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.