February 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


The fight for Mitt Romney's donors is on (WESLEY LOWERY, February 28, 2014, Washington Post)

[H]ere are the candidates who currently have the Romney donor world buzzing:

1. Jeb Bush

Every single Romney donor we spoke with this week listed the former Florida governor as their top choice.

The donors said that -- like Romney -- Bush's time as governor proved he can be an effective leader and manager. His willingness to tackle (or attempt to, at least) tough policy initiatives such as education and criminal justice reform remind them of Romney's work on health care at the state level.

Also, with solid name recognition and the Bush political machine behind him, Romney donors believe Jeb is the most electable of the potential Republican candidates. For Romney donors, electability is the single most important trait.

"If Jeb Bush is in the race, he clears the field," said one major Romney donor. "You would have someone who has the talent that is equal to Mitt. The natural inclination for Mitt supporters would be to gravitate toward Jeb Bush because he's a candidate that can win a national race."

Another huge factor that would help Bush -- who has contacted some donors about their receptiveness to a presidential bid and is believed to be seriously considering throwing his hat in the ring -- is that his current gig as a senior adviser to Barclays Capital has helped him meet many of the Northeastern private equity types who filled Romney's campaign coffers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Saving Retirement (Martin Feldstein, 2/28/14, Project Syndicate)

Part of the problem is that the CPI does not reflect how consumers change the composition of their purchases over time as relative prices change. President Barack Obama's administration initially followed expert advice and suggested that the traditional CPI be replaced by a more accurate measure known as the chain-weighted CPI. Although this would reduce the annual rate of increase in benefits by only about 0.25%, outlays for Social Security and other inflation-indexed programs over the next ten years would be more than $200 billion lower. Applying the chain-weighted CPI to tax-bracket adjustments would raise more than $100 billion over the same period.

But there is another, more fundamental reason why the traditional CPI overstates the true rise in the cost of living: It does not accurately reflect the introduction of new goods and services or improvements in the quality of existing goods and services. [...]

The obvious solution to the current and future Social Security financing problem is to reprise the 1983 legislation by gradually raising the age for full benefits from 67 to 70, with appropriate actuarial adjustments for earlier and later retirements. Because life expectancy at age 67 is roughly 18 years, this would be equivalent to reducing average lifetime benefits by one-sixth (the present value of the benefit reduction is actually higher, given that the reduction comes at the start of the retirement period).

It would be even better to avoid future political posturing by enacting legislation now that automatically raises the eligibility age for full benefits in such a way that average life expectancy at that threshold is kept constant, at 15 years.

Some experts object on principle to an increase in the eligibility age for full benefits, because some low-income groups do not experience the same one-year-per-decade rise in life expectancy. A simple solution to that problem would be to relate the age at which full benefits are paid to each individual's average lifetime earnings.

A more fundamental reform would be to shift from a pure pay-as-you-go system to a mixed system that combines the current benefits with investment-based personal retirement accounts. Such investment-based annuities would be a natural supplement to the lower pay-as-you-go benefits that would result from raising the eligibility age for full benefits.

It's especially important to add means-testing once you allow personal accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Next revolutionary step in Ukraine: Reform the police (Nick Holdsworth, February 28, 2014, CS Monitor)

The decision by Ukraine's interim government to disband the hated riot police marks the first step in an urgent program of security-service reform needed to stabilize the country.

Yet how to reform and reconstitute Ukraine's security forces, some of whom used live ammunition on Kiev protesters and often behaved like hardcore militia groups in parts of the country, presents a challenge.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Bill Nye Helped the Creation Museum Raise a Lot of Money (SARA MORRISON, 2/28/14, The Wire)

Bill Nye's debate with Creation Museum founder Ken Ham had some unintended consequences: Ham says fundraising around the debate will enable the museum to build its Noah's Ark theme park. Oops.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Eighty-Two Percent Want EU Referendum (ZOË ROBERT,  February 28, 2014, Iceland Review)

The majority of the Icelandic population, or 82 percent, would like a referendum on whether Iceland should continue EU membership talks, according to the latest poll conducted by daily Fréttablaðið. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


From Guantanamo to Limitless War, Obama's Failure to Live Up to His Own Five Commandments : How "Thou Shalt Not" became "Thou Shalt." ( Karen Greenberg | Fri Feb. 28, 2014, Mother Jones)

In January 2009, Barack Obama entered the Oval Office projecting idealism and proud to be the constitutional law professor devoted to turning democratic principles into action.  In his first weeks in office, in a series of executive orders and public statements, the new president broadcast for all to hear the five commandments by which life in his new world of national security would be lived. 

Thou shalt not torture.

Thou shalt not keep Guantanamo open.

Thou shalt not keep secrets unnecessarily.

Thou shalt not wage war without limits.

Thou shalt not live above the law.

Five years later, the question is: How have he and his administration lived up to these self-proclaimed commandments?

He's One  of Us, one of you.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Federal Budget Deficit Falls to Smallest Level Since 2008 (ANNIE LOWREY,FEB. 27, 2014, NY Times)

Closing the books on a fiscal year in which the federal budget deficit fell more sharply than in any year since the end of World War II, the Treasury Department reported on Thursday that the deficit for 2013 dropped to $680 billion, from about $1.1 trillion the previous year.

It's what ending World Wars does.

February 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Tesla Motors (TSLA) gigafactory: the automaker as energy company (+video) (David J. Unger, February 27, 2014, CS Monitor)

The Tesla Motors gigafactory - a $5 billion plan for a sprawling battery factory in the Southwest United States - is a big bet on an evolving energy technology that is vital to the carmaker's future. Tesla Motors has always blurred the lines between the energy, technology, and automotive industries. But with its proposed gigafactory, and stronger ties with solar energy firm SolarCity, Tesla Motors aims to capitalize on the links between power, transportation, and innovation.       

"Portable energy is the next big thing," Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, says in a telephone interview. "If we can master it in the modern era - if we can make it cheaper and more effective - it's going to make our lives easier. There's a huge long-term corporate play there. Elon Musk needs batteries for Tesla, but he can also use them to influence a lot of other industries."

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM

60 in '14:

Cory Gardner's Run Shows GOP Expects a Promising Year (Alex Roarty, February 26, 2014, National Journal)

[I]t's one thing to argue, as Republicans have for months, that they're poised to win big because an unpopular issue is dragging down the opponent. It's another thing entirely for credible Republican candidates to bank an entire candidacy on it. [...]

The GOP needs to win back a net of six seats to take control of the Senate majority. Gardner's entrance represents, to date, the high-water mark in the Senate Republicans' attempt to expand the 2014 map beyond the core group of seven red states defended by Democrats (Alaska, Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina). Along with the emergence of Republican Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, the party has three credible candidates running in blue states controlled by Democrats--and four if Brown runs in New Hampshire.

The GOP isn't the favorite to win any of the blue-state campaigns, at least not yet. But their candidates will put Democrats on the defensive.

February 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Rolls-Royce looks to plot a course to the future with drone ships (Mark Odell, 12/26/13, Financial Times)

Amazon may have embraced the robotics revolution with the promise of drones making deliveries to your door, but Rolls-Royce has taken it one step further and is predicting the first drone cargo ship will enter service in the next decade.

The UK engineering group, one of the world's largest suppliers to the commercial shipbuilding industry, has called for a public debate on the switch from crewed cargo vessels to autonomous ships as part of a wider drive by industry to use advanced automation technology. [...]

Beyond the savings from not having to pay a crew to run the ship, an unmanned vessel could potentially be lighter and have more space for cargo as marine architects could dispense with the bridge and life-support systems.

The European Commission is already funding an independent study to look at the feasibility of operating a conventional ship without crew on the high seas. The project, dubbed Munin, envisages a vessel sailing autonomously until it gets close to harbour at which point a crew would be put onboard.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


This Brand New 128GB MicroSD Card is Already $80 Off (Shep Mcallister, 2/26/14, LIfehacker)

At the company's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, SanDisk announced today the imminent release of the single largest-capacity MicroSD... Read...
Earlier this week in Barcelona, SanDisk unveiled the world's first 128GB MicroSD card, and you can already get it at a great price from Amazon.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


Bitcoin virtual currency is on verge of collapse (Chris O'Brien and Andrew Tangel, February 25, 2014, LA Times)

It was supposed to revolutionize the global monetary system. Instead, the bitcoin virtual currency that has captured the imagination of investors and financiers is on the verge of collapse.

In a stunning blow to a novel way to buy products and services, the world's largest exchange for trading bitcoin currency shut down Tuesday, triggering a massive sell-off and sending many prospective investors away -- perhaps for good.

"This is extremely destructive," said Mark Williams, a risk-management expert and former Federal Reserve Bank examiner. "What we're seeing is a lot of the flaws. It's not only fragile, it's fragile as eggshells."

...libertarians can never get rid of that "Kick me" sign.

February 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Death to Machines? (Robert Skidelsky, 2/21/14, Project Syndicate)

[O]ver the last 30 years, the share of wages in national income has been falling, owing to what MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call the "second machine age." Computerized technology has penetrated deeply into the service sector, taking over jobs for which the human factor and "cognitive functions" were hitherto deemed indispensable.

In retail, for example, Walmart and Amazon are prime examples of new technology driving down workers' wages. Because computer programs and humans are close substitutes for such jobs, and given the predictable improvement in computing power, there seems to be no technical obstacle to the redundancy of workers across much of the service economy.

Yes, there will still be activities that require human skills, and these skills can be improved. But it is broadly true that the more computers can do, the less humans need to do. The prospect of the "abridgment of labor" should fill us with hope rather than foreboding. 

We don't have a jobs crisis; we have an interesting question about how best to redistribute the wealth that our jobless economy is creating. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Cat Bites Linked to Depression (WHITNEY L. JAMES, 2/20/14, Outside)

After studying more than 1.3 million people for 10 years, researchers found that if you are a woman who has been bitten by a cat, there is a 50 percent chance you are also depressed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


A Solution for Corporate Tax Avoidance (Irwin Stelzer, 2/22/14, Weekly Standard)

 If we are to preserve support for a tax system that relies heavily on voluntary compliance by unrich individuals, there is something to be said for attempting to have the tax burden considered "fair" by the sensible majority that bears no animus to market capitalism. So, as Lenin once asked, "What is to be done?" One approach would be to ratchet up the public pressure on companies that do lots of business and earn lots of money in venues in which they pay little or no taxes. Starbucks responded to British prime minister David Cameron's admonition to "wake up and smell the coffee" over tax, and to a consumer boycott, by making a quasi-voluntary contribution of £20 million to Her Majesty's Treasury. But relying on the kindness of strangers is not a policy. Consumers are more willing to do without their morning caffeine fix, or to switch coffee suppliers, than to boycott the manufacturers of their medications, or threaten the developers of the systems that run their mobile phones with a renewed reliance on land lines.
Nor would it do much good for governments to continue the unequal battle between their tax collectors and the lobbyists that persuade congressman that what is good for their clients is necessarily good for the nation, and their lawyers who face the fire-power of  Wall Street firms. Or to hope that the Group of 8 will come up with a feasible plan to persuade some distant tiny island not to offer haven to multinational companies.
About the best that can be done is to tax the gross receipts of multinational companies in each of the countries in which they are earned, avoiding the need to battle over intra-company charges for the use of intellectual property and other components of a profit calculation. Otherwise, these companies and, worse still, the tax system, "shall forfeit fair renown," to revert to Scott.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Has global warming paused? (James Mitchell Crow, 2/23/14, Cosmos)

Global warming has many climate scientists pretty hot under the collar right now. But it's not because of rising temperatures, quite the opposite: in the last decade global temperatures have barely budged.

From the late 1970s to the late 1990s, average air temperatures around the world rose by around half a degree. But since then, the warming seems to have paused. Global air temperatures today are barely any higher than they were in 2000, almost a decade and a half ago.

Computer models did not predict this. Bumps in the road were expected, but overall the climate was predicted to keep on warming at roughly 0.2 degrees per decade. It has started to become a bit of an embarrassment to the field.

It wasn't so bad at the beginning of the pause. "When people asked what was going on we would say it is just natural variation," says Matthew England, a climate researcher at the University of New South Wales. Some years are simply hotter than others, and the pause would soon end. "But then the hiatus got longer and longer," he says. Today, average air temperatures are cooler than the very coolest scenarios predicted by the models. According to US record keepers the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2013 was equal-fourth hottest year on record - the same as 2003.

...and they wonder why no one takes Sciencism seriously?

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The Future of Military Force : Non-Lethal Force Could Be the Future of Warfare (Robert Kozloski, 2/24/14, Real Clear Defense)

Experts from the Center for a New American Security recently noted the lethality of conventional military weapons is rapidly increasing.  Ironically, the increased lethality may make their actual use as taboo and as muscle-bound as their nuclear relatives have been for decades. America should shed its love affair with overwhelming firepower and consider other military options when coercive pressure is necessary.

While the United States and its western allies may find it difficult to shift from their pursuit of more lethal weapons, some states are already exploring other tactics. As Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation notes, "Successful coercive psychological warfare is the realization of ends for which one is prepared to go to war without having to take that final step and engage in active, kinetic, destructive warfare. From the Chinese perspective, given the destructiveness of nuclear weapons and even conventional forces, there is also significant incentive to develop coercive psychological approaches in order to achieve strategic ends without having to resort to the use of force."

Three emerging families of military capabilities have great potential for broader use: information based weapons, wide-area nonlethal weapons, and directed energy weapons. All offer the potential to apply pressure to a targeted state without resulting in death or permanent destruction.  It is important to think beyond the current state of technology and consider the gap that exists between our current engineering practices and the laws of nature.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Pediatrics Group Balks at Rise of Retail Health Clinics : Medical Outposts Don't Provide Pediatricians' Continuity of Care (MELINDA BECK and TIMOTHY W. MARTIN, Feb. 24, 2014, WSJ)

Retail health clinics that are popping up in drugstores and other outlets shouldn't be used for children's primary-care needs, the American Academy of Pediatrics said, arguing that such facilities don't provide the continuity of care that pediatricians do.

While retail clinics may be more convenient and less costly, the AAP said they are detrimental to the concept of a "medical home," where patients have a personal physician who knows them well and coordinates all their care.

"We want to do all we can to support the concept of 'medical home' for kids," said James Laughlin, lead author of the statement, published in the journal Pediatrics Monday.

The notion that the doctor's office should be a second home describes most of the problem with health care.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Interview: Aaron Clarey Talks Bachelor Pad Economics (Ed Driscoll, February 23rd, 2014, PJ Media)

Is it possible to enjoy America's decline from your swank bachelor's pad, knowing that you're financially prepared to ride out the worst of the remaining years of the Obama era? Yes we can, shouts Clarey, the self described "Captain Capitalist" and "the only motorcycling, fossil-hunting, tornado-chasing, book-writing, ballroom-dancing, economist in the world," in Bachelor Pad Economics. Clarey's new book brings financial planning to the themes of his previous title, last year's Blogosphere hit, Enjoy the Decline.

During our nearly 19-minute long interview, Aaron will explore:

● The only source of happiness in a period of national decline.

● What is the chief underlying cause of American decline?

● The importance of minimalism as a financial strategy.

● How did Aaron make the jump from financial analyst to new-media maven?

● How to survive the higher-education bubble.

● What role does real estate play in Bachelor Pad Economics?

● What is the infamous "Smith & Wesson Retirement Plan"?

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Democrats must give Obama trade promotion authority (John Thune, FEBRUARY 25, 2014, Reuters)

Giving him trade promotion authority would put two large trade deals on a fast track to completion. [...]

The trade agreements with 11 Asia-Pacific countries and the 28 European Union nations would open up access to one billion consumers around the globe. That could translate into thousands of new jobs and faster economic growth.

This opportunity can only become reality, however, if the president has the authority to close the deals. Foreign nations won't put their best offers on the table if they believe Congress will renegotiate an agreement.

Trade promotion authority, and the trade agreements it will enable, is the best way to bring down foreign barriers to U.S. products and services. Our market is already largely open to foreign imports. Shouldn't we demand that other nations return the favor?

Fast-tracking trade agreements has another big benefit. It would promote the creation of high-paying, research-intensive jobs in the U.S. by better protecting intellectual property -- everything from life-saving medicines to cutting-edge software and computing -- of U.S. companies doing business overseas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Obesity and exercise (Health Daily, Feb. 24, 2014)

A new study suggests that obese women get just one hour of vigorous exercise a year, while obese men don't do much better at fewer than four hours.

The findings startled the researchers, whose main focus was finding better ways to measure how much exercise people get.

"They're living their lives from one chair to another," said Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Ben Bernanke's Biggest Mistake : New documents show the Fed's critical error in focusing too much on banks rather than the real economy. (Matthew Yglesias, 2/24/14, Slate)

Early in the year, the Fed cut interest rates aggressively to try to prevent economic growth from collapsing. Then, come summertime, the bank was paralyzed. Food and oil prices were rising sharply, pushing up overall inflation. Caught between rising inflation and a sinking economy, the Fed did nothing. Then came the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy--the largest bankruptcy in American history, and an unusually disorderly one given the unique attributes of a financial institution. The next day, the Fed's Open Market Committee had a scheduled meeting and they chose to do ... nothing.

In their Sept. 16 statement, the FOMC noted that "strains in financial markets have increased significantly and labor markets have weakened further," yet they declined to return to rate-cutting.

The full transcript reveals two things. One is that FOMC members were fully aware  that the data unambiguously pointed in favor of a rate cut. The other is that the FOMC, somewhat bizarrely, never seriously debated the merits of cutting rates. But David Stockton, the then-head of the research department, told the assembled policymakers that aside from Lehman Brothers "the other notable development over the intermeeting period has been the weakness in the labor markets," while on the other hand, there were "reasonably encouraging signs on inflation expectations." Nathan Sheets from the international division added that the "dollar has strengthened nearly 5 percent in broad nominal terms." Brian Madigan of the monetary affairs division said financial markets were already expecting a rate cut, so standing pay would be seen as "signaling less concern about financial developments than they anticipated."

In other words, inflation was down, the labor market was down, and the dollar was up. All indicators that looser money was needed. And markets were expecting looser money, so standing pat would send a bad signal.

The remarkable thing is that even as the FOMC's voting members chose to do nothing, virtually none of them disputed the case for action.

Oil prices aren't an inflation indicator, only wages are.
Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Iran FM summoned for calling Holocaust 'cruel' (JTA, February 25, 2014)

The Holocaust was "tragically cruel and should not happen again," Zarif said earlier this month at the Munich Security Conference.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


The Great Christian Debate Over Whether Jesus Would Bake a Cake for a Gay Wedding (ARIT JOHN, 2/25/14, The Wire)

Bills to allow people to refuse service to gay couples on religious grounds have popped up in several states, and led Christians to debate a pressing theological question: Would Jesus bake a cake for a gay wedding? It's the 'angels on the head of a pin' question of our times. The debate started last week when Kirsten Powers, a Daily Beast and USA Today columnist, Fox News contributor, and a Christian, argued that laws protecting a person's religious freedom to discriminate against gay people were a modern day Jim Crow. "Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws," she wrote in USA Today. Her argument did not go over well with many conservatives.

Powers' column upset many religious people and writers at conservative outlets like The National Review, Fox News and the Heritage Foundation. But it was her argument as a whole that people disagreed with. Jesus called on his followers to be servants to all, Powers wrote. She also argued that providing a service to a customer isn't exactly giving "celebrating their wedding union." It's a business transaction. She spoke with several pastors who agreed with her, including one who found it "offensive that Christians would leverage faith to support the Kansas law." Powers ended with: "Maybe they should just ask themselves, 'What would Jesus do?' I think he'd bake the cake."

But maybe he wouldn't bake the cake. Erick Erickson, writing at Red State on Friday, argued that Jesus would bake a gay person a cake in most situations. 

...He'd heal the couple.

February 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Pentagon Plans to Shrink Army to Pre-World War II Level (THOM SHANKER and HELENE COOPER, FEB. 23, 2014, NY Times)

Over all, Mr. Hagel's proposal, the officials said, is designed to allow the American military to fulfill President Obama's national security directives: to defend American territory and the nation's interests overseas and to deter aggression -- and to win decisively if again ordered to war.

"We're still going to have a very significant-sized Army," the official said. "But it's going to be agile. It will be capable. It will be modern. It will be trained."

Mr. Hagel's plan would most significantly reshape America's land forces -- active-duty soldiers as well as those in the National Guard and Reserve.

The Army, which took on the brunt of the fighting and the casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, already was scheduled to drop to 490,000 troops from a post-9/11 peak of 570,000. Under Mr. Hagel's proposals, the Army would drop over the coming years to between 440,000 and 450,000.

That would be the smallest United States Army since 1940. For years, and especially during the Cold War, the Pentagon argued that it needed a military large enough to fight two wars simultaneously -- say, in Europe and Asia. In more recent budget and strategy documents, the military has been ordered to be prepared to decisively win one conflict while holding off an adversary's aspirations in a second until sufficient forces could be mobilized and redeployed to win there.

...but there's obviously no justification for a military as large as the one we had when Nazism and Communism were extant.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Did robots cause the decline of labor? Or was it China? Why has labor's share of income declined in advanced countries? (Noah Smith, 2/24/14, The Week)

Mike Elsby and his coauthors find support mostly for story number three. In their own words:

U.S. data provide limited support for...explanations based on the substitution of capital for (unskilled) labor to exploit technical change embodied in new capital goods...[I]nstitutional explanations based on the decline in unionization also receive weak support...[W]e provide evidence that highlights the offshoring of the labor intensive component of the U.S. supply chain as a leading potential explanation of the decline in the U.S. labor share over the past 25 years. [emphasis mine] [The Decline of the U.S. Labor Share]

This finding disagrees with some other recent papers, such as Karabarbounis and Neiman (2013), who support the "robots" story. Read Elsby et al. to see the particulars of the argument.

First we made jobs so easay that anyone could do them, then so easy that anything can do them.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Al-Qaida unlikely to force Hezbollah out of Syria (ARIEL BEN SOLOMON, 02/21/2014, Jerusalem Post)

Two of the main jihadist groups involved in Syria, the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have claimed responsibility for bombings against Shi'ite targets in Lebanon.

To strike back against the Sunnis, Hezbollah and Iran participate in the conflict beyond Lebanese borders, with an emphasis on the Sunni- Shi'ite battle in Syria.

"I don't think it will affect Hezbollah's involvement in Syria," Tony Badran, a columnist for the Beirut-based website NOW Lebanon and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Wednesday.

The attack comes right after a major campaign by Hezbollah - with reported indirect US intelligence help - to catch the masterminds of bombings that have targeted Iranian and Hezbollah targets, he said.

In recent months, Lebanese intelligence services have arrested various figures linked to the group, including Naim Abbas, a suspected commander in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

Hezbollah expected the new cabinet to give it more freedom to go after its Sunni enemies. The new government serves as a cover for Lebanese security operations in certain Sunni areas, Badran added.

February 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:41 AM


President George W. Bush Fights to Take 'Disorder' Out of PTSD (Freda Kahen-Kashi, Feb 23, 2014, ABC News)

President Bush is front and center in the news this week, a position he hasn't frequently occupied since leaving office five years ago, stepping back into the spotlight to shine a spotlight of his own on post-9/11 veterans and his fight to take the "Disorder" out of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"We're getting rid of the D," he said.  "PTS is an injury; it's not a disorder.  The problem is when you call it a disorder, [veterans] don't think they can be treated.

"An employer says, 'I don't want to hire somebody with a disorder.'  And so our mission tomorrow is to begin to change the dialogue in the United States,"  he said. "And we've got a lot of good support." [...]

"It's hard to put on your resume, 'hire me; I was a sniper.'  I mean the average employer can't figure out what that means," Bush said.

"On the other hand, it took enormous courage and discipline and steadiness under pressure to be successful," he said. "His job application, his job skill before, when employers better understand what he brings to the -- would bring to their firm, they're more likely to hire him."

Bush said he is determined to ensure each and every veteran has a fighting chance.

"I have a duty," Bush told ABC's Martha Raddatz, sitting down during a summit organized by the George W. Bush Institute as part of its Military Service Initiative, at which 
Raddatz moderated the panels.  "Obviously I get slightly emotional talking about our vets because I have an emotional..."  The former president trailed off.  "I'm in there with them," he concluded.

"These are men and women who volunteered in the face of danger. I mean, they knew right after 9/11 that the nation would seek justice and to protect ourselves," he said.  "And some got hurt, and some of them need a lot of help. And our nation owes a huge debt of gratitude."

Entirely typical of the man that when he does appear in public it is to vindicate those who served under him, not himself.
Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


THIS OLD MAN : Life in the nineties. (ROGER ANGELL, 2/18/14, The New Yorker)

I am a world-class complainer but find palpable joy arriving with my evening Dewar's, from Robinson Cano between pitches, from the first pages once again of "Appointment in Samarra" or the last lines of the Elizabeth Bishop poem called "Poem." From the briefest strains of Handel or Roy Orbison, or Dennis Brain playing the early bars of his stunning Mozart horn concertos. (This Angel recording may have been one of the first things Carol and I acquired just after our marriage, and I hear it playing on a sunny Saturday morning in our Ninety-fourth Street walkup.) Also the recalled faces and then the names of Jean Dixon or Roscoe Karns or Porter Hall or Brad Dourif in another Netflix rerun. Chloë Sevigny in "Trees Lounge." Gail Collins on a good day. Family ice-skating up near Harlem in the nineteen-eighties, with the Park employees, high on youth or weed, looping past us backward to show their smiles.

Recent and not so recent surveys (including the six-decades-long Grant Study of the lives of some nineteen-forties Harvard graduates) confirm that a majority of us people over seventy-five keep surprising ourselves with happiness. Put me on that list. Our children are adults now and mostly gone off, and let's hope full of their own lives. We've outgrown our ambitions. If our wives or husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories, and mossy opinions. Also the distant whoosh of a surfaced porpoise outside our night windows.

We elders--what kind of a handle is this, anyway, halfway between a tree and an eel?--we elders have learned a thing or two, including invisibility. Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends--old friends but actually not all that old: they're in their sixties--and we're finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming in Nyack or Virginia Woolf the cross-dresser. There's a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they've just left it. What? Hello? Didn't I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA--a transient ischemic attack? I didn't expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two of response. Not tonight, though. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we're invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You've had your turn, Pops; now it's ours.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Maria von Trapp, last of Trapp Family Singers, dies aged 99 (Deutsche Welle, 2/23/14)
Maria von Trapp, 99, died at her home in the northeastern US state of Vermont on Tuesday of natural causes, her half brother Johannes von Trapp told CNN on Saturday. [...]

Maria was the third of seven Austrian-born children of Captain Georg von Trapp and his first wife, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp. She was one of the original members of the Trapp Family Singers group. [...]

Maria von Trapp was portrayed as Louisa in the film and musical.

The family fled Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938 and moved to the US the following year, where they became popular with concert audiences. They eventually settled in Vermont in 1942, where they opened a resort called the Trapp Family Lodge.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Johnny Winter: A Life in the Blues : Still touring at 70, the guitarist opens up (MARC MYERS, Feb. 20, 2014, WSJ)

Mr. Winter was born in 1944 in Beaumont, Texas, an oil-refinery town. His father was a contractor who built homes while his mother raised him and his younger brother Edgar --himself a recognized blues musician. "My parents loved music from the 1920s and '30s--things like barbershop quartets," Mr. Winter said. "My dad sang in one and I'd play ukulele. I listened to KJET--the only black radio station in town--and bought every blues record I could find at The Harmony Shop. The owner stocked jukeboxes in black clubs, so he always had great records."

After hearing Chuck Berry in 1955, Mr. Winter embraced the guitar. "I didn't take lessons--I had a good enough ear to play what I heard on the radio and on records. I also listened to Muddy Waters. I loved his playing and singing--like he was having a conversation with his guitar."

Soon Mr. Winter was playing gigs at local black clubs, where he was welcomed. "Like my younger brother, I was born an albino and was put down for looking different--too white. The black people I knew could relate to what I went through and I understood their situation from my own experience. I had to find a way to deal with it."

A Woodstock appearance followed his record deal in August 1969. "I was sleeping on a bag of garbage in the trailer near the stage and woke up close to midnight," he said. "The guy sending acts out on the stage looked at me and my band and said, 'You guys are all here. You're on next.' Five minutes after I woke up, we were performing."

But Mr. Winter doesn't appear in the "Woodstock" documentary. "That was my manager's fault--he didn't think it was a good idea. He said the festival was losing money and he didn't see any benefit in being in there. Obviously, he was wrong."

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Writing the Lake Shore Limited (Jessica Gross, 2/19/14, Paris Review)

I am in a little sleeper cabin on a train to Chicago. Framing the window are two plush seats; between them is a small table that you can slide up and out. Its top is a chessboard. Next to one of the chairs is a seat whose top flips up to reveal a toilet, and above that is a "Folding Sink"--something like a Murphy bed with a spigot. There are little cups, little towels, a tiny bar of soap. A sliding door pulls closed and locks with a latch; you can draw the curtains, as I have done, over the two windows pointing out to the corridor. The room is 3'6" by 6'8". It is efficient and quaint. I am ensconced.

I'm only here for the journey. Soon after I get to Chicago, I'll board a train and come right back to New York: thirty-nine hours in transit--forty-four, with delays. And I'm here to write: I owe this trip to Alexander Chee, who said in his PEN Ten interview that his favorite place to work was on the train. "I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers," he said. I did, too, so I tweeted as much, as did a number of other writers; Amtrak got involved and ended up offering me a writers' residency "test run." (Disclaimer disclaimed: the trip was free.)

So here I am.
Why do writers find the train such a fruitful work environment? In the wake of Chee's interview, Evan Smith Rakoff tweeted, "I've been on Amtrak a lot lately & love writing while traveling--a set, uninterrupted deadline." The writer Anne Korkeakivi described train travel as "suspended impregnable time," combined with "dreamy" forward motion: "like a mantra, it greases the brain."

In a 2009 piece for The Millions, Emily St. John Mandel describes working on a novel during her morning commute on the New York City subway. "It felt like extra time," she writes. "I began scrawling fragments of the third novel on folded-up wads of scrap paper, using a book as my desk." Mandel polled around and found other writers used the subway as a workspace, too. Julie Klam: "Part of the reason I like it is because it has a very distinct end. It's not like having six hours at home. I tend to have great bursts of inspiration that last about six stops." Mark Snyder: "I think the act of working, surrounded by other people living their lives, can be quite a compelling act for yourself. It makes me feel less alone."

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


U.S. Fans Snap Up World Cup Tickets (JACK BELL, FEB. 22, 2014, NY Times)

More tickets to the 2014 World Cup have been allocated by FIFA to fans from the United States than to any other nation, other than host Brazil.

A total of 125,465 tickets were distributed to the United States according to FIFA, which released the its ticket alloction numbers on Friday.

In all, a total of 2.3 million tickets have been assigned to the 32 nations attending the World Cup. After Brazil, which was allocated 906,433 tickets as the host country, and the United States, the top 10 ticket allocations, according to FIFA, are: Colombia (60,231), Germany (55,666), Argentina (53,809), England (51,222), Australia (40,446), France (34,971), Chile (32,189) and Mexico (30,238).

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Ukrainian parliament appoints speaker Oleksander Turchinov as interim president (Deitsche Welle, 2/23/14)
The Ukrainian parliament on Sunday voted by an overwhelming margin to temporarily hand over the duties of president to parliament speaker Oleksander Turchinov until new elections are held on May 25.

The decision comes one day after parliament voted to oust President Viktor Yanukovych. The legitimacy of the vote remains unclear.

Turchinov is a close ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was freed from prison on Saturday after parliament voted for her immediate release. [...]

The United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) offered Sunday to assist Ukraine in rebuilding its debt-laden economy following the recent tumult.

February 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Plan to divide California into 6 states gets closer to vote (Market Watch, February 21, 2014)

A prominent Silicon Valley investor's proposal to split California into six separate states has moved one step closer to getting on a ballot for vote.

The state has given venture capitalist Tim Draper the green light to begin collecting signatures for a petition to break apart the state. Draper, who describes California as too big to manage and essentially ungovernable, now has until July 18 to collect 807,615 signatures for a ballot initiative that could reach voters by November 2016. [...]

His proposal calls for one of the states to be called Silicon Valley, which would include San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties, as well as San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

The other states he's proposing are Northern California, Southern California, Central California, Western California and Jefferson.

February 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Surge in Thyroid Cancer Cases May Be Due to Overdiagnoses: Study (Steven Reinberg, Feb. 20, 2014, HealthDay News) 

Although the number of thyroid cancer diagnoses has almost tripled since 1975, most are the more common and less aggressive form of the disease known as papillary thyroid cancer, the study authors said.

"The incidence of thyroid cancer is at epidemic proportions, but it doesn't look like an epidemic of disease, it looks like an epidemic of diagnosis," said lead researcher Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

According to Welch, more people are having their neck imaged to look for blockage of the arteries or for other reasons, and nodules on the thyroid are then found.

"This means that a lot of people are having their thyroids removed for a cancer that was never going to bother them," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


A Good Deal for the Ukrainian Opposition (Max Boot, 02.21.2014, Commentary)

The agreement reached between President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukrainian opposition leaders is about as good as the anti-government forces can possibly hope to get.

It calls, inter alia, for a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition to be followed by a new presidential election no later than December. It also commits the government not to impose a state of emergency-meaning martial law-and to allow outside monitors from Europe and the opposition to monitor all investigations "into recent acts of violence."

A sign of just how favorable this agreement is to the opposition: while it was signed by the foreign ministers of Poland, France, and Russia, all of whom are in Kiev, the Russian delegate pointedly refused to sign it.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


WhatsApp Shows How Phone Carriers Lost Out on $33 Billion (Olga Kharif, Amy Thomson and Patricia Laya,  Feb 21, 2014, Bloomberg)

Free social-messaging applications like WhatsApp cost phone providers around the world -- from Vodafone Group Plc (VOD) to America Movil SAB (AMXL) and Verizon Communications Corp. -- $32.5 billion in texting fees in 2013, according to research from Ovum Ltd. That figure is projected to reach $54 billion by 2016.

As more customers have switched to smartphones with better Internet access, people are relying more on applications such as WhatsApp to communicate.

Information wats to be free...and everything is information.
Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Mortgage bailout now profitable for taxpayers (Chris Isidore, February 21, 2014, CNNMoney)

U.S. taxpayers have recouped all of the $187 billion they gave mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in one of the most expensive bailouts of the financial crisis.

The milestone was reached after Fannie Mae reported Friday it will pay Treasury an additional $7 billion in profit from the end of last year.

Basically, if Ben Bernanke and Geoerge W. Bush had been in office in 1929 there'd have been no Depression.

February 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Bush's Nephew Courts Hispanics in Texas (NATHAN KOPPEL, Feb. 19, 2014 WSJ)

As he barnstormed south Texas by bus last week, George P. Bush wasn't just selling himself as a Republican candidate for statewide office, but pitching fellow Hispanics--his mother was born in Mexico--on why they should consider voting for the Grand Old Party.

Speaking before hundreds of residents in a school auditorium here on the Mexican border, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush mixed English and Spanish as he urged Hispanics to vote for him and, more broadly, to participate in politics.

"We can't complain as a community unless we register to vote," said Mr. Bush, 37 years old, who is running for Texas land commissioner in next month's primary, his first step toward joining his family's political dynasty.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Inflation rate remains low as January prices barely budge (Jim Puzzanghera, February 20, 2014, LA Times)

Stripping out volatile food and energy costs, so-called core prices still rose just 0.1% in January. The annual core rate was 1.6%.

The Fed uses a different government measure to monitor inflation, based on personal consumption expenditures, that showed just a 1.2% annual rate through December.

Some Federal Reserve policymakers are concerned that inflation has been running low, and worry that could pose a risk to economic growth, according to minutes of their January meeting released Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


In Israel, the 'demographic issue' gains resonance : Statistics indicate there are 6.1 million Jews and nearly 5.8 million Arabs living in the Holy Land, threatening Israel's Jewish character like never before (DAN PERRY AND KARIN LAUB, February 20, 2014, Times of Israel)

The "demographic issue" is focusing Israeli minds in a way that moral arguments against occupation have not, particularly when they are weighed against forgoing the West Bank's strategic hinterland and Jerusalem with its unrivaled religious and historic sites.

Some experts are predicting Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel plus the areas it captured in 1967 -- the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Continued occupation, they say, would force Israel into a hard choice: Formalize Jewish minority rule over disenfranchised Palestinians -- or give them the right to vote and end the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine.

In this context, those arguing for a pullout on these terms are essentially trying to save Israel as a "Jewish state" -- where the degree of Jewishness is a function of the size of the majority.

February 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Immigrants behind boom in Sweden's population (The Local,  19 Feb 2014)

The population of Sweden saw the biggest yearly increase in 70 years last year, according to new statistics, thanks largely to the almost 120,000 immigrants who arrived throughout the year.

Sweden's population on the last day of 2013 was 9,644,864 - a 0.93 percent hike from 2012. The total increase was the largest since 1946, and statisticians at Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån - SCB) marked it down to a record-high level of immigration. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Green groups: Keystone won't be forgiven (Laura Barron-Lopez and Justin Sink, 2/19/14, The Hill)

If a flurry of climate change initiatives is an attempt by the administration to soften up environmental supporters ahead of an approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, green groups say President Obama better think twice. 

February 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


More Patients Are Checking Doctor-Rating Websites, Study Finds (Health Day News, Feb. 18, 2014)

In a survey of more than 2,100 Americans, researchers found that two-thirds knew that doctor-rating sites exist. And of those surveyed, one-quarter had used the sites in the past year.

Those rates are higher than what's been seen in past studies, said lead researcher Dr. David Hanauer, of the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

"So it looks like there has been increased use over time," Hanauer said.

More important, he added, people who visit the sites use the information to make decisions. In this survey, 35 percent of site users picked a doctor because of a good rating, while 37 percent avoided a doctor with a poor rating, the investigators found.

Health care is just another commodity.
Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


How a national sales tax could solve America's inequality problem (Christopher Matthews, February 18, 2014, Fortune)

But Avi-Yonah argues that what's done with those sales tax receipts is more important. If we use a sales tax to bolster the social safety net -- programs like Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, and Medicaid -- then even a regressive tax could work to reduce income inequality. Stronger social security will help the baby boomer generation, which has lived through an era in which private companies have abandoned guaranteed pension schemes yet members of this generation have not saved for retirement by other means. Other programs will help those on the lower end of the income spectrum, who have been left behind amid a rapid transformation of the U.S. economy and the disappearance of medium-skill, middle-class jobs. In fact, such measures may be necessary to maintain social cohesion and an open economy, Avi-Yonah writes:

Strengthening the social safety net is important to sustaining growth. Open economies tend to have stronger safety nets, because the gains from having an open economy tend to impose risk on the people who lose from globalization, so that a strong safety net is in a democracy a precondition to obtaining widespread political support for openness, which in turn produces growth.

Why use a national sales tax, rather than a progressive income tax, to finance an expansion of the welfare state? First of all, it's easier to avoid income taxes than it is to avoid sales taxes. Wealthy Americans have all sorts of ways of sheltering their income, and such deductions make financing government spending difficult. Second, sales taxes are paid by all segments of society -- working and nonworking people alike -- giving it a broad financial base. Meanwhile, the current system for financing the safety net requires taxing young and productive workers to help older and unproductive workers, which Avi-Yonah argues is fundamentally unstable. Third, a sales tax is much cheaper to administer than income taxes.

Fourth, note the positive feedback loop : one can avoid consumption taxes by saving/investing money, which strengthens your personal safety net.
Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Jeb Bush Heading To NYC To Test Bush v. Clinton (IRA STOLL, February 18, 2014, NY Sun)

Start with his home state, Florida, where Mr. Bush won statewide elections in 1998 and in 2002. The presidential candidate who won Florida has won the general election in 12 of the last 13 presidential elections (the sole exception to this rule over the 48 years from 1964 to 2012 was 1992, when Bill Clinton lost the state but won the presidency).

Then consider the demographic appeal. Polls indicated that Mr. Bush won majorities of Florida's Hispanic vote in both of his gubernatorial elections. He's Catholic, and his wife was born in Mexico. If he picks a Hispanic running mate such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada, or Susana Martinez of New Mexico, he has a shot at significantly narrowing the Democratic advantage among Latinos, who are ten percent of the electorate nationwide. That could help put not only Florida but also Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico in the Republican column in 2016.

Mr. Bush did a solid job as governor of Florida, cutting the state's already-relatively-low taxes, restraining spending, and reforming public education with a voucher program. And if the Republican Party's establishment wing, to the extent that there is such a thing, is looking for a known quantity to fend off firebrand newcomers with their own presidential ambitions such as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky or Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Mr. Bush probably fits the bill as well as anyone.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Iran won't discuss military programme, say officials (Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Ian Black, 18 February 2014, The Guardian)

Zarif and another senior Iranian negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said in separate interviews that the Vienna talks will be limited to Iran's nuclear activities, apparently dismissing calls from Israel and the US for Tehran's missile industry to be on the table.

"The criterion for the Vienna talks is the joint plan of action [the interim agreement], and no subject outside that framework could be on the agenda," Araqchi said, according to Iranian media.

Zarif has echoed Araqchi by saying: "As Iran's nuclear program has nothing to do with the military issues, the military issues have nothing to do with the nuclear program either." [...]

The IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, also met with Zarif in Vienna On Tuesday. Earlier in the week he signalled that one sticking point in the talks was for Iran to sign the IAEA additional protocol which allows unannounced inspections of nuclear or suspect sites.

"The implementation of the Additional Protocol is very important to provide assurance that all nuclear activity in Iran is for a peaceful purpose but we are not yet at that point," he told the news website Breaking Defense on Monday.

Before the talks began, Zarif insisted Iran had the political will to reach a deal.

"We believe we can reach an agreement and we have come here with the political will to reach a final agreement," Zarif said on Monday after meeting the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, for dinner in Vienna.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


The medicine in our minds (Olly Bootle, 2/18/14, BBC)

In many ways, Paul is just like anyone else with a love of the outdoors.

He spends much of his spare time cycling in the hills on the outskirts of Vancouver, where he lives.

And every day, he walks his dog through the pine forest that starts where his garden ends.

But there's one big difference between Paul and your average outdoorsy type.

Whether he's walking or cycling, Paul needs medication to help him do it, because he has Parkinson's Disease.

Without his drugs, even walking can be a major struggle.

Parkinson's is caused by an inability of the brain to release enough dopamine, a neurotransmitter that affects our mood, but is also essential for regulating movement.

Luckily for Paul, his medication can give him the dopamine he needs to keep his symptoms under control.

Given everything we know about the disease, it's hard to believe that a placebo - a 'dummy pill' with no active ingredients - could do anything to help someone with Parkinson's.

And that makes Prof Jon Stoessl's experiments all the more remarkable. He is the director of the Pacific Parkinson's Research Centre at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


The incredible human hand and foot (Dr George McGavin, 2/18/14, BBC)

The hand is one of the most complex and beautiful pieces of natural engineering in the human body.

It gives us a powerful grip but also allows us to manipulate small objects with great precision.

This versatility sets us apart from every other creature on the planet.

The hand has one of the strangest arrangements of muscles in the body.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


The Prodigal Sons (David Brooks, 2/17/14, NY Times)

[I]'d defend the father's example, and, informed by a reading of Timothy Keller's outstanding book "The Prodigal God," I'd even apply the father's wisdom to social policy-making today.

We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop out of school, commit crimes and abandon their children are like the younger brother. In many cases, we have a governing class of elder brothers legislating programs on behalf of the younger brothers. The great danger in this situation is that we in the elder brother class will end up self-righteously lecturing the poor: "You need to be more like us: graduate from school, practice a little sexual discipline, work harder."

But the father in this parable exposes the truth that people in the elder brother class are stained, too. The elder brother is self-righteous, smug, cold and shrewd. The elder brother wasn't really working to honor his father; he was working for material reward and out of a fear-based moralism. The father reminds us of the old truth that the line between good and evil doesn't run between people or classes; it runs straight through every human heart.

The father also understands that the younger brothers of the world will not be reformed and re-bound if they feel they are being lectured to by unpleasant people who consider themselves models of rectitude. Imagine if the older brother had gone out to greet the prodigal son instead of the father, giving him some patronizing lecture. Do we think the younger son would have reformed his life to become a productive member of the community? No. He would have gotten back up and found some bad-boy counterculture he could join to reassert his dignity.

The father teaches that rebinding and reordering society requires an aggressive assertion: You are accepted; you are accepted. It requires mutual confession and then a mutual turning toward some common project. Why does the father organize a feast? Because a feast is nominally about food, but, in Jewish life, it is really about membership. It reasserts your embedded role in the community project.
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February 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Searching for the Golden Hinde (David Wesley Hill, 2/09/14, English Historical Fiction Authors)

Only one authentic picture of the Golden Hinde survives. This is an engraving on a coconut shell, currently in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, which Drake presented to the queen as a souvenir. Unfortunately, the carving lacks detail and little about the actual vessel can be learned from it.

What is certain is that the Golden Hinde was a galleon, which is unsurprising since galleons were the marine workhorses of the 16th century. Their compact design allowed them to be used equally well as merchant ships and as military vessels. Most displaced less than 500 tons and carried three masts, two square-rigged and one lanteen-rigged. From their 15th-Century predecessor, the carrack, they inherited high forecastles and bulky sterns, which provided a ship's crew the advantage of elevation while battling another vessel at close quarters. The Golden Hinde, however, was race-built, after plans developed in France and promoted in England by Sir Richard Hawkins. This meant her fore- and aft-castles had been razored down, decreasing her windage, making her fast and agile, as well as better suited for naval warfare that relied on artillery rather than on hand-to-hand combat.

According to modern estimates, the Golden Hinde was 102 feet long, excluding her bowsprit, from which hung a rectangular sail known as the spritsail. Her beam was 20 feet. She displaced between 100 - 120 tons. She did not have a figurehead. Nor did she have a steering wheel--the rudder was controlled by a system of long rods known as a whip-staff. Her masts rose over eighty feet above the deck, exposing four thousand square feet of canvas to the wind, allowing the ship to make eight knots in a fair breeze. Between the lower and upper halves of her main masts were platforms known as fighting tops, which served as fortified roosts for archers during battle. Her sails were plain flax, except for the top fore- and main-sails, each of which was emblazoned with a red cross. This is how Nuno da Silva, the Portuguese pilot kidnapped by Drake in the Cape Verdes, described the Golden Hinde when questioned by Inquisition officials in 1579:

"The Capitana [Golden Hinde] is in a great measure stout and strong. She has two sheathings, one as perfectly finished as the other. She is fit for warfare and is a ship of the French pattern, well fitted out and finished with very good masts, tackle and double sails. She is a good sailer and the rudder governs her well. She is not new, nor is she coppered nor ballasted. She has seven armed port-holes on each side, and inside she carries eighteen pieces of artillery, thirteen being of bronze and the rest of cast iron, also an abundance of all sorts of ammunition of war... Taking it all in all, she is a ship which is in a fit condition to make a couple of voyages from Portugal to Brazil."

Although a 100-foot ship may seem tiny today, when cruisers, cargo vessels, and tankers regularly exceed 1,000 feet in length, it is important to realize that the Golden Hinde was small even in her own era, particularly considering how heavily she was burdened and how many men she carried. In the 16th Century a merchant ship her size would have had a crew of less than twenty officers and sailors since then, just as in our own time, the cost of labor affected the profitability of any enterprise. More than sixty men, however, sailed aboard the Golden Hinde. This company included a dozen gentlemen adventurers, investors in the voyage and their relations, as well as soldiers and armorers; artisans such as smiths, coopers, carpenters, and sail makers; a troupe of musicians; a pastor; and additional sailors. All these extra men were needed not only for their professional expertise but as replacements for those expected to die during the voyage. They were also needed to man the cannon, which each required a gang of three or four men to operate efficiently.

It is estimated that the Golden Hinde carried enough supplies to allow even so large an expedition to remain independent of the land for six months to a year. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Co-Ed Baby Showers Are a Terrible Idea. Men: Keep Out. (Jessica Grose, 2/16/14, Slate)

A writer for the Hairpin has a "bold notion" for baby showers: Make them co-ed. Megan Borgert-Spaniol thinks that dads should be invited to baby showers "for a very plain and uncomplicated reason, and that is it's his goddamn kid, too." How can we expect dads to get the message that they're just as responsible for the baby's care when we don't include them in the baby shower?

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


The Patron and the Panhandler : Joe Gould's Secret, Joe Mitchell's classic portrait of an astute but deluded bohemian in postwar Greenwich Village, has been picked over for half a century by literary critics, fact-checkers, college professors, and ordinary readers. One abiding mystery has long been the identity of the anonymous heiress who kept the down-and-out Gould housed and fed throughout the late 1940s. That mystery has now been solved. (Joshua Prager, February 2014, Vanity Fair)

Eighty-two winters ago, on a frigid day in Greenwich Village, a very little man in a very big coat entered a Greek restaurant and asked for free food. His name was Joe Gould. The year was 1932, the height of the Great Depression, and the owner offered Gould soup and a sandwich. As Gould waited for it, a reporter drinking coffee in a nearby booth took him in: his dirty face and bald head and bushy beard and small fingers clasped for warmth. Gould made an impression. So did the mention by the owner of the restaurant that this same man was "writing the longest book in the history of the world."

A decade later, the reporter, a Carolinian named Joseph Mitchell, profiled Gould in the December 1942 issue of The New Yorker. Mitchell wrote that Gould, a self-described "runt" whose mother had pitied him and whose father had disparaged him, had left his suburban home southwest of Boston for the streets and flophouses of New York. There, wrote Mitchell, Gould was now busily assembling tracts of spoken language, of actual dialogue, into an opus titled An Oral History of Our Time. The book, said Gould, communicated truths that surpassed all he had learned at Harvard. Mitchell believed Gould. He believed in him too. Titled "Professor Sea Gull" (Gould claimed to understand the caws of the shorebirds), Mitchell's article changed Gould's life. People "are beginning to look at me in a different light," Gould wrote Mitchell soon after. "I'm not just that nut Joe Gould but that nut Joe Gould who may wind up being considered one of the great historians of all time."

Mitchell did not write again about Gould until two decades later. By then, Gould was dead and Mitchell was considered "the greatest living reporter" (at least by Lillian Ross of The New Yorker). Mitchell in the interim had also learned something remarkable: the Oral History did not exist. It was a complete figment. Gould had looked up at Mitchell with his conjunctival eyes, and flat-out lied. Gould had written nothing more, as Mitchell later noted, than a few repetitive thoughts about tomatoes, Indians, and the deaths of his parents. But no matter. Mitchell regarded Gould as a form of performance art. And looking back at him, Mitchell had seen something greater than a great book: a kindred spirit, a fellow outsider and peripatetic aspiring to catalogue life in the big city.

"Joe Gould's Secret" ran in consecutive issues of The New Yorker in September 1964. Published the next year as a book, it was, famously, Mitchell's final published piece (though he reported to the office most days until his death in 1996). It was also his finest--a "masterpiece," as New Yorker editor David Remnick later characterized it.

This September will mark the jubilee of that masterpiece, the fiftieth year since it appeared in print. It has aged well--preserved in a Mitchell collection published by Pantheon Books (Up in the Old Hotel, 1992), in a film by Stanley Tucci (Joe Gould's Secret, 2000), and in countless college courses. Joe Gould's Secret was built to last. "No bent nails," the editor William Maxwell once observed. "Every word driven, so to speak, all the way into the wood."

But if Joe Gould's Secret is well known, Joe Mitchell's secret is not.

In the spring of 1944--more than a year after Mitchell had profiled Gould--a woman stepped forward to provide the homeless writer with room and board. The woman insisted that she remain anonymous, and arranged for a go-between to give Gould a weekly stipend. It was a benefaction out of the blue, and would, in time, play a pivotal role in his life. Gould was desperate to learn who his patron was. "I'd almost rather know who she is," he once snapped at Mitchell, "than have the money!" But he never found out.

Mitchell himself learned her identity only in 1959, in conversation with one of the woman's few confidants. And he dropped a few breadcrumbs into his 1964 article, describing the patron as "a very reserved and very busy professional woman who was a member of a rich Middle Western family and had inherited a fortune and who sometimes anonymously helped needy artists and intellectuals." But Mitchell revealed nothing more, and took what he knew to his grave. And so, even as Mitchell's book joined the literary canon, no postscript was added to it--no name ever given to the "professional woman" who had supported its protagonist.
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February 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


The Absurdist Insurgency : A history of American humor finds liberation in the horselaugh (BEN SCHWARTZ, February 2014, BookForum)

Debating who gets the funny franchise is in our republic's DNA. According to the weightier tomes on the subject, once the colonial and revolutionary generations of Franklins and Jeffersons aged out of the population, the first Americans--the ones who only knew life as Americans, not as colonials--developed a uniquely rude brand of folk humor that coincided with Andrew Jackson's ascendance. In Blacking Up (1974), Robert C. Toll describes that "common man's culture" as "proud, independent, morally strong, brave, and nationalistic." In American Humor (1931), Constance Rourke writes of these early days:

Laughter produced the illusion of leveling obstacles. . . . Laughter created ease, and even more, a sense of unity, among a people who were not yet a nation and who were seldom joined in stable communities. . . . For a people whose life was still unformed, a searching out of primitive concepts was an inevitable and stirring pursuit, uncovering common purposes and directions.

Waspy, rural, and male, the Jacksonians developed a humor not unlike their politics and economics. It was by and for unlettered yet clever folk--morally correct merchants and farmers rising up in the world. They reveled in comedy that depicted them outwitting urban elites who had more money, cultivation, and education. The Jacksonians gave us the minstrel show, Washington Irving's antielitist A History of New York and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the tall tales of frontiersman Davy Crockett, and hayseed wits like Seba Smith's fictional Major Jack Downing. Waspy Yankee men got to toss the punch lines, and everyone else caught them.

Our inherent Christianity, conservatism and conformity make America's the most naturally-humorous culture going.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Frozen Love (Bruce Frohnen, Imaginative Conservative)

There are many good things to say about Disney's massively popular movie, Frozen. One of its more refreshing plot twists concerns the heroine's saving the day through an act of sacrifice for true love--for her sister. Those who expect to read, now, praise for some feminist attempt to show how a strong female character can dispense with the need for any handsome prince are not all that far off. For Frozen (only very loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen) may be seen as rather subversive of contemporary values. In particular, it shows something too often overlooked or overtly rejected in contemporary culture, namely that there are kinds of love that are at least as important as romantic love.  [...]

[R]omantic love is not and cannot be the center of our emotional lives. More even than our horrible, corrupting laws on marriage and divorce, it is the deeply felt myth that romantic love is the basis of marriage that has brought us to our current state of familial chaos, in which those children lucky enough to be born generally find themselves, even if born into an intact family, grow up in significant measure outside of one.

Of course, if there is not a spark of romance between a man and a woman, marriage today is a non-starter. And it would seem foolish in our society for a couple to enter into marriage without knowing that they are attracted to one another and feel a deep physical and emotional connection with one another. Even the Puritans, supposedly so anti-romance, understood the need for couples to delight in one another; we are, after all, to become of one flesh.

But romance fades--though it comes back stronger and more often than the movies tend to allow. One who constantly seeks the "high" of romantic love (they often say they are "in love with being in love") is like any other addict, loyal only to his or her own needs. What is more, even if romantic love doesn't fade, it simply isn't enough to sustain a marriage. A man must love his wife as a woman (and vice versa), but also as a wife and as a friend. A couple is a couple, but also the basis of a family, needing more than romance in order to raise good children and face all the trials involved therein. And we must love one another as friends, who share triumphs and tribulations, partners in many things and supports in many others, if we are to build a life together. Finally, of course, we must share in the love of God if we are to fully bind ourselves to one another, love without condition as we must, and find our proper place in creation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


DID LYING TEENS TRICK SEX RESEARCHERS? (Melissa Osgood-Cornell, January 17, 2014Futurity)

In the mid-1990s, teens pranked the widely cited National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health by faking nonheterosexuality, report researchers.

Preliminary results from the landmark study, known as "Add Health," stunned researchers, parents, and educators alike, recalls Cornell University's Ritch C. Savin-Williams, professor of human development, licensed clinical psychologist, and director of the university's Sex and Gender Lab. "How could it be that 5 to 7 percent of our youth were homosexual or bisexual!"

Previous estimates of homosexuality and bisexuality among high schoolers had been around 1 percent. So imagine the surprise and confusion when subsequent revisits to the same research subjects found more than 70 percent of the self-reported adolescent nonheterosexuals had somehow gone "straight" as older teens and young adults.

"We should have known something was amiss," Savin-Williams says. "One clue was that most of the kids who first claimed to have artificial limbs miraculously regrew arms and legs when researchers came back to interview them."

We used to lie on the drug use ones they gave us.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Spontaneous Order: Looking Back at Neoliberalism (Tim Barker, Winter 2014, Dissent)

In Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, Daniel Stedman Jones charts the rise of neoliberalism, which he defines as the "coherent, if loose, body of ideas" that underwrite our contemporary "market-driven society." He begins with the intellectual biographies of three exiled Central European thinkers--Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Karl Popper--who challenged the industrial West's consensus around social welfare programs, full employment, labor unions, and state intervention. This first, émigré generation (joined by kindred Americans and West Germans) were "neoliberal" in their opposition to central planning, but also "neoliberal" because they sought a reformed liberalism for the middle of the twentieth century, not a simple return to the laissez-faire of the nineteenth. Hayek's Road to Serfdom, for example, countenanced significant departures from laissez-faire, including universal health care. [...]

[A]s Stedman Jones himself shows, center-leftists were always implicated in neoliberalism: Carter appointed Paul Volcker and initiated deregulation, while Bill Clinton "ended welfare as we have come to know it" and enthusiastically signed the Glass-Steagall repeal. [...]

Bockman argues that conflating the market and capitalism is an ahistorical mistake and an ideological mystification. A strict dichotomy between capitalist markets and socialist planning obscures the fact that the presence or absence of markets is only one dimension of political economy. Just as important as the property question is the institutional question: will markets exist for worker-owned cooperatives, hierarchical corporations, state industry, or individual entrepreneurs? Neoliberal ideology forces us to see the advantages of the market as coeval with capitalism; Bockman suggests that we imagine, as many others have, a way of combining the egalitarian values of socialism with the advantages of market mechanisms. Her argument implicates scholars like Stedman Jones--centrists who define neoliberalism simply as advocacy of "the free market" and propose a balance of "markets" against statism. Such "third way" thinking assumes that the ideal is a bit of capitalism mixed with a bit of socialism. Bockman suggests a more novel hybrid: not markets in spite of socialism, but markets because of socialism.

Of course, as described above, neoliberalism, centrism, the Third Way and even socialism are all the same thing.  Each just hates the other because, while they they arrive at the same terminus, they originate from different stations.    It's why our politics are so partisan in modern times.  Bereft of disagreements over public policy all we have left is the petty personal.

Meanwhile, especially in the Anglosphere and Scandinavia, we are all headed in the same direction: a universal social safety net put on a more stable funding basis by using personal accounts invested in markets or, Second Way ends via First Way means.  The stop/start nature of these reforms is a function of the two sides dealing with the fact that even their political victories are ideological defeats and vice versa.  It's understandably disorienting.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Beyond Naturalism: On Ronald Dworkin : How did an essential figure in the modern revival of liberal political philosophy end up pondering issues of theology? (Michael Rosen, February 11, 2014, The Nation)

Grant the idea that human beings are surrounded by this invisible shell of inherent rights and everything fits together. But there are still two obvious (and connected) objections: What reason is there to think that these strange things called "rights" exist, and what lets us recognize them in enough detail to determine how far they extend? If we turn back to the eighteenth century, the authors of the Declaration of Independence make it clear where they think rights come from: God. Men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," a view that the American founders took more or less directly from the seventeenth-century British philosopher John Locke. At about the same time, in Germany, Immanuel Kant was equally emphatic: "the Rights of Man," he wrote, are "God's most sacred institution." So is the idea of rights as prior to law no more than a hangover of religion? Bentham certainly thought so: "Right, the substantive right, is the child of law: from real laws come real rights; but from imaginary laws, from laws of nature, fancied and invented by poets, rhetoricians, and dealers in moral and intellectual poisons"--Bentham means, no doubt, Christianity and its priests--"come imaginary rights, a bastard brood of monsters, 'gorgons and chimaeras dire.'"

One reply--Richard Rorty was among its best-known advocates--is to say that, although rights don't have a foundation in religion, they don't need them: morality is just about the ways that people judge and respond to various situations, and rights theory is the name for one kind of response. To say that you believe in "rights" is no more than a substantivized way of expressing that you are convinced there are things that ought not be done to people, even in pursuit of a good end. There's no need to think that rights are some spooky kind of entity hovering behind the ways that people think and behave. To borrow a phrase from Rorty, ascribing rights to people is "the way we do things around here."

Yet there is a very important difficulty with this "subjectivist" position. When ruthless utilitarian aggregators defend their view, they can justify it by pointing to the way it leads to the advancement of something that is evidently good (happiness) or the avoidance of something bad (suffering). It means that there is an immediate, intuitively plausible response when utilitarians are asked what kinds of values underpin their moral theory. Yet what justification can be given by someone who rejects that view? What is it about the individual whose life would otherwise be sacrificed for the collective good that makes the sacrifice wrong? To say that she or he has a right not to be put to death in order to save others is just to put a name to the problem. We also need, it seems, a satisfying reason why--something about the victim that explains why he or she has a value that overrides instrumental calculations about the greatest good. It is at this point that religious-sounding vocabulary tends to slip back into the discussion. Rawls, for example, talks about each person having an "inviolability founded on justice," although he does not explain just what "inviolability" might amount to.

I think Dworkin took something like Rorty's position when he published Taking Rights Seriously in 1977. But thirty-six years later, by the time of Religion Without God, he held a different and far stronger view: human beings do indeed have a special value that can't be overridden (religious thinkers commonly call it "human dignity"), though not because it comes from God. To the contrary, values exist independently of God.

If morality were just a matter of God's will, then presumably whatever God willed would be good for that reason and no more. But if God is indeed just, it must be possible for human beings to recognize independently why his commands are good. Of course, goodness is essential to God, so he could not conceivably will anything that was not good--but, still, it is not his willing something that makes it good. As Seneca once wrote, "I do not obey God; I agree with him." So, Dworkin argues, any reasonable religion must acknowledge the priority of value over the will of the Deity. But in that case, the supernatural narrative of creation, revelation and prophecy that surrounds the moral teachings of religion is dispensable.

Dworkin still wants to call his attitude "religious" because, although he does not believe in the existence of God, he "accepts the full, independent reality of value" and hence rejects the naturalistic view that nothing is real except what is revealed by the natural sciences or psychology.

Yet if values exist as "fully independent," how can we have access to them? As Dworkin admits, there are no experiments we can conduct to confirm their existence. Dignity--the "God particle" that sustains the existence of human rights--will not be detected by any scientist. On the contrary, the realm of value is "self-certifying," so the only evidence for the existence of values is the truth of the things that we say about them. And the evidence for that truth is what, exactly--that we agree about values? But disagreement about values is where we came in. Even if we accept that we carry within ourselves an inner kernel of transcendental value, would it give us a way of telling where the claims of the collective end and the prerogatives of the individual begin?

One can either believe in materialism/subjectivism or in objectivism/morality.  Thankfully, most advocates of the former are too decent in the end to take their own position seriously.  Instead, as Rorty said, they freeload off of Christianity while pretending to atheism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Obama promises more executive action (Mike Lillis, 2/14/14, The Hill)

Obama was quick to concede there are limitations to his executive powers, though. 

"Across the board, we're moving," Obama said. "But ... we can get a whole lot more done if we've got Congress working with us."

He urged Congress to enact an immigration bill, calling it "a top priority." The president acknowledged the political thicket that surrounds that issue, particularly for Republicans, but asked lawmakers to transcend their political concerns and focus on the practical effects of such reform. 

"I believe, frankly, that there are folks on the other side of the aisle who genuinely want to see this done. But they're worried and they're scared about the political blowback," Obama said.

"Look, everybody here is an elected official and we can all appreciate the maneuverings that take place, particularly in an election year," he added. "But when it comes to immigration reform, we have to remind ourselves that there are people behind the statistics."

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


What are we working for? (Simon Kuper, 2/14/14, Financial Times)

Working hard isn't some ancient "Asian value". Westerners used to work hard, too. Factory workers in the industrial revolution put in Korean-style seven-day weeks. The French only got paid holidays in 1936. Many European schools used to be as tough as any hagwon. Frank Wedekind's 1891 German play Spring Awakening describes a school full of beaten-down pupils not totally unlike the European lyceum I attended in the 1980s. For generations until Saigon fell in 1975, "west" viewed "east" as "indolent, decadent, pleasure-loving, passive", writes Ian Buruma in The Missionary and the Libertine.

Today's Chinese and Koreans work hard not because of Asian values. Rather, people tend to work hard when they are poor and then suddenly enter a system that lets them get richer through hard work. That's what happened in postwar Germany and Japan, in Korea after its war, in China after Mao, and to countless immigrants in the US. However, once people have some money, they want to chill. In the typical immigrant trajectory, the first generation runs a corner shop, the second generation is a dentist and the third works part-time in an aromatherapy shop in Santa Fe. As Chua and Rubenfeld say: "Group success in America often tends to dissipate after two generations."

Asians in Asia are starting to chill, too. Having become middle class, they are getting fed up with overwork. South Korean students topped the Pisa test rankings but ranked bottom in the developed world for happiness at school. Korean education minister Seo Nam-soo told the BBC: "I think no other country has achieved such rapid growth within a half century as Korea. And naturally, due to that, we emphasised achievement within schools and in society, so that students and adults were under a lot of stress, and that led to high suicide rates ... Our goals now are about how to make our people happier." Nowadays, Korea's government closes hagwons at 10pm, and shuts schools and workplaces on Saturdays. China and Thailand are limiting homework too. Thai teachers who overburden pupils can be reported.

Japan, the west's lunch-eating bogeyman of the 1980s, has already slackened off. Working hours have dropped after 20 years of economic stagnation plus government regulation. The country may now be happier than in its boom years. In Bending Adversity , my colleague David Pilling's new book on Japan, the young Japanese Yoshi Ishikawa says: "Our fathers didn't look so happy to us. They worked such long hours. They earned money, but families in those days led separate lives. Maybe we are asking ourselves, 'What are we working for?'"

That's the question facing everyone who has enough to live on - as ever more people do, despite the economic crisis. If Obamacare succeeds, all developed countries will have guaranteed healthcare. Life then ceases to be a battle for survival. Extreme capitalists may regret this but it's a fact that has consequences for working hours. Jonathan Portes, director of the UK's National Institute for Economic and Social Research, says that as technology improves, "you could argue that if working hours don't go down, there's something wrong". People will choose more leisure.

Only the valetudinarian can imagine it a crisis that we generate more wealth with less work.

February 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Rahm Emanuel: Mayor America (Edward Luce, 2/14/14, Financial Times)

Emanuel's often testy relations with Chicago's black neighbourhoods could be pivotal to his re-election next year. The gulf between the two Chicagos is at least as big as that between the "two New Yorks", which Bill de Blasio, the new mayor of the Big Apple, has promised to bridge. De Blasio comes from the Democratic party's liberal ("Sandinista") wing and promised to make New York's Upper East Side pay more to make life better for its underclasses. Emanuel is closer to Michael Bloomberg, de Blasio's predecessor, who drew on his philanthropic networks to revitalise New York's economic heart. Both are enthusiasts for non-union charter schools. De Blasio, on the other hand, is a champion of the unions.

Emanuel's Chicago versus de Blasio's New York may be the closest America has to an experiment in how to make its cities both liveable and competitive in the 21st century. "Look, we face international forces that are far bigger than us," Emanuel told me in an interview in Mexico City, which he was visiting to inaugurate a city-to-city partnership (almost a quarter of Chicagoans were born in Mexico). I had asked him whether he and de Blasio were rivals. "We both have a great amount of concentrated wealth and great poverty," he replied. "My challenge is to make it a still-great city for the middle-class families that are the bedrock of Chicago." [...]

Emanuel has persuaded many companies, including United Airlines and Google Motorola Mobile (recently bought by China's Lenovo) to shift to Chicago's stunning business district. They joined big brands such as Boeing, Exelon and Hyatt. Others, such as Kraft Foods, McDonald's and Walgreens are based in Chicago's suburbs. Emanuel has also helped to create 10,000 digital jobs, most of which are based at 1871, a thriving incubator housed in the city's venerable Merchandise Mart. The company is named after the year of the great fire of Chicago, which marked the start of its ascent to become middle America's so-called third coast. Large chunks around it are gentrifying. Chicago has a higher share of graduates in the workforce than any other large city in the US. "If Rahm fails - and I don't believe he will - it will not be for lack of trying," says Michael Sacks, a Chicago financier, who co-chairs World Business Chicago (WBC), the city's de facto economic steering committee.

At Emanuel's request, WBC commissioned a 10-point plan from McKinsey and the Brookings Institution to revitalise Chicago's economy. Emanuel has also asked The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Midwest's leading think-tank, to devise a "foreign policy" for the city. "It will draw on Chicago's global roots," says Ivo Daalder, Obama's savvy former ambassador to Nato, who heads the council. Chicago is Mexico's fifth-largest city, Poland's second-largest and home to America's largest population of Ukrainians, Serbs and Koreans. From Greektown to Chinatown, Emanuel is fond of describing Chicago as the "most American of American cities". Unlike New York or LA, each of which are built around one industry - finance and entertainment - it is diversified. No single industry accounts for more than a seventh of its jobs. "We have hardly begun to leverage Chicago's diversity," says Daalder.

On the other side of the tracks, few of Emanuel's successes are much in evidence. In the decade before he became mayor, Chicago haemorrhaged 200,000 people - almost all of them African-American. Under Richard Daley, most of the South Side's notorious housing projects were levelled. Nothing was built in their place. Upholstered neighbourhoods such as Bronzeville - one of the so-called minx ghettos - were gradually taken over by the dispossessed. Well-to-do African-Americans continue to flee to the suburbs in a "black flight" that mirrors the "white flight" of the 1960s and 1970s. Around the now-demolished Michael Reese Hospital, where the young Obama organised unemployed steel workers, gangs have long since ruled. The two Chicagos rarely intersect. Yet the South Side's murder rate mortally impinges on Chicago's global image. From within the Loop, crime is chiefly a problem of perception. The streets of Chicago's North Side are among America's safest. At 415 homicides last year, Chicago's fatalities were less than half their peak. Reducing it further - and ending Chicago's reputation as America's murder capital - is one of Emanuel's three obsessions. His shorthand is "safe streets". The other two are "stable finances" and "strong schools".

In his recent memoir, Robert Gates, the former secretary of defence, described Emanuel as a "whirling dervish with attention deficit disorder". A private family man, Emanuel has two daughters and a son, whom he rigorously shields from the media. His wife Amy, who converted to Judaism when they married, also keeps a low profile. Emanuel, who gets up at 5.30am every day and is frequently seen jogging along Chicago's Lake Shore, puts as much energy into fighting crime as he does rejuvenating the business district. Given Chicago's reputational problem, they are two sides of the same coin. "I need stronger gun laws and I need stronger parents," Emanuel tells me. "One I can work on and one I can ask for." From after-school mentoring to expanded summer youth-jobs programmes, Emanuel puts the same emphasis on social work as he does on "flooding the zone" with police. Although still considerably higher than LA or New York, Chicago's crime rate fell last year to its lowest since 1965. This is in spite of Emanuel's efforts to convince adjacent jurisdictions to tighten their gun laws. Guns are banned in the city itself but Chicago's environs do a roaring trade.

Emanuel's largely unrecognised success has been won in the face of drastic budget cuts - a consequence of Chicago's spendthrift noughties.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Kansas bill would abolish no-fault divorce (AP, February 8, 2014)

Kansas residents seeking divorces would have to prove their spouse's culpability for the crumbling marriage under legislation that would abolish no-fault divorce in the state.

Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican, introduced the measure removing "incompatibility'" as a valid reason for divorce. He said he offered it on behalf of a fellow lawmaker but supports its content.

"No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it," Esau told The Wichita Eagle on Friday. "It would be my hope that they could work out their incompatibilities and learn to work together on things."

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


As American as Peanut Butter (KARINA MARTINEZ-CARTER, February 14, 2014, Pacific Standard)

As the idiom goes, something is "as American as apple pie," and the dessert often concludes Fourth of July feasts that involve celebrating U.S. independence with a spread of foods that have, over the years, taken their place at the table to become considered traditional American fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, and most anything barbecued. The true all-American food, however, is far more quotidian and universal--at least within U.S. borders. It's peanut butter.

Americans consume more than a billion pounds of peanut butter per year, spending almost $800 million a year on the stuff. The numbers reveal obvious mass consumption, but what solidifies peanut butter as the all-American food is what people add to it starting in childhood; it is the symbolism and homey memories as sweet as a jar of JIF that have elevated the product to a near-consecrated place in American culture. "What's more sacred than peanut butter?" asked Senator Tom Harkin in 2009 from the dais, a jar of peanut butter in hand when accusing Peanut Corporation of America of consciously delivering salmonella-tainted peanut butter to a school lunch program. "I still eat peanut butter sandwiches."

No other food is so visibly present in Americana nostalgia and in the typified American upbringing as peanut butter. In the 1960s, revered portrayer of halcyon (and a touch idealized) American life Norman Rockwell even illustrated a Skippy ad. "Peanut butter embodies the raw primordial heart of American childhood," says Jon Krampner, author of Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food.

To grow up in the United States means to eat peanut butter, most commonly consumed in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and this hasn't changed for generations.

Posted by orrinj at 10:41 AM


Misfearing Breast Cancer : More evidence that routine mammograms make healthy people sick. (Christie Aschwanden, 2/14/14, Slate)

What's the No. 1 killer of women? It's a question that practitioners asked every new patient at a clinic where physician Lisa Rosenbaum once worked, and she hasn't forgotten the answer given to her by one middle-aged woman with high blood pressure and elevated blood lipids. "I know the right answer is heart disease," the patient told Rosenbaum, "But I'm still going to say 'breast cancer.' "

Rosenbaum recounts this experience in a perspective published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, which follows on the heels of a long-term study published online this week in BMJ that found no benefit from screening mammography. The two papers make fine companions.

The Rosenbaum commentary explores a phenomenon that Cass Sunstein dubbed "misfearing"--our human nature to fear instinctively, rather than factually. Rosenbaum's patient's first answer is correct--heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined, yet breast cancer seems to invoke far more fear among most women. "What is it about being at risk for heart disease that is emotionally dissonant for women?" Rosenbaum asks. "Might we view heart disease as the consequence of having done something bad, whereas to get breast cancer is to have something bad happen to you?"

If men had breasts no one would obsess over breast cancer either.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Alexander Hamilton: An Unorthodox Conservative Mind (Mark DeForrest, Imaginative Conservative)

While Hamilton's politics were often unique (as Rossiter puts it, "if Hamilton was a conservative, he was the only one of his kind"), within Hamilton's work a genuinely conservative approach to politics and questions of ordered liberty is present.  As Rossiter points out:

He subscribed to a secular version of the doctrine of Original Sin, put a high value on law, order, and obedience, assumed the existence of classes and put his measured trust in the class at the top, spoke with feeling of the role of religious sentiment in man and organized religion in society, and voiced the standard conservative approval of prudence.

Hamilton despised ideologues, condemned the "rage for innovation," and declared himself more willing to "incur the negative inconveniences of delay than the positive mischiefs of injudicious expedients." Always on his guard against the preachers of an "ideal perfection," certain that he would never see "a perfect work form imperfect man," he was prepared to leave much to chanced, and thus presumably to the works of prescription, in the social process. He was never so eloquent as when he declaimed on the favorite conservative theme of the mixed character of all man's blessings.  "The truth is," he wrote to Robert Morris in 1781, "in human affairs, there is no good, pure and unmixed." "'T'is the lot of every thing human," he lectured Rufus King in 1791, "to mingle a portion of evil with the good."

Unlike Jefferson, who was captivated by the French Revolution, Hamilton understood immediately that the French Revolution was nothing but a blood-drenched attack on the very idea of civilized order. As Rossiter notes, "[h]e reads exactly like Burke or Adams in his attacks on 'The Great MONSTER' for its impiety, cruelty, and licentiousness, for its spawning of an anarchy that lead straight to despotism, for its zeal for change and assaults on property for its imposition of 'the tyranny of Jacobism, which confounds and levels every thing.'"

While there is little doubt that Hamilton would be uncomfortable with portions of the ideological rhetoric employed on the modern Right, conservatism (to rely on an observation by Russell Kirk) is not at its core an ideological commitment. It is a commitment to tradition, prescription, custom and prudence, along with an abiding conviction in the principles of religion and natural justice. Compare Hamilton's views, as explained by Rossiter above, with Kirk's own enunciation of the fundamental conservative approach to questions of political and legal order. There is little, if any daylight, between Hamilton and Kirk. Kirk's own appreciation of Hamilton's contribution to conservatism is on display in his Portable Conservative Reader, containing as it does excerpts from Hamilton's writings (and interestingly enough, no excepts from Jefferson's works).

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


ADHD Does Not Exist (RICHARD SAUL, 2/14/14, New Republic)

You might be saying to yourself, okay, ADHD is probably overdiagnosed. And yes, some people who are on a stimulant probably shouldn't be, like the college student struggling to focus on a boring lecture or the kid who's fidgeting a bit too much for his teacher's liking. But how can it be that among the millions of people diagnosed--over 4 percent of adults and 11 percent of children in the U.S.--not one of them actually has ADHD? Because we've all encountered someone with severe attention or hyperactivity issues--the boy who is always daydreaming, the girl who gets out of her seat to run around the room while her classmates sit calmly, the woman who consistently asks questions that have just been answered. Surely at least some of these people have ADHD! Actually, not one of them does. Let me be clear: In my view, not a single individual--not even the person who finds it close to impossible to pay attention or sit still--is afflicted by the disorder called ADHD as we define it today.

Ever since 1937, when Dr. Charles Bradley reported that children who exhibited symptoms of distractibility responded well to stimulant medication, the core concept of ADHD has remained essentially unchanged. Imagine, despite decades of advancement in neuroscience, we're still approaching this "disorder" the same way.

You may notice that there is something striking about the way we define this "illness"--that is, by its symptoms, rather than its cause. If we were to define a heart attack by chest pain, then the appropriate cure would be painkillers, rather than the revival and repair of the heart. Other examples are easy to find: Nasal congestion can be a symptom of a cold, allergy, or many other conditions, but a runny nose is not a diagnosis. In the same way, the symptom complex associated with the ADHD diagnosis is related to more than twenty medical diagnoses, (from those as mild as poor eyesight, sleep deprivation, and even boredom in the classroom, to more severe conditions like depression and bipolar disorder), that, when treated effectively, can result in the disappearance of the attention-deficit and hyperactivity symptoms. But before I make this case, allow me a brief digression into the mechanisms by which common medications for ADHD work.

The stimulants most often prescribed for ADHD represent several different types of agents that help control attention and behavior. 

Boys should be working with their hands, not attending school for 8 hours a day.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


A steady flow of talented, industrious immigrants can fuel a booming economy (THOMAS J. DONOHUE, 2/14/14, McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

Immigration can also address labor shortages in lesser-skilled fields where there are insufficient numbers of either qualified or willing U.S. workers to fill positions.

Many studies have concluded that the greatest percentage of job growth in the United States through 2020 is expected in low- and moderate-skilled jobs that cannot be automated or outsourced. Services like home health and nursing home care, landscaping and hospitality cannot be provided without capable staff ready to do the work.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Volkswagen employees say 'no' to United Auto Workers in Tennessee (Chris Isidore, 2/15/14, CNN)

Organizers faced strong opposition by Republican officials who wanted to maintain Tennessee's reputation as a non-union state in order to attract new businesses.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, a Republican and former mayor of Chattanooga, praised the 'no' vote.

"Needless to say, I am thrilled for the employees at Volkswagen and for our community and its future," Corker said in a statement on his website.

We love jobs.  We hate wages.  It's the conundrum we have to move past.

February 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Is the Universe a Simulation? (EDWARD FRENKEL, 2/14/14, NY Times)

Many mathematicians, when pressed, admit to being Platonists. The great logician Kurt Gödel argued that mathematical concepts and ideas "form an objective reality of their own, which we cannot create or change, but only perceive and describe." But if this is true, how do humans manage to access this hidden reality?

We don't know. But one fanciful possibility is that we live in a computer simulation based on the laws of mathematics -- not in what we commonly take to be the real world. According to this theory, some highly advanced computer programmer of the future has devised this simulation, and we are unknowingly part of it. Thus when we discover a mathematical truth, we are simply discovering aspects of the code that the programmer used.

Mathematics: Why the brain sees maths as beauty (James Gallagher, 2/12/14, BBC News)

Mathematicians were shown "ugly" and "beautiful" equations while in a brain scanner at University College London.

The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by "beautiful" maths.

The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty.

The likes of Euler's identity or the Pythagorean identity are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the best of Mozart, Shakespeare and Van Gogh.

The study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience gave 15 mathematicians 60 formula to rate.

One of the researchers, Prof Semir Zeki, told the BBC: "A large number of areas of the brain are involved when viewing equations, but when one looks at a formula rated as beautiful it activates the emotional brain - the medial orbito-frontal cortex - like looking at a great painting or listening to a piece of music." [...]

Mathematician and professor for the public understanding of science, Marcus du Sautoy, said he "absolutely" found beauty in maths and it "motivates every mathematician".

He said he loved a "small thing [mathematician Pierre de] Fermat did". He showed that any prime number that could be divided by four with a remainder of one was also the sum of two square numbers.

So 41 is a prime, can be divided by four with one left over and is 25 (five squared) plus 16 (four squared).

"So if it has remainder one it can always be written as two square numbers - there's something beautiful about that.

"It's unexpected why should the two things [primes and squares] have anything to do with each other, but as the proof develops you start to see the two ideas become interwoven like in a piece of music and you start to see they come together.

He said it was the journey not the final proof that was exciting "like in a piece of music it's not enough to play the final chord".

He said this beauty of maths was missing from schools and yet amazing things could be shown with even primary school mathematical ability.

In the study, mathematicians rated Srinivasa Ramanujan's infinite series and Riemann's functional equation as the ugliest of the formulae.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Spreading the Pentecostal spirit : L.A.'s Rene Molina grew his church by appealing to Latino immigrants. Now he's helping to fuel Pentecostalism's expansion across the U.S. (Kurt Streeter, February 2, 2014, LA Times)

"Dios es bueno!" (God is good!)

Pastor Rene Molina moved among the sea of believers, bestowing blessings with his touch. He placed a hand on one worshiper's head, sparking such emotion that the man fell to the floor.

"Jesus was an immigrant and outsider too," Molina said, speaking in the Spanish of his native El Salvador. "God is here in Los Angeles as you struggle. God is there with your family, in Mexico and Guatemala.... Don't doubt your value, no matter what society says."

This is Sunday morning service at Restauracion Los Angeles, emblematic of how the practice of Christianity here is being reshaped. [...]

 "He has a clear emphasis," said Juan Martinez, a vice provost at Pasadena's Fuller Seminary who is overseeing the pastor's pursuit of a master's degree in divinity. "Society may have you in the shadows because of your immigration status or your economic status. But this is a church that says, in God's economy, you have total worth."

Restauracion is made up almost entirely of recent immigrants -- restaurant and construction workers, janitors and nannies -- or their sons, daughters and grandchildren. Most are either in the country illegally or started out that way, said Molina, who once sneaked across the border himself.

"In the crowd here you see the faces of Los Angeles," Molina, 51, said. "You see the reality of today."

Ricardo Romero is part of that reality.

Born in El Salvador, he came to the United States during the 1980s, using fake documents to make it through customs.

He scraped by on low-paying jobs, working at Burger King and as a janitor. But the loneliness that came from being far from home led to a drinking problem and depression. Romero was raised Catholic but had tired of religion. Out of desperation, he visited Restauracion.

"It changed my life," said Romero, 45, who met his wife at the church and is now a legal resident and an account manager at a janitorial firm. "There was a warmth, a spirit and ease that I had not encountered in church before. And the pastor was urging us to love God and improve ourselves.... It was not about wealth or becoming rich. It was about becoming the best student, the best father, the best person and citizen we could be."

Romero's narrative is a common one at Restauracion, where most of the membership was raised Catholic. So is the story of Eneida and Abelardo Alvarez.

Sweethearts growing up in Guatemala, they came to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. America has been full of opportunity, they said, but life is a daily struggle. Eneida, 37, works as a nanny. Her husband is a plumber. They live in South L.A., supporting three children.

The church gives them strength.

The Alvarezes attend services three days a week. On a fourth night they host a Bible study in their home, one of about 110 meetings held by church members every week.

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


Breaking down Ben Cherington (John Tomase, 2/14/14, Boston Herald)

He may not hang with Pearl Jam like predecessor Theo Epstein, but the Herald will not abide by his attempts to remain shrouded in mystery. So we've given him a 19-question personality quiz (it was supposed to be 20, but I can't count) across sports, pop culture, and a few other inanities to get to the bottom of such important issues as what awful '80s styles he embraced, why NESCAC nicknames (he's an Amherst grad) are so stupid, and what classic table-top game he absolutely "wore out" as a kid.

1. You grew up on the New Hampshire-Vermont border near one of the most storied companies in baking. Will you ever be as good at your job as King Arthur is at making flour?

King Arthur is the best at making flour. I'll never be the best at my job, so no.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


Why Didn't FDR Help European Jews? Hints in His Decision To Intern Japanese Americans : Now, 70 years after the Supreme Court upheld the internment of civilians in WWII, it may revisit the ruling (Rafael Medoff|February 14, 2014, Tablet)

As it turns out, the parallels between anti-Jewish and anti-Japanese stereotypes to which Takei alluded are crucial to understanding both Roosevelt's decision on Japanese internment and his response to the Holocaust. Even FDR's most ardent supporters today concede that the internment was wrong. The website of the Roosevelt presidential library, in Hyde Park, N.Y., calls the decision "a blemish on Roosevelt's wartime record," and curriculum materials designed for schools by the museum characterize it as "a great injustice." At the same time, however, the museum, which recently re-opened after a nine-year, $30-million revamp and expansion, portrays the president as the victim of irresistible pressure from his military advisers and public opinion.

The museum's exhibition on the Japanese internment makes no mention of the last decade's most important new research findings concerning the motives behind the internment decision. By Order of the President, a critically acclaimed 2001 book by Greg Robinson, an American historian at the University of Quebec, revealed a number of incendiary articles about Asians that Franklin Roosevelt wrote in the 1920s. In those articles, the future president asserted that "the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results." FDR argued that because "Japanese immigrants are not capable of assimilation into the American population," they could not be trusted and their right to purchase land should be restricted.

Interestingly, the museum does include the cover of By Order of the President, and a brief excerpt from the book, in a side panel--so nobody can claim the museum completely ignores Robinson's book. But the excerpt they chose is from a passage that does not mention FDR's writings about Asians. That choice says a lot about what the museum wants visitors to see.

Robinson concluded that FDR's longstanding "negative beliefs about Japanese-Americans" played a significant role in the internment decision. Those beliefs help explain why Roosevelt was so quick to agree with the pro-internment positions of some of his advisers, despite the paucity of evidence of disloyalty among Japanese Americans. It also helps explain why he chose to imprison Japanese Americans, while not taking similar action against German Americans or Italian Americans despite their relation to countries America was fighting in the war.

Roosevelt's views about the Japanese dovetail with his privately expressed opinions about Jews. In my own recent research in the diaries and correspondence of Roosevelt Cabinet members and others close to FDR, I have found a number of troubling remarks by the president in this vein. For example, he complained about Jews "overcrowding" certain professions in Germany, North Africa, and even in Oregon. He was one of the initiators of a quota on the admission of Jews to Harvard. He boasted to one friend--a U.S. senator--that "we have no Jewish blood in our veins." He claimed antisemitism in Poland was a reaction to Jews dominating the local economy. And he embraced an adviser's proposal to "spread the Jews thin" around the world, in order to prevent them from dominating their host countries.

FDR's writings and statements indicate that he regarded both Jews and Asians as having innate biological characteristics that made it difficult, or even impossible, for them to become fully loyal Americans. Certain individual, assimilated Jews could be useful to him as political allies or advisers, but having a substantial number of Jews, especially the less assimilated kind, was--in his mind--inviting trouble.

FDR's private views help explain an otherwise inexplicable aspect of his response to the Holocaust-his administration's policy of suppressing refugee immigration far below the legal limits. The quota of immigrants from Germany (about 26,000 annually) was filled in only one year out of Roosevelt's 12 in the White House. In most of those years, it was less than 25 percent filled. If public or congressional opposition prevented liberalizing the entire immigration quota system, why not at least permit the existing quotas to be quietly filled? The answer is that Franklin Roosevelt's vision of America did not make room for substantial numbers of Asian or Jewish immigrants.

February 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


How Giving $1,000 to Every Baby in America Could Reduce Income Inequality (Norm Ornstein, February 12, 2014, National Journal)

It is called KidSave, and it was devised in the 1990s by then-Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, with then-Sen. Joe Lieberman as cosponsor. The first iteration of KidSave, in simple terms, was this: Each year, for every one of the 4 million newborns in America, the federal government would put $1,000 in a designated savings account. The payment would be financed by using 1 percent of annual payroll-tax revenues. Then, for the first five years of a child's life, the $500 child tax credit would be added to that account, with a subsidy for poor people who pay no income. The accounts would be administered the same way as the federal employees' Thrift Savings Plan, with three options--low-, medium-, and high-risk--using broad-based stock and bond funds. Under the initial KidSave proposal, the funds could not be withdrawn until age 65, when, through the miracle of compound interest, they would represent a hefty nest egg. At 5 percent annual growth, an individual would have almost $700,000.

The initial idea of KidSave was to provide a retirement supplement to Social Security, making it easier in some ways to reform Social Security to achieve fiscal solvency. But the concept can serve multiple purposes at a very small cost.

And the risk level needs to be automatically adjusted by age.
Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM



I find these articles revealing because they show how the Tea Party mindset has affected the definition of success in Republican circles generally. Why has Scott Walker been a success in their view? Because Wisconsin's state government is financially healthy. The actual people of Wisconsin take a back seat to that. A friend of mine in Indiana summed up the mindset when she noted that many people today equate the financial health of government with the well-being of the people in the state.

This I think is the Tea Party mindset writ large. [...]

I actually support many of Scott Walker's reforms. Public sector unions clearly need to be reigned in or even eliminated as they are a huge barrier to rational fiscal management and effective service delivery in addition to being an inherently corrupting political force. Items like allowing unions to force localities to buy health insurance through union affiliated firms at inflated rate were clearly abusive.

It's also early to judge, and this is monthly data that is fairly volatile, even though it's seasonably adjusted and with a same month comparison. There just isn't that much other data available.

What I object to is declaring victory when the budget is balanced. The attitude exposed by this is profoundly revealing and shows everything that's wrong with Tea Party type thinking. It's obvious that people claiming Wisconsin has thrived under Walker didn't even take a cursory look at the actual economic performance of the state.

Wisconsin balanced its budget? Big deal. You're supposed to balance the budget. That's just doing your job. It shows how far we've come that you can receive plaudits simply for meeting what should have been the baseline expectation.

The charts above should also cause a reconsideration of the notion that government finances are the primary determinant of business climate and economic growth. There are states on both the left and right of that issue that are both thriving and struggling. Part of it is that states have limited power in the modern economy. There's only a limited amount they can do to make things better, whereas they can definitely screw it up.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


401(k) balances hit record $89,300 last year (Melanie Hicken, February 13, 2014, CNNMoney)

The average 401(k) balance hit $89,300 at the end of the year, up 15.5% from $77,300 in 2012, according to an annual tally by Fidelity Investments. Most of the boost came from stock market gains as all three major stock indexes ended the year more than 20% higher.

People on the verge of retirement, ages 55 to 64 years old, saw their nest eggs grow to an average balance of $165,200 from $143,300 in 2012, Fidelity said. Savers with both a 401(k) plan and Individual Retirement Account managed by Fidelity had larger nest eggs, with an average balance of $261,400, up from $225,600 in 2012.

February 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


The Pleasures Of 'Teaching To the Test' : Many of my fellow teachers abhor standardized testing, yet the skills it requires are good for students--and teachers. (JAMES SAMUELSON, Feb. 12, 2014, WSJ)

First, standardized tests are a critical thinker's dream. Multiple-choice questions often ask students to evaluate evidence and make inferences. Consider a sample multiple-choice question for the New York State English Language Arts test, which is administered in the public schools. It asks students to identify the tone of a paragraph excerpted from Andrew Carnegie's "The Gospel of Wealth" (1889).

Students must closely read the author's choice of words and phrases so as not to choose plausible but incorrect suggested answers such as "humble," and instead zero in on the correct response, "confident." The ability to do so takes intense focus, stamina and, perhaps most importantly, practice.

Questions such as these are not based on a test-taker's ability to memorize facts--a major criticism invoked by test-taking opponents--but a student's analytical prowess. Close reading to determine the connotation of words and phrases is not merely a test-taking skill. It is a skill needed for a fulfilling, literate life. And it's a skill that students can learn, if teachers are willing to teach them. [...]

[H]ere in New York City there is no citywide English curriculum. The result is a Balkanization of what is taught in the classrooms. An English teacher of a certain age might want to indulge his youthful memories by having students listen to the antiwar anthems of Buffalo Springfield and Pete Seeger. A younger teacher might want her students to share their favorite songs by Miley Cyrus and Shakira, provided that they supply their peers with lyric sheets.

Given these circumstances, it may be easier to understand why such teachers would opt against giving up such "deeper learning" to, instead, take on the dreary task of walking 30 students through how word choice shapes the tone of a passage written more than 100 years ago.

Students acquire test-taking skills through discipline, through routine. They also learn how to reason by following a progression of ideas in connected, logical order. But the need for discipline, for routine, would require teachers to cut down on the practice of flitting about from one unconnected topic to another.

As teachers take them through the steps needed to make inferences, to determine the intent of the use of figurative language, or to understand an author's motive behind a piece of writing, students learn much more than just skills at taking tests. Many teachers might be surprised to learn how much their students enjoy getting the right answer after carefully analyzing a text and the enthusiasm it generates for tackling the next question. They might also come to appreciate knowing what they need to teach--every day.

Students learn vital skills by preparing for tests, a fact of life even acknowledged by New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina. Ms. Farina is known to be skeptical of using standardized testing to measure educational performance, but as she told the New York Times NYT +0.28%  last month, "Life is a series of tests in many ways."

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Burke and Paine, a rivalry that still reverberates (Michael Gerson, February 10, 2014, Washington Post)

One of America's leading young interpreters of British conservatism, Yuval Levin, has written a book detailing a more consequential historical version of the contest between preservation and radical reform. In "The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left," Levin tells the story of an unfriendly rivalry between the progenitors of modern conservatism and modern liberalism. In the time Burke and Paine shared -- the late 18th century -- philosophical arguments could ignite revolutions, and pamphlets could be as important as battles. Both Burke and Paine were masters of political rhetoric at a time when political rhetoric really mattered, and their rivalry still reverberates.

Levin praises Paine for his ability "to bring even modestly educated readers into contact with profound philosophical questions."

It happens to be Levin's talent as a writer as well. Paine emerges as a restless, homeless agitator for liberty, convinced that governments should be torn down and rebuilt according to rational enlightenment principles. "Government by precedent," argued Paine, is "one of the vilest systems that can be set up." Burke, in contrast, proposed to "make the most of the existing materials of his country." Demonstrating Burke's own gift for epigram, Levin observes, "The best kind of political change, in Burke's view, builds on what is best about the given world to improve what is worst about it."

Levin gives both great thinkers their due. But this cannot conceal the fact that Paine's greatest political hope proved to be a horror, and Burke's greatest fear turned out to be a prophecy. Burke argued that the triumph of Paine's enlightenment ideology in the French Revolution would unmoor men and women from tradition, habit and moral restraint. A revolt in the name of liberty alone quickly turned against liberty itself, producing both the Terror and Bonaparte.

The revolts in the name of liberty alone succeeded.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


The U.S. Needs a New Social Contract : We must close the gap between productivity and compensation. (WILLIAM A. GALSTON, Feb. 11, 2014, WSJ)

Summarizing a large body of research, a 2012 report for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (with 34 member countries) attributes this development to three principal factors: the worsening position of low-education workers, changes in technology, and the globalization of production, competition and capital flows. The OECD was unable to find a strong correlation between the strength of collective bargaining in specific countries and labor's share of their output, and the report suggests that globalization broadly reduced workers' negotiating power, regardless of collective-bargaining arrangements.

When compensation fails to keep pace with productivity, workers' purchasing power becomes less able to sustain economic growth. Since 1990, two trends masked the difficulty: rising household debt relative to income, and growth in overseas markets as developing and former communist-bloc countries entered the global economy. But U.S. household debt reached unsustainable levels by 2007, and the boom in developing countries--especially China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey--appears to have peaked. As both Europe and the U.S. are discovering, the domestic market still matters, and weak gains in household income are bound to retard economic growth.

What can we do? A serious long-term infrastructure program would boost employment and wages as well as economic efficiency. A crash program to reduce our appalling high-school dropout rate while creating high-quality technical training would improve the prospects for workers without college degrees. A renewed commitment to basic research would help create new products and industries down the road.

But the facts push me to a more radical conclusion: We cannot expect robust, sustainable economic growth unless we can figure out how average households can participate in the fruits of that growth, as they did in the postwar period. We need nothing less than a new norm--a revised social contract--that links compensation to productivity. And because we cannot return to the conditions that once sustained that link, we need new policies to bring it about.

Neither political party has come close to proposing anything of the sort, and the American people know it.

...replacing taxes on income and investm,ent with consumption taxes and defined benefit social programs with defioned contribution, funded by taxes when necessary.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


High-Powered Lasers Deliver Fusion Energy Breakthrough (David Biello, 2/12/14, Scientific American)

The power of the sun has edged a little closer to Earth. Under x-ray assault, the rapid implosion of a plastic shell onto icy isotopes of hydrogen has produced fusion and, for the first time, 170 micrograms of this superheated fusion fuel released more energy than it absorbed. Experimental shots of the 192 lasers at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have reproduced such fusion at least four times since September 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


The Real Reason Health Spending Has Slowed (John C. Goodman and Peter Ferrara, 2/12/14, NCPA)

Congress passed laws enabling HSA plans back in 2003, and participation has grown by double digits every year since. As shown in Figure II:

By early 2005, one million people were covered by high-deductible health plans that allowed individuals and their families to obtain health savings accounts.

In January 2010, 10 million people had access to an HSA.

By the beginning of 2013, 15.5 million people were covered by HSA plans.

Balances in HSA accounts grew 22 percent in 2012, to more than $15.5 billion. HRAs, a similar arrangement commonly offered by large employers, have grown in tandem with 
HSAs. Today, close to 30 million Americans are covered by these consumer-directed health plans. In fact, enrollment in consumer-driven health plans probably now exceeds enrollment in Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs).

The 2013 annual Kaiser Family Foundation survey reported that one-fifth of all workers are now enrolled in consumer-directed health plans, up from 8 percent in 2008. And as individual accounts have grown, national health spending growth has slowed.

ObamaCare Has Increased Health Spending. Over the past three years, almost all the significant features of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have increased, rather than reduced, health costs by: providing risk pool insurance to the uninsurable, forcing private plans to cover more benefits, and adding such extras to Medicare as free "wellness exams" and closing the prescription drug "doughnut hole." Many economists expect the health reform law to increase costs even more in future years. Medicare's actuaries project that ObamaCare will add $625 billion to total health care spending over the next decade. The RAND Corporation predicts that it will increase the cost of health insurance coverage by almost $2,000 a year by 2016.

Health Savings Accounts Reduce Health Spending. HSAs give people the opportunity to manage some of their own health care dollars. And when people spend their own money in the medical marketplace, they typically shop more carefully than when they are spending money that comes from a third-party payer -- an employer, an insurance company or government. HSAs and their incentives have proven very effective in controlling costs in the real world:

A 2012 Rand Corporation study found that people in HSA plans spend 21 percent less, on average, on health care in the first year.

Total HSA costs have run about 25 percent less than costs for traditional health insurance.

Annual cost increases for HSA/high-deductible plans have run more than 50 percent less than conventional health care coverage, sometimes with zero premium increases.

The emergence of so many people paying for care with their own money is also changing the supply side of the market. Nationally, 1,300 walk-in clinics post their prices and provide timely care. Free-standing emergency care clinics and "Doc-in-the-Box" outlets have now arisen to complement them. The first mail-order prescription drug organization, RX.com, was also driven by cash patients wanting to save time and money. Walmart now offers $4 generic drugs financed by cash, not costly insurance. Phone and email consultation services that give patients access to health care providers on demand are another development.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


For Obama, procrastination on Keystone XL might be a virtue (Doyle McManus, February 12, 2014, LA Times)

The State Department's 11-volume environmental impact statement released last month attempted to balance the factors dispassionately. Yes, the report said, the oil from Alberta's tar sands is 17% dirtier than most of the oil extracted in the U.S., and its transport and refining could add 27 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year.

But the report also concluded that a U.S. decision to block the pipeline wouldn't significantly reduce that problem, because Canada intends to move the oil whether Keystone is built or not. Indeed, if Canada ships most of the oil by rail, the environmental consequences could be even worse, and the United States would lose out on the pipeline's economic rewards.

That's why some administration officials I've talked with -- and even, privately, some environmentalists -- are betting that Obama will eventually approve the Keystone project.

How that sits with voters, especially environmentalists, may depend on what conditions the president imposes on the project and what else he does to address climate change.

Obama can and should ask for conditions in return for his approval of the pipeline. The EPA has already proposed seeking a commitment from Canada to do more to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Increased pollution from the tar sands has already caused Canada to miss its own climate change targets.

Another idea offered by environmentalists is that Obama could approve the pipeline on the condition that oil companies agree to sell the refined products that result in the United States instead of exporting them. That could have the effect of reducing the amount of oil shipped via Keystone -- and also of calling the oil industry's bluff: TransCanada, the pipeline's builder, has said that its customers intend to sell their products in the United States, but environmentalists, noting that exported fuel is more profitable, are skeptical.

Most important, Obama can take other actions to offset the additional Keystone emissions. Indeed, he already intends to. By June 1, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose a federal regulation to cut carbon emissions from the nation's 1,500 existing power plants, the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gases. If the rules are tough enough, they could eventually result in the shuttering of all the 600 remaining coal-fired power plants in the country. Doing so would reduce emissions by an amount many times greater than what the Keystone pipeline would add.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Why Republicans Are Surrendering on the Debt Ceiling : In the three years they've been in power, Tea Partiers have gone through the stages of grief--from denial to acceptance of how Washington works. (MOLLY BALL, FEB 11 2014, The Atlantic)

The shutdown was not fun for anyone, especially Republicans. Even the hardliners who'd seen it as their mission to break china and disrupt business as usual felt the heat. The deal they accepted to end the shutdown was actually worse than what they could have gotten beforehand. Denial gave way to depression. As multiple pieces of major legislation passed without incident, the doldrums began to lift. A sort of peace descended. The debt ceiling approached, and some of the House's most adamant conservatives greeted it with a remarkable new serenity. Two congressmen who did not vote for Boehner for speaker, Justin Amash and Raul Labrador, told the Washington Post they'd just as soon skip the "theater" and "move on." Representative Michele Bachmann advocated "pragmatism," saying, "Most of us don't think it's the time to fight."

At a meeting of House Republicans Monday evening, leaders tried to get the caucus to agree on a strategy of demanding, as part of the debt-ceiling hike, that cuts to military pensions imposed by December's budget agreement be rolled back. (Yes, in a rather rich turn of events, the GOP would have demanded more government spending, though it would have supposedly been offset by other cuts in the future.) This gambit failed to find consensus, so on Tuesday morning, leaders announced they would seek an unconditional, or "clean," debt-ceiling increase. The vote could come as soon as Tuesday.

This is how Washington works: Certain things have to get done, and you try to get the best deal you can, and then move on to the next thing. This is basically what Boehner has been trying to tell his caucus for the last three years, but they had to figure it out for themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Mammogram screenings don't reduce cancer death rates, study finds (Monte Morin, February 11, 2014, LA Times)

Yearly mammography screenings for women ages 40 to 59 do not reduce breast cancer deaths, even though they make a diagnosis of illness more likely, according to a long-term study of nearly 90,000 Canadian women.

The research, published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal, is the latest in a series of studies that question the value of annual breast X-rays for pre-menopausal women and whether too many women are being "overdiagnosed" by the popular test.

"We found absolutely no benefit in terms of reduction of deaths from the use of mammography," said study leader Dr. Anthony Miller, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. [...]

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, an epidemiologist and biostatistics professor at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine, said the study offered the highest-quality evidence yet on the prevalence of overdiagnosis.

"I think there's growing realization that all is not well with mammography," said Welch, who co-wrote the book "Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health." "People in the cancer community and the cancer surgery community are aware of the problem of overdiagnosis. They're aware that mammography was oversold, that its benefits were exaggerated and its harms were kind of downplayed."

In an editorial that accompanied the study, three breast cancer experts from the University of Oslo who have studied the effects of screening in Europe said Miller and his colleagues made a convincing case that current policies should be reconsidered.

"This is not an easy task, because governments, research funders, scientists and medical practitioners may have vested interests in continuing activities that are well established," they wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Helping veterans heal by baking for good (Adam Sullivan, 2/11/14, WCAX)

There is an art to kneading dough and these bakers are learning from the best-- an instructor at King Arthur Flour in Norwich.

"I think baking is one of the oldest trades in the world," said Stephen Guidry of East Hampton, Mass.

And many in this room have been all over the world, serving the country in the armed forces.

"I spent time in Somalia, Haiti. I spent a year in Korea, was stationed at Fort Drum and also Fort Stewart, Georgia," said Susan Landry of Fairlee.

Landry and the other bakers are in-patients at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction. They were invited to King Arthur thanks to a new partnership.

"This is actually part of our 'Bake for Good' program, which is basically taking baking into the community and using it for good," said Julia Reed of King Arthur Flour.

The bread they bake will be donated to the Medical Center's weekly farmers market.

February 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Iraqi terror instructor accidentally blows up 21 recruits (SAMEER N. YACOUB February 11, 2014, AP)

An instructor teaching his militant recruits how to make car bombs accidentally set off explosives in his demonstration Monday, killing 21 of them in a huge blast that alerted authorities to the existence of the rural training camp in an orchard north of Baghdad. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Corporate tax reform: California points the way (Bill Parks, FEBRUARY 10, 2014, Reuters)

Passed by 61 percent of voters in a November 2012 state referendum, Proposition 39 requires a "single sales factor" corporate income tax. Corporate tax collections are predicted to increase by about $700 million per year.

Prop 39 taxes every corporation that sells goods and services in the state -- treating U.S. and foreign corporations the same. The state taxes a portion of each corporation's U.S. earnings based on a simple percentage: total sales in California divided by total U.S. domestic sales. By basing the tax calculation on in-state sales, businesses can no longer use various schemes to make it appear that profits were earned out of state.

Calculating what every company owes with the single sales factor is simple and addresses the "what if's" listed above. This is a big improvement over the devil's bargain that allowed corporations to choose how they were taxed.

The U.S. tax system now requires authorities to keep track of where American companies run their operations and where they make their profits. Companies are taxed more if they operate in the United States -- which encourages many to shift assets abroad. In addition, Washington lets companies defer taxes on profits from business outside the country, but allows them to write off expenses immediately.

If our federal tax code was amended along the lines of California's Prop 39, we could stop this absurd money chase. Every multinational corporation (foreign and domestic) selling products and services in the United States would still want to sell in the world's biggest consumer market. They would also continue to release accurate information about -domestic sales because they would want to reward shareholders with the returns from selling in the U.S. market. We would simply tax the percentage of their global profits represented by their U.S. sales.

Adapting the California tax system for the nation would make U.S. businesses competitive in global markets, without rewarding companies for moving production and assets abroad. It would also help smaller domestic firms compete with large multinationals that now pay little or no corporate taxes.

By no longer trying to tax companies based on whether they have U.S. operations and employees, we could eliminate some of the disincentives that our current tax system imposes on domestic manufacturing and employment. Jobs, factories and profit centers could return here. And we would bring in more tax revenue from foreign companies that sell in the United States, but now get a free ride.

By taxing foreign companies on the Toyotas or TVs they sell in the United States, a sales-based system would bring in more money from a broader base. Judging by Prop 39's more than $1 billion in additional tax revenues, it is logical to conclude that increased revenues from a similar national system could make it possible to lower the overall corporate rate while still raising more funds for reducing the deficit and investing in the economy -- giving liberals and conservatives something to cheer about.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


In defense of not working If anything, we need a nation of free agents unafraid to bail on a lousy job  (Matt K. Lewis, 2/11/14, The Week)

I have long opposed ObamaCare for a variety of reasons. Of course, that doesn't mean that every aspect of it will be pernicious. But instead of acknowledging any possible salutary outcomes, my fellow conservatives have generally assumed the worst -- that people would take advantage of this to sit on the couch and play video games. The truth is that a lot of hardworking Americans might actually benefit from this one component of a bad law.

Conservatives believe that work is a good thing, and, indeed, we cannot disconnect the spiritual and psychological benefits of a good day's work from our policies. Sitting around the house won't give you fulfillment or happiness that you get from accomplishing a goal. But guess what? Neither will working a horrible job.

This quote, from Studs Terkel's book Working might help us remember:

This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence -- to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us. [Working]

There is also an argument here about increasing mobility. The American dream is about your children having opportunities you didn't. I'm a product of that.

Just as I don't want men and women to be servants of the state, putting them in thrall to their employer for the sake of health insurance isn't my idea of a good society idea, either. Ideally, we would have a free-agent nation where more Americans are afforded the opportunity to pursue their dreams and exploit their God-given talents.

My guess is that at least some of the people who are now able to work less without losing their employer-sponsored health care will go on to do much bigger and better things than they would have by just continuing to grind out 40-plus hours a week in a job they didn't like. Some, I suspect, will invent things and create jobs that wouldn't have otherwise existed.

February 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Agreement reached between Iran, UN nuclear agency on expanding agency's probe (AP, 2/09/14) 

The U.N. nuclear agency says Iran has agreed to let the agency expand its probe of Tehran's nuclear activities.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency says the two sides signed off this weekend in Tehran on "seven practical measures" to be implemented by Iran by May 15.

Tehran official says oil contracts to be revised (AP, February 9, 2014)

 Iran's petroleum minister said it plans to introduce by June a new generation of oil contracts that are more attractive to investors.

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


Leaving Work Behind (Ross Douthat, FEB. 8, 2014, NY Times)

[I]t's also possible to argue that as a rich, post-scarcity society, we shouldn't really care that much about whether the poor choose to work. The important thing is just making sure they have a decent standard of living, full stop, and if they choose Keynesian leisure over a low-paying job, that's their business.

There are hints of a division within the liberal mind on this issue. Across the left and center-left, there's agreement that an unequal society requires a thicker social safety net, and that as technological changes undercut low-wage work, government should help those left behind.

But in the Obamacare debate and elsewhere, it's not always clear whether this larger welfare state is supposed to promote a link between work, security and mobility, or to substitute for work's gradual decline. On the left, there's a growing tendency toward both pessimism and utopianism -- with doubts about the compatibility of capitalism and democracy, and skepticism about the possibility for true equality of opportunity, feeding a renewed interest in 1970s-era ideas like a universal basic income.

On the conservative side, things are somewhat clearer. There are libertarians who like the basic income idea, but only as a substitute for the existing welfare state, not as a new expansion. Both "rugged individualist" right-wingers and more communitarian conservatives tend to see work as essential to dignity, mobility and social equality, and see its decline as something to be fiercely resisted.

...in which case, the argument that we should get rid of the division of labor and replace it with grossly inefficient labor (labor that is undignified by its very nature), because we can't accept alternative means of distributing wealth, can not be called a position of the right.  It is the replacement of capitalism/conservatism with a punitive ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


The unforgettable two lives of Ralph Kiner (Joe Posnanski Feb 7, 2014, Hardball Talk)

This is the Ralph Kiner, understand, who from 1946 to 1952 hit 100 more home runs than any other player in baseball and drove in more runs as well, the list of trailers obviously including Ted William and Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio and other Hall of Famers.

*During his stretch with Pittsburgh, the Pirates finished last twice. Both years, Kiner led the league in home runs and walked at least 110 times. In both seasons, the Pirates' pitching staff had an ERA a half-run worse than any other team in the league.

Kiner's insistence on getting paid probably has something to do with Rickey's spitefulness -- Rickey never did look too kindly on ballplayers who wanted to get paid for their services -- and it's likely that Kiner was also a scapegoat for Rickey's inability to turn around Pittsburgh's fortunes. Still, it was a nasty little fight, and it seeped into other places. As Bill James has written, "a lot of people didn't like Kiner." He led the league in home run seven straight years, something even Babe Ruth never did. He was utterly brilliant at getting on base -- his lifetime .398 on-base percentage is the same as Joe DiMaggio's. Still, it took Kiner 15 years to get elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So that was his first life.

His second was as the New York Mets' announcer. He began when the team began in 1962 -- he would always say that the Mets hired him because they looked at his resume and saw that he had plenty of losing experience. The Mets lost 120 that first year and Kiner was part of the broadcast team that brought home the news. As an announcer, he was funny and charming and a little bit befuddled and every now and again he would say something beautiful.

"Two thirds of the earth is covered in water," he once said after a great catch by Phillies center fielder Garry Maddox. "The other third is covered by (Garry) Maddox."

We spend a lot of time with the baseball announcers of our favorite baseball teams. We check in with them daily to find out the score, to learn the news, to check out the weather. My best friend in high school was a huge Mets fan, and he had the first satellite dish I'd ever seen, and nightly we'd find Mets games and Ralph Kiner. We heard more Ralph Kiner than we heard any teacher. We'd always stick around for his postgame show, Kiner's Korner, (both with Ks) because it could be priceless television. You probably have heard the famous Kiner's Korner interview with the Mets' catcher, Choo Choo Coleman.

"What's your wife's name, and what is she like?" Kiner asked.

"Mrs Coleman," Choo Choo growled. "And she likes me, bub."

We would watch Kiner's Korner nightly in the hope of seeing something equally hilarious. Often we did. In my mind, I heard the Father's Day line, and I recall Kiner saying, "If Casey Stengel was alive today he'd be spinning in his grave," and I even seem to remember him advising us that "solo home runs usually come with no men on base." Maybe I did hear those calls. Maybe my memory just wants me to think I did. I remember falling back on that carpet in front of my buddy's television and laughing so hard I literally was rolling on the floor laughing.

What I don't remember was Kiner even hinting that he once hit the longest home runs in baseball, that he was Killebrew before Killebrew, McGwire before McGwire, Thome before Thome. He would call New York Mets' home runs like they were amazing to him, like he could not even believe that someone had the power to do such a thing.

The one time I do recall him mentioning his own feats was when McCarver first joined him in the booth.  McCarver was raving about some active player's accomplishment, maybe leading the league in homeruns for consecutive years or some such and finished with: "Can you imagine that, Ralph?!"  To which the reply was something to the effect of: "Why, yes, I can, Tim."

McCarver went home that nght and read up on his new broadcast partner's records and regaled us with them to start the next broadcast.

A baseball staple, Kiner never lost storytelling flair : Hall of Fame player, iconic Mets broadcaster a favorite of those who knew him (Marty Noble, 2/6/2014, MLB.com)

Confession: I used Ralph Kiner. Yes, I did, and I'm not ashamed of it. In fact, I told him how I had used him, and he appreciated it.

The year was 1974; the site was The Vet in Philly. Rain had jeopardized a Mets-Phillies night game. The rules governing clubhouse access for writers were not too stringent in those days, and they were relaxed because of what became a lengthy delay. I knew I had to have a story "in my notebook," as we say, in case the game was called. The demands of newspapers were unaffected by rain. So I sought out "a rainout story" just in case.

I had been around the Mets beginning in 1970. I had covered their home games in the '73 postseason. I had learned Koosman and Harrelson were approachable, good guys; that Tug was a joy, a guy who often behaved like his outpitch (a screwball); that Seaver and Rusty had to be primed a bit; that Cleon could be more insightful than most of us thought; and that Grote, growling catcher Jerry Grote, could be ornery and quite difficult, particularly after a game.

But 5 o'clock had not arrived, and Grote's game face still was in a jar he kept by the door. I needed to get to know him. You can't easily cover a team if you don't have a relationship with the catcher. And on a team as well-armed as the '74 Mets -- Seaver, Koosman, Matlack and Tug -- conversations with the catcher were required.

So after pushing aside some misgivings, I approached the locker of No. 15, said, "Jerry, got a moment?" And as pleasantly as Albert Belle with a thorn in his toe and a migraine, Grote responded: "For what?" He did not bother turning to determine who had interrupted his afternoon.

I thought quickly, "How can I defuse this approaching storm and maintain a modicum of self-respect?"

I said: "I'm doing a piece on Ralph Kiner, and I'd like your input."

There, I was certain Grote would be eating out of my hand in moments and that I would not have to count my fingers when he was finished. He turned, wearing an expression of torment. He pulled his stool out, sat, crossed his legs, folded his arms and, with an unhappy voice, said, "Sure, what do you need?"

Months later, after the growling catcher and I had shared a few more civil conversations and a lunch at a hotel, I confessed to him I never wrote a word he had said about Kiner, that I had used Kiner only as a topical icebreaker. I rightly calculated the mood of any players with Mets tenure would be soothed merely by the mention of Ralph Kiner. And Grote proved me right.

Asking Mets players of that generation about Kiner was akin to asking about their mothers. They softened and willingly shared their thoughts and anecdotes. Kiner was a favored topic in the Mets' clubhouse, in their dugout and on their charter flights. He was a favorite person as well. He became one my favorites, too. [...]

Jack O'Connell noted that Kiner was the tiny figure in the background (lower left) in Norman Rockwell's famous "Bottom of the Sixth" illustration for a Saturday Evening Post cover in 1949. It had to be Ralph. Depicted were three umpires working a Brooklyn Dodgers-Pirates game at Ebbets Field in Pittsburgh, wondering about a rainout; Rockwell was nearly obligated to use Kiner. Ralph was the face of the franchise long before that term became prevalent, the primary muscle in the National League.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


A Healthier, Wealthier Africa (Joseph Jimenez, 2/06/14, Project Syndicate)

The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) have long been the focus of emerging-market investors. But it is in Africa, a region with the world's second-fastest growth, where the next big business opportunities lie. In about one-third of the continent's 55 countries, annual GDP growth is above 6%, and Sub-Saharan Africa grew at an estimated 5.1% pace in 2013.

Foreign investors report that their return on investment in Africa is higher than in any other emerging region. By 2040, the continent's working-age population will total an estimated 1.1 billion people, providing businesses with a larger labor pool than even China or India. Moreover, economic expansion is taking place not just in urban centers, but in small towns and villages as well.

Africa has witnessed some remarkable technological leaps. A decade ago, telecoms infrastructure was almost non-existent. Today, one in six people owns a mobile phone, the benefits of which go far beyond easy communication. Africa has pioneered the use of mobile banking, with local players like M-Pesa and global corporations like Citi demonstrating how new technology can provide vital financial services to the unbanked population. Mobile money and digital wallets accessed on cellphones eliminate the need for physical cash in rural areas, where financial services are limited and carrying large amounts of cash is risky.

Joining this mobile-phone revolution, Novartis is working with five African governments and private-sector partners to improve drug distribution and monitor the supply of anti-malaria medicines in rural areas, using text messaging and electronic mapping. Previously, patients would travel to distant health clinics only to find that the medicines that they needed were no longer in stock. Now, thanks to the SMS for Life project, vital medicines can be quickly redistributed to where they are most needed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Iran hard-liners accuse Rouhani of halting missile drill (AP February 9, 2014)

The Sunday report by IRNA says 24 lawmakers said in a statement that the Supreme National Security Council, headed by the president, stopped the annual test and did not approve its budget.

In a separate letter, the lawmakers accused Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of preventing foreign experts from assisting Iran with its missile technology, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. It did not elaborate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


The jihadist movement: definition and evaluation : The jihadist movement has splintered into many conflicting extremist groups. )Scott Stewart | 28 January 2014, MercatorNet)

The jihadi movement is often portrayed in the press as a monolithic entity, with the entire movement frequently referred to as "al Qaeda" or "al Qaeda-linked militants." In reality the jihadist movement is far more complex. This is why we have titled this series "Gauging the Jihadist Movement" and not simply "Gauging al Qaeda."

As previously discussed, there are a number of jihadist actors and groups, and many of them hold to different religious doctrines and operational tenets. For example, some groups tend to be more nationalistic in nature, such as the Afghan Taliban, while others are more transnational, such as the al Qaeda core. And there is a range of groups with beliefs that fall between these two extremes. Even al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the jihadist franchise group most closely aligned with the al Qaeda core, has conducted terrorist attacks against local and regional targets in addition to transnational targets.

But target selection and the types of attacks employed are not the only differences. Some groups believe in the practice of takfir, or declaring another Muslim to be an unbeliever, while other groups refute takfir as un-Islamic. Some jihadist groups actively attack Shiite and Sufi Muslims while other groups will cooperate with Shiite, Sufi or even secular militant groups fighting for the same cause. There are also differences between groups regarding how Sharia should be administered in areas conquered by jihadist groups. 

We refer to these regional groups that have sworn loyalty to al Qaeda as "franchise groups" because, while they do use the widely recognized transnational brand name, they are very much locally owned and operated. But even among the declared al Qaeda franchise groups, there can be differences in operational doctrine.

In Syria, we have seen these differences among jihadist franchise groups erupt into contention and even armed conflict. This situation has also resulted in open defiance to directives from the al Qaeda core leadership. One al Qaeda franchise group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has continued attempts to subsume another Syrian al Qaeda franchise group, Jabhat al-Nusra, even after al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri ordered the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to confine its efforts to Iraq and allow Jabhat al-Nusra to maintain responsibility for Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


The Spirit of Conservative Reform (Peter Berkowitz - February 8, 2014, RCP)

A sober and reform-minded conservatism could very well fit the bill. It would focus on promoting opportunity and economic growth. It would present alternatives rooted in the free market and experimentation in the laboratories of democracies of the state capitals, for expanding health insurance coverage and lowering health care costs. It would reconstruct America's massive and debt-ridden entitlement programs. [...]

Conservatives, the authors maintain, justly focus on equality of opportunity and resist the left-liberal quest to use government to bring about equality of result. But conservatives would be wrong to suppose that equality of opportunity implies no task for government, or merely the exercise of restraint by government. Instead, conservatives must take to heart that level playing fields do not occur naturally. They are made by the collaborative and deliberate efforts of human beings, including government efforts.

In 2014, maintaining level playing fields for a diverse nation of 320 million souls requires a variety of reforms constructed to advance individual liberty and consistent with limited government. These include, according to Gerson and Wehner, achieving broad access to modern health care; decreasing extreme economic inequality while increasing social mobility; renovating the nation's physical infrastructure; and streamlining the tax code; modernizing immigration laws; and fitting entitlement programs with contemporary interests and enduring constitutional principles.

Gerson and Wehner find the spirit of conservative reform alive and well at the state level. They laud Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's transformation of the laws governing public sector workers; Ohio Gov. John Kasich's job creation and budget balancing; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's promotion of school choice; and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's imposition of fiscal order and strengthening of public education.

Conservatism can advance the public interest--and its own--by bringing this spirit of reform to the national level. Conservatives should continue to lead the way in reforming government by restraining and re-limiting it. But the aim of reforming government is not to immobilize it, but rather to make it more capable of enacting and executing the wide-ranging and constantly shifting reforms necessary for the enjoyment and defense of liberty. 

Of course,none of these conservative reforms--HSAs, personal social security accounts, school choice, taxing consumption instead of income, immigration amnesty, modernizing infrastructure, etc.--make governbment smaller.  Indeed, they make it larger. 

On the other hand, they use capitalist principles to make that government more efficient and beholden to individual tax payers. (Meanwhile, just one of the ways that they expand government is to make everyone a tax payer.)

It's about making government better, not smaller.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Immigration minister resigns for employing illegal immigrant (theguardian.com, Saturday 8 February 2014)

The immigration minister, Mark Harper, has resigned for employing an illegal immigrant as a cleaner, Downing Street said on Saturday. [...]

Last year Harper launched a government advertising campaign that targeted racially mixed areas with mobile billboards warning illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest".

Someone has to do the work white people won't do.

February 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


In defence of football statistics: the drama is in the data (Sanjit Atwal of Squawka.com, 7 February 2014, The Guardian)

John Keats once accused Sir Issac Newton of destroying the poetry of the rainbow by trying to explain how all of the colours got their hues. It's a story I found myself recalling after reading Michael Moruzzi's article that claimed analysing football through statistics misses the point of the game.

Football has succeeded in attracting many fans due to its unfailing accessibility. But this great strength of the game also appears to be its biggest weakness. If the game we all love suddenly starts to seem inaccessible then a natural wariness from fans is probably to be expected. This wariness fuels the current argument raging between the legacy art of the beautiful game and the enterprise science of data analysis.

Numbers are perhaps not for all. It's to the traditionalist's credit that they fall back with an argument based on the beauty of the sport being reduced to binary output; however it does seem odd that we would choose to polarise such a thing as football as either art or science.

Data and, crucially, data visualisation is key to helping a new generation of fans understanding the game better. What is more, data visualisation can help fans get closer to the action when processed in real-time. Where in-game data was once solely the realm of managers, it is now available to fans at no expense other than the effort to type in a URL or to open an app. So what does this mean for the modern football lover?

It means offering the ability to turn opinion into fact instantly. This does not mean the tribal pastimes of the sport - the trash talk on the terraces and in the pubs - are redundant. On the contrary, surely having access to the data in a digestible format should spark more debate and fuel further discussion? To deny this would be to admit that Britain has lost something Keats, Newton and co were famed for - the appetite for both a vociferous and informed argument.

Even setting aside the eventual dominance of the game by America that population and wealth makes inevitable, we were always destined to transform the game because of our superior understanding of it, enabled by both our newness to it (and lack of preconceived notions) and by sabremetrics.  

Their resistance to the use of numbers is a function of the fact that they deny what people over there thought was true about the game.  That extends to even such a simple, but vital, insight as this one : health is a skill.  So when a club like Manchester United dumps a pile of cash on a Robin Van Persie, whose only healthy season came in his contract year, it's laughable for them to complain that he's injured.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


The one quick way to boost worker productivity It takes place in the bedroom, not the office... (Maureen Mackey, 2/06/14, The Fiscal Times)

"Poor sleep has been associated with increased morbidity and mortality including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and coronary heart disease," researcher Mark Wahlqvist of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said in a statement.

Our chronically tired society has created a lucrative industry, which is why the American sleep economy recently climbed to $32.4 billion a year.

It's nearly impossible, of course, for most of us to overhaul our nighttime sleep habits in the blink of an eye -- that generally takes a dedicated, sustained effort, often with the help of professionals. Yet there's one relatively simple thing we can do to begin to pay down our sleep debt and, in the process, fix our productivity: Take a nap.

While brief daytime naps won't completely compensate for inadequate or poor nighttime sleep, taking a regular snooze of 20 to 30 minutes can help improve our mood, alertness and performance, say the experts. If you're feeling sleepy during the day, "a 20-minute nap can work wonders," said sleep specialist Patty Tucker of Napa Valley, California.

Dr. Amanda Beck, a professor of sleep medicine at the University of New Mexico, said taking a nap "is a good idea. Put a note on the door and nod out for 15 minutes. In a lot of ways, having a nap is a lot better than a cup of coffee," she told ABC News.

Naps can be classified in three ways, according to the National Sleep Foundation:

Planned napping is taking a nap before you're sleepy, such as when you know you'll be up later than usual. It can be used to ward off tiredness later.

Emergency napping is when you're suddenly so tired you can't continue with your current activity. This nap can help combat drowsy driving or fatigue brought on by physical labor.

Habitual napping is taking a nap at the same time every day, such as naps taken by young children or naps by older adults right after lunch.

Many employers are becoming savvy to the benefits of napping and are looking anew at tiny closets or other seldom used spots and remodeling them into functional nap rooms. This is boosting a relatively new segment of the sleep industry.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM

60 in '14:

The Numbers That Scare Senate Democrats (Karl Rove, 2/07/14, WSJ)

Seven states carried by Mitt Romney have Democratic senators whose seats are up in November. Overall in these states, the leading Republican candidates raised $6.5 million while their Democratic opponents--including four incumbents--raised $6.7 million during the last quarter. Five Republicans outraised their Democratic opponents, including in all three states (Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia) where the Democratic senators are leaving and in two of the four states (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina) where Democratic incumbents are trying to hold on. [...]

The second troubling number for Democrats is Gallup's presidential job-approval rating, which was 42% the week ending last Sunday. The president's average approval in these seven Senate states is roughly 36%. If that's the case on Election Day, he will likely sink his party's candidates, who probably cannot run more than five points ahead of Mr. Obama's rating.

Then there is the nonpartisan Congressional Quarterly's summary of last year's legislative voting patterns. The four red state Democratic senators running for re-election gave Mr. Obama's policies almost perfect support, led by Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and Alaska's Mark Begich at 97%, followed by North Carolina's Kay Hagan at 96% and Arkansas's Mike Pryor at 90%.

They are now trying to distance themselves from the president. 

Of course, the best way for those senators to obtain campaign cash is to sell their fast-track authority votes.
Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Sharon Jones Returns to the Stage (TAD HENDRICKSON, Feb. 5, 2014, WSJ)

Ms. Jones was then preparing for the release of her fifth album, "Give the People What They Want." She went in for surgery in June, when the doctors found that she also had stage-two pancreatic cancer. They removed part of her pancreas, small intestine and gall bladder, and Ms. Jones then underwent chemotherapy.

"I didn't even think I would be here to see this day," she recalled. "I knew people would be buying this album, but I thought I'd never be on stage performing it. But I'm here to witness. I'm a living witness." [...]

Born in Augusta, Ga., and raised in Brooklyn and Queens since she was 3, Ms. Jones did low-profile work back in the '70s, but didn't change with the times as rhythm and blues, funk and soul morphed into disco, hip-hop and pop.

It wasn't until she recorded in 1996 with an early version of her current band the Dap-Kings (then called the Soul Providers) that success began to come. By then she'd had day jobs as a corrections officer at Rikers Island and an armored-car guard, performing on weekends in wedding bands.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Massive open online forces : The rise of online instruction will upend the economics of higher education (Feb 8th 2014, The Economist)

In America, bowing to the inevitable, universities have joined various startups in the rush to provide stand-alone instruction online, through Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Though much experimentation lies ahead, economics can shed light on how the market for higher education may change.

Two big forces underpin a university's costs. The first is the need for physical proximity. Adding students is expensive--they require more buildings and instructors--and so a university's marginal cost of production is high. That means that even in a competitive market, where price converges towards marginal cost, modern education is dear.

It is also hard to raise productivity. University lecturers can teach at most a few hundred students each semester--the maximum that can be squeezed into lecture halls and exam-marking rosters. Because it is so labour intensive higher education relies on large numbers of instructors paid relatively modest salaries.

MOOCs work completely differently. Alex Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University and co-founder of an online-education site, Marginal Revolution University, reckons the most salient feature of the online course is its rock-bottom marginal cost: teaching additional students is virtually free. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


What sets humanity apart (Stephen Cave, Financial Times)

Those seeking the most cutting-edge account might therefore turn directly to Tomasello's own new book, A Natural History of Human Thinking.

Tomasello has spent a lifetime conducting similar tests on both great apes such as chimpanzees and on humans of different ages, in order to pin down exactly where our capacities differ. In this difficult but rewarding book, he attempts to place these results into a grand theory of how and why these differences evolved.

All of our enhanced faculties, he argues, are about one thing: co-operation. Our great ape cousins are very social - a trait associated with cognitive complexity - but they are mostly competitive within those social groups. At some point in our evolutionary history, he conjectures, early humans were forced to overcome this competitiveness and work together for common goals such as hunting large prey. Such co-operation then drove the development of all those faculties listed by Suddendorf, from understanding others to language, culture and morality. These abilities further support each other, which is why the twig of humanity now stands out so far.

Tomasello makes a good case for our being hardwired to work together: in one study he cites, an adult and a human infant were engaged in a joint effort to get a toy. When the adult suddenly stopped, the child tried various means to re-engage him; whereas chimps just tried to manage the task on their own. In another study, pairs of three-year-old children had to collaborate for a reward; when the reward unexpectedly became available to one child halfway through, he or she nonetheless ignored it and persisted until both were rewarded - needless to say, chimpanzees did not.

Tomasello's account of how co-operation drove the development of our distinctive intellect is controversial - Bekoff too would point to the growing body of evidence on how other species co-operate. It is also highly speculative: a trait such as co-operation leaves few traces in the fossil record. But it is speculation by a thinker at the top of his field, based on the latest research, and as such is likely to be the definitive statement of human uniqueness for some time to come.

His account also makes me feel better about not having invented the iPad or landed on the moon: it suggests that these are indeed triumphs of the human spirit, but not because they sprang from the minds of lone superhumans. Rather, it is because they are products of the distinctively human practice of putting heads together. 

February 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


In Talk of Economy, Obama Turns to 'Opportunity' Over 'Inequality' (JACKIE CALMES, FEB. 3, 2014, NY Times)

Like so many political fights, the one between President Obama and Republicans over income inequality has become a battle over language. Is it about inequality of incomes or of opportunity? On this question, the president and his party have moved in Republicans' -- and voters' -- direction.

To Republicans, talk of income inequality smacks of class warfare and redistribution of wealth, of taxing the rich to give to the poor. They prefer to emphasize opportunity and upward mobility, and Democrats, too, have come to see that frame as more appealing to middle-class voters in this midterm election year. 

For years, Mr. Obama has spoken of gaps in both income and opportunity between the privileged and everyone else in a changing economy. But his emphasis has shifted. In his State of the Union address last week, he spoke 10 times of expanding "opportunity" and twice of income inequality. That ratio was roughly flipped in his signature speech on the topic in Osawatomie, Kan., just over two years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


'The Second Machine Age,' by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (Steven Pearlstein, January 17, 2014, Washington Post)

What enables these breakthroughs, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, is not just the amount of data available and the speed at which it can be processed. It's also the ease with which these new capabilities and new ideas can be combined and recombined. Economic historians tell us that it took several decades for earlier breakthrough technologies, such as the steam engine or electricity, to reach the point of ubiquity and flexible application at which they fundamentally changed the way people lived and businesses operated. Information technology and digital communication, they argue, are now just reaching that same inflection point. Rather than approaching a period of mature decline, as Gordon and Cowen have suggested, according to the men from MIT, these technologies are about to take off.

The big winners in this new era will be consumers, who will be able to buy a wider range of higher-quality goods and services at lower prices. The other winners will be those who create and finance the new machines or figure out how best to use them to gain competitive advantage. Great wealth will be created in the process.

To illustrate the point, Brynjolfsson and McAfee cite the example of Instagram and Kodak. Instagram is a simple app that has allowed more than 130 million people to share some 16 billion photos. Within 15 months of its founding, Instagram was sold to Facebook -- a company with 1 billion users -- for $1 billion. It was only a few months later that Kodak, the Instagram of its day, declared bankruptcy. The authors use this little vignette to illustrate two points. The first is to point out that the market value of Facebook/Instagram is now several times the value of Eastman Kodak at its peak, creating, by their calculation, seven billionaires, each of whom has a net worth 10 times greater than George Eastman ever had. Such is the "bounty" of the second machine age.

But the evolution of photography also demonstrates how unevenly that bounty has been divided -- what the authors somewhat inelegantly call the "spread." Not only has it created a new class of super-rich entrepreneurs and investors, but it has done so with a company that employs only 4,600 workers. Compare that with Kodak, which at its peak employed 145,000 workers in mostly middle-class jobs.

In the first machine age -- the age of Kodak -- productivity, employment and median income all rose in tandem. In the second, the growth in productivity has essentially been decoupled from jobs and income. And this divergence has its roots not in labor law or tax codes, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, but in the very nature of the digital economy, in which a set of goods and services can be provided to an infinite number of additional customers, all at the same time, at a cost that is often close to zero.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


A Better Israeli-Iranian Relationship (Paul R. Pillar | February 6, 2014, National Interest)

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview the other day, "Once the Palestinian problem is solved the conditions for an Iranian recognition of Israel will be possible." Set aside for the moment the fact that Zarif was addressing only one-half of a process and left open the question of what it would take for an Israeli recognition of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which may be the more problematic part of the equation. Note how the mere possibility of the Islamic Republic recognizing the State of Israel is a universe apart from so much of what is continually said about Iran, especially said by the government of Israel. You know--all that rhetoric about how Iran is supposedly dedicated to the destruction of Israel and so forth.

They are a universe apart because the rhetoric is mistaken and Zarif's comment is an unexceptional reflection of history and of actual Iranian interests. There should be nothing surprising about his remark, and nothing surprising about it while taking it as an honest and direct expression of Iranian intentions. Amid today's rancor it is easy to forget the substantial history of Israeli-Iranian cooperation. That history included not only the time of the shah but also the early years of the Islamic republic, when Israel was providing logistical and training assistance to Iran and urging the United States to tilt toward Iran during the Iran-Iraq War.

A fundamental basis for cooperation back then, as it would be now and in the future, is the status of Israel and Iran (along with Turkey) as important non-Arab states in a predominantly Arab region.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


A Coke ad crystallizes GOP's immigration problems (Michael Gerson, February 6, 2014, Washington Post)

Coca-Cola's Super Bowl ad featured a series of multicultural images set to "America the Beautiful," sung in seven languages. It turned out to be a national Rorschach test. The immediate reaction of some -- myself included -- was a lump in the throat. There is something moving about hearing American ideals of brotherhood, reverence and sacrifice praised in other tongues. It is the universality of these longings that makes them powerful. For the same reason, I get misty when I hear "Amazing Grace" sung in Tsonga, Swahili or Kituba. Some hopes belong to everyone.

The immediate reaction of others -- measured by Twitter and talk radio -- was that the ad represented an aggressive and divisive multiculturalism and that American national songs should be sung in English (though conservative blogger Erick Erickson smartly noted that "E Pluribus Unum isn't in English either"). Fox News radio host Todd Sarnes called Coca-Cola "the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border." Former congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) declared America "on the road to perdition."

This is already making too much of a Twitter tempest. But it does illustrate a vivid difference in disposition. Some looked at those images and saw an affirmation of the universality of American ideals; others saw a violation of the particularities of American culture, such as the use of English. Some saw exceptionalism and strength; others adulteration and threat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland's remarks on EU are unacceptable (Ed Pilkington in New York, Luke Harding and agencies,  7 February 2014 The Guardian)

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has described as "totally unacceptable" remarks by a senior US official who said "f[***] the EU" while speaking about the crisis in Ukraine.

In a leaked conversation posted on YouTube, the state department official Victoria Nuland revealed the White House's frustrations at Europe's hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, which erupted late last year. Nuland was talking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

A definitive Kinsley gaffe.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


How Many Hours of Minimum Wage Work Does It Take to Earn a Beer? (ROBERTO A. FERDMAN, QUARTZ, RITCHIE KING, QUARTZ)

February 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Obama's Moment of Truth on Trade : Bill Clinton bucked his own party to get Nafta. Will this president do the same to get agreements with Europe and Asia? (WILLIAM A. GALSTON, Feb. 4, 2014, WSJ)

In September 1991, I found myself in a windowless Washington hotel room helping to plan Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. A key question for the group that had gathered was whether the as-yet-undeclared candidate should support the North American Free Trade Agreement that incumbent president George H.W. Bush had negotiated. After considerable discussion of Nafta, Mr. Clinton looked up at us and said, "I want y'all to understand something: I'm not going to run as an isolationist, and I'm not going to run as a protectionist."

That ended the debate--for a while. It started up again not long after he entered the Oval Office, among congressional Democrats and within the White House. In August 1993, President Clinton ended the internal debate by delivering a ringing defense of Nafta and appointing William Daley to spearhead the drive for its ratification.

Although House Speaker Tom Foley supported the treaty, he said that in view of divisions within his caucus, the Democratic leadership would take no position. Within two weeks, House Democratic Whip David Bonior had become the floor leader of the Nafta opposition. A few weeks later, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt announced that he too was opposed, a decision widely regarded as the death knell for the treaty.

That was Mr. Clinton's moment of truth, and he did not flinch. After an all-out White House push in which the president participated extensively, the House approved Nafta, voting 234-200. Democrats were deeply divided: While 102 voted in favor, 156 opposed the treaty. With the support of a bare majority of Democrats, Nafta passed easily in the Senate.

With Harry Reid's blunt rebuke last week, Barack Obama's moment of truth has arrived. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Rouhani donates $170,000 to Iran's Jewish hospital (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 6, 2014)

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani donated $170,000 to the country's only Jewish hospital, his second such gesture since taking office. [...]

Iran's Jews number about 8,000, making it the largest Jewish community in any country in the Middle East outside of Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Kiner, Hall of Fame slugger, broadcaster, dies at 91 : Led Majors in homers for six straight years with Bucs; worked Mets games since 1962 (Marty Noble, 2/06/14,  MLB.com)

When Frank Cashen approached a gathering of men at Spring Training camp in the 1980s, he routinely addressed them three times. "Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen," the Mets general manager would say, no matter the number of scoundrels and scallywags in the group. He once explained why he would paint them all with the same benefit-of-the-doubt brush. "Just in case Mr. Kiner is among them," Cashen said. "Any group that includes Ralph would have to be a group of gentlemen."

A tad presumptuous, perhaps, but probably true; the gentle and princely presence of Ralph Kiner could turn a gathering of crooks, rogues and rascals into civil and gracious fellows. Mr. Kiner had that effect, the opposite of one bad apple. "One wonderful man," Tim McCarver once said. "Any group of people is better off if Ralph joins."

On this mournful day, consider the group of mankind worse off; Ralph McPherran Kiner has died.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Interview: Fred Siegel on The Revolt Against the Masses (Ed Driscoll, February 2nd, 2014, PJ Media)

During our interview, we'll discuss:

● The largely forgotten racism of H.G. Wells and Woodrow Wilson.

● Sinclair Lewis's absurd yet highly influential It Can't Happen Here, and its paranoid vision of American fascism rising up from the benign members of the all-American Rotary Clubs and Elks and Moose Lodges.

● When did "Progressivism" become "Liberalism," and why?

● What really happened during the Scopes Trial?

● Why H.L. Mencken rooted for the Germans to win World War I.

● What were the three legal trials that shaped the American left of the 1920s?

● How did the Kennedy assassination unhinge American liberals?

● What shaped the radical environmentalism of Al Gore and other American leftists?

● How much of the tradition and the excesses of the early progressives was inherited by Barack Obama?

And much more. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


U.S. Productivity Rises at Healthy 3.2% Clip in Fourth Quarter (JONATHAN HOUSE And JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, 2/06/14, WSJ)

Nonfarm labor productivity, or output per hours worked, rose at a 3.2% annual rate from October through December, the Labor Department said Thursday. [...]

The rise in productivity, coupled with subdued wage growth, resulted in a 1.6% decline in fourth quarter labor costs. Over the same period a year earlier, fourth-quarter labor costs fell 1.3%, an indication of weak wage growth in the economy.

February 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


MUSLIMS, OUR NATURAL ALLIES (Robert P. George, 2/04/14, First Things)

 Let all of us--Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of other faiths who "esteem an upright life" and seek truly to honor God and do His will--embrace each other, seeking "mutual understanding for the benefit of all men [and working] together to preserve and promote peace, liberty, justice, and moral values."

Through the great work being done by my friend Jennifer Bryson--who is a devout Christian and a great American patriot who spent two years as an interrogator at Guantanamo--I have met hundreds of religiously observant Muslims over the past several years and many are now my close friends. They are among the finest people I know. Like faithful Christians and Jews, they seek to honor God and do His will. They work, as we do, to inculcate in their children the virtues of honesty, integrity, self-respect and respect for others, hard work, courage, modesty, chastity, and self-control. They do not want to send their sons off to wars. They do not want their children to be suicide bombers. They do not want to impose Islam on those who do not freely embrace it. They thank God for the freedom they enjoy in the United States and they are well aware of its absence in the homelands of many of those who are immigrants. It is not right for us to make them feel unwelcome or to suggest that their faith disables them from being loyal Americans. It is unjust to stir up fear that they seek to take away our rights or to make them afraid that we seek to take away theirs. And it is foolish to drive them into the arms of the political left when their piety and moral convictions make them natural allies of social conservatives. (A majority of American Muslims voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election. A majority of the general voting population did not.)

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


It's over: Jeb Bush will be the GOP nominee in 2016 (Damon Linker, 2/05/14, The Week)

[I]t's beginning to dawn on me that Jeb Bush is probably going to be the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2016.

Consider: With the ongoing implosion of Chris Christie's political career, the GOP establishment has lost its best hope for a candidate who could stop a libertarian-populist insurgency during the primaries. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker -- the list of viable fire-breathers is longer (and less dominated by incompetents, crazies, and one-note sideshow acts) than establishment types would like.

What are the alternatives?

There's Paul Ryan. Thanks to Mitt Romney, he has a national profile, along with dreamy blue eyes and an (undeserved) reputation as an intellectually serious policy wonk. Okay, that's something. But he also has a voting record (including a series of high-profile "roadmaps") demonstrating open hostility to Medicare, which even Tea Partiers adore. A Ryan nomination would be a dream come true for Hillary Clinton.

Then there's Marco Rubio, poster boy for immigration reform. That endeared him to the GOP establishment, which desperately wants to improve the party's standing with Latinos. But it's likely rendered him radioactive among the right-wing activists who increasingly control Republican money and the power.

Who else? Bobby Jindal? Give me a break. Rick Santorum? Yeah, right. Next you'll be suggesting Jon "One Delegate" Huntsman.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


A slow slog toward success : The persistence, inventiveness and grit of their foes is beginning to dishearten pro-abortion activists in America. (Andrew E. Harrod | 4 February 2014, Mercator.Net)

"Our opponents have gotten very smart," a leading pro-abortion activist told colleagues late last month in Washington DC at a conference organized by the American Constitution Society (ACS). This interesting event revealed that behind a self-confident façade, the best minds of the pro-abortion movement are deeply worried about the future. It took place only a week before a report from the Guttmacher Institute revealed that the US abortion has dropped to its lowest point since Roe v. Wade in 1973. 

Under the guise of women's health, ACS president Caroline Frederickson warned, new state and local laws are restricting American access to abortion. Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, added that the 2010 elections had "really shifted the composition" of American state legislatures and governorships. Subsequently, abortion restrictions "simply exploded" in a "tidal wave" of more than 200 local laws in the last three years in 30 states, more than in all of the previous decade. "Let me see what time it is" was the answer panel moderator Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post White House correspondent, jokingly attributed to Nash when asking her about the latest tally of abortion restrictions nationwide.

These laws were "really nearly everywhere" except for New England and the West Coast. Nash feels that progress will only be possible in California and Washington state. States and municipalities have become laboratories for new ideas on restricting abortion. In some states, abortion clinics have virtually disappeared, lamented Roger Evans, lead lawyer for America's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.

And existing restrictions are tightening up. Mandatory waiting periods before abortion, for example, have gone from 24 to 72 hours in many places, a period that does not count weekends and holidays in states like South Dakota. The "inventiveness and ingenuity" of opponents in inventing new abortion restrictions, marveled the keynote speaker, Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut.

Another initiative which worries abortion activists is laws requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors. Planned Parenthood's Evens describes this as yet "another idea to screw" them. Such laws would be the "next big ticket item" approaching Supreme Court review, and Evans was not optimistic about the outcome given a "dramatic political change in the courts".

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Dream Act advances through Washington's Republican Senate (REID WILSON, February 2 , 2014, Washington Post)

In a surprising reversal, Washington's Republican-led Senate on Friday took up and passed a version of the Dream Act that would allow the state to give financial aid to students who are in the country illegally. [...]

Bailey said on Thursday that the Republican Senate decided to go ahead with the bill after ensuring it included enough money to provide aid to students in the country legally who were already on the wait list for financial aid, the Seattle Times reported.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


*The Fissured Workplace* (Tyler Cowen, February 4, 2014, Marginal Revolution)

That is a new and important book by David Weil and the subtitle is Why Work Became so Bad For So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It.  I take the author's main thesis to be that corporations have, in the interests of efficiency, focused increasingly on "core competencies."  That has led to an outsourcing of non-core jobs and the commoditization of those jobs, outside the sphere of benefits, workplace community, investing in workers, and caring about worker morale.

Here is one excerpt from the book:

By focusing on core competencies, lead businesses in the economy have shed the employment relationship for many activities, and all that comes with it.  Shedding the tasks and production activities to other businesses allows lead companies to lower their costs, since externalizing activities to other firms (particularly those operating in the more competitive markets) eliminates the need to pay the higher wages and benefits that large enterprises typically provided.  It also does away with the need to establish consistency in those human resource policies, since they no longer reside inside the firm.  This aspect of fissuring pushes liability for adherence to a range of workplace statutes (and other public policies) to other businesses.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Woody Allen, nihilist (Damon Linker, 2/04/14, The Week)

Allen's most thorough cinematic treatment of nihilism and its moral implications can be found in what may be his greatest film, Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). The movie tells the story of an ophthalmologist named Judah Rosenthal (played by Martin Landau) who decides to kill off his lover Dolores (Angelica Houston) when she threatens to divulge their affair to Judah's wife. (Allen's Match Point (2005), an inferior film in almost every way, explores many similar themes.)

At first wracked with guilt over the murder, Judah eventually gets over his moral qualms. (As another character quips in the film, "comedy is tragedy plus time.") In a shocking subversion of Hollywood-style happy endings as well as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment -- in which the character Raskolnikov is driven by unremitting guilt to confess a pair of murders to the authorities -- the film ends with Judah seemingly at complete peace with himself and thriving in every way: Happy, wealthy, successful, adored by a beautiful wife and daughter, with the latter soon to be married.

The viewer is left to conclude that Judah got away with his crime scot-free -- and that such an outcome is possible for anyone courageous enough to violate accepted moral customs and lucky or clever enough to avoid getting caught by the legal authorities.

The theme and its broader implications are reinforced throughout the film. In one of its most powerful scenes, Judah observes and interacts with a memory from his youth in which members of his family debate morality, God, and the Holocaust. Espousing the view endorsed by the film, Judah's atheist aunt May (whom Judah's religiously observant father dubs a "nihilist") remarks that if National Socialist Germany had won World War II, then Hitler's actions would have ended up being "right." After all, in such a nightmarish, counterfactual world, the Nazis would be empowered to set and enforce the reigning moral standard -- and there simply is no higher moral authority to appeal to against such a standard. In a nihilistic universe, the overarching moral truth is that might makes right.

Aunt May's foil in the film is Ben (Sam Waterston), a pious rabbi who says that he couldn't go on living "if I didn't feel with all my heart a moral structure with real meaning and forgiveness and some kind of higher power. Otherwise there's no basis to live.... Without the law, it's all darkness." Allen reveals his attitude toward the rabbi by subjecting him to a progressive loss of vision that ends in total blindness by the conclusion of the film -- a blunt metaphor for the darkness induced by his own moral and religious faith.

We know that this was Allen's intent because he's said so. Ben, according to Allen, "doesn't really understand the reality of life... and that's why I wanted to make him blind. I feel that his faith is blind. It will work, but it requires closing your eyes to reality." And what is reality? That "at best the universe is indifferent" to our lives and our various ways of construing right and wrong. This indifference is so awful that many of us feel driven to "create a fake world for ourselves, and we exist within that fake world."

On a lesser level you see it in sports. They create a world of football, for example. You get lost in that world and you care about meaningless things.... People by the thousands watch it, thinking it's very important who wins. But, in fact, if you step back for a second, it's utterly unimportant who wins. It means nothing. In the same way we create for ourselves a world that, in fact, means nothing at all, when you step back. It's meaningless.

As Allen explained in a more recent interview in Commonweal magazine, it was the desire to explore this sense of existential meaninglessness that inspired him to make Crimes and Misdemeanors: "Some people distort [the meaninglessness of the world] with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art... but nothing makes it meaningful.... [E]veryone goes to his grave in a meaningless way.... [O]ne can commit a crime, do unspeakable things, and get away with it, and some of them are plagued with all sorts of guilt for the rest of their lives and others aren't. There is no justice..."

February 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Saudi king issues edict against jihadi fighters (AP, February 3, 2014)

The decree appeared aimed at stemming the flow of Saudi fighters going to Syria. The region's civil war is believed to have drawn hundreds of young Saudis, worrying some in the kingdom that fighters could return radicalized and turn their weapons on the monarchy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Why a U.S.-European Trade Deal Is a Win-Win : Changing business trends mean we're locating plants closer to markets. (JOE KAESER, Feb. 2, 2014, WSJ)

[T]he bigger reason this agreement makes sense has more to do with the transformation of manufacturing in developed economies over the past two decades. It used to be that American and European companies built their products in low-wage countries, separated by great distances from the innovators who developed the products and the markets where they were sold. But companies increasingly find that is an outmoded way of doing business. Today they are opting to build products where the innovation is happening and where they are selling them.

There are several reasons for this, not least the speed with which consumer trends are changing. The distance between today's generation of a product--and the next--is getting shorter. Often buyers' preferences are shifting even while the last generation of products are on lengthy ocean journeys. This puts a premium on being able to bring new goods to market quickly and stay one step ahead of the competition.

That is why Siemens, for example, is already building wind turbines in Kansas and Denmark, passenger railcars in California and Austria, gas turbines in North Carolina and Germany, and imaging equipment in Tennessee and the United Kingdom. It's why the EU and the U.S. are Siemens's largest markets. We can build high-value products more efficiently in Europe and the U.S. than in most other countries.

From Siemens's perspective, a trade agreement like TTIP makes the U.S. and EU members more attractive. By reducing trade barriers, improving intellectual-property protections and setting international rules of the road, TTIP has the potential to improve America and Europe's global competitiveness and strengthen their comparative advantages.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Deficit continues to drop sharply - CBO (Jeanne Sahadi, 2/04/14, CNNMoney)

Thanks to a recovering economy, spending restraint and higher tax receipts, the Congressional Budget Office now projects the deficit for 2014 will be $514 billion, or 3% of the size of the U.S. economy.

As a share of gross domestic product, that represents a nearly 27% drop from last year, and marks the smallest deficit since 2007.

February 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


A senseless fight (Elizabeth Finkel, 2/03/14, Cosmos)

How could anyone in good conscience seek to thwart technology that has even a remote chance of tackling the problem of vitamin A blindness?

Many readers will have no trouble providing an answer. The anti-GMO clichés go something like this: GM crops are unsafe to eat; they are bad for the environment; they are a tool of agribusiness corporations; and they exploit poor farmers who must buy seed as opposed to their traditional practice of saving seed.

The first points have been disproved over the past two decades, which is why food and environment safety agencies around the world have declared them as safe as conventionally grown crops. The trope about agribusiness does not apply, either. Golden Rice is being developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is a not-for-profit institute, and the seeds will be distributed to farmers who can resow them as they wish. In these cases, the argument switches to "Golden Rice is a Trojan horse". In other words, by sneaking below the barriers of suspicion, it will open the floodgates to GMO technology and from then on to a slippery slope and the takeover of the world's seed supply (See Speak of the Devil, page 74). Even if that is a legitimate concern, it is an issue for regulators not a reason to demonise a technology.

Some of the concern over GMOs is a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of transferring foreign DNA into our crops. But this happens all the time in traditional breeding. DNA from wheat species that are little more than weedy grasses is bred into wheat using various tricks of the trade. And microbes naturally ferry genes between species. The fact is, it's only GM crops that have to be tested so rigorously on a case-by-case basis. Arguably they are not just as safe as traditional crops, but safer.

The battles against GMOs are  just the visible skirmishes of a war that has raged for decades: a war against modern agriculture. 

It is, of course, a matter of bad conscience, like opposing DDT.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


1 in 5 gay teen boys has used steroids, rate much higher than among straight kids, study shows (LINDSEY TANNER, 2/03/14, AP)

Reasons for the differences are unclear. The study authors said it's possible gay and bi boys feel more pressure to achieve a bulked-up "ideal" male physique, or that they think muscle-building steroids will help them fend off bullies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


A Movie for All Time : Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, Groundhog Day scores. (Jonah Goldberg, February 14, 2005, National Review)

When the Museum of Modern Art in New York debuted a film series on "The Hidden God: Film and Faith" two years ago, it opened with Groundhog Day. The rest of the films were drawn from the ranks of turgid and bleak intellectual cinema, including standards from Ingmar Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. According to the New York Times, curators of the series were stunned to discover that so many of the 35 leading literary and religious scholars who had been polled to pick the series entries had chosen Groundhog Day that a spat had broken out among the scholars over who would get to write about the film for the catalogue. In a wonderful essay for the Christian magazine Touchstone, theology professor Michael P. Foley wrote that Groundhog Day is "a stunning allegory of moral, intellectual, and even religious excellence in the face of postmodern decay, a sort of Christian-Aristotelian Pilgrim's Progress for those lost in the contemporary cosmos." Charles Murray, author of Human Accomplishment, has cited Groundhog Day more than once as one of the few cultural achievements of recent times that will be remembered centuries from now. He was quoted in The New Yorker declaring, "It is a brilliant moral fable offering an Aristotelian view of the world." [...]

Interpretations of this central mystery vary. But central to all is a morally complicated and powerful story arc to the main character. When Phil Connors arrives in Punxsutawney, he's a perfect representative of the Seinfeld generation: been-there-done-that. When he first realizes he's not crazy and that he can, in effect, live forever without consequences -- if there's no tomorrow, how can you be punished? -- he indulges his adolescent self. He shoves cigarettes and pastries into his face with no fear of love-handles or lung cancer. "I am not going to play by their rules any longer," he declares as he goes for a drunk-driving spree. He uses his ability to glean intelligence about the locals to bed women with lies. When that no longer gratifies, he steals money and gets kinky, dressing up and play-acting. When Andie MacDowell sees him like this she quotes a poem by Sir Walter Scott: "The wretch, concentrated all in self / Living, shall forfeit fair renown / And, doubly dying, shall go down / To the vile dust, from whence he sprung / Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung."

Connors cackles at her earnestness. "You don't like poetry?" She asks. "I love poetry," he replies, "I just thought that was Willard Scott."

Still, Connors schemes to bed Rita with the same techniques he used on other women, and fails, time and again. When he realizes that his failures stem not from a lack of information about Rita's desires but rather from his own basic hollowness, he grows suicidal. Or, some argue, he grows suicidal after learning that all of the material and sexual gratification in the world is not spiritually sustaining. Either way, he blames the groundhog and kills it in a murder-suicide pact -- if you can call killing the varmint murder. Discovering, after countless more suicide attempts, that he cannot even die without waking up the next day he begins to believe he is "a god." When Rita scoffs at this -- noting that she had twelve years of Catholic school (the only mention of religion in the film) -- he replies that he didn't say he was "the God" but merely "a god." Then again, he remarks, maybe God really isn't all-powerful, maybe he's just been around so long he knows everything that's going to happen. This, according to some, is a reference to the doctrine of God's "middle knowledge," first put forward by the 16th-century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, who argued that human free will is possible because God's omniscience includes His knowledge of every possible outcome of every possible decision.

The point is that Connors slowly realizes that what makes life worth living is not what you get from it, but what you put into it. He takes up the piano. He reads poetry -- no longer to impress Rita, but for its own sake. He helps the locals in matters great and small, including catching a boy who falls from a tree every day. "You never thank me!" he yells at the fleeing brat. He also discovers that there are some things he cannot change, that he cannot be God. The homeless man whom Connors scorns at the beginning of the film becomes an obsession of his at the end because he dies every Groundhog Day. Calling him "pop" and "dad," Connors tries to save him but never can.

By the end of the film, Connors is no longer obsessed with bedding Rita. He's in love with her, without reservation and without hope of his affection being requited. Only in the end, when he completely gives up hope, does he in fact "get" the woman he loves. And with that, with her love, he finally wakes on February 3, the great wheel of life no longer stuck on Groundhog Day. As NR's own Rick Brookhiser explains it, "The curse is lifted when Bill Murray blesses the day he has just lived. And his reward is that the day is taken from him. Loving life includes loving the fact that it goes."

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Iran FM: We may recognize Israel after Palestinian deal (MARISSA NEWMAN February 3, 2014, Times of Israel)

The Islamic Republic may consider recognizing Israel after a peace accord is struck with the Palestinians, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif said in an interview on German TV over the weekend.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Al Qaeda's boss is fed up with Al Qaeda's Syrian 'affiliate' ISIS : And what's an affiliate anyway? (Dan Murphy, February 3, 2014, CS Monitor)

The level of direct coordination between Al Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan and the group that originally was known as Al Qaeda in Iraq has always been limited - and has appeared pretty much dead since 2006. Though you can still find references to "AQI" in US government literature and press reports, the group has rebranded itself multiple times - first becoming the Mujahidin Shura Council, then charging its name to the Islamic State in Iraq in 2006. The group formally merged with jihadis in Syria last year and started calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). [...]

It turns out that local armies, fighting local wars are more interested in their parochial concerns than Zawahiri's quixotic hope for a global jihad to remake the world order and that their commanders aren't particularly interested in taking their orders from a group based thousands of miles away.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


The Political Right and the Common Core Strawman (Kevin T. Brady and Stephen M. Klugewicz, 2/03/14, Imaginative Conservative)

In recent weeks, we have heard stories from the political right as to what horrors the new Common Core Standards for K-12 education will bring to America's classrooms. Conservative bloggers warn that the Common Core will require that school children write of the benefits of Maoism; a report tells of a Common Core assignment that seeks to have children in one Arkansas school decide what freedoms should be excised from the Bill of Rights; still another story from Albany, New York tells of a Common Core assignment that asks children to justify the Holocaust. Such is the sense of impending doom on the Right that one fevered Catholic blogger even likened opposition to the Common Core to the fight against abortion.

The problem with most of these news stories is that the Common Core in no way mandates, or even suggests, these assignments. Why the apparent confusion then among critics on the right? First, conservatives are by nature suspicious of federally-mandated or federally-approved educational standards. Though the Common Core Standards may be freely adopted or rejected by individual states--as of this writing forty-five states have adopted the standards--the federal government is pushing adoption and will likely tie federal funding of state education departments to student performance on Common Core standardized testing (which is coming soon). Conservatives argue for local control of educational curricula and see the Common Core as yet another attempt by Washington to exercise dominion over the states. This suspicion is only heightened by the fact that it is the liberal Obama Administration that is pushing the standards. "The point of Common Core is to standardize K-12 education across the nation," a recent report argues. "Such standardization, of course, cannot be accomplished if states are allowed to exercise autonomy in public-school education." Conservatives argue that the impetus for the creation of the Common Core Standards came not from the states but from Left-wing funders like George Soros.

Second, it seems that conservatives are confused by assignments advertising themselves as "aligned with the Common Core." As states adopt the Common Core and prepare for the coming assessment tests, teachers are pressed by administrators to prove that their assignments are compatible with the Common Core Standards. This is usually quite easily done, for the ELA standards aim at literacy and generally require that students are able to read and understand texts. This gives teachers wide latitude in creating assignments and in choosing what texts to use.

The obvious point that critics seem to miss somehow is that the Common Core State Standards Initiative focuses on skills, not content.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Pete Seeger, Marxist minstrel (Paul G. Kengor, 2/03/14, Vision & Values)

Pete Seeger had in fact been a Marxist, a committed one who stumped for international communism at the height of the Stalin era. Interviewed in 2008 for the PBS series, "American Masters," Seeger conceded those sympathies. He first joined the Young Communist League at Harvard (mid-1930s) and later (early 1940s) joined Communist Party USA (CPUSA).

That latter fact is a halting one. Many American communists, especially Jewish communists, bolted from CPUSA when their beloved Joseph Stalin allied with Hitler, specifically via the August 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact. Not Seeger. He was undeterred, joining the party after the pact. (For the record, likewise undeterred was Barack Obama's mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, who also joined CPUSA after the pact.) [...]

In the 1950s, New York communist parents sent their red-diaper babies to the Little Red School House, founded in the 1920s by "progressives." There, the likes of Angela Davis, Victor Navasky, the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and future Weather Underground terrorist Kathy Boudin (still in jail for murder) sat at the knee of leftist celebrities like Seeger, who played and taught music there.

Seeger also provided rousing performances at the summer "commie camps" in the Catskills where the New York faithful sent their children to study the gospel according to Marx. These surreal spectacles were a sort of twisted red version of Vacation Bible School.

But Seeger's most disturbing work as a Marxist minstrel was his crooning for "The Almanacs," which historian Ron Radosh--himself a former red-diaper baby--calls a "communist folk-singing group." At varying times, "The Almanacs" included Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and Will Geer, later known as "Grandpa" on TV's "The Waltons." Seeger founded the group in 1941.

The most egregious work by "The Almanacs" was its propaganda for the insidious American Peace Mobilization, which Congress identified as "one of the most seditious organizations which ever operated in the United States" and "one of the most notorious and blatantly communist fronts ever organized." Founded in 1940, the objective of the American Peace Mobilization was to keep America out of the war against Hitler. This also meant no Lend-Lease money to Britain.

Why did the American Peace Mobilization take such a position? It did so because Hitler signed an alliance with Stalin. For American communists, any friend of Stalin was a friend of theirs. They literally swore an oath, formally pledging to a "Soviet America" and to "the triumph of Soviet power in the United States." They were unflinchingly devout Soviet patriots.

In my book Dupes, I publish the declassified Soviet Comintern document detailing how the American Peace Mobilization "was organised on the initiative of our Party in Chicago in September, 1940." (Obama's mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, was there.)

As for mobilizing the "peace," eager Pete Seeger was there to salute the flag.

The kick-off rally to attract naïve recruits (i.e., liberal dupes) to the American Peace Mobilization was a huge April 1941 promotional in New York. The featured musical talent was Stalinist Paul Robeson and "The Almanacs." Almost every "folk ballad" was a swipe at America and FDR--who communists were attacking at that point--for supporting an "unjust war" by aiding Britain as it was besieged by the Nazis' ferocious onslaught.

Such was the position of American communists, like Pete Seeger.

February 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


Iran FM: Israel must restore Palestinian rights (RAPHAEL AHREN, February 2, 2014, Times of Israel)

 Israel must restore the rights of the Palestinians if it hopes to ever achieve peace, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif said at a security conference here on Sunday.

"Of course we don't make the same statement the previous government made," he said, alluding to the bellicose tone of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration. "But [Israeli] policies have deprived the Palestinian people of the most elemental rights. Until this is discussed the crisis is not going away. Unless the rights of the Palestinian people are restored... there won't be... a solution."

Unlike the case at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's speech at the UN in September, the Israeli delegation remained in the room while Zarif spoke.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Yemeni Shiite rebels overtake key tribal villages in northwest (AHMED AL-HAJ, Associated Press)

Tribal officials say that Shiite Hawthi rebels have defeated one of Yemen's most dominant tribes after weeks of fighting between the two groups over territory in the northwest part of the country, in a landmark victory for the separatists.

Hawthis seek independence from the country's Sunni-aligned government and have been waging a campaign to expand their reach beyond the northwest mountains toward the capital, Sanaa.

A people who think themselves a nation....

February 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


Today's iPhone is more useful than $3,000 worth of gadgets from a 1991 Radio Shack (TIMOTHY B. LEE, January 31, 2014, Washington Post)

Buffalo writer Steve Cichon dug up an old Radio Shack ad, offering a variety of what were then cutting-edge gadgets. There are 15 items listed on the page, and Cichon points out that all but two of them -- the exceptions are a radar detector and a set of speakers -- do jobs that can now be performed with a modern iPhone.

The other 13 items, including a desktop computer, a camcorder, a CD player  and a mobile phone, have a combined price of $3,071.21. The unsubsidized price of an iPhone is $549. And, of course, your iPhone is superior to these devices in many respects. The VHS camcorder, for example, captured video at a quality vastly inferior to the crystal-clear 1080p video an iPhone can record. That $1,599 Tandy computer would have struggled to browse the Web of the 1990s, to say nothing of the sophisticated Web sites iPhones access today. The CD player only lets you carry a few albums worth of music at a time; an iPhone can hold thousands of songs. And of course, the iPhone fits in your pocket.

This example is important to remember in the debate over whether the government's official inflation figures understate or overstate inflation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 PM


Labor union officials say Obama betrayed them in health-care rollout (Steven Mufson and Tom Hamburger, January 31, 2014, Washington Post)

Leaders of two major unions, including the first to endorse Obama in 2008, said they have been betrayed by an administration that wooed their support for the 2009 legislation with promises to later address the peculiar needs of union-negotiated insurance plans that cover millions of workers.

Their complaints reflect a broad sense of disappointment among many labor leaders, who say the Affordable Care Act has subjected union health plans to new taxes and mandates while not allowing them to share in the subsidies that have gone to private insurance companies competing on the newly created exchanges.

Posted by orrinj at 11:24 AM


How a Fish-Filleting Robot Could Eliminate Ridiculous Maritime Voyages (RYAN JACOBS, February 01, 2014, Pacific Satandard)

Norway is one of the world's largest exporters of fish. Unfortunately, the labor costs associated with the country's manual fish filleters are extremely high. [...]

But the seafood industry, Nordic Innovation, and technology research organization SINTEF have apparently recently realized how incredibly misguided this whole idea is. They teamed up to produce a highly advanced X-ray machine capable of "quickly and precisely" wrenching the tiny bones out of the fish with high-powered water jets. The new tool, which was developed by a team known as APRICOT, or "automatic pin-bone removal in cod and whitefish," will hopefully spur a domestic processing industry and, more importantly, eliminate the extreme greenhouse gas emissions associated with delivering the product to a far-flung middleman.

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


Report: Abortion Rate in U.S. Plunges to Lowest Level Since 1973 (Lauren Fox Jan. 31, 2014, US News)

A new report shows that the rate of abortions performed in the United States has hit its lowest level since 1973.

In 2011, there were an estimated 1.1. million abortions in the U.S. and 16.9 abortions performed for every 1,000 15- to 44-year-old women living in the country, according to the study from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that promotes abortion rights. That's a 13 percent decrease both in the number and rate of abortions since 2008, when 1.21 million abortions were performed.

The abortion rate in 2011 - the latest year studied for the report - also was dramatically lower than the all-time high in 1981, when there were 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. In 1973, the abortion rate was 16.3 per 1,000 women.

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


How to Stay Focused In Long, Boring Meetings : Stretch, snack and widen your attention span to make the most of meetings (LAURA MCMULLEN, January 30, 2014, US News)

Yes, you care about next year's budget or this week's project update or last month's progress. (Or maybe you don't.) It's just - how are you supposed to sit still and absorb that information for a few hours when there are emails to answer, reports to write, appointments to reschedule and who knows what else? Long meetings can sometimes feel less like work and more like workouts - exhausting endurance tests during which you're expected to contribute and learn. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Did the Latest State Dept. Report Just Make Keystone Inevitable? (THOMAS STACKPOLE, JANUARY 31, 2014, Foreign Policy)

Environmentalists can chain themselves to the White House fence all they want: the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline appears to be slowly but surely headed for approval.

On Friday afternoon, that time of day for rolling out news the White House would like to see buried, the State Department released its long awaited environmental impact report, which concluded that the project would have only minimal environmental impact.

The decision could provide President Obama with cover to sign off on the project after more than five years of review. In a speech last summer, Obama said he would only approve the pipeline if it did "not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward." Now, he has a report in hand making that exact argument. Moreover, the report claims that the pipeline would create some 42,100 jobs and generate $2 billion in earnings across the U.S economy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Obama's Free-Trade Conundrum (DAVID E. BONIOR, JAN. 29, 2014, NY Times)

IN his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama focused on reversing the growth of economic inequality in the United States and restoring the American dream. At the same time, he also announced his support for fast track authority that would limit Congress's role in determining the content of trade agreements.

The president's call follows on legislation introduced earlier this month to grant him fast-track authority as a way of forcing Congress to speed up its consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation pact with Latin American and Asian nations.

But Mr. Obama's desire for fast-track authority on the T.P.P. and other agreements clashes with another priority in his speech: reducing income inequality.

It is, of course, the case that freeing up trade has reduced the need for employment in America, which means that, to the extent that we have traditionally redistributed wealth via jobs, opportunities for income have been reduced.  However, it is also inarguable that the outcome of this freer trade has been to make us a wealthier society.   

The simple question before us is whether we would prefer to maintain the old system of redistribution and be poorer or craft a new system of redistribution and be wealthier.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


The End of Higher Education's Golden Age (Clay Shirky, January 2014)

Part of the reason this change is so disorienting is that the public conversation focuses, obsessively, on a few elite institutions. The persistent identification of higher education with institutions like Swarthmore and Stanford creates a collective delusion about the realities of education after high school; the collapse of Antioch College in 2008 was more widely reported than the threatened loss of accreditation for the Community College of San Francisco last year, even though CCSF has 85,000 students, and Antioch had fewer than 400 when it lost accreditation. Those 400, though, were attractive and well-off young people living together, which made for the better story. Life in the college dorm and on the grassy quad are rarities discussed as norms.

The students enrolled in places like CCSF (or Houston Community College, or Miami Dade) are sometimes called non-traditional, but this label is itself a holdover from another era, when residential colleges for teenage learners were still the norm. After the massive expansion of higher education into job training, the promising 18-year-old who goes straight to a residential college is now the odd one out.

Of the twenty million or so students in the US, only about one in ten lives on a campus. The remaining eighteen million--the ones who don't have the grades for Swarthmore, or tens of thousands of dollars in free cash flow, or four years free of adult responsibility--are relying on education after high school not as a voyage of self-discovery but as a way to acquire training and a certificate of hireability.

Though the landscape of higher education in the U.S., spread across forty-six hundred institutions, hosts considerable variation, a few commonalities emerge: the bulk of students today are in their mid-20s or older, enrolled at a community or commuter school, and working towards a degree they will take too long to complete. One in three won't complete, ever. Of the rest, two in three will leave in debt. The median member of this new student majority is just keeping her head above water financially. The bottom quintile is drowning.

One obvious way to improve life for the new student majority is to raise the quality of the education without raising the price. This is clearly the ideal, whose principal obstacle is not conceptual but practical: no one knows how. The value of our core product--the Bachelor's degree--has fallen in every year since 2000, while tuition continues to increase faster than inflation.

The other way to help these students would be to dramatically reduce the price or time required to get an education of acceptable quality (and for acceptable read "enabling the student to get a better job", their commonest goal.) This is a worse option in every respect except one, which is that it may be possible.

Note that the product we are asking educational institutions to produce is not better-educated but students with diplomas that will help them get higher paying jobs in the workplace.  Given that the credential has value but the education has none, why not just sell degrees directly at a considerable discount.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Kids With Peanut Allergies Get Some Relief, Study Finds (GAUTAM NAIK, Jan. 30, 2014, WSJ)

Many children with peanut allergies who were fed small but escalating amounts of peanut flour were eventually able to eat a significant quantity of peanuts with no reaction, a new study has found.

Serve junior's peanut butter sandwich with a glass of milk.
Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


The Future of American Growth (Martin Feldtein, 1/31/14, Project Syndicate)

Although government statisticians do their best to gauge the rise in real GDP through time, there are two problems that are very difficult to overcome in measuring real incomes: increases in the quality of goods and services, and the introduction of new ones. I believe that both of these problems cause the official measure of real GDP growth to understate the true growth of the standard of living that real GDP is supposed to indicate.

Consider the problem of accounting for quality improvements. If I pay the same price for some product or service this year as I did last year, but the quality of the product or service is better, my standard of living has increased. The same is true if the price rises but the quality increases even more. Unfortunately, a government statistician cannot judge the increase in quality of everything from restaurant meals to medical care. So looking only at the cost of a meal or of a day in the hospital causes an overestimate in the price index and an underestimate of the rise in the real standard of living.

The problem of taking new products into account is even more difficult. Virtually everyone around us uses a smart phone, a laptop computer, or a tablet. We know what these cost and how much they add to the total nominal value of GDP. But how much more than the standard retail price would individuals pay to keep these "must-have" products? Likewise, what is the value to patients of laparoscopic surgery or drugs that relieve anxiety or prevent heart attacks?

In short, I am convinced that the real standard of living produced by the goods and services that we buy is increasing faster than our official data reveal. That is true now, and it is likely to continue to be true in the future.

But my tablet costs more than my typewriter did!

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Self-driving cars? How about a self-driving military convoy. : The US Army and Lockheed Martin recently put on a demonstration of a self-driving convoy of military trucks.  (Matthew Shaer,  January 31, 2014, CS Monitor)

Or trucks: At a demonstration earlier this month at Fort Hood, in Texas, the Army and defense contractor Lockheed Martin showed off what they called a "fully autonomous" convoy of armored vehicles, which are aimed - as Lockheed Martin puts it - "at completely removing the Soldier from the cab." 

In a press release, Lockheed Martin said that the trucks that had successfully passed a battery of tests that included "navigating hazards and obstacles such as road intersections, oncoming traffic, stalled and passing vehicles, pedestrians and traffic circles in both urban and rural test areas." 

"We are very pleased with the results of the demonstration, because it adds substantial weight to the Army's determination to get robotic systems into the hands of the warfighter," said Bernard Theisen, of the Army's Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


There is No 'I' in Utopia (SOHRAB AHMARI, Jan. 31, 2014 , WSJ)

Communism's resemblance to religious faith was an enduring theme in Mr. Koestler's work. He contributed to and was instrumental in the publication of "The God That Failed," a 1949 anthology of essays by influential ex-communists, including André Gide, Stephen Spender and Richard Wright. In "Darkness at Noon," Rubashov recounts how an unnamed, Lenin-like figure was revered by the party as "God-the-Father, and No. 1 as the Son" (history was presumably the Spirit in this unholy trinity).

Authentic faith, Mr. Koestler suggests, is a bulwark against the nihilistic substitute-religion of Marxism. A Pietà painting, which he never had the chance to fully inspect, reminds Rubashov of his sins. "Perhaps it did not suit man to be completely freed from old bonds," he concludes, "from the steadying brakes of 'Thou shalt not.'" Yet almost till the end Rubashov bends himself to the party's logic of terror, unable to abandon his intellectual's vanity.

In this respect, too, Rubashov was like many of his real-life counterparts, not just in the Eastern Bloc but also in postwar Western Europe, where rare was the progressive thinker who didn't contort common sense and decency to justify Soviet crimes. A decade after the publication of "Darkness at Noon," as news of more show trials broke through the Iron Curtain, the writer Marcel Péju editorialized in Jean-Paul Sartre's journal, Les Temps Modernes, that "the charges...are not prima facie implausible." One shouldn't speak of Soviet repression, the surrealist poet Paul Eluard said, lest it "discourage" the working class in the West.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Why the House GOP immigration plan is more political sweet spot than wasteland (SEAN SULLIVAN, February 1, 2014, Washington Post)

There are two ways of looking at the immigration plan House GOP leaders floated Thursday: 1) It might just be the sweet spot in a complex debate that could lead to a deal. 2) The combined outcry from the right and left will kill it.

The early read: It's looking more like #1.

President Obama suggested in an interview that aired Friday that he may be open to the idea of legal status but not a special path to citizenship for most of the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. Obama's long said he prefers a path to citizenship. So the fact that he didn't shut the door on the list of principles House GOP leaders released was significant. Other reform advocates like Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the Chamber of Commerce also sounded notes of cautious optimism.