portugese aren't true Finns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


The Anti-Immigration Crusader (JASON DePARLE, 4/17/11, NY Times)

Three decades ago, a middle-aged doctor sat outside his northern Michigan home and saw a patch of endangered paradise.

A beekeeper and amateur naturalist of prodigious energy, John Tanton had spent two decades planting trees, cleaning creeks and suing developers, but population growth put ever more pressure on the land. Though fertility rates had fallen, he saw a new threat emerging: soaring rates of immigration.

Time and again, Dr. Tanton urged liberal colleagues in groups like Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club to seek immigration restraints, only to meet blank looks and awkward silences.

“I finally concluded that if anything was going to happen, I would have to do it myself,” he said.

Improbably, he did. From the resort town of Petoskey, Mich., Dr. Tanton helped start all three major national groups fighting to reduce immigration, legal and illegal, and molded one of the most powerful grass-roots forces in politics. The immigration-control movement surged to new influence in last fall’s elections and now holds near veto power over efforts to legalize any of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

One group that Dr. Tanton nurtured, Numbers USA, doomed President George W. Bush’s legalization plan four years ago by overwhelming Congress with protest calls. Another, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, helped draft the Arizona law last year to give the police new power to identify and detain illegal immigrants.

A third organization, the Center for Immigration Studies, joined the others in December in defeating the Dream Act, which sought to legalize some people brought to the United States illegally as children. [...]

While Dr. Tanton’s influence has been extraordinary, so has his evolution — from apostle of centrist restraint to ally of angry populists and a man who increasingly saw immigration through a racial lens.

Mindful that the early-20th-century fight to reduce immigration had been marred by bigotry, Dr. Tanton initially emphasized FAIR’s identity as a “centrist group” and made arguments aimed at liberals and minorities. He allowed few local FAIR chapters, warning that a stray demagogue might “go off half-cocked and spoil the whole effort.”

When a member of FAIR wrote that Hispanic immigrants should be shot — because they “multiply like a bunch of rats” — a staff member offered to refund his dues. Early supporters included Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and Warren E. Buffett.

Now FAIR’s signature event is an annual gathering of talk radio hosts, where earnest policy pitches share time with the kind of battle cries Dr. Tanton once feared. This year’s event mixed discussion of job losses among minorities with calls to use Tomahawk missiles on Tijuana drug lords, while a doubter of President Obama’s birth certificate referred to “the undocumented worker” in the White House. Leading allies include Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, whose sweeps of Latino neighborhoods around Phoenix have prompted a federal investigation.

While the whole movement grew more vehement as illegal immigration increased, Dr. Tanton seemed especially open to provocative allies and ideas. He set off a storm of protests two decades ago with a memorandum filled with dark warnings about the “Latin onslaught.” Word soon followed that FAIR was taking money from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that promoted theories of the genetic superiority of whites.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Obama Seems Out of Sync with Events (David Shribman, 4/17/11, RCP)

The man who knew just when to say exactly the right thing -- to make the precisely correct gesture -- is repeatedly days, weeks, sometimes even months behind, so much so that it almost seems he is out of sync with the new rhythms of American politics.

Obama may hate the velocity of events -- a common complaint for older politicians, but not for people his age -- yet for all his powers as president he cannot slow them. Even Princeton basketball has abandoned the slowdown offense that Pete Carril pioneered and used to take the Tigers to the NCAA tournament 11 times and to upend UCLA in 1996. Today they play the same game everyone else does.

Moreover, the man who knew when to do the audacious thing has traded that in for a new trademark: caution. I know the perils of this sort of metric, but the words "cautious" and "Obama" appear together more than 13 million times on the Internet. That's more than five times as often as the pairing "audacious" and "Obama."

There is great virtue in caution and in its first cousin, prudence, a favorite word of former President George H.W. Bush. Presidents should be cautious when sending Americans into danger or tinkering with the economy.

Yet there are increasing signs that the president is paralyzed by caution.

...it's the fact that there are events. He's just not equipped to deal with them, entirely typical of someone who was a legislator rather than an executive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 AM


PODCAST: Can Taxes Be Green?: Could taxing environmental ills prove more of a solution to pollution than dilution? (David Biello, 4/17/11, Scientific American)

[S]tarting with Arthur Pigou in the early 20th century, economists have argued that if we really want less of something then we should make it cost more, not hide it in a public good like the atmosphere. How? Taxes!

For example, if we want less odorless, colorless carbon dioxide billowing into the air from coal-fired power plants and vehicle tailpipes, then a tax should cause people to cut down on this undesirable activity. The most common examples of this method are probably the various "sin" taxes put on things like alcohol or tobacco. A pollution sin tax could also offset current taxes, such as income tax.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


The Do-Nothing Plan: How Congress can balance the budget in eight years by literally doing nothing. This is not a joke. (Annie Lowrey, April 16, 2011, Slate)

[S]late proposes the Do-Nothing Plan for Deficit Reduction, a meek, cowardly effort to wrest the country back into the black. The overarching principle of the Do-Nothing Plan is this: Leave everything as is. Current law stands, and spending and revenue levels continue according to the Congressional Budget Office's baseline projections. Everyone walks away. Paul Ryan goes fishing. Sen. Harry Reid kicks back with a ginger ale. The rest of Congress gets back to bickering about mammograms. Miraculously, the budget just balances itself, in about a decade.

I know. Your eyebrows are running for your hairline; your jaw is headed to the floor. You've had the bejesus scared out of you by deficit hawks murmuring about bankruptcy and defaults and Chinese bondholders. But don't take it from me. Take it from the number crunchers at the CBO. Look at the first chart here, and check the "primary deficit" in 2019. The number is positive. The deficit does not exist. There's a technicality, granted: The primary deficit is the difference between spending and revenue. The total deficit, the number more commonly cited as "the deficit," includes mandatory interest payments on the country's debt. Even so, the total fiscal gap is a whisper, not a shout—about 3 percent of GDP, which is what economists say is healthy for an advanced economy.

So how does doing nothing actually return the budget to health? The answer is that doing nothing allows all kinds of fiscal changes that politicians generally abhor to take effect automatically. First, doing nothing means the Bush tax cuts would expire, as scheduled, at the end of next year. That would cause a moderately progressive tax hike, and one that hits most families, including the middle class. The top marginal rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, and some tax benefits for investment income would disappear. Additionally, a patch to keep the alternative minimum tax from hitting 20 million or so families would end. Second, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama's health care law, would proceed without getting repealed or defunded. The CBO believes that the plan would bend health care's cost curve downward, wrestling the rate of health care inflation back toward the general rate of inflation. Third, doing nothing would mean that Medicare starts paying doctors low, low rates. Congress would not pass anymore of the regular "doc fixes" that keep reimbursements high. Nothing else happens. Almost magically, everything evens out.

...there just isn't much of a problem. But the GOP is wise to pretend there's a crisis in order to push reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Japan’s Crisis: Context and Outlook: Once, many observers thought Japan should be feared. Now, many fear that Japan should be pitied because natural disasters will accelerate its economic retreat. Perhaps the latter assessment will turn out to be as mistaken as the former. (Vaclav Smil, April 16, 2011, American)

A new study on sovereign fiscal responsibility (published by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research) defined the fiscal space and fiscal path of 34 major economies—and put Japan in 31st place, just behind Ireland and ahead of Iceland, Portugal, and Greece. Japan—until recently the world’s second-largest economy, admired for its high-tech innovative drive and product quality and, in some views, even a presumptive heir to the U.S. global economic primacy—thus finds itself with a perilously diminished fiscal space on par with Portugal, with just five years left before it hits its maximum-feasible debt ceiling (for the United States, this point presently appears to be in 2027). Sovereign debt downgrading has already begun—in May 2009, Moody’s cut Japan’s rating from AAA to Aa2, and in January 2011 S&P posted an AA- rating (while the United States and Germany retain their AAA ratings). And the governor of Japan’s central bank keeps repeating the mantra of no country being able to run deficits forever. But, to put it bluntly, Japan for years has not had any government able to make significant decisions.

The country now resembles postwar Italy, with five prime ministers coming and going during the last five years, and, ironically, the tenure of the latest premier (in power since June 2010) was prolonged by the quake: Prime Minister Kan’s pre-quake favorability rating was only about 20 percent, he was under pressure (including from critics from his own party) to resign in the wake of illegal campaign donations, and the opposition was demanding an early new election—and it subsequently refused his invitation to join a new post-quake cabinet of national unity. Add to this frequent firings and resignations of key government ministers, and it is clear that the historic shift in September 2009 from more than a half-century of nearly-uninterrupted Liberal Democratic Party rule to control by the Democratic Party has brought neither improvements in policy clarity nor more resolute management of nation’s affairs.

What is ahead is a long and costly slog. Just to clear the seemingly endless fields of coastal debris in the two worst affected prefectures will take three to five years. New housing will have to be found or built for 150,000 people who now live scattered across 18 prefectures in more than 2,000 temporary shelters, and it is clear that some coastal settlements will not be rebuilt. It will take months to achieve stable cold shutdown at all Fukushima Dai-ichi station reactors and spent-fuel storage pools, to clear all radioactive debris from failed reactor cores and ruined storage pools, and to remove all radioactive water, while the complete unwinding of the disaster will take decades: the account books have yet to close on the Three Mile Island accident of far lesser magnitude-and-severity, 32 years later.

The aggregate long-term costs of coping with Fukushima station’s shutdown and (now inevitable) decommissioning remain highly uncertain, with a displaced population that has been removed from the roughly 1,000 square-kilometer formal exclusion zone around the plant, with radiological complications in international relations, and with reduced food production (Japan already imports two-thirds of its food, more than any other rich nation) from the contaminated area. Current estimates are that half of the 13,000 small farmers in the area may be at least temporarily excluded from the marketplace due to the combined impacts of farmland inundation and contamination of their produce. And what will Japan decide to do about its nuclear electricity generation capability? Before the quake it supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity and was expected to grow to 50 percent within two decades, fractions so large that they cannot be replaced either rapidly or cheaply by any other available option, making a substantial retreat from nuclear power almost impossible to contemplate and a failure to continue with planned nuclear growth one fraught with major challenges.

The Japanese government has no choice with respect to taking on more public debt: it has already announced that it will nationalize all land abandoned by disaster victims, finance the region’s redevelopment (including construction of as many as 100,000 new residences), take a large stake in the financially troubled TEPCO (whose present market capitalization is barely 10 percent of its short-term-maturing debt, to say nothing of its possible liabilities), and indemnify farmers for their losses due to their contaminated rice fields, and fishermen for their similarly forgone catches. All this will obviously further constrict Japan’s fiscal space and truncate its already-short fiscal trajectory toward de facto shut-out from global capital markets.

A single generation ago, it appeared to many sober observers that Japan should be feared as it moved on a seemingly unstoppable track toward global economic domination. Today, many fear that Japan should be pitied as the greatest measured earthquake in the country’s history, compounded by an extraordinary tsunami and potentiated by a serious nuclear catastrophe, will accelerate the nation’s two-decade old economic retreat. My modest hope is that the latter assessment will turn out be as mistaken as was the former.

...so unless they were to use the crisis to radically alter the latter two the former will just keep following.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Reason for optimism on U.S. economy: Tough times call for tough action - and political courage - from policymakers. We've been there. (Mark Zandi , 4/16/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The good news is that a political consensus is forming between the rational right and rational left. Two bipartisan commissions have now concluded that both spending cuts and tax increases are necessary, and that the biggest part of deficit reduction should come from less spending. Historical experience suggests that countries that tackle their fiscal problems by spending less see their economies perform better in the long run.

Besides freezing discretionary spending, Congress must put entitlement programs on solid financial ground, permanently. Indexing the Social Security retirement age to longevity, means-testing benefits, and tying them more accurately to inflation are all ways to do this. The changes should not affect those nearing retirement, who counted on the current system in their planning. But younger workers have decades to make the necessary adjustments.

Tax reform, meanwhile, should focus on reducing tax expenditures - those exclusions, exemptions, deductions, and credits that currently cost the federal government close to $1.2 trillion per year. The mortgage-interest deduction is among the largest of these, but hundreds of other loopholes indirectly pay for tuition, health insurance, child care, local property taxes, and so on. From an economic perspective, there is no difference between eliminating tax loopholes and cutting government spending; the result is the same.

Limiting tax expenditures could raise enough revenue to allow lower marginal tax rates for individuals and corporations. This might help end the decade-old political war over tax rates for those making more than $250,000 a year. It would also make U.S. firms more globally competitive and likely to invest and hire at home.

I'm not saying any of this will be easy; policymakers will almost surely need a push from markets. Interest rates are still low, suggesting the global investors who buy U.S. government debt don't mind our fiscal mess. But their patience stems largely from the lack of alternatives.

....the entitlement fixes are so easy there's no pressure for genuine reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


New Efficiencies in Health Care? Not Likely: If the British experience is any indication, generic drugs and expert commissions will do little to lower costs (THEODORE DALRYMPLE, 4/16/11, WSJ)

All attempts to reduce bureaucracy increase it, and the same goes for cost. Such, at any rate, has been my experience of the British health care system—its famed, or infamous, National Health Service.

Thus, I could not but smile a little wanly when President Barack Obama said this week that he hoped an increase in the use of generic drugs, together with an expert commission to examine the cost-effectiveness of medical treatments, would make a significant impact on the vast budget deficit of the United States. We in Britain have been there and we have done that, and our health-care costs doubled, perhaps not as a result, but certainly at the same time.

The best that might be said for these measures is that the increase in health-care costs was lower than it might otherwise have been. That is certainly not enough to save a country from a financial apocalypse, or even enough to be a major contribution to its salvation. [...]

It is an occupational hazard for politicians to think that they and their ilk know best, and by all indications Mr. Obama rather likes centralization. In my professional lifetime in the centralized British health-care system, however, I have seen a hundred schemes of cost reduction, but I have never seen any reduction in costs, or at least any that lasted more than a few months. I can't remember a single health minister who did not promise more efficiency at less cost, or a single one who actually managed to achieve it.

The long-term solution, I imagine, is the same for health care as it is for pensions: to pay for it with the income generated by dedicated savings accounts, which can be transferred to the next generation after death. The important thing is to reduce the insurance element, which encourages a pay-as-you-go system, a kind of Madoff scheme ensnaring the whole country.

If we are to have health-care systems that don't bankrupt us, people will have to accept paying more bills out of pocket and perhaps lowering their standard of living. Tiresome as the advice might be, we had better start saving a good deal more.

Only health savings accounts get us where we're going; we're just bickering over the pace of reform.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


The Man Behind the Curtain: Physics is not always the seamless subject that it pretends to be (Tony Rothman, American Scientist)

“I want to get down to the basics. I want to learn the fundamentals. I want to understand the laws that govern the behavior of the universe.” Thousands of admissions officers and physics department chairs have smiled over such words set down by aspiring physicists in their college-application essays, and that is hardly surprising, for every future physicist writes that essay, articulating the sentiments of all of us who choose physics as a career: to touch the fundamentals, to learn how the universe operates.

It is also the view the field holds of itself and the way physics is taught: Physics is the most fundamental of the natural sciences; it explains Nature at its deepest level; the edifice it strives to construct is all-encompassing, free of internal contradictions, conceptually compelling and—above all—beautiful. The range of phenomena physics has explained is more than impressive; it underlies the whole of modern civilization. Nevertheless, as a physicist travels along his (in this case) career, the hairline cracks in the edifice become more apparent, as does the dirt swept under the rug, the fudges and the wholesale swindles, with the disconcerting result that the totality occasionally appears more like Bruegel’s Tower of Babel as dreamt by a modern slumlord, a ramshackle structure of compartmentalized models soldered together into a skewed heap of explanations as the whole jury-rigged monstrosity tumbles skyward.

Of course many grand issues remain unresolved at the frontiers of physics: What is the origin of inertia? Are there extra dimensions? Can a Theory of Everything exist? But even at the undergraduate level, far back from the front lines, deep holes exist; yet the subject is presented as one of completeness while the holes—let us say abysses—are planked over in order to camouflage the danger. It seems to me that such an approach is both intellectually dishonest and fails to stimulate the habits of inquiry and skepticism that science is meant to engender. [...]

Quantum text authors, perhaps because of the perversity of their subject, are particularly adept at sweeping conceptual difficulties under the rug. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the celebrated “two-slit” experiment, which is universally invoked to illustrate the wave-particle duality of light and which brings you face to face with the bedrock inscrutability of Nature. The experiment is simple: Shine a light beam through a pair of narrow slits in a screen and observe the results. For our purposes, the great paradoxes illustrated by the two-slit experiment, that light can act like a wave or a particle but not both at the same time, are not central. What is central is that explanations of the experiment’s results invoke both classical lights waves, on the one hand, and photons—quantum light particles—on the other.

Also central is that in analyzing this experiment textbook authors essentially throw up their hands and surrender. Recollecting that light is an electromagnetic wave, authors invariably begin by talking about the intensity of the incident light, which is a measure of the strength of the electric and magnetic fields. Then in a complete non sequitur, they shift the conversation to photons, as if the quantum-mechanical beastlets have electric and magnetic fields like classical light waves. They don’t. In fact, an accurate description of the famous experiment requires a more subtle quantum-mechanical entity known as a coherent state, which is the closest thing to a classical light wave.

What’s more, by resorting to a classical optics analogy of the experiment, authors are forgoing any explanation whatsoever. “Explanation” in physics generally means to find a causal mechanism for something to happen, a mechanism involving forces, but textbook optics affords no such explanation of slit experiments. Rather than describing how the light interacts with the slits, thus explaining why it behaves as it does, we merely demand that the light wave meet certain conditions at the slit edge and forget about the actual forces involved. The results agree well with observation, but the most widely used of such methods not only avoids the guts of the problem but is mathematically inconsistent. Not to mention that the measurement problem remains in full force.

Such examples abound throughout physics. Rather than pretending that they don’t exist, physics educators would do well to acknowledge when they invoke the Wizard working the levers from behind the curtain. Even towards the end of the twentieth century, physics was regarded as received Truth, a revelation of the face of God. Some physicists may still believe that, but I prefer to think of physics as a collection of models, models that map the territory, but are never the territory itself. That may smack of defeatism to many, but ultimate answers are not to be grasped by mortals. Physicists have indeed gone further than other scientists in describing the natural world; they should not confuse description with understanding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM

CLINTON'S FIFTH TERM (via Bryan Francoeur):

Obama committed to South Korea trade deal: Clinton (Reuters, 4/16/11)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday the Obama administration was committed to passing a long-delayed free trade agreement with South Korea, and that the pact was ready for review by Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Where does good come from?: Harvard's Edward O. Wilson tries to upend biology, again (Leon Neyfakh, April 17, 2011, Boston Globe)

What [E.O.] Wilson is trying to do, late in his influential career, is nothing less than overturn a central plank of established evolutionary theory: the origins of altruism. His position is provoking ferocious criticism from other scientists. Last month, the leading scientific journal Nature published five strongly worded letters saying, more or less, that Wilson has misunderstood the theory of evolution and generally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. One of these carried the signatures of an eye-popping 137 scientists, including two of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard.

His new argument, in a nutshell, amounts to a frontal attack on long-accepted ideas about one of the great mysteries of evolution: why one creature would ever help another at its own expense. Natural selection means that the fittest pass down their genes to the next generation, and every organism would seem to have an overwhelming incentive to survive and reproduce. Yet, strangely, self-sacrifice exists in the natural world, even though it would seem to put individual organisms at an evolutionary disadvantage: The squirrel that lets out a cry to warn of a nearby predator is necessarily putting itself in danger. How could genes that lead to such behavior persist in a population over time? It’s a question that bedeviled even Charles Darwin, who considered altruism a serious challenge to his theory of evolution.

The puzzle of altruism is more than just a technical curiosity for evolutionary theorists. It amounts to a high-stakes inquiry into the nature of good. By identifying the mechanisms through which altruism and other advanced social behaviors have evolved in all kinds of living creatures — like ants, wasps, termites, and mole rats — we stand to gain a better understanding of the human race, and the evolutionary processes that helped us develop the capacity for collaboration, loyalty, and even morality. Figure out where altruism comes from, you might say, and you’ve figured out the magic ingredient that makes human civilization the wondrous, complex thing that it is. And perhaps this is the reason that the debate between Wilson and his critics, actually somewhat esoteric in substance, has become so heated.

The currently accepted explanation for altruism is something known as kin selection theory. It says that an organism trying to pass its genes down to future generations can do so indirectly, by helping a relative to survive and procreate. Your brother, for example, shares roughly half your genes. And so, by the dispassionate logic of evolution, helping him produce offspring is half as good for you as producing your own. Thus, acting altruistically towards someone with whom you share genetic material does not really constitute self-sacrifice: It’s just a different way of promoting your own genes. Wilson was one of the original champions of kin selection theory, but 40 years later, he is calling it a “gimmick,” and is imploring his colleagues to give it up.

“Kin selection is wrong,” Wilson said. “That’s it. It’s wrong.”

He most recently argued this point of view in a rhetorically unsparing paper that ran on the cover of Nature last August, saying that kin selection theory simply doesn’t explain altruism. It is that paper, co-written with the Harvard mathematicians Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita, that is now being broadly and dramatically challenged in the form of letters, blog posts, and rebuttals published in other journals. Richard Dawkins, who played a crucial role in popularizing kin selection with his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene,” said last week that he has “never met anybody apart from Wilson and Nowak who takes it seriously.”

“It’s almost universally regarded as a disgrace that Nature published it,” Dawkins said. “Most people feel the reason they published it was the eminence of Wilson and Nowak, not the quality of the paper.”

Wilson’s recent about-face on kin selection has stunned the scientific world in part because Wilson was personally responsible for the almost universal embrace of the idea in the first place. While he didn’t come up with the theory, he is often credited with discovering William Hamilton, the graduate student who did, and convincing the scientific community that the young man was onto something big.

Wilson’s initial encounter with Hamilton’s theory of kin selection is famous among biologists: The story goes that he read Hamilton’s paper, which had been published in a not-very-widely-read journal of theoretical biology, on a long train ride from Boston to Miami in 1965. He approached it with skepticism: According to a 1999 story in the magazine Lingua Franca, he was agitated by the notion that some unknown upstart seemed to have solved a puzzle that had eluded him and the rest of the profession for so long. But by the time he stepped out of the train in Miami, he was thoroughly won over by the paper’s logic and prepared to go out into the world as an evangelist.

“I was enchanted,” Wilson said.

Wilson made Hamilton’s theory the basis of his work in sociobiology, a field he pioneered in the 1970s and which cemented his status as a star beyond the realm of entomology. But over the course of subsequent decades, Wilson came across evidence that made him doubt the connection between genetic relatedness and altruism. Researchers were finding species of insects that shared a lot of genetic material with each other but didn’t behave altruistically, and other species that shared little and did. “Nothing we were finding connected with kin selection,” Wilson said. “I knew that something was going wrong — there was a smell to it.”

The smell is dead fish floating to the top of the barrel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


The Naked Nielsens (Marty Kaplan, 04/14/11, HuffPo)

The metrics are wearing no clothes.

How would you react if you found out that the basis of your business model was bogus? That's the nightmare that the television industry is finally waking up to, and I bet that online media won't be far behind.

The TV business is built on advertising. Except for premium cable, the money that networks get for selling audiences' eyeballs to advertisers is the mother's milk of the industry. Networks set the price of ads on their shows using demographic information about the age and sex of those shows' viewers. And the company that pretty much has a monopoly on furnishing those metrics is Nielsen.

So a few weeks ago, at the Marriott Marquis in New York, it must have felt like pitchfork time when a respected TV network figure in charge of analyzing ratings, CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack, told the Advertising Research Foundation's annual convention that, um, age and sex don't matter.

Poltrack put a positive spin on his stunning admission: Look! We're working with Nielsen to come up with terrific new metrics that are way better than those lousy old demographics! But that cheery prospect may not have distracted the advertising and marketing executives in the room from ruing the hundreds of billions of dollars they've apparently thrown down the rat hole these past 35 years.

How lousy are age and sex for targeting ad buys? "Essentially invalid," said Poltrack. "There is no link, none, between the age of the specified demographic delivery of the campaign and the sales generated by that campaign." According to Ad Age, Nielsen executives at the convention reported that "ratings demographics by age and sex had a... 0.12 correlation with actual sales produced by exposure to TV ads, where 1.0 is complete correlation and 0 signals no relationship whatsoever." Zero-point-one-two! You'd do better using a Ouija board than Nielsen demos.

Whenever The Wife watches a sporting event she complains that men get all the good ads.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Strange balk sequence provides light moment (Eric Gilmore, 4/17/11, MLB.com)

With Daric Barton at first base and David DeJesus at the plate, Verlander went into his stretch. He stepped back off the mound, intending to throw to first, but apparently caught a cleat in the dirt. So instead of making an off-balance throw to first, he threw toward home plate -- and hit DeJesus.

Home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck ruled it a balk and awarded second base to Barton. DeJesus' at-bat continued, and he eventually walked.

"That was the strangest [thing] I've ever seen," Geren said.

Nice mechanics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Story of Passover is told in modern-day uprisings (Lila Bricklin, 4/17/11, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Monday night during the seder meal, Jews worldwide will relive the redemption of the Israelites as written in the book of Exodus.

The Haggadah - the book used to guide the seder and a word that means to tell, or the telling - says that in every generation each Jew must feel personally redeemed; we're supposed to embrace the exodus from Egypt as part of our own experience.

As history has played out the last three months across North Africa and the Middle East, I feel like I've borne witness to the Passover story on my TV and laptop. Dictators have been toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, and the world is helping rebel forces in Libya battle a brutal modern-day pharaoh.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Ukulele Crazy (BEN SISARIO, 4/17/11, NY Times)

LIKE everybody else, Eddie Vedder was shocked by what the ukulele could do.

It was the late 1990s and Mr. Vedder was in Hawaii, decompressing after a tour with his band, Pearl Jam, when one of those modest, four-stringed instruments caught his eye in an out-of-the-way drugstore. He bought it, sat down on a nearby case of beer, and picked out a few melodies. It felt good.

“And then a couple of tourists came by and threw 50 cents in the ukulele case,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, there’s something going on here.’ ”

Mr. Vedder’s new solo album, “Ukulele Songs” (Monkeywrench), will be released May 31. (“Truth in advertising,” he says of the title.) But in the years since his first beer-case serenade, the ukulele’s fortunes have changed. Not long ago it was an endangered species, usually encountered as cheap exotica or a comic prop. Now it permeates the culture to an extent that it hasn’t in more than half a century, turning up in Top 10 pop songs and fashionable indie-rock bands, in television commercials by the hundred and YouTube videos by the thousand. There definitely is something going on here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Atlas Winced (Megan McArdle, Apr 15 2011,, The Atlantic)

I feel bad being this mean about the movie. Mean reviews are cheap currency for a reviewer; they're easy and fun to write, while it's hard to find interesting and original ways to say "I liked it". But in this case, it's more than justified. Acting an Ayn Rand movie well would require extraordinary control and nuance; the actors either don't get it, or don't have the skill to convey it. Filming it well would require imagination to capture the combination of WPA mural and noir that forms the backdrop for her novels; the director and the art director either lacked the imagination, or the budget. Writing it well would require deft judgement as to how to translate Rand's rather preachy dialogue into something plausible and compelling. The writers either . . . well, here's a sample.

"Robert McNamara?"
"I'm Robert McNamara. What are you selling, pal?"
"Nothing. I'm simply offering a society that cultivates individual achievement. I know where such a place exists."

At the sound of this, my husband's head popped up. "He really said that?" he asked incredulously. And in a tone of even greater wonder "And someone else wrote it??" It is sort of breathtaking to contemplate the chain of events that had to occur for those words to end up blaring improbably from my laptop speakers.

Believe it or not, this is far from the worst dialogue in the movie--the farewell of Ellis Wyatt is much, much worse, and also, manages to step on one of the best lines in the book. Did I say "step"? The line was flung down and danced upon.

The worst part is that the movie is a bad caricature of what people think that libertarians believe. The genius of capitalism is nowhere to be found--in this movie, "business" mostly consists of shuffling papers around a desk, telling your fellow capitalists how great they are, and instantly promising to deliver metal for a railroad bridge without probing trivial matters like how much metal will be required, when and where the bridge will be built, and how much the customer might be willing to pay. This makes the capitalists who go on strike seem very little different from the "looters" in Washington who they are supposed to be fighting: they're all a bunch of pompous windbags delivering prim little lectures to each other.


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April 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Vegan magazine admits to meaty pics (UPI, 4/15/11)

U.S. readers of vegan magazine VegNews say they're in a stew to find the magazine regularly uses stock photographs containing meat in its photo spreads.

CNN said the magazine admitted to using the meaty photographs after being outed by the author of a vegan blog called quarrygirl.com.

"The pictures we've been drooling over for years are actually of MEAT!" quarrygirl charged. "Get your barf bags ready!"

They're bulimic, their barf bags are always ready.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


Evolutionary analysis shows languages obey few ordering rules (John Timmer, April 13, 2011, Ars Technica)

Noam Chomsky helped establish the Generative school of thought, which suggests that there must be some constraints to this madness, some rules that help make a language easier for children to pick up, and hence more likely to persist. Others have approached this issue via a statistical approach (the authors credit those inspired by Joseph Greenberg for this), looking for word-order rules that consistently correlate across language families. This approach has identified a handful of what may be language universals, but our uncertainty about language relationships can make it challenging to know when some of these are correlations are simply derived from a common inheritance.

For anyone with a biology background, having traits shared through common inheritance should ring a bell. Evolutionary biologists have long been able to build family trees of related species, called phylogenetic trees. By figuring out what species have the most traits in common and grouping them together, it's possible to identify when certain features have evolved in the past. In recent years, the increase in computing power and DNA sequences to align has led to some very sophisticated phylogenetic software, which can analyze every possible tree and perform a Bayesian statistical analysis to figure out which trees are most likely to represent reality.

By treating language features like subject-verb order as a trait, the authors were able to perform this sort of analysis on four different language families: 79 Indo-European languages, 130 Austronesian languages, 66 Bantu languages, and 26 Uto-Aztecan languages. Although we don't have a complete roster of the languages in those families, they include over 2,400 languages that have been evolving for a minimum of 4,000 years.

The results are bad news for universalists: "most observed functional dependencies between traits are lineage-specific rather than universal tendencies," according to the authors. The authors were able to identify 19 strong correlations between word order traits, but none of these appeared in all four families; only one of them appeared in more than two. Fifteen of them only occur in a single family. Specific predictions based on the Greenberg approach to linguistics also failed to hold up under the phylogenetic analysis. "Systematic linkages of traits are likely to be the rare exception rather than the rule," the authors conclude.

If universal features can't account for what we observe, what can? Common descent. "Cultural evolution is the primary factor that determines linguistic structure, with the current state of a linguistic system shaping and constraining future states."

There are only the choices we make.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Maple Bacon Sundae (Denny's)

Bacon makes a classic ice cream sundae even more awesome. We start with maple-flavored syrup, and a scoop of rich, creamy vanilla ice cream and then a generous sprinkle of our diced hickory-smoked bacon. Add another sweet layer of syrup and vanilla ice cream topped with even more bacon and a drizzle of syrup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


From Dynasty to Democracy: Nations did not find stability, or sustained prosperity, until they became accountable to their citizens (David Gress, 4/15/11, WSJ)

For Mr. Fukuyama, politics are decisive. The ways in which societies govern themselves, he believes, create paths that may last for centuries, even millennia. Unlike the libertarians, he does not believe the state is a second-order phenomenon, a mere enabler or protector of what people choose to do in civil society or, alternatively, a saboteur of their freedoms. On the contrary, the form the state takes is of first-order importance: It can allow for human flourishing or thwart it mercilessly.

Mr. Fukuyama condemns the "curious blindness" of serious thinkers, including economists, to "the importance of political institutions." He notes, for instance, that it matters more to the destiny of a society which conqueror takes power—and when and how—than what its people's supposedly innate qualities might be or what perfect model of rational self-interest its scholars may endorse.

The narrative direction of "The Origins of Political Order" is not a Whiggish one of inevitable progress— there is too much back-and-forth variation, over the centuries, for so simple a scheme. But it is true that Mr. Fukuyama tracks a quest for "order" that often falls short of its goal until a decisive threshold is reached around 1800.

By then the Industrial Revolution—even at its earliest stages—had unleashed the forces of production in ways hitherto unimaginable, allowing for abundance rather than scarcity, not least in the production of food. But the threshold proved to be more than a matter of escaping "the Malthusian trap" of hunger and overpopulation. In the years surrounding the French Revolution, Mr. Fukuyama believes, politics began to shape itself—at last—into an orderly and sustainable form.

Obviously, political order had been achieved before then, but in a fitful and incomplete way. In Mr. Fukuyama's view, a durable political order can arise, and societies can fully thrive, only when a state is formed, when the state itself operates according to a rule of law, and when the state becomes accountable—that is, when it must answer to its citizens. Until the threshold point around 1800, he says, all three properties rarely existed together.

Francis Fukuyama’s Theory of the State: a review of THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL ORDER: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution By Francis Fukuyama (MICHAEL LIND, 4/17/11, NY Times Book Review)
“I believe that Kojève’s assertion still deserves to be taken seriously. The three components of a modern political order — a strong and capable state, the state’s subordination to a rule of law and government accountability to all citizens — had all been established in one or another part of the world by the end of the 18th century.”

By chance, these three elements were united for the first time in Britain, although other northwestern European countries that were influenced by the Reformation, like the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, “also succeeded in putting together the state, rule of law and accountability in a single package by the 19th century.” [...]

Drawing on recent work in sociobiology as well as older critiques of abstract natural rights liberalism, Fukuyama writes: “Human beings never existed in a pre­social state. The idea that human beings at one time existed as isolated individuals, who interacted either through anarchic violence (Hobbes) or in pacific ignorance of one another (Rousseau), is not correct.”

Some readers, however, may think that Fukuyama goes too far in de-emphasizing the natural rights tradition that inspired the Renaissance and Enlightenment liberalism. Here Fukuyama’s historicism and his insistence that ideas themselves shape political order are arguably at odds. He takes the theology of ancient Brahmins seriously as an explanation for the organization of Indian society, but does not do the same for the thinking of 17th-century English Levellers and Lockeans who influenced the English, American and French revolutions. Like 19th-century historicists, who accepted much of modernity while seeking to trace the origins of modern Western institutions to the customs of Germanic tribes or the corporations of medieval society, Fukuyama is in the position of favoring a democratic political order while arguing that the theories that first justified it, like universal rights and moral and epistemological individualism, were mistaken. It will be interesting to see how Fukuyama deals with the ideas that shaped the republicanism of the American and French revolutions in his promised second volume.

That said, “The Origins of Political Order” is a rigorous attempt to create a synoptic view of human history by means of a synthesis of research in many disciplines. Even those who doubt that such an enterprise can succeed or who take issue with particular details or conclusions can be impressed by Fukuyama’s audacity and stimulated by his arguments. Ambitious, erudite and eloquent, this book is undeniably a major achievement by one of the leading public intellectuals of our time.

One can imagine how much heat Mr. Fukuyama has taken from the intelligentsia over the years for the End of History, which essentially states that the Anglo-American system of democracy, capitalism, and protestantism is the ultimate arrangement of human affairs. But pretending that other cultures contributed to this development is kind of silly. And, being a neocon rather than a conservative, even when he wrote the earlier essay and book, he had failed to reckon with the degree to which the End was dependent on Christianity. After all, strong states are rather routine in history and, likewise, the rule of law, but the notion that the law should apply universally to all individuals in a society and that the state exists for that purpose, is exclusive to the West, while the morality undergirding that notion is exclusive to the children of Abraham.

It is this problem, the origins and maintenance of human dignity, that seems permanently elusive to Mr. Fukuyama. Recall that the "Last Man" he worried about in the book version of End of History is basically bereft of any meaning to his existence at the End. While this accurately describes the crisis of secularism, as we can see in the continental Europe that is willingly dying off, it ignores the thriving citizenry of the faithful Anglosphere. Peter Augustine Lawler's new collection, Modern and American Dignity, offers a powerful corrective to Mr. Fukuyama's blindness in this regard. [Interestingly, both were members of W's Council on Bioethics.] Consider, for example, the discussion in an essay that appeared first in The New Atlantis, Nations, Liberalism, and Science:

What is the relationship between liberalism and the nation? Does liberalism threaten the very existence of the nation? Can liberalism have a future without the nation, without a definite and limited political form? Do we have to choose between being liberal and being national or political? And how has our changing understanding of the natural world and man’s place in it—from natural theology to modern, mechanistic science—changed personhood and politics?

From the beginning, liberalism and political devotion have, of course, been in tension. The nation—or nation-state—is the modern form of the polis or political community. The polis came into existence when human loyalty ceased to be wholly personal or despotic. Loyalty shifted away from the personal rule of the despot to the way of life—the system of justice—of the place. Personal loyalty is fundamentally nomadic; it travels with the despot. Political loyalty is to a community occupying a particular territory.

The polis or nation inspires and depends upon political loyalty. The citizen, strictly speaking, finds his identity as a part of a political whole. He is formed by the process of “political socialization” of a particular polis. The citizen exists to serve the cause of his country—a reality much bigger and greater than himself. The virtue of the citizen is loyalty—even unquestioning loyalty.

Liberalism has its origins in opposition to that comprehensive understanding of citizenship. Each particular human being—the person—is not part of a political whole. The person himself is a whole, with personal responsibility and a personal destiny. A person can also be a citizen, of course, but being a citizen expresses only part—and not the highest part—of his being. He has the freedom to form or integrate himself according to what he can see for himself about who he is, both in terms of his capabilities and limitations and about what and whom he knows and loves.
Christian Liberalism

Liberalism begins on a big scale with Christianity. St. Augustine, for instance, criticized the theologies of ancient Greece and Rome from a liberal view. Civil theology involved the polytheistic gods of Athens and Rome, who existed to give divine sanction to the polis’s view of justice and to the loyalty of citizens. This civil theology, Augustine explains, does not give people the security for which they long: the city, so to speak, does not care about you the way you care about the city; there is no political recognition of your unique and irreplaceable being as a particular person.

What’s more, Augustine continues, civil theology is degrading. The truth is that every human being is more than a citizen—and we are all free to be open to the truth about who we are.

St. Augustine also criticized the philosophic natural theology of the Greeks and Romans. According to natural theology, we are all part of the impersonal process of nature. Aristotle’s God, for example, is not a person but a principle. Our moral pretensions and desire for personal significance are not supported by nature. The natural theologians—philosophers and scientists—are incapable, Augustine claims, of seeing the irreplaceable existence of every particular human being. They cannot account for our desire to be more than merely biological beings—to be personally significant, to be known and loved as persons. Our irreducible personal longings—which exist in every being born with both logos and eros—point in the direction of a personal God Who knows and loves us as persons. When each of us “relates” to that God, we remain a whole person relating to a whole person.

St. Augustine says that each human being is to some extent a pilgrim in his earthly city, and he obeys the law in the spirit of an alien or captive. Deep down, the particular person does not understand himself as a citizen or think of his country as his truest home. The person is also alienated, to some extent, from nature, knowing that nature is not his truest home either. Although man knows himself as a who, to both nature and the polis he is only a what.

Not that persons are not partly natural, partly political, partly familial, and so forth, but as a unique whole, a person is more than the sum of his parts. That is not modern liberalism, though. Distinctively modern liberalism is Christian or personal liberalism without belief in the Bible’s personal God.

Modern liberal philosophers, such as John Locke, side with the Christians in opposing civil theology. We are by nature free individuals—whole or, in a way, emotionally self-sufficient beings—and we invent political life—we institute government—to serve our individual needs. I do not exist for the city; the city exists for me. I ask first what my country can do for me, not what I can do for my country. The modern separation of church and state is an unreligious way of expressing the Christian view that our deepest devotion is not to our country, and that our political obedience can be separated from love or profound emotional loyalty.

The modern liberals also agree with the Christians that natural theology does not provide an account to the individual of his freedom. We are free from nature and dissatisfied with nature. We can and should use our freedom to master nature, to create a world more in accord with our own longings. Modern liberals make use of their technology to counter the impersonality of natural theology. But while each person should regard himself as unique and irreplaceable—as a whole and not merely a part—there is no corresponding personal God Who lovingly provides for each of us. There is no evidence for the existence of such a God, just as there is no evidence that any of us survives our biological demise. The truth is that we are all alone in a hostile environment and must provide for ourselves. This is not to say that Locke was necessarily an atheist; let us say he was a Deist who believed in an emphatically “past-tense” God Who set the universe in motion and left us alone. The God of the Deists may be different from the Aristotelian principle insofar as we can hold Him to be a Creator mysteriously responsible for our freedom, but He, like Aristotle’s God, is not personally concerned with any of us in particular.

Thus the good and bad news for the modern liberal is that each of us is really on his own—truly, absolutely free. The free human person brought into being the impersonal state. To maximize our freedom, we do not think of government as deserving of our personal love or loyalty, and patriotism becomes much less instinctive and more calculating. The free citizen sees that government is part of what is good for him. But the territory or tradition that his political community occupies is much less important than its capacity to serve his personal interests. Except for extreme libertarians, nobody denies that the modern state still requires some measure of loyalty. But the source of loyalty becomes more problematic. As the modern world becomes more “Lockeanized,” loyalty is the virtue that most obviously deteriorates. The “right of secession” is more consciously and deliberately applied to all the relationships that are parts of our lives. Even friendship becomes a temporary alliance, or “networking.”

The modern state has also suffered, since its beginning, from the growing contradiction between liberal personal longings and increasingly impersonal or mechanistic science. The cost of freeing the person from nature and God is freeing nature and theology from the person. “Nature’s God” is not a guide for human thought and action, and nature is hostile to our personal beings. The tension between the apparent accident of personal existence and the impersonal laws that govern science produces a loneliness that becomes harder and harder to bear. [...]

The American nation, we can also see, has a more promising future. There are many reasons for the American difference. The two world wars and the Cold War were not as traumatic for us; in fact, they reinforced our national self-confidence. The human cost of the monstrous twentieth century was not exacted on our continent. In each of these wars we also rightly think of ourselves as having been a force for good, defending personal freedom and human rights against terrible evildoers.

We can also see that America has not really engaged in the effort to stabilize free, personal life in the absence of a personal God. The American view has tended neither toward the death of God nor His reconfiguration as the foundation of some American civil religion. Writers often discuss the American civil religion, but generally describe it as some variant of Biblical religion with an active God.

From the beginning, Americans have not grappled in the same way with the contradiction between intense personal longings and impersonal science or theology. Consider our Declaration of Independence. The theoretical core of the Declaration—on self-evident truths, unalienable rights, and instituting government—speaks of “Nature’s God,” a Deist creator, the source of the impersonal laws of nature. Christian members of the Continental Congress insisted that two other references to God be added to the eminently modern Jefferson and Franklin’s draft, and so the rousing conclusion, ending with “sacred Honor,” speaks of a Creator-God as the “Supreme Judge” of us all and as the source of “divine Providence.” Thanks to this legislative compromise, the Declaration offers up a “Nature’s God” Who also knows and cares about each of us. Through most of our history, such compromises between modern and Christian Americans have considerably reduced the distance between Christian and modern views of the person’s natural and theological environment.

So Americans view political life, in part, as the free construction of self-interested individuals securing their material being in a hostile natural world. But they also, in part, regard it as limited by the conscientious duties persons have to their personal Creator. Political life is both dignified and limited by the real existence of dignified creatures. The most admirable and powerful American efforts at egalitarian reform have had religious origins, but religion has also acted (as Tocqueville explained) as a limit on the American spirit of social and political reform. Americans have plenty of confidence in progress, but present persons are not to be sacrificed to some vague historical future. Because Americans don’t really believe people are radically, miserably alienated from God and nature now, they don’t think it is their job to transform existence itself to save people from their misery.

Consider today how Americans are divided over the truth of modern, impersonal natural theology or science. Some Americans believe that we should take our social and moral cues from the evolutionary science of Darwin. In their eyes, we are not qualitatively different from the other animals; basically, they assert with pride in their sophistication, we are chimps with really big brains. This variety of American is also usually quite proud of his autonomy—his freedom from nature for self-determination. If men really are the same as chimps, however, then human autonomy is nothing but an illusion. Strict materialism and evolution cannot really account for free, personal existence. So these sophisticated Americans, despite themselves, can’t help but be in fierce rebellion against impersonal nature. They are well on their way to reducing all morality to fanaticism about personal health and safety. In their social behavior, they increasingly resemble the Europeans—and like the Europeans, they are not having enough children to replace themselves.

Meanwhile, other Americans still believe that their personal existence is supported by a personal God, often a God Whose intelligence exhibits itself in the design of nature. Although they typically believe their true home is somewhere else, these are clearly the Americans most at home as members of families, churches, and their country. Generally speaking, they have more than enough babies to replace themselves, raise them comparatively well, and do not seek as urgently to fend off their inevitable biological demise. Most at home with the irreducible alienation that comes with being a person, they seem best able to see the good about their familial and political existence for what it is. In our country, personal theology seems an indispensable support for the future of the nation.

Maybe it would be helpful if we somewhat altered Mr. Fukuyama's formulation: the optimal political order does not so much become accountable to its citizenry but holds itself accountable to God by treating all of its citizens with the dignity they deserve by virtue of their Creation.

-REVIEW: of Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World (2001) by Robert P. Kraynak (Brothers Judd)
The Beginning of History: As the communist era vanished, he declared history’s end. With the Middle East in revolt and China rising, Francis Fukuyama is back. What is he thinking? (Andrew Bast, 4/10/11, Newsweek)

If he started with the end, Fukuyama is now returning to the beginning: he wants to answer the existential question of politics—where does government come from?

But he’s pursuing this newest project all alone. He has publicly turned his back on the neocon movement. He has no interest in ingratiating himself in the foreign-policy establishment. Actually, after 22 years in Washington, Fukuyama has escaped to Stanford. He lives in Palo Alto, California, where dotcom money reigns. “Google is just up the street. My wife ran into Mark Zuckerberg at Trader Joe’s,” he says, “and watch out—you’ll probably see a few Ferraris around.” (In fact, by the end of the afternoon the sweet California sun had begun to shine, and we’d spotted two.) The End of History was the making of Fukuyama, not only as a public intellectual, but also financially. His beautiful new house (into which he and his wife have just moved) stands in one of the most expensive ZIP codes in America.

Self-exile from his former milieu and from his old associates, however, seems to have offered Fukuyama a kind of mental liberation, freeing him from ideological trappings and allowing him to serve up his magnum opus. His new book, The Origins of Political Order, which hits bookstores this week, seeks to understand how human beings transcended tribal affiliations and organized themselves into political societies. “In the developed world, we take the existence of government so much for granted that we sometimes forget how difficult it was to create,” he writes.

Political order begins, he says, in ancient China. By the time of the Chin dynasty in 221 B.C., some 10,000 individual separate chiefdoms across Asia had been corralled into a single state. How did that happen? To boil things down quickly: the state evolved to allow for a more effective making of war. Walking forward through the millennia, he investigates the political evolution of India: the strict social class structure defined its politics. Then the Islamic caliphate: “There is no clearer illustration of the importance of ideas to politics than the emergence of an Arab state under the Prophet Muhammad,” but the spread of Islam “depended also very much on political power” and military slavery. Lastly, he outlines the rise of the Catholic Church in Europe: “The Western separation of church and state has not been a constant since the advent of Christianity but rather something much more episodic—in fact, it established what we know today as the rule of law.” (The book ends at the French Revolution, leaving subsequent history to the next volume.)

What does Fukuyama make of the confounding world of today, with revolutions rocking the Middle East and the rest torn between Washington’s free-market democratic model or Beijing’s authoritarian state capitalism? “There’s something very gratifying about the Middle East demonstrating that Islam is not at odds with the democratic currents that have swept up other parts of the world,” he says. “But what’s most important, actually, is what happens next.” That is, of course, the messy, often contentious process of engineering democracy. These are complicated places—despotic rule has stunted political parties (or, as in Libya, erased them entirely) and gutted civil society. That’s where the real trouble begins. On the “Arab Spring,” he’s bearish. “I guarantee you in a year or two it will not look as hopeful. It’s the whole point of my book. You need institutions, leaders—and corruption has to be under control. These are really the failings of many democracy movements. And it’s happening again—if you look at Egypt, the liberal parties are floundering.”

While the world can’t take its eyes off the Middle East, Fukuyama is, instead, looking ahead to China. Beijing has gone to great lengths—stymieing communications, hitting protests with an iron fist—to keep any democratic wave from rolling too far east. The Chinese government, he argues, will be successful in stifling protest, at least in the near term. “Authoritarianism in China is of a far higher quality than in the Middle East,” he wrote recently. Revolutions, he argues, don’t come from the disenchanted poor, but from an upwardly mobile middle class fed up with anachronistic government that does little but keep them from achieving their potential. So Beijing may be able to keep its people happy for now, but in the coming years its biggest risk is putting off democratic reforms and ending up with a regime that’s fallen behind its people. When the Chinese middle class is no longer willing to forgo political freedom for bigger paychecks, or when the Communist Party grows stagnant, unable to keep up with the masses, then change is going to come, one way or another.

Strange as it may sound for a man who secured fame and fortune with an essay titled “The End of History?” his prescience as a political philosopher flows from his “revulsion at triumphalist views” (in the view of Paul Berman, author of Flight of the Intellectuals). When Fukuyama first joined up with the neocons back in the 1970s under the tutelage of Allan Bloom (who wrote The Closing of the American Mind), it was largely a reaction against the left-wing triumphalism of the Great Society and of the cultural rebellions of the New Left spawned in 1968. More recently, Berman says, “the same kind of triumphalism overtook the neoconservatives on the right, and he turned away from them.”

That break with the neoconservative clan had a very specific genesis. At an annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute in February 2004, Fukuyama sat listening first to a speech by Vice President Dick Cheney and then the columnist Charles Krauthammer, who declared a “unipolar era” had begun, which, of course, the U.S. would lead. “All of these people around me were cheering wildly,” Fukuyama remembers. But in his view, Iraq was fast becoming a blunder. “All of my friends had taken leave of reality.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Princelings and the goon state: The rise and rise of the princelings, the country’s revolutionary aristocracy (The Economist, Apr 14th 2011)

Since the late 1970s, when China began to turn its back on Maoist totalitarianism, the country has gone through several cycles of relative tolerance of dissent, followed by periods of repression. But the latest backlash, which was first felt late last year and intensified in late February, has raised eyebrows. It has involved more systematic police harassment of foreign journalists than at any time since the early 1990s. More ominously, activists such as Mr Ai have often simply disappeared rather than being formally arrested.

It is an abnormally heavy-handed approach, one unprompted by any mass disturbances (recent anonymous calls on the internet for a Chinese “jasmine revolution” hardly count). This suggests that shifting forces within the Chinese leadership could well be playing a part. China is entering a period of heightened political uncertainty as it prepares for changes in many top positions in the Communist Party, government and army, beginning late next year. This is the first transfer of power after a decade of rapid social change. Within the state, new interest groups have emerged. These are now struggling to set the agenda for China’s new rulers.

Particularly conspicuous are the “princelings”. The term refers to the offspring of China’s revolutionary founders and other high-ranking officials. Vice-President Xi Jinping, who looks set to take over as party chief next year and president in 2013, is one of them. Little is known about his policy preferences. Some princelings have been big beneficiaries of China’s economic reforms, using their political connections and Western education to build lucrative business careers. Other princelings are critical of China’s Dickensian capitalism and call for a return to socialist rectitude. Some straddle both camps. Prominent princelings in business include President Hu Jintao’s son, Hu Haifeng, who headed a big provider of airport scanners; and Wen Yunsong, a financier who is the son of Wen Jiabao, the prime minister.

Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, argues that a shared need to protect their interests binds these princelings together, especially at a time of growing public resentment against nepotism. Since a Politburo reshuffle in 2007, princelings have occupied seven out of 25 seats, up from three in 2002.

A kleptocracy, if you can keep it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Go Ahead, Have Another (JONATHAN V. LAST, 4/15/11, WSJ)

Bryan Caplan's "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" is the antidote to Amy Chua's best seller, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Whereas Ms. Chua insists that parents should have few children and then drive them relentlessly toward perfection, Mr. Caplan argues that people should have more children; that they are cheaper than we think; that parenting is less important than we imagine; and that kids can basically raise themselves. [...]

If parenting does not help a child make money as an adult or increase her chances of a lasting marriage, there are still a few areas where parents can make a difference. Parents have a good chance of passing on their religious and political views to their children, for instance. Studies also show that parents can, by small degrees, cause their daughters to postpone having sex. (Huzzah!) And they can lower the chances that, as teenagers, their kids will wind up in jail. But the biggest effect of nurture, it turns out, is on how children perceive their parents.

So you can greatly increase the chances of your children voting the way you do, going to your church and thinking fondly of you. But that's about it. "Instead of thinking of children as lumps of clay for parents to mold, we should think of them as plastic that flexes in response to pressure—and pops back to its original shape once the pressure is released."

That is Mr. Caplan's first bit of good news. The second is that if you are a reasonably well-adjusted and happy person, your kids probably will be, too. All of which means that parents don't need to invest nearly as much time and energy in parenting as they think they need to. "You can have a better life and a bigger family," he says, "if you admit that your kids' future is not in your hands."

With the economics out of the way, Mr. Caplan tries coaxing parents into taking their hands off the wheel. "The first step to happier parenting," he observes, "is to abandon 'recreation' enjoyed by neither parent nor child." Your daughter hates ballet class and you hate schlepping her there? Drop it. Planning to travel hundreds of miles for a family vacation that will make everyone miserable? Try a "staycation" instead. Get take-out food, he urges, and hire a housekeeper. But above all get a nanny—even if she doesn't speak fluent English or have a driver's license. Your life will be easier, and your kids won't be any worse off—they may even turn out better, since you'll be setting a better example by being less anxious.

Despite its wickedly subversive premise, Mr. Caplan's book is cheery and intellectually honest. (The exception being a tendentious chapter on fertility technology, in which Mr. Caplan gives a thumbs-up to everything, including human cloning.) And the bedrock of his argument is solid: Modern parenting is insane. Children do not need most of what we buy them. So, yes, the "price" of children is artificially high.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Raphael Saadiq On World Cafe (NPR, 4/15/11)

From the age of 6, Saadiq has professed a strong knack for music, playing the bass, singing in professional gospel groups and performing on stage for his church and school. His solo albums have marked his steady evolution as an artist, from 2002's Instant Vintage to 2008's successful The Way I See It. Saadiq is set to release his fifth solo LP, Stone Rollin', on May 10. Hear songs from the upcoming album, as well as an interview with host David Dye, on this edition of World Cafe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Hollywood Adjustment?: Are religious themes and influences becoming more prominent in recent films? (Steven D. Greydanus, Catholic World Report)

Open-endedness and ambiguity are hallmarks of the filmmakers responsible for last year’s most remarkable faith-inflected film, True Grit. Notably, where nearly all the rest of Hollywood’s faith-themed 2010 output had at least one thing in common—they were generally popular, and critical, disappointments—True Grit was the outstanding exception, the Coens’ highest-grossing film to date, and a critical darling with an impressive lineup of Oscar nominations (though, disappointingly, no wins) including best picture, director, actor, supporting actress, and adapted screenplay.

True Grit doesn’t fit any of the categories noted above: It isn’t aimed at believing audiences, it doesn’t grapple with faith issues from a secular perspective, and it doesn’t reduce religious themes to mythic trappings. It can be considered a genuinely religious film—not just a film about religious questions, like A Serious Man, but a film that we are at least invited to contemplate in terms of faith.

Coen skeptics (I tend more than not to be one myself) may easily doubt this judgment, given the Coens’ not undeserved reputation as filmmakers for irony, misanthropy, and nihilism. True Grit has left more than a few critics and even fans squinting in perplexity at what appears to be an old-fashioned moral drama with flawed but sympathetic, capable characters, looking for some hint that the Coens were only joking. There are certainly moments of Coenesque absurdity, but the disdain for their characters that marks many Coen films is absent here, and the film credibly comes together as a narrative about grace and justice.

A new adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel rather than a remake of the 1969 film for which John Wayne won his only Oscar, True Grit tells the story of a 14-year-old girl, Mattie Ross (played by the extraordinary Hailee Steinfeld), on a quest to avenge the death of her father at the hands of a drifter. “No doubt Chaney fancied himself scot-free, but he was wrong,” Mattie declares in an opening voiceover. “You must pay for everything in this life, one way and another. There is nothing free, except the grace of God.”

Certain of the rightness of her cause, Mattie is confident that Providence, among other things, is with her: “The Author of all things watches over me, and I have a good horse.” She also has two men, US Deputy Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Texas Ranger LaBeouf (Matt Damon). Both justice and revenge fuel Mattie’s quest: she is determined to see Chaney hang, on her terms, in her county, for her father’s killing and not some other crime. (Spoilers follow.)

When Mattie finally comes face to face with Chaney, she shoots him—twice. The first time she only injures him, but—in a notable departure both from the Portis novel and the John Wayne film—later on, after he has attacked her, she gets a second chance, and kills him. Under the circumstances it may be possible to view pulling the trigger either as self-defense or as some species of unjust homicide, and that ambiguity colors the consequences of her act.

Later, Rooster bears the injured Mattie across the trackless wilderness under a darkening sky that fades to night. Critic Lee Siegel of the New York Observer, one of the film’s few naysayers, argues that the “fablelike starry skies” symbolize “The Indifferent Universe”—that the “point of the starry sky—as was the point of the Coens’ stylishly pointless No Country for Old Men—is to present the universe as amoral. It is as indifferent to who we are and to the stories we tell ourselves as it is to our fabricated categories of good and evil.”

While I tend to agree with Siegel about No Country, I think he is wrong here. I think we can look into that starry sky and see what Mattie does, the Author of all things watching over her. Beneath her is a good horse—and when the horse fails, there is a good man, a man at least partly redeemed from the wickedness of his past life, carrying her as far as he can. And when the man fails, there is the grace of God. Most explicitly, the grace of God may be seen in the crucial moment when a character utters a whispered ejaculation (“Oh Lord”) as he squeezes a trigger and makes an impossible shot, saving another man’s life and ultimately Mattie’s as well.

To find such themes in a Coen film is itself a gift, almost a grace. Hollywood’s sporadic attempts to reach out to Christian viewers with films like The Blind Side, The Book of Eli, and Soul Surfer will continue; some of these films may even be good. And it’s a foregone conclusion that religious trappings will continue to provide a colorful backdrop for dumb roller-coaster movies.

Genuine religious interest, though, is not a commodity that can be packaged in an elevator pitch or pushed by producers in response to box-office ups and downs. It comes from filmmakers like Nolfi and the Coens with a personal interest in religious questions. For the most part, a religiously illiterate culture will produce religiously illiterate cinema, and films that really explore the big questions will continue to be rare—which is precisely why they are worth seeking out when they do come along.

Except that the culture is so religiously literate that it not infrequently serves up works that explore those questions in implicitly religious ways, whether the makers and patrons realize it or not.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Syrian government holds its fire amid largest protests yet (Tara Bahrampour, April 15, 2011, Washington Post)

Protests in Syria swelled Friday to their largest numbers so far, as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the capital, Damascus, and in dozens of cities and towns across the country, witnesses said.

But unlike in earlier protests, state security forces appeared to withhold lethal force, firing into the air instead of on crowds — a possible sign that the government might be reassessing its approach to the uprisings that started here a month ago.

“It is an amazingly big day, both in the number of protesters and the number of towns and cities being bigger than ever before, and in that the regime response and the way they dealt with the protesters was exceptional,” said Wassim Tarif, director of Insan, a Syrian human rights organization. “This is the first Friday that we don’t have reports of people being killed in the country.”

Pro-democracy protests rock Syrian capital (Deutsche-Welle, 4/15/11)
Pro-democracy street demonstrations reached the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Friday with thousands of protesters gathering in the city center after weekly Muslim prayers.

Protesters reportedly shouted "God, Syria, Freedom" as they defied Syrian security forces, which used batons and tear gas to clear the main Abbasside Square of regime opponents.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


The No. 1 Killer of Meetings: And what you can do about it, according to Harvard blogger Peter Bregman (Peter Bregman, April 14, 2011, Harvard Business Review)

"That was dreadful. Not only was I bored, everyone else was bored too. Disengaged. I'm terrible at facilitating these kinds of meetings. But they're so important. I've got to get better at it. I need to find a better way."

I wrote that in a journal entry about seven years ago. I still remember the meeting that finally drove me to change how I run meetings. There were about 10 people involved—the CEO and his direct reports—and we met for two days offsite, in a hotel, so we wouldn't be distracted. The goal was to discuss and agree on our plans for the next year. A strategy offsite.

I had prepared meticulously. I met one on one with each person on the team and collected their thoughts about the strategy of the company and what might get in the way of its successful execution. Using their input, I designed the flow of the two days and asked each person to prepare a PowerPoint presentation of the strategy for their area.

The result? When each person stood up to present his strategy, everyone else did one of two things: tune out or poke holes.

Most presentations elicit those reactions because most presentations are polished and thorough and designed to satisfy their audience, as well as to build confidence that the speaker knows what he's talking about. People tune out because nothing is required of them. Or they poke holes because, if they don't tune out, it's the most interesting thing to do when someone is trying to prove there are no holes.

So over the following seven years, I experimented with designing offsites. I did team-building activities, I stayed at the front of the room throughout the meeting, I took myself out of the meeting completely, I taught skills critical to the meeting like communication and team dynamics, I had the CEO run the meeting, I took the CEO out of the meeting completely, and dozens of other tweaks.

Over time, I identified a single factor that makes the biggest difference between a great meeting and a poor one: PowerPoint. The best meetings don't go near it.

PowerPoint presentations inevitably end up as monologues. They focus on answers, and everyone faces the screen. But meetings should be conversations. They should focus on questions, not answers, and people should face each other. I know it sounds crazy, but I've found that even the hum of the projector discourages dialogue.

Meetings are exorbitantly expensive when you add up the number of highly paid people in the room at the same time. They should be used as a time to engage deeply in issues, not to update each other on progress.

Except that most of us recognize that isn't what meetings are for. Meetings are called by bureaucrats in order to create the illusion that others are involved in their decisions. We don't pay any attention because we are not so deluded. Power Point has nothing to do with the basic facts. It is just busy work for said bureaucrats. The message is the message. The medium is trivial.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


We Are All Deficit Cutters Now (IRWIN M. STELZER, 4/16/11, Weekly Standard)

Let me paint with the broadest brushes. Barack Obama wants to restore the nation’s finances primarily by unspecified cuts in military spending, taxing those he considers to be rich, and practically rationing health care. This would enshrine in the budget three major themes of the Democratic left.

♦ Extend the Libyan model to all U.S. interventions. No use of force unless approved by the United Nations (presumably the blessing of the Arab League will not be needed in all future cases), and then only in conjunction with allies who will be expected to bear the major burden of any engagement. This avoids not only the cost of those interventions, but such expenses as are associated with maintaining U.S. forces in Germany at existing levels.

♦ Reduce the inequality of after-tax incomes by making the tax code more progressive—soaking the rich, in the vernacular. What the president considers to be “loopholes” will be plugged, and the tax rate on families earning more than $250,000 per year will go up, crudely stated by the president as eliminating “tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in society.”

♦ Maintain what the president calls “investment” and others call spending on education and infrastructure to better equip the country to compete in an increasingly globalized world, continuing the expansion of the role of the state that has been the hallmark of his presidency.

Over to Paul Ryan, the hero of the deficit cutters in the Tea Party and, I would guess, old-line Republican conservatives who favor a balanced budget at all times, and who believe that the only people more evil than John Maynard Keynes are his present-day followers. Ryan would cut the deficit by cutting spending, would not raise taxes, does not wish to take an axe to military spending, and wants to bring the budget into balance by relying heavily on a plan to convert Medicare into a subsidized insurance scheme that gives individuals control over their own medical budgets. Ryan and his followers believe that American citizens can spend their money better than the government can, and that taxing the rich is counter-productive because of its negative effect on incentives to work, and take the risks involved in setting up a small business. Inequality, they at times quietly say is an incentive to those at the bottom of the ladder to work their way up, and benefits that decouple work from income have a long-term negative effect on the ratio of wealth producers to government dependencies.

There is more, a lot more. Obama would rely on triggers that cut spending if certain deficit reduction targets are not met by 2014, and Ryan on reducing the inflation in health care costs to the lower level of general inflation. The president knows that although he will not have to face the voters in 2014, the Congress he is counting on to swing into action and cut spending will. And Ryan must know that an ageing population will demand increases in health care services that are likely to drive up costs under almost any system of provision.

It is unlikely that a grand bargain, rather than a messy stopgap compromise can be struck during the upcoming debate on raising the $14.3 trillion debt limit, a ceiling that will be hit sometime between May 16 and July 8. That will have to wait for vox populi to be heard in the 2012 election. The president knows he cannot face the voters as a deficit denier or deal wrecker, and the Republicans know that placing all of the burden on those most reliant on government services, while protecting higher earners from any increase in taxes, is likely to push the undecided in the president’s direction.

...is to realize how much of the argument the GOP hasn't engaged yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Something Real, For A Change (Walter Russell Mead, 4/15/11, American Interest)

The change in the US-Brazil relationship is not as dramatic or consequential as the change in US-Indian relations since the Cold War. The US and India share two paramount strategic concerns — the possibility that China might seek hegemony in Asia and the possibility that Islamic extremism will destabilize the Middle East and beyond — that make that bilateral relationship one of the keys to the global situation. US and Indian relations may never produce a formal alliance, but the community of interest is so deep and has such obvious military and geopolitical implications that even casual newspaper readers will be increasingly aware of its importance.

The new US-Brazilian relationship does not quite live up to that, but the ramifications of the changing relations between the two dominant powers in the western hemisphere will nevertheless make waves. It is likely in the 21st century that Brazil will join the group of countries Americans listen to and rely on the most, and the countries whose interests Americans take the greatest care to address.

Changes in both US and Brazilian perceptions about the world have combined to create the basis for a new kind of relationship. On the US side, the end of the Cold War changed the nature of our interests in South America. [...]

[T]he fall of the Soviet Union took the global struggle against communism off the table and removed any serious reasons for heavy-handed US interference in South America. Today no global American security interests are challenged by the power of any South American state; the United States and its government wish the peoples of South America well, but we no longer have a compelling security reason to meddle in their domestic affairs.

A fifty-year period of North American interference in South American affairs came to an end in 1990; unless Hugo Chavez finds a way to turn taunts and insults into a consequential security threats, the US has no need to treat him as anything worse than a nuisance. Ditto for the rest of the continent; while US security and political interests are likely to keep us engaged in the traditional sphere of American interest in the Caribbean and Central America (extending at most to the northern fringe of South America), the US no longer has any desire to interfere with the domestic politics of countries like Brazil, Argentina, Chile and their neighbors.

On the Brazilian side, something even more important has happened: Brazil has begun to believe that the world economic system might just work to Brazil’s advantage.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Language at risk of dying out – the last two speakers aren't talking ( Jo Tuckman, 4/13/11, guardian.co.uk)

The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now, like so many other indigenous languages, it's at risk of extinction.

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other's company.

"They don't have a lot in common," says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be "a little prickly" and Velazquez, who is "more stoic," rarely likes to leave his home.

The dictionary is part of a race against time to revitalise the language before it is definitively too late. "When I was a boy everybody spoke it," Segovia told the Guardian by phone. "It's disappeared little by little, and now I suppose it might die with me."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


OBITUARY: Buster Martin (The Telegraph, 4/14/11)

Buster Martin, who died on April 13, possibly aged 104, became celebrated at the age of 100 as “Britain’s oldest worker”, a triumph that was largely untarnished by persistent allegations that the story of his life, including his age, was fabricated.

He was feted by the media, by his employers (a south London plumbing firm for whom he worked as a van cleaner), and by politicians including the former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, who hailed him in 2006 as “living proof of why people should not be written off once they pass retirement age”.

A former Brixton barrow boy with the looks of Captain Birds Eye, Martin hit the headlines in 2007, allegedly at the age of 100, when he signed up as an agony uncle for the men’s magazine FHM. With his straggly beard and dry wit he was irresistible copy for the press and later the same year he found fame with The Zimmers, a 40-strong group of elderly rockers (combined age: more than 3,000) who scored a hit single with a cover of The Who’s My Generation.

April 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Paul Ryan budget adopted on partisan vote (JAKE SHERMAN, 4/15/11, Politico)

House Republicans on Friday overwhelmingly embraced Rep. Paul Ryan’s long-term budget proposal adopting a blueprint that calls for massive changes to Medicare and Medicaid while slashing trillions of dollars in spending.

The votes was 235-193 — four Republicans voted no and every Democrat in the chamber rejected the Ryan plan, which seeks to cut $6 trillion in spending over the next decade.

At least one of the parties is serious.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Planned Parenthood and the Soviet Model (Paul Kengor, 4.15.11, American Spectator)

[Margaret] Sanger, Planned Parenthood matron and racial-eugenicist, who ran a "Negro Project," who spoke to a KKK rally in 1926, who wished to rid America of its "human weeds" and "morons" and "imbeciles," and who wanted birth control for "race improvement," had just returned from a pilgrimage to Stalin's Russia. Like many Potemkin progressives, she went there to soak in the glorious triumphs of the communist motherland. Each progressive dupe had a particular interest; John Dewey, for instance, hailed the Bolsheviks' "Great Experiment" in public education. Sanger marveled at Lenin's and Stalin's wondrous advancements for women.

And so, in the June 1935 edition of her flagship publication, Birth Control Review, in an article titled, "Birth Control in Russia," Sanger concluded:

Theoretically, there are no obstacles to birth control in Russia. It is accepted … on the grounds of health and human right…. [W]e could well take example from Russia, where there are no legal restrictions, no religious condemnation, and where birth control instruction is part of the regular welfare service of the government.

I could quote more, including this jaw-dropping prediction: "All the officials with whom I discussed the matter stated that as soon as the economic and social plans of Soviet Russia are realized, neither abortions nor contraception will be necessary or desired. A functioning Communistic society will assure the happiness of every child, and will assume the full responsibility for its welfare and education."

Now there, ladies and gentleman, is progressive utopianism, an absolute faith in central planners. Contrary to the Planned Parenthood founder's optimism, abortions skyrocketed to seven million annually in the USSR.

Looks like Margaret Sanger was wrong on that one. Talk about being duped.

What struck me in recently re-reading this article is how Democrats in America have arrived at Sanger's ideal, where Planned Parenthood's services have become, in their mind, "part of the regular welfare service of the government" -- just like good old Stalinist Russia.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Budget Deal Fuels Revival of School Vouchers (TRIP GABRIEL, 4/14/11, NY Times)

In the 11th-hour compromise to avoid a government shutdown last week, one concession that President Obama made to Republicans drew scant attention: he agreed to finance vouchers for Washington students to attend private schools. [...]

Mr. Boehner’s beloved program is the latest example of how conservative Republicans across the country are advancing school vouchers — including offering them for the first time to middle-class families — and reviving a cause that until recently seemed moribund.

“Life has been breathed into the voucher movement,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, director of education policy at the Brookings Institution. “I think they are part of what will be a more powerful and focused drive toward choice.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Resilience and Euphoria in Free Libya: In Benghazi, state salaries are being paid, trash collected, and the poor looked after. (ANN MARLOWE, 4/12/11, WSJ)

Many of the fears articulated by American observers are discounted here. No one believes that a civil war between east and west is likely. Libyan diplomat Ahmed Gebreel—who used to work for Libya at the United Nations in New York and now advises Transitional Council head Mustafa Abdul Jalil on foreign policy—says there is no broad ethnic divide between Tripolitanians and Cyrenaicans.

"The original inhabitants of Tripoli are only a couple of thousand people. The rest come from all over Libya. I was born in Al-Bayda (in eastern Libya) but I normally live in Tripoli." Conversely, as Imam Bugaighis, a university lecturer and one of the handful of prominent women in the circle around the Transitional Council, told me, "Every family has relatives in both Benghazi and Tripoli."

There are valid questions about what would happen to the social fabric if opposition forces fight their way to Tripoli, but that seems increasingly unlikely. The Transitional Council appears to expect a negotiated settlement to end the conflict, though not one that leaves in power Gadhafi, his family, or anyone associated with him.

Benghazi and Tobruk show encouraging signs of social resilience and even social transformation. Ms. Bugaighis says that there are more than 100 voluntary committees in Benghazi, a city of about 800,000. "We are doing much better without him," she stated proudly, referring to Gadhafi. Under him, "Libya wasn't meant to be a country—just militia and people."

Benghazi's citizens are stepping up to the plate to maintain essential services. Sanitation workers, largely guest workers from Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa, have gone back to their own countries. But local volunteers are taking the initiative and picking up the garbage. Libyans may drive too fast, but they're still obeying traffic laws and parking in an orderly way. Mr. Gebreel says that the incidence of traffic accidents has actually fallen since the revolution. In conservative Tobruk, I watched as volunteers for a local charity, the Mercy Foundation, measured out European Union-donated flour into bags for displaced people. Sixty volunteers serve 10,000 needy families in the area.

The mood in Benghazi is euphoric. The square in front of the courthouse where the protests began has become a revolutionary fair where families stroll and young people demonstrate. Booths offer political leaflets and display political cartoons, while food carts offer free sandwiches and espresso to the coffee-obsessed population. Souvenirs in red, green and black—the colors of the original 1951 Libyan flag of independence—are sold everywhere.

"We don't want normal life to continue," says Ms. Bugaighis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Democrats' Disgust With Obama: The budget deal, angrily rejected by Nancy Pelosi as it passed Thursday, was the last straw. Patricia Murphy on why some liberals are now pushing for a primary challenge to the president. (Patricia Murphy, 4/14/11, Daily Beast)

For many Democrats, the budget bill was only the latest in a string of disappointments served up from the White House since 2009, when Obama swept into office on a tide of goodwill and a platform of base-pleasing promises they say he hasn’t lived up to. On the list are his pledges to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, pass comprehensive immigration reform, and end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

In 2008, for example, Obama promised Latino groups that he would pass comprehensive reform within a year of taking office. But he made no serious push to do so when the Democrats controlled the House and Senate. Latinos are further incensed over the fact that his administration is deporting a record number of illegal immigrants, more than under George W. Bush.

In protest, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez launched a cross-country tour, complete with a stop in Chicago on Saturday, to urge the administration to make its enforcement more compassionate. “I have made no secret of the fact that I think the president can do more to keep families together and that the focus of changes this year needs to be administrative and procedural because legislation is very unlikely,” Gutierrez said Thursday.

Some legislative grumbling is inevitable when a party returns to power after eight years. But a number of Democrats are past protesting the president, discussing among themselves ways to recruit a primary challenger in 2012.

“I have been very disappointed in the administration to the point where I’m embarrassed that I endorsed him,” one senior Democratic lawmaker said. “It’s so bad that some of us are thinking, is there some way we can replace him? How do you get rid of this guy?” The member, who would discuss the strategy only on the condition of anonymity, called the discontent with Obama among the caucus “widespread,” adding: “Nobody is saying [they want him out] publicly, but a lot of people wish it could be so. Never say never.”

Governor Dean could not only command press attention and raise a significant amount of money, but he'd be competitive in the NH primary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


US Navy's laser test could put heat on pirates (JASON STRAZIUSO, 4/13/11, Associated Press)

The baseball-sized laser beam, though, could be used to stop small crafts from approaching naval ships. It could also target pirates.

"You can use the laser to ward off an attack, or you can dial it down to a non-lethal level where it basically becomes a very bright light so they know they are being targeted," Michael Deitchman, the director of air warfare and weapons at the Office of Naval Research, said Wednesday.

Deitchman said the laser provides two benefits not seen in other military weapons. The laser is precise, unlike bullets that can ricochet and hit unintended targets, and the laser's strength can be dialed down from a lethal level to a nuisance level.

Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, the head of Dryad Maritime Intelligence, said the test was "remarkable" for how the Navy was able to concentrate the beam over such a long distance at sea, and given how the boat was being tossed about in rough water.

"Hats off to the U.S. Navy because that is very, very impressive," he said. "It was pitching and rolling and yet they got this very fine beam to focus on one part of an engine casing. That they managed to keep the energy in one place is remarkable."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Does Pawlenty Have a Prayer? (Howard Kurtz, 4/14/11, Daily Beast)

The former Minnesota governor has honed his stump speech—he is punchier and funnier than his bland reputation might suggest—at a time when he appears to be getting a second look from voters, such as the more than 100 who packed into a small ballroom here.

The early line on Pawlenty damned him with faint praise: Nice guy, good governor, charisma-challenged, a real long shot.

But in the last few weeks the line has begun to shift. Now Republican insiders are starting to say the guy could actually win the presidential nomination.

What happened? A positive cover story in National Review, depicting him as a stick-wielding hockey player, didn’t hurt. (“Pawlenty guided Minnesota’s political culture firmly and sharply to the right” and “is more electable than Sarah Palin.”) The pundits softened their view (he “has an opening as the least objectionable candidate,” says Politico). And, well, his 2012 rivals haven’t blown anyone away.

Some New Hampshire residents say they aren’t bothered by Pawlenty’s lack of pizzazz. “I’m tired of superstars that flame out halfway through the campaign,” says Phil Straight of the Merrimack Conservation Commission.

“I’m not exactly Lady Gaga, but they (rivals) aren’t either.”

“We don’t need a rock star,” says his friend Dan Dwyer, a councilman in the town, calling Donald Trump a “distraction” who won’t wind up running.

Straight says he is impressed that Pawlenty “seemed to be successful” in what is “still a Hubert Humphrey state. He had to be kind of suave.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


How Self-Control Works: It's a skill, we are learning, that profoundly shapes lives. How does it work? Where does it come from? (Dan Ariely, April 12, 2011, Scientific American)

A recent study by colleagues of mine at Duke demonstrates very convincingly the role that self control plays not only in better cognitive and social outcomes in adolescence, but also in many other factors and into adulthood. In this study, the researchers followed 1,000 children for 30 years, examining the effect of early self-control on health, wealth and public safety. Controlling for socioeconomic status and IQ, they show that individuals with lower self-control experienced negative outcomes in all three areas, with greater rates of health issues like sexually transmitted infections, substance dependence, financial problems including poor credit and lack of savings, single-parent child-rearing, and even crime. These results show that self-control can have a deep influence on a wide range of activities. And there is some good news: if we can find a way to improve self-control, maybe we could do better.

So when we consider these individual differences in the ability to exert self-control, the real question is where they originate – are they differences in pure, unadulterated ability (i.e., one is simply born with greater self-control) or are these differences a result of sophistication (a greater ability to learn and create strategies that help overcome temptation)?

In other words, are the kids who are better at self control able to control, and actively reduce, how tempted they are by the immediate rewards in their environment, or are they just better at coming up with ways to distract themselves and this way avoid acting on their temptation?

It may very well be the latter. A hint is found in the videos of the children who participated in Mischel’s experiments. It’s clear that all of the children had a difficult time resisting one immediate marshmallow to get more later. However, we also see that the children most successful at delaying rewards spontaneously created strategies to help them resist temptations. Some children sat on their hands, physically restraining themselves, while others tried to redirect their attention by singing, talking or looking away. Moreover, Mischel found that all children were better at delaying rewards when distracting thoughts were suggested to them.

A helpful metaphor is the tale of Ulysses and the sirens. Ulysses knew that the sirens’ enchanting song could lead him to follow them, but he didn’t want to do that. At the same time he also did not want to deprive himself from hearing their song – so he asked his sailors to tie him to the mast and fill their ears with wax to block out the sound – and so he could hear the song of the sirens but resist their lure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


My literary allergy: The work of David Foster Wallace brings me out in hives (Geoff Dyer, 23rd March 2011 , Prospect)

It’s taken years of unscientific tests, but I now accept that there is such a thing as literary allergy. This should not be confused with a negative value judgment; it is simply a reaction. With food it’s possible to be allergic to things one actually enjoys eating, like strawberries. In the realm of literature, that combination of liking and allergy would seem almost inconceivable, but the kind of reaction I have in mind here is not simply an intense dislike. Nor is it the same thing as developing an intense antipathy to a writer solely on the basis of the persona that emerges in and through his or her writing. As a reader, this is what happened to me with Bruce Chatwin. As a writer, I seem to have occasionally generated this feeling myself—how else to interpret the blogger’s declaration that he wanted to headbutt me?

I have always felt well disposed towards the widely acclaimed David Foster Wallace, whose latest novel, The Pale King, is published on 15th April, two and a half years after his suicide. But I am allergic to his writing. I liked the idea of someone swimming in big modernist and postmodern theory and still making room for human feeling, but a page—sometimes even a sentence, or an essay title—brings me out in hives. This is not a literary judgement; I have not been able to read enough of him to form one.

One of those authors--including all of the modernists--who when you find his novels at a book sale there will be not so much as a crack in the spine nor a dog-eared paged.

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April 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 PM


Nancy Pelosi snaps at White House adviser Gene Sperling (JOHN BRESNAHAN & JONATHAN ALLEN, 4/14/11, Politico)

In a tense moment that may well have encapsulated the frustrations of three-plus months in the minority, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi snapped at a top presidential economic adviser, Gene Sperling, during a closed-door meeting between White House aides and House Democratic leaders Wednesday. [...]

At the time, Sperling was discussing the form and mission of a new bipartisan congressional working group the president wants to charge with establishing a deficit-reduction plan. In the president’s view, it would consist of 16 members, plus the vice president as chairman, and finish up by the end of June.

House Democratic leaders didn’t like the size of it, the reporting date, which falls very close to the deadline for raising the debt ceiling, or the perception that a White House plan had been baked without input from the president’s allies on Capitol Hill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Obama Exclusive: Concedes Senate Vote Against Raising Debt Limit Was 'Political' (George Stephanopoulos, April 14, 2011, ABC News)

George Stephanopoulos: You’ve got to extend the debt limit by May. And it seems like you made up the job-- your job is a lot tougher because of your vote in the Senate against extending the debt limit…When did you realize that vote was a mistake?

President Obama: I think that it’s important to understand the vantage point of a Senator versus the vantage point of a…President. When you’re a Senator, traditionally what’s happened is this is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars… As President, you start realizing, "You know what? We-- we can’t play around with this stuff. This is the full faith in credit of the United States." And so that was just a example of a new Senator, you know, making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country."

...was important for the country even though it didn't help him personally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


VIDEO: Is China Becoming a Mafia State? (USCI presents The Age and Sydney Morning Herald's China correspondent, John Garnaut, 04/11/2011)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


The President’s Speech (Yuval Levin, 4/13/11, National Review)

President Obama’s speech really brought home how confused and disoriented liberalism is today, and how very difficult it will be for the Left to accept that the social-democratic welfare state is collapsing and something else must take its place. Yet the very fact that he felt compelled to make such a speech does offer some hope.

As recently as February, in his budget, Obama essentially denied that we had a fiscal crisis. Today, he admitted it and described it, or at least parts of it. It is certainly unorthodox for a president to renounce his own budget two months after proposing it, but that is just what the president did—implicitly dismissing even the goals set out by his budget in its own terms (let alone its potential to achieve them, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office) as totally inadequate. In that sense, the only immediate practical implication of the speech is that it throws the 2012 budget process into disarray. Are the cabinet agencies supposed to be defending the president’s now-repudiated formal budget request before congressional committees in the coming months, or does the administration now expect Congress to ignore its budget? If so, will the administration be offering some particular alternative requests, with details that (unlike this speech) can be scored by CBO?

The other implications are less direct, because the president mostly laid out ends without means. He accepted much of Paul Ryan’s definition of the problem we face, but insisted that it could be solved by trimming our welfare state at the edges, rather than reforming and restructuring it. He held up past examples of such trimming as his model—arguing, preposterously, that the budget agreements of the 1990s, which offered slight adjustments without reforming the institutions of our welfare state, were successful and that we only face a crisis today because George W. Bush cut taxes. In fact, those budget agreements bought a little time while ignoring the basic problem—especially the entitlement problem. That’s why we are where we are, and Obama now proposes to just put the blindfolds back on and make the same mistake again.

Christians in a Post-Welfare State World (Samuel Gregg, 4.13.11, American Spectator)
he welfare state's impending demise is going to force Christians to seriously rethink how they help the least among us.

Why? Because for the past 80 years, many Christians have simply assumed they should support large welfare states. In Europe, Christian Democrats played a significant role in designing the social security systems that have helped bankrupt countries like Portugal and Greece. Some Christians have also proved remarkably unwilling to acknowledge welfarism's well-documented social and economic dysfunctionalities.

As America's welfare programs are slowly wound back, those Christian charities who have been heavily reliant upon government contracts will need to look more to the generosity of churchgoers -- many of whom are disturbed by the very secular character assumed by many religious charities so as to enhance their chances of landing government contracts.

Another group requiring attitude-adjustment will be those liberal Christians for whom the essence of the Gospel has steadily collapsed over the past 40 years into schemes for state-driven wealth redistributions and promoting politically-correct causes.

The welfare state's gradual collapse presents them with somewhat of an existential dilemma. The entire activity of lobbying for yet another welfare program will increasingly become a superfluous exercise -- but this has been central to their way of promoting the poor's needs for years.

More-pragmatic liberal Christians will no doubt adjust. Others, however, will simply deny fiscal reality and frantically lobby for on-going redistributions of an ever-shrinking pool of funds.

Initiatives to Promote Savings From Childhood Catching On (Amy Goldstein, 8/20/05, Washington Post)
In today's economy, a savings account "is as fundamental as land was back in the 18th and 19th century," said Ray Boshara, of the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank that is a main advocate of children's accounts.

Involving several hundred children in a dozen communities around the country, SEED (Saving for Education, Entrepreneurship, and Downpayment) -- a four-year experiment being conducted by local social service agencies, studied by researchers and paid for by several nonprofit foundations -- is a modest version of the ultimate goal.

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that calls for the government to open a KIDS Account of at least $500 for every baby born in the United States. And President Bush's first Treasury secretary, Paul H. O'Neill, has been giving speeches around the country, promoting an even bolder plan he has devised for children's accounts that he says would guarantee every American at least $1 million by age 65, eventually eliminating the need for Social Security.

Fostering savings from childhood is, in a sense, a spillover from the debate over whether to establish private investment accounts in Social Security, the nation's fragile retirement system. But unlike the partisan rancor that runs through the Social Security debate, children's accounts are gaining proponents across the ideological spectrum. Conservative Republicans construe them as a form of the market-oriented "ownership society" that Bush touts. Liberal Democrats view them as an extension of the Great Society of the 1960s that created government programs to lift people from poverty.

"It's a simple kind of merging of the stereotypes of the parties," said Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), sponsor of a bill that would create KIDS Accounts. "You give to people; you put some responsibility on people to save, as well."

Despite bipartisan cheerleading, such accounts have skeptics on the right, who are disdainful of a new government handout, and on the left, who fear the expense would drain money from other social needs.

The Right can't stand that reform is going to be universal and expensive up front and the Left can't stand that it means ceding control from government to individuals and the markets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Syria: dissenting Damascenes and defiant dictators (Ali Khan, 13 April 2011, Open Democracy)

Syria is wracked with internal divisions, which have often been exacerbated by the heavy-handedness of the government. The largely secular ruling Ba’ath party has been at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1940s. After a particularly violent few years of assassination attempts and car bombs, in 1982 Hafez al-Assad’s brother Rifaat, who now lives in exile in London, surrounded and bombed Hama. The town was known for being a base of the Muslim Brotherhood and the bombing killed thousands of people. Subsequently, the Brotherhood and indeed all other opposition have effectively been stifled while the Alawi minority has strengthened its position.

The Alawis are the spiritual progeny of a movement started in the 9th century when Ibn Nusayr announced himself as the bab or the hidden gateway to truth (God). Very close in terms of practice to Christians, Alawis or as they also known Nusayris believe in a kind of holy trinity comprised of Mohammad, Ali and Salman al-Farisi, one of the first Persian converts to Islam. The reason they are viewed as non-Muslims is because of their belief in the divinity of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, who was the fourth Caliph and the first Imam for Shi’as. In a bid to consolidate their power the Alawis managed to secure recognition from the Shi’a leader, Musa as-Sadr, in 1972, declaring them to be Muslims. As early as 1936 they procured a decree from the Sunni Chief Mufti of Palestine, al-Haj Amin al-Husaini, recognizing them as Muslims. However, many Sunnis and some Shi’a ulama, or scholars, continue to view the Alawis as non-Muslims, or even sometimes as apostates.

Apart from the Alawis, the Christians are a sizeable minority and form about 10% of the population and the Druze constitute about 3%. The Sunnis form the majority of the population. Syria also has a large Palestinian refugee population of 500,000 and more than a 1,000,000 Iraqi refugees.

The problems in Syria today are therefore exacerbated by the fact that Syria could be heading for a civil war, due to these old ethnic and sectarian tensions, and might follow the Libyan scenario rather than the Egyptian or Tunisian model. One factor however, that might hold back an all-out war is that there are a multitude of links between the regime and society through army, government and non-official ties. Bashar al-Assad, although seen by some to be a moderate and a reformer is still presiding over institutions that were created during his father’s time. This means that often the ‘old guard’ is the biggest obstacle to implementing reform. However, there have been some token gestures of reform from the President.

Among the small number of concessions that the regime has made are a few that were pushed for by a group of imams, headed by Ramadan al-Buti, perhaps Syria’s most famous cleric. A casino has been shut down and a ban on wearing the niqab, a veil that covers the face as well as the body, in educational institutions is being reversed just as France is implementing its own ban. In other ‘concessions’ the infamous 1963 Emergency Law is now finally to be lifted, but an ‘Anti-terrorism’ law is to be passed instead. About 200,000 Kurds who have hitherto not been granted any rights have been given citizenship. But a majority of the Kurds who form 11-14% of Syria’s population still suffer from various institutional biases. The Kurds have responded by protesting in Qimishli, in the north-east of Syria, under the interesting slogan, ‘we want freedom not citizenship.’

The stakes that many foreign actors have in Syria are also crucial in determining the next steps in the Syrian uprisings. Iran and Hezbollah will fear the loss of an important regional ally and the possible rise of a predominantly Sunni government. Apart from this, even Shi’as who are not ideologically aligned with Iran will be afraid of the loss of the comfort in which the community lives. In particular, the network of religious schools around Sayyid Zainab’s shrine in Damascus are already fearful of what may happen if the Alawis lose power. Israel must worry because at the moment it has an enemy that it ‘knows’ whereas it will be harder to predict whether the new government shall be even more anti-Zionist.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


U.N. Praises Palestinians’ Progress Toward a State (ISABEL KERSHNER, 4/12/11, NY Times)

The United Nations praised Palestinian Authority efforts at strengthening its institutions in a report on Tuesday, describing aspects of its administration as sufficient for an independent state.

The endorsement came at a crucial time for the Palestinian Authority, which has set a September deadline for the completion of its state-building program and is working toward international recognition of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem that month.

April 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


'Act boldly now': Obama calls for reducing deficit by $4 trillion (Sam Youngman and Erik Wasson, 04/13/11, The Hill)

The key part of the president’s plan is a “debt fail-safe” trigger that would initiate “across-the-board spending reductions” if by 2014 the projected ratio of debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) “is not stabilized and declining toward the end of the decade,” according to a fact sheet released by the White House in advance of the president’s speech.

The White House said the trigger should ensure that deficits average no more than 2.8 percent of GDP in the second half of this decade. The trigger would not be applied to Social Security payments, Medicare benefits or low-income programs.

Obama said the failsafe "should be an incentive for us to act boldly now, instead of kicking our problems further down the road."

The failsafe is an incentive for the GOP to yield nothing, since it will automatically get what it wants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Obama’s speech was a waste of breath (Clive Crook, 4/13/11, Financial Times)

Obama had a difficult assignment in this speech, partly because of the exaggerated hopes for it (see previous post). Even allowing for that, it was weak both politically and substantively. My instant unguarded reaction, in fact, was to find it not just weak but pitiful. I honestly wondered why he bothered.

There was no sign of anything worth calling a plan to curb borrowing faster than in the budget. He offered no more than a list of headings under which $4 trillion of deficit reduction (including the $2 trillion already in his budget) might be found–domestic non-security spending, defence, health costs, and tax reform. Fine, sure. But what he said was devoid of detail. He spent more of his time stressing what he would not agree to than describing clear proposals of his own.

His rebuttal of the Ryan plan was all very well–I agree it’s no good–but the administration still lacks a rival plan. That, surely, is what this speech had to provide, or at least point to, if it was going to be worth giving in the first place.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


Suzanne Collins’s War Stories for Kids (SUSAN DOMINUS, 4/08/11, NY Times Magazine)

Back in 2009, the literary agent Rosemary Stimola sat down to read “Mockingjay,” the third, highly anticipated book in a wildly popular trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. Stimola, who represents Collins, read eagerly until she came to one of the last chapters, in which a firebombing kills thousands of civilians caught in a revolutionary war, including one heartbreakingly innocent and beloved young character. The book was then a computer file, not yet the blockbuster it would become upon its release last August. Changes could still be made. Stimola picked up the phone and called Collins.

“No!” Stimola wailed. “Don’t do it.”

She was reacting as a reader, not a career adviser, but perhaps in the back of her mind she was imagining the emotions the plot twist might provoke in the book’s youthful fans: depression rather than inspiration, desolation rather than triumph. The capacity of young-adult literature for dark messaging has been expanding since the early ’70s, but this poignant loss seemed almost unbearable.

“Oh, but it has to be,” Collins told her. Stimola, paraphrasing, recalled the explanation Collins offered her over the phone: “This is not a fairy tale; it’s a war, and in war, there are tragic losses that must be mourned.”

Collins, a 48-year-old mother of two, spent much of her adult life writing for children’s television, dreaming up plot lines for shows like “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!” a Nick Jr. cartoon aimed at preschoolers. But in the “Hunger Games” trilogy, she revealed an outsize imagination for suffering and brutality. The books juxtapose the futuristic fantasy of a gleaming, high-tech capital and early-industrial life in the 12 half-starved districts it controls. In a ritual known as the Reaping, two adolescents from each of these oppressed districts are selected at random to participate in the Hunger Games, an annual televised match in which children battle one another and mutated beasts to the death, like Roman gladiators in a glitzy reality-TV contest. The trilogy’s heroine, Katniss, 16 years old when the series begins, has the tough-girl angst of an S.E. Hinton teenager and is too focused on survival to spend much time on familiar Y.A. preoccupations like cliques and crushes. On the very first page, she stares at the family’s pet cat, recalling, matter-of-factly, her aborted attempt to “drown him in a bucket.” By the last book, she is leading a revolution.

...by the Daughter Judd.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


The Craziest Men in Sports: In hurling, the ball moves 100 miles per hour. So why don't goalkeepers want to wear facemasks? (Loren Berlin, April 13, 2011, Slate)

A pair of hurlers in action. Click image to expand.A pair of hurlers in actionImagine you're sprinting down a 160-yard field. As you run, you balance a tiny ball—small as a hockey puck, hard as a baseball—on the end of your stick, as in lacrosse. Except where the lacrosse stick has a woven pocket, your stick has a flat, wooden blade, and where lacrosse requires protective gear you wear neither pads nor gloves. Now imagine that your opponents are waving these same axe-like cudgels. They are coming at you from all sides, hoping to hook you from behind or block you from the front. You race down the gigantic field while considering your options. You could pass to a teammate, either with a slap of the bare hand or with a kick. No one is open, though, so you prepare to take a shot—never mind that you're still 100 yards out from the goal. You lean back and swing hard, like a baseball player at bat, feeling the satisfying reverb in your arms as you connect with the ball.

Now imagine you're the goalkeeper preparing to block this shot. Because it's been flung from the other side of the field, that dense, little ball has gained a lot of momentum. By the time it reaches you it's moving at 100 miles per hour. And there you are, standing in a giant goal without any padding, preparing to either catch this ball-turned-ordnance with one, ungloved hand, or deflect it with your stick. All the while, the goal-hungry opposition descends on you like a swarm of bees.

Such is the job of the goalkeeper in hurling, a sport famous for its speed and the bravery (or lunacy) of its participants. Known as the fastest field sport on earth, hurling predates Christianity and is native to Ireland, possibly originating with the Celts. Two teams of 15 players compete to score the most points by hitting the ball, called a sliotar, between the opposing team's goalposts. While rugby-style tackling is prohibited, hockey-style body checks and shoulder charges are common. As in soccer, a player can shoot from anywhere on the field, including directly in front of the goal, and directly at the goalkeeper. One point is earned for a ball that flies between the posts but over the crossbar, while three are awarded for a goal scored underneath the crossbar, where the goalkeeper stands, a kamikaze in shorts and a jersey.

Hurling is a thrilling and dangerous sport, and in Ireland the players are universally admired for their nerves. Within this pool, it is the goalkeepers who are most venerated. "A key requirement to be a goalkeeper in hurling is that you have to be mad," says Feral McGill, head of games administration and player welfare for hurling's governing body, the Gaelic Athletic Association. To wit: In 1997, goalkeeper Joe Quaid shattered one testicle, and had to have half of the second removed, when he took a ball to the crotch on a penalty shot. Upon recovery he returned to the sport, and continued playing as a goalie for three more seasons.

...when the Irish hurlers play the Shinty men of Scotland

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Amazon Launches Ad-Supported Kindle For $25 Cheaper (Dan Frommer, Apr. 11, 2011, Business Insider)

Amazon has found a new way to make its Kindle e-book reader even cheaper: It will start shipping a new edition next month that is supported by advertising.

The new Kindle with Special Offers will sell for $114, or $25 cheaper than the $139 Kindle, and will ship on May 3.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Hispanic Conservatives (William Murchison, April 2011, American Spectator)

Some 47 million Hispanics now live in the United States -- almost 15 percent of the total population. Of these, a survey by the Pew Hispanic Forum in October 2010 estimates 38 percent to be immigrants. Of this latter category, an estimated 19 percent (something over 11 million) are what we once called illegal aliens but now generally refer to as undocumented workers -- accent perhaps on the word "workers."

Work they do -- in factories, on construction sites, in homes and hotels and offices, on lawn-cutting crews, on hog and poultry farms. They work because America has more work to be done than is available in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Ecuador, with native-born Americans more indisposed than formerly to low-paying trades and occupations. The work ethic, in other words, informs the Hispanic voter, actual or potential. A building contractor with whom my wife and I were recently discussing the integrity of construction workers told us, "It's whites who steal from you on the job site. The Hispanics have their heads down working to make money to send somewhere or the other." I wouldn't call that a dispositive observation on the Hispanic orientation toward work, but it gets you to thinking. A willing worker, conservatives tend to understand, is susceptible to opportunities for pay and reward such as the free market provides out of all proportion to those occurring under government auspices and control. This understanding, one might well deduce, gives conservative candidates a leg up in the quest for private sector growth.

The general Hispanic population likewise has a relatively strong commitment to religion and family. I am uncertain how far we are to push this particular point, which I have heard advanced in a vague way for years, without statistical underpinning. I think modern Anglos, looking anxiously at the evaporation of their own cultural norms, have a bent for romanticizing the attachments and outlooks of others who seem at least from the outside to "have it all together." We know, against this cultural bent, that the pregnancy rate among Hispanic teens exceeds that for whites as the rate among blacks exceeds that for Hispanics. We know that more Hispanics drop out of high school than do whites or blacks. Yet something else we know (thanks to a Pew Forum survey) is that nearly two-thirds of older Hispanics oppose abortion -- the other side of this particular coin being lighter opposition (43 percent) among younger Hispanics. When the Texas senate, in February, approved a bill requiring the offer of a sonogram view of her child to a woman considering abortion, three Hispanic Democrats, representing heavily Hispanic South Texas districts, voted with the Anglo Republican majority.

To pursue further the question of philosophical orientation, a poll more than a year ago asserted that 54 percent of Texas Hispanics call themselves conservative, as against 18 percent who self-identify as liberal or progressive. Maybe so, to judge from how things went at the polls in Texas last November. Four Hispanic Republicans won state house seats in Hispanic territory. Three of the Democratic losers were likewise Hispanic. With the election over, along came Rep. Aaron Peña, a Democrat, to cross over to the Republican side due to what he identified as the overlap of his own views with those of the GOP.

Of particular note, from this same standpoint, was the contest in formerly Anglo-Czech-Slovak Williamson County, home base for Dell Computer, lying just north of Austin, where a Hispanic woman, Diana Maldonado, two years earlier wrested the seat from a white man. In 2010, one Larry Gonzales wrested it back for the GOP. Nobody -- Anglo, Hispanic, or what-not -- seemed to notice anything but the philosophical and partisan divide between the two candidates. Walloping the Democrats, rather than fretting over ethnic identity, turned out to be the big thing.

NOT THAT HISPANIC VOTES can be likened to ripe pears waiting to fall into the aprons of eager Republicans shaking the tree. In 2008, Barack Obama received two-thirds of the Hispanic vote. A national House exit poll in 2010 suggested that 60 percent of Latinos voted Democratic. In fact, something had happened since 2006, when exit polls put the Hispanic vote at 69 percent Democratic. Was that due in part at least to the economic mess, coupled with Democratic failure to create jobs? Whatever the case, Republicans and conservatives sense for 2012 an opportunity, not so much to forge a grand alliance with Latinos -- such a process will take time -- as to illustrate what Aaron Peña figured out for himself, namely, the general congruence of Hispanic values and Republican policies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


The Wrath of Symbols: a review of Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by Ted Lendon (A review by James Carman, Wilson Quarterly)

He argues that the first 10 years of the Peloponnesian War are best understood not as a struggle between two mighty opponents for survival, but as an often petty contest over time, "which consisted of esteem by others and others' confirmation of one's lofty impression of one's own merits," with the rest of the Greek world occupying the twin roles of audience and judge. [...]

Lendon is a gifted storyteller and military historian. His Soldiers and Ghosts (2005) is a rewarding journey through classical warfare from the Trojan War to the Roman conquests, and the ancient battles he reenacts with his University of Virginia students are regular campus spectacles. In Song of Wrath, he deftly explains how battles could turn as much on misapprehensions and chance as on bravery and superior skill. This was especially true at Pylos and Sphacteria (425 BC), where Sparta suffered its most ignoble defeat and -- almost unthinkable! -- surrendered rather than fight to the death. Lendon writes that "after that Sparta was merely playing for a draw," which it achieved after besting the Athenians in several battles.

Although most histories of the Peloponnesian War encompass the intervening decade of uneasy peace that followed and Sparta's eventual defeat of Athens at the great sea battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC, Lendon ends his history with the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC, when the Athenians were up. "The Athenians won both the war itself and, no less necessary in a war of symbols, the simultaneous war to define victory and defeat," he writes. In his view, the Athenians' subsequent doom -- including their devastating loss of more than 40,000 men who were killed or taken prisoner in a risky expedition to Sicily in 415-413 BC -- was brought on only when they "began to look around for some mighty deed they could perform that would raise their rank in the eyes of the Greeks."

Athens was not, of course, the last power that would overreach and sow the seeds of its own destruction, which is one reason why the world still seeks to draw lessons from this long-ago struggle. But today, Lendon says, the Peloponnesian War's most telling insights may be about "international actors whose aims and actions the contemporary West finds it hardest to understand and manage: the wrathful ones... who seek revenge for ancient slights."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Obama risks losing liberals with talk of cutting budget (Zachary A. Goldfarb and Peter Wallste, April 12, 2011, Washington Post)

Key liberal groups, which helped elect Obama in 2008, are raising concerns that he has given up political ground to Republicans, allowing the message of reducing government to trump that of creating jobs and lowering the unemployment rate.

Seizing on Friday’s deal, which would cut $38.5 billion from the fiscal 2011 budget, activists on Tuesday threatened to sit out the 2012 presidential campaign if Obama goes too far with further cuts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


New giant jet clips smaller craft at JFK (Associated Press, April 12, 2011)

A frightening collision of one of the world’s largest airliners with a commuter jet on a dark, wet tarmac at John F. Kennedy International Airport is underscoring worries about ground accidents as U.S. airports begin handling a new generation of giant planes. [...]

“It’s the sheer size of these aircraft and the congestion at these airports that’s the problem,” said Allan Tamm, a consultant with Avicor Aviation, based in Portland, Ore. “It’s a serious concern for all these airports trying to accommodate these aircraft. It’s going to happen more and more.”

Not in democratic states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Neutral Uke Hotel strum gaily over the sea: Flight from the hater brigade (JONATHAN DONALDSON, April 12, 2011, Boston Phoenix)

Shawn Fogel of Golden Bloom knows that his latest stage act is a formula for potential enormous suckitude. Take one of indie rock's sacred cows — Neutral Milk Hotel's 1999 album In the Aeroplane over the Sea — and play the whole thing, straight through, on ukuleles. Then have the audacity to call it Neutral Uke Hotel. "I think we came up with an idea for a project that is one of the easiest things to hate," chuckles Fogel from his home base of Montclair, New Jersey. "I don't want to hear the dub reggae version of Metallica."

Most of the rest of us wouldn't want to hear Metalli-jah either. Come to think of it, though, why not? Is anything really that precious? Would anyone even care if Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum hadn't tweaked out and disappeared? But people do care. [...]

But Fogel found that by stripping the album's 11 tracks of electric Salvation Army Band mayhem down to two ukuleles (played by himself and Michael Epstein of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling and the Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library), melodica (the Boston-based Josh Cohen of Golden Bloom), trumpet (the Future Everybody's Matt Girard), and a snare drum (Golden Bloom's Andrew Aubacher), he could, uh, milk a sing-along/campfire vibe out of Aeroplane's often cacophonous and emotionally high-pitched songs. And people who never heard the music performed live got the chance to experience the album in a different sonic way — in a fun and refreshingly unsnobby way. "It wasn't even [as much] about the ukulele itself as it was about stripping down the songs as much as possible," says Fogel. "What's great about a ukulele is that it has only four strings — it's a really, really narrow harmonic range. So when you play a chord, all the notes are really close to one another. It's a great way of stripping down a song to its barest essence."

Neutral Uke Hotel/Golden Bloom/The Motion Sick (Daytrotter Sessions)

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April 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


King James Bible as a catalyst (The Monitor's Editorial Board, April 12, 2011, CS Monitor)

Ironically, the king, as head of the Church of England, commissioned a translation that gave the people a direct connection with the Bible – and made a priesthood (and a national church) less necessary. Faith became more individual. Americans found the word choices brought out the Bible’s original emphasis upon Christ as sovereign king. This led them to a greater sense of what it is to be governed by God, and to be self-governed under the laws of God.

By the time of the American Revolution, the colonists proclaimed they would have no king but Jesus. The translators rendered Paul’s words: “[W]here the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

America would go on to become a beacon of freedom. A fine Bible translation had touched humanity.

So I just read Douglas Coupland's short and appropriately idiosyncratic biography of Marshall McLuhan, the gist of which seems to be that McLuhan is most interesting for being incredibly similar to Mr. Coupland himself. McLuhan had a variety of pathologies, from some level of Asperger's/autism to hyper-sensitive hearing to clinical or casual ADHD to actual strokes and brain tumors. As a result his lectures and writings were notoriously scatter shot, obscure and contradictory. Moreover, since his intent was to provoke listeners/readers he confessed that even he didn't believe many of the things he said. So it's an exercise in futility to analyze his "thought" seriously. For every seemingly profound or prescient statement there's a matching one that is grotesquely wrong and not infrequently the latter undercuts the former. But such is the nature of aphoristic philosophers that they only need to nail a few good sound bites and they will be mistaken for great minds. McLuhan scored his with "the medium is the message."

As Mr. Coupland explicates it, what was meant is that the manner in which we communicate matters more than the content of our conversations and that manner effects certain changes in us (he's less clear here, as his subject was.) For all that McLuhan became a cult hero in the computer world, Mr. Coupland shows that he was not celebrating new media but warning us about it. He was something of a Luddite and longed for the days when communication was simpler, less of an assault on the senses. One of his favorite stories was Edgar Allan Poe's Descent into the Maelstrom, the narrator of which escaped the eponymous predicament. McLuhan saw this as a metaphor for his own work, which was about trying to keep your head above water in the midst of modern life.

Here's the thing though, while the medium has changed over the past 600 years, the message has stayed the same. Our advances in media have just served the wider broadcast of Judeo-Christianity/Western Civilization, allowing it to triumph globally. Indeed, one of McLuhan's other coinages is "the global village", but globalization represents nothing but the triumph of Western--specifically Anglo-American--values.

Roman roads were ultimately the conduits via which Christianity was spread to barbarian Europe. Gutenberg's press was used to print the Bible in the vernacular, the King James translation ending up in nearly every home in early America. Newspapers and coffee houses became focal points for the revolutionaries and when they wrote the Declaration they were able to rapidly spread it throughout the former colonies. Its message: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Radio, especially the BBC, and television, mainly American, diffused our culture across the world. Whatever life may have been like outside your door, in your living room you were part of Anglo-American families. The psychic tension of Apartheid South Africa embracing the Cosby Show is an exemplar of how the message could not be contained for long.

When Boris Yeltsin and his allies thwarted Gorbachev and the coup-makers of the USSR they communicated with the world via fax machine. When protestors gathered in Tiananmen Square we saw them on our tv screens, but they were gathered around their own Statue of Liberty. The current Arab Spring is being texted, tweeted and facebooked, but all of those media are just different ways of spreading the same message, that the people have a God-given right to consensual government.

Well might we say that the medium is significant only to the degree that it allows wider dispersion of the Message. The former changes. The latter doesn't. McLuhan need not have worried so much.

And what's odd is that Mr. Coupland reveals that McLuhan was a devoted Catholic convert, having been influenced by that great aphorist, G. K. Chesterton. So McLuhan accepted Christian certitudes about eternity and the overarching direction of our lives, yet fretted about trivia like the specific media we were using to communicate with each other, never recognizing that the message being shared was basically the faith he'd found.

One of the complaints of those, unlike McLuhan, who are opposed to Western civilization and the way it has become globalized is that it is a disease. Certainly it is as contagious as one and we could view it epidemiologically and show that it has spread like one. But no one would ever say that "the vector is the disease," would they?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM


Pass the Boone Pickens Bill (JOE NOCERA, 4/11/11, NY Times)

Boone has spent most of his career drilling not for oil but for natural gas, which he knows more about than just about anyone. His late-life occupation has been running a natural gas-oriented hedge fund, which has made him, at the age of 82, a billionaire several times over.

Out of that deep knowledge has come a powerful belief: that the country’s energy salvation depends on moving away from the fuel we don’t have — namely, oil, where imports, some of which come “from our enemies” (to quote Boone), account for two-thirds of our oil needs. Instead, we should move to a fuel we have in abundance: natural gas. Most experts say there is enough natural gas in the ground to last a century; Boone’s convinced that modern drilling techniques will allow us to find enough for several centuries.

His critics like to point out that anything that boosts natural gas will put money in his pocket. But so what? He’s already plenty rich, and, he says, “I’m sure not doing this for the money.” Besides, he’s right.

The bill introduced last week is an offshoot of the Pickens plan, his cri de coeur for energy independence, which he put together in 2008 and has spent more than $80 million promoting. Although Boone believes that our continued reliance on OPEC oil is dangerous, he also knows that even if you drill, baby, drill, as many Republicans want, it won’t make much difference. Quite simply, America is running out of oil. The Pickens plan calls for increased use of wind, solar, nuclear, even coal. ”I’m for anything that’s American,” he said.

But, of course, you can’t use solar or wind to power a vehicle, which is what most imported oil is used for. You can, however, use natural gas. Nor is this some pie-in-the-sky technology; there are already 12 million vehicles around the world that use either liquefied or compressed natural gas, though only 140,000 in the U.S. (They’re mostly buses and trash haulers.)

The Pickens bill creates tax incentives — $1 billion a year for five years — to encourage manufacturers to begin building heavy-duty trucks that will be powered by natural gas instead of diesel. It also gives some tax incentives to truck-stop owners who install natural gas filling stations to help create the infrastructure.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


To the Last Detail: More than 50 million copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah have been distributed since 1932, but a different, lower-profile version of the Passover prayerbook is the quintessential Jewish-American text (Allison Hoffman, Apr 12, 2011, Tablet)

The first Maxwell House Haggadah was published in 1932 and was free with purchase of a can of Maxwell House. It wasn’t the first instance of marketeering finding a place at the Seder table—the State Bank of New York had done earlier haggadah giveaways—but it turned out to be the most successful by far. More than 50 million copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah have been distributed over the years, a kind of covenant between the coffee maker and those seeking to preserve “a Jewish national institution,” as the 1939 edition described the holiday ritual. It was famously used in the first-ever White House Seder last year, and it remains significant enough that its adoption this year of an updated English translation warranted coverage by the New York Times.

But here’s the odd thing about the Maxwell House Haggadah: Despite being a thoroughly American artifact, it doesn’t read as a particularly American Jewish text. Its early incarnations have the overtones of a David Attenborough script: “Almost everyone is familiar with the Biblical story of Passover,” began the 1939 introduction. “Yet the Jewish people love to recall this tale year after year.” The English doggedly follows the Hebrew, leaching any poetry from the Seder passage linking matzoh to the sought-for relief from exile in a way that renders it literally rather than conceptually Zionist. “At present we celebrate it here, but next year we hope to celebrate it in the land of Israel,” it says. “This year we are servants here, but next year we hope to be free men in the land of Israel.” So much for the goldene medina.

The English of the Maxwell House Haggadah stands in sharp contrast to the other major mass-market American haggadah of the 20th century: the booklet distributed to more than 350,000 Jews serving in the United States military during World War II. (Proper title: Haggadah of Passover for Members of the Armed Forces of the United States.) Consider this alternate rendering of the same Hebrew lines describing the Jews’ desire for redemption: “May Israel wandering yet this year reach Israel’s land this coming year, and Zion’s mount and shrine ascend. May those who freedom lacked this year their shackles break this coming year; may freedom on the world descend.” The authors, David and Tamar de Sola Pool, were unhesitant about drawing an explicit link between the safe haven of mid-century America and the hoped-for Promised Land of the Seder. “This book brought to them a heightened dedication to the ideal of liberty doubly theirs as Americans and as Jews,” the de Sola Pools wrote in 1947, in a preface to a postwar edition.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


Democrats will yield on everything but abortion (Timothy P. Carney, 04/10/11, Washington Examiner)

[I]n last week's budget debate we glimpsed the party's unshakable core: dedication to the abortion lobby.

President Obama had promised to veto the House-passed bill funding government through the end of the fiscal year, and Majority Leader Harry Reid made it clear the Senate would never pass it. But the final agreement -- with most of the cuts Republicans wanted, plus funding for school vouchers in Washington -- proved that the Democratic opposition was grounded not in Keynesian fears of spending cuts or liberal concern over service cuts.

The deal breaker for Democrats had been the rider cutting off federal funds for Planned Parenthood. As a "senior Democratic source" told the Huffington Post on Friday, "The cuts will be hard for us to swallow, but we won't bend on Title X" -- that is, federal funding of Planned Parenthood. "Reid doesn't even have to go back to the caucus to ask on that one."

Reid said so himself Friday: "We are not -- we are not! -- bending on women's health." When you consider the flexibility of Reid on other issues, this shows extraordinary devotion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Feb. 4, 1906 — April 9, 1945 (Martin Marty, April 9, 2011, Living Lutheran)

We learn from a letter that succumbing to despair was tempting to the prisoner and that at a low moment suicide was even an option, because he considered himself to be “basically” dead.

We learn that, instead of killing himself, he began to write, especially as his material circumstances eventually, if only slightly, improved. Many of his notes, of course, were personal letters, some passed on through authorities and some smuggled out and then transmitted to his best friend, Eberhard Bethge, a pastor who saved them.

No publisher would have seen a potentially attractive book in the letters or his other various jottings, musings and poems written in prison.

Against all odds, a book was being drafted. After World War II, Eberhard — who had hidden the scraps and scribblings in the days of danger — evaluated and organized them.

This meant deciphering scripts and arranging pages to fashion the book that the English-speaking world knows as Letters and Papers from Prison.

Issuing from that 70-square-foot cell, this little work came to be known, read and used around the world well into a new century. While the physical setting of its letters and papers was a place capable of inducing claustrophobia, spiritually these contents served readers everywhere as a testimony to openness, possibility and hope.

The letters and papers from prison reveal much about Bonhoeffer’s spiritual life and vocation, and they served a new generation of collegians and seminarians who were looking for models of witness and courage.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Atlas Shrugs Off an Opportunity, Alienates Viewers (Joy Pullmann, April 12, 2011, American)

Rand attacks both liberals and conservatives (take, for example, her speech, “Conservatism: An Obituary”); but it’s her attack on conservatism that’s worth visiting here, since it’s so out of touch with the American character. She appeals to the natural and highly American intolerance of abused authority; but she locates a replacement authority inside the individual himself, stripping away any mediating institutions, deity, or natural law. Man becomes his own measure; yet somehow never disintegrates in her fiction the way he does so often when adopting this mentality in real life.

This Rand hallmark makes her extremely attractive to young people and those whom government has abused or burdened. Rand is an intellectual Siren; she attracts travelers with the sweet songs of freedom, individual responsibility, and creativity; yet her narrow worldview in the end also hacks these ideals to bits.

The case against Rand was perhaps most forcefully made by Whittaker Chambers in National Review in 1957. Benjamin Wiker makes a more recent, and more biographical, case against her in chapter 15 of his recent 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read. And AEI’s own Charles Murray discussed her relative merits and demerits in the context of two excellent new Rand biographies in the Claremont Review of Books.

Rand’s philosophy is solipsist: since, for consistency if nothing else, man must have guiding principles, institutions, or ideas, she removes all others and places herself in their stead. Rand preaches innovation, creativity of thought and expression, self-direction, and the overruling demands of Nietzschean super-geniuses. But she never allowed deviation from her rules and preferences among her followers, even to the most minuscule instances. She liked Chopin and disliked Bach; therefore for anyone else to enjoy Bach indicated mental weakness. She wanted to have an affair with Nathaniel Branden, a married man; therefore, it was rational for her to do so and destroy his marriage and wife.

This mode of living she celebrated as exemplifying the “virtue” of selfishness. As she said, “My personal life is a postscript to my novels; it consists of the sentence: And I mean it.” If anything, her life and novels as illustrations of and promotions for her philosophy illustrate exactly the dangers and shortcomings of Objectivism, not just personally, but morally, and for society. Perhaps Rand didn’t care for society, except of her own making—that’s probably why her geniuses in Atlas Shrugged withdraw to a secluded mountain to let the rest of humanity crumble under its own weight. But most Americans, as human beings and citizens with a national heritage of voluntary community resourcefulness and charity, would find this not only distasteful, but immoral and absurd.

Affluent white teenage boys don't.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Economics, Genetics and Hippies (Bryan Caplan, 4/11/11, Freakonomics)

As I explain in my new book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, adoption and twin researchers have spent the last forty years measuring the effect of parenting on every major outcome that parents care about.

Their findings surprise almost everyone. Health, intelligence, happiness, success, character, values, appreciation – they all run in families. But with a few exceptions, adoption and twin researchers find that nature overpowers nurture, especially in the long-run. Kids aren’t like clay that parents mold for life; they’re more like flexible plastic that responds to pressure, but returns to its original shape when the pressure is released.

The most meaningful exception to this flexible plastic rule is appreciation – how your kids feel about and remember you. One Swedish study asked middle-aged and elderly twins – some raised together, some raised apart – to describe how their parents raised and treated them. Twins raised together painted much more similar portraits of their parents than twins raised apart. If you raise your children with kindness and respect, they will probably remember it for as long as they live.

The upshot: Parents spend too much effort trying to mold their kids for the future, and not enough just enjoying life together. Vainly struggling to change your kids isn’t fun for you or them. And the struggle can easily hurt the main outcome where parenting really matters: the quality of the bond between parent and child.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


New perceptions of shoulder injuries (Kay Lazar, April 12, 2011, Boston Globe)

Using a computer-controlled cadaver to simulate a pitcher on the mound, Boston researchers are gaining insights into the causes of baseball shoulder problems — which derail more major leaguers than just about any other injury.

In the study, the reanimated bodies duplicate the throwing motions of actual pitchers, but the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center scientists say their findings reach beyond professional baseball and may help countless weekend warriors, as well as high school and college athletes, recover from similar injuries or prevent them altogether.

Working in the shadow of Fenway Park, and with a grant from Major League Baseball, the researchers have found a common denominator that, they say, is a likely culprit in some of the most common shoulder injuries among pitchers — a misaligned scapula, better known as the shoulder blade.

“When pitchers experience a ‘dead arm,’ unable to achieve the velocity, the scapula malposition is a major cause of this,’’ said Dr. Arun Ramappa, a co-leader of the research team and the chief of sports medicine and shoulder surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess.

While other scientists have traced various shoulder problems to an out-of-whack scapula, the Beth Israel Deaconess team is believed to be the first to demonstrate, down to the muscle and bone level, precisely how the injuries occur through the use of mechanized cadavers. That, Ramappa said, will help them better understand which treatments, including surgery and physical therapy, are most effective at restoring shoulder mobility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Wal-Mart to reinstate dropped products, emphasize price (Ylan Q. Mui, April 11, 2011, Washington Post)

Analysts say that the retailer has lost market share for the first time in a decade and that rival Target has finally matched many of its prices — and no one at Wal-Mart is laughing.

Instead, the company is backtracking. On Monday, Wal-Mart announced a campaign dubbed “It’s Back,” slated to launch next month, that will showcase the return of 8,500 items it had axed. TV ads will remind customers of a promise to match competitors’ prices. Store shelves will be higher, aisles will be narrower, and the towering pallets of merchandise beloved by legendary Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton will once again take center stage.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Obama turns to his bipartisan deficit commission’s blueprint for reducing debt (Lori Montgomery and Zachary A. Goldfarb, April 11, 2011, Washington Times)

President Obama plans this week to respond to a Republican blueprint for tackling the soaring national debt by promoting a bipartisan approach pioneered by an independent presidential commission rather than introducing his own detailed plan. [...]

Letting others take the lead on complex problems has become a hallmark of the Obama presidency. On health care, last year’s tax deal and the recent battle over 2011 spending cuts, Obama has repeatedly waited as others set the parameters of the debate, swooping in late to cut a deal. The tactic has produced significant victories but exposed Obama to criticism that he has shown a lack of leadership.

Like the House GOP budget plan, the Senate effort — led by three Democrats and three Republicans known as the Gang of Six — aims to cut about $4 trillion from the debt over the next decade. But the group is looking to reduce spending in all categories, while urging a rewrite of the tax code that would raise revenue. The Republican plan would cut spending on domestic programs while protecting the military and preserving George W. Bush-era tax cuts that disproportionately benefit high earners.

The work of the Gang of Six is modeled on recommendations of the fiscal commission Obama appointed last year. On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the commission had “created a framework that may help us reach a deal and a compromise.”

A combination gets us even bigger reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


April 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 PM


Men’s ‘apology’ video to women touching, ‘creepy’ (Cheryl Wetzstein, 4/10/11, The Washington Times)

An eight-minute video on YouTube in which “conscious men” apologize to the women of the world is drawing tears and praise — as well as verbal brickbats — from around the world. [...]

“Dear Woman,” the men begin, taking turns speaking from “A Manifesto for Conscious Men.”

“We stand before you today as men committed to becoming more conscious in every way. We feel deep love, great respect and a growing sense of worship for the gifts of the feminine,” they say.

“We also feel deep sorrow about the destructive actions of the unconscious masculine in the past and present. We want to apologize and make amends for those actions today, so that we can move forward into a new era of co-creation.”

...to get chicks to think they're sensitive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


AC Grayling: 'How can you be a militant atheist? It's like sleeping furiously' ( Decca Aitkenhead, 4/03/11, guardian.co.uk)

"My wife did give me a card," he giggles, "that said, 'I used to be an atheist until I realised I am God'.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Revolts boost Americans' views of Arabs: poll (AFP, Apr 11, 2011)

Recent uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have improved Americans' opinions of Arabs, with Egyptians viewed in an especially positive light since their successful revolt against Hosni Mubarak, a poll showed Monday.

Fifty-six percent of Americans surveyed this month said they have a favorable view of Arab people in general, while 70 percent voiced positive opinions about Egyptians, the University of Maryland poll showed.

The Egyptian people's ratings put them just below the 73-percent favorable rating that Americans give Israelis, according to the study, released on the eve of a forum on relations between the United States and the Islamic world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Prisoners (Hendrik Hertzberg April 18, 2011, The New Yorker)

On May 13, 1943, Axis forces in North Africa surrendered. The Allies suddenly found themselves saddled with nearly three hundred thousand prisoners of war, including the bulk of General Erwin Rommel’s famed Afrika Korps. Unable to feed or house their share, the British asked their American comrades to relieve them of the burden. And so, by the tens of thousands, German soldiers were loaded aboard Liberty Ships, which had carried American troops across the Atlantic. Eventually, some five hundred P.O.W. camps, scattered across forty-five of the forty-eight United States, housed some four hundred thousand men.

There, now aren't we all ashamed of ourselves?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


The GOP's winning streak (JIM VANDEHEI & MIKE ALLEN, 4/10/11, Politico)

The winners and losers of this weekend’s 11th-hour budget deal may be in dispute. But the broader trajectory of politics, stretching back to the spring of 2009, is not. The Republican — and, yes, the tea party — agenda is not only ascendant, it’s driving the debate over reshaping government at every level.

Jubilant top Republicans told POLITICO in interviews that they plan to use the momentum from the budget fight to take a hard line with President Barack Obama in the fiscal fights of the months ahead. And the GOP leaders said they believe their new advantage in the national debate will lift the party’s presidential candidates — none of whom right now looks capable of beating Obama.

“The debate is now on our side of the field,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said from Sioux Falls. “This is just the opening act. But these upcoming debates are not going to be about whether we’re going to reduce the cost and size of government, but how much. That’s very good ground for Republicans to fight on.”

Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and a 2012 presidential hopeful, told us: “When you see [Democratic governors] Jerry Brown [of California] and you see Andrew Cuomo [of New York] wrestling with spending, and inevitably wrestling with the unions who elect them, you know you’re in a different era.”

...so too will Bill Clinton and Barack Obama blend seamlessly into the Republican epoch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The President Is Missing (PAUL KRUGMAN, 4/11/11, NY Times)

What have they done with President Obama? What happened to the inspirational figure his supporters thought they elected? Who is this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular?

I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there’s not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn’t even using that — or, rather, he’s using it to reinforce his enemies’ narrative.

What use is a bully pulpit to an empty suit?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Israel concerned about Hamas-Egypt relations (YAAKOV KATZ, 04/11/2011, Jerusalem Post)

Egypt has suspended construction of an underground steel wall along the Egypt-Gaza border that it had been building over the past year in an effort to stop smuggling weaponry through tunnels into the Gaza Strip, defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post. [...]

News of the freeze on construction comes as concern increases in Israel over an apparent strengthening of ties between Hamas and the new Egyptian government. During a recent visit to Cairo, Mahmoud al-Zahr, the so-called Hamas foreign minister, met not just with Egyptian politicians but also with military and intelligence officials.

“There is a new relationship between Hamas and Cairo today,” one senior official said. “This is likely connected to the upcoming elections and the understanding in Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood is a strong player and as a result it is important to maintain contacts with Hamas.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


His Anger Does Not Turn (Peter J. Leithart, 10 April 2011, Credenda)

Four times in Isaiah 9-10, the Lord repeats that same threat: “In spite of all this His anger does not turn away, and His hand is still stretched out.” And then again, “In spite of all this, His anger does not turn away, and His hand is still stretched out.” And then again, and then again (9:12, 17, 21; 10:4). He has tried everything to bring Israel back. He has brought afflictions, and then new afflictions, and still Israel and Judah do not turn.

He sends out a word, a word of judgment, and the judgment falls on Jacob. The word of Yahweh that falls on Samaria causes things to fall down, specifically things that are made of bricks and sycamore. The men of Babel used bricks to construct their city and tower, and the Egyptians used bricks to build their storage cities and pyramids, and put the Hebrews to work making bricks for these projects. Now, the people of Samaria have become like the men of Babel and like the Egyptians, building in rebellion against Yahweh. The only other time Isaiah refers to bricks, he is talking about brick altars (65:11), and so it’s possible that this is what he has in view here. The word of the Lord falls on Samaria, and when the word falls, the brick altars and the wooden shrines of the northern kingdom collapse.

But that does not stop the rebellion of the North. Instead, they remain proud and determined to have their idolatrous shrines and altars. If Yahweh knocks them down, then the proud people of Samaria are going to build up their altars again, but this time with cut and polished stone, build them better than they had been, stronger and with more precious materials. If the Lord knocks down their shrines, they are going to rebuild, and this time not with cheap sycamore but with more expensive cedar.

Yahweh is going to raise up adversaries and enemies against the people of the North, as He did against Solomon when Solomon built idolatrous shrines for his many wives. The Lord is going to add to the afflictions of Samaria by opening the jaws of the Philistines and the Arameans. The two nations on the east and west are going to form a large set of jaws, a gaping maw that is going to swallow down Samaria.

Still, Samaria does not turn, and therefore, the Lord’s hand, the hand that brought afflictions and plagues to Egypt, is still stretched out against them.

So the Lord tries a different tack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Why Boston will win the Cup (Shawn P. Roarke, 4/10/11, NHL.com)

The Big Why: It might be hard to find a better defensive team than the Boston Bruins, whose 2.30 goals-against per game is the best mark in the Eastern Conference and second-best in the League.

Boston's own-zone prowess should not come as a surprise, however, as they possess one of the game's best goalies. Tim Thomas is enjoying a season for the ages. Tim Thomas, a candidate for both the Vezina and Hart trophies, has a 2.00 goals-against average this season and his save percentage of .938 was the best in the League. His back-up, Tuukka Rask, is also no slouch, checking in at 2.67 GAA and 11 wins.

Thomas also gets a lot of help from Zdeno Chara, Boston's rock on the blue line. Only five defensemen average more ice time per game than Chara's 25:26 – and four of those five play in the Western Conference. Chara skates in all situations and physically intimidates opposing forwards. He fits the bill -- you might even say he is the 2011 prototype--as a playoff game-changer.

The Big Uh-Oh: Really, the only question facing the Bruins may be if they can score enough goals to lift Lord Stanley's hardware. Milan Lucic is their only 30-goal scorer and they didn't have a player reach the 70-point mark.

Bruins-Habs is like Sox-Yanks but with a clock and fighting allowed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Centuries-old debate on perception settled (Marlowe Hood, 4/11/11, Agence France-Presse)

A conundrum about human perception has stumped philosophers and scientists alike since it was first articulated by an Irish politician in a letter to John Locke 323 years ago. But French scientists now claim that they have it solved.

Imagine, William Molyneux wrote to the great British thinker, that a man blind from birth who has learned to identify objects - a sphere and a cube, for example - only through his sense of touch is suddenly able to see. The puzzle, he continued, is "Whether he Could, by his Sight, and before he touch them, know which is the Globe and which the Cube?"

For philosophers of the time, answering 'Molyneux's question', as it was known ever after, would resolve a fundamental uncertainty about the human mind.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Cool Hand John (G. Tracy Mehan, III, 4.11.11, American Spectator)

House Speaker John Boehner has succeeded in making the largest cut to the bloated federal budget in American history. In this he surpasses even the great Ronald Reagan, who still deserves all honor and praise for defeating the Evil Empire and ushering in tax reform and economic dynamism in political economy. The Speaker has initiated what one can only hope is a rescue mission of equivalent importance to the future of the Republic.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Three cheers for contrarians: While many of us avoid conflict, there are braver souls who can’t help but disagree with friends, colleagues or experts. As Jackie Hunter discovers, there’s a real value in being prepared to go against conventional wisdom (Jackie Hunter, Psychologies)

According to psychologist Sandi Mann, there is not always an intention to be obstinate or gratuitously provocative. We may see contrarians as devil’s advocates, she says, but their off-kilter opinions are often given in earnest, not just for the sake of putting across another point of view. ‘They have great talent for seeing things from another angle, are good problem-solvers and creative thinkers, unafraid to trust their judgment.’

Vivien’s colleagues were initially wary of her. ‘My manager championed my ideas, but in private she warned me I should be more subtle and focus on teamwork, or I’d alienate myself. I’m now trying to make myself more useful as a problem-
solver, rather than as a knee-jerk nay-sayer.’

There is an art to being a contrarian in a conventional-thinking world. Counter-intuitive thinkers often stumble over inter-personal relationships, says Karl Albrecht, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science Of Success. ‘Often they haven’t [acquired] the tactical skills of developing their ideas. They tend to blurt them out, making them hard to accept, or else they disagree with others in a clumsy way.’

Albrecht confesses to being ‘something of a contrarian’ himself, but has learned to rely on the vital tool of social intelligence. ‘It’s not so much contrarian thinking that’s difficult as the way it’s put forward,’ he says. ‘It can be intimidating.’

So how do you exercise your counter-intuitive mind without infuriating or alienating others? Albrecht advises that when you have an unusual idea you need to formulate it before sharing it. Recall the language and references the other person has used and echo them. And learn to take it in your stride when people criticise your ideas.

We non-contrarians have work to do, too, because contrarians challenge us to be more patient. Before saying ‘I don’t agree…’, says Albrecht, we should pause, listen and think. For example, if your partner says, ‘Let’s go to Paris for the weekend’ when you’re frantic at work, the temptation is to scream, ‘Are you crazy?’. But to stimulate your high-level thinking — the process that lets your brain explore an issue — you need to resist this knee-jerk response. Take a moment to think, says Albrecht, and your considered reaction may be, ‘OK, Paris is only a couple of hours away, it’s not so crazy after all’.

Life with a contrarian is always stimulating, but it comes with conflict, says Sternberg. For some, that’s a good thing and even an expression of love. ‘If you’re both argumentative, the relationship can work really well, although you both need to get the same charge out of arguing for it to work.’ But beware of getting into a verbal battle with a contrarian just to shut them up, he warns.

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April 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


Atlas Shrugged. And So Did I. (P.J. O’Rourke, 4/08/11, WSJ)

The movie version of Ayn Rand’s novel treats its source material with such formal, reverent ceremoniousness that the uninitiated will feel they’ve wandered without a guide into the midst of the elaborate and interminable rituals of some obscure exotic tribe.

Meanwhile, one half expects teenage boys to be led out of the theater in their raincoats, like Pee Wee Herman.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM

EVEN THE CARNIES ARE SUPERIOR (via Brandon Heathcotte):

Immigrant carnival workers bring strong work ethic, drug-free culture (Richard Ruelas, Apr. 8, 2011, The Arizona Republic)

The work is grueling and repetitive. Two men scramble along the frame of the Flying Bobs ride, balance themselves on the edge, hoist a side panel up 20 feet and lock it into place. They will repeat this 16 more times.

One ride over, men in hard hats guide down 15-foot steel pieces that form the foundation of the Victory Lane ride.

At the carousel, 74 animals need to be lifted out of a truck, bolted into place, then polished. Every time the carnival moves, the routines reverse themselves.

When they're not working, the employees stay on the carnival grounds, living out of bunkhouse trailer that contain bunk-bed compartments, stacked like a railroad sleeper car, just big enough to sleep in.

Carnival culture involves living this way for months on end. It's a life that used to attract men who enjoyed working with their hands and drifting around the country.

But Vomberg says those workers don't exist in the United States anymore. Especially ones who can routinely pass a random drug screening.

Vomberg knows that, in a nation with an unemployment rate at around 9 percent, people will bristle at the notion that there are jobs Americans won't take, but he said, "People can't deal with the truth."

Vomberg, a self-described conservative Republican, said the new wave of workers has made the carnival more profitable. They are able to set up quicker, allowing the carnival to run more nights. The change also has lowered the carnival's workers' compensation claims and liability insurance.

But the biggest change is the end of the rampant drug culture. Vomberg said drug dealers used to knock on workers' bunkhouse trailers at night, knowing they had a willing market. That has ended, he said.

During the carnival's weeks in Arizona, Vomberg said it had drug-tested 20 employees. Five came back positive for marijuana. "All native Americans," he said, meaning U.S.-born employees.

"There is a public trust," Vomberg said. "When people come out here with their kids, they want clean and safe operators. It's a moral obligation."

For the immigrant workers, it means about nine months away from their families, keeping in touch through cellphone calls and pictures. But it also means a decent, steady income. Workers are hired making $325 to $350 a week, after taxes, Vomberg said. Supervisors and foremen can make between $700 and upwards of $1,000 weekly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


The Enduring Brownson: a review of In Search of the American Spirit: The Political Thought of Orestes Brownson by Gregory S. Butler (Peter J. Stanlis, Summer 1993, University Bookman)

In this very thoroughly researched and well-written description and analysis of Brownson’s political thought, Gregory S. Butler is far less concerned with the merely legal and political structures of American constitutional and positive law than with his conception of “the American spirit,” which provides the religious, cultural, and social foundations of his politics. Brownson rejected the common belief that any fictional theory of a “social contract,” based upon a supposed “state of nature” prior to the origin of institutional society, can be legitimately considered the basis of the American spirit. He also rejected the equally fictitious theory of a “general will,” based upon humanitarian sensibility and belief in the natural goodness of man, as foreign to the American spirit. In short, all of the secular premises, theories, and arguments of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau had no place in forming the American spirit.

The American archetypal political myths and symbols regarding justice, liberty, order, and equality are not an inheritance from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, but find their ultimate roots in the entire religious and cultural inheritance that the original colonists, and all subsequent immigrants, brought with them from Europe. For Brownson the search for the American spirit begins in the ancient Graeco-Roman world and includes the whole two-thousand year Judeo-Christian religious and cultural tradition of Western civilization. This complex Classical and Christian inheritance, together with the customs and manners of the Teutonic tribes which overran the Roman Empire and provided the people who formed the future nations of Europe, was developed variously throughout the Western world. Seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Britain was the particular vehicle which transmitted its version of this rich European religious and cultural inheritance to its American colonies. Other nations contributed their part, but Britain was dominant in shaping American society, and in particular its spirit of political liberty was intensified and modified by the raw frontier conditions of American life. The language, literature, religion, customs, traditions, laws, and education of Britain provided the basis for American society, and largely determined its spirit and culture. Thus, for Brownson, the American spirit is embodied in the complex unwritten constitution of American society, centered in the wide-ranging character and temperament of its people, as modified in different regions, but legally chartered over vast areas of the continent. History, not ideology, provided Brownson with his understanding of the American people.

To Brownson, ideology is the total antithesis of the American spirit. He believed that the historical experience of the American people, not abstract ideological theories of government, provided the basic premises in the formal structure and principles of their written federal-states constitutional system. Their love of liberty and fear of tyranny made Americans prefer republican government to any other form, and led them to divide authority and set limits to the political power of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of their government.

Peter Augustine Lawler has written a typically excellent essay about Brownson. One thing worth remembering here is that Hobbes and Locke were just borrowing from covenant theology, so we needn't reject them entirely. A people whose religion depends on covenants between Man and God is uniquely well-suited to a politics of covenants amongst themselves.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Republicans Bluffed Obama And Won (Jonathan Chait, April 9, 2011, New Republic)

I’m not sure I can think of an example of a party that leverage[d] control of one House of Congress into significant policy movement in its direction on a high profile issue. When Democrats took control of the Senate in 2001, there was the sense that they could limit the ambition of President Bush’s domestic agenda, but nobody considered the possibility that they could force Bush to move policy in their direction as a condition for keeping the government open. Even when the Democrats won both Houses of Congress in 2006, they used their leverage merely to veto additional policy changes in Bush’s direction, not to adopt their own policy goals opposed by Bush.

So why didn’t President Obama at least fight the Republicans to a draw? Why, if he had to move in their direction, did he wind up adopting deeper cuts than even John Boehner originally proposed?

A few factors leap out. First, the Democratic coalition is dominated by people who favor a conciliatory political style. Substantive beliefs about policy aside, most Democratic voters want their elected officials to take what seem to be reasoned, compromising positions. The Republican coalition, by contrast, is dominated by voters who want their leaders to take strong, uncompromising stances.

Second, arguing about government spending in the abstract favors Republicans. People do not believe in (or, I would put it, understand) Keynesian economics. So arguing that spending cuts inherently jeopardize the recovery is a losing proposition. When the category is domestic discretionary spending, a catch-all category, it’s difficult to turn the debate into one of specifics, since so many actual programs are affected.

His second point being true explains why his first is at best fuzzy. Democrats, who are people too, do not believe in Keynsianism any more than Republicans do, so there is no constituency for "compromise."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Now that's a catch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Grounds for U.S. military intervention (Henry A. Kissinger and and James A. Baker III, April 8, 2011, Washington Post)

The change sweeping the Arab world has brought to the forefront a controversy dating to the early days of our Republic. Should American military might be used for idealistic reasons or as an expression of a vital national interest? Or both? Having served four U.S. presidents during a variety of international crises, we view the choice between “idealism” and “realism” as a false one. Just as ideals must be applied in concrete circumstances, realism requires context for our nation’s values to be meaningful. To separate them risks building policy on sand.

Like most Americans, we believe that the United States should always support democracy and human rights politically, economically and diplomatically, just as we championed freedom for the captive peoples of the Soviet empire during the Cold War. Our values impel us to alleviate human suffering. But as a general principle, our country should do so militarily only when a national interest is also at stake. Such an approach could properly be labeled “pragmatic idealism.” [...]

[O]ur idealistic goals cannot be the sole motivation for the use of force in U.S. foreign policy. We cannot be the world’s policeman. We cannot use military force to meet every humanitarian challenge that might arise. Where would we stop? Syria, Yemen, Algeria or Iran?

The only question here is whether they're actually being paid by the Assads or carrying water for them voluntarily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Why did LOL infiltrate the language? (James Morgan, 4/10/11, BBC News)

Love it or loathe it, "lol" is now a legitimate word in our lexicon, says Graeme Diamond, the OED's principal editor for new words.

"The word is common, widespread, and people understand it," he explains.

The word serves a real purpose - it conveys tone in text, something that even the most cynical critics accept.

"I don't 'LOL'. I'm basically someone who kind of hates it," says Rob Manuel of the internet humour site b3ta.

"But the truth is, we do need emotional signifiers in tweets and emails, just as conversation has laughter. 'LOL' might make me look like a twit, but at least you know when I'm being arch." [...]

So why has "LOL", above all other web phrases, become such a phenomenon?

Because it's simple and multipurpose, says Tim Hwang, founder of ROFLCon, a whole festival dedicated to "internet awesome".

"The magic of LOL is that it's both exclusive and inclusive," he says. "On one level, it's simple to understand.

"But it also conveys something subtle - depending on the situation. It means more than just 'funny'. For example, if I had my bike stolen, my friend might reply 'LOL'. It helps overcome an awkward moment."

For school kids, acronyms like "LOL" and "KMT" (kiss my teeth) are a kind of secret code, a badge of belonging, says Tony Thorne, author of the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang.

"I go into schools and record slang words - all the new terms kids are saying - words like 'lolcano'. And if you talk to kids they will say this is our language - this is what identifies us."

But aren't these slang words also harmful to children's vocabulary? Not at all, says Thorne.

"Government educationalists get all worked up about words like LOL - they see them as substandard and unorthodox.

"But the small amount of research on this issue shows that kids who use slang abbreviations are the more articulate ones. It's called code switching."

...anything that abets clarity and concision is helpful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


The Legend of Big Rich (Allison Glock, April 8, 2011, ESPN The Magazine)

SIZE DOESN'T MATTER. That's one of the first things the strongmen tell you, even though most of them are large enough to have their size infiltrate their names. Like "Big Rich" Williams, 6'3", 410 pounds, the man with the marvelous hands. The hands themselves are average looking. Not the sort of things you'd note from afar, as you would, say, J-Lo's backside or Drew Gooden's beard. And, yet, despite their ordinary appearance, Williams' hands are the strongest in the world. Perhaps the strongest that have ever existed. And on this March afternoon, at the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, Williams intends to use those hands to show the world the power he holds, like a superhero, at the ready, in his palm.

It's just after lunchtime at the four-day expo of bodybuilding, arm wrestling and strongman contests, and the 32-year-old Williams is backstage, staring into a cinder block wall, head inches away. Other strongmen grunt and groan through warmup exercises, slapping Tiger Balm onto their sweaty bellies. Williams and six of his rivals are up next on the expo main stage, to take part in the second annual Mighty Mitts competition, a subset of the strongman event that centers exclusively on hand strength. Also known as grip, Mighty Mitts tests the skills of an intimate community of men who lift, hoist, pull, grab and clutch extraordinarily heavy items. It is equal parts freak show and athletic feat, having evolved from the carny tents where grip legends wrapped horseshoes into heart shapes and passed them out to swooning ladies.

As the minutes tick down to showtime, Mighty Mitts' most senior contestant, 61-year-old Odd Haugen, makes the rounds, catching up with friends. Williams doesn't join the conversation. Instead he sways foot to foot, growls, scowls, keeps his eyes on the wall. Finally, it's time: The grip guys are summoned onstage and introduced to a crowd of thousands. Then the first event begins. Using one hand, the men must hoist a 163-pound anvil by the horn and walk. The first few contestants can't even loosen the weight from the ground, their palms slipping uselessly as if they were tugging at a tree root. Haugen frees the anvil, carries it a little less than three feet and drops it to the floor like a Buick.

Now it is Williams' turn. He approaches the anvil, bends, wraps his right hand around the tip and lifts. He waddles the length of the stage, turns and waddles back. He does not rush. He carries the anvil like a lunch pail. He lets it slip at 60 feet, eight inches. That nearly doubles the world record -- the one he set last year. The crowd erupts. As they should. Because in all probability, they will never see anything like that again.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM

SAD? :

GOP wins battle of the budget and will continue to win if Obama and Democrats don't get a plan (Joshua Greenman, April 10th 2011, NY Daily News)

IT WAS half sad, half funny. After weeks of failing to reach an agreement on a budget, after getting the country all worked up about a shutdown, the speaker of the House and Senate majority leader and President took to the airwaves late Friday night to herald their great achievement in cutting $38 billion, calling it a historic compromise.

Democrats - who not long ago were warning us that significant near-term budget cuts would cost jobs - pretended it was some kind of victory for them.

Wrong. This budget deal is a major win for the Republicans. Like the President's concession on extending the Bush tax cuts for top-income earners, it's confirmation that the GOP currently controls the terms of this debate.

They promised they'd get billions in cuts this year, and that's precisely what they delivered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


He Can Sing It, if Not Speak It (BEN RATLIFF, 4/08/11, NY Times)

The record’s fulcrum, lyrically and conceptually, comes around the middle, halfway through the fourth track. In the song, “Universal Applicant,” over a slithering, one-chord piece of music, the narrator fires a flare gun, an action that Mr. Callahan first describes and then imitates, in two small and precise aspirant sounds. I noticed it — went back to hear it a few times more in fact — but didn’t know how important it was to the whole work.

“That part of the song is the turning point of the record,” he told me recently. In e-mail, he is sharp and funny and occasionally strident, but in person he’s nearly the opposite: hesitating to name or quantify very much, rounding off incomplete thoughts with quick, conciliatory grins. At my request we went to a place where we could talk freely in almost complete quiet, a Midtown office-building cafeteria at night. Still, he radiated reluctance, and my recorder had trouble registering his voice.

“The record,” he continued, “is kind of, like, blind, or searching, until that point, and then the flare goes off and the music stops for a second. And from that point on, it’s like, the music is illuminated.” It makes sense once you hear him put it this way: The themes on the second half of the record are about acceptance, freedom and “riding for the feeling.” But he doesn’t expect anyone else to pick up on it. “There is a story line there that is speaking to some part of your body,” he said uneasily. “It’s pretty abstract.”

This is what Mr. Callahan does: put a big and mysterious idea in a modest place. He has gotten better and better at it. “The thing that’s uniquely his,” said the singer-songwriter John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats in a recent e-mail, “is to sort of smuggle in scenes of remarkable emotional and, I gotta say, spiritual weight within these fairly light constructions.”

The first time I saw Mr. Callahan perform, in the mid-90s, he was working under the name Smog, and he had recently come to terms with his deep voice. He sang indirect character sketches about bad or isolated people in a series of blank monotones, accompanying himself crudely with acoustic guitar; he stood tall and thin and upright under neat, boyish brown hair, a catatonic expression and yellow sunglasses.

He seemed very, very strange. An audience was there to see him. He was already, in underground terms, a hero and a major object of interest for the kind of woman who loves Leonard Cohen records. But he made no visible effort to connect with it. Of course he was connecting like crazy.

He was past 30 then, and into his middle period. By that point, as Smog, he’d already made 10 albums in nine years — if you include 4 squalid-sounding homemade cassettes available by mail order through his mid-80s fanzine, Disaster, in which his writing style was as talky and alive as his later performance style was Dr. Bleak.

The early period began at home in Silver Spring, Md. (Mr. Callahan’s father spent his career with the National Security Agency as a language analyst; his mother worked there too. “Doing what?” I asked. “Same sort of thing,” he said. Eight seconds elapsed. “You know, like code....” he trailed off. “Breaking.”) He wrote songs as a teenager, quit for a while, and restarted at 22, with an eight-track recorder and a guitar he didn’t know how to play very well.

His early songs were squawked in a high voice; he wrote from the id about alienation and contempt. “I feel like an astronaut/suffocating on the moon,” went a lyric to a pained song, “Astronaut,” one of dozens. (He would gradually move toward songs about sex and sadness and vengeance — he is an admirer of the novelists James M. Cain and Richard Yates — and finally to his present state of grace, in which love is not always tortured and the metaphors run prehistoric: water, horses, birds.)

Originally, he said, he envisioned that he would never perform, do interviews, or sell a record. Did that come from the fanzine and hardcore-punk ethos of never compromising? Or was that something innate?

“Um,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Bill Callahan: 'I've finally accepted that I'm an entertainer': The former Smog man is back with a new album, Apocalypse, that deals with America, emotions and the 'cattle inside you'. Just don't tell him it's a change of direction ... (Ben Thompson, 3/31/11, guardian.co.uk)
Recently, there have been welcome signs of Callahan's stern public visage cracking into a smile. "A couple of years ago," he explains, "I realised that I was an entertainer" – he pauses for a moment, as if waiting for an unseen drummer to round off a punchline – "and that helped me immensely. From the first time you can look in the paper and you accept that you're the entertainment for some people that night," he continues, "it becomes so much more enjoyable to play live. Before that I was always wondering, 'What am I?'"

Callahan's moment of clarity has benefited both audience and performer. First, he abandoned the wilfully off-putting stage name Smog (on the characteristically gnomic grounds that "hanging on to it any longer didn't seem healthy"). Then 2009's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle – the second album released under his own name, and one of his most accessible records to date – struck a chord with a wider audience. By an irony that will not be lost on its writer, the song which did more than any other to bring him a new audience was Eid Ma Clack Shaw – a hilariously unsparing depiction of the vanity of the artist, in which a lovelorn Callahan "dreams the perfect song", then wakes to find the lyrics are gibberish.

For those who are already devotees, it will suffice to say that Callahan's new album, Apocalypse, bears roughly the same relation to its surprisingly accessible predecessor as 2005's blues-tinged A River Ain't Too Much to Love did to 2004's unexpectedly palatable Supper; while less accessible, it flows with a sinuous unity every bit as captivating. For those not yet properly acquainted with this man's compendious oeuvre, a riveting encyclopedia of human frailty awaits your exploration.

I think Callahan's best work – any of the three albums named above, as well as earlier creative highlights Wild Love, The Doctor Came at Dawn, Red Apple Falls and Knock Knock - ranks alongside that of his friend and Drag City (and formerly Domino) labelmate Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy) as the finest English-language songwriting of the last 20 years. And while not so explicit a departure in terms of subject matter as, say, Sonic Youth's Dirty or PJ Harvey's Let England Shake, Apocalypse registers an intriguing shift away from the forensic self-examination that has been his traditional stock-in-trade towards a more external, geopolitically rooted brand of lyricism.

Callahan – who once observed that his tendency to instinctively refute all statements made by interviewers was "natural in any exchange between someone who has the answers and someone who doesn't" – is having none of this.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM

The Passover Seder...With the Four Sons! from G-dcast.com

More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com

© 2010, g-dcast

April 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


Obama, Searching for a Vision (PETER BAKER,4/10/11, NY Times)

When President Obama emerged from spending talks last Thursday night, he went before cameras to insist that an agreement was needed to avoid a government shutdown that he warned would damage the country. What he did not do was make a public case for what should be in the agreement itself.

During a week of budget brinkmanship, the president who signed the largest stimulus spending program in American history largely left it to his Senate allies to respond to the sharp clarity of the Republican austerity message rather than outline a clear vision of what the role of government should be in the era of the Tea Party and rocketing national debt.

His reserved approach came at a time when he is being pressed as never before to define what American liberalism means for the 21st century. In the same week he kicked off his re-election campaign, he suggested that the incumbent of 2012 will not be the same as the candidate of 2008, as he pivoted on counterterrorism policy, embraced another free trade pact and managed his own military intervention in the Middle East.

Reform of the Welfare State, free trade, and democracy promotion...year 19.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Budget deal leaves liberals disheartened (ABBY PHILLIP, 4/9/11, Politico)

The $38.5 billion deal brokered between Republicans and President Barack Obama on Friday night may have resolved the immediate threat of a government shutdown. But it didn’t take long for many liberal Democrats to begin to realize that there might be not much cause for celebration in the substance of that deal.

In the final hours before the federal government was to run out of money April 8, Democrats honed in on attempts by Republicans to pass anti-abortion policy riders that would defund women’s health programs and Planned Parenthood. But soon after the deal was struck, Democrats turned back to a debate not about where to cut, but whether there should be cuts at all - and who should bear the brunt of the burden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 PM


Next on the Agenda for Washington: Fight Over Debt (JACKIE CALMES, 4/10/11, NY Times)

The down-to-the-wire partisan struggle over cuts to this year’s federal budget has intensified concern in Washington, on Wall Street and among economists about the more consequential clash coming over increasing the government’s borrowing limit.

Congressional Republicans are vowing that before they will agree to raise the current $14.25 trillion federal debt ceiling — a step that will become necessary in as little as five weeks — President Obama and Senate Democrats will have to agree to far deeper spending cuts for next year and beyond than those contained in the six-month budget deal agreed to late Friday night that cut $38 billion and averted a government shutdown.

Republicans have also signaled that they will again demand fundamental changes in policy on health care, the environment, abortion rights and more, as the price of their support for raising the debt ceiling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Justice Kagan Dissents (NY Times, April 9, 2011)

In the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling about a school-choice program in Arizona, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion leaves intact a program that has disbursed almost $350 million of state funds, most of it to schools choosing students on the basis of religion.

The holding all but overrules a landmark decision of the Warren court, Flast v. Cohen. As Justice Elena Kagan says powerfully in her first dissent, “by ravaging Flast in this way,” the majority “damages one of this nation’s defining constitutional commitments.”

If it were powerful it would be the Court's opinion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Lessons From Nuremberg (WILLIAM SHAWCROSS, April 9, 2011, NY Times)

GEORGE ORWELL is usually a footsure guide across political battlegrounds. In late 1943, when the tide had turned in the Allies’ favor, he wrote about postwar trials. Oddly, he advocated Hitler and Mussolini slipping away. His verdict for them would not be death unless the Germans and Italians themselves carried out summary executions (as they eventually did in Mussolini’s case).

He wanted “no martyrizing, no St. Helena business.” Above all, he disdained the idea of a “solemn hypocritical ‘trial of war criminals,’ with all the slow cruel pageantry of the law, which after a lapse of time has so strange a way of focusing a romantic light on the accused and turning a scoundrel into a hero.”

For once Orwell missed his step. The Allies did stage a trial of the Nazi war criminals, at Nuremberg. (My father, Hartley, was the chief British prosecutor.) The trial had flaws. To some it will always seem to be “victors’ justice” and it can be called hypocritical in that the Soviet Union, guilty of many of its own crimes against humanity, was an equal partner with the democratic prosecutors and judges. [...]

Nuremberg, lest we forget, was a military tribunal with civilian lawyers and it offered far fewer protections to the Nazis in the dock than the military commissions at Guantánamo will give to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his co-defendants in the 9/11 attacks. Military justice worked then and it can work again today.

...but it was more than they warranted.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


The Truth About Charley (NY Times, April 9, 2011)

Bill Steigerwald has made an intriguing, if disheartening, discovery that seems to have eluded admirers and scholars of John Steinbeck for decades. Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley in Search of America” is shot through with dubious anecdotes and impossible encounters.

Mr. Steigerwald, a former newspaperman, said he was planning to pay respectful tribute last year when he retraced Steinbeck’s 1960 journey — 10,000 miles from Long Island to Maine to California and back. But as he explained in a blog and an article in this month’s Reason magazine, facts got in the way. [...]

It is irritating that some Steinbeck scholars seem not to care. “Does it really matter that much?” one of them asked a Times reporter.

Steinbeck insisted his book was reality-based. He aimed to “tell the small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.” Books labeled “nonfiction” should not break faith with readers. Not now, and not in 1962, the year “Travels With Charley” came out and Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Anyone naive enough to think that autobiographical texts are accurate deserves to be fooled. On the other hand, the last time I was at the Times building the Pulitzer that Walter Duranty received still hung on the wall leading to the Editorial Board offices. That's not irritating, it's disgraceful.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


Norton says Democrats sold out D.C. in spending deal (Stephen Dinan, 4/09/11, The Washington Times)

Washington’s representative to Congress said Saturday she feels like the city was the victim of a “sellout” by Democrats in Friday night’s spending negotiations after the District of Columbia was the focus for two of the biggest policy fights.

President Obama signed off on restricting the city from using its own taxpayer money to fund abortions, and agreed to restore the city’s school voucher program, which is popular with parents but opposed by many elected officials.

...selling out means not killing black babies and giving them a decent education?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Donald, You’re Fired!: Trump repeats false claims about Obama's birthplace. (Brooks Jackson, April 9, 2011, FactCheck.org)

He claims the president’s grandmother says Obama was born in Kenya. In fact, the recording to which he refers shows Sarah Obama repeatedly saying through a translator: "He was born in America."
He claims that no hospital in Hawaii has a record of Obama’s birth. Hospital records are confidential under federal law, but Honolulu’s Kapi’olani Medical Center has published a letter from Obama calling it "the place of my birth," thus publicly confirming it as his birthplace.
He insists that the official "Certification of Live Birth" that Obama produced in 2008 is "not a birth certificate." That’s wrong. The U.S. Department of State uses "birth certificate" as a generic term to include the official Hawaii document, which satisfies legal requirements for proving citizenship and obtaining a passport.
He claims that there’s no signature or certification number on the document released by Obama. Wrong again. Photos of the document, which we posted in 2008, clearly show those details.
He says newspaper announcements of Obama’s birth that appeared in Hawaii newspapers in 1961 "probably" were placed there fraudulently by his now-deceased American grandparents. Actually, a state health department official and a former managing editor of one of the newspapers said the information came straight from the state health department.
He claims "nobody knew" Obama when he was growing up and "nobody ever comes forward" who knew him as a child. "If I ever decide to run, you may go back and interview people from my kindergarten," Trump said. Well, two retired kindergarten teachers in a 2009 news story fondly recall teaching a young Barack Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


President surprises visitors at Lincoln Memorial (CNN)

President Barack Obama surprised visitors at the Lincoln Memorial Saturday as he shook hands and greeted visitors.

Admittedly, Mr. Obama is the smartest being ever to grace the Earth, but don't we have to assume he's entirely ignorant of the symbolism here?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Lumet, '12 Angry Men' and 'Network' director, dies (DAVID B. CARUSO and BOB THOMAS, 4/09/11, Associated Press)

A Philadelphia native, Lumet moved to New York City as a child, and it became the location of choice for more than 30 of his films. Although he freely admitted to a lifelong love affair with the city, he often showed its grittier side.

Such dramas as "Prince of the City," "Q&A," "Night Falls on Manhattan" and "Serpico" looked at the hard lives and corruptibility of New York police officers. "Dog Day Afternoon" told the true-life story of two social misfits who set in motion a chain of disastrous events when they tried to rob a New York City bank on an oppressively hot summer afternoon.

"It's not an anti-L.A. thing," Lumet said of his New York favoritism in a 1997 interview. "I just don't like to live in a company town."

Although he didn't work in Los Angeles, the director maintained good relations with the Hollywood studios, partly because he finished his pictures under schedule and budget. His television beginnings had schooled him in working fast, and he rarely shot more than four takes of a scene.

Network is a great film and The Verdict is excellent until the final scene ruins it, but his greatest achievement was the subversive Serpico, a stinging rebuke to Hollywood in particular and the Left in general. The rest is...eh.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


Realising what furrows are (Christopher Howse, 07 Oct 2010, The Telegraph)

In the Paul Nash exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery earlier this year, his studies of furrows, in photographs and sketches (below), were eye-opening. A brilliant artistic insight was to relate them to the parallel waves of the sea, as appears from some of his finished paintings.

Furrows are not often considered, but deserve to be. Now I have come across as striking a treatment of furrows as Nash's in an essay only 862 words long. It is by G K Chesterton, a writer repeatedly overlooked, on account, I fear, of some of his less discerning disciples.

Looking back to winter, Chesterton writes: "From some accidental turn of a train-journey or a walking tour, I saw suddenly the fierce rush of the furrows. The furrows are like arrows; they fly along an arc of sky. They are like leaping animals; they vault an inviolable hill and roll down the other side."

Yet the men who ploughed the furrows tried to make them straight and had no notion of giving great sweeps and swirls to the eye. Where did their arrow-arcs come from? "Those cataracts of cloven earth; they were done by the grace of God," he writes. "I had always rejoiced in them; but I had never found any reason for my joy."

It is a characteristic of Chesterton that he found joy in the way things are. As an art student at the Slade in the early 1890s he confronted in a deep crisis the lure of nihilism and despair, which he associated with moral evil. "Murder must be classed among acts distinctly improper and, indeed, morally wrong," he wrote 40 years later. "But suicide seems to me the supreme blasphemy against God and man and beast and vegetables; the attack not upon a life, but on life itself."

His lifelong optimism after this early crisis was based not merely upon a resolution to be cheerful, but on a conviction of the inherent goodness of reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


No Shutdown, but a Lot of Sellouts (John Nichols, April 9, 2011, The Nation)

If you had asked Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman or John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton what Democrats would defend in a fight over the future of government, there’s no real question that funding for housing, public transportation, community development programs and safe air travel would be high on the list.

Yet, in order to achieve the Friday night deal that averted a government shutdown—for a week and, potentially, longer if an anticipated agreement is cobbled together and agreed to—all of those programs took serious hits.

Today the only thing the Democratic Party was still willing to fight for was abortion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


2011 is not 1995 (Ezra Klein, 4/09/11, Washington Post)

In the end, the real negotiation was not between the Republicans and the Democrats, or even the Republicans and the White House. It was between John Boehner and the conservative wing of his party. And once that became clear, it turned out that Boehner’s original offer wasn’t even in the middle. It was slightly center-left.

But you would’ve never known it from President Obama’s encomium to the agreement. Obama bragged about “making the largest annual spending cut in our history.” Harry Reid joined him, repeatedly calling the cuts “historic.” It fell to Boehner to give a clipped, businesslike statement on the deal. If you were just tuning in, you might’ve thought Boehner had been arguing for moderation, while both Obama and Reid sought to cut deeper. You would never have known that Democrats had spent months resisting these “historic” cuts, warning that they’d cost jobs and slow the recovery.

Boehner, of course, could afford to speak plainly. He’d not just won the negotiation but had proven himself in his first major test as speaker of the House. He managed to get more from the Democrats than anyone had expected, sell his members on voting for a deal that wasn’t what many of them wanted and avert a shutdown. There is good reason to think that Boehner will be a much more formidable opponent for Obama than Gingrich was for Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


In Israel, cooler heads weigh in (Boston Globe, April 9, 2011)

AS ARAB governments fall and totter around Israel, and as more and more countries indicate they will vote for recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly in September, a group of prominent Israelis has come to the clear-eyed conclusion that the status quo is untenable and dangerous for Israel. These aren’t unworldly peaceniks; the group includes former heads of Israel’s intelligence agency, secret service, and military. Their Israeli Peace Initiative reflects a desire to keep their country safe and preserve it as a democratic, Jewish-majority state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should welcome it. The plan looks past the parochial interests of political parties in his coalition government, and its core recommendations would have the support of key cabinet members, particularly Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who said recently that while negotiations with the Palestinians have been trying, “the alternatives have also become much worse.’’

...a Globe editorial speaking favorably about folks trying to keep Arizona an Anglo-majority state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Bahrain is the line in the sand (Juliette Kayyem, April 9, 2011, Boston Globe)

THE COLD War had a line in the sand. America and the Soviet Union could wage proxy battles in Vietnam, Latin America, and Europe. But when the Soviets made a move that was too aggressive, the United States threatened real war in order to preserve the previous ground rules. That moment was the Cuban missile crisis.

People throughout this Sunni Arab kingdom talk now of their own Cuban missile crisis. Amid the unrest and calls for democracy, their focus is on a regional cold war between Sunni-led nations and the “Shia crescent,’’ the term King Abdullah of Jordan used to describe Iran’s growth as a regional superpower. The test case of this cold war is not in oil-rich Libya, or terrorist-ridden Yemen, or Israel-bordering Syria. The line in the sand has been drawn in Bahrain.

Because of classic military considerations, America was willing to tolerate three particular regimes during the Cold War that denied equal rights but controlled strategic geographic positions: South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Israel. Whether our decision was the right one or not, it is at least understandable why it was made: the quality of the enemy we faced, the Communist bloc, was such that some lesser evils could be accepted in order to defeat the greater.

The problem for the Sunni regimes is that they are, in essence, the USSR of this analogy, which is why all our actions since 9-11 have been mainly beneficial to the Shi'a, who are our implicit, though not often explicit, ideological allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Understanding the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses (John Harmon McElroy, Spring 2011, Intercollegiate Review)

In 1791, there were fourteen states in the United States, the original thirteen having been joined by Vermont, and half had religious establishments. What connection is there between the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) and this fact that seven of the fourteen states had establishments of religion? Could the purpose of the Establishment Clause have been to prevent the federal government from interfering with those religious establishments? Were the two religion clauses—establishment and free-exercise—coordinate protections of the right of the states to regulate religious matters within their borders? And what, exactly, is “an establishment of religion”? Each of these questions bears on the Supreme Court’s reversal over the past half century of the First Amendment’s prohibition against federal intrusion into religious matters.

Let us first take up the question of what exactly a religious establishment is. In addressing this matter, one must understand that the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1962 in Engel v. Vitale—that a religious exercise in a public school represents an establishment of religion—redefined the meaning of a religious establishment. But it is even more important to understand that no court ruling can change the historical reality of what a religious establishment is. The Supreme Court possesses vast power, but that does not include the ability to rewrite history. The nature of religious establishments in the history of Western civilization is clear and cannot be altered by any court.

An establishment of religion is a declaration by a government, in a law, of a preference for one particular religion, which the law names. This declaration of a preference is substantial and not just nominal, because the establishment law grants the preferred religion some substantial benefit that government alone can confer. The establishment law confers the benefit on the identified religion only; the churches of other religions, and persons unaffiliated with any organized religion, are excluded from receiving it. Typically, the benefit bestowed is the privilege of receiving institutional support from public revenues or the privilege to vote and hold public office—sometimes a combination of both. No establishment of religion exists when a government treats the members of every faith equally, tolerates free, public expression of any religious faith, and enacts no establishment law bestowing a substantial governmental benefit on one religion to the exclusion of all others.

In 1791, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and South Carolina had establishment laws that benefited “the Protestant faith”; in Delaware and Maryland, where there were numerous Roman Catholics, establishment laws benefited “the Christian faith”; establishment laws in Connecticut and Massachusetts bestowed exclusive privileges on the Congregationalist Church. The churches representing the religions established through these state laws were all supported by donations of money from the public treasuries of the seven states that had privileged them as the preferred churches of their governments. Only Massachusetts and Connecticut, however, had what could be termed strong religious establishments, since the establishment laws in those states gave preference to just one church and made membership in it a qualification for voting and holding public office.

During the next forty-two years—that is, between 1791 and 1833—the religious establishments in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and South Carolina were all abrogated by acts of state legislatures that revoked their establishment laws; no further establishment laws were ever enacted in the United States. Thus, it is a plain matter of historical record that since 1833 no establishment law has existed anywhere in the United States; hence, there have been no establishments of religion since that date.

Historically speaking, it is implausible to claim that personal expressions of religious belief—for example, voluntary participation in a group prayer or the silent prayer of an individual—could constitute a religious establishment just because they occur on public property with the approval of elected or lawfully appointed public officials. Yet that was what the Supreme Court held in its 1962 judgment in Engel and in its 1985 judgment in Wallace v. Jaffree. The former held unconstitutional voluntary participation in group prayer and the latter, individual silent prayer, in public schools when approved by school officials. In Engel v. Vitale the Supreme Court misconstrued “an establishment of religion” to mean the approval of religious exercises by public officials, even though their approval conferred no exclusive benefit on any religious congregation. In Engel, the Supreme Court moved from protecting religious exercises in public schools, under the First Amendment’s Free-Exercise Clause, to condemning them as religious establishments.

But before discussing how this reversal came about, the historical purpose of the First Amendment’s two religion clauses must be carefully examined, especially their relationship to each other. In this regard, we must first note the reason for the addition to the Constitution of the set of amendments known as the Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment. A set of amendments to protect the rights of individuals and states was repeatedly urged in 1787–88 during the debates in the state ratifying conventions. Alexander Hamilton stated in Federalist 84 that “the most considerable of the remaining objections” to ratification was that there was “no bill of rights” in the proposed Constitution. The promise by pro-ratification delegates to the state conventions (the “Federalists”) to add a Bill of Rights after ratification won over the states that feared that the authority being granted the new federal government would infringe upon existing rights. The most prominent Federalist of the 1780s, James Madison, “the Father of the Constitution,” duly drafted and introduced the promised Bill of Rights in the first session of the First Congress.

Yet Madison’s wording of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause was significantly changed in what was finally approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. In attempting to understand the purpose of the Establishment Clause, we must examine that change.

The religion clauses for the First Amendment that Madison introduced in the House of Representatives read as follows: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, [n]or shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext, infringed.” This awkward wordiness was amended by a majority of his colleagues in the House, under the leadership of Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, to read: “Congress shall make no law establishing Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of conscience be infringed.” The Senate then amended that language further to, “Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.” All three of these statements had the evident aim of prohibiting Congress from enacting a law that would, in Madison’s words, establish “any national religion.” And despite their various styles and various degrees of specificity, all of them protected the free exercise of religious beliefs.

As with bills today, it was a conference committee that reconciled the House and Senate versions and produced the final language of the First Amendment that Congress sent to the states for ratification. Two members of this six-member committee, Oliver Ellsworth and Roger Sherman, were from Connecticut, a state with a strong religious establishment. The language of the conference committee’s final version kept the Free-Exercise Clause that both houses of Congress preferred to Madison’s diffuse wording but rephrased the Establishment Clause in a way that significantly broadened its frame of reference. That clause’s final wording (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) succinctly prohibited Congress from both enacting an establishment law of its own and disturbing the establishment laws that then existed in half the states of the Union.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 AM


The Retirement of MannyBManny (Joe Posnanski, 4/09/11, Sports Illustrated)

But I still maintain that Manny Ramirez was a hitting genius.

I wrote this once before, and I continue to admit it’s a bizarre notion. But what is a genius anyway? The dictionary definition is “a person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect.” MannyBManny is clearly not a generalist. The man has been ticketed for having the windows on his car tinted too dark. He has wandered to the outfield with a water bottle in his back pocket. In an era when nobody — and I mean NOBODY — with even two milliliters of sense would test positive for steroids, he apparently has now tested positive TWICE, the second time sparking his sudden and forced and merciful retirement from the game on Friday.

But in one particular respect … I never saw anybody hit a baseball quite like Manny Ramirez. You can — and I often do — a lot of crazy things with numbers. But do you know how many men in baseball history have hit .310 with 525 homers and 525 doubles? Of course you do. One. M-A-N-N-Y. He also hit 21 grand slams — only Lou Gehrig hit more. Yes, those numbers are skewed to single him out, but I’ll tell you one thing that those numbers do suggest: It’s possible that nobody ever hit more balls HARD than Manuel Aristides (Onelcida) Ramirez.

And he hit the ball that hard without even the slightest outward suggestion of anything resembling discipline or exertion or dedication. People may not have liked Barry Bonds but nobody could doubt the commitment he made to being a sensational baseball player. MannyBManny hardly seemed to care at all. I can only assume he DID care, and that he DID work hard on his hitting — it doesn’t seem even remotely possible that anyone could become that good at anything without extreme drive — but, yeah, he did an amazing job hiding that part of himself from the world. He cared so little that the main defense his fans had against the likelihood he was using steroids was that using steroids would take too much effort. He cared so little that at one point when he was still hitting rockets all over the park, the Red Sox put him on waivers. It was a bit like putting Alexander the Great on waivers just after he crossed the Tigris … only they didn’t just put him on waivers, they basically PRAYED that someone would claim him. Nobody did.

Of course, the story goes that the Red Sox were forced to keep him … and he led the league in slugging in 2004 and was named World Series MVP. In 2007, the Red Sox — with Manny playing a somewhat less prominent role — won the World Series again. In fact, Manny Ramirez’s teams always won. I looked this up once before in 2009 — at that time Manny Ramirez had never once played for a losing team in his 15 full seasons. His teams had made the playoffs 10 times and the World Series four times. He may have been a terrible teammate. He may have been an atrocious left fielder. He may have been the biggest pain this side of kidney stones. But the man hit baseballs hard. And because of him or despite him or both, his teams won.

In my own romantic view of baseball and the world, I tended to see Manny as baseball’s Mozart — an often vile personality who did one thing so beautifully that you could not turn away. He finished top five in batting average five times, top five in on-base percentage five times, top five in slugging 10 times. He faced Dennis Eckersley three times … he walked once and hit two home runs off him. He hit .643 against CC Sabathia. Here’s one that will blow your mind — there are 27 men out there who have had only one at-bat match-up with MannyBManny … and they will always be able to tell people that Manny hit a home run in that one at-bat.

When I wrote the Manny-is-a-genius piece, I talked to a few people in the game … and it was clear that these tough old baseball men who had no respect at all for the way Ramirez treated the game were almost absurdly awed by his talent. They talked of games he would play with pitchers during spring training to set them up later in the year. They talked of adjustments he would make pitch-to-pitch that were so remarkable they could only compare it to chess grandmasters. Bill James — co-host of the next Poscast, coming out Monday — insisted that Manny Ramirez would purposely get into 3-2 counts with a runner on first so that the runner would be on the move with the pitch and could then score on the double MannyBManny planned to hit.

Cabrera, Alomar reflect on Manny stories (Jordan Bastian, 4/08/11, MLB.com)
Cabrera said Ramirez was as dedicated to his craft as any player the Indians infielder has ever seen. Cabrera would wake up early on the road and always saw Ramirez headed to the hotel gym in the morning -- hours before being required to show up to the ballpark.

"Everywhere we'd go," Cabrera said with a laugh. "Everywhere. Seven o'clock in the morning, you'd go down in the hotel and you'd see Manny Ramirez going in a hockey shirt. Yeah, he'd wear like the biggest hockey shirt. I don't know where he'd find these things."

Later, at the ballpark, Cabrera would see Ramirez in the video room.

"He'd be the first person you'd see watching the videos," Cabrera said. "He'd just watch them quiet, like he didn't want anybody watching him studying the pitchers."

Once in New York, Cabrera saw Ramirez studying Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina. Ramirez was not watching his at-bats, though. Instead, he was breaking down at-bats of other No. 3 hitters who faced Mussina that season. Curious about the approach, Cabrera asked Ramirez about his plan.

"I said, 'Hey, what are you going to do?'" Cabrera recalled. "He goes, 'Second at-bat, third pitch, I'm going to hit a curveball. Home run.' He goes, 'Don't tell anybody.'"

On Sept. 24, 2004, Ramirez strolled to the plate against Mussina in the third inning. He only saw two pitches in his first at-bat of the game. The next pitch released by Mussina sailed out of Fenway Park for a two-run home run.

"Third pitch. Breaking ball. Boom," Cabrera said. "I was like, 'That's why I can't be like you. That's incredible.' I tell that story and people don't believe it. I saw it."

....than to quit on your team, which is why we treat gambling scandals so deservedly harshly. However, you can forgive a lot from a guy who could do this:

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


How Evolution Explains Altruism: SUPERCOOPERATORS: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed By Martin A. Nowak with Roger Highfield (OREN HARMAN, 4/10/11, NY Times Book Review)

What do colon cancer, ant colonies, language and global warming have in common? This might sound like the front end of a joke, but in fact it’s a serious challenge to the standard view of evolution. Martin A. Nowak, the director of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard, has devoted a brilliant career to showing that Darwin, and particularly his followers, batted only two for three. Random mutation and natural selection have indeed been powerful motors for change in the natural world — the struggle for existence pitting the fit against the fitter in a hullabaloo of rivalry. But most of the great innovations of life on earth, Nowak argues, from genes to cells to societies, have been due to a third motor, and “master architect,” of evolution: cooperation.

“SuperCooperators” (written with Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist magazine) is an absorbing, accessible book about the power of mathematics. Unlike Darwin with his brine bottles and pigeon coops, Nowak aims to tackle the mysteries of nature with paper, pencil and computer. By looking at phenomena as diverse as H.I.V. infection and English irregular verbs, he has formally defined five distinct mechanisms that have helped give rise to cooperative behavior, from the first molecules that joined to self-replicate, to the first cells that formed multicellular organisms, all the way to human societies, which exhibit a degree of cooperation unmatched in all creation. In Nowak’s view, figuring out how cooperation comes about and breaks down, as well as actively pursuing the “snuggle for existence,” is the key to our survival as a species.

At the heart of Nowak’s ideas is the haunting game of Prisoner’s Dilemma. The game involves two accomplices who are caught for a crime, interrogated separately and offered a deal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Race against time (Daily Star, April 09, 2011)

Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to be seriously underestimating the nature of the protests shaking his nation, taking actions on the ground that undermine the regime’s public stance that it is ready to enact reforms.

Syria’s security forces met the peaceful protesters with force, and at least two dozen people were killed, with scores more wounded. Credible sources report that at least 80 demonstrators have lost their lives since the protests in Syria began in earnest; however, it is impossible to come up with an entirely reliable figure for the casualties, because foreign journalists are largely being kept away from the unrest.

The use of deadly force, wherever it has appeared in the Arab world during this year of revolutions, has proven time and time again to be a failed policy. It might buy a short amount of time for an embattled regime, but it represents a recipe for long-term resentment and further outbreaks of violence.

It also sends a dangerous signal that the regime has no interest in substantial reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


John Boehner closes the deal to avoid government shutdown (JOHN BRESNAHAN & JAKE SHERMAN, 4/9/11, Politico)

“We have a deal,” the Ohio Republican said around 10:30 p.m.

And with that, Boehner had something more — a defining moment in his speakership and a chance to set aside questions about his ability to manage an unwieldy caucus of conservatives, at least for now.

The 61-year-old, swept into the speaker’s chair during last November’s GOP landslide, faced down two Democrats — Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — and also answered doubts from the conservative movement about whether he was a true believer.

His colleagues stood and cheered at his announcement of a deal, knowing Boehner secured more than $38.5 billion in cuts, a far higher figure than many of them expected just days before. Boehner still has to get the votes next week for the long-term budget deal, and he’s got a huge sales job ahead on raising the debt limit, not to mention debating the entire 2012 budget.

“It’s a big deal. It shows a great deal of leadership,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), a Boehner ally. “It’s a big win for the speaker.”

In a larger sense, Boehner has achieved more than just a short term budget victory — in his first three months as speaker he’s helped turn the entire Washington dialogue into a debate about the size and scope of government. He started the year by getting rid of earmarks, he’s pushing through some of the deepest spending cuts in American history, and he’ll now try to get most of the GOP Conference on board with Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal 2012 budget — one of the most audacious long-term spending plans in recent memory.

April 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


Booted: What really ails Italy? (Tim Parks, 4/11/11, The New Yorker)

The idea of laying bare some persistent group dynamic that would explain the vagaries of Italian public life—Graziano’s aim—has haunted me throughout my thirty years in the country. I left England for Italy in the fall of 1981, having found myself a lovely Italian wife. We settled in Verona, where the Alps peter out in the north Italian plain, a small, elegant, conservative city, unquestioningly Catholic and immensely proud of its huge Roman arena and frescoed Renaissance piazzas. It seemed the right kind of place to underachieve in hedonistic peace.

The mood was bullish. Italy had accomplished an economic miracle in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, shifting from a rural to an urban and industrialized economy. Its G.D.P. was supposedly overtaking Great Britain’s. Verona in particular was a full-employment town, as confident and self-satisfied as you could imagine.

Even then, however, I recall being struck by how the interiors of homes and cafés and shops were so carefully cleaned and cared for, while the streets, as soon as one was away from the showcase city center, were often in a state of abject disrepair. The traffic was aggressive and choked, the pedestrian crossings deadly, the buses overcrowded, the train stations scruffy and underfunded. The bureaucracy was maddeningly complex (one stood in line for hours for residency papers only to hear that documents were required that you had not been told to bring); public-sector jobs seemed to be handed out mainly on a political basis (you’d hear bus drivers remark that the next job in the depot had to go to a Socialist rather than to a Communist or a Christian Democrat); public officials were often corrupt (I had to pay a considerable bribe to two tax officials who threatened to make my life unpleasant otherwise), and the lira was constantly being devalued, keeping Italian industry competitive abroad by nullifying concessions on wages and pensions.

Graziano’s book sets out to show that this mixture of apparent economic success and behavioral backwardness had its roots in the distant past. His argument is complex, and takes us back to the late medieval era, when Italy was ahead of the rest of Europe. In the power vacuum that accompanied the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, a number of large and efficient city-states evolved, all having an unusually potent sense of a separate identity. Venice, Florence, Milan, Naples, and Rome were aware that Italy might eventually be considered a territorial unit, and did everything they could to avoid being swallowed up in it: they were, as Graziano comments, “too weak to absorb others, too strong to let themselves be absorbed.” This proud disunity is exactly what allowed foreign powers to overrun and carve up the peninsula in the sixteenth century, a situation that, aside from the interlude of a Napoleonic invasion, remained largely unchanged until the mid-nineteenth century.

When unification came, it was led not by the major city-states of the past but by the half-French region of Piedmont, an area peripheral to Italian history and with a long record of rounding up and executing Italian nationalists. Nor had Piedmont planned to annex the whole peninsula. Exploiting wars between France and Austria to acquire the rich northern part of the country, the Piedmontese king was faced with a startling fait accompli when the revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, initially leading an expedition of only a thousand men, quite unexpectedly conquered the whole of Sicily and southern Italy. Garibaldi then offered the territory as a gift to the now enlarged Piedmont, which, as much to avoid the spread of republicanism as for any other reason, sent its armies south to meet him. On March 17, 1861, Italy became a single state under the Piedmontese crown.

The new country’s prospects were not encouraging. The vast majority of Italians had not sought unity and many had fought against it; those who supported it were divided between republicans and monarchists, and some were not so much nationalist as internationalist, working toward a united socialist Europe. An estimated 97.5 per cent of the population didn’t speak the national language. (Most spoke one of scores of local dialects.) The Catholic Church, which before unification had governed territories in central Italy, remained implacably opposed to the new state and for decades instructed practicing Catholics not to vote in elections. Those in the north had little idea how to govern the economically backward south. In short, in Graziano’s view, it was a complete fluke that the country came into being at all. The fact that it survived, he argues, had far more to do with the fraught power games among France, England, and Austria than with any real will of the Italians to exist as a nation.

This lack of internal agreement or identity, coupled with an awareness that the unity of the country was assured by foreign powers, had dire consequences, Graziano says. It’s the reason that Italian politicians have always sought a fudged and fragile consensus that would maintain the internal and divided status quo, rather than clarify the truly national interest. Countries like Germany, France, and England periodically undertake painful socioeconomic reforms in order to adapt to changing international markets. Italy, unable to reform, has made a virtue of a low-wage, low-productivity economy, with little social mobility, a choice given respectability by the preaching of a complacently anti-capitalist Church.

How does Graziano’s assessment of the founding moment in Italian history hold up? Positions for and against unification—that it was the inevitable destiny of the Italian people, or a disastrous mistake—are a staple of Italian conversation, and, however cogently Graziano writes, one sometimes feels that he is loading the dice. Still, his analysis does shed light on the social and political dysfunction I’ve witnessed in the past thirty years.

Two months after my arrival in Verona, members of the left-wing terror group the Red Brigades abducted U.S. General James Lee Dozier from an apartment not three miles from our rented rooms. During the forty-two days he was held captive, fur-clad Veronese ladies crossing the town’s bridges in the freezing winter fog were obliged to submit their designer handbags to inspection by carabinieri with machine guns. The Red Brigades had targeted Dozier because they took him to represent Italy’s submission to America, the country that was preventing Italy’s Communist Party, which regularly polled thirty per cent of the vote, from ever holding power. Graziano notes that the two competing postwar visions of Italy’s future, Christian Democrat and Communist, were both subservient to foreign models and financed by foreign backers. If the American vision was dominant—as the Christian Democrats’ decades-long rule attested—it was because of Italy’s geographical position, the generosity of the Marshall Plan, and the image of material wealth that American films and television projected.

Graziano even suggests that Italian statesmen have deliberately played down Italian nationalism, insisting on the country’s Catholic-inspired internationalism or “European credentials,” in order to sell the country’s allegiance to the highest bidder. Foreign money could then be used to fund and facilitate agreements within Italy: new political players and contentious interest groups could be brought into the governing coalitions for a share of the spoils. This strategy of accommodation without unity of purpose is what Italians call trasformismo, an ethos that was still alive and well in 1983, when the Socialist leader Bettino Craxi was invited to become Prime Minister, despite the fact that his party was only a minor partner in the mainly Christian Democrat coalition. “Everyone bargains with everyone,” the finance minister in Craxi’s government remarked. “All procedural activity is a bargain, and at each bargain either we come to a halt or something goes missing.”

This is true of every area of Italian life, sports included. In 1985, Verona won the so-called scudetto, the national soccer championship. It is the only year in the past four decades that the competition has been won by a small provincial team. It was also the year that the league decided to select referees by lot rather than designation. Needless to say, the following season, the league went back to the old system. As the holder of a stadium season ticket, I quickly became aware of how much was decided off the pitch. In some games, referees were clearly seeking to influence the result. But, for the Italian crowd, this actually made the matches more exciting: you were playing against the referee but still winning! Or you had the referee on your side but still couldn’t score! Later, when I wrote about soccer in Italy and spent time with the players, they not only confirmed my impressions but expressed doubt that things could ever be otherwise. Big towns like Milan, Rome, and Turin had more influence than Verona, and Verona had more influence than many smaller places. No one was thinking of the sport as a whole, only of his place in the pecking order.

It's strange to an American to hear just how complaisant people are in the face of such corruption. This morning on The Football Show the hosts--Giorgio Chinaglia and Charlie Stilitano--were casually discussing how Manchester United won two games this week because refs would never whistle them for the penalties they deserve because they're such a big club.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


In Time for Opening Day, an At Bat 11 With Sweeteners (BOB TEDESCHI, 4/07/11, NY Times)

At Bat 11 outdoes the previous versions in various ways, depending on what device you use and where you use it. Android users get the biggest upgrade, in that the app finally displays live video. All season they can watch one free game daily. Meanwhile, At Bat users with Apple and Android phones can create a home page that displays important information about their favorite team.

For fans at the ballpark, At Bat is also much better than last year, thanks to a new set of features meant specifically for them. (More on that later.)

IPad users of the app miss out on the ballpark-related perks, but they’ll see other improvements in At Bat’s appearance and the quality of the information.

Take, for instance, At Bat’s anchor feature, the field view, where you can watch an animated, pitch-by-pitch version of every game as it progresses.

Like last year, the screen shows the action from the home-plate umpire’s point of view. This year, though, MLB.com used images from the Sony PlayStation 3 game, MLB 11 The Show, to display a much more realistic view of the stadium. Later this season, an MLB.com spokesman, Matthew Gould, said, that realism will extend to the batting stances of individual players.

The improvements are not limited to eye candy, though. One of my favorite elements of last year’s At Bat for iPad was the animated pitch-location feature, which gets a boost this year.

Each pitch still arcs toward viewers in the same path, and with the same termination point, of the on-field pitch. Likewise, the ball’s path is color-coded to denote the pitch type, and when the pitch reaches the plate, a label appears. (“91 MPH Four-Seam Fastball,” for instance.)

But this year, if you click on that label, the screen shows a side view of the pitch, along with the pitcher’s release point, where the pitch broke and how many inches it broke. It’s a baseball geek’s dream, and it exemplifies a level of software showboating that At Bat pulls off consistently on the iPad.

Avid baseball fans who own an iPad, and who skip this app, are making a mistake.

That’s especially true this month, since At Bat is giving away live video of every out-of-market game. On Apple devices, the video is bolstered by optional on-screen graphics showing information about every player on the field.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


Moon: Smart, old-school sci-fi in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey featuring a terrific turn by Sam Rockwell and solid direction from rookie Duncan Jones. (And yes, he's David Bowie's son.) (Steven D. Greydanus, 6/19/2009, Christianity Today)

An early title tells us that the Sarang base has a crew of one—but Sam isn't entirely alone. For one thing, there's Gerty, who glides about in a ceiling-mounted track system and speaks in the detached cadences of Kevin Spacey, like a mash-up of the HAL-9000 from 2001 and OTTO from WALL-E. Sam also lives with his memories, if that's what they are, of his wife Tess, whose only contact with Sam is via recorded messages from Earth (live communication is down due to satellite malfunction).

Then, on a routine outing in the rover, Sam sees someone or something that can't be there. There is an accident that leaves a roaming mining unit damaged, and Sam is injured. Later, recuperating in the infirmary, Sam learns from Gerty that he's confined to base while a repair crew from Earth makes the three-day trip to get the damaged mining unit back up and running.

But then Sam overhears something that wasn't meant for his ears, and is suddenly dissatisfied with staying inside the lines. He decides to check out the damaged mining unit with or without Gerty's permission, leading to an exchange that deliberately evokes the tacit antagonism of Dave Bowman's relationship with HAL in 2001, though Moon also subverts the genre tropes established by the Kubrick classic.

What Sam discovers when he returns to the scene of the accident, and what he experiences afterwards, is described in many reviews—which is a shame, since Moon is not a mystery or "twist" thriller in which everything turns on a mind-bending explanation. Sam's disorienting experiences are best experienced as he does, with as little context as possible.

Suffice to say, Sam's predicament touches on issues from the deconstruction of human nature and the commodification of human life to existential loneliness, alienation and the dehumanizing effects of corporate ruthlessness. Jones confidently covers this material with efficiency and restraint, avoiding both didacticism and unnecessary pyrotechnics.

At the same time, the filmmakers create a world of admirable persuasiveness and visual appeal, from the industrial starkness of the base, to the lunar grit of the moonscape and the rover, to the clunky boxiness of Gerty, who looks like some sort of medical scanning unit (with the odd yellow Post-it note for an added touch of lived-in realness).

It's not a perfect film, but Moon earns enough goodwill to warrant overlooking small flaws for all it does right—and this is as good a place as any for the obligatory acknowledgement that the first-time filmmaker is the son of David Bowie.

Traditional dramatic theory outlines basic modes of conflict: character vs. character, character vs. nature, character vs. society, character vs. self. Moon plays ambiguously with multiple modes of conflict—including a sci-fi variant, character vs. machine—in the process questioning, though not dismissing, the relevance of the distinctions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:20 PM


Spanish Showdown (George Weigel, 4/08/11, Inside Catholic)

In the fall of 2007, I spent a week in Spain, giving lectures, meeting with Spanish Catholic leaders, and making a hair-raising climb up several hundred scaffolding stairs to the top of Antoni Gaudi's Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona -- preceded by Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, Pope John Paul II's longtime secretary, who was doing the trip in a cassock (after confessing to me, sotto voce, that he wasn't too fond of heights)! Over the course of numerous conversations in those days, it became clear that the government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, in power since April 2004, was not simply secular in character but aggressively secularist.

Textbooks were being rewritten to enforce the government's leftist view of modern Spanish history; students aiming for admission to prestigious universities would be required to give the "correct" answers about such traumas as the Spanish Civil War in order to pass their entrance exams. Street names were being changed to eradicate the memory of the politically disfavored from Spain's past. Marriage had been legislatively redefined so that any two people, of whatever gender, could be civilly "married." (Shortly after I left the country, another law enabled a Spaniard to enter a civil registry office and "change" his or her sex simply by making a declaration to a government bureaucrat that she was now he, or vice versa. Some things are so absurd that they compel ridicule, and this one prompted me to a knockoff from My Fair Lady: "The dame in Spain is mainly in the name.")

In interviews with the Spanish press, I suggested that the 20th century had a name for a political program that tried to re-manufacture human nature while rewriting history: the name was Stalinism, which used to be considered a hateful thing. Zapatero's Spain was not, of course, Stalin's Soviet Union in the latter's most brutal manifestations. Nor was the current Spanish government as crudely malevolent as the Spanish Stalinists of the late 1930s, who, during the Spanish Civil War, murdered tens of thousands of priests and religious, often sadistically. The Zapatero government, I suggested, was far more clever. It would impose a hard-left agenda on Spain through legislation, step by step, rather like the frog being slowly boiled in a pot of water who doesn't realize that death is at hand until it's too late.

Recent events in Spain have done nothing to persuade me that these judgments were excessively harsh.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Not the 50 books you must read before you die: Last week, Michael Gove said that children should read 50 books a year. For grown-ups anxious to keep up, Iain Hollingshead offers some tongue-in-cheek literary advice (The Telegraph, 3/27/11)

1. Ulysses by James Joyce

Only a “modern classic” could condense one man’s day into an experimental epic that takes years to plough through. If the early description of the protagonist going to the lavatory doesn’t make your eyes swim, the final 40 pages, untroubled by punctuation, will.

Shoulda stuck to this version

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


How AMC's Intriguing 'The Killing' Is Turning Creepy Alienation On Its Head (Mark Blankenship, 4/08/11, NPR)

After watching the first two episode's of AMC's new crime drama The Killing, which aired last Sunday night (and will repeat this Sunday before the new episode), I felt like I'd gotten back from a great first date. There was so much promise! So much mystery! So many signs that I'm headed for a long and satisfying commitment!

(There's some discussion of a few parts of last week's kick-off episodes in what follows, so use your judgment if you haven't seen them yet and don't want to know anything.)

I'm tingling because so far, the storytelling is remarkably layered. Almost every scene forwards the plot — about a Seattle homicide detective named Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and her attempt to solve the murder of a local teenage girl — but it also tells us something about the psychological state of the characters or the creepiness of their city.

In the pilot, for instance, we see Linden driving with Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), the new detective who's supposed to replace her after she leaves to marry her boyfriend in California. (She's supposed to leave that very night, in fact.) As they drive, they discuss some expositional business, and then, for no apparent reason, Holder gives the double bird to a woman on the street. She flips him off, too, and Linden either doesn't notice or doesn't care.

Yet that moment doesn't play as comedy. It's kind of creepy, actually, because no one's face belies much emotion and because director Patty Jenkins keeps her camera moving slowly and steadily around the scene, observing the mundane conversation and the sudden obscenity with equal languor. You can imagine why Holden might hate this woman — he used to work in narcotics, so maybe she's a junkie — but you don't know for sure. The moment just hangs there, complicating the atmosphere.

To that end, I'm most interested by how the first two episodes treat Sarah. Despite being a seasoned detective and the obvious protagonist of the series, we're deluged with clues that she's alienated and sometimes even helpless in her environment.

I haven't watched the AMC episodes yet, but just finished the Danish original. Lund (there) is indeed alienated from everyone. Ultimately, the only relationship that matters in her life is to the solving of the case. She barely exists, being just a cipher used to advance the plot via her investigations. In the final scene she's outside the massive stone police department and pretty much disappears into insignificance beside it. Fittingly, since with the case concluded there is no point to her existence.

The interesting (in and of themselves) characters are the three men involved in the case: her loutish partner who matures over the course of it and actually maintains a family to return to; the candidate for mayor, whose politics suppose that we need not be alienated from each other; and the victim's father, formerly a thug, now a family man and a successful small business owner, who believes in the police and their ability to solve the case.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


The Joy of Recovery (Anthony Esolen, 4/08/11, Inside Catholic)

Recently I had a short contretemps with someone who said that her teenage son had come to a wonderful and intelligent conclusion about Homer's Odyssey. He said that, when you stripped the beautiful language away, what you had left would make a good R-rated quest video game. She agreed with that assessment and grew angry when I suggested that, regardless of the young man's native intelligence, he was in this regard ignorant, and probably had been encouraged in that ignorance by his teacher, who had set out to undermine Homer by setting against him a sendup of the Odyssey by Margaret Atwood.

I could ask what is left of Margaret Atwood once you strip away the bigotry, but that's a pointless exercise. It would be far more satisfying, and more of an act of justice to Homer, to show the intricacy and the beauty of his verse, as well as the subtlety of his analysis of the human condition. That would involve a recovery of a method of reading that we have lost, not because we are foolish, but simply because literary and artistic traditions come and go. For instance, the epic poets and the dramatists of ancient Greece and Rome expected their readers, without direct authorial suggestion, to consider what one episode or one verse had to do with another, though unconnected by plot and separated by thousands of lines. So when we meet the Cyclops, the rough beast that lives a simple and brutish life and notably sees out of only one eye, we notice that Homer pauses to comment upon the fact that, besides their sowing no fields and forging no tools, the Cyclopses do not meet in assembly. Each Mr. Cyclops enacts a rough justice over each Mrs. Cyclops and their offspring, and -- what makes my students in contemporary America a little uneasy -- "every family ignores its neighbors." Hear that, and then remember that in Ithaca without Odysseus, the fatherly head of the household and chief of the polis, no assembly has been held for nearly 20 years, and the sons of the richest neighboring families, 108 of them, have descended upon Odysseus's home, slaying cattle, guzzling wine, and debauching the maidservants, while suing for the hand of Penelope in marriage.

My students are not used to reading so polyphonically, nor was I, when I was their age. But when my favorite professor at Princeton, Thomas Roche, showed me the coruscating language and plot devices of the plays of Shakespeare, glimmering and illumining one another in ways that a modern reader would find quite unexpected, I felt as if I'd been given far more than a new and useful tool: a new way of beholding the world of poetry. Of course, it was only new to me. I felt what I'll call the joy of recovery. It was perhaps something like what Donatello felt when he traveled to Rome literally to unearth the sculptures of ancient Greece and Rome. Or what C.S. Lewis felt when, with the eyes of faith, he returned to the pagan sagas of the northland that he had loved so well and saw them now as intimations of the truth.

So it is in the history of man. Dante returned to Virgil, Milton returned to Dante, Keats returned to Milton, Wallace Stevens returned to Keats. The work of Bach the elder -- Johann Sebastian, the one we all remember now -- lay forgotten for nearly a century, till Mendelsohn returned him to the world. Look at the vague brush strokes and the dramatic uncertainties of the late work of Titian, for instance in his last Scourging of Christ, painted when he was more than 90 years old, or that of Rembrandt in his own advanced years, and see if they do not anticipate, and perhaps surpass, the work of Monet and Degas and Pissarro, three hundred years later.

We do not forget forever. God will not allow it. And that leads to the immensely cheerful conclusion that no one will ever be able to tell the future, except to say that people will return to the past, as they have always done, for its seemingly inexhaustible font of wisdom.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


New Dutch Superbus Carries Two Dozen Passengers At 155 MPH (Rebecca Boyle, 04.08.2011, Popular Science)

With a top speed of 155 MPH, the new Superbus, which sort of looks like an elongated Batmobile, could be an efficient way to reduce congestion at a lower cost than building new trains or other public transit systems.

The project is led by Wubbo Ockels, the Netherlands' first astronaut and a professor of aerospace sustainable engineering and technology at TU-Delft.

Made of carbon fiber with an electric motor, the Superbus is the same width and length as a normal bus, but sits much lower to the ground. It seats 23 passengers in a luxury setting, with multimedia controls in each comfortable seat. The harness-style seatbelt makes you feel like you’re in a racecar (racebus?) and 16 gull-wing doors give it a DeLorean-like feel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Haunting 'hoods new and old with Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion!: Psychobilly freakout (BARRY THOMPSON | April 8, 2011, Boston Phoenix)

"It's like a backwards rural revival," explains guitarist Vince Vance DeLambre regarding his band, the only active combo in town who claim to have been dead for almost 50 years. "Instead of showing people the light of Jesus Christ, we're showing them that they would be better off bewaring the dangers of a ghost scorpion."

Just as Spawn was called Al Simmons during his formative pre-death years, the first appearances of Ghost Scorpion! followed the demise of the Fishercats, an amateurish quartet of misunderstood juvenile delinquents out of Denton County, Texas. On a rainy night in 1963, after a gig at a high-school dance, the Fishercats' car crashed and burned off the road near Goatman's Bridge. No one survived.

This tale might've made good fodder for a Shangri-Las song had it not taken a terrifying turn. Shortly after the post-sock-hop tragedy, an instrumental horror-surf outfit bearing an uncanny resemblance to the totally dead Fishercats began gigging around Denton. They came to be known and feared as Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion!, and then they vanished as abruptly and inexplicably as they appeared.

Flash-forward to May 2010: Ghost Scorpion! are reincarnated at the Midway Café. Since then, to compensate for the laziness immortals often develop once they realize how much time they have on their hands, they've completed a pair of titillating EPs and a two-week tour spent mostly down South, where folks take God, Satan, and seminal rock and roll seriously.

In an Arlington hair salon basement they're partial to haunting, the corporeal forms of DeLambre, guitarist Professor Coyote Science, bassist Snake Boy Henry, and drummer Glotch drink a case of Miller High Life, decline to disclose exactly what brought them to modern Boston, and claim they spent 1965 through 2000 crashing séances for fun and profit.

(Okay, DeLambre and Coyote Science could be confused with Mike McCullagh and Scott Jones from dispersed alt-country faves Cassavettes. But in their five years with Cassavettes, neither wore a bandana across his face or claimed to be a ghost. These obviously couldn't be the same guys.)

AUDIO: The Legend Of Goatman's Bridge by Beware The Dangers Of A Ghost Scorpion!

-MYSPACE: Beware The Dangers Of A Ghost Scorpion!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Pew Poll: Obama Struggling With White Voters (Ronald Brownstein, April 7, 2011, National Journal)

The latest Pew Research Center national poll released today underscores how slender a beachhead President Obama has established among whites more than two years into his presidency.

In his 2008 election, Obama ran well only among two groups of whites -- young people and white women with at least a four year college education, two groups that are generally receptive to government activism. In the 2010 GOP landslide, those groups stuck with Democrats relatively more loyally than the rest of the white electorate, but the party's support tumbled even among them.

Figures provided to National Journal by Pew from the new survey suggests that Obama has recaptured ground Democrats lost with well-educated white women in 2010-but that he is still struggling with every other segment of the white electorate, including younger voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The Islamist challenge: As Islamists enter post-revolutionary politics, they may not be able to control the outcome as they wish (Ayman El-Amir, 4/06/11, Al-Ahram Weekly)

Muslims in general, including those who live in secular states like Syria, are not opposed to governance guided by Islamic code. Intellectual debate on the merits of the secular state does not go far beyond think tanks and closed circles of political analysts. In this context, the relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood has historically taken the lead in matters of religion and was an influential force in matters of politics and social affairs since it was founded in the late 1920s. That is not to say that it was not, at times, amenable to political pressure or compromise. During the 25 January Revolution it announced in advance that it would not participate in the uprising. It was not until 2 February, during the Battle of the Camel that the Muslim Brotherhood's young elements showed up in force to organise protesters and defend Tahrir Square's tumultuous gathering from pro-Mubarak hoodlums.

The Muslim Brotherhood has recently founded its first political organisation, the Freedom and Justice Party. This proposition has one advantage and two disadvantages. First, it will be able to contest elections like any other secular party but with a religious silhouette that assures it of a huge following of the faithful. However, it will be playing a political game on a levelled field, unprotected by the guiding dictum of "conformity and obedience" -- the controlling principle of the members of the Brotherhood. It will be subject to political challenge, criticism, opposition and internal controversy. Secondly, as a political party with a balanced programme for political, social and economic change it will be the target of theological snipers from other ultra-religious organisations, both public and clandestine. Its religious springboard for a non-religious party, as the newly issued Electoral Code insists, will prove both a liability and a restrictive factor.

Even in decades old secular Tunisia and Baath- controlled autocratic Syria Muslims organisations, usually an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, find in the mass protests and new revolutionary spirit a liberating factor. They are tempted to lead, mobilise and influence the direction of the revolution or rebellious movement. In the current state of revolutionary turmoil religious-oriented mass organisations are stepping into uncharted territory where they will be judged by unconventional political standards they may not be able to control.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Settler leader: Some settlers would evacuate for the right price: According to secret American diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, chairman of settlements council told U.S. Embassy officials in Israel he 'understands the Palestinians.' (Yossi Melman and Ofer Aderet, 4/07/11, Ha'aretz)

Danny Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council of West Bank settlements, told U.S. officials that some settlers would be willing to move to Israel proper in exchange for financial compensation, according to confidential State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks.

Dayan also said he was opposed to some of the tactics employed by Israeli settlers and that he was in favor of removing roadblocks and checkpoints to ease conditions for the Palestinians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


We're All Interventionists Now: How do you say 'coalition of the willing' in French? (WSJ, 4/08/11)

France is acting under the authority of a humanitarian U.N. mandate to protect civilians, just as the U.S. and its allies are doing in Libya. But it's hard to imagine that Paris would have intervened militarily if it didn't believe that its interest in preserving influence over a former colony was critically at stake. In the age of humanitarian intervention, the national interest has become the motive that dare not speak its name.

All this makes for a telling contrast with the debate over the invasion of Iraq, in which a previous French government, along with the mandarins at the U.N., did what they could to stop the Bush Administration from overthrowing Saddam's atrocious regime, despite a dozen years of "diplomacy" and more than a dozen U.N. mandates. When it comes to military intervention, apparently the case sounds better when it is offered as "humanitarianism" and rendered in—and by—the French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


The Democrats' 2012 Senate Blues: The Democrats have 23 Senate seats to defend next year, but in a number of states, including Massachusetts, Arizona, and Nevada, few top-tier candidates are jumping at the chance to run, David A. Graham reports. (David A. Graham, 4/07/11, Daily Beast)

Even if it’s early in the game, though, there is some reason for concern. Several strong candidates are simply opting not to run, leaving the party to turn to aspiring senators who would otherwise be warming the bench. Take Nevada, where Republican Sen. John Ensign is retiring in disgrace. Republicans got their first choice to run for the seat, Rep. Dean Heller. Democrats, too, have a strong prospective candidate: Rep. Shelley Berkley. In February, she said she’d run if pollster Mark Mellman’s results looked good: "If he comes back and says there's a path to victory, then I'm all in." Fast-forward to April: despite a poll showing her with a five-point lead even before she enters the race, Berkley is still hedging. A spokeswoman said Berkley’s weighing a range of factors, from her family to her position in the House, to come to a decision. In Indiana, former Rep. Brad Ellsworth, who has strong name recognition from his unsuccessful 2010 Senate run, declined to run, as did North Dakota’s Earl Pomeroy, a former representative who’s one of the few Democrats with statewide name recognition.

In other states, unusual circumstances have left the Democrats hesitating while Republicans forge ahead with runs. No one in Arizona is willing to jump into the race for the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl—just in case Rep. Gabrielle Giffords recovers from her shooting injury and wants to run. Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Jeff Flake appears to have a clear path to the nomination.

More puzzling is Massachusetts, where Democrats seem to still be reeling from Martha Coakley’s shocking loss to Sen. Scott Brown in January 2010. Despite Brown’s win, the Bay State remains solidly blue, but no top-tier contenders have jumped in yet. “Democrats are going to find someone,” says Jeffrey Berry, a political scientist at Tufts University, but “they’re waiting for the last possible moment to see if they think that Brown can be beat.”

Already, several candidates have taken themselves out of contention. Gov. Deval Patrick has just been through a bruising reelection contest. Vicki Kennedy, former Sen. Ted Kennedy’s widow, isn’t interested either, and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, a rumored contender, announced on Tuesday she was out. Reps. Michael Capuano and Stephen Lynch—a liberal and a centrist Democrat, respectively—could both be strong. But Massachusetts is set to lose a seat in Congress, and representatives are holding their breath to see who might get squeezed out—and take the Senate leap instead. Democratic consultant Mary Anne Marsh says some big-name Democrats might also have an eye on Sen. John Kerry’s seat: the senior senator is rumored to be a frontrunner to be the next secretary of State, and a special election for his seat would mean a representative could hold on to his seat and also run for an open seat—without an incumbent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Look to gas for the future: Fossil fuels are not about to run out. That’s our biggest problem—and our big opportunity (Dieter Helm, 23rd March 2011, Prospect)

Let’s start with the notion of peak oil. It is true that current (conventional) oil reserves are concentrated in the Middle East. There is an Opec premium in the oil price, and right now there is clearly a Libyan premium too, and perhaps more shocks to come. But there is still a lot of conventional oil. Iraq has yet to fully enter the market. It plans to produce more extra oil by 2020 than Saudi Arabia’s entire production today. Saudi has lots of “swing production”—the capacity to produce more to compensate for shortfalls elsewhere. Africa is now a much more important part of the arithmetic. Then there is Brazil, and offshore fields in the US. Add in the enormous reserves in the Arctic as the ice melts, and Russia’s immense reserves, and a rather different picture emerges. Finally, production assumptions are based upon depletion rates typically below 50 per cent of a field’s reserves: add in a bit of technical progress and the story changes substantially.

Even were the worst fears of peak oil advocates to emerge, the consequences for electricity (and renewables) are far from obvious. The fossil fuel of choice for electricity generation is gas, not oil, and gas is super-abundant. The coming of shale gas has doubled the world’s gas reserves in a couple of years, the US has become an exporter and its shale gas production costs are such that it is competing on cost with natural gas. Shale gas has its problems, but the fact is that the reserves are very large and widely distributed—in the US, China, Europe, Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere. In Australia even coal-bed methane is being liquefied and exported to China.

This transformation is no accident: much more research and development (R&D) has been applied to fossil fuels than renewables. In the shale gas case, it is the combination of IT advances in seismic surveying, horizontal drilling and techniques for fracturing the shale rock to release the gas. The result is that, for policy purposes, we can assume that the supply of gas is almost infinite, and there are large-scale deposits of shale oil, coal and tar sands. The earth’s crust is riddled with carbon fuels. Contrary to the peak oilers, there is no physical shortage of fossil fuels—and that’s the real problem.

More conventional oil and shale gas (and shale oil too) will meet the medium-term demand. More immediately, the constraint is not a physical peak, but rather a political one. Recent developments in the Arab world are argued to threaten supplies and induce spikes in prices. They may well do so. But there is a world of difference between volatility and the trend level of prices. Emerging democracies will need the oil revenues just as much as the dictators they are replacing—and the rapidly growing and young populations need to get education and public services paid for. Few Arab countries will be keen to leave the stuff in the ground.

So the oil Armageddon is unlikely to be emerging, despite short-term volatility. But the coming of shale gas represents much more. As I have said, gas is the fuel of choice for electricity generation, and electricity is the power of choice for final use. Electricity is gradually taking over. To date it’s been supported by coal, and the growing share of coal in world primary fuel sources is the main explanation for the growth of carbon emissions—on which (as a result) Kyoto has made almost no impact.

The hegemony of electricity is arguably still in its infancy. Smart grids and smart meters are a technical revolution waiting to happen. Electric cars transform the storage of electricity (it’s in the batteries) and increase electricity demand—and lower demand for oil (because transport has been the main source of growth in demand for oil). Once electric cars get a grip, oil is of much less relevance—gas, in effect, displaces oil via electricity. Peak oilers assume not only that oil is in fixed supply, but that it is not interchangeable with other fossil fuels. They are just wrong. In due course we might even end up leaving a lot of the oil in the ground.

The implications for climate change policy are profound. On the one hand, cheap and abundant fossil fuels make renewables expensive and deter investments in energy efficiency. Demand grows. On the other hand, coal is twice as bad from a carbon perspective as gas. If gas displaces coal (especially in China, India and the US) really big inroads could be made quickly into carbon emissions. Add in some significant nuclear investments, and there is the making of an intermediary (and very cheap) transition to a lower carbon world.

Further out, technical change takes over. There has probably never been a time when there is more R&D in energy technologies. The range of ideas and concepts is enormous. There is no shortage of energy supply: the sun comes up every day. The task is to harness the opportunities. It is not to reduce the demand for energy which has the power to transform the lives of billions.

Government isn't much good at picking winners, but it excels at picking losers. Just make gasoline a loser and the rest follows.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Value-Added Tax Lessons from Canada: The sales tax has helped cut corporate tax rates. But the nonprogressive VAT is transparent, and a political liability (Theophilos Argitis, 4/07/11, Business Week)

Since the GST was rolled out, most Canadian provinces have followed suit with their own VATs. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, adopted one last year. Today, 85 percent of Canadians pay both federal and provincial VATs. Says Smart: "The Canadian evidence is that it works."

If the U.S. were to consider adopting a VAT, lawmakers would need to assure voters of two things in order to overcome opposition: that the tax is revenue neutral, and that it won't hurt the poor. Len Farber, former director of tax policy at Canada's Finance Dept., recalls that the federal government mollified the public by cutting personal and corporate tax rates before introducing the GST. "It was hard enough to convince the population at the time that this was a revenue-neutral tax," Farber says. "If personal tax rates and corporate tax rates had not gone down, they never would have believed it."

In Canada, lower-income families receive quarterly refunds to help offset the tax, while basic grocery items such as milk and fruit are exempted altogether. "The real issue to overcome there, and that was our problem as well, is the distributive properties of it," says former Bank of Canada Governor David A. Dodge. "It's certainly not progressive."

April 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


Bid for State of Palestine Gets Support From I.M.F. (ETHAN BRONNER, 4/07/11, NY Times)

The Palestinian Authority, which is working toward global recognition of its statehood in September, got an endorsement on Wednesday from the International Monetary Fund, which said that the authority was fully capable of running the economy of an independent state.

The fund issued its latest report on the economies of the West Bank and Gaza, to be presented next week to a donors’ conference in Brussels. It said for the first time that it viewed the authority as “now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state, given its solid track record in reforms and institution-building in the public finance and financial areas.”

The World Bank, which will be reporting at the same conference, will make a similar point, one that it made last fall.

“If the Palestinian Authority maintains its performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future,” the World Bank says in its report, to be released Thursday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Out of Context (CAROLINE ALEXANDER, 4/07/11, NY Times)

[O]ne feature of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum seems above reproach: a quotation from Virgil’s “Aeneid” that will be inscribed on a wall in front of the victims’ remains.

The memorial inscription, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” is an eloquent translation of the original Latin of “The Aeneid” — “Nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo.” [...]

Anyone troubling to take even a cursory glance at the quotation’s context will find the choice offers neither instruction nor solace.

Virgil’s epic relates the trials of the unhappy Trojan hero Aeneas, who, as Troy burns, flees with the remnants of his family and people to his ships and the sea, eventually winding up in Italy, where it is his destiny to lay the foundation of what will become Rome.

The immediate context of the quotation is a night ambush of the Rutulian enemy camp by two Trojan warriors, Nisus and Euryalus, whose mutual love is described in terms of classical homoerotic convention and whose deaths represent one of the epic’s famously sentimental set pieces. Falling on the sleeping enemy, the two hack away with their swords, until the ground reeks with “warm black gore.” Stripping the murdered soldiers of their armor, the two are in turn ambushed by a returning Rutulian cavalry troop. As each Trojan tries to save his companion, both are killed, brutally and graphically. At this point the poet steps in to address them directly:

“Fortunati ambo! si quid mea carmina possunt, nulla dies umquam memori vos eximet aevo.”

“Happy pair! If aught my verse avail, no day shall ever blot you from the memory of time.” (The translation here is from the famously literal Loeb edition.) At dawn’s light, the severed heads of the two Trojans are paraded by the enemy on spears.

The central sentiment that the young men were fortunate to die together could, perhaps, at one time have been defended as a suitable commemoration of military dead who fell with their companions. To apply the same sentiment to civilians killed indiscriminately in an act of terrorism, however, is grotesque.

Indiscriminately? Were the Belgians? Or killed in Lyons?

They were killed because they were Americans and they could hardly have been more American in their diversity. While they obviously weren't fortunate to die that day and in that way, it is our very great fortune as Americans that we live and die together having come from everywhere. It seems pretty unobjectionable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


What Mongolia Can Teach the Middle East: The popular upheavals in Tunis, Cairo, and Tripoli gripped Ulaan Bator only a generation ago. Now it's our turn to help the Arab revolutions fulfill their potential. (ELBEGDORJ TSAKHIA, APRIL 6, 2011, Foreign Policy)

To many foreign-policy "experts," especially so-called "realists," these Middle Eastern movements for political liberalization come as a complete surprise. They should not. What we are witnessing speaks to a primary human value granted to each of us, no matter the country: the desire for freedom and the urge to peacefully work to see one's values reflected in government. People deprived of this right will naturally seek it, fight for it, and if necessary, die for it.

Leaders should acknowledge this fact and unleash the tremendous potential of their countrymen through political liberalization. From this will flow greater education, greater economic benefits, and a better standard of living for all to enjoy. Democracies are inherently peaceful. A democratic process seeks solutions through dialogue and negotiation, not through violent acts or the use of force.

Some still fear change in the Middle East's status quo, but this skepticism is misplaced. The "jasmine" spirit should be embraced, and the international community should work within that process of change to plant and reinforce democratic values. As political pluralism takes root, the major losers will be radical elements, such as al Qaeda, who hold themselves up as vehicles for change through terror and violence.

In 1990, following the overthrow of Mongolia's Politburo, the democratic leaders of our country asked a simple question: What next? It was easy to be against something. Now, we had to move from activists to advocates. Frankly, that was when our most difficult work began. In the months that followed, we hammered out a new constitution that enshrined individual liberties, a democratic process, and an independent court system. Political and economic development went hand in hand. Since that time, Mongolia has experienced several peaceful transfers of political power, and today our GDP is primed to triple over the next decade thanks to our natural resources and the creativity of our people.

Egypt and Tunisia -- and hopefully other countries that emerge from democratic revolution -- will need much assistance. The corrupt, kleptocratic bureaucracies and repressive security forces that enforced the tyranny of their previous rulers must be radically overhauled. Laws must be adopted to protect the political gains that the people have fought to achieve. This is where countries such as Mongolia and others that have transitioned to democratic governance could help

...under the regimes they advocate for?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


Study sees gays as 1.7 percent of population (Associated Press, April 7, 2011)

How many gays are there in the United States? Gary Gates has an idea but acknowledges pinpointing a solid figure remains an elusive task.

Mr. Gates is demographer-in-residence at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, a think tank based at the University of California, Los Angeles. For the institute’s 10th anniversary this week, he took a scholarly stab at answering the question that has been debated, avoided and parsed since sex researcher Alfred Kinsey said in the 1940s that 10 percent of the men he surveyed were “predominantly homosexual.”

Mr. Gates‘ best estimate, derived from five studies that have asked subjects about their sexual orientation, is that the nation has about 4 million adults who identify as being homosexual, representing 1.7 percent of the 18-and-over population.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Bahrain's Base Politics: The Arab Spring and America’s Military Bases (Alexander Cooley and Daniel H. Nexon, April 5, 2011, Foreign Affairs)

U.S. policymakers have long struggled to reconcile their support for friendly authoritarian regimes with their preference for political liberalization abroad. The ongoing upheavals in the Middle East, like so many developments before them, shine a bright light on this inconsistency. In Egypt, the Obama administration struggled to calibrate its message on the protests that toppled longtime ally Hosni Mubarak; in Libya, it leads a multinational coalition intent on using airpower to help bring down Muammar al-Qaddafi; and in Bahrain, the United States stands mostly silent as Saudi troops put down popular protests against the ruling al-Khalifa family.

Washington's balancing act reflects more than the enduring tensions between pragmatism and idealism in U.S. foreign policy. It highlights the specific strains faced by defense planners as they attempt to maintain the integrity of the United States' worldwide network of military bases, many of which are hosted in authoritarian, politically unstable, and corrupt countries.

Well, sure, but the aim of American policy is not to have any bases anywhere, precisely because democratic reform -- nevermind technological advancement -- has made them superfluous.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Great Speculations: Why China Is So Bubble-Friendly (Adam Wolfe, 04.07.11, Forbes)

First, decades of financial repression have resulted in the broad money supply (M2) expanding to 182% of GDP, providing a massive pool of potential liquidity for speculation, while negative real interest rates on deposits encourage savers to seek alternatives. There are sufficient monetary assets to fund a bubble of stupendous magnitude; no excessive loosening is required. From the end of Q3 2006 to its peak in October 2007, the Shanghai Composite Index increased 230%. In the preceding six quarters, M2 growth outpaced nominal GDP growth by less than a percentage point. It was the velocity of money that spiked, not the quantity. Velocity is more difficult for the People's Bank of China to control, especially with banks' required reserve ratios already at record highs, and current conditions seem ripe for a bubble.

Second, the Communist Party of China's dominance over the press, even independent sources, results in low trust of official information, counteracting their ability to dispel unfounded speculative manias. At the same time, heavy reliance on social networks, guanxi, results in an abnormal amount of inside information sharing, and thus speculative opportunities. Positive feedback loops proliferate as investors pile into the same opportunities and bid prices up.

Third, the government's interference in price-setting distorts markets, creating potentially huge divergences from equilibrium. From vegetables to apartments, the government's efforts to control prices only shifts the adjustment burden to the supply side as markets seek equilibrium. This also creates a whack-a-mole game between speculators and the government as liquidity shifts from one asset class to another.

Fourth, "new era" thinking is epidemic in China, and this euphoria often spills over into asset price valuations as speculators discount historical benchmarks.

Many of these factors can be seen in the extraordinary salt mania of March 2011.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


Book recalls DiMaggio's magic ride in 1941: Yankee Clipper captivated country with 56-game hitting streak (Ben Platt, 4/07/11, MLB.com)

It's hard to believe that it will be 70 years this summer that Joe DiMaggio set the baseball world on fire with his record 56-game hitting streak. Author Kostya Kennedy chronicles the streak and the complicated life of the Yankee Clipper in his book "56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports," which is in bookstores now.

"To me, [the streak] has been around forever," said Kennedy, who is a senior editor at Sports Illustrated. "It's been a part of my baseball fan life. It harkens back to a different time and a different era. The streak seems like it has been ever-present."

According to Kennedy, the streak is what defined DiMaggio and made him the revered baseball legend he is today.

...that Ted Williams had a higher batting average over those 56 games, effectively ending any discussion about their relative greatness.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Joan Walsh Sparks Twitter Brawl Over Obama and Race (Caitlin Dickson, 4/07/11, The Atlantic Wire)

The Players: Joan Walsh, Salon.com editor-at-large; numerous outraged Twitterers

Opening Serve: Joan Walsh commented on the state of American progressivism in a Salon article this week, in which she wrote, "I deeply resent people who insist that white progressives who criticize Obama are deluding themselves that they're his 'base,' when his 'base' is actually not white progressives, but people of color."

Return Volley: A tweeter by the name of Truthrose1 took offense to Walsh's comment and wrote, "@joanwalsh read your article, I resent white progressives who pretend they are the base of the Dem party and ignore AA's, we are even," sparking a back and forth between Walsh, Truthrose1, and several others that continues to drag on. Walsh attempted to defend herself by noting, "Not saying white progressives are THE base; opposite. But I resent African Americans who say THEY are THE BASE. Wrong," but Truthrose1 shot back instantly with the comment, among others, of "PBO is not your lap dog, thank god Gibbs called out the liars in the progressive media, u have done nothing but act like baggers."

Walsh tried to end the debate several times writing, "@truthrose1 Good night, life is too short for race baiting!" and even, "You're toxic, I'm sorry. Jesus. Get some help." But by this time it was too late...

...everyone knows The Base is government employees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


The More Things Exchange: a review of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves By Matt Ridley (Joseph F. Johnston, Jr., April 2011, American Spectator)

What explains mankind's relatively recent cultural explosion? To find the answer, see Matt Ridley's very readable and persuasive book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. Ridley's theory is not entirely novel. He gives appropriate credit to Frederic Hayek, who wrote in 1960 that social evolution involves "selection by imitation of successful institutions and habits." Ridley brings historical depth and analytical precision to Hayek's insight. He concludes that, some time around 100,000 years ago, humans began to exchange things with each other, that "once they started doing so, culture suddenly became cumulative," and what we call "progress" began. "Barter," says Ridley, "was the trick that changed the world."

By exchanging ideas as well as things, humans discovered the division of labor (that is, the specialization of efforts and talents). The ability to specialize through exchange gave man the capacity to continuously improve his condition and, indeed, to dominate the earth. Ridley is not just another observer of culture, but is a trained biologist and well-known writer on evolution and other scientific topics, who expertly traces this history of exchange and specialization and the resulting increase in human prosperity. The story, for Ridley, is an optimistic one. Today, "the vast majority of people are much better fed, much better sheltered, much better entertained, much better protected against disease and much more likely to live to old age than their ancestors have ever been." This is probably true (with the possible exception of entertainment), although there are some aspects of our civilization that might be listed on the pessimistic side of the ledger -- a point to which we will return.

Ridley shows, with detailed examples from millennia of development, how exchange leads to specialization, to expertise, to technological innovation, and then to increasingly complex and sophisticated trade. The pattern continues today. In the terms defined by Adam Smith and David Ricardo, it is the story of free trade and comparative advantage. It is also the basis of human freedom and prosperity. "The lesson of the last two centuries is that liberty and welfare march hand in hand with prosperity and trade." The free market has a liberating effect and is the key to prosperity for those who allow it to operate.

In a sample of 127 countries, Ridley notes, the 63 with the most economic freedom had more than four times the income per capita and nearly twice the growth rate of the countries with less economic freedom. The successful countries are those that have institutions, such as rules protecting private property, that make successful commerce possible.

Once you get the design right everything else follows.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:48 PM


Everything You Know About Fitness is a Lie: Gym machines are boring, CrossFit is sadistic, and dieting sucks. Luckily, none of them is essential to being truly fit. Through years of trial and error — and humiliation at the hands of some of the world’s top trainers — the author discovered the secrets to real health. (Daniel Duane, Men's Journal)

You’ve seen it a hundred times — the same thing I saw upon walking into my first brand-name franchise gym: roughly 5 percent taken up by free weights; 5 percent by stretching areas; 50 percent by cardio machines; 50 percent by weight machines. Any reasonable person might conclude that cardio and weight machines are the best gear for getting fit. They’re not. Nobody thinks they are — not even the people who make them or the gym owners who buy them.

How many times have you been told to start with a little stretching? Yet multiple studies of pre-workout stretching demonstrate that it actually raises your likelihood of injury and lowers your subsequent performance. Turns out muscles that aren’t warmed up don’t really stretch anyway, and tugging on them just firms up their resistance to a wider range of motion. In fact, limbering up even has a slackening effect on your muscles, reducing their stability and the amount of power and strength they’ll generate.

Cardio machines are innocent enough, as they won’t actually make you any less fit, but maintaining cardiovascular fitness doesn’t really take much more than breathing uncomfortably hard for about 20 minutes, three times a week. And we all know that swimming, hoops, bike riding, and even Ultimate Frisbee can get the job done, and that treadmills or elliptical trainers are a pale substitute.

Weight machines, on the other hand, are far more insidious because they appear to be a huge technological advance over free weights. But quite the opposite is true: Weight machines train individual muscles in isolation, while the rest of you sits completely inert. This works okay for physical therapy and injury rehab, and it’s passable for bodybuilding, but every serious strength-and-conditioning coach in America will tell you that muscle-isolation machines don’t create real-world strength for life and sport.

Most gyms do include a few token free weights, but think about where you’ll find them: around the edges of the room, like fresh fruits and vegetables in a supermarket that gives all the prime middle-of-the-store shelf space to Frosted Flakes and frozen cheesecake. Truly indispensable gear — like the good old-fashioned adjustable barbell rack, the sine qua non of any remotely serious gym — has, by contrast, become a downright rarity. As for niche but no less important equipment like an Olympic lifting platform, forget about it: The lawyers would never let it through the door.

Here’s the problem: If you’re in the fitness-equipment business, free weights are a loser. The 2010 model looks too much like the 1950 model, and they both last forever. Far better to create gleaming $4,000 contraptions that can be reinvented every two years, and then hire a PR firm to promote some made-up training theory claiming that machines are the answer, like the now infamous HIT — or High Intensity Training — approach sold by Arthur Jones, inventor of the original Nautilus machines, that explained how moving quickly through an entire, complete circuit of, you guessed it, Nautilus machines, would help you reach your true potential. Meanwhile, the real reason your gym has so many strength machines is that anybody can figure out how to use them, and they make injury nearly impossible.

Commercial health clubs need about 10 times as many members as their facilities can handle, so designing them for athletes, or even aspiring athletes, makes no sense. Fitness fanatics work out too much, making every potential new member think, Nah, this place looks too crowded for me. The winning marketing strategy, according to Recreation Management Magazine, a health club–industry trade rag, focuses strictly on luring in the “out-of-shape public,” meaning all of those people whose doctors have told them, “About 20 minutes three times a week,” who won’t come often if ever, and who definitely won’t join unless everything looks easy, available, and safe. The entire gym, from soup to nuts, has been designed around getting suckers to sign up, and then getting them mildly, vaguely exercised every once in a long while, and then getting them out the door.

Now turn to the well-thumbed magazines in your gym’s waiting area, the ones you pick up while killing time before the “complimentary personal training session” that comes with your membership. Mainstream men’s fitness magazines have no larger mission than profitable advertising sales, which means endless pitches for useless (if not outright dangerous) dietary supplements and articles on “Seven Steps to Great Abs,” always omitting the all-important Step Eight: In order to make your six-pack even remotely visible to the naked eye, reduce your total body fat to an inhuman 10 percent.

Next up, shake hands with that nice, buff guy in the “trainer” shirt, and confess that you really don’t have a clue how to use a gym but that you’re into outdoor sports and you want to stay fit enough to have fun on weekends. He’ll nod a lot and pretend to take notes. Then he’ll measure your body fat with some high-tech-looking device and ask you lots of questions, ultimately convincing you to hire him twice a week.

I have worked with great trainers before, but it would’ve been helpful to know that a personal-trainer certificate isn’t much more meaningful than a beautician’s license — anybody can get one without breaking a sweat or even meeting a single athlete.

But the personal-training business model doesn’t include teaching (or even learning) the fundamentals anyway. Trainers make a living by keeping clients coming back; fundamentals liberate clients to train themselves. So the savvy trainer tells you that these days, it’s all about “functional fitness,” a complex integration of balance and stability and strength. He’s taken workshops in it, he tells you, gotten a few extra certifications. Then he just makes every workout fun and varied enough that it seems like a futuristic form of voodoo. According to a Club Industry magazine article by one Nic DeCaire, owner of something called the Fusion Fitness Center in Newark, Delaware, most trainers teach “just enough so that the trainer remains more valuable and indispensable.” The same article encourages gym owners to fire any trainer who dresses for work in workout clothes instead of slacks and a polo.

The most amazing element of this little hustle — and I’m speaking from personal experience and from regret — is that it all works like a charm.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Obama's support among blacks slips unexpectedly, Hispanics too (Andrew Malcolm, April 7, 2011, LA Times)

Once monolithic, blacks' support for the first African American president is still....
....immense. But for unclear reasons it's declined about 7% from well above 90% to 85% in March. That's a new low since Obama's inauguration 26 months ago.

Equally ominous for Obama in 2012, his approval among Hispanics, the nation's fastest-growing demographic, has also fallen to again tie his term low of 54%. That's a drop of 11 points from its early high of 65%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Assad takes steps to appease Kurds after protests (REUTERS , 04/07/2011)

Syria's leader issued a decree on Thursday granting nationality to people in the eastern al-Hasaka region where many Kurds live, part of efforts to ease resentment over nearly five decades of strict Baathist rule.

It was not immediately clear how many would be given nationality, but at least 150,000 Kurds are registered as foreigners as a result of a 1962 census in al-Hasaka.

But Kurdish leader Habib Ibrahim said Kurds would press their non-violent struggle for civil rights and democracy to replace autocratic rule despite President Bashar al-Assad's decree.

"Our cause is democracy for the whole of Syria. Citizenship is the right of every Syrian. It is not a favour. It is not the right of anyone to grant," Ibrahim, who heads the Democratic Unity Kurdish Party, told Reuters.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


Rosenberg Son Says Father Was Guilty of Spy Charge (SAM ROBERTS, 4/07/11, NY Times)

The younger son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg acknowledged on Wednesday that his father deserved to have been convicted of the legal charges that led to his parents’ execution.

“Yes, he was guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage,” Robert Meeropol acknowledged in an interview. “But what the prosecution did from the very beginning was constantly emphasize, ‘These people stole the greatest secret known to mankind.’ The formal charge got lost in the shuffle.”

“There are lots of atomic bomb secrets,” he added, “but the reason there was a death penalty was because it was the secret. That’s a qualitative leap.”

...they'd have deserved the death penalty even if they were only collaborating with the USSR by sending them the New York City phone book. Heck, the claims by their supporters that they were innocent did more damage to America than the actual treason did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


Solar System Scope

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


I just signed up for the Majors Matchup, and I'm challenging
you to start a team and play against me!

To join, please click on the link below. Majors Matchup is
really easy to play, and you can invite a bunch of people to
play too!


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Libyan arms helped the IRA to wage war: For almost 25 years, virtually every bomb constructed by the Provisional IRA and the groups that splintered off it has contained Semtex from a Libyan shipment unloaded at an Irish pier in 1986. (Toby Harnden, 04 Apr 2011, The Telegraph)

The arrangements for the biggest arms consignment ever received by the IRA had been made between Thomas "Slab" Murphy, a 36–year–old pig farmer from South Armagh, and Nasser Ali Ashour, a diplomat and Libyan intelligence officer.

Ashour, five years older than Murphy, was believed by MI6 to have been an acolyte of Moussa Koussa, who later became Col Muammar Gaddafi's intelligence chief. It took 30 Libyans two nights in October 1986 to load the Villa, a converted Swedish oil rig replenisher, with 80 tons of arms. [...]

Col Gaddafi had long sought to boost his revolutionary credentials by assisting terrorist groups bent on destabilising Western governments. His determination to help the IRA intensified when the British allowed bases at Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire to be used by the American F–111s that bombed Tripoli in April 1986.

One does not anticipate Peter King having hearings on his own connections to radical Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


The Truce Shall Set You Free: Whether there is an actual truce on social issues or not, Republican candidates seem to be spending a lot more time talking about the economy. (Josh Kraushaar, 4/05/11, National Journal)

Republicans are living in Mitch Daniels’s shadow, but they hardly know it.

The Indiana governor and potential presidential candidate was criticized by many conservatives when he called for a truce on social issues so the party could focus on getting the nation’s fiscal house in order. At the time, the conventional wisdom said that was not a ticket toward winning the Republican nomination.

But that’s exactly what all of the leading Republican contenders for the presidency are doing—and for good reason. The culture wars of the 1990s have taken a back seat to the bread-and-butter economic concerns facing millions of Americans who are out of work or struggling to make ends meet. [...]

Even former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has moved to appeal to all elements of the Republican coalition, has nonetheless focused much more on kitchen-sink issues. He’s injected himself in the polarizing labor fights in the Midwest, but has barely taken on gay marriage or abortion. His two-minute kickoff video for his presidential exploratory committee focused entirely on jobs, spending and entitlements—with not a mention of values.

“The 800-pound gorilla is still jobs and economic issues,” said Republican media consultant Rick Wilson. “My personal view is that talking about a truce is politically not where you want to be. But having a de facto one instead of a de jure one is pretty smart.”

Of course, W tried back-burnering social issues too, in order to be able to appeal to independents and conservative Democrats in the general, but he ended up having to discard the strategy in order to secure the nomination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Discourse #28: What We Can't Not Know (Stephen Reed, March 24, 2011, Breakpoint)

Stephen Reed interviews Dr. J. Budziszewski, professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of What We Can't Not Know. The topic? Natural Law. [...]

Christians and people from other faith traditions may find it odd that something so familiar to them as Natural Law should be deemed controversial. After all, Natural Law simply refers to the universal laws written on our hearts, given us by our Creator.

These laws are also reflected in some of the great basic laws and customs in all societies, such as those we find in the Ten Commandments, like the laws against murder, stealing, and the like. C. S. Lewis dives into this philosophical discussion well in the beginning of his classic, Mere Christianity.

But in this post-modern age, with its impulse to run away from any recognized standard of right and wrong, everything is relative. Declaring someone’s actions as wrong, even if they are clearly harming another person or themselves, is seen as judgmental and, with great irony declared the new wrong thing to do in polite society.

Dr. Budziszewski believes that the fact that we are all under the Natural Law actually gives us great common ground with a variety of individuals. People of many faith backgrounds and even those who have no religious faith can still find that they substantially agree on the rules of the game given to each of us in this life through the Natural Law, whether one calls the rule giver God or nature.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Save NPR!: But please, put PBS out of its misery. (Mark Oppenheimer, April 5, 2011, Slate)

Today, it can be difficult to find what ambitious, interesting programming there is on PBS. Earlier this month, I tuned in a few times and was greeted by Antiques Roadshow, a doo-wop concert that I have seen before while channel-surfing, and—several times—the financial advice of Suze Orman. From those glimpses, it seemed that an average evening on PBS had all the intelligence of VH1 and all the youth appeal of CBS.

That may have been an unfair sampling. Last week, for example, I found a NOVA episode about the disaster in Japan; a show about the abuse of queer youth in the juvenile justice system; and a Frontline special about the influence of big money in the NCAA. But even in its best weeks, PBS lacks any sort of coherent sensibility. At a time when the most successful networks have an obvious style—the illicit, pervy edge of Showtime's Weeds and Californication; the fine-grained realism of HBO's best dramas—PBS shows are defined variously by shameless baby-boomer pandering of the self-help or nostalgia variety, by a kind of earnest love of newsy documentaries, or by old-school PBS Anglophilia.

Meanwhile, beyond its intelligent, serious news coverage, NPR—and its member stations, which are free to buy shows not produced by the NPR mothership—have become home to many spectacular radio serials: This American Life, Radiolab, Sound Opinions, All Songs Considered, and the list goes on. There is still a rump of NPR clichés—I have never been particularly moved by Car Talk or Prairie Home Companion, and I refuse to like Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me until they invite me to be a panelist. But those shows are the starting point for NPR in 2011; they aren't the entire product. The network clearly knows that for all the love listeners show Garrison Keillor, NPR at its best is quirky and cerebral, in the style of Ira Glass and Robert Krulwich.

Why the diverging fortunes? First, to a great extent, their competitors have set the terms. In the past 30 years, cable television got extremely good, while private radio got extremely bad. Today, if you want to do creative television, chances are you would take a job at HBO, AMC, or Showtime; it is unclear why, given the greater freedom (and money) those cable stations offer, you would work for PBS. Meanwhile, the radio situation is reversed: it is unclear what kind of self-loathing idiot wants to work on programming at a Clear Channel radio station. And although SiriusXM satellite radio can be a delight—when I had my free media trial membership, I constantly listened to Little Steven's Underground Garage—its nonmusical programming can be rather insulting. I am actually afraid to listen to the weekly show Game On, which promises "the super-secret knowledge on the science of meeting and attracting women that badass, confident men only teach their sons and little bros." No, for someone serious about radio, NPR is the golden land.

Second, as serious viewers gravitated toward cable television, and to options like Netflix and Hulu, the remaining PBS audience changed—it got, for lack of a better word, lamer—requiring PBS to go downscale to meet their need. "There was a time when you used to fundraise around NOVA or Masterpiece Theater or other premium programs," says Michael Flaster, a longtime public broadcasting executive in San Diego. "And then they realized you can do better by creating large audiences around less than substantial programs. They moved into doo-wop, anti-aging, ersatz art kind of programs that are better at raising money." Flaster says that PBS programming is now devised to allow watchers to "transact" with the what they see, as they do when they give a pledge in exchange for a CD or concert tickets of the featured band.

...that radio listeners are working men.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 AM


What happened to the ‘fierce urgency of now’? (Ezra Klein, 4/05/11, Washington Post)

Where is President Obama?

The video announcing his intent to seek reelection introduced us to Ed from North Carolina and Gladys from Nevada and Katherine from Colorado and Mike from New York and Alice from Michigan — but no Obama. Not even a picture.

The battle over funding the government for the rest of 2011 has gone on for months, but the most involvement we’ve seen from Obama was a few phone calls placed to negotiators over the weekend. It’s the “Can you hear me now?” strategy. This wouldn’t matter so much if they were being heard. Unfortunately, the White House let House Speaker John Boehner and the tea party good-cop-bad-cop them into agreeing to the $30 billion-plus in cuts that the GOP leadership wanted from Day One. With negotiations breaking down, Obama has invited congressional leaders to the White House to hammer out a deal — but at this point, the question is simply how bad the final agreement will be.

But perhaps more disappointing are the times the president has shown up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


Colombia deal clears path for 3 trade treaties (Jennifer Liberto, April 6, 2011, CNNMoney)

The Obama administration on Wednesday announced a deal with Colombia to protect labor rights in that South American nation, paving the way for three different trade deals to be ratified by Congress.

The deal moves the United States a big step closer to nailing down a free trade treaty with Colombia that would immediately allow 80% of U.S. goods to be exported there duty-free, something U.S. farmers and manufacturers have long sought. Most Colombian goods are already sold duty-free in the United States.

Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, will meet with President Obama on Thursday to formally announce the deal.

April 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM

A MAN, A PLAN....:

Good Plan!: Republican Paul Ryan's budget proposal is brave, radical, and smart. (Jacob Weisberg, April 5, 2011, Slate)

The Wisconsin Republican's genuinely radical plan goes where Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich never did by terminating the entitlement status of Medicare and Medicaid. (It doesn't touch the third major entitlement, Social Security, though Ryan has elsewhere argued for extending its life by gradually raising the retirement age to 70.) Ryan changes Medicare into a voucher, which would be used to purchase private health insurance. He turns Medicaid into a block grant for states to spend as they choose. Though his budget committee isn't responsible for taxes, Ryan includes the boldest tax reform proposal since the 1980s, proposing to lower top individual and corporate rates to 25 percent and end deductions. While he's at it, Ryan caps domestic spending, repeals Obamacare, slashes farm subsidies, and more.

If the GOP gets behind his proposals in a serious way, it will become for the first time in modern memory an intellectually serious party—one with a coherent vision to match its rhetoric of limited government. Democrats are within their rights to point out the negative effects of Ryan's proposed cuts on future retirees, working families, and the poor. He was not specific about many of his cuts, and Democrats have a political opportunity in filling in the blanks. But the ball is now in their court, and it will be hard to take them seriously if they don't respond with their own alternative path to debt reduction and long-term solvency.

And before they reject everything in Ryan's plan, liberals might want to consider whether some of what he proposes doesn't in fact serve their own ultimate goals. Ryan's proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher provides an easy political target. But it's hard to make a principled liberal case for the program in its current form. To do so, you have to argue that government-paid health care should be a right only for people over the age of 65, and for no one else. Medicare covers doctor and hospital bills at 100 percent, regardless of income. This gives doctors and patients an incentive to maximize their use of the system and waste public resources.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Glenn Beck's Fox show dropped (DAVID BAUDER, 4/06/11, AP)

Fox News Channel on Wednesday said it was dropping Glenn Beck's afternoon talk show, which has sunk in the ratings and suffered financially due to an advertiser boycott.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


Beyond the Welfare State (YUVAL LEVIN, Spring 2011, National Affairs)

Changing course will not be easy, to be sure. It will require extraordinary sacrifices from today's young Americans, who will need to continue paying the taxes necessary to support the retirements of their parents and grandparents while denying themselves the same level of benefits so their children and grandchildren can thrive. To persuade them to make such sacrifices, our political leaders will need to offer them a plausible program of reform, and an appealing vision of American life beyond the dream of social democracy.

That vision cannot be a purist fantasy. It must be a serious answer — an answer better suited to a proper understanding of human nature and American life — to the same question that motivated the social-democratic ideal: How do we balance our aspirations to prosperity and virtue and build a thriving society that makes its wealth and promise accessible to all?

In their struggle with the left these past 60 years, conservatives have too often responded to the social-democratic vision by arguing with it in the abstract. Constitutionalism, natural rights, libertarianism, traditionalism — all offered powerful objections to the welfare state, but few viable alternatives. Conservatives have thus lacked specificity on policy, and so have been left struggling to explain themselves to the public. There have, of course, been exceptions (most notably the economic reforms of the 1980s and the welfare reforms of the 1990s). On the whole, however, conservatives have focused on the size and scope of government, but not on its proper purposes — on yelling stop, but not on where to go instead.

Now, as the social-democratic dream grows truly bankrupt and untenable, America finds itself governed by a reactionary party and a conservative party. The reactionary party, the Democratic Party, its head in the sand and its mind adrift in false nostalgia, insists that nothing is wrong, and that the welfare state requires little more than tinkering at the edges, and indeed further expansions. It lives always with the model of the Great Society in mind, and fails to grasp the ruin it threatens to bring upon the rising generation. It cannot imagine a different approach.

The conservative party, the Republican Party, still struggles for a vocabulary of resistance, and so has not taken up in earnest the vocabulary of alternatives. It calls on the spirit of the founders, but not on their genius for designing institutions; it shadowboxes Progressives who no longer exist (and whose successors, running on fumes and inertia, have nowhere near the intellectual depth to take up their case); it insists that our problem is just too much government.

But if the Republican Party is to be a truly conservative party, it will need to think its way to an agenda of conservative reform. Conservatism is reformist at its core, combining, as Edmund Burke put it, "a disposition to preserve and an ability to improve," and so responding to the changing world by means that seek to strengthen what is most essential. A conservative vision would be driven not by a desire to "fundamentally transform America" (as Barack Obama promised to do in 2008), but rather by an idea of what we want to be that is the best form of what we are. It would look to make our institutions suit us better, and so to make them serve us better and more effectively help us improve ourselves.

Our welfare state is very poorly suited to the kind of society we are — an aging society in which older people are, on the whole, wealthier than younger people. And it is very poorly suited to the kind of society we want to be — enterprising and vibrant, with a free economy, devoted to social mobility and eager to offer a hand up to the poor. A successful reform agenda would have to take account of both.

It would begin not from the assumption that capitalism is dehumanizing, but rather from the sense that too many people do not have access to capitalism's benefits. It would start not from the presumption that traditional practices and institutions must be overcome by rational administration, but rather from the firm conviction that family, church, and civil society are the means by which human beings find fulfillment and are essential counterweights to the market. It would reject the notion that universal dependence can build solidarity, and insist instead that only self-reliance, responsibility, and discipline can build mutual respect and character in a free society. It would seek to help the poor not with an empty promise of material equality but with a fervent commitment to upward mobility. It would reject the top-down bureaucratic state in favor of consumer choice and competition. It would insist on the distinction between a welfare program and a welfare state — between directed efforts to help the poor avail themselves of meaningful opportunities and a broad project to remake society along social-democratic lines.

The appeal of such a re-orientation is not that it is radical but that it is moderate — that it suits us. And for now, there is even still time to pursue it by moderate means — to allow today's retirees and near-retirees to receive all the benefits they have been promised as we transform our institutions going forward.

It would be folly, of course, to propose a detailed policy platform that would meet these criteria. Just as the left for a century had not a precise agenda but a general vision of what its ideal outcome would look like — a vision that could guide incremental steps and provide criteria for judging compromises — so the conservative vision, the ideal of democratic capitalism, can exist only in outline. But over the past half-decade, in the work of conservative scholars, intellectuals, and politicians, just such an outline has been emerging.

It would begin with a simple and predictable tax system, with a broad base and low rates, free of most of today's deductions and exclusions. The only three worth keeping in the individual tax code are the tax exemption for retirement savings (which are far preferable to universal cash benefits to retirees), a unified child tax credit (to encourage parenthood and to offset the mistreatment of parents in the tax code), and the charitable-giving deduction (since a reduction in government's role in social welfare must be met with an increase in the role of civil society, which should be encouraged). These three exemptions are directed precisely to the needs of a modern society, and to addressing the three broad failings of the social-democratic welfare state. The corporate tax code should similarly be dramatically broadened and flattened to encourage growth, which must be the foremost goal of economic policy.

Second, essentially all government benefits — including benefits for the elderly — should be means-tested so that those in greater need receive more help and those who are not needy do not become dependent on public support. Most retirees would still receive some public benefits (and the poorest could well get more than they do now), but the design of our welfare programs would avoid creating the misimpression that they are savings programs. People who are already retired or nearly so today should be exempted from such means-testing, as they have planned for decades around the existing system; Americans below 55 or so, however, should expect public help only if they are in need once they retire. Means-testing should, to the extent possible, be designed to avoid discouraging saving and work. And private retirement savings should be strongly encouraged and incentivized, so that people who have the means would build private nest eggs with less reliance on government.

Third, we should advance a consumer-based health-care system — backed with fixed, means-tested premium supports — in which individuals purchase their own insurance in a free market regulated largely by the states. Such a system would, over time, replace today's tax exclusion for employer-based coverage (which would be converted into a flat universal tax credit for the purchase of insurance) as well as Medicare and Medicaid (which would become add-ons to that credit based on wealth, age, and health — again leaving today's retirees or near-retirees with today's benefits). This would create a single continuous system in which the poor and the old would still have heavily subsidized coverage and much of the middle class would still have moderately subsidized coverage, but everyone would make real purchasing decisions and keep the same insurance as his circumstances changed. This approach would seek to let people be active consumers, rather than passive recipients of benefits — which would be good both for the federal budget (since consumer pressure in a free market keeps costs down far better than price controls) and for the character of our nation.

Fourth, we should gradually but significantly reduce domestic discretionary spending, ending most of the discretionary Great Society programs and folding others into block grants to the states. The federal government's role in the provision of social services should be minimal, and largely limited to helping the states and the institutions of civil society better carry out their missions. It would still have some role as an investor (in infrastructure and education, above all), but this too should be strictly targeted to essential public needs that the private sector would not meet, and block-granted to the states whenever possible. Government at all levels should also look to contract its remaining functions out to the private sector where it can, both to improve efficiency and to avoid harmful conflicts between the government's obligations to the people it serves and its obligations to the people it employs — conflicts that have been rampant in our time.

Fifth, we should reduce the reach of the administrative state, paring back all but essential regulations and protections and adopting over time an ethic of keeping the playing field level rather than micromanaging market forces, and of preferring set rules (in regulation, in monetary policy, and elsewhere) to administrative discretion.

Obviously, these are only general principles and aims. And at least as important as what they contain is what they do not — what is left to the sphere of the family, religion, and civil society. Government must see itself as an ally and supporter of these crucial mediating institutions, not as a substitute for them. Its role is to sustain the preconditions for social, cultural, and economic vitality.

But these general aims offer a stark contrast to the general aims of the social-democratic vision of society — a very different understanding of what it is about capitalism that needs to be tempered and balanced, of what the sources of social solidarity really are, of the significance of responsibility and choice, and of the deepest meaning of the American experiment. They outline a government that is smaller but more effective, and gesture toward a vision of American public life that is economically sustainable and morally rich and responsible.

After the Welfare State: The moral price of dependence on government is even higher than the financial cost. (William McGurn, 4/05/11, WSJ)
Mr. Ryan proposes a simple but dramatic shift: helping people afford private coverage. Under this reformed system, seniors would have their private premiums subsidized, and the poorest would get the largest subsidies. The hope is that over time it would have the opposite effect of the present system. Instead of increasing the dependence of the middle class, it would help make all seniors consumers.

Alas, bringing the middle classes into government programs has been a key aim of the social democratic state. We all know that has helped raise the financial costs to levels we can no longer afford. The moral and social price of expanding government, however, has been even more costly.

In a remarkable blog post at the American Interest, Walter Russell Mead notes that today African-Americans are fleeing the "urban paradises of liberal legislation and high public union membership" for the suburbs and job-creating red states. Another way of putting it is that the progressive policies and programs that were supposed to advance equality and opportunity have instead left blighted communities and blighted lives in their wake. This he calls "the most devastating possible indictment of the 20th century liberal enterprise in the United States."

It didn't have to turn out this way. Somewhere along the line, liberals came to accept that the only path to their goals was through government. Huge bureaucracies and powerful constituencies grew up around that idea, turning the private sector into something that existed only to be squeezed for the necessary funding.

Ironically, in their obsession with government, American liberals continue to overlook their greatest strength: their ability to set goals for our society. Whether it be increasing access to good housing, a dignified retirement, or a decent education for every child, liberals have won most of the arguments. In fact, even if our unpopular health-care law is repealed, it's a good bet that Republicans will still have to find a way to meet another goal set by liberals, that of ensuring that Americans with pre-existing medical conditions can get coverage.

What conservatives like Mr. Ryan and Mr. Levin offer here is a better "how"—a road map that lets us balance our care for fellow citizens without wrecking the economy, ruining families, or giving birth to more soulless bureaucracies. Think of it this way. Even Milton Friedman's proposal for school vouchers, which would still see the state providing an education for all children, is essentially a "how" argument.

The what is Security. The how is Liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Justified: Talking to Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins: FX’s hit western/crime drama has reached new heights in its second season. Allen Barra talks to co-stars Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins about their on-screen partnership.

Justified, which was honored with a Peabody award last week, is stirring the kind of word-of-mouth excitement among its followers associated with the first years of The Sopranos and Mad Men—FX has already announced it has renewed it for a third season. Justified’s creator, Graham Yost, is, like Leonard, one of the show’s producers, and has co-written, with Leonard, 21 of the series’ 26 scripts, but the show has no single auteur, unless it’s Olyphant himself. A generous actor and superb reactor, his scenes with each of the show’s many characters set the tone and pace of each episode. They include his sly and tolerant boss Art (Nick Searcy), his irascible father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry), whose own illegal activities have earned him an ankle bracelet, and, most recently, Mags Bennett (Margot Martindale) as the jolly and monstrous methadone matriarch.

Justified’s wild cards are its female leads, Raylan’s ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea), who divorced him because “I couldn’t stand waiting for the phone call” and Ava (Joelle Carter), who tells him “I’ve had a crush on you since I was twelve years old.” Winona has left her shifty second husband, Gary, who makes real estate deals with gangsters; Ava was married to the abusive son of Bo Crowder, a local drug boss, until she divorced him with a shotgun. No helpless heroines, these two; they load guns with the same facility they fry up a chicken. Fans of the show have been taking bets as to which woman Raylan will wind up with.

But the relationship that gives off the most heat is between Raylan and Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder, Bo’s surviving son. In an early episode, Raylan tells Art that he and Boyd “weren’t what you call buddies, but you work a deep mine together, and you learn to look out for each other.”

Raylan’s and Boyd’s lives seemed to be similar track through high school, then, as Boyd said in last week’s episode, The Spoil: “At 19 I went to Kuwait, and Raylan went to college and the marshals service.”

When he confronts Boyd one-on-one, Raylan seems to be looking into the abyss, and lately the abyss is looking back. Boyd, an ex-con who blew up a black church with a rocket launcher, has a swastika tattooed on his arm. Raylan asks him what he has against Jews. A bemused Boyd replies, “The truth is, I’m not really sure I’ve ever met a Jewish person.”

Boyd is the doppelganger Raylan can’t escape. “Would you shoot me?” Boyd asks him with a grin. A poker-faced Raylan tells him, “You make me pull, I’ll put you down.” And if the relationship weren’t complicated enough, in the final episode of last season, it was Boyd who saved Raylan from the hit men sent by the Miami mob. (“Sounds like a love story to me,” says one female character, after Raylan tells her of his past with Boyd.)

The bonus being that while many a show has been ruined by the culmination of the will-they-or-won't-they moment, there is no such tension here. Their love is pure.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Now For An Arab Economic Revolution (Saifedean Ammous, 4/04/11, Project Syndicate)

Government officials and their cronies did not necessarily engage in straightforward theft or pillaging. Through innocuous-sounding government “supervision” and “regulation” – and under the guidance of the major international financial institutions – ruling elites managed to run entire sectors of the economy as personal fiefdoms. While this pattern of official behavior is reprehensible, the real disaster is that it destroyed Arabs’ economic productivity and initiative.

This economic totalitarianism has been legitimated by government charity. Arab elites have been engaged in a false embrace of economic reforms for decades, with countless ministerial shuffles, five-year plans, and elaborate World Bank and International Monetary Fund programs. But all these reforms involve government handouts or government-created jobs and opportunities; rarely do they involve removing the government’s grip over people’s lives. By framing the debate on reform as being about the type of handouts, governments evade tackling the real problem: their control of economic activity.

State handouts can be reliably financed only by controlling the economy’s productive sectors. But in the Arab world, as everywhere else, this leads to theft, corruption, uncompetitive monopolies, a stifling of enterprise, and, eventually and inevitably, to decline and decay. The toppled Tunisian and Egyptian regimes spent decades providing handouts while denying citizens economic freedom.

As Arabs confront far-reaching change, they must not be distracted into fruitless debates about the right types of government support for citizens. What is needed is a root and branch transformation of the way that economic activity is carried out in all Arab nations.

Arab countries need to become places where people can create their own productive jobs, pursue their own opportunities, provide for themselves, and determine their own future. This freedom obviates the need for the charity of those in power, and more importantly, takes away from them the excuse for maintaining their iron grip over the economic lives of their citizens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


National Gallery visitor attacks Gauguin painting, officials say (Timothy R. Smith and Martin Weil, April 4, 2011, Washington Post)

A painting at the Gauguin exhibit at the National Gallery was attacked last week by a gallery visitor, provoking considerable commotion, according to other museum visitors and gallery officials.

Screaming “This is evil,” a woman tried to pull Gauguin’s “Two Tahitian Women” from a gallery wall Friday and banged on the picture’s clear plastic covering, said Pamela Degotardi of New York, who was there.

“She was really pounding it with her fists,” Degotardi said. “It was like this weird surreal scene that one doesn’t expect at the National Gallery.”

Back in the mid-70s, the Grandfather Judd was receiving an award in DC and we all went down. We Brothers were being dragged through some moderniost exhibition at the National Gallery where one picture was more awful than the next. Finally, we arrived at a painting of the Gallery with flames shooting out of the windows: "National Gallery on Fire." We cheered until our aunt hustled us out of the building.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Remains Tight (Sean Sullivan, April 6, 2011, Hotline)

The high-stakes Wisconsin Supreme Court race remained very tight early Wednesday morning, without a declared winner.

At the time of this post, state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser led Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg by just under 2,000 votes: 727,440 - 725,534, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

Prior to the voting, the Left's operative theory of this race was that it would be a rebuke to the most radical governor in American history. Instead, it's within the margin of error, even in a state they consider "progressive." The GOP just got the green light for budget cuts and civil service reform everywhere.

April 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Obama's Gitmo Climbdown Continues (Massimo Calabresi, April 4, 2011, TIME)

Liberals have long-bemoaned Obama's transformation from would-be demolisher of Bush's "War On Terror" architecture to its most effective buttress. Faced with a concerted Republican onslaught on the issue from the earliest days of his presidency, Obama chose to husband his political capital for higher priorities like health care reform and the mid-term elections and never tried to rally the country to his ideals, the liberals argue. If only he'd tried, they say, he could have succeeded in rolling back the Bush era expansion of presidential power and bolstered his own political power in the process, becoming more Lyndon Johnson than Jimmy Carter. Some have even suggested that Obama never intended to follow through on his campaign pledge to close Gitmo and reform terrorism detention and trial policies and that he just said he would to rally his base in the 2008 election.

In fact, Obama tried and failed to implement his campaign promises on the issue and was beaten back soundly by the GOP, independents and occasionally Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


G.O.P. Blueprint Would Remake Health Policy (ROBERT PEAR, 4/04/11, NY Times)

Republicans say the health care proposals would help the federal government predict and control its costs under Medicaid and Medicare, which insure more than 100 million people and account for more than one-fifth of the federal budget.

But if, as many economists predict, health costs continue to rise at a rapid clip, beneficiaries of these programs would be at risk for more of the costs.

Mr. Ryan said his Medicare proposal was similar to one he advanced in November with Alice M. Rivlin, a budget director in the Clinton administration. Analyzing that plan, the Congressional Budget Office said, “Federal payments would tend to grow more slowly under the proposal than projected costs per enrollee under current law.” As a result, the budget office said, “enrollees’ spending for health care — and the uncertainty surrounding that spending — would increase.”

Medicaid and Medicare are now open-ended entitlements. Anyone who meets the eligibility criteria is entitled to benefits defined in detail by federal law.

Where are the economists who would predict such rapid rate increases if individuals bore the costs themselves?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


The Phillies’ Four Aces (PAT JORDAN, 3/31/11, New York Times Magazine)

When I pitched in the minor leagues, we called it “stuff.” A pitcher’s currency. Hard stuff, breaking stuff, slow stuff, trick stuff. Trick stuff was Phil Niekro’s knuckleball. He won 318 major league games by digging his fingernails into the seams of a ball and throwing it toward the plate as if he were pushing open a door. Trying to hit his knuckleball was like swatting at a fly with a straw.

Slow stuff was a changeup like Christy Mathewson’s famous “fadeaway,” which was said to dissolve — poof! — as the batter swung. Or Stu Miller’s slow, slower and slowest changeups. Batters swore Miller didn’t throw the ball — he just put it on his arm and let his pulse carry it to the plate.

Breaking stuff included a curveball, a slider and a screwball, pitches that radically changed direction as they approached the plate. The greatest curveballs (from Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, John Smoltz) were thrown hard and broke almost straight down. The Unfair One is what pitches like that were called. They were unhittable. A slider was a “nickel” curve with a short, sharp, last-second break. The Hall of Famer Steve Carlton had a slider that mimicked his fastball until the batter began his swing, then the ball darted six inches off the plate. A screwball was a reverse curveball. If the arm motion behind a curveball is akin to a man gracefully sweeping a woman into his arm, then a screwball requires the opposite: the pushing away of an assailant. There have been few great screwball pitchers (Fernando Valenzuela, Warren Spahn, Tug McGraw) because it’s so hard to master such an unnatural arm motion. The greatest screwballer was Carl Hubbell, who in the 1934 All Star game struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in succession. Hubbell’s left arm was so twisted that it hung by his side, his palm facing away from his body.

Hard stuff was a fastball (Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan) thrown near 100 m.p.h., and with movement. Koufax’s fastball seemed to rise from a batter’s waist to his eyes as the batter swung. Some great fastballs moved left, right, down — and some mediocre fastballs became great fastballs as they approached the plate and then, impossibly, seemed to pick up speed.

The greatest starting pitchers had at least one Unfair pitch, maybe two. Some great pitchers, like Whitey Ford and Spahn, never had an Unfair pitch but an assortment of excellent pitches instead.

The game has changed a lot since those days. But, as one pitching coach has said, “the game never changes to help pitchers.” That’s why today’s pitchers have been forced to evolve from predators to jackals. “Pitchers today don’t out-stuff hitters,” Buck Showalter, the Baltimore Orioles manager, says. Pitchers today are con men, pickpockets, masters of deception. Their weapons are small pitches: cutters, splitters, circle changeups.

No team in baseball today has a greater number of successful deceptive pitchers than the Philadelphia Phillies. They have brought together four of the best starting pitchers in the game: Roy (Doc) Halladay, a 33-year-old two–time Cy Young Award winner; Cliff Lee, 32, and also a Cy Young winner; Roy Oswalt, 33, with 150 career wins; and the 27-year-old Cole Hamels, a World Series hero three years ago. Before they have even thrown one pitch for the same team, they are being hailed as the best four-man rotation in baseball, maybe the best ever. They are being compared with the great staffs in baseball history: the New York Yankees in the 1930s; the Cleveland Indians in 1954; the Orioles with their four 20-game winners in 1971; and the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s. As soon as Lee rejoined the team last December, the Phillies immediately became everyone’s favorite to win this year’s World Series.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


Joy Kills Sorrow On Mountain Stage (Mountain Stage, 4/05/11, NPR)

The bold young Boston-based string band Joy Kills Sorrow kicks off a historic edition of Mountain Stage, recorded as part of the 2011 Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. With a foot firmly planted in its bluegrass roots — the band's name is a play on the call letters of the Indiana radio station that broadcast the Monroe Brothers in the 1930's — Joy Kills Sorrow's influences from the worlds of jazz, pop, swing and rock are clearly felt in its polished arrangements.

Featuring a talented group of players — including award winning flatpicker Matthew Arcara on guitar, Berklee's first full-scholarship mandolin student Jacob Jolliff, bassist/songwriter Bridget Kearney, a winner of the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Contest, captivating vocalist Emma Beaton and accomplished banjo player Wesley Corbett — Joy Kills Sorrow combines the virtuoso musicianship of traditional bluegrass with songwriting that touches on contemporary life and love with humor, intelligence and wit. The band plays five original songs, spanning its recent album, Darkness Sure Becomes This City, and its unreleased follow-up, due later this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM

Old New Things (Aaron Williams, April 5, 2011, RVA News)

Old New Things was born out of two different ideas. First, to perform instrumental Crosby, Stills and Nash covers with three part harmonies, and second, to perform Albert Ayler influenced music. Old New Things certainly draws influence from both concepts, but the product is more original. The music is certainly “song” oriented like CSN, and it features improvisation like Ayler, but its folksiness defines its character.

Any preconceptions about the musicians in this group are shattered as most of the musicians focus on secondary instruments. Leader Trey Pollard plays pedal steel and acoustic guitar while fellow leader Taylor Barnett plays the flugelhorn and muted trumpet. J.C. Kuhl plays his newly acquired bass clarinet alongside his tenor saxophone and clarinet. Adam Larrabee plays the banjo. The hardest working man in Richmond, Cameron Ralston plays bass alongside Turkey’s Hacettepe University jazz program founder and drummer Emre Kartari. (Drummer Brian Caputo will perform in his place at RVAJazzfest)

The unique instrumentation is the group’s greatest asset. The smooth sounds of pedal steal and flugelhorn create a soft cushion for the plucky banjo. Kuhl’s reedy bass clarinet dives through the full of range of the horn as it explores different textures. While the album certainly focuses on original compositions, the title track Ghosts is an Albert Ayler tune and it even has an arrangement of a Bach chorale.

You can stream the album, Ghosts, at Bootcamp.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM

Mavis Staples On Mountain Stage (Mountain Stage, 4/04/11, NPR)

In her extended Mountain Stage set, Staples and her band perform seven songs from the album, including "You Are Not Alone," as well as several standards from her incredible career.

Staples' band includes drummer Stephen Hodges, bassist Jeff Turmes, guitarist Rick Holmstrom, and back-up vocalists Vicki Randle, Danny Gerrard

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Grizzly versus Bison: the rest of the story ( Drew Trafton, 10/29/10, KRTV)

It all started when he was driving in the Fountain Flats area, located between the Madison Junction and Old Faithful, when he heard an unusual sound.

But Wypyszinski says any noise is unusual on that particular highway at 7am.

"I thought it was a horse and carriage," said Wypyszinski. "That was the kind of noise that I heard."

By the time he turned around, the two fuzzy brown images were racing quickly toward him.

Wypyszinski pulled out his camera quickly, thinking he was going to catch two moose racing down the highway.

He quickly learned he was mistaken.

"I thought I was having a hallucination or something," said Wypyszinski. "I couldn't believe what that buffalo looked like."

It was a bison, badly burned from an encounter with one of the numerous hot spots in Yellowstone National Park.

The sight of such an injured bison alone is rare, but what Wypyszinski saw next was once in a lifetime.

"Never, ever, ever," said Wypyszinski. "I've seen plenty of bear, and more buffalo. But I've never seen anything like that before."

A grizzly was chasing the buffalo (which was practically cooked already) and gaining quickly.

Wypyszinski stopped his car on the desolate highway and took out his camera.

"I stood along the car as long as I thought it was safe."

The two beasts passed the man by without paying any notice.

The result: these hair-raising pictures.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Why Democrats Lost the Budget Fight: It may be tough to counter Republicans' uncompromising strategy on the budget, but Democrats sowed their own defeat long ago. (David Dayen, April 4, 2011 , American Prospect)

But if you want to fault Democrats and President Barack Obama for their negotiating, you have to go back further. The seeds of this defeat were planted in December, when the president negotiated a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts; in practice, this meant any reduction in the 2011 deficit would have to come from cutting domestic spending. At the time, Democrats held large majorities in both houses of Congress, but talks on a 2011 continuing resolution collapsed because Republicans knew they could just wait a month and take the majority in the House, changing the dynamic of the negotiations. In December, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Austan Goolsbee told MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan, "I think it would be a big mistake if we pass the tax deal, and then we were to immediately try to reverse it, but I don't think the president would go along to that." Yet that's exactly what's happening. Democrats knew that Republicans campaigned on an immediate $100 billion budget cut, and then gave them the opportunity to enact it.

But there's more to this. For a long time, conservatives' long game has been to "starve the beast," depleting government tax revenue through an endless series of tax cuts and opposition to any increases, and then to point to the lack of revenue as the reason to cut spending. The December deal, with $800 billion in tax cuts spread over two years, was the textbook move in this conservative game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


A tale of 2 presidents: Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, who both claim to be president of Ivory Coast, have intertwined life stories. (CBC News, 4/03/11)

As president, Bédié introduced a vague doctrine called "ivoirité," which eventually came to mean that only people with pure Ivorian ancestry should have full civil rights.

Houphouët-Boigny had encouraged foreigners to move to Ivory Coast to work on the cocoa farms and they came in droves, accounting for about a third of the population, including their descendents.

The prime target of the doctrine was Ouattara. Although he was born in Ivory Coast, his father was from what is now Burkina Faso.

To make doubly sure that Ouattara could not run in the 1995 elections, the laws were changed to require a presidential candidate to have Ivorian parents and to have lived in the country for the previous five years. [...]

During the campaign, Gbagbo expressed support for the ivoirité doctrine, in terms similar to Bédié's. After the dust settled, and amid increasingly frequent racially motivated violence between migrants and Ivorians, politicians made attempts at reconciliation. In 2002, there was even a meeting involving Gbagbo, Bédié, Guéï and Ouattara.
Civil war in 2002 splits country

However, things unravelled later that year. Military mutiny escalated into civil war, in which the rebels seized control of the predominantly Muslim north half of Ivory Coast.

France intervened and soon there was a ceasefire, with the country split between the rebel north and Christian south. Ouattara, a Muslim, was born in the north.

In 2005 the Gbagbo government, the rebels — called the Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) — and other factions reached a disarmament agreement.

A month later, old political enemies Ouattara and Bédié formed a new coalition.

The parties in this "Rally of Houphouëtistes" would compete in the first round of the elections scheduled for that October, but if only one of their candidates made it through to the second round the other parties would back him. In other words, their goal was to defeat Gbagbo.

And that is pretty much what happened, but not before a five-year election campaign during which the vote was postponed six times. The tally from the first round of voting for president on Oct. 31, 2010, was:

Laurent Gbagbo, FPI, 38 per cent
Alassane Ouattara, RDR, 32 per cent
Henri Konan Bédié, PDCI, 25 per cent

The results were mostly along ethnic lines. Gbagbo did well in the west and south. Ouattara's support was in the north and Bédié's in central east Ivory Coast, home to his Baoule ethnic group.
Ouattara vs. Gbagbo in 2nd round

As agreed, Bédié threw his support behind Ouattara for the second round on Nov. 28, 2010, and his voters apparently followed.

After the votes were counted — Ouattara 54 per cent, Gbagbo 46 per cent — events unfolded as they had in the previous election in 2000, but with Gbagbo in the other role. This time Ouattara played Gbagbo's old role as victorious challenger and Gbagbo now played the defeated incumbent trying to stay in power nevertheless.

Now both men are playing the same role: president. Gbagbo clings to power with the support of the army and control of the state media. Ouattara has the support of the international community and the rebels, who are still armed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


The GOP Path to Prosperity: Our budget cuts $6.2 trillion in spending from the president's budget over the next 10 years and puts the nation on track to pay off our national debt. (Paul Ryan, 4/05/11, WSJ)

Our budget, which we call The Path to Prosperity, is very different. For starters, it cuts $6.2 trillion in spending from the president's budget over the next 10 years, reduces the debt as a percentage of the economy, and puts the nation on a path to actually pay off our national debt. Our proposal brings federal spending to below 20% of gross domestic product (GDP), consistent with the postwar average, and reduces deficits by $4.4 trillion.

A study just released by the Heritage Center for Data Analysis projects that The Path to Prosperity will help create nearly one million new private-sector jobs next year, bring the unemployment rate down to 4% by 2015, and result in 2.5 million additional private-sector jobs in the last year of the decade. It spurs economic growth, with $1.5 trillion in additional real GDP over the decade. According to Heritage's analysis, it would result in $1.1 trillion in higher wages and an average of $1,000 in additional family income each year.

Here are its major components: [...]

• Health and retirement security: This budget's reforms will protect health and retirement security. This starts with saving Medicare. The open-ended, blank-check nature of the Medicare subsidy threatens the solvency of this critical program and creates inexcusable levels of waste. This budget takes action where others have ducked. But because government should not force people to reorganize their lives, its reforms will not affect those in or near retirement in any way.

Starting in 2022, new Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy. Future Medicare recipients will be able to choose a plan that works best for them from a list of guaranteed coverage options. This is not a voucher program but rather a premium-support model. A Medicare premium-support payment would be paid, by Medicare, to the plan chosen by the beneficiary, subsidizing its cost.

In addition, Medicare will provide increased assistance for lower- income beneficiaries and those with greater health risks. Reform that empowers individuals—with more help for the poor and the sick—will guarantee that Medicare can fulfill the promise of health security for America's seniors.

We must also reform Social Security to prevent severe cuts to future benefits. This budget forces policy makers to work together to enact common-sense reforms. The goal of this proposal is to save Social Security for current retirees and strengthen it for future generations by building upon ideas offered by the president's bipartisan fiscal commission.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Bibi the Traitor: In which the PM is an innocent bystander to the criminalization of dissent (Liel Leibovitz, Apr 4, 2011, Tablet)

Last week, the Knesset passed a law, sponsored by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, that would allow courts to revoke the citizenship of Israelis convicted of treason. “Any normal state would have legislated this bill years ago,” said MK David Rotem (whose name is associated with the notorious bill concerning conversions), shortly after it passed. “There is no citizenship without loyalty.” I propose the courts apply the new law immediately against an obvious offender: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The new law’s fine print defines treason according to sections of the Israeli criminal code that, as Haaretz’s Zvi Barel quickly noticed, include not only treason and espionage, but also far wider, and vaguer, actions: One section, for example, defines as treason “If a person commits an act liable to remove any area from the sovereignty of the State … then he is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment.” Section 97, alas, does not make any allowances for areas removed from Israeli sovereignty under the auspices of diplomatic negotiations—which means that Netanyahu, who ceded territory during his first term as prime minister, might want to instruct his lawyers to come up with a criminal defense for much more than the extreme corruption of which he is now accused.

They're going to need more guillotines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


A Personal Account Option For Social Security (Peter Ferrara, 4/06/11, Forbes)

As in Chile, workers would choose investments by picking a fund managed by a major private investment firm from a list officially approved and regulated by the federal government for safety and soundness. The personal account investments would be kept strictly separate from the rest of the company, again as in Chile, so any financial troubles the company might experience would have no effect on the personal account investments. This would also be very much like the highly successful private retirement investment systems used for the federal employee Thrift Savings Plan and for the private alternative to Social Security used for local government workers in Galveston, Texas.

The Chilean personal account system that has been so successful for 30 years now includes a government guaranteed minimum benefit for the personal accounts that is roughly equal as a percent of income to the average benefit under the U.S. Social Security system. That is feasible because market investment returns are so much higher than what Social Security even promises, let alone what it can pay.

That is why over 30 years of personal accounts, even through the financial crisis, Chile has never had to make a payment on that guarantee. Through its regulation of the private investment firms among which personal account investors can choose, the government can limit and control the risks workers can take on with their personal accounts, preventing moral hazard from the guarantee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Multitude of Species Face Climate Threat (CARL ZIMMER, 4/06/11, NY Times)

Over the past 540 million years, life on Earth has passed through five great mass extinctions. In each of those catastrophes, an estimated 75 percent or more of all species disappeared in a few million years or less.

For decades, scientists have warned that humans may be ushering in a sixth mass extinction, and recently a group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the hypothesis. They applied new statistical methods to a new generation of fossil databases. As they reported last month in the journal Nature, the current rate of extinctions is far above normal. If endangered species continue to disappear, we will indeed experience a sixth extinction, over just the next few centuries or millennia.

...how did we cause the first five?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Austerity Helps Economic Recovery, Recent Data Show (IBD, 4/05/11)

"It is not that cutting spending creates growth," said Brian Riedl, an economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It is that it removes the barriers to growth. Typically the private sector can spend much more productively than politicians and bureaucrats." [...]

The nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper in October 2009 by two Harvard economists on debt and deficits in developed nations.

"Spending cuts are much more effective than tax increases in stabilizing the debt and avoiding economic downturns," the study found. "In fact, we uncover several episodes in which spending cuts adopted to reduce deficits have been associated with economic expansions rather than recessions."

Without spending cuts, the authors say, "It is difficult to achieve fiscal stability because spending may rise faster than tax revenue."

Co-author Alberto Alesina says the paper was a summary of a decade's worth of research.

"Spending cuts being absolutely necessary to stabilize a deficit is pretty uncontroverted," he said. The more debated issue is how costly the spending cuts are in the short and medium run.

There will be pain, Alesina said, but without the cuts there will be too much uncertainty: "Investors are going to be more and more worried about what may happen in the future to the tax rates, regulations and so on."

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April 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:33 PM


George W. Bush announces running for fourth term (David Freddoso 04/04/11, SF Examiner)

From CBS News:

Attorney General Eric Holder today will announce that self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad will be tried in a military commission, CBS News has learned. A source says the commission will be held at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

The UR just wants to be told what to do and he'll happily do it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


The Colombia Trade Deal: A Different Kind of Jobs Bill: Colombian goods already have low-tariff access to the U.S. market. So why not help U.S. exporters by opening up theirs? (MAX BAUCUS AND JOHN KERRY, 4/03/11, WSJ)

The International Trade Commission estimates the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, or FTA, will increase U.S. exports by more than $1 billion a year. To the farmers and workers whose jobs these exports would help sustain, that's much more than a statistic. To help our economy continue to recover, we should unite around a trade agenda that includes approval of this FTA and extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance for American workers.

Colombia is an important trading partner for American farmers, businesses and workers. But our exporters face a disadvantage because Colombia maintains tariffs on U.S. products while Colombian products have nearly complete access to U.S. markets.

U.S. farmers face an average tariff of roughly 30% in Colombia. U.S. manufacturers face an effective tariff rate of 14%. And nearly 90% of these manufacturers are the small and medium-sized businesses we count on to create jobs and continue moving our economy forward. The Colombia FTA will eliminate tariffs for U.S. exports and level the playing field.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM


2 Qaddafi Sons Are Said to Offer Plan to Push Father Out (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 4/04/11, NY Times)

At least two sons of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi are proposing a resolution to the Libyan conflict that would entail pushing their father aside to make way for a transition to a constitutional democracy under the direction of his son Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, a diplomat and a Libyan official briefed on the plan said Sunday.

The rebels challenging Colonel Qaddafi as well as the American and European powers supporting them with air strikes have so far insisted on a more radical break with his 40 years of rule. And it is not clear whether Colonel Qaddafi, 68, has signed on to the reported proposal backed by his sons, Seif and Saadi el-Qaddafi, although one person close to the sons said the father appeared willing to go along.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Immigration Lessons From English Soccer (MICHAEL MORITZ , 4/04/11, WSJ)

Twenty years ago, English professional soccer was in a shambles. Most of the stadiums had just a few seats. Stabbings and fights on the terraces were part of the entertainment. In 1989, 96 people were trampled to death during one tragic game. Almost all the players in the league had been born in England—many within sight of the stadiums in which they played. Clubs in Italy, Spain, Brazil and Argentina provided a more scintillating version of the sport. Revenues from television coverage were small. In less than two decades all that has changed, and today the best soccer in the world is played in England. The reason: immigrants.

The English Premier League is a testament to what happens when immigration barriers are broken down and a market attracts the most talented people from around the world.

In 1992, the year of its formation, there were only 11 soccer players in the English Premier League who had not been born in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Now that number is more than 250—in a league where the total number of players in the overall starting lineup is 220. In 1999, Chelsea became the first team to field a Premier League starting lineup composed entirely of foreign-born players.

The main reason behind this dramatic change was a labor ruling in 1995 by the European Court of Justice. The court ruled that arcane rules restricting the free movement of soccer players were in breach of the law of the European Union. When the rules were lifted, the English Premier League was flooded with the best players in the world.

The economic result of the influx of talented immigrants has been profound. Today the soccer on view in the English Premier League is far and away the most attractive in the world. The domestic market has expanded—hooliganism is in decline, and women and children flock to stadiums on Saturdays. Meanwhile, the export market is more lucrative than ever. More than half a billion people in some 200 countries follow the exploits of Chelsea, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Blackpool and Tottenham Hotspur. A preseason tour of Asia has become de rigueur for the best clubs.

The league has also drawn foreign capital with club owners from the United States, India, Russia and the Middle East. Only three sports leagues—the NFL, MLB and NBA—top the English Premier League in revenues. But these leagues, it should be noted, compete in a domestic market six-times larger than England's.

In 1986, a two-year TV agreement for the top flight of English soccer was sold for 6.3 million pounds, the equivalent of about $10 million today. In 2007, a set of three-year rights was sold for 1.7 billion pounds, or $2.7 billion. It's little wonder that last year the English Premier League won the Queen's award for enterprise in international trade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


India's future is so bright they gotta wear shades: The Cricket World Cup final had a bit of everything – including huge sunglasses – but it was also an expression of a new continent-size confidence (Barney Ronay, 4/05/11, The Guardian)

"People ask about pressure? Pressure makes kettles boil," Botham pronounced, weirdly, but it did at least seem like the right kind of thing to be saying as finally it was time for India's big show. The intrusion of the crowd from passive spectators into an operatic chorus is something Twenty20 has fostered in cricket. In Mumbai on Saturday the crowd was part of the story for other reasons. This is the face India turns to the world through the imperial power-glamour of its big-time cricket. It is an aspirational face, newly enriched and boisterously westernised. Above all it is a big-sunglassed face, an accessory without which Indian crowds are almost unimaginable. If the big sunglasses on show at the Wankhede were laid end to end, together we could perhaps sunglass the world. [...]

The start of the Indian innings was of course the start of India's portable Sachin Tendulkar-swoon, here enacted on his home ground. Great player that he is, the obsequiousness towards Tendulkar can grate. "WHAT A SHOT!" Sanjay Manjrekar quivered as the Little Master plonked a routine back-foot shovel for two. It was tempting – and no doubt also blasphemous –to enjoy the moment of Tendulkar's dismissal. "Out!" intoned Shastri, switching to imminent nuclear disaster mode as suddenly Mumbai became a panorama of ashen faces, trembling lips and big tears behind big glasses.

Fortunately India had another screen-ready leading man in MS Dhoni, whose bull-necked match-winning innings chimed perfectly with the ambience. Dhoni batters the ball with a crafted severity, like a man expertly demolishing an unwanted partition wall. His lofted six to win the game, with heroic, widescreen close-up of his far-sighted boundary stare was a great TV sport moment. There were incredible pictures at the end as Mumbai exploded in a confusion of sweat-sodden firework-flaring ecstasy. It was quite an occasion, not just for Indian cricket, but for cricket as a televised entertainment. For various reasons – of geography, format-tweak and a perfect storm of national ascendancy – we may never see its like again.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


The Matchmaker: The Harvard economist who stopped just studying the world and began trying to fix it (Leon Neyfakh, April 3, 2011, Boston Globe)

Better than anyone, Roth — who is now a professor in the Harvard economics department and at the Harvard Business School — was aware of how complicated the problem was. It was one thing to criticize what had been done, and another thing entirely to design a matchmaking system that would work smoothly in the real world, with all its messy details and practical constraints. He decided to do it anyway.

Together with a collaborator named Elliott Peranson, Roth came up with a new, sophisticated algorithm to solve the problem of married couples. As it turned out, it worked beautifully, and when the new system was implemented in 1998, the lives of young doctors all over the country were significantly improved. The experience was as illuminating to Roth as it was to some of the doctors who had been skeptical that an economist would have any clue how to help them.

“I don’t think people thought about the residency matching process as something an economist should think about,” said Robert Gibbons, an economist at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “Al sort of showed there was economics there.”

In the years since, Roth has emerged as a rare figure in the academic world: a theorist willing to dive into real-world problems and fix them. After helping the med students, he designed a better way to assign children to public schools — the system now used by both Boston and New York. He also helped invent a system for matching kidney donors with patients, dramatically increasing the number of donations that take place each year. More recently, he and one of his students have been talking with Teach for America about improving the system it uses to deploy volunteers around the country.

Academically speaking, Roth is a pioneer of so-called market design: finding situations where a market is failing — often, a place that most people wouldn’t even recognize as a market — and making it work better. Roth has influenced a cadre of young, energetic market designers, many of whom have taken up prominent positions at top universities. Inspired by Roth’s work, these rising economists are also setting their sights on real-world problems. Some are looking at dating websites; others are interested in how universities could do better at scheduling their students’ classes. Like Roth, all of them envision a world in which economists, as unlikely as it may seem, are recognized as society’s mechanics.

Sitting in his office last week, Roth talked about how it was time for economics, as a field, to turn a corner — how merely describing markets as they naturally occur was no longer enough. Instead, he said, economists have to make themselves useful by fixing broken systems in which people aren’t getting what they want.

“We’re starting to know enough about how some of these things work,” Roth said, “that in some cases, when you’ve got a market in trouble, and you think, ‘Who’re you gonna call?’ you could call an economist.”

When most people think of economics, they think of money — the study of how much things cost and why. Roth distinguishes himself by being more interested in situations where money plays little or no role — for instance, the process that determines who among the thousands of patients awaiting kidney transplants nationwide should receive the small number of organs that are available. As a society, we’ve decided we’re not comfortable with people selling their organs, so some other system — some other kind of market — is required. And a market, in Roth’s view, does not necessarily come down to prices, nor is it always ruled by simple principles like supply and demand: As long as people are competing with each other to get what they want, then resources are being allocated, and that means economists should be thinking about it.

The trouble is that when you can’t rely on prices to stand in for value, things get complicated. In typical markets, “Money finds the matches,” said Utku Ünver, an associate professor of economics at Boston College who has collaborated with Roth on projects. “But when there’s no money, there’s lots of friction, and there are lots of things that may cause these markets to fail and not function efficiently.”

When you can’t use prices to express how much something’s worth, in other words, figuring out who should get what becomes a complicated business. “That’ll kill your economics 101 market real quick,” said Gibbons. “Al comes along to help you with situations where you’re not allowed to use the price mechanism.”

Reformed Obamacare will just be more market oriented.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Warren Buffett: The U.S. is moving toward plutocracy: Capitalism is like Cinderella, the Berkshire billionaire says in an exclusive interview with TheMarker. 'She knew at midnight that everything was going to turn into pumpkins and mice, but it was just so much damn fun, dancing there.' (Guy Rolnik, 3/23/11, Ha'aretz)

What would you say are the key lessons you took from the financial crisis?

"They are not new lessons. Never owe any money you can't pay tomorrow morning. Never let the markets dictate your actions. Always be in a position to play your own game. Never take on more risks than you can handle. But all of those were old lessons, unfortunately. Even though I didn't see it coming, those lessons which are timeless allowed us to in effect profit from it rather than suffer from it. Good businesses, good management, plenty of liquidity, always having a loaded gun; if you play by those principles you will do fine no matter what happens. And you don't ever know what's going to happen."

What would have happened if the U.S. government had not bailed out the banks?

"[The problem] wasn't the banks so much - the number-one part of the bailout was to the American public. Immediately post-Lehman, there were $3.5 trillion in money market accounts. That was half of all the domestic deposits at the banks of the United States: 30 million people had their money in money market accounts. They did not have FDIC insurance and the first three days of the week following Lehman, $175 billion disappeared from those accounts.

"It was a cascade of fear, and if the government had not stepped in to bail out those 30 million people .... They were bailing out everybody, and as a practical matter they were trying to save the American economy, which was sputtering, from coming to a complete stop.

"I give enormous credit to [U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben] Bernanke and [Hank] Paulson [Treasury secretary at the time] and to President [George W.] Bush and Sheila Bair [chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation] and [U.S. Treasury Secretary] Tim Geithner.

"They acted in a way that was absolutely necessary, and only government could have done it. And they did it, they did the right things."

How worried were you?

"I wasn't worried because I knew the government would do the right thing. I knew they had the tools to do the right thing, they were the only ones that had the tools and I knew the people in charge were not the type to freeze in the headlights. I knew the president came out and said that he supported action.

"Congress wasn't worried for a while ... but I felt that Congress would do the right thing once they understood the situation. I didn't feel like they understood the situation as fast as some of the others."

April 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


Andrew Cuomo Limits Government: The Democratic governor could teach Washington a thing or two about being adult. (Deroy Murdock, 4/05/11, National Review)

A newly elected governor just persuaded his dysfunctional state legislature to close a multi-billion-dollar deficit, keep taxes in check, and limit annual Medicaid spending. Surely, these must be the misdeeds of stone-hearted Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s GOP chief executive, or that ax-wielding alumnus of the Gingrich Congress, Governor John Kasich (R., Ohio).

Actually, these and other reforms are the handiwork of none other than Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic governor. This son of liberal icon and former New York governor Mario Cuomo was President Clinton’s Housing secretary and once belonged by marriage to the Kennedy family.

Despite these sterling liberal credentials, Cuomo’s performance thus far has advanced the cause of limited government in the Empire State far more than did his past three predecessors — the hapless David Paterson, the pantsless Elliott Spitzer, and the clueless Republican, George Elmer Pataki.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


JIs this the first ever portrait of Jesus? The incredible story of 70 ancient books hidden in a cave for nearly 2,000 years (Nick Pryer, 3rd April 2011, Daily Mirror)

The image is eerily familiar: a bearded young man with flowing curly hair. After lying for nearly 2,000 years hidden in a cave in the Holy Land, the fine detail is difficult to determine. But in a certain light it is not difficult to interpret the marks around the figure’s brow as a crown of thorns.

The extraordinary picture of one of the recently discovered hoard of up to 70 lead codices – booklets – found in a cave in the hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee is one reason Bible historians are clamouring to get their hands on the ancient artefacts.

If genuine, this could be the first-ever portrait of Jesus Christ, possibly even created in the lifetime of those who knew him.

So after a hundred years of being told our image of Him is just an ethnocentric affectation it turns out to be spot on? Whodathunk?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Fox Networks Targets Hispanic Audience (LAUREN A. E. SCHUKER, 4/03/11, WSJ)

As Census Bureau data show that Latinos continue to dominate U.S. population growth, television networks are scrambling to capture that booming audience.

News Corp.'s Fox Networks Group is expected Monday to form Fox Hispanic Media, set up specifically to target Hispanics. The unit will house three Spanish-language networks, including a new family-oriented cable channel called Nat Geo Mundo. The new division also will include Fox's two existing Spanish-language networks: sports channel Fox Deportes and women's lifestyle channel Utilisima, which went on the air last year.

Nat Geo Mundo, set to air in July, will feature content from Fox's international array of National Geographic channels, including a Spanish-language version of the reality show about dog rehabilitation, "Dog Whisperer."

Fox is positioning the new division—with one division each aimed at families, men and women—as a way for advertisers to reach a large, diverse range of Latinos. The latest Census data show that the group now accounts for one in six Americans. The new unit also will aim market other News Corp. properties, such as 20th Century Fox movies, to Hispanics. News Corp. is publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 PM


A Moral Adventure: Is Barack Obama as much of a foreign-policy realist as he thinks he is? (JAMES TRAUB, MARCH 31, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Perhaps, then, the realist critics are right: Obama has embarked on a moral adventure, and quite possibly an ill-fated one, under the flimsy cover of national interest. And it's certainly true that Obama has the "liberal" view -- now shared by neoconservatives -- that American power must at times be used for moral purposes, which is to say for the benefit of others rather than to advance American interests. That is why, right after the assertion about national interest, he added, with uncharacteristic passion, "I refused to let that happen." Obama believes -- like virtually all presidents, to be sure -- that the United States has a singular moral status that carries with it singular obligations. "Some nations" might ignore atrocities abroad, he declared. (Obama is addicted to this particular straw-man device.) "The United States of America is different." Realists cringed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


Imperialism Reclaimed (Robert Skidelsky, 3/23/11, Project Syndicate)

[I]n the 1980’s, a revisionist history came along. It wasn’t just that distance lends a certain enchantment to any view. The West – mainly the Anglo-American part of it – had recovered some of its pride and nerve under US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. And there was the growing evidence of post-colonial regimes’ failure, violence, and corruption, especially in Africa.

But the decisive event for the revisionists was the collapse of the Soviet empire, which not only left the United States top dog globally, but also seemed, to the more philosophically minded, to vindicate Western civilization and values against all other civilizations and values. With the European Union extending its frontiers to embrace many ex-communist states, the West became again, if briefly, the embodiment of universal reason, obliged and equipped to spread its values to the still-benighted parts of the world. Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man testified to this sense of triumph and historical duty.

Such a conjuncture set the stage for a new wave of imperialism (though the reluctance to use the word remained). In doing so, it was bound to affect interpretations of the old imperialism, which was now extolled for spreading economic progress, the rule of law, and science and technology to countries that would never have benefited from them otherwise.

Foremost among the new generation of revisionist historians was Niall Ferguson of Harvard University, whose television series, based on his new book Civilization: The West and the Rest, has just started showing in Britain. In its first episode, Ferguson appears amid the splendid monuments of China’s Ming Dynasty, which, in the fifteenth century, was undoubtedly the greatest civilization of the day, with its naval expeditions reaching the coasts of Africa. After that, it was all downhill for China (and “the Rest”) and all uphill for the West.

Ferguson snazzily summarizes the reasons for this reversal in six “killer apps”: competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic. Against such tools – unique products of Western civilization – the rest had no chance. From such a perspective, imperialism, old and new, has been a beneficent influence, because it has been the means of spreading these “apps” to the rest of the world, thereby enabling them to enjoy the fruits of progress hitherto confined to a few Western countries.

...as even the Arabs embrace it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


Learning to love change: Why America needs to end its obsession with stability (Thanassis Cambanis, April 3, 2011, Boston Globe)

An overemphasis on stability — and, perhaps, an erroneous definition of what “stability” even is — has begun harming, rather than helping, American interests in several current crisis spots. Our desire to keep a naval base in a stable Bahrain, for example, has allied us with the marginalized and increasingly radical Bahraini royal family, and even led us to acquiesce to a Saudi Arabian invasion of the tiny island to quell protests last month. To keep Syria stable, American policy has largely deferred to the existing Assad regime, supporting one of the nastiest despots in the region even as his troops have fired live ammunition at unarmed protesters. In a moral sense, this “stability first” policy has been putting America on the wrong side of the democratic transitions in one Arab country after another. And in the contest for pure influence, it is the more flexible approaches of other nations that seem to be gaining ground in such a fast-changing environment. If we’re serious about our goals in the Middle East, “stability” is looking less and less like the right way to achieve them.

Our ideas always swamp the aims of the striped-pants set.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 PM


In Israel, Time for Peace Offer May Run Out (ETHAN BRONNER, 4/02/11, NY Times)

With revolutionary fervor sweeping the Middle East, Israel is under mounting pressure to make a far-reaching offer to the Palestinians or face a United Nations vote welcoming the State of Palestine as a member whose territory includes all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority has been steadily building support for such a resolution in September, a move that could place Israel into a diplomatic vise. Israel would be occupying land belonging to a fellow United Nations member, land it has controlled and settled for more than four decades and some of which it expects to keep in any two-state solution.

“We are facing a diplomatic-political tsunami that the majority of the public is unaware of and that will peak in September,” said Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, at a conference in Tel Aviv last month. “It is a very dangerous situation, one that requires action.” He added, “Paralysis, rhetoric, inaction will deepen the isolation of Israel.”

Sadly, Bibi lacks the stature of Sharon, who recognized that statehood favored Israel as well as the Palestinians.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


The Reading Life: Revisiting 'Mildred Pierce' (David L. Ulin, 3/25/11, LA Times)

When Mildred and her husband Bert fight in the first scene of the novel, it is with an urgency that’s impossible not to recognize.

“They spoke quickly,” Cain writes, “as if they were saying things that scalded their mouths, and had to be cooled with spit. Indeed, the whole scene had an ancient, almost classical ugliness to it, for they uttered the same recriminations that have been uttered since the beginning of marriage, and added little of originality to them, and nothing of beauty.”

Later, after Mildred throws Bert out, her friend and neighbor Mrs. Gessler defines the terms of her new life. “Well,” she says, “you’ve joined the biggest army on earth. You’re the great American institution that never gets mentioned on the Fourth of July — a grass widow with two small children to support.”

There’s a certain cynicism to that observation: The world-weariness of noir. More to the point, Cain’s novel is marked by a realistic resignation, the idea that Mildred has no choice but to go on.

She has those kids, of course — the tragic Ray and the viperous Veda — and Bert, although he emerges as one of the book’s most sympathetic characters, offers little help with them. But that’s not all; she also possesses an inner pride, an air of self-worth and determination, which prevents her from being beaten down.

This is a highly contemporary perspective, although it predates even “Rosie the Riveter” propaganda, and it’s one reason why “Mildred Pierce” has been regarded by some as a proto-feminist manifesto, which is how it was taught to me in college when I first read the book. Yet if that is a compelling reading, for me, ultimately, it’s not nearly nuanced enough.

What happens to Mildred, after all, is the most common kind of experience: Left with two daughters and no child support, she has to find a way to keep the family afloat. It is the Depression and there are no jobs. She has an acuity in the kitchen and is a whiz at making pies. So, beginning with a waitress job in Hollywood, she takes her destiny into her own hands and works her way up to owning a chain of restaurants, only to see it all fall to pieces when she is betrayed by those whom she has most loved.

That betrayal, by her daughter Veda and her second husband Monty, is also the stuff of hard-boiled convention, but it is not the convention that’s important as much as what Mildred does with it. She is not a stock character, not a victim, but a three-dimensional woman of flesh and blood.

What does she do? What would she do? She picks herself up and moves along. In the final moments of the novel, she is back with Bert, back in the Glendale house where it all started, and his invocation to her — “Come on, we got each other, haven’t we? Let’s get stinko” — is as stirring and real a declaration of love as she, as any of us, may ever find.

The essence of noir is that our "hero" succumbs to the temptation of stepping outside social/moral norms which leads to his/her downfall--it's a continual re-enactment of The Fall. Mildred is only unique in not ending up on death row, but back where she should have stayed to begin with.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


I've Seen Every Woody Allen Movie: Here's what I've learned. (Juliet Lapidos, March 31, 2011, Slate)

Still of Woody Allen in Annie Hall. Woody AllenLike Ian Fleming and P.G. Wodehouse, Woody Allen returns compulsively to the same creative ground. In Allen's case, it's ground trod by anxious, well-to-do white people, who swap partners and drop cultural references in an empty, godless universe. The extent of the similarities from one film to the next is remarkable. It's not just that he recasts actors or that he revisits the themes of domestic boredom and cosmic insignificance. He reuses the same font, EF Windsor Light Condensed, for his titles and credits. He recycles character types: the neurotic Jewish New Yorker (the filmmaker's spit and image), the adulterous intellectual, the hypochondriac intellectual. He recycles plot lines. He even recycles punch lines.

No one wants to hear you talk about yourself all the time. He's someone we laugh at, not with.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Norah Jones On World Cafe (World Cafe, NPR)

Jones' latest album, Featuring, came out just this November. As the title suggests, it's a collection of collaborations from across Jones' career. Star-studded and full of variety, contributors include Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, OutKast, Foo Fighters, Belle and Sebastian, Ryan Adams, M. Ward — the list goes on. And somehow, everything meshes. As Jones puts it, "Even though the musicians are so varied, the vibe of the songs makes sense when we put them all together."


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


India Wins Cricket World Cup (WILL DAVIES, 4/03/11, WSJ)

India won the Cricket World Cup Saturday, beating Sri Lanka by six wickets in Mumbai and sending this cricket-mad nation into a frenzy on a day that will be remembered as one of the greatest in its history.

It was the first ever World Cup final win by a host nation—India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh hosted the tournament—and likely marks the start of a prolonged period of Indian dominance in all forms of cricket. India's captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, hit the winning runs with a spectacular six—a ball hit over the boundary without bouncing—to claim the trophy and secure a place in Indian legend.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 AM


New York borders remain open and immigrants are welcome, Gov. Cuomo says (Kenneth Lovett, 4/03/11, DAILY NEWS)

Gov. Cuomo on Saturday night told a Hispanic conference that New York's borders remain open and welcoming to new immigrants.

"While other parts of the country are building walls and fences, we're pointing to the Lady in the Harbor who holds the torch and says, 'We are the beacon of liberty and the beacon of opportunity.'"

"And we say if you want to make New York your home, we want you."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


The Shores of Tripoli: Our Latest Wilsonian War (Walter Russell Mead, 3/30/11, American Interest)

The Libyan effort is also not going to be the start of a new era of liberal internationalism in American politics. The dirty truth behind the Libyan campaign is that if only the Wilsonians supporting this war it wouldn’t be happening.

Human Rights Watch can’t start wars on its own. Wilsonian liberal internationalists need friends to start wars.

W and Tony didn't have any friends when they waged their Wilsonian war in Iraq.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


Official: Libyan rebels seek democracy (BEN HUBBARD, Associated Press)

The Libyan rebel movement that controls the country's eastern half wants to install a parliamentary democracy across the country once they topple the regime of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, a top rebel official said Sunday.

Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, vice chairman of the National Provisional Council told The Associated Press that the government established after Gadhafi's fall would reject all forms of terrorism and extremism.

"The Libyans as a whole, and I am one of them, want a civilian democracy, not dictatorship, not tribalism and not one based on violence or terrorism," he said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW: 'The Tyrannies Are Doomed': The West's leading scholar of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, sees cause for optimism in the limited-government traditions of Arab and Muslim culture. But he says the U.S. should not push for quick, Western-style elections. (BARI WEISS, 4/02/11, WSJ)

For Americans who have watched protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Bahrain and now Syria stand up against their regimes, it has been difficult not to be intoxicated by this revolutionary moment. Mr. Lewis is "delighted" by the popular movements and believes that the U.S. should do all it can to bolster them. But he cautions strongly against insisting on Western-style elections in Muslim lands.

"We have a much better chance of establishing—I hesitate to use the word democracy—but some sort of open, tolerant society, if it's done within their systems, according to their traditions. Why should we expect them to adopt a Western system? And why should we expect it to work?" he asks.

Mr. Lewis brings up Germany circa 1918. "After World War I, the victorious Allies tried to impose the parliamentary system on Germany, where they had a rather different political tradition. And the result was that Hitler came to power. Hitler came to power by the manipulation of free and fair elections," recounts Mr. Lewis, who fought the Nazis in the British Army. For a more recent example, consider the 2006 electorial triumph of Hamas in Gaza.

Elections, he argues, should be the culmination—not the beginning—of a gradual political process. Thus "to lay the stress all the time on elections, parliamentary Western-style elections, is a dangerous delusion."

Not because Muslims' cultural DNA is predisposed against it—quite the contrary. "The whole Islamic tradition is very clearly against autocratic and irresponsible rule," says Mr. Lewis. "There is a very strong tradition—both historical and legal, both practical and theoretical—of limited, controlled government."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Immigration Hardliners Upset GOP Candidates Don't Care (Fawn Johnson, April 2, 2011, Hotline)

NumbersUSA, an advocacy group dedicated solely to reducing all immigration in the United States, has a soul-searching question for the Republican presidential hopefuls: Where's the love?

At a conservative conference last week organized by immigration hardliner Rep. Steve King (R), NumbersUSA was shocked to discover that the all of the several possible GOP candidates present (Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, even Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)) didn't want to talk about immigration.

That leaves NumbersUSA lobbyists scratching their heads. Who to rally behind? "We're not like a lot of organizations. We don't have any other issue," said NumbersUSA President Roy Beck.

Bad enough to be a single issue group in the GOP--such factionalism is fundamentally Democratic--even worse to be a hate group in the Christian party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


The biggest lie in British politics (Johann Hari, 29 Mar 2011)

British politics today is dominated by a lie. This lie is making it significantly more likely you will lose your job, your business, or your home. The lie gives a false explanation for how we came to be in this crisis, and prescribes a medicine that will worsen our disease. Yet it is hardly being challenged – except by some of the world’s most distinguished Nobel Prize winning economists.

Here’s the lie. We are in a debt crisis. Our national debt is dangerously and historically high. We are being threatened by the international bond markets. The way out is to eradicate our deficit rapidly. Only that will restore “confidence”, and therefore economic growth. Every step of this program is false, and endangers you.

Let’s start with a fact that should be on billboards across the land. As a proportion of GDP, Britain’s national debt has been higher than it is now for 200 of the past 250 years. Read that sentence again. Check it on any graph by any historian. Since 1750, there have only been two brief 30-year periods when our debt has been lower than it is now.

Sure, it's irrational, but one should never underestimate the power of sentiment over reason.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM

NO "BOY"?:

Sonny Landreth In Concert (Fridays at XPN, 4/01/11, NPR)

Making an album with a crew of his favorite musicians was a long-awaited objective for Sonny Landreth, who wrote each song on his 10th album, From The Reach, with a specific artist in mind. The result is an in-depth back-and-forth conversation of guitar riffs and verses on this collection of blues, rock and zydeco tunes. Throughout Reach, Landreth is joined by an all-star ensemble including Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Dr. John and Jimmy Buffett.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Tear Down This Wall (Art Carden, Mar. 31 2011, Forbes)

If I could change just one policy that would make the world’s poor much better off, I would eliminate immigration restrictions in wealthy countries. Here’s the kicker: it wouldn’t just improve the lives of the poor. It would make the natives of already-wealthy countries even wealthier. US Citizenship and Immigration Services begin accepting petitions for H-1B Visas for fiscal year 2012 on April 1. It’s a good time to reflect on exactly how government immigration policy is shooting us all in the foot.

According to the USCIS website, potential immigrants can compete for 65,000 slots with the provision that there are exceptions for “[t]he first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of individuals with U.S. master’s degrees or higher” and exemptions for people who will work at higher education institutions, “nonprofit research organizations,” or “governmental research organizations.”

This is tragic for a couple of reasons. First, it means that some of the world’s greatest minds (and those who would employ them) have to turn their time and attention away from innovation and toward jumping through legal hoops in an attempt to get one of a small number of admissions to the United States. They’re worse off. Second, Americans are denied the benefit of having the world’s best and brightest working for our businesses and living in our neighborhoods. We’re worse off. Finally, artificial restrictions on immigration reduce competitive pressure on some of the world’s worst governments. We’re all worse off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


The "I can't believe I'm a hawk!" club: They're liberals who opposed Iraq from the start -- but they're on-board with Libya (Jordan Michael Smith, 4/01/11, Salon)

What's more surprising, though, is that the ranks of liberals who favor the Libyan intervention contain some of the earliest and most vocal critics of the Iraq War.

One important anti-Iraq liberal who backs Obama's policy, TNR's John Judis, is dismayed by how quickly many of his fellow liberals lined up against the operation. "I've been surprised and disappointed in how uniform the disagreement among the left is," he says.

Judis isn't quite as lonely as he thinks. A number of prominent individuals with stalwart left-wing credentials have found themselves supporting what is the third active American-led war in a Muslim country. Their arguments suggest a possible new direction for American foreign policy as it adjusts to a post-revolutionary era in the Middle East.

Judis has been clearest in outlining why Libya is a matter of U.S. national interest. If the cost of oil continues to rise (as it has since the beginning of the Libyan uprising), he contends, instability may inhibit the world's economic recovery. "[I]f the recovery stalls globally, that could have enormous geopolitical implications -- think of the 1930s," he's written. Judis identifies as something of a realist, one influenced by journalist Walter Lippmann's idea that the U.S. foreign policy should primarily act as the "shield of the republic," the protector of American security.

His realist-minded assessment of Libya is seconded by Robert Pape, a University of Chicago political scientist who has popularized the idea that suicide terrorism primarily results from foreign occupation. Both Judis and Pape opposed the Iraq War, primarily because they recognized it was detrimental to American national security interests.

Still, most on the left in favor of the Libyan war are more concerned with humanitarian motives than with ideas about America's national interest. Human rights organizations have led the way in this regard. The International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch both called for United Nations-led action in Libya; by contrast, both had opposed war with Iraq in 2003 on the grounds that it didn't meet the criteria for humanitarian intervention. As early as Feb. 22, the newly formed Genocide Intervention Network/Save Darfur Coalition was calling for the imposition of a no-fly zone. The Enough Project, an arm of the Center for American Progress, cheered that "[c]onfusion and inaction in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and a host of other lesser-known failures of international will have laid the groundwork, finally, for a spine-stiffening catalytic moment in Libya." In the view of these NGOs, outside powers needed to insert themselves into the conflict simply to avoid a massacre.

Another faction sporting "I can't believe I'm a hawk" buttons are the regional specialists. Middle East experts Juan Cole, Marc Lynch and Shadi Hamid have all been supportive of the military action in Libya. This is in stark contrast to Iraq, where a few right-wing scholars like Bernard Lewis were the only scholars of the region supporting the venture.

If Mr. Obama were to announce today that he were switching to the GOP they'd all bail on the Libyan people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


The Problem With “No Child Left Behind” (Timothy Siegel, Apr. 2 2011, Forbes)

It was not until the standardized test was given, that the fifth grade teacher could finally relax and stop teaching to the test. I’m sure that many others have had the same experience with the teachers of children they know. After the test was given, the teacher could relax and could start teaching about things in which she was interested.

...that as a society we have no interest in what teachers feel like teaching, only in what we want them tyo teach...the stuff on the test.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 AM


Religious Radicals’ Turn to Democracy Alarms Egypt (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, 4/01/11, NY Times)

Abboud al-Zomor — the former intelligence officer who supplied the bullets that killed President Anwar el-Sadat and is Egypt’s most notorious newly released prisoner — waxes enthusiastic about ending the violent jihad he once led.

“The ballot boxes will decide who will win at the end of the day,” Mr. Zomor said during an interview in his large family compound in this hamlet on Cairo’s western edge. “There is no longer any need for me to use violence against those who gave us our freedom and allowed us to be part of political life.”

In its drive to create a perfect Islamic state, his Islamic Group and other groups like it were once synonymous with some of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in Egypt. But they are now leaping aboard the democracy bandwagon, alarming those who believe that religious radicals are seeking to put in place strict Islamic law through ballots.

The public approval of the constitutional amendments on March 19 provided an early example of Islamist political muscle, the victory achieved in no small part by framing the yes vote as a religious duty. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Islamist campaign was the energy invested by religious organizations that once damned the democratic process as a Western, infidel innovation masterminded to undermine God’s laws.

April 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 AM


Martha Foose's lemon icebox pie recipe (Martha Foose, 4/01/11, Salon)


1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (Whirl the graham crackers in a food processor for crumbs.)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (Cinnamon? In a lemon dessert? Yes. Just do it. You'll thank Martha later.)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (I actually like a little more than this)
½ cup fresh lemon juice (I like a little more juice than this, too, but taste it before baking and add to taste.)
2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a medium bowl, combine the crumbs, granulated sugar, cinnamon and melted butter. Pat into a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan and bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until slightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the milk, yolks, lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour the lemon filling into the cooled crust. Bake for 10 minutes, or until set. Cool on a rack. Chill the pie for 30 minutes.

When the pie is completely cooled, whip the cream with the confectioners' sugar until stiff peaks form. Mound the whipped cream on top of the pie and chill for 1 hour.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 AM


AMC’s The Killing shows true l-o-n-g arm of the law (Scott Stinson Mar 30, 2011, National Post)

Pick one of your favourite episodes from any of the police procedurals of recent years. A particularly good CSI, your favourite Criminal Minds, maybe a vintage NYPD Blue. You can even pick a great Law & Order, but only the first half — with the cops, but before the lawyers.

Now s-t-r-e-t-c-h it out over a full season, and you have The Killing.

I mean this in a good way. It might sound tedious to play out a murder investigation over 13 one-hour episodes, but that’s what AMC is doing with its newest series. And it’s a concept that, after Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, keeps the channel’s streak of very well-crafted dramas going.

The pacing is, rather obviously, the biggest difference. It takes the length of the pilot episode for the homicide cops to even discover a body, when that usually happens by the first commercial break, if not before the title sequence. But by lingering around as the case develops, the producers of The Killing, which is adapted from a Danish series — not British, Danish! — allow the characters to become far more substantial, with heart-rending results.

A Thinking Woman’s Detective (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 4/01/11, NY Times)
Sergio Leone gave cinema the spaghetti western, but there isn’t yet an equivalent term for Scandinavian riffs on the classic hard-boiled detective yarn. “The Killing,” a fantastic new AMC adaptation of a popular Danish television series, certainly qualifies as a smorgasbord thriller. It’s unnerving how well the Nordic sensibility fits a genre that for a long time seemed indisputably and inimitably violent and American, particularly given that Sweden, Norway and Denmark have homicide rates that suggest that they have more mystery writers per capita than murders.

There are so many Scandinavian crime solvers besides Henning Mankell’s gloomy detective, Kurt Wallander, or Steig Larsson’s hacker heroine, Lisbeth Salander. Yet even among all those popular imports, “The Killing” stands out — it is as scary and suspenseful, but in a subdued, meditative way that is somehow all the more chilling.

This American version of “Forbrydelsen,” which begins on Sunday, relocates the story to Seattle, a West Coast city that in climate and moodiness comes as close as any to Northern Europe. The first season on AMC is shorter than the original 20-part Danish series, which transfixed viewers in Britain, subtitles and all. But the AMC interpretation is faithful to the three-strand plot, characters and mood of the original, so much so that it almost seems like a perfectly dubbed foreign-language film. The premiere opens with two women running, one a jogger striding purposefully through Arcadian woods at the break of dawn, the other a terrified girl, clothes torn, crashing through trees and bramble in the dark of night, followed by an implacable flashlight. The murder of a high school girl quickly entwines the police, the victim’s family and a prominent local politician.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 AM


Stephen Harper to phase out metric system (Sympatico.ca, 4/01/11)

The Canadian Government will phase out the metric system if all goes according to plan, sources say. [...]

"The metric system is certainly holding us back in some cases," said one anonymous senior business analyst.

"The amount of time spent converting our units into American units adds an extra layer of work for many cross-border transactions. We're starting to see cases where companies are re-thinking Canadian partnerships."

Globalization is Americanization.

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April 1, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


The Myth of Syrian Stability (MUSTAFA NOUR, 3/31/11, NY Times)

True, Syria does seem much more stable than its neighbors. And though I often find it difficult to ascertain the opinions of my countrymen, especially in matters concerning politics and the regime, many do believe that it’s a fair bargain: limits on personal and political freedoms in exchange for the stability that is so dear to them. [...]

Syria has degenerated into chaos and bloodshed so quickly in these past few weeks that I keep thinking: was our stability, our distinguishing characteristic, ever even true? The government tells us that if the regime falls the country could devolve into sectarian chaos. Perhaps that is so. But what did the ruling Baath party — the leader of our state and society, according to the Syrian Constitution — accomplish over the last 48 years if that is so?

And then came President Assad’s speech on Wednesday.

I was waiting for a different speech, one that spoke of holding those who fired on protesters accountable, that announced the end of the emergency laws, that called for closing the files of political prisoners and amending the Constitution to create greater freedoms. But what we saw instead was a show of power by Mr. Assad and a show of loyalty by the members of the Parliament. There was a clear declaration that anyone who continued to protest, to request our rights, to petition for the future of our country, was nothing but a troublemaker.

Because of his speech, many of those Syrians who called for reform will now begin calling for regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


“When It’s Not Your Turn”: The Quintessentially Victorian Vision of Ogden’s “The Wire” (Joy DeLyria and Sean Michael Robinson, 3/23/11, Hooded Utilitarian)

There are few works of greater scope or structural genius than the series of fiction pieces by Horatio Bucklesby Ogden, collectively known as The Wire; yet for the most part, this Victorian masterpiece has been forgotten and ignored by scholars and popular culture alike. Like his contemporary Charles Dickens, Ogden has, due to the rough and at times lurid nature of his material, been dismissed as a hack, despite significant endorsements of literary critics of the nineteenth century. Unlike the corpus of Dickens, The Wire failed to reach the critical mass of readers necessary to sustain interest over time, and thus runs the risk of falling into the obscurity of academia. We come to you today to right that gross literary injustice.

The Wire began syndication in 1846, and was published in 60 installments over the course of six years. Each installment was 30 pages, featuring covers and illustrations by Baxter “Bubz” Black, and selling for one shilling each. After the final installment, The Wire became available in a five volume set, departing from the traditional three.

Bucklesby Ogden himself has most often been compared to Charles Dickens. Both began as journalists, and then branched out with works such as Pickwick Papers and The Corner. While Dickens found popularity and eventual fame in his successive work, Ogden took a darker path.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Message from the young Brothers: Is the revolution changing Egypt's largest opposition group? Amira Howeidy seeks answers in the Muslim Brotherhood's first youth conference (Amira Howeidy, 3//31/11, Al-Ahram Weekly)

The two papers presented at the conference -- both as Power Point presentations -- were vociferously opposed to the formation of an MB political party.

In the first paper Mohamed Shams, who oversees MB political activity in Ain Shams University's Faculty of Engineering, said that the Brotherhood is "bigger" than a political party and should not engage in partisan competition. He argued that the Brotherhood should instead contribute to reform efforts on a national level.

Any MB political party, Shams argued, would be constrained by its links to the Brotherhood and would lack the independence necessary to operate effectively in a pluralist arena. Instead, he said, Brotherhood members should be allowed to join the political parties of their choice.

The Brotherhood's 100-member Shura Council is expected to make a decision on the establishment of a political party within 10 days at most. The MB's leadership has issued statements banning Brotherhood members from joining any other party and emphasising that the would-be Freedom and Justice is the organisation's only political party.

At least one Brotherhood figure in Alexandria, Hamed El-Dafrawi, has said he will form an alternative political party. There are also unconfirmed reports that MB leader Abdel-Meneim Abul-Fotouh, the secretary-general of the Arab Doctors Union, might establish a party.

Abul-Fotouh is generally viewed as a "reformer" and is popular among the group's younger members. He was invited to speak at the conference but the Brotherhood's leadership is reported to have objected to his attendance.

Inside sources told the Weekly that the MB's Guidance Bureau exercised great pressure on the organisers to cancel the conference. When they refused to do so one senior member of the bureau resorted to a surprising tactic, accusing the conference of accepting "foreign funding" to cover its costs. The organisers deny the charge and insist the event was funded from their own pockets.

Given the background of the "Brotherhood Youth Conference: An Inside Vision" it is perhaps unsurprising that participants needed so little convincing that any MB party should be independent from the organisation and its leadership's powerful grip.

The conference's second paper by Mohamed Othman, a pharmacist, addressed the scenario of an MB party. Both must be separated, he insisted, because the performance of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is an organisation for daawa (preaching), is ultimately different from that of a political party. "The party's discourse must adopt that of the street as opposed to the daawa role of the MB which is supposed to lead the street, not the other way round," Othman said.

His paper, also the subject of a workshop, laid out a clear vision of what any political party should look like. He proposed that a founding committee of 1,000 elected members choose the party's name, elect its president and write its platform independently from the MB. The Brotherhood's "logistical support" of the party shouldn't exceed 25 per cent of its budget in the first two years. Othman added that Brotherhood membership of the founding committee should not be more than 30 per cent of the total, supplemented by 30 per cent young members, 10 per cent Copts and 25 per cent women.

"More importantly, there has to be a real dialogue about this party," said Shams.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


The 40-something ski bum: into a strange speed skiing underworld: In a disused railway tunnel in a Genevan gorge, a location reminiscent of a James Bond film, our ski bum finds one of the world's fastest skiers hard at work. (James Bedding, 31 Mar 2011, The Telegraph)

The skiers’ experiments with speed, meanwhile, take place in a disused railway tunnel, concealed under a bridge spanning a gorge, high above the river Rhone. The location seems to have come straight from a James Bond film: a discreet flight of steps leads down the side of the Pont Butin, and up to a plain metal door built into the side of the gorge, invisible from the road above. Swinging open the heavy door, I half expect to see Q, tinkering with gadgets.

Instead I am greeted by staff from Geneva’s School of Engineers, who lead me deep into the cliffs lining the gorge to their biggest toy: a wind tunnel. We climb into a small cabin alongside, and squeeze around the operator seated at the control panel.

Through a window we can see a figure in a shiny red skin-tight suit, wearing a Darth Vader helmet. The operator turns on the fans, and as the wind picks up speed, the skier goes into a racing tuck, and the control cabin creaks ominously. Soon, a display on the computer is reading nearly 250 kph (155mph) – more than double the speed limit on a British motorway – and we can see the skier’s muscles quivering as he battles the forces bearing down on his head and body.

The skier is 40-year-old Philippe May from the Swiss resort of Verbier. Director of the Swiss Ski School there, he is also a passionate speed skier. Speed skiing is the fastest and arguably the purest form of ski racing: you simply point your skis straight down the mountain, tuck your body into as aerodynamic a shape as possible, and rocket as fast as you can through the speed trap at the bottom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Why Sustainability Is Winning Over CEOs: Long a cause célèbre of the eco crowd, sustainable business practices are yielding big savings at companies like PepsiCo and Wal-Mart (Duane Stanford, 3/31/11, BusinessWeek)

At many companies, being socially responsible has typically meant handing out checks to victims of natural disasters, environmental groups, or producers of green TV