October 31, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Targeting Wall Street but hurting small vendors instead (Esmeralda Bermudez, 10/30/11, Los Angeles Times)

The Occupy movement came to Los Angeles aiming for Wall Street titans, but farmers market vendors are the first to take a real hit.

Two weeks ago, about 40 vendors who sell on the City Hall lawn every Thursday were forced off the property after protesters refused to remove their city of tents.

The mini-businesses -- produce farmers, popcorn poppers, flower sellers -- were abruptly moved by city officials to a new and less visible location across Main Street. Since that relocation, profits have plummeted, vendors have pulled out and shoppers have become scarce.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM

Portugal. The Man perform in The Current studios (Mary Lucia, Minnesota Public Radio, Peter Valelly, Minnesota Public Radio, October 23, 2011)
Through it all, the band have continued to crank out tranquil, lush indie rock inflected with hints of psychedelia, prog and folk. The band sat down with Mary Lucia to discuss growing up in Alaska, their songwriting process, Sesame Street and more. Songs played: "So American," "All Your Light" and "Got It All."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


Dollar surges as global fears rise and Japan tries to beat down yen (Tom Petruno, October 31, 2011, LA Times)

The buck soared Monday against other major and minor currencies as Japan intervened to halt the yen's surge and as new worries about Europe fueled a classic rush for safety.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


Commission on Presidential Debates Sets 3 Debates for October 2012 (Reuters, 10/31/11)

An independent U.S. panel Monday scheduled three presidential debates for next October between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger.

If he'd promise, right now, to skip the rest of the dog-and-pony shows, including these three.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Occupy Wall Street protesters want to trademark name (Associated Press, October 31, 2011)

Anti-Wall Street demonstrators in New York are trying to trademark the phrase "Occupy Wall Street" before anyone else does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Is Self-Knowledge Overrated?: a review of Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (, 10/25/11, The New Yorker)

Although we'd always seen ourselves as rational creatures--this was our Promethean gift--it turns out that human reason is rather feeble, easily overwhelmed by ancient instincts and lazy biases. The mind is a deeply flawed machine.

Nevertheless, there is a subtle optimism lurking in all of Kahneman's work: it is the hope that self-awareness is a form of salvation, that if we know about our mental mistakes, we can avoid them. One day, we will learn to equally weigh losses and gains; science can help us escape from the cycle of human error. As Kahneman and Tversky noted in the final sentence of their classic 1974 paper, "A better understanding of these heuristics and of the biases to which they lead could improve judgments and decisions in situations of uncertainty." Unfortunately, such hopes appear to be unfounded. Self-knowledge isn't a cure for irrationality; even when we know why we stumble, we still find a way to fall.

Consider the story of Harry Markowitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who largely invented the field of investment-portfolio theory. By relying on a set of complicated equations, Markowitz was able to calculate the optimal mix of financial assets. (Due to loss-aversion, most investors hold too many low-risk bonds, but Markowitz's work helped minimize the effect of the bias by mathematizing the decision.) Markowitz, however, was incapable of using his own research, at least when setting up his personal retirement fund. "I should have computed the historical co-variances of the asset classes and drawn an efficient frontier," Markowitz later confessed. "Instead, I visualized my grief if the stock market ... went way down and I was completely in it. My intention was to minimize my future regret. So I split my contributions 50/50 between bonds and equities."

Football coaches have performed just as badly. Although it's now clear that their biases have a meaningful impact--a coach immune to loss aversion would win one more game in three seasons out of every four--their collective decision-making hasn't improved.

This same theme applies to practically all of our thinking errors: self-knowledge is surprisingly useless. Teaching people about the hazards of multitasking doesn't lead to less texting in the car; learning about the weakness of the will doesn't increase the success of diets; knowing that most people are overconfident about the future doesn't make us more realistic. The problem isn't that we're stupid--it's that we're so damn stubborn.

Kahneman, of course, knows all this. One of the most refreshing things about "Thinking, Fast and Slow" is his deep sense of modesty: he is that rare guru who doesn't promise to change your life. In fact, Kahneman admits that his decades of groundbreaking research have failed to significantly improve his own mental performance. "My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy"--a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task--"as it was before I made a study of these issues," he writes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Obama Backers Tied to Lobbies Raise Millions (ERIC LICHTBLAU, 10/27/11, NY Times)

 Despite a pledge not to take money from lobbyists, President Obama has relied on prominent supporters who are active in the lobbying industry to raise millions of dollars for his re-election bid.

At least 15 of Mr. Obama's "bundlers" -- supporters who contribute their own money to his campaign and solicit it from others -- are involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies. They have raised more than $5 million so far for the campaign.

Because the bundlers are not registered as lobbyists with the Senate, the Obama campaign has managed to avoid running afoul of its self-imposed ban on taking money from lobbyists.

But registered or not, the bundlers are in many ways indistinguishable from people who fit the technical definition of a lobbyist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Solar Energy: Is It Becoming the New Normal? (Joseph Orovic, October 31, 2011, IB Times)

When Bell Labs developed the first functioning solar cell in the 1950s, the equipment was rather cumbersome, primitive and inefficient. It remained so for the better part of several decades. Innovations such as thin-film, a smaller, cheaper and quicker-to-produce technology, have changed the game. Big players who once stood on the sidelines have jumped in.

"The traditional solar electric technologies seem to be tapped out and most of the focus now is more towards commercializing and bringing the high efficiency cells to the commercial outlets," said Solar Market Analyst MJ Shiao of GTM Research, an alternative energy analysis firm.

The cost of producing electricity via solar technologies has fallen 60 to 70 percent over the last few years, according to Danielle Merfeld, a Solar Business Leader for General Electric (GE) Energy's Renewable Business. It has averaged an 18 percent drop in price for every doubling in capacity, she added.

The evolution to affordability has led to a boon in public and private investment. Last year, $211 billion worldwide was invested into renewable energies, according to the United Nations Environment Programme Global Trends Renewable Energy Investment 2011 report.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Underwater: President Obama will struggle to win reelection if his approval rating doesn't rise. (Charlie Cook, October 27, 2011, National Journal)

The best barometer of how a president is going to fare is his approval rating, which starts taking on predictive value about a year out. As each month goes by, the rating becomes a better indicator of the eventual results. Presidents with approval numbers above 48 to 50 percent in the Gallup Poll win reelection. Those with approval ratings below that level usually lose. If voters don't approve of the job you are doing after four years in office, they usually don't vote for you. Of course, a candidate can win the popular vote and still lose the Electoral College. It happened to Samuel Tilden in 1876, Grover Cleveland in 1888, and Al Gore in 2000. But the popular votes and the Electoral College numbers usually come down on the same side.

In his 11th and most recent quarter in office (July 20-Oct. 19), President Obama averaged a 41 percent approval rating among registered voters, according to Gallup. His average for the month of September was the same. For the week of Oct. 17-23, the president's approval was 41 percent with a disapproval rating of 51 percent. It's worth noting that in the Oct. 17-23 aggregation of Gallup tracking, Obama's job-approval rating among independents was only 38 percent. This was a group he carried by 8 percentage points over John McCain in 2008, 52 percent to 44 percent. Among "pure" independents, those who don't lean toward either party when pushed, the president's approval rating was 32 percent.

Focusing on the big picture and that target of 48 to 50 percent among the total electorate, if Obama is to win in 2012, he needs to raise his approval rating at least 7 to 9 points. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


The Perry Plan (Kevin D. Williamson, 10/25/11, National Review)

But here's the thing that gets my attention: Governor Perry has some pretty serious entitlement-reform measures in here: Raising the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare benefits, changing the indexing formula to CPI rather than wages, giving younger workers at least a partial opt-out into private accounts, block-granting Medicaid, putting Medicare recipients directly in control of their own spending--this would be huge. A Republican president who got nothing else done in a four-year term would be a smashing success in my book if he achieved that kind of entitlement reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Death Of Global Warming Skepticism, Or The Birth Of Straw Men? (James Taylor, 10/26/11, Forbes)

The case for a human-induced global warming crisis requires the demonstration of several components. These include (1) that global temperatures are rising, (2) that global temperatures will likely continue to rise in the future, (3) that the rise in temperatures is or will be sufficiently rapid and substantial to cause enormous negative consequences that far outweigh the benefits of such warming and (4) that human emissions of greenhouse gases account for all such temperature rise or enough of the temperature rise to elevate the temperature rise to crisis levels.

In order to justify government action against global warming, advocates must also show that the proposed action will substantially reduce the negative impacts of the asserted crisis and that the costs of such action will not outweigh the benefits.

Muller's paper merely addresses the first component necessary to support the theory of a human-induced global warming crisis. Moreover, this first component hasn't been in dispute, even before publication of Muller's paper.

Very few if any skeptics assert that the earth is still in the Little Ice Age. While the Little Ice Age raged from approximately 1300 to 1900 AD, it is pretty well accepted that the Little Ice Age did indeed end by approximately 1900 AD. The mere fact that the Little Ice Age ended a little over 100 years ago, and that temperatures have warmed during the course of recovering from the Little Ice Age, tells us absolutely nothing about the remaining components necessary to support an assertion that humans are creating a global warming crisis.

Muller himself admits, "How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


The Pentagon vs. the Welfare State (Robert Samuelson, 10/31/11, Washington Post)

How much we spend is a political decision. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the country was much poorer, 40 percent to 50 percent of the federal budget routinely went to defense, representing 8 percent to 10 percent of our national income. By 2010, a wealthier America devoted only 20 percent of federal spending and 4.8 percent of national income to the military. Social spending replaced military spending; but that shift has gone too far.

5% was perhaps justifiable in wartime, but with Cold War long over and the end of the WoT it should fall back to 2%.  We don't need a large military to dispose of Assad and Kim and having one was what caused most of the mistakes in Iraq.

October 30, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 PM


A Flat Tax Would Be Fine, A Consumption Tax True Perfection (John Tamny, 10/30/11, Forbes)

To put it very simply, tax rates - particularly on high earners today - are high precisely because deductions reduce the burden. A flat tax would remove politicians from the business of offering favors, and the certainty wrought by something flat would drive all manner of productive work to a higher level.

All this said, a flat tax remains a price. Worse, it's a price placed on productive work effort. As it stands now, a flat tax would serve as a cost and penalty placed on economy-boosting endeavors. We're used to being fleeced at various rates at this point, but the idea that our work costs us something per federal whim should horrify us, not to mention that a flat tax ensures that the vital few who do the most to enhance our economic spirits would pay the most to the federal government under such a regime.

So while we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the near perfection that would be a flat tax, we should certainly aspire to something better. The most entrepreneurial nation on earth should not be taxing work, let alone taxing its most productive citizens the most.

All of which brings us to a national consumption tax that would lead to the abolishment of income taxes, along with taxes on estates, capital gains, and presumably everything else. This surely trumps a tax that penalizes work and investment, though like the flat tax, it has its problems.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


Michele Bachmann, GOP presidential hopeful: I would  'not do anything' for children of illegal immigrants  (Aliyah Shahid, 10/30/11, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

She said she would "not do anything," for the children, adding "Their parents are the ones who brought them here," Bachmann said, as first reported by MSNBC. "They did not have the legal right to come to the United States. We do not owe people who broke our laws to come into the country. We don't owe them anything."

There's no place in a Christian party for such evil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


South Sudan Turns Toward British Heritage (JOSH KRON, 10/30/11, NY Times)

The new nation of South Sudan has expressed a desire to join the Commonwealth, a group composed mainly of former British colonies, and said that it would change the language used in schools from Arabic to English. The two actions further cement its pivot from the Arab world of northern Africa toward the largely Anglophone east. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


The Movie Set That Ate Itself: Five years ago, a relatively unknown (and unhinged) director began one of the wildest experiments in film history. Armed with total creative control, he invaded a Ukrainian city, marshaled a cast of thousands and thousands, and constructed a totalitarian society in which the cameras are always rolling and the actors never go home (Michael Idov, November 2011, GQ)

The rumors started seeping out of Ukraine about three years ago: A young Russian film director has holed up on the outskirts of Kharkov, a town of 1.4 million in the country's east, making...something. A movie, sure, but not just that. If the gossip was to be believed, this was the most expansive, complicated, all-consuming film project ever attempted.

A steady stream of former extras and fired PAs talked of the shoot in terms usually reserved for survivalist camps. The director, Ilya Khrzhanovsky, was a madman who forced the crew to dress in Stalin-era clothes, fed them Soviet food out of cans and tins, and paid them in Soviet money. Others said the project was a cult and everyone involved worked for free. Khrzhanovsky had taken over all of Kharkov, they said, shutting down the airport. No, no, others insisted, the entire thing was a prison experiment, perhaps filmed surreptitiously by hidden cameras. Film critic Stanislav Zelvensky blogged that he expected "heads on spikes" around the encampment.

I have ample time and incentive to rerun these snatches of gossip in my head as my rickety Saab prop plane makes its jittery approach to Kharkov. Another terrible minute later, it's rolling down an overgrown airfield between rusting husks of Aeroflot planes grounded by the empire's fall. The airport isn't much, but at least it hasn't been taken over by the film. And while my cab driver knows all about the shoot--the production borrowed his friend's vintage car, he brags without prompting--he doesn't seem to be in the director's thrall or employ.

I'm about to write the rumors off as idle blog chatter when I get to the film's compound itself and, again, find myself ready to believe anything. The set, seen from the outside, is an enormous wooden box jutting directly out of a three-story brick building that houses the film's vast offices, workshops, and prop warehouses. The wardrobe department alone takes up the entire basement. Here, a pair of twins order me out of my clothes and into a 1950s three-piece suit complete with sock garters, pants that go up to the navel, a fedora, two bricklike brown shoes, an undershirt, and boxers. Black, itchy, and unspeakably ugly, the underwear is enough to trigger Proustian recall of the worst kind in anyone who's spent any time in the USSR. (I lived in Latvia through high school.) Seventy years of quotidian misery held with one waistband.

The twins, Olya and Lena, see nothing unusual about this hazing ritual for a reporter who's not going to appear in a single shot of the film--just like they see nothing unusual in the fact that the cameras haven't rolled for more than a month. After all, the film, tentatively titled Dau, has been in production since 2006 and won't wrap until 2012, if ever. But within the walls of the set, for the 300 people working on the project--including the fifty or so who live in costume, in character--there is no difference between "on" and "off." 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


Wood family has been making boiled cider since 1882 (Melissa Pasanen, 10/28/11, Burlington Free Press)

To make boiled cider, the fresh cider is boiled down to a concentration ranging between seven and nine to one for a pourable product with a consistency slightly thicker than maple syrup, but less thick than molasses, Willis continued. It can then be cooked further to a concentration that will jell when cooled, resulting in a spreadable cider jelly.

Both products contain nothing but apples, which have plenty of natural sugar and pectin. The high levels of sugar and acid help preserve the boiled cider and jelly, Willis said, although in modern times they are generally refrigerated upon opening.

Boiled cider was used as a locally grown sweetener in the Northeast and reconstituted with water into a beverage. Back at the turn of the twentieth century, Willis said, "Even though there were only 1,500 people in this small town, there were three people making jelly and there were big factories making it in Brattleboro and Bennington." All the ads for copper evaporators of that time, Willis said, claimed they were good for maple syrup and cider jelly. "It's sort of like dinosaurs, it was everywhere and then it disappeared."

In recognition of the dying art of boiled cider, the product and the Woods have earned a berth in Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste as an endangered regional food tradition worth saving.

"Today, boiled cider is relatively little known except as a cultural artifact, and is certainly under appreciated, even in its traditional homeland of New England," reads the entry for boiled cider on Slow Food's website. "The chief exponents and marketers of boiled cider for many years have been Willis and Tina Wood, who operate a seventh-generation family farm in Springfield, Vermont. More than anyone else, the Woods have kept the tradition of boiled cider (and cider jelly) alive in New England."

When Willis and Tina arrived in Weathersfield in 1970, they took over from an 82-year-old bachelor cousin whose name was Augustus Aldrich. He and his cider jelly had been featured in a 1963 edition of Vermont Life magazine. "It was still a very 19th century place," Willis said.

The Woods have updated the process, particularly through the use of electricity to run the production line, from the power washer to the grinder and the press. They still use some antique equipment and a wood-fired evaporator in which the arch does double-duty for sugaring, but the pans are different.

Their two grown children come and help out with the season. Marina Wood-McNaughton, 33, lives with her family just down the road. Her brother, Josh Wood, 36, comes a little bit further from his home in Guatemala.

As Marina and Josh filled clear glass pint bottles with warm boiled cider, they reflected on growing up with boiled cider.

"My memories tend to be of doing homework late at night, falling asleep on a sheepskin behind the arch," Marina said.

"I think of coming home from school and running up to see what was going on in the cider house and drinking straight from the tank," Josh said.

An average cider-pressing and boiling day begins at 8 a.m. starting the fire in the arch and ends between 4 and 6 p.m. Unlike sugaring season, Willis said, you don't keep the evaporator going non-stop, but clean it out every night. Also, compared to maple, "We're more in control of our destiny," he said, and not dependent on the weather waiting for the main ingredient to flow.

In the case of boiled cider, the ingredient arrives daily in the form of a truckload of apples from various local orchards including Wellwood Orchards just down the road, JRJ in North Springfield and Saxton's River Orchard. Varieties don't hugely matter although, when the end-result will be jelly, the Woods go for a higher proportion of Macs. "They jell really well," Willis said.

Depending on the kinds of apples and the year's weather, the daily truckload (225 bushels) of apples becomes 700 gallons of cider which, in turn, yields 600 pints of boiled cider. The cider is pressed in three batches in the huge wooden rack and cloth, twin screw ratchet press made by Empire Pulley and Press Company in Fulton, N.Y.

Dating from the 1880s, it is the same press Willis helped run by hand when he visited the family farm in his teenage and college years. It now runs on electricity and the Woods believe it may be the last press of its kind in use. Each batch takes about two to two and a half hours from set-up to the final drip-off, Willis said. New hydraulic presses work faster. "This is slower," he said, "and some people think, better."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


Republicans Nationwide Are Similar in Composition to 2008: Remain more likely to be conservative, married, and religious (Frank Newport, Jeffrey M. Jones, and Lydia Saad, 10/28/11, Gallup)

Republicans are significantly more likely than the overall population to be non-Hispanic whites -- 87% vs. 72%, respectively, in 2011 -- and this has not changed since 2008. Most of the remaining Republicans (7%) are Hispanic, while 3% are black. The 12% of Republicans who are nonwhite contrasts with the 26% of all U.S. adults in this category.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


'Lord of Flies' in Zuccotti Park (Michael Goodwin, 10/30/11, NY Post)

[T]he problems the protesters face are almost enough for me to hope the police don't break up the party. The "Lord of the Flies" descent from utopia to petty power struggles, in front of TV cameras, is a political-science lesson, not to mention deliciously ironic.

Running a protest movement apparently involves a lot of dirty work and isn't so much fun. Imagine how hard it will be to run the world!

Six weeks after turning a small park into a fetid slum and spawning ratty imitations across the country, the socialist-inspired movement with a union face and bulging bank account is at a crossroads. The insistence that there are no leaders and that everybody gets a say on everything is yielding a gridlock to make Washington proud.

Most protesters still can't define their goals beyond ending capitalism and making life more fair, which means they want other people's money. Meanwhile, donations of goods and cash pile up, with a reported $500,000 on deposit.

The cash marks an embarrassment for a movement supposedly railing against capitalism and wealth, especially now that a radical group called the Alliance for Global Justice is legally sponsoring the protest. By lending its tax-exempt status -- for a 7 percent cut! -- the global-justice group allows donors to deduct their contributions from federal taxes and gives its own board control over the money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


The Reactionary Left (MATTHEW CONTINETTI, 11/07/11, Weekly Standard)

That slight dizziness you're feeling is a contact high from the clouds of left-wing nostalgia in New York City and Washington. The anarchists, anti-globalization activists, student radicals, and sympathetic journalists gathered at Occupy Wall Street desperately are trying to recapture the protest spirit of the 1960s. Meanwhile, Democrats from Paul Krugman to Barack Obama pine for the economy of the 1950s, when the distribution of incomes was much more equal than today. At the same time, high unemployment, lackluster growth, and austerity have led these Democrats to attempt to restore the politics of the 1930s, pitting "economic royalists" against the downtrodden masses. We knew liberals believed in recycling, but this is getting ridiculous.

The very notion of a backward-looking left is laughable. Since its inception during the French Revolution, the left has been the party of progress, riding the wave of history to that distant shore where man will cast off the chains of society and live a truly authentic, free, and "natural" life. It's been the conservatives who have looked in the other direction, tapping the lefties on the shoulder and reminding them that faith and tradition are important guides to human action and shouldn't be cast off lightly. In contemporary America the equation has been reversed: Tea Party populists support drastic measures to revitalize the American government and economy, while left-wing class warriors want nothing more than to maintain the broken structures of the welfare state.

What happened to the American left's utopianism, its sense of adventure, its fearless derring-do? Today's liberals say conservatives are radicals who want to overturn the American political tradition (as liberals understand it). What remains of the liberal confidence in progress seems to be restricted to the culture, where Americans continue to perform occasional experiments of living. But even the cultural left seems withered, exhausted, ready to go to that big Oneida community in the sky. So what's a Rousseau to do?

Just as the Tea Party wishes to restore the First Way (well, other than their SS checks and Medicare), so too does the Left wish to restore the Second Way.  And their desperation is understandable when you look across the Anglosphere and realize that every successful politician/party is Third Way.  When Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are the progressives, what can the wings do but react hysterically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Hidden Persuaders: The unheralded gains of the pro-life movement (Fred Barnes, Nov 7, 2011, Weekly Standard)

In 2011 alone, 24 states have enacted 52 new restrictions on abortion. Five now require an ultrasound before an abortion, two insisting that the screen be viewable by the mother. Four bar abortions after the baby is able to feel pain (at approximately 20 weeks). Eight have opted out of Obamacare. Five ban abortions by webcam (in which a doctor, not in person but videoconferencing with the mother, prescribes pills to induce abortion). Six trimmed or eliminated funds for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider. Texas led with a $64 million cut.

The wave of state action shouldn't be all that surprising. Republicans gained control of 26 legislatures in the 2010 election. Once advised to drop the abortion issue or suffer a certain decline, the GOP is now the nation's pro-life party--and isn't declining. In Congress, the House has passed two pro-life bills this year, one outlawing abortion subsidies in Obamacare, the other imposing a blanket ban on taxpayer-funded abortions. Both measures were deep-sixed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Three pro-life trends have spiked in 2011. The first is the rise in opposition to abortion among young people. The under-30 cohort was the most pro-choice in the 1970s, second most in the 1980s and 1990s. Now they're "markedly less pro-choice" than any other age group, scholars Clyde Wilcox and Patrick Carr have written. "Clearly, something is distinctive about the abortion attitudes of the Millennial Generation of Americans."

Indeed there is. Millennials haven't grown more religious, politically conservative, or queasy about gay rights. Nor do they go out of their way to vote for pro-life candidates. But they tend to see abortion as a human rights violation. Thus their resistance to abortion is gradually increasing.

You can see a manifestation of this generational shift at the March on Washington each January 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling. For years, the marchers were geezers, initially Catholics, then aging Protestants too. In the past few years, the march has been dominated by teenagers and people in their 20s, often carrying infants.

The second trend is the explosive growth of refuges for pregnant but unmarried women. These safe houses go by a multitude of names: Crisis Pregnancy Center, Pregnancy Resource Center, Pregnancy Health Center, Pregnancy Care Center, or simply Pregnancy Center. In Northern Virginia, Jim Wright, formerly in the commercial real estate business, calls the center he started Birthmothers.

They all do the same thing, nurturing single women during their pregnancy and recommending against abortion. The results are one-sided: 80 to 90 percent of the women who have sonograms at pregnancy centers choose to have their baby.

Today there are nearly three times as many of these centers (2,300) as abortion facilities (800 to 850). One reason for the disparity is that women stay for months in pro-life centers, but only briefly in abortion clinics. The Care Net network reflects the growth: 550 centers in 1999, 1,130 today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


#OWS: one insider's view on how banking lost its way (and what to do next) (Fred Destin, 10/27/11)

Whilst I understood (and liked) what we were doing as risk management, the endless innovative capabilities of financial engineers and greed had already started polluting the system.

At the heart of it all was AIG Financial Products.  You've seen from above that counterparty credit risk was always going to be central to derivatives.  Whoever provides you with a derivative hedge, you get exposure to.  Well, a savvy team of hungry ex Drexel Burnham Lambert (remember junk bonds) guys had understood this early and went out hunting for an indestructible AAA balance sheet that they could leverage to put themselves at the center of the credit puzzle.  That turned out to be the large and venerable AIG.  Junk bond guys meet the unsuspecting insurer, good things are bound to happen...

Well these AIG FP founders went to work with a black box they simply called "the System" and started making money.  "We were all kind of artists," one of the founders said recently. "The excitement of it wasn't the money. The money was the scorecard. The drive behind it was creating something new."  AIG became the "unsinkable balance sheet" that stood behind so many of the transactions that creative minds at Bankers Trust, Merril Lynch et al.  They priced the type of credit risk that no one else would.

Early on, the potential of derivatives (and their beautiful complexity) was used to generate highly profitable transactions for the investment banks by fashioning investment products that offered ever higher yields (or ever lower borrowing costs).  Want to buy some Luxembourg bank exposure coupled with a barrier option on a given foreign exchange pair ?  We can do that for you !  And if you get in trouble, we'll restructure the instrument and make it even more impenetrable. [...]

By the time I decided to leave the City, here's roughly what was going on:

    Banks had securitized pretty much everything and their balance sheet was generally fully optimized though hard to comprehend.  The risk had been shifted to institutional investors and no one really knew where it sat anymore
Insurers then reinsurers got involved (aka greedy).  First we shifted risks away from the banks, then we shifted it from insurers to reinsurers.  Entities like Centre Re were lauded for taking on all sorts of creative risks. Everyone was looking to create "their" AIG FP, which by that time was a money making juggernaut.
And really everyone got greedy -- investors would buy principal guaranteed exposure on basket of hedge funds instead of bonds, equities or straight hedge funds investments.  Borrowers would use increasingly fragile offshore funding structures to optimize tax and so on.  Asset managers no longer felt that buying straight assets and a few simple volatility instruments was enough.  Everyone was into structuring by that stage.
The banks had become impossible for the regulators to control.  The regulators were outgunned on modelling firepower and whenever they surfaced a strong exec, said person would be hired illico presto by one of the investment banks.

The entire industry was built on disguising risk, contrary to the capitalist insight that markets function efficiently thanks to the free flow of information.

October 29, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


The Arab Intellectuals Who Didn't Roar (ROBERT F. WORTH, 10/30.11, NY Times)

IN mid-June, the Syrian poet known as Adonis, one of the Arab world's most renowned literary figures, addressed an open letter to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. The stage was set for one of those moments, familiar from revolutions past, in which an intellectual hero confronts an oppressive ruler and eloquently voices the grievances of a nation.

Instead, Adonis -- who lives in exile in France -- bitterly disappointed many Syrians. His letter offered some criticisms, but also denigrated the protest movement that had roiled the country since March, and failed even to acknowledge the brutal crackdown that had left hundreds of Syrians dead. In retrospect, the incident has come to illustrate the remarkable gulf between the Arab world's established intellectuals -- many of them, like Adonis, former radicals -- and the largely anonymous young people who have led the protests of the Arab Spring.

More than 10 months after it started with the suicide of a Tunisian fruit vendor, the great wave of insurrection across the Arab world has toppled three autocrats and led last week in Tunisia to an election that many hailed as the dawn of a new era. It has not yielded any clear political or economic project, or any intellectual standard-bearers of the kind who shaped almost every modern revolution from 1776 onward. In those revolts, thinkers or ideologues -- from Thomas Paine to Lenin to Mao to Vaclav Havel -- helped provide a unifying vision or became symbols of a people's aspirations.

...George W. Bush, Condi Rice, Tony Blair...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 PM


Letter from Abraham Lincoln to John C. Fremont (9/02/1861)

Two points in your proclamation of August 30th give me some anxiety. First, should you shoot a man, according to the proclamation, the Confederates would very certainly shoot our best man in their hands in retaliation; and so, man for man, indefinitely. It is therefore my order that you allow no man to be shot, under the proclamation, without first having my approbation or consent

It is bizarre that folks insist that the notion of killing a US citizen fighting with the enemy in time of war is a case of first impression.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 PM


Considering When It Might Be Best Not to Know About Cancer (GINA KOLATA, 10/30/11, NY Times)

What changed?

The answer, for the most part, is that more information became available. New clinical trials were completed, as were analyses of other sorts of medical data. Researchers studied the risks and costs of screening more rigorously than ever before.

Two recent clinical trials of prostate cancer screening cast doubt on whether many lives -- or any -- are saved. And it said that screening often leads to what can be disabling treatments for men whose cancer otherwise would never have harmed them.

A new analysis of mammography concluded that while mammograms find cancer in 138,000 women each year, as many as 120,000 to 134,000 of those women either have cancers that are already lethal or have cancers that grow so slowly they do not need to be treated.

Cancer experts say they cannot ignore a snowballing body of evidence over the past 10 years showing over and over that while early detection through widespread screening can help in some cases, those cases are small in number for most cancers. At the same time, the studies are more clearly defining screening's harms.

"Screening is always a double-edged sword," said Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. "We need to be more cautious in our advocacy of these screening tests."

But these concepts are difficult for many to swallow. Specialists like urologists, radiologists and oncologists, who see patients who are sick and dying from cancer, often resist the idea of doing less screening.

This would all be less problematic if folks were being for the tests and self-mutilations out of their own pockets, but the rest of us are footing the bills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM


To Create Jobs, It's the Housing, Stupid: Small fixes can help make jobs, but Washington may need to better address housing to spur real recovery (Danielle Kurtzleben, October 28, 2011, WSJ)

Growth in home construction has in the past been a sure route to recovery. "[Residential construction] grows usually the first quarter that the recovery begins, sometimes at double digits. Job growth begins to pick up very quickly in that sector. ... This is a very, very labor-intensive and huge job-generating segment." And while construction perhaps cannot itself drive recovery, the jobs it produces--in manufacturing, lumber, and all the other areas related to home-building--usually can help kickstart a recovery. Indeed, one reason that the public sector has been hemorrhaging jobs, particularly at the local level, is a reduction in property tax revenue. Though it would be a slow process, boosting the housing market--moving homes through the foreclosure process and boosting home values--would eventually help government again add the jobs it has shed.

Creating that recovery, of course, is the rub. The low interest rates that helped boost housing and the U.S. economy after the early-2000s recession (and eventually created the bubble that caused the Great Recession) have been ineffective this time around. "If you look back at, say, for example, recoveries that were more robust--following the recessions in the mid-1970s, the early 1980s--those were recoveries that were a lot more responsive to monetary ease," says Conrad DeQuadros, senior economist at RDQ Economics. When the housing market recovered after the 1980s recession, he says, that spurred a "very significant pickup in job growth."

With the federal funds rate at near-zero for nearly three years now, not to mention historically low mortgage rates, the Federal Reserve has been scrambling to find ways to fix the economy from the monetary side, providing monetary easing and altering its balance sheet. However, such policy is proving ineffective. "[A monetary fix is] not going to happen this time," says DeQuadros. "It's not the level of mortgage rates--that's not what's holding back housing market. It's the excess supply of homes, the backlog of foreclosures. Those aren't issues that can be addressed with monetary policy."

This leaves the president and lawmakers to fix the problem.

Do what Reagan did: pass amnesty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 PM


Dear Ben: It's Time for Your Volcker Moment (CHRISTINA D. ROMER, 10/29/11, NY Times)

Nominal G.D.P. is just a technical term for the dollar value of everything we produce. It is total output (real G.D.P.) times the current prices we pay. Adopting this target would mean that the Fed is making a commitment to keep nominal G.D.P. on a sensible path.

More specifically, normal output growth for our economy is about 2 1/2 percent a year, and the Fed believes that 2 percent inflation is appropriate. So a reasonable target for nominal G.D.P. growth is around 4 1/2 percent.

Economic research showed years ago that targeting nominal G.D.P. has important advantages. But in the 1990s, many central banks adopted inflation targeting, a simpler alternative. As distress over the dismal state of the economy has grown, however, many economists have returned to the logic of targeting nominal G.D.P.

It would work like this: The Fed would start from some normal year -- like 2007 -- and say that nominal G.D.P. should have grown at 4 1/2 percent annually since then, and should keep growing at that pace. Because of the recession and the unusually low inflation in 2009 and 2010, nominal G.D.P. today is about 10 percent below that path. Adopting nominal G.D.P. targeting commits the Fed to eliminating this gap.

HOW would this help to heal the economy? Like the Volcker money target, it would be a powerful communication tool. By pledging to do whatever it takes to return nominal G.D.P. to its pre-crisis trajectory, the Fed could improve confidence and expectations of future growth.

Such expectations could increase spending and growth today: Consumers who are more certain that they'll have a job next year would be less hesitant to spend, and companies that believe sales will be rising would be more likely to invest.

Another possible effect is a temporary climb in inflation expectations. Ordinarily, this would be undesirable. But in the current situation, where nominal interest rates are constrained because they can't go below zero, a small increase in expected inflation could be helpful. It would lower real borrowing costs, and encourage spending on big-ticket items like cars, homes and business equipment.

Even if we went through a time of slightly elevated inflation, the Fed shouldn't lose credibility as a guardian of price stability. That's because once the economy returned to the target path, Fed policy -- a commitment to ensuring nominal G.D.P. growth of 4 1/2 percent -- would restrain inflation.

What Is NGDP? ( Kelly Evans, 10/27/11, WSJ)

 Hence calls, which are growing ever louder, for an entirely new, different kind of target: nominal GDP. This is something Scott Sumner, an economist at Bentley University whose views have gained prominence through his blog, TheMoneyIllusion, has been pushing for two decades. His support base among academics lately has been growing. And perhaps most significant, since it suggests the Fed might actually be open to such an idea, is that Goldman Sachs economists have just endorsed the idea as well.

The version which Goldman puts forth, building on the ideas of Sumner and others, is that the Fed ought to aim for a specific level of NGDP which would put the economy back on the trend it was prior to the recession; to close, in other words, the current gap between the economy today and where econometric models suggest the economy should be. This is no small gap; Goldman estimates the shortfall, as of the second quarter, is roughly 10%. To most quickly close this gap, Goldman estimates the Fed would need to roughly double its balance sheet to $5 trillion and keep interest rates at zero through at least 2016.

The beauty of the NGDP target, as proponents see it, is that it doesn't differentiate between inflation and real GDP. So it doesn't matter whether the gap is closed by three parts inflation and one part real GDP or one part inflation and three parts real GDP. The point is that the gap gets closed, because the Fed is able to be as aggressive as it needs to be, and the economy avoids a prolonged slump and chronically high unemployment a la the Great Depression. And by targeting NGDP, or a stated goal for the total size of the economy, instead of a 3% or 5% inflation rate, the Fed is better able to avoid the backlash that might otherwise undermine its ability to achieve said objective.

Folks can be forgiven the slowness with which they've come to accept and reckon with global structural deflation, but it is time to start reckoning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 PM


U.S. dependence on foreign oil wanes as domestic production booms: Energy producers are using technology and new drilling techniques to find crude and coax more production from old wells. (Ronald D. White, 10/30/11, Los Angeles Times)

U.S. net petroleum imports have fallen to about 47% of the nation's consumption, down from a record 60.3% in 2005, Energy Information Administration statistics show. It's been 15 years since the nation's reliance on foreign oil has been this low.

Several factors figure into the import decline, but a big one is a little surprising: U.S. petroleum exploration is experiencing a quiet renaissance with the help of technology and new drilling techniques.

The number of oil rigs in production in the U.S. has reached a 24-year high, according to oil field services company Baker Hughes. In 2005, domestic production was 1.89 billion barrels. This year, experts say, production is expected to surpass 2 billion barrels.

Over the last decade, geoscientists and engineers have come as close as technologically possible to creating a transparent image of the underground, bringing new life to old wells and finding billion-barrel formations, called "elephants."

"What's happening across the U.S. demonstrates how technology again and again opens new doors, and also old doors, that people thought were closed forever," said Daniel Yergin, author of "The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World," the newly released sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Prize."

Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University, was more specific: "Three-dimensional seismic technology has become much more sophisticated. New drilling methods allow them to penetrate formations that were once thought to be impenetrable. So we've seen a lot of investment dollars going back into areas that had appeared very unpromising."

There's no such thing as peak oil, so only taxes will force the transition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


The Temptation of Mitt: If he goes all out for Iowa, the nomination could quickly be his. But is it like Lucy and the football? (John Heilemann, Oct 28, 2011, New York)

The ambivalence toward Iowa on Team Romney is rooted in a history at once recent and terrifically traumatic. In 2008, the former Massachusetts governor spent more than $10 million on the caucuses, blanketing the airwaves with more than 8,000 ads and deploying an army of organizers--on the theory that if he could pull off a victory and then repeat the feat a few days later in New Hampshire, where he had led in the polls for much of 2007, he could effectively pocket the nomination before his rivals even knew what hit them.

But, of course, it was not to be. Instead, Romney was beaten--beaten bloody, beaten senseless--in Iowa by Mike Huckabee, who spent virtually nothing and yet still came away with a stunning nine-point triumph. The loss was humiliating for Romney; moreover, it was crippling. Limping into New Hampshire, he was soundly thumped there by John McCain, and that was pretty much all she wrote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Less government meddling could unlock green energy's power: The book 'Reinventing Fire' outlines what consumers and industries need to do to make energy independence a reality. Much of the vision involves letting market forces and innovation work their magic. (Michael Hiltzik, 10/30/11, LA Times)

A similar choice between old thinking and new opportunities confronts the utility industry.

Lovins says he has been working with the industry to show that their traditional assumptions about the practicality of wind and solar power are outdated. The standard calculation has been that wind and solar could never reliably account for 2% to 3% of supply, he observes.

But "Reinventing Fire" makes the case that with geographically distributed sources and incentives for consumers to time their demand more flexibly, the real figure could be 50% or more.

The wind may be calm in one place but gusting elsewhere; the skies might be cloudy all day over one solar farm but blue over another.

Smart meters allow utilities to offer time-of-use incentives to encourage homeowners to shift some consumption to off-peak hours. (For years I've had time-of-use billing at my home, which effectively pays me to run my laundry appliances and dishwasher before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m.)

Put those factors together, and managing the variability of renewable energy sources doesn't look much more challenging than managing that of conventional power plants. After all, fossil fuel generation plants are taken offline for planned maintenance or unexpected failures 10% to 14% of the time, on average.

Utilities manage those interruptions the same way Lovins foresees them dealing with the variability of wind and solar -- by diversifying their sources.

In Lovins' view, the main obstacle to a future unchained from oil is the old thinking of vested interests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Arizona: A Raging Debate on Immigration: The fight over immigration makes the state a 2012 puzzle. Republicans are divided, but Obama's unenacted reforms have disappointed Latinos (Amanda J. Crawford, 10/27/11, Business Week)

Kevin Sandler compares it to a scene in the 1976 film Network. He wanted to open the window of his Phoenix office and scream: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Instead, Sandler, chief executive officer of audio-visual design engineering firm ExhibitOne, joined executives of PetSmart, Banner Health, Intel, and dozens of other Arizona employers in signing a letter in March that helped defeat a slate of immigration bills pending in the statehouse. Business leaders said they feared the measures, which included denying state citizenship to the children of illegal migrants, would deepen Arizona's black eye from a 2010 immigration enforcement law that sparked a 16-month national boycott and, according to one study, will cost the state more than $250 million related to lost convention business. "It became crystal clear that unless we did something, the madness was going to continue," says Sandler, 50, who believes his company was pushed out of bidding on a California municipal court project as a result of the controversial 2010 statute. "The business community needed to say, 'Enough.' "

Economic growth and racial hygiene are incompatible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


What Woody Woodpecker Can Teach Us About Football (Jennifer Ouellette, October 17, 2011, Scientific American)

One of my more distinct childhood memories is of visiting my grandmother's house in Lewiston, Maine, a small-ish (back then) town in the southern part of the state. It was a big clapboard house on a quiet street, on the edge of a large wooded area.

I wandered aimlessly in those woods one afternoon, pretending to be an explorer of some sort (as children do), until I stumbled onto a clearing and snapped out of my fantasy world, suddenly aware that (1) I had no idea where I was, and (2) it was eerily quiet. Quiet, except for an occasional rapid-fire tap-tap-tap echoing through the clearing from a nearby tree. I found myself wondering: Doesn't all that pounding away at tree trunks give the woodpecker a headache? Because it looked like it should hurt. A lot.

Kids always ask the best, most basic questions; they haven't learned yet to pretend to be smart, to be ashamed of their ignorance; they're just curious about how the world works. And the best scientists ask those kinds of questions too, which is why we might roll our eyes and chuckle a bit when we read about two California scientists who decided to delve into the underlying science of why it is that woodpeckers don't get headaches.

There's more to it than an easy punchline. Ivan R. Schwab of UC-Davis and his late colleague, Philip May of UCLA, won the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize in Ornithology for their work, published in the Journal of Ornithology -- and the Ig Nobels, as founder Marc Abraham would be the first to tell you, are designed to honor research that first makes you laugh, and then makes you think.

See, it's not such a stupid question, especially since, during courtship, the male woodpecker can drum a good 12,000 times a day (normal rate is still an impressive 500-600 times a day, usually to forage for food). And those aren't just light taps, either.

A woodpecker typically drums away at a rate of 18-22 times per second, with a "deceleration" force of 1200 g. (Recall from high school physics class that the more slowly you decelerate, the less the impact, because the energy is dissipated over a longer period of time. Sudden stops or sharp blows, therefore, can pack quite a wallop.) Humans, on the other hand, will lose consciousness under 4 to 6 g's. and a sudden deceleration of 100 g will cause a concussion.

In February 2011 a new paper appeared in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics entitled, "A Mechanical Analysis of Woodpecker Drumming and Its Application to Shock-Absorbing Systems," building on Schwab and May's earlier research. Schwab and May's study found that the key to protecting the pileated woodpecker from chronic headaches or more serious concussion had to do with the structure of their heads -- "thick muscles, sponge-like bones, and a third inner eyelid," all of which work together to absorb impact -- and the fact that woodpeckers make straight, clean linear strikes. Per Live Science:

    One millisecond before a strike comes across the bill, dense muscles in the neck contract and the bird closes its thick inner eyelid. Some of the force radiates down the neck muscles and protects the skull from a full blow. A compressible bone in the skull offers cushion, too. Meanwhile the bird's closed eyelid shields the eye from any pieces of wood bouncing off the tree and holds the eyeball in place. "The eyelid acts like a seat belt and keeps the eye from literally popping out of the head," Schwab [said]. "Otherwise acceleration would tear the retina."

Okay, that's interesting, you might be thinking, but what good is that insight? That's where UC-Berkeley's Sang-Hee Yoon and Sungmin Park come in. They're the authors of the most recent paper, and they studied videos of woodpeckers in action, and also took CT scans of the bird's head and neck (see image, above) to more clearly determine how it absorbs mechanical shock so well.

Specifically, the beak is both hard and elastic, there is an area of spongy shock-absorbing bone in the skull, and woodpeckers have another springy structure in back of the skull called a hyloid. The skull structure works in concert with cerebrospinal fluid to further suppress vibrations.

Yoon and Park then set about finding ways to artificially mimic these attributes in a manmade mechanical shock absorbing system, specifically to protect microelectronics components. Per New Scientist:

    To mimic the beak's deformation resistance, they use a cylindrical metal enclosure. The hyoid's ability to distribute the mechanical loads is mimicked by a layer of rubber within that cylinder, and the skull/cerebrospinal fluid by an aluminum layer. The spongy bone's vibration resistance is mimicked by closely packed 10-millimeter-diameter glass spheres, in which the fragile circuit sits. To test their system, Yoon and Park placed it inside a bullet and used an airgun to fire it at an aluminum wall.

Science! Personally, I can get behind any research that involves playing with airguns in the lab. And this is about more than being able to drop your iPhone without the electronics going all wonky.

It will also help protect, say, the electronics in airplane flight recorders, making it less likely that critical information will be damaged in the event of a crash. The scientists found that their mechanical shock-absorbing system reduced the failure rate of the microelectronics from 26.4% (using the conventional hard resin method) to 0.7%, despite the fact that the microelectronics suffered shock levels as high as 60,000 g.

Other applications being bandied about include using the shock absorber system in "bunker-busting bombs", and to protect spacecraft from space debris (a growing problem, especially given our current reliance on orbiting satellites for communications).

It might even be useful in Formula One racing, protecting drivers from serious brain injury and internal damage suffered during the inevitable accidents.

Here's another suggestion for a possible application: protecting football players from concussion.

October 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Recharge and Roll: Electric Car-Makers Plan to Cut the Cord: Developments underway could let drivers charge their batteries with magnetic fields (Rachel Kaufman  | October 28, 2011, Scientific American)

"Almost universally, all the carmakers have learned...that consumers find plugging in a vehicle is inconvenient, and the carmakers have concluded they need to offer some type of wireless, hands-free charging," says David Schatz, director of business development and marketing for WiTricity Corp. in Watertown, Mass., which makes wireless chargers for phones and cars. With WiTricity's system, a user would not have to park his or her car directly on a charging mat, let alone deal with wires. As long as the car is within range of the charging station, energy begins to flow into the battery.

The process relies on a principle called magnetic resonance coupling (pdf). The charging device, made of a coiled wire with capacitance plates on either end, uses electricity to create a magnetic field that resonates at a specific frequency. Just as an opera singer can shatter a wine glass by singing the right note, the emitting coil transfers energy only to a receiving coil that resonates at the same frequency. Magnetic resonance coupling is thought to be safer than other methods of wireless charging because the intensity of the field can be increased without affecting other, non-resonant objects nearby.

The technology, invented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology four years ago, may end up in cars soon. WiTricity last year partnered with major automobile component supplier Delphi Electronics on a demo car, and Mitsubishi Motors recently agreed to work with WiTricity on infrastructure research.

Other researchers are taking wireless charging to the next step: designing cars that can charge while on the road. Dynamic charging would help to eliminate the fear that drivers might have of being stuck on the road with a dead battery, often referred to as "range anxiety."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


'Wife-sharing' haunts Indian villages as girls decline (Reuters, October 28, 2011)

Just two hours drive from New Delhi, with its gleaming office towers and swanky malls, where girls clad in jeans ride motor bikes and women occupy senior positions in multi-nationals, the mud-and-brick villages of Baghpat appear a world apart.

Here, women veil themselves in the presence of men, are confined to the compounds of their houses as child bearers and home makers, and are forbidden from venturing out unaccompanied.

Village men farm the lush sugarcane plantations or sit idle on charpoys, or traditional rope beds, under the shade of trees in white cotton tunics, drinking tea, some smoking hookah pipes while lamenting the lack of brides for their sons and brothers.

According to India's 2011 census, there are only 858 women to every 1,000 men in Baghpat district, compared with the national sex ratio of 940.

Child sex ratios in Baghpat are even more skewed and on the decline, with 837 girls in 2011 compared with 850 in 2001 -- a trend mirrored across districts in northern Indian states such as Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan and Gujarat in the west.

"In every village, there are at least five or six bachelors who can't find a wife," says Shri Chand, 75, a retired police constable. "In some, there are up to three or four unmarried men in one family. It's a serious problem.

"Everything is hush, hush. No one openly admits it, but we all know what is going on. Some families buy brides from other parts of the country, while others have one daughter-in-law living with many unwedded brothers."

Thankfully, the Left assures uus those dead baby girls aren't human beings.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism: There were good reasons for doubt, until now. (RICHARD A. MULLER, 10/21/11, WSJ)

Over the last two years, the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project has looked deeply at all the issues raised above. I chaired our group, which just submitted four detailed papers on our results to peer-reviewed journals. We have now posted these papers online at www.BerkeleyEarth.org to solicit even more scrutiny. [...]

When we began our study, we felt that skeptics had raised legitimate issues, and we didn't know what we'd find. Our results turned out to be close to those published by prior groups. We think that means that those groups had truly been very careful in their work, despite their inability to convince some skeptics of that. They managed to avoid bias in their data selection, homogenization and other corrections.

Global warming is real. Perhaps our results will help cool this portion of the climate debate. How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.

Maybe they should have studied the skeptics instead of the temperatures.  Our own skepticism is of a rather simple sort, consisting of three parts: (1) the notion that in the absence of humankind the global climate would be absolutely static is anti-scientific and anti-historical; (2) given, then, the recognition that climate change is a normal process, where is the evidence that humankind is influencing current changes to any significant degree?; and, (3) where is the evidence that current changes, natural or man-made, are likely to have bnegative consequences for humankind?  As Mr. Muller notes, all this study did is observe that climate is changing in various ways in various places. Duh? 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM

Wilco: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, 10/17/11, NPR)

For my money, Wilco is the best rock band in America, made up of brilliant songwriters and players. They're subtle at times, but they also have Nels Cline, whose outbursts on the guitar are pure intensity, even here at my desk. Confined to our small space, the band brought a little ingenuity: With Tweedy singing and strumming and Stirratt's melodic, solid bass making it possible for his bandmates to stray wildly, drummer Glenn Kotche played on percussive toys and noisemakers, even using a padded envelope as a drum head. And Pat Sansone, who on stage plays everything from maracas to electronics, here played guitar, sang vocal harmonies and even shook a paperclip holder. Mikael Jorgensen stays in the background, playing keyboards and various electronics, but he makes so much of that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sound happen on stage that he's essential to the texture and dynamic of the band. It was an unforgettable day.

Even at a seemingly comfortable point in its brilliant career, Wilco has an abundance of both fire and craft. As you'll see in this Tiny Desk performance, the group's songs still glow beautifully when stripped of their pyrotechnics.


October 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Gov. Jerry Brown risks backlash on pension plan: The governor's proposed retirement system overhaul sets the stage for battles with fellow Democrats and his biggest supporters, public employee unions. (Anthony York and Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2011)

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a sweeping overhaul of California pensions that would require public employees to pay more for their retirement and cut benefits for those hired in the future, setting the stage for a fierce battle with fellow Democrats and some of his main political supporters: unions representing government workers.

Brown's 12-point plan, announced Thursday, would require that all public workers have at least half the cost of their pensions deducted from their paychecks. Most state employees already make that contribution, but many in cities, counties and school districts across the state pitch in far less.

The governor also wants future employees to receive up to a third of their retirement income from a 401(k)-style plan rather than a traditional guaranteed pension. And he urged that the retirement age for most new public workers be raised from 55 to 67.

You have to have fixed contribution, not benefit and retirement age should be in the 70s for new hires, but it's an improvement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Lest Ye Be Judged: a review of Philip Jenkins, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses (R. Scott Appleby, October 25, 2011, National Interest)

The prolific scholar and public intellectual Philip Jenkins is a Welsh Catholic turned Episcopalian who has written insightfully on topics ranging from designer drugs, child pornography and serial homicide to, more recently, global Christianity, internal church conflict and the revival of anti-Catholicism in the wake of the sexual-abuse crisis. In Laying Down the Sword, he has delivered a thoughtful and frequently penetrating analysis of the Bible's own bloodthirsty passages--and how Christians have both enshrined and ignored them over the course of two millennia of church history.

At issue are the "Conquest texts" found in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and 1 Samuel, in which the Lord God of Israel commands the utter and merciless destruction (herem) of the Canaanites, the Midianites, the Amalekites and the people of Jericho. Compared to these apparently genocidal passages, Jenkins remarks, the Koranic verses (suras) that seem to legitimate deadly violence come off as relatively restrained. In his vengeful disdain for wayward tribes and people, Yahweh takes a backseat to no deity, not even Allah. "While many Qur'anic texts undoubtedly call for warfare or bloodshed, these are hedged around with more restrictions than their biblical equivalents, with more opportunities for the defeated to make peace and survive," he writes. "Furthermore, any of the defenses that can be offered for biblical violence--for instance, that these passages are unrepresentative of the overall message of the text--apply equally to the Qur'an."

Laying Down the Sword is not designed to please everyone, and it will infuriate many. The Islamophobes will recoil at Jenkins's repeated assertion that when it comes to violent scriptures, the differences between Islam and Christianity are minimal: "If Christians or Jews needed biblical texts to justify deeds of terrorism or ethnic slaughter, their main problem would be an embarrassment of riches," he notes wryly. Jenkins even provides a table categorizing "violent and disturbing scriptures" and finds that the Bible abounds with "extreme" texts--those that call for the annihilation of the enemy or direct violence against particular races and ethnic groups. By contrast, "the Qur'an has nothing strictly comparable." Unlike the Bible, he reports, "no Qur'anic passage teaches that enemies in warfare should be exterminated." Nor does the Koran "teach principles of war without mercy, or propose granting no quarter."

Even more provocative is Jenkins's expressed doubt that Islam surpasses Christianity in incidents of scripture-inspired violence. Those who despise Islam will not stand still for such heresy, responding (as Christian evangelist Franklin Graham put it) that whereas the Bible only reports violence that occurred in the distant past, the Koran "preaches violence" (my emphasis) in the here and now. Jenkins dismisses both claims as nonsense. He insists on using the term "Old Testament," rather than the politically correct "Hebrew Bible," as a way of reminding Christians that the Conquest texts are their sacred scriptures too; this part of the canon may be "old" and "Jewish," but the church, following the example of Jesus himself, incorporated the Law and the Prophets and the Wisdom texts fully into its own identity and mission. In doing so, the early Christian bishops overcame the popularity of contrarians such as the eventually excommunicated Marcion, who simply jettisoned the Old Testament when he found it impossible to reconcile the genocidal tendencies of Yahweh with the compassionate and forgiving God revealed by the Jesus of the New Testament.

More to Jenkins's point, the troubling passages of the Torah did not become dead letters once the pre-Christian eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth era had passed. Instead, they proved handy age after age: for Christian theologians and heresy hunters (Augustine, Calvin, Torquemada), conquerors and colonizers (Oliver Cromwell, Cotton Mather, Theodore Roosevelt), racialists and eugenicists (Jonathan Bayley, John W. Haley), and genocidaires (present-day Rwandan pastors). Nor was the political utility of the Conquest texts lost on subsequent Jewish leaders, Jenkins avers, not least the modern Zionists, up to and including the current prime minister of Israel and the religious nationalists and irredentists who keep him in power. If contemporary Muslim extremists retrieve violence-justifying suras and interpret them as timeless and timely injunctions to crush the presumed enemies of the faith, they are only upholding a long-standing Abrahamic family tradition.

Quite reasonably, Jenkins lays the blame for religious violence on its perpetrators alone. Scriptures do not justify terrorism; terrorists do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


Dirty, sexy money: people saw sex toys, religious symbols on plastic cash (Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press)

Canada's new plastic money may give you a little more bang for your buck.

New documents show a focus group mistook a strand of DNA on the $100 bill for a sex toy.

Most people also thought the see-through window on the new polymer notes was shaped like the contours of a woman's body.

Others looked into the port holes of a famed Canadian icebreaker and saw a skull and crossbones staring back at them.

These are just some of the offbeat images focus groups thought they saw on the plastic bank notes that go into circulation next month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM

Toots Thielemans And Kenny Werner On JazzSet (Becca Pulliam, 10/27/11, NPR: Jazz Set)

Born Jean-Baptiste Thielemans in Brussels in 1922, "Toots" was always a natural musician, playing accordion at age 3. When he was a boy, the Nazis occupied Belgium and his family fled to France, where he fell even further in love with music -- especially the hot jazz of Paris. After the war, Thielemans became fascinated with bebop and figured out the hip new phrases on his harmonica. (Toots, by the way, was originally a professional guitarist, and it is said that after hearing him with George Shearing in Hamburg in 1960, John Lennon went out and bought his Rickenbacker 325.)

Thielemans moved to the U.S. in the early 1950s, at which point he worked with Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and Shearing. Toots loves to tell the story of how he made a Chrysler Plymouth commercial with Louis Armstrong, Armstrong singing and Toots playing harmonica. Pops called Toots "bop chops." Thielemans played music in the films Breakfast at Tiffany's and Midnight Cowboy, as well as the theme to Sesame Street; then, Toots fell in love again with the music of Brazil.

Thielemans became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1957. But it is Kenny Werner who thought of interpolating "Travessia (Bridges)" by the Brazilian Milton Nascimento into "God Bless America," the climactic song of the concert.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:11 PM


Where an Internet Joke Is Not Just a Joke (BROOK LARMER, 10/30/2011, NY Times Magazine)

No government in the world pours more resources into patrolling the Web than China's, tracking down unwanted content and supposed miscreants among the online population of 500 million with an army of more than 50,000 censors and vast networks of advanced filtering software. Yet despite these restrictions -- or precisely because of them -- the Internet is flourishing as the wittiest space in China. "Censorship warps us in many ways, but it is also the mother of creativity," says Hu Yong, an Internet expert and associate professor at Peking University. "It forces people to invent indirect ways to get their meaning across, and humor works as a natural form of encryption."

To slip past censors, Chinese bloggers have become masters of comic subterfuge, cloaking their messages in protective layers of irony and satire. This is not a new concept, but it has erupted so powerfully that it now defines the ethos of the Internet in China. Coded language has become part of mainstream culture, with the most contagious memes tapping into widely shared feelings about issues that cannot be openly discussed, from corruption and economic inequality to censorship itself. "Beyond its comic value, this humor shows where netizens are pushing against the boundaries of the state," says Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, whose Web site, China Digital Times, maintains an entertaining lexicon of coded Internet terms. "Nothing else gives us a clearer view of the pressure points in Chinese society."

So pervasive is this irreverent subculture that the Chinese have a name for it: egao, meaning "evil works" or, more roughly, "mischievous mockery." In its simplest form, egao (pronounced "EUH-gow") lampoons the powerful without being overtly rebellious. President Hu Jintao's favorite buzz word, "harmony," which he deploys constantly when urging social stability, is hijacked to signify censorship itself, as in, "My blog's been harmonized." June 4, the censored date of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters, is rendered as May 35 -- or "535." There are also more complex forms of egao, like Hu Ge's 2010 film spoof, "Animal World," in which a rare species of Internet users is "saved" from "compulsive thinking disorder," i.e., the urge to think freely.

Satire is sometimes a safety valve that government might grudgingly permit. Better a virtual laugh, after all, than a real protest. But being laughed at, as Orwell found during his stint as a colonial police officer in Burma, can also be a ruler's greatest fear. And the Chinese government, which last year sentenced a woman to a year of hard labor for a sarcastic three-word tweet, appears to suffer from an acute case of humor deficiency. "Jokes that mock the abuse of power do more than let off steam; they mobilize people's emotions," says Wen Yunchao, an outspoken blogger who often mounts sardonic Internet campaigns in defense of free speech. "Every time a joke takes off," Wen says, "it chips away at the so-called authority of an authoritarian regime."

The Calvinism of the Anglosphere means that the ludicrousness of human institutions is a truism.  The utopianism of the various isms (from Marxism to libertarianism to Nazism to Islamicism and everything in between) means that their ludicrousness is an existential threat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


Palestinian leaders to meet in Cairo to revive reconciliation deal, official says (Associated Press, October 27, 2011)

 A Palestinian official says the Palestinian president will meet with the leader of the militant Hamas movement next month to discuss uniting dueling governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

The meeting will be the first between President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas' Khaled Mashaal since they signed a surprise reconciliation agreement in May.

National elections will decide their differences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Stop Harping on Immigration! (Michael Medved, Oct 24, 2011, Daily Beast)

Why would ranting against illegals work any better for presidential candidates in 2012 than in 2008, when all available public-opinion surveys show that concern over the issue has receded, not intensified?

Romney in particular should have learned from his own baleful experience, as he wasted millions in Iowa last time trying to clobber his rival Mike Huckabee as "soft" on illegal immigration. He attacked the former Arkansas governor in commercials and televised debates for once supporting a proposal, ultimately defeated in the legislature, for in-state tuition breaks for children who had been brought to the country without authorization. Though he outspent his opponent by a ratio of 10 to 1, the former Massachusetts governor lost badly in Iowa, 34 percent to 25 percent. It makes no sense at all for Romney, a vastly improved candidate in most other respects, to use the same feeble issue as a club against Perry, who's doing a fine job clubbing himself with his endless series of verbal gaffes. Even on an ideological basis, the whole question of in-state tuition is unequivocally a state issue and not a federal matter for any prospective president to decide.

The current immigration fixation on the campaign trail not only steals attention from vastly more significant and viable themes, such as job creation and runaway federal spending, but also makes the Republican Party look deeply divided and hopelessly out of touch with mainstream concerns. Aside from the embarrassing discussion about Romney's lawn-care service, the candidates don't really differ on immigration policy. The next time one of the leading contenders gets a question or a challenge on the subject, the right response would be to emphasize that agreement. It's easy to imagine Romney, Cain, Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, or even Ron Paul, if not Rick Santorum, affirming a clear and unanimous--and, one hopes, sane--Republican approach.

Imagine the relief and excitement if one of the candidates simply declared, "I don't want to spend much time on this issue because all of us here on this stage agree on the essentials. We want better, stronger border enforcement, tougher measures to stop employers from hiring illegals, and an aggressive effort to make sure that people who've entered our country without permission don't get rewarded with welfare benefits that they don't deserve and we can't afford. But we also believe that there needs to be a sweeping repair of our broken immigration system to allow people who want to become Americans and play by the rules, speaking English and paying taxes and honoring our flag, to get their chance to prove themselves and embrace the American Dream. The only way to give them that chance is to get our economy moving again, so let's talk about a recovery--which is the real concern of every American, including immigrants."
It's especially unhelpful in IA, where the caucus-goers are Evangelicals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:54 PM


Spending More Doesn't Make Us Healthier (EZEKIEL J. EMANUEL, 10/27/11, NY Times)

The truth is, the United States is not getting 20, 30, much less 40 percent better health care or results than other countries. While there are peaks of greatness, especially at some of America's leading academic health centers and in integrated health care plans, the quality is uneven. And quality is a problem that affects all of us, rich and poor. Almost no matter how we measure it -- whether by life expectancy or by survival for specific diseases like asthma, heart disease or some cancers; by the rate of medical errors; or simply by satisfaction with health services -- the United States is actually doing worse than a number of countries, like France and Germany, that spend considerably less.

Even if you do not like comparing the United States with Europe, it is widely acknowledged that within the United States there is no clear link between higher spending on health care and longer life, less disability or better quality of life. A 2003 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that Medicare patients who lived in areas with higher health care spending did not get better results. In some cases, more spending even appears to equal poorer health. A 2004 study in Health Affairs found that there was actually worse care in states with higher Medicare spending.
Medicine is just another consumer good. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Occupy Wall Street kitchen staff protesting fixing food for freeloaders (SELIM ALGAR and BOB FREDERICKS, October 27, 2011, NY Post)

The Occupy Wall Street volunteer kitchen staff launched a "counter" revolution yesterday -- because they're angry about working 18-hour days to provide food for "professional homeless" people and ex-cons masquerading as protesters.

For three days beginning tomorrow, the cooks will serve only brown rice and other spartan grub instead of the usual menu of organic chicken and vegetables, spaghetti bolognese, and roasted beet and sheep's-milk-cheese salad.

They will also provide directions to local soup kitchens for the vagrants, criminals and other freeloaders who have been descending on Zuccotti Park in increasing numbers every day.

You can be excused for believing that the Left exists only to amuse the rest of us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


The Fighter Fallacy (DAVID BROOKS, 10/27/11, NY Times)

The elemental question in American politics is: Do voters trust their government? During the middle of the 20th century, more than 70 percent of Americans said that they trusted government to do the right thing most of the time.

During the 1970s, that fell. By the Iraq war, only 25 percent trusted government. Now, amid the economic slowdown, public trust has hit an all-time low. According to a CNN/ORC International poll, only 15 percent of Americans asked said that they trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time.

This is a problem for Democrats. But Democrats can win elections in this climate if they defuse the Big Government/Small Government ideological debate. With his Third Way approach, Bill Clinton established that he was not a Big Government liberal. Once he crossed that threshold, he could get voters to think about his individual policies, which were actually quite popular. Clinton made a national election feel like a state election (state and local governments are still trusted and voters are less ideological when voting for those offices).

Barack Obama also crossed the ideological threshold in 2008, running as a postpartisan unifier. But the government activism of his first two years reawakened the Big Government/Small Government frame. Independents and moderate conservatives recoiled.

...all the GOP candidate has to do is make voters feel that he personally believes "small government" can provide for social welfare better than big.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


How the Potato Changed the World: Brought to Europe from the New World by Spanish explorers, the lowly potato gave rise to modern industrial agriculture (Charles C. Mann, November 2011, Smithsonian magazine)

When potato plants bloom, they send up five-lobed flowers that spangle fields like fat purple stars. By some accounts, Marie Antoinette liked the blossoms so much that she put them in her hair. Her husband, Louis XVI, put one in his buttonhole, inspiring a brief vogue in which the French aristocracy swanned around with potato plants on their clothes. The flowers were part of an attempt to persuade French farmers to plant and French diners to eat this strange new species.

Today the potato is the fifth most important crop worldwide, after wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane. But in the 18th century the tuber was a startling novelty, frightening to some, bewildering to others--part of a global ecological convulsion set off by Christopher Columbus.

About 250 million years ago, the world consisted of a single giant landmass now known as Pangaea. Geological forces broke Pangaea apart, creating the continents and hemispheres familiar today. Over the eons, the separate corners of the earth developed wildly different suites of plants and animals. Columbus' voyages reknit the seams of Pangaea, to borrow a phrase from Alfred W. Crosby, the historian who first described this process. In what Crosby called the Columbian Exchange, the world's long-separate ecosystems abruptly collided and mixed in a biological bedlam that underlies much of the history we learn in school. The potato flower in Louis XVI's buttonhole, a species that had crossed the Atlantic from Peru, was both an emblem of the Columbian Exchange and one of its most important aspects.

Compared with grains, tubers are inherently more productive. If the head of a wheat or rice plant grows too big, the plant will fall over, with fatal results. Growing underground, tubers are not limited by the rest of the plant. In 2008 a Lebanese farmer dug up a potato that weighed nearly 25 pounds. It was bigger than his head.

Many researchers believe that the potato's arrival in northern Europe spelled an end to famine there. (Corn, another American crop, played a similar but smaller role in southern Europe.) More than that, as the historian William H. McNeill has argued, the potato led to empire: "By feeding rapidly growing populations, [it] permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950." The potato, in other words, fueled the rise of the West.

Equally important, the European and North American adoption of the potato set the template for modern agriculture--the so-called agro-industrial complex. Not only did the Columbian Exchange carry the potato across the Atlantic, it also brought the world's first intensive fertilizer: Peruvian guano. And when potatoes fell to the attack of another import, the Colorado potato beetle, panicked farmers turned to the first artificial pesticide: a form of arsenic. Competition to produce ever-more-potent arsenic blends launched the modern pesticide industry. In the 1940s and 1950s, improved crops, high-intensity fertilizers and chemical pesticides created the Green Revolution, the explosion of agricultural productivity that transformed farms from Illinois to Indonesia--and set off a political argument about the food supply that grows more intense by the day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Pakistani Taliban Say U.S. Drone Kills 5 Leaders (Jibran Ahmad, October 27, 2011, IB Times)

A U.S. drone strike Thursday killed five commanders of a powerful Pakistani Taliban faction that attacks Western forces in Afghanistan, one of the group's leaders told Reuters.

The dead commanders belonged to the Maulvi Nazir faction of Pakistan's Taliban, which carries out cross-border attacks from its strongholds in South Waziristan.

The group threatened in June to escalate attacks on U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan in response to intensified drone strikes on its territory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


World power swings back to America: The American phoenix is slowly rising again. Within five years or so, the US will be well on its way to self-sufficiency in fuel and energy. Manufacturing will have closed the labour gap with China in a clutch of key industries. The current account might even be in surplus. (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 23 Oct 2011, The Telegraph)

The switch in advantage to the US is relative. It does not imply a healthy US recovery. The global depression will grind on as much of the Western world tightens fiscal policy and slowly purges debt, and as China deflates its credit bubble.

Yet America retains a pack of trump cards, and not just in sixteen of the world's top twenty universities.

It is almost the only economic power with a fertility rate above 2.0 - and therefore the ability to outgrow debt - in sharp contrast to the demographic decay awaiting Japan, China, Korea, Germany, Italy, and Russia.

Europe's EMU soap opera has shown why it matters that America is a genuine nation, forged by shared language and the ancestral chords of memory over two centuries, with institutions that ultimately work and a real central bank able to back-stop the system.

The 21st Century may be American after all, just like the last.

The key accelerant to this is the end of the Long War.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The President Who Hates to Govern (KARL ROVE, 10/27/11, WSJ)

Mr. Obama's indifference to governing has led him to outsource the drafting of the key legislation. That happened with both the Stimulus I and ObamaCare, resulting in ineffective, unpopular and unworkable laws. This also explains his diffidence towards the government's incompetence in arenas as different as lending to Solyandra and curing the housing markets. There are exceptions here and there, of course, but the pattern is unmistakable.

It's an odd, even jarring, combination: Mr. Obama embraces hyperkinetic government spending and a powerful and all-intruding federal state while having a hands-off attitude toward its workings. More and more, Mr. Obama looks like a one-trick pony--a man who is good at giving campaign speeches but very little else. He would much rather talk about legislation than have a hand in crafting it. He's much more comfortable attacking political opponents than negotiating with them.

October 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 PM


Nightmare scenario: U.S. deflation risks rising (Jason Lange, Oct 26, 2011, Reuters)

"You run the models and that all points to deflation," said Joshua Dennerlein, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York. "Without some kind of monetary policy help you would definitely get deflation."

Already, many forecasts for price increases are lower than they were a year ago when the Fed announced it would pump $600 billion into the banking system to boost growth and counter fears of deflation, which were growing at the time.

...which is why we've had it for thirty years.  The question is how to prevent it from tipping form the sort of good deflation that comes from efficiencies into the cancerous sort that sses people stuff their money in their mattresses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 PM


The rich are getting richer, U.S. study says (Jim Puzzanghera, 10/27/11, Los Angeles Times)

The rich got richer over the last three decades -- and the very rich got very much richer -- according to a new government study.

The top 1% of households saw their after-tax incomes grow by 275% from 1979 to 2007, said the study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That was more than quadruple the growth of the rest of the top 20% of the population during that period.

Meanwhile, income for the 60% of households that make up the middle of the income scale increased by slightly less than 40%, the study found. The poor -- the 20% of the population with the lowest incomes -- saw just an 18% increase. [...]

Overall, inflation-adjusted, after-tax income for the entire population rose 62% from 1979 to 2007.

..."We're all getting richer"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


The Flat-Tax Sweepstakes: Perry's 20% optional rate joins the GOP debate over pro-growth tax reform. (WSJ, 10/26/11)

A flatter tax code is both an economic and political reform. Economically, its lower rates would attract more capital from abroad, encourage more domestic investment, and increase growth and jobs. It would also minimize, if not eliminate, the tax favoritism and loopholes that misallocate labor and capital. Politically, this would reduce the legal corruption of handing out favors that has soured so many Americans on their government.

Mr. Perry has struggled since he announced his campaign, so his proposal can be seen as a chance to rejuvenate his candidacy. He'd offer individuals a choice of tax systems: Keep the current code, with all of its deductions, the alternative minimum tax and a top rate of 35%. Or go with a flat rate of 20%, with far fewer deductions and no AMT. Mr. Perry is assuming that most filers would choose simplicity and a low rate over deductions and complexity.

Based on a National Taxpayers Union study, Mr. Perry believes that this plan will reduce economy-wide compliance costs by as much as $483 billion a year by 2015. The flat tax also eliminates the double taxation on savings and investment, by zeroing out taxes on capital gains and dividends as well as the death tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


Four of five Americans cut spending even as 69% say personal situation good (Corbett B. Daly , 10/26/11, CBS News)

More than four out of five Americans have made changes to their spending habits in the past year as the economy has continued to flounder, the latest CBS News/New York Times poll showed, even though almost seven of 10 said they would characterize their own financial situation as good.

About 83 percent of Americans in the poll released Wednesday said they have made cutbacks in their day-to-day spending, including about 39 percent who have said they have cut some items they consider to be "necessities." Another 44 percent cut back on "luxury" items.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Rubbish competition: City and private-sector workers go bin-to-bin (The Economist, Oct 22nd 2011)

ON A cold damp morning in Chicago's Irving Park a rubbish truck slowly inches its way along an alley, seeking out one of the city's 240,000 recycling bins. The workers are unruffled over the latest initiative: a competition to see whether the public or the private sector can get the job done better. "We'll just keep doing it the way we have always done," says one city worker.

Greater privatisation of Chicago's waste collection has been on the agenda for a while. However the new mayor has decided that the private sector must compete with the public sector to see who gets to continue to collect the city's recycling. Each company has been allocated similar areas of the city to service, and their cost and performance will be compared with that of the public sector.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Palestinians Demand Release of Barghouti (Haaretz, October 25, 2011)

The Palestinian Authority is set to demand that the Quartet pressure Israel to release prisoners in fulfillment of a pledge made by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, senior Palestinian sources told Haaretz on Monday.

Among the prisoners The PA wants released are Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat, both members of the Fatah leadership.

Abbas told Time Magazine a few days ago that, in 2008, Olmert promised him that Israel would release prisoners to the PA if a deal went through for the release of Gilad Shalit.

Olmert confirmed to Time that he had made the pledge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


A Verification System for New Hires Backfires: Eligibility checks of workers under the government's E-Verify program are hurting small business (Nick Leiber, 10/25/11, Business Week)

Two years ago the Asheville (N.C.) rumor mill lit up with speculation that local flower wholesaler Van Wingerden International was hiring undocumented workers. To ensure that he take on only legal employees, co-owner Bert Lemkes enrolled the $20 million business in E-Verify, a federal program that matches data on new hires, such as Social Security numbers, with government records.

Lemkes says E-Verify has made it harder to find enough workers for his 37 acres of greenhouses, especially during spring growing season, when he employs up to 350 people. Though the U.S. unemployment rate is stalled above 9 percent, business owners such as Lemkes say few native-born workers are willing to do tough jobs, leading employers to hire immigrants. "Those who want to work fail to pass E-Verify, and those that pass fail to work," he says.

E-Verify can be used only to check immigration status after a worker is hired, not to screen job candidates or check on existing employees. Lemkes says he has had to fire more than 60 recent hires. Although E-Verify's proponents argue the unemployed will replace the undocumented, Lemkes says that hasn't happened. "Without comprehensive immigration reform, [verification requirements are] going to kill agriculture," he says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Swami Bhaktipada, Ex-Hare Krishna Leader, Dies at 74 (MARGALIT FOX, 10/25/11, NY Times)

The son of a Baptist preacher, Mr. Bhaktipada was one of the first Hare Krishna disciples in the United States. He founded, in 1968, what became the largest Hare Krishna community in the country and presided over it until 1994, despite having been excommunicated by the movement's governing body.

The community he built, New Vrindaban, is nestled in the hills near Moundsville, W.Va., about 70 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Its conspicuous centerpiece is the Palace of Gold, an Eastern-inspired riot of gold-leafed domes, stained-glass windows, crystal chandeliers, mirrored ceilings, inlaid marble floors, sweeping murals, silk brocade hangings, carved teak pillars and ornate statuary.

New Vrindaban eventually comprised more than 4,000 acres -- a "spiritual Disneyland," its leaders often called it -- with a live elephant, terraced gardens, a swan boat and bubbling fountains. A major tourist attraction, it drew hundreds of thousands of visitors in its heyday, in the early 1980s, and substantial annual revenue from ticket sales.

The baroque frenzy of the place stands in vivid contrast to the founding tenets of the Hare Krishna movement. Rooted in ancient Hindu scripture, the movement was begun in New York in the mid-1960s by an Indian immigrant, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It advocates a spiritual life centered on truth, simplicity and abstinence from drugs, alcohol and extramarital sex.

But by the mid-1980s, New Vrindaban had become the target of local, state and federal investigations that concerned, among other things, the sexual abuse of children by staff members at its school and the murders of two devotees.

The resulting federal charges against Mr. Bhaktipada, a senior spiritual leader of the movement, and the ensuing international publicity did much to contravene the public image of the gentle, saffron-robed acolytes who had long been familiar presences in American airports. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


The Romney Economy: At Bain Capital, Romney remade one American business after another, overhauling management and directing vast sums of money to the top of the labor pyramid. The results made him a fortune. They also changed the world we live in. (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Oct 23, 2011, New York)

The Bain & Company consultants who traveled the circuit of American business in the late seventies and early eighties experienced a mass of frustrations. The efficient, data-driven theory of business the consultancies had developed did not in any real way cohere with the practice of business that they saw in executive suites in St. Louis, Rochester, Houston. The theory said that companies should focus on their core business, but everywhere corporations were developing misguided plans to become conglomerates. The ­theory said management should measure everyone's productivity in a firm, down to the lowliest employee, and every last worker should be rewarded or punished depending upon his performance, but the social relationships of business seemed to have decayed into a long, amicable golf-course lunch. There was a loyal, almost paternalistic attitude toward workers, protecting them even when they seemed to be drags on growth. When I interviewed Romney's early colleagues about the business world that they surveyed during this period, they tended to adopt an attitude of high disdain. "Sloppy," one told me. "Complacent," said another. "Lazy," said a third, "and out of tune with the change that was going on in the world." [...]

Of all the business theories developing at the time, Romney and his cohort were particularly influenced by one that played to their sense of detachment from the business Establishment. In 1976, two business scholars, Harvard's Michael Jensen and the University of Rochester's William Meckling, published an important paper elaborating a new idea of the firm, one that would come to be called "agency theory." Previous corporate theory had emphasized a separation of powers between shareholders (who own a company) and management (the executives who run it). This situation, Jensen and Meckling pointed out, introduces a "principal-agent" problem, in which each agent has incentives that run contrary to the shareholders' interests and could hamper the firm's ability to function.

If you were looking across the landscape of American business 30 years ago, you could see agency problems everywhere. In the sixties, companies had become conglomerates so frequently that 20 percent of the Fortune 500 underwent a merger or an acquisition in a three-year period. CEOs had enjoyed building empires, and their shareholders, satisfied by decent returns, had often deferred to management control. But during the stagnant seventies, CEOs seemed loath to close factories and lay off workers. By the early eighties, as growth once again seemed possible, shareholders had become more restive, and innovative thinkers on Wall Street had begun to press the case that these companies had grown inefficient and timid, that management was underperforming.

Bain consultants did what they could, during their assignments, to improve their clients' operations, but they were often frustrated by an agent problem of their own: Bain was just a consulting firm, and "a consulting firm," says David Dominik, an early Romney colleague, "can't make anything happen." But Jensen and Meckling had sketched out one potential solution: If managers could secure financing to run their own companies, they might be able to build a better corporation, one that delivered stronger returns to its owners.

You could view this idea at least two different ways. One was as a chance to change the way American business is run. Another was as a business opportunity to exploit. Romney saw both.

Every business story begins with a proposition, and the one that launched Bain Capital was the notion that the partners might do better if they stopped simply advising companies and starting buying and running the firms themselves. [...]

In the mid-eighties, a European retail outfit called Makro, a kind of continental Costco, was looking for an executive to help run its U.S. business, and it called a Boston supermarket executive named Tom Stemberg, inviting him to tour a pilot store outside of Philadelphia. The store didn't impress him much, but he noticed that the office-supply aisle was absolutely packed with shoppers. He told the Makro executives to abandon their model and concentrate solely on office supplies; when they declined, he decided to give it a try himself. Boston business is a small world, and when he went looking for a venture-­capital partner, he eventually found his way to Mitt Romney and his new $37 million fund. "Most V.C.'s thought it was ridiculous," Stemberg says. "Mitt was highly unusual in that he went to the research level to study it."

The trouble with the idea, to Romney's subordinates at Bain Capital, was that the small businesses Stemberg needed to draw weren't accustomed to visiting a store for office supplies; they got them from separate vendors, some who ­delivered--one supplier for pens and paper, one for printer cartridges, and so on. "Some of us were worried that we needed to change consumer behavior," recalls Robert F. White, one of the firm's managing directors. Romney persisted. As members of the group surveyed more and more small businesses in suburban Massachusetts, they discovered that if you asked a small-business manager how much he spent on office supplies, he would give you a low estimate and tell you it wasn't worth it to send someone in a car to buy them. But if you asked the bookkeepers, you got a far higher number, about five times as much--high enough, Romney and Stemberg thought, to get them to come to the store. The idea became Staples. Romney's Bain Capital colleagues were soon helping to select a cheaper, more efficient computer system for the first store; they were helping stock the shelves themselves. As Staples succeeded, and began to expand, they looked at analytics for everything--the small-business population around a proposed store site, traffic flow--and gamed out exactly how big a customer would need to be before it demanded delivery. Romney sat on the Staples board for years, and his company made nearly seven times what it invested in the start-up.

Romney and his team did this sort of thing again and again, sometimes in venture­-capital deals but more often through buyouts--Brookstone, Domino's, Sealy, Duane Reade. In their more complex deals, they couldn't rely on their own team to seek out every inefficiency. They needed a more powerful lever, and they turned to the solution Jensen and Meckling had begun to explore a decade earlier: offering CEOs large equity stakes in the company in the form of stock or stock options. This was a relatively new idea, mostly untried in American business. At the same time, a board formed in part of Bain Capital appointees who had put up their own money in the deal would be more engaged in management details. "You have the total alignment of incentives of ownership, board, and management--everyone's incentives are aligned around building shareholder value," Dominik says. "It really is that simple."

In 1986, Bain Capital bought a struggling division of Firestone that made truck wheels and rims and renamed it ­Accuride. Bain took a group of managers whose previous average income had been below $100,000 and gave them performance incentives. This type and degree of management compensation was also unusual, but here it led to startling results: ­According to an account written by a Bain & Company fellow, the managers quickly helped to reorganize two plants, consolidating operations--which meant, inevitably, the shedding of unproductive labor--and when the company grew in efficiency, these managers made $18 million in shared earnings. The equation was simple: The men who increased the worth of the corporation deserved a bigger and bigger percentage of its spoils. In less than two years, when Bain Capital sold the company, it had turned an initial $5 million investment into a $121 million return.

...is essentially a preference for such gross inefficiencies as a way of redistributing income.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


The Case Against Direct Taxation: Part One (Lawrence Hunter, 10/21/11, Forbes)

In Federalist #22, Alexander Hamilton articulates succinctly the theory of fiscal discipline on which the original design of the U.S. Constitution rested.  Here Hamilton is discussing the fiscal constraints inherent in the taxing authority granted to the national government:

    It is a signal advantage of taxes on articles of consumption [what today are called tariffs and sales and excise taxes] that they contain in their own nature a security against excess.  They prescribe their own limit, which cannot be exceeded without defeating the end proposed--that is, an extension of the revenue [Art Laffer, call your office].  When applied to this object, the saying is as just as it is witty that, 'in political arithmetic, two and two do not always make four'.  If duties are too high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds [Congress, pay attention].  This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class [i.e., indirect taxes], and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them.

    Impositions of this kind usually fall under the denomination of indirect taxes, and must for a long time constitute the chief part of the revenue raised in this country (Federalist #22).

Hamilton's exposition in Federalist #22 illustrates the sophistication of the theory of political economy that informed the original constitutional design, which gave rise to a constitutional pincer holding the national government firmly in check.  History has borne out the Framers' expectations that taxes on consumption are to a large degree self-limiting, while direct taxes know far fewer limits.  In the case of the original Federal design, the self-limiting tendency of indirect taxes on consumption augmented the other arm of the constitutional pincer--limiting the national government solely to the exercise of delegated powers--to make unnecessary other specific constitutional limitations on the national government's taxing and spending authority, i.e., explicit taxing, spending and borrowing limitations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Overdiagnosis: Bad for You, Good for Business (Lisa Chedekel, 10/26/11, BU Today)

After the criteria used to define osteoporosis were expanded in 2003, seven million American women were turned into patients virtually overnight. Diagnoses of high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer also have skyrocketed over the past few decades--yet the number of deaths from those diseases has been largely unaffected.

While conventional wisdom holds that early diagnosis is good, H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, views it as a major problem for modern medicine, with myriad social, medical, and economic implications. In his new book, Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health (Beacon Press, 2011), Welch and coauthors Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin write about the hazards of looking too hard for illnesses in healthy people, including additional procedures that carry no benefit, but may cause harm, higher health care costs, and psychological detriments. [...]

You've talked about health conditions defined by numbers, or benchmarks--like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and osteoporosis--numbers that distinguish between who's healthy and who's sick. Aren't those numbers based on sound science?

Yes--and no. Yes, in that we know these conditions can be important and that treatment can help--i.e., treating really high blood pressure is one of the most important things we doctors do. But no, in that the "rule" by which health conditions are gauged--the number which, if you are on one side of it, you are well, but if you are on the other side of it, you are sick--has been regularly changing. For example, a fasting blood sugar of 130 was not considered to be diabetes before 1997, but now it is. And these numbers are always changing in one direction: the direction of labeling more and more people as abnormal.

The problem is that these newly created patients stand to benefit the least from intervention. Yet they face roughly the same amount of harm from intervention. In other words, the net effect of intervention may be harm. For example, as we recently learned in diabetes, while trying to move people with mildly elevated blood sugars towards "normal," the death rate increased.

The generic problem is one of balance. Doctors tend to focus on those we might conceivably help, even if it's only one out of 100 (the benefit of lowering cholesterol in those with normal cholesterol but elevated C-reactive protein) or one out of 1,000 (the benefit of breast and prostate cancer screening).

We believe this is what our patients, and the public, care about. But it's time for everyone to start caring about what happens to the other 999.

Who benefits from overdiagnosis?

A lot of people: pharma, device manufacturers, imaging centers, and even your local hospital. The easiest way to make money isn't to build a better drug or device--it's to expand the market for existing drugs and devices by expanding the indication to include more patients. Similarly, for hospitals, the easiest way to make money isn't to deliver better care; it's to recruit new patients--and screening is a great way to do this.

October 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 PM


In Cautious Times, Banks Flooded With Cash (ERIC DASH and NELSON D. SCHWARTZ, 10/24/11, NY Times)

Ordinarily, in a more robust environment, an influx of deposits would be used to finance new businesses, expansion plans and home purchases. But in today's fragile economy, the bulk of the new money is doing little to spur growth. Of the $41.8 billion of deposits that Wells Fargo collected in the third quarter, for example, only about $8.2 billion was earmarked to finance new loans.

Normally, banks earn healthy profits by taking in deposits and then investing them or lending them out at substantially higher interest rates than what they pay savers. But that traditional banking model has broken down.

Today, banks are paying savers almost nothing for their deposits. As it turns out, the banks are not minting money on those piles of cash. Lending levels have not bounced back from only a few years ago and the loans going out are not keeping pace with the deposits rushing in.

What's more, the profitability of each new loan has shrunk. Because the Federal Reserve effectively sets the floor off which banks price their lending rates, its decision to lower interest rates to near zero means the banks earn less money on the deposits they lend out.

The banks are also earning less on the deposits left over to invest. They typically park that money overnight at the Fed for a pittance, or invest it in ultra-safe securities, like bonds backed by the government. But with interest rates so low, the yields on those investments have been crushed.

In other words, what bankers call the spread is being squeezed -- they are making less money on each dollar they hold. "It's very hard for us to take deposits and make any meaningful spread," said William D. Parent, Hyde Park's chief executive.

In fact, the pressure on spreads poses an even greater threat to the banks' earnings than the new financial regulations. Oliver Wyman, a financial services consulting firm, estimates that the industry's deposit revenue will shrink by more than $55 billion from its precrisis levels, dwarfing the roughly $15 billion in lost fee income from debit card and overdraft restrictions.

In the meantime, retail branch economics are being upended, forcing banks to close branches and lay off thousands of employees. "If you can't put the money to work, what are you going to do with it?" Chris Kotowski, a bank analyst with Oppenheimer, asked. "You're sending monthly statements, you've got people at branches. All that stuff costs money."

The Fed has to <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/business/economy/19view.html">make the return on cash negative, not just near zero</a>.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 PM


This Should Be the Beginning, Not the End, of Israel's Negotiations With Hamas (Efraim Halevy, October 24, 2011, New Republic)

For over a quarter of a century Prime Minister Netanyahu had promised, boldly and unequivocally, both in writing and in speech, that he would never make any concessions to terrorists. Now, in one fell swoop, with the negotiated release of Gilad Shalit, all that is gone. The Prime Minister himself cast it as a momentous choice, an instance of decisive and historic leadership. [...]

Clearly, Hamas would like many more prisoner releases, and an end to the blockade of Gaza. But what the group has yet to suggest is what they will offer in return. Will they ultimately conclude that the kidnap of a soldier has paid handsome results and will they try for more of the same? (Evidence suggests they might: The released Palestinian prisoners were greeted in Ramallah , the seat of the Palestinian Authority, with deafening cries of "We want more Shalits!") Or will Hamas instead abandon terrorism for politics? Moreover, will other players in the region encourage them to do so?

The greatest tragedy would be if these questions remained purely speculative. Israel now has a golden opportunity to reframe its strategy and to refresh its diplomatic aims to match the new regional realities. No longer can it simply take for granted the continued exclusion of Hamas from the political equation. Hamas is striving to behave and be accepted as a legitimate political actor, and Jerusalem will have to consider whether it can ever negotiate peace with the Palestinians without Hamas at the table, together with Palestinian Authority. It's certainly not the case that Israel lacks leverage against either. If it's the release of prisoners that the Palestinians respond to, there are thousands of Palestinians still in Israeli jails, including leading figures of both Fatah and Hamas, which could potentially be the subject of further negotiation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Babies in the Corner: The mad popularity of Dirty Dancing explains Ronald Reagan's ideological victory and the ongoing crisis of American politics (Liel Leibovitz, October 25, 2011, Tablet)
It's hard to imagine a more befitting cinematic tribute to the Reagan presidency than Dirty Dancing. Having spent so much of his political career struggling to deflate the various democratic movements of the 1960s of their energy and might, the Gipper would've been thrilled with a film, set in 1963, in which a wealthy middle-manager boasts of running down to "freedom ride" in Alabama on his time off before imperiously denigrating his working-class white staff. He would've cooed upon hearing the paragon of said staff, Swayze's Johnny Castle, describe with abject horror the fate that awaited him were he to lose his job as a dance instructor--a life as a member of the house painters' union, an organization that just happened to be strongly involved in advocating for the Civil Rights Act that would pass the following year. And at the sight of a young woman who plans on joining the Peace Corps but is happy to be called Baby, is subservient to her father, and is happy to be led by her man, on the dance floor and off, Reagan might have declared with delight that it was morning in America yet again.

Call it Reagan's Revenge: More than Reagonomics or Operation Urgent Fury, more than the disastrous War on Drugs or the appointment of Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, Reagan's real legacy was the creation of a powerful conservative mythology that still defies resistance. Put coarsely, it claims that the 1960s and 1970s have been bad and dispiriting times and have created many problems for normal Americans; that progressives who suggest that these problems are complex and require complex solutions are missing the point; and that only a traditional, individualistic, and optimistic worldview can offer balm for the nation's aching soul.

He put it best in a 1964 speech he made on behalf of Barry Goldwater, a speech that marked him as a political figure of national prominence and catapulted him, two years later, to the governor's mansion in Sacramento. "They say we offer simple answers to complex problems," he thundered. "Well, perhaps there is a simple answer--not an easy answer--but simple: if you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our heart is morally right."

What makes this a comedic gem is that the author is so anxious to caricature the Gipper that he succeeds only in self-caricature. Who knew there were still people furious about replacing a Marxist regime with democracy in Grenada?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


San Franciscans Are America's Worst Tippers (Dino Grandoni, 10/24/11, Atlantic)

[D]iners in San Francisco seemed to have the hardest time putting down their iGadgets and other Silicon Valley technorama to give a decent tip, doling out a measly 18.6 percent on average and making them the worst tippers in the 30 or so regions Zagat surveyed nationwide. In general, those living on the West Coast were stringiest toward waiters and waitresses, bartenders and baristas. San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Seattle, and Hawaii all had tip rates of 18.9 percent or less. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


Obama takes bipartisan heat on energy policy (Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY)

Some environmentalists -- who were inspired by his calls in 2008 to reduce oil dependence and increase green energy investment -- are disappointed that the State Department ruled in August that a plan to build a controversial Keystone XL pipeline -- which would transport tar-sands oil from Canada to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma and the Gulf of Mexico-- would not cause significant environmental damage.

Obama will be greeted by hundreds of protesters calling on him to scrap the Keystone XL project when he travels to San Francisco on Tuesday, said Elijah Zarlin, a campaign organizer for the liberal group CREDO Action. On Sunday, more than 400 young activists organized by the Energy Action Coalition protested in front of the Obama campaign office in Cleveland. And a coalition of activists are planning a major demonstration in front of the White House on Nov. 6 to protest the pipeline. Hundreds were arrested at an August sit-in at the White House against the project.

"What's disappointing is that this is a guy who seemed like he had the ability to explain complicated issues to people," said Zarlin, who worked on the new-media staff of Obama's 2008 campaign and was arrested at the recent White House sit-in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


American imperialism? Please: The upside to the U.S. leaving Iraq is that it should quell the nonsensical talk about empire-building (Jonah Goldberg, October 25, 2011, LA Times)

Critics of U.S. foreign policy have long caterwauled about American "empire." The term is used as an epithet by both the isolationist left and right, as a more coldly descriptive term by such mainstream thinkers as Niall Ferguson and Lawrence Kaplan, and with celebratory enthusiasm by some foreign policy neoconservatives like Max Boot.

The charge in recent times has centered on the Middle East, specifically Iraq.

The problem is, contemporary America isn't an empire, at least not in any conventional or traditional sense.

Your typical empire invades countries to seize their resources, impose political control and levy taxes. That was true of every empire from the ancient Romans to the Brits and the Soviets.

That was never the case with Iraq. For all the blood-for-oil nonsense, if America wanted Iraq's oil it could have saved a lot of blood and simply bought it. Saddam Hussein would have been happy to cut a deal if we only lifted our sanctions. Indeed, the U.S. oil industry never lobbied for an invasion, but it did lobby for an end to sanctions. We never levied taxes in Iraq either. Indeed, we're left holding the tab for the liberation.

And we most certainly are not in political control of Iraq.

Queen Victoria's Secret: a review of EMPIRE: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power By Niall Ferguson.  (Margaret MacMillan, NY Times Book Review)

The notion of empire can also be useful. The historian John Lewis Gaddis, for example, argues that empire, as the power that one type of people and society exercises over other, different, ones, is crucial to analyzing the cold war and indeed the workings of international relations. He is onto something, it seems to me, if only because the convenient fiction that governs relations among states at the diplomatic level -- that they are all independent and sovereign -- is so clearly at odds with reality. The United States and minuscule Guinea both sit on the United Nations Security Council but we all know which one counts.

In the cold war, although it somehow escaped the notice of much of the left, the Soviet Union had a very old-fashioned empire, with direct control of subject peoples. The United States had its empire as well -- the Western European countries, Israel, Canada, nations that largely but not entirely of their own volition decided to place themselves under American protection and leadership. ''Empire by invitation,'' as one student of the period describes it.

Niall Ferguson goes even farther. A young British historian who has made a name for himself with masterly studies of banking and finance, as well as an iconoclastic account of World War I in which he contended that Britain would have been much better off to have stayed out, he argues here that empires can be a positive force. They can provide the necessary framework in which good things, from globalization to uncorrupt government, happen. He has little patience with liberal guilt about imperialism or the exercise of power. The time has come, he asserts, for the United States to think seriously about swallowing its deeply ingrained distaste for colonies and take up, well, if not the white man's burden, then that of the civilized world.

His model is the British Empire. True, the slave trade was appalling, the hunting down of aborigines in Tasmania genocide. On the other hand, the British Empire spread wealth and technology. It allowed the free movement of capital and labor.

As it happens, I just finished reading Mr. Ferguson's book and it seems to me that Mr. Gaddis's standard for what constitutes an empire could provide some much needed clarity both to the author and to Mr. Goldberg.  Remove the notion of day-to-day exercise of governance and substitute the more basic notion of the exercise of power over peoples and nations and it is pretty inarguable that America is an empire.  For example, Iraq today has a form of government that we find acceptable as a result of our having removed one that we found unacceptable.  We, of course, believe that in choosing to ape our popular sovereignty model the Iraqis have been swayed by the power of our ideas, but the deeper reality, contrary to Mr. Goldberg's assertion, is that were they to decide to adopt an Islamicist model we'd remove that regime too. 

As Ms MacMillan notes, Mr. Ferguson, in his book, seeks to absolve Britain of the downsides of imperialism by celebrating the upsides--the exportation of the Anglospheric model to the colonies.  But then he frets about America supposedly not embracing its role as inheritor of the British imperial mantle.  In point of fact, American history is little more than the story of the extension of the Anglospheric model to every corner of the globe.  We just happen to have effected this with less of the downside baggage than the Mother country did.  So, rather than governing Iraq as a colony for a hundred years, before being shamed into leaving--a la Britain in India--we stayed only so long as needed to establish stability.  And not only did the Iraqis adopt our system but the example of replacing a dictatorship with democracy has spread like wildfire across the region.  In the end, our empire is just as powerful as ever the British was, if not moreso.  The absence of a Foreign Service bureaucracy to administer that empire is a mark of strength, not one of weakness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Are public morals declining in China? (Kevin McGeary, 25 October 2011, openDemocracy)

But there is evidence that the problem of Chinese, especially in urban areas, failing to help strangers goes back much further. Lu Xun wrote about the problem in his 1933 essay, "experience." China has historically suffered from what Hong Kong University research student Trey Menefee called the "Confucian blind spot." China is made up of institutions, such as the family and the work unit, that depend on personal relationships and every person knowing their place. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Early to Bed, Early to Rise Makes Kids Healthier (Evelyn So, 10/22/11, Epoch Times)

Despite similar sleep durations, late-rising and late-sleeping adolescents were observed to undertake 27 minutes less daily physical activity than the early risers and early sleepers, who went to bed 70 to 90 minutes earlier and woke up 60 to 80 minutes earlier.

"The children who went to bed late and woke up late, and the children who went to bed early and woke up early got virtually the same amount of sleep in total," said study co-author Carol Maher from the University of South Australia in a press release.

"Scientists have realized in recent years that children who get less sleep tend to do worse on a variety of health outcomes, including the risk of being overweight and obese. Our study suggests that the timing of sleep is even more important."

Compared to earlier risers, late nighters spent 48 minutes longer per day watching television or playing video games, usually at night, had higher body-mass-index scores, and were 1.47 times more likely to be overweight or obese.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


It's a Girl (Michael Stokes Paulsen, October 24, 2011, Public Discourse)

The shocking reality of sex-selection abortion cries out for laws banning the practice. Polls have shown that about 95% of the American people oppose sex-selection abortion. Even those who style themselves "pro-choice" overwhelmingly agree that abortion should not be allowed when the reason for such a choice is that the child to be born is female. The most pernicious radical feminist argument for abortion rights--that abortion is essential for "gender equality"--doubles back on itself in the case of sex-selection abortion: If abortion on the basis of the sex of the child--killing girls because they are not boys--is not sex discrimination, it is hard to know what is. (Hvistendahl is, awkwardly, pro-choice, yet horrified by the consequences of "unnatural selection.")

Four states--Illinois, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and most recently Arizona--have enacted laws prohibiting sex-selection abortion. Those laws have yet to be tested in the courts. At least seven other states have considered bills that would ban the practice. A sex-selection-ban bill was introduced in Congress in 2009--I worked with committee staff on the bill--but it died in the then Democrat-controlled House.

Are such bans constitutional, under the Supreme Court's decisions creating a right to abortion? The question such laws present is a dramatic one, challenging the underpinnings of Roe v. Wade in the most fundamental and direct of ways: Does the U.S. Constitution create a right to abortion, even when the woman's reason for abortion is that she does not like the sex of her unborn child?

Sadly, the answer, under the Supreme Court's absurd, through-the-looking-glass constitutional law of abortion, is yes. Under Roe and the Court's 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a woman has a constitutional right to abort for any reason up to the point of "viability," when the child could live outside the mother's womb. Even after viability, a woman may abort for any "health" reason, an exception that ends up swallowing the rule: The Court's abortion decisions define "health" justifications for abortion to include any "emotional," "psychological," or "familial" reason for wanting an abortion.

A pregnant woman's (or a couple's) preference for a boy rather than a girl would seem to fit comfortably within the gaping loophole for "emotional" or "familial" reasons for abortion. Parents are thus free to choose to kill female human fetuses because they are female, even when the unborn child could live outside her mother's womb. It thus appears that, under Roe and Casey, laws banning sex-selection abortions are unconstitutional through all nine months of pregnancy.

This, of course, is madness, and it highlights, in an especially persuasive way, the extreme madness of the Supreme Court's current abortion doctrine. It exposes the grim legal reality that abortions may be had for any reason. It lays bare the doublespeak of "health" justifications for abortions, and it highlights the logical (and moral) incoherence of abortion-rights arguments predicated on notions of "women's rights" or "equal protection": A right to abortion, in the name of gender equality, ends up being a right to abort females.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM

THAT LITTLE McTEASE (via The Other Brother):

The McRib makes a McComeback (Associated Press, October 24, 2011)

McDonald's plans to announce Monday that the sandwich, usually available only when individual restaurants feel like making it, will be sold at all U.S. locations through Nov. 14. [...]

It's usually up to the local franchise to decide if or when to sell the McRib. (Except in Germany, the only place where it's available year-round, McDonald's Corp. says.) But last November, for the first time in 16 years, McDonald's made the McRib available at all U.S. restaurants for about three weeks.

It was a smash, and while McDonald's declined to provide specific sales numbers, it was enough to convince the world's largest burger chain to give it another run.

If the McRib is really so popular, why not just offer it all the time? McDonald's has found that distance makes the heart grow fonder, and the barbecue taste that much sweeter.

"Bringing it back every so often adds to the excitement," said Marta Fearon, McDonald's U.S. marketing director.

Just another reason for Thanksgiving.

October 24, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 PM


Why Politicians Lose So Much Money Trying To Pick Winners (Jim Powell, 10/24/11, Forbes)

The Solyndra scandal offers us a reminder that government isn't very good at picking winners and shouldn't try to do it.  Thanks to Obama administration connections, this California‑based solar panel maker had a $535 million spending blowout at the taxpayers' expense, then fired everybody - some 1,100 jobs.  But there continues to be relentless lobbying for government to back other ventures touted as essential for our future.

Perhaps we need to reflect a little on why government hasn't been able to pick winners.  For starters, nobody has a crystal ball.  Media reports of official government news releases regularly describe as "unexpected" the latest numbers on unemployment, housing starts, the gross domestic product and other economic indicators.  Financial bubbles, stock crashes, bond defaults, terrorist attacks, world wars, natural disasters, rising prices, falling prices and so much else have taken politicians by surprise.

It can be just as difficult to predict all sorts of things in our lives, like which new car models will be successful.  Every year for decades, automakers have introduced new models.  There have been hundreds and hundreds, but most weren't in production very long.

...so rather than trying to wager on a winner it should simply raise taxes on gas/oil and let the market pick out winning alternatives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Mammogram's Role as Savior Is Tested (TARA PARKER-POPE, 10/24/11, NY Times)

A new analysis published Monday in Archives of Internal Medicine offers a stark reality check about the value of mammography screening. Despite numerous testimonials from women who believe "a mammogram saved my life," the truth is that most women who find breast cancer as a result of regular screening have not had their lives saved by the test, conclude two Dartmouth researchers, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch and Brittney A. Frankel.

Dr. Welch notes that clearly some women are helped by mammography screening, but the numbers are lower than most people think. The Dartmouth researchers conducted a series of calculations estimating a woman's 10-year risk of developing breast cancer and her 20-year risk of death, factoring in the added value of early detection based on data from various mammography screening trials as well as the benefits of improvements in treatment. Among the 60 percent of women with breast cancer who detected the disease by screening, only about 3 percent to 13 percent of them were actually helped by the test, the analysis concluded.

Translated into real numbers, that means screening mammography helps 4,000 to 18,000 women each year. Although those numbers are not inconsequential, they represent just a small portion of the 230,000 women given a breast cancer diagnosis each year, and a fraction of the 39 million women who undergo mammograms each year in the United States.

Dr. Welch says it's important to remember that of the 138,000 women found to have breast cancer each year as a result of mammography screening, 120,000 to 134,000 are not helped by the test.

"The presumption often is that anyone who has had cancer detected has survived because of the test, but that's not true," Dr. Welch said. "In fact, and I hate to have to say this, in screen-detected breast and prostate cancer, survivors are more likely to have been overdiagnosed than actually helped by the test."

How is it possible that finding cancer early isn't always better? One way to look at it is to think of four different categories of breast cancer found during screening tests. [...]

The notion that screening mammograms aren't helping large numbers of women can be hard for many women and breast cancer advocates to accept. It also raises questions about whether there are better uses for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on awareness campaigns and the $5 billion spent annually on mammography screening.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


My Tax and Spending Reform Plan (RICK PERRY, 10/24/11, WSJ)

On Tuesday I will announce my "Cut, Balance and Grow" plan to scrap the current tax code, lower and simplify tax rates, cut spending and balance the federal budget, reform entitlements, and grow jobs and economic opportunity.

The plan starts with giving Americans a choice between a new, flat tax rate of 20% or their current income tax rate. The new flat tax preserves mortgage interest, charitable and state and local tax exemptions for families earning less than $500,000 annually, and it increases the standard deduction to $12,500 for individuals and dependents.

This simple 20% flat tax will allow Americans to file their taxes on a postcard, saving up to $483 billion in compliance costs. By eliminating the dozens of carve-outs that make the current code so incomprehensible, we will renew incentives for entrepreneurial risk-taking and investment that creates jobs, inspires Americans to work hard and forms the foundation of a strong economy. My plan also abolishes the death tax once and for all, providing needed certainty to American family farms and small businesses.

My plan restores American competitiveness in the global marketplace and provides strong incentives for U.S.-based employers to build new factories and create thousands of jobs here at home.

First, we will lower the corporate tax rate to 20%--dropping it from the second highest in the developed world to a rate on par with our global competitors. Second, we will encourage the swift repatriation of some of the $1.4 trillion estimated to be parked overseas by temporarily lowering the rate to 5.25%. And third, we will transition to a "territorial tax system"--as seen in Hong Kong and France, for example--that only taxes in-country income.

The mind-boggling complexity of the current tax code helps large corporations with lawyers and accountants devise the best tax-avoidance strategies money can buy.

...why are you taxing income to begin with? Isn't income a good thing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Tunisia elections: An-Nahda party on course to win (Angelique Chrisafis, 10/24/11, guardian.co.uk)

An-Nahda, which was banned for 10 years and brutally repressed under Ben Ali, with activists exiled, tortured and imprisoned,said it had taken the biggest share of the vote based on early predictions before the official results expected .

The party campaigned on a moderate, pro-democracy stance that sought to allay secularist fears by vowing to respect Tunisia's strong secular tradition and the most advanced women's rights in the Arab world.

The party compares itself to Turkey's Islamist-rooted ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) - liberal and socially conservative.

Said Ferjani, from An-Nahda's political bureau, said: "We have to be careful about figures until the official results, but there's a consensus that we're around the 40% mark. It's something that we were expecting.

"We already have our ideas about the government. We are not dogmatic; we are highly pragmatic. It will be a broad national unity government. The new reality is that we have to do what we do for the Tunisian people - we go beyond old lines of argument or disagreement."

Thanks, W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


Obama's efforts to aid homeowners, boost housing market fall far short of goals (Zachary A. Goldfarb, October 23, 2011, Washington Post)

President Obama pledged at the beginning of his term to boost the nation's crippled housing market and help as many as 9 million homeowners avoid losing their homes to foreclosure.

Nearly three years later, it hasn't worked out. Obama has spent just $2.4 billion of the $50 billion he promised. The initiatives he announced have helped 1.7 million people. Housing prices remain near a crisis low. Millions of people are deeply indebted, owing more than their properties are worth, and many have lost their homes to foreclosure or are likely to do so. Economists increasingly say that, as a result, Americans are too scared to spend money, depriving the economy of its traditional engine of growth.

The Obama effort fell short in part because the president and his senior advisers, after a series of internal debates, decided against more dramatic actions to help homeowners, worried that they would pose risks for taxpayers and the economy, according to numerous current and former officials. They consistently unveiled programs that underperformed, did little to reduce mortgage debts owed by ordinary Americans and rejected a get-tough approach with banks.

...if he'd just used the entire stimulus to pay down mortgages.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Bill would encourage foreigners to buy U.S. homes (Jim Puzzanghera and Lauren Beale, 10/20/11, Los Angeles Times)

Two U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would allow foreigners who spend at least $500,000 on residential property to obtain visas allowing them to live in the United States.

The plan could be a boon to California, which has become a popular real estate market for foreigners, particularly those from China.

Nationwide, residential sales to foreigners and recent immigrants totaled $82 billion in the 12-month period ended March 31, up from $66 billion the previous year, according to the National Assn. of Realtors. California accounted for 12% of those sales, second only to Florida.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:48 PM

Alabama Shakes On 'World Cafe: Next' (NPR, 10/20/11)

The Athens, Ala., quartet formed out of high school and describes its shows as "just like going to a rock 'n' roll church." Hear "I Found You" and another song from Alabama Shakes' debut EP...


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


IDF recommends freeing Fatah prisoners as gesture to Abbas: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's advisers vehemently oppose the idea, as do several members of his forum of eight senior ministers. (Avi Issacharoff, Barak Ravid    and Amos Harel, 10/24/11, Ha'aretz)

Next month, the IDF will give the government a list of the gestures it recommends, including releasing additional Palestinian prisoners and perhaps transferring additional parts of the West Bank to Palestinian security control. The army considers this necessary to help Abbas regain the upper hand in his ongoing battle with Hamas for control of the territories, since Israel's intelligence agencies all concur that the Shalit deal, in which Hamas obtained the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one kidnapped soldier, bolstered the Islamic organization at the PA's expense.

One senior Israeli official told Haaretz that Abbas thinks the deal was deliberately intended to strengthen Hamas and weaken him, in order to punish him for his UN bid.

One of the IDF's proposals relates to the second stage of the Shalit deal, in which Israel will free another 550 prisoners of its own choosing. While the list has not yet been drawn up, it seems that most will be low-level terrorists belonging to Abbas' Fatah party, and the army deems the Fatah affiliation critical.

The army also proposes that Israel release additional prisoners beyond these 550 as a gesture to Abbas in honor of Id al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that falls in another two weeks.

Another proposal is to transfer part of what is known as Area B - areas of the West Bank that, according to the Oslo Accords, are under Palestinian civilian control but Israeli security control - to Area A, which is under full Palestinian control. Most of the territory the army favors transferring is in the northern West Bank, between Jenin, Nablus and Tul Karm, as this area has few Israeli settlements.

A fourth idea is returning the bodies of slain terrorists to the PA. That was supposed to have happened a few months ago, but was canceled at the last minute on orders from Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM


United States needs to reevaluate its assistance to Israel (Walter Pincus, 10/17/11, Washington Post)

As the country reviews its spending on defense and foreign assistance, it is time to examine the funding the United States provides to Israel.

Let me put it another way: Nine days ago, the Israeli cabinet reacted to months of demonstrations against the high cost of living there and agreed to raise taxes on corporations and people with high incomes ($130,000 a year). It also approved cutting more than $850 million, or about 5 percent, from its roughly $16 billion defense budget in each of the next two years.

If Israel can reduce its defense spending because of its domestic economic problems, shouldn't the United States -- which must cut military costs because of its major budget deficit -- consider reducing its aid to Israel?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Is Pot Going to Pot? (Peter Hannaford, 10.24.11, American Spectator)

To make matters worse for marijuana growers, an environmental expert says indoor "grows" cause harmful carbon emissions and use enormous amounts of electricity. Peter Lehman of the Schatz Energy Research Center and Environmental Resources Engineering Department at Humboldt State University presented his findings two weeks ago to the county's board of supervisors. "Two percent of our entire national electric grid is used to grow a plant. It's nuts," he said.

Speaking of that one north costal county, he said that indoor marijuana "grows" used enough electricity to power 13,000 homes and added 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

What's a liberal pro-marijuana environmentalist to do?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


New England's Youth Pitch: Aging Population Spurs State Initiatives to Keep College Graduates From Fleeing (JENNIFER LEVITZ, 10/24/11, WSJ)

The loss of young people is one factor in New England's slow growth, which puts the region at the forefront of a nationwide aging trend. State leaders in the region say innovation depends on smart, young people and many officials see the signs of that base dwindling. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, said last week that employers have been complaining to him about a shortage of skilled workers.

Another worry: potential loss of political clout. States that lost congressional seats after the latest census were primarily in the Midwest and Northeast, including Massachusetts.

New England's population grew 3.8% in a decade, the 2010 census found, compared with the U.S.'s 9.7% overall growth. The population continues to shift South and West because of a combination of weather, cost of living and relatively low-skilled jobs for newcomers, said Brookings Institution demographer William Frey.

With fewer people arriving, New England leads in the graying of its population. Of just seven states with a median age of 40 or older, four are in New England: Maine (42.7), Vermont (41.5), New Hampshire (41.1) and Connecticut (40.0). There are bright spots--Boston continues to gain young people--but each New England state saw a decline in the under-45 group. Meantime, Arizona's under-45 population jumped 16%.

Why retain the problem when you can so easily import new Americans who actually have families?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Obama's War Crime (Michael Ware, Oct 24, 2011, Daily Beast)

For let us be clear about one thing: it's simply not true for Obama to say he's wrought an end to the war, be it honorably or not, for he has done no such thing. The war in Iraq was ended by those who commissioned it - the members of the Bush Administration.

All but absent in the chattering I've heard in these days past is that instrument which, for all intents and purposes, is the architecture of the "peace": America's Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq.

A SOFA is an accord America strikes with the dozens of nations in which it has military forces or seeks to grant them access. They lay out the ground rules for the numbers of troops, the presence of bases, the troops' legal exposure and the nature of their mission. Washington's compact with Baghdad was torturously negotiated way back in 2008. I know because I was there, assiduously following its machinations in minute detail; running back and forth from one Iraqi government negotiator or faction to another, from general to general, from embassy to embassy. And it was signed, in the dying months of its tenure, by the Administration of President George W. Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


The Tax Reform Evidence From 1986: Experience implies that the combination of base broadening and rate reduction would raise revenue equal to about 4% of existing tax revenue. (MARTIN FELDSTEIN, 10/24/11, WSJ)

Taxpayers who faced a marginal tax rate of 50% in 1985 had a marginal tax rate of just 28% after 1986, implying that their marginal net-of-tax share rose to 72% from 50%, an increase of 44%. For this group, the average taxable income rose between 1985 and 1988 by 45%, suggesting that each 1% rise in the marginal net-of-tax rate led to about a 1% rise in taxable income.

This dramatic increase in taxable income reflected three favorable effects of the lower marginal tax rates. The greater net reward for extra effort and extra risk-taking led to increases in earnings, in entrepreneurial activity, in the expansion of small businesses, etc. Lower marginal tax rates also caused individuals to shift some of their compensation from untaxed fringe benefits and other perquisites to taxable earnings. Taxpayers also reduced spending on tax-deductible forms of consumption.

A similar picture emerged for the group of taxpayers who faced slightly lower marginal tax rates of 42% and 45%. The reduction to 28% raised the marginal net-of-tax share of this group by 25% and their taxable incomes rose by 20%, suggesting that each 1% rise in the marginal net-of-tax share raised taxable incomes by 0.8%, quite similar to the estimate for the group with the highest marginal tax rate.

The substantial sensitivity of taxable income to the taxpayer's marginal net-of-tax share has important implications for the effect of tax-rate reductions on total tax revenue. For a 10% across-the-board reduction in all tax rates, a traditional "static" analysis implies that revenue would fall to 90% of its previous level. But reducing a current 40% marginal tax rate by 10% to 36% raises the net-of-tax share to 64% from 60%, a rise of 6.7%. If that causes the taxable income of those at that tax level to rise by 6.7%, their taxable income would fall to only 96% of what it had been. In short, the behavioral response of taxpayers in this highest bracket would offset 60% of the static revenue loss.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Glimmers in Recent Data Brighten Economic Views (JUSTIN LAHART, 10/24/11, WSJ)

[UBS economist Maury Harris] had a third-quarter GDP estimate of 2.5% growth at the start of August, cut it to 1.5% at the start of September and a week ago revised it up to 2.6%.

One reason economists such as Mr. Harris raised their estimates is the marked improvement in recent data. The Commerce Department's September retail-sales report not only showed spending grew at its fastest pace in seven months. It also included substantial upward revisions to August's figures. Capital-goods shipments suggest business spending on new equipment has been strong. Another surprise for many economists: a pickup in construction activity.

But economists also got caught up in the country's pessimism. When the stock market dived in August, and surveys showed households and business executives becoming grim, they assumed the economy would take it on the nose. And they were wrong.

"I'm reminded of how all us U.S. economists hit the panic button in October of 1987, how we thought, that's it, we're in for a hellacious recession," says Normura Securities economist David Resler. "But it turned out it was only a blip." Mr. Resler cut his estimate for third-quarter-GDP growth from a 2.5% rate to 2% in August, but he has since raised it to 2.8%.

Indeed, once all the data was in (more than a decade later) it turned out not to even be a blip.  There was no recession in 1987, nor in 1991 nor 2001.  The Volcker/Reagan boom was so powerful it took Democratic thwarting of free trade growth, Republican thwarting of free immigration, massive derivative fraud, Fed rate hikes into a deflation and the House GOP opposing the credit fix to give us our first recession since the early 80s. 

The Fed has gotten out of the way.  Trade pacts are passing.  There's fairly little work left to do to resume the boom times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


What Iraq pullout means to the budget (Lawrence J. Korb and Alexander Rothman, 10/21/11, CNNMoney)

Once the troops withdraw, the country's Iraq-related expenditures should decrease significantly.

According to Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget, total U.S. government funding for operations in Iraq will fall to $15.7 billion this year. That's a drop of 76% from what we spent in 2010.

Moreover, these war costs will continue to decline.

In 2012, the Department of Defense will spend $11 billion to fund the last few months of the occupation and troop withdrawal. These expenditures should fall to nearly zero in 2013, leaving the United States spending just $5 billion annually on Iraq, assuming State Department funding remains stable at 2012 level of $5 billion.

Losing the 1992 election cost the GOP the chance to be the government that reaped the peace dividend after the fall of the Iron Curtain.  Thus, Bill Clinton and Democrats get credit for the budget surplus of the 90s, even though the entirety of it came from reducing military expenditures by a few percent of GDP. 

We need to avoid a replay of that this time, or Barrack Obama presiding over the next boom will revive a Democratic Party that it poised for a long period in the wilderness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


The Mongolian sandwich: A tug of war between commercial logic and popular sentiment (Banyan, Oct 8th 2011, The Economist)

From Ulaanbaatar, situated to the north of the Gobi, it can easily look as if parts of the south are being integrated into China. Supplies for the projects pass across the border and the mines' output will soon return. Ambitious plans are being aired to build new railways not just to nearby China, but into Russia or eastern Mongolia as well, whence there would be access to the markets of South Korea and Japan. Some economists argue this makes no sense, despite the fear of a loss of pricing power to a Chinese monopsony. Even the gauge of the railway is controversial--a narrow-gauge one to the south that would link seamlessly with China's network is the obvious option, and the one that people working on the project say is being adopted. But the Soviet-built trans-Siberian railway is broad-gauge.

Relations with Russia have improved. An effort to revive Mongolian script to replace the Cyrillic alphabet imposed in the seven decades of Soviet domination petered out. Russia, or the Soviet Union, is credited with having preserved at least nominal Mongolian independence, when the country might have been absorbed by China. But suspicions linger. This summer Mongolia ran short of diesel because Russian imports dried up. The official reason was a shortage of domestic supply. Many Mongolians suspected a Chinese-style political squeeze.

So the search for third neighbours is understandable. Mr Tsogtbaatar points out that the country with more Mongolian expatriates than any other is neither China nor Russia, but South Korea. Next comes America. A vigorous if family-dominated democracy and mineral treasure-chest, Mongolia is a strong Western ally, contributing troops to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A measure of its stature is that, by the middle of this week, Germany's Angela Merkel was still due to desert Europe's crisis for a visit on October 12th. It will go more smoothly now that German courts have freed a senior Mongolian official detained on kidnapping charges. Mongolia may still be short of neighbours, but the whole world wants to be its friend.

October 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM

GENETIC CODE (via Matt Murphy)

Baseball, St. Louis go hand in hand (DAN O'NEILL, 10/19/11, post-dispatch.com)

Times like these bring me closer to my father, as they do for so many St. Louisans. Baseball here has a connection like that, perhaps not in an exclusive sense but certainly in a nourishing way.

St. Louis is a family town and baseball, more than any of its sports relatives, is a family experience.

Baseball had a unique vitality in my boyhood home. It was ever-present, in stacks of newspapers and publications, paperbacks and Baseball Digests. It was chronicled in thick scrapbooks, filled by neatly trimmed articles and black and white photos, corresponded with personal letters from former participants and writers like Fred Lieb and Dick Young.

Baseball came to life through a Zenith radio and a tall glass of Pepsi. It occupied one corner of the living room to itself, furnished with a small table, a porcelain lamp and a reclining leather chair, accessorized with Elmer's glue, paper clips and scissors.

It sometimes sounded like Radio Free Europe, choked by extreme distances and primitive technology, penetrating the environment with waves of static interference and fragments of play-by-play. It arrived late at night, from New York, Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. It was Morse code only he could decipher, and he would do so, sitting in the chair, sipping the Pepsi, keeping a scorecard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Condi Rice: The Bush 'Freedom Agenda' Won: As the war in Iraq ends and Gaddafi falls, this week's Newsweek, to be published tomorrow, has an exclusive look at former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's new memoir, 'No Higher Honor.' Rice takes us inside the Bush administration--and inside her head--during some of the world's tensest moments. (The Daily Beast, October 23, 2011)

Asked about the cost of the war, she tells Christopher Dickey, "I don't think you put a price on a Middle East that will look very different without Saddam Hussein and with movement toward freedom."

"Revolutions are not pretty," Rice says of the changes sweeping the region now and the often brutal forms they take, such as Gaddafi's gory end. "If political reform comes late, when there is a lot of anger, then it is not going to be either smooth, or, frankly, look like we would like it to look."

Despite this, Rice predicts a better ending to the Middle East revolutions and credits Bush's Freedom Agenda with facilitating it. "We pursued the Freedom Agenda not only because it was right but also because it was necessary," she writes. "There is both a moral case and a practical one for the proposition that no man, woman or child should live in tyranny. Those who excoriate the approach as idealistic or unrealistic missed the point. In the long run, it is authoritarianism that is unstable and unrealistic."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Iraqi Prime Minister: We made the call - not America - to pull troops after immunity was denied (Jonathan Lemire, 10/23/11, NY DAILY NEWS)

A day after President Obama's historic announcement that the last American troops in Iraq would be coming home, the war-scarred country's prime minister countered that officials in Baghdad - not Washington - made the final call.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


The Water Is Wide (Mark Sprinkle, 10/23/11, BioLogos)

Listening to this recording of The Fretful Porcupine playing "The Water Is Wide" online is a very different experience than being in the room with the duo and other audience members for a live performance. Nevertheless, the diversity of readers of this post does recreate one particular aspect of being with Jake Armerding and Kevin Gosa presenting the music in person: in both settings, some hearers are familiar with this very traditional and well-known folk tune as just that, but many others' first association with the melody will be the cross of Christ, as those hearers recognize the music as the Christian hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." At the live performance, that latter group may have wondered if this pair of avant-garde bluegrass/jazz players was surreptitiously proclaiming the story of Jesus' death and resurrection in the midst of a show at the Infinity Hall performance space, or merely hearkening back only to an 18th-century tale of woe. The truth is most likely "both," and in that very fact the Fretful Procupine gives both audiences a complicated gift--an example of the way that in music, as in all life, adaptive reuse is a way to wring the most meaning out of both the material and symbolic forms we discover in the world. [...]

What's interesting here is not just the idea that one can strip a symbolic, expressive musical form of its "original" meaning and impose an entirely new regime of meaning upon it, but the way such a change is often not a wholesale substitution but a transformation--the old meaning becoming part of the new meaning, even when that first is superficially left behind. This is particularly appropriate when thinking about the Water Is Wide/Wondrous Cross pairing, because the lamentation quality of the original tune reinforces in the newer symbolic environment the idea that what makes the cross of Jesus "wondrous" was precisely its horror--and that our very God would submit Himself to it for our sakes. That tension is one of the deep and terrible mysteries and ironies of the Christian faith.

But even more than just affirming that the cost of our redemption was high, remembering (or learning) the various texts that "O Waly, Waly" accompanied before Watt's hymn was paired with it gives us a beautiful contrast between the character of human love and commitment (fickle, inconstant, self-serving) and the character of divine love (constant and self-sacrificial). In other words, the hymn setting preserves not only the musical structure of the song, but even part of the meaning of the first--lament and sorrow over love--but in a new context, with a new framework of meaning. The lament itself is transformed without being lost, and turned to mark the distinctively Christian tension between sacrifice and redemption through a greater love than that of mortal men and women.

Precisely because of this kind of expansion rather than replacement of meaning, our appreciation of this or other hymn tunes ought not decrease when we realize that they may have had secular or even profane origins (think of the drinking songs used by Charles Wesley), or be limited to merely rejoicing that such vulgar forms have been redeemed. Instead, we can celebrate and marvel at the way such beauty and new work has come directly out of something that seemed either unrelated or even in opposition to our life in Christ. This dynamic of renewal is, after all, exactly what we celebrate when we affirm that God's grace is extended to us, and our own covenantal responsibility fulfilled by God himself, through the horror of the cross of Jesus.

By analogy, then, this instance of expressive "exaptation" in the art of worship has something to tell us about how we might think about the science of biological and even human origins--of how the scientific accounts of the history and relatedness of life on earth express the character of God. Most generally, we should see that it need not degrade or debase the biological world (much less humanity) as God's creation to proclaim that we were made from lesser materials and that we share so much of our physical make-up and history with creatures in whom we may not see much to celebrate. It is, after all, the very power of God to remake what is base into what is glorious through often surprising and unexpected means.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


America's Demographic Opportunity (Joel Kotkin 10/23/2011, New Geography)

Among the world's major advanced countries, the United States remains a demographic outlier, with a comparatively youthful and growing population. This provides an unusual opportunity for America's resurgence over the next several decades, as population growth elsewhere slows dramatically, and even declines dramatically, in a host of important countries.

This demographic vitality, however, can only work if there is substantive increase in the economic growth rate and particularly in employment. A growing population brings new entrants into the labor force at a rapid rate. Historically, a relatively positive relationship between workforce entrants and dependents, both old and young, has generated waves of growth across the past several decades. This is widely known as "the demographic dividend."

In the 1950s and 1960s, a relatively youthful population helped drive rapid economic growth first in Europe and then in Japan. By the 1970s, this "youth bulge" shifted to developing nations of east Asia, notably Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia. China experienced this surge in workers in the 1980s and 1990s. More recently, the big winners in youth demographics could be found in countries such as Vietnam, Turkey and Brazil.

Yet remarkably throughout this period, the United States has retained its relative youthfulness. The last census showed the nation experienced 10 percent population growth over the first decade of the 21st Century, with a final count approaching 310 million people. This is in large part a product both of immigration and higher birthrates.

Today, the U.S. fertility rate of over two children per woman remains as much as twice as high as many countries, including Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, Singapore and Korea. As a result, according to U.S. census projections, the United States will continue to grow to upwards of 420 million by 2050.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


How can I be proud of my China if we are a nation of 1.4bn cold hearts?: The death of the two-year-old run over as passersby ignored her is symptomatic of a deepening moral crisis (Lijia Zhang, 10/22/11, guardian.co.uk)

The fundamental problem, in my view, lies in one word that describes a state of mind: shaoguanxianshi, meaning don't get involved if it's not your business. In our culture, there's a lack of willingness to show compassion to strangers. We are brought up to show kindness to people in our network of guanxi, family and friends and business associates, but not particularly to strangers, especially if such kindness may potentially damage your interest.

Fei Xiaotong, China's first sociologist, described Chinese people's moral and ethical characteristics in his book, From the Soil, in the middle of the last century. He pointed out that selfishness is the most serious shortcoming of the Chinese. "When we think of selfishness, we think of the proverb 'Each person should sweep the snow from his own doorsteps and should not fret about the frost on his neighbour's roof,'" wrote Fei. He offered the example of how the Chinese of that period threw rubbish out of their windows without the slightest public concern. Things are much the same today.

Under Mao, citizens were forced to behave themselves in both public and private spheres. Every March, people were obliged to go into the street to do good deeds: cleaning buses, fixing bicycles and offering haircuts. Now relaxed social control and commercialisation over the past three decades have led people to behave more selfishly again.

People are enjoying, and sometimes abusing, the vast personal freedoms that didn't exist before. To start with, it is now safe to be "naughty". Back in the early 1980s, when I worked at a rocket factory in Nanjing, one of my colleagues, a married man, was caught having an affair with an unmarried woman. He was given a three-year sentence in a labour camp and the girl was disgraced. In today's society, having extramarital affairs or keeping an ernai - second wife or concubine - is as common as "cow hair", as the Chinese would say. For a novel I am writing on prostitution, I have interviewed many prostitutes and ernai. Many see their profession as a way to gather wealth quickly, feeling few moral qualms.

China's moral crisis doesn't just manifest itself in personal life but also in business practice and many other areas. The high-profile "poisoned milk powder" case and the scandal of using "gutter oil" as cooking oil have shocked and disgusted people around the world. Last year an article, "Why have Chinese lost their sense of morality?", in which the author tried to find an explanation, was widely read. He reasoned that China has introduced the concept of a market economy from the west but failed to import the corresponding ethics, while the traditional moral principles of China no longer fit the market economy model.

There's a lot of sense in that. I believe that the lack of a value system is also deepening the moral crisis.

One of the deepest confusions of the past twenty years is the mistaken notion that the End of History is a form of utopianism or triumphalism.  But for peoples who are devoid of culture it is nothing of the sort.

October 22, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


Hollywood on Wall Street (FRANK BRUNI, 10/22/11, NY Times)

WHAT enormous comfort it must give the Occupy Wall Street protesters to know that celebrities feel their pain.

Roseanne Barr, for example. The comedian bleeds for them. Or, rather, would have others bleed; inspired by the protests, she recommended the guillotine for the greediest bankers.

Such a subtle creature, she, and so oppressed to boot! Back in the 1990s, for the final seasons of her sitcom "Roseanne," she made at least $20 million a year.

She was not the 99 percent.

The rap mogul Russell Simmons and the rapper Kanye West meandered over to Occupy Wall Street's cradle, Zuccotti Park. By all accounts West was wearing more bling, though Simmons has bigger bucks: his net worth has been estimated as being between $100 million and $340 million. West's is below that, and he made only $16 million or so last year.

They are not even the 99.5 percent.

And while that doesn't disqualify them or Barr or other entertainers from sympathizing with Occupy Wall Street, it does give their public gestures of solidarity a discordant, sometimes specious ring. It also confuses the identity of a protest movement that already has challenges aplenty in the coherence department.

The whole dog-and-pony show consists of nothing but spoiled rich brats faking outrage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


Herman Cain's Numerology Fixation (Michelle Cottle, 10/21/11, Daily Beast)

In Chapter Nine of This Is Herman Cain--entitled "'Forty-Five'--A Special Number," Cain notes that his "conception, gestation, and birth all occurred within" the year 1945 (true of pretty much anyone born in the last three months of that year). He then launches into a detailed account of how "45 keeps on popping up as I go about the business of being elected--you guessed it--as the forty-fifth president of the United States of America."

Meaningful signposts include events both past (in 1945, Reader's Digest published a version of Friedrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, which Cain ran across last year and loved) and future (in 2013, the year the 45th president will take office, Cain and his wife will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.)

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain speaks while unveiling his "Opportunity Zone" economic plan in front of the Michigan Central Station, an abandoned train depot, October 21, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. , Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

In some cases the digits 4 and 5 are only part of a figure, like the times when one of Cain's weekly commentaries ran to 645 words or when the final leg of a campaign trip took place on Flight 1045 traveling at 45,000 feet.
45,000 feet?  Really?  That's unlikely even if the campaign was this presidential, ridiculous if it was a prior statewide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Clinton on Qaddafi: "We came, we saw, he died" (Corbett B. Daly , 10/20/11, CBS News)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared a laugh with a television news reporter moments after hearing deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi had been killed.

"We came, we saw, he died," she joked when told of news reports of Qaddafi's death by an aide in between formal interviews.

Imagine what we'd have done to him if the Commander in Chief weren't a Peace Laureate?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Anti-illegal immigration bill stokes backlash in Alabama fields (Mark Guarino, October 22, 2011, CS Monitor)

Farmers fearing a labor shortage are protesting recent immigration laws they say are too harsh, forcing undocumented workers to flee to prevent deportation. They say US workers are unwilling to endure the rigorous conditions of farm work and that state legislators need to come up with solutions to prevent local agribusiness from going under. [...]

The new immigration laws will result in a $40 million hit to the state's economy, with 10,000 illegal workers, each making about $5,000 a year, set to leave, according to a report released this week by the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research.

If the nativists were willing to put the US in recession to drive out Mexicans are they really going to worry about losing Alabama farms?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


What the al-Assad regime does not understand! (Tariq Alhomayed, 10/22/11, Asharq Alawasat)

Gaddafi's end, which was similar to his approach [to dealing with his own enemies], tells us that international alliances are capable of eliminating any tyrant on the condition that such a move has the backing of the people, and this is precisely what happened in Libya, with the participation of NATO forces under the leadership of France and Britain, with American support. The same is not out of the question with regards to the situation in Syria. All that is required is for a restricted area within Syria to be granted protection status, and the Syrian army defectors to take refuge there and organize their ranks, with this territory, of course, being provided with NATO air cover, along the lines of what happened in Libya. Following this, we will find that the al-Assad regime will be unable to do anything but issue audio recordings, and at this point it will, of course, not be able to find any advantage from Hezbollah or Iraq or Nouri al-Maliki. Indeed this is the same Nouri al-Maliki who congratulated the Libyan people on the "fall of the tyrant" according to his statement, and that is the very definition of irony, for look who is talking!

At this point, with the movement of international alliances [against Syria], everybody will look to their own strategic interests, and forget sentimentality or sectarianism. At this time, the Lebanese government will be focused on maintaining its own cohesion, whilst Hezbollah will be focused on watching its own back. As for the al-Maliki government in Iraq, it will be preoccupied with maintaining its own cohesion in order to ensure that it does not collapse, particularly as there have been protests against the Baghdad government, whilst it has been conspicuously absent in the media. The same applies to Iran which has been rocked by the repercussions following the uncovering of the assassination plot targeting the Saudi ambassador in Washington, so how can there be any military confrontation with the international community [over Syria]?

What I mean to say is that the region has changed, as has the manner in which the international community deals with it, not to mention Arab public opinion that now sees nothing wrong with toppling tyrants, even if this comes at the hand of the West. 

W was just ahead of his time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Despite Difficult Talks, U.S. and Iraq Had Expected Some American Troops to Stay (TIM ARANGO and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, 10/21/11, NY Times)

At the end of the Bush administration, when the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, was negotiated, setting 2011 as the end of the United States' military role, officials had said the deadline was set for political reasons, to put a symbolic end to the occupation and establish Iraq's sovereignty. But there was an understanding, a senior official here said, that a sizable American force would stay in Iraq beyond that date.

Over the last year, in late-night meetings at the fortified compound of the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and in videoconferences between Baghdad and Washington, American and Iraqi negotiators had struggled to reach an agreement. All the while, both Mr. Obama and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, gave the world a wink and nod, always saying that Iraq was ready to stand on its own but never fully closing the door on the possibility of American troops' staying on. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM


Evangelicals hold sway in Iowa caucuses (Seema Mehta, 10/21/11, Los Angeles Times)

"A lot of behind-the-scenes wooing and romancing is going on," said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which will host a forum Saturday that will be attended by nearly every Republican candidate. "The reason why is fairly obvious: If someone underperforms among that constituency, arithmetically, it becomes very difficult to end up in the top one or two places" in Iowa.

About 1,000 evangelical voters are expected to attend the forum, and an additional 2,500 are expected at a pre-Thanksgiving round-table in Des Moines held by the Family Leader, an umbrella group of socially conservative organizations that banded together for the 2012 campaign.

In 2008, as many as 60% of caucusgoers here identified themselves as evangelical, and they united behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to give him a surprise first-place finish over establishment candidate Mitt Romney.

"When that group coalesces around somebody, take all the [other] endorsements and fundraising advantage and flush them down the toilet," said Steve Deace, a conservative radio host. "We don't have an obvious champion this time, at least not now." [...]

The one name that rarely arises, except with derision, is Mitt Romney, who is not attending Saturday's forum. Most were skeptical about the former Massachusetts governor's change in positions over the years, notably on abortion, which he now opposes. One said his Mormon faith was a concern.

"I don't think Mormonism is the same as Christianity," said Kathy Somers, 41, of Atlantic, before adding that she was turned off by his record as governor. "I question his conservativeness."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


The Importance of Being Experienced (Peter Berkowitz, 10/21/11, RCP)

Obama's inflation of speech and depreciation of experience reflect two dominant theories in the legal academy in which he spent fifteen years, three as a student at Harvard Law School and twelve as a faculty member at the University of Chicago Law School.

One theory, deliberative democracy, purports to expand and improve conversation among citizens. In practice, however, it appropriates the term "democratic" and reserves it, regardless of where majorities stand, for public policies and laws that are derived from a complex system of abstract ideas. The operation of this system is comprehensible only to a small circle of professors and students, and its results are consistently progressive.

The other theory, pragmatism, takes pride in the open-minded and experimental search for workable political solutions. But it tends to display flexibility only in regard to means. Academic pragmatism holds tight, with dogmatic certainty, to progressive ends.

Both deliberative democracy and pragmatism are forms of progressivism masquerading as imperatives of reason. Both place a premium on vindicating policy theoretically and marketing it rhetorically. Both depend on the devotion of partisan intellectuals. And both downplay the knowledge gained from working in the field.

The American constitutional tradition provides a corrective. The Federalist lauds experience as "the least fallible guide of human opinions" (No. 6); "the oracle of truth" (No. 20); and "the guide that ought always to be followed whenever it can be found" (No. 52). Experience is "nowhere more desirable or more essential," according to Federalist 72, "than in the first magistrate of the nation."

To be sure, our leaders can't reasonably be expected to acquire experience in all relevant areas. But we can expect them to become students of history, which, Federalist 5 observes, provides the opportunity to learn from others' "experience without paying the price which it cost them."

The Founders, political men and soldier-citizens steeped in history, shared their contemporary Edmund Burke's view that prudence, the knowledge nurtured by experience and the virtue of reasoning about concrete circumstances, is "the god of this lower world" and the "supreme guide" in politics.

The problem for Democrats is that the experience of governing tends to demonstrate that their politics are too far to the Left of the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Don't fear free trade in solar: Solyndra fallout and fear-mongering have brought the U.S. to the brink of a trade conflict with China, which could threaten jobs in the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. (Andrew Beebe, chief commercial officer of Suntech, 10/21/11, Fortune)

The last six months have been tough for solar panel manufacturers. While Solyndra has received most of the headlines, more than 50 China-based photovoltaic manufacturers have also closed shop. Rapidly declining prices have squeezed all of our balance sheets. Amidst the competition, Solyndraphobia and fear-mongering have brought the U.S. to the brink of a misguided solar trade conflict against China, which could threaten the livelihood of the global solar ecosystem, particularly solar jobs in the U.S.

The U.S. is net exporter of solar products to China by hundreds of millions of dollars, and to the world by $2 billion (see U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) report). Suntech (STP), too, is a net consumer of solar products in the U.S. - we've purchased more solar products in U.S. dollars than we've sold. Many of our major suppliers are U.S.-based companies and solar industry leaders, such as Hemlock, MEMC, DuPont (DD) and Applied Materials (AMAT). At the same time, Suntech just invested about $10 million in a module manufacturing facility in Goodyear, Arizona, which now employs more than 100 professionals working around-the-clock. A trade war would put all of that at risk.

Still, some U.S. politicians and solar industry representatives want to end free trade in the global solar industry. They fear competition. They don't care that the solar industry is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S., and now employs more than 100,000 Americans. They don't care that the solar industry is expected to add 24,000 jobs over the next 12 months alone, amidst anemic macroeconomic conditions. They don't care that we're on the verge of a revolution that will change the way the world produces and consumes energy.

...they're just embarrassed by its success.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Gadhafi's Death Energizes Syrian, Yemeni Protests (The Associated Press,  October 21, 2011)

Energized by the killing of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, thousands of protesters in Syria and Yemen poured into the streets Friday and said their longtime rulers will be next.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's security forces opened fire on protesters, killing at least 24 people nationwide, according to activists. It did not stop the crowds from chanting, "Your turn is coming, Bashar."

Yemenis delivered a similar message to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who survived an assassination attempt in June. "Gadhafi is gone, and you're next, oh butcher," they chanted.

The armed rebellion that drove Gadhafi from power -- with NATO air support -- appears to have breathed new life into the uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world.

What have American interventions abroad ever achieved...besides the End of History....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


The Thrill of Defeat for Sports Fans (ADAM STERNBERGH, 10/23/11, NY Times Magazine)

There is, however, one demonstrable value to being a sports fan. It allows you to feel real emotional investment in something that has no actual real-world consequences. In any other contest (presidential campaigns, for example), the outcome can be exhilarating or dispiriting to its followers and, by the way, when we wake up the next day, the course of history has been changed. As for fictional stories, you can certainly get swept up in them, but their outcomes don't hinge on the unpredictability of real life. Sports stories, on the other hand, are never guaranteed to end happily. In fact, as we've seen, some end in a highly unsatisfying way. As a fan, you will feel actual joy or actual pain -- this is precisely what non-sports-fans usually ridicule about being a sports fan -- in relation to events that really don't affect your life at all.

In this context, consider the epic collapse. It's crushing, maddening, unfathomable -- and yet it means nothing. Like a shooting-gallery target or bickering sitcom family, your team will spring up again same time next year, essentially unharmed. (Give or take a jettisoned manager or scapegoated G.M.) And so will you.

The epic collapse, then, is an opportunity to confront an event that's bewildering in its unlikelihood and ruinous in its effect, yet to also walk away entirely unscarred. It matters, deeply, and yet it doesn't matter at all. It's heartbreak with training wheels.

And that experience will, ideally, leave you, the fan, with some lingering life lesson or other: about resilience, or the eternal promise of renewal, or simply the absurdity of rooting for someone you've never met to hit a ball with a stick. At a time when much more dire collapses -- financial, emotional, geopolitical, familial -- are a frequent occurrence or at least a consistent threat, the opportunity to experience and survive one, however trivial or nonexistent the repercussions, is something to be valued, not lamented. It's the one time you should really be grateful for deciding to be a fan.

The Yankees were a much worse team, than their fans expected but provided no joy, agony, nor even entertainment in failing predictably this year.  The Sox were pretty easily the best team in baseball until they completely fell apart because of physical frailty and moral shortcomings.  It was every bit as fascinating to watch as the World Series seasons.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Could a Russia-US rail tunnel be built? (BBC, 21 October 201)

Russian officials have backed the idea of a rail tunnel linking Russia and the US.

It would run under the Bering Strait for 105km (65 miles) - twice the length of the UK-France Channel Tunnel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Which Countries Love Start-ups? (Inc)

The World Bank's annual Doing Business report ranks the ease of doing business within 183 countries based on business-friendly regulations. The formula takes into account the ease of starting a business, factoring minimum cost, time, and available capital. Which economies are fostering start-ups? Get this, entrepreneurs: While the United States ranks fourth in the over-all ease of doing business in 2011, it didn't crack the top 10 for start-ups. Here's the count-down, starting at No. 9.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


The GOP Pro-Growth, Flat-Tax Competition (Larry Kudlow, 10/21/11, National Review)

[I]nside that Republican contest, the policy pendulum is swinging toward pro-growth, flat-tax reform. A new agenda. With Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan and the announcement of a Steve Forbes-type flat tax from Gov. Rick Perry, the GOP flat-tax-reform competition is dominating the headline news.

While President Obama stumps for huge tax hikes -- on incomes of $200,000 to the millionaire and billionaire level -- and demoralizes businesses and entrepreneurs with his populist attacks on success and risk-taking, the GOP is fast coming up with a much better idea.

The handwriting is now on the wall. A huge part of the 2012 campaign will be pro-growth tax reform versus "fairness," redistribution, and soak-the-rich. In a stalled-out economy, I'll take the supply-side bet anytime. Pro-growth, flat-tax reform is going to win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Ugliness Started With Bork (JOE NOCERA, 10/21/11, NY Times)

The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the "systematic demonization" of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb "to bork," which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn't a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust -- the line from Bork to today's ugly politics is a straight one.

It is, to be sure, completely understandable that the Democrats wanted to keep Bork off the court. Lewis Powell, the great moderate, was stepping down, which would be leaving the court evenly divided between conservatives and liberals. There was tremendous fear that if Bork were confirmed, he would swing the court to the conservatives and important liberal victories would be overturned -- starting with Roe v. Wade.

But liberals couldn't just come out and say that. "If this were carried out as an internal Senate debate," Ann Lewis, the Democratic activist, would later acknowledge, "we would have deep and thoughtful discussions about the Constitution, and then we would lose." So, instead, the Democrats sought to portray Bork as "a right-wing loony," to use a phrase in a memo written by the Advocacy Institute, a liberal lobby group.

The character assassination began the day Bork was nominated, when Ted Kennedy gave a fiery speech describing "Robert Bork's America" as a place "in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters," and so on. It continued until the day the nomination was voted down; one ad, for instance, claimed, absurdly, that Bork wanted to give "women workers the choice between sterilization and their job."

Conservatives were stunned by the relentlessness -- and the essential unfairness -- of the attacks. But the truth is that many of the liberals fighting the nomination also knew they were unfair. That same Advocacy Institute memo noted that, "Like it or not, Bork falls (perhaps barely) at the borderline of respectability." It didn't matter. He had to be portrayed "as an extreme ideological activist." The ends were used to justify some truly despicable means. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


The Arab Spring's First Elections: As Libyans celebrate Gaddafi's demise, Tunisians go to the polls Sunday to make history--by casting the Arab Spring's first democratic votes. Concerns about Islamism and women's rights are dominating the election (Ursula Lindsey, 10/21/11, Daily Beast)

Almost a year since one of its citizens, in a desperate gesture, ignited the Arab Spring, Tunisia once again is setting an example to the rest of the Middle East.

The small North African country is heading into a historic free election on Sunday, and on the streets of Tunis the atmosphere is both anxious and ebullient. After decades of rigged elections and single-party rule, Tunisians suddenly can choose among 60 parties, most of them brand new.

...since you last heard folks claiming that Muslims and Arabs were uniquely (well, other than Asians) unsuited to democracy.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Netanyahu's Shady Prisoner Deal: A former head of Israel's internal secret service explains the Israeli PM's real motivation behind Gilad Shalit's release. (Rula Jebreal, 10/22/11, Daily Beast)

His green eyes tighten when I mention Gilad Shalit's recent release from captivity by Hamas: "Well, it's great that a life was saved, but let's be honest here: Netanyahu did not do it for humanitarian reasons, but only to [****] Abu Mazen! He is so angry because of the UN bid for a Palestinian state that he decided to make a deal with Hamas.  Netanyahu had another agenda, that didn't include making peace with the Palestinians. Firstly, he wants to stay in office and secondly there is the Iranian atomic threat. With Abu Mazen's move, he was forced to put the negotiations card back on the table. Hamas had to reciprocate by compromising on their original demand to allow Khaled Mashal to move to Egypt, where he could set a new base for Hamas leadership, in case the situation in Syria deteriorated." He smiles: "Both sides can enjoy their newfound popularity for the next 3 weeks, but the bottom line is that with the UN recognizing the Palestinians as a state observer will face another Arab Palestinian Spring as well as an Israel Spring with millions of protesters here in Israel asking for social justice and Palestinians demanding their own country!" Perry's wife, Osnat, joins us with tea and refreshments Perry smiles warmly at her and adds: "She is an Iraqi Jew" Onsnat responds: "I'm Israeli." Perry stirs some sugar in my tea without asking and stands up looking seriously at the surrounding hills. He turns his back and continues: "We Israelis negotiate only when we are cornered, be it by a crisis or a state of war.  It's sad, because all of us know what the solution is. Yes, it's painful, but there is no alternative. It breaks my heart to give back the Golan Heights to Syria, or give up East Jerusalem, but if we want a future for our grandchildren, it's a must."

"Today we lack leadership:  Netanyahu is a coward and a liar, he is out of touch with reality because he sees it from a helicopter. We are less secure today than we were before. Israel lost a most important regional ally, Turkey, a country that has held a strategic value for us, for its border with Iran and with Syria. We used to have great military cooperation. Yes, the Turks are bastards, but we were should have apologized for the loss of lives on the Marmara and paid the damages of the ship.  The outcome of the revolts that are taking place in the surrounding Arab states is Islamists taking part of future governments. Having seen Tahrir Square with millions of people in it, I realized that the only way to handle national aspirations is by listening to them."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Don't Blink! The Hazards of Confidence (DANIEL KAHNEMAN, 10/19/11, NY Times Magazine)

The evidence was overwhelming. Every few months we had a feedback session in which we could compare our evaluations of future cadets with the judgments of their commanders at the officer-training school. The story was always the same: our ability to predict performance at the school was negligible. Our forecasts were better than blind guesses, but not by much.

We were downcast for a while after receiving the discouraging news. But this was the army. Useful or not, there was a routine to be followed, and there were orders to be obeyed. Another batch of candidates would arrive the next day. We took them to the obstacle field, we faced them with the wall, they lifted the log and within a few minutes we saw their true natures revealed, as clearly as ever. The dismal truth about the quality of our predictions had no effect whatsoever on how we evaluated new candidates and very little effect on the confidence we had in our judgments and predictions.

I thought that what was happening to us was remarkable. The statistical evidence of our failure should have shaken our confidence in our judgments of particular candidates, but it did not. It should also have caused us to moderate our predictions, but it did not. We knew as a general fact that our predictions were little better than random guesses, but we continued to feel and act as if each particular prediction was valid. I was reminded of visual illusions, which remain compelling even when you know that what you see is false. I was so struck by the analogy that I coined a term for our experience: the illusion of validity.

I had discovered my first cognitive fallacy.

Decades later, I can see many of the central themes of my thinking about judgment in that old experience. One of these themes is that people who face a difficult question often answer an easier one instead, without realizing it. We were required to predict a soldier's performance in officer training and in combat, but we did so by evaluating his behavior over one hour in an artificial situation. This was a perfect instance of a general rule that I call WYSIATI, "What you see is all there is." We had made up a story from the little we knew but had no way to allow for what we did not know about the individual's future, which was almost everything that would actually matter. When you know as little as we did, you should not make extreme predictions like "He will be a star." The stars we saw on the obstacle field were most likely accidental flickers, in which a coincidence of random events -- like who was near the wall -- largely determined who became a leader. Other events -- some of them also random -- would determine later success in training and combat.

You may be surprised by our failure: it is natural to expect the same leadership ability to manifest itself in various situations. But the exaggerated expectation of consistency is a common error. We are prone to think that the world is more regular and predictable than it really is, because our memory automatically and continuously maintains a story about what is going on, and because the rules of memory tend to make that story as coherent as possible and to suppress alternatives. Fast thinking is not prone to doubt.

The confidence we experience as we make a judgment is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that it is right. Confidence is a feeling, one determined mostly by the coherence of the story and by the ease with which it comes to mind, even when the evidence for the story is sparse and unreliable. The bias toward coherence favors overconfidence. An individual who expresses high confidence probably has a good story, which may or may not be true.

I coined the term "illusion of validity" because the confidence we had in judgments about individual soldiers was not affected by a statistical fact we knew to be true -- that our predictions were unrelated to the truth. This is not an isolated observation. When a compelling impression of a particular event clashes with general knowledge, the impression commonly prevails. And this goes for you, too. The confidence you will experience in your future judgments will not be diminished by what you just read, even if you believe every word. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


The Red State in Your Future (Merrill Matthews, 10/21/2011, Forbes)

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 25 state legislatures are controlled by Republicans and 16 by Democrats, with eight split (i.e., each party controlling one house).  There are 29 Republican governors and 20 Democrats, with one independent.  And there are 20 states where Republicans control both the legislature and governor's mansion vs. 11 Democratic, with 18 split (one party controls the governor's office and the other the legislature).

And though we are a year away from the 2012 election, generic Republican vs. Democratic polls have given Republicans the edge for more than a year.  If that pattern holds--and if blue-state leaders refuse to learn from their policy mistakes, just like their true-blue leader in the White House--it likely means there will be even more red states in 2013.

One reason for that shift is that red states are taking fiscal responsibility while many blue states aren't--and it shows.  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a bipartisan association of conservative state legislators, recently released its fourth edition of "Rich States, Poor States," by the well-known Reagan economist Arthur B. Laffer, the Wall Street Journal's Steve Moore, and Jonathan Williams of ALEC.

The study looks at factors that affect state prosperity and economic outlook, such as tax burdens and population change.  What's clear is that red or red-leaning states dominate the top positions while blue states have the dubious distinction of dragging in last.  In the economic outlook section, for example, the top 20 states are bright red or lean red, while eight out of the bottom 10 are very blue: New York, Vermont, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon and Rhode Island.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Journey to the West (Andrew Moody, Hu Haiyan and Ma Wei, 10/21/11, China Daily)

The reality, however, is of China's manufacturing competitiveness eroding rapidly.

Wage rates in China's key manufacturing heartland of Guangdong have increased by 158 percent over the past 10 years and by 11 percent in the year to 2010. Some other areas of the country have seen even bigger rises.

The question therefore arises of not how to stop the China export juggernaut but whether the country has a significant shelf life left as a major manufacturer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


The New Libya's First Mistake: Muammar Qaddafi should not have been killed, and his surviving son should be captured. (Christopher Hitchens, Oct. 21, 2011, Slate)

At the close of an obscene regime, especially one that has shown it would rather destroy society and the state than surrender power, it is natural for people to hope for something like an exorcism. It is satisfying to see the cadaver of the monster and be sure that he can't come back. It is also reassuring to know that there is no hateful figurehead on whom some kind of "werewolf" resistance could converge in order to prolong the misery and atrocity. But Qaddafi at the time of his death was wounded and out of action and at the head of a small group of terrified riff-raff. He was unable to offer any further resistance. And all the positive results that I cited above could have been achieved by the simple expedient of taking him first to a hospital, then to a jail, and thence to the airport. Indeed, a spell in the dock would probably hugely enhance the positive impact, since those poor lost souls who still put their trust in the man could scarcely have their illusions survive the exposure to even a few hours of the madman's gibberings in court.

And so the new Libya begins, but it begins with a squalid lynching. News correspondents have been quite warm and vocal lately, about the general forbearance shown by the rebels to the persons and property of the Qaddafi loyalists. That makes it even more regrettable that the principle could not be honored in its main instance.

Unless, that is, the Libyans want to evolve into a democracy,  Violent Leader Removal Increases Likelihood of Democratization (Joshua Tucker, October 21, 2011, Monkey Cage)

In response to my request for research on the effect of the death of dictators on the future prospects of the country in question, Michael Miller of the Australian National University sent along the following comments:

    You pose some very interesting and timely questions related to Qaddafi's violent ouster and what this implies for Libya's democratic prospects. I have some research here directly on this question.

    The gist is this: On average, the violent removal of an autocrat (whether by coup, rebellion, assassination, threat, or foreign assistance--it doesn't seem to make much difference) makes it three times more likely that a country will democratize in the immediate future. About half of democratic transitions occur within five years of a violent ouster, and another quarter after a peaceful turnover between autocrats. Hence, there's a big association between an autocratic leader leaving office and autocracy ending. I argue the main reason is that violence indicates and contributes to regime weakness. The periods of chaos following violence, when elites are divided and citizens are engaged, provide the best possible openings for democratic actors to make their demands.

October 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Car Company Gets U.S. Loan, Builds Cars In Finland (MATTHEW MOSK, BRIAN ROSS (@brianross) and RONNIE GREENE, 10/20/11, ABC NEWS)

Henrik Fisker said the U.S. money has been spent on engineering and design work that stayed in the U.S., not on the 500 manufacturing jobs that went to a rural Finnish firm, Valmet Automotive. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 PM


Why the UAW made peace with Detroit (Doron Levin, 10/21/11, Fortune)

The Detroit-based auto industry could face significant threats over the next four years: tighter regulation, soft demand and tougher competition. High costs from union labor won't be one of them.

A successful ratification vote by Ford Motor Co. (F) hourly workers, following ratification at General Motors Co. (GM), seals the four-year wage and benefit deal between the two biggest of the Detroit Three automakers and the United Auto Workers union. (Chrysler Corp. has a tentative agreement with the UAW.) "Detroit automakers haven't solved everything. Competition with the [foreign] transplants is still very difficult," said Sean McAlinden, a labor economist with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "But the UAW contract is no longer the strategic threat it's been."

By employing more new hires, who work at a wage rate far below that paid to more senior workers, the automakers now are able to bring their total labor costs closer to those paid by Toyota (TM), Honda (HMC), Nissan (NSANY), Hyundai, BMW, Volkswagen and Mercedes.

When wages are going down, inflation is not going up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


Flat tax is a winner for Perry and U.S. (John Avlon, 10/20/11, CNN)

Rick Perry is calling for a flat tax to stop his campaign from flatlining. But it might be just what he needs to revive his presidential ambitions. Because a flat tax is not just a big idea; it could prove to be both good politics and good policy.

After all, tax simplification is both needed and polls well, and the flat tax promises a simpler approach to paying taxes. And at a time when President Obama is campaigning against the fact that Warren Buffett and his secretary pay different rates, the flat tax idea might just have met its moment for broader-based appeal.

Its virtue is its simplicity. The current tax code contains more words than the Bible, and Americans spend 6 billion hours each year trying to compile with the code. That's time that can be more productively spent elsewhere. In contrast, a flat tax could be calculated during the seventh-inning stretch of a ballgame.

And although the idea might sound like a radical change, the reality is that the flat tax -- popularized by Alvin Rabushka and Robert Hall of the Hoover Institution -- has been implemented successfully in 37 countries, including Russia, many of the thriving Baltic States and the newest nation on Earth, the Republic of South Sudan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


Republicans Are Needlessly Offending Hispanics : The current crop of candidates is walking directly into an electoral trap. (Mona Charen, 10/21/11, National Review)

Maybe it's the nature of these cattle-call debates, and surely it is partly the result of instigation by the liberal press, but viewers watching the last several encounters will not have come away with a sense of the seriousness of the moment. Instead they will have been treated to the candidates' views on Rick Perry's decision to mandate Gardasil vaccines (delivered by what Rep. Michele Bachmann histrionically called "a government needle"), a spirited discussion about whether Mitt Romney was quick enough to fire a lawn-mowing company when he learned that some of their employees might be illegals, and seemingly endless discussions about how best to build a fence on the southern border. Should it be steel and barbed wire or should it be virtual? Should we deploy drones in Texastan and Arizonastan? How about "boots on the ground"? Should it be electrified with enough juice to fry anyone who touches it? (Cain says that was a joke.) 


This is not to suggest that Republicans who are passionate about illegal immigration compromise their principles, but it's a matter of priorities.

Not only is there no more important issue than the hostility of a segment of the Right to immigrants, but compromising their "principles" should be the minimum required of them in a Christian party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


A G Thing: The real story behind the alleged cheating scandal at the Scrabble World Championships. (Stefan Fatsis|Posted Friday, Oct. 21, 2011,

As soon as I saw the ubiquitous reports about the strip-search/tile-stealing allegations at the 2011 World Scrabble Championship, I cringed. Like the freak-out earlier this year over GRRL and THANG getting added to the Scrabble word list (they are, just not in North America) and last year's "news" that the game is permitting the use of proper nouns (it's not), I suspected that the truth was buried under a big pile of tiles. When it comes to Scrabble and the media, the most applicable letters are LCD.

As best as I can piece together from speaking to players and officials and from reading reports on the Yahoo group World-Scrabble, here's what actually happened last week in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in Warsaw, Poland. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Boeing's Dreamliner Could Make Flying Better (Rebecca Greenfield, 10/21/11, The Atlantic)

Lower prices: First off, the dreamliner claims a 20 percent jump in fuel efficiency over other similar planes. It's built with General Electric and Rolls-Royce engines, which are just more efficient, claims Boeing on its site.  "Advances in engine technology are the biggest contributor to overall fuel efficiency improvements," explains Boeing. "The new engines represent nearly a two-generation jump in technology for the middle of the market." Here's that pretty Rolls-Royce engine:

The plans is also apparently 30 percent cheaper to maintain, reports Jones. "The Dreamliner's unique makeup also won't corrode as easily as other jets," she writes. "The payoff for airlines is the ability to fly long-distance trips without burning as much increasingly costly jet fuel as other similar-size planes." Sadly, the airlines might not share that wealth with passengers, though. Yet, there is another way you could save money. A midsize plane, The Dreamliner might open up new routes that otherwise would've been hard and expensive to get to. "It could pave the way for airlines to have new, direct flights between far-away cities on routes that otherwise wouldn't have profitably supported non-stop trips on a bigger jet burning more fuel with so few passengers," continues Jones. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


Obama announces end of Iraq war, troops to return home by year end (Brian Montopoli, Corbett B. Daly, 10/21/11, CBS News)

President Obama announced Friday that the United States will withdraw nearly all troops from Iraq by the end of the year, effectively bringing the long and polarizing war in Iraq to an end.

"After nearly 9 years, America's war in Iraq will be over," said Mr. Obama.

He said the last American troops will depart the country by January 1 "with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops."

"The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home," he added, saying in the White House briefing room that U.S. troops "will definitely be home for the holidays."

The war in Iraq has meant the death of more than 4,400 U.S. troops and come at a cost of more than $1 trillion.

...and it was just the first domino.  Considering that just the Battle of the Bulge meant the death of more than 19,000 U.S. troops, you can see why our interventions come fast and furious these days.  They're almost too easily won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Illegal Immigrant Crackdown in Alabama Leads to Severe Agricultural Labor Shortage (Ashley Portero, October 21, 2011, IB Times)

Following the passage of Alabama's strict immigration law, which has caused thousands of undocumented immigrants to flee the state due to fears of deportation, farmers are suffering from a labor shortage that they say won't be filled by unemployed American citizens

Farmers in Alabama and other parts of the country often must rely on undocumented immigrants for labor because they say Americans aren't willing to commit themselves to strenuous, low-paying jobs that immigrants are willing to perform -- and well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Baseball's Presidential All-Star Team (Jared Diamond, 10/21/11, WSJ)

This World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals is the most presidential in baseball history. Texas has three players with the same last name as a former U.S. President (Mike Adams, Matt Harrison and C.J. Wilson), along with manager Ron Washington. St. Louis has starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to round out the group.

With that in mind, we decided to take it a step further and draft an all-star team consisting only of players with the same surname as a president. But here's the catch: We only used one player per name. That meant ignoring some Hall-of-Famer, including only one of the 105 Johnsons and sprinkling in some bizarre names with the obvious choices.

...Ralph Kiner and Tim McCarver did a riff on this one because the Mets had Howard Johnson, Gary Carter, Mookie Wilson and Stan Jefferson, but the question was to name the 6 (I think) players who shared names with presidents.    The trick was that a Hernandez (Keith) had been a Latin American president and a Santana was presidenbt of the Dominican.  Of course, when they asked Rafael if he was any relation he said: "No, very bad man."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


OBIT: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator who has been killed aged 69, liked to promote himself as an instigator of global revolution; for the four decades of his rule, however, this was carried out through the subjugation of his people at home, and the sponsorship of terrorism abroad.  (The Telegraph, 10/21/11)

It was a suitably chaotic end for a man who could never be easily pigeonholed. Erratic, vain and utterly unpredictable, he always seemed to be enjoying a private joke which no one else could see. His image, plastered on walls all over Libya, seemed a parody of Sixties radical chic -- the craggy features, longish hair, the eyes half-hidden behind retro blue-tone shades.

Gaddafi would arrive at summits of Arab leaders in a white limousine surrounded by a bodyguard of nubile Kalashnikov-toting brunettes. At one non-aligned summit in Belgrade, he turned up with two horses and six camels; the Yugoslavs allowed him to graze the camels in front of his hotel - where he pitched his tent and drank fresh camel milk - but refused to allow him to arrive at the conference on one of his white chargers. Several of the camels ended up in Belgrade zoo.

At an African Union summit in Durban in 2002, his entourage consisted of a personal jet, two Antonov transport aircraft, a container ship loaded with buses, goat carcases and prayer mats, a mobile hospital, jamming equipment that disrupted local networks, $6 million in petty cash, and 400 security guards with associated rocket launchers, armoured cars and other hardware, who nearly provoked a shoot-out with South Africa's security forces.

On his return motorcade through Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, Gaddafi tossed fistfuls of dollars from his car to appreciative crowds, remarking that this way he could be sure they went to the poor.

Gaddafi's political pronouncements were equally outlandish. He told the Algerian regime that it had wasted the one and a half million martyrs who had died in the war against France because it had not continued across North Africa to "liberate" Jerusalem. He once suggested a binational state for Palestinians and Israelis called Isratine.

Under the banner of pan-Arabism, he offered political unity (under his leadership, inevitably) to Syria, Egypt and Sudan (none of which wanted it), then changed tack to pan-Africanism, calling for a united continent (also to be ruled from Tripoli). As a first step, he threw open Libya's frontiers to all African citizens; the result was that four million, mainly Muslim, Libyans became resentful hosts to at least one and a half million impoverished sub-Saharan migrants.

Yet the self-styled "Universal Theorist" and "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Arab Libyan Popular and Socialist Jamahiriya" was no joke. In the 1970s and 1980s, while other tyrants were content to repress their own people, Gaddafi seemed hell-bent on bringing murder and mayhem to the whole world.

After Pam Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in 1988, leaving 270 dead -- the biggest mass murder in British history - a court found two Libyans guilty of planting the bomb on board. In 1984, WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead in London with a machine gun fired from inside the Libyan embassy. Then there was the bombing of a Berlin discotheque, explosions at Rome and Vienna airports and the bombing of a French airliner over Chad.

In addition, Gaddafi sent arms shipments to the IRA, Abu Nidal, and numerous other terrorist organisations and set out to export revolution to his neighbours, perpetuating regional conflicts in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Chad and Liberia. Domestic opponents -- the "running dogs" who opposed his dictatorship -- were ruthlessly liquidated. In 1984 bomb attacks on seven Libyan exiles living in Britain left 24 people injured; one Libyan journalist opposed to Gaddafi's regime was assassinated as he walked past London's Regent's Park mosque.

In the mid-1980s "taking out Gaddafi" became an American obsession. In 1986, for example, he survived missile attacks ordered by President Reagan - attacks which he claimed had killed his adopted daughter (in fact evidence later emerged to suggest that she remains alive and well).

Indeed, for all his madcap behaviour, Gaddafi was no fool. He survived at least a dozen attempts on his life and remained the longest ruling revolutionary from the Nasserite Sixties. In the 1970s and 1980s he could defy the might of the United States and laugh off UN resolutions, confident that the Arab world, the Third World and the Soviet bloc would back him. But times changed. By the 1990s the Soviet Union was no more, and Arab leaders had had enough of Gaddafi's troublemaking.

As a result, in the late 1990s he made his most audacious move since coming to power: the reinvention of himself as a peace-loving international statesman. In 1999 Libya finally apologised for the shooting of Yvonne Fletcher, and handed over the men suspected of masterminding the Lockerbie bombing for trial. Gaddafi admitted that some of the "liberation" movements he had assisted were not really "liberation" movements at all; it had all been a terrible mistake. In 2004, following a British diplomatic initiative, he publicly renounced Libya's weapons of mass destruction programme.

With Libya's proven reserves of 30 billion barrels of oil as bait, it did not take long for Western leaders to bury the past and beat a path to his tent. The British public was treated to the spectacle of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praising the colonel's "statesmanlike and courageous" strategy and Prime Minister Tony Blair offering the "hand of partnership" over a glass of camel's milk.

The reasons for Gaddafi's change of heart aroused much speculation. He had certainly been anxious to end the UN sanctions imposed in 1992, which had crippled his country's economy. But it was the September 11 attacks that appear to have been the catalyst.

Gaddafi was the first Arab leader to condemn the attacks (helpfully suggesting that the United States bomb the safe havens of Islamist militants in London); and the most instantly alert to the implications for his own survival.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


How Friends Ruin Memory: The Social Conformity Effect (Jonah Lehrer, October 18, 2011, Wired)

We tweak our stories so that they become better stories. We bend the facts so that the facts appeal to the group. Because we are social animals, our memory of the past is constantly being revised to fit social pressures.

The power of this phenomenon was demonstrated in a new Science paper by Micah Edelson, Tali Sharot, Raymond Dolan and Yadin Dudai. The neuroscientists were interested in how the opinion of other people can alter our personal memories, even over a relatively short period of time. The experiment itself was straightforward. A few dozen people watched an eyewitness style documentary about a police arrest in groups of five. Three days later, the subjects returned to the lab and completed a memory test about the documentary. Four days after that, they were brought back once again and asked a variety of questions about the short movie while inside a brain scanner.

This time, though, the subjects were given a "lifeline": they were shown the answers given by other people in their film-viewing group. Unbeknownst to the subjects, the lifeline was actually composed of false answers to the very questions that the subjects had previously answered correctly and confidently. Remarkably, this false feedback altered the responses of the participants, leading nearly 70 percent to conform to the group and give an incorrect answer. They had revised their stories in light of the social pressure.

The question, of course, is whether their memory of the film had actually undergone a change. (Previous studies have demonstrated that people will knowingly give a false answer just to conform to the group. We're such wimps.) To find out, the researchers invited the subjects back to the lab one last time to take the memory test, telling them that the answers they had previously been given were not those of their fellow film watchers, but randomly generated by a computer. Some of the responses reverted back to the original, but more than 40 percent remained erroneous, implying that the subjects were relying on false memories implanted by the earlier session. They had come to believe their own bull[****].

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The Electric Leaf's True Believers Won't Leave Well Enough Alone (BRADLEY BERMAN, 10/16/11, NY Times)

If you assume that those discussions are akin to the chatter at a vehicular Tupperware party, you may be underestimating the potential for smart technologists to disrupt the already disruptive electric car industry.

Phil Sadow, an independent engineering consultant based here, is the sort of innovator that makes such upheavals happen.

His contribution sounds innocent enough: he adapted the 120-volt charging cord that comes as standard equipment in the Leaf so it can handle a 240-volt charge. This reduces recharge times to less than eight hours, from about 20, and it lets Leaf drivers plug the Nissan charging cord into any 240-volt household outlet, typically used for appliances like clothes dryers.

Mr. Sadow's project was inspired by his outrage over E.V. owners' being billed as much as $6,000 to install 240-volt charging equipment. These home units, he says, with their fancy industrial designs and Wi-Fi capability, are more complex than necessary.

"If you look at your average Walgreens $10 hair dryer, it comes with almost all the same equipment as required by an E.V. cord," he said.

The 120-volt charge cord, made by Panasonic, is supplied by Nissan with the car as a stopgap for those times when a high-voltage outlet is not available. "I knew it would handle at least 12 amps at 240 volts without any trouble, because all cable is rated to at least 250 volts," Mr. Sadow said. "I determined that an upgrade was possible."

His testing showed that the cord had been overengineered by Panasonic and could handle up to 20 amps -- that is, if the software in its microcontroller could be modified.

"It took some reverse engineering to figure that out," Mr. Sadow said. "It was a significant man-hour investment to get to that stage."

Curiously, Mr. Sadow is not a Leaf owner. He drives a Toyota Prius that he converted to run on a 6.5 kilowatt-hour battery pack -- made up of 864 batteries used in DeWalt power tools -- overseen by a battery management system that he created.

With Mr. Sadow's $239 modification, the charging cord that comes with the Leaf will replenish the battery pack at the full capacity of the car's onboard 3.3-kilowatt charger. It can be plugged into a 240-volt outlet or combined with another device, called a Quick-220, that uses two 110-volt outlets on separate circuits.

"To get 240-volt charging at home, you don't need to spend a ton of money," he said.

His point would seem to be supported by Nissan's announcement last week that the price of its approved home chargers was being lowered to $1,818 for a "typical home installation."

In essence, Mr. Sadow has created a workaround that could make an expensive electric car-charging infrastructure unnecessary. His work also calls into question the cost-effectiveness of an Energy Department program that is providing $115 million to install 14,000 E.V. chargers in 18 cities in six states and Washington. Leaf owners have complained about the slow rollout of those chargers and their poor reliability.

In addition to the matter of cost, Mr. Sadow said he thought the complexity and bureaucracy of such programs undermined the adoption of electric cars.

"The E.V. cord should be as simple as a garden hose," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


More free trade can create more jobs (Terry McGraw, October 20, 2011, Politico)

Washington is now negotiating with eight countries -- including Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam -- under the rubric of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The total trade of all of these countries is more than $170 billion, collectively making this group the fourth-largest U.S. trading partner.

Reaching an agreement with all eight nations is critical if the U.S. is to keep up with the growing number of preferential trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region -- to which America is not a signatory. A successful Pacific partnership may also become the foundation for an even broader Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, which could include major U.S. trading partners like Japan, whose government is weighing membership in TPP.

Other countries, like Indonesia, could be added, as this agreement expands and becomes a significant platform for free trade.

Another deal now being negotiated is a U.S.-India bilateral investment treaty. Though short of a full-fledged free-trade agreement, it's important for protecting U.S. interests. India's fast-growing economy means high-value exports from U.S.-based companies -- including parts for nuclear power plants, aircraft, pharmaceuticals, electrical machinery and other high-end products. Even during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2008, U.S. merchandise exports to India grew at a brisk 18 percent.

The U.S. is also speaking with other countries, including Vietnam and China, about inking bilateral investment agreements likely to advance U.S. interests. In addition, Russia is negotiating to join the World Trade Organization on commercially meaningful terms.

These initiatives deserve our backing. But there's the larger question of what's next. The answer is more free-trade initiatives need to move forward.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


The De Facto Religious Test in Presidential Politics (Amy Sullivan, Oct. 21, 2011, TIME)

Officially, the United States has no religious test for elected officials. The prohibition is right there in Article VI, section 3 of the Constitution: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Accordingly, the government may not prevent an individual from seeking or holding office because of their particular religious faith or lack thereof.

Voters, however, are an entirely different matter. Since 2000, more than two-thirds of Americans have told Pew pollsters that they want the President to be a person of faith, which effectively imposes a test of religious belief for candidates. And some voters go even further -- often explicitly encouraged by their religious leaders -- by reserving their support for candidates who openly profess theological beliefs similar to their own.

...if the most conformist country in the world didn't require conformity from its chief executive.

'Conservative Prots' vs. LDS baptisms? (Terry Mattingly, 10/18/11, GetReligion)

Thus, news consumers should brace themselves for waves of stories focusing on Romney and the millions of traditional, Trinitarian Christians who disagree with him on the nature of the Godhead and a host of other theological subjects. Some of these people will decide not to vote for him, for reasons both religious and political.

At the same time, it is highly unlikely that we will see waves of coverage of the millions of voters -- religious, non-religious, whatever -- who disagree with Romney on a host of subjects linked to marriage, family and related issues in moral theology. Many, if not most, of these voters will decide not to vote for Romney, for reasons both religious and political.

Here's my journalistic question: Why is a big story when people reject Romney because of his religious views on the Trinity, but not a major story when people reject his religious views on, let's say, the sanctity of unborn human life?

Just asking. In other words, are there religious/political tests on both sides of our elections?

This raises more questions for journalists trying to plan campaign coverage: How many GOP voters will reject this Mormon man because of religious issues? How many Democratic voters will reject him because of issues that are linked to his faith? Of these two camps, which will be larger than the other. Just asking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


A Jew of No Religion: An Israeli novelist gets a legal writ of divorce between Jewish ethnicity and religion. (Gershom Gorenberg, October 19, 2011, American Prospect)

[I]n the first years of Israel's independence, the Orthodox minority used coalition politics to preserve a system of established religion inherited from Ottoman rule of the Middle East. The state rabbinate's actual power is mostly limited to marriage and divorce. The registration of citizens' ethnic nationality and religion has its own murky history -- but has virtually no legal import for the individual. The state rabbinate and the extreme positions of clerical parties do, however, serve the usual function of established religion: making religion distasteful.

By changing his religious registration to "none," Kaniuk found a symbol for expressing that distaste. Implicitly, though, he affirmed the clerical establishment's claim to represent Judaism. The court affirmed a constitutional right to define oneself according to one's conscience -- but only according to the inadequate categories of nationality and religion. Real freedom of conscience would require the state to stop registering religious and ethnic identity. Actual separation of synagogue and state would mean abolishing the official rabbinate, enacting civil marriage, and ending government involvement in religious education. Kaniuk himself might have contributed more to understanding the confusions of Jewish identity by writing a novel than by hiring a lawyer. But to be fair, he's 81 years old and said in his suit that he didn't feel he had much time left to define himself as he chose.

Glance beyond Kaniuk to the larger issues of war and peace: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government insist that as a condition for peace, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Does Netanyahu really know what he means by "Jewish"? Even if he does, members of his own cabinet would disagree. So would a large portion of the public -- and would disagree in different ways according to their mood.

Israel doesn't need a Palestinian stamp of approval to be a Jewish state. Nor does it need the registration system that Kaniuk used to voice his anger. It needs only a majority that considers itself Jewish in one not-quite-consistent way or another and that has the freedom to conduct a roiling, constant argument about Jewish culture.

So is the world required to recognize a permanent Jewish state of Israel even when Jews--however defined--become the minority?

October 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 PM


Energy: Friend or Enemy?: a review of The End of Energy: The Unmaking of America's Environment, Security, and Independence by Michael J. Graetz  William D. Nordhaus, 10/27/11, NY Review of Books)

If we look at both the rhetoric and substance of oil policy, particularly oil dependency, much thinking is misguided because of misconceptions about the nature of oil dependency. We can usefully think of the oil market as a single integrated world market--like a giant bathtub of oil. In the bathtub view, there are spigots from Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other producers that introduce oil into the inventory. And there are drains from which the United States, China, and other consumers draw oil. Nevertheless, the dynamics of the price and quantity are determined by the sum of these demands and supplies, and are independent of whether the faucets and drains are labeled "US," "Russia," or "China." In other words, prices are determined by global supply and demand, and the composition of supply and demand is irrelevant.7

Why is crude oil an integrated world market? The reasons are that the costs of transporting oil are low, different crude oils are largely interchangeable, and the different crudes can be blended. This means that crude oil is fungible, like dollar bills. A shortfall in one region can be made up by shipping a similar oil there from elsewhere in the world. US oil policies make no more sense than trying to lower the water level in one end of the bathtub by taking a few cups of water from that end.

We know that the world oil market is unified because there is a single price of crude oil that holds no matter what the source. For example, we can look at whether prices (with corrections for gravity and sulfur) in fact move together. A good test of this view would be to ask whether a benchmark crude price predicts the movement of other prices. Looking at crude oil from twenty-eight different regions around the world from 1977 to 2009, I found that a 10.00 percent change in the price of the "Brent" crude oil--a blend of crude often used as a benchmark for price--led to a 9.99 percent change in the price of other crude oils. These correlations among crude oil prices are markedly higher than are observed for virtually any other traded good or service.

The implication of the bathtub view is profound. It means that virtually no important oil issue involves US dependency on foreign oil. Whether we consider pollution, macroeconomic impacts, price volatility, supply interruptions, or Middle East politics, our vulnerability depends upon the global market. It does not depend upon the fraction of our consumption that is imported.

I will use two examples to illustrate this point. A first hardy perennial is the idea that we should limit our consumption to oil from "secure sources." This might mean concentrating on Canada and Mexico, or perhaps relying only on our own output, or we might even exclude Alaska lest it someday decide to secede.

These policies make no sense in an integrated world oil market. Suppose that the United States limited its imports to completely reliable sources--ones that would never, ever cut off supplies--and specifically prohibited imports from unreliable country A. This would lead country A to send its oil to other countries. In an integrated world market, the result would be simply to reallocate production from non-A countries to the United States to make up the shortfall here and eliminate the excess there. Unless a country actually changes its flow into the world bathtub, there will be no impact on the United States of sourcing imports from secure regions only.

Another useful example is sanctions and embargoes. These are often launched as ways of putting economic pressures on countries. The US imposed oil sanctions on Libya from 1986 to 2004 and then again this year; and on Iran from 1979 to the present. The rationale of these policies was to reduce demand for oil from offending countries and decrease their export prices and revenues. But these were only partial in that they did not cover the entire world, including smugglers. The bathtub theory of the world oil market would predict that there would be no effect for the same reason that reducing dependency has no effect: production would simply be reallocated among other countries.

What actually happened during the embargoes? The data indicate that prices in Iran and Libya were virtually unchanged. This is exactly what the bathtub model predicts because, to a first approximation, such embargoes should be expected to have no effect on world prices or production, no impact on the target countries, and no impact on the United States or other consuming countries. They are purely symbolic measures.

The conclusion is that oil policy should focus on world production and consumption and not on the portion we import, and should focus as well on the externalities from our consumption in the form of pollution and global warming. This means primarily that oil consumption should face its full social cost. The major external cost that remains to be addressed is climate change. Until countries put an appropriate price on carbon emissions for oil and other fossil fuels, energy policy will be incoherent, and energy and environmental policies will be working at cross-purposes. The National Research Council estimates cited above used a damage cost of $30 per ton of CO2 emissions. This is somewhat higher than estimates from my own work but is a reasonable target for a US carbon price over the next decade or so. If phased in gradually through a cap-and-trade or carbon tax, such a price would help promote both fiscal and environmental goals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 PM


ObamaCare's Heritage: The think tank, the individual mandate and the trouble with Romney. (JAMES TARANTO, 10/19/11, WSJ)

Heritage did put forward the idea of an individual mandate, though it predated HillaryCare by several years. We know this because we were there: In 1988-90, we were employed at Heritage as a public relations associate (a junior writer and editor), and we wrote at least one press release for a publication touting Heritage's plan for comprehensive legislation to provide universal "quality, affordable health care."

As a junior publicist, we weren't being paid for our personal opinions. But we are now, so you will be the first to know that when we worked at Heritage, we hated the Heritage plan, especially the individual mandate. "Universal health care" was neither already established nor inevitable, and we thought the foundation had made a serious philosophical and strategic error in accepting rather than disputing the left-liberal notion that the provision of "quality, affordable health care" to everyone was a proper role of government. As to the mandate, we remember reading about it and thinking: "I thought we were supposed to be for freedom."

The plan was introduced in a 1989 book, "A National Health System for America" by Stuart Butler and Edmund Haislmaier. We seem to have mislaid our copy, and we couldn't find it online, but we did track down a 1990 Backgrounder and a 1991 lecture by Butler that outline the plan. One of its two major planks, the equalization of tax treatment for individually purchased and employer-provided health insurance, seemed sensible and unobjectionable, at least in principle.

But the other was the mandate, described as a "Health Care Social Contract" and fleshed out in the lecture:

We would include a mandate in our proposal--not a mandate on employers, but a mandate on heads of households--to obtain at least a basic package of health insurance for themselves and their families. That would have to include, by federal law, a catastrophic provision in the form of a stop loss for a family's total health outlays. It would have to include all members of the family, and it might also include certain very specific services, such as preventive care, well baby visits, and other items.

The Heritage mandate, at least in theory, would have been less burdensome than the ObamaCare one. You'd have to be covered against catastrophically costly conditions but could choose to buy additional insurance or pay out of pocket for everyday medical needs. On the other hand, Butler's vague language--"it might also include certain very specific services . . . and other items"--would seem to leave the door wide open for limitless expansion.

Whatever the particular differences, the Heritage mandate was indistinguishable in principle from the ObamaCare one.

...is that he has governed as a Republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 PM


Why does modern design tend to look so harsh and feel so unhospitable? (Michael Mehaffy and Nikos A. Salingaros, 10/19/11, Guernica)

Have you ever looked at a bizarre building design and wondered, "What were the architects thinking?" Have you looked at a supposedly "ecological" industrial-looking building, and questioned how it could be truly ecological? Or have you simply felt frustrated by a building that made you uncomfortable, or felt anger when a beautiful old building was razed and replaced with a contemporary eyesore? You might be forgiven for thinking "these architects must be blind!" New research shows that in a real sense, you might actually be right.

Environmental psychologists have long known about this widespread and puzzling phenomenon. Laboratory results show conclusively that architects literally see the world differently from non-architects. Not only do architects notice and look for different aspects of the environment than other people; their brains seem to synthesize an understanding of the world that has notable differences from natural reality. Instead of a contextual world of harmonious geometric relationships and connectedness, architects tend to see a world of objects set apart from their contexts, with distinctive, attention-getting qualities.

...they despise the objective beauty of Creation and seek to replace it with the ugliness of their own intellects.  That's all modern art is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 PM


Obama struggling in Ohio (PPP, 10/20/11)

Obama's approval rating in the state is only 43%, with 52% of voters disapproving of him.  He's very unpopular with independents at 39/57, and even with Democrats his approval has dropped to a worrisome low of 73%. He's in particularly bad shape with white voters (37/57) and men (38/58).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 PM

Danilo Perez, Poncho Sanchez On JazzSet (Becca Pulliam, 10/20/11, JazzSet

The Alternate Routes series at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center pairs jazz with Latin music -- or you might hear it as Latin music with jazz. It is dynamic: a meeting of passion, storytelling, rhythm and beautiful percussion instruments, including Danilo Perez's piano, with an invitation to dance from conguero Poncho Sanchez's band. The spirited audience at the Victoria Theater loves it.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


Romney and Adviser Mankiw: They Don't Always See Eye-to-Eye (Sara Murray, 10/20/11, WSJ)

Speaking at Princeton University, Mr. Mankiw, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, made the case for a consumption tax, offered support for the Federal Reserve's stimulative experiments and noted that the popular mortgage-interest tax deduction isn't sound policy.

A consumption tax would be levied on what Americans buy instead of their income. The flat tax that Rick Perry supports is one form of a consumption tax because flat taxes typically include exemptions for savings and investment. So is Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax. Mr. Romney has slammed Mr. Cain's plan, and expressed some concerns about Mr. Perry's flat tax idea.

"I think taxing consumption is actually not a bad idea," Mr. Mankiw said, adding that current exemptions for retirement savings, such as 401(k) plans and Roth IRAs, are a move toward a consumption tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM


Flat Tax Seen as Savings Booster (JOHN D. MCKINNON, 10/20/11, WSJ)

While many voters appear to like the proposals for their simplicity--a flat percentage rate, for instance--sympathetic economists see them as a way of reducing the tax incentives encouraged excessive borrowing and spending in the past decade while laying a foundation for stronger growth.

A consumption tax "has always been popular, but what makes the notion attractive in some circles now is that we've just been through a consumption bubble," said Alvin Rabushka of the Hoover Institution, a co-author of the first major flat-tax proposal 30 years ago. "I think looking long-term, you'd like to have a healthy balance [of incentives] and a system that doesn't discourage savings and investment."

Mr. Cain's plan and the flat tax Mr. Perry has endorsed are versions of a consumption tax. They would largely exempt from taxation income that is saved and investment income. That would encourage saving, which would in turn increase investment, productivity and jobs, advocates say. A value-added, or national sales tax, is another form of consumption tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 PM


The Organizers vs. the Organized in Zuccotti Park (Alex Klein,10/20/11, New York)

All occupiers are equal -- but some occupiers are more equal than others. In wind-whipped Zuccotti Park, new divisions and hierarchies are threatening to upend Occupy Wall Street and its leaderless collective.

As the protest has grown, some of the occupiers have spontaneously taken charge on projects large and small. But many of the people in Zuccotti Park aren't taking direction well, leading to a tense Thursday of political disagreements, the occasional shouting match, and at least one fistfight.

It began, as it so often does, with a drum circle. The ten-hour groove marathons weren't sitting well with the neighborhood's community board, the ironically situated High School of Economics and Finance that sits on the corner of Zuccotti Park, or many of the sleep-deprived protesters.

"[The high school] couldn't teach," explained Josh Nelson, a 27-year-old occupier from Nebraska. "And we've had issues with the drummers too. They drum incessantly all day, and really loud." Facilitators spearheaded a General Assembly proposal to limit the drumming to two hours a day. "The drumming is a major issue which has the potential to get us kicked out," said Lauren Digion, a leader on the sanitation working group.

But the drums were fun. They brought in publicity and money. Many non-facilitators were infuriated by the decision and claimed that it had been forced through the General Assembly.

"They're imposing a structure on the natural flow of music," said Seth Harper, an 18-year-old from Georgia. "The GA decided to do it ... they suppressed people's opinions. I wanted to do introduce a different proposal, but a big black organizer chick with an Afro said I couldn't."

Hey, hippie, don't mess with Christie Love.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


The Philosopher of the Post-9/11 Era: Why have the right and the left resurrected Reinhold Niebuhr? (Jordan Smith|Posted Monday, Oct. 17, 2011, Slate)

[R]einhold Niebuhr was first and foremost a pastor and theologian, not a policy analyst. Diggins reminds us that Niebuhr's genius was principally in recasting Christian thought to make it not only relevant but urgently useful in grappling with the problems of the 20th century. "Whether a supreme being exists was of less importance to Reinhold Niebuhr than the message Christianity holds out to humankind," Diggins writes. In Niebuhr's hands, the myth of the Fall from the Garden of Eden and the doctrine of original sin were enduring insights about the imperfectability of mankind. Unlike Marxism, liberalism, and fascism, "prophetic Christianity" contained internal checks on utopian aspirations. 

And yet, Niebuhr believed that even as man was fundamentally flawed, he was "called" to seek justice--not in the hereafter, but in the temporal world. The complete justice of the kingdom of God was beyond attainment by human beings, and yet it was essential to continually strive for the best possible outcome, however qualified. In his magnum opus, The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941), Niebuhr wrote that the Christian is " 'both sinner and righteous' ... Christ is what we ought to be and also what we cannot be." A wise man recognizes "that the power of God is in us and the power of God is against us in judgement and mercy." If this sounds paradoxical, that was the point. He had the sermonizer's appreciation of the power of contradictions to heighten moral awareness.

Niebuhr's preoccupation with sin and imperfection led him frequently to endorse the middle spot between two poles. His most lasting political book, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness (1944), was written at the height of the midcentury debate over the viability of liberal democracy. At a time when many Western intellectuals were arguing that the future lay in Soviet-style socialism, Niebuhr spoke out for democracy as a bulwark against any "undue centralization of power," whether "priestly, military, economic, or political." By constraining utopian impulses emerging from all sides, he argued, democracy is able to attain a measure of peace and justice--but only a measure. Ever alert to the perils of fanaticism, as well as undue optimism or bleak pessimism, Niebuhr remained a small-d democrat who prioritized the possible over the ideal through his various political incarnations. And yet the problem with balanced thought is that it can easily be manipulated. Niebuhr's principles were so elastic and general that they can be plausibly interpreted and applied in nearly infinite ways. Any war or political act can be explained as pragmatic or humble--as a median between two extremes--depending on where the goalposts are placed. That is why Niebuhr was able to endorse events and ideas as seemingly contradictory as nuclear deterrence and Kennan-style anti-anti-communism, which abhorred nuclear weapons.

Post-911? To what thinker would it have been clearer that Islamicism was just one more ism to be put down?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Free, Free, Free Cellphone Calls! (Well, Not Quite Free...) (Robert Hahn and Peter Passell, 10/20/11, Forbes)

Heard about Viber yet? It's an app for the iPhone and for Android smartphones, the neatest means yet for making virtually free phone calls and sending free text messages to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Oh, and did we mention that the voice quality is typically superior to that of the mobile phone networks? The only catch is that both parties need to install the software.

Well, not quite the only catch. If Viber and similar mobile phone applications from Skype and others are widely adopted - and we can't imagine why they wouldn't be - their use will significantly erode the revenues of the wireless telecom networks. This would bring into sharp focus an issue that neither the telecoms nor their regulators are eager to confront: Should the carriers be allowed to decide which applications can be used on their systems, and on what terms?

Viber is not a technological breakthrough. Dozens of companies offer ways to take advantage of the somewhat arbitrary distinction between voice and data communications built into the wireless carriers' price plans. But Viber is the slickest, most seamless way to date to use so-called voice over Internet protocol technology on popular smartphones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


7 great government-backed inventions (CNN/Money, 10/19/11)
Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Priti Patel: The Rise of a British-Asian Conservative (Palash R. Ghosh, October 18, 2011, IB Times)

Priti Patel is one of the most fascinating (and controversial) politicians in contemporary Britain. The 39-year-old Conservative MP is not only blessed with stunning good looks, but she is also of Asian Indian descent - somewhat of a rarity among Tory lawmakers.

Moreover, Patel (whose Indian Gujarati parents fled Idi Amin's Uganda for Britain in the early 1970s) has hewed to a hard-right line on many political issues, including the death penalty, illegal immigration, labor unions and the UK's integration with Europe.

Regarding the death penalty, Patel recently told a television news affairs program: "I would actually support the re-introduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent. I have no issue on having a debate -- I think far too many politicians do run away from debating issues like this."

She is frequently described in the British press as a "rising star" in the Conservative Party and some believe she might one day become the first Asian Prime Minister of the U.K. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


The shifting of the guard (Peter Popham, 17 October 2011, New cStatesman)

[T]he signs of change have come fast. The UN's special rapporteur on human rights was given a visa, after a year of delay. Photos of and reports about Suu Kyi began to appear in the Burmese press for the first time since 1989, including an interview with her that had been awaiting the censor's decision for ten months - all the political content had been filleted from it, but no matter. The government set up a human rights commission - composed, it is true, of military hacks from the previous regime. It also set up a commission to review and revise existing laws, taking advice from international bodies including the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Most impressive and unexpected was the action taken over the Myitsone Dam, a Chinese-financed project to dam the Irrawaddy River to generate electricity - 90 per cent of which for export to China. A protest movement swelled rapidly, combining patriotism - the Irrawaddy is a national symbol - with anti-Chinese sentiment and sympathy for the ethnic-minority Kachin, who would be severely affected, and whose insurgency against the Burmese army recently reignited. After Suu Kyi endorsed the protests, the president called a halt to construction, saying it was "against the will of the people" - a remarkable reason for a government in Burma to claim to do anything.

Now, the government has launched another striking initiative. More than 600 prisoners have been released, including some prominent political detainees. When Suu Kyi, as leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), was set free last November, the failure to release anybody else was what made it look like a gimmick. A partial amnesty a few months later looked equally cynical, as it affected very few prisoners found guilty of political crimes.

One of the most bizarre reactions to the End of History is the Realists and Leftists hope that some places stay authoritarian just to cast doubt on the theory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


IQ 'can change in teenage years' (David Shukman, 10/19/11, BBC)

The mental ability of teenagers can improve or decline on a far greater scale than previously thought, according to new research.

Until now the assumption has been that intellectual capacity, as measured by IQ, stays quite static during life.

But tests conducted on teenagers at an average age of 14 and then repeated when their average age was nearly 18 found improvements - and deterioration.

...but I do know I've gotten dumber.  He assures me I don't know anything, but I swear I used to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


French warning to euro summit (Hugh Carnegy in Paris, Peter Spiegel in Brussels and David Oakley in London, 10/18/11, Financial Times)

As Moody's, the US rating agency, warned that France could see its credit outlook cut as a result of the growing sovereign debt emergency, Mr Sarkozy alluded to his country's vulnerability were the eurozone to fall apart. "France on its own cannot cope."

The Revolution didn't work.
Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


U.S. Hispanics Choose Churches Outside Catholicism (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, October 19, 2011, NPR Morning Edition)

As their numbers grow, Latinos are not only changing where and how they worship; they're also beginning to affect the larger Christian faith.

You can see evidence of that in the Assemblies of God, once a historically white, suburban Pentecostal denomination. When you walk into the denomination's largest church, it's sensory overload: The auditorium is jam-packed with hundreds of Latino worshipers singing in Spanish, swaying and dancing.

In little more than a decade, New Life Covenant Church in Chicago has grown from 68 people to more than 4,000 members; it had to abandon its old building and meet in Clemente High School. When you include the other churches New Life has started, its membership comes to some 12,000 people.

The Rev. Wilfredo de Jesus is leading the movement to give a little color to the mostly white Pentecostal faith. He says -- and statistics bear him out -- that Latinos are saving American Christianity.

"No doubt, every denomination would have decreased in membership," he says, "if it had not been for Hispanic growth, including our fellowship, the Assemblies of God."

October 19, 2011

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'Day of the Dead,' a traditional Latin American holiday honoring the departed, expands in US (Associated Press, October 19, 2011)

In the last decade or so, this traditional Latin American holiday with indigenous roots has spread throughout the U.S. along with migration from Mexico and other countries where it is observed. Not only are U.S.-born Latinos adopting the Day of the Dead, but various underground and artistic non-Latino groups have begun to mark the Nov. 1-2 holidays through colorful celebrations, parades, exhibits and even bike rides and mixed martial arts fights. [...]

"It's everywhere now," said Carlos Hernandez, 49, a Houston-based artist who launched the "Day of the Dead Rock Stars" event. "You can even get Dia de los Muertos stuff at Wal-Mart."

The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, honors departed souls of loved ones who are welcomed back for a few intimate hours. At burial sites or intricately built altars, photos of loved ones are centered on skeleton figurines, bright decorations, candles, candy and other offerings such as the favorite foods of the departed. Pre-Columbian in origin, many of the themes and rituals now are mixtures of indigenous practices and Roman Catholicism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 PM


Perry Pitches Upcoming Flat Tax Plan (John McCormick, 10/19/11, Bloomberg)

Texas Governor Rick Perry said today he intends to offer a flat-tax plan soon as he sought to distinguish himself from Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race. [...]

"It starts with scrapping the 3 million words of the current code, starting over with something simple, a flat tax," Perry said of his proposal. "I want to make the tax code so simple that even Timothy Geithner can file his taxes on time." 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line (Sasha Chavkin, 10/18/11, NY World)

On the morning of October 12, Melissa Franchy boarded the B110 bus in Brooklyn and sat down near the front. For a few minutes she was left in silence, although the other passengers gave her a noticeably wide berth. But as the bus began to fill up, the men told her that she had to get up. Move to the back, they insisted.

They were Orthodox Jews with full beards, sidecurls and long black coats, who told her that she was riding a "private bus" and a "Jewish bus." When she asked why she had to move, a man scolded her.

Where are Newt Gingrich and  Pamela Geller when we need them to protect us from religious extremists at Ground Zero?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


'Top-loader' buns bring slice of East Coast to Des Moines: They offer deeper pockets that dogs can nuzzle into (Tom Perry, Oct. 18, 2011, Des Moines Register)

Best of all, because it has flat, crustless sides, the New England hot dog bun can be easily buttered and toasted or grilled on its exterior, which means it is going to deliver a different, dare I say, "better," flavor than an ordinary bun, not to mention an extra layer of texture.

How much different or better? Well, imagine the difference between a BLT made with toast and a BLT made on plain, white bread.

What's unfortunate is that these top-loading buns are seldom sold outside of New England, where, just for the record, side-loading buns are also available.

No one is certain why New Englanders get to choose from two different bun styles at grocery stores, and the inhabitants of the other 44 states get no choice at all.

Why did it take so long for these buns to migrate west of the Hudson River? Perhaps tourists, even those who enjoyed lobster salad in a toasted top-loaded bun in New England, did not return from their visits with enough enthusiasm to generate the demand for large bread makers to have two different bun-making production lines.

"Someone might come here and have one and go, 'Oh, I just can't get them where I live,' " and leave it at that, P.J. Hamel, a communications expert for King Arthur Flour, said of a top-loading bun.

(Based in Vermont, King Arthur Flour sells a special bun pan ($29.99) for home bakers. The pan is one of the company's best selling items online (www.kingarthurflour. com), spokeswoman Terri Rosenstock said.)

What do the savages beyond New England eat a hot dog off of now? The cave floor?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM

Brownie Pecan Cake (The Denver Post, 10/19/2011)

1     cup pecan pieces
3/4   cup unbleached flour
3/4   cup cocoa powder
1     teaspoon baking powder
1/4   teaspoon kosher salt
2     ounces dark chocolate (58-62 percent cacao), chopped in 1-inch pieces
12    tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4   cup granulated sugar
3     large eggs
1/3   cup whole milk
1/2   cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan; dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

Spread the pecans in a single layer in a baking pan. Roast for 10 minutes; check to see if the nuts are a light golden brown. If not, toast 2 minutes more. Set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together. Add the salt. Set aside.

Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Stir and scrape the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is smooth and evenly melted.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until smooth.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

On low speed, mix in the melted chocolate and milk. Add the sifted flour-cocoa mixture and mix until evenly blended. Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out a little fudgy, but not completely clean, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan to room temperature. Cut into 3-inch squares and serve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:49 PM


Core Consumer Prices Muted in September (IB Times, October 19, 2011)
Consumer prices outside food and energy rose less than expected in September to post their smallest gain in six months, a government report showed on Wednesday, suggesting inflation pressures remained contained.

The Labor Department said its core Consumer Price Index edged up 0.1 percent as prices for new cars were flat and rentals rose modestly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


Reid signals government jobs must take priority over private-sector jobs (Pete Kasperowicz - 10/19/11, The Hill)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday indicated Congress needs to worry about government jobs more than private-sector jobs, and that this is why Senate Democrats are pushing a bill aimed at shoring up teachers and first-responders.

"It's very clear that private-sector jobs have been doing just fine; it's the public-sector jobs where we've lost huge numbers, and that's what this legislation is all about," Reid said on the Senate floor.

It's all well and good to support public payroll boondoggles and dislike business, but, if for naught but political reasons, shouldn't the leader of the Democratic Party pretend otherwise?

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Palestinian prisoners could lead a peaceful resistance (Ahmad Jamil Azem, 10/18/11, The National)

The 1,027 released Palestinian prisoners in this case could play an active role in shaping society, not only as individuals but also because of the political movement within the prisons. In 2006, while polarisation worsened between Fatah and Hamas, the prisoners surprised their leaders on the outside with a manifesto that became known as "the Prisoners' Document".

The document outlined rules for reconciliation between Palestinians and, perhaps more importantly, it also implied a view towards a political settlement with Israel.

It was a remarkable political moment as leaders from Hamas supported negotiations with Israel.

More recently, reconciliation took a step forward when Mahmoud Abbas delivered his speech on statehood to the United Nations General Assembly on September 23. Hamas criticised Mr Abbas's move at the UN, but its disapproval could be described as soft compared to the previous exchanges of insults between the two parties.

Indeed, some senior figures close to Hamas in the West Bank expressed enthusiastic support. Among them was Nasir Al Din Shaer, a Hamas member and former deputy prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, who described the speech as "historic and strong". Later, he and a delegation close to Hamas visited Mr Abbas as a gesture of support.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


In China, toddler left for dead sparks heated debate about society's moral health  (Peter Ford, October 19, 2011, CS Monitor)

The case of a toddler run over twice and left to die by passers-by in the southern Chinese city of Foshan has sparked an emotional debate online and in the press here about the legal and ethical shortcomings that constitute the dark side of China's fast-paced economic progress.

A security camera filmed a hit-and-run driver who knocked 2-year-old Wang Yueyue over on Thursday evening. Over the next seven minutes, it captured another van driving over her and then 18 people walking or cycling by without helping her, before a ragpicker moved her to the curb and alerted Yueyue's mother, who had lost her. As of Wednesday evening she was in intensive care, her survival in doubt.

Maybe they all just thought she was a second child being dealt with in traditional fashion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


The lesson from Solyndra: It's time to deregulate the energy market (Sunil Sharan, October 17, 2011, Washington Post)

Contrast the situation in the U.S. with that in Europe. The European Union mandated liberalization -- their term for deregulation, or electricity competition -- to come into effect throughout the region four years ago. The passage of the E.U. mandate released competitive forces. The looming threat of someone like the French utility, EDF, making a move towards Italy in an effort to grab a chunk of its customers motivated the Italian utility, Enel, to roll out the world's largest grid modernization project in 2001. Enel now has over 32 million smart meters operational in Italy, and offers a variety of customer-care services. (Full disclosure: From 2000-2006 I worked for Echelon Corporation, a company that provided Enel with communications technology for its smart grid project.) Installing the meters cost Enel 2 billion euros in total (slightly less than $2 billion in 2001 dollars). The payback has been swift, because the meters, according to documentation provided by Enel, save the utility more than a billion dollars a year in operating expenses. Solar energy, wind power and smart meters are all flourishing in Europe, aided in part by attractive, introductory tariffs, as well as a mandatory target that a 20-percent share of energy consumption come from renewable sources by 2020. Competition has driven industry consolidation. Big players such as EDF, Enel, Germany's E.ON and Sweden's Vattenfall are snapping up smaller utilities and improving productivity through economies of scale.

Currently, only 15 states in the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia, provide any form of retail choice. Of those 15 states, Texas, the largest electricity market in the country, is the most freewheeling. Well over half of all customers in Texas are eligible to switch electricity providers, which is about 6.6 million. By May 2011, approximately 60 percent of such competitive-choice customers -- nearly 4 million -- had done so. Texas went a step further by instituting a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) -- a law to boost renewable energy production. The initial RPS mandate of 1999 -- to generate 2,000 MW of new renewable energy by 2009 -- was achieved in 2005, when the state increased its total renewable capacity goals to 5,880 megawatts by 2015, and to 10,000 megawatts by 2025. After the RPS was implemented, Texas wind corporations and utilities, according to the state government, invested around $1 billion in wind power. Companies, such as Green Mountain Energy, that directly sell clean energy to consumers have started to emerge.

Deregulation has also encouraged the widespread deployment of smart-grid technologies, such as smart meters, which are electronic versions of spinning meters, according to documentation from the European Union. However, smart meters raise concerns about consumer privacy. They have been deployed in mass quantities in Italy and Pennsylvania, and have resulted in a more accurate measurement of electricity usage, as well as an increasingly efficient management of energy production resources.

A potential downside to deregulation is the effect on consumer rates. But deregulation does not guarantee an unfettered free-for-all. While electricity providers will be free to offer whatever rates they choose, they will be forced to operate in a competitive environment, and unfair practices would continue to be monitored by state public utility commissions

Residential electricity rates in Texas were higher than the national average for many years after deregulation was initiated, in part because of Texas's over-reliance on natural gas, which was very expensive at the time. After prices peaked in 2008, residential electricity rates in Texas have trended downward, and are today at 11.28 cents/kWh, below the national average of 11.58 cents/kWh. In Pennsylvania -- the only other state to have practiced deregulation on a wide scale -- residential prices before deregulation were about 15 percent above the national average, and now at 13.12 cents/kWh are just above 13 percent over the mean.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


The Roots of Religion: Where did religion come from? Robert Bellah ponders its evolutionary origins. roots of religion image (Templeton Report, October 3, 2011)

TR: In contemporary American discussion, "religion" and "evolution" only turn up in the familiar fights over Darwinian evolution. You mean something very different by the concept "religion in human evolution."  Explain.

RB: I have found that the very mention of the words "religion" and "evolution" sets off a kind of reflex reaction among some, but fortunately not all, contemporary Americans. Among both religious fundamentalists and what might be called atheistic fundamentalists these terms set off a war to the death, with abusive language directed toward the supposed opposition. In that kind of atmosphere any rational discussion becomes impossible. What unites these two groups is the idea that religion and science are essentially the same thing:  sets of propositional truths that can be judged in terms of argument and evidence. What surprised me when I began to read the work of leading scientists in the fields of cosmology and evolution is how many of them rejected this idea and argued instead that science and religion are really two different spheres that may at points overlap but that operate in accordance with different logics. Science operates with scientific method in terms of which different theories can be tested and proved or disproved, though if Karl Popper is right, proof is always problematic and we are safer to stick to disproof.

So they are essentially the same sorts of thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Protests and Power: Should liberals support Occupy Wall Street? (The Editors, October 12, 2011)

One of the core differences between liberals and radicals is that liberals are capitalists. They believe in a capitalism that is democratically regulated--that seeks to level an unfair economic playing field so that all citizens have the freedom to make what they want of their lives. But these are not the principles we are hearing from the protesters. Instead, we are hearing calls for the upending of capitalism entirely. American capitalism may be flawed, but it is not, as Slavoj Zizek implied in a speech to the protesters, the equivalent of Chinese suppression. "[In] 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV and films and in novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel," Zizek declared. "This is a good sign for China. It means that people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here, we don't think of prohibition. Because the ruling system has even oppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It's easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism." This is not a statement of liberal values; moreover, it is a statement that should be deeply offensive to liberals, who do not in any way seek the end of capitalism.

Zizek is not alone. His statement is typical of the anti-capitalist, almost utopian arguments that one hears coming from these protesters. A recent debate about whether to allow Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, to speak to Occupy Atlanta was captured on video and ended up on YouTube. As Lewis looked on, arguments on both sides were bandied about. "The point of this general assembly is to kick-start a democratic process in which no singular human being is inherently more valuable than any other human being," argued one protester. Ultimately, because no "consensus" could be reached, Lewis was turned away. Yes, like the Zizek speech, this was just one data point. But surely it was an indication that liberal skepticism about this movement is not unwarranted.

And it is just not the protesters' apparent allergy to capitalism and suspicion of normal democratic politics that should raise concerns. It is also their temperament. The protests have made a big deal of the fact that they arrive at their decisions through a deliberative process. But all their talk of "general assemblies" and "communiqués" and "consensus" has an air of group-think about it that is, or should be, troubling to liberals. "We speak as one," Occupy Wall Street stated in its first communiqué, from September 19. "All of our decisions, from our choices to march on Wall Street to our decision to camp at One Liberty Plaza were decided through a consensus process by the group, for the group." The air of group-think is only heightened by a technique called the "human microphone" that has become something of a signature for the protesters. When someone speaks, he or she pauses every few words and the crowd repeats what the person has just said in unison. The idea was apparently logistical--to project speeches across a wide area--but the effect when captured on video is genuinely creepy.

Of course, if liberals were actually skeptical we'd have a different president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Return to Grace: Tim Goeglein, President George W. Bush's prodigal aide, has found redemption. (Jonathan Aitken from the October 2011, American Spectator)

Goeglein was caught red-handed as a serial plagiarizer in the columns he was writing for his Indiana hometown newspaper. He immediately resigned from the administration, never expecting to see George W. Bush again.

But behind the public departure came private forgiveness. Summoned to the Oval Office for what he expected to be "a woodshed moment," Goeglein was welcomed by President Bush with the words "Tim, I have known mercy and grace in my own life and I am offering it to you now....I want you to know that you are forgiven."

Seating his guest in the chair of honor by the fireplace usually reserved for visiting heads of state, the president talked and prayed for 20 minutes with his prodigal aide. A few days later Goeglein was invited back to the White House with his wife and two young sons for a second session of presidential sympathy. "The grace he showed me upon that exit was a reflection of his faith in Jesus Christ," writes Goeglein whose journey toward healing and peace began soon afterward.

Not all powerful leaders walk their talk. One of the most attractive features of his memoir, The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era (B&H Books), is the intimate portrait Goeglein paints of his president as a man of genuine humility and deep spiritual commitment. This is so different from the cynical and often rather shallow media image of George W. that the question will be asked: Is this revisionism for real? [...]

TIM GOEGLEIN WORKS HARD to persuade his readers that George W. Bush was a good president. Opinions on this will differ. But where this account really succeeds is in allowing Bush to emerge as a good man. He comes over as thoroughly decent and devout. He never dissembles. He has an exemplary family life. His prayerful faith is sincere. He may have delegated too much on economic issues but he delivered on his own highest priority, which was strengthening America in the prevention of terrorism at home.

These qualities may well have helped to bring out the values voters. Like many of his former targets, Goeglein responds instinctively to George W. Bush's virtues even though he can be myopic about his hero's faults. But the author evidently feels, as the biographer of Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone said of his subject: "It was the character breathing through the sentences that counted."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Gilad Shalit deal boosts Hamas in West Bank as Fatah clings to support (Rebecca Collard, October 18, 2011,  CSMonitor.com)

The common refrain is that the deal will embolden Hamas, but the deal may be a signal that the group is more likely to take the opposite tack: moderation. Naji Shurrab, a professor of political science at Gaza's Al Azhar University says this deal could be an indication that Hamas's approach is changing.

"Hamas is seeking international and regional support," says Dr. Shurrab, adding that Fatah and Hamas will need to reconcile to achieve their goals. Hamas's willingness to negotiate with Israel, even indirectly, shows that it is becoming more moderate. "It is showing Europe, the US, and even Israel that it's ready to open the door."

Gershom Gorenberg: The Unmaking of Israel (Saul Austerlitz, 10/17/11, The National)

Gorenberg is no anti-Zionist firebrand, rather his critique of Israeli policy stems from a long-standing belief, expressed most powerfully in his essential 2006 book The Accidental Empire, that the unexpected success of the Arab-Israeli War in 1967, seen unanimously by Israelis at the time as a near-miracle, has proved a mixed blessing. Ignoring the warnings of some, maps were redrawn, religious zealots were encouraged, and the land itself made an object of worship. The miracle masked a silent accommodation to injustice: "Gradually, without public debate, with no formal declaration, the 'constructive solution' was patched together: for practical purposes, settlers and settlements were annexed to Israel. Palestinians lived under military occupation."

Orthodox himself, Gorenberg is particularly astute on the relationship between religion and politics, and much of Unmaking is devoted to the collusion between right-wing politicians and the ultra-Orthodox camps. The settlement movement created a new brand of ultra-rightist zealots toting a wildly distorted view of Judaism, but the rot did not stop there. The ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist and historically disinclined to engage with secular governments, were drafted to populate the settlements through subsidised housing and financial support for a separatist school system that purposefully left its students unable to compete in the secular world. "The moment a boy studies English," the principal of an ultra-Orthodox school in the West Bank tells Gorenberg, "he's more exposed to the wider world, and he naturally leaves religion and he can even engage in intermarriage, like in America." With 65 per cent of ultra-Orthodox men unemployed (and mostly unemployable) as of 2008, the ultra-Orthodox increasingly reside in "a land of posters denouncing television, internet and rival religious factions; of lifelong Torah study for men and countless pregnancies for women; of schools that provide scant preparation for earning a living and no preparation at all for participating in a democratic society". The longer a pyramid scheme continues, Gorenberg says of the ultra-Orthodox world, "the more people are caught up in it, the more difficult maintaining it becomes, and the more catastrophic is its looming collapse".

Successive Israeli governments, leftist and rightist alike, have quietly supported the settlers, allowing for such outrages as a pre-military academy, meant to recruit religious-nationalist students for military service, constructed in an illegal West Bank settlement. By infusing religious schools with government funds, and granting exclusive rights over marriage, divorce, conversion, and other rituals to an ultra-Orthodox rabbinate, Israel has empowered a flagrantly anti-democratic, religiously discriminatory minority. The chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces pronounced in 2009 (the year of the incursion into Gaza) that a soldier who "keeps his sword from blood" is "cursed". And the rabbi of a right-wing school financially supported by the government declared regarding students arrested for attacking Palestinians that "any trial based on the assumption that Jews and [non-Jews] are equal is a total travesty of justice".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Iran's nuclear program suffering new setbacks, diplomats and experts say (Joby Warrick, October 17, 2011, Washington Post)

Iran's nuclear program, which stumbled badly after a reported cyberattack last year, appears beset by poorly performing equipment, shortages of parts and other woes as global sanctions exert a mounting toll, Western diplomats and nuclear experts say.

October 18, 2011

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Small city grows in Pioneer Park; values, expectations clash (Brooke Adams, 10/18/11, The Salt Lake Tribune)

When organizers of Occupy Salt Lake City marched from the Utah Capitol and took over Pioneer Park earlier this month, the immediate plan was to focus attention on corporate corruption.

But 12 days later, Occupy SLC is wresting with what one spokeswoman describes as a "class privilege" clash between some members and the homeless Utahns and drug dealers who long ago claimed the park as their own. [...]

"Find some place else," urged a man known as "New York," who added: "We're feeling disrespected. What the [expletive deleted] is wrong with you people?"

New York spoke at an impromptu meeting Tuesday, where friction between the two groups was on full display. More than a dozen people gathered around a picnic table to air grievances and pitch ideas for how to keep things peaceful and safe at the park, where approximately 140 people supporting Occupy SLC are camped.

Problems include a groping incident, aggressive behavior and late night arguments by long-time park denizens. There reportedly has been drunken behavior by people on both sides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Thieves preying on fellow protesters (LARRY CELONA, LAURA ITALIANO REBECCA HARSHBARGER, FRANK ROSARIO and JAMIE SCHRAM, October 18, 2011, NY Post)

Occupy Wall Street protesters said yesterday that packs of brazen crooks within their ranks have been robbing their fellow demonstrators blind, making off with pricey cameras, phones and laptops -- and even a hefty bundle of donated cash and food.

"Stealing is our biggest problem at the moment," said Nan Terrie, 18, a kitchen and legal-team volunteer from Fort Lauderdale.

"I had my Mac stolen -- that was like $5,500.

Democrats are correct, the Occupation is a microcosm of their party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


The Case for a Leaner U.S. Military: Michael O'Hanlon argues that the U.S. should no longer plan to be able to fight two regional wars simultaneously. (Michael O'Hanlon, 10/17/11, Daily Beast)

How many wars does the United States really need to be able to fight at a time?  We have just been waging two at once, but at least one of those was optional, and presumably Iraq has become a less likely future foe in any event.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has just said that he must continue, even in an era of severe defense-budget restraint, to plan U.S. ground forces with an eye toward being able to handle more than one at a time. This puts him right in the center of the modern U.S. defense-planning consensus. After the Cold War ended, defense secretaries as disparate as Cheney, Aspin, Perry, Cohen, Rumsfeld, and Gates (in other words, all of the last six) built their combat force structures around a two-regional-war logic--or at least that goal. They would usually describe the most likely adversaries as Saddam Hussein and the Kims of North Korea, though other scenarios were envisioned as well.

But now Saddam is gone.

Not only is Saddam gone, but his regime was dispatched within three weeks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Romney Finds Mainstream Niche in GOP (Nathan Guttman, October 18, 2011, Politico)

Last month, a fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney made manifest what insiders have long known to be true:

Romney, currently seen as the Republican frontrunner, is the hands down favorite of the Republican Jewish establishment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Report: Obama teleprompter stolen (TIM MAK, 10/18/11, Politico)

A truck carrying President Obama's podium, teleprompter and audio equipment was stolen in Richmond, Va., a local news outlet reports.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Poll: Washington to blame more than Wall Street for economy (Rick Hampson, 10/17/11,USA TODAY)

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken last weekend, as the Occupy Wall Street protest movement completed its first month, found that:

•When asked whom they blame more for the poor economy, 64% of Americans name the federal government and 30% say big financial institutions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Obama to attend Carrier Classic on Carl Vinson (BERNIE WILSON, 10/16/11, BusinessWeek)

President Barack Obama, the nation's basketball-fan-in-chief, will have the seat of his choice at the Carrier Classic hoops game on Veterans Day on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that buried Osama bin Laden at sea.

The White House announced Thursday that Obama has accepted an invitation to attend the Nov. 11 matchup between North Carolina and Michigan State, the first college basketball game on an active flat top.

The Carl Vinson and its sailors have attracted considerable attention since early May, when the carrier conducted bin Laden's burial at sea after he was killed by Navy SEALs in a raid ordered by Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Where Barack Obama's independent problem began (GLENN THRUSH & JAMES HOHMANN, 10/18/11, Politico)

With a recent Quinnipiac University Poll showing Obama's job approval continuing to fall among Virginia's independent voters - they disapprove 62 - 29 percent, compared to a 56 - 38 percent disapproval among independents nationally - several explanations are offered up. [...]

But compared to other states, Viriginia's economy is in relatively good shape - its 6.3 percent unemployment rate is well below the 9.1 percent national average. So pollsters see a larger issue than simply the bad economic times working against Obama - not just in Virginia, but in other states as well.

"His inability to get things done in Congress since the midterms, makes him look like a weak leader to independents," said Peter Brown of Quinnipiac. "In 2008 everybody was angry and he offered hope. In 2011, everyone's still angry and they are giving up hope in him."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


Possible 'peak population': a world without borders? (Danny Dorling, 18 October 2011, OpenDemocracy)

But behind these numbers, across more than half the globe, fertility had fallen below replacement level. In Vanessa Baird's recently published No-Nonsense Guide to World Population, she points out that even in Africa there are now countries where women are having on average fewer than two children over the course of their lives. Wherever women gain more literacy and a little more power, wherever parents see that their offspring's chances of surviving to adulthood have become higher, fertility has headed down, usually quickly, towards an average of less than two children per woman. Matthew Connelly's Fatal Misconception lays the evidence out clearly.

Demographers have been described as accountants with a charisma bypass; Vanessa's very short and Matthew's very long book show it's possible to write demography with passion as well as accuracy. But in the end it all comes back to the numbers.

The latest projections published by the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) in May this year forecast 10.1 billion people by 2100. I argue in my book Fair Play (2011) that this new projection fails to take account of global 'baby-boom' peaks and troughs over the past sixty years. The UNPD press release came with a health warning: 'Small variations in fertility can produce major differences in the size of populations over the long run'.  I argue, based on figures which the graphs here demonstrate, that worldwide we experienced a baby-boom during the past decade that peaked in 2006. The previous boom peaked in 1986, and the one before that, in 1966. Progressively fewer children were born in the 1986 and 2006 peaks because contraception had become more popular worldwide and infant mortality was falling.

If one projects forward, following this pattern of peak and trough, then the world's population reaches 9.3 billion in 2060, but by 2100 drops to 7.4 billion - and if the pattern holds, will continue to fall. The UNPD estimates that if women who are currently each projected to have 2.5 children just have 2, and those groups projected to have 1.5 children just have one, the drop will be even greater - to 6.2 billion in 2100.  In a century there may well be fewer people in the world than there are today.

I think it is more likely that the human population never exceeds 9 billion than that it rises above 11 billion. But I have no crystal ball. If global economic inequalities were to grow rapidly, and infant mortality in poorer countries begin to rise again, then we should expect no continuing falls in fertility.

What's the relevance of this to migration controls?  Imagine for a minute what might happen if humanity doesn't allow mass impoverishment to grow in future and infant mortality to rise again. Imagine a world in which human population (rather like oil consumption) peaks and then declines. 

To try to get a grasp of how momentous these possibilities are, think back to what we know happened in Western Europe after the Black Death, that cataclysmic event between 1348 and 1351 which killed half the population in some places. The shortage of labour meant workers and peasants could command better pay and conditions - though as Bridget Anderson describes, England's rulers did their utmost to contain this.  Poor people and their labour were suddenly worth more.

Could a continuing drop in population numbers, and a corresponding drop in the numbers of workers available, lead to migration controls being weakened and then removed? I believe so.

There's another reason to be optimistic that a future without border controls is not simply a utopian fantasy: ever since the Japanese asset bubble burst in 1991 there's been an accumulation of evidence to suggest that while economic inequalities between individuals and within countries continue to grow worldwide, economic inequalities between countries have been falling.

The other factor is that globalization is forcing cultural homogeneity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


BlackBerry cuts made roads safer, police say (Awad Mustafa and Caline Malek, 10/17/11, The National)

A dramatic fall in traffic accidents this week has been directly linked to the three-day disruption in BlackBerry services.

In Dubai, traffic accidents fell 20 per cent from average rates on the days BlackBerry users were unable to use its messaging service. In Abu Dhabi, the number of accidents this week fell 40 per cent and there were no fatal accidents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Hamas and social services: Food not bombs: a review of Hamas and Civil Society in Gaza: Engaging the Islamist Social Sector. By Sara Roy (The Economist)

Palestinians are pragmatic when it comes to social care. Many go from one organisation to the next--both Islamic and secular--to scavenge as much support as they can, regardless of politics or ideology. Parents often choose religious schools and hospitals because the services are better there than those provided by secular NGOs or the feeble Palestinian state. Palestinians of all social classes, including the secular and the wealthy, send their children to Islamic schools, just like many agnostic London parents send their children to church schools renowned for their discipline and education

Some employees of Islamic NGOs sound equally sanguine about the role of religion. One director of an organisation that distributes money, clothing and food to the poor tells Ms Roy that beyond appropriate dress and "respectful behaviour" (admittedly a worryingly vague term), he was not concerned with the religious purity of those he served. He is happy to help anyone in need: "if we discriminate we become fanatics."

The social work that Hamas does has certainly empowered the organisation. But Ms Roy argues that this indirect appeal for votes "is very different from mobilising people into collective action in support of an activist Islamist agenda". It is not as if Hamas uses its social institutions to launch political or military activities, she adds.

October 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM


Indian call-center firms moving abroad (Rama Lakshmi, 10/16/11, Washington Post)

[A]s more U.S. companies shift to cheaper destinations in Asia, many Indian call-center companies are also setting up operations abroad. These companies are finding not only lower costs and plenty of English speakers, but also better infrastructure and government incentives.

"India absolutely cannot take the voice-based call-center business for granted anymore," said Sujit Bakshi, president of the corporate affairs and business services group at Tech Mahindra, an information technology services and outsourcing company with operations in the Philippines and Malaysia.

India remains the preferred destination for high-end work and IT support, but the country lost its label as the call-center capital of the world in the past year as salaries and other costs of doing business here soared. More people are employed by call-center businesses in the Philippines and Malaysia combined than in India, industry experts say.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Obama allies' interests collide over Keystone pipeline (Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, 10/16/11, Washington Post)

The Keystone permit decision has landed literally and figuratively on the White House's doorstep. Several key union allies and the Canadian government are pitted against environmental and youth activists who are threatening to turn Keystone into a campaign issue for President Obama.

The question of whether to allow construction of the pipeline has spawned football-themed ads in Nebraska, protests across the country and Canadian-led strategy sessions for members of Congress in the offices of a D.C. law firm. And the State Department, which is charged with making the permit decision because the pipeline crosses an international border, is on the spot for its handling of the review process.

"This project represents a collision of multiple national interests and multiple political interests," said P.J. Crowley, who served as spokesman for the State Department during part of the review process. "Energy security and environment normally go together, but in this case they are somewhat at odds. All have come together to make this a bigger deal than it might have appeared at first blush."

Charles K. Ebinger, a senior fellow for energy at the Brookings Institution, said the issue has "become a test case for the Democrats," with two factions within the Obama camp asking the same question: "Is he with us or against us?"

Even as we speak, the staff scurries to figure out how he can just vote "present"....


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


'Sybil' is one big psych-out: Author exposes split-personality 'lie' (KYLE SMITH, October 16, 2011, NY Post)

In her darkly absurd new account, "Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case," Nathan draws on a cache of letters at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that reveals how three women (all now dead) created what they called "Sybil Inc." for fun, fame and profit.

Sybil's real name was Shirley Mason. She was a jittery girl who grew up quivering in a Minnesota family of Seventh-day Adventists who believed that the world was about to end and that any fiction divorced from God's truth was a sin. As a little girl, she was so terrified of God's watchful eye that, when she made up stories, she hid this habit from her parents. She was also made to participate in a health fad of the day, the "internal bath," or enema. She developed a germ phobia and at one point examined her hands obsessively.

As a student in New York City in the 1950s, she met a Park Avenue therapist named Cornelia "Connie" Wilbur. The two women adored each other even as Connie gradually got Shirley hooked on a series of "therapeutic" drugs, many of them new and seemingly wondrous, including Seconal, Demerol, Edrisal and Daprisal. (The last two were so addictive that they were soon banned.) Connie also strongly believed in giving patients Pentathol, which invariably got them blabbing, sometimes about fantasies that could not possibly have occurred. Still, the drug was widely believed to be a "truth serum."

One day, Shirley started talking about blackouts in which, she claimed, she became others with various names and personalities -- Peggy Lou, Peggy Ann, Vicky, etc.

Fascinated, Connie offered, "Would you like to earn some money?" She suggested that her patient could be the subject of a book. Connie offered to pay Shirley's medical-school tuition and living expenses.

The personality split was a lie, Shirley confessed in a five-page 1958 letter that sits in the archives at John Jay. She said she was "none of the things I have pretended to be."

Shirley continued, "I do not have any multiple personalities ... I do not even have a 'double' ... I am all of them. I have essentially been lying ... as trying to show you I felt I needed help ... Quite thrilling. Got me a lot of attention."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Carbon: What price simplicity? (Richard Black, 10/17/11, BBC)

One alternative to ETS-style emissions trading that was much discussed a few years ago, personal carbon allowances, has many attractions in principle.

But it makes things more complex rather than less; and anyway, in the political atmosphere post-Copenhagen, the chances of introducing it have receded into the invisible part of the spectrum.

So, the question again: is there a simpler way to do it?

Various figures have suggested at times over the last few years that the best approach would be to tackle carbon at source.

Simply, some kind of levy or tax or whatever would be imposed at the coal mine and at the oil and gas well.

As there are far fewer companies involved in these activities than might be candidates for emissions trading, the burden of administration should be much lower.

Yes, it would make fossil fuels and anything manufactured using them more expensive, as extractors would pass costs up the supply chain.

But ETS-style carbon trading makes things more expensive too; indeed, making fossil fuel use more expensive is the whole economic stick with which CO2 production is supposed to be beaten down.

Taxes will have to be awfully high to have the desired effect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Trotsky the Jew: Joshua Rubenstein's new biography obscures the Russian revolutionary's violent extremism while overemphasizing his Jewishness (Richard Pipes, October 17, 2011, Tablet)

The book adds little that is new to the existing literature, and it has some strange omissions. Trotsky's role in the Civil War during which he commanded the Red Army--arguably his main contribution to the Bolshevik cause--is disposed of in a few cursory pages. I also found strange the author's offhand assertion that under the Bolsheviks "the proletariat had succeeded in gaining control of the government." Where and when? The workers had next to no influence on the policies of the Soviet government, which were managed by intellectuals.

In view of the murderous paranoia of Stalin, it is tempting to gloss over Trotsky's own ruthlessness and to depict him as a humane counterpart to his rival. This is quite unwarranted. Without a question, Trotsky was better-educated than Stalin and was altogether a more cultivated human being. But his radicalism was not much different than Stalin's. Rubenstein cites a statement by Trotsky as the motto of his book: "Nothing great has been accomplished in history without fanaticism." Really? In art, in science, in economics? In fact, fanaticism, which is uncritical belief in something, has always obstructed true accomplishment.

Let us scrutinize briefly Trotsky's views on such key issues as forced labor, terror, and concentration camps--the outstanding features of the Stalinist regime. On forced labor, Trotsky had this to say in 1921:

    It is said that compulsory labor is unproductive. This means that the whole socialist economy is doomed to be scrapped, because there is no other way of attaining socialism except through the command allocation of the entire labor force by the economic center, the allocation of that force in accord with the needs of a nation-wide economic plan.

I imagine that if Stalin was present at the Third All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, at which Trotsky made these remarks, he must have nodded in agreement. In view of Trotsky's own sentiments, it is likely that if he had succeeded Lenin, we would have witnessed in the Soviet Union much the same oppression of labor as he did under Stalin.

Trotsky had no qualms about introducing into Soviet Russia political terror. Barely two months after the Bolsheviks had seized power, he said:

    There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off the dying class. This is its right. You are indignant ... at the petty terror which we direct at our class opponents. But be put on notice that in one month at most this terror will assume more frightful forms, on the model of the great revolutionaries of France. Our enemies will face not prison but the guillotine.

He defined the guillotine (plagiarizing the French revolutionary Jacques Hébert) as a device that "shortens a man by the length of a head." This grisly remark, incidentally, is cited by Rubenstein.

Trotsky demonstrated that this was not empty rhetoric during the rebellion at the Kronshtadt naval base in February 1921. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 PM


Hollande wins (Jonathan Derbyshire, 17 October 2011, New Statesman)

The headline in this morning's Le Monde read: "Triomphe de la gauche réaliste" (Triumph of the realist left). That was how France's newspaper of record greeted François Hollande's victory over Martine Aubry in the second and decisive round of yesterday's socialist primary. Hollande won with nearly 57 per cent, on a turnout - remarkable for an election of this sort - of 2,860,000 (an increase of 8 per cent on the 2,661,231 who voted in the first round).

As for Hollande's "realism", it's certainly true that he tacked to the centre against Aubry and the left-wing Arnaud Montebourg in the campaign leading up to the first round of voting.

To win the Socialists have to be indistinguishable from the Conservatives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:22 PM


Kids as young as 4 can have ADHD (Elizabeth Landau,10/16/11,  CNN)

The American Academy of Pediatrics has broadened its guidelines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, expanding the age range for diagnosis and treatment to ages 4 through 18.

While the previous guidelines, from 2000 and 2001, targeted children ages 6 to 12, the new report covers children from preschool to the end of high school. This is based on recent evidence that supports including preschool children and adolescents in ADHD diagnosis and treatment management.

"The primary care clinician should initiate an evaluation for ADHD for any child 4 though 18 years of age who presents with academic or behavioral problems and symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity," the report said.

It's a greater deviation from biological normality if a four year old is attentive, inactive and not impulsive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


Debt, Deficits, and Modern Monetary Theory: An Interview with Bill Mitchell (Winston Gee Bookmark and Share, 10/16/11, Harvard International Review)

Bill Mitchell is the Research Professor in Economics and the Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity at the University of Newcastle, Australia. The following is an edited transcript of the interview, conducted August 15, 2011.

Thanks for joining us, Professor Mitchell. I wanted to talk with you today about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)--the theoretical approach you've been integral in developing--and its relevance to current debates over public finances. I know you've been quite scathing of mainstream economic discourse. For example, you wrote in your blog recently that "the economics media is dominated with financial issues - too much public debt; debt ceilings; fiscal sustainability; sovereign risk; and all the rest of the non-issues that have taken center-stage." Could you take a moment to explain why MMT renders these things non-issues?

The most important misperception is that MMT is in some way outlining an ideal or a new regime that could be introduced. The reality is that MMT just describes the system that most countries in the world live under and have lived under since 1971, when the US president at the time, Richard Nixon, suspended the convertibility of the US dollar into gold. At that point, the system of fixed exchange rates--in which all countries agreed to fix their currencies against the US dollar, which was in turn benchmarked in price against gold--was abandoned. So since that day, most of us have been living in what we call a fiat currency system.

In a fiat currency system, the currency has legitimacy because of legislative fiat: the government tells us that's the currency and then legislates it as such. The currency has no intrinsic value. What gives it value, what motivates us to use the currency that the government suggests, is the fact that all tax obligations are denominated in and have to be extinguished with that currency. We have no choice. If you live in America, for example, you have to pay American taxes to the IRS with American dollars. So demand for the currency, otherwise worthless bits of paper, is driven by the fact that all tax obligations have to be extinguished with that currency. Once you consider that, then you immediately realize that the national government is the monopoly issuer of that currency. That means that the national government in such a system can never be short of that currency; it can never run out of money. It doesn't need you or I to lend it money or you and I to pay taxes to get more money. It can never run out of money. That's the first basic insight of MMT: governments are not constrained in their spending by a need to raise revenue.

If you extend that logic a little further, you might ask, "Well, don't we pay taxes and buy bonds so that the government can spend?" Well, you first have to ask yourself the question, "Where do you get the money to pay taxes and buy bonds?" And the answer is that we can't get our hands on the currency until the national government spends it. Spending is the prior act in a fiat monetary system; taxing and borrowing are following acts. In effect, the government is only taxing what it has already spent, and it's only borrowing back money that it has already spent. Once you start pursuing this logic, you realize that most of the propositions that are occupying the current debate around the world are based upon false premises.

Another basic premise of MMT is that we now live in a world of floating exchange rates, so all of the imbalances in the foreign exchange market are resolved by the price of the currency fluctuating. What that means is that domestic policy instruments--the central bank and fiscal policy--are free to target domestic policy goals knowing that the exchange rate will resolve the currency imbalances arising from trade deficits, trade surpluses, et cetera.

I want to touch on a few things there. The first is MMT's basic insight that governments don't have to tax or borrow in advance of spending. Given the recent furor over credit rating downgrades, one might wonder: if that's true, why do governments continue to issue debt and bother themselves with the discipline of the bond markets and the credit rating agencies?

Yes, it's an interesting question, and it's one of the things that really trips people up in trying to understand MMT. Under the so-called Bretton Woods system--the fixed-exchange rate system that prevailed in the post-WWII period until 1971--governments were revenue-constrained because the central bank could only allow so much money in the economy according to its holdings of gold and the currency value. So if the government wanted to spend more, it had to make sure that it took money from someone else in the economy so that the overall money supply would be constant. In that sort of monetary system, the government had to tax or borrow to spend. This sort of reasoning has crept into the modern monetary system, where it no longer holds because we use fiat currencies instead of convertible currencies.

But there's probably more to it than that. One set of explanations is that the profession hasn't worked out the implications of a fiat monetary system. I don't subscribe to that because people aren't that silly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


The Truth Wears Off: Is there something wrong with the scientific method? (Jonah Lehrer, December 13, 2010, The New Yorker)

On September 18, 2007, a few dozen neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and drug-company executives gathered in a hotel conference room in Brussels to hear some startling news. It had to do with a class of drugs known as atypical or second-generation antipsychotics, which came on the market in the early nineties. The drugs, sold under brand names such as Abilify, Seroquel, and Zyprexa, had been tested on schizophrenics in several large clinical trials, all of which had demonstrated a dramatic decrease in the subjects' psychiatric symptoms. As a result, second-generation antipsychotics had become one of the fastest-growing and most profitable pharmaceutical classes. By 2001, Eli Lilly's Zyprexa was generating more revenue than Prozac. It remains the company's top-selling drug.

But the data presented at the Brussels meeting made it clear that something strange was happening: the therapeutic power of the drugs appeared to be steadily waning. A recent study showed an effect that was less than half of that documented in the first trials, in the early nineteen-nineties. Many researchers began to argue that the expensive pharmaceuticals weren't any better than first-generation antipsychotics, which have been in use since the fifties. "In fact, sometimes they now look even worse," John Davis, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me.

Before the effectiveness of a drug can be confirmed, it must be tested and tested again. Different scientists in different labs need to repeat the protocols and publish their results. The test of replicability, as it's known, is the foundation of modern research. Replicability is how the community enforces itself. It's a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. Most of the time, scientists know what results they want, and that can influence the results they get. The premise of replicability is that the scientific community can correct for these flaws.

But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It's as if our facts were losing their truth: claims that have been enshrined in textbooks are suddenly unprovable. This phenomenon doesn't yet have an official name, but it's occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. In the field of medicine, the phenomenon seems extremely widespread, affecting not only antipsychotics but also therapies ranging from cardiac stents to Vitamin E and antidepressants: Davis has a forthcoming analysis demonstrating that the efficacy of antidepressants has gone down as much as threefold in recent decades.

For many scientists, the effect is especially troubling because of what it exposes about the scientific process. If replication is what separates the rigor of science from the squishiness of pseudoscience, where do we put all these rigorously validated findings that can no longer be proved?

Over time the vested interest of the scientist in a certain preconceived result simply wanes and with it said "result."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


The "Last Place Aversion" Paradox: The surprising psychology of the Occupy Wall Street protests (Ilyana Kuziemko and Michael I. Norton  | October 12, 2011, Scientific American)

Support for redistribution, surprisingly enough, has plummeted during the recession. For years, the General Social Survey has asked individuals whether "government should reduce income differences between the rich and the poor." Agreement with this statement dropped dramatically between 2008 and 2010, the two most recent years of data available.  Other surveys have shown similar results.

What might explain this trend? First, the change is not driven by wealthy white Republicans reacting against President Obama's agenda: the drop is if anything slightly larger among minorities, and Americans who self-identify as having below average income show the same decrease in support for redistribution as wealthier Americans.

Our recent research suggests that, far from being surprised that many working-class individuals would oppose redistribution, we might actually expect their opposition to rise during times of turmoil - despite the fact that redistribution appears to be in their economic interest. Our work suggests that people exhibit a fundamental loathing for being near or in last place - what we call "last place aversion." This fear can lead people near the bottom of the income distribution to oppose redistribution because it might allow people at the very bottom to catch up with them or even leapfrog past them.

How does last-place aversion play out with regard to redistribution? In our surveys, we asked Americans whether they supported an increase to the minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour. Those making $7.25 or below were very likely to support the increase - after all, they would be immediate beneficiaries. In addition, people making substantially more than $7.25 were also fairly positive towards the increase. Which group was the most opposed? Those making just above the minimum wage, between $7.26 and $8.25. We might expect people who make just below and just above $7.25 to have similar lifestyles and policy attitudes - but in this case, while those making below $7.25 would benefit if the minimum wage were raised to, say, $8.25, those making just above $7.25 would run the risk of falling into a tie for last place.

We've also found evidence of last place aversion in laboratory experiments.

...we, likewise, don't mind income inequality in general, so long as we're roughly equal with our neighbors.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Key backing for Obama slips in N.C. (Tracy Jan, October 17, 2011, Boston Globe)

When Lucille Richmond cast her ballot for Barack Obama three years ago, she, like many African-Americans, embraced the historic opportunity to help elect the nation's first black president.

But waiting in line at the county employment security commission last week, the 52-year-old grandmother - who lost two food preparation jobs and is searching for full-time work - can't muster the will to support Obama for a second term.

"I don't see what he's done,'' said Richmond, a Democrat. "I'm not even going to waste my time and vote.''

The president will visit North Carolina today in an attempt to stem such sentiments as he promotes his jobs bill. Obama's most ardent supporters in Durham's black community worry that waning enthusiasm among African-Americans may prevent him from repeating his razor-thin North Carolina victory of 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM

-REVIEW: John Fahey: Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You (The Fonotone Years 1958 - 1965) (John Doran , October 17th, 2011, Quietus)
The title of this lovingly assembled box set of early, rare material originally released on 78, 33 and 45rpm vinyl between 1958 and 1965 on the Fonotone label comes from something John Fahey himself said. In 2000 Dean Blackwood, who co-ran Fahey's Revenant Records, invited Glenn Jones, the man who oversaw this project, to visit and discuss producing this set. Jones, who had known the legendary American guitarist for 25 years was greeted sternly by Fahey thus: "Boy, your past really comes back to haunt you! Glenn, I don't want this stuff to be issued. A lot of those recordings were made before I could play guitar. If Dean wants to put it out, he can pay me ten thousand dollars and I won't care what happens to my reputation. Or he can wait until I'm dead and issue it then." If I were given the chance I'd amend that quote by putting the word play in italics or single quotes - or maybe both - but when you listen to some of these 115 tracks, it's all too clear what he means. Some of the early 1958 blues numbers are gauche and some of the strumming and finger style picking painfully inadequate. If I never hear the few guitar and flute duets he recorded here again it won't be a moment too soon and the less said about his version of 'I Shall Not Be Moved' the better. But still this lovingly produced artefact, which indeed has come out a respectful amount of time after his death, is a thing of joy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Very bad Nevada economy threatens Obama (CRISTINA SILVA, 10/17/11, AP)

Look no further than Nevada -- and this swing voting city -- to understand why President Barack Obama may not win re-election next fall.

Unemployment has grown to 13.4 percent, well above the national average, in recent months. The state has the highest foreclosure rate and record bankruptcies. And shuttered casinos collect dust along the glittering Las Vegas Strip that's usually a robust artery of jobs.

"Obama's hope hasn't done anything," grouses Larry James, a security guard who moved here from Philadelphia for work a decade ago, back when the state was booming.

It's so bad here that even the president's fans worry about the country firing him -- and Nevadans helping.

"I'm afraid for Obama," frets Linda Overby.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM

Moreland And Arbuckle On Mountain Stage (NPR, October 7, 2011)

Guitarist Aaron Moreland and vocalist/harmonica player Dustin Arbuckle met at an open mic in Wichita, Kan., in 2001, and have been playing together in various capacities ever since. The band brings a pared-down, lo-fi edge to elements of traditional Delta blues, rock, country and soul that will no doubt remind some listeners of The Black Keys and The White Stripes.


October 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


The Republican war on science is un-American: In a Salon interview, a top scientist warns the world is catching up in biotech. The GOP's hostility doesn't help (Kevin Canfield, 10/16/11, Salon)

In your book, you call yourself a "bioprogressive," and you describe this as the "century of biology." What does that mean?

This is not original with me, but you can see the 19th century as the century of engineering, the 20th century as the century of physics. Historically, biology has been mostly descriptive: You go out into the woods and you categorize the flora and fauna. But now we're actually mucking around with the basic building blocks.

The Republican war on science is metaphorical.  The Republic's wars with bioprogressives have been real.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


I Break Horses On 'World Cafe: Next' (NPR, October 11, 2011)

Sweden's I Break Horses describes its latest album, Hearts, as a balancing act of light vs. dark that reveals a beauty within the darkness." Like this description, everything about duo Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck's synth-steeped post-rock is hazy, including their intentionally unfocused sound and lyrics intensely focused on the abstract.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


The Business Case for Defunding PBS and NPR (Adam Thierer, 10/16/11, Forbes)

[T]he best reason to zero out federal funding for NPR and PBS is because, relative to private media competitors, public media is thriving and can stand on its own. Thus, continuing public media subsides are unfair and unneeded.

In many ways, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which supports NPR and PBS, has the perfect business model for the age of information abundance. Philanthropic models -- which rely on support for foundational benefactors, corporate underwriters, and individual donors -- can help diversify the funding base at a time when traditional media business models -- advertising support, subscriptions, and direct sales -- are being strained.

This is why many private media operations are struggling today; they're experiencing the ravages of gut-wrenching marketplace and technological changes and searching for new business models to sustain their operations. By contrast, CPB, NPR, and PBS are better positioned to weather this storm because they do not rely on those same commercial models.

Thus, in economic terms, non-commercial media operators have an overwhelming competitive advantage working in their favor: They own the market for charitable giving as it pertains to news and culture.

Gary Knell, the new head of NPR, has suggested he is open to exploring a subsidy-free future, although he still desires some federal funding. He should consider the benefits of ending public media's cycle of dependency. It would finally free public media from the endless political squabbles over its objectivity and its funding. Moreover, it would put these non-commercial providers on more stable footing going forward relative to commercial competitors who, at least thus far, have not been able to tap philanthropic sources.

It gives some sense of how thoroughly the Third Way has triumphed in the Anglosphere that rather than making private industry public we speak of taking public entities (consider the Post Office too) private.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


This is the danger for Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


No Confidence: a review of Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind (John B. Judis, October 13, 2011, New Republic)

In the winter of 2011, Obama sat down for interviews with Suskind. Presidential interviews tend to be inconsequential, but not in this case. As Suskind requested that Obama talk about what the latter had learned in his first two years in office, it became apparent--at least to this reader--that he had learned very little. In explaining his difficulties, Obama singled out a failure of communication. "The area in my presidency where I think my management and understanding of the presidency evolved most, and where I think we made the most mistakes, was less on the policy front and more on the communications front," Obama said. "I think I was so consumed with the problems in front of me that I didn't step back and remember, What is the particular requirement of the president that no one else can do? And what the president can do, that nobody else can do, is tell a story to the American people about where we are and where we are going."

In his interviews, Obama kept reverting to the same idea. The reason that he and his advisors had not been able to agree on a jobs program after unemployment began rising in December 2009 was that they didn't "have a clean story that we wanted to tell against which we would measure various actions." And he complained that "what was required to save the economy might not always match up with what would make for a good story." I hadn't heard this kind of language about storytelling for a decade. I first heard it from Democratic political consultants and activists in the 1980s. Unable to fathom Reagan's continued popularity, they attributed it to his ability as an actor to frame his actions as a story. By telling an effective story, a politician could overcome the potential unpopularity of his views. He could convince voters to accept the discomforts of the present in the hope of a comfortable future.

Obama was using the concept of political storytelling in exactly the same way. True to form, he invoked Roosevelt and Reagan's success. Roosevelt was able to remain popular even though "three-quarters of the things he did didn't work," because "he was able to project ... 'we are going to get through this.'" That was his story. Obama, Suskind, explained, admired "Reagan's ability to project optimism when there may be no definable reason to be optimistic." Reagan, Obama said, "was very comfortable in playing the role of president. And I think part of that really was his actor's background." Citing Reagan's mastery of symbols and gestures, Obama remarked that "going forward as president, the symbols and gestures--what people are seeing coming out of this office--are at least as important as the policies we put forward."

What can one say about the sheer silliness of this? Stories, symbols, and catchwords are important, but they merely dramatize how a politician sees the country and what a politician hopes to do. They can enliven what he wants to do--but if what he wants to do runs contrary to what people want, or what can be done, and if the results of his policies do not measure up to what he promises, and what people want, then even the most artful prose cannot rescue a president. [...]

Suskind's book is being widely portrayed as critical of the Obama administration, but if you read the entire book, its message is that during Obama's first two years he was foiled by his own inexperience as a manager and by a staff that didn't do good by him...

Taken together there's some insight here.  The story that Mr, Obama ran on was an anti-story.  He and his team had to make sure that he was a creature completely devoid of substance so that he could appear all things to all people annoyed at the GOP.  He was nothing more than what he was not--W and the House GOP.  This was made easier not just by the creepy fact that he does seem to lack personal substance but by his lack of any experience doing anything meaningful.  After all, had he ever done anything then that would have shaped a view of who he was.  Instead he was able to run as a cipher.  

Of course, had he wanted to do anything with his presidency, and were he confident in his own leadership, he'd have surrounded himself with an effective executive management team, as W did when he populated the top ranks of his government with former chiefs of staff and ex-governors--as many as a half dozen of whom could have stepped in and assumed the presidency themselves without the country missing a beat.  Mr. Obama, on the other hand, sits in Cabinet meetings where no one, including himself, is qualified for the chief executive job.

But now he's been in office for three years and so there is a story to tell, about what he's done, Obama's forgotten triumphs (Suzanne Mettler, 10/15/11, Salon)

The first major piece of legislation that Obama had signed into law, the stimulus bill of February 2009, included a vast array of tax cuts: They totaled $288 billion, 37 percent of the cost of the entire bill. Among them, the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, one of his campaign promises, reduced income taxes for 95 percent of all working Americans. Yet one year after the law went into effect, when pollsters queried the public about whether the Obama administration had raised or lowered taxes for most Americans, only 12 percent answered correctly that taxes had decreased; 53 percent mistakenly thought taxes had stayed the same; and 24 percent even believed they had increased!

Healthcare reform represented Obama's chief policy goal, and he expended a vast amount of political capital in pursuing it over his first 15 months in office. But in April 2010, just weeks after he signed the healthcare bill that extended coverage to the vast majority of working-age Americans and prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage to people who are ill, 55 percent of the public reported that they would describe their feelings about it as "confused."

That same legislative package also contained sweeping changes in student aid policy that aimed to help more people attend college and complete degrees. Yet when Americans were asked how much they had heard about these changes, only 26 percent reported "a lot," while 40 percent said "a little," and fully 34 percent said "nothing at all."

All told, the public seemed largely oblivious to the president's major policy accomplishments.

As Mr. Judis says, telling a story about what you've done does you no good if the voters don't like what you've done. Cutting taxes would be a decent message, were it not for thirty years of Democratic rhetoric opposing tax cuts and the President's active opposition to further tax cuts.  Getting more people into college might be a decent message were not there a national conversation going on about the value of college and the harms of assuming debt to attend. 

Which leaves nothing but health care reform, which is sort of the opposite of candidate Obama, being so substantive, comprehensive and detailed that everyone can find something about it to hate.  And when your "story" consists of defending every unpopular piece of your signature "achievement" you obviously aren't presenting a compelling narrative.

That is to say, there isn't a compelling internal narrative, but there is a compelling one that we can impose from without: what we have is a man too inexperienced for the job he's in, surrounded by purposely inept staff, wasting his time fighting to defend a mistake to the exclusion of moving forward on any other policies.  Try running on that story in 2012.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


California Medical Assn. calls for legalization of marijuana (Anthony York, 10/15/11, Los Angeles Times)

The state's largest doctor group is calling for legalization of marijuana, even as it pronounces cannabis to be of questionable medical value. [...]

The CMA's new stance appears to have as much to do with politics as science. The group has rejected one of the main arguments of medical marijuana advocates, declaring that the substance has few proven health benefits and comparing it to a "folk remedy."

The group acknowledges some health risk associated with marijuana use...

Smoking Marijuana, Getting Behind the Wheel Nearly Triple Crash Risk (Laura Matthews, October 15, 2011, IB Times)

Drivers who smoked marijuana and then got behind the wheel of a vehicle nearly tripled the risk of crashing when compared to others not under the influence, a new study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health finds.

Remember, it's the crazy conservatives who ignore and politicize Science.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


A doctor's vision for Medicare: Everyone knows the program is the big long-term problem in the federal budget. Here are three basic principles for what it should look like. (H. Gilbert Welch, October 16, 2011, LA Times)

It should not waste money on low-yield medicine. I don't change my Volvo's oil every 1,500 miles, even though some mechanics might argue that it would be better for its engine. Nor do I buy new tires every 10,000 miles, even though doing so would arguably make my car safer. But in Medicare (as well as the rest of U.S. medical care) such low-yield interventions are routine.

Measurements considered normal in the past now trigger treatment for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and osteoporosis. Tiny abnormalities that were invisible in the past now trigger follow-up scans, fiber-optic examinations, biopsies and surgery.

Increasingly, all Medicare beneficiaries are being viewed as being "at-risk" for something, particularly heart disease and cancer. We doctors joke that the well person is the one we have not examined thoroughly enough. (The last Medicare skin exam that failed to identify something that might lead to skin cancer occurred in 1970.)

But it's not funny anymore. Because once you are labeled at-risk, something must be done.

My Medicare would recognize the problems with this approach. Because almost everyone is transformed into a patient needing intervention, it's an approach that costs a huge amount of money. And no matter what we doctors do, we can't take you to zero risk.

But we can cause harm. Our medications have side effects; our surgeries and procedures have complications. And occasionally our interventions cause death.

My Medicare would focus on patients who are genuinely sick: those who have symptoms (e.g., chest pain) or are at high risk of something bad happening (e.g., really high blood pressure). These are the patients for whom the benefits of medical intervention clearly outweigh the harms. The rest of us are better off left alone.

That's right, most of us would do just as well -- or better -- with less medical care. Restoring balance to the system will first require more balanced information for patients because what they get now systematically exaggerates the benefits and downplays (or ignores) the harms of intervention.

But it will also require that someone take responsibility for deciding which treatments should be provided based on the evidence of which treatments lead to better outcomes. If you don't want the government to do this, then your doctor will need to step up to the plate. And the only way that will happen is to balance his financial incentives.

Those who believe they have a fundamental right to receive low-yield, ineffective and harmful care are sure to invoke the "R-word": rationing. But let's hope they at least have the good sense not to say it while at the same time arguing for less government spending because they don't want to bankrupt their children.
The key is just to not ban people from consuming health care provided from outside the Medicare system.  Medicare would be more of a system that provides genuine medicine to people who need it and folks who just want to consume more regardless of health effects would be free to waste their money as they are on any other consumer good.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Where Did Global Warming Go? (ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, October 15, 2011, NY Times)

IN 2008, both the Democratic and Republican candidates for president, Barack Obama and John McCain, warned about man-made global warming and supported legislation to curb emissions. After he was elected, President Obama promised "a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change," and arrived cavalry-like at the 2009 United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen to broker a global pact.

But two years later, now that nearly every other nation accepts climate change as a pressing problem, America has turned agnostic on the issue. [...]

Americans -- who produce twice the emissions per capita that Europeans do -- are in many ways wired to be holdouts. We prefer bigger cars and bigger homes. We value personal freedom, are suspicious of scientists, and tend to distrust the kind of sweeping government intervention required to confront rising greenhouse gas emissions.

"Climate change presents numerous ideological challenges to our culture and our beliefs," Professor Hoffman of the Erb Institute says. "People say, 'Wait a second, this is really going to affect how we live!' "

There are, of course, other factors that hardened resistance: America's powerful fossil-fuel industry, whose profits are bound to be affected by any greater control of carbon emissions; a cold American winter in 2010 that made global warming seem less imminent; and a deep recession that made taxes on energy harder to talk about, and job creation a more pressing issue than the environment -- as can be seen in the debate over the pipeline from Canada.

You'd have to be an expert to believe that the main cultural stumbling block to the notion of man-made climate change is corporate spending and economics.  Exxon-Mobil didn't spend a cent opposing Darwinism and yet only about 1/7th of Americans accept it.

The idea that climate should be completely static unless Man does something about proceeds from not just a rejection of America's Judeo-Christian culture but an obvious hostility to science, which demonstrates that climate is never unchanging.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


The Man Who Sailed His House: Two days after the Japanese tsunami, after the waves had left their destruction, as rescue workers searched the ruins, news came of an almost surreal survival: Miles out at sea, a man was found, alone, riding on nothing but the roof of his house. Michael Paterniti tells his astonishing tale (Michael Paterniti, October 2011, GQ)

Now the temperature drops--and as it does, your senses return. You sit, holding yourself in a tight ball, hands pulling knees to chest. The key is not to sleep. You remember this from a famous Japanese adventurer you once saw on television. Do not sleep. Also: Do not think of Yuko tumbling beneath. Do not think of pigeons. What's surprising is how strong your mind is, how well you forget, how childlike your wonder remains. You've maintained your optimism--an odd word given what's befallen you, but that's what it is, an openness to being bemused or astonished. You've tapped into some hidden spring of endurance. You're open to little miracles now, so let one come.

The blue light appears from the depths, glimmering up through the inky water. In your ball on the roof, you find yourself surrounded, inexplicably bathed by luminescence. You squint but can't identify the source. Might these be the spirits of the dead, meant to convey a message of hope or allegiance rather than surrender? That's how you take it, at least. And if a picture could be made of this moment, then the world would see you--the man named Hiromitsu--seated in serene meditation, staring in awe at the blue light that comes from the abyss, then laughing out loud.

At sunrise, the scene resolves itself: the black water, the blue sky, a thin band of land on the far horizon. Soon you will see an explosion, in the vicinity of the nuclear-power plant, a loud blast and then a rust-colored cloud rising ominously, in atomic layers. Do not look back. You notice a fishing rod floating alongside you, one you glimpsed the night before, and realize that you're traveling in a slow-moving whirlpool of sorts, the same relics recurring, new ones entering the gyre and orbiting the roof as it gets sucked out farther and farther.

Yesterday seems long ago, and today, you tell yourself, must be the day of your rescue--you're willing it so. The helicopters come close, circling for survivors, and the dozen times you hear one, you climb to your feet, scream and wave. There are boats in the distance, cutters and smaller lifeboats trolling, and for those, you holler even louder, though time after time they turn back before reaching your debris field, your little ring of ocean. Is it that they don't believe anyone could be this far out?

In between, you fish more objects, including a futon and blankets, which you lay out in the sun to dry. You write in the margin of the comic book. I just want to report that I am still alive on the twelfth and was with my wife, Yuko, yesterday. She was born January 12 of Showa 26. You fold the page, place it in your empty can, and ripping more string from the mat, tighten it across your chest, adding one more testimonial to your body.

So the hours linger, the sun beats, rust-colored smoke rises, and now you can feel your thirst clawing. Drink the second energy drink in slow, intermittent sips. When it's gone, you're gripped by an animal urge that nearly upends the disciplined regimen you've set for yourself. You fight the need to drink that third energy drink, hand fluttering for the holster--no, save it for tomorrow, if luck brings you that far. This is when you think to drink your pee. You collect it in your hands three times and drink--warm but not terrible.
There's another problem, too: The wood of the roof has become waterlogged, weak and rotten. And from time to time a low rumble comes up from the deep, aftershocks. At first the sound is startling but then you only worry about the waves. Has a swell begun to rise? What approaches from the east? You now have waking dreams, hallucinations: You're convinced you see a body coming near, and start screaming--Help me! But then it's a tree trunk. In another you see a huge wave hurtling toward the roof and imagine turning into a tree to save yourself. But just as you think to stand and hang your arms like branches, you stop yourself for fear the roof will tip.

One other thing: You're not uninjured after all. A nerve at the top of your palm has been cut--how you're not sure--but now it radiates sharp pain. And your eyes have begun to swell shut. You opened them underwater, now some infection blurs your sight. Still you sit, knees drawn up, white hard hat in place for safety. Safety is important, you know that. You work in a lumberyard. You live in a village by the sea with your parents and wife, Yuko. You will be rescued soon, by concentrating on the sounds, engines and rotors and waves. On a scrap of wood, you write with the red marker--SOS--and if any machine approaches, even remotely, you stand and yell and wave at it. Please.

You muster the energy to sing again, same school song, second verse in your now hoarse tenor (Help me!):

We had a day in tears.
We had a day in jealousy.
We will fondly remember those days.
Ah, we are third-year high school students.
Once you take her hand at folk dancing,
Her black hair smells sweet.

A fat statuette of Daikoku, a god of fortune, bobs by, the round belly and happy demeanor, the rice barrels at his feet that signify plenty, plucked from someone's home and delivered here to you, a very good omen. His name translates as the "god of great darkness," and yet, as he wields a mallet, his broad smile conveys contentment. You think to bring him aboard, but you no longer trust the roof, nor your ability to balance on it. So you allow a small acknowledgment of the moment: one more laugh in diminishing light, the last of your good cheer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW: The Exasperation of the Democratic Billionaire: Real-estate and newspaper mogul Mortimer Zuckerman voted for Obama but began seeing trouble as soon as the stimulus went into the pockets of municipal unions. (JAMES FREEMAN, 10/15/11)

'It's as if he doesn't like people," says real-estate mogul and New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman of the president of the United States. Barack Obama doesn't seem to care for individuals, elaborates Mr. Zuckerman, though the president enjoys addressing millions of them on television.

The Boston Properties CEO is trying to understand why Mr. Obama has made little effort to build relationships on Capitol Hill or negotiate a bipartisan economic plan. A longtime supporter of the Democratic Party, Mr. Zuckerman wrote in these pages two months ago that the entire business community was "pleading for some kind of adult supervision" in Washington and "desperate for strong leadership." Writing soon after the historic downgrade of U.S. Treasury debt by Standard & Poor's, he wrote, "I long for a triple-A president to run a triple-A country."

His words struck a chord. When I visit Mr. Zuckerman this week in his midtown Manhattan office, he reports that three people approached him at dinner the previous evening to discuss his August op-ed. Among business executives who supported Barack Obama in 2008, he says, "there is enormously widespread anxiety over the political leadership of the country." Mr. Zuckerman reports that among Democrats, "The sense is that the policies of this government have failed. . . . What they say about [Mr. Obama] when he's not in the room, so to speak, is astonishing."

...would he just read them off the teleprompter?  Even the stuff his past supporters wish to still believe of him is false.

October 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Majority back Scottish independence (Evening Standard, 15 Oct 2011)

Scottish independence now has majority backing north of the border and in the UK as a whole, according to a new poll.

Research by ComRes for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror found that support for the move had risen sharply over recent months.

The results are a boost for First Minister Alex Salmond as his Scottish National Party prepares to hold its autumn conference in Inverness.

Independence will make both Scotland and England more conservative politically.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Inside Obama's War Room: How he decided to intervene in Libya - and what it says about his evolution as commander in chief (Michael Hastings, 10/13/11, Rolling Stone)

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the Obama administration had been grappling with how the United States should respond to the wave of democratic uprisings sweeping the region, first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco and Syria. In his first major foreign-policy address as president, given 18 months earlier in Cairo, Obama had pointedly called for a fundamental realignment in the region. "I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," he declared, warning autocratic governments that they must maintain their power "through consent, not coercion."

But once those governments actually began to fall, the Obama administration was slow to distance itself from the oil-rich autocrats the U.S. had supported for decades. In Egypt, Vice President Joe Biden downplayed the democratic revolt, saying that he didn't consider Hosni Mubarak a "dictator." In Bahrain - home of the U.S. 5th Fleet - the administration looked the other way as the royal family allowed the military to violently crush peaceful street protests. In Yemen, the U.S. chose not to intervene when the country's military fired into crowds calling for the president's resignation. To Arab protesters, Obama's "new beginning" seemed more like the same old American realpolitik that had long dominated the Middle East.

In Libya, however, the uprising took on a decidedly different character than those of its neighbors. [...]

By the end of February, according to a senior administration official, Obama had begun "an incredibly intensive series of discussions in the Oval Office and the Situation Room" on how to handle Libya. From the start, insiders say, the players broke down into two distinct camps. On one side were top-level Pentagon and White House advisers who were skeptical of further military intervention, given the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. This group included Biden, who had argued strongly against Obama's decision in 2009 to launch a military surge in Afghanistan, and Biden's friend Tom Donilon, the president's national security adviser. (The two men are close: Donilon's wife is Jill Biden's chief of staff.) Also in the skeptic camp were Donilon's deputy, Denis McDonough, who had served on Obama's campaign staff in 2008, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who dubbed calls for intervention "loose talk."

The skeptics didn't disagree that a Libya without Qaddafi would be a desirable outcome. Libya sits atop the world's ninth-largest oil reserves, producing 1.6 million barrels a day, and the colonel was an unpredictable ally at best, a dangerous madman at worst. In 1986, Qaddafi ordered an attack on a Berlin disco that killed two U.S. soldiers, and in 1988, he authorized the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, resulting in the deaths of all 270 people onboard. His personal quirks - the rambling speeches, the Bedouin tents, the sexy female bodyguards - added to his image as a villain straight out of James Bond. Since 2003, however, Qaddafi had undergone an extreme makeover, courtesy of a multimillion-dollar PR campaign that enlisted influential Washington insiders and policy wonks like Richard Perle and Francis Fukuyama. He gave up his weapons of mass destruction, helped the CIA interrogate Islamic radicals and secured Libya a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council. To top U.S. officials he had become, in the infamous tweet in 2009 from Sen. John McCain, "an interesting man."

Despite the temptation to overthrow Qaddafi, however, the skeptics in the administration posed a set of tough questions: Would intervening on the side of the rebels make it harder to support U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? Could it inadvertently lead us into a third ground war? Would it jeopardize cooperation from other countries in the battle against Al Qaeda? Would it undercut the rebels by putting an American footprint on what had up until now been a homegrown revolution? And did we really know who the rebels were? "There was a certain wariness to get involved militarily in a third Muslim country," says one senior administration official who took part in the deliberations.

On the other side of the internal debate was a faction of unlikely allies within the White House and the State Department who viewed Libya as an opportunity to enact a new form of humanitarian intervention, one that they had been sketching out for nearly a decade.
It's America, the Realists always lose out to the Crusaders.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


Small U.S. force to deploy to Uganda, aid fight against Lord's Resistance Army (Scott Wilson and Craig Whitlock, October 14, 2011, Washington Post)

President Obama will send about 100 U.S. troops to Uganda and nearby countries to combat the Lord's Resistance Army and kill or capture its leader, Joseph Kony, who has been charged with war crimes for a decades-long campaign against civilians in Central Africa. [...]

The troop deployment comes with the consent of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who has blamed a lack of special forces and intelligence capability for his nation's inability to defeat the relatively small LRA.

In his letter, Obama stated that the first troops will be based in Uganda, a U.S. ally in the region. They are primarily Special Operations Forces, Pentagon officials said, although they declined to say which branches of the armed services they were drawn from or to provide details about the kinds of training they will provide.

The officials said the U.S. military trainers will eventually work side by side with Ugandan and other African forces in the region as they pursue the Lord's Resistance Army, but will stop short of engaging in direct combat, unless it is in self-defense. Obama wrote that future U.S. forces also will deploy in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


Occupy Wall Street Protest Names Single Enemy: 'Neoliberalism' (Joe Romaine | October 15, 2011, IB Times)

Now, occupywallst.org, the Web site for the "NYC Protest for American Revolution," announced that it has a single enemy that seems to encompass most of the wrongs the protesters are railing against.

That enemy is "neoliberalism."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Nation-Building, Our National Pastime: a review of LIBERTY'S SUREST GUARDIAN: American Nation-Building From the Founders to Obama By Jeremi Suri (ROBERT KAGAN, 10/15/11, NY Times Book Review)

The idea that nation-building is something new in American foreign policy, a departure from the good old days of simply killing the bastards, has been widespread for some time. Condoleezza Rice a decade ago also wanted to know why the 82nd Airborne was walking Bosnian kids to school. But in fact American soldiers have been walking kids to school for two centuries.

This is the point of Jeremi Suri's useful new book, "Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building From the Founders to Obama." Suri, a professor of history at the University of Texas, Austin, argues not only that Americans have engaged in nation-building throughout their history, but that their impulse to do so springs naturally and inevitably from their character and experience as a people. Having built a single nation out of disparate parts themselves, having solved the problem of competing interests by channeling them through national representative institutions, Americans have continually sought to replicate this experience in foreign lands. They have "deployed their exceptional history in universalistic ways." And while Suri acknowledges that these efforts have at times been quixotic, he insists that the American proclivity to engage in nation-building is smart. It is, he argues, the necessary compromise between isolationism and empire: a "society of states" that are independent, stable, capable of trading with one another and, above all, modeled after the United States. In response to realist critics, he writes that "the American pursuit of a society of states serves the deepest interests of a people forged in revolution." Because "alternative forms of foreign government limit American influence, access and long-term trust," the "spread of American-style nation-states, and the destruction of their challengers, matches the realistic interests of citizens in the United States."

Suri concentrates on six episodes of nation-building in America's history: the founding of our own nation; the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War; the long occupation of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War; the occupation of Germany following the Second World War; the failed attempt at nation-building in Vietnam; and the continuing effort in Afghanistan.

Although not original, his inclusion of Reconstruction as an early exercise in nation-building is important. Historians of American foreign policy have badly neglected this critical period because they don't consider it "foreign" policy. But the North's efforts to reshape the South after the Civil War set a standard for future American occupations and attempted transformations, in the Philippines and Cuba as well as in Germany and Japan. Then as later, the United States Army took effective control of a conquered land, eradicated its leadership -- the slaveholders -- and attempted to empower others to take their place, including the formerly oppressed slaves. Then as later, this enormous undertaking was made almost impossible by inadequate resources and inadequate and faltering commitment. Then as later, the results were mixed.

Pretty hard to still argue that the results are mixed.  Rather, Reconstruction reminds us that even amongst Americans the process of Americanization took over 100 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Does Occupy Wall Street need to get specific? (Dan Farber, 10/13/11, CBS News)

It's not the sort of question you'd ask of a conservative movement--conservatism being about ideas it is always specific.  But the UR illustrates why you must ask it of a liberal movement--ideas act as a solvent on the Left, where various interest groups pursue their own personal agendas with nothing to bind them together except an emotion or two.  Thus, specificity destroys the movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Al-Qaida's Yemen media chief dies in US drone attack (Associated Press/guardian.co.uk, 15 October 2011)

A US air strike has killed the media chief for al-Qaida's Yemeni branch along with six other militants, the Ministry of Defence said on Saturday, in the second high-profile American missile attack in as many weeks to target the terror group in the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Primatene And The War on (Asthma) Drugs (Paul Ehrlich M.D. 10/15/2011, New Geography)

On December 31, 2011, Primatene Mist, the only over-the-counter asthma inhaler still available, will be taken off the market. The ban is being pointed to as an example of regulatory overreach by the Obama administration. As a physician and asthma specialist, I have been observing the Primatene controversy for -- without exaggeration -- decades, and have concluded that there's blame enough to share between both the pro and con government regulation camps, as well as the pharmaceutical and financial industries.

The official reason for the ban is the danger Primatene poses to the environment. I have always thought that extending the ban on chlorofluorocarbon propellants (CFCs) to medication was an example of regulatory overkill, because medication is such a small part of the problem. However, it does help to look at the context. Back in 1987, when Ronald Reagan was President and the Montreal Protocol was written, there was international consensus that we needed to do something about depletion of the ozone layer high in the atmosphere, which was causing problems for us here on earth. For many of the products releasing these gasses into the atmosphere -- car air-conditioners, hairspray, and deodorant, for example -- alternatives could plausibly be found. I wish we could find a way to relieve asthma attacks with a roll-on, but we can't.

Medical aerosols were given more time than other products, and, frankly, I don't think we've done a very good job of replacing them. The new inhalers don't deliver medication as efficiently as Primatene delivers its active ingredient. Still, anyone who looks at the timeline for the upcoming restriction can see that the key decisions were made in 2006 and in 2008. The current administration is following the timetable set by its predecessors.

The charges of over-regulation have been accompanied by newly expressed sympathies for the plight of poor people with asthma. I think the greater disservice was done recently when stronger air-quality regulations were postponed. The best way to treat asthma is to reduce its incidence, and air quality is one of the biggest factors. It's unfair to generalize, but I have a feeling that some of the people looking to demonize Big Government for regulating Primatene were also calling tighter air-quality regulations "job-killers" a few weeks ago.

It's not us, it's them, darn it!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


The Range of Justice (or, How to Retrieve Liberal Sectual Tolerance) (Gerald Gaus, October 10th, 2011, Cato)

The morally mature citizen and philosopher knows that a diverse society will never come to share a conception of the best, and that means that she must reconcile herself to living under principles and practices that she does not think are the best, or in fact anything very close to it. Only this mature attitude allows widespread reconciliation to a social world of diversity, which includes diversity of political views. Those with such a mature attitude will not be alienated from their social and political world as are so many of today's political philosophers and citizens; they will not chafe at being subject to principles and practices that they deem fall far short of the best as they have come to understand it.

Of course one with a mature attitude that allows reconciliation to a social and political world of diversity need not reconcile oneself to every possible principle or practice. The mature attitude need not abandon the critical stance: it must place some limits on what can be endorsed. In short, while abandoning the optimizing stance it must not endorse repression and injustice. The mature attitude sees the distance between falling short of the best and oppression -- a difference the sectarian cannot see. The sectarian political philosopher (at least in her writings though not in her actual social life) is apt to deem as unjust all those regimes that do not conform to her favored "theory of justice." The difference, though, between less-than-the-best and the unacceptable is real. There is a wide range of the just. In a world of diversity, a just and free society can only be achieved once citizens and philosophers appreciate the distance between what is acceptable and their sect's vision of the best.

This is why the West reached the End of History first.  We recognize that the best can not come from merely human endeavor but awaits the return of the Messiah. 

October 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Without Independents, Obama Has No Chance of Victory (JAY COST, 10/14/11, Weekly Standard)
Over the last 50 years, we have seen a remarkable transformation of the American electorate. The percentage of people identifying as Democrats has been cut nearly in half - from 51 percent in 1961 to 30 percent in 2011. Republicans have seen some gains from this, but the biggest jump has been in the number of people who identify with neither party, which according to the most recent Gallup poll is 46 percent.

It is this group of independents that has more or less determined elections over the last 30 years. Democratic strategists and their friends in the media trumpeted Obama's 2008 victory as a sign of the "emerging Democratic majority," but in reality the president's victory hinged above all on the swing of the independent vote.

This helps explain why Obama's numbers in the public opinion polls have dropped substantially, even though he still retains strong support from the Democratic base. This is not 1961. Democrats do not make up a majority of the country, far from it. Instead, independents hold the balance of power, and Obama is doing terribly with them. In the latest Gallup poll, his standing is an anemic 35 percent.

What would happen to the president if he were to win only 35 percent of independent voters next year? He would lose. And it would not be close.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


How Barack Obama went from cool to cold (Gary Younge, 10/13/11, guardian.co.uk,

Salim Muwakkil, a Chicago-based journalist, thinks in times of crisis Americans value impulsiveness in a leader. "Isn't that part of the American myth?" he asks. "We don't get stuck in the paralysis of analysis. We strike out when we see the wrong. Bush embodied that, Reagan had a bit of that. These times are calling even more for that kind of quality."

This might be easier said than done. Not only does Obama have to perform the role of president, but also that of the first black one. Whatever detractors thought of Clinton or Bush Jr, they never accused them of not being born in the United States or secretly belonging to another faith. Part of his ostensible "post-racial" appeal as a candidate was the paradoxical claim that he did not scare white voters too much. Before the election Senate leader Harry Reid privately said his chances were good because he was a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one".

...it was that his essential hollowness made him nothing. Mr. Obama is neither cool nor cold, just empty.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Global warning: climate sceptics are winning the battle: Father of the green movement says scientists lack PR skills to make public listen (Michael McCarthy, 11 October 2011, Independent)

Climate sceptics are winning the argument with the public over global warming, the world's most celebrated climate scientist, James Hansen of NASA, said in London yesterday. [...]

In a briefing at the Royal Society , Dr Hansen, pictured, was frank about the success with public opinion of what he termed "the climate contrarians", in effectively lessening public concern about global warming. He said: "They have been winning the argument for several years, even though the science has become clearer.

"There's been a very strong campaign by those who want to continue fossil fuel 'business as usual', and the scientific story has not been powerful enough to offset that push."

Part of the problem, he said, was that the climate sceptic lobby employed communications professionals, whereas "scientists are just barely competent at communicating with the public and don't have the wherewithal to do it."

Given the prevalence of those who believe in human-caused global warming in the media and things like the awarding of the Nobel Prize and an Academy Award to Al Gore for his global warming movie, you'd have to say that Mr. Hansen's concerns have almost uniquely good PR and communications.  Which raises the likelihood that we in the Anglosphere have considered his case and simply rejected it after thinking it through, just as we did Malthusianism and Darwinism in the first place.  Contrarianism is just our default setting when it comes to such intellectual nonsense.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM

SXSW 2011: The Joy Formidable, Live In Concert (Stephen Thompson, 3/17/11, NPR)


The Joy Formidable On World Cafe (NPR, 5/19/11)


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM

Explosions in the Sky perform in The Current studios (The Current, October 11, 2011)
For a band that plays mostly lengthy, cathartic, guitar-led instrumentals, Explosions in the Sky have amassed an impressive following. Since the band formed in 1999 in Austin, Tex., their have albums have reached ever-larger audiences and racked up increasing critical adoration. [...] Explosions in the Sky's sixth studio album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, was released this spring to widespread critical admiration, and even saw modest but impressive chart performance in the UK and the US. The quartet stopped by The Current studios to chat with Mark Wheat and play a few songs, including "Be Comfortable, Creature" and "Let Me Back In."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The GOP's Immigration Fixation (PETER ROBINSON, 10/13/11, WSJ)

Yes, I know. The economic benefits California has derived from immigration, including illegal immigration, have proven enormous. Some studies even suggest that, taking into account the economic growth their labor has made possible, and the sales taxes and other imposts they have paid, undocumented aliens have contributed more to government coffers than they have drawn down.

And even after the American economy finally recovers, falling poverty and birth rates in Mexico suggest that illegal immigration may return only as a small stream--perhaps even a trickle--and not a flood. Over the next decade or so, many of the aliens now in the Golden State will perhaps go home to a modernizing Mexico while Californians come to accept--or at least become resigned to--those who remain, acquiescing in measures that would grant them legal residency and eventually citizenship.

Yet even if a single alien were never again to enter California, and even if half those now in the Golden State illegally were suddenly to return home while the other half magically became citizens, the federal government would still have permitted millions to enter the state in violation of the law.

...is for those aliens to have legal status via an orderly process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Getting to Denmark: On Francis Fukuyama (Thomas Meaney, October 24, 2011, The Nation)

"The End of History?" remains the albatross around Fukuyama's neck. In one way or another, everything he writes circles back to it. The thesis of that essay is stark and simple. To American readers in the twilight of the cold war, Fukuyama explained that the triumph of the West owed less to the collapse of the Soviet Union, or to the genius of the free market, than to a revolution in world consciousness. Humanity had finally recognized the form of its ideological destiny: liberal capitalism. For those who thought they'd heard something like this before, Fukuyama made no excuse about cribbing his argument from untimely sources. A Kremlinologist for the RAND Corporation by day, he burned the midnight oil reading Hegel and Alexandre Kojève, and he gleaned from their writings what he believed to be the operating principle of History--that the human desire to live in a modern society generated the demand among people worldwide to be recognized as individual personalities. This universal need for recognition in turn demanded a new political reality. By Fukuyama's reckoning, the train of History had reached this territory one station early, not at socialism or communism, as so many had once anticipated, but at American-style liberal democracy. His point was not that liberal democracy was the best possible regime, or that the world would henceforth be free of conflicts, but that there were no longer any other viable political alternatives. In 1992, when he elaborated his essay into a book, Fukuyama dropped the question mark from its title and awaited the alignment of the provinces.

As the Arab Spring unfolds, South Sudan becomes a nation, and even the Burmese generals start to loosen up, the thesis looks awfully irrefutable.

October 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


Occupy Herbstreit: College Football Fan Spoofs Occupy Wall Street (IBTimes, Oct 13, 2011)

<img src="http://img.ibtimes.com/www/data/images/full/2011/10/13/173572-occupy-herbstreit.jpg">

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


U.S. Challenged to Explain Accusations of Iran Plot in the Face of Skepticism (ERIC SCHMITT and SCOTT SHANE, 10/13/11, NY Times)

The Obama administration on Wednesday sought to reconcile what it said was solid evidence of an Iranian plot to murder Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States with a wave of puzzlement and skepticism from some foreign leaders and outside experts.

Senior American officials themselves were struggling to explain why the Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, would orchestrate such a risky attack in so amateurish a manner. [...]

American officials offered no specific evidence linking the plot to Iran's most senior leaders. But they said it was inconceivable in Iran's hierarchy that the leader of the shadowy Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, was not directly involved, and that the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was not aware of such a plan.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 PM


Herman Cain 999 Plan: Did It Come From SimCity? (Amanda Terkel, 10/13/11, huffingtonpost.com)

There has been all sorts of speculation about where Cain came up with the idea for his catchy plan -- Unnamed economic advisers? A clever marketing promotion pulled from the pizza industry? -- but beyond a few hardcore gamers in the comments sections of blogs, few have looked to SimCity, the land where there's a "God mode."

Kip Katsarelis, a senior producer for Maxis, the company that created the SimCity series, was excited that politicians may be looking to video games for ideas.

"We encourage politicians to continue to look to innovative games like SimCity for inspiration for social and economic change," said Katsarelis. "While we at Maxis and Electronic Arts do not endorse any political candidates or their platforms, it's interesting to see GOP candidate Herman Cain propose a simplified tax system like one we designed for the video game SimCity 4."

Adopting such a simple tax structure, Katsarelis said, would allow fantasy political leaders to focus their energy on infrastructure and national security. "Our game design team thought that an easy to understand taxation system would allow players to focus on building their cities and have fun thwarting giant lizard attacks, rather than be buried by overly complex financial systems."

When asked about similarities between Cain's plan and SimCity's default tax rates, Cain campaign spokesman JD Gordon replied, "Well, we all like 9-9-9."

Meanwhile, Michelle Bachmann thinks he borrowed it from Satan

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM

The Horrors Cover Beyoncé (Stereogum, 10/13/11) The Horrors - Best Thing I Never Had (Beyonce cover) by the3penguins

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


Train Track Attacks: Debate over 'Leftist Terrorism' Erupts in Germany (Florian Gathmann, 10/13/11, Der Spiegel)

So far, authorities have found at least 17 incendiary devices near German rail facilities in and around Berlin this week. Many are concerned that the country is seeing the beginnings of a wave of leftist terror. [...]

The hyperbole is understandable. Since Monday, police and train officials have discovered 17 incendiary devices planted next to train tracks and near signalling equipment in Berlin and in the surrounding area. Two of them have gone off. Though no injuries have yet been reported, the discoveries have resulted in significant train delays and several cancellations.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


America's growing anti-intellectualism (Paul Rosenberg, 12 Oct 2011, Al Jazeera)

America has always had a critical thinking deficit, in that it has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. This is particularly perverse, maddening and contradictory, since America's Founders were the most intellectual group that ever founded any nation we know of, and the desire to foster free and critical thinking, both in government and in the society at large, was one of their notable goals, as a direct consequence of the Enlightenment heritage on which America's Founders depended.

This philosophy prized individual critical inquiry, as well as institutions-formal and informal-which enabled individual efforts to be joined together into a far more powerful whole. This outlook was crucially important to the creation of a new nation on a new hemisphere, confident enough to establish itself on a new political foundation with some ancient roots, but fashioned with its own original design. Mere imitation of the past was rejected as a guiding principal. So, too, was blind reliance on the fantasy of individual political genius. Instead, the spirit and process of critical inquiry was crucial to how the new nation was conceived.

The basic architecture of "separation of powers", for example, was intended to prevent the accumulation of all power into the hands of any unaccountable group or faction - and thus to put a premium on the process of advancing ideas that could pass the muster of critical examination by the widest possible range of parties involved. Similarly, steps were taken to insulating of government from dogmatic religious influence. Religious tests for public office were banned in the Constitution itself, and separation of church and state was formalised in the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom, which similarly guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press - all intimately connected to the individual and collective exercise of critical reason.

And yet, despite all this, there was always an anti-Enlightenment, anti-intellectual side of America as well.

The Founders, of course, explicitly rejected intellectualism in the Declaration and Constitution, basing America on faith instead.  But what would you expect from the English, whose entire history of philosophy consists of repudiating the Enlightenment?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 PM


India Fumbles on Palestine: New Delhi has been far too slow to recognize that Israel ought to be a natural ally. (SADANAND DHUME, 10/13/11, WSJ)

Instead of throwing its weight behind Israel--a natural ally with whom India shares more interests than it does with almost any other country--the left-leaning Congress Party-led government in New Delhi has publicly backed Palestinian brinkmanship on the statehood issue.

"The Palestinian question still remains unresolved and a source of great instability and violence," declared Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the United Nations last month. "India is steadfast in its support for the Palestinian people's struggle for a sovereign, independent, viable and united state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living within secure and recognizable borders side by side and at peace with Israel."

On the face of it, there's not much new in Mr. Singh's statement. India was the first non-Arab state to recognize Palestinian independence in 1988, and mouthing platitudes about support for the Palestinian cause while simultaneously deepening security and trade ties with Israel has been a hallmark of New Delhi's policy toward the region since it established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992.

...that the Palestinians are entitled to a self-governed sovereignty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Hinglish is official (Times of India, Oct 14, 2011)

The home ministry's decision to let bureaucrats use English words in the Devnagari script while making notes, instead of reaching for overly formal Hindi equivalents, is an excellent one. It liberates the bureaucracy from the pressures of undue Sanskritisation, letting it absorb and respond to far more normal, everyday language. Hopefully, it will also help our bureaucrats liberate themselves from the high priest-like status that accompanies a stiffly ceremonial vocabulary.The move saves work-time too, babus previously searching high and low for Hindi translations of terms like 'rainwater harvesting' and 'deforestation'. Few people are likely to have words like 'varsha-jal sanrakshan' or 'nirvanikaran' trembling on the tips of their rhetorical tongues. Babus shouldn't have to spend a good proportion of their time trawling through dictionaries for precise translations - ironically, incomprehensible to most recipients.

The home ministry's move is also a nod of recognition to the freedom and fun of language itself. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Poll: Tepid about Occupy Wall St. (TIM MAK, 10/13/11, Politico)

The vast majority of Americans have heard of the "Occupy Wall Street" protests, but less than half have a favorable view about the demonstrations, a new poll shows.

A sky-high 82 percent of those surveyed have heard of the rallies and demonstrations against corporatism and big banks, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. By comparison, only 54 percent of Americans could name at least one Republican presidential candidate unprompted, according to a Pew Research study from last week.

Only 38 percent of respondents to the Reuters/Ipsos poll said that they felt favorably toward the movement, less than half the number of those who have heard about it.

The more they know about the Occupation and the less they've followed the GOP presidential campaign the better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Obama, Menendez Remain Vulnerable in N.J. (Steven Shepard, October 13, 2011, Hotline)

A new Quinnipiac University poll released early Thursday shows that President Obama's approval rating in the reliably-blue state of New Jersey is at a record-low, and voters are split on reelecting Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., complicating Democrats' efforts to retain control of the chamber.

The percentage of New Jersey voters who approve of the job Obama is doing as president has sunk to 43 percent, a point lower than a mid-August Quinnipiac survey. Fifty-two percent of voters disapprove of his job performance, identical to the previous poll.

Only 34 percent of independent voters approve of the job Obama is doing, while 60 percent disapprove. There is also a wide gender gap: Three-in-five men disapprove of his job performance, but half of women approve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


US Congress backs free trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama (Associated Press/guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 October 2011)

The US Congress has approved free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, ending a four-year drought in the forming of new trade partnerships and giving the White House and Capitol Hill the opportunity to show they can work together to stimulate the economy and put people back to work.

The House of Representatives and Senate voted in rapid succession on the three trade pacts, which the administration says could boost exports by $13bn (£8.25bn) and support tens of thousands of American jobs. None of the votes was close, despite opposition from labour groups and other critics of free trade agreements who say they result in job losses and ignore labour rights problems in the partner countries.

Like Bill Clinton, the UR was able to pass Republican presidents' trade agreements with the support of Republicans in Congress.  How about securing some new ones of his own?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Jeb Bush's Cyber Attack on Public Schools: Is the former Florida governor's online-education advocacy: A) a stealth attack on teachers' unions; B) presidential positioning; C) an effort to divert public money to private corporations; D) all of the above? (Stephanie Mencimer, November/December 2011, Mother Jones)

In June 2010, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to give the commencement speech for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the state's largest virtual charter school. ECOT, which provides K-12 online education for kids who never set foot inside a classroom, was celebrating its 10th anniversary and its largest graduating class--nearly 2,000 kids. Naturally, the event, held on the campus of Ohio State University, was webcast for those who couldn't make it.

Bush served up the usual graduation platitudes about the future. Then he hit on the reason he was saluting this particular school: digital learning. It was, he said, nothing short of a revolutionary approach, a way to meet "the unique needs of each student so that their God-given abilities are maximized, so they can pursue their dreams armed with the power of knowledge."

It wasn't the first time Bush had praised the wonders of online education. Over the past year, he's emerged as one of the nation's most prominent boosters of virtual schools, touring the country to promote technology as an instrument of creative destruction against the public school system. Last December, he teamed up with former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat, to launch a new initiative called Digital Learning Now, which is aimed at tearing down legal barriers to public funding for virtual classrooms.
As part of this investigation Stephanie Mencimer also wrote about Rupert Murdoch's major move into the education business and rounded up some of the many ways crooks have cashed in on the charter school boom.

Bush has couched his initiative in the bipartisan language of reform, claiming it will strengthen public education by making it more efficient, affordable, and accountable. It's the kind of "21st-century thinking" that had Republicans begging him to run for president earlier this year--and if it helps position him for national office and connect him with potential corporate donors, so much the better. But beneath the rhetoric, the online-education push is also part of a larger agenda that closely aligns with the GOP's national strategy: It siphons money from public institutions into for-profit companies (including those that are supporting Bush's initiative). And it undercuts public employees, their unions, and the Democratic base. In the guise of a technocratic policy initiative, it delivers a political trifecta--and a big windfall for Bush's corporate backers.

The nomination is just sitting there, begging to be claimed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM

YOU THINK YOU GOT PROBLEMS... (self-reference alert):

A Shelf-Obsessed Writer (JAMI ATTENBERG, 10/13/11, NY Times)

I can't remember when I first became obsessed with the cafe's free bookcase, but sometime in the last year it was suddenly so, and I was regularly making pilgrimages there. I took books home to read, and brought others in to replace them. I noticed which ones were snapped up quickly and which sat for too long. I rooted for the galley of Emily St. John Mandel's smart novel "The Singer's Gun" to find a good home, but felt a little smug about another novel -- which sucked up all the press in the universe when it came out, even though it was not its author's finest work, not by a long shot, and one might wonder if perhaps the author was even phoning it in -- which no one touched for weeks.

But mostly, I waited in both terror and anticipation for my own books of fiction to show up on the shelves someday. Surely someone in the neighborhood had read one of them, I told myself, what with my being a local author and all. But if someone did bring in one of my books, what did it mean? Was it that he had read it once and did not treasure it? Or was it that he had read it and found it so delightful that he wanted to share it with the world? And what would happen next? Would it sit there, gathering dust, or would someone pick it up and take it home? What would I -- and my fragile writer's ego -- do then?

Reader, I forced the issue. Two weeks ago, I brought in the three books I'd written. I had to know what would happen. And so, while the feisty protesters occupied Wall Street, and our armed forces served our country so admirably in foreign lands, and all over the world every minute doctors and nurses saved lives, I stalked my own books for five days.

...I once found a copy of my first book in the discount bin at Borders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Democrats Court the Wall Street Protesters: The strategy risks alienating independents and blue-collar voters (KARL ROVE, 10/13/11, WSJ)

The tea party is a middle-class movement of people who want limited government, less spending, less debt, low taxes, and the repeal of ObamaCare. Occupy Wall Street isn't a movement. It's a series of events populated by a weird cast of disaffected characters, ranging from anarchists and anti-Semites to socialists and LaRouchies. What they have in common is an amorphous anger aimed at banks, investors, rich people and bourgeois values.

The tea party reveres the Constitution and wants to change laws to restore the country to prosperity. Occupy Wall Street started by occupying a New York City park and then blocked the Brooklyn Bridge, sparking the arrest of hundreds.

The tea party files for permits for its rallies and picks up its trash afterwards. Occupy Wall Street tolerates protesters who defecate on police cars, allows the open sale of drugs at protests, and features women walking around rallies topless.

The tea party has settled down to democracy's patient, responsible work, either by exerting influence on the Republican Party nomination process or educating Americans on the issues in order to hold politicians in both parties to account.

By comparison, Occupy Wall Street seems alienated by the American political system. It has no concrete agenda and no plan to become a political institution. Yet it needs both things to have an impact on politics or policy. Without them, Americans will be interested in Occupy Wall Street's weird and off-putting side show for only so long.

The fact that it lacks a clear program means that Occupy Wall Street is susceptible to being captured by even more extreme elements. It's no accident its rallies and marches around the country include signs extolling wacky causes and marginal, but highly organized, left-wing groups. Nothing draws ideologues who know what they want as fast as a malleable crowd that doesn't.

...you slack with anarchy.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Making amends: Myanmar govt takes first hesitant steps: In an attempt to rectify the anti-democratic policies and human rights violations of the past by the military junta that ruled the country for 23 years till a few months ago, the government of President Thein Sein has started releasing political prisoners who were languishing in jail under the military dictatorship for many years from October 12 (B Raman, 10/13/11, rediff)

The seemingly civilian government, which consists of many military members of the previous junta who had discarded their uniforms and projected themselves as civilian political leaders, started giving indications of new thinking on the road ahead for Myanmar.

Two indicators of the new thinking were reports that the government seemed keen to find ways of associating Suu Kyi with the new dispensation without letting her get into the driving seat of power, and the decision to suspend the construction of a huge hydel project by a Chinese company in the Northern Kachin State because of strong opposition to the project.

The significant  decision to suspend the Chinese-driven project, which would have benefited the Yunan province of China more than the Kachin state of Myanmar, gave cause for hope that Chinese interests, which played an important role in influencing the decisions and policies of the military junta, may no longer play the same role under the new government  .

Will the winds of change affect positively not only the political and economic landscape of Myanmar, but also its future diplomacy? That was a question that increasingly excited analysts.

In the context of these developments, it was, therefore, no wonder that in remarks made in Bangkok on October 10, Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, hailed the recent developments in Myanmar, including what he described as "very consequential dialogue" between Suu Kyi and the leadership.

Campbell, one of the many US officials to hold rare talks with Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin in Washington recently, added that while concerns remained, "it is also undeniably the case that there are dramatic developments under way".

Against this background, the release of the first batch of political prisoners by the government on October 12 was less daring and more hesitant. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


Rise of the Man Purse (Isabel Wilkinson 10/13/11, Daily Beast)

When Lil Wayne appeared courtside at Game 3 of the WNBA finals last week, he looked appropriately badass in a pair of cutoff denim shorts, an oversized Jersey, and a million-dollar sneer. But then, as he cheered on his team, we saw it: there, hanging from his belt, was a small Louis Vuitton pouch, no larger than his palm. Maybe it held his business cards, Kleenex or his house keys, but one thing was for sure--it was a murse.

Brazilian soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has a favorite Gucci clutch that he carries...

So one of them was dressed like Daisy Duke and the other plays soccer.  Do any men carry them?


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Having a Job Ain't All It's Cracked Up to Be (Shobhana Chandra and Steve Matthews, 10/12/11, Business Week)

Tamra Loomis, a graphic designer and single mother of two boys, grows vegetables to trim grocery bills. She uses coupons when she shops. She doesn't have a monthly Internet charge: She goes to her parents' house and uses their broadband connection.

Loomis makes $17 an hour working at a sign company in Antioch, Calif., and hasn't had a raise in three years. The owner has twice denied Loomis's request for higher wages, she says, and in January he cut the hours for her and the company's other employee to 30 a week from 40. "At this point, I'm paycheck to paycheck," says Loomis, 32

Tamra Loomis, a graphic designer and single mother of two boys, grows vegetables to trim grocery bills. She uses coupons when she shops. She doesn't have a monthly Internet charge: She goes to her parents' house and uses their broadband connection.

Loomis makes $17 an hour working at a sign company in Antioch, Calif., and hasn't had a raise in three years. The owner has twice denied Loomis's request for higher wages, she says, and in January he cut the hours for her and the company's other employee to 30 a week from 40. "At this point, I'm paycheck to paycheck," says Loomis, 32.

The point is she's not married.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


US missile attack kills Haqqani member in Pakistan (Associated Press/guardian.co.uk, Thursday 13 October 2011)

A US missile strike has killed a member of the militant Haqqani network in north-west Pakistan, striking at a group Washington claims is the number one threat in Afghanistan and is supported by Pakistani security forces, local intelligence officials said.

Two other militants were killed in the attack on Thursday close to the Haqqani stronghold of North Waziristan, the group's main sanctuary along the Afghan border, according to Pakistani officials in the region.

They identified the Haqqani member as Jalil and said he was a "co-ordinator" for the group. The men were walking down a street when the drone-fired missile hit.

Yet we're supposed to worry that they could take over governance of the region?

October 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 PM


How to Stop the Drop in Home Values (MARTIN S. FELDSTEIN, 10/12/11, NY Times)

To halt the fall in house prices, the government should reduce mortgage principal when it exceeds 110 percent of the home value. About 11 million of the nearly 15 million homes that are "underwater" are in this category. If everyone eligible participated, the one-time cost would be under $350 billion. Here's how such a policy might work:

If the bank or other mortgage holder agrees, the value of the mortgage would be reduced to 110 percent of the home value, with the government absorbing half of the cost of the reduction and the bank absorbing the other half. For the millions of underwater mortgages that are held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government would just be paying itself. And in exchange for this reduction in principal, the borrower would have to accept that the new mortgage had full recourse -- in other words, the government could go after the borrower's other assets if he defaulted on the home. This would all be voluntary.

This plan is fair because both borrowers and creditors would make sacrifices. The bank would accept the cost of the principal write-down because the resulting loan -- with its lower loan-to-value ratio and its full recourse feature -- would be much less likely to result in default. The borrowers would accept full recourse to get the mortgage reduction. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 PM


Democrats Try Wary Embrace of the Protests (ERIC LICHTBLAU, 10/10/11, NY Times)

Leading Democratic figures, including party fund-raisers and a top ally of President Obama, are embracing the spread of the anti-Wall Street protests in a clear sign that members of the Democratic establishment see the movement as a way to align disenchanted Americans with their party.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party's powerful House fund-raising arm, is circulating a petition seeking 100,000 party supporters to declare that "I stand with the Occupy Wall Street protests." [...]

But while some Democrats see the movement as providing a political boost, the party's alignment with the eclectic mix of protesters makes others nervous.

Not that the party could be doing much worse, but have they really been reduced to standing for an "eclectic mix"?

Meet the Occupants (Tracey Samuelson, Oct 2, 2011, New York)

How old are you?
Under 20: 10
20-29: 50
30-39: 15
40-49: 9
Over 50: 2 [...]

Rank yourself on the following Scale of Liberalism:.
Not liberal at all: 6
Liberal but fairly mainstream (i.e., Barack Obama): 3
Strongly liberal (i.e., Paul Krugman): 12
Fed up with Democrats, believe country needs overhaul (i.e., Ralph Nader): 41
Convinced the U.S. government is no better than, say, Al Qaeda (i.e., Noam Chomsky): 34

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM

Watch the full video at Baeblemusic.com

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 PM


Families Don't Depend on the Minimum Wage: The data are clear: In most cases minimum-wage earnings are only a small fraction of family income. (BRADLEY SCHILLER, 10/12/11, WSJ)

One of the striking findings was that most adults who worked at the minimum wage did so for a relatively short time: Over 70% of them had no further minimum-wage job after two years. Almost all them held higher-paying jobs at some point, including ones they held while working at another that paid a minimum wage.

The family status of these adults is critical to the debate about "good jobs for everyone." In 1998, 30% of adult minimum-wage workers in the survey were single parents (mostly female) and another 23% were married with children still at home. These are the two demographic groups that are of greatest concern in the debate over income dependence. The rest of the adult minimum-wage workers were married without kids at home (22%) or single (25%).

Single parents are clearly the most vulnerable. Every year the Census counts millions of them, many working at minimum-wage jobs. But it is important to recognize that these are not the same single parents every year. Three out of four of the single parents working for the minimum wage in 1998 were no longer single parents in 2006. They moved in and out of two-parent households frequently.

If we focus on two-parent families in which one parent holds a minimum-wage job, the obvious question is whether the spouse also works. The survey data reveal that the answer is overwhelmingly "yes": Nine out of 10 married-with-children minimum-wage workers have a working spouse. Even more revealing is how much income that spouse earns: 40% of those spouses earn more than $40,000 a year. Another 27% report spousal earnings of $20,000-$40,000.

None of these households is in poverty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Assad's Alawites: The guardians of the throne (Nir Rosen, 10 Oct 2011, Al Jazeera)

Little is known about the history of the Alawite faith - even among the Alawite community - as its beliefs and practices are available only to the initiated few. It bears little resemblance to mainstream doctrines of Islam and involves belief in transmigration of the soul, reincarnation, the divinity of Ali ibn Abi Talib - the fourth Caliph and a cousin of Prophet Muhamad - and a holy trinity comprising Ali, Muhamad and one of the prophet's companions, Salman al Farisi.

A common theme to Alawite identity is a fear of Sunni hegemony, based on a history of persecution that only ended with the demise of the Ottoman empire. Sunni cultural hegemony, however, remains.

Beginning in the 1960s, the Syrian regime encouraged mainly Alawite peasants to migrate from the mountain regions to the plains, giving them ownership of lands that had belonged to a mainly Sunni elite.

But since the beginning of this year's uprising, some have sent their families back to rural areas for safety. Yahya al Ahmad, an Alawite doctor in Homs told me that his community were resented for migrating and finding work in the government and industry. "Sunnis say we took their jobs and should go back to the countryside," he said.

An Alawite friend told me he was outraged after seeing Sunni demonstrators in Latakia on television, chanting that they would send President Bashar "back to the farm". To him it meant that Sunnis wanted Alawites to go back to their villages.

"The lot of the 'Alawis was never enviable," wrote historian Hanna Batatu. "Under the Ottomans they were abused, reviled and ground down by exactions and, on occasions, their women and children led into captivity and disposed of by sale."

The French mandate that replaced the Ottoman empire empowered minorities and weakened the older Sunni elite, while Alawites begged the French to grant them a separate state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


This Is Not Your Father's Democratic Party (Stuart Rothenberg, 10/11/11,  Roll Call)

Just four or five decades ago, Democratic strategists could count on an army of working-class voters and union members to turn out to support the party's nominees, tapping on a deep party loyalty that developed out of the Great Depression. While WASPs and the rich hated President Franklin Roosevelt, that animosity didn't drive American politics.

But over the past few decades the New Deal generation passed away, President Ronald Reagan transformed our politics, the union movement shrunk noticeably, white voters as a percentage of the total electorate dropped significantly and both economic and social issues evolved.

How those changes have affected our politics becomes stunningly clear after talking to Democratic operatives and strategists, who see their best opportunities in 2012 as centering on states and Congressional districts populated by Hispanics, African-Americans, upscale white liberals, suburban voters and the young.

Even after Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's narrow victory in West Virginia last week, Democratic strategists seem to acknowledge that their party has lost downscale white voters -- particularly those in rural areas -- for 2012.

...it's a chick party, so your father never belonged in it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Beware Malthusians posing as progressives: Don't be fooled by the fashionable new crowd of Malthus-bashing greens: they're as misanthropic as old-style population scaremongers. (Brendan O'Neill, 10/12/11, Spiked)

Of course, with yawn-inducing predictability, the old guard of the population scaremongering lobby is out in force in the run-up to 31 October, the day when the UN predicts that humanity will number seven billion. Those rather fusty adherents to the Malthusian outlook - as first posited by Thomas Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) - may have adopted PC-sounding lingo in recent years, using phrases like 'climate change' in place of 'apocalypse', but they're still motored by a misanthropic view of speedily breeding human beings as the authors of society's downfall. Population Matters (PM), formerly the Optimum Population Trust, is marking 31 October by sticking ads all over the London Underground - 'in an environment that itself highlights the problem of overpopulation: the overcrowded transport system'.

PM's belief that overcrowding on the Tube is a result of overpopulation gives a brilliant insight into the narrow-minded, ahistoric thinking of old-world Malthusians. They seem incapable of understanding that squeezed conditions on rush-hour trains are actually down to a failure of infrastructure, a failure to expand and innovate, rather a result of Londoners having too many babies or immigrants coming over here and stealing all our seats. And so it is above ground, too, where global problems like poverty and hunger are a product, not of too many black babies demanding grub we don't have, but of a social failure to develop all human societies and liberate all human beings from need.

The problem with Malthusian thinking is that it misunderstands social problems as demographic ones. It reinterprets social limits as natural limits, repackaging problems of social development as problems of nature's shrinking bounty. Malthus fans make the dunderheaded error of imagining that human population is a scary variable, always going up, while everything else, including the amount of natural resources and the level of human ingenuity, remains constant. This profoundly anti-social outlook means they constantly fret about there being too many mouths to feed, when even just a cursory glance at our history will show that we have continually come up with ingenious ways to get more and more from nature in order to feed and clothe more and more people.

But the new Malthusian-bashers aren't much better. In fact, if anything they're worse, since they pose as progressives who want to protect Africans and Asians from the hectoring of white population scaremongers yet at the same time they promote the central tenets of the Malthusian outlook. Their rallying cry is effectively, 'Ignore the right-wing Malthus-loving lobby - the problem today is not overpopulation over there but overconsumption over here'. How blissful is their ignorance - they seem oblivious to the fact that their fashionable fretting about fat whiteys hoovering up scarce resources is every bit as Malthusian as that guy in tweed who worries about Nigerians popping out too many ankle-biters.

The truth that neither of them can tolerate is that this isn't a special moment in history, just a rather ordinary one on a long continuum. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


Prostate Cancer: Experts discourage vitamins and PSA test (Marie McCullough, 10/11/11, Philadelphia INQUIRER)

For health-conscious men of a certain age, what could be more prudent than taking vitamins and getting screened for prostate cancer?

Not doing those things.

That's the disillusioning take-home message from back-to-back reports on prostate cancer, the malignancy diagnosed in one out of every six American men.

A major national study in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association concludes that selenium and vitamin E supplements do not ward off the disease-and vitamin E alone can somehow promote it.

Less than a week ago, an influential federal panel recommended against screening with the prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test. The "vast majority" of men treated for PSA-detected tumors do not prolong their lives, yet that treatment subjects them to "significant harms," including urinary, sexual, and bowel problems, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said in a draft of updated recommendations.

What could be a more heartening message for men than to ignore the hysteria?


Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


McCotter Trailblazes Social Security Prosperity (Peter Ferrara, 10.12.11, American Spectator)

Ultimately, as workers retire in the future relying on the personal accounts to finance the majority of their retirement benefits instead of the government, that will create enormous surpluses in Social Security. Under current law, those surpluses would flow back into general revenues, providing enough funding itself to cover all future personal account contributions to Social Security.

No change would be made in any way for those already retired today, or those anywhere near retirement. Each worker would be perfectly free to choose to stay with Social Security as is and forego the personal accounts entirely. There would be no change in Social Security benefits under current law for those who make this choice. But the Chief Actuary concluded that McCotter's accounts are so beneficial to workers that 100 percent of workers would choose the accounts.

The workers who do choose the personal accounts, however, would invest their funds by choosing from a range of privately managed investment funds, just as with the Federal Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees, or the Social Security personal account system adopted 30 years ago in Chile that has operated with such great success for the workers of that nation. Nearly 100 percent of workers chose the personal accounts in Chile, validating the Chief Actuary's judgment regarding the McCotter accounts.

To the extent a worker chooses the personal account option over his career, the personal account would finance an equivalent percentage of the worker's future Social Security retirement benefits. For a worker who exercises the account for his entire career, the account would finance the maximum of 50% of the worker's retirement benefits. For those who exercise the account option for fewer years and later in their careers, the account would finance proportionally less under a statutory formula. But the personal accounts will pay more than the amount of Social Security benefits they replace, leaving the retiree with higher benefits overall on net. There would be no change in Social Security survivors or disability benefits due to the McCotter accounts.

Workers who choose the personal accounts are backed by a federal guarantee that they will receive at least as much as promised by Social Security under current law, maintaining the social safety net of the current program. That is similar to the guarantee backing the personal accounts in Chile. That is workable because standard, long-term, market investment returns are so much higher than what completely non-invested, purely redistributive Social Security promises, that it is extremely unlikely after a lifetime of investment that the personal accounts will not be able to pay at least that much.

The bill was officially scored by the Chief Actuary of Social Security, with his scoring memorandum available on the Social Security Administration website. The Chief Actuary scores the bill as eliminating all future deficits of Social Security, with no benefit cuts or tax increases, assuring that all Social Security benefits will be paid. That is because the personal accounts finance so much of the future benefits of Social Security that future deficits between continuing payroll tax revenues and continuing benefit obligations of the program are eliminated entirely. The accounts are so powerful that they eliminate the future deficits in the disability portion of Social Security as well, even though no changes are made to disability benefits.

As a result, McCotter's bill involves no change in the Social Security retirement age, cuts in the Social Security COLA, or other benefit cuts promoted by other proposals. Workers with personal accounts choose their own retirement age themselves, rather than the government choosing for them, with the incentive to delay retirement to the extent feasible to allow further account accumulations. Some workers with mostly intellectual jobs may delay retirement well into their 70s, which could never be imposed politically otherwise. Other workers with more physically demanding jobs would still be perfectly free to retire in their early 60s.

Because long-term market investment returns are so much higher than what Social Security even promises, let alone what it can pay, future retirees will actually enjoy higher benefits with the personal accounts. With those returns accumulating over a lifetime, the personal accounts will finance higher benefits than the Social Security benefits they replace under McCotter's bill.

The bill involves the greatest reduction in government spending in world history, as the personal accounts take over the responsibility for financing through private personal savings and investment $8.555 trillion in future Social Security benefits, as scored by the Chief Actuary of Social Security. As a result, the Chief Actuary's score indicates that the bill eliminates entirely the unfunded liability of Social Security. Moreover, based on the Chief Actuary's score, the spending reductions to finance the accounts will add up to a minimum of another $3.75 trillion in savings, bringing the total reduced spending under the bill at a minimum to over $12 trillion. But block granting all remaining federal, means-tested welfare programs back to the states would likely save far more in future years than the $3.75 trillion needed to finance the transition to the personal accounts.

With the transition to the accounts funded by reduced government spending, there would be no transition debt at all. That means all of the savings and investment in the accounts would flow directly into the economy in full, boosting jobs, wages and economic growth today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


$80 Kindle Review: Worth the Price and Then Some: The cheapest Kindle ever delivers a satisfying reading experience (Dan Nosowitz,  10.11.2011, Popular Science)

The $79 Kindle offers a great, inexpensive entry point into the world of Kindle. But we'd recommend spending a little bit more, if you can, and especially if you're buying for yourself: The included Whispernet 3G, which is not available on this Kindle, is one of Amazon's best ideas, as it offers a completely free (no monthly fee, no signing up, nothing) 3G access so you can download books, browse the internet, and sync your bookmarks, notes, and progress from wherever you are. I actually think the keyboarded Kindle feels better in the hand, size be damned, even though the loss of the keyboard isn't a big deal, interface-wise. If spending an extra $50 doesn't freak you out, I'd recommend the 3G keyboarded Kindle instead, which Amazon is still selling as the "Kindle Keyboard"--or you can wait for our reviews of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire, to see how they fare. On the other hand, man, this thing is cheap. I can't think of a single other gadget that costs less than $100 that I'd actually recommend, which makes the new Kindle just about the best Christmas gift out there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Roku unveils $49 streaming media player, adds HBO Go (Brett Molina, USA TODAY)

Streaming media device maker Roku plans on rolling out a $49 media player in early November.

The Roku LT will offer 720p high-definition video support, built-in wireless and access to 300 channels including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Science publishing: The trouble with retractions: A surge in withdrawn papers is highlighting weaknesses in the system for handling them. (Richard Van Noorden, 10/05/11, Nature)

The reasons behind the rise in retractions are still unclear. "I don't think that there is suddenly a boom in the production of fraudulent or erroneous work," says John Ioannidis, a professor of health policy at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, who has spent much of his career tracking how medical science produces flawed results.

In surveys, around 1-2% of scientists admit to having fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once (D. Fanelli PLoS ONE 4, e5738; 2009). But over the past decade, retraction notices for published papers have increased from 0.001% of the total to only about 0.02%. And, Ioannidis says, that subset of papers is "the tip of the iceberg" -- too small and fragmentary for any useful conclusions to be drawn about the overall rates of sloppiness or misconduct.

Instead, it is more probable that the growth in retractions has come from an increased awareness of research misconduct, says Steneck. That's thanks in part to the setting up of regulatory bodies such as the US Office of Research Integrity in the Department of Health and Human Services. These ensure greater accountability for the research institutions, which, along with researchers, are responsible for detecting mistakes.

The growth also owes a lot to the emergence of software for easily detecting plagiarism and image manipulation, combined with the greater number of readers that the Internet brings to research papers. In the future, wider use of such software could cause the rate of retraction notices to dip as fast as it spiked, simply because more of the problematic papers will be screened out before they reach publication. On the other hand, editors' newfound comfort with talking about retraction may lead to notices coming at an even greater rate.

"Norms are changing all the time," says Steven Shafer, editor-in-chief of the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, who has participated in two major misconduct investigations -- one of which involved 11 journals and led to the retraction of some 90 papers.

But willingness to talk about retractions is hardly universal. "There are a lot of publishers and a lot of journal editors who really don't want people to know about what's going on at their publications," says New York City-based writer Ivan Oransky, executive editor at Reuters Health. In August 2010, Oransky co-founded the blog Retraction Watch with Adam Marcus, managing editor at Anesthesiology News. Since its launch, Oransky says, the site has logged 1.1 million page views and has covered more than 200 retractions.

In one memorable post, the reporters describe ringing up one editor, L. Henry Edmunds at the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, to ask about a paper withdrawn from his journal (see go.nature.com/ubv261). "It's none of your damn business!" he told them. Edmunds did not respond to Nature 's request to talk for this article.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Democrats wary of their unpopular president (Thomas Ferraro, 10/11/11, Reuters)

Dozens of Democrats, primarily House moderates, kept their distance from Obama in the 2010 election dominated by a near double-digit jobless rate. But most lost anyway in a Republican tidal wave aided by the Tea Party movement.

There are now about two dozen moderate Democrats left in the House. Most are expected to stay away from Obama next year. Currently, a half dozen or so of what will be 33 Senate Democratic nominees are likely to campaign without Obama.

McCaskill was an early backer of Obama in 2008. Yet with her state seen as leaning Republican, she stayed in Washington when Obama made a campaign visit to Missouri on October 4.

Republicans ran an ad mocking McCaskill for declining to join the president. The spot showed her endorsing him with the words "Our economy needs Barack Obama as president."

McCaskill said she could not go back to Missouri because of a scheduling conflict and dismissed criticism as unfounded.

"People making a big deal of this is silly," McCaskill said. "They don't know me very well if they think I'm going to run away from the president. I'm not."

One of her Democratic colleagues sounded skeptical.

"If Obama's approval rating was at 70 percent, she would have been there in a heartbeat," the lawmaker said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Fixing Social Security (Jim Blankenship, 10/11/11, Forbes)
Means testing is one of the matters that must be addressed. As it relates to all forms of benefits, presently the only means test results in ordinary income tax on up to 85% of the benefits received. This doesn't go far enough - being a social insurance program, benefits are guaranteed to all eligible persons, including those who have no need for the funds in any way, such as the über-rich. I'd suggest that the means testing should go even farther than that, to include those not-so-über-rich, with incomes that far encompass the need for this additional social insurance. Another area to resolve problems with our current system is in the complexity of the way it works and how benefits are paid to people. There is a tremendous amount of bureaucracy involved with administering, responding to questions, and working through complaints with the way the system currently works. If the system were changed to force folks to only file for retirement benefits at Full Retirement Age (FRA) and not before or after, much of this complexity would be removed. Along with the removal of the complexity, much of the bureaucracy could be eliminated, reducing the overhead and costs, making the system more efficient. By setting one specific age for retirement benefits, we would also have much better control over outflows from the system, and adjusting FRA would have an immediate and calculable impact on the system. Granted, the impact on recipients would also be immediate under this proposal. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that this will fix everything. We'll have to get the actuaries involved to figure out how much of an impact these changes could have. The end result is probably going to be that current drags on the system will require further reduction in benefits than I've proposed and/or additional taxation in order to keep the benefits flowing. But taking a few steps right now can help to forestall the presently inevitable outcome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Barack Obama's lonely presidency (Clarence Page, October 12, 2011, Chicago Tribune)

In this, President Barack Obama's autumn of discontent, a new and potentially disastrous media narrative is emerging about him: He's the kind of liberal who loves humanity but hates people. [...]

But, before Obama's rivals on the political right become too gleeful over his political misfortunes, they should take his tale as a cautionary note about presidential campaigns in both parties: The qualities that look most attractive in a presidential candidate can prove to be disastrous in a president.

We loved Bill Clinton's jolly, freewheeling charm and lust for life -- before those qualities looked in the White House like a serious lack of discipline and organization, costly to the power and majesty of his office.

And we similarly were wooed by candidate George W. Bush's folksy, straightforward and resolute certainty. But after debacles like Hurricane Katrina and Iraq's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, his reassuring certainty looked like old-fashioned, irrational stubbornness.

We think we're voting for candidates, but we're really voting for narratives, the grand epic presidential story that we hope will come true. President Barack Obama offers us yet another case of a winner whose narrative is turned unfavorably on its head by his presidency. He has a year to turn his story around or, at least, hope his opponent spins a narrative that sounds even worse.

Mr. Page misses his own point.  Bill Clinton won a second term, survived impeachment and will be judged by history to have had at least a near great presidency because his personal weaknesses jibed with his strengths. Sure, he was all appetite, but that appetite included policy and work as well as women.  Likewise, W's stubbornness prevented him from bailing on Iraq when the rest of the Beltway wanted to and left him and a billion Muslims the big winners in the Islamic World.

But Barrack Obama's narrative was silence.  His election depended on him remaining a blank upon which people could project whatever image they wanted.  To the extent he has remained a void he comes off as creepy, to the extent he filled in the blank he's diverged from the ideal image folks produced.  Thus both action and inaction are losses for him. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


You Have to Gamble on Your Health (H. GILBERT WELCH, 10/11/11, NY Times)

Personally, as a 56-year-old man, I choose not to be screened for prostate cancer (and, were I female, I believe I would choose not to be screened for breast cancer). Some of my patients have made the same choice, while others choose to be screened. That's O.K., because there is no single right answer.

Screening is like gambling: there are winners and there are losers. And while the few winners win big, there are a lot more losers.

It's easy to understand why. When doctors screen for early cancer, all the incentives -- cultural, financial, professional and legal -- line up in one direction: Don't miss it. As a result, doctors overreact to even the tiniest abnormalities, which leads to the two basic harms of screening: false-positive tests and overdiagnoses.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Obama Loses Big on Jobs Bill (Patricia Murphy, Oct 11, 2011, Daily Beast)

Nothing quite illustrates the depth of Barack Obama's weakness in Washington better than the painfully public defeat the Senate handed him Tuesday by blocking his signature "American Jobs Act."

The cleverly named bill was sold as a paid-for, bipartisan package of cures for the country's anemic job market. But the Senate soundly defeated the measure, leaving it eight votes shy of the 60 that Obama needed just to get the Senate to consider it. Worst of all for Obama were the defections of two of his fellow Democrats, which limited the bill to getting more than a bare majority, as well as the declarations from several more that they would vote against the package if the Senate ever did consider it for an up-or down vote.

The defeat was a sharp rebuke for Obama that amounted to a vote of no confidence on the economic policies of recovery spending that he's championed for years, namely his idea that flooding the economy with public money will jump-start the private sector. But even Obama's fellow Democrats seem to have developed sufficient spending fatigue to put the brakes on new outlays, while the most moderate Democrats say the economy will never recover as long as the deficit continues to spiral out of control.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Free texting could spell doom for SMS (Asher Moses, October 12, 2011, Sydney Morning Herald)

Australians are increasingly using free apps to send text, picture and video messages and make calls - with savings over $100 in value a month for heavy texters - raising the question of whether telcos are becoming merely a "conduit" for smartphone makers and app designers.

October 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


Corbett education plan calls for vouchers (Angela Couloumbis, 10/11/11, Philadelphia INQUIRER)

Gov. Corbett unveiled his education reform plan today, calling for vouchers for children in failing schools as well as measures to ensure better teacher and student performance. [...]

The governor would also expand tax credits to businesses that help underwrite scholarship programs. Currently, there is $75 million set aside for such credits, but Corbett said he would work with the legislature to negotiate a higher number.

In addition, the governor said the current system of evaluating teachers is "merely a rubber stamp," and needs to change. He noted that the current system only provides for a "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory" rating, and that in the 2009-2010 school year, 99.2 percent of teachers got a passing grade.

Corbett said he wants to develop a new system that would base teacher evaluations in part on student performance, and use that as a basis for deciding merit pay, tenure and future employment. New ratings would include "distinguished," "proficient," "needs improvement," and "failing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


Israel signs deal with Hamas to free Gilad Shalit (Joanna Impey, 10/11/11, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in northern Gaza on Tuesday night to celebrate the deal that is expected to see the return of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

This clears the way for Marwan Barghouti to be president of the Palestinian state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Study: Arts funding benefits wealthy whites (Brett Zongker, 10/10/11, Associated Press)

Billions of dollars in arts funding is serving a mostly wealthy, white audience that is shrinking, while only a small chunk of money goes to emerging art groups that serve poorer communities that are more ethnically diverse, according to a report being released Monday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


The Return of Rational Expectations (WSJ, 10/11/11)

This year's winners of the Nobel Prize in economics have played key roles in developing what we now call modern macroeconomics. But we wouldn't blame Thomas Sargent and Christopher Sims if they feel less than fully welcome these days in the field they helped to shape.

Consider Mr. Sargent's influential work on rational-expectations models. According to this theory, people do not respond passively to changes in economic policy or circumstances. They anticipate future conditions and adjust according to their best interests.

As Mr. Sargent, who teaches at New York University and is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, has put it: "The concept of rational expectations asserts that outcomes do not differ systemically (i.e., regularly or predictably) from what people expected them to be. The concept is motivated by the same thinking that led Abraham Lincoln to assert, 'You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.' . . . [Rational expectations] does not deny that people often make forecasting errors, but it does suggest that errors will not persistently occur on one side or the other."

This means it is hard for politicians to manipulate people into behaving in ways that don't make economic sense. One implication is that loose monetary policy cannot permanently lower unemployment because people will anticipate higher future inflation and demand higher wages and interest rates in compensation.

Sorry, our headline isn't really fair.  Instead, no one rational believes that loose money nonsense while they do believe that costs will keep falling as they have for thirty years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Raymond Tallis Takes Out the 'Neurotrash' (Marc Parry, 10/10/11, The Chronicle Review)

In 2006, Tallis gave up hospital-ward rounds for a full-time writing life that unfolds in morning and afternoon rounds of two local pubs. In these "offices," the atheist-humanist nurses his animosity toward thinkers who reduce human beings to animals "acting out a biological script inscribed in our brains by evolutionary forces." He takes aim at their exaggerated claims in a new book, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (McGill-Queen's University Press).

"We live in deeply pessimistic times," says Kenan Malik, a London-based historian of ideas. "There's a tendency to look at humans as being prisoners either of culture or of nature. Much of his argument runs against the grain of the received wisdom in contemporary culture."

Flamboyantly so. In a cheerful voice, turned out in a magenta tie and a blue boating blazer with broad white stripes, Tallis informs 60 people gathered in a Kent lecture hall that his talk will demolish two "pillars of unwisdom." The first, "neuromania," is the notion that to understand people you must peer into the "intracranial darkness" of their skulls with brain-scanning technology. The second, "Darwinitis," is the idea that Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory can explain not just the origin of the human species--a claim Tallis enthusiastically accepts--but also the nature of human behavior and institutions.

Those trends, as Tallis sees them, are like "intellectual illnesses" metastasizing from academic labs into popular culture. He sees the symptoms in neuro-economic thinkers who explain our susceptibility to subprime mortgages by describing how our brains evolved to favor short-term rewards. He sees them in philosophers who claim that our primate minds admire paintings of landscapes that would have supported hunting and gathering. He sees it in neurotheologians who preach that "God is a tingle in the 'God spot' in the brain."

So what's wrong with all that?

Many, many things, says Tallis, but the most basic problem with neuromania he illustrates by cuing up a slide of a fuzzy gray brain with some yellow bits lit up. This image represents love. At least that's the claim of two researchers, Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki, who investigated the neural activity associated with romantic love by using fMRI scans to observe how subjects' brains reacted when they were shown pictures of loved ones. To Tallis, headline-grabbing studies like that--Aping Mankind skewers countless examples--are "crude enough to make a Martian laugh."

"Love is not like a response to a single stimulus, such as a picture," says Tallis, 65, who relishes his "robust" 38-year marriage to Terry Tallis, 64, a mostly retired social worker. "It's not even a single enduring state, like being cold. It is a many-splendored and many-miseried thing," which includes hope, jealousy, kindness, lust, guilt, delight, and moments of not feeling in love at all.

The backlash against neuroscience isn't new--one controversial paper in 2009 accused social neuroscientists of making "voodoo correlations" between brain regions and emotions--but the crowd delights in Tallis's hyperbolic version of it. The response from some philosophers and scientists has been less kind. That's because Tallis's beef is not just with crude methodologies. In detail so pitiless it threatens to be unreadable in parts, Aping Mankind argues that neuroscientific approaches to things like love, wisdom, and beauty are flawed because you can't reduce the mind to brain activity alone. And, like a school bully, Tallis taunts philosophers whose views he opposes, like Patricia S. Churchland (he calls her the "Queen of Neuromania"), John Gray (author of "misanthropic ravings"), and Daniel C. Dennett ("neuroscience groupie"). [...]

Aping Mankind sprang more than anything from Tallis's outrage at one of the most fashionable of British thinkers, John Gray, a former professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science who has been called "the philosopher of pessimism." In 2002, Gray produced Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, a book that relieved Tallis of any need to set up a straw man. It posited that a human being is "an exceptionally rapacious primate." What's more, Gray wrote, "If Darwin's theory of natural selection is true ... the human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. To think otherwise is to resurrect the pre-Darwinian error that humans are different from all other animals." In reality, "our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves." Our natural condition is illusion. Our faith in progress is a fantasy. Will Self, a novelist and admirer of Gray's, wrote that a better title for Straw Dogs might have been "How to Contemplate the Inevitable Destruction of the Majority of Humanity With Total Equanimity."

Tallis contemplated Straw Dogs with disgruntlement. Especially so because it won a rapturous reception among British highbrows. What appalled him was the conclusion he took away from Gray's writing: that because Darwin showed we are animals, we are doomed never to improve our lot.

"That's fine to be pessimistic about the future of humanity if you're a nice, comfortable professor in a tenured chair at the London School of Economics," Tallis tells me. "If you're a bloody child grubbing in the dirt, and you knew those buggers over there were saying, 'There's nothing we can do about the world,' while they're drinking their claret, it wouldn't give you much hope in the dirt, would it?"

That disgust at Darwin-inspired pessimism is straightforward, but what about the mind-brain distinction? Here his arguments get more elusive. But the basic dilemma is clear enough. It is what some philosophers call the "hard problem" of consciousness.

Tallis explains it using the example of himself, sitting on a plum couch in the Athenaeum's smoking room. How is it that he perceives the glass of water on the table? How is it that he feels a sense of self over time? How is it that he can remember a patient he saw in 1973, and then cast his mind forward to his impending visit to the zoo? There are serious problems with trying to reduce such things to impulses in the brain, he argues. We can explain "how the light gets in," he says, but not "how the gaze looks out."

And isn't it astonishing, he adds, that much neural activity seems to have no link to consciousness? Instead, it's associated with things like controlling automatic movements and regulating blood pressure. Sure, we need the brain for consciousness: "Chop my head off, and my IQ descends." But it's not the whole story. There is more to perceptions, memories, and beliefs than neural impulses can explain. The human sphere encompasses a "community of minds," Tallis has written, "woven out of a trillion cognitive handshakes of shared attention, within which our freedom operates and our narrated lives are led."

Those views on perception and memory anchor his attack on "neurobollocks." Because if you can't get the basics right, he says, then it's premature to look to neuroscience for clues to complex things like love.

The problem being that it is the Darwinian basics that aren't right, whether or not he can accept that it is them he is refuting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 AM


3000 vitamins in five months: what does that do? (Alicia Wood, October 10, 2011, Sydney Morning Herald)

So what happens if you take 3000 vitamin supplements over five months?

Following the experience of Time journalist John Cloud, precious little.

Cloud experimented on himself by following a regimen of vitamin pills, suggested to him by a vitamin company in the US.
Advertisement: Story continues below

He took 22 pills a day, as well as protein bars and psyllium fibre.

His doctor checked him out before and after his experiment. The only noticeable effect was that his vitamin D levels had increased, and so had his girth - by almost five kilograms. [...]

Australian Medical Association chairman of the council of general practice, Brian Morton]  said that he rarely suggests vitamins to his patients, unless they are suffering from a serious illness.

"If for example, a patient has been treated for cancer, and their appetite and vitamin intake is down because of all those awful side effects, I will suggest a multi-vitamin.

"But, otherwise, you should not take them without good reason. Most Australians have the problem that their diet has an excess, not a deficiency, of vitamins."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 AM


Defense innovation through openness (Lorry M. Fenner, 10/11/11, The Washington Times

[The Minerva Initiative] is designed to improve our understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, economic and political forces that shape strategically important areas of the world. A component piece of this initiative was to establish the Conflict Records Research Center (CRRC) at the National Defense University. The CRRC makes primary records from al Qaeda and affiliated movements, as well as Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, available to civilian researchers. As an example of what can be gained, the CRRC collaborated with Johns Hopkins University on a conference on al Qaeda and Associated Movements on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that included both international scholars and policymakers. It will partner with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars this month to examine the Iran-Iraq war from Baghdad's perspective. Unique documents and audio recordings have been and will be made public in conjunction with these events.

Like the DARPA collaborations that emerged in the 1960s, the CRRC serves as a public resource able to partner with a diverse group of universities and researchers, thus enabling them to contribute more fully to national security. By providing access to electronic copies of both the original records and their English translations, the CRRC enables scholars in the social sciences and humanities to discover previously unavailable insights into the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to better understand authoritarian regimes and terrorism from the adversaries' perspectives.

Gaining a deeper understanding of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East will help inform America's response to the Arab Spring, and although al Qaeda has been on the ropes in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, the threat from other terrorists and lone-wolf actors remains very real.

A number of prominent scholars already have used these captured records at the CRRC for cutting-edge research into authoritarian regimes, nonstate actors, deterrence practices and counterterrorism policy effectiveness, among other important areas of concern. These and other research collaborations are important to national security for a number of reasons.

They bring in a diverse set of perspectives and outside expertise that sharpens overall analysis. They free up Defense Department personnel, both uniformed military and civilian, to perform other mission-critical duties for which they are highly trained. Most important, they are an inexpensive way to achieve important results; the yearly operating budget for the center, most of which goes to translation of captured records, is about one-quarter the cost of a single predator drone. Given that a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the opponent might diminish the need to rely as much on weaponry and force, the center and other Minerva projects have the potential to save millions of dollars and many lives over the long term.

The problem is that you're still selecting in too narrow a range of "expertise."  Experts are, by their very nature, a closed circle. Only non-experts can inject genuine diversity and new perspectives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 AM


Russian Anger Grows Over Chechnya Subsidies (MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ, 10/09/11, NY Times)

Resentment over the lavish subsidies paid to Chechnya and other regions in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus to secure loyalty after the war has spawned a movement dedicated to cutting the region off financially.

In protest last week, hundreds of people, mostly young men, marched across the Moscow River from Mr. Putin's office, shouting, "Stop feeding the Caucasus!"

Their anger was forged not only by continued separatist violence in the North Caucasus -- and related terrorist attacks in Moscow -- but also by the regional elites' brazen displays of wealth. For his 35th birthday last week, Chechnya's leader, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, put on a glittering celebration complete with a troupe of foreign acrobats and a performance by the British celebrity violinist Vanessa-Mae.

Some critics have even called for the North Caucasus to be severed from Russia completely, a surprising turnaround given the amount of Russian blood and treasure spent trying to keep it. An opinion poll conducted by the Levada Center, a Moscow polling agency, in May found that 51 percent of the population would not care if the country's borders were redrawn to exclude Chechnya, higher than at any time during Mr. Putin's leadership.

It's never been a question of if, just when.  Chechnya isn't Russian.

October 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


Al Qaeda: Al-Awlaki killing unlawful (MACKENZIE WEINGER, 10/10/11, Politico)

Al Qaeda's Yemeni wing charged the U.S. violated its own Constitution and laws in the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, according to a statement on Monday confirming the American-born cleric is dead. [...]

AQAP joined other critics -- including presidential candidates Paul and Gary Johnson and organizations such the ACLU -- in accusing the U.S. of acting unconstitutionally by assassinating a U.S. citizen without due process.

...libertarians, Leftists, and Islamicists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 PM


SPIN METER: Obama, Dems skirt issue on tax hikes (Erica Werner, Associated Press)
In President Barack Obama's sales pitch for his jobs bill, there are two versions of reality: The one in his speeches and the one actually unfolding in Washington.

When Obama accuses Republicans of standing in the way of his nearly $450 billion plan, he ignores the fact that his own party has struggled to unite behind the proposal.

When the president says Republicans haven't explained what they oppose in the plan, he skips over the fact that Republicans who control the House actually have done that in detail.

And when he calls on Congress to "pass this bill now," he slides past the point that Democrats control the Senate and were never prepared to move immediately, given other priorities. Senators are expected to vote Tuesday on opening debate on the bill, a month after the president unveiled it with a call for its immediate passage.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Could this time have been different? (Ezra Klein,, 10/08/2011, Washington Post)

Christina Romer had traveled to Chicago to perform an unpleasant task: she needed to scare her new boss. David Axelrod, Barack Obama's top political adviser, had been very clear about that. He thought the president-elect needed to know exactly what he would be walking into when he took the oath of office in January. But it fell to Romer to deliver the bad news.

So Romer, a preternaturally cheerful economist whose expertise on the Great Depression made her an obvious choice to head the Council of Economic Advisers, gathered her tables and her charts and, on a snowy day in mid-December, sat down to explain to the next President of the United States of America exactly what sort of mess he was inheriting.

Axelrod had warned her against pulling her punches, and so she didn't. It was not a pleasant presentation to sit through. Afterward, Austan Goolsbee, Obama's friend from Chicago and Romer's successor, remarked that "that must be the worst briefing any president-elect has ever had."

But Romer wasn't trying to be alarmist. Her numbers were based, at least in part, on everybody else's numbers: There were models from forecasting firms such as Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's Analytics. There were preliminary data pouring in from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Federal Reserve. Romer's predictions were more pessimistic than the consensus, but not by much.

By that point, the shape of the crisis was clear: The housing bubble had burst, and it was taking the banks that held the loans, and the households that did the borrowing, down with it. Romer estimated that the damage would be about $2 trillion over the next two years and recommended a $1.2 trillion stimulus plan. The political team balked at that price tag, but with the support of Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary who would soon lead the National Economic Council, she persuaded the administration to support an $800 billion plan. [...]

[T]he Cassandras who look, in retrospect, the most prophetic are Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff. In 2008, the two economists were about to publish "This Time Is Different," their fantastically well-timed study of nine centuries of financial crises. In their view, the administration wasn't being just a bit optimistic. It was being wildly, tragically optimistic.

That was the dark joke of the book's title. Everyone always thinks this time will be different: The bubble won't burst because this time, tulips won't lose their value, or housing is a unique asset, or sophisticated derivatives really do eliminate risk. Once it bursts, they think their economy will quickly clamber out of the ditch because their workers are smarter and tougher, and their policymakers are wiser and more experienced. But it almost never does. [...]

The basic thesis of "This Time Is Different" is that financial crises are not like normal recessions. Typically, a recession results from high interest rates or fluctuations in the business cycle, and it corrects itself relatively quickly: Either the Federal Reserve lowers rates, or consumers get back to spending, or both.

But financial crises tend to include a substantial amount of private debt. When the market turns, this "overhang" of debt acts as a boot on the throat of the recovery. People don't take advantage of low interest rates to buy a new house because their first order of business is paying down credit cards and keeping up on the mortgage.

In subsequent research with her husband, Vincent Reinhart, Carmen Reinhart looked at the recoveries following 15 post-World War II financial crises. The results were ugly. Forget the catch-up growth of 4 or 5 percent that so many anticipated. Average growth rates were a full percentage point lower in the decade after the crisis than in the one before.

Perhaps as a result, in 10 of the 15 crises studied, unemployment simply never -- and the Reinharts don't mean "never in the years we studied," they mean never ever -- returned to its pre-crisis lows. In 90 percent of the cases in which housing-price data were available, prices were lower 10 years after the crash than they were the year before it.

...would have been to just take that trillion dollars and retire close to half of all the consumer debt in the country.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Influential evangelical defends Romney, but says Mormonism's not Christian (Cydney Weiner, 10/10/11, NBC)

As controversy over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormon faith continues to stir among conservatives and other candidates ahead of tomorrow night's debate, some have questioned whether Mormons can be considered true Christians.

According to Richard Land, President of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the answer is no.

"Most Evangelical Protestants and most conservative Catholics would say no, it is not," Land told NBC's Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, refuting the notion that Mormonism is a Christian faith. "It is another religion.  It does not have an orthodox view of the Trinity and the full and complete deity of Jesus Christ."

He continued: "Perhaps the best way to look at Mormonism is it is the fourth Abrahamic religion. Joseph Smith playing the role of Muhammad, and the Book of Mormon playing the role of the Quran."

That said, Land doesn't think Romney's religion should be a disqualification for political office nor affect his ability to be president, comparing the controversy over Romney's Mormonism with the controversy that once surrounded President John F. Kennedy's Catholicism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 PM


What You Don't Know Can Kill You: Humans have a perplexing 
tendency to fear rare threats such as shark attacks while blithely 
ignoring far greater risks like 
unsafe sex and an unhealthy diet. Those illusions are not just 
silly--they make the world a more dangerous place.
 (Jason Daley, 10.03.2011, Discover Magazine)

Last march, as the world watched the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear near-meltdown, a curious thing began happening in West Coast pharmacies. Bottles of potassium iodide pills used to treat certain thyroid conditions were flying off the shelves, creating a run on an otherwise obscure nutritional supplement. Online, prices jumped from $10 a bottle to upwards of $200. Some residents in California, unable to get the iodide pills, began bingeing on seaweed, which is known to have high iodine levels.

The Fukushima disaster was practically an infomercial for iodide therapy. The chemical is administered after nuclear exposure because it helps protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine, one of the most dangerous elements of nuclear fallout. Typically, iodide treatment is recommended for residents within a 10-mile radius of a radiation leak. But people in the United States who were popping pills were at least 5,000 miles away from the Japanese reactors. Experts at the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the dose of radiation that reached the western United States was equivalent to 1/100,000 the exposure one would get from a round-trip international flight.

Although spending $200 on iodide pills for an almost nonexistent threat seems ridiculous (and could even be harmful--side effects include skin rashes, nausea, and possible allergic reactions), 40 years of research into the way people perceive risk shows that it is par for the course. Earthquakes? Tsunamis? Those things seem inevitable, accepted as acts of God. But an invisible, man-made threat associated with Godzilla and three-eyed fish? Now that's something to keep you up at night. "There's a lot of emotion that comes from the radiation in Japan," says cognitive psychologist Paul Slovic, an expert on decision making and risk assessment at the University of Oregon. "Even though the earthquake and tsunami took all the lives, all of our attention was focused on the radiation."

We like to think that humans are supremely logical, making decisions on the basis of hard data and not on whim. For a good part of the 19th and 20th centuries, economists and social scientists assumed this was true too. The public, they believed, would make rational decisions if only it had the right pie chart or statistical table. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that vision of homo economicus--a person who acts in his or her best interest when given accurate information--was knee­capped by researchers investigating the emerging field of risk perception. What they found, and what they have continued teasing out since the early 1970s, is that humans have a hell of a time accurately gauging risk. Not only do we have two different systems--logic and instinct, or the head and the gut--that sometimes give us conflicting advice, but we are also at the mercy of deep-seated emotional associations and mental shortcuts. [...]

[W]e focus on the one-in-a-million bogeyman while virtually ignoring the true risks that inhabit our world. News coverage of a shark attack can clear beaches all over the country, even though sharks kill a grand total of about one American annually, on average. That is less than the death count from cattle, which gore or stomp 20 Americans per year. Drowning, on the other hand, takes 3,400 lives a year, without a single frenzied call for mandatory life vests to stop the carnage. A whole industry has boomed around conquering the fear of flying, but while we down beta-blockers in coach, praying not to be one of the 48 average annual airline casualties, we typically give little thought to driving to the grocery store, even though there are more than 30,000 automobile fatalities each year.

In short, our risk perception is often at direct odds with reality. All those people bidding up the cost of iodide? They would have been better off spending $10 on a radon testing kit. The colorless, odorless, radioactive gas, which forms as a by-product of natural uranium decay in rocks, builds up in homes, causing lung cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, radon exposure kills 21,000 Americans annually.

David Ropeik, a consultant in risk communication and the author of How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts, has dubbed this disconnect the perception gap. "Even perfect information perfectly provided that addresses people's concerns will not convince everyone that vaccines don't cause autism, or that global warming is real, or that fluoride in the drinking water is not a Commie plot," he says. "Risk communication can't totally close the perception gap, the difference between our fears and the facts."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


When Moralism Isn't Moral: a review of POLITICAL EVIL: What It Is and How to Combat It By Alan Wolfe (JONATHAN RAUCH, 10/09/11, NY Times Book Review)

Wolfe, a political scientist at Boston College and the author, most recently, of "The Future of Liberalism," may be annoyed to be called a realist. In "Political Evil," he dismisses classic realism as the amoral pursuit of national power. Ick. What liberal could admire that?

A better way to think of realism, however, is as a theory about where peace comes from. American hawks and neocons believe that peace comes from robust projection of national power; doves, that it comes from multilateral cooperation and international law. Realists see American power and multilateral cooperation as important, but they think peace comes primarily from something else: equilibrium. Power, they believe, has its own complex hydraulics. Like the fluid it is, it finds its own level. A stable equilibrium is not to be taken for granted, and perfectionists who try to rearrange one will rarely get the results they intend. You don't need to admire power, but you must always, however grudgingly, respect and understand it.

Another word for what I call the hydraulics of power is: politics. Cue "Political Evil."

...the question we'd find there goes something like this: the South having achieved equilibrium, what business of ours was Jim Crow?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM



Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Michele Bachmann Gets The New Hampshire Treatment (Michael Falcone, Oct 10, 2011, ABC News)

The Bachman for President bus just pulled up next to me along the Dartmouth Green as I was headed to the hockey rink and people were literally pointing and laughing.  She's toast.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Head custodian retires after 47 years at Disney (EUGENE W. FIELDS, 10/07/11, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER)

When Ray Sidejas started working at Disneyland in 1964 as a busboy, things were quite different.

The park would close on Mondays and Tuesdays during the fall and Walt Disney himself would roam Disneyland. And the department Sidejas worked in was called Janitorial, not Custodial.

Now, nearly 50 years later, Disneyland and California Adventure are open seven days a week and, like Disney himself, Sidejas has becoming a part of Disneyland's rich heritage.

Sidejas, operations manager of custodial guest services, is retiring after 46 years of maintaining Disney's vision of a sparkling-clean amusement park. [...]

Sidejas frequently saw Disney sitting on a bench overlooking the Rivers of America.

"I got the impression that he came here to kind of get away from the hassle and the situations that he probably was faced with at the studio," Sidejas said. "We were wondering what he was thinking about. I think Walt came here to think about the future."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


To Teach or Not to Touch? Politics in the Classroom (Jack Boger, October 7, 2011, The Dartmouth)

As the Republican primary debate and its attendant media frenzy descend on Dartmouth, we will be confronted by political issues whether we like it or not. In particular, politics plays an important, yet often undiscussed, role in the classroom. We've all taken a class in which the professor has injected his or her own political views into discussions or lectures, inevitably shaping classroom dynamics. In the spirit of the politically charged season, I interviewed a number of College faculty members to hear their personal pedagogies on politics in the classroom.

Government professor Benjamin Valentino teaches the ever-popular introductory Government 5 course on international politics. Valentino said he views his role as remaining "agnostic" toward the various political theories and philosophies he teaches.

"I present the best case for the various perspectives I am teaching," he said.

Any student of his would finish the course being familiar with basic international relations theories like realism, liberalism and constructivism, but ­-- as Valentino recalled with a bemused chuckle -- no introductory IR class during his undergraduate days would have been complete without a primer on Marxism.

When Valentino attended Stanford, an introductory class on American politics was taught by an avowed Marxist.

"On the first day of class," Valentino recounted, "[my professor] said, 'I am a Marxist, and I am going to teach you the American political system from a Marxist perspective, but I'm going to tell you right from the outset. I've been working in political science for 40 years now, and if I didn't have strong opinions about it there would be something wrong with me.'"

Valentino said he respected his professor, but doesn't agree with his philosophy. Following his professor's lead, Valentino used to begin his courses by stating his own political views.

"I used to start on the first day of class by saying, 'I know some of you are concerned about the political leanings of your faculty, so if it matters to anyone, I'm a conservative Democrat, but it doesn't color my teaching style.'" He has since stopped doing it unless specifically asked by his students.

"I think that the worst thing would be to have a political perspective that seeps in but is not acknowledged. The best teaching method would be simply neutral and not allow your own views to seep in," he said.

October 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others? (Hudson Institute, September 21, 2011)
In his new book, Sovereignty or Submission? (Encounter), Hudson Senior Fellow John Fonte argues that the twenty-first century will witness an epic struggle between the forces of global governance and the sovereignty of liberal democratic states, particularly the U.S. and Israel. [...] Hudson's Center for American Common Culture hosted Center Director and author John Fonte, along with John O'Sullivan, Vice President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and James Pinkerton, Fox News commentator, for a lively discussion of the book. Douglas Feith, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and former Under Secretary for Defense, moderated the discussion.

Video streaming by Ustream

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Billy Beane's soccer ally (Jorge Arangure, 9/23/11, ESPN Insider)

During A's games, Billy Beane will often receive a simple email: "Hey, I'm watching your game on my computer."

That wouldn't be so peculiar if not for the fact that the sender was a Frenchman living several time zones away in Liverpool, England. In fact, it's not unusual for Damien Comolli to be watching an A's or Red Sox game at 3 a.m. When the English transfer window closed just before midnight on Aug. 31, Comolli, after having worked an 18-hour day to secure the sale of several players who had bloated the Liverpool payroll, had gone home and watched the Red Sox-Yankees game on his computer. The next night he stayed up until 4 a.m. watching the two teams.

"By virtue of his new employer he has to act like he likes Boston more than he likes Oakland now," Beane says. "I know better."

Without a doubt, Comolli's friendship with Beane has shaped his career. At first, the conversations with Beane were casual. Comolli learned that statistics could be used not only to analyze one's own team, but also for player procurement. Beane's approach even seemed even more fitting for English Premier League football, where the season champion is determined by the regular season standings. There was no uncertainty of a playoff system that Beane detested. And while there's no single soccer metric that is as important as on-base percentage, Comolli figured out that there was one number that correlated most with the teams at the top of the table: passing percentage. That stat became the principle from which Comolli bases his moves.

"Let's take the [San Francisco] Giants last year," Comolli explained. "After the season, and going into the playoffs, nobody thought they would raise their game like that and win the World Series. It was almost impossible to guess. But in football, I don't think that could happen. I think the best team over 38 games without playoffs always wins. And throughout the season you can almost track which are the best teams. And the best teams are the one who are most successful at passing the ball."

After their initial meeting, Comolli and Beane decided to take a trip together to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Beane was fascinated at how intense Comolli could be while watching games. Comolli noted every movement and analyzed every play. His mind worked like a computer. During breakfast at a hotel in Munich one day, Comolli, then fully engaged in the transfer window while still at Tottenham, closed three deals in three different languages with three different agents, which floored Beane.

"And I thought negotiating a contract with Scott Boras was tough," Beane jokes.

When Comolli was fired by Tottenham, Beane encouraged him to hold onto his beliefs, despite the harsh criticism Comolli received in England. Almost immediately after the Liverpool sale, Beane contacted his friend Henry -- who had tried to hire Beane as Boston general manager in 2003 -- and suggested he hire Comolli, who had taken a job with Saint-Etienne shortly after being fired at Spurs.

"I've got a pretty good feel for the type of executive and the type of system John wanted to run," Beane says. "I knew Damien and knew what he believed in and I thought it was the perfect match."

Less than two weeks later, Henry hired Comolli.

The first moves Comolli made after taking the Liverpool job, other than completely building the team's analytic department, which was non-existent prior to his arrival, was to hire scores of scouts -- which some would say would be anti-Moneyball. But by that time, the Moneyball ideologies had evolved. Despite what many thought, Moneyball was never about one simple principle such as OBP. It was about an approach.

When Comolli took the job at Liverpool, the club remarkably didn't have any scouts based in the UK. Such deficiencies, Comolli knew, would lead to a lack of data.

There's a sublime bit in a FourFourTwo interview with rapidly failing Bolton manager Owen Coyle where he says: "Your facts and stats will tell you anything you want but nothing can beat the naked eye in football." If a scout had mouthed those words in the Moneyball movie folks would have called it an unfair caricature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM

Girls perform in The Current studios (Mac Wilson & Peter Valelly, Minnesota Public Radio)

With single "Lust for Life" becoming an indie sensation and their debut album Album garnering critical accolades, the band could easily have gone the easy route by retreading their sound. Instead, their sophomore release Father, Son, Holy Ghost finds the band adopting a more clean, cohesive style, with stronger and more varied songwriting.

Girls stopped by The Current studios to chat with host Mac Wilson and play a few songs, including "Alex," "Saying I Love You" and "Jamie Marie."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Congress Shows Lack of Leverage With Threat To Cut Off Aid: Withholding Aid Only Reduces American Influence on Palestinans (Larry Derfner, October 07, 2011, Forward)

As an Israeli who sees the occupation as a plague both on Palestinians and on Israelis, I think it's a good thing that Congress just held back $200 million in economic aid to the Palestinians as punishment for their statehood bid at the United Nations. It's a good thing, because now that the Republican Party (and much of the Democratic Party) is indistinguishable from Likud USA, American involvement only makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worse, so the less influence America has over here, the better.

And the withholding of the $200 million gives the United States even less influence over the Palestinians than it had after President Obama, at Israel's behest, did them in at the United Nations.

The Arab League has already offered to make up the $200 million to President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The United States can even hold back on all $600 million it gives annually to the P.A.; there are plenty of oil-rich Muslim regimes that would love the honor of displacing America in Palestine. And if the P.A. goes broke, the 76-year-old Abbas says he'll have no qualms about closing down the whole operation and letting Israel police the refugee camps, villages and cities and float the economy of 2.5 million Palestinians.

So who's threatening whom?

Whenever our rhetoric diverges from our ideals people ought to ignore the former and heed the latter.  Liberating the Palestinians from our aid packages and making them more independent is all to the good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


INTERVIEW: Bill Clinton: How to fix the economy (Adam Serwer, 10/07/11, Fortune)

How to fix the economy and create jobs

First, Congress and President Obama can adopt strategies designed to unleash the massive amount of capital that is accumulated but not being invested. There's some $2.2 trillion in cash in American banks that is not committed to loans. A couple hundred billion has to be held back for bad mortgages, but there's about $2 trillion that could be used in cash reserves for up to $20 trillion in loans. So, in theory, that would take the world out of recession. And U.S. corporations have about $2 trillion more that they have decided not to invest.

The second thing is to accelerate the resolution of the home mortgage crisis, which would make businesses more eager to borrow, expand and consumers more willing to spend. These kinds of financial crises typically take about five years to get over. What we're really trying to do is beat the historical trend by getting over it more quickly. We can't do that unless we do on a larger scale what we did in the S&L crisis, which is to flush the debt quicker.

The third category includes things that will strengthen our position today and tomorrow. We need to bring back manufacturing. We need to focus on exports. We need to focus on green technologies. There are dozens of things we could do that would create jobs.

Mortgage relief

I cannot emphasize the boost I think it would give the economy if we had a system that said to people whose homes are worth less than the mortgages that you can write down your mortgages to the value of your home if you can make the payment. Or you can extend the mortgage out and lower the interest rate. I don't think we ought to keep dumping these houses on the market when it's so depressed. Can we get the votes to do it? I don't know. When the Tea Party started, they seemed to object to the bailout of the big banks, claiming they were being protected from their own mistakes. That was true, but irrelevant. If a financial collapse had happened, we would have all paid. Now a lot of people argue that you shouldn't rewrite these mortgages because people never should have taken them out in the first place. There's a big problem with that thinking. The market is so depressed that it's hurting everyone else.

Tax reform

The only fair thing to do is a version of what we did with individual tax reform back in the '80s. We need to broaden the tax base by cutting down on deductions and credits and lower rates. I think Congress will do that within a year. I would also like to see money repatriated now for free, with no taxes. We're the only rich country in the world that still imposes taxes on corporations on money they earn overseas. I think they ought to bring it back for nothing if they put people to work with it. And if they want to spend it on compensation or stock buybacks or dividends, let them pay the long-term capital gains rate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Turkey Moves to Directly Support Syrian Opposition (Dorian Jones, 10/08/11, VOA)

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is increasingly taking the lead in supporting the Syrian opposition. Erdoğan condemned the vetoing of a United Nations resolution against Damascus and has announced it will impose its own sanctions. This week saw the start of military exercises on the Syrian border.

The Turkish military is currently holding a five-day military exercise on the Syrian border.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


South Sudan adopts the language of Shakespeare (Rosie Goldsmith, 10/08/11,  BBC News)

After decades of Arabisation and Islamisation by the Khartoum government, the predominantly Christian and African south has opted for English as its official language.

At the Ministry of Higher Education, Edward Mokole, told me: "English will make us different and modern. From now on all our laws, textbooks and official documents have to be written in that language. Schools, the police, retail and the media must all operate in English."

What do you expect when W is the Father of their nation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


The Big Easy's School Revolution: John White, superintendent of New Orleans' public schools: 'In other cities, charter schools exist in spite of the system. Here they are the system.' (MATTHEW KAMINSKI, 10/07/11, WSJ)

Mr. White looks in on classrooms. In one, groups of seniors chat loudly and puzzle over a basic algebra problem. In another the teacher struggles to start a conversation about a USA Today article that few students had read. A girl in the corner sits with a jacket over her head, headphones in both ears.

"Just to put that in context, that's a criminal act against these kids," says Mr. White, after walking out. "It's unacceptable to not have a well-planned, rigorous lesson. It's fundamentally unacceptable." He pauses and refers to the algebra class. "I just can't get over that. You have these kids doing sixth-, seventh-grade math in a normal and typical school system [and here] in a 12th-grade year. And not doing it well. Well, we're going to change that."

More than any other superintendent in America, Mr. White can make good on this promise. He heads the Recovery School District, which includes most schools in New Orleans and surrounding areas, and has broad powers over them. Hurricane Katrina wiped out resistance from politicians and unions and improbably made the Big Easy a national laboratory of educational reform.

Four out of five kids in New Orleans attend independent public charters. The schools under Mr. White's supervision are open to all students no matter where they live. "In other cities, charter schools exist in spite of the system," Mr. White says. "Here charter schools are the system."

The results are encouraging. Five years ago, 23% of children scored at or above "basic" on state tests; now 48% do. Before Katrina, 62% attended failing schools; less than a fifth do today. The gap between city kids and the rest of the state is narrowing.

Of course, if they were better educated they'd move out of a bowl below sea level in a hurricane zone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


The Amanda Knox moral -- there's no place like home (Meghan Daum, October 6, 2011, Los Angeles Times)

I didn't have a huge investment in the fate of Amanda Knox, the 24-year-old American whose conviction for killing her roommate four years ago in Italy was overturned Monday. I was generally too put off and confused by the media circus surrounding the case to try to figure out the whole story. Still, in the moments before the appeals decision was announced, I found myself on the edge of my seat, constantly refreshing my Internet browser until the word "acquit" flashed across the screen. Then I exhaled, a far bigger sigh of relief than I thought I had in me.

The new outcome doesn't solve the mysteries surrounding Amanda Knox. There are so many strange things about the case, from the elaborate conspiracy theories of the prosecutor (satanic orgies!) to Knox's erratic behavior, that it seems unlikely anyone will ever fit all the pieces together. But I think I have figured out why I was so relieved about the outcome of a situation I hadn't thought about much to begin with. It's because Knox embodies a certain American anxiety about venturing onto foreign soil. I was relieved for us all that she was coming home.

In other words, Knox is a poster child for staying put. She's proof that the world outside our borders is so depraved that a simple junior year abroad can lead to a 26-year prison sentence.

There's a reason millions immigrate here and none of us go the other way.  There sucks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Aimless Obama walks alone (Michael Goodwin, October 9, 2011, NY Post)

The reports are not good, disturbing even. I have heard basically the same story four times in the last 10 days, and the people doing the talking are in New York and Washington and are spread across the political spectrum.

The gist is this: President Obama has become a lone wolf, a stranger to his own government. He talks mostly, and sometimes only, to friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett and to David Axelrod, his political strategist.

Everybody else, including members of his Cabinet, have little face time with him except for brief meetings that serve as photo ops. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner both have complained, according to people who have talked to them, that they are shut out of important decisions.

The president's workdays are said to end early, often at 4 p.m. He usually has dinner in the family residence with his wife and daughters, then retreats to a private office. One person said he takes a stack of briefing books. Others aren't sure what he does.

Ed Driscoll has the photographic evidence.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Debt and Dumb: As a young artillery captain in the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton learned a crucial lesson: Good credit, based on the power to tax, is essential to a nation's security. As the first U.S. Treasury secretary, he built America's fiscal policy on that principle. Will the Tea Party destroy his legacy? (Simon Johnson and James Kwak, October 2011, Vanity Fair)

At the beginning of the 18th century, France, not Great Britain, had been the most powerful state in Europe. Louis XIV, the Sun King, was the Continent's most powerful monarch. France had Europe's largest population, its largest economy, its largest armies, and even for a time its largest navy.

Throughout the 18th century, Europe was locked in an episodic series of wars, often to contain French power. While alliances shifted, France's constant enemy was Great Britain. On paper, Britain began as the lightweight. It had less than half of France's population and a small fraction of its army. Its economy was only half as large. And Britain was coming off a century of political turmoil that had seen the execution of King Charles I, the restoration of King Charles II, and finally the overthrow of King James II. Yet Great Britain proved to be more than France's match on the world stage. The two powers fought to a standstill on the Continent, while Britain seized most of France's overseas colonies in the Seven Years' War, from 1756 to 1763 (known here as the French and Indian War).

The secret to Great Britain's power was boring: fiscal policy, or the way its government raised and managed money. In 18th-century warfare, access to cash meant the difference between victory and defeat, and here Britain reigned supreme. Taxes in Great Britain were collected by a modern, centralized bureaucracy, while in France, the tax collectors were often corrupt. But taxes could never buy enough ships, mercenaries, and supplies in wartime, so governments were forced to borrow money. And here, Great Britain's secret weapon was ... democracy. Since 1688, Parliament had had control over taxation and spending policy: decisions were in the hands of the people whose money was being spent. This legitimized government policies and ensured Britain's exceptional credit. And as Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe wrote, "Credit makes war, and makes peace; raises armies, fits out navies, fights battles, besieges towns; and, in a word, it is more justly called the sinews of war than the money itself."

In France, the Estates General (the closest approximation to Parliament) had not met since 1614. Debts were incurred by the monarchy, which relied on an unstable tax-collection system to bring in revenues, and absolute monarchs' habit of stiffing creditors meant that the government had to pay high interest rates to borrow money. The problems with this system became clear after the American Revolutionary War, which forced both Great Britain and France to borrow large amounts of money. Great Britain emerged from the war with a national debt as large as France's but paid half as much in interest, thanks to its good credit. In France, by contrast, efforts to raise taxes met with increasing resistance, and finally King Louis XVI was forced to call the Estates General, which rapidly transformed itself into the National Assembly--the first step in the French Revolution. (The Revolution and the rise of Napoleon led to another 20 years of war--in which Great Britain ultimately prevailed again, thanks in part to its superior ability to raise money.)

In modern geopolitics--since 1688, at least--credit matters. And good credit requires more than just a strong economy, because, in order to raise money, it's essential to have a political system that people believe in. In words familiar to all Americans, there can be no taxation without representation (except in the District of Columbia). And without the ability to tax effectively, no government's debt will be credible.

The lessons of the British-French rivalry were clear to Alexander Hamilton and the other founders of our nation. After all, it was our Revolutionary War that pushed the French monarchy to the brink of collapse. And a major question for the American government, taking office in 1789 under the new Constitution, was what its fiscal policy should be.
The Decision

The most pressing issue was what to do about the new nation's debt. Both the Continental Congress and the individual states had accumulated massive debts during the Revolutionary War--close to $80 million, an enormous amount in those days. Hamilton--now secretary of the Treasury under his old boss, now President Washington--wanted the new federal government to assume the states' debt and pay them back in full. Since the government did not have enough cash to pay off those debts, he proposed to borrow new money by issuing Treasury bonds--and to pay off those bonds with new taxes on liquor, tea, and coffee. On the other side, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison feared that the plan would give too much power to the federal government, setting the precedent for further borrowing. But ultimately they agreed--in exchange for Hamilton's support in relocating the nation's capital to the shores of the Potomac River, in a new city called Washington.

Hamilton's plan was an economic success: the federal government quickly established a solid credit rating, consolidated its debts at low interest rates, and began paying them down rapidly. His plan also led to the new nation's first anti-tax rebellion. In western states, farmers refused to pay the new tax on whiskey (which was sometimes used as a medium of exchange), leading to armed rebellion in Pennsylvania. In 1794, President Washington raised a federal militia and dispatched it to western Pennsylvania. The Whiskey Rebellion collapsed, cementing the federal government's power to levy and collect taxes.

In just five years, Hamilton--with Washington's support--had laid the foundation of American fiscal policy. The federal government would always honor its debt. After the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II, this principle remained unquestioned. By the late 19th century, the government could raise large amounts of money on short notice--which made possible, among other things, rapid mobilizations to fight two World Wars.

Government bonds also became a crucial part of the financial system--the paradigmatic global risk-free asset, the universally accepted collateral on which everything else depends. What makes those bonds as good as cash is that the federal government has the power to levy and collect taxes in order to pay them off.
Our debt is only now approaching the annual GDP number after we defeated Communism and Islamicism.  When the Brits finished off Napoleonism theirs hit 250% of GDP and they've proceeded to dominate the next couple centuries.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Trust Issues (Paul Collins, 10/01/11, Lapham's Quarterly)

When the first century of Franklin's rather more practical plan arrived in 1891, it bore $572,000 for Boston and Philadelphia. That was hardly one earth of solid gold, let alone 200 million of them, but Franklin had made his point--and in particular, he'd made it to a New York lawyer named Jonathan Holden.

Trained in law at Colgate and a multimillionaire through property investments, Holden was the sort of fellow who gave himself haircuts to save money, advocated the use of phonetic spelling in English, and lived on a diet of prunes and shredded wheat. By 1912, as the founder of what he christened "The Futurite Cult"--a few of its publications still survive in far-flung libraries--he'd concluded that the earth had achieved "a stage of civilization when vested property rights will be unmolested even in the case of conquest." The time was right, he decided, to take Franklin's grand economic experiment to its next logical step.

"One of the first American statesmen performed an act which is suggestive of possibilities," Holden said of Franklin in a 1912 pamphlet, wondering whether "some citizen of the present day felt disposed to carry the 'Franklin Plan' still further."

That citizen would be Holden himself. Beginning in 1936, he sluiced $2.8 million into a series of five-hundred- and thousand-year trusts--just one of which, allocated to the Unitarian Church, would be worth $2.5 quadrillion upon its maturation in the twenty-fifth century. A thousand-year fund dedicated to the state of Pennsylvania would yield $424 trillion; the money was to be applied to abolishing the state's taxes. Holden didn't even live in Pennsylvania--he'd picked the state as an homage to Franklin.

And then, of course, there was Hartwick College. Choosing them for a thousand-year trust was more straightforward: Holden had two children and one grandchild attend the school. Then again, as a man fixated by compound interest, perhaps Jonathan Holden was simply enchanted with the college's motto of Ad Altiora Semper: "Ever Upward."

The trustees overseeing these immense funds would be Holden's own children, and perhaps in turn their own descendants. Though not necessarily rich themselves, they would control great riches--and so, long before passing away in 1967 at the age of eighty-six, Holden decided that after his death, the world would still need a way to clearly distinguish the next fifty generations or so of these munificent descendants. Holden was a common name, but Holdeen was not; with a trip to the courthouse, the lawyer added an "e" to his last name.

The old man never did manage to talk any of his children into adding the extra "e" to their names as well. But it hardly mattered: as far as he was concerned, the Holdeen dynasty had begun.

Ten years after Holdeen's death, in a Pennsylvania courtroom in 1977, economist Jack Rothwell laid out the Armageddon that awaited the state. As the trustees of an increasingly vast fund, Holdeen's descendants would gradually control ever-larger swaths of currency. The Holdeen Trusts, he argued, would grow until "They would absolutely own the world."

"Any time you wanted to make a telephone call or take a trip...You would be paying money to the Holdeens," added economic forecaster Michael Evans. "Everyone in the world would work for the Holdeens."

It wasn't the first time the court had heard this argument. Even within his own lifetime, Holdeen's plans nearly disappeared into a maze of lawsuits. In some cases the federal government had opposed the trusts on tax grounds, while in others the state government of Pennsylvania had defended them out of self-interest; some beneficiaries of the funds opposed their breakup, while others wanted to smash open the piggy bank a thousand years early. More ominously, in 1958 the IRS had clashed with Holdeen, arguing in court that it had rightly demanded taxes off of what it considered an invalid tax shelter. The trusts, the IRS argued, would in any case wreck "the tax base of the nation, if not the world."

Although the judge in that case mused the eventual size of the funds meant that "in this day of space exploration...Possibly other worlds will have to be discovered for the plaintiff's future investments," the funds nonetheless survived a number of early challenges. Their survival owed much to their being more high-minded than Thellusson's scheme for enriching his family. Although nearly all states had perpetuity laws like Britain's, there was more leeway given to charitable trusts like Holdeen's. One hundred-year account, set up by suffragette Anna C. Mott, dumped $215,000 on Toledo in 2002--rather more than the thousand dollars she started with--and similar funds were created in the 1920s to relieve Britain from its national debt. In 1919, the Indiana legislature even passed a law to allow a charitable five-hundred-year trust by Charles Fairbanks, an Indiana senator who had also served as vice president under Teddy Roosevelt.

But while some trusts accumulated for a century or two, and others were created with yearly payouts in perpetuity, none were accumulating in near perpetuity. Even Franklin's fund, after a solid two-hundred-year run, finally ended in 1990 with a bounty for the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston. The roughly $7-million-dollar total payout didn't quite attain the heights that Franklin predicted; such plans rarely factor in the cost of trustees' fees, taxes, or legal battles. But if Franklin's trusts survived at least relatively unscathed, it was the sheer ambition of the Holdeen trusts that would finally give America a decades-long legal fight worthy of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce.

"This stuff is endless," one court staffer groaned to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter in 1994. "It truly is endless."

Eventually the Holdeen trusts were allowed to stand, but they paid out yearly instead of accumulating and compounding. The matter was not truly settled until 2005, a full ninety-two years after Jonathan Holdeen first wrote his will.
Given that ever less work is required of us it would seem imperative to get going on O'Neill accounts, so we can use these dynamics to develop wealth over the course of people's lifetimes.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Deleveraging and monetary policy (Matt Rognlie, 10/04/11)

[Y]es, deleveraging can be very bad for the economy. But this is only because monetary policy doesn't adjust enough to match the market.

In failing to understand this core logic, most commentary about "deleveraging" is rather bizarre. At some level, it's the same cluelessness that we once saw from central planners: they'd trip over themselves in the complexity of fixing a shortage in one market or a glut in another, never quite realizing that the price mechanism would do their work for them. Right now, historically low inflation expectations and below-potential output are prima facie evidence that real interest rates are too high. That's what every macro model tells us is associated with contractionary policy by the Fed. Yet we see pundits lost in all kinds of complicated, small-bore proposals to stimulate the economy--when the fundamental, overriding dilemma is getting the price (in this case, the interest rate) right.

This isn't to say that non-monetary proposals should be abandoned entirely. Monetary policy doesn't stop working at the zero lower bound, but it is a lot harder. Even an ideal Fed would probably find itself constrained. This means that we should be open to other policies that affect demand--possibly via government spending, transfers, or tax incentives. But once we recognize that the fundamental problem is monetary, the issues become much clearer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Online textbooks moving into Washington area schools (Emma Brown, 10/02/11, Washington Post)

Stevens's students -- their backpacks liberated from a 5.6-pound, 1,052-page brick of a book -- say it's simply a relief.

"You don't have to take it from home to school and back," said one ponytailed 12-year-old. If all of her classes went digital, she said, "my arms and back would be happy."

That vision is not too far off.

The system will adopt new math, language arts and science textbooks over the next few years. Within five years, Assistant Superintendent Peter Noonan predicts, digital will overtake print in county schools, and students will travel to class not with a bulging backpack but with a single laptop -- or netbook or tablet -- that serves as a portal to textbooks and other digital resources.

"Many of our kids -- if not all of our kids -- are coming to us as digital natives," Noonan said. "We should really allow our students to learn the way they live outside of school."

The online books are generally cheaper than their hard-copy cousins and look similar, but they've been souped up with interactive maps and links to primary sources and History Channel video clips.

Unlike printed books, which the system purchases about every six years, the online versions can be updated regularly to correct errors and reflect current events. Students can take notes in the margins, highlight important ideas and prompt the computer to read passages aloud. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


British Leader Pushes for 'Can-Do Optimism' and Faith in Austerity Path (JOHN F. BURNS, 10/05/11, NY Times)

Mr. Cameron's speech amounted to something of a rite of passage. In five years as the party's leader before the 2010 election, he often seemed out of step with the Conservative mainstream as he worked to reposition the party on the political center ground that Labour dominated in winning three successive elections.

But his "heir to Blair" approach -- a self-conscious imitation of the centrist political style of Tony Blair, the Labour prime minister for 10 years until 2007 -- did not always sit easily with the Conservative heartland. Voices within the party also complained about Mr. Cameron after Labour denied the Conservatives an outright majority last year, saying he ran a middle-of-the-road campaign that left voters unsure of what he or the Conservatives were offering.

But the uncompromising tone from the prime minister and a broad representation of his cabinet at the Conservatives' conference suggested strongly that despite policy concessions to their left-of-center coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, nearly a year and a half in office had removed much of the wavering.

On a wide range of Britain's hottest political issues -- the economy, education, crime, immigration and welfare, to name only a few -- the policies proclaimed at the conference have carried the party's new brand of "radical reform," characterized by an emphasis on thrift, discipline, accountability and a pervasive loosening of bureaucratic controls.

Mr. Cameron and his advisers appear to believe that currents of disarray in the Labour Party -- whose annual conference last week was marked by boos at the mention of Mr. Blair, the most electorally successful leader in the party's history -- has given the Conservatives the time to make their policies succeed.

That much seemed clear from Mr. Cameron's promise of an eventual return to prosperity. "Our plan is right, and our plan will work," he said.

Likening the austerity program to building the foundations of a house, he added: "I know you can't see it or feel it yet. But this is the crucial point: It will only work if we stick with it."

...until and unless Labour reclaims its Thatcher/Blair recent past it isn't a threat to a Thatcher/Blairite Tory Party.  But, eventually, the Tories will tire of being the governing party and they'll veer back Right, leaving the opening for a Labour Party that has veered away from the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Soccer phenom opts to learn from the pros (Frank Dell'Apa, 2/07/11, Boston Globe)

Young athletes often dream of becoming professionals. In some cases, they even forgo college to take their chances on the big time.

Leominster's Diego Fagundez is an even rarer exception. Fagundez is not only going to skip college, he will be bypassing much of high school as well to pursue a pro soccer career.

In November, Fagundez, 15, became the youngest player since Freddy Adu to sign a Major League Soccer contract when he joined the New England Revolution. And when he joins the Revolution first team for practice this month, Fagundez will be going head to head with veterans twice his age, including tough tackling midfielders such as Shalrie Joseph.

"I think it would be a fight for me and a challenge,'' Fagundez said of training sessions with the Revolution. "But I think I would do good. Even if I'm on the floor 100 times, I'll still get up, and I'll keep fighting.''

During the fall semester, Fagundez kept normal school hours at Leominster High (his favorite subject is algebra) but did not play for the school soccer team, instead performing for the Revolution Academy, the team's youth development program.

Now, while classmates do their studies and his friends from the soccer team take a break from the sport, Fagundez will probably switch to night class in order to work out with the Revolution during daily practices. The Revolution have stipulated that Fagundez continue to progress toward a high school diploma, but his playing ambitions could take priority as the team prepares for the MLS season. [...]

Rooted in the game Fagundez's father, Washington, was a professional goalkeeper in Uruguay, where soccer runs deep (the country hosted and won the initial World Cup in 1930). Diego was born into that culture, named after a teammate of his father's, Diego Dorta, a former national team midfielder, and so enthralled with the game he brought a soccer ball along with him to school.

"In one hand the soccer ball, in the other hand the books,'' Washington Fagundez said.

Said Diego: "I was 1 1/2 when I first started kicking a soccer ball. I set up bottles like bowling pins and tried to knock them down. I kept doing that and then my dad got me into a team.''

Washington enrolled 3-year-old Diego in a club program. Two years later, Washington and Alicia Fagundez moved to Leominster for financial reasons.

"Players don't make good money [in Uruguay],'' Washington said. "I came here for the opportunity. I have been working for a painting company but, right now, I'm the driver -- I give my son rides to practice.''

Washington, who made his professional debut at 17, was fully in favor of his son's signing. "I think this is your first step in soccer, I think he has a good chance to play'' for the Revolution, he said.

Diego has been playing up since he was 9, in 2004. That year, coach Mario Prata brought Diego to perform in the state Under 13 team.

Fagundez, Wondolowski and Feilhaber should all have been in Miami, not Foxboro, last night.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


The cost of financial ignorance (Hernando de Soto, October 7, 2011, Washington Post)

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said recently that, given the ongoing credit contraction, "advanced economies like the U.S. would do well to re-learn some of the lessons" that have led to success among emerging market economies. Ironically, those economies in the 1990s accepted 10 points for promoting economic growth that were known as the "Washington Consensus."

Advanced nations seem to have forgotten Point 10 of that consensus: how important documenting assets and transactions is to the creation of credit. Consider that most private credit is made up not of bills and coins, anchored in bank reserves, but in papers that establish rights over the assets, equity and liabilities that guarantee loans. Over the past 15 years, however, as they package, bundle and resell securities, Americans and Europeans have gradually undermined the reliability of the records that guarantee or make credit trustworthy -- the deeds, titles, liens and other documentation that establish who owns what and how much, and who holds the risks. [...]

When property is poorly documented, markets don't get the information needed to connect assets to finance, and governments don't obtain the data required to detect which connections have gone awry and how to fix them. This became obvious in 2008, when a relatively small number of subprime homeowners' inability to meet their mortgage payments ultimately triggered a global financial crisis. The world was surprised, and terrified, because no one seemed to see the connection.

The initial reaction three years ago was swift: The U.S. Treasury secretary created the Troubled Assets Relief Program to prevent a run on banks by purchasing the derivatives that financed the subprime mortgages. But officials realized within days that they couldn't locate the assets or find criteria for pricing, buying and then removing them from the market. Given the lack of hard information, they improvised, using the TARP money to bail out the owners of the assets.

But finance wasn't always this way. The connection between knowledge and credit was valued in the United States as far back as Thomas Jefferson's day.

Sadly for the Right, the damage was done by us affluent white Republicans, protecting institutions from regulation and oversight and thwarting transparency, not by poor colored people getting loans to buy their own houses. Unfortunately for the entire globe, the House GOP doubled-down on their errors and tried stopping TARP, before the markets scared them straight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Book review: 'Uncanny Valley' by Lawrence Weschler: It's the story that counts in our existence, the author contends. (David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Time)

First, to digress (but not really): I've been wondering these last few weeks why Occupy Wall Street hasn't moved me, even though I am sympathetic to the cause. Partly, I suppose, it's the relatively small size of the protests, although as Castro proved in the Sierra Maestra mountains, revolution is not necessarily a numbers game. But even more, it's a lack of focus, the inability of the movement to define itself, a failure to explain its terms. An absence of narrative, in other words -- something I didn't understand fully until, in the middle of Lawrence Weschler's "Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative," I came across an essay called "Waking Up to How We Sleepwalk" that cast my reservations in sharp relief.

Here, Weschler recounts the experience of watching, on the coastal grounds of Denmark's Louisiana Museum, a 1982 anti-nuclear protest-turned-performance piece, in which dozens of participants slowed nearly to the point of stillness, "moving, in suspension, maybe a few feet each minute -- but moving nonetheless toward the bluff." Over the course of a couple of hours, these people, in their slow-motion choreography, moved from dry land into the water before returning to shore.

"Slowly," Weschler tells us, "one by one, the sleepwalkers emerged from the water and filed -- still trance-slow, dripping, shivering violently -- through the doors of a large converted boathouse." The idea, according to one protest organizer, is to "[slow] things down to help people notice them. In a way that's what we were doing here -- trying to find an image, a way of helping people to notice what is going on."

You know the Wall Street folks are going nowhere when they get compared unfavorably to the unsuccessful protests in defense of the Soviet Union.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


R.I. slashes restrictions on illegal immigrants (Maria Sacchetti, October 8, 2011, Boston Globe)

Governor Lincoln D. Chafee, who took office in January, has dismantled Rhode Island's vigorous campaign against illegal immigration in recent months, ditching the E-verify system for checking workers' status, revoking the State Police's authority to enforce federal immigration laws, and leading a campaign that last week granted in-state tuition to unauthorized immigrants. He is even considering driver's licenses for immigrants living here illegally.

The stunning turnaround reflects the fickle nature of immigration politics in a state that still remains deeply divided over the issue, with critics vowing to fight Chafee's actions. But it is also a lesson in the growing power of the Latino vote, and how an unlikely alliance between immigrants and Chafee, a risk-taking blueblood politician, tipped the scales and propelled Rhode Island in a new direction.

It's an especially hypocritical state to be anti-immigrant.

October 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Alabama Immigration Law: Worker-Strapped Farm Groups Doubt Prisoner Remedy (Dan Rivoli, October 7, 2011, IBD)

As a state with an economy based on agriculture, the exodus of skilled, Hispanic migrant workers has left Alabama crops unharvested, which has resulted in multi-million dollars losses. [...]

Jon Huffmaster, the Georgia Farm Bureau's legislative director, wouldn't criticize any proposal that addresses the labor shortage, but doubted its effectiveness.

Farm labor requires more than muscle and a need for work, Huffmaster told IBTimes. The work is grueling and laborers are in outdoors with temperatures reaching nearly 100 degrees.

"A lot of people have an idea that work on farms is no-skill labor, that anybody who just walks up can do it. That's just not the case," Huffmaster said. "You have to be able to keep up to move from field to field... That's some of the things we ran into when it came to the probationers."

Using probationers failed to address the farmers' labor problem. Georgia's agriculture commissioner told a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that the program only produced a few reliable workers, and they weren't as productive as migrant workers, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution report.

There's also a pay problem that arises when using inmate labor, said Huffmaster. For farmers who pay a piecemeal rate-based on the amount harvested-inmates unaccustomed to farm work may be unable to make more than minimum wages.

"You have to be able to produce enough to get paid enough, or you're just going to get minimum wage and you're not getting a crop harvested," said Huffmaster.

The labor shortage has already caused an estimated $140 million in losses during Georgia's spring and summer harvest, according to an industry-funded study the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association released this week.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM

AND 300 MILLION ARABS NEED JOBS (via Bruno Behrend):

Are We Headed For China's Fat Years? (Joel Kotkin, October 04 2011, Forbes.com)

Like Japan, China faces many great, if often overlooked, challenges. There's a devastated environment, growing social unrest and rising competition from other countries, notably the Indian subcontinent. Labor force growth is slowing rapidly, and the country now has up to 30 million more marriage-age boys than girls, an all but certain spur to political unrest. Misallocation of resources by both central and local authorities threatens to create a major property bubble.

Throughout modern history authoritarian and more centrally controlled countries have proved very good at playing "catch up" and impressing journalists. China's Communist regime can order investment into everything from high-speed trains to green technology and massive dam construction. The results -- like those previously seen in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia -- are often as physically and technologically impressive, although often cruel to both the environment and people stuck in the way.

But once a country reaches a certain plateau of development, as Japan did in the 1990s, the nature of the competition changes; it becomes harder to target industries that are themselves in constant flux. Workers who have already achieved considerable affluence tend to be harder to bully or motivate.

Take the battle for cyberspace. Japan's ballyhooed bureaucracy sought to conquer this frontier through traditional channels. This allowed the internet to become a competition largely among relative young U.S. companies such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook. The much-feared Japanese takeover of the computer and cultural industries back in the 1980s now has petered out into a historical footnote.

And despite the recent, often spectacular gains of China , the primary English-speaking countries -- the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- still control a quarter of the world's GDP, compared with 15% for the Sinosophere. Their combined per capita income is six times higher.

Critically the U.S. and its closest cultural allies -- New Zealand, Australia and Canada -- also have enormous physical advantages. These four countries all stand among the eight largest food exporters in the world. Recent discoveries on the energy front have made North America, particularly the Great Plains, a potentially dominant force in the global oil and gas industries. China lacks the water, and likely to resources, to match up.

But the real edge lies with culture, particularly the English language, which has decimated all its traditional competitors -- French, German and Russian -- over the past two decades. Difficult to learn, Chinese is not likely to replace English any time soon as the dominant language of culture, air travel, science and technology.

This cultural dominion can be seen in the media as well. The U.S. and its English-speaking allies account for roughly half of all the world's audio-visual exports. To an extent never seen before, Anglophones dominated how people think, dress and recreate.

Arguably our biggest advantage lies in the very thing our upper echelons increasingly disdain -- our messy multicultural democracy and our addiction to the rule of law. "The secret of U.S. success is neither Wall Street or Silicon Valley but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it," Liu Yazhou, a Chinese two-star general, recently said. "The American system...is designed by genius and for the operation of the stupid."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 PM


East beasts depart, leaving balanced field (Ian Browne, 10/08/11, MLB.com)

The heavyweights are home for the winter, and the decision-makers from those teams wonder why their big investments didn't amount to anything beyond spectator status for the League Championship Series.

The Yankees, with a payroll of about $207 million, were bounced in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.

Ditto for the Phillies, who had the second-highest payroll in the game at $165 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Obama, the loner president (Scott Wilson, 10/07/11, Washington Post)

Beyond the economy, the wars and the polls, President Obama has a problem: people.

This president endures with little joy the small talk and back-slapping of retail politics, rarely spends more than a few minutes on a rope line, refuses to coddle even his biggest donors. His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous. Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer.

Obama's circle of close advisers is as small as the cluster of personal friends that predates his presidency. There is no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise.

Obama is, in short, a political loner who prefers policy over the people who make politics in this country work.

"He likes politics," said a Washington veteran who supports Obama, "but like a campaign manager likes politics, not a candidate." The former draws energy from science and strategy, the latter from contact with people.

Which raises an odd question: Is it possible to be America's most popular politician and not be very good at American politics?

...liberals love everyone in the abstract but dislike them in the particular while conservatives dislike everyone in the abstract but love them in the particular.

On its face, it's sort of odd that the UR emulates Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter in this regard, but, on the other hand, they were the presidents of his formative years and he does govern like a figure out of the wretched 70s. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM


'50,000 Syrians rally' after Kurdish leader slain (AFP, 10/08/11)

Fifty thousand Syrians rallied against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday during the funeral of Meshaal Tamo, a Kurdish opposition figure slain the previous day, activists said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 AM


Forty percent of Medicare spending on common cancer screenings unnecessary, probe suggests (Rochelle Sharpe and Elizabeth Lucas, October 7, 2011, iWatch)

Cancer screening tests are vastly overused in the United States, with about 40% of Medicare spending on common preventive screenings regarded as medically unnecessary, an iWatch News investigation reveals. Millions of Americans get such tests more frequently than medically recommended or at times when they cannot gain any proven medical benefit, extracting an enormous financial toll on the nation's health care system. Doctors disregard scientific guidelines out of ignorance, fear of malpractice suits or for financial gain, as patients inundated by medical advertising clamor for extra tests.

In the frenzied hunt for cancer, the risks of the screenings also get overlooked. Besides producing anxiety, screening people for cancer can itself cause injuries -- even death -- or set off a cascade of expensive tests and treatments that can waste more money and create more problems.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force , a panel of independent medical experts, determines which screening tests offer more benefits than risks -- and who should get them. But even though the group's guidelines are considered the gold standard for medical care, its detailed recommendations are largely ignored, an iWatch News ' probe found, and the fiscal consequences are profound.

Medicare spent about $1.9 billion on common cancer screenings for people who were older than government-recommended age limits between 2003 and 2008, according to iWatch News ' examination of a six-year sample of Medicare billing records obtained by iWatch News and The Wall Street Journal. That's about 40% of everything that Medicare spent on breast, colon, prostate and cervical cancer screenings in that time period.

More than $31 million of that money was spent screening people who were in their 90s, the investigation showed.

Breast cancer screening guidelines were disregarded most frequently during this period, according to the iWatch News analysis. More than 22 million mammogram claims were submitted for women at or over the recommended limit of 75, the age when the task force says "evidence of benefits of mammography is lacking."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


The Decline and Fall of America's Decline and Fall (Joseph S. Nye, 2011-10-06, Project Syndicate)

Americans have a long history of incorrectly estimating their power. In the 1950's and 1960's, after Sputnik, many thought that the Soviets might get the better of America; in the 1980's, it was the Japanese. Now it is the Chinese. But, with America's debt on a path to equaling its national income in a decade, and a fumbling political system that cannot seem to address the country's fundamental challenges, are the "declinists" finally right?

Much will depend on the uncertainties - often underestimated - brought about by future political change in China. Economic growth will bring China closer to the US in power resources, but that doesn't necessarily mean that China will surpass the US as the most powerful country.

China's GDP will almost certainly surpass that of the US within a decade, owing to the size of its population and its impressive economic-growth rate. But, measured by per capita income, China will not equal the US for decades, if then.

Moreover, even if China suffers no major domestic political setback, many current projections are based simply on GDP growth. They ignore US military and soft-power advantages, as well as China's geopolitical disadvantages. As Japan, India, and others try to balance Chinese power, they welcome an American presence. It is as if Mexico and Canada sought a Chinese alliance to balance the US in North America.

As for absolute decline, the US has very real problems, but the American economy remains highly productive. America remains first in total R&D expenditure, first in university rankings, first in Nobel prizes, and first on indices of entrepreneurship. According to the World Economic Forum, which released its annual report on economic competitiveness last month, the US is the fifth most competitive economy in the world (behind the small economies of Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, and Singapore). China ranks only 26th.

Moreover, the US remains at the forefront of such cutting-edge technologies as biotech and nanotechnology.

Pretty much everyone you know has higher debt than annual income, otherwise they wouldn't have a degree (or two), a home and educated children.  The main difference between them and America is that they are going to die fairly soon and their debts will need to have been settled in some fashion in short in order.  America isn't eternal, but it isn't going anywhere anytime soon.  Nor do its debts need to be settled imminently. 

And if that doesn't give us some perspective on our debt, consider this factoid, Bernie Sanders says six bank companies have assets equaling 60 percent of U.S. GDP: True (Politifact, 10/04/11)

Here are the top six and their total assets:

1. Bank of America Corp., $2.264 trillion
2. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., $2.246 trillion
3. Citigroup Inc., $1.957 trillion
4. Wells Fargo & Co., $1.260 trillion
5. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., $937 billion
6. Morgan Stanley, $831 billion

Together, the top six companies' assets were $9.495 trillion.

For the second part of the equation -- gross domestic product -- we turned to the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Though the time spans don't line up perfectly, we decided to use the GDP figure for 2010, the most recent full year. That figure is $14.527 trillion.

Dividing these top banks' assets by the national GDP produces a result of 65 percent -- which is actually a slightly larger percentage than Sanders had indicated, but certainly in the ballpark.

As the numbers for debt and GDP converge (temporarily), consider that the assets of just six banks would pay off 60% of that debt if we were closing up shop.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


The second economy: Digitization is creating a second economy that's vast, automatic, and invisible--thereby bringing the biggest change since the Industrial Revolution. (W. Brian Arthur, October 2011, McKinsey Quarterly

[I] want to argue that something deep is going on with information technology, something that goes well beyond the use of computers, social media, and commerce on the Internet. Business processes that once took place among human beings are now being executed electronically. They are taking place in an unseen domain that is strictly digital. On the surface, this shift doesn't seem particularly consequential--it's almost something we take for granted. But I believe it is causing a revolution no less important and dramatic than that of the railroads. It is quietly creating a second economy, a digital one.

Let me begin with two examples. Twenty years ago, if you went into an airport you would walk up to a counter and present paper tickets to a human being. That person would register you on a computer, notify the flight you'd arrived, and check your luggage in. All this was done by humans. Today, you walk into an airport and look for a machine. You put in a frequent-flier card or credit card, and it takes just three or four seconds to get back a boarding pass, receipt, and luggage tag. What interests me is what happens in those three or four seconds. The moment the card goes in, you are starting a huge conversation conducted entirely among machines. Once your name is recognized, computers are checking your flight status with the airlines, your past travel history, your name with the TSA1 (and possibly also with the National Security Agency). They are checking your seat choice, your frequent-flier status, and your access to lounges. This unseen, underground conversation is happening among multiple servers talking to other servers, talking to satellites that are talking to computers (possibly in London, where you're going), and checking with passport control, with foreign immigration, with ongoing connecting flights. And to make sure the aircraft's weight distribution is fine, the machines are also starting to adjust the passenger count and seating according to whether the fuselage is loaded more heavily at the front or back.

These large and fairly complicated conversations that you've triggered occur entirely among things remotely talking to other things: servers, switches, routers, and other Internet and telecommunications devices, updating and shuttling information back and forth. All of this occurs in the few seconds it takes to get your boarding pass back. And even after that happens, if you could see these conversations as flashing lights, they'd still be flashing all over the country for some time, perhaps talking to the flight controllers--starting to say that the flight's getting ready for departure and to prepare for that.

Now consider a second example, from supply chain management. Twenty years ago, if you were shipping freight through Rotterdam into the center of Europe, people with clipboards would be registering arrival, checking manifests, filling out paperwork, and telephoning forward destinations to let other people know. Now such shipments go through an RFID2 portal where they are scanned, digitally captured, and automatically dispatched. The RFID portal is in conversation digitally with the originating shipper, other depots, other suppliers, and destinations along the route, all keeping track, keeping control, and reconfiguring routing if necessary to optimize things along the way. What used to be done by humans is now executed as a series of conversations among remotely located servers.

In both these examples, and all across economies in the developed world, processes in the physical economy are being entered into the digital economy, where they are "speaking to" other processes in the digital economy, in a constant conversation among multiple servers and multiple semi-intelligent nodes that are updating things, querying things, checking things off, readjusting things, and eventually connecting back with processes and humans in the physical economy.

So we can say that another economy--a second economy--of all of these digitized business processes conversing, executing, and triggering further actions is silently forming alongside the physical economy.

If I were to look for adjectives to describe this second economy, I'd say it is vast, silent, connected, unseen, and autonomous (meaning that human beings may design it but are not directly involved in running it). It is remotely executing and global, always on, and endlessly configurable. It is concurrent--a great computer expression--which means that everything happens in parallel. It is self-configuring, meaning it constantly reconfigures itself on the fly, and increasingly it is also self-organizing, self-architecting, and self-healing.

These last descriptors sound biological--and they are. In fact, I'm beginning to think of this second economy, which is under the surface of the physical economy, as a huge interconnected root system, very much like the root system for aspen trees. For every acre of aspen trees above the ground, there's about ten miles of roots underneath, all interconnected with one another, "communicating" with each other.

The metaphor isn't perfect: this emerging second-economy root system is more complicated than any aspen system, since it's also making new connections and new configurations on the fly. But the aspen metaphor is useful for capturing the reality that the observable physical world of aspen trees hides an unseen underground root system just as large or even larger. How large is the unseen second economy? By a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation (see sidebar, "How fast is the second economy growing?"), in about two decades the digital economy will reach the same size as the physical economy. It's as if there will be another American economy anchored off San Francisco (or, more in keeping with my metaphor, slipped in underneath the original economy) and growing all the while.

Now this second, digital economy isn't producing anything tangible. It's not making my bed in a hotel, or bringing me orange juice in the morning. But it is running an awful lot of the economy. It's helping architects design buildings, it's tracking sales and inventory, getting goods from here to there, executing trades and banking operations, controlling manufacturing equipment, making design calculations, billing clients, navigating aircraft, helping diagnose patients, and guiding laparoscopic surgeries. Such operations grow slowly and take time to form. In any deep transformation, industries do not so much adopt the new body of technology as encounter it, and as they do so they create new ways to profit from its possibilities.

The deep transformation I am describing is happening not just in the United States but in all advanced economies, especially in Europe and Japan. 
The two most important adjectives are, of course, fast and efficient.  And while everyone recognizes the digital revolution what too few seem to recognize is that with so many jobs performed in the digital economy fewer need performed in the human economy.  That's sort of the point of efficiency.

This brings us to the point where the two views of what an economy is for diverge: on the one hand many people seem to have concluded that an economy exists primarily to create jobs, whereas the real purpose is to create wealth.  Jobs have, of course, traditionally served as an accepted means for distributing that wealth.  The revolution we're in the midst of consists of how to distribute that wealth when ever less work is required to create ever more wealth.  The fact that we consider this an unpleasant problem would make our ancestors want to spank us.

Working in the Dark: a review of Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius By Sylvia Nasar  (Robert M. Solow,  September 28, 2011, New Republic)

I thought I knew what this book was going to be about when I started it, but by the time I came to the end I was no longer sure. There is a prologue that begins with Charles Dickens's observations and depictions of miserable London poverty, and then moves naturally to the classical Malthusian trap as the only explanation offered by the political economy of the time: any improvement in the general standard of living will be wiped out by increased population, so nothing much can be done except perhaps exhortations of abstinence. [...]

So far as economics, as understood by economists, is concerned, Schumpeter contributed one important and fertile idea, and he had formulated it by 1912. It was the insight that the dynamics of a capitalist economy are driven by technological and organizational innovation, and the key figure in this process is the entrepreneur who mediates between sheer invention and the market economy. He also emphasized the importance of credit creation as the mechanism that places resources in the hands of active entrepreneurs.

As part of his theory, Schumpeter developed and dramatized the central concept of "creative destruction." Many important innovations render existing goods, methods of production, and forms of organization obsolete, or otherwise displace them. Economic value and social status are brusquely destroyed. Pre-existing expectations are overturned. But this is the way a capitalist economy has to advance if it is to advance at all. This was Schumpeter's way, and the right way, to dispel the classical economists' pessimistic vision of the "stationary state," enforced by diminishing returns and the Malthusian iron law of wages.
No one dies because we don't produce enough food.  They die because of maldistribution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


The Body and Human Progress: a  of The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World Since 1700 by Robert Floud, Robert W. Fogel, Bernard Harris, and Sok Chul Hong  (Jerome Groopman, 10/27/11, NY Review of Books)

Over the past three hundred years, there has been an indisputable decline in morbidity and mortality in Europe, the United States, and more recently parts of Asia. In his Nobel lecture, Fogel highlights how this trend toward increased human growth and longevity sharply challenged two classical views of economic history: the catastrophic scenarios of Malthus and the utopian vision of Marx. According to the Malthusian theory of population, any improvements in mortality were postulated to be short-lived: as the population increased in relation to the food supply, the reduction in death due to one disease would be compensated for by death due to some other malady. Marx envisioned continued oppression of workers, until the unstoppable churnings of history sparked revolution that led to a dictatorship of the proletariat built on the ruins of capitalism.

The Changing Body is a synthesis of some five decades of research in demography, economics, medicine, and sociology, and might be viewed as a culmination of the inquiry begun by Quetelet. Written by Fogel with Roderick Floud, a British economic historian and provost of Gresham College, London, Bernard Harris, professor of the history of social policy at the University of Southampton, and Sok Chul Hong, an assistant professor of economics at Sogang University in South Korea, and presented as a textbook, it poses a "very simple" thesis:

    The health and nutrition of one generation contributes, through mothers and through infants and childhood experience, to the strength, health, and longevity of the next generation; at the same time, increased health and longevity enable the members of that next generation to work harder and longer and to create resources which can then, in their turn, be used to assist the next, and succeeding, generations to prosper.

The authors introduce the term "technophysio evolution" to represent the proposition that "changes in the size, shape, and capability of the human body since the beginning of the eighteenth century both reflect and illuminate economic and demographic change over those three centuries." This synergy between technological and physiological improvements, the authors contend, has yielded a unique form of human evolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Recalling best of Bush presidency: a review of THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE: AN INSIDE ACCOUNT OF FAITH AND POLITICS IN THE GEORGE W. BUSH ERA By Timothy S. Goeglein (Ryan L. Cole, 10/07/11, Washington Times)

That semi-anonymity ended abruptly in early 2008 when a blogger discovered that Mr. Goeglein had, for some years, used plagiarized material to fill a weekly column in his hometown newspaper. He tendered his resignation shortly after the revelation made national news.

Now, nearly four years later, comes "The Man in the Middle," an account of this fall from grace and everything that led up to it. As such, it provided a perfect opportunity for the author to explain away and make excuses for his mistakes or even wallow in his misfortune. Mr. Goeglein, much to his credit, does not exercise these options.

This is not a book about self-pity or blame-shifting. "I did it knowingly and repeatedly," Mr. Goeglein writes of his indiscretion. "There were no extenuating circumstances or justifications for what I did. It was not a mistake or an oversight. It was not due to sloppiness. I was deceptive, and it was all rooted in vanity and pride." [...]

[T]he most convincing defense of his former boss here is not policy-based. Shortly after his resignation and before his departure, Mr. Bush summoned Mr. Goeglein - at this point, like any fallen figure in Washington, toxic and disposable - to the Oval Office. Apprehensive and expecting to be hauled over the coals, he was stunned by the president's send-off. "I have known mercy and grace in my own life," said Mr. Bush. "I am offering it to you now. You are forgiven." This anecdote is not exactly a vindication of his presidency, but it is welcome affirmation of Mr. Bush's too-little-appreciated decency and bigheartedness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Does God exist?: The case for reconciling the scientific with the divine -- and against the anti-religion of Richard Dawkins )Alan Lightman, 10/02/11, Salon)

Ten years ago, I began attending monthly meetings of a small group of scientists, actors and playwrights in a carpeted seminar room at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [...]

Physicist Alan Guth, another member of our salon, pioneered the Inflation version of the Big Bang theory and has helped extend the scientific understanding of the infant universe back to a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after t = 0. Another member, biologist Nancy Hopkins, manipulates the DNA of organisms to study how genes control the development and growth of living creatures. [...]

As a both a scientist and a humanist myself, I have struggled to understand different claims to knowledge, and I have eventually come to a formulation of the kind of religious belief that would, in my view, be compatible with science. The first step in this journey is to state what I will call the Central Doctrine of science: All properties and events in the physical universe are governed by laws, and those laws are true at every time and place in the universe. Although scientists do not talk explicitly about this doctrine, and my doctoral thesis advisor never mentioned it once to his graduate students, the Central Doctrine is the invisible oxygen that scientists breathe. We do not, of course, know all the fundamental laws at the present time. But most scientists believe that a complete set of such laws exists and, in principle, is discoverable by human beings, just as 19th-century explorers believed in the North Pole although no one had yet reached it.

An example of a scientific law is the conservation of energy: The total amount of energy in a closed system remains constant. The energy in an isolated container may change form, as when the chemical energy latent in a fresh match changes into the heat and light energy of a burning flame -- but, according to the law of the conservation of energy, the total amount of energy does not change. At any moment in time, we regard our knowledge of the laws of science as provisional. And from era to era in the history of science, we have found that some of our "working" laws must be revised, such as the replacement of Newton's law of gravity (1687) by Einstein's deeper and more accurate law of gravity (1915). But such revisions are part of the process of science and do not undermine the Central Doctrine -- that a complete and final set of laws does exist, and that those laws are inviolable. (The title of a book by Noble Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg is "Dreams of a Final Theory.")

Next, a working definition of God. (As a scientist, I must define my terms.) For the purposes of this discussion, and in agreement with almost all religions, God is a being not restricted by the laws that govern matter and energy in the physical universe. In other words, God exists outside matter and energy. In most religions, this Being acts with purpose and will, sometimes violating existing physical laws (i.e., performing miracles), and has additional qualities such as intelligence, compassion and omniscience.

Tucking these axioms under our belt, we can say that science and God are compatible as long as the latter is content to stand on the sidelines once the universe has begun. A God that intervenes after the cosmic pendulum has been set into motion, violating the physical laws, would clearly upend the Central Doctrine of science. Of course, the physical laws could have been created by God before the beginning of time. But once created, according to the Central Doctrine, the laws are immutable and cannot be violated from one moment to the next.

We can categorize religious beliefs according to the degree to which God acts in the world. At one extreme is atheism: God does not exist, period. Next comes deism, a prominent belief in the 17th and 18th centuries and partly motivated to incorporate new scientific developments with theological thinking. Deism holds that God created the universe but has not acted thereafter. (Voltaire considered himself a deist.) Next comes immanentism: God created the universe and the physical laws and continues to act but only through repeated application of those fixed laws. While immanentism differs philosophically from deism, it is functionally equivalent because God does not perform miracles in the world, and the Central Doctrine of science is upheld. One can argue that Einstein believed in an immanentist God. Finally comes what some theologians call interventionism: From time to time, God can and does act to violate the laws.

Most religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, subscribe to an interventionist view of God. Following the discussion above, all of these religions, at least in their orthodox expressions, are incompatible with science. This is as far as one gets with a purely logical analysis. Except for a God who sits down after the universe begins, all other Gods conflict with the assumptions of science. [...]

As a scientist, I find Dawkins' efforts to rebut these two arguments for the existence of God -- intelligent design and morality -- as completely convincing. However, as I think he would acknowledge, falsifying the arguments put forward to support a proposition does not falsify the proposition. Science can never know what created our universe. Even if tomorrow we observed another universe spawned from our universe, as could hypothetically happen in certain theories of cosmology, we could not know what created our universe. And as long as God does not intervene in the contemporary universe in such a way as to violate physical laws, science has no way of knowing whether God exists or not. The belief or disbelief in such a Being is therefore a matter of faith.
...is how little difference there is in purely physical terms between Nancy Hopkins and God vis-a-vis the creatures.  The only real difference is Mr. Lightman's faith that he is more like she than like they.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


The truth about English football: Studying football helps us see why the English are always beating themselves up, and why they shouldn't (Simon Kuper, 9/30/11, Financial Times)

The sports economist Stefan Szymanski and I argued in our book Soccernomics that it's silly to expect England to win World Cups. This half of a mid-sized island is smaller than the historically dominant football nations (Germany, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and France), and no more experienced. The sociologist Stephen Wagg was right when he said that, "In reality, England is a country like many others, and the England football team is a football team like many others." In fact, Stefan Szymanski and I calculated that England's usual position as about the 10th best team on earth means it has overachieved slightly, relative to its limited resources.

True, England won the World Cup in 1966 - a perennial touchstone for disappointed nostalgics - but given that it hosted the tournament, and that home advantage is worth two-thirds of a goal per game in international football, this was hardly surprising.

We're now updating Soccernomics, and have made an interesting discovery about Capello: he's England's most successful manager ever. He has won 26 of his 39 matches with England, with a winning percentage of 67 per cent. None of his predecessors exceeded 60 per cent. He's not a flop. In short, foreigners are not England's problem - they are the solution. Capello and the Premiership's foreign players bring continental knowhow to insular English football.

It's often said that England lose because there are too few Englishmen in the Premier League. In fact, the reverse is true: England lose in part because there are too many Englishmen in the Premier League. This is the world's toughest league. Players at Chelsea or Manchester United have to peak every week - they cannot save themselves for the national team. They therefore often play for England while exhausted. England would probably do better if it exported players to calmer leagues, like Montenegro's.

It's England's bad luck that big tournaments start in June, the time of maximum exhaustion for players from the Premier League. Recall that England's star, Wayne Rooney, has played two World Cups half-fit. As his teammate Steven Gerrard wrote after another disappointing tournament: "The truth was that England were knackered at Euro 2004 ... A long, hard season took a terrible toll." I found similar claims in several English players' autobiographies.

England's peculiar scoring record in big tournaments also suggests player exhaustion. In every World Cup, most goals are scored in the second half of matches. That is natural, because after half-time, players tire, teams start chasing goals, and gaps open up in defences. But England, in their past six big tournaments, scored 25 of their 38 goals before half-time. The team's record in crucial games is even more stark: in matches in which England were eliminated from tournaments, they scored eight of their nine goals before half-time. England tend to perform like a cheap battery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Woo hoo! Homer Simpson and family get two more TV series after all (Jacqui Goddard, 08 Oct 2011)

The Simpsons cartoon series has won a reprieve after Fox Television settled a pay dispute that had threatened to end the show's 22-year run.

The deal with actors on the show has secured the return of doughnut-loving Homer Simpson and his dysfunctional family for another two series.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Will the Real Benjamin Netanyahu Please Stand Up?: Despite all avowals to the contrary, Bibi's never wanted peace with Palestine. And he may well have created an Israel that now agrees with him. (DANIEL LEVY, OCTOBER 7, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Israel's leadership decisions historically have combined a singular, sometimes ruthless insistence on securing a Jewish state with an ability to make pragmatic compromises -- the two sometimes being in synergy and sometimes being at odds. Israel's leaders accepted the 1947 U.N. partition plan but then secured a much greater portion of Palestine than the United Nations had granted and expelled much of the Palestinian population in the ensuing war. Israel's leaders captured the Egyptian Sinai in the late 1960s and spent a decade building civilian and military outposts there only to evacuate the area a little over a decade later. When the Arab world was out of bounds for Israel, its leaders pursued a regional strategy based on an alliance with the non-Arab states of the periphery -- Turkey, Iran, and Ethiopia -- and ultimately offset its regional isolation by enmeshing Israel into the structures of U.S. Cold War alliances. As the region changed, however, Israel established links to fellow members of the Pax Americana among the authoritarian but so-called "moderate" Arab regimes, like Egypt and Jordan -- and more discreetly, parts of the Gulf.

Pragmatic Zionism in practice may have offered little comfort to the dispossessed Palestinians of 1948 and insufficient democracy to Israel's own Palestinian Arab citizens (about 20 percent of the country's population), but it did focus on thickening the thin sheet of ice upon which Israel's future in the region was predicated. The Oslo process, started in 1993, would not address core Palestinian grievances or offer real justice, but it would fit neatly within that pragmatic tradition of thickening the ice, holding out the promise of at least an end to the occupation of the lands beyond the 1967 lines (or the vast majority of those lands) and of something recognizably approximating sovereign Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu's project for Israel, over the course of his political leadership, can be best understood as taking a pickax to those layers of stability and bringing something new in their place. Netanyahu patiently went about the work of unraveling the core aspects of Oslo that were not to his liking. He created a new peace discourse, one ostensibly reasonable and certainly accessible to the Western ear -- but one also ultimately incompatible with the pragmatic compromise that Oslo might have set in motion.

The Netanyahu peace dictionary -- that peace required reciprocity, that Palestinians would have to give if they were to get, that only unmediated, direct negotiations were admissible in the court of peacemaking -- all created a false parallel between an occupying power and an occupied people and succeeded in draining the peace effort both substantively and procedurally of any vitality or chance of success. Having ostensibly bought into this bargain and made itself dependent on Israeli (and U.S.) goodwill, the PLO-Fatah leadership unsurprisingly lost credibility as the years of "peace-processing" dragged on -- with no seeming cost to Israel.

The major shift in Netanyahu's position between his first and second terms is highly instructive. Having rejected the idea of a Palestinian state previously, he now embraces the notion with a passion bordering on that of a convert. (In his U.N. speech in September, he noted that in peace Israel would be the first country to recognize a Palestinian state.) Yet his idea of what Palestinian statehood would entail is exactly the same as his previous vision for Palestinian autonomy, the only difference being his recognition that it makes more sense to say that if the Palestinians are willing to call this bantustanization statehood, then why on Earth should Israel oppose it?

In 1997, Netanyahu spoke of the Palestinians having the "most generous self-government." And later that year he talked of "a self-governing entity, offering them maximum self-government in the areas that will be under their control in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza." When addressing the United Nations during his first term in 1998, Netanyahu suggested that already "98 percent of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria ... are now living under Palestinian rule ... their own flag, their own executive.... It can no longer be claimed that the Palestinians are occupied by Israel. We do not govern their lives." Eleven years later, at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, Netanyahu said, "Each [state] will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government." He only neglected to mention that only one would have anything resembling sovereignty. It is worth remembering that 60 percent of the West Bank and all of East Jerusalem are strictly out of bounds for this Palestinian self-governing entity.

Other than allowing the Palestinians to apply the label "state" to their prospective West Bank archipelago of limited self-governing islands, Netanyahu has pivoted in one other area from a decade ago. He has now made Palestine's acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state a precondition for any movement. In so doing Netanyahu is castrating the old Oslo peace process of any last vestiges of potency. Intriguingly, he is also perhaps establishing a more honest Israeli-Palestinian playing field. Addressing the Knesset in this May just prior to his departure for Washington, Netanyahu asserted: "It is not a conflict over 1967, but over 1948."

Oslo was an attempt to subsume the weighty issues of Israel's creation, Israel's ethnocratic character, and Palestinian dispossession, and emphasize a resolution of issues arising from the 1967 occupation. Despite U.S., Quartet (EU-Russian-U.N.-U.S.), and other attempts to force the conflict back into that 1967 box, Netanyahu has probably drawn a line under a certain 1967-centric period in Israeli-Palestinian history. As Ahmad Khalidi, a Palestinian academic and occasional policy advisor to the PLO, explains in compelling detail in a recent Journal of Palestine Studies piece, acceptance of Zionism and the Jewish state is not "the Palestinian Arab narrative, nor can it be." It would require the Palestinians to not only embrace their own dispossession but also accept the other side's appropriation of "the rights of those who reside in the territory ... their very history and identity, their relationship to the land, and by extension their rights, future, and fate as well." Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh has similarly eviscerated Bibi's "Jewish state" recognition demand.

Netanyahu's father, Benzion, a renowned historian of the right, rejected partition in the middle of the last century. His son Benjamin is rejecting partition for this century and setting up a winner-take-all struggle. There is no Palestinian state or two-state solution along the lines proposed by Netanyahu -- in which Israel retains all of Greater Jerusalem, much of the West Bank, and an IDF presence in "Palestinian areas," and in which only one historical narrative guides future "coexistence."
Once Hamas and Fatah abandoned terrorism it removed the political pressure on the Israeli leadership to concede statehood.  Ariel Sharon subsequently pursued a two-state solution because he understood the single state to be an existential threat.  Others don't see the future similarly or lack the power to act unilaterally to try and avoid it.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


American Scholar Awarded 2011 Liberty Prize (Russia Beyond the Headlines, 10/07/11)

Stephen Cohen, Professor of Russian Studies and History at New York University, has been awarded the Liberty Prize 2011 for his contribution to developing cultural ties between the US and Russia.
Nevermind that given his druthers there would be no Russia?, RONALD REAGAN: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader (Dinesh D'Souza)

In 1982, the learned Sovietologist Seweryn Bialer of Columbia University wrote in Foreign Affairs, "The Soviet Union is not now, nor will it be during the next decade, in the throes of a true systemic crisis, for it boasts enormous unused reserves of political and social stability." This view was seconded that same year by historian and eminence grise Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who observed that "those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse [are] wishful thinkers" who are only "kidding themselves."

John Kenneth Galbraith, the distinguished Harvard economist, wrote in 1984: "That the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years is evident both from the statistics and from the general urban scene.... One sees it in the appearance of well-being of the people on the streets.... and the general aspect of restaurants, theaters, and shops.... Partly, the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower."

Equally imaginative was the assessment of Paul Samuelson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Nobel laureate in economics, writing in the 1985 edition of his widely used textbook: "What counts is results, and there can be no doubt that the Soviet planning system has been a powerful engine for economic growth.... The Soviet model has surely demonstrated that a command economy is capable of mobilizing resources for rapid growth."

James Reston, the renowned columnist of the New York Times, in June 1985 revealed his capacity for sophisticated evenhandedness when he dismissed the possibility of the collapse of communism on the grounds that Soviet problems were no different from those of the United States: "It's clear that the ideologies of Communism, socialism and capitalism are all in trouble."

But the genius award undoubtedly goes to Lester Thurow, economist and well-known author, who, as late as 1989, wrote, "Can economic command significantly ... accelerate the growth process? The remarkable performance of the Soviet Union suggests that it can. Today it is a country whose economic achievements bear comparison with those of the United States."

Wise men tend to be impatient with dummies, and thus we can understand the tone of indignation with which Strobe Talbott, a senior correspondent at Time and later an official in the Clinton State Department, faulted officials in the Reagan administration for espousing "the early fifties goal of rolling back Soviet domination of Eastern Europe," an objective he considered misguided and unrealistic. "Reagan is counting on American technological and economic predominance to prevail in the end," Talbott scoffed, adding that if the Soviet economy was in a crisis of any kind, "it is a permanent, institutionalized crisis with which the U.S.S.R. has learned to live."

Equally scornful was Sovietologist Stephen Cohen of Princeton University, who wrote in 1983: "All evidence indicates that the Reagan administration has abandoned both containment and détente for a very different objective: destroying the Soviet Union as a world power and possibly even its Communist system."

Finally, a wise man gets something right. But then he spoils it by condemning Reagan for pursuing a wrongheaded and suicidal objective, one that revealed that the president was suffering from "a potentially fatal form of Sovietophobia ... a pathological rather than a healthy response to the Soviet Union."

October 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 PM


Q&A: Why discourage routine prostate cancer PSA test? (Karen Kaplan and Shari Roan, 10/07/11, Los Angeles Times)

The test is not very good at separating men with prostate cancer from men without it. About two-thirds of men who have a PSA reading above 4 ng/mL do not have the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Meanwhile, nearly one-third of men with PSA levels in the safe range have been found to harbor cancer cells in their prostates.

Autopsy studies have found prostate cancer in one-third of men between 40 and 60, and in 75% of men over 85; in most of those cases, the cancers are harmless.

"Many men with localized prostate cancer will never have problems," said Dr. Roger Chou of Oregon Health & Science University, part of a group that reviewed evidence for the panel. "That's a really hard concept for people, but it's been known for a long time."

The biggest knock on the test is that despite finding more cancers, it doesn't actually lead to a reduction in deaths -- the ultimate goal of any cancer screening program.

When a PSA test turns up prostate cancer in a man with no outward symptoms, that early warning could help him beat a tumor that otherwise would have killed him. But there are two other possibilities: Either the tumor is so aggressive that the patient dies anyway, or -- as is usually the case -- it is so slow-growing that it wouldn't have been fatal, even if left untreated.

The overwhelming majority of cancers fall into the last group, the task force wrote: Fully 95% of men whose prostate cancers are detected with PSA tests will be alive 12 years later even if they don't get treatment. And, the panel added, no study on prostate cancer screening has ever shown that screening reduces the number of deaths.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


Dems change rules; Senate in chaos ( MANU RAJU & SCOTT WONG, 10/6/11, Politico)

The Senate descended into procedural chaos Thursday night as Democrats forced a change in Senate rules and shut down a GOP effort to bog down a Chinese currency bill with a series of unrelated amendments. [...]

While the rules change may not seriously affect the substance of pending legislation, the process employed by Democrats could be replicated in the future to overhaul bedrock rules like the filibuster. For that reason, both parties have tried to avoid employing such tactics to change the rules over the last several congressional sessions, including in a fierce 2005 battle that nearly limited the use of the filibuster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


Beards, hair cut off in attacks on Amish (AP, 10/06/11)

A group of religious castoffs has been attacking fellow Amish, cutting off their hair and beards in an apparent feud over spiritual differences in the deeply traditional community, a sheriff said Thursday. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Three Activist Women (ALAN COWELL, LAURA KASINOF and ADAM NOSSITER, 10/07/11, NY Times)

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 was awarded on Friday to three women from Africa and the Arab world in acknowledgment of their nonviolent role in promoting peace, democracy and gender equality. The winners were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia -- the first woman to be elected president in modern Africa -- her compatriot, the peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, a pro-democracy campaigner.

They were the first women to win the prize since Wangari Maathai of Kenya, who died last month, was named as the laureate in 2004.

Most of the recipients in the award's 110-year history have been men, and Friday's decision seemed designed to give impetus to the fight for women's rights around the world.

Worthy enough causes, but, obviously, no one has done more for women's rights and democracy, in general, and Liberia, in particular, than George W. Bush, Farewell President George W. Bush: Liberians Will Remember You (Kai G. Wleh, 1/19/09, Liberian Journal)

Under the administration of President George W. Bush the U.S. policy towards Liberia dramatically changed. As the new rounds of civil war loom the Liberian capital Monrovia in 2003, President Bush warned Charles Taylor to step down for the sake of peace and commissioned 2,300 U.S. Marines off the Liberian coast.

Rebel-leader-turned President, Charles Taylor, who won the presidential election in 1997 merely because voters war wearied voters feared that had he lost the elections, the NPFL would have returned to war, and plunge the country into a lawless state while propelling a civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

After issuing defiant statements in reaction to U.S. government's demand for him to quit, President Charles Taylor, in the midst of rapidly advancing rebels on the capital, the brutal dictator astoundingly submitted to President Bush's warning in an address. He resigned the presidency and moved into exile.

In Washington Deputy State Department spokesman, Philip Reeker told reporters that Taylor's resignation was ''essential to restoring peace in Liberia.''

The 2003 resignation allowed the tyrant to enjoy asylum in Nigeria. But President Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair would later pursue the autocratic leader to face war crime charges on crimes against humanity - not for crimes Taylor allegedly committed in Liberia but in neighboring Sierra Leone. Under extreme pressure from Washington and London, a once reluctant President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, requested Nigeria to surrender Taylor for trial at the international criminal tribunal in Sierra Leone.

After volleys of political plays, Nigeria heeded Washington and President Bush expressed appreciation to the government of Nigeria for helping to apprehend Charles Taylor.

"The fact that Charles Taylor will be brought to justice in a court of law will help Liberia and is a signal, Mr. President, of your deep desire for there to be peace in your neighborhood," media quoted President Bush as telling then Nigerian leader Olesegun Obasanjo in a White House meeting.

Following the apprehension of Mr. Charles, who is now facing war crime charges in The Hague, President Bush began constructively engage Liberia's reconstruction efforts under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. During a state visit to Liberia, President Bush was quoted as saying: "I want the people of Liberia to know, Madam President, the United States stands with you. We want to help you recover from a terrible period. We want you to build lives of hope and peace."

Furthermore, an official of the Bush administration reportedly told the U.S. Congress of plans to continue to support Liberia, to shore up its fledgling democracy beyond the $1 billion the Bush administration has already given to the West African nation over the past two years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


New King Arthur cafe competes with Novack (Kira Witkin, October 7, 2011, The Dartmouth)

Other students interviewed by The Dartmouth also said the unique atmospheres of the two locations determine their dining decisions. During a typical afternoon, it is not uncommon to find students at King Arthur Flour reading novels while sitting on the leather chairs with their legs draped over the arm rests. At Novack, however, students said most of their peers sit upright while completing homework assignments or sending emails from their laptop computers.

Anna Franklin '14, who claims King Arthur Flour as a second home, said she comes to the new cafe every morning and evening to study.

"I like sitting here and doing work here better," she said. "I feel like I'm in a cute coffee shop rather than the bottom of the library."

Jonathan Katz '12, however, said he prefers the "social but focused study space" that is Novack. Katz visited King Arthur Flour once but has not returned, he said.

"It was really crowded." Katz said. "It felt too trendy."

The Dartmouth community would benefit from viewing the cafes as collaborators rather than competitors, according to George.

"It's really easy to think of us as competing because obviously we're both selling coffee and we're both in the same space," she said, "But I think -- given that we have different strengths -- we can compliment one another more than being in competition."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


France bans ketchup in cafeterias (Kim Willsher, 8/06/11, Los Angeles Times)

First France built a wall around its language to protect it from pernicious Anglo-Saxon invaders. Now it is throwing up a shield against another perceived threat to its culture and civilization: ketchup.

In an effort to promote healthful eating and, it has been suggested, to protect traditional Gallic cuisine, the French government has banned school and college cafeterias nationwide from offering the American tomato-based condiment with any food but -- of all things -- French fries.

Globalization is Anglofication.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Social Security Personal Accounts Are A Path To Prosperity (Peter Ferrara, 10/06/11, Forbes)

Social Security operates as a pure tax and redistribution system, with no real savings and investment anywhere.  Even when it was running annual surpluses, close to 90% of the money coming in was paid out within the year to pay current benefits.  Even the remaining annual surpluses were not saved and invested.  They were lent to the federal government and spent on other government programs, from foreign aid to bridges to nowhere, with the Social Security trust funds receiving only internal federal IOUs promising to pay the money back when it is needed to pay benefits.  Those federal IOUs are rightly accounted for in federal finances not as assets but as part of the Gross Federal Debt, subject to the national debt limit.  That is because they do not represent savings and investment, but actually additional liabilities of federal taxpayers.

Such a pay-as-you-go tax and redistribution system does not earn the investment returns that a fully funded savings and investment system would.  Consequently, over the long run the system can only pay low, inadequate, below market returns and benefits.  That is why studies show that for most young workers today, even if Social Security does somehow pay all its promised benefits, those benefits would represent a real rate of return of around 1% to 1.5% or less.  For many, the real effective return would be zero or even negative.  A negative rate of return is like putting your money in the bank, but instead of earning interest on it, you have to pay the bank for keeping your deposit there.  That is effectively what Social Security is for many people today.

Moreover, on our present course, that is what Social Security will be for everyone in the future.  Whether the long term deficit is closed ultimately by raising taxes or cutting benefits, that will mean the effective rate of return from the program will be lower, ultimately falling into the negative range for everyone.

McCotter's bill provides a complete solution to these problems, benefiting both future seniors and taxpayers, based on proven reforms that have already worked in the real world.  The bill empowers each worker age 50 and below with the freedom to choose a contribution to a personal savings and investment account equal roughly to half of the employee share of the Social Security payroll tax.  That contribution would be financed by a payment each year from general revenues, with no reduction in the payroll tax revenues flowing into Social Security.  That avoids AARP's chief criticism of personal accounts: that they would drain from the program the funds needed to pay for today's benefits.

Each worker would be perfectly free to choose to stay with Social Security as is and forgo the personal accounts entirely.  There would be no change in Social Security benefits under current law for those who make this choice.  No change would be made in any way for those already retired today, or those anywhere near retirement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


The mind of a believer: a review of Arguably  by Christopher Hitchens (John Gray, 10/06/11, New Statesman)

Six months before he was murdered in his study in Mexico City, Leon Trotsky wrote: "I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is no less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth."

There is something tragicomic in this confession of faith. Dialectical materialism, though it claimed to be based in science, was never more than superstitious gibberish. When he invoked the supposed science to bolster his failing political hopes, Trotsky was engaging in a type of magical thinking, using words as charms to ward off the terrors of history. At the same time - and this is the irresistibly comical element of Trotsky's career - he never ceased to regard himself as anything other than an uncompromising rationalist.

The comedy did not end with Trotsky's assassination, nor with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Those of his disciples who finally acknowledged that the communist future was not going to arrive did not give up on the dream of world revolution. Instead, an influential number of them found a surrogate for the failed communist experiment in the heartland of capitalism. America replaced the Soviet Union as the embodiment of human progress - and, it transpired, as the instigator of revolutionary wars. [...]

That Hitchens has the mind of a believer has not been sufficiently appreciated. His critics usually fasten on secondary features of his work, quite often those that make reading him so enjoyable.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM

Fountains Of Wayne: Tiny Desk Concert (Stephen Thompson, 10/06/11, NPR)
It speaks well of this Tiny Desk Concert that Fountains of Wayne's set pokes around in a few gray areas; its four songs showcase a band with tremendous narrative gifts and a real flair for subtle beauty. The two songs here from Sky Full of Holes -- "The Summer Place" and "A Dip in the Ocean," each of which takes a sideways look at leisure -- both sound rewardingly catchy and appropriately sunny. But the real knockouts are two wistful highlights from past albums: the unstoppably gorgeous "Valley Winter Song" (from Welcome Interstate Managers) and the decade-old sort-of encore "Troubled Times" (from Utopia Parkway). Fountains of Wayne was supposed to play only three songs at the NPR Music offices, but Collingwood could be overheard rehearsing "Troubled Times" in the men's room beforehand, and there was no way we could let him leave without playing it. One of the most gorgeous ballads to never so much as graze the pop charts, it's a career highlight for a band that keeps churning them out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Europe's crisis is all about the north-south split (Alan Greenspan, 10/06/11, Financial Times)

The eurozone is confronted with a crisis of not just labour costs and prices - but culture. The burden is primarily on southern Europe, where sovereign bond credit spreads (relative to the German Bund) range from 370 basis points (Italy) to 1,960 basis points (Greece). The northern eurozone countries have tight spreads against Germany - a narrow 40 to 80 basis points for the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and France. There are thus two distinctly defined eurozone areas: in the north and in the south. [...]

Euro-north has historically been characterised by high saving rates and low inflation, the metrics of a culture that emphasises longer-term investments rather than immediate consumption. In contrast, negative saving rates - excess consumption - have been a common feature of Greece and Portugal since 2003.

There remains the question of whether most, or all, of the south would ever voluntarily adopt northern prudence. The future of the euro beyond a select group of northern countries with a similar culture will depend on the ability of all eurozone nations to follow suit.

Failing that, the eurozone will not have the ability to address the key concern of currency-pooling arrangements: that the value created by a pooling arrangement tends to be distributed disproportionately in favour of the financially less collegial and less prudent members of the pool. We observed this tendency as growth of the south relative to Germany accelerated following the creation of the euro. Thus, unless restrained, the less collegial members of the pool will try and often succeed in exploiting their advantage, as Greece so brazenly did recently.

If the euro is to remain a viable currency across the eurozone, members must behave in the responsible manner contemplated in the Maastricht treaty. But it is not clear that culture, so integral to a nation's personality, can be easily altered. As Kieran Kelly noted last week: " . . . if I lived in a country like this [Greece], I would find it hard to stir myself into a Germanic taxpaying life of capital accumulation and arduous labour. The surrounds just aren't conducive."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Karzai picks partnership with India over Pakistan (James Lamont, 10/05/11, Financial Times)

The agreement will antagonise and isolate Pakistan, which views Afghanistan not only as sharing Islamic bonds but also as strategic territory to retreat into in a conflict with India.

Pakistan deeply fears being encircled by its arch-rival India, and is accused by India and some Nato commanders of using proxy militant groups to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

"The deal jeopardises the recent thaw in Indo-Pakistani relations and further solidifies Pakistan's view of Afghanistan as a staging post for Indian intelligence operations," said James Brazier, analyst at US-based IHS Global Insight.

Anglo-Indian operations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Rugby World Cup 2011: The Breakdown on the quarter-finals: Three of the last-eight ties appear a direct contrast in styles, while even the Celtic contest could be a meeting of opposites (Paul Rees, 7 October 2011, The Guardian)

The World Cup reaches a fork in the road this weekend: it can take the 2007 route, tackle, kick, chase and boot three-pointers, or it can adopt a liberal dynamic and run the conservatives out.

On one extreme, the semi-finals could pitch South Africa against Argentina and England against Ireland (no slight intended on the Irish, they are just not as gung-ho as Wales); on the other, New Zealand could take on Australia and France could run into Wales.

Three of the quarter-finals appear a direct contrast in styles: Argentina's might against New Zealand's width; England's calm deliberation will cross French excitability and volatility; and South Africa, masters of knock-out rugby, may let Australia take the risks.

Even the fourth, Wales's Celtic contest with Ireland, may turn out to be a meeting of opposites if the Irish decide to do what they did to Australia, muscling their way to victory by keeping the ball off the floor and preventing the Welsh from exploiting their pace out wide.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Study: Texting while driving doubles reaction times (Consumer Reports, Oct 6, 2011)

There are plenty of results from lab tests of drivers in car simulators that highlight the dangers of texting while driving. But researchers at Texas A&M University's Transportation Institute put rubber to the road to show exactly how risky is distracted driving.

Forty-two drivers, from 16- to 54-years old, were placed behind the wheel of a car and drove around a closed track of just about 11 miles in length. The researchers monitored how long it took drivers to react to a flashing light while driving normally and while attempting to text and read a message on a mobile phone.

The researchers say the average, normal reaction times were about a second or two. But put a cell phone in the driver's hand and reaction times jump to three or four seconds. What's more, texting drivers in TTI's small study were 11 times more likely to miss the flashing warning lights completely. Researchers also note the distracted drivers had much more difficulty staying in the straight driving lane as well as maintaining consistent speeds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Antonin Scalia Unplugged: Wants to Kill 'Living' Constitution (ABC Note. 10/06/11)

Justice Antonin Scalia couldn't help himself.

Sitting on the dais at the Newseum, a Washington, D.C., museum dedicated to the value of a free press, he knew he probably shouldn't bring up the landmark libel case New York Times v. Sullivan.

The 1964 Supreme Court defined "actual malice" as the standard for determining libel cases involving public figures.  The case forever changed libel law.  And, as Scalia has said before, he believes it was wrongly decided.

At this morning's session, Scalia said the decision was the product of the "living" constitutionalists who adopt the values of the framers to the evolving world. Scalia rejects that line of thinking. "I look to the words of the Constitution," he said, "but I ask what did those words mean to the society that adopted them."

He said that in NYT v. Sullivan, the court mistakenly thought that  "in modern society, it would be a good idea that the press could say a lot of things ... without worry."

Scalia reiterated that if it was such a good idea, then it "should have been adopted by the people" in the legislature, not in the courts.

Dripping with disdain, Scalia said, "the 'living' constitutionalist  feel free to say, 'Well, it's  a new day, we can have new rules.'"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Alabama immigration law is working, Rep. Mo Brooks says (ALEXANDER TROWBRIDGE & MACKENZIE WEINGER, 10/6/11, Politico)

Many Hispanic students and workers have stayed home in response to Alabama's tough new immigration law -- and that's the whole point of the measure, Rep. Mo Brooks said on Thursday.

The Alabama Republican told POLITICO in an interview that he does not consider the above-average number of absences "unintended consequences" of the law.

Why don't Hispanics vote Republican?

October 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Homeownership down most since Great Depression (TIM MAK, 10/6/11, Politico)

Over the last decade, homeownership has dropped by the largest margin since the Great Depression, the Census Bureau said Thursday. [...]

The 66.2 percent homeownership rate in 2000 was the highest ever recorded by the Census Bureau, and so even with a large drop over the last decade the current level of homeownership is still the second highest ever recorded.

Gosh, there just weren't that many underserving poor, were there?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:28 PM


 What's the Most Important Lesson You Learned from a Teacher? (Steve Silberman, October 5, 2011, Plos)

The words of a true teacher stay with us a long time, offering wise counsel in a confusing world and a potent inoculation against foolishness. Yet we rarely get to thank them explicitly. Perhaps only in mid-life, we realize that the career path we chose was set, at least in part, by the recognition, praise, or clarifying criticism of a respected teacher when we were young.

In that spirit, I've asked some of the brightest folks I know in science and media to answer this simple question: What's the most important lesson you learned from a teacher?

Our 9th/10th grade Biology teacher taught us darn near the only thing of any enduring usefulness we learned: wash your hands before you go to the bathroom, not after--you know where your junk has been, but your hands have been touching all kinds of germ-ridden surfaces all day.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


Tehran: glimpses of freedom (R Tousi, 6 October 2011, OpenDemocracy)

The crowds that filled the streets before the presidential election of June 2009 and expanded in the tumultuous protests that followed it have departed. The young, educated generation at the forefront of defiance, however, is still at odds with its rulers, even if it may be biding its time and speaking more circumspectly.

The generational tensions also go beyond the more liberal colleges and networks. The clerical elite's esoteric worry about its own inheritance is expressed by a warning of the powerful Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi in September 2011 that a "wave of infestation" has reached religious circles, embodied in "seminarians who pass the night in front of the internet".

Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi regrets that "most young seminarians around the country do not wear their clerical robes", instancing Isfahan as an institution where only a thousand out of nine thousand clerics wear theirs, including turbans.

A country where the religious rule is one that grants numerous everyday privileges and benefits to those adorned with the signs of faith. The reluctance of a clear majority of young clerics to display their atttire is a telling if indirect sign of underlying tensions, exemplified in several recent attacks (highlighted in the state media) against some of these religious trainees.

In October, for example, a cleric called Abbas Rosmeh was violently attacked by a crowd following a minor traffic-accident in one of south Tehran's poorest areas. He told reporters that he found the "curses to the sacred, the revolution and the state" more unbearable than the beatings. [...]

The musical Khordeh Khanoum begins with the silver-screen broadcast of a famous television film of the mid-1970s depicting the assassination of Naseredin Shah of the Qajar dynasty (1794-1925). The packed audience whoop in the darkness as the king widely referred to as the "pivot-of-the-universe" is killed.

The Qajars have an abysmal standing in Iranians' collective memory. Alexander the Great (in 331 BCE) laid waste to much of Persia and burned down the grand capital, Persepolis. The Mongols are said to have raped and pillaged as they conquered Iran in the 13th century. An old Iranian saying goes: "what Alexander did not reduce to ashes and the Mongols did not demolish was sold off by the greedy Qajars."

The Qajar-era comparisons seem powerfully to resonate in Iran these days. When a time-travel sitcom entitled Bitter Coffee - set in a corrupt, sycophantic court at the turn of the 19th century - was rejected by the state's official Islamic broadcaster (IRIB), its renowned producer Mehran Modiri made it a straight-to-DVD product. The local press reported in January 2011 that sales quickly rose to 14 million.

In September, the Shahrvand-e-Emrooz newspaper was shut down following a frontpage image that depicted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and members of his cabinet in the robes of Qajar courtiers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


The Existential Threat of Settler Violence: The 'price tag' and actual attacks are putting Israel in danger (Liel Leibovitz, October 6, 2011, Tablet)

Last week, a group of Israeli peace activists made their way to Anatot, a settlement northeast of Jerusalem. They were there to accompany Yasin Abu Saleh el-Rifai, a Palestinian farmer whose land had been seized. Some of them were holding Palestinian flags. A group of Anatot's residents came out, threw punches, spat out some crass words. Later that evening, the activists returned to Anatot to protest. The settlers came out en masse, with knives and rocks and clenched fists.

Home of Israeli left-wing activist defaced in latest 'price tag' act: Right-wing activists thought responsible for graffiti proclaiming 'death to the traitors' and 'price tag Migron'; Peace Now urges government to take steps against 'new Jewish underground' (Oz Rosenberg, 9/12/11, Ha'aretz)

The home of a well-known left-wing activist in Jerusalem was defaced with graffiti proclaiming "death to the traitors" and "price tag Migron" on Sunday night, a move apparently carried out by rightists angry over the government's decision to demolish illegal structures in a West Bank settlement. [...]

On Sunday, two right-wing activists attacked four Arab employees of the Jerusalem municipality using tear gas. Police has yet to arrest any suspects. On Sunday evening, right-wing activists held a demonstration in from of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's home in Jerusalem to protest the demolition of three houses in the settlement of Migron earlier this month.

Last Wednesday, Israeli settlers in the West Bank vandalized an Israel Defense Forces base, carrying out a "price tag" operation against the army for the first time since adopting the policy in recent years.

Unknown perpetrators infiltrated a base in the Binyamin region and snuck their way to a mechanics workshop on site, where they slashed the tires and cut the cables of 12 army vehicles. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


The Dirty Secret of U.S.-European Relations (Jan Techau, October 6, 2011, National Interest)

The dirty little secret of the partnership between the United States and Europe is that it is essentially boring. It is not foreign policy and world affairs that make for the largest chunk of the transatlantic relationship (even though newspaper headlines and media pundits seem to suggest that it is) but the much less publicly intriguing issues of trade and foreign direct investment. The volume of both is enormous, and the high degree of mutual dependency in both areas is illustrated by the fact that frequent transatlantic tiffs over market access, regulations and tariffs are, for the most part, resolved silently and with relaxed routine.

...of why anyone in America is trying to save the economy-killing European Union.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Syria and the Russian hypocrisy (Tariq Alhomayed, 10/06/11, Asharq Alawasat)

Syrian presidential adviser Bouthaina Shaaban had every right to call it a "historic day" when Russia and China used their veto at the UN Security Council to prevent a draft resolution calling for "targeted measures" against Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Of course it was a historic day, because on this day the Syrians, along with the Arabs, became aware that the dictatorial regime in Syria - which murders its own citizens, subjects them to the worst kinds of abuse, and doesn't hesitate to use force and fuel sectarian violence - is a regime that enjoys genuine protection from both China and Russia, particularly from the Russians who are practicing political hypocrisy in every sense of the word.

Many Arabs, much like the American Right, have trouble discerning and/or accepting who their allies are.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM

Cuban Coconut Pudding (Coco Quemado) (Miami Herald, 10/05/11, Adapted from "The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking" by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz )

Serve with whipped cream. Use fresh coconut or unsweetened dried flakes or chips.

2 cups sugar

4 cups grated coconut

4 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup sherry

Boil sugar with 1 cup water into a syrup that forms a thread when drizzled. Stir in the coconut, then the egg yolks. Add the cinnamon and sherry. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick. Pour into a flame-proof serving dish and run under a broiler to brown the top.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Obama Calls Lady Gaga 'Intimidating' (Czarina M. | October 5, 2011, IBD)

Obama and Lady Gaga crossed paths nothing longer than a couple of minutes and it was enough for the President of the United States to call her "intimidating."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Reasons for Reason (MICHAEL P. LYNCH, 10/05/11, NY Times: The Stone)

Disagreements like this give rise to an unnerving question: How do we rationally defend our most fundamental epistemic principles? Like many of the best philosophical mysteries, this a problem that can seem both unanswerable and yet extremely important to solve.

The ancient Greek skeptics were the first to show why the problem is so difficult to solve. Every one of our beliefs is produced by some method or source, be it humble (like memory) or complex (like technologically assisted science). But why think our methods, whatever they are, are trustworthy or reliable for getting at the truth? If I challenge one of your methods, you can't just appeal to the same method to show that it is reliable. That would be circular. And appealing to another method won't help either -- for unless that method can be shown to be reliable, using it to determine the reliability of the first method answers nothing. So you end up either continuing on in the same vein -- pointlessly citing reasons for methods and methods for reasons forever -- or arguing in circles, or granting that your method is groundless. Any way you go, it seems you must admit you can give no reason for trusting your methods, and hence can give no reason to defend your most fundamental epistemic principles.

This skeptical argument is disturbing because it seems to suggest that in the end, all "rational" explanations end up grounding out on something arbitrary. It all just comes down to what you happen to believe, what you feel in your gut, your faith.

All of which is only worrisome to folks who lack the faith that God gave us the capacity to reason.  The agita is wholly a function of their need to believe that the latter is independent of the former.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


The National-Security Case for Free Trade: 'At no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and security primacy.' (TOM DONILON, 10/05/11, WSJ)

South Korea and the U.S. have a deep and longstanding alliance, and our trade agreement will strengthen the economic arm of that relationship, putting it on par with our close bilateral military and security cooperation in the face of the threat from North Korea. It will buttress our efforts in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as promote a broader and more influential U.S. presence as several Asian countries pursue regional economic integration.

This is increasingly important as Asian countries secure preferential trade agreements among themselves and with other trading partners: 180 are currently in force, 20 are awaiting implementation, and 70 are under negotiation. U.S. companies and workers cannot risk our country falling behind in these growing markets.

Passage of the agreements will also signal our commitment to mutually beneficial policies in the Americas. Colombia is a strategic partner in the fight against transnational crime, and our bilateral economic integration will help support the aggressive reform agenda that President Juan Manuel Santos is pursuing. Twenty percent of our trade to Asia passes through Panama, and the U.S.-Panama trade agreement will strengthen a historically strong relationship.

Enhancing America's global leadership lies at the heart of President Obama's national security strategy. This means building stronger ties with our allies and key partners, a vibrant economy here at home with more jobs for American workers, and more opportunities to tap key markets. Passage of these agreements is critical to achieving these goals.

...that Democratic opposition to free trade has caused us to fall behind the last six years.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM

Charles Bradley's Delayed Gratification (Tim Quirk, 10/03/11, Magnifier)
The songs on Charles Bradley's No Time for Dreaming don't contain much love or redemption - by way of example, the free track he's given Magnifier is called "The World (Is Going Up In Flames)" - but he sings them with an abandon bordering on glee that suggests the mere fact of surviving the abyss is amazing, while the ability to dance around it afterward is outright heroic. Because there's always the chance you might fall right back in. Magnifier's video interview is a lot like a Charles Bradley song - at one point he admits, "Sometimes I want to go and hide because it hurts so bad." But it's easy to miss the painful core, since he surrounds it with happy memories about his sister introducing him to James Brown, the gin he drank before jumping on stage for the first time, the glory of Barbra Streisand singing "Memories," and how he sees right through the young 'uns he tours with in the Menahan Street Band. Watch the interview and laugh. Listen to the free song and clap. Smile and shout when he does the splits. Just don't ever assume that's all there is to it.

October 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Obama and the Politics of Condescension: Some Democrats think Americans are not quite up to the task of democracy. (Karl Rove, 10/05/11, WSJ)

As the public turns on the president and his party, they are turning on the public.

Take former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, who recently wrote in the New Republic that "to solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions. . . . We might be a healthier democracy if we were a slightly less democratic one."

Not to be outdone, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue told the Cary Rotary Club that "we ought to suspend . . . elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won't hold it against them, whatever decisions they make."

And Mr. Obama, who during the campaign expressed his disdain for average Americans at a fund-raiser in San Francisco that he thought was private, has now taken his criticism public. Last weekend, he told an Orlando television reporter that our country has "gotten a little soft."

This liberal lack of faith in the people is combined with a nearly boundless confidence in government, and it can be seen in issues large and small. Take taxes: Mr. Obama and his party want to substantially raise them. They trust government to spend that money more wisely than they do the people who earned it.

.."at the end of the day, I have had to conclude that the American people are not worthy of Barack Obama."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 PM


Why Is It So Hard to Become a Better Person?: Thirteen reasons on Rosh Hashanah. (Dennis Prager, October 4, 2011, National Review)

Why is it so hard to become a better person?

I have -- unfortunately -- come up with 13 reasons.

1. Most people don't particularly want to be good

The biggest obstacle to people becoming better is that you have to really want to be a good person in order to be a better person, and most people would rather be other things. People devote far more effort to being happy (they do not know that goodness leads to increased happiness), successful, smart, attractive, and healthy, to cite the most prominent examples.  [...]

5. We think too highly of ourselves.

Self-esteem frequently runs counter to goodness. Raising children with self-esteem sounds great, but when unearned -- which it usually is -- it leads to bad results. In fact, it is people who do not have particularly high self-esteem, people who feel that they constantly have to prove their worth, who are more likely to act good. And it is violent criminals who have the highest self-esteem -- "I am better than others and can therefore do whatever I want." [...]

9. We have to battle our nature.

To be a good person, most of us have to battle our nature. Among many other things, we are naturally pre-occupied with ourselves. Yet, to be good, one has to think constantly about others, and how we are treating them.

For many people, there is an additional battle they have to wage -- with their natural tendency to be angry. One prevalent example is the angry mother or father who poisons his or her children against the other parent after a divorce, thereby often irreparably damaging both the children and the other parent.

10. I'm a victim.

I suspect that more people than ever before, in our society and in many others, walk around thinking of themselves as victims. Victimhood status is actually cultivated.

Now, the truth is that most people are victims. Very few of us have been entirely fairly treated by life. The problem, however, is that people who see themselves primarily as victims will rarely do any good, and many will do evil: "I've been mistreated by others," the thinking goes, "so I don't owe anybody anything."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 PM


Signing out of Judaism (RACHEL CANAR, 10/05/2011, Jerusalem Post)
It is now legal for Israeli Jews to sign out of the Jewish religion officially. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that Israeli author Yoram Kaniuk can change his official religious status in the government registry from "Jewish" to "no religion." He requested this change in order to have the same status as his grandson, whose mother is not Jewish, and therefore has fewer rights, including no legal way to be married in Israel. Kaniuk, a hero of the 1948 War of Independence and a major literary voice in the evolution of Hebrew culture, is widely admired in Israel. His rejection of the religion of the state is an indictment of a system that causes many Israelis to feel nothing but contempt for Judaism as they know it. [...]

The Judaism of Israel today has become an ultra-Orthodox hegemony that represents neither the views and values of the vast majority of Israelis, nor those of the global Jewish community. This official religion of the Jewish State does not recognize the existence of the multiple streams of Judaism to which the majority Jews around the world adhere, let alone the commonly accepted advances of the Enlightenment that promote basic human equality.

The Judaism of Israel today, which is supported legally and financially by the state, does not recognize women as equal to men in marriage, divorce, or most recently, even on public buses. The official religion of Israel today supports racism even between Jews, with clear preference given to Ashkenazim over Sephardim and above all over Ethiopians - a fact demonstrated by several state-supported religious schools. The Judaism of Israel today accepts no converts unless of course they are willing to convert ultra-Orthodox. Baruch Spinoza would be ostracized by the State of Israel even today.

It is time for Israelis and the global Jewish community to recognize that Jewish peoplehood is threatened not just externally from assimilation but internally from the all powerful ultra-Orthodox rabbinate and its vice-like grip over the Jewish homeland - the modern political representative of the Jewish people and, supposedly, their refuge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 PM


Obama Administration, House GOP Team Up on Trade Deals (Jessica Rettig, October 5, 2011, US News)

"Pass these jobs bills now," was the familiar call, not from President Obama, but from Washington Republican Rep. Dave Reichert at a House Ways and Means Committee meeting Wednesday to consider three pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


Self-servatives (David Warren, 9/18/11, Ottawa Citizen)

It is generally understood that conservatives resist any progressive agenda. It is widely believed that they require no intelligence to do this, and as the brainy John Stuart Mill once said, "Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative."

To which quote John Foster Dulles is reputed to have replied, many decades later, "If we'd had one more smart person at Yalta, we'd have given France and England to the Soviets, too."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM

Pumpkin whoopie pies are a treat to make and eat (Betty Cichy, October 5, 2011, Philly Burbs)


1½ cups puréed winter squash or pumpkin (or a 15-ounce can of pumpkin)

2 large eggs

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 tablespoons molasses or dark corn syrup

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour


1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin

2 tablespoons cool water

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese (reduced fat or full fat)

2½ cups confectioners' sugar

2 tablespons finely chopped chrystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two large baking sheets.

To  make the cookies: In a large bowl, beat together the squash or pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, oil and molasses. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, then beat in the salt, spices, baking powder and baking soda.

Add the flour to the wet ingredients and beat for 1 minute, until the mixture is well combined. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then beat for a short time just to make sure everything is thoroughly mixed. Using a muffin scoop or a ¼-cup measure, drop the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.

Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until they feel firm to the touch; a slight indentation will remain when you press your finger in the center. Remove the cookies from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling: In a small heatproof bowl, combine the gelatin and water and set aside for the gelatin to soften.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Heat the gelatin and water very gently (in a larger bowl of hot water, or at lower power in the microwave), stirring to dissolve the gelatin. (Heat just until the gelatin liquefies; do not boil.)

Add half the confectioners' sugar to the butter/cream cheese mixture, beating well. Add the gelatin and mix to combine. Add the remaining confectioners' sugar, mixing until blended, then stir in ginger.

To assemble: Spread the flat side of half the cookies with the filling, using 2 generous tablespoons for each cookie. Top with the remaining cookies. For best storage, wrap each cake individually in plastic wrap.

Makes 12 4-inch whoopie pies.

Recipe from "The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion" (The Countryman Press, 2004, $29.95)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM





Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM



Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:19 PM


Can Cancer Ever Be Ignored? (Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer, October 9, 2011, The New York Times Magazine)

At one time, Otis Brawley, too, assumed that routine screening was the best medical practice. Sitting in his living room in an Atlanta suburb, Brawley recounted his transformation from believer to skeptic. In 1988, after medical school at the University of Chicago, Brawley landed a prestigious fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. There he came under the tutelage of Barnett Kramer, an oncologist and epidemiologist who went on to become the associate director of the institute's early detection and community oncology program. Kramer walked Brawley through a short history of screening, beginning with the Pap smear, which has been an unqualified success, significantly cutting cervical-cancer deaths.

But other cancer screening tests had not worked out so well. For example, researchers at the Mayo Lung Project conducted a study between 1971 and 1983 to determine whether frequent chest X-rays could help reduce deaths from lung cancer. Chest X-rays detected lots of suspicious spots and shadows on the lungs and probably led to some cures of early lung cancers, but the study ultimately found no difference in death rates between the patients who were screened and those who were not. Kramer suggested one probable explanation: diagnosing the spots picked up by X-ray often requires surgery, which carries a small but definite risk. Brawley knew that many spots seen on X-rays are simply old scars or minor abnormalities commonly seen in healthy people. With so many innocent blips detected, complications from lung biopsies and other invasive tests, along with treatment complications, could kill enough patients to negate any benefit from early detection.

Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among men, after lung cancer. In 2009, it was diagnosed in approximately 192,000 men. A small number of tumors are very aggressive, but the majority of prostate tumors are not likely to cause death. They grow very slowly, and only a fraction break out of the prostate, seed new tumors in other parts of the body and kill the patient. The current thinking is that about 30 percent of men in their 40s have prostate cancer, 40 percent of men in their 50s and so on, right up to 70 percent of men in their 80s. Yet only 3 percent of all men die from the disease. In other words, far more men die with prostate cancer than from it, and only a tiny fraction of prostate cancers ever cause symptoms, much less death.

But here is the tricky part: Unless there are symptoms or a finding on a physical exam, doctors generally cannot accurately predict which cancers are destined to be indolent, to sit around for years growing slowly, if at all, and those that will ultimately prove lethal.

In his discussions with Kramer, Brawley saw that these two pieces of information -- the fact that a certain number of prostate cancers will never cause harm, and that doctors can't reliably predict which cancers will be dangerous -- had powerful and potentially devastating consequences for men. The first implication was that using the P.S.A. test to screen men who had no symptoms would uncover a huge reservoir of indolent cancers. Most of those cancers that men previously died with -- and not from -- would now theoretically be detectable. And once detected, the majority of those cancers would be treated.

The most frequent treatment then, as it is now, was the surgical removal of the entire prostate gland. The prostate sits at the base of the penis, wrapped around the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine and semen out of the penis. Trying to separate gland from urethra is a difficult job, and even the best of surgeons can damage the urethra or the bundle of nerves that initiate erections. About half of men who undergo radiation or surgery will have permanent side effects like impotence and incontinence. Up to 1 in 200 men die within 30 days from complications related to the surgery.

"You didn't have to be brilliant to see that history was repeating itself," Brawley says. "Doctors were just substituting a blood test for chest X-rays."

Tim Glynn, a self-described country lawyer from Setauket, N.Y., was 47 in 1997 when he went to his primary-care doctor, troubled by a vague feeling of being down. After his physical exam, Glynn was sent to have his blood drawn. Along with thyroid and cholesterol levels, the doctor ordered a P.S.A. test. A week later, Glynn returned to hear the results. His P.S.A. was elevated. He was told to get a biopsy as soon as possible.

After the biopsy, he walked into a bar in the middle of the afternoon and ordered a martini. A few weeks later, Glynn's urologist told him the biopsy showed prostate cancer and recommended that he have his prostate removed immediately. Glynn chose to do some homework first.

One of Glynn's clients happened to be Richard Ablin, the scientist. Ablin told him that not all prostate cancers are alike, and that he could wait; if he developed symptoms, or if his P.S.A. shot up, he could always opt to be treated at that time. (Some doctors recommend "active surveillance," in which the patient is periodically given P.S.A. testing and biopsies, rather than immediate treatment.) Glynn chose to hold off on surgery.

Kerri Glynn, Tim's wife of now 39 years, was terrified by her husband's decision. "I felt as if an ax had fallen," she says. In her mind it was better to be safe than sorry, and safe meant being treated immediately. "She was a wreck," Glynn says. "She was scared witless."

His colleagues were also worried about his decision to forgo treatment. "My business partner was clearly very anxious, and my assistant asked if she should look for a new job," Glynn recalls. "And there was the fear that if this became public knowledge, there would be clients who wouldn't want to deal with us because they wouldn't want to engage a lawyer who was going to be dead the next day. When you see the people around you falling apart, you sort of have to get treated for them, so you can go back to a normal life."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Obama's Strategy at Odds with His Message: By trying to become a bold populist, the president is at risk of chasing away independent voters he badly needs in 2012. (Josh Kraushaar, October 4, 2011, National Journal)

The president's team has been arguing that the path to reelection lies in winning diverse, white-collar battleground states like Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina--more-affluent states with growing numbers of independents. But the president's latest rhetoric, pitting the affluent against the middle class, threatens to turn off the very independents he's seeking to win back. It's the type of populist message that's better geared toward blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt, which the campaign is viewing as close to a lost cause.

Listen to Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who maxed out to Obama's 2008 campaign and is a reliable contributor to Democratic candidates and causes. "Someone needs to talk our president down off of this rhetoric about good vs. evil; about two classes and math," Leonsis wrote on his blog.

Polling data indicate that the situation isn't encouraging for Team Obama. If the president's advisers are optimistic that his path to reelection lies in the college-educated white electorate, he has a long way to go. Even after his jobs speech and campaign-style promotion, his numbers have been sagging.

...is that even white guilt has its limits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Amanda Knox: Fascination with 'the evil female' (Nina Burleigh, 10/05/11, CNN)

I began researching my book on the case in 2009 assuming that Knox was guilty. But after only a month in Italy, I realized that almost no evidence supported the charge. Eventually, I corresponded with Knox in prison. The young woman I interacted with seemed troubled by her incarceration, a bit detached and naive, but overall not much different from other women her age.

During my investigation, I came to realize that even though three people were convicted of killing Kercher, most people I met who were not reporters could only recall the name of the woman.

None of the journalists in the huge pack in Perugia over the years made any but the most casual efforts to uncover the life story and habits of small-time break-in artist Rudy Guede, whose fingerprints were in the murder room, who never denied being there as Kercher was bleeding to death, and who has been convicted of murdering her in a separate trial.

His own story -- an immigrants' son, adopted and then disowned by one of the richest families in Perugia, suffering from fugue states and sleep-walking -- makes him one of the more interesting characters in the case. His past criminal history involving break-ins certainly made him worthy of more study, but no one was inclined to pursue his tale.

One reason for the focus on "Foxy Knoxy" to the exclusion of the men is the Italian attitude toward women. The story is rooted in a spirituality based in sex and the worship of the female. In Italy, the word "veneration" comes from Venus, goddess of fertility, called in Italian, Venere. The primeval object of "veneration" was the goddess with the power to call forth desire from men, and to make barren women fertile.

In modern Italy, one feminine deity is venerated above the rest: Mary, the mother of Jesus. The young virgin is worshipped apart from God or Christ and the Mary cult is stronger in Italy than in any other European nation. The flip side to Italian veneration of the female deity is her legendary insatiable neediness, the voracious desire and jealousy of females, embodied in the whore, who is also still very much a part of modern Italian culture. Either incarnation carries terrible powers.

All women are assumed to be in possession of bewitching seductive powers, but proper women are assumed to know how to use control and limit those powers. Modern young women visiting Italy might not recognize those limits, though, because the stripper or girly show girl was so mainstreamed in Italy, especially during the years of Silvio Berlusconi's control of Italian television and politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


These tasty Maine-style biscuits are extra-tall and fluffy, and don't require buttermilk. Our thanks to the Bakewell Cream folks of Hampden, Maine for this recipe.

  • 4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour or Perfect Pastry Blend
  • 4 teaspoons Bakewell Cream*
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter
  • 1 1/2 cups cold milk
  • *NOT Bakewell Cream Baking Powder; just plain Bakewell Cream


1) Preheat the oven to 475°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment.

2) Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl.

3) Work in the butter till the mixture is crumbly; some larger, pea-sized pieces of butter may remain intact.

4) Add the milk, stirring till everything is moistened.

5) Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface (a silicone mat works well), and fold it over once or twice. Pat it into a ¾"-thick square, rectangle, or circle.

6) Cut the biscuits with a round or square cutter. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Brush their tops with milk or melted butter, if desired.

7) Bake for 5 minutes, then turn off the oven. Leave in the oven for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, till they're golden brown.

8) Remove from the oven, and serve warm with butter and honey, jam, or gravy.

Yield: about 1 ½ dozen big (2 1/2") biscuits, or about 32 smaller (1 1/2") biscuits.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


What if the NFL Played by Teachers' Rules?: Imagine a league where players who make it through three seasons could never be cut from the roster. (FRAN TARKENTON, 10/04/11, WSJ)

Imagine the National Football League in an alternate reality. Each player's salary is based on how long he's been in the league. It's about tenure, not talent. The same scale is used for every player, no matter whether he's an All-Pro quarterback or the last man on the roster. For every year a player's been in this NFL, he gets a bump in pay. The only difference between Tom Brady and the worst player in the league is a few years of step increases. And if a player makes it through his third season, he can never be cut from the roster until he chooses to retire, except in the most extreme cases of misconduct.

Let's face the truth about this alternate reality: The on-field product would steadily decline. Why bother playing harder or better and risk getting hurt?

No matter how much money was poured into the league, it wouldn't get better. In fact, in many ways the disincentive to play harder or to try to stand out would be even stronger with more money.

Of course, a few wild-eyed reformers might suggest the whole system was broken and needed revamping to reward better results, but the players union would refuse to budge and then demonize the reform advocates...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


A Waste Of Energy? (James Surowieck, 10/10/11, The New Yorker)

It's certainly true that we don't want government to be in the business of helping decide which big-box retailer or maker of MP3 players has the best chance of succeeding. But it's also true that there are a few industries where it makes a lot of sense for the government to complement the market by subsidizing research and development. Renewable energy is one of them.

That's because the energy market is not like most other markets. Indeed, the economics of alternative energy are such that private investors, left to their own devices, are bound to underinvest in it, since the considerable social benefits--cleaner air, fewer greenhouse emissions--accrue to everyone, not just to direct customers. That means that the economic rate of return is significantly less than the social rate of return. Energy markets are also dominated by entrenched, regulated companies, and that reduces the incentive for investment; despite the immense size of the energy market, as of 2005 spending on energy R. & D. accounted for just two per cent of total spending on R. & D. in the U.S. This creates an opportunity for the government to add value by investing smartly, just as it can add value by spending money on education or infrastructure, other areas where the social returns are greater than the economic ones.

Of course, some think the Solyndra failure shows that the government isn't investing smartly. But, while government subsidies have built-in problems--most obviously, some money will go to projects that would have happened anyway--there's little sign that the Department of Energy has handed out money recklessly: the vetting process, which relied on three thousand outside experts, was unusually rigorous. Solyndra was a wager that went wrong, but failure is integral to the business of investing in new companies; many venture capitalists will tell you that, of the companies they fund, they expect a third, if not more, to fail.

...is to just make alternatives economically viable by making the cost of oil prohibitive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Yes, There Is Such Thing As A Free Lunch: It's Called Immigration (Nick Schulz, 10/04/11, Forbes)

Two terrific ideas are floating around right now. The first is a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona called the STAPLE Act. The idea originated with legendary venture capitalist John Doerr who famously said at a conference in 2008 "I would staple a Green Card to the diploma of anyone that graduates with a degree in the physical sciences or engineering in the United States." The Flake bill would "exempt foreign students who have earned a Ph.D. degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics from a U.S. university and have a job offer in the U.S. from visa quotas," thus expanding the American talent pool.

Another idea is the Startup Visa, which would enable foreign entrepreneurs to get a visa to start a company, provided they have funding from U.S. investors. Entrepreneur-investors Paul Graham and Brad Feld deserve credit for pushing this idea that now enjoys bi-partisan backing.

These ideas don't require a comprehensive reform of the nation's immigration system. Congress and the White House can act now.

Pia Orrenius is an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank at Dallas and the co-author of an important new book about immigration, "Beside the Golden Door." Speaking at the Bloomberg event in Washington she noted, "economists typically don't think that free lunches exist; but permitting more skilled immigrants to enter and stay is about as close as you can get to a free lunch."

Who's hungry?


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


President, Allies, Launch Ill-Timed "They Won't Even Vote On It' Attack on GOP (Jake Tapper and Mary Bruce, 10/04/11, ABC News)

President Obama today in Mesquite, Texas, attacked Republicans for not moving on the jobs bill he sent to Congress on September 12. [...]

The problem is Senate Democrats haven't acted to pass it either. And, even worse, at around the same time Messina and the president were complaining about the House GOP not voting on the jobs bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he would block an attempt to bring the jobs bill to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

At around 2:25 pm ET, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced he would introduce the jobs bill.

McConnell's point was to show that enough Democrats oppose the bill to prevent it from reaching the 60-vote hurdle.

Shortly thereafter, Reid took to the floor to say he wouldn't let that happen, an acknowledgment that the bill needs some changes to get enough Democrats on board.

October 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Boehner Says FTAs 'Top Priority' for House; Votes Expected Next Week (John Parkinson, 10/03/11, ABC News)

"While the delay was unacceptably long and likely cost jobs, I am pleased the Obama Administration has finally done its part and sent these important trade pacts to Congress," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "Expanding markets for American small businesses and manufacturers is a critical component of the Republican Plan for America's Job Creators. These three trade agreements will support American jobs and help create opportunities to expand for American businesses. I look forward to seeing them passed, as well as beginning the important task of working with the administration to further expand America's trade agenda."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


The Great Pumpkin :Competitive vegetable growers are closing in on an elusive goal--the one ton squash (Brendan Borrell, October 2011,  Smithsonian magazine)

Since the 1980s, giant pumpkins have tripled in size, thanks to strategic breeding and a new cadre of hard-core growers with time on their hands and dirt under their fingernails. (From April to October, Werner spends six to eight hours per day tending his garden.) Also, advances in soil science and technology have helped growers advance the frontiers of horticulture. Thomas Andres, a squash expert at the New York Botanical Garden, has predicted that the first 2,000-pound--one ton--pumpkin will appear in 2014.

Despite Werner's dedication during the summer of 2010, he knew that a victory in the October pumpkin challenges would be far from certain. He would face the country's best growers at the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers Weigh-Off. In 2009, a schoolteacher named Christy Harp took home the title with a monster weighing 1,725 pounds. Stelts, who broke the world record in 2000 with a 1,140-pound pumpkin, had a couple of promising spheroids growing in his terraced patch an hour away. Werner was growing a few coveted seeds from a 1,421.5-pound pumpkin Stelts had harvested in 2009, but growers in Wisconsin, Michigan and other states had also obtained those seeds at club auctions or through trades.

The Ohio Valley contest, Werner's local weigh-off, is one of more than 80 competitions in the "Great Pumpkin Belt," which stretches across North America from Washington State to Nova Scotia. This is prime pumpkin territory--offering 90 to 120 frost-free summer days, but cold enough in winter to keep plant diseases and pests in check. The weigh-offs are friendly competitions, but they're also a form of citizen science, with growers meticulously graphing their pumpkins' growth curves and sharing success and failure with their peers.

"By God, if we can get a pumpkin up to a ton, imagine what we can do to somebody's vegetable crop," says Stelts, president of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, which oversees official weigh-offs. "What we are doing will be reflected on the dinner table of America."

The path to prizewinning pumpkins can be traced, improbably, to Henry David Thoreau.

Giant pumpkin Prize pumpkins have tripled in size in the past three decades. Tim Parks, of the Ohio Valley growers club, harvests his 2010 contender.

Greg Ruffing / Redux

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/The-Great-Pumpkin.html#ixzz1ZoPp2cdW


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Faking It With Alton Brown (New York, 10/3/11)

How to fake it as a wine connoisseur:

Look at the wine list and narrow in on something like the Brunellos. Then look for a year that's missing, and say, "Do you have the '84?" And the waiter will say "no." And then they might recommend a different year, but you should reply, "Yeah but that year was too 'wet'" and they'll agree because they won't know the difference. And soon the conversation will get going and you're safe. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


In Egypt, Concessions by Military on Politics (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 10/02/11, NY Times)

In the weekend agreement's most concrete concession, the military rulers appeared to reverse themselves on foreign election monitors. Military officers had said over the summer that they would be barred as an intrusion on Egyptian sovereignty.

Several people who have talked to military officials said that the officers objected to election "monitors" because they believed the word denoted supervision or control, but that "observers" from nongovernment organizations would be welcome.

The most far-reaching part of the weekend agreement may be the guiding principles it sets down for drafting the Constitution, a political flashpoint here.

Liberals have proposed a binding preconstitutional bill of rights to prevent a potential Islamist majority from limiting individual freedom in the name of religious morality. Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, object to that idea as undemocratic. Others, meanwhile, say they worry that the military will build in a role for itself as a guarantor of a secular state.

The weekend agreement appears to prevent the military from setting ground rules unilaterally or defining its own role. It provides for "agreement on a set of principles to be adopted by all the signatory parties when drafting the new Constitution," and adds, "Those principles are to be considered an informal code of ethics endorsed by the parties."

Mustafa al-Naggar, one of the political leaders involved in the weekend meeting, called the principles "a bill of honor" and said in a note on his Facebook page that "everyone will commit to abide by it after the elections, during the choice of the Constitution-drafting committee and the drafting of the Constitution."

The agreement provides for two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to be filled by party lists through proportional representation, and one-third by individual candidates elected in head-to-head races. Candidates on party lists could run individually as well. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


You never write any more; well, hardly anyone does (RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, 10/03/11, Associated Press)

For the typical American household these days, nearly two months will pass before a personal letter shows up.

The avalanche of advertising still arrives, of course, along with magazines and catalogs. But personal letters - as well as the majority of bill payments - have largely been replaced by email, Twitter, Facebook and the like. [...]

Last year the typical home received a personal letter about every seven weeks, according to the annual survey done by the post office. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Photographer's Work Debuts at Islamic Center Near Ground Zero (Naomi Zeveloff, October 04, 2011, The Forward)

On a wet afternoon in Lower Manhattan, an elderly man in a rain-drenched tweed coat strolled into the photo gallery at America's most famous Islamic cultural center -- dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque" by its critics -- and perused the portraits of New York children from 169 of the world's 193 countries.

"When you are a kid, you don't understand religion or politics," he mused to a man in a black baseball cap and a jeans jacket, sitting on a bench at the far end of the makeshift gallery. "You are just human."

Danny Goldfield, the unassuming photographer behind the exhibit, stood to introduce himself. "Can you agree with me that humanity is the way to peace?" the man suddenly asked. Goldfield looked taken aback. He murmured quietly, "Sure."

Goldfield is an unlikely ambassador for the Islamic cultural center. A 44-year-old Brooklyn Jew, he opened his exhibit, "NYChildren," at the Islamic center on September 21.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Devoted Fans Go to the Grave With Team Spirit (MATT FLEGENHEIMER, 10/01/11, NY Times)

Mildred Ryan never missed a Yankee game. She was watching when Reggie Jackson swatted three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. She was watching as Don Mattingly toiled for years to keep his team from plunging to the bottom of the standings. She was watching when Derek Jeter -- "her boy," her son, Ed, said -- helped return the World Series trophy to the Bronx in 1996.

And she was watching, Mr. Ryan likes to think, on that day in April 2004 when she was mourned with the consummate Yankee fan send-off: 15 square feet of carnations, spray-painted blue to form the interlocking NY from the team logo, stationed beside her casket in a funeral home on Long Island. [...]

At funerals in Boston, which is dearly departed from the 2011 season, the words "Red Sox" or the red socks of the team's logo have been known to replace red roses. 

October 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 PM


Mosque torched in northern Israel (Joel Greenberg, October 3, 2011, Washington Post)

Arsonists struck a mosque in an Arab village in northern Israel early Monday, causing extensive damage and leaving behind graffiti similar to scrawled messages left in recent months on mosques in the West Bank that authorities suspect were targeted by Jewish extremists. [...]

Militant settlers use the term "price tag" to signify retaliation, usually against Palestinian property, for moves by the Israeli authorities to dismantle unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank.

Although some previous arson attacks have targeted mosques in the West Bank, the mosque torching on Monday was in a community of Israeli Arabs, who make up one-fifth of Israel's population. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Trombone Shorty: Tiny Desk Concert (Patrick Jarenwattananon, 9/30/11, NPR)

Trombone Shorty is from Louisiana, from a musical family in the historically musical Treme neighborhood in New Orleans. He plays trombone and trumpet; he can improvise, as jazz musicians do; he can sing a little bit, too. His band Orleans Avenue is filled with fellow young men who know many funk and rock grooves, and how to play them convincingly on stage. There's a New Orleans tradition being extended here: talented native sons who learn music well, merge it with the popular music they grew up with and present it for big crowds with energy, passion and charisma.

All of that is secondary to this: The band wants you to dance. This Tiny Desk Concert features some of the danceable tunes on For True, the new Trombone Shorty album, but strips them of their high-gloss studio sheen. It's book-ended by the short-and-sweet instrumental "Dumaine St." and the seduction jam "Do to Me," in which Shorty edges up to the mic to sing. "I know you came here to move," he starts.

In the middle, Shorty cues his baritone saxophonist, Dan "Uncle Potato Chip" Oestreicher, to start a foundational bass line. Then the full band builds it up and takes turns improvising over it. "It's kind of like a New Orleans thing we do down in the street," Shorty says. "It'll probably never sound the same after this." It feels a bit like a small thing, a casually tossed-off, crowd-pleasing number. Of course, that belies the work that went into producing it, as well as the satisfaction you get from hearing that little bonus. Appropriately, it's titled "Lagniappe."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 PM


New expose on Koch brothers (MJ LEE, 10/3/1, Politico)

According to Bloomberg's early glance at the still-unpublished article, Koch Industries sent a newly hired compliance officer and ethics manager to investigate one of its subsidiaries in southern France in May 2008. Within days, Ludmila Egorova-Farines discovered multiple cases of bribery and notified her American supervisors.

By September, the Koch Industries' internal team confirmed evidence of reportedly improper payments in six countries dating to 2002 that had been authorized by the company's affiliate in France. "Those activities constitute violations of criminal law," the company wrote in December 2008 in a letter detailing its findings.

Following these revelations, Egorova-Farines, accused of being incompetent, was fired in June 2009, Bloomberg reports. She later sued for wrongful termination.

Melissa Cohlmia, the company's director of corporate communications, said in a statement that the company fired employees and sales agents who were involved in the illicit payments. "Given the regulatory complexity of our business, we will, like any business, have issues that arise. When we fall short of our goals, we take steps to correct and address the issues in order to ensure compliance," she wrote.

Koch Industries has also sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, Bloomberg found. According to internal company documents, the company thwarted a U.S. trade ban that barred American companies from selling materials to Iran by making the sales through foreign subsidiaries. The products sold helped build a methanol facility in Iran.

But Cohlmia said that during the time period covered in the magazine's piece, "U.S. law allowed foreign subsidiaries of U.S. multinational companies to engage in trade involving countries subject to U.S. trade sanctions, including Iran, under certain conditions." Cohlmia added that all of the company's units have stopped trading with Iran.

Are there any revelations in the story that don't come from Koch investigating itself?


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Risk-averse America (Robert J. Samuelson, October 2, 2011, Washington Post)

"Risk aversion" -- understandable for individuals and firms -- has become a collective curse. When everyone is super-cautious, the result is stagnation or worse. Imagine an economy doing just slightly better: Consumers work off some pent-up demand; stock prices are 10 percent higher; companies channel $200 billion of their cash to new products or plants; entrepreneurs nurture 10 percent more start-ups. A stronger recovery would be self-sustaining.

The good news is that this could happen. Mood swings can go both ways. Objectively, some economic conditions have improved. Households, for example, are much less indebted. Much mortgage and consumer debt has been paid down or written off. Federal Reserve statistics show debt service burdens (the share of income devoted to repaying) at their lowest levels since 1994. Consumers could be more expansive.

But that's hardly preordained. Shifts in psychology mean shifts in economic behavior. One reason many 2011 forecasts were too optimistic is that economists discounted psychology. Some prominent forecasters have admitted the error. "Confidence normally reflects economic conditions; it does not shape them," notes Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics. But at times, he says, "sentiment can be so harmed that businesses, consumers and investors freeze up. . . . This is one of those times."

Fickle psychology also explains why massive economic "stimulus" (low interest rates, big deficits) didn't trigger a powerful recovery. Government stimulus can be diluted if households and businesses move, for whatever reason, in the opposite direction. Paradoxically, the call for stimulus can cause consumers and businesses to retrench by focusing their attention on the economy's weakness. Alternatively, people might be reassured if the government supports the economy with more spending or tax cuts. Some of both reactions apparently occurred.

But Democratic policy and Republican politics require whingeing about how tough times are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Innovation Starvation (Neal Stephenson, Fall 2011, World Policy Institute)

Innovation can't happen without accepting the risk that it might fail. The vast and radical innovations of the mid-20th century took place in a world that, in retrospect, looks insanely dangerous and unstable. Possible outcomes that the modern mind identifies as serious risks might not have been taken seriously--supposing they were noticed at all--by people habituated to the Depression, the World Wars, and the Cold War, in times when seat belts, antibiotics, and many vaccines did not exist. Competition between the Western democracies and the communist powers obliged the former to push their scientists and engineers to the limits of what they could imagine and supplied a sort of safety net in the event that their initial efforts did not pay off. A grizzled NASA veteran once told me that the Apollo moon landings were communism's greatest achievement.

In his recent book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Tim Harford outlines Charles Darwin's discovery of a vast array of distinct species in the Galapagos Islands--a state of affairs that contrasts with the picture seen on large continents, where evolutionary experiments tend to get pulled back toward a sort of ecological consensus by interbreeding. "Galapagan isolation" vs. the "nervous corporate hierarchy" is the contrast staked out by Harford in assessing the ability of an organization to innovate.

Most people who work in corporations or academia have witnessed something like the following: A number of engineers are sitting together in a room, bouncing ideas off each other. Out of the discussion emerges a new concept that seems promising. Then some laptop-wielding person in the corner, having performed a quick Google search, announces that this "new" idea is, in fact, an old one--or at least vaguely similar--and has already been tried. Either it failed, or it succeeded. If it failed, then no manager who wants to keep his or her job will approve spending money trying to revive it. If it succeeded, then it's patented and entry to the market is presumed to be unattainable, since the first people who thought of it will have "first-mover advantage" and will have created "barriers to entry." The number of seemingly promising ideas that have been crushed in this way must number in the millions.

What if that person in the corner hadn't been able to do a Google search? It might have required weeks of library research to uncover evidence that the idea wasn't entirely new--and after a long and toilsome slog through many books, tracking down many references, some relevant, some not. When the precedent was finall