October 24, 2014

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 9:45 AM

All That Jazz #6

Jimmy Smith

The Sermon and House Party

Jimmy Smith Quartet 1957 ~ 'S Wonderful - 

Jimmy Smith - The Sermon (1964) -

As with many art forms, different styles of jazz have been given different labels (Dixieland/traditional, swing, bop, fusion, etc.).  While arguments about exactly what constitutes a given category or whether a certain recording or musician qualifies for that label are fairly useless in my view, these names do provide a useful shorthand for discussing the music.  So, with that, today we consider some of the masters of the style known as "hard bop."  Hard bop grew out of the bebop movement of the 1940's, which expanded the harmonic and rhythmic boundaries of jazz beyond its standing as pop/dance music and into the territory of being an art/concert music (while still retaining many elements of its popular appeal).  Speaking very generally, hard bop retained the rhythms, harmonies and technical virtuosity of bop, but leavened it by moderating tempos (bop tunes were often played extremely fast or extremely slow...to discourage dancing and encourage listening) and adding an obvious blues/funk/gospel feel.  Hard bop is most closely associated with the recordings of the Blue Note label in the 50's and 60's, and its leading voices included pianist/composer Horace Silver, trumpeter Clifford Brown and some of the musicians on today's featured CD's.

I originally intended to write about a CD I bought many years ago entitled "The Sermon" which features recordings made over 2 sessions (with some differences in personnel) in August 1957 and February 1958.  But, in looking for an amazon.com or iTunes link to that CD, I found that these tunes have now been repackaged in numerous combinations, but all of the songs I will write about can now be found by purchasing the CD's linked above (called "The Sermon" and "House Party").  (For this piece, I will refer to the tracks as they appear on my version of the CD, which is essentially the order in which they were recorded). 

Although Count Basie and others had dabbled with the organ as a jazz voice, Jimmy Smith, the leader on these sessions, was the first master soloist on the instrument and the influence for all who followed (Jack McDuff, Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, Joey DeFrancesco, etc.).

Rather than a typical blowing session where all the horns play the head (melody) and take turns soloing, the album starts with features for each horn.  Lee Morgan (one of the avatars of hard bop, who later had a surprising Top 40 hit with The Sidewinder kicks things off with a wonderfully swinging and soulful take on the Gershwins' "S'Wonderful."  For me, his pure tone and relaxed-yet-buoyant fluency is jazz at its best.   Showcases for two other hard bop stars follow, trombonist Curtis Fuller on "Blue Room" and alto sax Lou Donaldson on the ballad "Lover Man." 

The first two tunes from the February 1958 date, Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and "Au Privave," have more of a jam session feel, as the horns (with Tina Brooks, tenor sax, replacing Fuller) join together on the head before the soloing starts.  Two other hard bop greats join here, guitarist Kenny Burrell and legendary drummer Art Blakey (whose Jazz Messenger groups were the most famous training ground/finishing school in jazz).   Blakey's distinctive power and crackle are most evident on "Confirmation" which also features a beautiful solo from Burrell that renders meaningless any line between bop and hard bop.   (Or between bop and swing for that matter...Burrell plays with such melodic grace and balance that, like Benny Carter or Milt Jackson, he transcends genre and seems to fit within any setting.)  Morgan then takes another star turn on "Flamingo" before the session ends with a laid back blues, "The Sermon," about as perfect an example of the hard bop genre as you will find with great solos from all. 

Throughout all of these cuts, Jimmy Smith provides colorful and rhythmic support with his comping (the chords that a keyboardist plays under a solo), plays spectacular solos (using the stops of the Hammond B-3 to provide a variety of tonal color, from purrs to growls) and lays down solid bass lines (with his feet!).

October 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


RGA puts additional $1 million into Wisconsin ad buys as Walker frets (Robert Costa, October 23, 2014, Washington Post)

The Republican Governors Association has purchased more than $1 million in additional television advertising time in Wisconsin to boost embattled Gov. Scott Walker, who is locked in a close race against Democrat Mary Burke.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Obama's White House Can't Take a Joke (Stephen L. Carter, 10/23/14, Bloomberg View)

According to news articles, Obama gave the crowd this report on his visit to his pre-White House home: "Because Michelle and I and the kids, we left so quickly that there's still junk on my desk, including some unpaid bills. I think eventually they got paid -- but they're sort of stacked up. And messages, newspapers and all kinds of stuff."

The official transcript, issued by the White House press office, read this way: "We left so quickly that there's still junk on my desk, including some -- newspapers and all kinds of stuff." A later "corrected" transcript described the remark about unpaid bills -- heard clearly by more than one reporter present -- as inaudible.

To which one wants to say: seriously?

The president was obviously telling a joke, and the joke works pretty well. The administration has struggled to find a way to demonstrate Obama's sympathy with the struggles of the middle class, and the joke does at least a little to soften the president's edges at a time when many Americans report significant financial stress.

So why the deletion? The claim that the tape is inaudible barely passes the giggle test. My suspicion -- impossible to prove -- is that the decision was made by a panicky White House political team so worried about nasty ads from their opponents that they wound up brushing away the very warmth they desperately wanted their boss to convey.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Parliament to 'accept and embrace' wearing of kirpan, sergeant-at-arms explains (JANE TABER, 6/02/11, The Globe and Mail)

Mr. Vickers, 54, is the sergeant-at-arms in the Commons - perhaps familiar to some Canadians as the tall man in black carrying the mace into the House. Appointed in 2006, he oversees the security of the parliamentary precinct and sits quietly in his seat in the chamber when the Commons is in session. [...]

Last winter, while the Quebec National Assembly banned the kirpan, Mr. Vickers moved to ensure that the ceremonial dagger be allowed in the Commons despite a Bloc Québécois motion calling for it to be prohibited.

For that, the World Sikh Organization of Canada paid tribute to him at a dinner in Ottawa. And there, Mr. Vickers, who had served for 29 years as an RCMP officer, explained in a moving speech his view of the country and what led to his decision.

He noted that as a young boy growing up in Miramichi, N.B., he saw his father invite home students from developing countries, who were studying about co-operatives at the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.

Sitting around the dining room table and listening to their stories, he said, he learned to respect the culture and dignity of others.

"I see your wearing of the kirpan, especially in our Parliamentary buildings, as exactly that, respecting your dignity," he told the WSO members. "But just as the kirpan issue came before us last winter, we are reminded how vigilant we must be to not only defend but promote the practices, cultures and religions of all peoples."

Mr. Vickers said that he doesn't like the word "tolerance" or the phrase "a tolerant society." "I am going to tolerate you wearing the kirpan within the Parliamentary Precinct. No. As head of security, I am going to accept and embrace your symbol of faith within the Parliamentary Precinct," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


How Foodies Were Duped Into Thinking McDonald's Was High-End Food (MARIA GODOY, October 23, 2014, NPR)

In the video, two Dutch pranksters sneak into a large food-industry expo in Houten, The Netherlands. (The video doesn't name the event.) There, the duo ask exhibitors and attendees to sample their "new, organic alternative to fast food" from their "high-end restaurant." In reality, they are serving up cut-up pieces of what appears to be McDonald's fare including muffins, burgers and nuggets.

Presented with bite-size samples attractively arranged on a platter with serving toothpicks, the patsies in this little experiment react with effusive praise. (While the pranksters are clearly gleeful about duping people whom they describe as culinary or organic "experts," we don't really know who they are.)

"The taste is very rich," one person tells the fake restaurateurs, who go by Sacha and Cedrique and work for Lifehunters.TV, an outfit that specializes in creating viral content.

"It's definitely a lot tastier than McDonald's. You can just tell this is a lot more pure," offers another taste-tester.

"It rolls around the tongue nicely; if it were wine, I'd say it's fine," says a third.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


The case for Northern devolution (PAUL SALVESON, 22 October 2014, OpenDemocracy)

It's widely recognised that England is a highly centralised nation with power and resources increasingly concentrated on London and the south-east. The historic 'north-south' divide is getting bigger and virtually every index of deprivation shows the North (Yorkshire and the Humber; North-West and North-East) becoming poorer in comparison to the South-East. The Scottish referendum campaign has forced the political establishment to accept further devolution for Scotland and the 'English Question' - how to re-balance England itself so London and the South-east becomes less dominant - has shot up the agenda. The response from the political establishment has been to avoid creating any new directly-elected bodies but instead to devolve some powers and resources to 'combined authorities' in Northern city regions. Some of these already exist, for example in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. They bring together the local authorities in their respective areas, with the council leaders forming a leadership group. They have growing budgets covering a range of sectors, including transport and economic development. While it could be argued these are a pragmatic response to existing needs, their big problem is the lack of accountability. Indirectly-elected bodies such as these give greater powers to officers and effectively remove any semblance of popular participation. Further, almost by definition, 'city regions' have an excessive focus on the main city conurbations and less emphasis on the more peripheral urban centres and rural areas.

The alternative is 'democratic devolution' to the regions, with elected assemblies having similar powers to Wales and Scotland. They should be elected by PR to allow a better balance between town, city and rural hinterland. It has been suggested that this merely creates 'another tier of bureaucracy' but surely regionalisation should be an opportunity to radically reduce the size of the central civil service, with fewer MPs at Westminster. Further, it should involve a fundamental re-organisation of the dogs' dinner that is English local government, with smaller and more accountable local authorities which reflect people's local identities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Landslide Landrieu (John Dickerson, 10/23/14, Slate)

Landrieu has jokingly referred to herself as "Landslide Landrieu," because she has faced so many close races. She recounted that history to the audience to remind them that every vote counts. "I stepped up to run for the Senate, and we beat--all of us in this room--we beat Woody Jenkins by 5,778 votes out of 1.7 million votes cast," she said, referring to her conservative Republican opponent. "Ladies, that is 1.2 votes per precinct. You sent me there, and let me tell you what happened just a few years late: Katrina and Rita slammed in to South Louisiana and sent a million people homeless, including half of my family and families in here, who never thought they'd experience homelessness in their life. And you know who was in that seat when that happened? Think about the difference between Mary Landrieu--and I know I have my flaws and my weaknesses--but think about having to go to Woody Jenkins to ask Woody Jenkins to help New Orleans. Baton Rouge, do you have any concept the difference it made? And I made the difference because I was there, but you made the difference by putting me there."
Landrieu's platform of seniority, Social Security, and sandbags is the strongest bulwark of any being erected by Democratic incumbents.

At the next event, as local politicians and labor leaders praised Landrieu to a crowd gathered to hear Bill Clinton, Hurricane Katrina came up again and again. "When the hurricane hit and she had to battle everybody, she stood up and showed up and fought and she delivered," said her younger brother, Mitch Landrieu, the popular mayor of New Orleans. "New Orleans, the whole southern part of Louisiana, would not be where it is today if she had not fought."

...than the Landrieu family?

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Low Inflation, Flatter COLA: Social Security Benefits to Get 1.7% Bump (Eric Morath, Josh Mitchell, October 22, 2014, Dow Jones Newswires)

Tens of millions of elderly and disabled Americans will see a small bump in their government payments next year, another reflection of a sluggish economic recovery that has kept inflation low.

The Social Security Administration on Wednesday announced a 1.7% annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for the nearly 64 million Americans who receive federal retirement or disability benefits. The increase would result in about a $22-a-month increase for the average retiree. Increases have been between 1.5% and 1.7% for three straight years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


The future is Filipino (Philip Jenkins, 10/22/14, Christian Century)

When Pope Francis visits the Philip­pines in January, we will undoubtedly hear a great deal about that country's importance on the global religious scene. Partly that's a matter of raw numbers. Al­ready one of the world's three largest Catholic nations, it may by some measures lead the pack within a quarter century or so. By 2050, there could be 100 million Catholic Filipinos.

The church also has a charismatic leader in Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila. Only 57, he features prominently in speculation about the next papal election, whenever that might occur. If Tagle is not chosen, it is likely that some Filipino will be­come the first nonwhite pope since the early Middle Ages.

John Allen, the superbly informed expert on all things Catholic, rightly stresses the central role of the Philippines in the Catholic future. He also warns that the Philippine experience belies any West­ern hopes that culture wars and church-state conflicts might fade in consequence of rapid social change. The Philippine church is powerful and politically influential, priding itself on its heroic role against the Marcos dictatorship of the 1980s. In recent years, the Philippine hierarchy has been consistently at war with the national government over official attempts to expand access to contraception and over sex education in the schools. Threats of excommunication have been flying. Contraception is still a primary battlefield of cultural politics; same-sex marriage is barely even discussed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Our Neanderthal Complex : What if our ancient relatives did "human" better? (LYDIA PYNE, OCTOBER 16, 2014, Nautilus)

Just this year, researchers offered a series of tantalizingly detailed new insights about Neanderthal culture and Pleistocene lifestyles. Paleo-geneticists have lit up the public imagination with descriptions of the genetic overlap between modern humans and Neanderthals.7 Excavations at Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar have suggested that Neanderthals exploited rock pigeon populations8 for food and produced etched cave art9 around 39,000 years ago. Clive Finlayson, the director of the Heritage Division of the Gibraltar Museum and Gorham Cave researcher, noted in an interview in Nature, "What is clear is that it [the etched cave art] is abstract, it's deliberate, and it speaks to their cognition in a way that brings Neanderthals, once again, closer to us."

The new findings have ushered a transformation of the Neanderthal from a knuckle-dragging savage rightfully defeated in an evolutionary constant, to a distant cousin that holds clues to our identity. Where museums used to emphasize their primitive and brutal nature, modern exhibits evoke a feeling of belonging. "For Neanderthals, especially in museum exhibits, there's a sense of wanting to connect to them since they are so close to us," says Linda Kim, an art historian specializing in museum exhibits. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Minimum Wage Backfire (WSJ, Oct. 22, 2014)

The McDonald's earnings report on Tuesday gave a hint at how the fast-food chain really plans to respond to its wage and profit pressure--automate. As many contributors to these pages have warned, forcing businesses to pay people out of proportion to the profits they generate will provide those businesses with a greater incentive to replace employees with machines.

By the third quarter of next year, McDonald's plans to introduce new technology in some markets "to make it easier for customers to order and pay for food digitally and to give people the ability to customize their orders," reports the Journal. Mr. Thompson, the CEO, said Tuesday that customers "want to personalize their meals" and "to enjoy eating in a contemporary, inviting atmosphere. And they want choices in how they order, choices in what they order and how they're served."

We're always told that minmum wage earners particularly deserve our help because their jobs suck so bad.  So replacing those employees with machines is an act of human liberation, not a cause for concern.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


Ancient Human Skulls Reveal When Europeans Could Drink Milk (Charles Q. Choi, 10/21/14, Live Science)

The DNA from ancient human bones is shedding new light on the prehistory of Europe, such as when changes in skin color and lactose tolerance occurred, researchers say.

This research unexpectedly revealed that ancient Europeans started dairying thousands of years before they evolved genes to make the most of milk in adulthood, investigators added.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


The most sensible GOP alternative to ObamaCare comes from a Senate candidate who is almost sure to lose (Michael Brendan Dougherty, 10/23/14, The Week)

The reform is based on the 2017 project, and is relatively simple. The ACA's individual mandate and the health-care exchanges go away. Instead, the government gives a tax credit (that grows depending on age) to anyone who does not receive health benefits from an employer. Young adults would get a smaller tax credit, and it would increase every decade and with every dependent child. A tax credit has the benefit of being progressive in effect, since for those with little income the credit would constitute a larger share of their overall income. It would make relatively little difference to those making bank. [...]

But the centerpiece of the plan is the creation of a 50-state health-insurance market, long the dream of conservative health-care reformers. Private insurance companies are still required to make their product work in 50 different regulatory environments, and this does not make for a healthy, diverse market.

One of the side effects of a Gillespiecare-style health reform would be a much more robust market for catastrophic insurance plans, which allow people to manage their health care in the same way most people manage insurance costs in other areas of life. Regular care could be purchased on a per item basis, and the really dangerous stuff -- hospital stays, emergency-room visits (for actual emergencies), and other health disasters -- could be covered by insurance.

Because health insurance is now a regulatory game of creating the illusion of "free" health-care items to some constituents, while allowing all the opacity and third-party chicanery that enables profiteering from medical businesses, America pays the most for its health care while receiving the least in return per dollar. It also has the most mind-numbing, ulcer-producing paperwork related to it. The Affordable Care Act actually did little to alter the incentives of the system, but tried to address it by plugging up a few holes.

What the Republicans really need is a health-care reform plan that untangles health care from employment for good. Employment-based health care may scare a few people into getting or keeping jobs that they are suited for, but it's overall effect is job lock, an insane-pricing scheme, and a net drag on innovation. Gillespiecare is a modest and (if pursued soon) achievable step in the right direction. It evens the playing field between employer-provided and individually purchased health insurance.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


Long Wake : "The Death of Klinghoffer," at the Met. (ALEX ROSS, 11/03/14, The New Yorker)

The protest failed because it relied on falsehoods: the opera is not anti-Semitic, nor does it glorify terrorism. Granted, Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman, do not advertise their intentions in neon. The story of the Achille Lauro hijacking is told in oblique, circuitous monologues, delivered by a variety of self-involved narrators, with interpolated choruses in rich, dense poetic language. The terrorists are allowed ecstatic flights, private musings, self-justifications. But none of this should surprise a public accustomed to dark, ambiguous TV shows like "Homeland." The most specious arguments against "Klinghoffer" elide the terrorists' bigotry with the attitudes of the creators. By the same logic, one could call Steven Spielberg an anti-Semite because the commandant in "Schindler's List" compares Jewish women to a virus.

In the opera, the opposed groups follow divergent trajectories. The terrorists tend to lapse from poetry into brutality, whereas Leon Klinghoffer and his wife, Marilyn, remain robustly earthbound, caught up in the pleasures and pains of daily life, hopeful even as death hovers. Those trajectories are already implicit in the paired opening numbers, the Chorus of Exiled Palestinians and the Chorus of Exiled Jews. The former splinters into polyrhythmic violence, ending on the words "break his teeth"; the latter keeps shifting from plaintive minor to sumptuous major, ending on the words "stories of our love." The scholar Robert Fink, in a 2005 essay, convincingly argues that the opera "attempts to counterpoise to terror's deadly glamour the life-affirming virtues of the ordinary, of the decent man, of small things." Moreover, subtle references to the Holocaust suggest that a familiar horror is recurring. "At least we are not Jews," an old Swiss woman says. "I kept my distance," an Austrian frigidly intones. The mellifluous, ineffectual Captain indulges in fantasies of appeasement, conversing under the stars with a silver-tongued terrorist named Mamoud.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Oil will tumble to $70 says new 'bond king' (Matt Egan, October 23, 20, CNNMoney)

While Gundlach acknowledged China's economic slowdown is hurting oil prices, he mostly pointed to geopolitical drivers to support his bearish energy call.

"I'm convinced that Saudi Arabia wants the price of oil at $70," said Gundlach, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of Los-Angeles-based DoubleLine.

That's because the Arab country's budget can withstand lower oil prices than some other oil-producing countries, including arch rival Iran. Saudi Arabia raised eyebrows recently by ramping up production in the face of plummeting 

"They don't care if they run a short-term deficit because they love turning the screws on the people that mean them harm in the Middle East," said Gundlach, hinting at Iran.

Another leg down in oil prices would also be bad news for Russia, which relies heavily on oil revenue to balance its budget. Last week, Moody's cited plunging oil prices in its decision to downgrade Russia's credit rating two notches to just above "junk" status.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Evidence supports officer's account of shooting in Ferguson (Kimberly Kindy and Sari Horwitz October 23, 2014, Washington Post)

Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer's gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown's body.

Because Wilson is white and Brown was black, the case has ignited intense debate over how police interact with African American men. But more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson's account of events of Aug. 9, according to several people familiar with the investigation who spoke with The Washington Post.

Some of the physical evidence -- including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests -- also supports Wilson's account of the shooting, The Post's sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer's life. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited from publicly discussing the case.

October 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


In The Near Future, Solar Will Be Spray Painted On Everything (Ben Schiller, 10/22/14, Co.Exist)

Up to now, solar power has largely been generated on rooftops and in open areas like deserts. But the day is coming when the technology will be much more ubiquitous. We'll build solar cells into windows, cell-phone screens, and perhaps even into throwaway household items.

Lucelo Technologies, in Texas provides a glimpse of that future. Though at an early stage, it's developing a solar paint that can be spread on more or less anything--including plastic bags and shopping labels.

"We can basically build a solar cell on any material because we don't need high temperature processing and we don't need vacuum techniques," explains chief scientist Taylor Harvey. "It could open up new markets for solar where having a flexible, lightweight solar cell is needed."

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


The Idea That Disruption Is Dead Is a Myth (Mike EdelhartOCTOBER 22, 2014, Entrepenuer)

This is my third tech revolution and in each, richly endowed pundits have declared the emerging technologies deficient, delusional, defunct. And, in each revolution, those pundits have been wrong. These current downbeat predictions about the social/mobile revolution are wrong, too.

Here's why: This tendency to declare the game over while we are still warming up for it stems from some fundamental misunderstandings of how tech revolutions and change actually work.

First, as much as we might expect and want it to, technological change doesn't occur arithmetically. If only each little change led to another change and to another in a neat, consistent, straight-line chain. In reality, though, tech change is epochal, following a course more like evolution. In evolution, everything appears to stay the same in an environment until the sum total of challenges to species in it passes a critical threshold and then change happens dramatically, deeply and suddenly. So, too, with tech revolutions. Everything in business and society seems pretty much normal on the surface, and stays the same, and stays the same. And then, boom, everything seems dramatically different. PCs are a trinket until suddenly they are everywhere and touch everything. The Internet is a weird backwater full of flaming nerds and tap dancing cats until, suddenly, it is the lifeblood of culture.

In the Darwinian world of tech revolution, traditional businesses don't disappear, they become extinct. New businesses, business models and economics don't merely win, in the sense of a war, they conquer with the totality and finality of evolution. They rise rapidly and inexorably in response to radically altered circumstances, wiping out those who cannot adapt utterly off the map. It's the death of the dinosaurs in business and cultural terms.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


When things go wrong, Obama increasingly relies on his inner circle, not his Cabinet (Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura, October 22, 2014, Washington Post)

As the White House grappled with the unpredictable nature of Ebola on U.S. soil, one aspect of the government's response was relatively easy to forecast: Sooner or later President Obama would turn to a fixer to help solve the problem.

In a second term in which the administration has moved from one crisis to the next, Obama has repeatedly resorted to using outside operators to right the government's course, rather than simply deploying his Cabinet members.

Weak men choose weak cabinets.

October 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Adam Smith: Guide to a Happy Life : a review of HOW ADAM SMITH CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE By Russ Roberts (DANIEL AKST, Oct. 20, 2014, WSJ)

Mr. Roberts offers newcomers a nice taste of the banquet Smith has to offer. Open "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" almost anywhere and you will gain insight into some aspect of the human condition: why poets but not mathematicians tend to form cabals (the former rely on public approval), for example, or what makes romantic comedies so much fun (other people's amours are ridiculous and yet produce interesting complications). Smith saw that we rate pain more potent than the equivalent amount of pleasure and that imagination is crucial to morality--so we can see how our actions will look to others and what the future will be like depending on what we do now. In not quite as many words, Smith observes that form follows function, that crowds can have wisdom, and that what social scientists now call "hedonic adaptation" (our tendency to adjust quickly to good and bad news alike) will soon wash away the pleasure that we gain from material good fortune. His advice to mourners of all kinds--"return, as soon as possible, to the daylight of the world"--remains sound.

All this comes as part of Smith's effort to derive a basis for virtue, the key feature of which is self-command. His premise is that our desire for the love and regard of others makes us behave in accord with their preferences and expectations, enabling us to rise above our baser selves. Society doesn't enslave us, as Rousseau and others have suggested; rather, according to Smith, it liberates us from the worst part of ourselves and allows us to thrive in concert. All of us, Smith says, judge our behavior against the standard of an impartial spectator within who develops as we mature, a kind of embodied conscience who can hold us to the straight and narrow even if our fellow humans are reprobates or monsters. Not that this spectator can't be fooled. Smith warns of the rationalizing to which our species is prone and, in doing so, places a modern-sounding emphasis on the problem of self-deception.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


The Gaudí Few People Knew : A conversation with José Manuel Almuzara, president for the Association for the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí (Aleteia, 10/20/14)

Is Antoni Gaudí a local architect, or a creator who can be promoted world-wide?

I can summarize it with a phrase from Pope Benedict XVI: "Creative architect and practicing Christian." Just exploring this title would be enough. The creativity of an architect is of interest to the whole world.  And what can I say about there being a practicing Catholic among the 1.2 billion people in the world? The more of us who practice our faith, the better...

From a professional point of view, we can offer him as a model for architects--as a man and as a Christian, a universal man.  From an architectural perspective, his architecture is original, and is based on nature.  He is also a pioneer from a human perspective, in the way he treated his workers, how he cared for his family, and in the coherence of his character and personality.

Gaudí said that work is the fruit of collaboration: and this collaboration should be based on love. An architect has to know the qualities of each of his collaborators. In this way, what matters is to discover what each person is good at, as no one is useless.

And so, if Joseph was taller than Jack, he would be better at certain things.  That particular worker would be happier using his personal resources, his way of being, apt for that specific kind of work, and the final result will be better.

As a consequence of this way of thinking, Gaudí pays homage to the workers in the Holy Family, in a place where it will go unnoticed, between the cloister and the lateral naves of the church. There, some patios are formed and in the keystones of the arches, Gaudí installs a sort of upside-down isosceles trapezoid. In the lower part, he places the tools used by each of his workers.

With this detail, he tells us that without them he could not have carried out the work. Thus, he unites the human with the divine. Exemplary, isn't it? And it is an indicator of who he was, just like his [habit of] carrying a Rosary in one pocket and hazelnuts in the other.

Hazelnuts? What were the hazelnuts for?

To feed the body, and the Rosary was for feeding the soul.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


19th Century Paris: Terrorism's Training Ground (Robert Zaretsky, October 21st, 2014, LA REview of Books)

[B]etween 1892 and 1894, Paris was rocked by the activity of anarchists who, dissatisfied with words, plumped for "Propaganda by Deed." During these two years, 11 bombs burst in Paris, most of them heaved at institutions and individuals that anarchists believed stood between oppression and liberation. Explosions erupted in chic restaurants and law offices, military barracks and the Chamber of Deputies: every element of civil and political society became targets for anarchists. Though fewer than a dozen people died in these terrorist attacks, fear gripped bourgeois Paris -- a sense of insecurity that was, predictably, heightened by the popular press. No less predictably, when an Italian immigrant assassinated French President Sadi Carnot during a visit to Lyon, shouting "Vive l'anarchie!" as he flashed his knife, the government instituted a series of laws, the infamous "lois scélérates," or scoundrel laws, that undermined many legal and civil liberties.

Yet the most dramatic act of terrorism, if only because it now appears as a rehearsal for the blood-dimmed wave of terrorism in the Middle East, was aimed not at political or judicial figures, but instead at innocent bystanders. On February 12, 1894, a young and impoverished intellectual, Émile Henry, entered the Café Terminus. A popular café at the Gare Saint-Lazare, the Terminus was bustling with white-collar workers, whose modest careers as shopkeepers and clerks hardly qualified them as the traditional targets of anarchist terrorists. Lighting with his cigar the fuse of a homemade bomb filled with bullets and explosives, Henry tossed it into the main room; the explosion, which shattered mirrors and chandeliers, killed one bystander and wounded 20 more.

This, for Merriman, explains the bombing's true significance: "What makes Henry's attack qualify as the origins of modern terrorism," he told me in an email exchange, "was the fact that he did not go after someone identified with the state, but ordinary bourgeois having a beer." Tellingly, neither the death nor injuries drew expressions of remorse from Henry -- to the contrary. Caught, convicted, and condemned to die, Henry declared there were no innocents. These "petty bourgeois with a steady salary in their pockets," he railed, were no less guilty than generals and presidents. [...]Like ISIS, anarchist terrorism had global pretentions: President William McKinley, shot dead by an anarchist in 1901, was just one of several Western political leaders at the turn of the century whose lives were taken, or nearly so, by anarchists. Just like anarchist artists who excelled at presenting their cause, ISIS has cultivated its own brand of propaganda by word and image, moving quickly from videos of beheadings to videos of anti-Western lectures given by some of its other captives. Both then and now, jobless and aimless young men, banished to the margins of society, turn against the values of that same society with a murderous passion. Both then and now, politicians and popular media have done a better job at scaring their audiences than at informing them, just as both then and now, governments roll back legal and human rights while attempting to roll back the terrorists.

The wave of anarchist terrorism in Paris subsided after 1894. Not only had France begun to emerge from a deep recession, but civil society also proved more resilient and more rewarding than the bleak vision offered by the anarchists. This may again prove the case. Over the past several weeks, a growing number of open letters and manifestos, written and signed by Muslim clerics and intellectuals in France, have loudly denounced the acts of ISIS. Whatever the future does hold, however, the past reminds us that terrorism has been the refuge not just of religious fanatics, but also secular fanatics, and that profane ideology no less than holy scripture can lead to utter disregard for human life.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Let People Shop for Health Care (Peter R. Orszag, 10/21/14, Bloomberg View)

A team of researchers led by Christopher Whaley of the University of California at Berkeley and Castlight Health examined what happens when hundreds of thousands of people are given access to a website that provides prices for various medical procedures.

Historically, consumers have had difficulty finding out the price they will be charged for a specific procedure or visit. But it's reasonable to expect that if prices were provided, and if the patients had "skin in the game" in the form of cost-sharing, they would seek out lower-priced options.

That is exactly what the researchers found. Use of the price-transparency tool was associated with a 14 percent decline in payments for laboratory tests, a 13 percent decline in payments for advanced imaging tests, and a 1 percent decline in payments for clinician office visits. Giving more information to consumers about the prices of their care, in other words, led them to choose less expensive options.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Obama Is a Republican : He's the heir to Richard Nixon, not Saul Alinsky. (BRUCE BARTLETT • October 21, 2014, American Conservative)

Contrary to rants that Obama's 2010 health reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), is the most socialistic legislation in American history, the reality is that it is virtually textbook Republican health policy, with a pedigree from the Heritage Foundation and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, among others.

It's important to remember that historically the left-Democratic approach to healthcare reform was always based on a fully government-run system such as Medicare or Medicaid. During debate on health reform in 2009, this approach was called "single payer," with the government being the single payer. One benefit of this approach is cost control: the government could use its monopsony buying power to force down prices just as Walmart does with its suppliers.

Conservatives wanted to avoid too much government control and were adamantly opposed to single-payer. But they recognized that certain problems required more than a pure free-market solution. One problem in particular is covering people with pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular provisions in ACA. The difficulty is that people may wait until they get sick before buying insurance and then expect full coverage for their conditions. Obviously, this free-rider problem would bankrupt the health-insurance system unless there was a fix.

The conservative solution was the individual mandate--forcing people to buy private health insurance, with subsidies for the poor. This approach was first put forward by Heritage Foundation economist Stuart Butler in a 1989 paper, "A Framework for Reform," published in a Heritage Foundation book, A National Health System for America. In it, Butler said the number one element of a conservative health system was this: "Every resident of the U.S. must, by law, be enrolled in an adequate health care plan to cover major health costs." He went on to say:

Under this arrangement, all households would be required to protect themselves from major medical costs by purchasing health insurance or enrolling in a prepaid health plan. The degree of financial protection can be debated, but the principle of mandatory family protection is central to a universal health care system in America.

In 1991, prominent conservative health economist Mark V. Pauley also endorsed the individual mandate as central to healthcare reform. In an article in the journal Health Affairs, Pauley said:

All citizens should be required to obtain a basic level of health insurance. Not having health insurance imposes a risk of delaying medical care; it also may impose costs on others, because we as a society provide care to the uninsured. ... Permitting individuals to remain uninsured results in inefficient use of medical care, inequity in the incidence of costs of uncompensated care, and tax-related distortions.

In 2004, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) endorsed an individual mandate in a speech to the National Press Club. "I believe higher-income Americans today do have a societal and personal responsibility to cover in some way themselves and their children," he said. Even libertarian Ron Bailey, writing in Reason, conceded the necessity of a mandate in a November 2004 article titled, "Mandatory Health Insurance Now!" Said Bailey: "Why shouldn't we require people who now get health care at the expense of the rest of us pay for their coverage themselves? ... Mandatory health insurance would not be unlike the laws that require drivers to purchase auto insurance or pay into state-run risk pools."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Somaliland inspired by Scotland and Catalonia independence campaigns (Mark Anderson, 10/21/14, theguardian.com)

Somaliland is viewed by the international community as a territory within Somalia - a nation that is struggling to emerge from more than two decades of civil war. However, the former British protectorate boasts more than 20 years of relative peace and security as well as untapped oil reserves and mineral deposits.

Its president, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, said he was encouraged by other independence movements and hoped that boosting investment in Somaliland's energy and agricultural sectors would spark an economic rebirth that could help it towards independence.

"Other countries' search for recognition, like Catalonia and Scotland, is something we find [inspiring]," he said. "We are, in our own way, also seeking our independence."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Solar power is casting a bigger shadow (BRUCE KENNEDY,October 14, 2014, MONEYWATCH)

During 2014's second quarter, photovoltaic (PV) installations in the U.S. went over the gigawatt mark for the third consecutive quarter, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). A gigawatt is equivalent to the amount of power needed for around 750,000 homes.

And while commercial solar power is still in its infancy (the Institute for Energy Research says solar makes up just 0.2 percent of the net energy produced in the U.S.), homes and businesses with solar panels are no longer considered an oddity. The SEIA says more than a half-million homes and businesses now have solar installations, and during the first half of 2014, 53 percent of all new electric capacity was from solar power.

Solar energy costs are also dropping. A report by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says the cost of energy sold to utilities from large-scale solar power operations has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008.

October 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Survey: Wage increases grow scarcer even as US hiring remains strong; sales also slow (CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, 10/20/14, AP)

U.S. businesses were much less likely to boost pay in the third quarter than in previous months, even as hiring remained healthy, a sign that wage gains may remain weak in the coming months.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Iran Acts to Comply With Interim Nuclear Deal With Powers: IAEA (REUTERS, OCT. 20, 2014)

Iran is taking further action to comply with an interim nuclear agreement with six world powers, a monthly U.N. atomic agency report showed, a finding the West may see as positive ahead of a November deadline for clinching a long-term deal.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), seen by Reuters, made clear that Iran is meeting its commitments under the temporary deal, as it and major powers seek to negotiate a final settlement of a decade-old nuclear dispute.

It said Iran had diluted more than 4,100 kg of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of up to 2 percent down to the level of natural uranium. This was one of the additional steps Iran agreed to undertake when the six-month accord that took effect early this year was extended by four months in July.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Open source the CBO! (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 10/20/14, The Week)

[H]ow did the CBO know the fiscal impact of ObamaCare 10 years from now? Well, to forecast that with any certainty, the CBO would have to know the GDP 10 years from now, and the tax policy 10 years from now, and other critical factors. Of course, it's literally impossible to do these things. Which is why the CBO builds mathematical models with all sorts of assumptions into them that spit out a "score." Like pretty much all predictors of future things, the CBO has to do some (educated) guesswork. And indeed, in the case of ObamaCare, the task is so difficult that the CBO basically gave up earlier this year.

This is not to criticize the CBO or its work. While the efficacy of mathematical modeling in economics is overrated, it is also necessary. It is impossible to do this kind of forecasting without building certain assumptions into it.

It's good that we have the CBO, and it's good that it does the work it does. But there is an easy way to make it better.

Right now, the CBO's work is essentially a black box. The CBO spits out the "score," but nobody knows anything about the model that score is based on.

Like any model, the CBO's is built on questionable assumptions. As I said, that is a necessary part of the work. But it would also be helpful to the public to have the ability for other people to use different, equally legitimate assumptions and to put them into the CBO's model to get a different score.

It's just common sense. We should open source the CBO so that as many people as possible can look into the innards of its scores and arrive at their own conclusions, and perhaps debate other scores. The CBO's model isn't intrinsically better than anybody else's -- it's just the CBO's.

Don't stop with the CBO.  All government information should be publicly available.

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