December 31, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Trump Pardons Border Agents Who Shot Man Illegally (Gabe Ortiz, December 31 | 2020, National Memo)

Donald Trump's slew of Christmas pardons this month weren't reserved just for his fellow crooks and mob presidency loyalists deserving of only a lump of coal this year. The impeached president issued full pardons to not one, not two, but three former Border Patrol agents who were charged and found guilty of crimes against people at the southern border while on duty.

The Texas Tribune reports one of the three pardoned criminals was Gary Brugman, who served almost two years for violating a man's civil rights. The other two former agents were Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and civil rights violations after they shot a man in 2005 and then tried to cover it up, Think Immigration reported. But the pardons were also in no way a Trump aberration: Both outlets reported that top Republican elected officials and figures pushed for the pardons.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Police in America Are Out of Control (MUSA AL-GHARBI, 12/31/20, The Baffler)

So far this year, 481 civilians have been shot to death by police in the United States, according to the Washington Post. There have been an estimated 7,397 gun-related homicides overall during this period (excluding suicides and accidents). This means that roughly one out of every fifteen Americans shot to death so far in 2020 has been killed by a police officer.

Since 2015, cops fatally shot at least 353 people who were unarmed (that is, not even possessing a toy, blunt object, or other instrument). In total, 5,416 civilians were killed by police gunfire over the last five years; one out of every fifteen was unarmed. And it is important to note that these data only count police shootings. Hundreds more civilians are killed by cops every year by tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets, chokeholds, positional asphyxia, blunt force trauma, getting struck by police cruisers and other causes; a large share of these civilians were also unarmed. Many never committed a crime.

Deaths, however,only represent a small fraction of overall police violence. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), at least 985,300 Americans experienced non-lethal threats or use of force from police in a single year (2015, the most recent year of data available on the BJS website). Relative to the overall U.S. population at the time, approximately one out of every 324 Americans was verbally or physically assaulted by a cop in that year. Indeed, every year departments nationwide receive thousands of "officially sustained" (i.e., sufficiently credible to justify disciplinary action against officers) excessive force reports as a result of such encounters.

There are also widespread reported rapes, sexual assault, and sexual harassment incidents involving on-duty cops every year (and of course, many more cases likely go unreported). According to an investigation from the Buffalo News, from 2005 to 2015, "a law enforcement official was caught in a case of sexual abuse or misconduct at least every five days." The officers are usually armed. The victims are typically isolated, and often physically restrained. Sometimes there is an imminent threat of force or arrest. Nonetheless, cops often have the audacity to claim that these sex acts, against civilians under police custody, were consensual. An investigation by the Associated Press found that many cops use police tools and databases to stalk and harass exes or people they are sexually interested in (and for other personal purposes). Female police officers are also regularly subject to harassment from their male peers.

This is what we learn from a cursory glance at police behaviors in the line of duty. However, cops also regularly commit crimes, and carry out violence, off-duty. For instance, rates of domestic abuse are as much as four times higher among law enforcement than in the broader population.

In short, hundreds of thousands of Americans are brutalized every year by law enforcement. The United States is an extreme outlier among wealthy liberal democracies in this regard. The level of aggression cops deploy in an area seems to have no correlation with that area's level of violent crime--nor is it related to the overall levels of violence in society (indeed, violent crime in the broader society has decreased substantially over time, and police killings increased in response) -- nor does it seem proportional to the actual danger law enforcement agents face on the job.

How dangerous is policing? One way to get a handle on this question is to compare the homicide rate for police officers in the line of duty to that of the average American in their day-to-day life. It may seem intuitive to assume that a police officer is many times more likely to be killed on the job than is a civilian going about their usual routines. In fact, the ratios are pretty close.

They simply aren't in much danger.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Masters of Atlantis Is Essential Reading for the QAnon Age (Brian Boyle, Dec. 31st, 2020, Slate)

On the spectrum of conspiracy theories, Gnomonry is closer to the relatively benign flat-earthers and moon-landing deniers than the horrific black hole of QAnon. Though the infamously press-shy Portis never stated on the record any precise targets for his farcical sendup, astute readers seeking to uncover the real-world roots of Gnomonry will likely find it a vague mishmash of ideologies, mixing bits and pieces from Freemasonry and Scientology with allusions to the famed lost city under the sea. "[Portis] is probably one of the widest readers I've ever known," said writer Jay Jennings, a friend of the author and editor of Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany. "When he gets into a subject like, in this case, secret societies and their strangeness, he's really omnivorous in his reading. It may just be a little three-word phrase that tells you all of that preparational reading went into one line."

His fascination with the cults of yore sneaks into the details and dogma of Gnomonism. At least, in the specifics of the society that he's willing to share. For one of the true genius Portis strokes is to reveal little of the actual content hidden within the Codex Pappus--if he's revealing anything at all. Jimmerson's rambling about sacred cones and all-explaining triangles may just be an idiot's interpretation of an outdated or poorly translated trigonometry textbook, or perhaps some delirious misappropriation granting divine providence to Fibonacci's famed sequence.

Though he intentionally avoids diving too deep into the minutiae of Gnomonism, Portis nails the reasons why cults, secret societies, and conspiracy theories grip certain members of society: namely, a desire for deeper truths and hidden meanings to explain a world that no longer makes sense. And, crucially, a dangerous abundance of free time.

"Things began to pick up towards the end of the decade," Portis writes early on. "And then in 1929, with the economic collapse of the nation, the Gnomon Society fairly flourished. Traders and lawyers and bricklayers and salesmen and farmers now had time on their hands. They had time to listen and some were so desperate to seek answers in books." As Gnomon mania spreads across the heartland, Jimmerson breaks ground on the society's lavish limestone temple in Burnett, Indiana, "the most fashionable suburb of Gary."

As the story unfolds over decades of Jimmerson's life and Gnomonry balloons, each of the suddenly all-too-familiar signs of collective delusion are present. Weirdos, outsiders, fools, the angry, and the marginalized become ensnared by the ideology. Grifters and con men like Popper are all too happy to steer the gullible flock in wallet-lining directions. Contradictions zip over the heads of any and all True Believers. And, perhaps most importantly, a yo-yoing series of surefire predictions and grand declarations inevitably fail to materialize, only to be explained away by a minor miscalculation or infinitesimally small misreading of the tea leaves. The prophecy didn't fail; it's just delayed until TBD. Do not question the prophet, for the prophet remains unimpeachable.

Portis nails why cults, secret societies, and conspiracy theories grip certain members of society: namely, a desire for deeper truths and hidden meanings to explain a world that no longer makes sense.

This phenomenon of explaining away failed predictions occurs with comic frequency in the QAnon alternate reality. Q drops, as they're called--the cryptic messages from the eponymous (alleged) "deep state" insider forewarning of imminent arrests of child-eating liberals and Hollywood types--always fail to come to fruition. And yet, somehow, followers manage to twist and contort each failure into another clue to even grander conspiracy. It's been three years since some punk on 4chan posted his very first prediction, about the imminent arrest of Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state still walks free, yet the QAnon cult now looms so large that it seated an actual congressional caucus. Meanwhile, some followers have accepted literal time travel as the asphalt to pave over the plot holes of their new favorite religion.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Burkean Economics in the Right-Wing Realignment: a review of Commerce and Manners in Edmund Burke's Political Economy, by Gregory M. Collins (Brad Littlejohn, 12/31/20, American Conservative)

Burke's thought has often been invoked on both sides of this conservative fusion between traditional order and market liberty. On the one hand, his 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France offers a classic statement of a traditionalist conservatism suspicious of change, rationalism, and individualism, and dedicated to the maintenance of order, hierarchy, and virtue. On the other hand, his 1796 pamphlet Thoughts and Details on Scarcity reads like a gospel tract for laissez-faire liberalism, trumpeting the need to unleash the creative destruction of markets driven by rational self-interest and to clear away well-meaning but ultimately short-sighted traditionalist curbs on market liberty. Accordingly, Collins bookends his work with very close readings of both texts, revealing nuances in each that soften the apparent contrast highlighted by earlier generations of Burke scholars. The intervening chapters fill out the picture with a rich and complex sketch of Burke's lifetime of forays into the then-developing discipline of political economy, most of them emerging in the context of practical politics during his three-decade service in Parliament.

What emerges from this mosaic is a portrait of a man who was a true friend of market liberty, sharing many of the convictions voiced concurrently by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations, but also a prudent statesman who understood that the market served society, not society the market. Burke's conservative traditionalism, far from contradicting his market liberalism, flowed from the same basic intuition about human finitude and the need to learn from experience. Just as political wisdom was derived from the collected judgments of centuries, so economic wisdom was more likely to be found diffused throughout the multitude of private economic agents responding to market signals than in centralized, top-down efforts to fix prices or quotas.

Collins compellingly argues that we should read Burke as holding with remarkable steadiness to broadly consistent principles throughout his long career as a writer and politician, while also recognizing that he was a true statesman, not an armchair philosopher. Sometimes this meant yielding to established interests when there was no way around them, or accepting piecemeal reforms in place of sweeping overhauls; but such pragmatism, after all, was part and parcel of Burke's brand of conservatism. It also meant a fine-grained attention to empirical reality rather than allegiance to abstract principle. Thus for instance Burke supported necessary and beneficial foreign trade monopolies like the East India Company and intellectual property monopolies in the form of copyrights or patents, while as a general rule excoriating monopoly as a sacrifice of economic efficiency and the public good to private interest. He rejected public granaries as an unwieldy solution to crop shortages in the UK, while endorsing them as good policy in Geneva. Perhaps most importantly, he drew a firm distinction between internal trade--on which he was as ardent a champion of free trade and market liberalization as Adam Smith--and foreign trade, on which he carefully subordinated the arguments for free trade to considerations of national security, national interest, and national honor. Aptly summarizing Burke's trade philosophy, Collins comments: "The wealth of nations was a worthy aspiration, but the honor of nations was an even nobler aim."

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Hunter Biden's Guilty Laptop (PETER VAN BUREN, 12/31/20, American Conservative

In the final weeks before the election, Hunter's laptop fell into Republican hands. The story went public in the New York Post, revealing that Hunter Biden introduced his father, then vice president, to a top executive at Ukrainian energy firm Burisma less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company. The meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma...

Explainer: Biden, allies pushed out Ukrainian prosecutor because he didn't pursue corruption cases (Courtney Subramanian, 10/03/19, USA TODAY)

At the heart of Congress' probe into the president's actions is his claim that former Vice President and 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden strong-armed the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor in order to thwart an investigation into a company tied to his son, Hunter Biden. 

But sources ranging from former Obama administration officials to an anti-corruption advocate in Ukraine say the official, Viktor Shokin, was ousted for the opposite reason Trump and his allies claim.

It wasn't because Shokin was investigating a natural gas company tied to Biden's son; it was because Shokin wasn't pursuing corruption among the country's politicians, according to a Ukrainian official and four former American officials who specialized in Ukraine and Europe.

Shokin's inaction prompted international calls for his ouster and ultimately resulted in his removal by Ukraine's parliament.

Without pressure from Joe Biden, European diplomats, the International Monetary Fund and other international organizations, Shokin would not have been fired, said Daria Kaleniuk, co-founder and executive director of the Anti Corruption Action Centre in Kiev.

"Civil society organizations in Ukraine were pressing for his resignation," Kaleniuk said, "but no one would have cared if there had not been voices from outside this country calling on him to go."

Both the VP and Donald did exactly what they are charged with: Joe got the corrupt prosecutor fired and Donald tried strong-arming an ally to smear an opponent.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Inside A Wall Street Tycoon's Plan To Get Americans Off The Highway -- And On His Trains (Alan Ohnsman & Antoine Gara, 12/31/20, Forbes)

As the world grapples with how to make travel safe in the age of coronavirus, private equity billionaire Wes Edens is betting $9 billion that America's transportation future is passenger rail. 

Shouting over the noise of diners at a Mexican restaurant on the floor of a casino, buyout billionaire Wes Edens has come to Las Vegas, one of the cities least friendly to mass transit, to talk about passenger rail. "It's not like I had Lionel train sets in my basement," he says. "I wasn't a train nut, but I love riding on trains. It's my favorite form of travel." 

Even a couple months ago, that was audacious talk from the casual, sandy-haired 58-year-old who made his fortune with Fortress Investment Group and who co-owns the NBA's top team, the Milwaukee Bucks. In a post-Covid world, as people settle in for a period of minimal travel, especially if it involves being squeezed among others, a bet on train service sounds downright crazy, especially since it comes with a $9 billion price tag. 

Edens' vision: tax-exempt bonds to create high-speed train lines linking Orlando to Miami and Las Vegas to Southern California. He sees a service modeled on the Paris-to-London Eurostar and is so confident the plan will work that he's put more than $100 million of his own money into it. If things go right, his trains could haul nearly 20 million passengers in 2026, generate annual revenue of $1.6 billion and operating profit of almost $1 billion a year. 

"Great fortunes are generally made by solving the most obvious problems," Edens says, woven leather bracelets on his right wrist jiggling each time he lightly thumps the table. "Drive from Miami to Orlando with your family; drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It's a bad experience." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Reverse Trump's Western Sahara Giveaway: The Sahrawi people should not be treated as objects for barter. (DOUG BANDOW, 12/31/20, American Conservative)

Is Mike Pompeo the worst secretary of state in U.S. history? It's possible, though he has lots of competition.

Unfortunately, he appears to be determined to continue his malign activities until his very last day in office. His latest awful act was buying Morocco's support for the normalization of relations with Israel by endorsing that latter's seizure of the Western Sahara.

Rabat had no colorable claim, religious, cultural, ethnic, economic, or historical, to the territory, which is why no other country or organization has officially accepted the annexation. And the International Court of Justice and United Nations affirmed the Sahrawi people's right to self-determination. Yet the Trump administration is backing the aggressor. Alas, noted Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco: "The failure of the international community to force Morocco to live up to its international legal obligation is what has led to the Western Saharan crisis in the first place."

King Mohammed VI brilliantly played Pompeo, winning something for almost nothing. The former did not even agree to open an embassy, despite America's lavish PR claims. In a game of strip poker with Morocco's monarch, America's secretary of state would be naked after the first round. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe complained: "He could have made this deal without trading the rights of a voiceless people."

Still, the worst part of the agreement is the substance. Hundreds of thousands of Sahrawi people suffer because of Morocco's ruthless land grab. The State Department admits that not all is well for those living under Rabat's rule, with human rights issues including: "allegations of torture by some members of the security forces, although the government condemned the practice and made efforts to investigate and address any reports; allegations of political prisoners; undue limits on freedom of expression, including criminalization of libel and certain content that criticized the monarchy and the government's position regarding territorial integrity; limits on freedom of assembly and association; and corruption." On top of this, there was "a widespread perception of impunity." exchange for Israel doing the same to Palestine. Normalization is an agreement among regimes that oppress Muslims. 

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The Secrets John Le Carré Revealed (Brian Phillips  Dec 17, 2020, The Ringer)

The Cold War was a conflict staged between grand ideologies but fought by amoral operatives; it was freedom versus oppression in the newspapers and liars versus assassins in the streets. In a way, the gulf between the high principles that justify a movement and the low pragmatism with which it pursues its aims is common to every political conflict: the French Revolution wrote fraternité on the banners it hung above the guillotines. But the Cold War exaggerated the tension to an extreme degree. This was partly because of the world-historic immensity of the opposing systems and partly because of the relative absence of overt conflict between them. The Cold War had no storming of the Bastille, no Gettysburg, no Omaha Beach. The grand struggle to control the future of humanity was fought by bureaucrats, spies, and proxies, in secret, deniably, off-screen. [...]

Quick, what's the plot of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? What happens in The Night Manager? Maybe you watched The Little Drummer Girl, Park Chan-wook's version of Le Carré's 1983 bestseller, when it came out on AMC two years ago; why does the protagonist go undercover again? The appeal, in stories like these, isn't the A-B-C of the plot; it's the sense of being lost in an unfamiliar alphabet. It's the atmosphere of fragile deceptions, shifting loyalties, provisional realities overlaid on one another until the "real" reality--like good and evil, our side and their side--becomes impossible to distinguish. 

Robert D. Kaplan offered the best take on Realists like Le Carre in an aside about Henry Kissinger: 

(In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.)

No wonder he got so hysterical as he aged. 


Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Empire of fantasy: By conquering young minds, the writing of J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis worked to recapture a world that was swiftly ebbing away (Maria Sachiko Cecire, Curio, an Aeon partner)

Tolkien articulated his anxieties about the cultural changes sweeping across Britain in terms of 'American sanitation, morale-pep, feminism, and mass-production', calling 'this Americo-cosmopolitanism very terrifying' and suggesting in a 1943 letter to his son Christopher that, if this was to be the outcome of an Allied Second World War win, he wasn't sure that victory would be better for the 'mind and spirit' - and for England - than a loss to Nazi forces.

Lewis shared this abhorrence for 'modern' technologisation, secularisation and the swiftly dismantling hierarchies of race, gender and class. He and Tolkien saw such broader shifts reflected in changing (and in their estimation dangerously faddish) literary norms. Writing in the 1930s, Tolkien skewered 'the critics' for disregarding the fantastical dragon and ogres in Beowulf as 'unfashionable creatures' in a widely read essay about that Old English poem. Lewis disparaged modernist literati in his Experiment in Criticism (1961), mocking devotees of contemporary darlings such as T S Eliot and claiming that 'while this goes on downstairs, the only real literary experience in such a family may be occurring in a back bedroom where a small boy is reading Treasure Island under the bed-clothes by the light of an electric torch.' If the new literary culture was accelerating the slide to moral decay, Tolkien and Lewis identified salvation in the authentic, childlike enjoyment of adventure and fairy stories, especially ones set in medieval lands. And so, armed with the unlikely weapons of medievalism and childhood, they waged a campaign that hinged on spreading the fantastic in both popular and scholarly spheres. Improbably, they were extraordinarily successful in leaving far-reaching marks on the global imagination by launching an alternative strand of writing that first circulated amongst child readers.

These readers devoured The Hobbit and, later, The Lord of the Rings, as well as The Chronicles of Narnia series. But they also read fantasy by later authors who began to write in this vein - including several major British children's writers who studied the English curriculum that Tolkien and Lewis established at Oxford as undergraduates. This curriculum flew in the face of the directions that other universities were taking in the early years of the field. As modernism became canon and critical theory was on the rise, Oxford instead required undergraduates to read and comment on fantastical early English works such as Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Orfeo, Le Morte d'Arthur and John Mandeville's Travels in their original medieval languages.

Students had to analyse these texts as literature rather than only as linguistic extracts, a notable difference from the more common approach to medieval literature at the time. Tolkien and Lewis identified concrete moral lessons and 'patriotic' insights into the national character in these magical tales of long ago. The past they depicted was not, of course, England as it actually was in the Middle Ages, but England as poets had imagined it to be: the enchanted realm of heroism, righteousness and romance where 19th-century nationalists had identified the moral and racial heart of the nation. (The Oxford curriculum was, in this sense, a throwback to English studies' roots in colonial education, which - as the literary scholar Gauri Viswanathan has shown in Masks of Conquest (2014) - often looked to prove English right to rule through the glory of its national literature.

The unique educational programme that dominated English at Oxford for nearly 40 years officially sanctioned magic-filled medieval works as exemplars of English literature for generations of students that passed through the university's power-filled halls. And a number of these students went on to write their own popular children's fantasy, some to great acclaim. Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, Kevin Crossley-Holland and Philip Pullman in particular, who each received their English degrees between 1956 and 1968, draw on medieval and early modern literary sources, many directly taken from the Oxford syllabus, to create new, self-reflectively serious fantasy for young readers. Together with Tolkien and Lewis, this group forms the Oxford School of children's fantasy literature. Cooper's The Dark Is Rising quintet (1965-77) and Crossley-Holland's Arthur trilogy (2000-03) give King Arthur's story fresh context and resonance for understanding contemporary Britain in their times; meanwhile, the works of Jones and Pullman delight in subverting fantasy expectations while introducing early English literature to new generations of readers. They all celebrate the purported wisdom of old stories, and follow the central tenet that Tolkien set out for fairy-stories: 'one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in the story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.'

The Oxford School's reimagining of medieval tales for modern audiences injected these fantastical narratives into the public consciousness, largely eluding elite and scholarly notice because their works were branded as children's literature. At the same time, taking ancient, canonical texts as the foundations for new stories helped to give their fantasy the historical depth and cultural weight to resist derisive laughter and make claims about the present. For instance, the dragon episode at the end of The Hobbit is full of parallels to the one in Beowulf, from the cup-theft that wakes the worm to its destructive expressions of rage. But The Hobbit uses this narrative to pit a traditionalist and noble-born hero (Bard, whose name means 'poet', 'storyteller') against an untrustworthy elected official, hammering home the significance of conservative traditions over the whims of easily swayed masses. Tolkien's novel ends with the protagonist Bilbo's delighted discovery of this barely veiled moral: 'the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!'

The Oxford School's medievalist approach radiated outward, influencing many more children's fantasy authors and readers, and helping to turn Anglophilic fascination with early Britain and its medieval legends into a globally recognisable setting for children's adventures, world-saving deeds and magical possibility. 

Tolkein misunderstood: globalization is Anglofication.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


REVIEW: of Republic of Islamophobia: The Rise of Respectable Racism in France (Sadek Hamid, 12/09/20, New Arab)

Wolfreys documents modern flashpoints between the French state and Muslims through their 'provocative' acts of public religiosity over the last thirty years beginning with the "Headscarf Affair" of 1989. State intervention in the sartorial choices of female Muslims continued with the prohibition of hijabs in public schools in 2005, and in 2011, it outlawed the niqab (the full face-veil) in public places. 

A temporary 'Burkini ban' in beaches came into force in 2016 because these acts were said to violate the French tradition of secularism - laïcité, a quasi-sacred value that purports to separate state and church. In practice, laïcité gives racism a respectable veneer and simultaneously subjects Muslims to unique scrutiny and tacitly demands their invisibility.

The overarching argument of the book crystallises into the fact that Islamophobia and xenophobia have been used by state actors and supported by an increasingly populist media. Anti-Muslim animus has been embedded within the dominant culture through writers and attention-seeking 'neo-reactionary' intellectuals  such as Alain Finkielkraut, Éric Zemmour  and billionaires like Élisabeth Badinter and Vincent Bolloré, who are regularly given  public platforms to discharge their prejudice.
Badinter, for instance, in 2016 declared that "We should not be afraid of being cast as Islamophobes." A similarly prejudicial comment about Judaism is unlikely to have been made today in a nation that has a comparably troubled history with its Jewish population.

Though originally instrumentalised by the far-right Front National, Islamophobia has proved to be an election winning strategy for parties across the political spectrum. A tactic that former President Nicolas Sarkozy applied numerous times during his tenure and who went as far as stating that "we have too many foreigners" - a cruelly ironic claim  given that he himself is the son of a Hungarian immigrant.

This observation explains why Macron, presently besieged by the extent of his unpopularity, is mimicking the Front National's position on Islam. Wolfreys observes that the rising popularity of right-wing sentiment is further normalised by a deepening political crisis in which Muslims and other minorities are scapegoated for economic problems such as structural unemployment and widening social inequalities rather than then the poor policy decisions made by successive governments. 

This also distracts from a deeper problem of the crisis of French identity and the decline of its global influence. 

The author also chides the French Left for practicing its own forms of Islamophobia and recalls the attempt by the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anticapitalist Party) to propose a hijab-wearing candidate in 2010; Ilham Moussaïd withdrew after she encountered as much opposition from the Left as she did from the political mainstream. 

Secularism is the French cult.  The racism is a bonus. 

December 30, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


What le Carré's people really think of Britain (John Lloyd, 12/17/20, CapX)

The encomiums for the late John le Carré from every corner of the British media, and from large parts of the American, bear witness to a nearly global enjoyment of immersion in the le Carré world. His people, drawn from the beginning of his writing career with great artistry, are unillusioned, courageous and patriotic, but with an undertow of bitterness that the country whose security they are sworn to protect may no longer be worth the sacrifices they nevertheless stoically make.

It is that bitterness which, for this reader at least, keeps his novels on the shelf rather than becoming dog-eared with re-reading. His fiction was based very largely on a view of Britain - really, England -  as remorselessly declining in its weight in the world, in honest and efficient government and in character. [...]

Beneath the subtleties of character and plot of le Carré's novels is a banal insistence on degradation of a country which, since the last war, created and maintained a welfare state; retained and developed an uncorrupt and relatively efficient bureaucracy (and secret services); has risen to the responsibilities and challenges in the world forums like the UN, NATO and the G7; become among the most multicultural states in Europe and remained among the leaders in research and university scholarship and teaching. None of these are without a myriad of problems, some of which are now acute. But to see it, as the author and his characters do, as an exhausted lion led by venal donkeys, illuminates a strain of patrician loathing of those who cannot regard their country as a failed state.

...the first is that Britain was in permanent decline; the second that the U.S. was an unworthy successor to her leadership; the third that the West and the Soviets were morally equivalent.  He could never forgive Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan personally, nor Brits and Americans generally, for proving his beliefs risible. He was a Bill Hardon who lived to see that his betrayal had served the side that was actually doomed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


The Long Shadow Of The 1953 Coup (DANIEL LARISON, 12/09/20, American Conservative)

The 1953 U.S./U.K.-backed coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh was one of the pivotal events of the early Cold War, and it continues to have consequences for Iran, the surrounding region, and U.S. foreign policy almost seventy years after it happened. It is in some respects the original sin of U.S. Iran policy since WWII, and we are still living with the damage that it caused. Much of the turmoil and upheaval that have followed in the region have their roots in the American and British policy of interfering in Iran's internal affairs and forcing a change in government.

Taghi Amirani's excellent documentary, Coup 53, explains how the coup was carried out and details the role of the U.S. and U.K. governments in sponsoring and orchestrating Mossadegh's overthrow. The film takes the viewer through the background to 1953, and then shows the links between the coup then and the subsequent developments in Iranian history. I was privileged to have the opportunity to view the film recently, and it is a shame that the documentary does not yet have the wider audience that it deserves.

The U.S. has acknowledged its role in the coup, but even now the U.K. does not officially admit its involvement. One of the interesting contributions of the new documentary is to confirm additional evidence that details the significant British role in the coup. Amirani reconstructs the story of how the coup happened, and provides a new generation with an understanding of the long-term effects of the coup on Iran and Iran's relations with Western powers.

It is a beautifully filmed documentary. There is good reason that it has received standing ovations and effusive praise at the film festivals where it has been screened. Amirani has worked for more than a decade on this project, and he has put in an enormous amount of work into creating the final film. He has traveled to many different countries to find witnesses to the events before and during the coup, and he has woven together a compelling story from the testimonies he has compiled. Some of the key events of the coup are dramatized in animated sequences to recreate the chaotic days in Tehran in August 1953, and Amirani makes great use of contemporary newsreels and audio recordings to recreate the political mood at the time and to capture the views of the different parties involved. [...]

The film touches on the last years of Mossadegh and his burial at his place of internal exile. It is clear that Amirani holds Mossadegh in great esteem, both for his own qualities and for the Iran that he represented. There was a possibility of an Iran with parliamentary democracy, and that possibility was violently snuffed out in favor of authoritarianism and a "pro-Western" alignment. It is unfortunately a familiar story from the Cold War, and one that Americans and Britons should look back on with shame.

The story ends with an epilogue on the reign of the Shah and the buildup to the revolution. This illustrates how relatively brief the so-called "success" of 1953 lasted and the terrible price that the Iranian people have had to pay for that interference over the last almost 70 years. "I've always said that the 11th of February 1979 is in fact the 20th of August 1953," Mossadegh's former head of security says at one point. The coup casts a very long shadow.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:41 AM


How psychology failed the test: Uses and abuses of 'the scientific method': a review of THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD: An evolution of thinking from Darwin to Dewey by Henry M. Cowles (Stephen Gaukroger, January 1, 2021, TLS)

Some of Cowles's most interesting discussions, in Chapters Two and Three, concern the way in which evolutionary theory became a way of thinking about mental development. Mill had seen the need for a science of the mind, an empirical psychology, to underpin his own account of science, and evolutionary theory, initially dismissed by Darwin's critics as being unscientific, was taken on board as a scientific resource. Darwin's followers would attempt to turn scientific thinking into an instinct, using the theory of natural selection to explain how the capacity for science had first emerged.

Cowles sums up his major thesis when he writes that in "the decades between Darwin's translation of an experimental idiom into an evolutionary theory and Dewey's use of that theory to buttress new approaches to experimentalism, we find a kind of chaotic coherence, a patterned assembly of reference and self-reflection". This takes us to the development of psychology, for more than any other discipline, it was psychology that fostered a scientific image by promoting its exclusively empirical "scientific method". [...]

As Cowles remarks, commenting on Charles Eliot's reforms at Harvard in the 1870s, science and its benefits were now central to the understanding of liberal education and its relation to progress, and a new generation of psychologists was crucial to enacting this vision. But what the discipline actually delivered was classification, and it is in this (rather than in the kinds of academic developments that Cowles focuses on), that one finds the explanation for empirical psychology's towering status in the early decades of the twentieth century. The influence that psychology came to wield was less the result of genuine theoretical developments among serious researchers, than of the pragmatic benefits the discipline seemed to bring. A classic example of its supposed practical uses comes in the form of the "mental test", a term coined by James Cattell, which was used to measure the apparent cognitive skills of its subjects. Cattell sold this appearance of "science" to the American public, but receives only passing mention in Cowles's account.

No one now could count Cattell's project of anthropometric mental testing as anything other than a shallow, confused exercise, and a complete waste of time as far as the development of psychology was concerned. Yet its significance was immense. Its importance derived from the fact that, in the first decade of the twentieth century, America was faced with millions of new immigrants with completely different cultural backgrounds and educational achievements. Rapid industrialization and the rise of new professions meant that some formalized criteria were required to judge applicants for jobs: they needed to be ordered and, through education, Americanized. Cattell's testing programme met an immediate need, trumping more cautious and thoughtful forms of psychological research in its ability to promote itself as a crucial resource for assessing the abilities of newly arrived immigrants.

Psychology, as the bastion of empirical testing, has always remained highly problematic. In 2015, an international team of 270 university researchers set out to repeat 100 psychology experiments published in top psychology journals, publishing their results in Science. They found that they were unable to reproduce 64 per cent of the findings: 75 per cent of social psychology experiments failed the test, as did half the cognitive psychology experiments. This is not just a problem for psychology, but more generally for the idea of a scientific method that is taken to guarantee objective results. The kind of exploration that Henry Cowles offers, which traces the connections between scientific method and psychology, is accordingly especially welcome.

First Freud, then Marx, then Darwin. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


It's Time to Rethink the Tax Credit on Electric Vehicles (RYAN CORNELL, DEC 30, 2020, Slate)

If you packed 100 policy wonks and environmental scientists into one room and asked about the most effective way to fight climate change, you would likely receive 100 different answers. But it is also likely that a common thread would run between each of these collective responses: the need to electrify. Mitigating climate change requires decarbonization, which will be impossible unless we are able to utilize electricity to accomplish tasks that currently require fossil fuels, such as automobiles, industrial processes, and heating. You can make those things more efficient, but efficiently combusting fossils fuels is still combusting fossil fuels.

So, we must decouple our economy from fossil fuels and electrify all aspects of our daily lives; this much is certain. And while there has been a recent focus on the final pieces of the electrification puzzle (shipping, airlines, steel production), we shouldn't ignore the comparatively low-hanging fruit that is the automotive transportation sector. Transportation accounts for 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and my research demonstrates that we could cut per-automobile lifetime emissions from 66.4 tons to 6.3 tons of CO2 by charging cars with renewables. Most importantly, the technology exists to make it happen. We aren't dependent on some moonshot technological breakthrough. We can make the transition today.

Simply make gas taxes confiscatory and you force the conversion to alternatives, whatever they end up being. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


For Billion-Dollar COVID Vaccines, Basic Government-Funded Science Laid the Groundwork : Much of the pioneering work on mRNA vaccines was done with government money, though drugmakers could walk away with big profits (Arthur Allen, November 18, 2020, Kaiser Health News)

When he started researching a troublesome childhood infection nearly four decades ago, virologist Dr. Barney Graham, then at Vanderbilt University, had no inkling his federally funded work might be key to deliverance from a global pandemic.

Yet nearly all the vaccines advancing toward possible FDA approval this fall or winter are based on a design developed by Graham and his colleagues, a concept that emerged from a scientific quest to understand a disastrous 1966 vaccine trial.

Basic research conducted by Graham and others at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Defense Department and federally funded academic laboratories has been the essential ingredient in the rapid development of vaccines in response to COVID-19. The government has poured an additional $10.5 billion into vaccine companies since the pandemic began to accelerate the delivery of their products.

The Moderna vaccine, whose remarkable effectiveness in a late-stage trial was announced Monday morning, emerged directly out of a partnership between Moderna and Graham's NIH laboratory.

Coronavirus vaccines are likely to be worth billions to the drug industry if they prove safe and effective. As many as 14 billion vaccines would be required to immunize everyone in the world against COVID-19. If, as many scientists anticipate, vaccine-produced immunity wanes, billions more doses could be sold as booster shots in years to come. And the technology and production laboratories seeded with the help of all this federal largesse could give rise to other profitable vaccines and drugs.

The vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, which are likely to be the first to win FDA approval, in particular rely heavily on two fundamental discoveries that emerged from federally funded research: the viral protein designed by Graham and his colleagues, and the concept of RNA modification, first developed by Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó at the University of Pennsylvania. In fact, Moderna's founders in 2010 named the company after this concept: "Modified" + "RNA" = Moderna, according to co-founder Robert Langer.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Long Live the Bio-Revolution (Michael Chui & Matthias Evers, Dec. 30th, 2020, Project Syndicate)

Recent research by the McKinsey Global Institute finds that biological innovation in agriculture, aquaculture, and food production could yield economic returns of up to $1.2 trillion over the next decade or two. To put that into context, the global food and agribusiness industry is worth about $5 trillion today.

What could deliver this growth? The most promising innovations include alternative proteins, marker-assisted breeding, genetic engineering of plant and animal traits, and microbiome mapping and modification. Consumer interest in alternative protein sources is increasing globally, owing to concerns about health, the environment, and animal welfare.

Plant-based meat substitutes are already widely sold, though the economics of their production needs to be improved. Plant-based milk, for example, accounts for 15% of retail milk sales in the United States and 8% in Britain. And companies like Clara Foods are using advanced yeast engineering and fermentation technologies to produce animal-free egg-white proteins. 

Likewise, cultured meat and seafood - whereby muscle tissue grown from cells in the lab is made to mimic the protein profile of animal meat - is on the horizon. Earlier this month, Singapore became the first government to approve the sale of lab-grown meat (cultured chicken created by the San Francisco-based company Eat Just). Over the next ten years, cultured meat and seafood could become cost competitive with conventional animal proteins.

Selective breeding of plants and animals is not new, but marker-assisted breeding has made the process cheaper and significantly faster, because it enables the selection of desirable traits even if the precise genes that generate them have not yet been identified or understood. The plunging cost of DNA sequencing means that thousands of potential markers can be detected simultaneously. Whereas developing new crop varieties previously could require 25 years, it now can be done in as few as seven. And because marker-assisted selection is not yet as prevalent in developing countries as it is in advanced economies, there are significant opportunities for growth.

Since the development of the first genetically engineered plant (tobacco) in the early 1980s, genetic engineering has become well established. But, again, the technology is still improving rapidly. New tools like CRISPR have made gene editing more precise, allowing for crops to be tailored much more effectively to local conditions such as temperature and soil type. CRISPR-edited produce could land on grocery store shelves in the US over the next ten years, starting with sweeter strawberries that have a longer shelf life.

Another promising area of innovation is portable DNA-sequencing devices, which could soon be used by farmers to diagnose plant diseases, possibly improving quality and yield while eliminating or reducing use of pesticides. Genetic editing to improve health and productivity in food animals such as dairy and beef cattle, swine, and poultry is still nascent, but interest in the field has soared since the 2019 outbreak of African swine fever.

Similarly, the mapping of the microbiome - including bacteria, fungi, and viruses - is helping researchers find ways to increase the resilience of crops, animals, and soil to drought and disease. Here, too, advances in computing and sequencing are accelerating the pace of discovery, such that the biotech company Novozymes is already offering genetically engineered microbes to use in place of yield- and quality-boosting chemicals.

Many of these biological innovations can help us address not only hunger but also resource depletion and broader climate risks.

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How Pixar's 'Soul' borrows from an ancient Jewish idea (RABBI BENJAMIN RESNICK, DECEMBER 28, 2020, JTA)

It doesn't give too much away to tell you that one of the movie's central messages is that true personhood is rooted in the union of body and soul, that they are both indispensable ingredients of life's confection. If Joe Gardner's adventure with an unborn soul named "22" yields any concrete moral, it is that corporeality and spirituality are intimately bound up with one another. Each is incomplete, perhaps woefully so, without the other. And of the many ideas that Pixar gracefully bandies about in "Soul," it is this one that strikes me as the most profoundly Jewish.

On this very subject, there is a famous midrash, or ancient rabbinic homily, about a body and soul separated by death and standing before God in judgment. The soul, pleading her case, argues that all of her sinful behaviour was caused by the body's base desires. The body, not to be outdone, makes the point that without the soul he would have been entirely lifeless and therefore unable to transgress. Accepting their arguments, God puts them back together and punishes them in unison.

I have always found this story irresistibly charming (very much like a Pixar movie) not because I am in love with the idea of divine retribution, but rather because, as an embodied soul myself -- or, if you like, as a body who happens to be ensouled for the moment -- it simply rings true.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


In Fact, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga Is One of the Best Movies of the Year (KAREN HAN, DEC 30, 2020, Slate)

For me, it's the movie that best captures a total sense of (perhaps naïve) earnestness--you have to shed any cynicism you're holding onto in order to fully enjoy it, but once you do, the experience is like hitting the drop on a roller coaster, but for two hours straight. The key scene, for me, is the "song-along," which places Ferrell and McAdams at a party attended by real Eurovision stars (Conchita Wurst, Netta, etc.) and pulls them into an impromptu jam session. The songs that the stars blend together--Cher's "Believe," ABBA's "Waterloo," the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling," Celine Dion's "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi," and Madonna's "Ray of Light"--epitomize the spirit behind the entire film, which is to say, cheesy, unabashedly joyful, and strangely life-affirming if you open your heart. You cannot enjoy these songs while still clinging to any sense of irony, nor can you enjoy this movie while turning your nose up at the idea of "lowbrow" entertainment.

While American Utopia is the closest thing we have to a concert experience this year, Eurovision Song Contest is the closest thing we have to a karaoke party, detached from the bounds of reality--the kind of party where you don't have to worry about some random guy grinding up on you, the kind of party where everyone's just there to sing their hearts out and have a good time. (At the risk of outing myself as even more of a nerd, the song-along scene was the closest I've ever felt to replicating my collegiate a cappella parties.) The stars sing directly into the camera, both inviting the viewer to participate in the party and giving up any sense of "seriousness." Is it deranged that I cry even just watching the song-along as a YouTube clip? Maybe, but it speaks to how well the scene works as a celebration.

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A history of the southern border (The Week, February 2, 2019)

Illegal immigration wasn't considered a problem, because for most of the 19th century, the U.S. had virtually open borders. Would-be immigrants "didn't need a passport," said Mae Ngai, a historian at Columbia University. "You didn't need a visa."

When did that change?
Congress passed the first major immigration restrictions in 1882, barring Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. Knowing they'd be turned back at official ports of entry, Chinese migrants began slipping over the southwestern border, sometimes learning a few words of Spanish so they could pass as Mexican. Congress created the Border Patrol in 1924 primarily to crack down on Chinese immigration and to stem the flow of illegal alcohol under Prohibition. Most of the illicit booze came through Canada, so the majority of early border agents were sent north. The southern border was lightly patrolled by a few hundred officers on horseback. Aside from a handful of private fences built during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s, the boundary remained largely unfortified.

Why did security increase?
Because of a surge in Mexican immigration. During World War II, a temporary guest worker program was created to send Mexican laborers to manpower-starved American farms, and over the next 22 years some five million braceros would work in the U.S. That program ended in 1964, but the demand for cheap Mexican laborers did not. And when the Mexican economy slumped in the 1970s and early '80s, millions headed north without papers. By 1986, an estimated 3.2 million undocumented immigrants were living in the U.S., up from 540,000 in 1969. The War on Drugs, launched by President Richard Nixon in 1971, also focused attention on the southern border, which would become the main conduit for cocaine and marijuana.

What did the government do?
President Jimmy Carter's administration proposed the construction of a fence along the most heavily trafficked parts of the border in 1979, but scrapped the idea following a backlash at home and in Mexico. "You don't build a 9-foot fence along the border between two friendly nations," Carter's Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, said during the 1980 election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


An Alternative to Police That Police Can Get Behind (Rowan Moore Gerety|Dec. 28th, 2020, The Atlantic)

One possible answer comes from Eugene, Oregon, a leafy college town of 172,000 that feels half that size. For more than 30 years, Eugene has been home to Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, or CAHOOTS, an initiative designed to help the city's most vulnerable citizens in ways the police cannot. In Eugene, if you dial 911 because your brother or son is having a mental-health or drug-related episode, the call is likely to get a response from CAHOOTS, whose staff of unarmed outreach workers and medics is trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation. Operated by a community health clinic and funded through the police department, CAHOOTS accounts for just 2 percent of the department's $66 million annual budget.

When I visited Eugene one week this summer, city-council members in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Houston, and Durham, North Carolina, had recently held CAHOOTS up as a model for how to shift the work of emergency response from police to a different kind of public servant. CAHOOTS had 310 outstanding requests for information from communities around the country.

A pilot program modeled in part on CAHOOTS recently began in San Francisco, and others will start soon in Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon. Even the federal government has expressed interest. In August, Oregon's senior senator, Ron Wyden, introduced the CAHOOTS Act, which would offer Medicaid funds for programs that send unarmed first responders to intervene in addiction and behavioral-health crises. "It's long past time to reimagine policing in ways that reduce violence and structural racism," he said, calling CAHOOTS a "proven model" to do just that. A police-funded program that costs $1 out of every $50 Eugene spends on cops hardly qualifies as defunding the police. But it may be the closest thing the United States has to an example of whom you might call instead.

A pile of belongings on the sidewalk in a Eugene neighborhood bears a note: "I'm going to White Bird." The White Bird Clinic runs the CAHOOTS crisis-response program.
In 1968, Dennis Ekanger was a University of Oregon graduate student finishing up an internship as a counselor for families with children facing charges in the state's juvenile-justice system when he started to get calls in the middle of the night. Through his work in court, word had spread that "I knew something about substance-abuse problems," Ekanger told me recently. Anxious mothers were arriving at his doorstep desperate for help but afraid to go to the authorities. It was a turbulent time in Eugene, with anti-war protests on the University of Oregon campus and a counterculture that spilled over into the surrounding neighborhoods in the form of tie-dye, pot smoke, and psychedelic drugs.

The following year, Ekanger and another student in the university's counseling-psychology program, Frank Lemons, met with a prominent Eugene doctor who agreed to help them mount a more organized response by recruiting local health-care providers to volunteer their time. Ekanger went to San Francisco to visit a new community health clinic in Haight-Ashbury that had pioneered such a model, offering free medical treatment to anyone who walked in. Back in Oregon, Ekanger and Lemons each put up $250 and signed a lease on a dilapidated two-story Victorian near downtown.

The White Bird Clinic opened its doors a few days later, with a mission to provide free treatment when possible and to connect patients to existing services when it wasn't. But the city's established institutions didn't yet have a clue how to deal with people on psychedelic drugs. Teenagers who showed up in the emergency room on LSD were prescribed antipsychotic medications. Unruly patients got passed to the police and ended up having their bad trips in jail.

The forerunner to CAHOOTS was an ad hoc mobile crisis-response team called the "bummer squad" (for "bum trip"), formed in White Bird's first year for callers to the clinic's crisis line who were unable or unwilling to come in. The bummer squad responded in pairs in whatever vehicle was available. For a while, that was a 1950 Ford Sunbeam bread truck that did double duty as the home of its owner, Tod Schneider, who'd dropped out of college on the East Coast to drive out to Eugene.

It didn't take long for the bummer squad to start showing up at some of the same incidents that drew a response from Eugene police. One day in the late 1970s, Schneider answered a call from a mother concerned about her son. "Mom, I think I made a mistake," he'd told her. "I took some PCP, and I'm feeling weird." Schneider showed up to the family's home to find the teenager in "full psychotic PCP condition." As Schneider got out of the truck, the boy came running out of a neighboring house naked and bloody, and tackled him. Another neighbor called the police, thinking they were witnessing an assault. "So police came out and figured out what was going on--they talked to me a little bit, and they just left," Schneider told me. "The police realized ... they didn't know what to do with these people that was productive."

White Bird continued its volunteer-run mobile crisis service--and its informal collaboration with the police--into the early 1980s. Bummer-squad volunteers periodically gave role-playing training to the police department, and some beat officers grew to appreciate Eugene's peculiar grassroots crisis-response network.

In the late '80s, Eugene was struggling to respond to a trio of convergent issues that still plague the city more than 30 years later: mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse. Police in Eugene were caught in a cycle of arresting the same people over and over for violations such as drinking in public parks and sleeping where they weren't allowed to.

"The police hated it; we were doing absolutely nothing for public safety, we were tangling up the courts, and we were spending a horrendous amount of money," Mike Gleason, who was the city manager at the time, recalled. Gleason convened a roundtable with Eugene's social-service providers, offering city funding for programs that could break the logjam. A local detox facility made plans to launch a sobering center where people could dry out or sleep it off. White Bird and the police department began a dialogue about a mobile crisis service that could be dispatched through the 911 system.

White Bird and the police were not a natural pairing. To the city's establishment types, White Bird staffers were "extreme counterculture people." Standing by as the bummer squad defused a bad trip was one thing; giving the team police radios was quite another. White Bird's clinic coordinator at the time, Bob Dritz, wore a uniform of jeans and a T-shirt; for meetings with city officials, he'd occasionally add a rumpled corduroy jacket. With his defiantly disheveled appearance, Dritz seemed to be declaring, in the words of one colleague, "Look, I'm different from you people, and you have to listen to me." White Bird staff members worried that working with the police would erode their credibility, and maybe even lead to arrests of the very people they were trying to help. But in the space of a couple of months, Dritz and a counterpart at the police department drafted the outlines of a partnership. The acronym Dritz landed on was an ironic nod to the discomfort of working openly with the cops.

Things were slow at first. Jim Hill, the police lieutenant who oversaw CAHOOTS at the police department, recalls sitting at his desk listening to dispatch traffic on the radio. "I would literally have to call dispatch and say, 'How come you didn't send CAHOOTS to that?' And they go, 'Oh, yeah, okay.'" Before long, though, CAHOOTS was in high demand.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


How Biden's Respect for 53-year-old Dialogue Process Could Reshape US-Asia Policy (Ralph Jennings, December 30, 2020, Voice of America)

Biden's expected willingness to strengthen a U.S. role in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc will increase confidence among the Asian leaders that Washington will act predictably as a bulwark against China -- neither bowing to it nor over-provoking it -- as well as a potential source of trade deals, analysts say. [...]

But Trump's hands-off approach to ASEAN, a 53-year-old process trusted around Southeast Asia, has given China an opening to influence those governments, said Carl Thayer, University of New South Wales emeritus professor.

...from a pro-Nork president who told Xi to crush the Hong Kong "riots" and that putting Muslims in concentration camps was beautiful.

December 29, 2020

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Study: Electric Heat And Vehicles Would Save N.H. Residents Thousands Per Year (ANNIE ROPEIK, 12/29/20, NHPR)

The analysis comes from a Washington-based nonprofit, Rewiring America, which formed this past summer. Co-founder Alex Laskey said in an interview that they're advocating a switch to electric vehicles and heating and to rooftop solar power where possible.

"What we have realized in doing the math is that ... the lifetime cost of owning the electric alternatives is cheaper than owning the fossil fuel status quo," he said.

In addition to lowering the carbon emissions that drive climate change and creating local jobs, he said, electrification would save New Hampshire $2.1 billion dollars a year.

Residents here pay an average of about $6,200 a year for all their energy uses, he said, compared to about $4,500 nationwide. This study found this difference is driven almost entirely by oil and propane heating, and gasoline costs to a lesser extent.

The study says electrification would lower the average Granite Stater's energy costs to $2,288 a year - less than their current average annual driving costs alone. Laskey said immediate reforms could create these savings by 2025, powered by small-scale solar and grid modernizations to offset the increased electric demand.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


The Conservative Disposition (James Wallner, Dec. 29th, 2020, Law & Liberty)

The Republican candidates running under the banner of conservatism in next month's special elections to fill Georgia's two Senate seats do not exemplify the conservative disposition. Their brand of conservatism is ideological. Implicit in it is the assumption that the world is clearly divided between good guys and bad guys and that ahistorical reasoning is all that's needed to tell them apart. In a recent fundraising pitch, David Perdue referred to his campaign as "the last line of defense against a far-Left, socialist takeover of our country." And Kelly Loeffler warned donors, "The stakes have never been higher." Karl Rove, the National Finance Chairman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, summed up for prospective donors the importance of winning each race. "America's fate rests on the outcome of these Georgia races," he writes, as if Perdue and Loeffler are modern-day Washingtons crossing the Delaware.

Messages like "Support me because my socialist opponent wants to destroy America!" help Republican candidates win elections. But experience suggests that they won't translate into conservative policy victories in-between elections. When coupled with the fact that candidates do not exhibit the conservative disposition and rarely tell voters the details of their conservative views, their failure to enact conservative policy while in office reduces conservatism to a collection of policy prescriptions that depend on simplistic formulas derived from abstract and ahistorical reasoning. And people come to see conservatism merely as a doctrine that opposes progressivism; the other side of the ideological coin.

Yet this view of conservatism is inherently unconservative. And it ironically impedes conservative victories on the campaign trail and while in office. In reality, conservatism is not an ideology. It is a disposition to preserve the moral order and political truths that have been revealed to mankind over the course of history. The conservative disposition has been present in the DNA of Western Civilization for thousands of years. And the general principles it defends are essential to progress, not opposed.

The intellectual foundation of conservatism that is inherent in the conservative disposition came unmoored from the general principles it sought to put into practice. The means-ends bent of ideological conservatism gradually replaced the conservative disposition as events like the 1994 Republican Revolution convinced many conservatives of the utility in prioritizing policy questions, as well as electoral and legislative politics, at the expense of historical and philosophical pursuits. And once detached from tradition, ideological conservatives quickly lost sight of policy and became obsessed with tactical questions, reflecting their new win-at-any-cost mentality.

Admittedly, it is hard to get past the present morass of ideological conservatism. Doing so requires thinking about politics, not policy and procedural tactics, in holistic terms based on questions of standards, traditions, and human nature. Many people--many of them conservatives--have lost sight of the conservative disposition amidst the scandal-driven debates and news coverage of recent years. They have become transfixed by the phenomenon of continually breaking news to report the latest gossip out of the White House and from Capitol Hill. For them, ideological conservatism is a surer way to win elections. It is a means to an end; a Marxist mentality. And like Marxism, this conservatism is ideological because it is based on a rigid worldview. It is attractive to Republicans because it makes their jobs easier by giving them the tools to delegitimize their opponents, reducing uncertainty, and presenting them with prefabricated jingoistic appeals that they can use to appeal to the American people in elections. Neglecting the conservative disposition makes it possible for Republicans like Loeffler and Perdue to claim to be conservative on the campaign trail while governing like the complete opposite in Congress. Republicans have correctly surmised that the means-justify-the-ends ideological mentality so prevalent among conservatives today can be used to excuse almost anything while simultaneously delegitimizing their Democratic opponents.

Trumpists and Progressives are right to hate liberalism/conservatism.
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Trump's unplanned gift to Biden: Clean energy on the rise (BEN LEFEBVRE and KELSEY TAMBORRINO, 12/29/2020, Politico)

In 2017 when Donald Trump entered the White House, the U.S. oil and gas industry was on a tear, with output climbing to record levels, while clean energy sources were still carving out their niche. Now, oil and gas producers are struggling amid weak prices and growing pressure to address climate change, while wind and solar technologies are soaring -- a trend that will assist Biden in making a U-turn in energy policy from the Trump administration's.

"The U.S. for four years attempted to go in the opposite direction, go back in time rather than going forward," said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University in Houston. "Where we find ourselves in 2021, both globally and where the Democratic Party is, is a much more stringent and demanding request for addressing climate change. Everyone views the future as renewables, not oil and natural gas."

The renewable energy sector has been cheering this week about the clean energy incentives included in the omnibus Congress passed. And it's even more optimistic about the prospects under a Biden administration, given the president-elect's plans for a $2 trillion effort to put the country on a path toward eliminating greenhouse gases from the power grid by 2035 and for the overall economy by 2050.

Though that pledge will face hurdles in Congress, especially if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Biden can still make moves to benefit the renewables industry that has steadily grown over the last four years -- despite President Donald Trump's trade tariffs, lease hikes and frequent attacks on the industry.

"The realization -- the market's realization, the financial community's realization and the customer's realization -- that we are moving toward the clean energy economy has already happened," said Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar trade group. 

No matter how much the Right fetishizes carbon they can't save it.

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'A Postimperial Transformation': With Its Neighborhood In Turmoil, Russia Reassesses The Costs Of Hegemony (Matthew Luxmoore, 12/29/20, Radio Liberty)

The image of a resurgent Russia ready and willing to protect its perceived interests in the former Soviet Union was bolstered by its invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the Ukraine crisis of 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and intervened militarily to back an armed insurrection in the Donbas after the downfall of a Moscow-friendly president in Kyiv.

President Vladimir Putin has sought to defend Russia's status as a premier power broker even as he has publicly advocated allowing foreign countries to sort out their own problems, railing against Western influence and shoring up support for his counterparts in a region accustomed to volatility.

Even by those turbulent standards, 2020 has produced something akin to a perfect storm of upheaval stretching in an arc from Minsk to Moldova through the South Caucasus and Central Asia. And while Moscow has appeared to stand by and watch things develop, at least at first, analysts say the outwardly less assertive stance is testament to a more calculated approach based on an awareness of its limitations, rather than a geopolitical retreat.

"As far as Moscow is concerned, all the countries that emerged from the ex-Soviet republics are on their own," Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote in a recent column. "To Russia, 30 years after the breakup of the U.S.S.R., they are all foreign states; emotions are kept apart from politics: There are no special attachments, and no free discounts."

The new approach may be heavily driven by financial imperatives.

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December 28, 2020

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Santa's reindeer outdo U.S. senators at picking stocks, study finds (Amy Olson, 12/21/20, Dartmouth University)

Santa's reindeer at Santa's Village in Jefferson, N.H., are more skilled at selecting stocks than U.S. Senators and members of Congress were in 2020, according to a Dartmouth study. In analyzing the performance of stocks bought and sold by legislators, the researchers found little evidence that confidential information had been leveraged in terms of market timing and stock selection. The findings are reported in a new working paper, and build on the team's earlier results reported in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Papers in April. The new study compares stock purchases by the legislators with those of Santa's reindeer as well as with top picks by U.S. brokerage houses.

"Contrary to what some people may think, U.S. Senators and House members have pretty limited stock-picking prowess but Santa's reindeer seem to have a real knack for it," explains co-author Bruce I. Sacerdote, the Richard S. Braddock 1963 Professor in Economics.

A nice illustration of the fact that secrecy is counterproductive. 
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Is nuclear fusion the answer to the climate crisis? (Oscar Schwartz, 28 Dec 2020, The Guardian)

Researchers developing a nuclear fusion reactor that can generate more energy than it consumes have shown in a series of recent papers that their design should work, restoring optimism that this clean, limitless power source will help mitigate the climate crisis.

While the new reactor still remains in early development, scientists hope it will be able to start producing electricity by the end of the decade. [...]

MIT scientists and a spinoff company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, began designing the new reactor, which is more compact than its predecessors, in early 2018, and will start construction in the first half of next year. If their timeline goes as planned, the reactor, called Sparc, will be capable of producing electricity for the grid by 2030, according to researchers and company officials. This would be far faster than existing major fusion power initiatives.

Existing reactor designs are too large and expensive to realistically generate electricity for consumers. Through the use of cutting-edge, ultra-strong magnets, the team at MIT and Commonwealth Fusion hope to make a tokamak reactor that is compact, efficient and scalable. "What we've really done is combine an existing science with new material to open up vast new possibilities," Greenwald said

Having demonstrated that the Sparc device can theoretically produce more energy than it requires to run in the research papers published in September, the next step involves building the reactor, followed by a pilot plant that will generate electricity onto the grid.

Scientists and entrepreneurs have long made promises about fusion being just around the corner, only to encounter insurmountable problems. This has created reluctance to invest in it, particularly as wind, solar and other renewables -- although less powerful than fusion -- have become more efficient and cost effective.

But the tide is changing. In Biden's $2tn plan, he named advanced nuclear technologies as part of the decarbonization strategy, the first time the Democrats have endorsed nuclear energy since 1972. There is also significant investment coming from private sources, including some major oil and gas companies, who see fusion as a better long term pivot than wind and solar.

According to Bob Mumgaard, chief executive of Commonwealth Fusion, the aim is not to use fusion to replace solar and wind, but to supplement them. "There are things that will be hard to do with only renewables, industrial scale things, like powering large cities or manufacturing," he said. "This is where fusion can come in."

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Republicans Propping Up the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Borderline Socialist: Technically it's crony capitalism, but it's closer to socialism than what Democrats want. (SHI-LING HSU, DEC 28, 2020, Slate)

Republicans have been remarkably successful in labeling Democrats as socialists. But Democratic proposals that get tagged as "socialism" amount to little more than expanding the safety net, bringing the United States closer to Sweden, Canada, or Germany, all prosperous, democratic, capitalist countries. By contrast, Republicans are the ones that are gumming up the gears of American capitalism, promoting policies to prop up aging, anachronistic industries and, worst of all, enabling the imposition of environmental harms far in excess of what it would cost to avoid them. Republicans say they are in favor of capitalism, but they are actually in favor of crony capitalism, which tips the scales in favor of their favorite industries. Capitalism can be a tough master: The point of capitalism is that competition causes some industries to fail. But protecting industries from failure in exchange for political benefit is far worse: It is a dangerously short step to socialism. And traditional socialism necessarily implies authoritarianism--how else is a country to undertake central economic planning except by an authoritarian government? That is actually where the Republican Party is taking us.

Trumpists and Progressives differ only in which Identity and what parts of the economy they fetishize. 

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'Trump got taken to the cleaners' in COVID-19 relief debacle: Morning Joe guest (Travis Gettys, 12/28/20, Raw Story)

"The president really didn't get anything here outside of a bunch of cable chyrons and frantic tweets," Lemire said. "There's no real suggestion that the two houses of Congress here going to make any changes to the bill, despite what the president has sent back in his red-line letter last night."

Politico's Anna Palmer agreed, and said Trump's gambit made little sense.

"Trump got taken to the cleaners, based on a crisis of his own making," Palmer said. "I think it's a real fitting coda for the Trump presidency where you have basically a leader who didn't know Washington, that was going to come in and change the way it worked, and clearly that hasn't happened."

December 27, 2020

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QAnon Rep. Vows to Disrupt Electoral College Vote Count as Trump Tweets 'See Everyone in D.C.' (EWAN PALMER, 12/26/20, Newsweek)

Incoming Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, has once again stated that she intends to formally object when Congress gathers will gather next month to receive the election results as President Donald Trump appeared to urge his supporters to also protest in the capitol the same day.

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Fox News Poll: Two-thirds of voters feel hopeful (Dana Blanton, 12/26/20, Fox News)

Some additional optimism from the survey:  most voters, including a majority of Republicans, say they will at least give President-elect Joe Biden a chance. 

One-third fully supports Biden (34 percent), another 21 percent are with him for now, but will be watching what he does, and 24 percent are willing to give him a chance.  One in five say they'll never support Biden (20 percent). 

Whenever you drill down into polls you reach the point where only the 18% of Americans who even oppose the Dreamers are the entirety of the Trumpists. 

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The Army is Interested in an Electric, Unmanned Combat Vehicle (Caleb Larson, 12/26/20, National Interest)

Textron Systems is the aerospace and defense manufacturing firm responsible for developing a wide range of vehicles and weapon systems including the U.S. Navy's Landing Craft Air Cushions. The company is also a contender for the Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon competition and has been developing yet another interesting platform.

Their Ripsaw M5 is an unmanned, multi-mission Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) that has gone through several prototypes and is currently in its fifth-generation. Textron currently manufactures the Ripsaw in two variants, a 7.5 ton light variant, as well as a larger 10.5 medium variant. Both the light and medium variants can be equipped with conventional diesel engines, or with a hybrid electric drivetrain. [...]

Though the Army has been tinkering with the Ripsaw for over a decade, Textron is slated to deliver a new, all-electric variant called the Ripsaw M5-E sometime in 2021, Jane's reported. The M5-E test platform will ship as a flat-top, lacking a remote weapon station or turret in order to allow the Army to test integrating different weapon systems.

December 26, 2020

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Jacobin Hating, American Style (Matthew Wills  December 21, 2020, J-STOR Daily)

The congressional Gag Rules of the 1830s and 1840s, which limited debate on slavery, were called "Jacobin" because they stifled democratic dissent.

As Cleves notes, anti-Jacobin language also "suffused humanitarian discourse for decades." It became a tool of abolitionists. As early as 1796, French violence was being connected to slaveholder violence. In 1815, abolitionist Jarvis Brewster wrote that slavery was "a system of tyranny and persecution more horrible perhaps" than Robespierre's Terror. Abolitionists attacked by a mob in Boston in 1835 said that the "Jacobins of the present day" were the rich whose power was built on the trade in humans. Free-born Black abolitionist William Cooper Nell likened the Fugitive Slave Law (1850) and the Dred Scott decision (1857) to the Reign of Terror.

Of all Cleves's examples, the Irish-born Antiguan plantation owner-turned-Philadelphia abolitionist Thomas Branagan may represent this multiplicity best. Rejecting slavery after a religious conversion in the 1790s, he combined his opposition to revolutionary violence in France with his fierce antislavery views. It was a reactionary stance transformed into humanitarianism.

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December 25, 2020

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The universe is just a thought, says new theory - Or maybe not (PAUL WALLIS, 12/25/20, Digital Journal)

 If the idea that the universe was a big computer simulation was about the equivalent of science fiction B movie, this is the mystic version - The universe simulates itself for information and meaning. Do tell.

This idea is promoting itself quite nicely. It's based on a version of quantum mechanics. So far it has all the pizazz of a quaint new terminology ("panconsciousness", "panpsychism", "strange loops", "not physically there", etc., and a certain smugness which looks pretty damn lazy to me. If you've never read anything in your life, this would be mindblowing. If you have, it's anything but.

The key thing is that "everything is information, expressed as thought." On that basis, humanity's claims to existence are in question, as the theory goes on to prove to itself. The universe is supposed to be a self-sustaining mental process, with subconscious micro routines, pure thought, and no advanced beings running the equivalent of a game program. It could even be the past rebooted by future people.

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Testing positivism: a review of The Murder of Professor Schlick  : The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle by David Edmonds  (Clare Clark, 23 December, 2020, Standpoint)

Though much divided these thinkers, they were bound by a common enemy: metaphysics. Drawing on the work of Bertrand Russell and the physicist-philosopher Ernst Mach (who gave his name to the speed of sound), and with (non-Circle member) Wittgenstein as their unwilling guiding star, they argued that science was a logical structure built through the accretion of experience. Only statements that were empirically verifiable had meaning. By definition, therefore, any assertion that relied instead on reason or intuition, assertions about ethics, say, or God, was meaningless: it asserted nothing at all. For a time, mid-century, the Circle's logical positivism was, in Edmonds's words, the "most ambitious and fashionable movement in philosophy". [...]

These academic refugees brought logical positivism to the UK and the USA where it briefly flourished. It did not endure. The British philosopher, A.J. Ayer, a one-time evangelist, asserted in the 1970s that the greatest defect of logical positivism was that "nearly all of it was false". 

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FBI team leader: How I know the Blackwater defendants didn't deserve a pardon from Trump (Thomas O'Connor, 12/25/20, CNN)

I am not a writer, an academic or one who has frequently spoken out publicly on political issues. I am a 35-year law enforcement professional. I retired on September 11, 2019, after 23 years as FBI special agent.

I was a team leader on the FBI's Washington Field Office, Evidence Response Team for more than 20 years. I have investigated many violent crimes and acts of terrorism around the world, including the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998, war crimes in Kosovo in 1999, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the attack at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

The most important rule for me during these deployments to major crime scenes: Don't look at the crime and fit the forensic evidence to match a perceived narrative; instead, look at the forensic evidence that will show the story of the event. 
By letting the evidence lead the direction of the investigation, the FBI Evidence Response Teams and the FBI Laboratory have an important role of speaking for the victims who cannot tell their story. [...]

The team leader of Raven 23 called the command center and requested permission to leave the protected US Green Zone and go to assist the incoming Blackwater team. This request was denied.

The team leader then chose to violate the orders and left the US Green Zone anyway. The four Blackwater armored trucks were captured on video leaving the green zone. They drove out to Nisour Square, turned left and entered the traffic circle, blocking the northbound traffic, the southbound traffic and the traffic entering the circle from the west.

Two Iraqi traffic officers stopped the traffic going toward the four armored vehicles. One of the first cars in that stopped traffic was a white KIA occupied by a woman and her son. The woman was a local doctor and the son, who was driving the car, was going to medical school to follow in his mother's footsteps.

What happened next began the Nisour Square shootings.

A sniper on the Raven 23 team placed his rifle out a porthole of the Bearcat armored vehicle and fired at the driver of the white KIA. The man was struck and killed by the bullet. The car began to roll forward slowly, bumping into a red vehicle. The two Iraqi traffic officers physically tried to stop the movement of the car.

The defendants said they feared the white KIA was a car bomb as it moved ahead. The car rolled forward after the sniper, a security guard, shot the driver and his foot came off the brake. This is why the sniper was charged with, and convicted of, first-degree murder.

At that point gunfire erupted from a small number of the Raven 23 Blackwater operators. The gunfire was directed into the white KIA, killing the women seated in the front passenger seat. These rounds were from a rifle and a large turret gun. A grenade was fired from the turret gunners' rifle mounted launcher. The grenade skipped off the ground under the driver's door exploding and causing the gas line to rupture and set the car ablaze.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Parler Is The New Gab -- A Far-Right Hive Of Scum And Villainy (David Neiwert, December 25 | 2020, National Memo)

Alex Newhouse at The Conversation observes that Parler's popularity exploded after the election, doubling its membership to 10 million users in November alone. The app was one of Apple's top downloads. However, Gizmodo also reports that the spike was short-lived, with downloads sharply declining in December.

There have been several attempts to create a "total free speech" platform hospitable to right-wing hate speech, most memorably Gab. None have succeeded so far, for several clear reasons beyond simply being wonky and unwieldy interfaces: for starters, the platforms attracted violent extremists such as Pittsburgh killer Robert Bowers, who openly planned and discussed their killing sprees there; for another, their relatively small sizes made them into ideological echo chambers with very little reach or impact. Gab in particular became known as White Nationalist Central and nothing else.

In contrast, Parler attracted a number of high-profile early adopters from the Trumpian right's supposed mainstream--people like Candace Owens, Brad Parscale, and Sean Hannity, who were soon followed by elected Republican officials such as Senator Mike Lee of Utah, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and Congressman Devin Nunes of California, as well as White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Its user base remained tiny--fewer than a million--until early 2020.

The rush to Parler became intense during the post-election period, particularly as Twitter and Facebook attempted to crack down on the spread of misinformation about the election, primarily emanating from conspiracist "Stop the Steal" movement. As those platforms began banning groups disseminating false election claims, they all began setting up camp at Parler, and drawing large numbers of participants along the way. Still, even at 10 million users, it is dwarfed by Twitter and its estimated 330 million users.

The worldview on Parler is a conspiracist alternative universe: Trump won in a landslide, but the victory was stolen by a wide-ranging alliance of evildoers, ranging from ballot-counting software companies to a host of Democrats and, of course, the "deep state."

Most of all, it has become the social-media home of a variety of unabashed white supremacists, anti-Semites, and raging misogynists, many of whose contributions are monitored by the Twitter account Fascist Parler Watch. 

Trumpism is racism. 
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Sasse on Trump (JOHN MCCORMACK, December 24, 2020, National Review)

While Sasse has angered Trump's staunchest opponents for picking and choosing his battles and for refusing to vote for Biden or to convict Trump in his impeachment trial, the Nebraska senator has also managed to anger Trump loyalists for publicly criticizing Trump more than most elected Republicans have.

In August, Sasse called some of Trump's executive actions "unconstitutional slop," and Trump responded by tweeting: "RINO Ben Sasse, who needed my support and endorsement in order to get the Republican nomination for Senate from the GREAT State of Nebraska, has, now that he's got it (Thank you President T), gone rogue, again."

In an October conference call with constituents, one Nebraskan asked Sasse why he criticizes Trump so much. Sasse pointed to Trump's erratic response to the pandemic, as well as "the way he kisses dictators' butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uyghurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang. Right now, he hasn't lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong-Kongers. The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women."

Trump responded by calling Sasse a "liability to the Republican Party and an embarrassment to the Great State of Nebraska" and suggested Nebraska Republicans "should find a new and more viable candidate."

Sasse, who had won his GOP primary in May by 50 points, ran ahead of Trump in the November general election.

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December 24, 2020

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Why Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor Failed (Robert Farley, 12/24/20, National Interest)

On the longer time-table, the loss of one, two, or even three carriers would have hamstrung U.S. operations early in the war, from the very early retaliatory raids against Japanese-held islands in the first months of World War II, to the battles of Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal. The U.S. Navy could have compensated by more rapidly transferring its Atlantic fleet carriers to the Pacific. These included USS Wasp and USS Ranger, both smaller and more vulnerable than the carriers that actually fought in the Pacific. Ranger, several knots slower than the other carriers, would have been at a distinct disadvantage and was in fact never transferred to the Pacific, despite the devastating losses of 1942. 

But there were limits on Japan's ability to expand. The Japanese lacked the resources and logistical capabilities to strike at the core of American power, and probably could not have taken or held either Hawaii or any significant portion of Australia. They could not replace ships lost to submarine and other kinds of attack. And they fundamentally had no answer for the submarine campaign that would eventually tear the guts out of the Japanese industrial economy.

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The Question of Affirmative Action: An Interview with Glenn Loury (Michael Sandel and Glenn Loury, 12/24/20, Quillette)

On November 2nd, 2020, Brown professor of Economics and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute Glenn Loury joined Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel's course "Justice" to discuss the ethics of affirmative action in American higher education. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.

MICHAEL SANDEL: I wonder if I could begin with a provocative quotation from a lecture you've given. You've said that affirmative action is not about equality, it's about "covering ass." What did you mean by that and what do you think generally about the ethics of affirmative action?

GLENN LOURY: I was drawing the listener's attention to the difference between the institutional interest in having a diverse profile of participants and the interests, as I understand them, of the population which may be the beneficiary of this largesse. My point was: if you want genuine equality, this is distinct from titular equality. If you want substantive equality, this is distinct from optics equality. If you want equality of respect, of honor, of standing, of dignity, of achievement, of mastery, then you may want to think carefully about implementing systems of selection that prefer a population on a racial basis. Such a system may be inconsistent over the longer term in achieving what I call genuine equality; real equality; substantive equality; equality of standing, dignity, achievement, honor, and respect.

I set this within a historical context in which African Americans--beginning from exclusion, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, widespread discrimination--are actually diminished in terms of the development of our competitive and productive capacities. Education was not equal in 1930 for blacks and whites, nor in 1950, nor in 1970 for that matter. There are all kinds of negative consequences of discrimination in employment, residential location, segregation, and so on that impede development within the African American population of the latent potential capacities to perform. Given such a history, one can't expect at day one that there's going to be equality of, say, test scores because the background condition is one of unequal opportunity to develop human skills. So that's the status quo ante. That's the baseline from which we are attempting to move towards something that's more equal.

I see this as a difficult problem, not a simple one. I don't object to affirmative action in principle saying that it's racial discrimination in reverse, or that it's unfair to white people. That's not my argument. If I'm transitioning from a status quo ante of black exclusion, I may want to rely upon some preferential methods as a temporary, stop-gap mechanism. But, at the end of the day, I must address myself to the underlying fundamental developmental deficits that impede the ability of African Americans to compete.

Move people from inner-city housing and schools to suburban/rural neighborhoods. 
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Pixar's Soul: 'This film is really gonna heal a lot of things for people' (Clarisse Loughrey, 12/24/20, Independent)

"Having a culture trust, having so many voices, it slows the process down," says Powers. "It makes the process harder. But that's good, because a lot of it is born of laziness - this idea that you just want people to rubber-stamp what you're doing. That's how you end up making these egregious errors again and again." And it's vital, too, he stresses, not to treat the Black experience as some singular entity. His colleagues in the culture trust represented all ages, genders, and regional backgrounds. "Our tastes were wildly different," he says. "And we disagreed on so many different things." Pixar plans to use the same process for all its upcoming projects, even those where its director is able to offer a personal perspective - that includes Enrico Casarosa's Luca, about a little boy growing up in an Italian coastal town, and Domee Shi's Turning Red, about a Chinese-Canadian girl who involuntarily turns into a giant red panda.

The studio also reached out to various religious leaders during the design process for the Great Before, hoping to land on some universally agreed-upon concept of the human soul. "Of course, most people say it's invisible," Docter says. "It's non-physical and ethereal and that was not very helpful. But we tried to nod to that in the design of the characters as sort of foggy and fuzzy and less solid than the human characters on Earth." For the look of the place, the team avoided drawing from any single culture. Their references were clean and utopian - the World's Fair, Disney's Epcot theme park, and Swedish sculpture.

Docter will often repeat the same story about Miles Davis, shared by jazz legend Herbie Hancock in an online masterclass - an anecdote he claims was a major source of inspiration for Soul. One night, when the two were playing together, Hancock hit a bum note in the middle of Davis's trumpet solo. The musician barely reacted. He took a breath, improvised, and delicately shaped the tune so that Hancock's mistake no longer sounded like one. A great jazz musician learns to roll with the punches. The story turned out to be an oddly prescient one for the makers of Soul, after the film's theatrical release was repeatedly delayed in response to the pandemic, then cancelled altogether - it will now debut on Disney+ on Christmas Day.

"We've settled in a place of just feeling super grateful that the film is coming out, and that we have Disney+ as a platform to reach people around the world, so that people can see it safely," Murray says. "Because it's pretty easy to focus on what we don't have right now." There were seven weeks left of production when California's Bay Area, where Pixar's studios are located, first went into lockdown. Animators took their equipment home and, somehow, the team were still able to finish the film on time. For the film's closing credit tune, a cover of The Impressions' "It's All Right", Batiste recorded each instrument in his own living room.

The effort was worth it - Soul is a film that takes on a life of its own in a year like 2020, when it's more important than ever to treasure the small, quiet pleasures that life brings us. "Pete was the one who was saying, 'You know, on my deathbed, I'm not going to look back and go like, man, it was really cool to meet that person at the Oscars,'" says Powers. "That's not where we go in our darkest moments. We go back to moments with people we love, experiences that we cherish. And I think, with the film, we were just trying to capture a little bit of that."

No matter what you think makes your culture unique, we can Disnefy it and make it American and universal.  

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Charles Kushner pardon revives 'loathsome' tale of tax evasion, sex (JILL COLVIN and COLLEEN LONG, 12/24/20, AP)

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie called it "one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes" he ever prosecuted as US attorney.

After Charles Kushner discovered his brother-in-law was cooperating with federal authorities, the wealthy real estate executive and father of US President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared, hatched a scheme for revenge and intimidation.
Kushner hired a prostitute to lure his brother-in-law, then arranged to have the encounter in a New Jersey motel room recorded with a hidden camera and the recording sent to his own sister, the man's wife.

The scheme didn't work. Kushner later pleaded guilty to tax evasion and making illegal campaign donations in a case tailor-made for tabloid headlines.

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The Liberation of Scrooge : Dickens' tale is so effective because, in the words of Chesterton, it is targeted not at institutions but "an expression of the human face." (Richard Gunderman, 12/24/20. law & Liberty)

Scrooge had long stilled his conscience with the thought that the suffering of poor families and children was not his problem.  He dutifully paid taxes to support the institutions that handled such matters, resolving not to concern himself any further with it.  But the opportunity to view the broad trajectory of his life and see for himself where it would end up leads him to see things differently.  He realizes that he has not lived as he ought to have done - that though his coffers are full, his life has been deeply impoverished.

His wish to be left alone granted, he has crafted a life that is, humanly speaking, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and in terms of the time he managed to spend truly living, pathetically short.  To really live, it is not enough to rely on bureaucracies to care for others - one must roll up one's sleeves, extend one's own hand, and open one's own heart.  When Scrooge awakes Christmas morning and realizes that the ghosts did their work in a single night, he is overjoyed, and sets about putting his resources to work enriching the lives of others.  Generosity makes possible a happiness he had never known.

In his day, William Thackeray was perhaps Dickens' greatest literary rival and had reason to rue the enormous success of "A Christmas Carol."  Yet, he said, "Who can listen to objections regarding a book such as this?  It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness."  The key word here is personal.  Dickens performs a kindness by reminding us that true generosity must be personal.  Social welfare programs notwithstanding, we can only truly act generously when we do it ourselves, freely and with goodwill. 

So long as Scrooge pays his taxes to support the debtors' prisons and workhouses, he is merely transferring wealth under threat of punishment.  He is not giving freely, and he is operating with a very blunt instrument that prevents him from tailoring his gifts to the distinctive needs of individuals and families.  Once he begins to give of his own free will, however, he derives real joy from it, and he targets much of his largesse to people he knows well, such as the Cratchit family.  Moved by the plight of Tiny Tim, he is philanthropically inspired and activated in a way he has never known. 

In other words, it is the spirit that matters - in the case of "A Christmas Carol," the spirit of Christmas.

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The GOP Hoped to Avoid This Fight With Trump. It's Here.(Declan Garvey, 12/24/20, The Dispatch)

If the goal was to limit the damage Trump could do to the party on his way out, it didn't work.

But would the situation actually be different if GOP leadership had ripped the Band-Aid off in November? A large percentage of Republican voters trust Trump and Trump alone. "The reality is there's no winning strategy here; whatever you do will be subject to the wannabe emperor's whims of that day," said Doug Heye, a longtime Republican operative who worked in House leadership. "This is the self-created box that they've all found themselves in."

Maybe Trump is trying to reclaim his 'outsider' persona heading into his post-presidency. Maybe he's looking for another avenue through which he can raise money. Maybe he's simply thrashing around out of spite. But Republicans were deluding themselves if they thought they could avoid this fight with him. "It's the natural progression of the Faustian bargain," GOP consultant Rob Stutzman said. "You can't just break up with the devil over text."

...demonstrating that he's not a Republican. 

December 23, 2020

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Lady Liberty and the Golden Door (Art Carden, December 23, 2020, AIER)

Early in my professorial career, I read Lant Pritchett's short book Let Their People Come: Breaking the Gridlock on International Labor Mobility. It convinced me that reducing immigration restrictions was an economic and moral imperative. Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development called immigration "The Biggest Idea in Development That No One Really Tried" and suggested the world is leaving "trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk" by restricting immigration so severely. About a decade later, immigration is still the biggest idea that one really tried, and the trillion-dollar bills remain on the sidewalk despite an emerging consensus that more immigrants-even immigrants who are in the country illegally-do not threaten our earnings or our jobs. By restricting immigration, Americans are lowering their standards of living so that they can lower others' standards of living, as well.

An immigration skeptic might call this an unfair characterization. Maybe immigrants don't lower wages or reduce employment, he says. Immigrants do, however, pose a threat to our liberty and security. It's crazy to suggest we should let in so many people from "sh*thole countries" because they'll just ruin our country by bringing the institutions and culture that ruined theirs.

On the very last page of their book, Wretched Refuse?, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute and Benjamin Powell of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University write, "Empirical conjectures require empirical evidence." They take the institutions-and-culture objection seriously by taking it to the data, and after it is tried and measured, it is found wanting. Immigrants, it turns out, aren't likely to take our freedom, destroy our culture, or compromise the political, economic, social, and cultural institutions responsible for that freedom and culture. 

In a series of careful quantitative analyses, Nowrasteh and Powell decisively shift the burden of proof. With the publication of Wretched Refuse? immigration skeptics should no longer be able to get by with speculation and anecdotes. They will need carefully-analyzed data to refute Nowrasteh and Powell's conclusion that immigrants don't harm or even slightly improve institutions in the immigrant-receiving countries. Immigration liberalization is about as close as we can get to a magic-wand policy. By letting more people cross borders to find work and housing, we rich Westerners can effectively end severe poverty and make ourselves much better off in the process.

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Rotating Sails Help to Revive Wind-Powered ShippingA century-old concept, Flettner rotors, gets a fresh look as shippers cut back fuel (Lynn Freehill-Maye, December 1, 2020, Scientific American)

In 1926 a cargo ship called the Buckau crossed the Atlantic sporting what looked like two tall smokestacks. But these towering cylinders were actually drawing power from the wind. Called Flettner rotors, they were a surprising new invention by German engineer Anton Flettner (covered at the time in Scientific American). When the wind was perpendicular to the ship's course, a motor spun the cylinders so their forward-facing sides turned in the same direction as the wind; this movement made air move faster across the front surface and slower behind, creating a pressure difference and pulling the ship forward. The rotating sails provided a net energy gain--but before they could be widely adopted the Great Depression struck, followed by World War II. Like the electric car, the Flettner rotor would be abandoned for almost a century in favor of burning fossil fuel.

Now, with shippers under renewed pressure to cut both costs and carbon emissions, the concept is getting another shot. In one notable example, the 12,000-gross-ton cargo vessel SC Connector is adding 35-meter Flettner rotors that can tilt to near horizontal when the ship passes under bridges or power lines. The new rotors need electrical power to spin, but manufacturer Norsepower says they can still save up to 20 percent on fuel consumption and cut emissions by 25 percent.

The SC Connector is one of a growing series of rotor-boosted ships expected to be operating in various parts of the world by year's end, according to SSPA, a Sweden-based nonprofit research institute. 

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'Jewish nation-state law' challenged in Israeli Supreme Court (New Arab, 23 December, 2020)

For the first time in Israel's legal history, the Supreme Court is dealing with a case that challenges the country's controversial 'Jewish nation' law.Tags:Jewish nation law, Israel, Palestine, Palestinian,

The Israeli Supreme Court on Tuesday heard a case against a contentious law that defines the country as the nation-state of the Jewish people, marking the beginning of a landmark challenge against legislation that opponents say discriminates against minorities. [...]

The nation-state law was approved by the Knesset in July 2018. It defines Israel as the "nation-state of the Jewish people" and adds that "fulfilling the right to national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people."

It also downgraded Arabic from an official state language to one with "special status."

On the other hand, it's opposing Muslim self-determination that made Bibi acceptable to Donald and the dictators. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'No humanity': Trump pardons Blackwater war criminals who massacred Iraqis (Ali Harb,  23 December 2020, Middle East Eye)

Ali Kinani's life was cut short at nine years old in 2007, when Blackwater American security contractors opened fire without provocation in Baghdad's Nisour Square, killing 17 people.

Ali, who liked to be called Alawi, was in the back of his father's car on the way home after picking up his aunt and cousins, on what had appeared like a normal day until the shooting started in all directions.

Determined to bring the killers to justice, Ali's father Mohammed Kinani moved to the United States to follow the prosecution of the Blackwater employees.

It took a decade of legal proceedings, trials, appeals, dropped charges and re-trials for four of the perpetrators to be convicted, with Nick Slatten - the main culprit - receiving a life sentence for first-degree murder.

On Tuesday, outgoing US President Donald Trump pardoned all four convicts.

"No one is above the law is what we learned in America, but now there's someone above the law," Kinani told Middle East Eye, as he struggled for words upon learning of the pardon.

"I don't know how this is allowed. I don't think that America is built on such principles."

Start with the Muslim ban; end excusing war crimes.  No wonder the Trumpbots love him. 

December 22, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Britain delivers new wind generation record of 17.3GW (Joshua S Hill, 23 December 2020, Renew Economy)

According to Great Britain's Electricity System Operator National Grid (National Grid ESO), between 1pm and 1:30pm on Friday, wind power produced an average 17.278GW of electricity, accounting for 43.2% of the power mix at the time.

While the record for wind's share of British electricity wasn't broken - which stands at 59.9% recorded in August - the new record highlights the importance of Great Britain's increasing number of onshore and offshore wind farms.

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Ted Cruz, Chinese Communist Party Agree: Keep Hongkongers Trapped in China: Cruz not only dimmed America's status as a bastion of freedom for the world's oppressed people, but spat upon his own heritage as the son of a political refugee. (ERIC BOEHM | 12.21.2020, reason)

More than most members of Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) understands the desperation of individuals fleeing autocratic communist regimes.

Cruz's father, Rafael, fled Cuba in 1957 with little more than a student visa and $100 sewn into his underwear--an oft-repeated detail that effectively conveys both the fear and hopefulness of the refugee experience. The other details in the story are familiar to anyone who has followed Cruz's career, even in passing, given the prominence of those personal details in the senator's speeches. Rafael bribed his way out of Cuba, reached the United States, enrolled in college, worked as a dishwasher, earned his degree, and eventually started a successful business. Importantly, he was granted political asylum when his student visa expired.

If not for that last detail, it's highly unlikely that Rafael's son would have ever had the chance to stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate and declare, as he did on Friday, that America ought to make it more difficult for individuals and families to flee other oppressive communist regimes. In blocking the passage of a bill that would have granted political asylum to anyone fleeing Hong Kong due to the Chinese government's takeover of the formerly semi-autonomous city, Cruz not only dimmed America's status as a bastion of freedom for the world's oppressed people, but spat upon his own heritage as the son of a political refugee.

The bill Cruz blocked, the Hong Kong People's Freedom and Choice Act of 2020, would grant political asylum to any resident of Hong Kong who arrives in the United States, allowing them to remain in the country legally after the expiration of any other visa. The United States already extends that special status to refugees from 10 other countries, and the bill would have merely added Hong Kong to the list.

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When Tom Seaver Came Into the Big Leagues He Came in Pitching(But That Didn't Stop Lou Brock From Telling Him to Fetch a Coke) (Bill Madden, December 22, 2020, Lit Hub)

Westrum would later tell the writers that what impressed him just as much that day as Seaver's 7⅓ innings of one-run, five-strikeout, walk-free ball was his honesty. "He could have selfishly told me he was okay, and I probably would have left him in, but he knew he was about out of gas, and that wouldn't have been fair to the team," the manager said.

Five days later, Seaver faced the Cubs again, this time at Wrigley Field. He pitched ten innings, yielding only four hits and one unearned run for a 2-1 victory. He was 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA for his first six major-league starts when he faced the Braves--and his boyhood idol Hank Aaron--in Atlanta on May 17. In their first encounter, with one out in the first inning, Seaver got Hammerin' Hank to ground into an inning-ending double play on a sinking fastball. The next time up, leading off the fourth, Aaron struck out looking. In 2016 Seaver remembered strutting back to the dugout after the inning, being giddy with joy.

"You can just imagine how I felt at that time, having retired Henry on a double play and a strikeout looking," he told me. "Growing up, the Braves had always been my favorite team because Henry was my favorite player. Henry was always first with me, and I don't find it strange at all that a white boy who wanted to become a major-league pitcher would most identify with a black hitter. I thought of Aaron as excellence. He was so much fun to sit and watch because he was so damn consistent, dedicated, and yet capable of making the game look so easy to play. Confidence flowed out of him."

That was never more evident than in his next at-bat, in the sixth, with the Mets nursing a 3-1 lead. After a one-out single by Felipe Alou, Aaron clubbed a long home run to left field to tie the score. The pitch was the same sinking fastball Seaver had struck him out on two innings earlier. Seaver had always prided himself in remembering hitters' tendencies and weaknesses and then capitalizing on them. On this occasion, he learned a lesson that hitters, especially hitters like Bad Henry, also remembered.

"When Seaver came into the big leagues, he came in pitching."
Meanwhile, the rookie pitcher helped his own cause with the bat, going 3-for-3 with a pair of run-scoring doubles off Braves starter Bob Bruce. The contest remained tied until the bottom of the ninth when catcher Joe Torre, playing with a broken index finger, led off with Atlanta's third homer of the night for a 4-3 win. (Over the course of his career, Aaron was 18-for-82, .220, with 5 homers and 14 strikeouts against Seaver.)

In a July 2017 interview, at the Hall of Fame, Aaron recalled those first impressions he had of Seaver.

"Tom was just so dedicated. He came up to the big leagues knowing what baseball players were all about. I can't think of anyone else in my twenty-three years in the big leagues who was as competitive as he was," he said. "I remember that first time we faced him, somebody on our team said, 'This kid coming out of California, right out of college, he's not ready for the big leagues.' And then I went up to the plate, and I said, 'I don't think you're right. This kid is ready for the big leagues and probably ready for the Hall of Fame.'" Aaron laughed. "He was that good. I don't know who his teacher was, but to me I would have to say he was more than ready for the Show."

Seaver made it a point of getting to know Aaron, and, through the years, they talked often, particularly about what might have been.

"He seemed like he wanted to meet me, and I wanted to meet him," Aaron said. "We had a great relationship. It was not one of those deals where we shook hands and he said, 'Well, I'll take it easy on you.' We were friends until he put on that uniform and got on the mound, and then I was his enemy. I had heard all about him because of that draft that came as a result of the Braves' illegally signing him. I think we would have won a few championships if he'd been a pitcher on our Braves ball club, don't you?"

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rudy Giuliani's electronic communications may be sought by feds in criminal investigation: NBC (Matthew Chapman, 12/22/20, Raw Story)

On Monday, NBC News reported that federal prosecutors have discussed moving to review Rudy Giuliani's electronic communications, as part of a widening criminal investigation.

"Prosecutors for the Southern District of New York have been in communication about their desire to see Giuliani's emails with Justice Department officials in Washington, the two sources said," reported Julia Ainsley, Tom Winter, and Lisa Ferri. "The SDNY needs Washington's approval before its prosecutors can ask a judge to sign a search warrant for materials that may be protected by attorney-client privilege, according to department policy. It is not known whether that approval has been granted by Washington to the SDNY."

"The scope of the current investigation is unclear, but In October 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that SDNY prosecutors were reviewing Giuliani's bank records as part of an investigation into his dealings in Ukraine," continued the report. "Two of his former associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested that month on charges of campaign finance fraud and have since been charged with additional crimes related to wire fraud conspiracy. Parnas and Fruman have pleaded not guilty."

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Why Do They Hate Us?Race, Christian nationalism, and white Evangelical alienation from America (David French, Dec 20, 2020, The Dispatch)

But there's also a less comforting--and also quite true--answer to the question, "Why do they hate us?" There is a growing cultural divide between white Evangelical America and much of the rest of the nation that has nothing to do with Christian faithfulness.

No, I'm not talking primarily about Donald Trump. Support for the president is a symptom, not the disease. Instead, I'm talking about race, immigration, history, and the vast and growing gulf between white Evangelicals and the rest of the United States on issues that dominate so many American hearts.

Last month, the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture published a report called Democracy in Dark Times that was designed to take a deeper look at the different beliefs and motivations of red and blue America. Its findings regarding white Evangelicals were startling. Evangelicals, it said, were emerging as the "cultural other":

The cultural other is an individual or, more than likely, an entire group, whose beliefs and practices place them outside of "normal" or "acceptable" society. Their way of thinking and of life offends the sensibilities and ideals of the dominant group, and in this sense, they are stigmatized in the extreme. As such, the cultural other is regarded as not just outside of the in-group, but so far outside that their very presence represents a profound ethical violation that might even be experienced as repugnant to those who are not part of it. This would now seem to be how many people outside of Evangelicalism have come to think about the modern-day Evangelical movement and those who comprise it.

The authors--James Davison Hunter, Carl Desportes Bowman, and Kyle Puetz--recognize that theological and philosophical differences explain part of the divide, but so does politics:

On theological and philosophical grounds alone, Evangelicalism today finds itself outside of the mainstream of the contemporary world. But the more political power the Evangelical movement has sought to wield, and the more the Evangelical movement has aligned itself with the politics and practices of the political Right, the more its reputation has been diminished.

So far, many conservative Evangelicals would nod along. "Tell us something we don't know," they'd say. "We're remaining biblically faithful in an increasingly unfaithful world. Of course secular America won't like us."

But wait. What does the data say regarding America's widest gaps? Where is the gap between white Evangelicals and the rest of America particularly acute? On matters of race:

The widest divisions in America are, in fact, between White Evangelicals and the African American community as a whole. It is a racial chasm, to be sure, but one intensified and deepened by the particular character of conservative White Evangelicalism--a chasm not mirrored between Black Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals. This division is seen most sharply on those issues that specifically bear on African Americans and Hispanics as well.

The numbers are just immense. 

December 21, 2020

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The Social and Political Significance of "You" (Armando Simon, December 21st, 2020, Imaginative Conservative)

In almost all other European languages that I am aware of, inanimate objects are referred to as being either male or female (English is the exception, with the neuter "it" and "the"). Try as you might, I assure you that there is no rhyme or reason why any one of the countless inanimate objects is referred to as male or female. In Italian, life is female (la vita), and the weather is male (il tempo); in Spanish, the road is male (el camino) and an orange is female (la naranja); the woman's purse is la cartera, yet the mailman's bag is el cartero, and the man's wallet is la billetera, etc. No doubt, feminists will find some bizarre rationale, spin some psychotic delusion, and dub it patriarchal oppression. Now, the really interesting thing is that such artificial gendering subtly influences peoples' psychology. For instance, a study was performed between Spaniards, who refer to a bridge (el puente) as male, and to Germans, who refer to it as female (die Brücke). In describing the qualities of the former, masculine terms were often used ("sturdy" and "strong") while the latter more frequently used female terms ("beautiful" and "elegant"). I strongly suspect that this gendering of inanimate objects originated with the first Indo-European ur-language, from which all European language subsequently evolved, with English being an aberration.

Along these lines, the effects of one word in the English language, I am positive, had strong repercussions in the social and political fabric of Britain, Ireland, Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand, Bahamas, Jamaica, and others. That word is the word "you."

English-speaking readers will be puzzled by my claim, in as much as there is no perspective. But to one who is multilingual, but much more importantly is steeped--not just experienced, but steeped--in another culture-language, that word is remarkable. Unfortunately, foreigners learning English do not see past all the many other linguistic peculiarities that one becomes aware of anytime upon learning another language.

My assertion is that the word "you" was crucial to promoting political democracy and social democracy (and by the latter, I mean that there existed a relaxation of social interaction between persons).

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Attorney General Barr breaks with Trump, says SolarWinds hack 'certainly appears to be the Russians' (Christina Wilkie, 12/21/20, CNBC)

Outgoing Attorney General William Barr said Monday that the massive SolarWinds hack of U.S. government agencies "certainly appears to be" the work of Russia, contradicting President Donald Trump.

By singling out Russia as the likely perpetrator of the cyber attack, Barr sided with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the rest of the national security establishment, but contradicted the president.

It's almost like Donald has outlived his usefulness to his henchmen.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Urban Reshuffle?Remote work is accelerating a talent migration to cities with lower living costs and better quality of life. (Michael Hendrix, December 18, 2020, City Journal)

Right now, 41.8 percent of the American workforce remains fully remote, and more than one in four workers are likely to remain remote through 2021. With America working online, talent can move without sacrificing careers, and firms can lower costs while maintaining output. Cities that had previously taken growth for granted now find themselves competing fiercely with one another.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Faced with massive suspected Russian cyber-attack on the U.S. government, Trump blames China (JUSTIN SINK, 12/21/20, BLOOMBERG)

President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of a massive cyber-attack on the U.S. government and suggested China may have been responsible -- even as other U.S. officials are convinced Russia was the perpetrator.

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It's a Wonderful Life: the perfect Christmas film?The 1946 classic is a timely reminder that affection and loyalty can surface in the most difficult of circumstances (Alexander Larman, 12/21/20, The Critic)

It is received wisdom that It's A Wonderful Life is a sentimental exercise in all-American wish-fulfilment. As so often, received wisdom is incorrect. It is instead a more complex and nuanced film than that. It was based on a short story by the author Philip van Doren Stern, "The Greatest Gift", which was both inspired by A Christmas Carol and, more tenuously, by the work of Edgar Allan Poe, which Stern was an expert in. The story was published at Christmas 1944, found its way to a film studio, who paid a substantial $10,000 for the rights, and, after Cary Grant turned down the leading role, ended up being made by Capra.

In its initial, potentially Grant-starring conception, with scripts by Dalton Trumbo and the playwright Clifford Odets, the film was to revolve around a politician who had become increasingly jaded and world-weary, as he sees how compromised and unhappy he has become. After losing a vital election, he attempts to kill himself, before he is shown exactly how worthwhile and useful all of his initiatives have been by being presented with a parallel existence in which he had been a businessman rather than having followed a career in politics.

It would have been an intriguing film, no doubt with something worthwhile to say, but Cary Grant in a picture about the necessary compromises of politics does not entirely shout out "festive cheer". So the script was rewritten by Capra and other collaborators (who loathed him, calling him "that horrid man" and "a very arrogant son of a bitch"), Stewart was cast in the central role of George Bailey, "a Good Sam who doesn't know that he's a Good Sam", with Donna Reed as his wife, and it was filmed with great character actors including Thomas Mitchell as the amiable drunk Uncle Billy, Lionel Barrymore as the villainous banker Potter and Gloria Grahame as the good-time girl Violet. The all-powerful Hays Code ensured that the film stopped short of anything other than suggestion when it came to how flirtatious Violet's activities with Bailey, and others, were.

The reason why It's A Wonderful Life succeeds so admirably - but also why it may have surprised viewers on first release - is that, for a piece of heart-warming Christmas entertainment, it breaks several central rules. Not only does it begin with a scene of attempted suicide, but its storyline does not revolve around the expected narrative progression of an ordinary man being raised to greatness through hard work, luck and brilliance, but rather an ordinary man remaining ordinary, if decent, through self-sacrifice, bad luck and an unwillingness to push himself forward to the front of the queue.

December 20, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


A Biden Style of Government Is Emerging: Lowest Drama Possible (Gabriel Debenedetti, 12/20/20, New York)

Biden's organizing principle seems to be a Barack Obama-inspired "no drama" insistence on minimizing the potential for conflict in his administration. He set out to make his picks by identifying a diverse group of inoffensive, proven bureaucrats and people who are familiar to him, rather than sifting through a ton of policy experts he didn't know quite as well. Whereas his immediate predecessor obliterated the expectation of expertise in any form, Biden has put a premium on trust, general government experience, and a semblance of ideological balance over subject-matter virtuosity largely because he sees the country as facing a sprawling, interconnected crisis rather than a set of parallel disasters to be dealt with agency by agency.

With some exceptions, if there was any reason to believe a potential pick might cause heartburn -- leaks? Scandals? -- they were out. At times, that has meant dumping political allies: Buttigieg made sense for Transportation because the early front-runner, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti, a Biden campaign co-chair, became a political liability following reports that he knew about one of his top aides' sexual misconduct. After New Mexico governor and transition co-chair Michelle Lujan Grisham turned down Interior secretary because she wanted the HHS job, only for that snub to leak to the press, she was iced out. By that point, Becerra, who was first considered for attorney general, was looked upon favorably for his work as California's top lawyer defending Obamacare from Trump's assaults.

Even some within Biden's camp aren't completely sure how this kind of Cabinet is supposed to work: Where are the lines of command in an ecosystem with so many picks who are known to have backslapping, personal access to him or are considered among nearly half a century's worth of Biden's D.C. friends? Already, some Democratic senators are griping about not being kept more directly in the loop -- and are annoyed they didn't get a formal heads-up about Biden's ex-military Defense-secretary nominee, for whom they'll have to pass an exemption, despite the fact that that pick was publicly floated for a week.

If you're not looking to do anything, a Cabinet of bureaucrats is ideal. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Death by Missiles: What if Having a Navy Does Not Make Sense Any More? (James Holmes, 12/20/20, National Interest)

Progress is messy and fractious, not orderly and dispassionate. Naval analysts and practitioners should refuse to be Baghdad Bob. We should ask ourselves frankly whether we're guardians of an increasingly obsolescent paradigm of naval warfare. If so, we will find ourselves in jeopardy should we encounter an antagonist that espies a worthier naval-warfare paradigm. Best to think ahead now in case our cherished archetype splinters around us.

Anomalies abound in today's marine paradigm. Aircraft carriers and other surface combatants, long masters of the sea, now operate under the shadow of shore-based missiles and aircraft that greatly outrange them--calling into question whether they can fight their way to the scene of a fight, let alone prevail. It's hard to win command of the sea or project power ashore when you never close within weapons range to open fire. Increasingly lethal integrated air defenses imperil non-stealthy aircraft and perhaps stealthy ones as well. Reputable undersea-warfare mavens speculate that newfangled sensor and computer technology verges on rendering the oceans and seas transparent--stripping submarines of their chief advantage, stealth, and exposing them to being hunted down and sunk.

Any one of these anomalies would call into question whether fleets built around the same basic platforms that fought World War II--carriers, cruisers and destroyers, amphibious transports, subs--have a future in a world bristling with extended-reach missiles, unmanned vehicles of all types, and artificial intelligence. Combined, anomalies between the new normal and the old paradigm spell trouble.

For the sake of questioning the ruling paradigm and transcending it if necessary, let's suppose these anomalies are real, significant, and enduring. Current trends are not mere momentary shifts of advantage in the eternal tug of war between fleets prowling the sea and forts that festoon shorelines. Land warfare has won, or stands poised to. What might possible futures hold? First, consider the trivial yet most baleful future. Great powers, and potentially lesser coastal states as well, might field precision weaponry capable of striking enemy craft on, above, or beneath the ocean's surface many thousands of miles away. China got a head start assembling such a panoply with its DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missiles, which can ostensibly strike major surface combatants as far as 2,400 miles offshore. But such technology is scarcely beyond American, Russian, or European ingenuity.

Suppose multiple contenders did field armaments with the reach to span the Atlantic, Pacific, or Indian oceans. If they did a kind of conventional mutual assured destruction might come to blanket these waters. Fleets would be vulnerable while bobbing at their moorings in home port, never mind if they put to sea. Mutually assured destruction prevailed during the Cold War because few leaders countenanced an atomic holocaust. Few political stakes warranted gambling on Armageddon. Deterrence held, if shakily at times. Whether it will hold in a future when armed forces can pummel seagoing forces at vast distances with conventional rather than doomsday arms is a dicey question. A brave new world is at hand if the political and psychological barriers to ordering such an attack prove readily surmountable.

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Facial Hair Is Biologically Useless. So Why Do Humans Have It? (JOSH CLARK & CHUCK BRYANT, 12.20.2020, Wired)

AS IT TURNS out, facial hair is not a functional physical human trait in the way we thought it was for many years. It's an ornamental one. In fact, of all the physical features on the human body--including other kinds of hair--facial hair is the only one that is purely or primarily ornamental. That is, it doesn't actually do anything or perform any kind of specific physiological function. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Power of Citizens Organized: a review of The Will of the People: The Revolutionary Birth of America by T. H. Breen (Daniel James Sundahl, 12/20/20, University Bookman)

In an elegant and different book, T. H. Breen documents the constructive and stabilizing ways in which communities of ordinary folk who comprise "the will of the people" took responsibility for the actual course of the revolution. Professor Breen asks his reader to consider how a rural countryside minister might use the Bible and his own commonsense notions of civil liberty to propel his parishioners to mobilize and maintain allegiance to the colonial cause. It's a neglected and under-appreciated story, as Professor Breen notes: "the story of those people whose will the republican system was meant to reflect ... a founding people rather than a few Founders." More to the point, Professor Breen suggests that if in fact "ordinary people ... sustained the revolution in [their] small communities," then throughout America "a different understanding of liberty" developed, "one that is now more than ever worth recovering."

Professor Breen adds to his argument the notion that we should therefore attend closely to such sentiments as those voiced by Levi Hart, a Connecticut minister, highly respected, and a sermon titled "Liberty Described and Recommended." Liberty, the good minister voiced to his congregation on a Sunday in 1775, a noteworthy date, is a "positive good." Then with careful and common sense he qualified his enthusiasm thus: "Some people always give in to excess." Therefore liberty is too often understood as the ability and power of doing as we please. One should therefore note that this small Connecticut congregation is a small portion of the "public square" into which "opinion" ventures.

Reverend Hart's opinion for his congregation is wonderfully posed: The liberty of self-indulgence that is an expression of individualism poses a serious danger to civil society. Civil liberty does not mean freedom from all law and government. In fact, such liberty of self-indulgence is akin to mankind in a state of nature--that is, not a form of liberty flourishing in stable communities, which one should note are synonymous to those "little platoons" so admired by a conservative mind like that of Russell Kirk.

Liberty has to be considered and defined with reference to society.

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Trump's impact on Indian Country over four years (Anna V. Smith, Dec. 16th, 2020, High Country News)

In the first year of his administration, Trump made his priorities clear with a series of memos and executive orders repealing protections for land and wildlife. His "America First" energy plan expedited controversial projects like the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, which faced monumental, sustained opposition by Native nations and their allies. He reduced the newly established Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, a monument whose creation had been Indigenous-led and centered. "Trump took the position against Native people first thing in office," said Matt Campbell, staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund and enrolled member of the Native Village of Gambell. "So, I think that set the tone early on for the relationship."

Trump's policy directives also reduced environmental protections. Federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act enable tribes to give input on large-scale projects on their ancestral lands. Under Trump, these were weakened. "The total onslaught of federal rule rollbacks under environmental laws was like nothing we've ever seen. It was dizzying," said Gussie Lord (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin), managing attorney of tribal partnerships at Earthjustice. "It resulted in not only a weakening of substantive environmental protection, but was also a real attack on public participation and access to information."

And then, the pandemic: As Senate aides told the Huffington Post, tribal nations were not initially included in the first COVID-19 relief package. Even when $10 billion was allocated to tribal nations, distribution was held up for months, withholding critical aid for personal protective equipment, financial aid and testing. "This administration's record is one of repeated failures for Native communities," said Sen. Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, in a statement. "The truth is the White House is actively undermining Tribal sovereignty across the country and mishandling a once-in-a-century pandemic that is disproportionately hurting Native communities."  [...]

Many of the decisions over the last four years will have a lasting impact on Indian Country no matter how quickly the new Biden/Harris administration works to reverse them: 

The border wall: What started as a campaign-rally promise has resulted in 423 miles of steel walls cutting through the borderlands landscape. The vast majority of those miles already had some kind of barrier, but those newly-added came at a high cost. In Guadalupe Canyon, Arizona, a five-mile stretch that required blasting through rock cost $41 million per mile. Tribal nations like the Tohono O'odham have been clear about their opposition to the construction, which has damaged important natural and cultural sites with no consultation process. "The Trump administration's reckless disregard for our religious and constitutional rights is embodied in the dynamite and bulldozers now rumbling through our original homelands," wrote Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. in High Country News.

Tribal lands: Although Trump signed two bills that federally recognized a total of seven tribal nations, his Interior Department also withdrew a legal opinion meant to help tribes regain ancestral lands, and sought to disestablish reservation lands of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. A federal judge called the legal memorandum written by Interior in Mashpee's case "incomprehensible" and described it as "one of the worst written documents I've ever read from any government agency."

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Geothermal energy, the forgotten renewable, has finally arrived  (Michael J. Coren, 12/20/20, Quartz)

Jason Czapla is walking across a former lake bed in the middle of southern California. The ground simmers at our feet as little mud volcanoes disgorge piles of hot, sulfurous muck. The Salton Sea glitters in the distance, beckoning as the morning temperature approaches 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

Everything about this place, around a hundred miles from the Mexican border, feels like it's about to combust. But for Czapla, a former petroleum engineer, there are few places he'd rather be.

"It's the perfect storm in terms of a renewable energy project," says the chief engineer for Controlled Thermal Resources, wearing a white polo shirt and dark sports glasses that hide the excitement in his blue eyes. "This is the best resource in the world."

Czapla is in charge of a 7,380-acre plot owned by Controlled Thermal Resources (CTR). It's a barren scrap of desert that ends abruptly in the great saline sea east of San Diego. For a geothermal engineer, it's paradise.

Two kilometers below the surface lies a mineral-rich cauldron of hot water where temperatures can exceed 390°C. As the Salton Sea recedes, opportunities to turn that into energy and profits are emerging. If California approves its permit, CTR will start operating its Hell's Kitchen Lithium and Power project in 2023, one of the first new US geothermal power plants in almost a decade.

And it almost certainly will not be the last. Although the shores of the Salton Sea already hosts 10 geothermal plants--most of them built in the 1980s--geology, politics, and energy demand have aligned to make Hell's Kitchen, and projects like it, a hot investment once again.

Over the last decade, California has poured billions of dollars into its renewable energy goals. It has scaled up wind and solar power beyond expectation, while virtually ignoring geothermal plants despite possessing the most productive geothermal fields in the US. Today, wind and solar provide more than 86% of California's renewable capacity, while geothermal sources provide virtually the same amount as two decades ago.

But in a climate constrained world, geothermal, the "forgotten renewable," is getting a second chance.

December 19, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


Hello, free money for all: 'Bye-bye,' big-city life as we know it, according to this 'outrageous prediction' (Shawn Langlois, 12/10/20, Market Watch)

"UBI leads to a seismic rebalancing of the forces and structures within society, and how they apply geographically. Big cities have been the chief drivers of job growth for generations," Van-Petersen said. "But in the new era of UBI, tech-driven job redundancies, and frequent work-from-home [periods] made more normal by COVID-19, city office real estate is suddenly faced with 100% or worse overcapacity. Commercial office property values are crushed, together with the commercial real estate containing restaurants and shops aimed at servicing commuting worker drones."

In other words, there's a potential overhaul of society, as attitudes toward work/life balance shift and some younger generations embrace the suburbs and the communities where they grew up.

"Meanwhile, the professionals and the marginal workers in big cities also begin to leave, as job opportunities dry up and the quality of life in small, over-priced apartments in higher crime neighborhoods loses its appeal," Van-Petersen wrote.

Disney World is the city of the future. 

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Covid Is Accelerating the Exodus From New York and California to Cheaper States (Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou, December 14, 2020, Bloomberg)
Residents of New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area have long tolerated eye-watering expenses, cramped apartments and other disadvantages because of the access to more jobs, arts, culture and entertainment. Until the pandemic hit, that is. Now, the experience of being locked down at home and working remotely is driving them to make decisions faster than they otherwise would have, and leave their social and professional circles behind for a better quality of life elsewhere.

Austin -- where podcast host Rogan moved to from California -- gained the most people between April and October this year, followed by Phoenix, Nashville and Tampa, according to data on 47 metropolitan areas analyzed by LinkedIn. At the same time, the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City lost people.

"Moving from a highly dense area to a less dense area allows people to potentially really enjoy some of their hobbies," said Josh Mungavin, a wealth manager at Evensky & Katz. "Now people can chase their passions."

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December 18, 2020

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Princeton University Study Finds the Low-Carbon Future is a Low-Cost Future (NADER SOBHANI, DECEMBER 18, 2020, Niskanen)

To reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero, the U.S. will need to invest in and build new energy infrastructure at an unprecedented scale over the next three decades. This is one of the conclusions of a new Princeton University analysis, which examines granular scenarios for how the country could reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. While the required scale of infrastructure build-out and technology deployment is significant, the study's findings show it is  technically feasible and economically affordable. 

That last point-that a net-zero economy will be affordable-is critical. The energy  transition cost is frequently cited as a reason to be wary of carbon prices, regulations, or climate action generally. But the idea that a modern and productive economy can run without emitting greenhouse gases is evolving from an obscure notion to something that rigorous analysis can show will be affordable. This study shows, along with less detailed precursors, that a full transition to net-zero would not dramatically increase the cost of energy for the economy. 

The researchers modeled five different pathways to achieve net-zero GHG emissions by midcentury, each with varying levels of renewable energy deployment, building and vehicle electrification, biomass, nuclear energy, and carbon capture and storage technologies. For each scenario, they evaluated the infrastructure and fuel demands that would meet consumer demand for electricity and transportation, and maintain industrial production but eliminate emissions from the economy. Even as the researchers surveyed a wide variety of scenarios, they found that the costs of the transition to net-zero were small. 

You can't afford not to do it. 

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The End of the Wilsonian Era: Why Liberal Internationalism Failed (Walter Russell Mead, January/February 2021, Foreign Affairs)

One hundred years after the U.S. Senate humiliated President Woodrow Wilson by rejecting the Treaty of Versailles, Princeton University, which Wilson led as its president before launching his political career, struck his name from its famous school of international affairs. As "cancellations" go, this one is at least arguably deserved. Wilson was an egregious racist even by the standards of his time, and the man behind the persecution of his own political opponents and the abuses of the first Red Scare has been celebrated for far too long and far too uncritically. 

But however problematic Wilson's personal views and domestic policies were, as a statesman and ideologist, he must be counted among the most influential makers of the modern world. He was not a particularly original thinker. More than a century before Wilson proposed the League of Nations, Tsar Alexander I of Russia had alarmed his fellow rulers at the Congress of Vienna by articulating a similar vision: an international system that would rest on a moral consensus upheld by a concert of powers that would operate from a shared set of ideas about legitimate sovereignty. By Wilson's time, moreover, the belief that democratic institutions contributed to international peace whereas absolute monarchies were inherently warlike and unstable was almost a commonplace observation among educated Americans and Britons. Wilson's contribution was to synthesize those ideas into a concrete program for a rules-based order grounded in a set of international institutions. 

Even that simple description depicts how his vision was stillborn.  An inveterate racist, he happily traded the legitimate sovereignty--that held by free peoples who determine the course of their own nation--of Europe's colonies for his League, which we never joined and which never worked even in later incarnations.  Recall that when W issued the most forthright summons ever to the UN to enforce its own rules and rulings it failed to do so and America had to take on the task instead. Of course, the reason Saddam existed was because Wilson had betrayed the Arab world in the first place.  His legacy was a century of wars on behalf of the American values he failed to vindicate when he had the opportunity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


2 Jewish Wisconsin judges rejected a Trump case. Now anti-Semites are after them (JTA and TOI , 12/18/20)

Two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices have received a torrent of misogynistic and anti-Semitic messages in the days after they denounced -- and then voted to reject -- an attempt by US President Donald Trump's lawyers to invalidate hundreds of thousands of votes in their state.

Some people think Israel ought to grant Palestinians full human rights.  The Right calls us anti-Semites. Some people oppose Judaism and Islam.  They call themselves Nationalists. 

December 17, 2020

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Floating 'mini-nukes' could power countries by 2025, says startup (Jillian Ambrose, 17 Dec 2020, The Guardian)

Floating barges fitted with advanced nuclear reactors could begin powering developing nations by the mid-2020s, according to a Danish startup company.

Seaborg Technologies believes it can make cheap nuclear electricity a viable alternative to fossil fuels across the developing world as soon as 2025.

Its seaborne "mini-nukes" have been designed for countries that lack the energy grid infrastructure to develop utility-scale renewable energy projects, many of which go on to use gas, diesel and coal plants instead.

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 Low-carbon economic recovery a better path for Michigan (Jennifer Granholm, 11/07/20, Detroit News)

Cambridge Econometrics and the We Mean Business coalition found that a low-carbon recovery plan boosts income, employment and GDP more so than broad economic recovery measures alone, while significantly reducing emissions. The GDP returns from low-carbon measures are projected to be 1.5 times greater than a baseline stimulus measure.

Investing in a low-carbon economy will ensure that Michigan remains a leader in the auto industry. The report finds that by 2025, a low-carbon recovery plan could create 1.7 million new jobs in the U.S. State automakers like Ford and General Motors are producing a greater number of EVs, but policy incentives are needed to ensure that the cost-saving and environmental benefits are available to everyone.

It's not just a matter of forecasting future impacts. Climate action is already working for the people and economy of Michigan. An E2 report -- "Clean Jobs, Better Jobs" --  found that the median hourly wage of clean energy jobs in Michigan is 6.8% higher than the statewide median for all occupations, and that clean energy jobs are more likely to come with health and retirement benefits. These are the types of jobs we need to support as we look to shape a better future.

Over a dozen major businesses operating in this state agree that a low-carbon recovery is the best choice for Michigan. Just last month these companies, including Kellogg's, General Mills, Schneider Electric and Nestle, asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to enact statewide climate mitigation strategies and invest in clean energy infrastructure. At the same time, the companies reaffirmed their commitment to reducing their own emissions and supporting the growing demand for clean energy. 

Other Michigan-based companies like Ford, General Motors and Whirlpool are also doing their part in setting bold targets to address climate change. Earlier this year, Ford committed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. These companies represent the backbone of the U.S. economy and know that acting on climate change is good business sense. However, the private sector needs greater support and political will from our policymakers to help us fully realize the potential of a zero-carbon future. 

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 Low-carbon economic recovery a better path for Michigan (Jennifer Granholm, 11/07/20, Detroit News)

Cambridge Econometrics and the We Mean Business coalition found that a low-carbon recovery plan boosts income, employment and GDP more so than broad economic recovery measures alone, while significantly reducing emissions. The GDP returns from low-carbon measures are projected to be 1.5 times greater than a baseline stimulus measure.

Investing in a low-carbon economy will ensure that Michigan remains a leader in the auto industry. The report finds that by 2025, a low-carbon recovery plan could create 1.7 million new jobs in the U.S. State automakers like Ford and General Motors are producing a greater number of EVs, but policy incentives are needed to ensure that the cost-saving and environmental benefits are available to everyone.

It's not just a matter of forecasting future impacts. Climate action is already working for the people and economy of Michigan. An E2 report -- "Clean Jobs, Better Jobs" --  found that the median hourly wage of clean energy jobs in Michigan is 6.8% higher than the statewide median for all occupations, and that clean energy jobs are more likely to come with health and retirement benefits. These are the types of jobs we need to support as we look to shape a better future.

Over a dozen major businesses operating in this state agree that a low-carbon recovery is the best choice for Michigan. Just last month these companies, including Kellogg's, General Mills, Schneider Electric and Nestle, asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to enact statewide climate mitigation strategies and invest in clean energy infrastructure. At the same time, the companies reaffirmed their commitment to reducing their own emissions and supporting the growing demand for clean energy. 

Other Michigan-based companies like Ford, General Motors and Whirlpool are also doing their part in setting bold targets to address climate change. Earlier this year, Ford committed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. These companies represent the backbone of the U.S. economy and know that acting on climate change is good business sense. However, the private sector needs greater support and political will from our policymakers to help us fully realize the potential of a zero-carbon future. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Worried About Inflation After Covid? Don't Be (Tyler Cowen, December 17, 2020, Bloomberg)

Does the world need to fear inflation again? The global supply of money has been rising at a rapid clip, with the broader measure increasing by more than 20% last year in the U.S. alone. With an economic recovery and boom likely to follow the distribution of vaccines, many people are worried that all this cash will lead to higher prices.

I have some reassuring news (albeit with caveats): It is not likely that the next major macroeconomic problem will be inflation.

Cash does not drive inflation, costs do, and they've been falling for 30 years with no end in sight. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Conservative principles are powering the fight against climate change (John Flesher, 12/17/20, CapX)

The Paris Agreement has sparked a transformation in the cost and competitiveness of low and zero-carbon solutions across the world economy, and this transformation is likely to get even faster over the next decade. Research from global consultancy Systemiq has found that, whilst virtually none of these technologies and business models were able to compete economically as recently as 2015, they are now competitive in sectors making up around a quarter of global CO2 emissions and projected to shoot up to be competitive in those comprising 70% of emissions by 2030.

What does this mean in practice? 35 million net new jobs for a start. And beyond that, growing competitiveness means falling costs and rising investment. Take solar power, for example: long derided as expensive and ineffective, the price of solar-generated electricity has plummeted by 89% in the last decade to become the cheapest form of power generation at a time when established fuels like coal are on the path to obsolescence.

The same is true of newer technologies like electric cars. What looked like a costly and inconvenient choice for most motorists even a couple of years ago will soon reach upfront price parity with diesel cars, with a greater range of models available and performance improving all the time.

This rapid change hasn't happened by accident, and the fact that it has is a major vindication of conservative approaches. Whilst government action has been important in creating frameworks and stimulating private investment, it is the free market that is delivering these changes quickly and efficiently, abandoning fossil fuels and financing the technologies of the future. When huge companies like BP, Pepsi and Apple pledge to achieve net zero emissions, they aren't doing it merely out of obligation to the environment, but because it makes sound business sense.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Swiss central bank chief rejects 'currency manipulator' label from the U.S. (Elliot Smith, 12/17/20, CNBC)

Swiss National Bank President Thomas Jordan has rejected a U.S. decision to label Switzerland a "currency manipulator."

The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday added Switzerland to a list of nations it suspects of deliberately devaluing their currencies against the dollar.

Jordan told CNBC on Thursday that neither the SNB nor Switzerland itself has artificially manipulated the value of the Swiss franc.

"Our monetary policy is necessary, it is legitimate, and we have a very low inflation rate -- it is even negative at this moment -- so we have to fight this deflation, and the Swiss franc is very strong, so it appreciated in nominal terms over the last 12 years enormously, both vis-a-vis the euro and vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar," he said. [...]

Earlier Thursday, the SNB kept its monetary policy stance unchanged, holding interest rates at a record low of -0.75% and striking a cautious tone. The bank said a second wave of Covid-19 infections was likely to mean a weaker fourth quarter of 2020 and first quarter of 2021, noting that "production factors will remain underutilised for some time yet."

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The punning of reason : How words resemble and reveal the world (Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, 12/17/20, TLS)

In the beginning was the word. But the trouble was that the word sounded like other words. And it still does, so you poke at it. This is called "punning". For there was never just the one, solitary, word. It entered the world as one of many. Though each word seemed to possess a specific shade of meaning all its own, they were tied together by invisible lines of phonetic resemblance. The mouth has limits. Tongue, palate, cheeks, and lips can only shape a breath of air in so many ways. Perhaps this was not true for God, when He blew on the face of the waters and His breath - "wind" in one translation of the Hebrew word ruach - hovered there, but it is true for us. And we can be tempted to tug at the invisible lines of phonetic resemblance, to create puns, even - perhaps especially - when it annoys our friends and loved ones.

I pun compulsively. Puns are my constant companions, a floating cloud of potential associations superimposed on the field of linear communication. It is as if I cannot stop touching the words. I read ruach and it becomes Rauch, from the Hebrew for "wind" to the German for "smoke". Some words summon the punch lines to jokes I haven't made yet, and I grin inwardly. The Japanese expression itadakimasu, an expression of thanks for a meal to come, makes me think: "eat a duck I must". As a hundred books of puns destined for use as bathroom reading attest, I'm not alone. (There is in fact a neurological condition characterized by compulsive punning, originally called Witzelsucht, or "joke-seeking", by Hermann Oppenheimer, who identified it in the late nineteenth century. I swear I don't have it.) I was visiting Kyoto's Fushimi Inari shrine with a friend, who told me that the Japanese word for pun is oyajigyagu, or "old guy gag". Puns are the jokes older men tell. Wordplay does not float free from culture.

Puns are supposed to be on the whole bad - Samuel Johnson said of Shakespeare's love of the "quibble", or pun, that "a quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation" - but they are linked to something often praised in literature, namely ambiguity. In Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), William Empson acknowledged that ambiguity can mean indecision, but it can also communicate an insight into the basic predicament of meaning in the world: things aren't as neat as we wish they were.

All comedy is conservative, nowhere moreso than when it exposes the limits of Reason.

December 16, 2020

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Jeff Bezos Teams With Bill Gates to Back Electric Plane Startup ZeroAvia (Sissi Cao, 12/16/20, NY Observer)

While Jeff Bezos' ex-wife McKenzie Scott flooded news headlines on Wednesday for donating over $4 billion to hundreds of charitable organizations, the Amazon CEO himself made a quite investment in a British startup that successfully tested the world's first hydrogen passenger plane three months ago.

ZeroAvia, a company founded in 2017 to develop commercial-grade aircraft powered by hydrogen fuel cells, raised $21.4 million from Amazon's Climate Pledge fund, as well as Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and Shell Ventures, in its latest fundraising round closed this week.

The startup also secured separate funding of $16.3 million from the U.K. government and struck a partnership with British Airways to help the airline transition from fossil fuels to hydrogen energy sources.  

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Buttigieg May Finally Give the U.S. Its Infrastructure Day: As transportation secretary, the former McKinsey consultant's cost-cutting and networking skills are just what the job needs. (Noah Smith, December 16, 2020, Bloomberg)

There are many different theories explaining why the price for construction has risen so dramatically, including land-use policies that allow landowners to block construction, and inefficiency and corruption in the contracting process. In actuality, it's probably a combination of factors, encouraged by decades of complacency. Because no one can identify a specific cause, it's not the kind of thing that the president can wave his hands and fix, even with the help of Congress.

That's where Buttigieg comes in. He spent several years working as a McKinsey & Co. consultant. During that time, he consulted for various federal government agencies. Now, you may have a problem with McKinsey's ethics, but you have to admit they know their stuff when it comes to cost-cutting. Buttigieg is therefore uniquely qualified to get to the bottom of U.S. infrastructure costs.

The key would be to assemble a panel of experts, tasked with identifying, quantifying and proposing solutions to the various cost problems in the U.S. system over the next four years. This is a long-term effort, and probably wouldn't pay off during Biden's first term in office. But if successful, a McKinsey-like cost-cutting push would make it easier for both states and the federal government to spend on fixing roads and building new trains in the future, because they'd be getting much more bang for the buck. And that in turn would help the U.S. go from a transit laughingstock back to a respectable advanced country.

A second big thing Transportation Secretary Buttigieg can do, even without Congress, is to help speed the U.S. toward its zero-carbon future. One important piece of the energy transition lies firmly within the purview of the Department of Transportation:  the shift to electric vehicles.

EVs are finally becoming competitive with internal combustion engines in terms of both cost and range. That alone will increase adoption, but things will go much faster if the government acts to boost the number of charging stations. There's a chicken-and-egg problem here -- the more places there are available for charging, the easier it is to drive your electric car around, and the more electric cars are being driven around, the more profitable it is to run a charging station.

So instead of waiting for the free market to build this network up slowly, the government needs to act to speed the process along. Also, the government can set standards to make sure all electric-vehicle companies use compatible chargers, just as gas pumps currently work with any make and model.

One would rather he go govern somewhere if he wants to be president.
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The price of electric car batteries has dropped 89% in 10 years (ADELE PETERS, 12/16/20, Fast Company)

A decade ago, a lithium-ion battery pack used in an electric car cost around $1,110 per kilowatt-hour. By this year, according to a new survey, the cost had fallen 89%, to $137 per kilowatt-hour. And by 2023, the cost is likely to fall far enough that car companies can make and sell mass-market electric vehicles (EVs) at the same cost as cars running on fossil fuels.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Donald Trump Rescued The "Blob" (BLAISE MALLEY, 12/16/20, American Conservative)

Judging by his rhetoric, advisors, and now nominees, Biden's approach to national security places him at the center of current national discourse, sitting somewhere within the same space on the political spectrum as traditional, post-Cold War American Presidents.  

This positioning cannot be explained simply by ideology, which has rarely driven Biden's approach to politics. Throughout his long career, Biden has mostly moved with the party. When it comes to the use of force and global military engagement, Biden has also shifted with the political winds. He opposed the first Gulf war, aggressively advocated the NATO campaign in the Balkans in the early 1990s,  supported George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq, and then, during the Obama years, reportedly became a voice of restraint in the Situation Room.

Instead of focusing on ideology, core beliefs, or some overriding guiding principle to understand the incoming president's foreign policy, one should instead look to the man he will soon replace. Paradoxically, while Donald Trump's domestic policies helped pull Biden to the left, his foreign policy has given Biden reason to stay smack in the center. 

As predicted, Donald's racism, Nationalism and Isolationism made America more pro-immigration, pro-police reform, pro-trade and pro-democracy promotion.  He essentially gave us the sort of president we'd have had if Republ;ican primary voters had done their jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Donald Trump Turns Fire on Mitch McConnell for Accepting Joe Biden Win (JACOB JARVIS, 12/16/20, Newsweek)

In a message to McConnell, shared on Twitter, Trump referenced his popular vote tally and said: "Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!" [...]

McConnell's comments came despite Trump's continued insistence that foul play facilitated Biden's win. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities that would change the election outcome.

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How They Made a Vaccine So Fast (Beth Skwarecki, 12/15/20, LifeHacker)

The SARS outbreak spurred research on deadly, contagious coronaviruses. Another illness in this family, MERS, popped up in the Middle East in 2012. So while the COVID virus is new, research on stopping or preventing a pandemic caused by a coronavirus has at least an 18-year history.

Basic molecular biology research has also become more advanced over the years. Scientists are now so fast at sequencing viral RNA that the coronavirus's sequence was published on January 10, 2020, less than a month after the virus was first discovered.

There has never been an mRNA vaccine licensed for human use; the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, if it reaches full approval as planned, will be the first. But researchers didn't build the technology from scratch this year.

The idea of using RNA (the virus's genetic material, without any other parts of the virus) in a vaccine dates from the early 1990s, so there's been almost 30 years of research on this technology. According to a review published in 2018, mRNA vaccines had already been used to elicit immunity against influenza, Zika, and rabies.

Along the way, scientists ran into problems--like the possibility that mRNA vaccines could cause autoimmune conditions--and also figured out how to solve them. Chemically modifying the mRNA and encasing it in tiny bubbles made it safe. The 2018 review states: "Recent technological advances have now largely overcome these issues, and multiple mRNA vaccine platforms against infectious diseases and several types of cancer have demonstrated encouraging results in both animal models and humans." Even then, this way of developing vaccines was praised for its "capacity for rapid development."

Knowing how to build a given type of vaccine can really accelerate building the actual vaccine. In that sense, we've actually already seen vaccines be developed in less than a year: just look at flu shots. Every year's flu shot is different from the year before, but it's not built from scratch. Vaccine makers already have labs and factories set up to make flu vaccines, and each year they just plug in the specific influenza strains that they'll need.

Remember how the virus's genome was published in January? Moderna told reporters that their labs were already set up to make mRNA vaccines, so that once they downloaded that data, they were able to whip up a vaccine in two days.

December 15, 2020

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Study finds viable pathways to "net-zero" U.S. emissions by 2050 (Ben Geman, 12/15/20, Axios)

While the options ultimately involve a range of technology mixes, the study finds common near-term -- and ambitious -- "priority actions" between now and 2030 that would help regardless of the ultimate trajectory.

They include:

50 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads and several million public charging stations nationwide.

More than doubling the share of electric heat pumps in homes to reach around 23%, and tripling their use in commercial buildings.

Huge growth in wind and solar-generating capacity, accompanied by a roughly 60% expansion of high-voltage transmission capacity.

Begin building out a nationwide CO2 transportation and underground storage basins.

Investing in a suite of less mature technologies that could be significantly scaled up after 2030, such as CO2 capture in a range of industries, hydrogen and synthetic fuel production from clean power sources, next-wave bioenergy crops, direct air capture and more.

The bottom line: The 2050 target is achievable and affordable with "proactive policy and action," said Princeton University assistant professor Jesse Jenkins, a co-author of the study.

Jenkins said that in the 2020s alone, it would save tens of thousands of lives and create at least a half-million new jobs.

The study sees hundreds of thousands of premature deaths potentially being avoided over the next 30 years thanks to reductions in air pollution, including fine particulate matter.

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Trump Strutted Like a Player, But Also Got Played: Policy was made by those who viewed the president as someone easy to manipulate or outmaneuver for their own priorities. (Timothy L. O'Brien, December 14, 2020, Bloomberg)

On the policy frontier, where voters' lives are shaped and institutions are remodeled, others were in charge. Those people most likely regarded Trump as a useful foil, someone easy to manipulate or outmaneuver if you had the stomach and patience for it. There are myriad examples, but for now let's focus on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Attorney General William Barr and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

Each of those men embodies some traits needed to turn Trump into a sock puppet -- or to simply keep him out of the way. They could be wily (McConnell, Barr, Powell), craven (McConnell, Barr) or courageous (Powell), but needed at least one of those attributes to achieve their goals. History will also probably judge each of them in proportion to how much their particular vices or virtues drove policy and procedure.

"At the risk of tooting my own horn, look at the majority leaders since L.B.J. and find another one who was able to do something as consequential as this," McConnell, a history buff, told the New York Times after he rammed Justice Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court in October.

McConnell regards his conservative reshaping of the federal judiciary as his signature accomplishment, and his legacy goes well beyond the Supreme Court. He has pressed the Senate to confirm at least 229 federal court appointments during Trump's presidency, and, for the first time in 40 years, hasn't left a left a single vacancy on district and circuit courts -- even if that has meant repopulating the judiciary with young, white men bearing threadbare resumes.

Trump didn't have a sophisticated, informed view of the judiciary before becoming president. But he let McConnell transform such traditionally liberal venues as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals because the senator sustained him in other ways. McConnell ran interference when Trump was impeached. He helped court Trump's incendiary political base. He kept to the shadows when Trump attacked the Black Lives Matter movement. He remained silent when Trump savaged the integrity of the presidential election.

McConnell, according to those close to him, held Trump in low regard but protected him anyway to feed his own political ambitions, further fuel his fundraising apparatus and go about dismantling the federal government. McConnell's fealty and machinations came home to roost this year when Trump failed to effectively respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Senate was left so broken it appears unable to pass a second coronavirus relief package even though it has bipartisan support.

It's not clear yet whether McConnell, content to wield power for power's sake alone, will pay any penalties for cuddling with Trump. But there's no question that he has spun the president like a top the last several years whenever one of his own goals was in play.

Where else was the Federalist Society going to find the mixture of narcissism, ignorance, laziness, and disregard for facts that allowed them to pack the courts with conservatives with no input from the Oval? It's design, not coincidence, that Republican judges keep thwarting a non-Republican president.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The most contentious election in American history happened in 1876 (PAUL RATNER, 13 December, 2020, Big Think)

Once they returned, the Republican-run state canvassing boards managed to disqualify enough votes for Hayes to win in each of the states, getting all of their delegates. This provoked outrage from the Democrats, who certified their own electors. When the electors in the four contested states voted on December 6, 1876, two sets of opposing electors met and cast their ballots, setting up an explosive scenario that had to be resolved by the U.S. Congress.

The situation in the country was tense. Some tried to obstruct Hayes's inauguration, a shot was fired in the direction of his residence, while military force had to be brought in by President Grant around Washington. As America was possibly headed for another Civil War, cooler heads on both sides started to prevail.

To resolve the crisis, a special fifteen-member electoral commission was established that included congressmen and Supreme Court justices. This commission announced their decision just two days before the inauguration. They voted 8-7, strictly along party lines, to give the electoral votes under contest to Hayes.

Unhappy with the outcome, Democrats, who had the majority in the House of Representatives, threatened vote-counting delays, postponements, and filibusters. With Hayes and the Republicans having little sway in the South, they informally agreed to what's been dubbed the Compromise of 1877. Hayes got the 20 electoral votes in question and became President, winning just by one electoral vote. It return, Tilden accepted the results and the Democrats got remaining federal troops withdrawn from the last two occupied Southern states - South Carolina and Louisiana. This effectively ended the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War.

The Republicans also agreed to provide federal subsidies for a transcontinental railroad that would go through the South. While Democrats pledged to support and protect the civil and voting rights of African Americans, after the troops left, they largely abandoned any such pretenses, disenfranchising Black voters and establishing a segregated society with white supremacy at its core.

..of Joe retaining Donald's racist policies in exchange for electoral votes, so that's progress....

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The UK's quest for affordable fusion by 2040 (Peter Ray Allison, 15th December 2020, BBC)

However, Iter is vastly different to the design for the UK's Step reactor. Iter uses a doughnut-shaped reactor design, but Step will use a spherical tokamak design, which is more compact. This reduction in size will mean that the magnets can be much smaller, potentially saving millions of pounds.

Part of the plan to support the building of the Step reactor is the new fusion research facility to be constructed alongside the Nuclear AMRC in Rotherham. This will take the concept design for the reactor and transform it into buildable components that are ready for use in industry.

One of the main advances in fusion research that makes Step viable is the Super-X divertor. As fusion involves temperatures as hot as the Sun, this heat has to go somewhere. If the vessel's walls experience this thermal load, they would instantly melt, causing the fusion to fail. Instead, this plasma exhaust, is directed towards the divertor.

"Plasma exhaust is one of the key technical challenges facing fusion. Byproducts and excess heat from the plasma will need to be removed, without damaging the surrounding surfaces. We do this with an exhaust system known as a divertor," says Chapman. "The new system we're trialling at the Mast Upgrade should reduce the heat to manageable levels, such as that found in a car engine."

The divertor allows the waste material created during the fusion process to be removed as the reactor is working. As the high-energy plasma particles strike the targets, their kinetic energy is transformed into heat, which is removed by various cooling methods.

One way to make the 2040 date more achievable could be to use part of an existing power plant, with the old power-generation system replaced with the new Step reactor. The benefit of this is that the energy conversion process, for creating electricity, remains the same.

"If the decision is made to build the Tokamak, but to utilise an existing site with an existing turbine building, then it becomes a lot more feasible to me," says Storer. "All that time and cost has already been sunk."

The main hurdle will be the interface between the new fusion reactor and existing power plant. Sadly, there is no such thing as a USB port for power plants. However, the time and cost of having to build an entirely new power plant is significant. The comparatively small size of the Step reactor is also advantageous.

December 14, 2020

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Solid State Batteries -- They're Everywhere! They're Everywhere! (Steve Hanley , 12/11/20, Clean Technica)

Suddenly, solid state batteries -- the technology that is supposed to give us lower priced electric vehicles with more range and faster charging times -- are like Chicken Man. They're everywhere! They're everywhere! Conventional lithium-ion batteries use a semi-liquid electrolyte between the anode and the cathode. That electrolyte can catch fire or explode if it gets too hot or if the battery is punctured.

Solid state batteries replace the semi-liquid electrolyte with a solid substance that is far more tolerant of high heat and less susceptible to damage in the event of a collision. In the lab, they have a higher energy density, can charge faster, and weigh less than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Not only do they cost less, they may require simpler, less costly cooling systems and could allow automakers to dispense with the heavy, bank vault quality safety cages used today to prevent damage to traction batteries in the event of a collision. Those two factors alone could lower the cost of manufacturing electric vehicles, making them affordable for more drivers.

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Beth Moore's Condemnation Of 'Trumpism' Is A Watershed Moment (TYLER HUCKABEE, DECEMBER 14, 2020, Relevant)

Over the weekend, thousands of aggrieved individuals took to Washington D.C. for a "Stop the Steal" rally, accusing president-elect Joe Biden, vice-president elect Kamala Harris, their allies, the FBI, governors from both political parties, the Supreme Court and state electors across the country of working together to steal the election from President Donald Trump. It's a nonsense allegation with zero basis in reality, which makes it all the more unsettling just how religious the rally became, thrusting Christian Nationalism into an ugly spotlight. In the middle of all this, author and preacher Beth Moore took to Twitter for the rare social media thread that seemed to actually matter, and flipped the narrative.

"I do not believe these are days for mincing words," Moore tweeted. "I'm 63 1/2 years old and I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive and dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it."

Moore went onto caution her fellow leaders in ministry against "remaining passive in this day of seduction to save our own skin" and warn Christians against turning "from Trumpism to Bidenism."

"We do not worship flesh and blood," she said. "We do not place our faith in mortals. We are the church of the living God. We can't sanctify idolatry by labeling a leader our Cyrus. We need no Cyrus. We have a king. His name is Jesus."

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Tiny four-bit computers are now all you need to train AIPowerful neural networks could soon train on smartphones with dramatically faster speeds and less energy. (Karen Hao, December 11, 2020, MIT Technology Review)

Deep learning is an inefficient energy hog. It requires massive amounts of data and abundant computational resources, which explodes its electricity consumption. In the last few years, the overall research trend has made the problem worse. Models of gargantuan proportions--trained on billions of data points for several days--are in vogue, and likely won't be going away any time soon.

Some researchers have rushed to find new directions, like algorithms that can train on less data, or hardware that can run those algorithms faster. Now IBM researchers are proposing a different one. Their idea would reduce the number of bits, or 1s and 0s, needed to represent the data--from 16 bits, the current industry standard, to only four.

The work, which is being presented this week at NeurIPS, the largest annual AI research conference, could increase the speed and cut the energy costs needed to train deep learning by more than sevenfold.

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The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian TrumpismWe can pray peace will prevail, but we'd be fools to presume it will (David French, 12/13/20, The Dispatch)

I'm not writing to engage in a serious theological debate with those who've committed themselves to dreams and visions of dark conspiracies. I'm writing as a warning and as a call for action. Here's the warning: While I hope and pray that protests remain peaceful and that seditious statements are confined to social media, we'd be fools to presume that peace will reign.

Here's the call to action: It's time for conservative Christian leaders to shed any form of fear and to speak against conspiracies and against slander with the same boldness that many of them spoke for Trump. Again, this isn't just about "witness." It's about justice. It's about law. It's about peace.

Why do I keep mentioning fear? Because we all know exactly what happens when a prominent conservative opposes Trump. It's been the same playbook for more than five years. They receive vicious personal attacks. Trumpists try to intimidate dissenters into silence. Trumpists try to destroy dissenters' reputations, destroy their careers, and sometimes even destroy their lives.

We know that mainstream American Christian leaders can unite to condemn secular and progressive movements and ideas they find biblically problematic. For example, late last month the presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries united to declare that "affirmation of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and any version of Critical Theory is incompatible with the Baptist Faith & Message."

As I've written, critical race theory has its uses and its flaws, but I wonder--how many critical race theorists are in conservative Christian pews? But how many more election conspiracy theorists and Christian nationalists are sitting right there, including in my own denomination, fervently believing lies and fervently praying for actions and outcomes that are fundamentally unjust?

Simply put, there should be at least as much concern about injustice and sin from the religious right as from the secular left.

I've often thought about what a persecuted first-century Christian would think of the rage and panic of all too many American Evangelicals. They would be stunned at the sheer size of the American church. They'd be in awe of our wealth. They'd be amazed that the most powerful man in the world courted our favor. And then they'd be even more astounded at the fanaticism and fury displayed in the nation's capital yesterday.

The disconnect with the teachings of the apostles could not be more profound.

In a much more desperate time and in a much more dangerous place, the prophet Jeremiah told the people of Israel, "Seek the peace of the city where I have exiled you. Pray to the Lord for that city, because when it has peace and prosperity, you will have peace and prosperity." Yet now a Christian movement seeks conflict. It traffics in lies. It pursues profound injustice. Who will stand against it?

...but imagine a life so empty you choose Donald as the object of yours?

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Will China Win The Nuclear Fusion Race? (Haley Zaremba - Dec 07, 2020, Oil Price)

China's HL-2M Tokamak reactor, located in the southwest of China in Sichuan province, uses ultra-powerful magnets to create and fuse hot plasma at temperature over 150 million degrees Celsius, a mind-blowing temperature "approximately ten times hotter than the core of the sun." The tokamak that powered up for the first time last week was just the biggest and latest version of a project that China has been working on for almost 15 years now. "The development of nuclear fusion energy is not only a way to solve China's strategic energy needs, but also has great significance for the future sustainable development of China's energy and national economy," said the People's Daily, China's largest news group and an official news outlet of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

Instead of competing with the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), an international nuclear fusion research project located in the south of France which is currently the world's largest, China plans to work in collaboration with the project. ITER is still under development, and is slated to come online in 2025, when it could very well be the first major step toward commercializing nuclear fusion (despite the project's whopping $22.5 billion price tag). 

While it's promising for the global energy future that there are so many promising fusion projects underway, and even more promising that there are plans in place for continued international scientific cooperation, it's likely that China's forays into fusion are more for the country's own energy security than a vision of a global green energy utopia. China shocked the world earlier this fall with the scale and ambition of the country's newest decarbonization goals - President Xi doubled down on China's previous commitments and proclaimed that his fuel-hungry nation will reach peak emissions in just a decade and go on to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. To achieve this goal, China has leaned heavily on nuclear and renewable energies, but it's more than likely that this, too, is more related to geopolitics and energy security than concerns about global warming. Regardless of the motivation, however, bringing down China's carbon footprint is a win for all of us, and even more so if it can do that without leaving behind radioactive nuclear waste.

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Talkin' Bout A RevolutionThe chief executive of ScottishPower on what the industry is doing to achieve net zero (KEITH ANDERSON, 12/14/20, New Statesman)

In the five years since the Paris Climate Agreement, we've transformed our business model. Today, all the power we generate - enough to supply the energy needs of nearly 2 million homes - comes from our forty onshore and offshore windfarms. Every new customer we sign up is supplied with 100 per cent green electricity as a matter of course. 

We may be the first of the UK's integrated energy companies to make this green shift, but I sincerely hope that we won't be the last. 

Net zero is now the prism through which we take our business decisions, and that's a profound change. It's a key reason for us becoming a Principal Partner of COP26, the global climate change conference which will be hosted by our home city of Glasgow in November 2021.

Over the next five years we're building on our green commitments, with a £10 billion investment plan to double our renewable generation capacity and to deliver the networks that will facilitate electric vehicles and decarbonised heating. Our plans will support something in the order of 10,000 jobs, helping to develop skilled apprentices, a sustainable supply chain, and spreading the economic benefits far and wide.

With the right net zero route map - along the lines that the Climate Change Committee has just set out - and with the right supporting frameworks, we can make the decarbonisation of our power, transport and heating sectors a reality. 

As an industry, we've already shown how we can invest behind clear targets, driving down the price of wind power to the point where it's now the cheapest form of electricity in the UK, bar none. That was unimaginable twenty years ago - but thanks to the mechanisms put in place by successive governments, the UK is now recognised as a world leader in delivering green electricity. 

We should be taking the lessons from this experience and applying them to the nascent technologies we know will be important for delivering net zero - such as developing low carbon hydrogen at scale to help clean up transport and heavy industry, and making heat pumps a mainstream and cost-efficient alternative to conventional gas boilers for heating our homes.

December 13, 2020

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Electric airplanes are getting tantalizingly close to a commercial breakthrough (Michael J. Coren, 12/13/20, Quartz)

For $140,000, you can fly your own electric airplane. The Slovenian company Pipistrel sells the Alpha Electro, the first electric aircraft certified as airworthy by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2018. It's a welterweight at just 811 pounds (368 kilograms), powered by a 21 kWh battery pack--about one-fifth the power of what you'd find in a Tesla Model S. For about 90 minutes, the pilot training plane will keep you and a companion aloft without burning a drop of fossil fuel.

December 12, 2020

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The "Expert Consensus" Also Favored Alcohol Prohibition (Jeffrey A. Tucker, December 11, 2020, AIER)

Most people today regard America's experiment with alcohol prohibition as a national embarrassment, rightly repealed in 1933. So it will be with the closures and lockdowns of 2020, someday. 

In 1920, however, to be for the repeal of the prohibition that was passed took courage. You were arguing against prevailing opinion backed by celebratory scientists and exalted social thinkers. What you were saying flew in the face of "expert consensus."

There is an obvious analogy to Lockdowns 2020.

The most obvious being that Prohibition was, likewise, an effective but limited health measure.

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A 3-floor apartment building is being built in Germany with a 3D printer -- see how it's being done (Brittany Chang, 12/12/20, Business Insider)

A three-floor apartment building is being constructed by Peri, a formwork and scaffolding maker, with the help of a 3D construction printer.

Germany-based Peri isn't a newcomer to the ever-growing 3D construction printing segment. The apartment building is currently being printed in Bavaria, Germany, and the project was unveiled only two months after Peri announced it was creating Germany's first 3D printed two-story detached home.

Unlike the first project, this upcoming three-floor apartment building will contain 4,090 square feet of occupiable space in the form of five apartment units and a basement. The units will be available in different sizes, good for both single occupants and families, Peri's global business development manager of 3D construction printing Jan Graumann told Business Insider in an email interview.

The printing project is set to take six weeks to finish with an expected completion time by the end of March or mid-April of next year.

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Essentialism, nihilism and existentalism: Pixar makes a different sort of family film (Tara Brady, 12/12/20, Irish Times)

[D]irector and animator Pete Docter, known for his work on Monsters Inc and Inside Out, is surprised to find himself evaluating Being and Nothingness - and himself - on the promotional trail for Soul.

"As a kid all I wanted to be was an animator," he says. "My friends were playing soccer, going on dates and I was in my room making cartoons. I went to a school founded by Walt Disney and I was lucky enough to start at Pixar in 1990 and help to create Toy Story. Animation is what I was born to do. And yet there are some days I find myself thinking: 'Really? Cartoons? This is what I'm doing with my limited time on Earth?'

"So I did a lot of research. I thought about essentialism which, in the West, is an idea that comes from Plato and Aristotle: that you're born with an essence of who you are and your job in life is to discover that. And then there's nihilism and Nietzsche saying there is no such thing as meaning, it's all purposeless and absurd. And then there is Kierkegaard and Sartre and existentialism and the idea that you have to decide for yourself what your purpose is all about. And in the new film we get to put those things into characters."

Soul, which is released on Christmas Day through Disney Plus, introduces Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a middle-school band teacher who has always dreamed of becoming a professional jazz pianist. When he's offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with one of the jazz greats, his excitement causes him to miss his footing.

Suddenly, Joe is transported from the streets of New York City to the Great Before: a place where new souls get their personalities. Here, Gardner, a soul who desperately wants to return from death, meets 22 (voiced by Tina Fey), an indefatigable cynic who desperately wants to avoid being born. [...]

An additional set of sensitivities hung around the potential "religious landmine" as Murray calls it.

"We wanted to talk about a lot of the spiritual issues that these religions evoke without saying one religion is right and one religion is wrong," says Docter. "We didn't look to a single religion. There are so many different religious beliefs. You know I think one that did surprise me was Buddhism. Because Buddhism doesn't really believe in the soul in the same way that we do in western cultures.

"The concept of Brahman got very confusing to me. It was one of a couple of different concepts that I needed to learn more about. But in the end we decided - for the sake of simplicity - that we were just going to do this dualistic version of the soul, where you have the body and the spirit.

"It's more of a philosophical discussion about purpose and about the reason for existence than a theological one. What is it we're doing with our lives is a question that transcends the specificity of different religious beliefs. It allows us to talk about life experiences and the meaning of existence."

Docter laughs: "It sounds like a perfect idea for a kids' movie, doesn't it?"

December 11, 2020

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Facebook Has Only Itself to Blame for Drastic Remedy (Joe Nocera, December 9, 2020, Bloomberg)

On Wednesday afternoon, the FTC and 48 attorneys general filed dual antitrust suits designed to undo the merger of Facebook and Instagram -- as well as Facebook's takeover of WhatsApp, another potential rival that it bought in 2014 for a staggering $19 billion. (WhatsApp also had no revenue and 55 employees at the time Facebook bought it.)

This is a radical proposition -- the U.S. government hasn't contemplated breaking up a company since the Justice Department sued Microsoft in 1998. But I've long believed that there is simply no other way to curb Facebook's immense monopoly power.

In the attorneys general complaint, the plaintiffs contend that Facebook employs a "buy-or-bury strategy that thwarts competition and harms both users and advertisers."

Adam Smith famously said: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." 

Imagine going back in time to tell him that in 2020 our greatest monopolistic concern will be that a "monopoly" not only provides its popular service for free but seeks to provide other popular services for free. 

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Election Deadlines Are Firm Deadlines  (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, December 11, 2020, National Review)

The federal "safe harbor" day (when the federal government considers state certifications final) was Tuesday (December 8). The Electoral College votes in the states on Monday (December 14), Congress meets to count the votes (and debate any objections to them) on January 6, and the next presidential term starts on Inauguration Day (January 20).

The proposed Texas lawsuit (it's "proposed" because the Supreme Court would have to agree to consider it - doubtful) assumes that the justices may blithely ignore these dates. For as long as it takes to litigate state Attorney General Ken Paxton's claims, Texas would have the Court stay the Electoral College and congressional proceedings necessary to elect a president. The thinking appears to be that the only date that matters is January 20, because that is fixed in the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution as the date (at noon thereof) when the current presidential term expires.

This is wrong. The other election deadline dates trace to the Constitution, too.

In Article II (section 2) and the Twelfth Amendment, Congress is empowered to establish the process and dates for setting the Electoral College vote and later counting that vote at a joint session of Congress. There is nothing in the Constitution that gives the Supreme Court a check on this congressional power. Congress has set these dates by statute - see Title 3, U.S. Code, Section 5 (safe harbor), Section 7 (Electoral College vote), and Section 15 (counting the electoral votes in Congress).

The Supreme Court is well aware of this. The best indication we have of that is Bush v. Gore. As we've noted on the podcast, that case was decided on December 12, 2000. Under the formula prescribed in the aforementioned Section 5 of federal election law, December 12 was the safe harbor day in 2000. As the Bush v. Gore majority asserted, it was necessary to bring the Florida controversy to a close because "that date is upon us." Far from seeing itself as at liberty to ignore the dates Congress had set pursuant to it plenary constitutional authority, the Court stressed:

None are more conscious of the vital limits on judicial authority than are the members of this Court, and none stand more in admiration of the Constitution's design to leave the selection of the President to the people, through their legislatures, and to the political sphere.

At the Washington Examiner, my friend Quin Hillyer observes that the Trump campaign (and derivatively, it seems to me, Texas) has taken the position that the congressionally mandated dates can be moved based on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Bush v. Gore opinion. What the campaign fails to mention, however, is that Justice Ginsburg's opinion was a dissent, on an issue she decisively lost, 7-2 - with even two of the liberal justices (Stephen Breyer and David Souter, who joined her in dissenting from the ultimate ruling of the case) conceding that the Court was obliged to follow the dates set by Congress.

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World carbon dioxide emissions drop 7% in pandemic-hit 2020 (SETH BORENSTEIN, 12/11/20, AP)

A locked-down pandemic-struck world cut its carbon dioxide emissions this year by 7%, the biggest drop ever, new preliminary figures show.

The Global Carbon Project, an authoritative group of dozens of international scientists who track emissions, calculated that the world will have put 37 billion U.S. tons (34 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide in the air in 2020. That's down from 40.1 billion US tons (36.4 billion metric tons) in 2019, according a study published Thursday in the journal Earth System Science Data.

Scientists say this drop is chiefly because people are staying home, traveling less by car and plane, and that emissions are expected to jump back up after the pandemic ends. Ground transportation makes up about one-fifth of emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made heat-trapping gas.

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How Michael Anton's 'Flight 93 Election' Essay Defined the Trump Era (Jonathan Chait, 12/11/20, New York)

In September 2016, Michael Anton wrote an essay for the right-wing Claremont Institute, "The Flight 93 Election," making the case for Donald Trump's election as a necessary gamble to stave off the destruction of conservatism. Anton then did a stint in Trump's State Department, and last night was rewarded by the president with a posting to the National Board for Education Sciences. It was a fitting coda for Trump to single out the figure who most perfectly captured the spirit that right-wing intellectuals brought to the era.

Anton's case was notable, first, for its novelty. Before Trump won, "Never Trumpers" constituted the dominant strain of right-wing intellectual sentiment. Here was a prestigious organ of the intellectual right making a positive case for a nominee that the movement had dismissed as a clown and a surefire loser. Anton memorably seized the imagination of his audience by likening the choice to that faced by the passengers of Flight 93, who wrested control of the plane from Al Qaeda hijackers on 9/11.

...and they improved on al Qaeda's murder total exponentially.  Sadly for them, their Base was defeated by the Deep State as easily as al Qaeda was. 

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Young Ravens Rival Adult Chimps in a Big Test of General Intelligence (Rachel Nuwer on December 10, 2020, 

Scientific American) Scientists and casual observers alike have known for years that ravens and their corvid relatives are extremely smart. But most studies use single experiments that provide a limited view of their overall intelligence. "Quite often, in single tasks, you're just testing whether the bird can understand that you're hiding something," says Simone Pika, a cognitive scientist at Osnabrück University in Germany. A new study that that tries to address that deficit provides some of the best proof yet that ravens, including young birds of just four months of age, have certain types of smarts that are on par with those of adult great apes. 

The brainy birds performed just as well as chimpanzees and orangutans across a broad array of tasks designed to measure intelligence. "We now have very strong evidence to say that, at least in the tasks we used, ravens are very similar to great apes," says Pika, lead author of the study. "Across a whole spectrum of cognitive skills, their intelligence is really quite amazing." The findings, published in Scientific Reports, add to a growing body of evidence indicating that impressive cognitive skills are not solely the domain of primates but occur in certain species across the animal kingdom.

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Biden's promised Cuba reset has big tech implications (NANCY SCOLA, 12/11/2020, Politico)

When it comes to Cuba policy, "what you can expect under Biden is that empowering the Cuban people and empowering the Cuban private sector -- and the growing tech entrepreneurial sector -- is a priority," says Ricardo Herrero, executive director of the nonprofit Cuba Study Group. But with so much facing the incoming president, says Herrero, don't expect Cuba, generally, to be at the top of the list of things the Biden administration will tackle in the short term.

"It would be regrettable if the U.S. would completely cede the [information communications technology] market in Cuba to China," says Herrero.

Should Biden launch a meaningful effort to unthaw U.S. relations with Cuba (again), it could be a boon to U.S. tech. Just opening up travel by Americans to Cuba could increase demand for the sort of robust connectivity that American companies can help provide. (Your author has a distinct memory of being in a bar in Havana in 2015 among American tourists demanding to know why they couldn't use their AT&T equipped phones.)

Boosting Cuba's technological landscape, however modest so far, has already led to a hunger for cutting-edge tech among Cubans. "It used to be, someone would say to me, 'Do you have any kind of old flip phone, a Motorola, anything, that'd be great,'" says Kavulich of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. "But then, Obama visited, and it became, 'Have you got that iPhone 10?'" that Joe no longer need truckle to old Cubanos.  He can love bomb the island with impunity. 

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Pandemic causes Universal Basic Income? Not so weird after all. (PAUL WALLIS, 12/11/20, Digital Journal)

 The sheer havoc caused by the pandemic and the massive dislocations and damage to people's lives has caused UBI to come back into focus. The UBI debate is pretty appropriate as the global economy staggers under multiple hits.

Universal Basic Income is a regular payment without strings attached, unlike many Social Security schemes. The original call for UBI has been around for quite a while. It was originally raised as a remedy for poverty and wealth inequity, but the pandemic has raised the stakes enormously.

Although most governments did come to the party with stimulus packages for the pandemic, criticism of those stimulus packages has been pretty continuous. The US stimulus package, in particular, was strongly criticised for not delivering enough money for long enough. Globally, the same ongoing criticisms apply in one form or another.

In an unlikely twist, my own country, Australia, a poll by YouGov has indicated support for a UBI in a recent poll. What's so unlikely about it is that Australia is a typical Western nation. We tend to follow, not lead, in social reforms. To give you some idea of our social security mindset, there hasn't been an increase in unemployment payments since the mid-90s. It's not generally a major political issue for anyone.

The pandemic has changed the game. It wasn't as bad here for infections and deaths, but it did involve major lockdowns for months. People were pretty lost. The financial uncertainties were real enough. Adding to this was the fact that low-income people were really hit hard. The stimulus, agreed to without dissent from anyone, did do the job of sealing the holes in peoples' lifeboats.

The generally sensible Arnold Kling is on this week's Law & Liberty podcast and provides a good overview of where the economy is as a result of Covid and offers some ideas going forward. Particularly helpful is that he touches upon, though he fails to drive home, the point that many of the jobs lost are unlikely to come back because, as events have shown, they are literally unnecessary. This begins with every job that depends on most people commuting to work every day, eating meals outside the home, business conferences, etc., and quite possibly extends to massive disruptions in how education, health care, etc. are consumed.  

One of his proposed reforms as we exit lockdown is that entrepreneurship be made easier via regulation reductions and the like.  This is sufficiently anodyne: we might even get Democrats to agree that licensing for most professions is just a bar to enterprise; for instance, hair-braiding and nail salons could be easier to open without much risk of harm. But he also presents a completely mistaken view of what an economy is and what entrepreneurs do: he notes that employment is down 6% from its prior levels and says that new businesses should be forming to take advantage of that excess labor. This could not be more wrong.  

With the incredibly rare exception, people do not start new businesses in order to provide jobs, but to make profits.  what is one of the main challenges in this regard?: costs. What is often a primary cost?: labor. What is one of the main ways you can undercut competitors in business?: run yours with lower costs so you can charge lower prices.  So if you are an entrepreneur looking to start a business next June what is the one thing we can predict with near absolute certainty?: not only will you be looking to maintain the lower labor cost you possibly can, you will likely succeed to the extent that you have lower labor costs than your competitors. Not only is it not your cause to create jobs in your own business; the reduction of labor in your industry will be one of the effects of your mission.

Nor is it the case, as some like Mr. Kling suggest, that there is currently an under-employment situation (crisis), instead we are coming out of several decades of massive over-employment and returning towards normal historical levels.  Civil rights legislation and the women's movement drove an employment bubble as white men hired additional employees for social reasons without ever laying off other white men.  This explains, in its entirety, the perceived decline in productivity of the past few decades.  But now we have reached the point where meritocracy has been restored and white men are having to compete for jobs (and educational opportunities) with all comers and, inevitably, they can no longer maintain their dominance.  Given the new reality, we should expect employment levels to subside back towards the norm.  

It is, likewise, this new reality that drives much of the Trumpist psychosis with its seething hatred of women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc.  We could be big men when we could feel patronizing about quota hiring, much harder to look around a campus that's mostly female with large components of Asians and the like; a campus that was our safety school in the first place. And to not get that job because a more qualified not-white-male got it and to report to a boss who is not "one of the guys" can be emotionally devastating for some men.  No wonder many are just dropping out of the workforce altogether and watching ONAN while sucking down oxy.  

This fear of our ability to compete in a free economy is what drove the Tea Party--which was overwhelmingly white and male--and Trumpism--ditto.  We are the welfare queens we were warned about and we want it. There is an existential terror that empowered minorities will turn the tables and transfer money from our social welfare checks--unemployment; Medicare; Social Security--to their own cohorts. That is why the reaction was so pronounced when a black man was elected president.  some of our conservative brethren liked to fool themselves into thinking that the Tea Parties were a wholesome response to deficits--which is laughable on its face--when polls consistently showed that they opposed any cuts to "middle class" entitlements, which is where you could make meaningful cuts. This was just another instance of old white people chasing Dan Rostenkowski's car and banging on it with their crutches at the thought of taking any responsibility for themselves.

This leaves us with the great irony that UBI is not only inevitable but will be a function of white men demanding it.  While we kept our own employment rates artificially high, we could look down upon those who obtained their livelihoods from the political system instead of the economic.  Now that the shoe is on the other foot, we join the demand.  And, as discussed above, this demand will only accelerate as economic factors--the technological ability and profitability requirements of the bottom line--drive employment rates ever lower.



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Biden is picking a Cabinet built for comfort. What he needs is vision. (David Ignatius, Dec. 10th, 2020, Washington Post)

The "comfort-level" Cabinet that President-elect Joe Biden is assembling has some obvious benefits, especially after four years of the petulance and backbiting that turned the White House into what one Trump chief of staff reportedly called "Crazytown."

Yes, Biden needs to help the United States take a deep breath, without presidential appointees sniping at each other and jostling for position. He's gathering a Cabinet that mirrors his own strengths -- sane men and women, each one likable and competent. Like Biden, they can play the old tunes so well that maybe Americans will begin to forget what they're so angry about.

But the virtues of calm and collegiality can be overstated. A team of elbows-in former colleagues and aides may end up looking more like a Senate staff than a dynamic Cabinet. Biden understandably doesn't want a fractious "team of rivals," as Doris Kearns Goodwin dubbed President Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet. But he shouldn't have a team of retreads, either. [...]

Biden has appeared conflict-averse in his initial Cabinet picks. His primary metric, in addition to competence, seems to be his familiarity and personal ease with his appointees. That's obviously true with his picks for secretary of state, defense and national security adviser -- Antony Blinken, retired Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III and Jake Sullivan, respectively. They've all worked smoothly with Biden in the past.

The comfort factor extends to keeping powerful interest groups happy, too. Biden's commitment to assembling the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history is unambiguously positive. But in terms of ideological diversity, it's worrying that potential nominees who drew fire from the left, such as Michèle Flournoy for defense or Michael Morell at the CIA, seem to get bypassed in favor of blander, safer choices.

He wasn't hired to do anything.  He's just there to not be Donald and get rid of a bunch of Executive orders.

December 10, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Thirty years of 'against measurement' (Jim Baggott, December 2020, Physics World)

"Surely, after 62 years, we should have an exact formulation of some serious part of quantum mechanics?" wrote the eminent Northern Irish physicist John Bell in the opening salvo of his Physics World article, "Against 'measurement' ". Published in August 1990 just two months before his untimely death at the age of 62, Bell's article outlined his concerns. As he further explained, "By 'exact' I do not of course mean 'exactly true'. I mean only that the theory should be fully formulated in mathematical terms, with nothing left to the discretion of the theoretical physicist...until workable approximations are needed in applications."

Although Bell spent the majority of his career as a theoretical particle physicist and worked on accelerator design at the CERN lab in Geneva, today he is best known for his contributions to deep, foundational questions that probe the meaning of quantum mechanics. Nearly a century after it was first formulated, there is still no consensus among physicists on how the theory should be interpreted. "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics," Richard Feynman famously declared - a rather extraordinary admission for a foundational theory that underpins much of our understanding of modern physics.

Indeed, the debate about the interpretation of quantum mechanics, which began in 1927, continues to this day. It became polarized around the views of its two leading protagonists - Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. In essence, this was a debate about the meaning of the theory's central concept, the quantum wavefunction - a mathematical description of the quantum state of a system, which contains all its measurable information.

According to Bohr the wavefunction shouldn't be taken as a literal representation of the real physical state of a real physical system. While he acknowledged its importance and significance in solving quantum problems, he insisted that "it must be recognized, however, that we are here dealing with a purely symbolic procedure, the unambiguous physical interpretation of which in the last resort requires a reference to a complete experimental arrangement" (Essays 1958-1962 on Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, Wiley Interscience). Indeed, he is famously quoted as saying "There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description."

For Bohr, the quantum formalism is a "purely symbolic procedure" that lets us use our experiences of past measurements to predict the results of future ones. On this understanding all measurements are classical, as this is the only kind of physics we can experience directly. But the quantum nature of the objects under study means that the apparatus and the way it is set up determines what we can expect to observe. With one kind of apparatus we can choose to observe the wave-like nature of a "beam" of electrons. With another kind of apparatus, we can choose to observe the particle-like nature of individual electrons. These are mutually exclusive, not because we lack the ingenuity to conceive of an apparatus to expose both types of behaviour simultaneously, but because such an apparatus is simply inconceivable.

According to Bohr what we cannot do is go beyond these complementary descriptions and say what an electron actually is when it is not being observed. This became known as the "Copenhagen interpretation", named after the location of Bohr's Institute for Theoretical Physics. This and other variants on the general theme of the Copenhagen interpretation are essentially "anti-realist". This doesn't mean that such interpretations deny the existence of an objective reality, or the reality of "invisible" entities such as electrons. It means that the theoretical representation of these entities shouldn't be taken too literally.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Former FBI agent explains how Eric Swalwell did the right things -- while Carter Page didn't (Sarah K. Burris, 12/10/20, Raw Story)

In the case of Swalwell, in 2012, Chinese nationalist Christine Fang approached Swalwell. It's been six years since the FBI approached Swalwell to tell him that Fang was suspected of being a spy. In his case, the Congressman cut off ties immediately and provided information about Fang to the FBI. President Donald Trump was elected the following year and his FBI never attempted to investigate Swalwell or raise public concerns.

That's not what happened with Page and Erickson.

"Just to emphasize, Carter Page was warned that he was being targeted by Russian intelligence," Rangappa tweeted. "So was the Trump campaign. And Senator Ron Johnson. NONE of them cut off contact...they doubled down (and in the case of the Trump campaign, later concealed and lied about it to the FBI)."

Posted by orrinj at 11:24 AM


Why Highway Teardowns Make Great Infrastructure (and Equity) Investments (Kea Wilson, Dec 10, 2020, USA Streets Blog)

As Washington lawmakers look to big infrastructure projects to get Americans back to work after the pandemic, progressives are making the case that the money would be best spent tearing down urban highways -- and reinvesting in the Black and brown communities torn apart by those bad road projects decades ago.

In a groundbreaking new policy proposal, nonprofits Transportation for America and Third Way recommended that the next administration create a new, $5-billion competitive grant program that states could draw on to tear down their misguided downtown highways and redevelop the land that's left behind in better ways.

But notably, the proposal also specifies that all that newly highway-free land would be held in trust for the benefit of the communities that surround it -- communities that, often, are the direct descendants of Black and brown residents whose lives were upended when the highways were built in the first place. The groups say spending the money is essential to maximizing the antiracist potential of the major transportation investment.

"[The land trust idea] is really key to regenerating wealth in communities that highway projects helped bankrupt in the first place," said Alex Laska, transportation policy adviser at Third Way. "It's really important to talk about not just the economic benefits of highway removal, but how to make sure that the people who already live there see that benefit."

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


The "Intellectual" Right's Assault on Democracy: Politicians have constituents to please, but what about the "thinkers" of the Trumpist right? (LINDA CHAVEZ  DECEMBER 10, 2020, The Bulwark)

We might expect this from the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz, who embraced Trump even after he implied Cruz's wife is ugly and suggested his father was an assassin. But what about those on the "intellectual" right?

Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, whose best-selling Book of Virtues made him rich, regularly appears on Fox News giving credence to some of Trump's wild claims of a stolen election. "I believe this election was fixed," he said this week, noting "systematic corruption" and "statistical anomalies" that made it improbable that Biden won.

Roger Kimball, who is publisher of Encounter Books and won the prestigious 2019 Bradley Prize "for advancing liberty and preserving democratic culture," has amplified claims of suspicious vote tallies in multiple jurisdictions, mostly cities with large black populations.

Leading the pack of Trump apologists, the Claremont Institute's scholars and publications have not only echoed Trump's claims of a fraudulent election, but even "testified" that the 2020 elections violated state laws and the Constitution before "hearings," which were in reality nothing more than get-togethers that Rudy Giuliani organized with a handful of state legislators.

John Eastman, a law professor who leads Claremont's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, issued a blanket claim that Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin violated the Article II of the U.S. Constitution by allowing some absentee ballots to be counted in the 2020 presidential election, and that their state legislatures should, therefore, nullify the election and appoint their own slates of electors to choose the next president. Eastman praised the dubious lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general (who is currently under indictment for fraud and is accused of bribery by his top deputies), which would disenfranchise voters in those states as well--and the professor has now even filed a motion to intervene in the case for Donald Trump. The Supreme Court will decide by Thursday whether to hear the case, but the Court has already shut the door on the other conspiracy case to reach it this week, brought by Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly and a handful of other Republicans in the state.

The intellectual dishonesty here is breathtaking. For individuals and organizations that champion the rule of law and claim the mantle of the founding principles of our nation to call for overturning an election reeks of hypocrisy. It was one thing for them to advocate for so flawed a man as Trump to lead our nation. But the American people have spoken and to continue to claim that the election was stolen, that votes were fraudulently counted, is to attack the very foundations of our democratic institutions. They sow distrust in democracy itself--formerly the provenance of the far left. Politicians may fear the wrath of Trump's legion of followers if they speak out, but what is it that drives the "thinkers" like Bennett and Eastman? They should know better than to parrot insane conspiracy theories and promote specious legal arguments.

Does anyone doubt that Ted would prosecute his old man for the JFK assassination if he thought it would get him some Nativist support in the '24 primaries?

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Millions of Americans, it turns out, are making the right investing moves, according to studies (Howard Gold, 12/09/20, Market Watch)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that investors in possession of a good fortune must be in want of good judgment.

Apologies, Jane Austen, but it's true: Those of us in the financial media and punditocracy often take Americans to task for not saving enough for retirement, chasing the hot stock of the moment or other investment fads, and selling at the worst possible time. I, too, plead guilty as charged.

But now, it turns out that many Americans actually are doing the right thing. Several huge studies of Vanguard account holders -- retail and defined contribution, with taxable and retirement accounts -- show millions of investors are allocating their funds appropriately to stocks while keeping a decent cushion in bonds and cash; trade rarely; own low-cost index funds, some exchange traded funds (ETFs) and target date retirement funds (TDFs); and barely changed their holdings during the recent coronavirus sell-off.

It may be a "dog bites man" story, but it's comforting that millions of people have paid attention to what some of us and especially the late investing giant John Bogle have been saying for years: Own stocks, diversify, keep costs down, rebalance and reinvest dividends, and don't panic. If they keep following this advice, they'll live long and prosper. (Apologies, Mr. Spock.)

Now just use that model to invest money on behalf of all Americans for their retirement.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


The Social Life of Forests (Ferris Jabr, Dec. 2nd, 2020, NY Times Magazine)

As a child, Suzanne Simard often roamed Canada's old-growth forests with her siblings, building forts from fallen branches, foraging mushrooms and huckleberries and occasionally eating handfuls of dirt (she liked the taste). Her grandfather and uncles, meanwhile, worked nearby as horse loggers, using low-impact methods to selectively harvest cedar, Douglas fir and white pine. They took so few trees that Simard never noticed much of a difference. The forest seemed ageless and infinite, pillared with conifers, jeweled with raindrops and brimming with ferns and fairy bells. She experienced it as "nature in the raw" -- a mythic realm, perfect as it was. When she began attending the University of British Columbia, she was elated to discover forestry: an entire field of science devoted to her beloved domain. It seemed like the natural choice.

By the time she was in grad school at Oregon State University, however, Simard understood that commercial clearcutting had largely superseded the sustainable logging practices of the past. Loggers were replacing diverse forests with homogeneous plantations, evenly spaced in upturned soil stripped of most underbrush. Without any competitors, the thinking went, the newly planted trees would thrive. Instead, they were frequently more vulnerable to disease and climatic stress than trees in old-growth forests. In particular, Simard noticed that up to 10 percent of newly planted Douglas fir were likely to get sick and die whenever nearby aspen, paper birch and cottonwood were removed. The reasons were unclear. The planted saplings had plenty of space, and they received more light and water than trees in old, dense forests. So why were they so frail?

Simard suspected that the answer was buried in the soil. Underground, trees and fungi form partnerships known as mycorrhizas: Threadlike fungi envelop and fuse with tree roots, helping them extract water and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in exchange for some of the carbon-rich sugars the trees make through photosynthesis. Research had demonstrated that mycorrhizas also connected plants to one another and that these associations might be ecologically important, but most scientists had studied them in greenhouses and laboratories, not in the wild. For her doctoral thesis, Simard decided to investigate fungal links between Douglas fir and paper birch in the forests of British Columbia. Apart from her supervisor, she didn't receive much encouragement from her mostly male peers. "The old foresters were like, Why don't you just study growth and yield?" Simard told me. "I was more interested in how these plants interact. They thought it was all very girlie."

Now a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia, Simard, who is 60, has studied webs of root and fungi in the Arctic, temperate and coastal forests of North America for nearly three decades. Her initial inklings about the importance of mycorrhizal networks were prescient, inspiring whole new lines of research that ultimately overturned longstanding misconceptions about forest ecosystems. By analyzing the DNA in root tips and tracing the movement of molecules through underground conduits, Simard has discovered that fungal threads link nearly every tree in a forest -- even trees of different species. Carbon, water, nutrients, alarm signals and hormones can pass from tree to tree through these subterranean circuits. Resources tend to flow from the oldest and biggest trees to the youngest and smallest. Chemical alarm signals generated by one tree prepare nearby trees for danger. Seedlings severed from the forest's underground lifelines are much more likely to die than their networked counterparts. And if a tree is on the brink of death, it sometimes bequeaths a substantial share of its carbon to its neighbors.

Although Simard's peers were skeptical and sometimes even disparaging of her early work, they now generally regard her as one of the most rigorous and innovative scientists studying plant communication and behavior. David Janos, co-editor of the scientific journal Mycorrhiza, characterized her published research as "sophisticated, imaginative, cutting-edge." Jason Hoeksema, a University of Mississippi biology professor who has studied mycorrhizal networks, agreed: "I think she has really pushed the field forward." Some of Simard's studies now feature in textbooks and are widely taught in graduate-level classes on forestry and ecology. She was also a key inspiration for a central character in Richard Powers's 2019 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "The Overstory": the visionary botanist Patricia Westerford. In May, Knopf will publish Simard's own book, "Finding the Mother Tree," a vivid and compelling memoir of her lifelong quest to prove that "the forest was more than just a collection of trees."

Since Darwin, biologists have emphasized the perspective of the individual. They have stressed the perpetual contest among discrete species, the struggle of each organism to survive and reproduce within a given population and, underlying it all, the single-minded ambitions of selfish genes. Now and then, however, some scientists have advocated, sometimes controversially, for a greater focus on cooperation over self-interest and on the emergent properties of living systems rather than their units.

Before Simard and other ecologists revealed the extent and significance of mycorrhizal networks, foresters typically regarded trees as solitary individuals that competed for space and resources and were otherwise indifferent to one another. Simard and her peers have demonstrated that this framework is far too simplistic. An old-growth forest is neither an assemblage of stoic organisms tolerating one another's presence nor a merciless battle royale: It's a vast, ancient and intricate society. There is conflict in a forest, but there is also negotiation, reciprocity and perhaps even selflessness. The trees, understory plants, fungi and microbes in a forest are so thoroughly connected, communicative and codependent that some scientists have described them as superorganisms. Recent research suggests that mycorrhizal networks also perfuse prairies, grasslands, chaparral and Arctic tundra -- essentially everywhere there is life on land. Together, these symbiotic partners knit Earth's soils into nearly contiguous living networks of unfathomable scale and complexity. "I was taught that you have a tree, and it's out there to find its own way," Simard told me. "It's not how a forest works, though."

Natural Selection is just racial justification. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


Macron and Sisi's authoritarian embrace (Sam Hamad, 9 December, 2020, New Arab)

Macron must also know that the over 60,000 political prisoners locked away in the squalid torture dungeons of the Scorpion Prison complex are not in any sense "terrorists", but human and civil rights activists, journalists, democrats, social media critics and people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He is certainly aware of the recent high profile crimes in Sisi's Egypt, such as the arrest and imprisonment of three human rights activists from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), as well as the mass executions of up to 91 prisoners - including political prisoners - across October and November alone.

This picture, one of constant state terror, has defined Sisi's Egypt and the counterrevolutionary transition of the Egyptian state towards totalitarianism. This is what Macron wants people to believe is "fighting terrorism".  

And it's here that Macron blatantly reveals the true nature of his own domestic crusade against "Islamism" or what he calls ideologies that fuel "Islamic separatism" - and in turn radicalisation and terrorism - in France. 

The French president isn't actually concerned with Salafi-jihadism and the real factors that fuel it; in fact, his passionate support for a totalitarian monster like Sisi runs entirely contrary to this idea.

It's not just the fact that a tyrant like Sisi has obliterated Islamic democrats who were entirely antithetical to jihadist forces like Islamic State group, but his rule has seen an expansion and consolidation of these forces. In fact, in the Sinai, Sisi's blitzkrieg methods have allowed IS to gain a foothold in the region, with parts of the peninsula now effectively controlled by the group.

Read more: Human rights activists protest in Paris over Egyptian President Sisi's France visit

Macron - in the traditions of both French colonialism in the Islamic Near East, and the racist, neo-imperialist assumptions of political realism - considers the best condition of Muslims to be one where they are ruled over by brutal "secular" regimes. They will ruthlessly police the racist walls of Fortress Europe, stopping mostly Muslim and non-white refugees and asylum seekers from getting to France.

What has made it possible for Arab dictators to normalize relations with Israel is the latter's leaving the West in favor of oppressing a domestic Muslim population.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Assessing Trump's Experiment With Protectionist Trade Policies: It didn't go well. (VERONIQUE DE RUGY, December 10, 2020, American Spectator)

With President Donald Trump soon departing Washington, now is a great time to assess his protectionist trade policies. From tariffs to his hectic bullying of other governments to renegotiate trade agreements to his support for American export subsidies, the Trump years were more than infuriating on trade matters; they were destructive.

This harsh conclusion is no surprise to those of us who understand international trade. We realized from the start that the president's trade philosophy is the mercantilist one that Adam Smith debunked nearly 250 years ago.

For instance, Trump believes that the success of U.S. trade policy is best gauged with a trade-balance scorecard -- the notion that trade deficits are bad and trade surpluses are good. For this reason, he believes that the ultimate benefit of trading lies in the amounts that we export, while imports are to be feared and kept to a minimum. But Trump's understanding is backward. After all, exports are what we produce for foreigners, while imports are what foreigners produce for us.

Early on in his administration, Trump raised tariffs. The Cato Institute's Scott Lincicome describes the president's trade war as having "implemented five different tariff actions on almost $400 billion in annual U.S. imports (as of 2018) under three different laws with different rationales: 'safeguards,' 'national security,' and 'unfair trade.' " We were promised ever-more jobs thanks to the tariffs. But as numerous academic studies have shown, the people who shouldered nearly all of the burden of these import taxes were not foreigners but, rather, Americans.

Protectionism reduces the overall wealth of the nation.

The thing to remember is that for Left/Right making America a less desirable destination for immigrants is a desired outcome.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Facebook is now officially too powerful, says the US government (Eileen Guo, December 9, 2020, MIT Technology Review)

What happened: The US Federal Trade Commission has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook for its "anticompetitive conduct and unfair methods of competition." That includes its 2012 acquisition of Instagram and 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp. Facebook, the FTC alleges, has a monopoly on social networking.   

The ease with which a site like Parler got up and running demonstrates the idiocy of the claim. The Left/Right just doesn't like anything it can't control. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


How Black, Latino And Progressive Democrats Are Forcing Biden To Rethink His Cabinet Picks (Perry Bacon Jr., 12/09/20, 538)

Ideological, racial and ethnic considerations and tensions are normal in the presidential transition and appointment process, particularly for Democrats, who are a much more racially diverse party than the GOP. But the Biden team's choices in navigating them tell us a lot about the current distribution of power within the party -- or at least how Biden and his top advisers see it. So far, based on Biden's choices, three trends are clear.

Both the Black establishment and the Latino establishment within the Democratic Party have real clout, able to essentially force Biden to pick some Black and Latino appointees for key posts and to block some people they don't want.

The progressive wing of the party doesn't seem to have enough clout to get its people key jobs, but does have enough power to prevent Biden from picking people they strenuously oppose.

And other blocs in the Democratic Party, most notably anti-Trump Republicans or former Republicans who backed Biden, don't have a lot of clout in the appointment process, at least so far. (We should note that this article refers often to stories first broken by The American Prospect and Politico in particular, as both outlets have done stellar reporting on Biden's transition process.)

Let me unpack those ideas a bit more, starting with the power of the Black and Latino establishments.

I chose those words carefully. It is not clear that rank-and-file Black or Latino voters particularly care who Biden chooses for these top administration roles, or play a big role in this process. It is also fairly clear that the people Biden and his team are really trying to placate are more center-left establishment Black and Latino elites in the party, such as Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, rather than more left-wing Democrats who are also people of color, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

The two parties are Center-Left and Center-Right and drift wingward when in power then center when out.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Chuck Yeager's death jarred a memory in Deerfield (RAY DUCLER, 12/9/2020, Concord Monitor)

He says the recent death of Chuck Yeager - who 73 years ago became the first pilot to break the sound barrier - reminded him of a young red-headed pilot he'd met at an American air base during World War II.

One of those pilots lost beneath other headlines. One of those pilots who gave everything.

He was a good looking kid, about 20 years old, Jack Sherburne of Deerfield recalled. The same age Sherburne was at the time. Before he'd flown his own fighter, the P-51, into combat in the smoky, fiery skies over Europe.

This kid pushed his P-47 to its limit and beyond during a training mission in the fall of 1942. A blur, his plane crashed into a distant mountain top, in the northern part of Virginia. Lots of pilots died that way, experimenting and testing during and immediately after the war.

"I felt really badly he was killed and in fact we all did," said Sherburne, 97, whose long life, wartime experiences and razor-sharp mind form a gold mine of detailed information.

"Over the years you forget those things, but you don't forget Chuck Yeager." [...]

"He had to be some kind of brave," Sherburne said. "But he would not be crazy. It takes a particular type of person to do what he did. I think a lot of us would have loved to have done it, but he was the right guy at the right time and the right place. He was the forerunner of what the astronauts did." [...]

He said he once flew nearly 400 miles per hour training in his P-51. "That's always a problem, the G-forces," Sherburne said. "I don't know about it flattening your nose, but you could black out."

Sherburne flew 60 combat missions over the skies of Europe, taking off from Italy, escorting bombers into battle, and firing one of six 50-caliber machine guns.

He retired as a lieutenant colonel. War stories like his don't fade. And sometimes, they're pushed to the forefront. Like when Chuck Yeager, once the fastest man on the planet, died.

"When I saw (that Yeager had died), I was just thinking that a lot of unknown young pilots had been killed, and they weren't always killed by the enemy," Sherburne said. "I was thinking about this kid who was killed. No one will ever remember him."

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


December 9, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Whistleblowers Say Armed Mexicans Were Smuggled Into U.S. to Provide Security for Border Wall Construction (ELLIOT HANNON, DEC 09, 2020, Slate)

Donald Trump used the idea of "the wall" to propel his run to the White House in 2016, but two whistleblowers allege the border wall's construction has gotten an assist from unauthorized workers smuggled into the U.S. and hired by contractors to preform construction and security jobs. That's according to a federal complaint, filed in February and unsealed last week, brought by two workers employed by a contractor to provide security at wall construction sites along the border. The workers also accused the company they were employed by, Sullivan Land Services Co, and a subcontractor, Ultimate Concrete of El Paso, of a myriad of misdeeds, including hiring unauthorized workers and overcharging the U.S. government.

The most jaw-dropping charge in the whistleblower complaint, however, is that Ultimate Concrete not only smuggled armed Mexican security personnel over the border to provide protection, but the company "went so far as to build a dirt road to expedite illegal border crossings to sites in San Diego, using construction vehicles to block security cameras," the New York Times reported. "An unnamed supervisor at the Army Corps of Engineers approved the operation."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The price of solar electricity has dropped 89% in 10 years (KRISTIN TOUSSAINT, 12/09/20, Fast Company)

To curb our climate crisis, we need to end our dependence on fossil fuels and power the world with renewables. That may have seemed far-fetched a decade ago given the cost of installing wind and solar at the time, but the price of renewables has been falling fast. In 10 years, the price of solar electricity dropped 89%, and the price of onshore wind dropped 70%.

Clean energy has already passed its economic tipping point. A 2019 report from the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute found that it was cheaper to build and use a combination of renewables like wind and solar than to build new natural gas plants. A 2020 report from Carbon Tracker found that in every single one of the world's energy markets, it's cheaper to invest in renewables than in coal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Return of night trains across Europe comes a step closer (The Local, 
9 December 2020)

A renaissance for night trains in Europe is one step closer after rail companies in four countries signed a cooperation pact Tuesday to revive a Paris-Vienna service in a year.

The deal between Austria's OBB, France's SNCF, Germany's Deutsche Bahn and Switzerland's CFF, signed on the margins of a meeting of EU transport ministers, aims to have the service running by December 2021.

Tuesday's agreement was aimed at resolving problems that have held back relaunching night services and ensure better commercial cooperation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Experimental flu vaccine could last for years, early results show (Linda Carroll, 12/07/20, NBC)

Researchers found in the Phase 1 trial that a universal flu vaccine, one designed to protect against all strains of the flu, sparked a strong immune response while producing no more side effects than the current seasonal flu vaccines, according to a report published Monday in Nature Medicine.

"This was the first time that a Phase 1 study in humans looked at a rationally designed vaccine that has the potential to protect against all kinds of seasonal flu, as well as a potential flu pandemic," said study co-author Florian Krammer, a vaccine specialist and a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York. "It shows that it's possible to think about how to design a vaccine to get the immune system to do what you want and how to rationally design vaccines to get broad protection."

If the universal vaccine continues to do well in the next two stages of testing required to get Food and Drug Administration approval -- Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials -- that could mean no more yearly flu shots, Krammer said. People would need between two and three doses upfront and then they would be protected for years, he said. 

December 8, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Did QuantumScape Just Solve a 40-Year-Old Battery Problem?: Earlier this year, the startup claimed to have a revolutionary solid-state lithium-ion cell that could change EVs forever. Now it has data to prove it. (DANIEL OBERHAUS, 12.08.2020, Wired)

IF ELECTRIC VEHICLES are ever going to fully supplant gas guzzlers on the world's roads, they're going to need an entirely new type of battery. Despite steady improvements over the past decade in the energy density and lifetimes of lithium-ion batteries, the cells in new EVs still lag behind internal combustion engines on pretty much every performance metric. Most EVs have a range of less than 300 miles, it takes more than an hour to recharge their battery packs, the cells lose nearly a third of their capacity within a decade, and they pose a serious safety risk because of their flammable materials.

The solution to these problems has been known for decades: It's called a solid-state battery, and it's based on a deceptively simple idea. Instead of a conventional liquid electrolyte--the stuff that ferries lithium ions between electrodes--it uses a solid eloctrolyte. Also, the battery's negative terminal, called its anode, is made from pure lithium metal. This combination would send its energy density through the roof, enable ultra-fast charging, and would eliminate the risk of battery fires. But for the past 40 years, no one has been able to make a solid-state battery that delivers on this promise--until earlier this year, when a secretive startup called QuantumScape claimed to have solved the problem. Now it has the data to prove it.

On Tuesday, for the first time, QuantumScape's cofounder and CEO, Jagdeep Singh, publicly revealed test results for the company's solid-state battery. Singh says the battery resolved all of the core challenges that have plagued solid-state batteries in the past, such as incredibly short lifetimes and slow charging rate. According to QuantumScape's data, its cell can charge to 80 percent of capacity in 15 minutes, it retains more than 80 percent of its capacity after 800 charging cycles, it's noncombustible, and it has a volumetric energy density of more than 1,000 watt-hours per liter at the cell level, which is nearly double the energy density of top-shelf commercial lithium-ion cells.

Your tax dollars at work

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Inventing the authority of a modern self: A review of  Montaigne: Life without Law, by Pierre Manent (Daniel J. Mahoney, December 2020, New Criterion)

His Montaigne is first and foremost a philosopher and a moral reformer, even a founder of one vitally important strain of modern self-understanding. In this new form of consciousness, human beings take their bearing neither from great models of heroism or sanctity or wisdom, nor from natural and divine law. Rather, Montaigne asks his readers to eschew self-transcending admiration for others, no matter how exemplary great souls may seem to be. He wishes those who follow him to reject the path of repentance for sins, and to bow before the demands and requirements of one's unique self, what he calls one's "master-form." His Essays,written, published, and revised between 1570 and 1592, demonstrate that he genuinely admired Socrates and the Roman hero Cato. But Montaigne rather shockingly claims to have learned nothing fundamental from them, and he has no interest whatsoever in imitating their greatness. Nonetheless, there is something enticing about Montaigne's turn to the authority of the self in place of the classical Christian demand to put order in one's soul in light of the requirements of the Good itself. Many readers over the centuries have succumbed to Montaigne's considerable charms and deeply impressive artistry.

Manent includes Montaigne among the great modern founders and reformers, rivaled only by his immediate predecessors Machiavelli and Jean Calvin. A paradigmatic modern founder and reformer such as Calvin tried "to liberate the truth from the human intermediaries" that he believed stood in the way of a direct relation between God and each individual soul. But once one rejects "ecclesiastical mediation," Manent asks, why stop with the authority of scripture itself? All distances, all superintending moral authorities, become suspect under the new dispensation. Calvin would be appalled by modern appeals to groundless human autonomy and to the "self" in place of the authoritative Word of God. In addition, Calvin says little to those "disinclined to piety," surely the majority of human beings caught up in the pressing demands of ordinary life. In his turn, the greatest political reformer-founder of modernity, Machiavelli, says little or nothing to the human being "without ambition." Montaigne limns a third modernist path, one that defers neither to the Word of God, nor to the temptation of a glory-seeking republican political life. His path is as far from piety as it is from amoral Machiavellian political self-assertion.

Manent ably establishes that Montaigne does indeed have an authority to which he defers. That authority "is life itself in its ordinary tenor, in the variation of humors and the irregularity of its accidents." Life, however, in Manent's formulation "needs to be brought to life and, if I can put it in this way, installed in a light that causes its fullness to appear, while preserving its imperfection." This is Montaigne's great revolutionary aim. Manent's brilliant book throws light on a paradox of the highest order in connection with that aim. Montaigne's account of the new model man appears eminently human and humane, but in truth it is unthinkable and unlivable. This is because "life without law" strips humanity of true self-knowledge and the accompanying capacity for reasonable moral and political choice, and also moral reformation. Moreover, as Blaise Pascal complained in his Pensées, published in 1670, eight years after his death, Montaigne talked far too much about himself, the only authority he treated as genuinely authoritative. In the end, there is something deeply solipsistic and unnaturally antinomian about Montaigne's new model of the moral life.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


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This breakthrough electric vehicle never needs to be plugged in (Mark Wilson, 12/08/20, Fast Company)

[W]hat if you didn't need to plug in at all? That's the promise of the Aptera EV. It's a three-wheeled, two-passenger "Never Charge Vehicle" priced from $25,900 to $46,000. The car is available to preorder now for $100 down and is expected to ship in 2021.

Instead of relying on electricity to charge, the vehicle can get substantial power via solar panels. And thanks to an extremely aerodynamic shape built out of strong, lightweight materials including carbon, Kevlar, and hemp, it needs less energy than competitors to drive, so the solar panels can generate meaningful miles on the road, whereas they barely move the needle on most electric cars.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What is the safe harbor deadline? It essentially locks in President-elect Biden's victory (MICHAEL GROTHAUS, 12/08/20, Fast Company)

Happy safe harbor day, everyone! What's that? Never heard of it? Most people haven't, although it occurs in every election year and is an important milestone in the process of electing a president. So just what is safe harbor day, also known as the safe harbor deadline?

As NBC News explains, it's the date set in law by the 1887 Electoral Count Act that declares that Congress must count the electoral votes of states that have chosen their electors. It's also the day states need to resolve any legal disputes regarding those electors. The safe harbor deadline isn't on a particular date, rather, the law says it falls on six days before the states' electors meet to vote in their state capitals. This year, states' electors meet to vote on December 14, which means the safe harbor deadline is today, Tuesday, December 8.

Best SHD since 2000.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


An attack on Jersey City Jews exposed a neighborhood's deep rifts. One year later, a memorial shows how citizens are mending them (Irene Katz Connelly, December 8, 2020, The Forward)

At a virtual memorial hosted by B'nai Jacob, representatives from the four victims' communities will eulogize them. Local politicians and activists will speak about how relationships between Greenville's different groups have gotten stronger in the past year.

For Mullin and her congregation, the memorial is the culmination of a year-long effort to become more involved in the broader Greenville ecosystem. It's an agenda that has deepened B'nai Jacob's ties to its non-Jewish neighbors, improved its previously non-existent relationships with the city's Satmar community and given a once-ailing synagogue a new feeling of purpose and vitality.

"The terrible-ness of this incident, it gave us a renewed sense of mission," Mullin said. "What does it mean to be a Jewish community? What does 'community' even really mean?"

Just a year ago, such an event would have seemed impossible.

On the morning of Dec. 10, 2019, two shooters killed a Jersey City police officer, Detective Joseph Seals, in the city's Bayview Cemetery. They then drove to the JC Kosher Supermarket, a hub of the city's nascent Hasidic community, known as Satmar after the name of their ancestral village in Hungary. There, the shooters killed two Hasidic Jews, Mindy Ferencz and Moshe Deutsch, and Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, an Ecuadorian immigrant who worked at the supermarket.

The shooters were affiliated with an antisemitic offshoot of the Hebrew Israelites, a diffuse and largely peaceful movement which asserts that Black people are descended from the Biblical Israelites.

The aftermath of the tragedy showed Mullin two things. She learned that reaching out to the Satmars, the community that had been attacked, wouldn't necessarily be easy just because she is also Jewish.

She also saw that the violence had exposed longstanding rifts between longtime Greenville residents and the Hasidic Jewish families who had moved there over the past several years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'My face was on fire': Incredible video emerges of test pilot Chuck Yeager ejecting from space modified fighter jet after losing control at 100,000ft (LUKE KENTON, 12/19/19,  DAILYMAIL.COM)

Incredible new video footage has emerged of legendary pilot Chuck Yeager losing control of an astronaut training jet at 100,000 feet but dramatically ejecting just moments before the aircraft crashes to the ground.

Almost 59 years ago today, on December 10, 1963, that Aerospace Research Pilot School Commander Chuck Yeager strapped into the cockpit of a NF-104A, ahead of what would later prove to be a nail-biting brushing with death.

The NF-104A, which is essentially an F-104 Starfighter modified with a thrust rocket engine tail, was chosen earlier that year to train pilots to become astronauts at Edwards Air Force Base, in California, in the controversial 'Right Stuff' educational program.

On that day, it was Colonel Yeager's job to test the capabilities of the seldom-flown aircraft and to see how its reaction control systems would fair in the weak molecular structure of the atmosphere above 100,000 feet.

But Yeager - dubbed the 'World's Fastest Man' after becoming the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947 - had something else on his mind.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump thought courts were key to winning the US election. Judges disagreed (COLLEEN LONG and ED WHITE, 12/08/20, AP)

 US President Donald Trump and allies say their lawsuits aimed at subverting the 2020 election and reversing his loss to Joe Biden would be substantiated, if only judges were allowed to hear the cases.

There is a central flaw in the argument. Judges have heard the cases and have been among the harshest critics of the legal arguments put forth by Trump's legal team, often dismissing them with scathing words of repudiation.

This has been true whether the judge has been appointed by a Democrat or a Republican, including those named by Trump himself.

When historians look back at how our institutions thwarted Donald from doing anything, the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell will get particular credit for seating conservative judges while Donald thought he was getting Trumpists.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Study: N.H. Saved $83 Million With Small Solar In Recent Years (ANNIE ROPEIK, 12/07/20, NHPR)

A new report finds that small-scale solar power saved New Hampshire residents and utilities at least $83 million over the past several years, out of $1.1 billion in savings across New England.

The study, commissioned by local advocacy groups from the research firm Synapse Energy Economics, looked at newly available data on the region's hourly solar production from 2014 to 2019.

It found that solar arrays of less than 5 megawatts helped lower energy demand, energy prices and public health costs, by supplanting fossil fuels.

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December 7, 2020

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The horrifying American roots of Nazi eugenics (History News Network, 12/07/20)

Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Stamford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. These academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted data to serve eugenics' racist aims.

Stanford president David Starr Jordan originated the notion of "race and blood" in his 1902 racial epistle "Blood of a Nation," in which the university scholar declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were passed through the blood.

In 1904, the Carnegie Institution established a laboratory complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island that stockpiled millions of index cards on ordinary Americans, as researchers carefully plotted the removal of families, bloodlines and whole peoples. From Cold Spring Harbor, eugenics advocates agitated in the legislatures of America, as well as the nation's social service agencies and associations.

The Harriman railroad fortune paid local charities, such as the New York Bureau of Industries and Immigration, to seek out Jewish, Italian and other immigrants in New York and other crowded cities and subject them to deportation, trumped up confinement or forced sterilization.

The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even funded the program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.

Much of the spiritual guidance and political agitation for the American eugenics movement came from California's quasi-autonomous eugenic societies, such as the Pasadena-based Human Betterment Foundation and the California branch of the American Eugenics Society, which coordinated much of their activity with the Eugenics Research Society in Long Island. These organizations-which functioned as part of a closely-knit network-published racist eugenic newsletters and pseudoscientific journals, such as Eugenical News and Eugenics, and propagandized for the Nazis.

Eugenics was born as a scientific curiosity in the Victorian age. In 1863, Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, theorized that if talented people only married other talented people, the result would be measurably better offspring. At the turn of the last century, Galton's ideas were imported into the United States just as Gregor Mendel's principles of heredity were rediscovered. American eugenic advocates believed with religious fervor that the same Mendelian concepts determining the color and size of peas, corn and cattle also governed the social and intellectual character of man.

In an America demographically reeling from immigration upheaval and torn by post-Reconstruction chaos, race conflict was everywhere in the early twentieth century. Elitists, utopians and so-called "progressives" fused their smoldering race fears and class bias with their desire to make a better world. They reinvented Galton's eugenics into a repressive and racist ideology. The intent: populate the earth with vastly more of their own socio-economic and biological kind-and less or none of everyone else.

The superior species the eugenics movement sought was populated not merely by tall, strong, talented people. Eugenicists craved blond, blue-eyed Nordic types. This group alone, they believed, was fit to inherit the earth. In the process, the movement intended to subtract emancipated Negroes, immigrant Asian laborers, Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark-haired hill folk, poor people, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the gentrified genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's Re-Election Is Confederacy's New 'Lost Cause' (Mary C. Curtis, Dec. 6th, 2020, National Memo)

The South may have lost the Civil War, but it won the post-war narrative, painting its Lost Cause as just and its plantation life --built on torture, rape and cruel exploitation -- as the height of genteel living. After an all-too-brief period of Reconstruction that attempted to provide a semblance of equality to the country's citizens, Jim Crow crushed all-American freedoms for African Americans for the greater part of the last century.

In just one example, in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, an elected, integrated city government was overturned in a planned, murderous coup, an event, as described by David Zucchino in Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, that was shocking for its brutality and for how long it remained distorted and justified in the retelling.

Preserving the myth is far from harmless.

Yet Trump is among many who prefer the lie, naming Gone with the Wind, with its rosy depictions of plantation life and enslaved humans, one of his favorite films. That he disliked the thought of the South Korean film Parasite, with its critique of class inequality, winning top Oscar honors this year is almost too on brand for The Donald.

Donald is just the successor to Thurmond, Wallace, Perot, etc. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Jones Act Needs to Go (Colin Grabow, 12/07/20, National Interest)

Perhaps the Jones Act's most damaging provision is its requirement that vessels engaged in domestic commerce be constructed in U.S. shipyards. By forcing Americans to buy ships that cost four to five times as much as those built abroad, the restriction exerts downward pressure on the size of the U.S. fleet. Compounding matters, the requirement has proved ruinous to the U.S. commercial shipbuilding industry, which has become almost wholly dependent on a captive domestic market whose size continues to dwindle.

To appreciate the market's decline, consider that in 1996 the chairman of the Shipbuilders Council of America lamented in testimony before Congress that U.S. shipyards--effectively shut out of the international market given their sky‐​high prices--were "fighting over a lousy five or six Jones Act ships that might be built every year." Last year, meanwhile, a Congressional Research Service report noted that annual production of such vessels had slipped to a mere two or three. And now a new government study suggests that production is likely to decline even further.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Muslim Brotherhood does not rule out change in Egypt, region with Biden administration
(MEMO, December 7, 2020)

Deputy Supreme Guide of Muslim Brotherhood, Ibrahim Munir, said on Saturday he does not rule out change in Egypt and the region when US President-elect Joe Biden moves into the White House, Anadolu reported.

Speaking to Al Jazeera Mubasher, Munir said that economic woes and COVID-19 "could push for a change", but this needs "calm and rearrangement", adding that the human rights issue in Egypt could be a third factor for the potential change.

He does not expect Biden to put "immediate" pressure on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to release prisoners because the president-elect "needs time to get ready" for such a move, Munir explained, pointing to meetings held with American officials.

Munir expects Biden's Egypt policy to have changed from the time he served as vice-president for Barack Obama. "Years passed and the Department of State and the US administration reviewed what is happening in Egypt," Munir said.

December 6, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Could Biden and Iran Make Another "Grand Bargain"? (Ian Dudgeon, 12/06/20, National Interest)

On 4 May 2003, Iran explored a possible rapprochement with the US by initiating an offer to renegotiate their bilateral relationship. This bold initiative, reportedly made with the approval of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and moderate president Mohammad Khatami, and with significant input by Iran's ambassador to the UN and now foreign minister Javad Zarif, put all key issues on the negotiating table: Iran's nuclear and missile development and its regional activities.

Oddly, given his understanding that Muslims desire democracy, W failed to embrace the democrats: Iran, Hamas and the Brotherhood generally.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Biden's already more popular than Trump's ever been (Harry Enten, CNN)

A new Gallup poll finds that President-elect Joe Biden has a 55% favorable rating and a 41% unfavorable rating.

The same poll gives President Donald Trump a 42% favorable rating and a 57% unfavorable rating. [...]

Indeed, Biden is more popular than Trump has been at any point since he started running for president in June 2015.

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I paid $20 to ride Amtrak's famed high-speed Acela train for the first time during the pandemic and it was the perfect alternative to flying (Thomas Pallini, 12/06/20, Business Insider)

Amtrak's Acela trains are the closest thing Americans have to European-style high-speed trains in the US.

As the fastest in Amtrak's network, they can reach speeds of around 150 miles per hour, nearly double that of local trains. And while a far cry from the likes of the French TGV or the Eurostar, the new Acela non-stop service between New York and Washington only takes two hours and 35 minutes.

It's one of Amtrak's only profitable lines with a primary purpose of shuttling business travelers up and down the Northeast between Boston and Washington, DC, making stops in every major city in between. Acela trains only have two classes of service, first class and business class, and fares are often significantly higher than the slower Northeast Regional.

On a recent trip to Boston, I opted to take Acela to get back to New York instead of flying the 200-mile route. Amtrak was running $20 fares on the train that beat out even the $25 Spirit Airlines flight from Boston to Newark that was on offer, and I wanted to experience the Acela before Amtrak upgrades the line in 2021 with new, faster $2 billion trains from Alstom. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Atomic Heat in Small Packages Gives Big Industry a Climate Option (Jonathan Tirone, December 5, 2020, Bloomberg)

The first operators of miniature nuclear reactors described their job as "tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon" because of the danger involved with unlocking the energy in atoms.

Those units built more than a half century ago in the U.S. and Europe generated bursts of heat within fractions of a second so that scientists could gauge nuclear reactions, sometimes with deadly consequences. Bearing names like Godiva, Viper and Super Kukla, the reactors never fed electricity grids. Instead, they produced research useful to nuclear weapons programs and eventually utilities. Modern reactors are gigantic by comparison, able to power more than 1.5 million homes each.

Today, the nuclear industry once again is thinking small, spurred on by politicians including U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. They're looking to solve the next climate change challenge: how to feed pollution-free heat to industries that make steel, cement, glass and chemicals. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Covid-19 Liability Shield Is a Bad IdeaMitch McConnell says he wants to protect businesses from pandemic lawsuits. Hasn't he heard of moral hazard? (Stephen L. Carter, December 5, 2020, Bloomberg)

Let's start with the basics. The U.S. system of tort liability rests on the notion that entities should be forced to internalize the costs of their activities rather than imposing them on others. If your widget plant can pollute the river and not pay for the pollution, you'll overproduce widgets because others are cleaning up your mess. You'll also make a lot more pollution because you have no incentive to do anything else.

Thus an enterprise able to escape liability for the social costs of its operations is likely to take fewer precautions. That's true not just for the polluting factory but for any business. If employees who contract the novel coronavirus on the job can't sue their employers, the employers will have a reduced incentive to invest in safety precautions. The result will be more infections, and a greater social cost. That, in a nutshell, is the case against a liability shield for businesses, and tends to explain why legal scholars have tended to oppose such protections. 1

But there's more than a nutshell here. It's true that in general, U.S. law hasn't favored broad liability protections, even when the nation was entirely mobilized for war production during the 1940s. Nevertheless, even though we know liability shields increase reckless behavior, they surround us.

Consider qualified immunity, the controversial doctrine that protects government officials from most lawsuits for violating constitutional rights. That's a liability shield, and opponents (myself included) argue that its net effect is to increase reckless behavior.

Or consider the doctrine's scarier and tougher big brother, sovereign immunity, the near-total liability shield for the government itself. Few are proposing that we do away with it. Yet sovereign immunity also encourages the government agencies it protects to take fewer precautions than private businesses would -- as for instance when the Environmental Protection Agency, freed from concerns about cleanup costs, accidentally polluted the Animas River in Colorado in 2015.

Government also creates liability shields through legislation, as in the partial protection afforded under the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act, enacted in 2002, to encourage companies to create innovative anti-terrorism technologies. More recently, the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, adopted earlier this year, largely shields pharmaceutical companies that produce Covid-19 vaccines from lawsuits for harm the vaccines may cause. (This protection, in a variety of forms, actually stretches back to 1986. The federal insurance fund that took the place of tort claims has paid out some $4.4 billion.) Some observers have suggested that U.S. firms might be reluctant to ship their new vaccines abroad unless similar liability protection is provided.

What all these grants of immunity have in common is the belief that the institutions they protect would not operate optimally in their absence -- that is, that the benefits of the protections outweigh their costs. If this is ever true, it's likely to be so only in the short run. For example, the argument for a shield against terrorism-related lawsuits was stronger in, say, the fall of 2001 than it would be today. Similarly, the argument for shielding businesses from Covid-related liability claims was stronger last spring than it is now.

Liability forces discipline. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Georgia election officials show frame-by-frame what happened in Fulton surveillance video (Justin Gray, 12/04/20, WSB-TV)

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray spent the day with Georgia election officials, going through the video frame-by-frame to show everyone what really happened.

Gray looked not at just the short clip the Trump campaign shared, but the critical hours before and after that clip as well.

State election investigators have already spent hours analyzing the video showing what Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said was suitcases being pulled from under a table.

They were, in fact, official, sealed ballot containers.

"We can show exactly when they were placed in there," lead investigator Frances Watson said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Comparative Impact of Cash Transfers and a Psychotherapy Program on Psychological and Economic Well-being (Johannes Haushofer, Robert Mudida & Jeremy P. Shapiro, November 2020, NBER)

We study the economic and psychological effects of a USD 1076 PPP unconditional cash transfer, a five-week psychotherapy program, and the combination of both interventions among 5,756 individuals in rural Kenya. One year after the interventions, cash transfer recipients had higher consumption, asset holdings, and revenue, as well as higher levels of psychological well-being than control households. In contrast, the psychotherapy program had no measurable effects on either psychological or economic outcomes, both for individuals with poor mental health at baseline and others. The effects of the combined treatment are similar to those of the cash transfer alone.

December 5, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Is the Dawn of the Stem Cell Revolution Finally Here?: This year, scientists made strides in using stem cells in treatments for human brains, livers, and hearts. (Kenneth Miller, December 5, 2020, Discover)

In 2020, a string of breakthroughs suggested that the revolution may finally be near. The most dramatic news came in May, when the New England Journal of Medicine published the first case report from a study using custom-grown stem cells to treat Parkinson's disease in humans. The debilitating condition, which affects 10 million people worldwide, primarily results from the loss of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Existing treatments have had limited success. Stem cell researchers aim to replace dying neurons with healthy ones grown in the lab -- and the NEJM paper was the clearest sign yet that such efforts could pay off.

The authors -- led by neurosurgeon Jeffrey Schweitzer at Massachusetts General Hospital and neurobiologist Kwang-Soo Kim at McLean Hospital -- used what are known as autologous iPSCs. These are stem cells generated from the recipient's own mature cells, which greatly reduces the likelihood that immunosuppressants will be needed to prevent rejection. The team collected skin cells from a 69-year-old man and reprogrammed them into iPSCs. They then guided the stem cells to take on the characteristics of dopaminergic neurons, which they implanted into the patient's putamen, a brain region implicated in Parkinson's. Over a 24-month period, PET scans showed evidence that the new cells were functional. The man's motor symptoms and quality-of-life scores improved, while his daily medication requirement decreased. He experienced no side effects or complications.

"This represents a milestone in 'personalized medicine' for Parkinson's," Kim wrote in a statement. It also represented a milestone for the patient -- George "Doc" Lopez, a physician-turned-medical equipment entrepreneur, whose financial contributions to Kim's research helped make the surgery possible.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Biden economic adviser stokes fear on left over Wall Street-friendly past (VICTORIA GUIDA and ZACHARY WARMBRODT, 12/05/2020, Politico)

Joe Biden's first order of business as president will be convincing Congress to approve massive new government spending to pull the country out of an economic crisis. But the man he has put in charge of his economic policy was on the side of deficit hawks during the last recovery, which is sparking concern among progressives now.

Brian Deese, who will become National Economic Council director, talked extensively about the need to curb government spending as deputy NEC director under President Barack Obama, over the protests of many Democrats.

Deese also irked progressives by helping to push landmark 2012 legislation rolling back financial regulations that was billed as good for economic growth. And he faced questions about why the administration was offering to cut corporate tax rates in return for closing loopholes.

As the economic recovery is already beginning to stall with millions of Americans out of work amid the resurging coronavirus, Deese's record is stoking fears on the left that Biden's administration will follow the same Wall Street-friendly policy playbook as Obama, which they say ultimately resulted in a drawn-out, sluggish and uneven recovery after the financial crisis.

"It is disturbing and discouraging to see people in key positions in the White House who played such a prominent role in getting us to where we are now," said Consumer Federation of America director of investor protection Barbara Roper, about the impact the 2012 deregulatory push had on financial rules. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Democrats can't responsibly address Trump's immigration sins until they reckon with Obama's (Eoin Higgins , 12/05/20, Business Insider)

 In 2018, as the horror of the Trump administration's family separation policies became clear and images emerged showing children in cages, covered with tin foil emergency blankets, Pod Save America host and former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau sounded the alarm. 

"Look at these pictures," Favreau Tweeted, linking to photos of children lying face down behind chain link fencing. "This is happening right now, and the only debate that matters is how we force our government to get these kids back to their families as fast as humanly possible."

However, those pictures were from 2014, not 2018, and showed the treatment of migrant children under Obama, not Trump -- a fact pointed out to Favreau who then, in an act of unimpeachable courage, deleted the Tweet.

Attempts to ignore or sweep away the Obama administration's culpability in the current immigration crisis continue. In August, during the Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama declared that Americans "watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages," sidestepping completely who it was that built the cages in the first place.

And who built them is only an issue if you acknowledge their prior existence at all. Kelly Scaletta, a sportswriter who occasionally writes about politics, recently claimed on Twitter that the cages the Obama administration used were not cages at all, but rather that administration immigration officials "chose to use chain-link to separate the groups because it was better for ventilation." One wonders what Scaletta would call a cage if not this.

Obama's been working to rewrite the past as well. In an interview with popular radio show Breakfast Club, the former president faulted evangelical Hispanic voters for prioritizing social issues over Trump's racist comments or, in a breathtakingly cynicla comment, "puts detainees, undocumented workers in cages."

This refusal to acknowledge the past is dangerous and has real-world consequences. On Friday, Cecilia Muñoz, domestic policy director in Obama's White House and an immigration policy advisor, joined Joe Biden's transition team. The former Obama official's appointment was met with resistance from the left, who pointed to her comments in 2011 defending the Obama administration's policies of family separation as indicative of how things will not substantively change for children on the border under a Biden administration. 

"As long as Congress gives us the money to deport 400,000 people a year, that's what the administration is going to do," Muñoz added. "That's our obligation under the law." 

But just because one can do something doesn't mean one should. Immigrant rights activists and the Democratic Party's progressive wing have long rejected that excuse for mass deportations and the practice was and remains a major hurdle in the relationship between the former president and the left  wing of his party.

While Muñoz in strict terms only defended the Obama administration's enactment of immigration policy, her appointment gets at a broader theme that's rearing its head as Biden prepares to take office: that the treatment of immigrants by the Obama administration has been completely relegated to the black hole of public imagination. 

But Trump's existence does not excuse the Obama administration's intensely hostile treatment of the undocumented. Successes like DACA do not erase the cages that were built, the atrocities against children in detention, and the policy positioning that opened the door to Trump's revving up of the existing cruelty in the system. 

"Most every horrific measure taken by Trump has a policy precedent in similar, if less breathtakingly inhumane, actions taken by his establishment predecessors," Daniel Denvir wrote for Jacobin in June 2018, "predecessors who, alongside the nativist right and their mouthpieces on Fox News and talk radio, helped move the conservative Overton Window on immigration so far to the right that by November 2016 it perfectly framed Donald Trump."

Fair or not, today Muñoz is bearing the brunt of this criticism. But the real concern is that liberals are fighting against the accountability of historical memory on this topic with this administration in such a way that will erase any chance of a fair and honest accounting of the culpability of the 21st century's first Democratic president. 

...was conspiring to kill W's immigration amnesty.   

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


The Radical Loser: One of Germany's most influential post-war writers looks at what factors combine to create terrorists -- an isolated individual is taken in by a collective group, an turned into a new kind of loser. (Von Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 20.12.2006, Der Spiegel)

It is difficult to talk about the loser, and it is stupid not to. Stupid because there can be no definitive winner and because each of us, from the megalomaniac Bonaparte to the last beggar on the streets of Calcutta, will meet the same fate. Difficult because to content oneself with this metaphysical banality is to take the easy way out, ignoring the truly explosive dimension of the problem - the political dimension.

Instead of actually looking into the thousand faces of the loser, sociologists stick to their statistics: median value, standard deviation, logarithmic distribution. Rarely do they entertain the possibility that they too might be among the losers. Their definitions are like scratching a sore place; and as Samuel Butler says, this scratching generally leaves the sore place more sore than it was before. One thing is certain: the way humanity has organized itself - "capitalism," "competition," "empire," "globalization" - not only does the number of losers increase every day, but as in any large group, fragmentation soon sets in. In a chaotic, unfathomable process, the cohorts of the inferior, the defeated, the victims separate out. The loser may accept his fate and resign himself; the victim may demand satisfaction; the defeated may begin preparing for the next round. But the radical loser isolates himself, becomes invisible, guards his delusion, saves his energy, and waits for his hour to come.

Those who content themselves with the objective, material criteria, the indices of the economists and the devastating findings of the empiricists, will understand nothing of the true drama of the radical loser. What others think of him - be they rivals or brothers, experts or neighbors, schoolmates, bosses, friends, or foes - is not sufficient motivation. The radical loser himself must take an active part, he must tell himself: I am a loser and nothing but a loser. As long as he is not convinced of this, life may treat him badly, he may be poor and powerless, he may know misery and defeat, but he will not become a radical loser until he adopts the judgment of those who consider themselves winners as his own.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


The Middle East and American Democracy's Near-Death Experience (Paul Salem, 12/05/20, National Interest)

Susan Rice, in a New York Times op-ed, aptly described American democracy's recent travails as a "near death experience." Indeed, when I moved from Beirut to Washington, DC seven years ago, leaving the upheaval of the Arab Spring behind me, I did not expect to run into the winter of democracy in the United States. Yet here I was, feeling oddly at home, under the shadow of a president refusing to recognize the results of an election, leaning on the state apparatus to overturn the result, and hurriedly reshuffling key defense and security positions to prevent the transfer of power away from him.

U.S. foreign policy has been deeply controversial in the Middle East for at least the past seventy years, but the example of American democracy has been a steady drumbeat in the Middle East since the late nineteenth century. The fascination with the peaceful removal of leaders by a simple vote in the United States has always contrasted painfully with the inability of most Middle Eastern populations to do the same. Popular attempts to replace leaders have in most cases led to either fierce repression or state collapse and civil war.

Middle Eastern societies are still contending among three forms of government: authoritarian (traditional or secular), Islamist, and democratic. The example of democracy in America--and elsewhere to be sure--has been an inspiration to pro-democracy activists around the world, including in the Middle East. The risk of democracy's demise in America threatened to cast a long dark shadow across the region and the world.

But the American democratic system--always much more than just the electoral moment itself--has weathered the storm. The voters have expressed their will to have Trump removed, and as Trump moved to overturn that outcome, the electoral institutions, as well as the court system, have proven able to resist and rebuff the threats of the chief executive. The importance of the role of institutions in sustaining democracy is particularly resonant in the Middle East where the executive branch generally dominates and dictates to other branches of government. American democracy's near-death experience might make its survival and recovery all the more emotive in the Middle East.

Of course, the Trumpists are even more opposed to democracy in countries that are all Muslim than in our country which is still dominated by ofays.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Habanero-Hot (Morten Høi Jensen, 04 Dec 2020, American Purpose)

The German poet-critic Hans Magnus Enzensberger, in an influential essay, described the modern terrorist as one of myriad "radical losers" produced by the chaotic process of globalization, in which science, progress, and capitalism have gradually turned what was for many a reliably static world into a bewilderingly fluid one. This process, while generating significant and even revolutionary contributions to the world's health, prosperity, and knowledge, has also, Enzensberger writes, "made sure that inequality is constantly demonstrated to all of the planet's inhabitants around the clock on every television channel. As a result, with every stage of progress, people's capacity for disappointment has increased accordingly."

One way of understanding the underlying motivations of Islamist terrorists, then, is to recognize their resemblance to other, more familiar anti-moderns: the superfluous or "underground" men of czarist Russia, the conservative reactionaries in Wilhelmine Germany, the Italian futurists who glorified war and eroticized machinery. Like them, Islamist terrorists have responded violently to the inequitable march of modernity, indulging their feelings of stinging ressentiment. The Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra, in his acclaimed Age of Anger: A History of the Present (2017), offered a useful definition of the term: an "existential resentment of other people's being, caused by an intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness ... " Mishra thinks that "ressentiment, as it lingers and deepens, poisons civil society and undermines political liberty, and is presently making for a global turn to authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism."

It's why Trumpism = Salafism

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Ancient Slingshot Was as Deadly as a .44 Magnum: An excavation in Scotland shows that Roman soldiers used lead ammo with lethal accuracy. (HEATHER PRINGLE, MAY 24, 2017, National Geographic)

ON A FORTIFIED hill in Scotland some 1,900 years ago, a Roman army attacked local warriors by hurling lead bullets from slings that had nearly the stopping power of a modern .44 magnum handgun, according to recent experiments.

The assault seems to have been deadly effective, for the local warriors were armed only with swords and other simple weapons, says John Reid, a researcher at the Trimontium Trust and one of the co-directors of the archaeological fieldwork at Burnswark, south of Edinburgh. "We're fairly sure that the natives on top of the hill weren't allowed to survive."

This remains the best illustration of the David v. Goliath principle:

December 4, 2020

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If Biden Really Wants to Stimulate the Economy, He Should End Trump's Trade War: The current administration's trade policies have left the incoming president some low-hanging fruit. (MAX GULKER | 12.3.2020, reason)

Trump will likely leave office with 25 percent tariffs still in place on nearly half of Chinese imports, along with a vague "deal" for China to buy $200 billion in unspecified U.S. goods. His ratcheting up of tariffs slowed the economy and failed to benefit even the industries he sought to protect. Lifting those trade barriers would almost certainly lead to growth.

Tariffs' impact is always difficult to measure, in part because their initial economic damage is dispersed among many people and in part because that damage reverberates through the economy. But most economists agree that the damage is severe. One study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found the recent round of tariffs associated with at least a 1 percent drop in overall employment.

What would happen if Biden unilaterally removed the tariffs against China? First, it would lower the tax burden by tens of billions of dollars on U.S. companies. Despite Trump's adamant insistence to the contrary, tariffs are charged directly on firms importing goods, and a piece of the relief from ending them would be passed down the supply chain to consumers.

Ending the tariffs would also be good news for U.S. exporters. China retaliated against U.S. protectionism by slapping hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs on American automobiles and other goods. There's no good reason to think they would keep those tariffs in place if the U.S. acted first or as part of good-faith negotiations.

The economic benefits of removing the tariffs would not be limited to those directly buying and selling goods crossing the Pacific. Tariffs are taxes, and taxes distort economic activity. With these distortions removed, the market process would allocate resources between domestic and foreign activity far better than the president's boardroom scare tactics.

The optics of ending Trump's tariffs would also be positive. In a year when national borders have shut down and mistrust has festered, decisively pushing for free trade would show the world that American firms are open for business as the pandemic wanes. a pretty obvious liberal principle, but one Democrats have never been overly supportive of.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


Adam Smith's Other Masterwork (RYAN P. HANLEY, December 3, 2020, National Review)

The impartial spectator, as Smith de­scribes him, occupies a perspective we today might call "objective." To reach it, we have to separate ourselves from our private concerns and learn to see the world free of the distorting lens of our self-interest. The result is a clear-eyed view, one that enables us to take in all the facts and see matters as they really are.

This of course is no easy task. Adam Smith knew as well as anyone that we are attached to our interests. So why did he think it was so important for us to do this? His concern was simple: A society of free and self-interested individuals cannot function if they are unable to appreciate the interests and rights of others. The result of such a failure could only be an unsustainable society of selfishness -- precisely the anarchic state of nature that Smith, like other theorists of liberalism, sought to overcome.

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The "Traditional Family" is WEIRD (and Revolutionary): On the origins of liberal democratic values in the Western Church's social engineering (Musa al-Gharbi, Nov 29, 2020, Arc Digital)

The WEIRDest People in the World, a new book by Harvard anthropologist Joseph Henrich, suggests that both parties in this debate are onto something, even as it casts the entire conversation in a different light.
Specifically, Part II of the book (Chapters 5-8) demonstrates that what is often referred to as the "traditional" family is, in fact, anything but. Looking worldwide, historically through the present, the family structure that people in the U.S. and Western Europe take for granted is actually highly peculiar -- a product of a centuries-long campaign by the Western Church to dismantle kindreds, clans, tribes and other competing structures of allegiance and authority, and to reorient society around the Church instead.

Central to this endeavor was what the author calls the Western Church's Marriage and Family Program (MFP). Critically, many aspects of this program had a tenuous relationship with scripture or Christianity per se.
Indeed, many of the prescriptions and proscriptions of the West Church's MFP were extra-Biblical. The Tanakh, for instance, allows for plural marriage, cousin marriage, divorce, and concubinage. Although these practices were all rendered taboo in the Western Church's MFP, the Eastern Orthodox Church (and many other interpretations of Christianity) did not have as stringent or unusual rules regarding sex, marriage, and family structure -- instead continuing to tolerate many of these practices that were explicitly permitted and regulated in the Scriptures.

These differences proved extraordinarily consequential.

Over time, Henrich argues, the Western Church's MFP ended up reshaping the culture and psychology of the people under its domain, leading to significant differences between denizens of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) countries as compared to virtually everyone else -- including other places where Christianity was dominant, but the Western Church's MFP was not.

If one looks at the areas where the Western Church was able to implement its MFP from the time it was developed through the Protestant Reformation, the places that had longer exposure to the MFP, and where it was more stringently enforced, are more characteristically WEIRD today than places that have shorter or less intense exposure. This is true not just across contemporary countries, but within them as well.

Henrich then illustrates how the Protestant Reformation, and later the Enlightenment, were both products and accelerators of the WEIRD revolution in culture and thought kicked off by the Western Church's MFP.

Which why civil union is preferable to "marriage" for non-traditional households.

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Justice Alito Slow-Walks Rep. Kelly's Pennsylvania Emergency Petition, Requiring a Response from the State on Dec. 9, After the Safe Harbor Deadline: What Does It All Mean? (Election Law Blog, December 3, 2020, Rick Hasen)

Any final determination of the slate of electors made in a state by the so-called "safe harbor deadline" under the federal Electoral Count Act is entitled to be conclusively accepted as valid by Congress. This year that deadline is Dec. 8. The electors themselves vote on December 14. By setting the deadline for a response as December 9, this means that the Supreme Court won't act until well after the safe harbor deadline has closed, making it even less likely that the Supreme Court would overturn the results in Pennsylvania.

The Court could conceivably act between Dec. 9 and Dec. 14 and the matter would not be technically moot. (I think it would be moot after Dec. 14 has passed). But back in Bush v. Gore, a key reason the Court refused to remand the case to the Florida Supreme Court to order a recount was the idea that Florida wanted to take advantage of the safe harbor deadline, which was the very day the Court decided Bush v. Gore. The Supreme Court would not easily mess with deciding something about electors after that date under the best of circumstances.

Speaking more generally, courts are going to be very reluctant to mess with the safe harbor deadline. That's why today's ruling in the Wisconsin Supreme Court refusing to take up the Trump Campaign's election challenge and directing it back to the lower courts is so significant too. Every day that passes makes any judicial action less and less likely.

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The West must live up to its own principles on democracy (Constanze Stelzenmüller, December 3, 2020, Brookings)

The transatlantic alliance, born out of the crucible of the second world war and the Holocaust, always had liberal democracy at its heart. For decades, the American security umbrella enabled the conditions for stable representative governance to take root in Europe: functioning states, open market economies, inclusive social contracts. Yet when some Nato member states took authoritarian turns -- as happened in Greece, Portugal and Turkey -- others turned a blind eye. Our allies' domestic affairs, it was held, were none of our business.

This has to change. The alliance is based on the principle that the security of one member is the security of all. The 2008 financial crisis and its long aftermath taught us a hard lesson: in an interdependent world, the vulnerability of one is the vulnerability of all. And security today begins with resilient domestic governance.

Americans, Canadians and Europeans must now help each other think through how their own democracies can be made fit for purpose in an age of great power competition and deepening global networks. State institutions must be able to do their job -- providing public goods -- effectively and free from political interference or corruption. Economies must be made fairer, to minimize the kind of structural inequity that fuels popular grievances. Social and racial injustices, as well as the toxic legacy of slavery and colonialism, must be tackled head-on.

In short, we must live up to our own principles again. Then, and only then, can we offer others advice about democracy.

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Something Wild: Christmas Tree Farms Are The Gift That Keeps On Giving (EMILY QUIRK, DAVE ANDERSON & CHRIS MARTIN, 12/04/20, NHPR: Something Wild)

Tree farms provide ample food and shelter to a wide variety of disturbance-adapted insects, birds and mammals, all native to the Granite State.

Bigger farms will usually plant in rotational stages with the youngest areas dedicated to transplanted nursery seedlings two to three years old, barely knee high. And it can take anywhere from nine to twelve years for these trees to be ready for harvest.

Young sections of a Christmas tree farm most closely resemble a meadow, which during warmer months is home to an assortment of insects: dragonflies, butterflies, and crickets. Which in turn attract mammals: mice, moles, skunks...even porcupines and woodchucks that ALSO like to feed on the clover mixed into the tall grass.

In early June, deer give birth to fawns and tuck them beneath the shelter of conifers. They seem to enjoy the relatively thick cover of young fir trees, but also having the ability to see approaching predators down grassy open lanes. Row upon row of beautiful young trees!

By mid-late summer, it's common for Christmas tree growers to mow the grassy aisles between rows, giving opportunists like foxes, coyotes and other mammals a chance to prey on rodents that are suddenly exposed without cover. Mowing between trees also reveals ground hornet nests, a delectable treat only a bear could love.

This type of habitat is also perfect for open country birds of prey, including the American kestrel, a small falcon that nests in old woodpecker holes or rotting barn eaves. They'll perch like a Christmas star atop fir trees while hunting voles and grasshoppers.

And lest we forget nesting songbirds: song sparrows, cedar waxwings, robins and mourning doves all prefer to build nests close to the ground, making these farms ideal. 

And because they are perpetually kept in the early successional stage - where you've got sun, you've got grass, you've got insects - they're the gift that keeps on giving.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Trump Administration Claims Facebook Improperly Reserved Jobs for H-1B Workers (Michelle Hackman, Sadie Gurman and Deepa Seetharaman,  Dec. 3, 2020, WSJ)

The Trump administration has sued Facebook Inc., FB -1.97% accusing the social-media company of illegally reserving high-paying jobs for immigrant workers it was sponsoring for permanent residence, rather than searching adequately for available U.S. workers who could fill the positions.

The lawsuit reflects a continuing Trump administration push to crack down on alleged displacement of American workers.

In a 17-page complaint filed Thursday, the Justice Department's civil-rights division said Facebook inadequately advertised at least 2,600 positions between 2018 and 2019 that were filled by foreign professionals on H-1B visas when the company was looking to sponsor them for permanent residency permits, known as green cards.

Read the Justice Department's lawsuit against Facebook.

Companies sponsoring workers for employment-based green cards are required to show as part of the application process that they couldn't find any qualified American workers to fill the job.

Isn't it the Right that's always telling us our education system is disastrous? Why would you hire its products?

December 3, 2020

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Biden's opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Alon Ben-Meir, 4 December 2020, Online Opinion)

For Biden to succeed where his predecessors failed, he must repair the severe damage that Trump has inflicted on the entire peace process and restore the Palestinians' confidence in a new negotiation that could, in fact, lead to a permanent solution. To that end, he must take specific measures before the start of the talks and establish rules of engagements to which both sides must fully subscribe to demonstrate their commitment to reaching an agreement.

Reestablish the PLO mission in DC: Biden should allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reestablish its mission in DC. This would immediately open a channel of communication which is central to the development of a dialogue between the US and the PA and to clear some of the initial hurdles before resuming the negotiations.

Resuming financial aid: It is essential that Biden restore the financial aid that the Palestinians had been receiving from the US. The Palestinian Authority is financially strapped and is in desperate need of assistance. The aid given should be monitored to ensure that the money is spent on specific program and projects.

Prohibiting territorial annexation: The Biden administration should inform the Israeli government that it will object to any further annexation of Palestinian territories. It will, however, keep the American embassy in Jerusalem and continue recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, leaving its final status to be negotiated.

Freezing settlement expansion: Given the intense controversy about the settlements and their adverse psychological and practical effect on the Palestinians, Biden should insist that Israel impose a temporary freeze on the expansion of settlements. This issue should top the negotiating agenda to allow for a later expansion of specific settlements in the context of land swaps.

Invite Hamas to participate: The Biden administration should invite Hamas to participate in the negotiations jointly with the PA or separately, provided they renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. If they refuse, they should be left to their own devices and continue to bear the burden of the blockade.

Appoint professional and unbiased mediators: Unlike Trump's envoys who openly supported the settlements and paid little or no heed to the Palestinians' aspirations, Biden's envoys should be known for their integrity, professionalism, and understanding of the intricacies of the conflict, and be committed to a two-state solution.

Invite Arab and European observers: The Arab states and the EU are extremely vested in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi and German officials will be ideal observers who can render significant help in their unique capacity as leading Arab and European powers.

Establishing the end game: No negotiations succeed unless the parties involved agree on the nature of their desired outcome. For the Palestinians it is establishing an independent Palestinian state, and for Israelis it is maintaining the security and independence of a democratic Jewish state. Before embarking on new negotiations, the Biden administration should insist that both sides unequivocally commit to a two-state outcome.

Israel desires a single Jewish state

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Trump is worried that he may be prosecuted in New York after he leaves office (Eliza Relman and Jake Lahut, 12/03/20, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump voiced his concerns about the prospect of being prosecuted by New York officials after he leaves the White House during a 46-minute, lie-filled speech he videotaped and posted to Facebook on Wednesday. 

"Now I hear that these same people that failed to get me in Washington have sent every piece of information to New York, so that they can try to get me there," Trump said in the middle of his speech, which focused on his false allegations of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. 

wait'll someone explains pardons won't save him. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


Never forget the great Walter E. Williams (THE EDITORIAL BOARD,  December 2, 2020, LA Daily News)

After being drafted into the military, Williams penned a letter to President John F. Kennedy in 1963 calling out the rampant racism of the times and in the military itself.

"Should Negroes be relieved of their service obligation or continue defending and dying for empty promises of freedom and equality?" he wrote. "Or should we demand human rights as our Founding Fathers did at the risk of being called extremists? ... I contend that we relieve ourselves of oppression in a manner that is in keeping with the great heritage of our nation."

Williams devoted the more than half century that followed that letter pushing America live up to the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

After receiving his bachelor's degree in economics at California State University, Los Angeles and ultimately his doctorate in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles, Williams went on to become a longtime professor of economics at George Mason University.

His first book, "The State Against Blacks," published in 1982, is as relevant as ever. In it, he presented his case that, while racial discrimination and bigotry certainly exist, "it is the 'rules of the game' that account for many of the economic handicaps faced by Blacks. The rules of the game are the many federal, state and local laws that regulate economic activity."

Overregulation by the government, including laws like occupational and business licensing, zoning regulations and the minimum wage, Williams argued, "systematically discriminate against the employment and advancement of people who are outsiders, latecomers and poor in resources."

As he spent his life championing, the solution to these systematic barriers was to repeal such "antipeople" laws and unleash the power of the market to maximize opportunities for all people.

While it is fashionable among younger generations to condemn capitalism, Williams understood that capitalism is the greatest means for liberating people from poverty known to man.

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Michael Flynn's firing:: A lie, a leak, and then a liability: Inside the 25 days that shook the Trump presidency. (Carol E. Lee, Dec. 3, 2020, NBC News)

 Michael Flynn was looking for a criminal defense attorney -- on the internet.

The sun had set and much of the White House staff had cleared out for the night. Nearly alone, Flynn hovered over his assistant who was seated at her desk just outside his corner office, scanning attorney biographies on her computer screen.

He hadn't told the president or his top advisers what prompted the Google search: Two FBI agents had interviewed him that afternoon about his contacts with Russia.

It was Flynn's fifth day as President Donald Trump's national security adviser. On Feb. 13, 2017, the 25th day of the Trump presidency, Flynn would be gone, fired for lying to the vice president and the FBI. [...]

[A] comprehensive examination of his time as Trump's national security adviser, including interviews with more than 20 people who were directly involved in uncovering or covering up his actions, suggests that Flynn knowingly misled investigators and the president's inner circle repeatedly. Once considered one of the country's top intelligence officials and skilled in deception, Flynn not only concealed key details of his conversations with Vladimir Putin's handpicked ambassador in Washington, but also an investigation he knew was closing in on him.

By the end of the first week of Trump's presidency, as the new administration plunged itself into foreign and domestic turmoil, a small group of senior White House officials had been repeatedly confronted with the truth about Flynn's conversations with Russia's ambassador, Sergey Kislyak - that they had discussed newly-imposed U.S. sanctions against Moscow. They also learned that two FBI agents had questioned Flynn about those conversations in a secure conference room just a short walk from the Oval Office, and that he'd answered with a false account similar to the one he'd given Pence.

"Everyone's forgetting that Flynn was fired because he was lying to everyone," one senior White House official directly involved with the Flynn matter said recently. "After weeks of asking him, he was still saying he never talked to the Russian ambassador about sanctions."

The deal was Russian interference in the election in exchange for sanctions relief. Flynn was just the sap charged with negotiating the debt payment.   

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The Ongoing Struggle for Our Liberties (Samuel Goldman, 12/03/20, Law & Liberty)

In 2014, the late Peter Lawler delivered a talk at an ISI honors conference with the title "The Future (and Past) of Liberty is Confusing." In his inimitable, superficially rambling fashion Lawler observed that "liberty" doesn't mean just one thing. He counted at least six historical conceptions of liberty, including the intellectual freedom of Socratic philosophy, the civic freedom of classical city-states, the moral freedom of the Stoics, the freedom from revealed law asserted by Christian theologians, the freedom to engage in commerce, and the radical autonomy that emerged from the sexual revolution.

The past of liberty hasn't gotten any less confusing--at least for scholars. Academics tend to be "splitters" rather than "lumpers." In other words, we delight in ever making more refined distinctions. In just the last few years, scholars have published important works comparing pluralist and rationalist liberty, ancient and modern liberty, and American and French liberty. By the time I read them all, others will have taken their place.

The past of liberty remains a muddle, then. Its future is also becoming more obscure. Freedom was the central theme of the grand struggles of the previous century. It may not be immediately applicable to the concerns of our own. Is freedom the solution to economic dislocation, ideological polarization, institutional corruption, or falling birthrates? Is it even relevant? The answers are not obvious.

The questionable relevance of freedom is one cause of its embattled status in American conservatism. 

The beauty of republican liberty is that  it allows and forbids exactly as much freedom as we are willing as a polity to grant/deny ourselves, not just others.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Europe can reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at "net-zero cost," report finds (Sophie Vorrath, 3 December 2020, Renew Economy)

The more than 200-page report from McKinsey & Company, published on Thursday, attempts to answer the question of what it would take for the European Union to reach its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; a goal now shared by an ever growing list of nations from all corners of the globe.

After a comprehensive research effort analysing the optimal uses of more than 600 emissions-reduction levers in 75 sub-sectors and 10 regions and assessing their impact on employment and other socioeconomic factors, the report essentially finds that the more ambitious the net-zero targets, the lower the cost to reach them.

That is to say, Europe can reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at net-zero cost, while also creating 5 million new jobs and making the EU more or less energy independent...

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Ivanka Trump Questioned in Suit Over Inaugural Hotel Cost (Joel Rosenblatt, December 2, 2020, Bloomberg)

Ivanka Trump was interviewed by District of Columbia lawyers in a lawsuit where President Donald Trump's inaugural committee is accused of illegally overpaying for events at a hotel owned by his family business.

Orange is the new orange.

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December 2, 2020

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Freshly pardoned Michael Flynn shares message telling Trump to 'suspend the Constitution' to hold a new presidential election (The Week, 12/02/20)

In a full-page Washington Times ad from something called the We the People Convention, Ohio Tea Party leader Tom Zawistowski tries to draw a comparison between Lincoln trying to save the union in 1863 and Trump trying to claw back the 2020 election, using some disputed facts along the way. Zawistowski alleges a lot of similarities between the two times, from "Democrat/Socialist federal officials plotting to finish gutting the U.S. Constitution" to big tech "actively censoring free speech and promoting leftist propaganda." So to counter that, the We the People Convention suggests Trump "declare limited Martial Law to temporarily suspend the Constitution" in order to hold a presidential election re-vote overseen by the military.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


President-Elect Joe Biden's Dedication to Trains Could Transform Domestic Travel: President-elect Biden has long supported investing in America's train system. (TYLER MOSS, November 25, 2020, Conde Nast Traveler)

As a Senator, now president-elect Joe Biden famously commuted 110 miles daily on Amtrak, from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, D.C., for the entirety of his 36 years in office. Biden estimates he's traveled back and forth on that route more than 7,000 times, amounting to some 770,000 miles total--enough rail traveled to theoretically circumnavigate the earth almost 31 times.

But his support for travel by train goes beyond the personal, too: As vice president to Barack Obama, Biden was largely responsible for directing funds toward California's high-speed rail project, 150 miles of which are currently completed. He even published a 2010 op-ed in Arrive Magazine titled "Why America Needs Trains." In it, Biden wrote that "support for Amtrak must be strong--not because it is a cherished American institution, which it is--but because it is a powerful and indispensable way to carry us all into a leaner, cleaner, greener 21st Century."

As he prepares to enter office, Biden has promised his own administration will usher in "the second great railroad revolution" in the U.S. While the president-elect himself has yet to release any concrete plans, rail advocates around the country are hopeful for a potential Biden boom. A rail-forward president, they say, has the potential to transform domestic travel by train.

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The California Air Quality Guru Who Taught Business to Love the Environment: Praised by Republicans and Democrats, Mary Nichols is a contender for head of the EPA in a Biden administration (DEBRA KAHN, 12/02/2020, Politico)

Nichols' ability to convince wary policymakers and industry executives that the environment and economy are not at odds lies at the heart of her success in forging a bipartisan consensus on climate change action in California. And it may be the reason that Nichols, who is termed out as chair of the state air pollution agency at the end of the year, tops the list of Joe Biden's potential picks to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which will face much the same challenge if the new administration has any hope of meeting international goals to rein in greenhouse emissions.

Under Biden, the EPA will need to reverse the Trump administration's rollbacks of climate policies and go even further: If the United States is to have any chance of meeting its own climate targets, or persuading other countries to meet theirs, it will need to forge a stable consensus on climate action that draws enough Republican support to withstand changes in presidential administrations. Getting businesses on board and convincing them that environmental progress doesn't come at the expense of economic gains -- during a deep recession and pandemic-induced economic anxiety, no less -- will be key.

"Although there certainly have been things we have not agreed upon over the years, there have been many we have," Western States Petroleum Association President Catherine Reheis-Boyd said in an email. "Mary has always been willing to have an open and honest dialogue and find common ground to address the challenges facing California."

She's not a slam-dunk for the job. In many ways, Nichols has been seen during the Trump administration as the unofficial leader of the states' pro-climate resistance -- a role that may trigger some Republican opposition in the Senate, which would need to confirm her in the position.

But even if she doesn't wind up heading the EPA, whoever does is likely to use her playbook going forward as the incoming Biden administration races to make up time lost during the Trump years.

"The way I have operated and the way I've been successful is because I've been able to bring in the affected stakeholders and also maintain the momentum of the agencies themselves," Nichols said.

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Hydrogen Is a Trillion Dollar Bet on the Future (David Fickling, December 2, 2020, Bloomberg)

The biggest producer of electrolyzers, Norway's Nel ASA, can make a modest 80 megawatts per year. To put the world on a path to zero emissions, we'll need to install two million megawatts or more.

The fact that such an expansive vision is seen as remotely viable is a tribute to the way renewables and lithium-ion batteries have transformed the energy industry over the past decade.

In the mid-2000s, even an advocate of climate action like British economist Nicholas Stern didn't think wind and solar could compete economically with fossil fuels until the 2030s. Things turned out very differently. Since 2009, the cost of unsubsidized solar power in the U.S. has fallen 90% and wind is down 70%, notes Lazard Ltd. Battery prices have slumped 87% over a similar period, according to BloombergNEF. Coal is already in retreat from the power sector, and many of the world's biggest independent oil companies think petroleum demand is at or near its peak.

If green hydrogen can achieve renewable power-style cost declines from its current pricing of around $3 to $8 a kilogram, it stands a good chance of competing with gray hydrogen, which costs as little as $1. The risk, though, is that the forecast reductions aren't achieved. If a botched deployment or technical problems result in more modest economies of scale, the world will be left with a legacy of uneconomic hydrogen-production plants. On top of that, billions that could have been spent on other decarbonization technologies will have been wasted.

Renewables have managed to undercut conventional power generation over the past decade

Which of those two futures we face will be determined by Wright's Law, a hypothesis about manufacturing dating from the early years of the aircraft industry. It states that with every doubling of cumulative output, the cost of technology tends to fall by a constant percentage. Factories get better at finding efficiencies; increased demand drives economies of scale; and larger volumes encourage suppliers to produce raw materials more cheaply. (The better-known Moore's Law, which predicted drastic declines in the cost of computing power, is best understood as a special case of Wright's Law.)

The cost-decline percentage, known as the learning rate, seems to explain why nascent renewable technologies can get so cheap so quickly. The learning rate for solar modules is a blistering 28.5%, according to BloombergNEF, meaning that an eightfold increase in installations will reduce costs by nearly two-thirds. That fall in prices then triggers more demand, encouraging further solar installations and reducing costs again in a virtuous circle. Fossil technologies can't compete with that advantage, because their largest cost is typically the fuel itself, where prices show no long-lasting downward trend.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Biden Can Safely Help Iran's Economy (Karen E. Young, December 2, 2020, Bloomberg)

The best he can do in the short term is encourage Iran's access to multilateral credit--specifically, from the International Monetary Fund. Opposition from the Trump administration prevented Tehran from getting the roughly $1.5 billion in special drawing rights (SDR) to which it is entitled as a member-nation, and a $5 billion line of credit to fight the pandemic. By signaling its encouragement, Biden would give the government of President Hassan Rouhani a chance to save the Iranian economy from the immediate danger of hyperinflation.

In turn, it would give Rouhani an opportunity to demonstrate, to the U.S. and the world, that it can use external finance for government spending that serves its people, rather than line the pockets of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its extractive businesses and foreign activities.

The government will then have until the presidential election next June to demonstrate competence and a growth agenda to voters. This might just give any reformists who aspire to succeed Rouhani a chance to compete with the militarized economic model of the hard-liners in presidential politics. For a reformist agenda to have any chance of gaining traction at the ballot booth, the government must also start to rein in corruption and limit financial lifelines to the IRGC, and to privilege ordinary Iranian citizens instead. restore the nuke agreement and start free trade negotiations.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Staple Singers: Come Go with Me: The Stax Collection (John Paul, 12/02/20, Spectrum)

Soul Folk in Action, the group's 1968 Steve Cropper-produced Stax debut feels very much like the tentative first steps into the world of secular music of an otherwise well-oiled gospel machine. There are still elements of their gospel sound in terms of the call-and-response vocals, rich harmonies and Pops Staples' inimitable guitar work, but they haven't entirely settled into what would become their defining, soul-heavy sound on tracks like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There." Opening track "We've Got to Get Ourselves Together" is a knockout, but the momentum gained out of the gate is largely lost on the lackluster read of Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." Of course, such criticism is entirely relative when it comes to the Staple Singers' output given the strength of Mavis' voice and the family's seamless vocal blend. But these early Stax albums possess a sort of rough charm that only hints at where they were headed over the course of their next several albums.

We'll Get Over ventures still further into the southern soul territory that would, within the next several years, become their forte. With Cropper again at the helm, the album bears all the hallmarks of the Stax sound of the era (We'll Get Over having been released in 1970), complete with horns, soaring string arrangements and a stronger social message throughout. "Give a Damn" is perhaps the most explicit of these message songs, though their read of Sly & the Family Stone's "Everyday People" is equally resonant, made all the more so by the group's stellar harmonizing. The rather unfortunately-titled The Staple Swingers would continue the push towards a more socially-conscious sound, evident from the opening bars of the truly righteous lead track, "This is a Perfect World." The Staple Swingers (1971) not only found the group settling into their new secular mode, but also saw the introduction of sister Yvonne who replaced Pervis, the latter having enlisted in the service.

Anyone who's familiar with the Staple Singers at all, however, will likely owe their familiarity to the group's 1972 album, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself. Here is where the Staple Singers' sound came into its own on the aforementioned singles and the wickedly funky opening track "This World." Having moved on to Muscle Shoals for both this and The Staple Swingers, the group found truly kindred spirits in the Swampers, making for a match made in soul music heaven. Here is where the Staples family truly hit their stride, perfectly meshing their gospel roots with their more secular, commercially-minded aims (Pops' "Who Do You Think You Are (Jesus Christ Superstar)" being a prime example).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Conservative Judges vs. Iffy Right-Wing Legal Claims (ROBERT VERBRUGGEN, December 1, 2020, National Review)

The goal can't possibly be for these efforts to win in court, no matter how many Federalist Society-approved judges Trump has installed. After all, the defining feature of a conservative judge is adherence to the text and meaning of the law. It's liberal judges who pretend that laws mean whatever benefits their side of the political aisle.

Instead, the goal must be to buff up the legitimacy of the Court through a series of high-profile cases in which Republican-appointed justices "defect" and rule against conservative litigants. Then the justices will have the political capital to overturn Roe!

...they're Trumpist.

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U.S. Sanctions Against Iran Play A Role In Scarcity Of Medication (PETER KENYON, 12/01/20, Morning Edition)

KENYON: The Trump administration says the sanctions are intended to deprive Tehran of the resources it uses to fund its, quote, "malign behavior" in the region. But even though the U.S. says it's not targeting medicines, Ayat Abedini, a doctor who works in the pharmaceutical sector in Tehran, says American sanctions are definitely one cause of some of the medical shortages. Abedini says because the government has reduced the legal import of medicines, a dangerous black market trade has grown up.

AYAT ABEDINI: (Speaking Farsi).

KENYON: "These limits on direct import," he says, "have brought about an increase in fake medicines." He says the squeeze on Iran's oil exports has left the government with less money to devote to health care. Meanwhile, Iranians are hoarding what medicines they do find, and imported medicines have grown scarce.

ABEDINI: (Speaking Farsi).

KENYON: "There are many examples, from diabetes to cancer medicines, where we have big limitations in importing them," he says. A health ministry official told the state news agency recently that Tehran is planning to lodge a complaint with the International Court of Justice over the sanctions. Analyst Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, professor of economics at Virginia Tech University, says the Biden administration could make an immediate difference if the new Treasury secretary simply eases up on the aggressive enforcement of sanctions, especially financial sanctions.

DJAVAD SALEHI-ISFAHANI: And that by itself would open up some opportunities for Iranians, especially to import medicine, something they need badly, which is not under sanctions right now, but because movement of funds between Iran and other countries is prohibited. Very few companies that sell this, either the equipment or the medicine, are willing to trade with Iran.

KENYON: It's not clear how quickly Biden might act on the Iran sanctions, but Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, says the process wouldn't be time consuming at all, requiring just a few executive orders.

You can't wage war on Iran on the one hand and then whinge when they try to defend themselves. The forty-year sanctions regime is, and always has been, open warfare. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nuclear fusion edges closer to reality with Curtin University research (Joshua S Hill, 2 December 2020, Renew Economy)

Curtin University's new database of electron-molecule reactions was developed by a team of researchers, led by PhD candidate and Forrest Scholar Liam Scarlett from the Theoretical Physics Group in Curtin's School of Electrical Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences.

The new research, published in the journal Atomic Data and Nuclear Data Tables, modelled electron-molecule collisions which will allow researchers to accurately model plasmas containing molecular hydrogen.

According to Scarlett, his calculations and the resulting collision database will play a crucial role in the development of fusion technology. "Our electron-molecule collision modelling is an exciting step in the global push to develop fusion power - a new, clean electricity source," said Scarlett.

"Fusion is the nuclear reaction which occurs when atoms collide and fuse together, releasing huge amounts of energy. This process is what powers the Sun, and recreating it on Earth requires detailed knowledge of the different types of collisions which take place in the fusion plasma - that's where my research comes in.

"We developed mathematical models and computer codes and utilised the Perth-based Pawsey Supercomputing Centre to calculate the probabilities of different reactions taking place during collisions with molecules. The molecules we looked at here are those which are formed from atoms of hydrogen and its isotopes, as they play an important role in fusion reactors.

"Until now the available data was incomplete, however our molecular collision modelling has produced an accurate and comprehensive database of more than 60,000 electron-molecule reaction probabilities which, for the first time, has allowed a team in Germany to create an accurate model for molecular hydrogen in the ITER plasma.

"This is significant because their model will be used to predict how the plasma will radiate, leading to a better understanding of the plasma physics, and the development of diagnostic tools which are vital for controlling the fusion reaction."

December 1, 2020

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States with few coronavirus restrictions are spreading the virus beyond their borders (Pro Publica, 12/01/20)

Weary of Washington's restrictions, thousands of residents made the easy drive over the border to vacation, shop and dine in Idaho. Gilliard resisted temptation until he learned that the annual Panhandle Bluesfest would go on as scheduled near Priest River, Idaho, on Sept. 12. A keyboardist who used to own a blues club just outside Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Gilliard was buoyed after months of relative isolation by the prospect of hanging out with friends while listening to music on a remote mountainside surrounded by soaring pine trees and thick hemlocks. He decided to go.

A friend took a picture of Gilliard at the festival. Wearing a bandanna fashioned as a headband, a cut-off T-shirt and dark glasses, he was perched on a tree stump and pointing back at the camera. As was permitted by local regulations at the time, he was not wearing a mask, nor were about 10 people sitting together in the background.

As the number of COVID-19 cases skyrockets nationwide, the extent of the public health response varies from one state -- and sometimes one town -- to the next. The incongruous approaches and the lack of national standards have created confusion, conflict and a muddled public health message, likely hampering efforts to stop the spread of the virus. The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said last month that the country needs "a uniform approach" to fighting the virus instead of a "disjointed" one.

Nowhere are these regulatory disparities more counterproductive and jarring than in the border areas between restrictive and permissive states; for example, between Washington and Idaho, Minnesota and South Dakota, and Illinois and Iowa. In each pairing, one state has imposed tough and sometimes unpopular restrictions on behavior, only to be confounded by a neighbor's leniency. Like factories whose emissions boost asthma rates for miles around, a state's lax public health policies can wreak damage beyond its borders.

"In some ways, the whole country is essentially living with the strategy of the least effective states because states interconnect and one state not doing a good job will continue to spread the virus to other states," said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. "States can't wall themselves off."

A motorcycle rally in August in Sturgis, South Dakota, with half a million attendees from around the country spread COVID-19 to neighboring Minnesota and beyond, according to Melanie Firestone, an epidemic intelligence service officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who co-authored a report on the event's impact.

South Dakota "didn't have policies regarding mask use or event size, and we see that there was an impact in a state that did have such policies," Firestone said. "The findings from this outbreak support having consistent approaches across states. We are all in it together when it comes to stopping the spread of COVID-19."

Viruses don't respect geographic boundaries. 

....but Trumpism is neighbor-hatred.

(N.B. This is why local gun restrictions are futile.)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Churchgoer Gets COVID After Saying 'I'm Willing to Die for My Religion,' Wants Prayers for Vulnerable Husband (SOO KIM, 12/1/20, Newsweek)

A churchgoer who claimed she would "deal with it" if she got COVID while attending mass, has tested positive for the virus and is seeking prayers for her vulnerable husband.

User @aliinwillowland tweeted on November 26: "Idk [I don't know] who needs to hear this, but this is a reminder that I'm willing to die for my religion. If I get covid attending mass then I'll deal with it, but I'm NOT missing out on worshiping. You don't get to bar me from my religion bc [because] you're scared. Be mad. Don't care." not worthy of worship. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Black Fragility?A bestselling book offers a prescription for race relations that casts whites as sinners and blacks as children. (Coleman Hughes, November 29, 2020, City Journal)

DiAngelo's book does more than rehearse the familiar tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT)--racism is systemic and pervasive; race-blind standards are really white supremacist standards in disguise; lived experience confers special knowledge on victims of racism; and so on--it also uses simple and direct language to teach white people how to talk about race from a CRT perspective. Drawing on her academic work as well as her experience providing corporate diversity training, DiAngelo puts forth her theory of "white fragility"--a set of psychological defense mechanisms that white people use in order to avoid acknowledging their own racism. These defense mechanisms include "silence, defensiveness, argumentation, certitude, and other forms of pushback" in the face of racism accusations.

The book is hilariously awful, but casting herself--unintentionally--as a white savior is sublime. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Does Paul Krugman even read his own columns?  (Cockburn, December 1, 2020, Spectator US)

Krugman's latest column, published Monday evening, asks how the coming Biden administration will ever possibly cope with the unprecedented idea of having an opposing party with political disagreements.

'When Joe Biden is inaugurated, he will immediately be confronted with an unprecedented challenge... he'll be the first modern US President trying to govern in the face of an opposition that refuses to accept his legitimacy. And no, Democrats never said Donald Trump was illegitimate, just that he was incompetent and dangerous.'

Now, admittedly, Krugman is a Princeton professor and Cockburn is a pseudonymous blogger who wears a funny hat. But come on, Krugman. Joe Biden is the first modern president to be called illegitimate? You may have once said that it would have no greater economic impact than the fax machine, but surely even you know that Google exists? Cockburn is irredeemably lazy and it took him not even a minute to find your own statements from 2016:

'So this was a tainted election. It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won't be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement... [N]othing that happened on Election Day or is happening now is normal. Democratic norms have been and continue to be violated, and anyone who refuses to acknowledge this reality is, in effect, complicit in the degradation of our republic. This president will have a lot of legal authority, which must be respected. But beyond that, nothing: he doesn't deserve deference, he doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt.'

Doesn't Paul Krugman have any pride? 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As Medicare embraces telehealth, here's what to know about costs and what's covered (Walecia Konrad, 12/01/20, Market Watch)

Insurers and employers for years have been urging the use of telehealth as a low-cost alternative for nonemergency care. But patients were wary about signing up and Medicare was slow to embrace it, which limited telehealth to certain types of visits for patients in rural areas.

That changed with COVID-19. In response to the pandemic, CMS removed barriers to telehealth coverage, allowing patients throughout the country to access care from their homes.

The agency this year has added 135 services to the list of telehealth it will pay for during this public health crisis, including non-COVID-19 doctor visits, initial inpatient visits with a new practitioner, discharge services and cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation treatments. CMS also increased the types of health care providers who can use telehealth, waived patient copays and boosted reimbursement rates to amounts similar to those paid for an in-person visit.

The rule changes have opened up more telehealth options for both Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage, an all-in-one alternative offered by private insurers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Brilliant, Scabrous Satire of The Boys (KYLE SMITH, November 30, 2020, National Review)

The Boys is a very left-wing work that nevertheless gives right-wingers much to feast upon. The comic book on which it is based, launched in 2006 by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, reflects the mid-2000s Daily Kos-style paranoid fury about George W. Bush, Iraq, and the War on Terror. But in its second season, it gradually morphs into an unhinged allegory of white supremacism, anti-immigration sentiment, and, by implication, the popularity of Donald Trump. I generally find such veiled polemics to be boring in the extreme -- hectoring, shrill, monomaniacal, bonkers, and ultimately hate-fueled in their underlying assumptions. Yet The Boys is one of the most amusing shows going, a satiric machine-gun attack on a gallery of cultural icons that have richly earned their drubbing.