June 19, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Propaganda Loop Comes Full Circle (Charlie Sykes, Jun 17, 2021, The Bulwark)

The loop is now complete

In the youth of our Dissolution, we worried about foreign disinformation.

We worried about Russian fake news, bots, and troll factories. We were troubled by the prospect that malicious foreign actors would spread conspiracy theories and division.

How silly. As it turned out we have met the enemy and he is us. And he is legion.

Our current sludge of disinformation, bilge, and crackpottery is thoroughly domestic, amplified by a million voices on social media, national networks, and until recently, the White House itself.

And now it has come full circle, as Russian President Vladimir Putin, feeds back our homegrown disinformation. Dana Milbank notes the symmetry: "For the past few years, Republicans in Congress have echoed Russian propaganda. On Wednesday, in Geneva, Vladimir Putin returned the favor: He echoed Republican propaganda."

With unconcealed relish, the Russians have adopted the talking points of right-wing media about January 6.

The first sign of trouble came a week ago, when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sounded a bit like a far-right Republican when talking about the insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Lavrov told reporters last Monday that the Kremlin is "following with interest" the "persecution" of those "accused of the riots on Jan. 6."

Putin has amplified the point, insisting that the January 6 insurrectionists are not looters or thieves." Many of the suspects, Putin said, have been hit with "very harsh charges.... Why is that?"

Always bet on the Deep State.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Juneteenth Observance Can Rekindle Our DemocracyOur failings remind us of the importance of our democratic values. (NICOLE BIBBINS SEDACA  JUNE 19, 2021, The Bulwark)

 Democracy and democratic values do not lose their importance because of human failing. Human failing reminds us of the need for democracy and democratic values.

While Juneteenth signifies the long-awaited victory of freedom and democracy over injustice in the mid-1800s, it is easy to miss how this story informs the need for democracy today. Reflecting on Juneteenth's significance amidst our current political context is admittedly challenging as we struggle with stories of police violence, inequality, and debates over voting rights, a foundation of democracy--withmany of our problems disproportionately victimizing people of color.

This first official Juneteenth holiday, 156 years after the Union took Galveston, is the ideal opportunity to remember--actively, with the present and future in mind as much as the past--the contributions made to American democracy by those to whom it failed to keep its promises.

American history is complex and quite often paradoxical. It is characterized both by brilliant articulation of democratic principles and blatant violations of these very principles over centuries. Both realities are true. We can neither dismiss the foundations of our nation because of a history of injustice, nor minimize the reality of injustice to honor the democratic principles upon which our nation was founded. This is the paradox of American history and the very reason why democracy--the structure, the culture, the act of self-government--is needed to reconcile our history and our principles.

This paradox has been obvious to generations of American activists. In his 1852 speech, Frederick Douglass, an outspoken abolitionist who was enslaved in his early life, both extolled the Constitution as a "glorious liberty document" encompassing our nation's democratic principles and painted an accurate picture of the brutality of slavery, which stood in such stark contrast to these principles.

Similarly, in his 1967 speech at the Hungry Club in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King illuminated the gap between our founding principles and the reality of life in the 1960s. In highlighting the work of courageous democracy activists who used sit-ins, Freedom Rides, boycotts, and civil disobedience to protest racial injustice, he observed that

when they decided to sit down at those counters, they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and carrying the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

To Douglass and King, the significant shortcomings of American democracy did not negate the importance of democracy itself. Instead, they demanded more of it.

Douglass, King, along with Thurgood Marshall, John Lewis, and others, have pointed to our founding documents' commitment to liberty, freedom and equality, as they also pushed our nation to fully live up to these principles. They used democratic institutions and values to close this gap between our aspirational founding principles and daily realities.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Texas' ban on critical race theory in schools proves the GOP still doesn't understand MLK's message (Kevin M. Kruse, 6/17/21, MSNBC)

Despite the moral panic from conservative politicians that it was designed with "kids" in mind, critical race theory has largely been limited to law schools and advanced graduate programs. (As many joked on social media, if your "kids" are really being taught critical race theory, you should be proud they're in law school.)

Moreover, far from stressing that race is "the most important thing," critical race theory challenges the idea that race is a thing at all. It starts with the premise that there is no biological or scientific justification for racial categories and that race was a socially constructed invention -- a fiction, but one that has nevertheless been written into our laws and legislation.

Those who work on critical race theory are baffled by the seemingly deliberate mischaracterizations of their work. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the noted law professor at UCLA and Columbia and a pioneering scholar in the field, dismissed Trump's and DeSantis' specific claims as "false and slanderous." As she explained in a recent interview, "Critical race theory just says let's pay attention to what has happened in this country and how what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes, so we can become that country that we say we are." [...]

Talking honestly about inequality, it turns out, was a special point of emphasis for Martin Luther King Jr. He devoted a considerable amount of his activism and authorship doing it. But the limited knowledge that Trump, DeSantis and Toth all have of King's work apparently begins and ends with that one line about "character."

To appreciate this reality, and to see how wrong those are who see MLK and critical race theory as diametrically opposed, look no further than two iconic moments the Texas law encourages teachers to use: "Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from a Birmingham Jail' and 'I Have a Dream' speech."

In his landmark address at the March on Washington in August 1963, King did note his hope that "one day" his children would be judged by their character and not the color of their skin, but that was only one line in a more nuanced address.

While King looked ahead to that day, his vision remained firmly fixed on the realities of racism and discrimination in his own time.

More important, while King looked ahead to that day, his vision remained firmly fixed on the realities of racism and discrimination in his own time; he devoted the bulk of his address to identifying and articulating them. King chronicled the ways African Americans faced systemic patterns of discrimination and inequality, from "the unspeakable horrors of police brutality" to the discriminatory public and private policies that put African Americans on "a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity."

"We've come here today," King patiently explained again, "to dramatize a shameful condition."

In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which he wrote four months before the March on Washington, King had already sounded out these same things, in greater length.

The letter, which was King's response to chiding from moderate white ministers, patiently explained that the first "basic step" in his activism was the "collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist."

Asserting that "privileged groups" fail to see how others often lack the same privileges and therefore dismiss their complaints, King rattled off for them -- and us -- a litany of the systemic and structural inequalities that faced African Americans, including police brutality, voting discrimination and an unequal economy that locked "the vast majority of your 20 million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society."

Notably, King spent a great deal of the letter outlining how "the unjust law" -- which he defined as "a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself" -- worked to prop up those racial and economic inequalities. The racist intent or racial impact of such legislation might not be overt, King noted. "Sometimes a law is just on its face," he wrote, "and unjust in its application."

Civil rights activists like King adopted the word "demonstrations" to characterize their protests, because they sought to demonstrate the realities of segregation and discrimination in undeniable terms. In the letter, King explained that he sought to expose the hypocrisies in Jim Crow laws and demonstrate the inequalities they obscured.

"We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive," he wrote. "We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured."

King's summons to identify and illuminate the racial, economic and political inequalities in American life runs counter to the conservative culture war against critical race theory and related publications like The 1619 Project. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The End of Reductionism Could Be Nigh. Or Not. (SABINE HOSSENFELDER, JUN 18, 2021, Nautilus)

It is certainly true that contemporary physics has shortcomings, quite possibly because the laws that we currently use in physics all work the same way. First, they require us to fully specify the configuration of a system at one moment in time, known as the initial condition. Then, we have an equation--often called the dynamical law or evolution equation--which acts on the initial condition. Finally, by applying the evolution equation to the initial state, we can calculate the configuration of the system at any moment of time. For example, if you specify the position and initial velocity of an arrow, you can use Newton's laws to calculate where it will land.

It's turning reductionism on its head.

All fundamental theories in physics currently use this division of initial condition and evolution equation. And these theories have gotten us far, but, as Marletto points out, they have limits. The most important one may be that no such theory can ever explain its own initial condition: We have to provide the initial condition as input to make predictions, otherwise we can't calculate anything.

First, pretend that an initial condition exists...

June 18, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


How 'Biden Republicans' Took Over the Suburbs: The Republican collapse in Michigan's Oakland County, once a stronghold, was a long time coming. Is losing these suburbs a warning light for Trumpism? (ZACK STANTON, 06/18/2021, Politico)

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the Republican National Committee opted not to order an autopsy into what exactly led to the party's decline in suburban communities that were, until recently, considered deep red.

But if RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel wanted to understand what happened, she could do worse than to look back at the place she was raised: Oakland County, Michigan.

"Oakland County was kind of the quintessential suburban Republican stronghold over the postwar period," says Jeff Timmer, a longtime GOP strategist who was executive director of the state party from 2005-2009. It was (and is) a huge source of campaign donations for the party and its candidates. It had massive influence in Lansing, and an influential bipartisan delegation in Washington. It was a must-visit locale for every aspiring Republican presidential candidate.

"When I ran the Michigan Republican Party, we always pointed to Oakland: 'These guys have got their [****] together,'" says Timmer.

To put it bluntly, the [****] is no longer together.

Ten years ago, Republicans held two of the four GOP-drawn U.S. House seats in Oakland (the other two were safe Democratic); now, all four are in Democratic hands. Democratic women now represent the Romney family's hometown in the state House, state Senate and U.S. House (Rep. Haley Stevens). Ten years ago, Brooks Patterson, the silver-tongued sun-God around whom all local politics orbited, was county executive, and Republicans held four of the six countywide elected posts; Democrats now hold five of them, including the executive. After GOP-controlled redistricting in 2012, Republicans had a 14-7 majority on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners; now, Democrats have an 11-10 edge and will control the county-level redistricting process for the first time in a half-century.

The change is happening in lush, sylvan communities like Birmingham and Bloomfield--a place at least three generations of Romneys, McDaniel included, have called home. Here, generations of families with auto-baron surnames set roots. Here, they enrolled their kids at affluent public schools or even-more-affluent private schools with idyllic names like Country Day and Cranbrook. Here, they donated to and elected Republicans. At least, that is, until recently.

"That's how I describe it to literally anyone from out of state," laughs Mari Manoogian, a Democratic state Representative whose district encompasses much of the community. "They're like, 'Wait, you're the state representative for Mitt Romney's hometown?' And I'm like, 'Yeah!'"

This was "'Romney Republican' territory, but the Republican Party has gone so far away from that," says Mallory McMorrow, the Democrat who represents the area in the state Senate. "Even looking at the types of things Mitt Romney is proposing on the federal level right now, I think if he were still at home, he'd be a Democrat. The party has shifted so much."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Texas loses to Oklahoma on electric vehicle company Canoo's 'mega-factory.' Power grid cited as one reason ( Dom DiFurio, Jun 17, 2021, Dallas Morning News)

The electric vehicle maker Canoo announced Thursday that it would take a mega-factory and thousands of high-paying jobs to the Tulsa region, citing Oklahoma's "energy-forward initiatives."

North Texas was "definitely in the race" in the multistate competition for the new assembly plant, but Texas energy infrastructure issues and other factors led the company to choose Oklahoma, chairman and CEO Tony Aquila told The Dallas Morning News. [...]

The announcement was made at Canoo's first-ever investor day at Texas Motor Speedway, and it came with residents of the state on high alert for potential power blackouts. On Monday, ERCOT warned residents to conserve energy or risk rolling blackouts like the ones the state saw during February's winter storm.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM

"LAW & ORDER" (profanity alert):

'I Made Juneteenth Very Famous': The Inside Story of Trump's Post-George Floyd Month (MICHAEL C. BENDER, 06/18/2021, Politico)

Trump had staked nearly his entire campaign in 2016 around a law-and-order image, and now groaned that the criminal justice reform that Kushner had persuaded him to support made him look weak and--even worse--hadn't earned him any goodwill among Black voters.

"I've done all this stuff for the Blacks--it's always Jared telling me to do this," Trump said to one confidante on Father's Day. "And they all f------ hate me, and none of them are going to vote for me."

The weekend after Father's Day, Trump canceled a trip to Bedminster at the last minute--after Kushner had already left for the New Jersey golf club--and instead scheduled a round of political meetings at the White House without him.

A month after the murder of Floyd, Trump was dumping on his son-in-law, and he was also abandoning the chance to improve his relationship with Black leaders and Black voters during a particularly tumultuous moment in U.S. race relations and the presidential campaign. The story of this month, from the murder of Floyd to Trump's assertion that his outreach to Black voters wasn't working, is one of missed opportunities and bungled messaging, even in the eyes of some of Trump's closest advisers, who described their firsthand accounts with me during the past year. Many of the sources spoke to me on the condition of deep background, an agreement that meant I could share their stories without direct attribution.

Trump had long struggled with addressing the nation's racial issues, and his senior staff hadn't included a single Black staffer since he'd fired Omarosa Manigault Newman--a former contestant on his reality television show--at the end of 2017. In August 2018, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had been asked on NBC's Meet the Press to name the top Black official in the Trump White House and could only come up with his first name: Ja'Ron.

But Ja'Ron Smith was two pay grades below the top ranks. After Conway's interview, Smith asked for a promotion to formalize his role as the West Wing's senior-most Black official and close the $50,000 salary gap. Kushner agreed but then put him off for the next two years.

Still, Smith remained in the White House, where he continued to work on Kushner's criminal justice issues and played a crucial role in outreach to Black community leaders. In June 2020, Smith was writing a proposal for Trump to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. But the outcry over Trump's rally on the day that commemorated the end of slavery convinced Smith to shelve the plan.

Trump hadn't thought to ask his seniormost Black official about holding a rally on Juneteenth.

Trump's first test at addressing the country's racial tensions came in the summer of 2017. On a Saturday in August, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed, and 19 others injured, when a 22-old neo-Nazi drove his souped-up 2010 Dodge Challenger at about 30 miles per hour into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heyer, who was white, and the others were protesting a white supremacist rally organized to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Virginian who commanded the Confederate States Army during the Civil War. Trump had been golfing at his Bedminster club that morning. It had been about two hours since Heyer's death, and Trump said he wanted to "put out a comment as to what's going on in Charlottesville."

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides--on many sides," Trump said.

The White House tried in vain to focus cable networks and newspaper reporters on the first words of his statement instead of the final phrase--"on many sides"--that he'd ad-libbed and then repeated. But the obvious question they couldn't answer was how the president could put any blame on the peaceful counter-protesters. His remarks seemed to justify the white supremacist violence, and Trump's silence over the next 24 hours unnerved even those around him.

Back at Trump Tower in New York two days later, Trump had a news conference scheduled to discuss the nation's infrastructure. Responding to questions about Charlottesville, he again blamed the counterprotesters.

"You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides," Trump said.

The next day, Stephen Schwarzman, a longtime friend of Trump's and chief executive of Blackstone Group, called the president and told him he had disbanded the White House Strategic and Policy Forum, a coalition of businesses chaired by Schwarzman that Trump had convened in February 2017 to advise him on economic issues. There weren't enough executives left who would stand by Trump after his repeated failures to adequately address Charlottesville, Schwarzman said. Trump hung up and beat his friend to the punch by quickly tweeting that he was shutting down the panel.

Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser--and a registered Democrat--was even more despondent. Raised Jewish on the East Side of Cleveland and a longtime New York resident, he stood next to Trump for the infrastructure news conference and grew increasingly alarmed and uncomfortable. Later, in a private meeting inside the Oval Office, Cohn unloaded on the president.

Cohn told Trump that his lack of clarity had been harmful to the country and that he'd put an incredible amount of pressure on people working in the White House. He told Trump that he might have to quit. No one backed Cohn up. Others in the room, including Pence, remained quiet.

Cohn returned to his office after the meeting broke up. Following a few minutes behind, Pence climbed the flight of stairs and appeared at the threshold of Cohn's door.

"I'm proud of you," Pence told him, safely out of earshot of the president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Bringing Mind to Matter (Raymond Tallis, Summer 2013, New Atlantis)

Perhaps even harder than this question of what kind of stuff could become conscious, and therefore what kind of stuff the universe is made of, is the historical question: in the unfolding story of the universe, even if conscious organisms were possible all along, why is it that they actually did arise? Even if consciousness could give an organism an edge over the competition -- a hypothesis that is far from proven -- this would only explain why consciousness stuck around once it arose, and not why it came into being in the first place. It would offer no truly satisfactory explanation for why natural selection should cause material processes to become organisms sufficiently self-aware to know which behavior is to their advantage. After all, it would be of great advantage for a beast, faced with a predator, to be able to dematerialize and rematerialize at some considerable distance, but this advantage would not be sufficient to explain the emergence of this property.

The nature of cognition -- thinking, reasoning, and so forth -- presents an even greater challenge than subjective experience. Notwithstanding the claims of those who ascribe knowledge and thinking to unconscious objects such as computers, Nagel argues that these features are available only to conscious beings. Found most fully in human beings but present in less developed forms in other species, these higher functions of the mind "have enabled us to transcend the perspective of the immediate life-world given to us by our senses and instincts, and to explore the larger objective reality of nature and value." This makes obvious sense: without a ground-floor subjective viewpoint, there cannot be progression to higher-level viewpoints such as that which underpins the objective knowledge of science.

If the nature and existence of basic subjective consciousness cannot be fully explained through evolutionary theory, then neither can the higher cognitive functions, regardless of any putative survival advantage they may ultimately confer. There is, moreover, a problem in trying to envisage a process of natural selection generating creatures like ourselves that have the capacity, as Nagel puts it, "to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances." It is strange that such a capacity should have been produced by natural selection, given that the advantages it has brought have been fully realized only in theoretical pursuits which are relatively new. Just how strange this is becomes evident if we accept -- as many evolutionary psychologists do -- the "truths" in question do not correspond to anything constitutive of the natural world. If reason, knowledge, and thought are merely devices to improve our chances of survival, then it is appropriate to adopt an anti-realistic view of what they tell us about the world. Scientists, like the rest of us, would have to define "truth" as whatever set of beliefs happen to be of adaptive value -- regardless of whether they are, well, true. This makes it difficult to understand how they could gradually build up to the great theoretical edifices of natural science that have huge scope and immense explanatory, predictive, and practical power.

Consider, for example, the words of British political philosopher and celebrity misanthrope John Gray. In his diatribe against humanism, Straw Dogs (2003), Gray argued that the belief that "through science humankind can know the truth" is a mere article of faith -- and one that is ill-founded, as Darwin has taught us that "the human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. To think otherwise is to resurrect the pre-Darwinian error that humans are different from all other animals." Unlike Gray, Nagel is able to see the self-contradiction in this claim: The theory put forward by the bearded, upright primate Charles Darwin would have demonstrated itself to be groundless -- a consequence that could be considered ironic were it not logically impossible.

This part of Nagel's case is closely connected with his discussion of the final defining feature of consciousness that cannot be accommodated by scientific naturalism: value -- our sense of what is good and what is bad, and our judgment of right and wrong. He critiques a different type of subjectivism, the one which holds that moral and value judgments of all kinds can be traced to natural, adaptive responses of attraction and aversion to pleasurable and painful experiences. Against this view, Nagel upholds a kind of moral realism which views our value judgments as attempts, however error-prone, to apprehend real truths about the world, just as mathematics attempts to discern real logical truths and science aims to uncover real empirical truths. Even if one does not accept the notion that value judgments have "truth," there remains the awkward fact that they are explicit, argued over, and associated with the idea of unassailable validity -- not characteristics one associates with the material world as described by the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology.

For all these reasons, Nagel rejects not only theories of consciousness that reduce it to the brain, but ones that reduce it to the sum of purely accidental physical processes played out across a grand time scale. This claim leads him into dangerous territory; he questions whether we have any theoretical framework from which we can understand how life arose out of chemical elements by purely physical processes, and (even more dangerous) whether the emergence of complex, not to mention conscious, organisms can be accounted for by natural selection.

This willingness to court danger, and execration by the materialist mainstream, is made more admirable by the fact that Nagel has no hidden agenda: Although he seems to be flirting with Intelligent Design and (God help us) theism, he is careful to note both his own atheism and the failings of design theory.

Instead, Nagel toys with a non-theistic, non-intentional, yet teleological hypothesis for the existence of life, mind, and value. A truly complete theory of mind, he suggests, would have to account for how the proto-mental character of the basic stuff of the universe played a role in the generation of the full-scale minds we see today -- how, in a sense, mind created its own higher manifestations. Similarly, the existence of value ought to be explored not just as an accidental side effect of life, but as the thing that life was brought about in order to realize or apprehend: "there is life because life is a necessary condition of value."

This hypothesis, of course, is at odds with the Darwinian picture and the naturalism it seems to license. Indeed, this notion that life, consciousness, and value are determined not merely by value-free chemistry and physics but by a cosmic disposition to form them, is a radical break with the predominant mindset of the entire scientific establishment. According to this orthodoxy, consciousness is a definite parvenu, and value a precarious new kid on the block. It will take some overturning -- and so it should. After all, the Darwinian view seems to be supported by some fundamental truths: that matter must have preceded living matter, that living matter seemingly must have preceded conscious living matter, and that likewise conscious living matter preceded morally fastidious conscious living matter. And the assumptions with which this view begins have of course contributed to many of the great scientific advances of the last few centuries.

Nagel is aware that in the present intellectual climate any discussion of a teleological hypothesis is unlikely to be taken seriously, notwithstanding the fact that we are far from having any idea of the kind of processes that could possibly have given rise to life out of nonliving matter, conscious life out of living matter, or conscientious life out of conscious life. Even so, the fact that even a respected naturalistic luminary like Francis Crick asserted that life seems miraculous -- so much so that he was willing to entertain the theory (also taken seriously by many other famous scientists) that life on earth was seeded by showers of unicellular organisms deliberately sent by an advanced civilization from elsewhere -- does not help Nagel's case as much as he seems to think. Even Homer nods.

The standard belief that we are unimportant events generated by an entirely absentminded universe commands wide, if insincere, acceptance. Stephen Hawking's declaration that "the human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies" is more often quoted than challenged. Just the same, Nagel concludes with a confident prediction "that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two."

Given that reason can afford us no knowledge of the material world--least of all that there is such a thing--all our beliefs come down to a choice of values.  we can place our faith in beauty or ugliness. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Moscow closes Euro 2020 fan zone as COVID cases surge (Deutsche-Welle, 6/18/21)

The fan zone near the capital's Luzhniki Stadium previously admitted 5,000 pre-registered fans

Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin said Friday the tripling of the number of COVID-19 cases in recent days has prompted the need to close the Euro 2020 fan zone and take other preventive measures to stop the virus from spreading.

"I don't want to do but I have to do it," Sobyanin wrote on his blog.

Sobyanin blamed new variants for the sudden spread while the Kremlin cited nihilism and low vaccination rates.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Health care ruling saves Republicans from themselves (Alayna Treene, Caitlin Owens, Sarah Mucha, 6/17/21, Axios)

Most GOP lawmakers privately admit (and some will even say publicly) they don't want to deal with health care again. The issue generally isn't a good one for them with voters -- as they learned the hard way after they failed to repeal the ACA in 2017.

Now they're happy instead to make Democrats own problems with the health care system and brand their ideas to improve it as "radical."

The big picture: Years on from their 2017 failure, Republicans haven't gotten any closer to rallying around any alternative health care proposal.

Along the way, they've also lost both chambers of Congress -- and the White House.

June 17, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Facial Recognition Technology Solves Crimes, but at What Cost? (Julie Taboh, June 17, 2021, Voice of America)

Police typically have image search engines at their disposal that pull drivers' license pictures or other photos among police records.  

Clearview AI, in contrast, has gathered billions of images from social media sites and other websites, which internet firms say were obtained by breaking their rules.  

Clearview AI's Ton-That says that the company only pulls publicly available information.   

In one case, federal agents were able to identify a man suspected of sexual abuse of a girl using a single image from the "dark web," an area of the internet only accessible by special software and matching it through Clearview AI.   

"He was in the background of someone else's photo at the gym, in the mirror," said Ton-That. "They were able to identify where the gym was, identify the person, he ended up doing 35 years in jail and they saved a seven-year-old."   

The software was also instrumental in helping federal as well as state and local law enforcement identify suspects that stormed the U.S. Capitol in January, according to Ton-That.  

In one way, Clearview AI, which has created its database from people's social media accounts and other public parts of the internet, was well suited to help with this massive investigation of people whose mugshots wouldn't necessarily be in police databases, he said.   

Police were able to use Clearview AI, which runs about a second per search, he said, and find matching photos online of some suspects.   

"So they were able to quickly identify them, and reduce a lot of false-positives, and also speed up the investigative process," he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


Putin Suddenly Looks Very Small (Kevin Baron, JUNE 17, 2021, Defense One)

Vladimir Putin has never looked smaller. 

When the big moment in Geneva finally came, the Russian leader faced the cameras after his shorter-than-expected private meetings with President Joe Biden, and the often-shirtless Russian bear looked and sounded, well, weak. The legendary master of hours-long press appearances before packed houses of fawning Moscow apparatchiks instead played to a half-empty room of COVID-distanced reporters in Switzerland. He spoke with the soft tones and empty tropes of a fading autocrat defiant at the walls of reality closing in around him. His schtick was boring, his message tired, and his talking points worn out. 

Geneva wasn't the disinformation victory Biden's opponents feared it would be. It was a rerun of a million Putin appearances we've seen before. The only man Putin made look feeble was himself. His speech was rambling, off-topic, and filled with confusing and nonsensical misdirections and blatant lies. He looked thoroughly disconnected from his own myth. The cunning power once attributed to him seemed tiny compared to how actual power is measured. He was a man standing alone. In other words, Putin looked positively Trumpian. 

It's no coincidence that Putin has but one prominent supporter in the West: private citizen Donald Trump, which means very little, now.

Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


Supreme Court sides with Catholic adoption agency that refuses to work with LGBT couples (Tucker Higgins, 6/17/21, CNBC)

The Supreme Court on Thursday delivered a unanimous defeat to LGBT couples in a high-profile case over whether Philadelphia could refuse to contract with a Roman Catholic adoption agency that says its religious beliefs prevent it from working with same-sex foster parents.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in an opinion for a majority of the court that Philadelphia violated the First Amendment by refusing to contract with Catholic Social Services once it learned that the organization would not certify same-sex couples for adoption.

"The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that 'Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise' of religion," Roberts wrote.

"As an initial matter, it is plain that the City's actions have burdened CSS's religious exercise by putting it to the choice of curtailing its mission or approving relationships inconsistent with its beliefs," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


Supreme Court upholds Obamacare again, rejecting GOP challenge from Texas (David G. Savage, June 17, 2021, LA Times)

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Obamacare for the third time and rejected a sweeping challenge backed by former President Trump and Republican state attorneys.

The 7-2 majority found that the state of Texas and other plaintiffs lacked the legal standing to sue.

The decision preserves health insurance subsidies for more than 20 million Americans and protections for tens of millions more whose preexisting medical conditions could otherwise prevent them from obtaining coverage.

The ruling stands as a final thumbs-down verdict against Trump's promise that he would "repeal and replace" the 2010 Affordable Care Act sponsored by President Obama. Trump never devised a plan to replace the law, and both the Republican-controlled Senate and the high court with a solidly conservative majority rejected his legislative and legal bids to repeal it.

Two Trump appointees -- Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett -- joined Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the three liberals in dismissing the Texas suit. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Greene And Gaetz Now Claim FBI Instigated Capitol Riot (Oliver Willis, June 17 | 2021,  American Independent)

On Wednesday, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) without evidence accused the FBI of orchestrating the January 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Gaetz posted a video of an appearance by former Donald Trump speechwriter Darren Beattie on Fox News, embedded in a tweet that reads, "BREAKING: @DarrenJBeattie of Revolver News breaks down the involvement of FBI operatives who organized and participated in the January 6th Capitol riot."

Greene shared Gaetz's post and added, "We need names and answers about the FBI operatives, who were involved in organizing and carrying out the Jan 6th Capitol riot," Greene tweeted. "First they had a 'back up plan' to stop Trump in Russia Collusion witch hunt, now we are finding out they were deeply involved in Jan 6th. Deep State."

Nationalism/Nativism always gets the leaders it deserves. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Propaganda expert explains how Tucker Carlson has become the anti-American parrot of Russian talking points (Sarah K. Burris, 6/17/21, Raw Story)

Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson falsely told Fox News viewers that it's possible that the FBI dressed up like supporters of President Donald Trump and attacked the U.S. Capitol as part of a false flag event. It's the same kind of conspiracy that Alex Jones has been touting about mass shootings starting with Sandy Hook Elementary. Jones was ultimately sued by the parents of the children who died.

"The same people like Kevin McCarthy whose adrenaline was rushing through their cheeks in the wake of the fight or flight response when they huddled into secret locations or could recognize the danger of what they saw in the moment," said host Chris Hayes. "All of the folks, up to and including Mitch McConnell are now running cover for this propaganda."

Speaking to Hayes on Wednesday, history professor and propaganda expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat explained that she is growing increasingly more concerned that the right-wing and Russian far-right are converging on the same propaganda.

"Some of the through lines are the same as the right-wing playbook for 100 years and where the GOP and Russian far-right are converging. One of them is that liberal democracy is a failed system and brings chaos and anarchy and, so, you are trying to build an appetite for authoritarian rule," said Ben-Ghat. "And another is that liberal democracy is tyranny. So, we hear talk of Biden being a dictator and wanting to impose a dictatorship and he's going to take our guns away and make us wear masks and force-feed critical race theory."

Especially fun yesterday watching the Right flock to Vlad and rant against the President.

Joe Biden, the U.S. president who in Geneva didn't shame America like Trump in Helsinki (The Editorial Board, 6/17/21, USA TODAY)

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16, 2021.
America reclaimed some lost pride Wednesday when President Joe Biden met in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin  - and did so without bowing and scraping to a smug and devious autocrat.

That's a low bar, to be sure. But it's one that President Donald Trump failed utterly to clear - to the nation's everlasting shame - when he held a meeting with Putin in Helsinki in 2018 and played supplicant to a man impervious to human rights concerns, who leads a nation with only a fraction of America's economic prowess. (California's gross domestic product is nearly twice that of Russia's.) 

The memory remains painful. After their two-hour talk, the details of which are still a mystery because only interpreters were allowed to sit in, the leaders emerged for a brief news conference, in which Trump praised Putin's "extremely strong and powerful" denial of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Eric Swalwell reveals shocking thing Republican did after refusing to shake DC cop's hand (Matthew Chapman, June 16, 2021, Raw Story)

"To honor Donald Trump, you now have to dishonor the police, that's the only explanation I have for you," said Swalwell. "Officer Fanone and Officer Harry Dunn stopped by my office earlier today unannounced. They popped in, I chatted with them for a while. They told me how much it hurt to watch the vote yesterday where 21 Republicans voted against giving these hero officers the gold medals. They said they wanted to embark on going to those offices to meet the members of Congress, tell them about their experience and hopefully change their minds."

"So Fanone called me about 20 minutes after he left my office and he was enraged," continued Swalwell. "He said, is this really how it works around here? ... He said that Congressman Clyde, after he refused to shake his hand, pulled out his cell phone and started recording him like he was some sort of criminal, that he had to document the interaction. That's just where these guys are right now. I saw Clyde on the floor, scared for his life as all of us were, and I saw the brave officers who put their lives in front of ours and everyone else in that building. This is just no way to treat them."

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


There's a 4 million home shortage. Can the federal government help fix the problem? (Jerusalem Demsas, Jun 17, 2021, Vox)

The Treasury Department is waving a warning flag to Congress and other policymakers about the housing market. Its message? The country is quickly running out of homes, and you need to do something about it.

Traditionally, the federal government's housing policies have been demand-side interventions. Things like the mortgage interest deduction, which reduces homeowner's taxes (stimulating demand) or the Fed buying up over a trillion dollars in mortgage bonds to help bring down mortgage rates (also stimulating demand). These types of policies are broadly popular since they help people afford something expensive. But they don't do anything to reduce the cost of housing.

Now, in a memo authored by Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo, he makes the case for an increased focus on supply-side interventions. Simply put: We need to build more homes.

"Ultimately, the biggest driver of the lack of affordable housing today is a supply constraint that has existed before the COVID pandemic but has been exacerbated by the pandemic," Adeyemo tells Vox.

The 2008 crisis was a function of financial fraud, not of home valuation. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Humans and Neanderthals Met and Mated 50,000 Years Ago in Negev Desert (Nathan Falde, 6/15/21, Ancient Origins)

A recent re-examination of artifacts collected from Israel's central Negev desert has revealed important details about the development of human culture in the region, according to a new study published in the journal PNAS. Precise archaeological dating techniques of artifacts from the Boker Tachtit site have shifted the known timeline of the arrival of modern humans to about 50,000 years ago. This would make Boker Tachtit the oldest modern human settlement in the Levant, and means that early Homo sapiens occupied the region at the same time as the Neanderthals. [...]

One of the most notable consequences of the study was its verification that modern humans and Neanderthals were present in the central Negev desert at the same time. "This goes to show that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in the Negev coexisted and most likely interacted with one another, resulting in not only genetic interbreeding, as is postulated by the 'recent African origin' theory, but also in cultural exchange," Boaretto and Barzilai theorized in a Weizmann Institute press release announcing their discoveries.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants Would Boost U.S. Economic Growth (Giovanni Peri and Reem Zaiour, June 14, 2021, Center for American Progress)

Today, 10.2 million undocumented immigrants are living and working in communities across the United States.1 On average, they have lived in this country for 16 years and are parents, grandparents, and siblings to another 10.2 million family members.2 At the same time, it has been nearly 40 years since Congress has meaningfully reformed the U.S. immigration system, leaving a generation of individuals and their families vulnerable. Poll after poll has illustrated that the vast majority of Americans support putting undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship. And as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and looks toward the future, legalization is a key component of a just, equitable, and robust recovery. [...]

Scenario 1: Providing a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants in the United States would boost U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by a cumulative total of $1.7 trillion over 10 years and create 438,800 new jobs.

And then adopt the Ellis Island model: process and admit new immigrants at every entry point. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Conservatives now use the label 'critical race theory' to describe any conversation about race that makes them uncomfortable  (Jeffrey C. Billman, 6/16/21, Orlando Weekly)

Fear is the common denominator: fear of losing their place atop the social hierarchy, of their culture being replaced by something that feels foreign, of their children seeing through the self-serving narratives they've told themselves for generations. The same fear that justifies misleading students about the history of their country justifies a zero-sum politics that views democracy as the enemy of (their) liberty. 

These purposes intersect. By minimizing the legacy of the Black experience, by imagining the past is dead, conservatives can sever modern voter suppression efforts from their Jim Crow forerunners. The old version was racist; version 2.0 is about "ballot security" -- or, if they're honest, raw power. They design laws to disadvantage Democrats; it's not their fault those Democrats are Black. 

But there's an irony here. Laws that limit ballot access and gerrymander white conservatives into an outsize share of congressional and legislative seats rest on a fundamental, if unacknowledged, belief that some votes matter more than others. The same, of course, was also true for poll taxes and literacy tests. But connecting those dots requires seeing American history as more than a series of dates and facts -- history that asks how and why as much as who and when. 

The kind of history Ron DeSantis is eager to eliminate. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Team America may save us yet: Brits might not like to admit it, but the US can-do attitude is what we need to recover from Covid (James Jeffrey, 17 June, 2021, The Critic)

Many Americans, certainly those I've spoken to but also others in the media, appear supremely confident about a post-Covid-19 recovery that is both economic and societal in nature. One reason such ebullience is so striking is because it contrasts so sharply with how Brits tend to speak and act nowadays when discussing Covid-19 and opening up. That cautious, sucking-through-your-teeth hesitation appears to be a national default position.

In her book A State of Fear: How the UK Government Weaponized Fear During the Covid-19 Pandemic, Laura Dodsworth argues that the pandemic has left us "one of the most frightened countries in the world." From the government's behavioural scientists straight out of a cautionary Aldous Huxley novel, to "roadside signs telling us to 'Stay Alert', the incessantly doom-laden media commentary, to masks literally keeping the fear in our face, we've become afraid of each other," Dodsworth says. 

She cites an international study last September of public attitudes across Europe, the US and Asia which found that people in the UK had the highest overall levels of concern about Covid-19, while another study reported that Britons were the least likely to believe that the economy and businesses should open if Covid-19 was not "fully contained."

Dodsworth has much sympathy for the British population and their reactions -- as do I for the same reasons -- primarily stemming from their being coerced through fear-mongering tactics. In a recent article about the risks of over diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder, I noted how after a profound disruption like Brexit, it's plausible that Brits and their emotional well-being were more vulnerable than other nationalities to the arrival of a new virus.  

Either way, it's clear there isn't a solid bedrock in this country for breeding confidence and instigating that virtuous feedback loop, as Robertson notes, whereby "confidence begets more confidence." Robertson highlights the "disturbing" findings of a Prince's Trust survey done mid-pandemic in 2020. From 2,000 people in the UK aged 16 -- 25 years old, it found that 41 per cent of respondents felt that their future goals now seemed "impossible to achieve" and 38 per cent felt they would "never succeed in life." 

If that's an accurate indicator across the entire age group, it's hard not to share Robertson's concern that "such a drop in the confidence of nearly half a generation could reverberate for decades in the social, economic and political fabric of Britain." Cue the inspiration of Lady Liberty and those sporting events and everything else happening, and opening up, in the US to spark confidence here.

Another unexpected reminder of the potent spiritedness of the US happened as I read Simon Akam's brutal takedown of the British Army's conduct since 9/11 in his book The Changing of the Guard. A clear theme throughout the book is how dependent the British military is on the might of US forces. Without it, we became unstuck, basically, hence the US military had to keep bailing out the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Amid the depressing story, I found a strangely uplifting moment. Akam recounts a British officer during the 2003 invasion of Iraq liaising with US forces regarding their providing fast jets 10 minutes ahead of the British force and a swarm of attack helicopters in close support. The British officer "asks how long they can keep that act up for," aware, as an ex-pilot, of the massive logistical challenges of providing air power. The reply from the Americans: "Indefinitely, sir." Akam notes how the British officer's "jaw drops so far that another American -- out of genuine attempted kindness -- elaborates: "That means forever, sir."

Considering how easily we've dealt with the last four societal disruptions--9-11, the Credit Crunch, Donald, and Covid--how can anyone (outside the Left/Right) not be confident about the future? 

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar among few who voted against Juneteenth holiday (Ronald J. Hansen, 6/17/21, Arizona Republic)

The new holiday comes a year after the death of George Floyd, a flashpoint incident in Minneapolis that has led to a national reappraisal of race and police relations.

"Juneteenth celebrates African-American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who sponsored the legislation.

One of the great urban legends of politics is that Senate and House whips garnered support for MLK Day by telling the Southerners it would give their constituents the day after the Super Bowl off. 

June 16, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


How Deepmind Is Using AI To 'Solve' Soccer: After Go, Chess, and protein folding, the world's most famous AI company is taking on the challenge of a uniquely human sport. (The Physics arXiv Blog, Jun 11, 2021)

Deepmind has created an intelligent agent that has learnt how to play soccer. Not just high level skills such as how to tackle, pass and play in a team, but how to control a fully articulated human body in a way that performs these actions like a human. The result is an impressive simulation of soccer in a way that is reminiscent of human players, albeit naïve and ungainly ones.

The approach is described by Siqi Liu and colleagues at Deepmind. The first task is to give the intelligent agent full control over a humanoid figure with all the joints and articulation -- 56 degrees of freedom that a real human has.

The agent learns to control this humanoid in a simulated environment with ordinary gravity and other laws of physics built in. It does this by learning to copy the movement of real footballers captured via standard motion capture techniques. These movements include running, changing direction, kicking and so on. The AI humanoids then practice mid-level skills such as dribbling, following the ball and shooting. Finally, the humanoids play in 2 v 2 games in which the winning team is the one that scores first.

One of the impressive outcomes from this process is that the humanoids learn tactics of various kinds. "They develop awareness of others and learn to play as a team, successfully bridging the gap between low-level motor control at a time scale of milliseconds, and coordinated goal-directed behaviour as a team at the timescale of tens of seconds," say Liu and colleagues. Footage of these games along with the way the players learn is available on line.

What makes this work standout is that Deepmind takes on these challenges together while in the past, they have usually been tackled separately. That's important because the emergent behaviour of the players depends crucially on their agility and their naturalistic movement, which shows the advantage of combining these approaches. "The results demonstrate that artificial agents can indeed learn to coordinate complex movements in order to interact with objects and achieve long-horizon goals in cooperation with other agents," say the team.

Interestingly, the players learn to pass but don't seem to learn how to run into space. Perhaps that because this often requires players to run away from the ball. Without that ability, the patterns of play are reminiscent of those of young children, who tend to chase the ball in a herd.

Older children develop a sense of space and adult players spending large portions of the game running into space or closing down space that opposition players could run into, all without the ball.

But Deepmind's approach is in its infancy and has the potential to advance significantly. The obvious next step is to play games with larger teams and to see what behaviour emerges. "Larger teams might also lead to the emergence of more sophisticated tactics," say the researchers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins calls President Biden's apology 'completely unnecessary' after heated Geneva exchange (Nicole Lyn Pesce, 6/16/21, CNN)

Biden had just finished a press conference following his summit with Putin in Geneva when Collins, 29, shouted out a question as the POTUS walked away from the stage. 

"Why are you so confident [Putin] will change his behavior, Mr. President?" she asked. 

Biden stopped in his tracks, turned around, and responded with noticeable irritation in his voice. 

"I am not confident he will change his behavior. Where the hell ... What do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?" asked Biden. "I said ... what I said was, let's get it straight, I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I am not confident of anything. I am just stating the facts."

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


America's Flawed Search for Itself (ZACHARY KARABELL, 6/16/21, Project Syndicate)

[I]n today's woke age, Americans have yet to find an equilibrium for evaluating who they are. Recognizing the country's legacy of flawed, incomplete national stories does not entail replacing one lopsided narrative with another. After all, in an ideal world, US citizens of all colors, ethnicities, and classes would honor and discuss multiple layers of the past.

The problem for many Americans is that embracing "wokeness" requires them to grapple with their whiteness. Although much of the United States' past has been racially whitewashed, Americans can't simply erase that whiteness or treat it primarily as a problem to be overcome. We cannot resolve one imbalance by creating another.

Part of the challenge is America's unusually binary culture, at least in terms of its prevailing national narrative. In the 1950s, the dominant narrative featured a country uniquely driven by freedom, middle-class prosperity, democracy, and a voice for all. The story of slavery was a redemptive one, with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation demonstrating that the US had morally strayed but ultimately returned to the righteous path. The end of post-Civil War Reconstruction and the subsequent Jim Crow era of legally enforced racial segregation in the former Confederate states were elided almost completely.

This was a triumphant narrative whose heroes were, by and large, white men. Native Americans were visible, if at all, only in brief benign cameos at the first Thanksgiving and then as enemies on the frontier. A few African-Americans - such as George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington - made brief appearances to reinforce the story.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, there was an almost complete reversal of that narrative, and one-time heroes became villains. This narrative discovered new heroes like the abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and the women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony, and brought out of the shadows buried injustices, including widespread lynchings of blacks and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre (100 years ago last month). The oppression that America had conveniently and purposefully air-brushed from the historical picture was now crowding back in. As Malcolm X memorably put it, "Our forefathers were not the Pilgrims. We didn't land on Plymouth Rock; the Rock was landed on us."

Today, rejection of the "whitewashing of American history" and efforts to confront structural racism have triggered a conservative backlash, with Republican lawmakers pushing bills through state legislatures that ban the teaching of "critical race theory" in school curricula.

It's just a function of the insecurities of the Left/Right that they can't accept both that we achieved uniquely great things and did truly horrible things along the way. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


The Monarchy and the Economy (Mauro F. Guillén, June 16, 2021, Cato Unbound)

The main reason behind the economic performance of monarchies in the contemporary world is that the constitutional monarchy represents a compromise between tradition and modernity. It represents a brake on the boundless ambition of politicians. And it works as a mechanism preserving what deserves to remain while incorporating what the circumstances call for. While not alone in serving all of these different purposes, the constitutional monarchy is a beautiful solution to a wide array of governance problems.

In his Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu wrote that England was "a republic, disguised under the form of monarchy." One of the ironies about the constitutional monarchy is that it has become associated, first and foremost, with a country that lacks a formal constitution. The United Kingdom, with its unique parliamentary and monarchical traditions, is frequently proposed as the model for everyone else to emulate.

People often argue that the advantages of a constitutional monarchy can be obtained with the parliamentary system that republics offer, that is, when an elected head of state who acts as arbiter and figurehead is combined with that of a prime minister appointed by parliament following the will of the people. One example is Germany, where the Federal President is the head of state while the Chancellor is the head of the executive branch. Nowadays, there are 46 such parliamentary republics in the world, compared to 100 presidential republics, such as France or the United States.

The defenders of constitutional monarchy observe that the ability of the sovereign to play the role of impartial arbiter is much greater than that of the elected head of state in a parliamentary system. Elected presidents, they argue, can more easily become enmeshed in political maneuvering because they were elected to that position, either directly or indirectly, while hereditary sovereigns do not generally have the legitimacy or the constitutional mandate to do so.

A second way in which the constitutional monarch may be better positioned than the elected president-figurehead involves the tendency for politicians to perpetuate themselves in power. Inevitably, longevity in the executive branch tends to result in abuse of power. In my own research I found that the longer the head of the executive branch stays in power--be it a prime minister, president, absolute monarch, or dictator--the more property rights come under attack. My study comparing monarchies and republics between 1900 and 2010 also unveiled that monarchies in general are more effective than parliamentary republics when it comes to minimizing the abusive behavior of leaders of the executive branch who perpetuate themselves in power. The institution of the monarchy includes the idea of dynastic succession as a key element, one that can potentially temper the ambition of politicians. This is an aspect that parliamentary republics with an elected head of state cannot possibly provide.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Football is not football: On the Europeanization of a once-American genre (Simon Kuper, 6 June 2021, The European Review of Books)

When I returned to London, and told my editor that I'd visited 22 countries on four continents and interviewed people and begun writing the book, he raised my advance by another £1500. I think he had never actually expected me actually to go off and do it. In 1993, while I was back in my parents' house trying to write up the book, I read a newly published football memoir: Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch.

When Hornby began writing the book, he was an unsuccessful journalist in his mid-thirties who taught English to foreigners on the side. His friends thought, "Poor Nick, he's writing this crazy book about how being an Arsenal fan explains his life. Nobody's going to buy it."

Fever Pitch is a completely original book, the first to examine the apparently unremarkable experience of being a football fan. It's also a hilarious but true social history of Britain from the 1960s through the 1990s. It became the most influential football book ever written, the one that did more than any other to launch the genre.

Like mine, Hornby's original inspiration for Fever Pitch had come from the US. He was a literary critic, and his very first book - published in 1992, the same year as Fever Pitch - was a study called Contemporary American Fiction. He had been particularly influenced by two American memoirs: Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, and Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, about being an alcoholic dysfunctional New York Giants fan. As a tribute to both books, Hornby gave Fever Pitch the subtitle "A Fan's Life".

But he was also inspired by a now defunct London bookshop. In 1985 a New Zealander named John Gaustad had opened a tiny store in Caxton Walk, off the Charing Cross Road in London called Sportspages, which had the crazy idea of only selling sports books. At first, Gaustad was the only employee. Initially, inevitably, most of the books it sold were about cricket.

Gaustad - who probably knew the history of football writing better than anyone else - once told me the genesis lay in about 1987, when a tiny publisher in the provincial English town of Derby produced a statistical history of Derby County Football Club. Hardly anybody noticed at the time, but the book turned out to be a precursor. Within a few years almost every British club had its statistical history. Gaustad also told me: "Pete Davies was John the Baptist to Nick Hornby."

Hornby used to spend hours in Sportspages, reading the fanzines of different clubs that the shop sold. These fanzines were a product of the late 1980s, and now exist mostly online; most clubs have at least one. Fanzines typically publish articles by fans of a particular club, people who in real life are schoolteachers or taxi drivers, but who write so well that as a professional journalist it often scares me. The most prominent and literate British fanzine still exists today: When Saturday Comes.

Hornby said years later that Sportspages "showed me there was a market for a book like Fever Pitch. Publishers may have refused to accept that there was such a beast as the literate soccer fan, but there were always hundreds of them in Caxton Walk, so I knew who I was writing for." Sadly, Gaustad was eventually ousted from Sportspages, and in the internet era the shop closed, because nobody needed to leave the house anymore to find sports books. John Gaustad died in 2016, but without him, literary football writing might never have existed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


The Einstein-Bohr legacy: can we ever figure out what quantum theory means? (MARCELO GLEISER, 16 June, 2021, Big Think)

To Einstein, the world was ultimately rational. Things had to make sense. They should be quantifiable and expressible through a logical chain of cause-and-effect interactions, from what we experience in our everyday lives all the way to the depths of reality. To Bohr, we had no right to expect any such order or rationality. Nature, at its deepest level, need not follow any of our expectations of well-behaved determinism. Things could be weird and non-deterministic, so long as they became more like what we expect when we traveled from the world of atoms to our world of trees, frogs, and cars. Bohr divided the world into two realms, the familiar classical world, and the unfamiliar quantum world. They should be complementary to one another but with very different properties.

The two scientists spent decades arguing about the impact of quantum physics on the nature of reality. Each had groups of physicists as followers, all of them giants of their own. Einstein's group of quantum weirdness deniers included quantum physics pioneers Max Planck, Louis de Broglie, and Erwin Schrödinger, while Bohr's group had Werner Heisenberg (of uncertainty principle fame), Max Born, Wolfgang Pauli, and Paul Dirac.

Almost a century afterward, the debate rages on.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


The Biden-Putin summit was a diplomatic nothingburger (Owen Matthews, 6/16/21, Spectator)

There was a time when summit meetings between the presidents of Russia and the US were world-historical events on which the balance of world peace rested. Today -- not so much. Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin didn't even manage to fill the five hours allotted for their talks in Geneva today in large part because they simply didn't have much to talk about. Russia today threatens no US vital interests, commands no alliances or strategic resources and remains a world power in only two areas, both inherited from the Cold War -- its large nuclear arsenal and its UN Security Council veto.

Today's Putin-Biden summit -- unlike the explosive Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki three years ago, where Trump hinted he believed Putin's word over that of the US's own intelligence agencies -- was a diplomatic nothingburger.

Exactly what we hired Joe to do--not be Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The War on Critical Race Theory: A QuagmirePartisans have been itching for a new culture war. CRT might be just what they're looking for. (JIM SWIFT,  JUNE 16, 2021, The Bulwark)

The fight over Critical Race Theory is far more complicated than the fight over Common Core because CRT is far more complicated, and vaguer, than Common Core. There is no centralized website, no single unified explanation. Think of it as something like Black Lives Matter or the Tea Party: more of a set of overlapping principles than the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Due to our country's immensely complicated history with race and racism, CRT has many facets--and so it can be invoked as a bogeyman for just about anything anyone on the right wants. Generally, its concerns are:

race, biology, social constructs, and racism;

racial inequality, systemic racism in the legal system and society; and


Not even its most ardent proponents agree entirely on what CRT is or how it ought to be incorporated into school curricula. But if you understand the terms above, you get the gist: America has systematically discriminated against black slaves, the Irish, Asians, immigrants from South America, and various others. That history has continuing consequences today.

...that it is the guys who oppose immigration who oppose mentioning race in school. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Tokyo Was Truly Hell on Earth"The Great City of Tokyo is Dead" (Warfare History Network, 6/16/21)

It was 3:30 am, Chamorro Standard Time, March 10, 1945. The great firebomb mission was wrapping up.

The "all clear" sounded at 2:37 am Tokyo time, or 3:37 am on the clock used by the Americans. Stacked blackened corpses were being hauled away on trucks. Tokyo resident Fusako Sasaki said she saw "places on the pavement where people had been roasted to death."

Mark Selden, who wrote in Japan Focus, contends that the widely seen figure of 100,000 who ultimately died in the bombing is misleading. Wrote Selden, "The figure of roughly 100,000 deaths, provided by Japanese and American authorities, both of whom may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll, seems to me arguably low in light of population density, wind conditions, and survivors' accounts.

"With an average of 103,000 inhabitants per square mile (396 people per hectare) and peak levels as high as 135,000 per square mile (521 people per hectare), the highest density of any industrial city in the world, and with firefighting measures ludicrously inadequate to the task, 15.8 square miles of Tokyo were destroyed on a night when fierce winds whipped the flames and walls of fire blocked tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas."

Weeks later in an Army publication, Staff Sergeant Bob Speer wrote, "The great city of Tokyo--third largest in the world--is dead. The heart, guts, core--whatever you want to call everything that makes a modern metropolis a living, functioning organism--is a waste of white ash, endless fields of ashes, blowing in the wind. Not even the shells of walls stand in large areas of the Japanese capital. The streets are desolate, the people are dead or departed, the city lies broken and prostrate and destroyed.

"The men who accomplished the job study the photographs brought back by their recon pilots ... and stand speechless and awed. They shake their heads at each other and bend over the photos again, and then shake their heads again, and no one says a word."

Vast warehouse areas, big manufacturing plants, railroad yards, stocks of raw materials, the whole complex of home factories--all of it was gone. The broadcast studio JOAK, from which the voice of Tokyo Rose was sent out to taunt B-29 crewmembers, was heavily damaged. The Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, needed serious repair. The biggest railroad stations in Asia--Ueno and Tokyo Central--were completely wiped out.

The torching of Tokyo and Emperor Hirohito's subsequent viewing of the ravaged sections of the city are said to have marked the beginning of the emperor's personal involvement in the peace process.

104,000 Tons of Bombs Dropped on Tokyo

After 15 hours and four minutes in the air, the great Tokyo firebomb mission's on-scene air commander, Brig. Gen. Thomas S. Power, landed at Guam's North Field. There were dark circles around Power's eyes. The aircraft came to a halt, and two of its engines were still running when Power dropped to the ground.

LeMay greeted Power with a hint of a smile. St. Clair McKelway looked on and tried to read the two men. Power told LeMay that antiaircraft fire had been lighter than he'd expected, Japanese night fighters had not been seen, and the fires in Tokyo, which ultimately combined into a single vast conflagration, had been more devastating than anyone expected.

Three B-29s ditched after the mission to Tokyo. Of 334 bombers launched against Japan in the early evening hours of March 9, 1945, some 279 aircraft arrived over target and passed over the primary aiming point at "Meetinghouse," the center of Tokyo. B-29 Superfortress crews brought home with them the stench of burnt death.

Back from the mission, in the sunlit morning, 1st Lt. Bill Lind of the 497th Bombardment Group taxied into his parking slot, pulled back the window next to his seat, and yelled down to his ground crew, "Hey, boys! Come over to this aircraft and smell Tokyo!"

It was 8:30 am, Chamorro Standard Time, March 10, 1945.

By the time the guns went silent, B-29s had dropped 104,000 tons of bombs on Japan, reducing to rubble 169 square miles in 66 cities. The bombing missions left homeless 9.2 million civilians, including 3.1 million in Tokyo.

Between June 1944 and August 1945, 402 B-29s were lost bombing Japan--147 of them to Japanese flak and fighters and 255 to engine fires and mechanical failures. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when combined, inflicted less damage than the great Tokyo firebomb raid.

It is the author's opinion that the defeat of Japan without an invasion was caused by the overall B-29 campaign and not solely by the atomic bombings. Remarkably, the plan for the firebombing of Tokyo worked. U.S. casualties were painful but small in proportion to the magnitude of the mission's success.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Senate unanimously passes a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday (Ted Barrett, Ali Zaslav and Alex Rogers,  June 15, 2021, CNN)

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

The legislation has gained momentum since the massive Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last year and the Democrats' takeover of the White House and Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Saudi Arabia executes man accused of joining anti-government Shiite 'rebellion' (AYA BATRAWY, 6/16/21, AP)

Saudi Arabia executed a young man on Tuesday who was convicted on charges stemming from his alleged participation in an anti-government rebellion by minority Shiites. A leading rights group said his trial, however, was "deeply flawed."

June 15, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Many Young People in China 'Lie Flat' as Good Life Seems Unattainable (Kelly Tang, Lin Yang, June 15, 2021, Voice of America)

Fed up with a culture of overwork, through-the-roof housing prices and skyrocketing living costs, many Chinese youth are "lying flat" to express their frustration with the lack of upward social mobility.

Lying flat includes opting out of getting married, having children, purchasing a home or car, and joining the corporate money-making machine, according to China's online discussion forum Zhihu. The tang ping movement embraces doing the bare minimum to maintain a minimalist lifestyle. It rejects the so-called "996 life" of working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, a tech industry schedule that has bled into other sectors and often fails to provide sufficient income for exhausted workers to get ahead.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


NH Jobless Rate Drops Below Pre-Pandemic Numbers (Andrew Mahaleris, 6/15/21, NH Journal)

"Today's job report makes clear that New Hampshire's economy is roaring back to life with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the history of the Granite State," Sununu said in a statement. "Such low unemployment rates are no accident, but are the result of a continued effort to provide businesses with the flexibility needed to grow, while providing individuals with the incentives and resources needed to return to work." 

"New Hampshire's economy is well-positioned to make further economic gains throughout the year that will serve to benefit communities and families across the Granite State."

Also on Wednesday, the data analysts at WalletHub named New Hampshire one of the 10 best states to live in, due in part to the state's red-hot economy ranked fourth in the nation

The same study ranked the Granite State in the top 10 for education and health, and safety, as well as the lowest percentage of the population living in poverty.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


EU swaps Trump's well-done steak (with ketchup) for Biden's prime ribeye (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, June 15, 2021, Politico)

For the EU, Joe Biden's first overseas trip as U.S. president was like having big brother come home from university -- just in time to confront the neighborhood bully.

After four days at busy leaders' summits of the G7 and NATO, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel finally got a chance to sit down with Biden on Tuesday for their own quiet conversation about EU-U.S. relations, before sending him off to Geneva where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Their collective message: We love you, Joe. Now go get him.

The meeting on Tuesday was nothing short of a lovefest, with perhaps the only disagreement being who was happiest, Biden or the Europeans, that Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Confronting the Moral Panic Over Critical Race Theory (Aaron Rabinowitz, 6/15/21, Arc Digital)

The worst part is that the CRT moral panic has produced illiberal laws that, if upheld, would make it hard, perhaps impossible, for teachers to teach the complex history of these ideas. Instead our history books are likely to remain filled with harmful fictions, like the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War and various forms of American moral exceptionalism.

Traldi miss-locates responsibility for current challenges around defining and discussing concepts like "wokeness" and "CRT." He and I agree that the current situation isn't really about CRT in the technical sense, so the question is, why has it been taken up as this colloquial catchall? Traldi correctly notes that CRT is just the latest in a long line of catchall terms, each trying to paint the social justice movement as philosophically and methodologically extreme, and in conflict with the previous period of social justice activism--the Civil Rights movement--that most now claim to lovingly endorse. Yet he suggests that it is persnickety academics who are forcing this endless parade of scary terms, and not the duplicity of anti-woke activists jumping from an incoherent term ("postmodern neo-Marxism"), to a term closely associated with antisemitic conspiracy theories ("cultural Marxism"), to an overgeneralized though real phenomenon ("wokeness").

Traldi claims that the woke strategy is "no name will do we just need to discuss the problem of its name first, forever," and that the woke use this trick to avoid engaging substantive criticisms. But this obscures why the names involved in these moral panics are endlessly moving targets. It's not because the individuals driving the moral panics are responding to good faith criticism from academics. There's scant evidence of that (as Traldi knows, given his experience critiquing the anti-woke book Cynical Theories).

Keeping the target moving keeps the panic fresh and tests out different emotional manipulators, as was the case with preceding moral panics. Here is Chris Rufo, one of the most prominent promotors of the CRT moral panic, giving the game away


This level of bad faith should be front and center in any discussion of our current epistemic crisis...

If it weren't for bad faith arguments they'd have none at all.
Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The GOP Has a Big Jewish Problem and Censuring the Squad Won't Fix It (Molly Jong-Fast, Jun. 15th, 2021, Daily Beast)

The problem with the MAGA set's fondness for the Jews is that it's so often grounded in antisemitic tropes, a tension embodied by Trump trying to relate to the Republican Jewish Coalition by telling the crowd, "I'm a negotiator, like you folks," and "Is there anyone in this room who doesn't negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I've ever spoken." Another time, Trump told American Jews who support Democrats (that's 79% of us, by the way) there we're showing "either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty."

The dumbest member of congress, Louie Gohmert, who accidentally embraced Qanon--oops!-- also "accidentally" donated 5,500 dollars to an anti-LGBTQ pastor who also hates the Jews and is known for such hits as "The Jews Are Our Enemies," and "Jewish Synagogue = Synagogue of Satan." Maybe Greene could take World Baptist church leader Pastor Steve Anderson, who doesn't believe the Holocaust ever happened, on her next tour of the Holocaust Museum?

Meantime, expect Gohmert and Greene to vote with their party as it votes to censor not just Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, but fellow "Squad" members Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and AOC for Omar's tweet saying that "We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. I asked @SecBlinken where people are supposed to go for justice." While Omar did not say that the U.S., which has unquestionably committed atrocities, is the same as the Taliban, Republicans didn't care. Elizabeth Bruenig points out in the Atlantic that, "Goaded by Trump himself, they claimed that Obama was a secret Muslim. Naturally, when presented with Omar, an actual Muslim, they wasted no time turning her into an object of fear and derision."

The GOP game is to pretend that being anti-Muslim is the same thing as being pro-Jewish, which simply isn't true and is why so few Jews vote for Republicans who are more than capable of being both anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Trump administration's hunt for pandemic 'lab leak' went down many paths and came up with no smoking gun (Yasmeen Abutaleb and Shane Harris, Jun. 15th, 2021, Washington Post)

On that teleconference -- the first known effort by senior U.S. and international health officials to determine whether human engineering or a laboratory leak might explain the emergence of the virus -- most of the experts, including Fauci, concluded that the virus had probably evolved in nature and was transmitted from an animal to a human, Collins said in an interview.

The effort continued over the following weeks, when the scientists unanimously concluded there was no evidence of lab manipulation. The teleconference, which has not been previously reported, was the beginning of an ongoing, sometimes politicized and so far fruitless effort inside the U.S. government to determine whether the virus, SARS-CoV-2, could be the result of engineering or a lab leak.

Many more scientists would come not only to discount the "lab leak" theory but dismiss it as the unfounded projection of President Donald Trump, who in the pandemic's early days publicly claimed that the virus may have emerged from a lab in Wuhan, China, where the first known cases of the novel coronavirus were found.

Despite the early scientific consensus supporting natural origin, interest in the lab-leak theory never fully abated inside the U.S. government. Public health officials, intelligence officers and officials at the State Department and the National Security Council labored, with varying degrees of intensity and success, to understand the origins of the virus and whether it may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a world-renowned center for coronavirus research.

Most of what they learned came from public sources of information, including news articles, social media and scientific journals. Within the classified realm, a significant amount of the intelligence the United States obtained came from foreign governments, according to former officials with knowledge of the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


New Study Suggests Coronavirus Was Present in US Earlier than First Believed (VOA News, June 15, 2021)

The novel coronavirus was present in the U.S. in December 2019, weeks before health officials first identified infections, according to a new government study.
Conducted by a team that included researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the study analyzed 24,000 blood samples. The findings suggest that some Americans were infected as early as the middle of December 2019, weeks before the world recognized the spread of the new deadly virus that erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


'The truth is finally coming out': Lev Parnas claims 'vindication' as new tapes reveal Giuliani's role in Ukraine scheme (Matthew Chapman, June 15, 2021, Raw Story)

"It doesn't surprise me," said Parnas. "I heard him lie so many times over the year and a half that Rudy was on, or maybe even a little longer. That's all that we heard and that's all we wanted, is to get an announcement from the Zelensky administration. And even that -- prior to that, even the Poroshenko administration, to announce some sort of investigation into the then-candidate Joe Biden."

"Is this helpful to you, this audio, hearing Rudy Giuliani in his own words?" asked Keilar.

"I mean, it's great validation," said Parnas. "It's similar to, if you remember, a little over a year ago, when then -- the impeachment of Donald Trump, we had Devin Nunes sit as the House Judiciary Committee chair presiding over the impeachment, denying he knows me, trying to discredit, and then having Congress bring out the records that he did have a conversation with me. So it's vindication, it's validation, and really makes me feel good that now the truth is finally coming out, because there's a lot more to the story than just this tape."

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Aiming at moderate voters, Iran presidential candidate urges better ties to West (AMIR VAHDAT, 6/15/21, AP)

A prominent contender in Iran's presidential election appealed Tuesday for better economic and political relations with the West, his most extensive attempt yet to attract reformist voters just days ahead of the poll.

Former Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, among the seven candidates allowed on the ballot for Friday's vote, has no official ties to any political faction but is positioning himself as the likely candidate for moderate and reform-minded voters.

"Why should there be a barrier for peaceful co-existence?" asked Hemmati, while emphasizing that an "improvement in global and regional peace" hinged on American goodwill and "trust-building" with the Islamic Republic.

He repeated calls for a return to Tehran's tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, saying that if he were to become president, resurrecting the agreement and securing sanctions relief would "definitely be one of my priorities."

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, he said he'd even be willing to possibly meet with US President Joe Biden if he wins.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Ex-Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, now a Mainer, marched on the Capitol on Jan. 6: The former Californian, who's been called 'Putin's favorite congressman,' confirmed he was at the march to protest the 'stolen election' but said he urged fellow protesters not to storm the Capitol. (COLIN WOODARD, 6/14/21, Press Herald)

Dana Rohrabacher, the former California representative who earned the moniker "Putin's favorite congressman" for his coziness with Russian President Vladimir Putin and moved to Maine after losing re-election, confirmed Monday that he participated in the Jan. 6 march on the U.S. Capitol.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Hydrogen planes, electric propulsion and new regulations: Aviation is changing  (Anmar Frangoul, 6/15/21, CNBC)

From the Wright brothers' historic flight in 1903 to the development of supersonic aircraft, the history of aviation has been driven by technology and ambition.

Now, as the 21st century progresses, the sector continues to show its appetite for innovation and radical design.

Last September, for instance, a hydrogen fuel-cell plane capable of carrying passengers took to the skies over England for its maiden flight.

The same month also saw Airbus release details of three hydrogen-fueled concept planes, with the European aerospace giant claiming they could enter service by the year 2035.

More recently, United Airlines announced it had signed a commercial agreement to purchase aircraft from a firm called Boom Supersonic.

In a statement, United said the Overture aircraft -- which is yet to be built -- was set to be "optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel."

All of the above are linked by a focus on technologies designed to reduce aviation's environmental footprint.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Ford vs. Tesla (Ben Carlson, 6/14/21, A Wealth of Commonsense)

I've been wrong about plenty of stuff when it comes to prognosticating about the future of the markets or specific companies.1

So I'm not typically one to pay myself on the back when I get something right. But allow me to pat myself on the back for getting something right.

When Disney first announced they were going to release a new streaming service I immediately became bullish on the idea.

There was no discounted cash flow analysis or deep dive into industry dynamics that led me to this conclusion.

It was the fact that I have three little kids and little kids love watching Disney movies. Not only do they love watching Disney movies, but they love watching them over and over and over and over again until all of the songs are seared into your brain for all of eternity.

So I knew parents would be buyers of Disney+ because they had no other choice. Throw in all of the devoted fans to Stars Wars and Marvel content and this felt like a home run.

Disney originally estimated they could reach 60 to 90 million subscribers five years after launch.

Sixteen months after the service started, Disney+ surpassed 100 million subscribers this past spring. It's a juggernaut and now in the conversation with Netflix when it comes to the biggest, most dominant streaming services.

Netflix was the upstart that forced Disney's hand into jumping into streaming. Both companies can co-exist but the success of Netflix has certainly added competition to the space they created.

I think a similar dynamic is taking place with electric vehicles.

Ford is to Tesla in the EV space as Disney is to Netflix in the streaming space.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM

20? (profanity alert):

The Shins: Oh, Inverted World (20th Anniversary Edition) (Holly Hazelwood, 6/15/21, Spectrum: Culture)

In 1998, philosopher T.M. Scanlon asked us a question: "What do we owe to each other?" Three years later, an album was released that -- now 20 years on -- forces us to ask ourselves a very similar question: "What do we owe to Zach Braff?" A review of Oh, Inverted World, the debut album by The Shins, presents a puzzle: should you shrug off the legacy left behind by proto-Manic Pixie Dream Girl Natalie Portman when she forced Braff's character to listen to the still-outstanding "New Slang" on her comically-large headphones in Garden State? Do you confront, head on, the impact that movie (and its still-bulletproof soundtrack) had on indie rock? When Portman excitedly declares that "New Slang" is going to change Braff's life, was she aware of the fact that, in saying it, she would forever change the lives of James Mercer and the other members of The Shins?

By the time that scene arrived, The Shins weren't exactly a new band, and Oh, Inverted World wasn't a new album. "New Slang" was already just enough of a hit to float breezily across episodes of "The Sopranos" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and even "Scrubs," as well as McDonald's advert that forced the band to confront claims of being "sell-outs" long before the rest of the world really came around to them. In fact, their follow-up, Chutes Too Narrow, was a year old by then, and the band had already moved on to playing "So Says I" to Rory Gilmore and a bunch of drunk spring breakers on an episode of "Gilmore Girls." This is all to say: Oh, Inverted World had a whole lifespan before Braff, in his infinite cool-indie-movie-guy wisdom, slotted "Caring is Creepy" and, yes, "New Slang" into the soundtrack for his first foray into trying to prove to the world he had more emotional depth than what was portrayed by his hit medical-comedy "Scrubs." Honestly, the fact that his goofy shadow hangs this large over Oh, Inverted World is insulting to how damn good the album is -- even if it really, probably does have to be talked about.

Forget all of that. In fact, forget about how unspeakably old it makes you feel to be reading a review about a 20th anniversary reissue of this album. What matters the most is the actual album. The good news is that this isn't just a reissue, but a remaster -- Mercer's original production has here been replaced by a complete rework at the hands the incomparable Bob Ludwig, ushering the record into a legacy of Sub Pop acts given their sheen by the maestro. If you already own a copy of the original version: I'm sorry, but you're going to need to buy it again. The remaster adds so much more depth that was missing from the original, sometimes tinny-sounding Mercer mix, and shockingly, it makes it a better album than it already was.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


America's Censored Speech Platforms: How to make our public commons accountable to more than a few controlling shareholders (NADINE STROSSEN, JUNE 14, 2021, The Tablet)

As someone committed to robust freedom of speech for all--including for those who own communications platforms, and those who communicate on them--I am vexed by the monopolistic dominance of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, and their increasing restrictions on controversial speech and speakers.

On the one hand, I am wary of government interference with the platforms' editorial judgments, including any government compulsion to carry content that they don't want. As the Supreme Court has held in analogous cases, a government requirement that a platform must include speech that it prefers to exclude constitutes a First Amendment violation that is at least as bad as--and maybe even worse than--a government requirement that the platform must exclude speech.

On the other hand, I am wary of the unbridled censorial powers that the social media giants have been wielding at an almost unfathomable scale, dwarfing the censorship powers that even some tyrannical governments have exercised. Facebook's most recent quarterly "Community Standards Enforcement Report" reported that each day it removed or restricted (through measures such as warning labels or downranking) approximately 462,000 Facebook and Instagram posts that it considered hate speech.

One of those areas where the LEFT/RIGHT are indistinguishable is the desire to use government power to take over private businesses in direct contravention of the Constitution. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


After Trump 'Chaos,' National Security Seeks a Return to 'Regular Order': The Biden White House is reinvigorating an interagency process some argue had largely halted under the Trump administration. (Jacqueline Feldscher, JUNE 14, 2021, Defense One)

When President Joe Biden took office in January, he took control of a national security decision-making apparatus that had been through one of the more tumultuous periods of American history. The officials serving during President Donald Trump's presidency worked through a commander-in-chief temporarily sidelined by COVID-19, his impeachment for attempted bribery of Ukraine, alienating and insulting NATO allies, coddling and wooing adversaries and dictators, stoking conspiracy theories and domestic violent extremism, all culminated by the siege at the Capitol just weeks before. 

"What the team inherited was not a blank page, but literally a burned page," said John Gans, who published a book about the National Security Council in 2019. "It was disused, it was dysfunctional, and it was completely totally disconnected from any of the traditions and processes and norms by which the National Security Council has functioned for 70-something years."

Biden's team is committed to returning national security-making to regular order, including giving agency heads regular access to the president, holding scheduled meetings, and in many ways recreating the panel's place during the Obama administration, a senior administration official told Defense One. 

"The biggest thing we did was we literally made it clear that we expected decisions to be made rigorously as part of the regular order process," the official said. "We hoped to show the NSC and the interagency that the way to advance an opinion was via the regular order process."

Even with the entire Deep State opposing Nationalism/Nativism, it too an astonishing level of ineptitude for Donald to achieve so little. Predictably, he was down to the task. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


What we (maybe) get wrong about David Hume (David Rutledge, 6/14/21,  ABC: The Philosopher's Zone)

Chains of cause and effect seem to be everywhere. Stubbing my toe causes pain; clapping my hands makes a noise; poking a bear provokes it to eat me.

But Hume's analysis says otherwise. Stubbing my toe, from a Humean perspective, is a bit like lighting a cigarette at the bus stop: just as the lit cigarette only appears to make the bus arrive, so stubbing a toe only appears to cause pain.

All I can say with any certainty is that in my experience thus far, every time I've stubbed a toe it has hurt. But that doesn't determine anything necessary about the future, and it certainly doesn't stack up to an ironclad universal law.

As Helen Beebee, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manchester, puts it: "It's certainly Hume's view that we can't prove any connection between events. There's no 'sensory impression', as Hume would put it, of causation. When you look at two billiard balls, you just see the one hitting the other and then the other one moving, you don't see any connection".

This leads Hume to the conclusion that causation, far from being one of the fundamental laws of the universe, is more a projection of the human mind.

"As far as we can know, all that's out there in the world is just one thing happening, and then another", says Professor Beebee.

"But then we have this impression of necessary connection, which we somehow impose upon reality. So in a sense, we invent the causal structure of the world".

This sort of analysis has fixed Hume in the popular imagination as an arch sceptic. But was he really?

According to the British philosopher and author Julian Baggini, we need to be careful when we apply the S-word to Hume.

"I think that even Hume scholars sometimes get him a bit wrong on this," he says.

"In some ways, yes, he was a radical sceptic. He didn't believe that by the use of reason alone, one can establish any of the most fundamental truths required for living -- in particular, the existence of cause and effect".

But this doesn't mean that Hume was the kind of sceptic who simply suspends judgement about the existence of any and every natural phenomenon.

"You still find philosophy textbooks that say 'Hume did not believe in cause and effect as a real power in nature'. And I think that's just obviously not true", says Baggini.

"What Hume doesn't believe is that by observation or by logic we can prove that causation exists. It's something that reason can't establish -- but it has to be taken as true nonetheless. Experience tells us that we're right to take it as true, even though our arguments are weak".

This is the enduring skepticism that has provided the Anglosphere such an advantage but folks either willfully or ignorantly fail to understand it.  The fact that you can not prove anything via Reason does not mean you ought not believe in it. Rather, it just a demonstration that reason is not a superior way of knowing. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Even without new fossil fuel projects, global warming will still exceed 1.5℃. But renewables might make it possible (Sven Teske & Sarah Niklas, 6/13/21, The Conversation)

Solar and wind power technologies are already market ready and cost competitive. And as our analysis confirms, they're ready to be scaled up to meet the energy demands of every person on the planet.

We mapped all the potential areas where wind and solar infrastructure can be built, and the energy potential across six continents.

Even after applying a set of robust, conservative estimates that take environmental safeguards, land constraints and technical feasibility into account, we found that solar and wind energy could meet the world's energy demand from 2019 -- 50 times over.

It's clear we don't need new fossil fuel development to ensure 100% energy access in the future.

We are ill-prepared for a future where energy costs too little to matter. 

June 14, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


California Defies Doom With No. 1 U.S. Economy (Matthew A. Winkler, June 14, 2021, Bloomberg)

[T]he Golden State has no peers among developed economies for expanding GDP, creating jobs, raising household income, manufacturing growth, investment in innovation, producing clean energy and unprecedented wealth through its stocks and bonds. All of which underlines Governor Gavin Newsom's announcement last month of the biggest state tax rebate in American history. 

By adding 1.3 million people to its non-farm payrolls since April last year -- equal to the entire workforce of Nevada -- California easily surpassed also-rans Texas and New York. At the same time, California household income increased $164 billion, almost as much as Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. No wonder California's operating budget surplus, fueled by its surging economy and capital gains taxes, swelled to a record $75 billion.

If anything, Covid-19 accelerated California's record productivity. Quarterly revenue per employee of  the publicly-traded companies based in the state climbed to an all-time high of $1.5 million in May, 63% greater than its similar milestone a decade ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The rest of the U.S. was nothing special, with productivity among those members of the Russell 3000 Index, which is made up of both large and small companies, little changed during the past 10 years.

While pundits have long insisted California policies are bad for business, reality belies them. In a sign of investor demand, the weight of California companies in the benchmark S&P 500 Index increased 3 percentage points since a year ago, the most among all states, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Faith in California credit was similarly superlative, with the weight of corporate bonds sold by companies based in the state rising the most among all states, to 12.5 percentage points from 11.7 percentage points, according to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate Bond Index. Translation: Investors had the greatest confidence in California companies during the pandemic.

The most trusted measure of economic strength says California is the world-beater among democracies. The state's gross domestic product increased 21% during the past five years, dwarfing No. 2 New York (14%) and No. 3 Texas (12%), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The gains added $530 billion to the Golden State, 30% more than the increase for New York and Texas combined and equivalent to the entire economy of Sweden. Among the five largest economies, California outperforms the U.S., Japan and Germany with a growth rate exceeded only by China.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Scots Are Unlocking the Ocean's Energy Potential (JAKE DEAN, JUNE 14, 2021, Slate)

In May, Scottish-based Orbital Marine Power launched the O2, the world's most powerful tidal turbine, to be tested off the coast of the Orkney Islands. Tidal turbines harness the power of underwater currents to turn turbine blades and produce electricity. Jon Kelman, an energy policy instructor at Arizona State University's School of Sustainability, says this is especially efficient "because water is so much denser than air, you don't actually need a very big turbine in order to make a lot more electricity." (Disclosure: I recently graduated from ASU, where I took an energy policy class with Kelman; ASU is a partner with Slate and New America in Future Tense.)

To wrap your mind around this, think how much harder it is to walk in your pool than in air. This new turbine has a capacity of 2 megawatts and represents a modular technology that could be applied to a virtually untapped renewable resource. For context, it takes roughly 1,130 pounds of coal to produce 1 megawatt hour of electricity in the U.S. That means, if these turbines operate at full capacity, they can replace 2,260 pounds of coal for electricity generation per hour. Power generation devices never operate at full capacity and a singular generator still represents a very small amount of global energy demands--but a flexible fleet of turbines could prove immensely useful at a large-scale.

Another Scottish company--Mocean Energy--also began sea trials in Orkney last month of its new utility-scale wave power device called Blue Horizon. Unlike O2, this device captures kinetic energy directly from waves on the surface. Both new technologies require further testing but offer the potential of harvesting low-carbon renewable energy from the ocean with minimal impact to the surrounding environment.

These new marine technologies could have a big effect in coastal and island areas without access to much existing renewable infrastructure. Take Hawaii, where each island has its own independent electrical grid and relies heavily on energy imports, creating exorbitant costs and fossil fuel dependence. This is because, as Kelman notes, the Hawaiian islands are "one of the most remote [populated] places on Earth." However, given minimal land area available for energy generation, solutions can be more difficult to implement than on the mainland. Tidal turbines and wave generators could provide a unique solution for the island state--and coastal communities worldwide. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China accuses G7 of 'manipulation' after criticism over Xinjiang and Hong Kong (Agence France-Presse, 14 Jun 2021)

In a communique after a three-day summit in England, G7 leaders criticised China over abuses against minorities in the Xinjiang region and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, while US President Joe Biden called for Beijing to "start acting more responsibly in terms of international norms on human rights".

The Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom responded angrily on Monday, and accused the G7 of "interfering".

"The Group of Seven (G-7) takes advantage of Xinjiang-related issues to engage in political manipulation and interfere in China's internal affairs, which we firmly oppose," an embassy spokesman said in a statement.

Sit back and enjoy it. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Iran Says Outline Agreed With U.S. to Lift Energy Sanctions (Arsalan Shahla, June 14, 2021, Bloomberg)

Iran said it has reached a broad agreement with the U.S. over the lifting of sanctions on its industrial sectors, including energy, but warned there was "very little time left" for world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal. [...]

World powers are trying to revive the 2015 agreement that the U.S. abandoned three years ago. [...]

[A] government spokesman said last week that the decision to try to resuscitate the accord was made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and won't be affected by Rouhani's departure.

President Biden should travel to Iran. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden works to rebuild 'sacred' NATO bond destroyed by Donald Trump (AFP, June 13, 2021)

The allies will agree a statement stressing common ground on securing their withdrawal from Afghanistan, joint responses to cyber attacks and relations with a rising China.

Biden's predecessor Donald Trump undermined faith in the West's security architecture by questioning Washington's commitment to defend European partners.

And he clashed publicly with counterparts the last time leaders met in 2019, before abruptly heading home early.

In contrast, Biden has firmly reasserted American backing for the 72-year-old military alliance -- and his administration has been making a show of consulting more with partners.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kuster, Pappas Want to Bring California-Style Bullet Train Project to New England (Michael Graham, 6/13/21, NH Journal)

New Hampshire Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas are backing a $105 billion high-speed rail project for New England, similar to the high-profile - and highly-controversial - bullet train project currently under construction in California.

A group of 23 members of Congress from the Northeast signed a letter of support last week for the North Atlantic Rail (NAR) project. According to its backers, it would deliver passengers from Boston to New York City in 100 minutes on trains traveling 200 m.p.h. It would also connect smaller communities with lower population density like Manchester, Concord and Nashua as well as Brunswick, Maine, into "a single market for labor, capital, and ideas," according to the project's website.

"North Atlantic Rail will provide frequent and reliable service between New York and Boston while building out regional rail networks serving mid-sized cities in New England and New York."

June 13, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


Justice Department secretly sought phone records of counsel Don McGahn and his wife in 2018: NYT (Tom Boggioni, June 13, 2021, Raw Story)

According to a report from the New York Times, former White House Counsel Don McGahn was informed last month that the Justice Department sought his phone records, and those of his wife, back in 2018.

Coming on the heels of revelations that Donald Trump's administration subpoenaed Apple for information on two Democratic lawmakers while searching for leaks, the Times is reporting that McGahn was also targeted.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rat Patrol (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, June 13, 2021, National Review)

Leaking classified or confidential information is a serious business -- or it should be. The problem is that Washington classifies so much information so routinely that nobody takes circulating it very seriously -- until it hurts somebody who matters. Every journalist of any consequence in Washington sees classified information from time to time. The laws involving classified-information leaks are a lot like the longstanding laws against marijuana: Leaking is so ubiquitous that people sometimes forget that it is, at least in some circumstances, a crime. (The fact that Mitt Romney is practically the only man in government who hasn't blazed the occasional hoober is one of the things that has made marijuana decriminalization less difficult than it might have been.) In situations where almost everybody is a criminal, at least on paper, prosecutorial discretion is a fearsome weapon.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The inside story of how NY's Bill de Blasio promised, then thwarted police accountability (Pro Publica, June 13, 2021)

Years ago, before he was mayor, Bill de Blasio laid out the essence of any effort to reform the country's largest police department. New York City needed true civilian oversight.

Describing the city agency tasked with investigating police misconduct as "more of a lapdog than a watchdog," he proposed in 2009 to give it more independence, authority, and guaranteed funding. A few months later, he again pledged change, saying in a statement, "the NYPD cannot oversee itself."

Then, in 2013, he was elected mayor. And rather than create more independence for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, he ended up asserting ever-more control over the agency, intent on avoiding conflict with the Police Department, according to internal communications obtained by ProPublica and interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials.

The mayor's office edited reports and testimony to soften criticism of the NYPD and roll back proposals for more effective oversight. It maneuvered to block some of the same policies de Blasio had advocated for years before. And when the civilian officials were faced with obstruction by the NYPD, the mayor's office ignored their pleas for support.

When the CCRB in a draft report two years ago noted that police were withholding footage from body-worn cameras, an aide to the mayor ordered the CCRB to take out the direct reference to the department: "Let's simplify and remove the acronym 'NYPD.'"

New Yorkers and others have seen de Blasio's deference to the police play out on the public stage, perhaps most infamously when he defended NYPD's response to last summer's racial justice protests. But the internal accounts show how City Hall worked behind the scenes to protect the NYPD from scrutiny.


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Joe Biden's reforming agenda at risk of dying a slow death in Congress (David Smith, 12 Jun 2021, The Guardian)

Much has been written about Biden's prospects of emulating Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) and Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) with a transformational presidency and eclipse Barack Obama by throwing caution to the winds. The excitement only grew with the passage of a $1.9tn coronavirus relief package in March.

But that, it transpires, was the exception not the rule. The Democrats' progressive wing is becoming increasingly frustrated as other promises go unrealised, fearing an all-too-familiar pattern of hopes dashed and dreams deferred that will only feed anti-Washington resentment.

Ro Khanna, a congressman from California who was a co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, told the Associated Press: "There's a lot of anxiety. It's a question really for President Biden: what kind of president does he want to be?"

His job was completed when he won and reversed all the Nationalist/Nativist stuff--like the Muslim ban--that Donald couldn't get past Congress either. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's State Department Officials Fought Over Whether The Coronavirus Was A Chinese Bioweapon (Peter Aldhous & Dan Vergano,  June 12, 2021, Buzz Feed News)

In an open letter posted on Medium on Thursday, Christopher Ford, former Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation, said he intervened to prevent the US government from "embarrassing and discrediting" itself by accusing China of having deliberately engineered the coronavirus -- despite there being no evidence to make that case.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Ford said his colleagues were pushing to include allegations that China had breached the international Biological Weapons Convention in a State Department report to Congress, which could have set off a diplomatic crisis with one of the US's chief global rivals.

It is highly unusual for a former senior State Department official to publish a personal account of recent internal disputes. But Ford's open letter comes in the midst of an acrimonious debate over the so-called "lab leak" hypothesis for the emergence of COVID-19. The most extreme version of this theory suggests that Chinese scientists engineered SARS-CoV-2 as a bioweapon.

Sourcing his account to emails put into the public domain through reporting by Fox News and Vanity Fair, Ford's Medium post detailed his increasingly fraught relationship with David Asher, a contractor in the State Department who was running its investigation into the origins of COVID-19, and Thomas DiNanno, former acting head of the department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance (AVC). According to Vanity Fair, Asher and DiNanno viewed Ford as pushing a preconceived conclusion that the virus had a natural origin.

In the Medium post, Ford said that DiNanno signaled that the investigation was focusing on "China allegedly having violated the Biological Weapons Convention by creating the virus." He added: "They seemed to believe that COVID-19 was a biological weapons (BW) effort gone awry -- or perhaps even a BW agent deliberately unleashed upon the world."

"They clearly appeared to be coming at this from a biological weapons angle," Ford told BuzzFeed News. "They got squirrelly if you pushed back on whether there was evidence to support a biological weaponry finding over the coronavirus, but they seemed to be trying to build a case."

Having screwed the pandemic up so spectacularly, the Right has to have some other race to blame. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden Pushes G-7 to Criticize China Over Forced-Labor Allegations (Andrew Restuccia and Max Colchester, June 12, 2021, WSJ)

While all of the G-7 members harbor worries about China, their concerns aren't uniform, officials said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among the European Union leaders pushing for a more positive approach to be taken toward China. Mr. Biden, Mr. Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the G-7 leaders to confront China about human-rights abuses, according to one official. The Japanese government also wants a more hard-line stance to be taken against Beijing. [...]

Human-rights groups and the U.S. and U.K. governments have alleged that Chinese authorities are committing genocide against ethnic Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group, and using forced labor in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Basically, the Anglosphere vs., but with us back on the side of, indeed leading, the English-speaking world. 

June 12, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Most blue states will make Biden's July 4 vaccine goal. The red ones won't. (Harry Enten, 6/12/21, CNN)

The United States looks increasingly unlikely to reach President Joe Biden's July 4 vaccine goal. We need at least 70% of all adults to have one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and we're on pace to have somewhere between 67% and 68%.

The overall picture masks, however, an underlying pattern: Nearly all of the states Biden won will make his goal, while all of the states he lost are unlikely to.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


I said I couldn't stand Indian food. Then a Twitter friend took me to dinner. (Tom Nichols, June 12, 2021, USA Today)

This is a story about how the internet and social media can be a positive influence on even the most provincial and opinionated among us.

And by "us" I mean, mostly, "me," but this is also a story about the spontaneous generosity of thousands of people. It is also a story about the healing power of food. But before this happy ending, it was a story about a man - again, I mean "me" - who managed to insult over a billion people.

It all started in 2019, when in response to an open invitation from a user on Twitter to post our most controversial food takes, I decided to bypass all the hatred for mayonnaise and other foods, and to fire off a zinger about the cuisine of an entire subcontinent. "Indian food," I said, "is terrible and we pretend it isn't."

Of course, I thought I was tweaking my American friends who sweated and gasped their way through dishes of thermonuclear spiciness, but my clumsy attempt at wit soon ignited an international firestorm. (You can read the whole amazing story here.) Eventually, the furor died down, as such things always do. But several of my friends, and more than a few acquaintances I knew only through social media, insisted that I should give Indian food another try one day.

One of those acquaintances was former United States attorney Preet Bharara. Preet and I had never met, although we often read and commented on each other's views, as we were both dedicated opponents of former president Donald Trump. But this was beyond politics: Preet offered to take me for Indian food when the pandemic lifted. I promised I would put myself in his hands at any restaurant of his choosing.

The thing about making a promise like that, especially when you give it to former prosecutor like Preet, is that he will remember it and the day will come when you have to make good on it. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


One possible cause of the 2020 murder increase: More guns  (Rob Arthur and Jeff Asher  Jun 12, 2021, Vox)

If less policing alone led to increased violence, we would have expected to see an uptick in March and April after this clear change. But there was no observable increase in gun violence in these cities at that time.

Police activity dropped again after Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in late May 2020, this time with an accompanying surge in shootings in many cities. Cities generally saw stops and arrests increase over the last few months of 2020 -- though still below pre-pandemic levels -- with the elevated level of violence remaining.

While the volume of stops and arrests fell dramatically in March and April in all 10 cities, police in every city were more likely to find a firearm when they made stops and arrests. In Chicago, for example, police stops decreased nearly 70 percent between January and May 2020, but officers actually found 83 percent more firearms in May than in January.

Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, analyzed stops in Chicago and concluded that "unless the police have become dramatically better at figuring out who is illegally carrying a gun (and so have become better at figuring out who to stop), the implication is that lots more people are carrying guns illegally in Chicago."

The same pattern was seen across numerous cities with available data. There were 34 percent fewer arrest charges in Los Angeles in April and May 2020 compared to April and May 2019, but charges for weapons possession were up. The problem was not confined just to big cities, either. In Tucson, Arizona, for example, there were 39 percent fewer arrests in April and May 2020 compared to a year earlier but 29 percent more arrests for weapons or firearms possession.

Chart: The share of arrests finding weapons jumped as the pandemic began
Data analysis by Jeff Asher and Rob Arthur
The share of stops or arrests that resulted in a firearm being found increased in every city. In Washington, DC, the share of all arrests that were weapons violations went from 5 percent in January to March 2020, to 7 percent in April and 9 percent in May. The share of arrests for weapons possession went from 1 percent between January and March 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina, to 4 percent between April and December.

Almost every city followed the same pattern: a dramatic jump in the share of arrests or stops with a firearm in April and May, a decline in June, and a return to the earlier elevated levels for the remainder of the year.

The implication of this trend is that -- assuming police did not suddenly become substantially better at identifying who has an illegal gun -- firearm carrying increased at the beginning of the pandemic, well before the protests, and persisted at that level for the remainder of the year.

It is possible that in the midst of the pandemic, police started engaging in better-targeted stops that were more likely to yield arrests. But finding other kinds of contraband, like drugs, did not become more frequent, only guns.

Data on investigatory stops -- defined as stops "based upon reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime" -- in Chicago is instructive and suggests more firearms were found because more were being carried, rather than a change in policing strategy.

The share of searches in investigative stops that found drugs just before Covid-19 lockdowns was virtually unchanged after Covid-19, going from 20.9 percent between October 2019 and March 2020 to 20.7 percent between April and September 2020. The demographics of searches did not change much, either, with Black people making up 74.3 percent of people searched in stops from October 2019 to March 2020 and 76.1 percent from April through December. But CPD officers found firearms in 11.5 percent of searches from April to September, compared to 3.7 percent of searches in the six months prior.

Since all cities with data had an increase in the share of stops or arrests with a gun at around the same time, no one change in departmental or prosecutorial policy can explain why.

Investigative stops and arrests show an increase in firearm carrying beginning in March or April, shortly after background checks surged to unprecedented levels nationally. More firearms could have contributed to the historic rise in murders in 2020 by turning less dangerous crimes into potentially lethal encounters.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Apple iPhones Can Soon Hold Your ID. Privacy Experts Are On Edge (Bobby Allyn, 6/12/21, NPR)

Apple touts the feature as an added convenience, though to privacy experts and advocates, it is raising alarm.

"This just strikes me as the latest example of where they're trying to weave themselves into more and more aspects of our lives," said Evan Greer, director of the group Fight for the Future, a progressive organization critical of Big Tech. "And when Apple becomes kind of indispensable, it truly is too big to fail."

While iPhone users can already store digital copies of their credit cards and make purchases using Apple's Wallet app, some see the digital ID as a bridge too far, inviting greater surveillance and data tracking.`

Elizabeth Renieris, a fellow at Standard University who studies digital identification systems, said the feature may be easy-to-use and save time. Those conveniences, however, come at a cost: Turning every instance in which we show our ID into a business opportunity.

"The sleeker these credentials are, the more they're embedded into things we're always attached to like a mobile device, which we take everywhere, the more there's an incentive to introduce identity requirements in contexts where it never existed before," Renieris said. "We're running a risk where we'll be in a situation where we always have to identify ourselves..."

Though a chip or UPC tattoo would obviate the need to carry the phone. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Putin: Relationship with U.S. has 'deteriorated to its lowest point' in years (MYAH WARD, 06/11/2021, Politico)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a new interview, said Russia's relationship with the United States has "deteriorated to its lowest point" in recent years, while noting that President Joe Biden is "radically different" from his predecessor. [...]

Putin's last meeting with a U.S. president was in Helsinki with Trump in 2018, where Trump at the time appeared to accept the Russian president's assurances that Russia didn't interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections.

Next week's summit comes as the two countries remain at odds on a number of issues such as cybersecurity and Russia's war with U.S.-backed Ukraine. Biden didn't shy away from addressing these tension points in a speech at the Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall earlier this week, where he made clear his goals to restore relationships with allies across the globe.

"We're committed to leading with strength, defending our values, delivering for our people," Biden said. "America is better positioned to advance our national security and economic prosperity when we bring together like-minded nations to stand with us."

Thanks, Joe!

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Capitol Police watchdog flags training contractor's use of Nazi-adjacent symbols (Chris Marquette, June 11, 2021, Roll Call)

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton discovered the symbols as part of his review into the Jan. 6 insurrection and has recommended the department "review the appropriateness of utilizing Northern Red, Inc. for further training," according to an advisory report shared with acting Chief Yogananda Pittman and other department officials.

CQ Roll Call obtained a copy of that report, which has not been publicly released.

Northern Red's website and Facebook page prominently display the Devil's Guard Patch, which stems from a 1971 novel titled "Devil's Guard," which has been described as "overly sympathetic to the Nazis, especially the SS."

Northern Red's company logo includes a combination of two Nordic runes (symbols) -- Othala and Tyr -- both of which are listed on the Anti-Defamation League's website as hate symbols. Another Northern Red logo, Thor's Hammer, is also listed as a hate symbol.

June 11, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Trump Officials Seized Apple Data of 2 Democratic Lawmakers, NY Times Says (AFP, June 11, 2021)

Prosecutors in the U.S. Justice Department under former president Donald Trump seized data from Apple from two Democratic lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as that of their staff and family members, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Subpoenas for the communications metadata targeted congressman Adam Schiff of California, a Trump foe who was then the panel's top Democrat and now its chairman, the paper said.

Congressman Eric Swalwell told CNN on Thursday he was the second Democratic lawmaker on the committee who was targeted.

"I was notified... by Apple that they did seize my records. It's wrong," he said.

According to the Times, prosecutors working under attorney general Jeff Sessions made unusual efforts in 2017 and early 2018 to find the source of leaks of classified information regarding contacts between Trump associates and Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


G-7 Will Donate 1 Billion COVID Vaccines to World (Patsy Widakuswara, June 11, 2021, VOA News)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the G-7 nations, set to meet Friday, are to announce a plan to donate a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries. 

Johnson's announcement Thursday came after U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier in the day that his administration is donating 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, half of the G-7 vaccine trove. 

"We're going to help lead the world out of this pandemic working alongside our global partners," Biden said.

It's a good start. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


We Finally Know What Was Sold in Wuhan's Markets Before the Pandemic (Viola Zhou & Alan Wong, June 10, 2021, Vice News)

Researchers found that 38 mammal, reptile, and bird species were sold in four markets in Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019. The animals included raccoon dogs, civets, and minks, which scientists previously identified as possible intermediate hosts that spread the virus from a bat to the human population.

The study, published in peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports on June 7, was authored by researchers affiliated with China West Normal University, University of Oxford and the University of British Columbia. They happened to be conducting monthly surveys of 17 wild animal shops across Wuhan to look into potential animal sources of a pathogen unrelated to the novel coronavirus.

Scientists have yet to find the missing links between bats, the likely original host of SARS-CoV-2, and the first human cases. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes COVID-19.

A direct infection by bats in Wuhan is deemed unlikely because the city is far from their natural habitats, and the study said bats were not sold in the Wuhan markets it surveyed, including the Huanan seafood market.

A WHO-China joint mission to Wuhan earlier this year said the coronavirus likely jumped to humans through an intermediate host in a natural spillover event, although the head of WHO said all hypotheses remained on the table.

Some virologists have cited the study as further evidence that animals capable of carrying SARS-CoV-2 were actively traded in the city's markets in poor hygiene conditions and could have passed the virus on to people and triggered the pandemic that has killed more than 3.7 million people worldwide. 

Others, including those who believe that the virus spilled from a lab in Wuhan, have argued that the paper ruled out pangolins as an intermediate host of the virus, since the researchers did not find those animals at the markets.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist with the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, who was not involved with the study, said the research strengthened the possibility of the natural emergence of SARS-CoV-2 by showing that some animals susceptible to the novel coronavirus were present in Wuhan. 

"It puts the animals in Wuhan and makes a compelling hypothesis," Rasmussen told VICE World News, although she said it was "not proof."

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


an apology for plagiarism: Nothing new under the sun (BILL GRUBER, 06/10/2021, The Smart Set)

Earlier societies were characteristically more tolerant of plagiarism, and I say with some nostalgia that they may have been more sensible about it than we are. Few may have known, much less cared, when Shakespeare recycled Plutarch -- the word "plagiarize" does not appear in English until 1621 -- but it is obvious that centuries of copyright laws and college honor councils have done little to deter writers from grazing on the literary commons. In April 2006, The Harvard Crimson drew attention to the numerous plagiarisms in Kaavya Viswanathan's popular novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life; in 2008; Michael O'Neill, a Bush nominee for the Federal District Court in Washington, was discovered to have "appropriated without attribution" substantial portions of an article he published in 2004 from a book review written in 2000 by another law professor; in 2002, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reached a private settlement with Lynne McTaggart, who had claimed that numerous phrases and sentences from her own biography of the Kennedys had been plagiarized by Goodwin; and in 1990, The New York Times reported that "the editor of the papers of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reluctantly acknowledged that . . . substantial parts of Dr. King's doctoral dissertation and other academic papers from his student years appeared to have been plagiarized." King's public standing seems not to have been harmed in the slightest by these revelations. Indeed, numerous scholars rose to King's defense by arguing that in this case, plagiarism wasn't plagiarism because King wrote from within a literary tradition where "intertextualizations," "resonances," and "voice mergings" were common practice. Not so lucky was Monica Crowley, who had to step down from her appointment as an advisor in the Trump White House when CNN's Kfile published numerous passages she had plagiarized in writing both her dissertation at Columbia University as well as her book, What the (Bleep) Just Happened?  

Contemporary politicians embrace recycling as a rhetorical strategy; members of the Senate seem especially guilty. Former Montana Senator John Walsh lost his master's degree from the Army War College after it was determined he had plagiarized a paper he had submitted in 2007 as part of his graduation requirements. Rand Paul of Kentucky has been accused multiple times of lifting words both in his speeches and in his book; Barack Obama was said to have done the same during his 2008 presidential campaign, apparently borrowing language from then Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, and Joe Biden abandoned his presidential campaign in 1988 in part as a result of claims he had plagiarized not only somebody else's words but much of his life story. More recently, Melania Trump, in her speech before the Republican National Convention in 2016, told much the same story of childhood as had another future First Lady, eight years earlier, when Michelle Obama had told her audience at the Democratic National Convention in Denver that she had been raised by people who believed "that your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them and even if you don't agree with them." Melania, who had grown up in Slovenia, reported that she, too, had been taught "that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect."  

My personal favorite of political plagiarists has to be Ronald Reagan, who on January 28, 1986, quietly slipped two lines from an old wartime sonnet, "High Flight," into his televised speech mourning the astronauts who had that day lost their lives when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. Reagan was never more effective as a politician than when he was in front of a television camera, speaking to an audience whom he could not see but whose needs and moods he nevertheless sensed with an almost mystical capability. "We will never forget them," Reagan said, speaking directly into the camera, "nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God." When Reagan spoke those words, I remember with an almost preternatural vividness turning to my wife and saying in amazement: "My God, the man is speaking in iambic pentameter."   

At the time I did not know that the President was merely channeling a poem by John Magee, an American aviator who had been killed in 1941 while flying a Royal Canadian Air Force Spitfire near Lincolnshire. So, the best part of one of the great presidential speeches of history was plagiarized. But wait -- there's more. It's not as if poet John Magee could have taken a stainless-steel-clad case to literary court. As it turns out, the author of "High Flight" was himself not responsible for the words and sentiments in his poem -- or at least not responsible for all of them. In penning his famous celebration of flight, it seems, aviator Magee had scooped up a handful of somebody else's words to add to his poem. In particular, that memorable, closing image of the sublimity of flight -- that instant when, high above earth and clouds, the flier reaches out "to touch the face of God" -- was lifted from another poem Magee had read in an aviation magazine some months earlier.

If there is some sense in policing plagiarism in books and journalism, provided there might be some economic impact on the original author, there is none on public speaking. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


The Immigrant History of the NYC Neighborhood Behind 'In the Heights': How Washington Heights, a community in upper Manhattan, became the heart of an award-winning musical and a hotly anticipated film adaptation (Nili Blanck, 6/10/21, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

By the time Miranda was growing up, the neighborhood had long been considered a refuge for immigrants in search of the American dream. But when it was first developed in the 1800s, it was the area that wealthy New Yorkers called home. Regal estates, like that of famed naturalist John James Audubon, took advantage of the area's rolling hills and waterfront views. In addition to the neighborhood's physical beauty, it drew interest for its historical significance, having been the site of Fort Washington, a strategic point of defense in the Continental army's efforts to protect New York from the British during the Revolutionary War.

By the year 1900, the face of Washington Heights began to change. As affluent families moved their estates south--developing alongside today's Fifth Avenue and the Upper East Side--Washington Heights became an enclave for immigrants from Europe. The Irish, escaping the Great Potato Famine, settled in the neighborhood after the Lower East Side proved inhospitable. A few decades later, German Jews, fleeing anti-Semitism in the wake of the Nazi regime's rise to power, arrived in Washington Heights in such numbers that the neighborhood became known as "Frankfurt-on-the-Hudson." Later, immigrants from Greece, whose population in New York peaked in the 1960s, settled there.

But as these groups gained steadier footing in the city, they began trading in Washington Heights for more attractive real estate, creating the opportunity for a new wave of immigrants, this time from Latin America, to call the area their own. As documented by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, roughly 4,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States, each year, between the years of 1946 and 1956. As Europeans moved out and Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans and soon after, Dominicans, moved in, the neighborhood transformed into a largely Latino barrio, a characteristic that has held on through today.

Usnavi and Vanessa dancing in the streets of Washington Heights
Locals call Washington Heights "Little Dominican Republic." Pictured here is a scene from the film adaptation of In the Heights. (Macall Polay)
Robert Snyder, a historian at Rutgers University, says that Dominican immigrants made such a deep impact on the area because they were quick to set up hometown associations, political organizations, sporting clubs and restaurants. What was particularly unique about the Dominican community, according to Snyder, was that, with the advent of air travel, they were also able to travel back home, send kids to their grandparents for the summer, and check in on businesses that were still based in the D.R., the Dominican Republic.

"They put one foot in the D.R. and one foot in N.Y.C.," says Snyder, of the particular proximity that helped Dominicans set up a community whose sounds and smells--the ubiquity of Spanish, the presence of the Dominican flag, the botanicas selling fragrant incenses--were things that Dominicans brought along with them to New York.

Like the Cubans, the Mexicans, and the Puerto Rican immigrants that came before them, the Dominican community of Washington Heights arrived "looking to make their mark," adds Ramona Hernandez, a sociologist and the director of the City College of New York's Dominican Studies Institute. It was their determination to resist, combined with their "energy, that desire, that willingness to do whatever it takes to make it to progress," she says, that lent a type of permanency to the area.

Small residential buildings, capable of housing multiple families within a single apartment, were characteristic of the neighborhood. With five or six floors each, these small buildings reminded Dominicans of the casitas back home, says Hernandez, who explains that those buildings were also what enabled so many Dominicans to actually concentrate in the same place. Upper Manhattan, including Washington Heights, possesses the largest population of Dominicans in all of New York.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


The makers of In the Heights on how they turned the hit Broadway musical into a movie: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and Jon M. Chu talk about the challenges and joys of adapting for the big screen. (Alissa Wilkinson,  Jun 10, 2021, Vox)

Lin-Manuel Miranda

A lot of things went into that incredibly fertile creative time for me. I wrote [the first draft of In the Heights] on a winter break [from college]. I didn't sleep. My long-term girlfriend went abroad. So suddenly, I had all this time, and all this angst, which are two of the ingredients you need the most when you're 19 years old.

At that time I was living in the Latino program house [at Wesleyan University]. It was called La Casa de Albizu Campos, and it was on-campus housing. At Wesleyan, there's a program house for every kind of cultural affinity. To get into La Casa, you needed to write an essay about how you plan to serve the Latino community at Wesleyan. My entrance was the arts. I was, I think, the only arts major in my house. I was there with engineering majors and math majors. But we were all first-generation or second-generation Latino kids. I didn't have that experience in high school. And suddenly I had friends who were really just like me in that we were as fluent in some things -- Marc Anthony, the TV we grew up with, Walter Mercado -- as we were with mainstream American culture.

I think that was a big part of me being able to access more of myself in my writing. Everything I'd written prior to then kind of sounded like [Rent composer] Jonathan Larson, kind of musical theater-ish, rock-ish stuff. But I didn't bring any of my culture to it or any of my heritage to it.

Living in that house, I realized, "Oh, there's more out there like me. I just needed to write the truest version of what I know." This was in 1999 or 2000, at the time of the first Latin pop boom. Ricky Martin, "Cup of Life." Marc Anthony singing in English for the first time. Enrique Iglesias, "Bailamos." I'm watching all these incredibly talented Latin guys.

But they're all incredibly hot Latin guys, and I was like, "That's not me."

I had directed West Side Story at my high school years before and realized that there was nothing in the musical theater canon that played to any of my strengths. So it was like, "Let me write what is missing." Then I had all of these other forces pushing on me that led to In the Heights. Can we talk about ourselves with love? Can we talk about our neighborhoods? And have a fully Latino cast?

Quiara Alegría Hudes

I moved to New York in 2004, in August. I came to New York with a handful of plays I had written about the Latino community in Philadelphia, which is where I'm from. A producer heard one of those plays and was like, "I know this guy who's writing a thing, and maybe you guys should really get together and have a conversation."

So Lin and I were put in a room together. We didn't know each other but we were both kind of up to something similar, which is this urgent, joyous passion and habit of wanting to describe our life as young Latinos in this nation.

When we met up -- actually, at a cafe near where we ended up doing our off-Broadway run -- we were like, "Are we long-lost cousins?" We both had these strong matriarchal figures who were basically community and family centerpieces, our abuelas. We also had parents who came to the United States. They didn't have a completed community to just plug into; they had to literally build the community that they were inhabiting, through leadership, through advocating for services.

So we had a lot in common and we wanted to join forces and tell the story.

I actually preferred this unexpanded stage production

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


TRUTH, READING, DECADENCE (Mark Bauerlein, June 2021, First Things)

It was in this environment of material abundance that the French invasion occurred. The legendary conference on structuralism at Johns Hopkins in October 1966 under the title "The Languages of Criticism & the Sciences of Man" could only have happened in a field in high-growth mode. Funding came from the Ford Foundation, and the host was the Humanities Center, which had been founded at Hopkins that very year. Without the money used to create the theory journals mentioned above, the subsequent importation of deconstruction, French feminism, and the rest would have proceeded much more slowly. Only if a department had healthy undergraduate enrollments and graduate school applications, along with expectations of generous outside funding, could it afford to bring in European VIPs, as Hopkins did Derrida a few years after the conference, and SUNY-Buffalo did Michel Foucault in 1970-72.

The recondite discourse of French theory relied upon this solid base of popular interest in literary studies. The theory idiom was esoteric, the lexicon novel, so that it had little undergraduate recruitment value. But nobody needed to worry about that, as long as enrollments were steady. The popularity of English was a luxury enabling American disciples to be almost mischievous in their admiration of the ­difficulty of the new theorists. Derrida's dense ­dialectical presentation in Of Grammatology wasn't going to make many wavering sophomores decide to major in ­English or French. Foucault's treatment of torture and prison wouldn't lead parents and alumni to become donors. The new theorists wrote sentences such as this, from the first page of S/Z (trans. 1974), where Roland Barthes ponders how to develop a universal model of narrative:

A choice must then be made: either to place all texts in a demonstrative oscillation, equalizing them under the scrutiny of an in-different science, forcing them to rejoin, inductively, the Copy from which we will then make them derive; or else to restore each text, not to its individuality, but to its function, making it cohere, even before we talk about it, by the infinite paradigm of difference, subjecting it from the outset to a basic typology, to an evaluation.
This was a whole other language, addressed only to experts. The old critics used familiar terms of analysis--irony, structure, symbol . . . The new theorists traded in logocentrism, "the Other," undecidability, "infinite paradigm of difference." Their vocabulary reduced the audience for academic criticism. American undergraduates couldn't understand it, but so what? The obscurity wouldn't be a problem as long as resources and students were pouring in. If classes were full, the American scholars who embraced the new theorists could welcome a foreign discourse steeped in Hegel, Freud, Heidegger, and European linguists that only a few sub-sub-specialists had mastered. Why bother with reader-friendly prose if research funds and outlets are plentiful?

It didn't matter that the intellectual thrust of French theory ran against the dispositions of most students and faculty. It could still prevail. Bloom, Hirsch, and nearly everyone else in literary studies before 1966 were passionate about getting to the truth of great novels, poems, and plays. Students majored in English because they'd read ­Shakespeare in a freshman course or Hemingway on their own and found in these and other works satisfying ­reflections of themselves and their lives. They identified with Odysseus and Nick Adams, and they wanted their classes to help them refine their enthusiasm and appreciation for works of literature. Yes, New Criticism and its variants could be bloodless and scientistic, but not enough to drain John Donne and Blake's chimney-sweeper of their human appeal. The drama of Gatsby's green light and the oblique metaphors of Emily ­Dickinson, which brought most of the students to class, were not undone by Cleanth Brooks's analysis of paradox in poetic language.

French theorists judged this approach naive. They challenged any presumption of stable significance in the literary object. Derrida pushed a radical skepticism that targeted the very idea of core meaning, original intention, or truth in or behind or before or under the work itself. The one-million-times-cited sentences on decentering in "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," the paper Derrida had read at the Hopkins conference, were taken by first-generation American theorists as a decisive subversion of any interpretation that claimed to get it "right." Claims to true interpretation, Derrida said, rested upon a "center," something outside the work that explained constituents of it--an author's psychology, his religion, his class relations, and so on. Freud interprets Hamlet by invoking the Oedipal triangle, Marx takes ­Robinson Crusoe as capitalism in its fundamental form. Here's the problem, Derrida insisted. This center is taken for granted--it has to be, in order to determine what the phenomenon means. Conventional criticism uses the center to interpret a work, but it does not interpret the center itself. God explains the Bible--we don't explain God. The center determines the significance of the work but is not implicated in the work. The center is in the work and, at the same time, outside it.

Derrida found in this within/without center an insurmountable contradiction, one that set criticism on a different path. His followers caught the direction instantly. The new theory demanded that the "center" undergo interpretation as well. It, too, should be understood as a text to be analyzed in its turn, not a ground to be presupposed. One had to presuppose something, the Derrideans admitted, or else one could not say anything. But one could get through the impasse by being super self-conscious about it. Hence the endless qualifiers, scare-quotes, parenthetical remarks, and circling-backwards in deconstructive discourse. In this theory of reading, self-reflexivity would never stop. Interpretation must go on! This embrace of the heroic role of the endless interpreter swept everyone away. The search for the central truth of a literary work was over. The rehearsal of the forever-deferred and "problematized" truth of the work took its place. No more truth, only "reading."

This model was never going to attract very many American sophomores, who thrill to literature for its love and hate, intrigue and action, conflict and lyricism. It did not impress the literary reading public, either, the individuals who had season tickets to local theaters and subscribed to the Book-of-the-Month Club. I was drawn into theory in those years, and I can attest that we didn't care. We thought those sorts of people were in the wrong state of mind, the "natural attitude." They hadn't undergone the deconstructive turn. They still affirmed that literature had a truth all its own. When it comes to masterpieces, they take the stance of appreciation, not a hermeneutic of suspicion--big mistake, and we knew better. Our game of endless interpretation aimed to kill those very joys of immersion and identification.

As scientists descended down intellectually holes and ceased being able to communicate increasingly esoteric theories to laymen, the professional literati, feeling left out, naturally made their specialty incomprehensible as well.  We anti-Intellectual Americans rejected both, so kids today study things like Economics. Business, Medicine and Engineering in college. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


National service programs promote work of real social value (BOB SCOBIE, 6/11/21, he Valley News)

National and state service programs such as AmeriCorps, YouthBuild and youth conservation corps provide a variety of socially useful activities: tutoring children, building affordable housing, assisting with disaster response, maintaining public infrastructure and restoring the environment. A closer look of some of these programs underscores their value.

The AmeriCorps National Service Program, established by the Clinton administration, provides full- and part-time community service opportunities to individuals in education, public safety, the environment and human needs. AmeriCorps helps volunteers even more than the communities they serve. For one participant, her 10-month term at a health center in Boston, working with the Latino community, gave her the opportunity to live in a new city while furthering her language skills. It also taught her how to work in a professional setting, learn more about social systems in the United States, and discover what it's like to do social work.

Clive Belfield, a professor of economics at Queens College, City University of New York, notes that studies of AmeriCorps have found a significant upgrading of skills and emotional well-being, as well as gains in civic engagement and improvements in community infrastructure. For youth, there are substantial benefits from gains in self-worth and from behavioral change, including lower delinquency and improved health status.

National service has also been associated with lower criminal activity. A cost-benefit analysis of AmeriCorps programs found that for each $1 spent, taxpayers receive a return of more than $2 in the form of increased tax revenues and productivity. The social benefits are even greater, with a return of more than 3.5 times the cost.

Remember President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which put Americans left jobless by the Great Depression into community service projects building bridges and highways and helping to establish the U.S. national park system? The program employed more than 3 million people until the onset of World War II. The Roosevelt administration also created the Works Progress Administration in 1935, offering jobs to more than 3.4 million unemployed by the next year.

Today, YouthBuild, a nonprofit organization, provides education, counseling, leadership skills and job skills to unemployed young American adults between ages 16 and 24, generally high school dropouts. Students learn the construction trade by building housing for low-income people in their own communities.

In New Hampshire, Senior Corps volunteers are engaged at more than 200 locations across the state, working in schools, food banks, homeless shelters, health clinics, youth centers, veterans facilities and other nonprofit and faith-based organizations. Participants showed gains in health (physical and psychological), self-esteem, life satisfaction and civic participation.

There were also gains in financial security from expanded employment opportunities subsequent to service. Communities, meanwhile, gained from improvements in local services -- most notably in schools, as many seniors provide tutoring and educational assistance.

And use the cops to replace police. 

June 10, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Trump still loves Putin -- and says he trusts him more than US intel (Matthew Chapman, June 10, 2021, Raw Story)

On Thursday, former President Donald Trump issued a new statement proclaiming that he still trusts Russia and Vladimir Putin over members of the U.S. intelligence community -- even while blasting his closeness with Russia as "phony" and a "hoax."

"As President, I had a great and very productive meeting in Helsinki, Finland, with President Putin of Russia," wrote Trump. "Despite the belated Fake News portrayal of the meeting, the United States won much, including the respect of President Putin and Russia. Because of the phony Russia, Russia, Russia Hoax, made-up and paid for by the Democrats and Crooked Hillary Clinton, the United States was put at a disadvantage -- a disadvantage that was nevertheless overcome by me."

"As to who do I trust, they asked, Russia or our 'Intelligence' from the Obama era, meaning people like Comey, McCabe, the two lovers, Brennan, Clapper, and numerous other sleezebags, or Russia, the answer, after all that has been found out and written, should be obvious," continued Trump. 

By their hatred of Comey, McCabe, Brennan, Hilary, and Steele shall you know them. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Poll: U.S. image abroad rebounds sharply with Biden in office (Jacob Knutson, 6/10/21, Axios)

More than 6 in 10 people in the surveyed countries said they have confidence in Biden to do the right thing in world affairs.

In 12 of the surveyed countries, a median of 75% expressed confidence in Biden, compared with 17% for Trump in 2020.

A median of 62% across 12 nations had a favorable overall opinion of the U.S., while only 34% held that view last year.

Joe Biden is having just as little success as predicted but seems like James K. Polk in comparison to his Wilsonesque predecessor. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


As Iran Prepares to Vote, Battered Economy a Major Worry  (Associated Press, June 10, 2021)

Almost six years ago, Iranians poured into the streets to celebrate Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. They saw it as a chance for the Islamic Republic to re-enter the world economy and create opportunities like purchasing airplanes and selling its oil on the international market.  

Today, that dream has faded into a daily grinding nightmare of high inflation, an ever-weakening national currency and high unemployment worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.  

The West considers Iran's nuclear program and Mideast tensions as the most important issues facing Tehran, but those living in the Islamic Republic repeatedly point to the economy as the major issue facing it ahead of its June 18 presidential election.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


'Miraculous' mosquito hack cuts dengue by 77% (James Gallagher, 6/10/21, BBC)

Dengue fever cases have been cut by 77% in a "groundbreaking" trial that manipulates the mosquitoes that spread it, say scientists.

They used mosquitoes infected with "miraculous" bacteria that reduce the insect's ability to spread dengue.

The trial took place in Yogyakarta city, Indonesia, and is being expanded in the hope of eradicating the virus.

The World Mosquito Programme team says it could be a solution to a virus that has gone around the world. [...]

The trial used mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia bacteria. One of the researchers, Dr Katie Anders, describes them as "naturally miraculous".

Wolbachia doesn't harm the mosquito, but it camps out in the same parts of its body that the dengue virus needs to get into.

The bacteria compete for resources and make it much harder for dengue virus to replicate, so the mosquito is less likely to cause an infection when it bites again.

But will it work if the fever escaped from a lab?

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Football has led the way in building an inclusive Englishness - time for others to step up too (Sunder Katwala, 6/10/21, CapX)

English football helped to rewrite our national story again in the 1990s. This was surprising, since the era of hooliganism had made football central to the problem of how national identity could take xenophobic and violent forms - and had led to English clubs being banned from European competition when Italia '90 took place.

It was the magical summer of 1996 that made me much more confident about England. Fans of my generation remember the great sporting moments against Scotland, the Netherlands and Germany. What happened off the pitch felt just as important. As the St George's flags flew around Wembley stadium, in Three Lions we found a new unofficial national anthem too. "It created a very unusual thing - a non-aggressive, non-triumphalist patriotism. It was a soft, sad type of pride being expressed, not a vanquishing, overcoming one," its creator David Baddiel said recently, his wistful tone reflecting on how national identity seems more polarising now.

Yet, 25 years on, football still provides much the most confident expression of an inclusive English identity.

New research from British Future and the Centre for English Identity and Politics finds that an inclusive, civic idea of Englishness remains a work in progress - across both minority and majority groups. Confidence that English identity can belong to those of all ethnicities is shared by three-quarters of the white English, along with two-thirds of ethnic minority respondents. Almost a fifth of ethnic minorities in England do still feel that you have to be white to be considered truly English, while approximately one in ten white respondents prefer an ethnically exclusive idea of who can be English. Older Black and Asian respondents are more sceptical than young people, who are more likely to have been born in England.

The England football team commands most confidence as a symbol of English identity shared across ethnic groups. The research finds broader confidence in the England flag as a healthy sign of an inclusive patriotism when it flies during a tournament than the rest of the year around.

As for taking a knee, the Marcus Rashford generation feels there is more to do to tackle racism in sport and society, and this gesture is how they have chosen to show that.

Reasonable as well as unreasonable points can be found on both sides of these arguments. This gesture does split opinion more than other anti-racism messages. Attitudes to players taking a knee tend to correlate closely with opinions of the Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests themselves, which secured the broad support of two-thirds of ethnic minorities in Britain, and about half of the white population. Views differed notably by age, education and political views. The England squad has an average age of 25, so the players' stance reflects the view of a broad majority of their generation, that 'taking a knee' is a simple and important anti-racist statement.

Some critics suggest a more unifying gesture should be chosen, as with the Premier League evolving from putting Black Lives Matter on shirts to a "no room for racism" slogan. Yet the players were hardly likely to want to retreat after the gesture was booed in the pre-tournament friendlies at Middlesbrough. Gareth Southgate and his players have explained what it does and does not mean to them.

...soccer doesn't care about your race.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Ex-Mossad chief Tamir Pardo: Netanyahu broke policy with Iran, US (YONAH JEREMY BOB,  JUNE 9, 2021, Jerusalem Post)

Former Mossad director Tamir Pardo on Wednesday said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has broken the country's strategy for dealing with Iran with the support of the US.

Speaking at the Meir Dagan conference at Netanya Academic College, Pardo said it was a massive strategic error for Netanyahu to be in open conflict with the Obama and Biden administrations over Iran.

The former Mossad chief asked how Netanyahu could dare to say Jerusalem will completely ignore Washington, when it is America which provides both the aircraft and the weapons which the Jewish state uses and needs to defend itself.

Pardo said, "we must do everything to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," but that it was a mistake for Netanyahu to call it an existential threat as if, should the Islamic Republic someday get such a weapon, all of the Jews would need to flee from the Middle East.

The particular problem is that Bibi/Donald make no bones about Israel/America being an existential threat to Iran, but then expect it to acquiesce.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Taking Evangelical Christians Beyond the Partisan Divide (MAGGIE PHILLIPS, JUNE 10, 2021, Tablet Magazine)

In Romans 12:2, Paul urges his readers, "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." It's a message intended for a community of early Christians in a specific time and place who were confronting a set of issues unique to them. However, it has resonated through the ages for believers in Jesus Christ the world over.

Its plea for detachment from the grubbiness of secular life has been taken up again by David French: senior editor of The Dispatch, Harvard-educated lawyer and First Amendment advocate, one-time almost third party presidential candidate, and believing evangelical Christian. In late 2019, he started the faith-focused Sunday edition of his three-times-weekly Dispatch newsletter The French Press, which typically covers (among other topics) politics and law.

Despite its bright play on words, French says The French Press has an "urgent mission" to "get people to shed partisan identity as part of their religious identity." He calls this political identity "the partisan mind," and he is the voice of one calling in the wilderness, urging increased understanding between various interest groups, together with the disentanglement of what is "good, pleasing, and perfect" from the temporal pettiness of politics--regardless of who sits behind the Resolute desk. [...]

French asserts that what he calls the evangelical "siege mentality" prevents many from appreciating the strength and reach of their own institutions, even as, he says, they tell him that "the left controls every major institution."

To which French replies: "It doesn't control the Southern Baptist Convention. And I guarantee you, the Southern Baptist Convention--on a day-to-day basis--reaches far more people with a far more sustained, prolonged moral instruction than many of the most potent institutions on the secular left. And that's just one denomination."

At the same time, many secular Americans or non-evangelicals tend to view this bloc as a monolith, when in fact there's just as much internecine conflict as any political or religious group in the country.

On the one hand, French is hopeful that non-evangelicals will find this cultural fractiousness relatable, a sort of, "evangelicals--they're just like us!" realization. On the other hand, evangelical-skeptic readers may take comfort from his honest portrayal of the flaws and shortcomings within the world of white evangelicalism, in which he says there are emerging signs of change. Among them, he describes "discontent with the extreme devotion to Trump," as well as a discontentment "with reflexive dismissals of racial critiques of the church."

French says this inchoate, roots-level discontentment among his fellow evangelicals has yet to coalesce around a single denomination or movement (although he cites Russell Moore and Beth Moore--no relation, and lately of the Southern Baptist Convention--as popular, high-visibility critics of evangelicalism in the immediate post-Trump era). That isn't to say, however, that an identifiable movement of religious conservatives dissatisfied with the status quo hasn't emerged.

It has--in opposition to David French.

For some of his fellow conservatives, as well as Christians of various denominations, French isn't the voice calling in the wilderness, but the call coming from inside the house. His denunciation of Trump's character, together with his preference for persuasion and 20th-century conservative, small-government solutions, and his commitment to First Amendment neutrality, have earned him detractors. Perhaps most notably, he's attracted critics like New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Amari, who favors a gloves-off approach to the culture war, and promotes a social conservatism ready to counter by virtually any means necessary what he perceives to be existential threats to a way of life. In the most malign critiques, to those in and around the Ahmari camp, "French-ism" actively enables the destruction of the nuclear family and the wisdom of centuries of tradition.

Nearly two years after his high-profile college campus debates with Ahmari about the future of social conservatism, French forges on through the virtual Nineveh of American political and religious discourse, steadfastly proclaiming his message of reconciliation through understanding. With regard to the tone of The French Press, its author says he finds transparency is key. His goal is to describe issues within white evangelicalism as dispassionately as possible, drawing upon lifelong experience both as an insider and insights gleaned from his career as a religious liberty lawyer. But he'll also tell readers why, in his opinion, satanic pregnancies as a concept are problematic.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Biden Should Offer the Vaccine to Iran (Eli Lake, Jun. 9th, 2021, Bloomberg)

President Joe Biden's plan to provide 500 million doses of the Covid vaccine to countries suffering from a deadly pandemic is welcome news for many reasons. The most obvious is that it's in everyone's interest to inoculate as many people as possible in order to diminish the chances that the virus and its mutations will spread.

It also happens to be true that donating vaccines is good public diplomacy. As National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said: "We are not seeking to extract concessions, we're not extorting, we're not imposing conditions the way that other countries who are providing doses are doing." That was a veiled jab at China and Russia, which have for months been providing the Sputnik and Sinopharm vaccine to many of America's traditional allies in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

The current U.S. plan is to offer the vaccine first to poor countries. That's smart as far is it goes. But Biden should make a point of offering the vaccine to a longtime U.S. adversary: Iran.

Our war on Iran has been completely one-sided and totally counter-productive.  Time to return to amity. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Polls show little evidence of difficulty voting in 2020 elections (KARLYN BOWMAN AND SAMANTHA GOLDSTEIN, 06/09/21, The Hill)

None of eight possible impediments in the VSG survey was experienced by more than 3 percent of Americans nationally. No more than 7 percent of any racial or ethnic group faced any of the impediments. The responses of those who said they voted for President Biden and Trump were consistently low and virtually identical to one another. 

Three percent nationally said they couldn't find the correct polling place, and 2 percent said they missed the registration deadline. Hispanics gave higher responses on this question than whites and Blacks, with 7 percent saying they could not find the correct polling place and 5 percent who missed the registration deadline. The VSG survey asked separate questions about mail-in ballots that never arrived or arrived too late to be processed. In both cases, 3 percent nationally experienced this. Seven percent of Hispanics, the highest response for a racial/ethnic group, said they never received the mail-in ballot they requested and 6 percent said it had arrived too late. Five percent of blacks, compared to 1 percent of whites, said the absentee ballot they had requested arrived too late.

Once at their polling places, small numbers of voters experienced problems. Three percent nationally indicated the lines were too long and that they gave up (7 percent of Hispanics, 4 percent of Blacks, and 1 percent of whites). Three percent nationally said they were told their name was not on the registration list (7 percent of Hispanics, 4 percent of Blacks, and 1 percent of whites). Three percent nationally said they had been harassed or bothered while trying to vote; again, Hispanics were slightly more likely to report this (5 percent) than Blacks (3 percent) or whites (2 percent). Finally, 2 percent were told they didn't have the correct identification; once again, Hispanics were more likely to give this response (5 percent) than Blacks or whites (1 percent each).

Seven percent, the highest percentage recorded on any impediment, is not inconsequential. But the vast majority did not experience these obstacles. State and local officials appeared to rise to the challenge during the pandemic. The question now is whether the problems that have been identified are best addressed at the state and local level or through a federal election law overhaul. 

It was fun when Kobach got the Secretaries of State together to ask them about the voter fraud they oversaw and then was shocked when they all said their elections were clean and well run. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


With Murdoch's Encouragement, Carlson Promotes White Nationalist 'Replacement' Theory (Matt Gertz, June 10 | 2021, Media Matters)

Here are eight examples of Carlson pushing the white nationalist "great replacement" theory in the two months since Murdoch claimed that he had actually repudiated it, most recently on Monday night. While Carlson is generally careful not to directly say that Democrats want white people replaced by nonwhite ones, his remarks -- referencing migrants from Congo, Haiti, and across the U.S.-Mexico border -- leave no one confused that that is what he is talking about.

June 7: "How did migrants get from Congo to Lewiston, Maine, and why?" Carlson asked about President Joe Biden's immigration policy. "Well, because [Biden White House adviser] Susan Rice and ideologues like her very much want to change Maine's demographics as well as the population mix in every other state in the union." He went on to accuse Democratic leaders of "importing huge numbers of new voters into the United States" because they "no longer believe in democracy as constituted, and they definitely don't plan to lose another election," calling this "the most radical possible attack on the core premise of democracy."

May 24: After the Biden administration extended temporary protected status preventing the removals of Haitian nationals residing in the U.S. who fled following a 2010 earthquake in that country, Carlson accused the Democrats of "trying to change the population of the United States, and they hate it when you say that because it's true, but that's exactly what they are doing." During the segment, a chyron read, "Dems want to import millions of new voters."

May 21: Responding to a guest who claimed that COVID-19 case counts were spiking in border states due to migrants spreading the virus, Carlson commented, "Public health doesn't apply when we're changing the demographic mix to favor the Democratic Party."

April 30: Carlson accused Democrats of "an attack on our democracy" because "they only care about stacking the electorate." He added: "They want to change who votes, so they win. They're diluting the votes of Americans, of all backgrounds, and that is an attack on democracy, period."

April 29: Carlson described the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 as "an assault on democracy, a permanent one." The law repealed the national origins quota system that "was designed to favor Western and Northern European countries and drastically limit admission of immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe," according to the Migration Policy Institute. Carlson explained: "That law completely changed the composition of America's voter rolls, purely to benefit the Democratic Party." (In fact, the bill passed by huge bipartisan margins, and Republican presidential nominees won five of the next six elections.)

April 21: After Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) responded to Rep. Scott Perry's (R-PA) invocation of the "great replacement" theory by tweeting, "with every passing year, there will be more people who look like me in the US," Carlson glossed Lieu's remarks as follows: "In other words, you're being replaced, and there's nothing you can do about it. So, shut up."

April 15: Carlson claimed that Democrats "are changing everything, whether we like it or not," including "a brand-new national population." He called that a "revolution" reminiscent of how "Germany got Hitler."

April 12: The day after Murdoch sent his letter claiming that Carlson had actually repudiated "replacement" theory, Carlson said on his program that "the secret to the entire immigration debate" is that "demographic change is the key to the Democratic Party's political ambitions. In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country." He added, "All across the country, we have seen huge changes in election outcomes caused by demographic change."

Over the same period, Carlson has also claimed that immigration "makes the country more volatile," that migration across the U.S.-Mexico border should trigger "a real insurrection," and that Democrats who supposedly support open borders "hate" America" and are "trying to destroy it."

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Democratic establishment tightens its hold on the party as far-left candidates fall short (Jun. 9th, 2021, Washington Post)

Democratic primary voters have been turning away this year from the anti-elite furies that continue to roil Republican politics, repeatedly choosing more moderate candidates promising steady leadership over disrupters from the party's left wing.

Tuesday's elections in Virginia, which brought the renomination of former governor Terry McAuliffe and primary losses by three of the Democrats' most outspoken liberal delegates, only underscored a pattern that was previously apparent in special House elections in Louisiana and New Mexico. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a moderate Democrat, won his party's nomination without a challenge from the left after two protest candidates failed to collect the 1,000 signatures needed for ballot access.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Even Tennessee's conservative evangelical ex-governor admits the GOP is too extreme: 'I think it's fear' (Alex Henderson, 6/08/21, AlterNet)

Bill Haslam, who served as mayor of Knoxville from 2003-2011 and governor of Tennessee from 2011-2019, is a right-wing Republican and an evangelical Christian fundamentalist. No one would mistake the conservative Haslam for a liberal or a progressive, and he is too socially conservative for libertarian right-wingers. But in an interview with The Atlantic's Emma Green, the 62-year-old Haslam admits that the Republican Party and the Christian Right have become extreme -- even for long-time conservatives like himself.

"Bill Haslam is not a natural fit for the Donald Trump-era Republican Party," Green explains. "The former Tennessee governor checks certain GOP boxes: He favors low taxes and opposes abortion rights; his background is in business, including an executive role in his family's highly successful truck-stop chain. But during his time in office, Haslam also got in trouble with his base for vetoing a bill that would have declared the Bible as Tennessee's official state book.... And his temperament is a poor fit for Trump-style culture wars. When Haslam was elected during the 2010 Tea Party wave, a local commentator complained that 'these other states have superhero action figures for their new governor, and we are stuck with Mr. Rogers.'"

Green goes on to say that the former Tennessee governor and ex-Knoxville mayor "is disturbed by some aspects of the national Republican Party's recent direction -- particularly, the way politicians and activists have frequently used religion as a cudgel."

Haslam told Green, "I have heard enough pastors who are saying they cannot believe the growth of the QAnon theory in their churches. Their churches had become battlegrounds over things that they never thought they would be. It's not so much the pastors preaching that from pulpits -- although I'm certain there's some of that -- but more people in the congregation who have become convinced that theories (such as QAnon) are reflective of their Christian faith." [...]

When Green asked Haslam why he believes that the "evangelical movement" has "gotten offtrack," he responded, "I think it's fear."

Fear is no excuse. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


New Report Ranks NH Number One in Job Opportunities (Andrew Mahaleris, 6/09/21, NH Journal)

A new report from the data analysts at WalletHub found that New Hampshire is the top-ranked state in the country in job opportunities and also has the nation's third-lowest unemployment rate. As NHJournal reported last month, New Hampshire had the lowest unemployment rate in the country, while national unemployment numbers ticked up. [...]

Sununu continues to enjoy sky-high approval ratings coming out of the pandemic, and the red-hot economy is likely a contributing factor. New Hampshire was the first New England state to ditch its mask mandate and lift capacity restrictions on businesses, and now the economy is soaring.

In a Granite State Poll from the University of New Hampshire released late last month, Sununu's approval rating for his handling of the virus was an impressive 72 percent. His approval was even higher among independent voters, at 80 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


What happened before the Big Bang?: Asking science to determine what happened before time began is like asking, "Who were you before you were born?" (MARCELO GLEISER, 09 June, 2021, Big Think)

Still, our curiosity insists on pushing the boundaries toward t = 0. What can we say? In the 1980s, James Hartle and Stephen Hawking, Alex Vilenkin, and Andrei Linde separately came up with three models of quantum cosmology, where the whole universe is treated like an atom, with an equation similar to the one used in quantum mechanics. In this equation, the universe would be a wave of probability that essentially links a quantum realm with no time to a classical one with time -- i.e., the universe we inhabit, now expanding. The transition from quantum to classical would be the literal emergence of the cosmos, what we call the Big Bang being an uncaused quantum fluctuation as random as radioactive decay: from no time to time.

If we assume that one of these simple models is correct, would that be the scientific explanation for the First Cause? Could we just do away with the need for a cause altogether using the probabilities of quantum physics?

Unfortunately, not. Sure, such a model would be an amazing intellectual feat. It would constitute a tremendous advance in understanding the origin of all things. But it's not good enough. Science can't happen in a vacuum. It needs a conceptual framework to operate, things like space, time, matter, energy, calculus, and conservation laws of quantities like energy and momentum. One can't build a skyscraper out of ideas, and one can't build models without concepts and laws. To ask from science to "explain" the First Cause is to ask science to explain its own structure. It's to ask for a scientific model that uses no precedents, no previous concepts to operate. And science can't do this, just as you can't think without a brain.

The mystery of the First Cause remains. You can choose religious faith as an answer, or you can choose to believe science will conquer it all. But you can also, like the Greek Skeptic Pyrrho, embrace the limits of our reach into the unknowable with humility, celebrating what we have accomplished and will surely keep on accomplishing, without the need to know all and understand all. It's okay to be left wondering.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Mexicans save their democracy (CS Monitor's Editorial Board, 6/09/21)

On her first trip to Central America to promote good governance, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris found a pleasant surprise in one stop. Despite a wave of campaign violence, Mexican voters turned out strong on June 6 for the country's largest, and perhaps cleanest, elections.

They also sent a message to a populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, that he should not jeopardize the independence of the election watchdog and the courts. His Morena party lost dozens of seats in Congress, dashing hopes of a supramajority that would allow him to alter the constitution.

For a democracy that ended one-party rule only a quarter-century ago, Mexico now emerges as a potential model for a region backsliding in electoral integrity and toward strong-man rule. A whole range of civic-minded people, from a million poll workers to public intellectuals, stood up for the endurance of Mexico's democratic institutions. They affirmed the need for a check on the executive branch and a higher level of debate and consensus.

June 9, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 PM


Anti-Vaxxer's Testimony In Ohio Legislature Goes Seriously Wrong (David Badash, June 10 | 2021, National Memo)

After falsely claiming that 5000 Americans have died from the coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Tenpenny told lawmakers that the injections, which have saved countless lives around the world, make people magnetic.

"Right now we're all kind of hypothesizing," a fast-talking Tenpenny said, after being asked about the "EMF frequencies," also known as electromagnetic frequencies, that she "hypothesizes" are associated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I mean what is it that's actually being transmitted that's causing all of these things? Is it a combination of the protein which now we're finding has a metal attached to it?" Tenpenny posited to lawmakers.

"I'm sure you've seen the pictures all over the internet of people who've had these shots and now they're magnetized, and put a key on their forehead, it sticks, they can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick because now we think that there's a metal piece to that," she claimed, not saying who "we" refers to.

Their obsessions with Hunter Biden and Dr. Fauci are hardly their most bizarre psychoses.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Keystone XL pipeline project scuttled, in major win for environmentalists (Timothy Puko, 6/09/21, MarketWatch)

It was stillborn.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Consent: the dynamite at the heart of the British constitutionPopular sovereignty is fundamental, but our politicians forgot it until Brexit. If they forget again, they will blow apart the country (Helen Thompson, June 9, 2021, Prospect)

Only now, with this half-century period in our history over, does it become possible to understand how EU membership became a very British story about the perils of ignoring democratic consent. But if this chapter is closed, its lessons remain urgent: the three-century long Anglo-Scottish Union is reaching another crisis point, and we are again reckoning with the demands of consent for the constitutional order.

From the beginning, the contrast between the British constitutional tradition and that of the legal order of the European Community that Britain would join in the early 1970s appeared stark. The British constitution was conventionally rendered as the idea that no parliament could bind its successor. This characterisation oversimplified. But the emphasis on parliamentary sovereignty did highlight one undeniable disparity with the EC: the absence of a constitutional court that could set aside the laws parliament passed.

It is inconceivable that the law lords--who then comprised the highest UK court--would have engaged in anything akin to what Perry Anderson, in a recent trio of essays for the London Review of Books, describes as the "brilliant coup" achieved by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In successive decisions in 1963 and 1964, the ECJ asserted the primacy of Community law over national law, getting the six member states to accept this doctrine as a constraining constitutional principle on their politics. Falling between Britain's first (1961-1963) and second (1967) unsuccessful applications to join the Community, these rulings heightened the constitutional implications of eventual accession. If the UK were an EC member, there would be new laws with direct effect across the UK authorised by a legislative body other than Westminster.

Aware of the problem, those who drafted the 1972 European Communities Act tried to muddy the waters--by structuring the legislation so that the formal applicability of EC law in the UK was conditional on the British parliament having legislated for it to have effect. Otherwise, the Conservative prime minister Edward Heath and his ministers fell back on obfuscation. "Essential national sovereignty," they insisted, remained in place, as if Britain retaining a veto in the Council of Ministers was the same as parliament retaining the sole right to legislate. Heath himself was also outright dishonest with the electorate about how he envisaged the Community's authority developing: as a telegram he sent to his chancellor in March 1973 quietly noted, his government's "goal" was "economic and monetary union," something then being pushed by the West German government.

But from the off, it was an aspect of the British constitution less lauded than parliamentary sovereignty that proved more troublesome for such ambitions. Heath himself had at one point acknowledged that membership would require the "full-hearted consent of the British parliament and people." Given his manifesto ("our commitment is to negotiate; no more no less") though, it was a struggle for him to claim a mandate for accession from the 1970 general election. In ultimately deciding that parliamentary assent alone was sufficient to bring about EC entry, Heath committed a constitutional sin by ignoring the issue of the electorate's consent to a major constitutional change.

No law is legitimate if the people did not consent to it and it does not bind everyone equally. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tasmania reaches 100 pct renewables - but climate action doesn't stop there (Rupert Posner and Simon Graham 9 June 2021, Renew Economy)

Getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% renewable energy might seem the end game for climate action. But what if, like Tasmania, you've already ticked both those goals off your list?

Net-zero means emissions are still being generated, but they're offset by the same amount elsewhere. Tasmania reached net-zero in 2015, because its vast forests and other natural landscapes absorb and store more carbon each year than the state emits.

And in November last year, Tasmania became fully powered by renewable electricity, thanks to the island state's wind and hydro-electricity projects.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump backers lose big as Ciattarelli claims GOP nomination in N.J. (MATT FRIEDMAN, 06/08/2021, Politico)

New Jersey Republicans looked past Donald Trump Tuesday, nominating a challenger to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy who once called the former president a "charlatan" and later acknowledged Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Jack Ciattarelli, a three-term former member of the New Jersey General Assembly who was backed by the state's GOP establishment, defeated three other Republicans -- two of whom centered their campaigns around loyalty to the former president -- to win his party's gubernatorial nomination. The selection of Ciattarelli in heavily Democratic New Jersey bucks a national trend of Republicans supporting candidates linked to the former president.

In his victory speech, delivered shortly after 10 p.m., Ciattarelli didn't mention Trump -- instead name checking Abraham Lincoln. "The fact is, I'm an Abraham Lincoln Republican -- one who believes in tolerance, mutual respect and the power and beauty of diversity," he said.

Populism isn't popular. 

June 8, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


Marine Le Pen's war with a French rapper (Arabella Byrne, 6/08/21, Spectator)

Marine Le Pen's war on the anthem is part of a long history of cultural battles over the French soccer team. Les Blues have always been central to political fights over the nature of the Republic. Composed largely of players from immigrant backgrounds, in the past the team has been held up as the literal manifestation of the vivre ensemble ethic. Take France's World Cup-winning 1998 team, nicknamed the Rainbow Squad. With players from North Africa, West Africa, the French Caribbean, the Pacific islands and the Basque country, the 1998 team became a cohesive force for French race relations.

Not everyone thought so at the time, mind. In 1998 Jean-Marie Le Pen, then leader of the Front National, commented that the 'Black, Blanc, Beur' (Black, White, Arab) team didn't look sufficiently French. In 2006 he criticized then manager Raymond Domenech for choosing too many black players. And in 2007 a top socialist aide said that he was 'ashamed for his country' that nine out of 11 players on the side were black.

It's now been 23 years since France first won the World Cup and yet again a Le Pen -- this time, Marine -- is commentating from the side of the pitch. When the FFF released its promotional video for the French squad -- a montage of council estates and soccer pitches interspersed with shots of the Eiffel Tower set to Youssoupha's music -- Le Pen hit out at the rapper's 'insulting' and 'outrageous' lyrics and speaking on her behalf, the deputy leader of the Rassemblement National denounced the choice of Youssoupha as choquant, considering his obscene lyrics about Le Pen and equally disturbing lyrics about Éric Zemmour -- whom he described as an immigrant hating member of the elite or 'con'. (Zemmour lost a court battle with the rapper in 2012 after a judge ruled that rap was allowed a certain amount of exaggeration.) The FFF responded by scrambling to distance themselves from the controversy, blaming a 'junior' member of the team for choosing the song in the first place, before pulling it altogether.

The row has put Macron in an uncomfortable position. The French soccer team perfectly represents the Republican ideal of multiculturalism the president is keen to espouse. Yet Macron also fears being outflanked on the right on cultural issues.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Haredi party chiefs: Jewish state in danger if wicked Bennett succeeds Netanyahu (AMY SPIRO, 6/08/21, Times of Israel)

[S]has leader Aryeh Deri asserted that a government headed by Bennett "is going to destroy and ruin everything we have maintained for years. A government headed by Bennett will destroy Shabbat, conversion, the Chief Rabbinate, kashrut and will tear the people of Israel asunder," he said. "For the sake of his personal ambition, Bennett is throwing away everything that is important to the Jewish people."

"The Jewish state is in danger!" Deri proclaimed. "The State of Israel is changing its face and its character and its identity. This isn't a separation of religion and state, but an uprooting of religion from the state."

"The names of the wicked shall rot," United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni said of Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

"We will cry out to heaven and earth... against the behavior of this man who ostensibly wears a kippa," Gafni said of Bennett. "From the beginning, we knew that this is what he wants -- he wants there to be an anti-religious government, a secular government."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


At least 3,900 children separated from families under Trump 'zero tolerance' policy, task force finds (MYAH WARD, 06/08/2021, Politico)

The Biden administration has determined that more than 3,900 children were separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy from July 2017 through January 2021, according to a Reunification Task Force report released Tuesday -- and it's possible that number will grow as the task force reviews more cases.

The review concluded that there were 5,636 family-child separations during that time period, but that only 3,913 children fell under the task force's scope, according to the report. Nearly 400 children have been sent back to their country of origin.

As for the other 1,723 children, these cases are under review, a senior official with the Department of Homeland Security said. While it's expected that the majority of those children came unaccompanied to the border, the department expects some of these cases to fall under "zero tolerance" policy separations and to tack on to the 3,913 figure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why the GOP Just Got Blown Out in a Congressional Race (BRYAN METZGER, 06/08/2021, Politico)

Two weeks before the GOP had its first chance to pick up a seat in Congress since Joe Biden became president, the Republican Party of New Mexico hosted a three-day event dubbed "Operation Freedom." State Sen. Mark Moores, who was running for the open seat, addressed a crowd of a few hundred party leaders, activists and donors in a hotel conference center. Afterwards, he left the hotel and drove nearly 300 miles back to Albuquerque, where he was actually competing for votes.

New Mexico Republicans had opted to hold their marquee event in Amarillo, Texas.

When the votes came in, Moores had lost to Democratic State Rep. Melanie Stansbury by 24 percentage points--even more than the margin by which Joe Biden had won the district. Nationally, it was seen as a referendum on Biden's first months in office. But in New Mexico, the story is longer and more complex. For some frustrated New Mexico Republicans, the Amarillo episode and Moores' loss last Tuesday highlight deeper problems with the state party's leadership and direction over the last few years--including a turn towards Trumpism that has galvanized some of the party's base but has seemingly turned off swing voters in the state's traditionally purple electorate.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The "Lab Leak": It's Not Enough to Say Accidents Happen (THOMAS LEVENSON, JUN 08, 2021, Nautilus)

That "just asking" gambit has an unsavory history, but assuming this time the questioner is sincere, finding the answer takes some actual reporting into the specific protocols for working in such a lab. By the C.D.C.'s description, BSL-4 facilities are fortresses, with control over entry, air flow, with multiple physical barriers between any lab procedure and the outside world. Every detail matters, down to the requirement that all surfaces have to have smooth finishes to make decontamination easier, and that no cabinets can have sharp edges, to lower the risk of a glove tear.

So, if, as Baker implies, the coronavirus may have leaked from Wuhan's BSL-4 lab, it's not enough to say "lab accidents happen." Of course they do! But to argue for a human error producing global tragedy out of this environment, a responsible reporter needs to be able to show how would this one hypothesized accident have played out: How did this pathogen make its way from a freezer to sealed work area to a moon-suited person and then to the streets of the city? So far no one has come up with any clear account of how a coronavirus escaped BSL-4 barriers. 

There is a twist. The C.D.C.'s own guidelines allow for coronavirus research at lower levels of protection, within BSL-2 and -3 facilities. I believe there's a reason Baker and some others emphasize the existence of the Wuhan max-containment lab: to play off Andromeda-Strain tropes of horror at the prospect of out-of-control scientists doing frightening stuff in scary places--so much so that those who invoke the Wuhan's BSL-4 security forgo the seemingly more powerful argument that COVID-19 could have escaped from a less-secure lab. 

Shifting focus to the actual sites of Wuhan's coronavirus research, though, the same problem is still there. A reporter testing the lab-leak possibility needs to understand in detail what types of work were done in each type of lab, how a level 2 or 3 standard of security works, and then establish a plausible failure mode for the particular protections in place that would allow a dangerous bug to escape.

This is a question of mechanism: How a breach could have occurred in a way that could produce widespread infection. There are other, similarly particular and technically demanding questions to be answered for the lab-accident scenario to gain plausibility, but the issue remains across each of the particular technical hurdles required to get a virus into the Wuhan lab and, perhaps modified, out again to the sorrow of the world.

Doing science is hard; reporting on it is, too. The subjects at the heart of the COVID story--molecular biology, bioengineering, virology, epidemiology, and more--are all difficult subjects, and they're challenging in a different way than, say, physics is daunting. The biological sciences require both a grasp of critical organizing concepts and the mastery of prodigious amounts of specific details within each domain and sub-discipline. 

Such complexity creates a particular problem for journalists, especially those unused to covering detailed science. Sources aren't enough, even those who are experts in their own domain. A bacteriologist may be distinguished and decorated and still miss crucial elements of bleeding-edge virology; a molecular geneticist doesn't necessarily know what happens in the weeds of infection at the cellular level, and so on. 

For now, the core of the lab-leak story still rests on an unfalsifiable negative: It's impossible to say a lab-accident couldn't happen. 

It is no coincidence that those trumpeting a lab leak are the same folks who opposed the measures to limit the pandemic.  It's just blame-shifting with a racial bonus. Note, in particular, what's lacking from their mantra: they don't even pretend that our response to the outbreak should be any different based on whether it was a lab-leak or a cave-leak.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China vents anger at US Senators' visit to Taiwan (Yahoo! News, , June 7, 2021)

A delegation of three US lawmakers made a stopover on Sunday in Taipei, where they announced Washington would donate 750,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to Taiwan.

The gift came as Taiwan accuses China of hampering its efforts to secure vaccines, saying it is part of Beijing's ongoing campaign to isolate the island.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China "expresses strong dissatisfaction (toward the visit) and has lodged a solemn representation".

Boy, Xi sure misses his Nationalist pal. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Far-Right Gang Killed Cop In Plot To Blame 2020 Protest Violence On 'Leftists' (David Neiwert, June 08 | 2021, National Memo)

Despite the widespread media narrative blaming Black Lives Matter and antifascist activists for last summer's protest violence, there were plenty of suspicions that far-right extremists seeking to intensify the public's fear of the "violent left" were in fact responsible for a significant amount of it. These suspicions were fed by such incidents as the assassination of a federal officer in Oakland by two far-right "Boogaloo Bois" and the arrest of another "Boogaloo" enthusiast from Texas for attacking a police station in Minneapolis.

Now we know, thanks to federal prosecutors investigating the Oakland incident, that in fact it was not the act of a single "lone wolf" and his accomplice, but rather part of a larger plot by group of far-right extremists who called themselves the "Grizzly Scouts" and planned a series of deadly attacks on law-enforcement officers with the intent of making it appear to be the work of the "violent left." Even more disturbing, according to the San Jose Mercury-News, most of these conspirators, following their arrests for destroying evidence in the case, have been released on bond by federal magistrates who have deemed them not a risk to the community.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Confederacy Resurgent? (George Thomas, 6/07/21, The Constitutionalist)

The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbot, just signed a law establishing the 1836 Project to promote patriotic education and Texas values. In 1836 Texas declared itself an independent republic. In doing so, Texas not only sanctioned slavery (which had been prohibited), but made clear the subordinate position of Blacks. Sections 9 and 10 of the 1836 Constitution prohibited individuals from emancipating enslaved Blacks, denied citizenship to those of African descent, and prohibited free Blacks from residing in the state.

And then Republicans wonder why we don't get any black votes. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


FDA approves injectable obesity drug that helps people cut weight 15% (LINDA A. JOHNSON, 6/07/21, AP)

Regulators on Friday said a new version of a popular diabetes medicine could be sold as a weight-loss drug in the US.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Wegovy, a higher-dose version of Novo Nordisk's diabetes drug semaglutide, for long-term weight management.

In company-funded studies, participants taking Wegovy had average weight loss of 15%, about 34 pounds (15.3 kilograms). Participants lost weight steadily for 14 months before plateauing. In a comparison group getting dummy shots, the average weight loss was about 2.5%, or just under 6 pounds.

June 7, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


A country that reversed a narrative of poverty (CS Monitor Editorial Board, June 7, 2021)

In May, for the first time, Bangladesh's average income earned per person was larger than India's. Just 14 years ago, it was half of its larger South Asian neighbor. In fact, its income grew 9% during COVID-19 while India's shrank. It now claims to be the fastest-growing economy in Asia, with a stable currency and stock market.

Despite a vulnerability to cyclones, an often-unstable democracy, and high durniti ("ill practice," meaning corruption), Bangladesh has rewritten the rules of prosperity. Its microfinance institutions like Grameen Bank have fed an entrepreneurial culture. It has cut infant mortality and illiteracy while boosting exports with industries such as textiles. Before the pandemic, it was able to cut the poverty rate by half in just 15 years. The United Nations says Bangladesh's social development is "phenomenal." In the coming decade, the country is projected to have the world's 28th largest economy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Exclusive: New audio of 2019 phone call reveals how Giuliani pressured Ukraine to investigate baseless Biden conspiracies (Matthew Chance and Marshall Cohen, 6/07/21,CNN)

During the roughly 40-minute call, Giuliani repeatedly told Yermak that Zelensky should publicly announce investigations into possible corruption by Biden in Ukraine, and into claims that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to hurt Trump. (These separate claims are both untrue.)

"All we need from the President [Zelensky] is to say, I'm gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he's gonna investigate and dig up the evidence, that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election, and then the Biden thing has to be run out," Giuliani said, according to the audio. "... Somebody in Ukraine's gotta take that seriously."

The new audio demonstrates how Giuliani aggressively cajoled the Ukrainians to do Trump's bidding. And it undermines Trump's oft-repeated assertion that "there was no quid pro quo" where Zelensky could secure US government support if he did political favors for Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


New York Post caught by fact-checkers in another sloppy Hunter Biden laptop lie (Sarah K. Burris, June 07, 2021, Raw Story)

As it turns out, the secret meeting at Cafe Milano wasn't the clandestine scandal that the New York Post made it out to be.

At the time of the meeting, Hunter Biden was the chair of the World Food Program, a fundraising arm of a humanitarian effort in the United Nations. Rick Leach was the president at the time and he explained that the now-president dropped by the meeting briefly to see Alex Karloutsos, who was known as Father Alex during his service as a leader in the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States. Biden had just spoken at the White House Greek Independent Day Reception, his official schedule read.

"He and Karloutsos are personal friends who have known each other for 40 years," the Washington Post explained. "Karloutsos's wife, Xanthi, is on the board of the Beau Biden Foundation, which fights child abuse. (Beau Biden, who had an aggressive form of brain cancer, died a few weeks after this dinner.)"

Biden is a Roman Catholic and has worked with the Greek Orthodox Church throughout his life, earning the Patriarch Athenagoras Humanitarian Award in 2015.

Joe Biden "didn't even sit down. He was not part of the dinner or part of the dinner discussion," said Leach.

Karloutsos confirmed the account, saying, "That is true. It was very kind of the then VP to do so."

It's not just that the Right's bubble prevents them from knowing much, but that what they do "know" is baloney. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Is human consciousness creating reality?: Is the physical universe independent from us, or is it created by our minds, as suggested by scientist Robert Lanza? (PAUL RATNER, 07 June, 2021, Big Think)

Is there physical reality that is independent of us? Does objective reality exist at all? Or is the structure of everything, including time and space, created by the perceptions of those observing it? Such is the groundbreaking assertion of a new paper published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

The paper's authors include Robert Lanza, a stem cell and regenerative medicine expert, famous for the theory of biocentrism, which argues that consciousness is the driving force for the existence of the universe. He believes that the physical world that we perceive is not something that's separate from us but rather created by our minds as we observe it. According to his biocentric view, space and time are a byproduct of the "whirl of information" in our head that is weaved together by our mind into a coherent experience.

His new paper, co-authored by Dmitriy Podolskiy and Andrei Barvinsky, theorists in quantum gravity and quantum cosmology, shows how observers influence the structure of our reality.

Someone has to collapse the wave function...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Covid Brings Automation to the Workplace, Killing Some Jobs (Will Knight, 6/07/21, Wired)

Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken, a fast-food chain in Ohio, hardly seems an obvious venue for cutting-edge artificial intelligence. But the company's drive-thrus are showcasing technology that reveals how the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating the creep of automation into some workplaces.

Unable to find enough workers, Chuck Cooper, CEO of Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken, installed an automated voice system in many locations to take orders. The system, developed by Intel and Hi Auto, a voice recognition firm, never fails to upsell customers on fries or a drink, which Cooper says has boosted sales. At outlets with the voice system, there's no longer a need for a person to take orders at the drive-thru window. "It also never calls in sick," Cooper says.

Cooper says he thinks enhanced unemployment checks have kept some potential workers away, but he says concerns about exposure to Covid and difficulty getting child care because of the pandemic may also be factors. Still, he says, "There's no way we're going back."

Other employers, too, are deploying automation in place of workers during the pandemic. Some restaurants and supermarkets say they cannot find enough new workers to open new locations. Many businesses are keen to rehire workers as quickly as they can, but economists say the technology will remain, replacing employees in some cases.

History suggests "automation takes place faster during recessions and sticks thereafter," says Daron Acemoglu, an economist at MIT. "It should be doubly true today." Acemoglu says companies are adopting more automation partly due to staff shortages but also because it can help with new safety measures, and to improve efficiency.

Jobs human people won't do.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Can a Constitutional Monarchy Save Libya from Chaos?Sometimes one must look to the past for the right way forward. The monarchy is just the glue a shattered Libya needs (Shlomo Roiter Jesner, 6/07/21, National Interest)

The 1951 Libyan constitution offered expansive political and social freedoms to its people and sections of it wouldn't have been out of place in Western Europe. Article 11 guaranteed the rule of law, Article 21 freedom of conscience, and Article 23 freedom of the press. The parliamentary system was based on universal adult suffrage, at a time when Switzerland--that liberal beacon at the heart of Europe--didn't allow women to vote in federal elections. [...]

What Libya--and Libyans--clearly needs is something or someone--a leader, a government, something--around which to rally.

The 1951 constitution is just that.

While Gaddafi pretended that Libya was a homogenous Arab Muslim state, ignoring important ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences to the detriment of all, the 1951 constitution and the system of government it provided for--a hereditary monarchy with a representative system of government--enjoyed broad support, and continues to do so to this day.

Technocracy--as the 1951 constitution provided for--is an oft-maligned form of rule, yet it certainly has its place, particularly in times of crisis. Witness the appointment of Mario Draghi as Italian prime minister in February, for instance, which was crucial in stabilizing a political system that was teetering on the edge.

This is evidenced by nominal support for the restoration of the 1951 constitution and the monarchy among a broad mix of Libyans. Encouragingly, those campaigning for the "Return of Constitutional Legitimacy" have been genuine grassroots movements. Tribal leaders and politicians, too, are receptive to the idea of re-establishing a constitutional monarchy. Mohamed Abdelaziz, foreign minister from 2013 to 2014, called for the rule of a symbolic monarch--as in Belgium, Britain, and Spain--vowing to "take it upon himself" to push for the return of the monarchy. Far from being, as some have argued, an unviable policy option, Abdelaziz was right to argue that the monarchy's return is the best solution for the restoration of security and stability in his country.

The monarchy acted as a symbol of unity, bolstered by the popularity of King Idris and the Senussi family. It could do so again today. William H. Lewis, a specialist on the region, argued that 'Idris' political primacy was inevitable due to his acceptability among most Libyan political factions and competing groups as a compromise candidate, a political figure without any special axes to grind.

We'd have avoided our own Civil War.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What an analysis of 377 Americans arrested or charged in the Capitol insurrection tells us (Robert A. Pape, 4/06/21, Washington Post)

Those involved are, by and large, older and more professional than right-wing protesters we have surveyed in the past. They typically have no ties to existing right-wing groups. But like earlier protesters, they are 95 percent White and 85 percent male, and many live near and among Biden supporters in blue and purple counties.

The charges have, so far, been generally in proportion to state and county populations as a whole. Only Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Montana appear to have sent more protesters to D.C. suspected of crimes than their populations would suggest.

Nor were these insurrectionists typically from deep-red counties. Some 52 percent are from blue counties that Biden comfortably won. But by far the most interesting characteristic common to the insurrectionists' backgrounds has to do with changes in their local demographics: Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic White population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists who now face charges.

Older, whiter, maler and worried about "the coloreds" getting the welfare money they think only they deserve. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


There's a Bipartisan Way to Save $1 Trillion: Cut Benefits for the Rich (Brian Riedl, Jun. 7th, 2021, Daily Beast)

As structural budget deficits grow to trillions of dollars and politicians promise even more spending, "tax the rich" has become a progressive rallying cry. Meanwhile, conservatives typically prefer spending cuts to reduce the deficit.

There is a simple bipartisan compromise: Cut federal spending on the rich. This would accomplish both the progressive goal of increasing government redistribution from the rich to the poor, and the conservative goal of shrinking government. [...]

Critics contend that stronger income-relating of federal benefit programs will make them less popular and easier to cut. But means-tested programs have proven extraordinarily politically resilient. Since 1965, federal antipoverty spending has steadily risen from 0.5 to 4.0 percent of GDP--across Republican- and Democratic-led governments--and programs like Medicaid have been expanded with the strong support of state referenda.

Furthermore, "tax the rich" advocates should recognize that--if they are worried about maintaining wealthy families' vital support for federal programs--cutting their benefits and raising their taxes are two sides of the same coin. Both options break the link between taxes and benefits and make the programs a worse deal for the affected families. If wealthy people support Social Security because their taxes finance their future benefits, then doubling their Social Security taxes (by eliminating the payroll tax wage limit) without a corresponding benefit increase would undermine their program support just as much as a direct benefit cut. So if we're willing to tax them, it makes sense to cut their benefits first.

Upwards of $1 trillion can be saved over the decade (and significantly more after) from reducing upper-income benefits. 

Paired with universal lifetime government-funded personal accounts it obviates at least  retirement spending. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Pulisic's Extra-Time PK, Horvath's PK Save Give USA Win Over Mexico in Nations League Final (AVI CREDITOR, JUN 6, 2021, SI)

The latest chapter in the storied USA vs. Mexico rivalry was an instant classic.

The U.S. men's national team battled back from two one-goal deficits, including one just over a minute into the game, winning the first Concacaf Nations League title in extra time with a 3-2 triumph over its nemesis.

Tecatito Corona scored after 62 seconds and Mexico had a would-be second goal wiped off the board by VAR before Gio Reyna pulled even for the U.S. in the first half. In the second, Diego Lainez and Weston McKennie scored two minutes apart late to send the game to extra time at 2-2. It was there where a Christian Pulisic penalty kick following a VAR review and an Ethan Horvath PK save on Andres Guardado following another VAR review wound up being the difference on an unforgettable night in Colorado.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The lab-leak origin claim for COVID-19 is in the news, but it's still fact-free (MICHAEL HILTZIK, JUNE 3, 2021, LA Times)

No one disputes that a lab leak is possible. Viruses have escaped from laboratories in the past, on occasion leading to human infection. But "zoonotic" transfers -- that is, from animals to humans -- are a much more common and well-documented pathway.

That's why the virological community believes that it's vastly more likely that COVID-19 spilled over from an animal host to humans.

That was the conclusion reached in a seminal paper on COVID-19's origins published in Nature in February 2020 by American, British and Australian virologists. "We do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible," they wrote.

"We cannot prove that SARS-CoV-2 [the COVID-19 virus] has a natural origin and we cannot prove that its emergence was not the result of a lab leak," the lead author of the Nature paper, Kristian Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, told me by email.

"However, while both scenarios are possible, they are not equally likely," Andersen said. "Precedence, data, and other evidence strongly favor natural emergence as a highly likely scientific theory for the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, while the lab leak remains a speculative incomplete hypothesis with no credible evidence."

Coauthor Robert F. Garry of Tulane Medical School told several colleagues during a recent webcast: "Our conclusion that it didn't leak from the lab is even stronger today than it was when we wrote the paper."

As the veteran pseudoscience debunker David Gorski sums up the contest between the lab-leak and zoonotic theories, "the likelihood of the two hypotheses is nowhere near close to equal."

What remains of the lab-leak theory is half-truths, misrepresentations, and tendentious conjecture.

The salient point remains: it just doesn't much matter.  Whether it passed to humans in a cave or in a lab, the takeaway is that when we experience outbreaks we need to follow the Asian lead and isolate/distance/mask then add in the DARPA portion where we concoct a vaccine quickly. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Did Healthcare Spending Decline 8.6% During a Pandemic? (Jeffrey Tucker, June 07, 2021, Real Clear Markets)

The American Hospital Association estimated that the whole industry lost $202.6 billion in revenue between March and June 2020. By July, the AHA estimated the losses would be $323 billion by year's end. 

In the first half of the year, inpatient admissions fell by 20%, while outpatient visits collapsed by 35%. Visits to the emergency room crashed too, in some places by as much as 42%. By the fall of 2020, elective surgeries were down by 90% of where they would normally be. 

Restoring out of pocket charges will similarly reduce unnecessary consumption. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Malcolm X: Why El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Matters (Sara Kamali, April 5, 2021, Revealer)

On April 20, 1964, during the five-day Hajj, Malcolm X wrote a letter to a friend from Saudi Arabia describing his new worldview. For perhaps the first time in his life, soon-to-be-El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz regarded "every human being as a human being - neither white, black, brown, or red" as part of the "Human Family." Sunni Islam did not share what he described as the Nation of Islam's "strait-jacketed world" of white people as devils, but "already molded people of all colors into one vast family." Witnessing the confluence of Muslims around the world during the Hajj, he began to internalize the Islamic concept of umma, or a singular community of believers, originating from the Arabic root for "mother." As he and Alex Haley wrote in his autobiography, "Everything about the pilgrimage accented the Oneness of Man under God." From this perspective, because God is One, so, too, is humanity one entity. After the Hajj, he felt that skin color was no longer a valid lens by which to judge people. Rather, a person should be judged by deeds and conscious behavior, and ultimately it is one's intentions that God will judge.

One month after the Hajj, he wrote in a letter that Islam compels one "to take a stand on the side of those whose human rights are being violated, no matter what the religious persuasion of the victims is. Islam is a religion which concerns itself with the human rights of all mankind, despite race, color, or creed. It recognizes all (everyone) as part of one human family." He wrote that letter in Nigeria as he traveled the African continent to meet with political leaders. As he wrote from Ghana during the same tour, his desire for the political, cultural, and economic harmony "between the Africans of the West and the Africans of the fatherland" of all religions was not antithetical to his practice of Islam, but because of it. The interlocking inequities of Black people, Muslims and non-Muslims, were religious obligations to address.

In order to extricate Black people from the oppressive power dynamics of white institutions, Malik El-Shabazz established the secular Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) a few months after the Hajj in 1964. He founded the organization to address Black unemployment, unlivable housing conditions, voter suppression, and to "decolonize" education curricula and the media. The OAAU was patterned in "letter and spirit" after the Organization of African Unity (OAU), an organization established in 1963 to eradicate colonialism and create political and economic ties across the African continent.

Malik El-Shabazz's newfound belief in Sunni Islam compelled him to encourage other Black people, of all religious backgrounds, to stand up not only for their civil rights, but to join together in demanding their human rights. Domestically, the mission of the OAAU was to reconnect Black Americans with their African heritage, establish economic independence, and promote Black self-determination in order for Black people to have the access, benefits, and opportunities like their white counterparts. The OAAU worked for Black self-empowerment, self-defence, as well as political engagement - particularly voter registration and education. The OAAU also sought to bring charges against the U.S. government before the United Nations in violation of the human rights of the 22 million Black Americans.

Malik El-Shabazz's experiences with Sunni Islam also changed his views on women's role in organizational leadership. After the Hajj, he insisted that women were integral to the enlightenment and progression of any nation. The centrality of women in leadership positions within the OAAU was thus purposeful and included his wife Betty, his sister Ella Collins, acting chair Lynne Shifflett, Sara Mitchell, and Gloria Richardson. Indeed, these women ensured the OAAU continued after his death.

The ethos and scope of the OAAU reflected El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz's post-Hajj shift from civil rights to human rights, from a singular focus on anti-Black racism to solidarity with every person who is targeted because of their skin color and physical appearance. This is evidenced by the links he forged with leaders of non-Black marginalized communities including Asians and Asian Americans, such as Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American civil rights activist who befriended Malik El-Shabazz's in 1963 and who was present at the Audubon Ballroom when he was murdered.

During his final public talk, three days before his death on February 18, 1965 at Barnard College in New York City, Malik El-Shabazz articulated his global vision of solidarity: "It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing global rebellion of the oppression against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter. We are interested in practicing brotherhood with anyone really interested in living according to it."

For Malik El-Shabazz, everyone is connected through what he called the "Human Family" and is therefore is obligated to correct the "Human Problem" of racism. The sole formula to address the oppression faced by various constituencies of the Human Family consists of "real meaningful actions, sincerely motivated by a deep sense of humanism and moral responsibility." Malik El-Shabazz believed white people must exercise their privilege as allies by becoming "less vocal and more active against racism of their fellow whites." Simultaneously, leaders within communities of color "must make their own people see that with equal rights also go equal responsibilities."

Civil rights struggles are always most successful when they indict us for not living up to our own ideals. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Yellow Peril's Second Coming (Lucas Kwong, June 3, 2021, Revealer)

During his February 7 sermon on "China in Biblical Prophecy," pastor Phil Hotsenpiller of Orange County's Influence Church shared his thoughts about the coronavirus and its relationship to the book of Revelation. "I call it the Chinese virus," Hotsenpiller told his megachurch, as a giant graphic of an American flag loomed on the screen behind him. Hotsenpiller had already declared, for his online and in-person audience, that China would catalyze the apocalypse. Now, with his congregation's rapt attention, he teased the topic for the following week's sermon: by unleashing a pandemic,  China was "setting the  stage" for Armageddon. "We're going to talk about whether it came out of a fish market or out of a laboratory," Hotsenpiller promised. His casual prejudice came after an 84-year-old Thai grandfather was murdered in San Francisco, and during a surge of anti-Asian hostility unlike anything the country has seen in decades. He preached his racism in a county that is home to the third-largest Asian American population in America, where a Chinese family was recently so terrorized by racist teens that neighbors instituted an overnight watch to guard them. But the minister showed no signs that he cared about anti-Asian violence.

Those unfamiliar with Evangelical eschatology, the study of the last days and God's ultimate plan for humanity, might be forgiven for wondering what xenophobic conspiracy theories have to do with "Biblical prophecy." Yet framing the "Chinese virus" as a step toward Armageddon exemplifies a century-old hermeneutical instinct amongst Evangelicals, one that frames "the East" as integral to the anti-God forces that will, sometime soon, spark the end of the world. The revival of this "sanctified Sinophobia," my term for Christian-inspired anti-Chinese hostility, has fueled the hatred now directed at Asians in America and around the globe.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


"Do Not Ask Me Who I Am"Foucault and neoliberalism (Samuel Clowes Huneke, The Point)

Neoliberalism, which fundamentally reshaped Western politics in the last decades of the twentieth century, encompasses a range of views, ideologies and policy prescriptions. From Thatcher and Reagan to Blair and Clinton, neoliberals on both the right and the left cut back the welfare state, lowered taxes and privatized government services. Foucault asserted that neoliberalism differed from nineteenth-century liberalism, Dean and Zamora write, in that it attempted "to extend the market and its rationality to all forms of social existence and to test and evaluate every single act of government" in relation to that market rationality. It sought in this way to unleash economic growth and to do away with the supposed inefficiencies and stifling regulations of the Keynesian state. "Our hero," wrote Washington Monthly editor Charles Peters in his 1982 article "A Neo-Liberal's Manifesto," "is the risk-taking entrepreneur." What, we might wonder, could a philosopher so critical of the workings of power have seen in the ideology of neoliberalism--an ideology that had, as Dean and Zamora point out, already been implemented with such violence in Pinochet's Chile and which has led to such devastation in our own era?

The key, according to the authors, was in Foucault's late turn to subjectivity, to how power--by which he meant the decentralized and dispersed ways that institutions and norms govern our lives--shapes and even creates identity. "The criminal," "the homosexual," "the pervert," "the madman": these, according to Foucault, are all inventions of this particular sort of power, which stemmed not from the edicts of a monarch, but from the surveillance and normative inquiries of scientists and police, doctors and bureaucrats over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [...]

Neoliberalism, by cutting away the state, by guaranteeing a minimum of existence through a negative tax or some other universal basic income, by wielding power through a supposedly value-free economic rationality, would, in Foucault's view, do away with many of the most insidious exercises of power that characterized the modern state, the kinds of discipline that had ensnared the modern subject within a proliferation of discourse. The blending of these two strands of thought appears prominently at the conclusion of Foucault's March 21, 1979 lecture on American neoliberalism:

What appears on the horizon of this kind of [neoliberal] analysis is not at all the ideal or project of an exhaustively disciplinary society ... On the horizon of this analysis we see instead the image, idea, or theme-program of a society in which there is an optimization of systems of difference, in which the field is left open to fluctuating processes, in which minority individuals and practices are tolerated, in which action is brought to bear on the rules of the game rather than on the players, and finally in which there is an environmental type of intervention instead of the internal subjugation of individuals.

These are the words, Dean and Zamora argue, of someone who saw potential in the neoliberal project, who believed it might offer a corrective to the kinds of biopolitical, disciplining power that the welfare state had built up around the individual.

The Left's mistake was always its obsession with capitalism, which blinded it to the fact that it was part and parcel of democracy and protestantism.  It's comforting for them to add the "neo" so they can pretend they aren't just acquiescing to the Anglospheric revolutions--which were over by 1776--but it's a falsehood. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is Thomas Sowell one of the most important thinkers of our time?'Maverick' is an outstanding intellectual biography of this prolific African-American economist (James Bradshaw, Jun 7, 2021, Mercatornet)

In a number of books on related topics - his titles included Ethnic America, Race and Culture, Conquests and Cultures and Affirmative Action Around the World -- Sowell shone a light on how educational and income disparities came to exist between different groups, and how politically successful minorities (like Irish-Americans, who dominated America's big cities as well as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church) sometimes lagged behind others in material terms while politically marginalised groups like the (Chinese diaspora in southeast Asia or the Jews of America) thrived economically and educationally.

Unsurprisingly, this did not endear him to politicians and activists who owed their positions and incomes to maintaining the view that income disparities were always the result of discrimination, which they of course maintained could only be addressed by political action.

The other profound point he makes in this regard is the best argument for reparations: the nature of black immigration--forced and enslaved--prevented that group from experiencing the typical economic/educational success that Jews, Chinese, etc. enjoyed. As he points out, more modern black immigrants from Africa and Haiti are pretty indistinguishable from white and Asian immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


More than 300 million COVID vaccine shots administered in U.S. (Rebecca Falconer, 6/07/21, Axios)

The latest CDC figures show that 41.9% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and 51.5% has received at least one dose.

The vaccination milestone comes as the U.S. has seen new infections fall to the lowest level since March 2020, when the pandemic began.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


HISPANICS AND THE GLOBAL HEARTLAND (Karla and Celia López del Río 06/06/2021, New Geography)

The Heartland continues to experience an influx of Hispanic immigrant workers, as seen in the last decade. Hispanic populations increased more than three times as fast as the national population from 2010 to 2019 (19.2% compared to 6.1%). The fastest growth was in North Dakota (119%) and South Dakota (61%) and seven states saw growth of greater than 30 percent. Overall, the Hispanic population in the Heartland grew roughly 10 percent faster than the rest of the country. In Iowa, over one-third of all immigrants come from Mexico or Central America.

Hispanics are migrating to the Heartland for many different reasons. Some are leaving metro areas like Chicago or Los Angeles for states like Tennessee and Iowa for lower cost of living, affordable housing and for the chance at homeownership at an accessible purchase price.

The multifaceted Hispanic immigrant community parallels the 19th century German and other Northern European immigrants in the Heartland. Like Hispanics, the European wave of immigrants comprised different ethnicities such as European-Germans and Russian-Germans but was lumped into the same identity because they spoke the German language.[ii] German immigrants first began arriving en masse to American port cities like New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans during the 19th century. They then began moving west to become prosperous farmers in the Heartland.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mexico President Suffers Setback in Legislative Election (Agence France-Presse, June 07, 2021)

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's party lost its absolute majority in the lower house in elections Sunday, initial results indicated, in a setback to his promised "transformation" of the country. 

Liberalism is inevitable; enjoy it.

June 6, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


The new face of Israeli nationalism: The rise of Naftali Bennett suggests religious Zionism is no longer a priority (Macaes Bruno, June 7, 2021, UnHerd)
On the night of 15 April, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, brushed the attendants aside and proceeded to cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful. Israeli president Reuven Rivlin was delivering a speech at the Western Wall, lying just below the mosque, and officials worried that the prayers would drown it out.

The act, shocking and brazen even in this bare description, set in motion the series of events culminating in widespread riots inside Israel and a recurrence of the armed conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Disconnecting the loudspeakers was a way to show who the real rulers are, not only in Jerusalem but in the Temple Mount itself. By making it clear that Jewish voices should take precedence, it was a way to put Muslims and Arabs in their proper place.

For a long time, the leading religious authorities in Israel ruled that Jews should not enter the gates of the Mount. This is because, there is no way for Jews to purify themselves to enter the sacred square, no way to rebuild the Temple, which is a task best left to God. He alone can send the Messiah, in a future for which the faithful should wait and pray. Shortly after the passage of the Protection of Holy Places Law in 1967, Israel's then religious affairs minister Zerach Warhaftig said that the Third Temple has to be built by God. The Temple Mount was the property of Israel by biblical Right, but the Muslim sites would be preserved. "This makes me happy," he added, "because we can avoid a conflict with the Muslim religion."

Unless, as Gershom Gorenberg once put it, the future is now. Unless the waiting is over; unless history is drawing to its climax. The events of 15 April show that the question can no longer be evaded. Jewish sovereignty is now everywhere visible on the Temple Mount. [...]

The stopping point on the route to a temple and a monarchical government -- the restoration of the House of David -- remains elusive. If the tradition of the halakha, the body of religious laws, expressed an attitude of distance and sanctity towards the Temple Mount, ethnic nationalism stands for a markedly different goal: the holy site as a totem expressing the ultimate sovereignty over the Land of Israel.

It's why Americans and Israel are drifting apart, why American Jews are so estranged from the regime and why Donald and the Right love it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


In football, at least, Europe is at the top of its game (Simon Kuper JUNE 3 2021, Financial Times)

Today, knowledge exchange in European football is a model for all other sectors. The best teams play each other constantly. After Chelsea beat Real Madrid, the Madrileños go home and work out what Chelsea did better, and so the sport evolves. Spain updated the Dutch passing game, and then the Germans and English learnt from Spain.

English academies now produce footballers such as Mason Mount and Phil Foden, who play like continentals. In football, English exceptionalism died in about 1993, killed by the failings of the indigenous long-ball game with its warrior ethos. That's one difference between football and political ideologies: in football, success and failure are usually clear. You can blame the referee for one bad scoreboard, but after years of them, you have to start learning from other people.

Weaker versions of football's knowledge exchange operate in other sectors. Germany learnt from foreign school systems after its "Pisa shock" of 2001, when its schools underperformed in the OECD's rankings. Northern Europeans learnt about food from the French and Italians.

But football shows how much better this could be done. Here, knowledge is spread around the continent by multilingual émigré coaches such as Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, moving around an almost perfectly functioning single market. These men are revered in their adopted countries and have become advertisements for their home countries. Over the past year, Britons performed four times more Google searches for Klopp than for Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel; Guardiola got 39 times more searches than Spain's prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

Meanwhile, Europe's social democracy pays off in football. You can't pick future champions aged two based on body type. The only way to create talent is to get millions of kids of all backgrounds playing, on decent fields, with qualified coaches. The world's most egalitarian continent does this best. Nowadays it even gives girls a chance.

And so the EU, with 6 per cent of the planet's population, has become football's lone superpower. The only non-EU country to finish in the top three of the World Cup since 2006 is Lionel Messi's Argentina. Four different EU member states have won four straight World Cups. The German coach Franz Beckenbauer's boast in 1990 that a united Germany would become unbeatable proved false. Instead, knowledge spread from core Europe to the historically disadvantaged south: Spain (twice), Greece and Portugal have won the last four European championships.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Germany: CDU fends off far-right AfD in Saxony-Anhalt state election (Deutsche-Welle, 6/06/21)

"This is quite a remarkable victory for Angela Merkel's CDU party," DW chief political editor Michaela Küfner said.

"It means the AfD's rise has been halted," she added.

"It will certainly give the CDU a boost," DW Political Correspondent Hans Brandt said of the results. "There's a lot of happiness in the faces of CDU representatives today because they have scored a significant victory here."

Populism isn't popular.

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Native American tribe in Maine buys back island taken 160 years ago (Alice Hutton, 4 Jun 2021, The Guardian)

The advert painted an idyllic picture of White's Island.

For $449,000 you could buy 143 acres of forests with sweeping views of the rugged shoreline of Big Lake in Maine, on the east coast of the United States. "[It's] a unique property ... steeped in history ... with only two owners in the last 95 years," wrote the real estate agent from privateislandsonline.com.

In fact, Kuwesuwi Monihq, or Pine Island, is its original name, and it technically has just one true "caretaker"; the Passamaquoddy: a small tribe of 3,700 Native Americans who had lived there for at least 10,000 years. [...]

In March, with a grant from conservation charities, the tribe raised $355,000, and finally bought the island back.

Many of our ancestors would be surprised how readily the Natives have adopted capitalism; we oughtn't be. The End of History spares no one in the long run. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Xi's change of heart is too late to stop China's collision with the west (Simon Tisdall, 6 Jun 2021, The Guardian)

Is it too late to halt the slide towards all-out confrontation between China and the western democracies? An apparently conciliatory speech last week by Xi Jinping led some observers to suggest China's president may want to mend fences. But a change of tone in Beijing will not cut much ice in Washington unless Xi's aggressive policies change, too.

Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has overseen a marked shift towards authoritarianism at home and increased "assertiveness" - a polite word for bullying - abroad. He has established the type of personal, almost cultish dominance over the Chinese Communist party not seen since the days of Mao Zedong.

So when Xi talks, as he did last week, about the need for arrogant CCP spokespeople and the country's antagonistic "wolf warrior" diplomats to present a more "lovable" and "humble" image of China to the world, he is really critiquing himself and his own management style.

Not understanding America, he was ill-prepared for our kicking his Nationalist buddy to the curb. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Disgusting slap in the face': California governor slams judge as assault rifles ban overturned (Martin Pengelly,  5 Jun 2021, The Guardian)

The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, slammed a federal judge's decision to overturn his state's three-decade-old ban on assault rifles as "a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians".

If only localities enforced their own laws...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


HIV after Covid: Anthony Fauci and an army of researchers seek to regain momentum (Benjamin Ryan, 6 Jun 2021, The Guardian)

The highly effective Covid-19 vaccines now sending the US epidemic into retreat were whisked with lightning speed through clinical trials thanks, in many ways, to HIV paving the way.

In March last year, Fauci began overseeing the retooling of three major HIV global clinical trials networks into the Covid-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN). This meant teams of investigators already skilled at recruiting and retaining diverse participant populations, dealing with byzantine regulatory requirements and paperwork and conducting necessary statistical analyses soon enrolled tens of thousands into trials that have given the world the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Fauci praised the "elegant science" that went into selecting the most promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates - a process, he stressed, facilitated by the pioneering efforts of HIV vaccinologists. Over the decades, such researchers honed the methods that in Fauci's words allowed scientists to "determine the precise confirmation of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that allowed maximal immunogenicity, thus leading to high efficacious vaccines".

Larry Corey, director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network - one of the three National Institutes of Health-funded networks that collaborated to launch the CoVPN - said that without the HIV research field, scientists would not have had at the ready the non-human primate research model that was used to transition from laboratory studies to human clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines.

"We were able to do this in 11 months, start to finish, because science does build on science," said Corey, who has run the HVTN out of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle since 1999.

On the east coast, Myron Cohen, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina and co-principal investigator of the HIV Prevention Trials Network, a CoVPN collaborator, took his own global team's expertise in developing broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV and channeled it into the increasingly fruitful effort to bring to market cocktails of monoclonal antibodies that attack SARS-Cov-2.

Other HIV experts have leapt at the chance to lend their skills to the Covid-19 endeavor. One is Steven Deeks, a leader in the HIV cure research field at University of California, San Francisco, who said his lab's extensive experience with the thorny logistics of establishing long-term research cohorts allowed them to start a study following people with "long Covid" in mere weeks.

HIV specialists have been among the most prominent voices educating the public and combating misinformation about Covid-19. Monica Gandhi of UCSF has championed evidence-based optimism and sanity in the face of anxiety and hysteria; Julia Marcus of Harvard has advocated harm-reduction methods to curb SARS-Cov-2; and Carlos del Rio of Emory University has covered anything and everything in between.

The vaccines are a triumph of government funding. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Recent Tower of Babel 'Discovery' Is Madness (Candida Moss, Jun. 6th, 2021, Daily Beast)

Last weekend British tabloid The Daily Express ran a story announcing the sensational discovery that the Tower of Babel actually existed. According to statements made by Tom Meyer, a professor of Bible Studies at Shasta Bible College, there is archeological evidence to suggest that it actually existed and became a tourist destination in the ancient world.

According to Genesis 11, the postdiluvian inhabitants of the world decided to try and climb up to heaven by building an ancient tower or, you might say, skyscraper. They started with a city built in Shinar (or Babylon) and constructed the city using baked bricks and tar for mortar. Their goal was to make a name for themselves. God, however, who observed this architecturally audacious endeavor, was unimpressed. Rather than destroying the construction like a game of celestial Jenga, God identified human collaboration and unity as the real problem. As a result, he "confuse[d] their language" so that they didn't understand each other and scattered them over the Earth.

"And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Germany backs carbon pricing in EU climate policy overhaul - document (Kate Abnett, 6/06/21, Reuters)

The German government is backing an extension of European Union carbon pricing and an end to free carbon permits for airlines as the bloc prepares new measures to help meet climate change targets, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The European Commission will propose a dozen climate policies on July 14, each designed to slash greenhouse gases faster in line with an EU goal to cut net emissions 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels.

The package will include reforms to the EU carbon market and a border levy to impose CO2 costs on imported goods. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New England's success against COVID-19 could be a model (PHILIP MARCELO, 8/05/21, Associated Press)

 For Dr. Jeremy Faust, the moment he realized the pandemic no longer dominated his workday came over Memorial Day weekend, when he didn't see a single coronavirus case over two shifts in the emergency room at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Kerry LaBarbera, an ER nurse a few miles away at Boston Medical Center, had a similar realization that same weekend, when just two patients with COVID-19 came through her unit, one of the busiest in New England.

"The past year and a half has been like going through a tornado or something terrible," she said. "You're holding on for dear life, and then you get past it and it's like, 'What just happened?' "

Massachusetts and the rest of New England -- the most heavily vaccinated region in the U.S. -- are giving the rest of the country a possible glimpse of the future if more Americans get their shots.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the region have been steadily dropping as more than 60% of residents in all six states have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The Deep South states of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, in comparison, are the least vaccinated at around 35%, and new cases relative to the population are generally running higher there than in most of New England. 

New England is always the model. 

June 5, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Workers Aren't Coming Back (MICHAEL R. STRAIN, June 4, 2021, National Review)

One of the two most significant statistics from this morning's jobs report: Workers aren't coming back.

Data released by the Labor Department this morning show that last month, 61.6 percent of the working-age population were active in the labor force, either working in jobs or looking for them. That is essentially unchanged from the summer of 2020.

The second most significant statistic is that wages are soaring. In May, average wages grew at a 6.1 percent annual rate. In April, they grew at an 8.7 percent annual rate.

Combined, these two statistics tell much of the story of the economy this spring: Employers are boosting wage offers in order to attract and retain workers, who are increasingly difficult to attract and retain. 

No one misses jobs.

June 4, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Champions no more: Our correspondent detects parallels between the fortunes of German football and the travails of the Merkel government (KLAUS NEUMANN 13 APRIL 2021, Inside Story)

The bungled response to Covid-19 didn't come as a total surprise. Germans know that the country's bureaucracy is slow to swing into action at the best of times. The fact that crucial technological developments seem to have bypassed the public service didn't help. It's no secret, for example, that federal, state and local governments have only slowly come to terms with the digital revolution. German health departments still report the number of infections by fax, rather than digitally. When schools were told that students needed to be taught remotely, some teachers took that to mean that they would simply post photocopied worksheets to their students once a week. And don't even mention German Rail and the coverage of the mobile phone network.

But now, as Covid-19's global reach prompts comparisons not just of infection numbers, vaccination rates and fatalities but also of government responses, German inefficiency is no longer a well-kept secret. Germans can't keep complaining that their trains are always late but then find solace in the idea that others believe Germans are naturally more efficient. It's the realisation that German stuff-ups are now regularly reported in the New York Times that has come as a shock.

Similarly, the millions of Germans who are convinced they would do a better job than Jogi Löw have long known about the weaknesses of Germany's national side. Löw and his team just haven't been that good since their triumph in Brazil seven years ago. But nobody else seemed to take much notice of the slide. That's changed: now that Germany has succumbed to North Macedonia it is no longer possible to pretend that this was the same side that beat Brazil by six goals in the 2014 semifinal and went on to win the cup.

Germans feel that they not only need to get on top of the pandemic, they also need to restore their reputation as world champions of efficiency and innovation. They need not just to win their next qualifier -- given that their opponent will be Liechtenstein, that's perhaps not such a big challenge -- but also to convince others that they are still one of the heavyweights of world football.

When it comes to football, there's a short-term remedy. Germany just ought to field its best side -- which means that Jogi Löw must admit it was a terrible mistake to tell Thomas Müller, the star performer of Champions League winner Bayern Munich, that his services were no longer required. Having Müller in the side might at least prevent the embarrassment of exiting Euro 2020 at the group stage.

Then there is the pressing question of who will be Germany's new coach. Four of the eight clubs currently competing for this year's title in the Champions League are coached by Germans, and their names naturally came up when Löw announced his resignation. But that's not how the German Football Association works. It won't appoint a Thomas Tuchel (the head coach of Chelsea) or Jürgen Klopp (who's in charge of Liverpool); they are too independent or too flamboyant. (Not that either of them would want to give up their current gig in Britain.)

Löw's job is more likely to go to an understudy, in the same way that Sepp Herberger's assistant Helmut Schön became head coach in 1964, Jupp Derwall followed Schön in 1978, and Löw got the job when his immediate boss, Jürgen Klinsmann, resigned. Perhaps Germans should simply transfer their attachment from the men's to the women's side, which has won thirteen of its last fourteen games, including, most recently, a friendly against Australia.

Unlike Jogi Löw, Angela Merkel can't draft somebody for her cabinet whom she had previously sent packing (although there would be no shortage of potential candidates). And, to stay with the analogy, while the Christian Democratic Union might be as conservative as the German Football Association and pick an uninspiring understudy as Merkel's designated successor, it won't be up to the party to appoint the next chancellor.

Germany could well do with a Jürgen Klopp of politics: somebody to motivate and inspire them as they face their next big task, curbing the emission of greenhouse gases. They also need somebody to remind them that their glasses are half full rather than half empty; after all, despite the chaos surrounding the government's handling of the pandemic, so far proportionately fewer people have died of the virus than in eight of Germany's nine neighbouring countries. (Only Denmark has done better.)

On 19 April, the Greens will announce who will run as their candidate for the chancellorship in September. As the Christian Democrats are only five percentage points ahead of the Greens in the latest polls, Merkel's successor might be either of the two Green contenders, Annalena Baerbock or Robert Habeck. While neither has the charisma of a Jürgen Klopp, both would be keenly aware of the need for Germany to arrive at last in the twenty-first century. Both would lead a government intent on changing the country rather than administering the status quo. Both would know that the challenge of climate change will eventually dwarf that of Covid-19.

Germans' concern with how their country is perceived has led them to believe that their government's lack of action is a very recent phenomenon. But when was the last time the Merkel government did what was necessary without backtracking afterwards? Some would say that this was in 2015, during the so-called refugee crisis, but it should be remembered that the image of Merkel as an activist relies on a simple narrative: she decided that Germany should open its borders. Germany didn't do that; it just didn't close them. When the Merkel government swung into action, it helped negotiate a deal with Turkey to halt the flow of refugees while simultaneously tightening the asylum laws. In fact, Merkel last acted decisively in 2011, following the Fukushima accident in Japan, when her government decided to phase out Germany's nuclear reactors.

Preoccupied as Germans are with appearances and perceptions, they tend to believe that the decline of Germany's fortunes on the football field began after the 2014 World Cup. But the team that won the cup that year was arguably not as good -- and certainly not as exciting -- as the team that competed in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Germany won in 2014 because the competition was not as strong as four years earlier. In other words, the defeat at the hands of North Macedonia and the government's ponderous response to the pandemic came after a long period of wasted opportunities. The summer of welcome in 2015 and the World Cup in 2014 just felt like moments when Germans were champions of the world.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Solar Power: The U.S. Military Wants to Harvest the Sun's Energy (Caleb Larson, 6/04/21, National Interest)

In a May 2020 press release, the Department of Defense explained the United States Space Force will be using the X-37B reusable space plane in the future for conducting experiments in space. The report detailed a rather bland experiment involving the effects of radiation from space on seeds--not exactly an attention-grabber.

It then casually and quietly mentioned how the Naval Research Laboratory is planning to harvest the sun's energy for use on Earth. "A third experiment, designed by the Naval Research Laboratory, transforms solar power into radiofrequency microwave energy, then studies transmitting that energy to Earth," the press release said.

Essentially the X-37B will carry an array of solar panels that can be deployed once the space plane is in orbit around the Earth. Once stretched out, these panels could gather soar energy from the Sun and send it back down to Earth.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Iran to review disqualification of presidential election candidates (Times of Israel, 6/03/21)

"In the vetting process some candidates were wronged. They were accused of untrue things that were unfortunately spread throughout the internet too. Protecting people's honor is one of the most important issues. I call on the responsible bodies to restore their honor," Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted. [...]

Also on Friday, Khamenei urged voters to turn out for the election, warning that staying away would mean doing the work of the "enemies of Islam."

Turnout being a function of choices.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


It's Time For Congress to Support Fusion Energy: Fusion devices for clean, safe, and affordable electricity and industrial heat are making advances and need a push (U.S. Representative Don Beyer, June 4, 2021, ScientificAmerican)

A burgeoning U.S. fusion industry is making progress towards introducing energy-producing devices that will provide clean, safe, and affordable electricity and industrial heat. Several American companies are already working on the goal of commercializing fusion technology and providing power to the grid, with recently reported successes contributing to an optimistic outlook. The Department of Energy's Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee recently recommended starting up a U.S. experimental pilot plant by the 2040s. A preliminary design for such a plant should be completed by 2025, according to a strategic plan published earlier this year by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

This effort dovetails with international research, principally the fusion experiment called ITER, located in France and scheduled to start operations within the next ten years. Researchers and policymakers within the U.S. and international fusion community agree that ITER has kept fusion moving forward, taking advantage of significant advances in materials and computing and an evolving understanding of what it takes to make fusion work. The U.S government has helped to fund ITER, and that money often supports contracts held by U.S. companies, labs and academic institutions. It has been an important source of international cooperation.

This type of progress means that investments from the federal government could help put fusion on a path to become a cornerstone in the fight against the climate emergency. Until now, Congress's attention on energy topics has largely been dominated by debates over fossil fuels and questions of whether, and how much, to support established renewables. The time has come for Congress to take fusion energy more seriously, to educate its members on this energy's incredible potential and to make smart investments that could reap tremendous benefits.

I recently formed the Congressional Fusion Energy Caucus to help achieve these ends. Our new working group brought together members of Congress from both parties, including party leaders, who believe fusion should be part of the climate solution. We are not just doing this for symbolism or to check a box. I worked with this group to spearhead a bipartisan push to significantly increase federal investments in fusion energy through the Department of Energy's Fusion Energy Sciences program. This increase would fund scientific infrastructure, as well as research and development, to accelerate current advances.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


The GOP's election lies blew up in their faces during the New Mexico special election (Meaghan Ellis, 6/04/21, AlterNet)

The Republican Party of New Mexico believes there is a legitimate reason for the low voter turnout they saw during the state's special election on Tuesday, June 1. According to HuffPost, they are attributing the lack of voter morale to "'angry' Republican voters who 'questioned election integrity.'"

The publication reports: "The voter turnout drop-off for Republicans was more pronounced than the drop-off for Democrats. Stansbury received 42% of the vote total that Haaland received in 2020, while Moores got 34% of the votes of 2020 GOP candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes."

Based on the party's email sent on Tuesday, June 1, the Republican Party's frustrations appear to lie within their own actions. Shortly after the presidential election, former President Donald Trump's false claims of voter fraud were echoed by Republican lawmakers across the United States.

A smarter, or just more cynical, Democratic Party would be using this GOP psychosis. 
Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Menzies the puritan idealist: Conservative or liberal? A new book about the former prime minister rejects the old binary in favour of two other strands of thought: a review of The Forgotten Menzies: The World Picture of Australia's Longest-Serving Prime Minister by Stephen Chavura and Greg Melleuish (IAN HANCOCK, 4 JUNE 2021, Inside Story)

[I]t is rarely pleasant to be told, albeit by implication, that you have missed the point. In The Forgotten Menzies Stephen Chavura and Greg Melleuish show that the "real" Menzies was a creation and a personification of a late-nineteenth-century world of "Greater Britain" that was very shaky by the 1930s and finally swept away during the 1960s. They demonstrate that twenty-first-century understandings of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" cannot, therefore, be usefully applied to Menzies's thinking. He would have found the terms and definitions "puzzling."

Menzies was not, as the authors emphasise, a profound philosophical thinker. His thoughts "tended to be discursive and superficial." Nor was he primarily interested in advocating principles of liberalism. "He sought the reality of freedom, not the pursuit of a theoretical liberty." He wanted "to govern in an effective fashion for the benefit of all Australians so that they could peacefully and freely pursue their goals." He did not have a coherent philosophy behind this objective so much as a set of governing principles.

These principles were shaped by two long-gone nineteenth-century influences: "cultural puritanism" and "British idealism." Menzies, the authors suggest, "may most helpfully be described as a cultural puritan who was also touched by British idealism -- itself strongly informed by cultural puritanism."

The authors describe "cultural puritanism" as "an outgrowth of the powerful connection between Protestantism and political liberty in British culture." In essence, the cultural puritan was self-reliant, with a sturdy spirit of independence and humanitarian instincts, industrious, honest and honourable, a law-abiding Britisher who accepted responsibilities to the community.

The second influence, "British idealism," was at its core "a faith that a new, better and more spiritual world was coming into being, a world that would reveal what was best in human nature." Menzies encountered this faith at a time when its adherents -- in Britain and Australia -- were criticising the elevation of utilitarianism and materialism. According to the authors, Menzies always looked beyond the material benefits achieved by advances in science and technology to the gains made in the moral, spiritual and intellectual condition.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Why Don't Governing Boards Rein in College Costs? (Jay Schalin, 6/04/21, Martin Center)

Public higher education was once America's great enabler, permitting young people from lower-class backgrounds to attend college for very little money and to rise as far as their abilities and drives would take them.

That may no longer be the case, according to economists James Koch and Richard Cebula. In their 2020 book, Runaway College Costs: How College Governing Boards Fail to Protect Their Students, they claim that "[p]ublic higher has evolved into an engine that accentuates rather than reduces social and economic inequality." [...]

They consider higher education to be a "trust market," with the customers forced to trust that they are being sold a quality product at a reasonable price. Board members have a fiduciary duty to ascertain that they receive one. In that regard, they are failing, according to Koch and Cebula. They cite "Bowen's Rule," a mechanism defined by economist and former college president Howard Bowen, which partially explains why academia suffers constant cost increases:

The dominant goals of higher education instruction are excellence, prestige, and influence.

There is virtually no limit to the amount of money that an institution could spend for seemingly fruitful educational ends.

Each institution raises all the money it can.

Each institution spends all it raises.

The cumulative effect of the preceding four laws is toward ever-increasing expenditure.

Koch and Cebula place the responsibility for this trend squarely on the desks of those who are supposed to be looking out for society and the students--on the universities' governing boards.

The boards (alumni) already have the degree and think they're making it more prestigious by making it more expensive--it's self-flattery. 

June 3, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


U.K. Could Become Net Power Exporter to Europe in Five Years (Rachel Morison, Jun. 3rd, 2021, Bloomberg)

Britain could become a net exporter of electricity to Europe as soon as 2026, according to S&P Global Platts.

The U.K. imports about 7% of its electricity from Europe now, but that's set to reverse, in part due to new cables that will boost links with the continent. With Britain aiming to quadruple offshore wind capacity this decade, it could have excess power to send through those lines.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


We Can End Lead Poisoning During This Lifetime: It may be time to envision a Clean Soil Act, like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts mobilized in the 1960s and 70s. (JENNY BOWER 06.03.2021, UnDark)

NOT TOO LONG AGO, as a graduate student, I took a crash course in lead. I moved to Vermont from the Midwest to study the geochemistry of lead in soil, and because I needed samples for my project, my professor and I decided to test a 100-year-old house his family had bought. Houses of that age are poisonous onions; peel back the outer layers and you are likely to find leaded paint, which the federal government didn't ban for residential use until 1978. Decades of wind and rain had scattered paint chips around the outside of the house. We twisted augers into the ground and came up with ten bags of soil while his wife painted the living room and his 6-year-old son played in his bedroom.

Back in the lab, I ground up a few tablespoons from a sample and analyzed the powder with an X-ray gun. The lead concentration was more than 25 times the limit the Environmental Protection Agency deems hazardous in soil. The proportion of lead-to-soil was near the proportion of chili powder in a good chili.

It was a scary reminder that despite all the protective behaviors we might knowingly adopt -- be mindful when renovating an old home; wear a respirator at the firing range -- lead is invisible and all around us. I was stunned to learn that lead arsenate, a pesticide that was applied for nearly a hundred years in American apple orchards, was likely contaminating soil in abandoned farm fields where I hoped to find tasty morels. Preliminary data suggest that the mushrooms sometimes absorb soil lead at levels that exceed the Food and Drug Administration's limit for safe consumption.

Unfortunately, the last presidential administration missed an opportunity to meaningfully strengthen the out-of-date standards for contaminants like lead, and even loosened some restrictions. This is despite a steady stream of science linking lead to terrible health outcomes, especially for children, and gut-wrenching news items identifying more and more exposure pathways, such as the recent report of a House oversight subcommittee that found elevated lead in many common baby foods (even in some organic brands). 

While some petroleum-based contaminants decay over time, lead does not biodegrade to become less harmful, meaning it tends to stay in place. Despite our best intentions, removing lead-contaminated soil around each lead-painted home in the U.S. would involve landfilling valuable soil, costing nearly $10,000 per home. With 38 million homes estimated to harbor lead-based paint as of 2002 -- a figure that is likely lower today, due to demolitions -- getting rid of all lead-contaminated soil around houses would be an impossible task. And landfilling lead-contaminated soil doesn't really end the problem. It just shifts the burden to a different area within range of a hazardous waste dump. Removing the topsoil where lead tends to accumulate also displaces a highly biodiverse part of the soil ecosystem. Although it gradually sinks deeper into the soil over time, if it doesn't hitch a ride on a SpaceX rocket, lead is here to stay.

The most sustainable clean-up solutions for lead-contaminated soil involve simply planting shrubbery, so the soil is less likely to move -- or be eaten by a two-year-old. Another alternative is to manipulate the behavior of the element by adding phosphate, which binds tightly to lead and makes it less likely to be absorbed by humans and other organisms.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


The Economic Recovery Is Here. It's Unlike Anything You've Seen. (Gwynn Guilford and Sarah Chaney Cambon, June 2, 2021, WSJ)

The U.S. economic recovery is unlike any in recent history, powered by consumers with trillions in extra savings, businesses eager to hire and enormous policy support. Businesses and workers are poised to emerge from the downturn with far less permanent damage than occurred after recent recessions, particularly the 2007-09 downturn.

New businesses are popping up at the fastest pace on record. The rate at which workers quit their jobs--a proxy for confidence in the labor market--matches the highest going back at least to 2000. American household debt-service burdens, as a share of after-tax income, are near their lowest levels since 1980, when records began. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up nearly 18% from its pre-pandemic peak in February 2020. Home prices nationwide are nearly 14% higher since that time.

The speed of the rebound is also triggering turmoil. The shortages of goods, raw materials and labor that typically emerge toward the end of an expansion are cropping up much sooner. Many economists, along with the Federal Reserve, expect the jump in inflation to be temporary, but others worry it could persist even once reopening is complete.

"We've never had anything like it--a collapse and then a boom-like pickup," said Allen Sinai, chief global economist and strategist at Decision Economics, Inc. "It is without historical parallel."

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


U.S. to detail global distribution plan for 80 mln vaccine doses (Humeyra Pamuk, 6/02/21, Reuters)

The United States will announce in the next two weeks how it plans to distribute 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses it has pledged globally, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado, Blinken said the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden would focus on equitable distribution of the vaccines and not tie political strings to the process, a criticism at times directed at China.

"Sometime in the next week to two weeks - we will be announcing the process by which we will distribute those vaccines, what the criteria are, how we will do it," Blinken said during his first trip as secretary of state to Latin America, which is fighting to contain COVID-19.

"We will distribute vaccines without political requirements of those receiving them."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Eric Swalwell forced to hire private investigators because Rep. Mo Brooks is so scared of his subpoena (Sarah K. Burris, June 02, 2021, Raw Story)

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) is so terrified of the lawsuit by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) that he has been hiding from process servers for almost a month, just to avoid being subpoenaed.

Brooks was among many Republicans who spoke at the Jan. 6 "Stop the Steal" rally that led to the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass," proclaimed Brooks moments ahead of the crowd attacking Capitol Police and D.C. Metro cops. Brooks is even bragging about his involvement in the Jan. 6 attacks, using it in several Facebook ads for his campaign. But when asked to stand up for his speech and defend his involvement, Brooks is running scared and hiding.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


How 'socially responsible' investing could distort markets and harm the planet (Bill Blain, 6/03/21, cAPx)

Markets are about psychology. If you can set a trend, then everyone will jump on board. The latest trend to seize institutional market's attention is for Environmental, Social and Governance investing (ESG), resulting in $2bn per day flowing into sustainable funds this year, according to Morningstar. Corporates are responding in the time-honoured way - peppering annual reports with copious mentions of sustainability, diversity awareness, corporate social responsibility, and how ESG "powers" everything decision they take. [...]

Last week saw extraordinary events in the oil market, as successful climate change protests shook the industry to its very core. Exxon had to give seats on its board to a tiny activist investor which won support from other holders concerned about the wobbly oil giant's "strategic direction" in terms of reducing emissions. Chevron submitted to investor demands that it takes climate change seriously. Shell was ordered to slash emissions by cutting production by millions of barrels per day, on the basis of "unlawful endangerment" after being dragged to court by Friends of the Earth's Dutch chapter. Total faced a similar challenge in France, but scraped by.

On the surface this looks like a victory for the planet, but the unintended consequences could be severe. If oil producers scale back on capacity or production to meet climate activist demands - the potential is to push the price of oil higher until declining demand from oil finds a new equilibrium. 

Making oil so expensive as to speed the transition to renewables is an ideal use of market mechanisms. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


NFL to stop controversial use of 'race-norming' in brain trauma settlements (Associated Press, 2 Jun 2021)

The NFL on Wednesday pledged to halt the use of "race-norming" which assumed Black players started out with lower cognitive function in the $1bn settlement of brain injury claims and review past scores for any potential race bias.

The practice made it harder for Black retirees to show a deficit and qualify for an award. The standards were created in the 1990s in hopes of offering more appropriate treatment to dementia patients, but critics faulted the way they were used to determine payouts in the NFL concussion case.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months (Rutger Bregman, 9 May 2020, The Guardian)

Peter went to work for his father's company, yet the sea still beckoned, and whenever he could he went to Tasmania, where he kept his own fishing fleet. It was this that brought him to Tonga in the winter of 1966. On the way home he took a little detour and that's when he saw it: a minuscule island in the azure sea, 'Ata. The island had been inhabited once, until one dark day in 1863, when a slave ship appeared on the horizon and sailed off with the natives. Since then, 'Ata had been deserted - cursed and forgotten.

But Peter noticed something odd. Peering through his binoculars, he saw burned patches on the green cliffs. "In the tropics it's unusual for fires to start spontaneously," he told us, a half century later. Then he saw a boy. Naked. Hair down to his shoulders. This wild creature leaped from the cliffside and plunged into the water. Suddenly more boys followed, screaming at the top of their lungs. It didn't take long for the first boy to reach the boat. "My name is Stephen," he cried in perfect English. "There are six of us and we reckon we've been here 15 months."

The boys, once aboard, claimed they were students at a boarding school in Nuku'alofa, the Tongan capital. Sick of school meals, they had decided to take a fishing boat out one day, only to get caught in a storm. Likely story, Peter thought. Using his two-way radio, he called in to Nuku'alofa. "I've got six kids here," he told the operator. "Stand by," came the response. Twenty minutes ticked by. (As Peter tells this part of the story, he gets a little misty-eyed.) Finally, a very tearful operator came on the radio, and said: "You found them! These boys have been given up for dead. Funerals have been held. If it's them, this is a miracle!"

In the months that followed I tried to reconstruct as precisely as possible what had happened on 'Ata. Peter's memory turned out to be excellent. Even at the age of 90, everything he recounted was consistent with my foremost other source, Mano, 15 years old at the time and now pushing 70, who lived just a few hours' drive from him. The real Lord of the Flies, Mano told us, began in June 1965. The protagonists were six boys - Sione, Stephen, Kolo, David, Luke and Mano - all pupils at a strict Catholic boarding school in Nuku'alofa. The oldest was 16, the youngest 13, and they had one main thing in common: they were bored witless. So they came up with a plan to escape: to Fiji, some 500 miles away, or even all the way to New Zealand.

There was only one obstacle. None of them owned a boat, so they decided to "borrow" one from Mr Taniela Uhila, a fisherman they all disliked. The boys took little time to prepare for the voyage. Two sacks of bananas, a few coconuts and a small gas burner were all the supplies they packed. It didn't occur to any of them to bring a map, let alone a compass.

The boys had set up a commune with food garden, gym, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire
No one noticed the small craft leaving the harbour that evening. Skies were fair; only a mild breeze ruffled the calm sea. But that night the boys made a grave error. They fell asleep. A few hours later they awoke to water crashing down over their heads. It was dark. They hoisted the sail, which the wind promptly tore to shreds. Next to break was the rudder. "We drifted for eight days," Mano told me. "Without food. Without water." The boys tried catching fish. They managed to collect some rainwater in hollowed-out coconut shells and shared it equally between them, each taking a sip in the morning and another in the evening.

Then, on the eighth day, they spied a miracle on the horizon. A small island, to be precise. Not a tropical paradise with waving palm trees and sandy beaches, but a hulking mass of rock, jutting up more than a thousand feet out of the ocean. These days, 'Ata is considered uninhabitable. But "by the time we arrived," Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs, "the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination." While the boys in Lord of the Flies come to blows over the fire, those in this real-life version tended their flame so it never went out, for more than a year.

The kids agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty. Sometimes they quarrelled, but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a time-out. Their days began and ended with song and prayer. Kolo fashioned a makeshift guitar from a piece of driftwood, half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from their wrecked boat - an instrument Peter has kept all these years - and played it to help lift their spirits. And their spirits needed lifting. All summer long it hardly rained, driving the boys frantic with thirst. They tried constructing a raft in order to leave the island, but it fell apart in the crashing surf.

Worst of all, Stephen slipped one day, fell off a cliff and broke his leg. The other boys picked their way down after him and then helped him back up to the top. They set his leg using sticks and leaves. "Don't worry," Sione joked. "We'll do your work, while you lie there like King Taufa'ahau Tupou himself!"

They survived initially on fish, coconuts, tame birds (they drank the blood as well as eating the meat); seabird eggs were sucked dry. Later, when they got to the top of the island, they found an ancient volcanic crater, where people had lived a century before. There the boys discovered wild taro, bananas and chickens (which had been reproducing for the 100 years since the last Tongans had left).

They were finally rescued on Sunday 11 September 1966. The local physician later expressed astonishment at their muscled physiques and Stephen's perfectly healed leg. But this wasn't the end of the boys' little adventure, because, when they arrived back in Nuku'alofa police boarded Peter's boat, arrested the boys and threw them in jail. Mr Taniela Uhila, whose sailing boat the boys had "borrowed" 15 months earlier, was still furious, and he'd decided to press charges.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Science Chief Wants Next Pandemic Vaccine Ready in 100 Days (Associated Press, June 03, 2021)

"It was amazing at one level that we were able to produce highly effective vaccines in less than a year, but from another point of view you'd say, 'Boy, a year's a long time,'" even though in the past it would take three years or four years, Lander said. "To really make a difference we want to get this done in 100 days. And so a lot of us have been talking about a 100-day target from the recognition from a virus with pandemic potential." 

"It would mean that we would have had a vaccine in early April if that had happened this time, early April of 2020," Lander said. "It makes you gulp for a second, but it's totally feasible to do that." 

Scientists were working on so-called all-purpose ready-to-go platform technologies for vaccines long before the pandemic. They're considered "plug-and-play." Instead of using the germ itself to make a vaccine, they use messenger RNA and add the genetic code for the germ. That's what happened with the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 shots. 

Beyond being optimistic about confronting future pandemics, Lander wonders about the implications for preventing cancer. 

"Maybe the same sort of experience about moving so much faster than we thought is applicable to cancer," said Lander, who during the Obama administration was co-chair of the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. A company already has been working on that. 

For that matter, the pandemic and telehealth brought the doctor to patients in some ways. Lander said he is reimagining "a world where we rearrange a lot of things" to get more patient-centered health care, including community health workers checking up every few weeks on people about their blood pressure, blood sugar and other chronic problems. 

We've also learned the efficacy of distancing, masks and lockdown that East Asia tried teaching us. 

June 2, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Why Are We So Resistant to the Idea of a Modern Myth? (Philip Ball, June 2, 2021, LitHub)

Our popular narrative, then, is that we shed mythology in its traditional sense, probably during the process that began in the Enlightenment, in the course of which the world became "disenchanted" by the advance of science, and that has led since to a secular society on which the old deities have lost their grip. We grew out of gods and myths because we acquired reason and science.

This picture is tenacious, and I suspect it accounts for much of the resistance to the notion (and there is a lot of resistance, believe me) that anything created in modern times might deserve to be called a "myth." To accept that we have never relinquished myths and myth-making might seem to be an admission that we are not quite modern and rational. But all I am asking, with the concept of myth I use in this book, is that we accept that we have not resolved all the dilemmas of human existence, all the questions about our origins or our nature--and that, indeed, modernity has created a few more of them.

Our popular narrative, then, is that we shed mythology in its traditional sense, probably during the process that began in the Enlightenment, in the course of which the world became "disenchanted" by the advance of science.
One objection to the idea of a modern myth is that, to qualify as myth, a story must contain elements and characters that someone somewhere believes literally existed or happened. Surely myths can't emerge from works of fiction! The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski asserted as much, saying of myth that "it is not of the nature of fiction, such as we read today in a novel, but it is a living reality, believed to have once happened in primeval times, and continuing ever since to influence the world and human destinies."

But this is simply the grand narrative with which Malinowski and his generation framed their study of the myths of "primitive" cultures. It allows us to insist (as they wished to) that we advanced societies have no myth left except religion (and even that is no longer believed in quite the same way as it was a couple of centuries ago). As Baldick puts it, in this view "myth is the quickest way out of the twentieth [and now the 21st] century."

Even in its own terms, however, Malinowski's definition is tendentious. Did the author(s) we know as Homer believe he was merely writing history, right down to, say, Athena's interventions in the Trojan war? To assert this would be to neglect the long and continuing scholarly debate about what Homer was really up to--was he, for instance, a skeptic, or a religious reformer? Worse, it would neglect the even longer and profound debate about what storytelling is up to. It might be unwise to attach any contemporary label to Homer, but one that fits him more comfortably than most is to say he was a poet, and that he used poetic imagination to articulate his myths. Stories like his relate something deemed culturally important and in an important sense "true"--but not as a documentary account of events. Plato admitted as much in the 5th century BCE; are we then to suppose that Greek myth was already "dead" to him?

To ask if ancient people "believed" their mythical stories is to ask a valid but extremely complex question. It is much the same as asking if Christian theologians, past and present, "believe" the Bible. Yes, they generally do--but that belief is complicated, multifaceted, and contentious, and to imagine it amounts to a literal conviction that all the events and peoples described in the holy book occurred as written is to misunderstand the function of religion itself. What's more, while we can adduce a range of interpretations about these beliefs today, it is not clear we can ever truly decide how these correspond (or whether they even need to correspond) to the convictions of the people who created the original text.

All he needs to do here--to achieve genuine insight--is to replace "narrative" with "myth," which establishes one of the meta-myths of modernity, and then recognize that the sciences (paradigms) are mere sub-myths.  The Age of Reason is just a matter of rational myth-making.   

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Xi's Historic Mistake (J. BRADFORD DELONG, 6/02/21, Project Syndicate)

In my view, it is in China's own interest that the government in Taipei remains the sole authority on the island, so that it can continue to follow an institutional and governance path that is different from that of the People's Republic. Likewise, it is in China's interest that Hong Kong remains a second system. The government in Beijing ought to recognize that substantial regional autonomy, especially for areas with non-Han-majority populations, will serve its own long-term ambitions.

The appalling and tragic history of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and forced assimilation in the twentieth century suggests that top-down, imperial Sinicization will sow resentments that will last generations and create conditions for serious trouble in the coming years and decades. Humanity has grown up enough to know that diversity, regional autonomy, and cosmopolitanism are better than the alternatives. A regime that aspires to lead the world toward a brighter future should be especially cognizant of this.

Nonetheless, China's current paramount leader, Xi Jinping, very much wishes to centralize authority in Beijing. Rightly fearing careerism and corruption in the Communist Party of China, he seeks not a Cultural Revolution but a Cultural Renaissance to restore egalitarian values and utopian aspirations across the leadership ranks. Supremely confident in his ability to read the situation and issue the right commands, his main concern is that his orders won't be implemented properly. The solution to that problem, he seems to have concluded, is much greater concentration of power.

But even if Xi has made the right tactical calculation for the current moment, his own senescence, together with the logic of how authoritarian command organizations evolve, all but ensure that his strategy will end in tears.

Xi is just managing the decline from the rather low height that capitalism helped the PRC reach. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Is Glenn Greenwald the New Master of Right-Wing Media?: The leftist scribe has become "a practitioner of manufactured controversy" for outlets like Fox News, say his stunned former colleagues. (Lloyd Grove & Justin Baragona, Jun. 02, 2021, Daily Beast)

And so during a recent episode of The Ingraham Angle, Glenn Greenwald--who is so familiar to the top-rated cable channel's millions of viewers that he requires only a surname--put on a suit and tie in Rio de Janeiro, where he lives, to continue doing what has occupied his energies for much of the past month.

That's deploying every conceivable platform--from Twitter (where he has 1.6 million followers) to YouTube to Substack to an array of popular conservative websites to the very top of the ziggurat, Rupert Murdoch's corporate cash cow--to denounce former friends and colleagues at The Intercept, the left-leaning digital news and opinion site he co-founded with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill in 2013. [...]

"I did not see this coming," said The Nation's national affairs correspondent, Joan Walsh, who was editor-in-chief of Salon more than a decade ago when Greenwald gave up practicing law to spend five-and-a-half years as a star writer there. "It's kind of sad. He won awards for us. He was a beacon during those dark days [of the Bush-Cheney military adventures and Barack Obama's first term]. He was a lovely colleague, he really was. The difference between the cantankerous guy we sometimes had to wrangle with--it wasn't all roses--and this person? Who's this?" [...]

As a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2013, Lee connected Greenwald, then at The Guardian, with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden (after Greenwald hadn't responded to Snowden's attempts to contact him), teaching him how to use encrypted communication and helping him navigate Snowden's classified data dump that revealed the NSA's widespread surveillance of private citizens--reporting for which The Guardian shared the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. (The Washington Post's Barton Gellman, whose Snowden reporting also won the 2014 public service Pulitzer, recounted in Dark Mirror, his book about the episode, several instances of Greenwald's alleged duplicity in the throes of competition as the two jousted for scoops and credit--oozing charm in a conciliatory email and then bad-mouthing him behind his back to a New York Times reporter.)

He serves Vlad, no matter who's in power. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Did Donald Trump finally kill his blog? (Sarah K. Burris, June 01, 2021, Raw Story)

President Donald Trump's blog appears to have been shifted away from The Desk of Donald Trump back to news releases. RawStory contacted the Trump office asking if it was an error or if the website was changing things around but hasn't heard back.

The blog crashed on Saturday after he posted an unverified conspiracy theory about the false Arizona "audit." The piece claimed there were "broken seals on boxes, ballots missing, and worse." The site went down, leaving only a message saying, "something has gone wrong and this URL cannot be processed at this time."

No one reads blogs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Texas's Best Young Accordionists Carry on a Conjunto Legacy: At the Big Squeeze, the state's most talented teen accordion players are keeping a historic Texas tradition alive (Roberto José Andrade Franco, May 21, 2021, Texas Monthly)

Ramirez, fourteen, a San Antonio eighth grader with jet-black hair that goes past his shoulder blades, played "Stocky Polka" and "Picame Tarantula" on his light orange Gabbanelli accordion. He selected those songs because they're two of his favorites--something about their chords touches his heart, he says. It's the same feeling he had the first time he heard a strange sound coming from the radio, when he was about nine years old. His parents told him it was an accordion. Later, at a San Antonio music festival, he not only heard it again but also saw the instrument making that sound. He returned home and tried to make his own. "I grabbed a little paper," Ramirez remembers. "Drew the buttons, trying to simulate the accordion."

When Christmas came and he got an iPad, he started playing an accordion game. That's when his parents knew their son was serious about playing the instrument that's been a part of Texas's culture for more than 170 years. They soon gave him an accordion and signed him up for lessons, and he's scarcely stopped practicing since. This year was Ramirez's third time competing in the Big Squeeze, which is organized by the nonprofit Texas Folklife. Roughly 35 young musicians from across the state--and from Louisiana, in the cajun and zydeco categories--participated this year. Now in its fifteenth year, the event aims to help preserve and promote Texas's traditional cultural practices. 

That includes playing the accordion, which German settlers brought to Texas and northern Mexico in the mid-1800s. Texas Mexicans soon adopted the instrument and made it their own, blending German polkas and waltzes with Mexican music to create the style that would later become known as conjunto. The instrument's versatility was key to its appeal. "Poor rural Tejanos took to it quickly since it could mimic several instruments simultaneously and it was cheaper to pay one acordeonista than an orquesta," writes Carlos Guerra in the book Puro Conjunto. By the early 1900s, the accordion was widespread on both sides of the border.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Being optimistic can extend your life, Israeli study finds (Times of Israel, 6/01/21)

Optimism was measured through questions about participants' positive experiences and expectations for the future, the study said.

"Our findings indicate that optimism has an impact on survival, whereas other studies have shown that it improves health-related functions, such as our immune systems, reducing risk factors for high blood pressure and cardiac issues, and maybe even cancer," Maaravi said.

The researchers said they looked at the participants' medical and, later, death records, and factored in parameters such as gender, economic status, marital and parental status, education levels, and physical and social activity. They also carried out one-on-one interviews over the years.

Using the data collected since the 1990s, the researchers said they have determined a direct link between a positive outlook and a longer life.

They said that participants ages 85-90 with a high optimism score had a 20% higher rate of survival over those who were less optimistic, and in the 90+ age bracket that number rose to 25%.

"Optimism doesn't have to be viewed as a trait we're born with, but one that we can develop," Maaravi said, adding that "it's important to think of ways to increase optimism because it's more clear than ever that it can help people at all stages of their lives."

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Bill Barr had an 'intake process' to evaluate the 'dirt' on Joe Biden given to Rudy Giuliani from a Russian agent (Sarah K. Burris, June 01, 2021, Raw Story)

In an exclusive report Tuesday, TIME Magazine revealed that Russian foreign agents called Rudy Giuliani "useful" in their efforts to undermine the 2020 election. [...]

"In the fall of 2019, he gained access to Trump's inner circle through Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer," the report explained. "He then provided Giuliani with documents purporting to show that Joe Biden and his family were involved in corruption. After their first meeting, Derkach even posted a photo of himself with Giuliani on Facebook, mugging for the camera as they exchanged a stack of documents. In the months before Election Day, he released a series of secret recordings of Biden pressuring top Ukrainian officials to fight corruption. The source of those tapes remains a mystery to this day."

The story cited both the FBI and CIA who warned Trump's team that Derkach was pushing a Russian disinformation effort, but his allies didn't care and continued promoting the conspiracy all over social media. A month before Election Day and the first debate, QAnon cult members, and Q himself, began promoting Derkach too.

"The plot served multiple interests," the report continued. "Derkach could not have gotten through to American voters without help from Trump and Giuliani, while the Trump campaign's attacks against the Biden family relied in large part on the ammunition Derkach provided. Whatever the truth of the U.S. allegations against Derkach, Russia benefited from his efforts."

Imagine being the Charlie McCarthy to Rudy's Edgar Bergen? 
Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


America Remains Indispensable (JOSCHKA FISCHER, 6/01/21, Pacific Standard)

In addition to openly signaling its intent to withdraw the US from the region, the Trump administration also abandoned America's traditional role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For decades, successive US administrations had pushed for a two-state solution and a fair compromise between Israel and the Palestinians, even while remaining wholly committed to protecting Israel. But the Trump administration backed Israel fully and unconditionally, creating the impression that the Palestinians no longer had any role to play.

The Trump administration's approach to the issue, together with the danger emanating from Iran, did lead to the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab states, including two - the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - in the Gulf. But with the latest armed confrontation between Hamas and Israel, the fantasy in which the Palestinians could simply be sidelined forever has been dispelled.

The latest conflict has included violent clashes on the Temple Mount around the al-Aqsa mosque, and, unlike in previous episodes, between Jewish and Arab citizens in mixed cities across the Israeli heartland. Four lessons should be drawn while the current cease-fire holds.

First, even if a two-state solution hardly seems realistic anymore, its political renunciation will lead more or less directly to a highly charged confrontation. Second, Palestinians and Arab Israelis will not simply stand by and allow themselves to be ignored in regional political settlements. Third, the Israeli occupation cannot be continued indefinitely. And, lastly, the US cannot simply abandon the region out of a lack of interest, at least not if it wants to maintain its role as the leading global power.

The return of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has exposed the real distribution of power in the Middle East. Notwithstanding all of the changes of the past few decades, the fact remains that stability depends on the US.

This badly misunderstands the role of America in the world--as the Ender of History--which is what Donald opposed.  He offered Zionists and Wahhabists an endless vision of thwarting Muslim democracy.  This is the stability that Isolationists and Realists have always treasured--a world that is quiet because foreign citizenries are oppressed, in this case the Arabs. 

In returning to a foreign policy based on American values, Joe Biden promises instability.    

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Dems notch easy win in New Mexico special election (ALLY MUTNICK, 06/01/2021, Politico)

Democrat Melanie Stansbury claimed a resounding victory Tuesday night in a contested special election for Congress in New Mexico, easing her party's fears of a closer result that could have portended a brutal midterm next year.

Stansbury, a state representative, led Republican Mark Moores, 63 percent to 33 percent, when The Associated Press called the race in her favor, a little more than an hour after polls closed. While that margin was likely to narrow somewhat as additional votes were tallied, Democrats hailed her comfortable win as a sign that their base enthusiasm has not waned and that the GOP's doubling down on "defund the police" attacks backfired.

"While Mark Moores and the GOP spent this special election doing their best Trump impression, Melanie focused on building our country back better, getting folks back to work, and creating an economy for all New Mexicans," said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Gosh, it seemed so likely Trumpism had grown in popularity.

June 1, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Biden Administration to Suspend Oil Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Report  (BRITTANY BERNSTEIN, June 1, 2021, National Review))

The Interior Department is expected to cancel several oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday, according to a new report.

The Biden administration aims to unwind nearly a dozen leases in Alaska that has been the subject of an intense battle between Republicans and Democrats for four decades, according to the Washington Post.

The move comes after the Trump administration auctioned off the right to drill in the refuge's coastal plain during the final weeks of President Trump's tenure.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


READING HEGEL RIGHT: a review of Leo Strauss on Hegel Edited by Paul Franco (Grant Havers, SPRING 2021, Modern Age).
Hegel writes in his 1795 essay "The Positivity of the Christian Religion" that "the supplanting of paganism by Christianity is one of those remarkable revolutions whose causes the thoughtful historian must labor to discover." The reasons Christianity triumphed over the paganism of Greco-Roman antiquity and the religions of the East preoccupied Hegel to the end of his life. In the Lectures on the Philosophy of History, delivered at the University of Berlin in the 1820s, Hegel outlined how Christianity actualized an idea of human freedom that was inconceivable to pagan civilizations: "Eastern nations knew only that one is free; the Greek and Roman world only that some are free; while we [Christians] know that all men absolutely . . . are free."

One implication of Hegel's theory of history is that no return to paganism is possible, however much we might admire aspects of the ancient world. Philosophers who seek a return to antiquity must address the challenge of Hegel.

Readers familiar with Leo Strauss may be surprised, therefore, by the seminar on Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of History that he gave at the University of Chicago in 1965. On the few occasions that Strauss mentions Hegel in works intended for publication, the reader gets the unmistakable impression that Hegel's philosophy initiated the doctrine of historicism. In Strauss's view, historicism undermined political philosophy by dismissing the idea of a transcendent truth that exists apart from history.

That truth existed long before we arrived at the democracy, capitalism, and protestantism that institutes it and obtains where those institutions are still pending.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Is Belarus entitled to sovereignty? (James Snell, 1 June, 2021, The Critic)

Much has been huffed and puffed in Europe about this. European leaders have made use of their talent for condemnation. It's an outrage. It's an assault on the union. It's an act of war. 

There is a case to be made for all of these.

But what Europe, and NATO, appear not to have done -- at least yet -- is matched their actions to their verbose reactions.

The European Union has indicated that it will announce new sanctions on Belarus -- notably its primary industries. These sound impressive and may be trailed in such a way to make them look flashy.  However, any real punishment against the dictatorship would go far further than that. It would involve living up to all the rhetoric which declares a hijacking like this to be an unpardonable, unprecedented crime. 

I have heard, from more than one stolid Englishman, that either Belarus is entitled to do whatever it pleases within its airspace

If this is state-sanctioned terror, it justifies looking again at the claimed legitimacy of the Belarusian government. if this is an act of war, it justifies a war footing. Work must also be done to convince people of a couple of distinct inclinations that this is in fact an event of note. 

...so it has no legitimate sovereignty. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Aristotle's Timely Guide to Human Happiness (Auguste Meyrat, 5/09/21, University Bookman)

In the same way, few people, including modern intellectuals (with the wonderful exception of C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves), give much attention to friendship. To begin his treatment of the issue, Aristotle states matter-of-factly, "Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things." Friendship is both practical and good, and is essentially different from the other relationships that people have, which are primarily transactional. Rather than being based on usefulness or pleasure, friendship is based on equality and seeking the good.

This definition of friendship has all but disappeared today. Most people do not really form friendships; they form partnerships and networks. Or, when even this proves too strenuous, many now resort to virtual facsimiles of partnerships and networks. Not only has this trend deterred many from self-improvement, but it has dehumanized many aspects of Western culture. Consequently, people have become insensitive, less self-aware, and less fulfilled.

Perhaps where Nicomachean Ethics resonates most for audiences today is in Aristotle's two ideals of happiness: the magnanimous man and the contemplative life. Although many different parallels can apply, the magnanimous man represents a person's public activities while the contemplative life represents his private activities.

True, with the first example, Aristotle imagines famous generals and politicians enjoying their superlative greatness with dignity and grace, and with the second example, he likely envisions himself, living a life of the mind and reworking and revising his own ideas. However, the modern man can imitate that great-souled man's example, pursuing virtue and status without needing regular validation and compensation. Moreover, he can live a life of the mind, both by reading and writing great books or speaking and listening to wise people. What once required a class of slaves and great wealth is now possible to most people who have the means and the will to be content.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Jacques Barzun, Historian for All Time (M. D. AESCHLIMAN, May 30, 2021, National Review)

Barzun's case against both Darwin and Marx is that both are writers of evasive, convoluted, confused prose that obscures not only truth itself but their own scientistic, mechanistic premises about the meaninglessness of mind, free will, and purpose in human affairs. He himself had started out his own academic career by writing a strongly anti-racialist book in 1937, Race: A Study in Modern Superstition, at a time when Darwinian "racial science" was riding high not only in Germany but throughout the West, leading to eugenic laws in several American states even before the Nazi national policy of eliminating "lives unworthy of life." Four years later, in Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Barzun went on to write: "No doubt the 'favoured races' mentioned on the title page of Darwin's Origin of Species referred to pigeons, but the extension of the term to man was easy to make; indeed it seemed to receive Darwin's own approval on many a page of [his] Descent of Man, where the struggle of races was a part of evolutionary advance." In 1999, Terence Kealey, lecturer in clinical biochemistry at Cambridge University, noted that "the only professional group in Germany to register a greater than 50 percent membership of the Nazi Party before 1933, when the careerists joined, was that of academic biologists. Hitler believed in the state planning of society and in eugenics, and so did they." The English man of letters A. N. Wilson, author of a recent book on Darwin, wrote in 2006: "Darwin, the product of British imperialism, was surely the father, among other things, of European fascism." And the American historian Richard Weikart has made this argument clearly and in documented detail in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (2004; see my review, "Murderous Science," in NR, March 28, 2005).

In the aftermath of Barzun's own groundbreaking 1941 critique of mechanistic Darwinism and its sociopolitical uses and effects, and clearly influenced by it, two other powerful books were published that lucidly covered the relevant and related issues -- Richard Hofstadter's Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944) and Gertrude Himmelfarb's exhaustive, detailed Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution (1959). Like Barzun himself, Hofstadter and Himmelfarb are among the great American historians of the last 75 years, both recipients of the highest honors and commendations; yet the books are oddly neglected in our time, when renewed conceptions of "sociobiology" and "evolutionary psychology" are again widely promoted and uncritically taught.

Following on the efforts of historians such as Hofstadter, Himmelfarb, and Weikart, philosophical and scientific accounts of the deficiencies of Darwinism have been made by philosophers such as Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, 2012; see my review, "Rationality vs. Darwinism," NR, November 12, 2012) and by scientists such as the award-winning English science writer and physician James LeFanu (Why Us?, 2009; see my review, "Science Illuminated," Modern Age, fall 2011) and the geophysicist and historian of science Stephen C. Meyer in three major books that have attracted great attention: Signature in the Cell (2009), Darwin's Doubt (2013), and, most recently, Return of the God Hypothesis (2021).

Regarding Marx and Marxism, in 1980, before the fall of Western Communism, the émigré Hungarian-American physicist and historian and philosopher of science Stanley L. Jaki wrote that "the enthusiasm for Darwinism of the advocates of the dictatorship of the proletariat . . . is all too understandable. Marx was quick to notice the usefulness of Darwinist theory for promoting class struggle." The discrediting of Marxism has mainly been done by the course of large-scale human history since the fall of Western Communism in 1990, including firsthand, first-rate Russian documentary literature by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky, and Nadezhda Mandelstam, and by exhaustive historical surveys such as the French Black Book on Communism (1997) by Stéphane Courtois and his associates. In the same vein, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday in their biography Mao (2005) have examined the crimes of Communism in China, and the theoretical pretensions of the political philosophy have been decisively analyzed and debunked by the great émigré Polish ex-Marxist philosopher Leszek Kolakowski in his three-volume Main Currents of Marxism (1976).

But Barzun's short anatomy of Marx and Marxism, quietly devastating, is permanently worth reading for its clear understanding and lucid explanation of the self-contradictory and damaging character of Marxism and all forms of reductionism. He insists on the perennial need for an at least minimally accurate description of human personality, the reality of the human mind, and the scope of human free will.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Et in Orcadia Ego: a review of An Orkney Tapestry by George Mackay Brown (John Burnside, Literary Review))
Nowhere was that vision more inventively expressed than in An Orkney Tapestry, a book that, as its title suggests, weaves together a series of lyrical essays on the topology, wildlife and art of the islands, with meditations on the twin aspects of Orcadian folk beliefs (which Brown divides into 'Midsummer' and 'Midwinter' lore) and, perhaps most powerfully, a panoramic history of the Hoy settlement of Rackwick, from the arrival of the first longships to the present. Rather daringly, he adds to this mix a running stream of incidental poetry and even a self-contained play, entitled 'The Watcher', about a cobbler of Hamnavoe (the old name for Stromness), a pompous laird and a mystery at sea. What binds all this together is the author's poetic sense: even the stage directions of 'The Watcher' are slyly lyrical, with one character's smile described as 'a momentary brightness like buttercups over a grave'.

It could be argued that Brown took his regional sensibility one step further by creating a land-based metaphysic that seems even more urgent now than it did in 1969, when An Orkney Tapestry first appeared. Increasingly troubled by what he called the 'new religion' of progress - 'concerned only with material things ... a rootless utilitarian faith, without beauty or mystery' - he offered in An Orkney Tapestry (originally commissioned by Gollancz as a tourist guide) a lyrical investigation of all the ways that our connection with the land (or lack of it) determines our sense of belonging. In the chapter he dedicates to 'Lore', for example, he observes: 'The rhythms of art were closely related to the seasonal rhythms, to a dark potent chthonic energy that raised cornstalk and rose from their roots underground. Grave and womb deepened the mystery; in those darknesses, too, new life quickened and burgeoned. Ploughing and love have always been linked in the imagination of farmers' - and he adds:

Death was the third part of this trinity; and all three were gathered up into the crowning idea of resurrection. The crofter could not fail to be impressed by this. For him life and death were not stark opposites but woven the one into the other, a seamless garment ... These profound frightening mysterious energies lay deep in the earth the crofter tilled. The same energies were present to him in a delightful way in fiddle music and ballad. He was a part of the earth, he was a part of the dance.

Orkney is pretty incredible.

Britain's Ancient Capital Episode 1 from Justin Kelly on Vimeo.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


Neighbors Fear Bear-Themed Compound Will Be Next Ruby Ridge (Will Sommer, Jun. 01, 2021, The Daily Beast)

An alt-right comedian's plans for a remote patch of land in Idaho have terrified his neighbors, who fear it could become a hostile compound or mark the start of a new Ruby Ridge-style standoff.

Comedian Owen Benjamin once had a moderately successful Hollywood career, landing roles in movies and TV shows and briefly becoming engaged to actress Christina Ricci. After moving to the right, he appeared on podcasts hosted by Joe Rogan, Steven Crowder, and Ben Shapiro's Daily Wire.

As his following among conservatives grew, however, Benjamin became increasingly racist and antisemitic. He repeatedly used the n-word at a February 2018 comedy show, and embraced conspiracy theories about the Holocaust, claiming that Adolf Hitler was only trying to "clean [Germany] of the parasites." Benjamin's broadcasts to his fans grew more erratic, seeing the one-time comedian embrace flat-Earth theory and recommend drinking turpentine as a medicinal cure.

But being on the internet's fringes can be lonely, so Benjamin decided to build a place where his remaining, bear-themed following--who call themselves "Unbearables"--could meet in person.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Why electric cars will take over sooner than you think (Justin Rowlatt, 6/01/21, BBC)

[W]hat makes the end of the internal combustion engine inevitable is a technological revolution. And technological revolutions tend to happen very quickly.

Look at the internet.

By my reckoning, the EV market is about where the internet was around the late 1990s or early 2000s.

Back then, there was a big buzz about this new thing with computers talking to each other.

Jeff Bezos had set up Amazon, and Google was beginning to take over from the likes of Altavista, Ask Jeeves and Yahoo. Some of the companies involved had racked up eye-popping valuations.

For those who hadn't yet logged on it all seemed exciting and interesting but irrelevant - how useful could communicating by computer be? After all, we've got phones!

But the internet, like all successful new technologies, did not follow a linear path to world domination. It didn't gradually evolve, giving us all time to plan ahead.

Its growth was explosive and disruptive, crushing existing businesses and changing the way we do almost everything. And it followed a familiar pattern, known to technologists as an S-curve.

It's actually an elongated S.

The idea is that innovations start slowly, of interest only to the very nerdiest of nerds. EVs are on the shallow sloping bottom end of the S here.

For the internet, the graph begins at 22:30 on 29 October 1969. That's when a computer at the University of California in LA made contact with another in Stanford University a few hundred miles away.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


How Israel Lost the Culture War (Alia Brahimi, MAY 25, 2021, Foreign Policy)

Whatever the military outcome, it seems increasingly likely the final reckoning of this latest round of conflict will be decided far away from the battlefield. Netanyahu may have picked the wrong time to doggedly pursue airstrikes against one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, where 50 percent of the inhabitants are under the age of 15; more specifically, he may have chosen the wrong cultural moment.

Of course, there are grim continuities between the latest war and previous onslaughts on Gaza. For example, as with Operation Protective Edge in 2014, roughly 1 in 4 fatalities in Gaza was not only civilian but also a child (66 out of a total 248 deaths). Yet as of this month, the Israeli military did not change its tactics or recalibrate its use of force, continuing to deploy the aerial prowess of a military superpower against the tower blocks of an impoverished, captive population.

The difference this time was the racial expression of the violence which, intersecting as it did with a larger global conversation about systemic racism, promised a transformational shift in the conflict's framing.

A discussion about race in Israel-Palestine has the potential to gain traction among a younger generation that tirelessly challenges received wisdom on global issues from climate change to economic inequality. Young American Jews are a critical force in these shifting cultural sands as they struggle to reconcile their progressive views on politics and race with Israel's actions, asking: "Why does a safe homeland for us mean the subjugation of another?"

As global networks such as Black Lives Matter stand in solidarity with Palestinians, they draw attention to an underlying and universalizable struggle for racial liberation. This new license to interrogate official Israeli talking points has already reformed the vocabulary in the United States' conversation about the conflict in striking ways.

Israel's genuine allies summon it back to the point where Judaism is a religion, not a race. Otherwise, it will just be ever more estranged from the West.