July 28, 2015

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:50 PM


"East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)

In my very first ATJ  I mentioned that "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" is my favorite song.  I can't tell you why, exactly.  Certainly the fact that it was written by a Princeton undergrad for a University theater troupe that I was part of almost 50 years after the song's debut is part of the appeal...but over 4 years I played dozens of Triangle Club songs, and none of the others has stayed with me for another 30 years. The lyric is sweet in a moon/june kind of way, but lacks the type of internal rhymes and clever word play I usually like (see, among others, the words of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Dave Frishberg).  It has a lovely melody that, although written as a ballad, does lends itself to various other interpretations...including moderate and uptempo swing and various Latin rhythms; but there are lots of lovely melodies out there, and almost any tune can be played in different styles.  So, while I wish I could explain the song's appeal to me, I really can't.

In his excellent book, The Jazz Standards, Ted Gioia is lukewarm about the song (much to my disappointment...no one likes to read that their baby is average at best), dismissing the melody as "predictable" and the lyrics as "vague."  Mark Steyn, however, in his survey of Frank Sinatra's Top 100 recordings to celebrate the centennial of Sinatra's birth, places "EOTS" at number 19, which is remarkable when you consider that Sinatra covered, at one point or another, pretty much every important composition in the Great American Songbook.  (Steyn also provides a complete and fascinating look at the birth of  the song and the tragic early death of its composer, Brooks Bowman http://www.steynonline.com/6863/east-of-the-sun-and-west-of-the-moon.)

One way I like to verify (or justify, depending on your point of view) my opinion of a song is to look at the musicians who have performed it.  After all, if a song is a clunker, would great artists continue to play it year after year?  I have about 50 versions of "EOTS" in my iTunes playlist and the roster of singers and instrumentalists who have recorded it is nothing less than astonishing.  To name just a few: Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey's band (Steyn's #19) and a later version, Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn with Dizzy Gillespie's big band, Carmen McCrae, Etta Jones & Houston Person, Diana Krall, Toots Thielmans (ATJ #1), Jimmy Smith (ATJ #6Stan Getz, James Moody, Al Cohn & Zoot Sims and Sonny Stitt.  And I've heard the Saxophone Colossus, Sonny Rollins, play it a half-dozen in times in concert, but alas, it seems he has never released a recording of it.  (Maybe on one of his future "Road Show" CD's...)

Almost all of the versions of "EOTS" mentioned above are available on YouTube and iTunes, and I recommend all of them.  But to keep things simple here, we'll consider 4 recordings.  The link at the top of this post is to Tony Bennett's version, a straight reading of the melody and lyric which is a perfect introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the song.

The other 3 recordings all have as a unifying element the great pianist Kenny Barron.  First is a 2-piano duet with bop pianist Barry Harris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycfMSJcUTv8.  (In ATJ #20 thread Harris and Barron were each featured as accompanists for Clark Terry on his One on One album, and Barron joined Terry and Benny Carter on Live at Princeton.)  After a slow and romantic statement of the tune, the tempo picks up into a jaunty swing as bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ben Riley join in.  Barron solos first (supported by Harris) for a couple of choruses and then they reverse roles.  

Next, Kenny joins the great reed player James Moody for a beautiful, slow take of the tune. 

On tenor here (he was equally accomplished and well-known on alto and flute), Moody plays the head in the lower register of the horn, caressing the melody and playing beautiful fills that move sinuously through the changes.  Barron only solos for half a chorus near the end, but provides perfect, empathetic support throughout.  

Finally, my favorite recording of my song...and maybe my favorite jazz recording of all time, period (a strong statement, I know)...another duet of Kenny Barron and a legendary tenor man, this time Stan Getz, recorded live in Copenhagen just a month or two before Getz died.  After a wonderful variation on the tune, Getz  delivers a melodic solo that is tender and yearning, but always swinging.  Barron plays an equally beautiful and singing solo that effortlessly mixes single note lines, stride, double time and block chords, before Stan returns and they bring things to a close.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Bernie Sanders : The Vox conversation (Ezra Klein, July 28, 2015, Vox)

Ezra Klein
You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing ...

Bernie Sanders
Open borders? No, that's a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein

Bernie Sanders
Of course. That's a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. ...

Ezra Klein
But it would make ...

Bernie Sanders
Excuse me ...

Ezra Klein
It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn't it?

Bernie Sanders
It would make everybody in America poorer --you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. 

You'd get a real moment of moral clarity in a Bernie vs. Jeb race.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM



Economist Robert Atkinson of the think tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation] says a lot of the economy is still made up of things that are hard to automate and low minimum wage in the U.S. makes it economical for companies to hire humans instead of robots.

"If you're an employer, you don't have much incentive to replace workers or add tools because [employees] cost so little," he explains. "If workers cost more, more companies would have the incentive to give them the tools to increase productivity."

However, if low-wage workers got paid more like fast-food workers in New York City are about to be, then more employers might soon be adopting their own robotics workplace.

"There's a movement taking place right now," says Garry G. Mathiason, chairman of law firm Littler Mendelson, which has a specialization in robotics employment law issues. "New York is an example where the minimum wage is going to be pushed up in fast-food areas where they have franchisees in over 30 outlets to a minimum of $15 an hour."

He continues: "And that will have the effect of making it economically more attractive to bring in robotics to absorb some of that work. I think that will accelerate the speed with which this will take place. So over the next five years, we're going to all of a sudden see robots be very much a part of our lives just in terms of our normal commercial activity."

July 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


How Ohio Gov. John Kasich Is Making Life Hell for Women Seeking Abortions (Allie Gross, Jul. 27, 2015, Mother Jones)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the latest Republican to step into the presidential fray, has widely been labeled the moderate in a GOP field that tilts sharply to the right. Climate change? It's real. Common Core educational standards? He'll take it. Medicaid expansion? Sure. Immigration reform? He's open to the possibilities. But his celebrated moderation disappears when it comes to reproductive rights. The religious * former congressman and two-term governor is a hardliner on abortion: As governor he's signed and supported some of the most stringent anti-abortion legislation in the country. 

"Kasich is a wolf in sheep's clothing. He's going out there trying to sell himself as a moderate, he's no moderate. He is an extremist," says Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, an abortion rights advocacy group. "He is--if not the worst--among the worst of anti-choice governors in this country's history."

Since Kasich entered office in 2011, he has enacted 16 anti-abortion measures. Some directly restrict abortion access, such as the 20-week late-term ban that he signed six months after entering office. Others limit the work of abortion providers. For example, in 2013 he signed the state's budget bill, which included one provision that prohibits state-funded rape crisis counselors from referring women to abortion services and another that stripped Planned Parenthood of an estimated $1.4 million in federal family-planning dollars. The measures have had drastic consequences for access to abortion and medical care for Ohio women: During Kasich's time in office, the number of abortion providers in the state has dropped from 16 to eight.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Boston Says 'Nope' to the 2024 Games (JASON GAY, July 27, 2015, WSJ)

Boston didn't want the Summer Olympics. OK, that is not totally accurate: Some Bostonians were excited for the city to host the Summer Games in 2024, just not enough of them to, you know, give the idea popular momentum. Boston never became gripped with Olympic fever, not even close. It mostly acted like the Olympics were a two-week canoe trip with their in-laws that they would get stuck paying for.

As someone who grew up a few miles outside the city, I'm not totally surprised. Every time I read a story about the Boston Olympics, I kept imagining my late father pacing around the kitchen with a coffee mug, complaining about Olympic budgets and especially Olympic traffic, nine years in advance. 

Let some other suckers waste their money.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


As Trade Deal Nears Potential Home Stretch, Worries Abound (WILLIAM MAULDIN, July 26, 2015, WSJ)

The goal is a 12-nation bloc accounting for two-fifths of the world's economic output that would boost growth and put pressure on China, which isn't part of the talks, to adopt American-style rules for commerce, U.S. officials say.

But the U.S., Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Australia and the seven other countries involved each bring sensitivities and demands ranging from disagreements over dairy and sugar to unease with U.S. rules on pharmaceuticals and the treatment of state-owned businesses.

"There's a lot of hard work to be done before this agreement is put to bed," Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said last week in Toronto.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


10 years after the storm: has New Orleans learned the lessons of Hurricane Katrina? (David Uberti, Monday 27 July 2015, The Guardian)

"FOUR MONTHS TO DECIDE," the headline blared. "CITY'S FOOTPRINT MAY SHRINK; FULL BUYOUTS PROPOSED FOR THOSE FORCED TO MOVE." Broadmoor was, according to the report, among a handful of low-lying neighbourhoods "that will have to prove their viability to rebuild". An accompanying map showed the area where Carroll and her husband had bought their first home, in 2002, covered by a large green dot. "Approximate areas expected to become parks and greenspace," the key explained.

"I cried," Carroll recalls when I meet her this summer. "I thought: 'This cannot be happening.'"

In Broadmoor, an area with a long history of civic pride, that green dot proved a symbolic turning point in the uncertain days after the flooding. "It was so intense that you couldn't even describe the situation to a family member," Carroll says, explaining how 400 residents crowded under a tent days later to try and make sense of it all. "We decided to deal with this just like we'd been dealing with all of this nonsense."

The proposal to shrink New Orleans caused a massive public backlash, especially since countless residents remained scattered across the country with no say in the planning process. The plan bore out the fears of working- and middle-class New Orleanians - many of them African American - who tended to live in low-lying areas. They distrusted the city-elite's motivation in rebuilding. The Bring New Orleans Back Commission merely made people wonder whether parts of the city would be brought back at all.

These people had, of course, already experienced severe trauma. Government preparation for and response to the humanitarian disaster had proven woefully inadequate. More than 1,800 died across the Gulf Coast region, which also suffered more than $100bn (£65bn) in damage. The flooding put roughly 80% of New Orleans under water and displaced more than 400,000 residents. Some who didn't escape were drowned and entombed in their own homes. Others were stranded in squalid conditions at the Superdome, the city's football arena. Orders circulating through the police department authorised officers to shoot looters as the city fell into a state of collapse.

Small wonder, then, that the green dot rekindled a me-against-the-world mentality among many New Orleans residents. Unlike some other neighbourhoods, however, Carroll's already boasted a well-established organisation to channel that energy. City plan be damned: the Broadmoor Improvement Association, coupled with no small amount of outside aid, helped the community bring itself back to life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


The Conservative assault on industrial relations :  This is no route to a high wage economy. (GEORGE WILSON 27 July 2015, Open Democracy)

After the first reading of the Trade Union Bill last Wednesday, more is now known about its form and potential impact. The reforms that it proposes to industrial relations and organised labour are significant - not since Margaret Thatcher have trade unions faced such drastic changes.

The Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, plans to introduce turnout and support thresholds for strikes; criminalise unlawful or intimidatory picketing; allow employers to hire strike-breaking agency staff; and require unions to ask members whether they wish to pay the political levy to the Labour party. Other changes include granting government certification officers powers to fine unions for breaching reporting rules.

At a time when strikes cause considerably less disruption than in the recent past (704,000 days were lost to strike action in the 12 months to April 2015, versus 13m days on average in the 70s), why are reforms needed? Javid's reforms are part motivated by ideology and part by a post-election Conservative strategy to weaken the Labour party whilst at its most vulnerable.

The number of union members that will proactively support paying the political levy rather than pay through inertia will be tiny. Commentators have suggested that the Labour party could be bankrupted by major cuts to its £25m per year fighting fund (the Conservatives resisted cross-party attempts lead by Nick Clegg during the last parliament to lower the individual donation cap).

All Anglospheric politics is the same.
Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


China stocks drop 8.5% in massive rout (Charles Riley, 7/27/15, CNN)

China's Shanghai Composite index shed 8.5% on Monday, a bone-rattling decline that raises questions about the government's ability to prevent a crash.

Beijing managed to stabilize markets with a dramatic rescue in late June and early July, intervening in a number of ways to limit losses for investors.

But the rout has now resumed: Monday's slump was the biggest daily percentage decline since 2007.

The vast majority of companies listed in Shanghai, including many large state-owned firms, fell by the maximum daily limit of 10%.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


What's behind the Corbyn surge? : The wave of support for Jeremy Corbyn in the race to be Labour Party leader reflects a generation's search for a path beyond neoliberal austerity. (PAUL ROGERS 26 July 2015, Open Democracy)

There is near uniform agreement among political commentators that if Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader it would make for an historic crisis for the party, consigning it to the political margins for at least a decade. It may have increased its membership by over 50,000 since the election on 7 May, but for many pundits Corbyn's high level of support is part of a protest born of a childish refusal to face up to the reality of Labour's surprise electoral defeat and Britain's move to the right.

Meanwhile the Conservatives head for their holidays still enjoying the power of their unexpected victory and the great satisfaction not only of the prospect of a bitterly divided and ineffective opposition but also of being rid of that hugely annoying Liberal Democrat millstone. 

From the Tory perspective, the economy is doing better, almost all the press is on side, the BBC will behave itself and the prospect of at least a decade in power is a delight to behold. Furthermore, for the ideologically minded (in a party that is in an unusually ideological phase) the neoliberal revolution looks set to accelerate.  

Life is good.

Up until now, the major parties of left and right have been quite careful after defeats to reclaim the middle from the dominant Third Way party, which faces revolts on its flanks from die-hards who think the voters chose them for either First or Second Way purity.  If Labour follows a loss to the Thatcherite Tories by repudiating Blairism and returning to genuine socialism, they risk oblivion for a generation, like the post Depression GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Why the ISIS threat is totally overblown (John Mueller, July 23, 2015, The Week)

A year ago, the main fear was that foreign militants who had gone to fight with ISIS would be trained and then sent back to do damage in their own countries. However, there has been scarcely any of that.

In part, this is because, as Daniel Byman and Jeremy Shapiro have detailed in a Brookings Institution report, foreign fighters tend to be killed early (they are common picks for suicide missions); often become disillusioned, especially by in-fighting in the ranks; and do not receive much in the way of useful training for terrorist exercises back home. It might also be added that ISIS videos exultantly show foreign fighters burning their passports to demonstrate their terminal commitment to the cause -- hardly a good idea if they want to return. In May 2015, an audio message apparently from the leader of ISIS exhorted Muslims either to join the ISIS ranks in the Middle East or to fight at home "wherever that may be." There was nothing about training people to return home to wreak havoc.

More recently, the focus of fear has shifted from potential returnees to potential homegrown terrorists who might be inspired by ISIS's propaganda or example. However, ISIS could continue to be an inspiration even if it was weakened or destroyed. And, as terrorism specialist Max Abrahms notes, "lone wolves have carried out just two of the 1,900 most deadly terrorist incidents over the last four decades."

There has also been a trendy concern about the way ISIS uses social media. However, as Byman and Shapiro and others have pointed out, the foolish willingness of would-be terrorists to spill their aspirations and their often childish fantasies on social media has been, on balance, much to the advantage of the police seeking to track them.

However, ISIS's savvy use of social media and its brutality have had a major impact on two important American groups: public officials and the media. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has insisted, "The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated" -- effectively proclaiming hyperbole on the subject to be impossible, as columnist Dan Froomkin observes. Equally inspired, Sen. Jim Inhofe, born before World War II, has extravagantly claimed that "we're in the most dangerous position we've ever been in" and that ISIS is "rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city." And on Michael Smerconish's CNN program last weekend, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge issued the evidence-free suggestion that the recent tragic killings in Chattanooga followed a "directive" from ISIS.

The media have generally been more careful and responsible about such extrapolations, and sometimes articles appear noting that some American and foreign intelligence officials think that "the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians." But the media remain canny about weaving audience-grabbing references about the arrestingly diabolical ISIS into any story about terrorism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


13 Things You Probably Don't Know About Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger (Kate Scanlon, July 22, 2015, Daily Signal)

3) Sanger believed that the United States should "keep the doors of immigration closed to the entrance of certain aliens whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race, such as feebleminded, idiots, morons, Insane, syphilitic, epileptic, criminal, professional prostitutes, and others in this class barred by the immigration laws of 1924." --"A Plan for Peace," Birth Control Review, April 1932, pages 107-108

4) Sanger advocated "a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring." --"A Plan for Peace," Birth Control Review, April 1932, pages 107-108

5) People whom Sanger considered unfit, she wrote, should be sent to "farm lands and homesteads" where "they would be taught to work under competent instructors for the period of their entire lives." --"A Plan for Peace," Birth Control Review, April 1932, pages 107-108

6) She was an advocate of a proposal called the "American Baby Code."

"The results desired are obviously selective births," she wrote.

According to Sanger, the code would "protect society against the propagation and increase of the unfit." --"America Needs a Code for Babies," March 27, 1934, Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress, 128:0312B

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Don't Just Close Bases at Home, Close Them Overseas (DAVID VINE, JULY 27, 2015, NY Times)

THERE are signs that Congress may soon approve another series of domestic military base closings, after the Pentagon threatened earlier this month to cut nearly 90,000 jobs instead. For years, the military has been trying to save money with new rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), the congressionally mandated process for shuttering underutilized domestic military installations.

The move could save billions since, by the Pentagon's own estimate, our network of domestic bases is bloated by more than 20 percent. But Congress has resisted, since local bases mean local jobs, and votes.

BRAC, however, does not apply to the more than 700 United States bases overseas, including 174 in Germany, 113 in Japan and 83 in South Korea, as well as hundreds more in some 70 countries from Aruba to Kenya to Thailand. The military and Congress should go further by closing installations abroad. They both waste taxpayer money and undermine national security.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


A Smart Deal to Cut Tariffs on Tech Products (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, JULY 27, 2015, NY Times)

More than 50 countries agreed on Friday to eliminate tariffs on a wide range of technology goods like medical devices, navigation equipment and advanced semiconductors in a trade agreement that should benefit American manufacturers, consumers and the global economy.

Signatories to the Information Technology Agreement, which covers 201 product categories, include the United States, the European Union, China, South Korea and other members of the World Trade Organization. International trade in those goods totals about $1.3 trillion a year, or about 7 percent of all trade.

Negotiators say this agreement is the most significant deal struck at the W.T.O. in almost two decades. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Six collapsing commodities (Katie Allen, 27 July 2015, The Guardian)

Just when investors thought it might be time for a summer lull, financial markets have shifted their focus from the eurozone and its Greek woes to tumbling commodity prices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


US, Turkey finalizing plans to establish Islamic State-free zone along Syrian border (JULIE PACE, 7/27/15, AP)

The United States and Turkey are finalizing plans for a military campaign to push the Islamic State out of a strip of land along the Syrian border, deepening efforts to halt the extremists' advances.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Did This City Bring Down Its Murder Rate by Paying People Not to Kill? (Tim Murphy | July/August 2014, Mother Jones)

IT WAS A CRAZY IDEA, but Richmond, California, wouldn't have signed off on DeVone Boggan's plan if it had been suffering from an abundance of sanity. For years, the Bay Area city had been battling one of the nation's worst homicide rates and spending millions of dollars on anti-crime programs to no avail. A state senator compared the city to Iraq, and the City Council debated declaring a state of emergency. In September 2006, a man was shot in the face at a funeral for a teenager who had been gunned down two weeks earlier, spurring local clergy to urge city hall to try something new--now. "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten," says Andre Shumake Sr., a 56-year-old Baptist minister whose son was shot six times while riding his bicycle. "It was time to do something different."

Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren't the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who'd been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?

Boggan submitted his proposal. He didn't expect the city to come back and ask him to make it happen. "They asked me for a three-year commitment and told me to put on my seatbelt," he recalls.

In late 2007, Boggan launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an experimental public-private partnership that's introduced the "Richmond model" for rolling back street violence. It has done it with a mix of data mining and mentoring, and by crossing lines that other anti-crime initiatives have only tiptoed around. Four times a year, the program's street team sifts through police records and its own intelligence to determine, with actuarial detachment, the 50 people in Richmond most likely to shoot someone and to be shot themselves. ONS tracks them and approaches the most lethal (and vulnerable) on the list, offering them a spot in a program that includes a stipend to turn their lives around. While ONS is city-funded and has the blessing of the chief of police, it resolutely does not share information with the cops. "It's the only agency where you're required to have a criminal background to be an employee," Boggan jokes.

So far, the results have been promising: As this story went to press, 65 of the 68 "fellows" enrolled in the program in the previous 47 months were still alive. One had survived a shooting and three had died. In 2007, when Boggan's program began, Richmond was America's ninth most dangerous city, with 47 killings among its 106,000 residents. In 2013, it saw its lowest number of homicides in 33 years, and its homicide rate fell to 15 per 100,000. Rates are dropping nationwide, but not so steeply. (In 2013, nearby Oakland's homicide rate was 23 per 100,000; Detroit's was 47 per 100,000.)

One City Tried Something Radical to Stop Gun Violence. This Report Suggests It's Working. (Tim Murphy, Jul. 27, 2015, Mother Jones)

On Monday, researchers from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a non-profit, published a process evaluation of ONS, studying its impact seven years in. The conclusion was positive: "While a number of factors including policy changes, policing efforts, an improving economic climate, and an overall decline in crime may have helped to facilitate this shift, many individuals interviewed for this evaluation cite the work of the ONS, which began in late 2007, as a strong contributing factor in a collaborative effort to decrease violence in Richmond."

As evidence, the study cites the life-changing effect on fellows. Ninety-four percent of fellows are still alive. And perhaps just as remarkable, 79 percent have not been arrested or charged with gun-related offenses during that time period.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Obamacare rates to rise 4% in California for 2016 (CHAD TERHUNE, 7/27/15, LA Times)

Defying dire predictions about health insurance rate shock across the country, California's Obamacare exchange negotiated a 4% average rate increase for the second year in a row.

The modest increase for 2016, announced Monday, may be welcome news for many of the 1.3 million Californians who buy individual policies through the state marketplace, known as Covered California.

California's rates are a key barometer of how the Affordable Care Act is working nationwide, and the state's performance is sure to be hotly debated among supporters and foes of the healthcare law, including the current crop of presidential candidates.

We need to transition to universal HSAs to get the rates headed in the opposite direction.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


This is Tesla's plan for a cheaper car (Kirsten Korosec, JULY 22, 2015, Fortune)

The newest direction Tesla is headed toward is silicon--not the Valley, but the material that is changing the way batteries are made. Tesla's new 90 kilowatt-hour battery pack--an upgrade announced Friday that increases pack energy by 5% and adds about 15 miles of range to its vehicles--might look the same. But the inclusion of silicon is an advance for lithium-ion technology.

During a call with reporters last week, CEO Elon Musk said the company had improved the battery by shifting the cell chemistry for the pack to partially use silicon in the anode.

"This is just sort of a baby step in the direction of using silicon in the anode," Musk said during the call. "We're still primarily using synthetic graphite, but over time we'll be increasing silicon in the anode."

For the unfamiliar, this might sound like minor tinkering. It's actually an important and challenging step for Tesla (and other battery manufacturers) that could lead to a better, cheaper battery.

"It's a race among the battery makers to get more and more silicon in," said Jeff Dahn, a leading lithium-ion battery researcher and professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who recently signed a 5-year exclusive partnership with Tesla. "The number of researchers around the world working on silicon for lithium-ion cells is mindboggling. A large number of academics and industrial folks are working really hard on this problem."

July 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


What the 'Times' Got Wrong About Nail Salons (Richard Bernstein, 7/25/15, NY Review of Books)

As a former New York Times journalist who also has been, for the last twelve years, a part owner of two day-spas in Manhattan, I read the exposé with particular interest. (A second part of the same investigation, which appeared in the Times a day later, concerned chemicals used in the salon industry that might be harmful to workers.) Our two modestly-sized establishments are operated by my wife, Zhongmei Li, and my sister-in-law, Zhongqin Li, both originally from China, and "mani-pedi" is a big part of the business. We were startled by the Times article's Dickensian portrait of an industry in which workers "spend their days holding hands with women of unimaginable affluence," and retire at night to "flophouses packed with bunk beds, or in fetid apartments shared by as many as a dozen strangers." Its conclusion was not just that some salons or even many salons steal wages from their workers but that virtually all of them do. "Step into the prim confines of almost any salon and workers paid astonishingly low wages can be readily found," the story asserts. This depiction of the business didn't correspond with what we have experienced over the past twelve years. But far more troubling, as we discovered when we began to look into the story's claims and check its sources, was the flimsy and sometimes wholly inaccurate information on which those sweeping conclusions were based.

Consider one of the article's primary pieces of evidence of "rampant exploitation": in a linchpin paragraph near the beginning of the article, the Times asserts that "Asian-language newspapers are rife with classified ads listing manicurist jobs paying so little the daily wage can at first glance appear to be a typo." The single example mentioned is an ad by a salon on Manhattan's Upper West Side, which, according to the Times, was published in Sing Tao Daily and World Journal, the two big Chinese-language papers in New York, and listed salaries of $10 a day. "The rate was confirmed by several workers," the story says. Judging from readers' comments on the Internet, this assertion was a kind of clincher, a crystallization of the story's alarming message.

And yet, it seems strange, or it should have seemed strange to the paper's editors, that the sole example the reporter provides of the sort of ad that the Asian-language papers are "rife with" is one that is not even quoted from and for which no date is provided. Indeed, it's not clear whether the reporter saw the ad at all--otherwise why the caveat "The rate was confirmed by several workers"? (Curiously, while Ms. Nir appears to have visited the salon in question, the story doesn't say whether the owner of the salon confirmed or denied placing such an ad--or whether that question was even asked.)

To test the Times's assertion, my wife and I read every ad placed by nail salons in the papers cited in the article, Sing Tao Daily and World Journal. Among the roughly 220 ads posted in each paper in the days after the Times story appeared, none mentioned salaries even remotely close to the ad the Times described. This led me to wonder if embarrassed salon owners might have changed their ads in the short time since the Times exposed them, so we looked at issues of World Journal going back to March this year. We read literally thousands of Chinese-language ads, and we found not a single one fitting the description of the ads that the Times asserts the papers to be full of.

In fact, only a small number of the nail salon ads indicate a salary at all--most simply describe the job on offer and provide a phone number for an applicant to call. Among the few ads that do indicate a salary, the lowest we saw was $70 a day, and some ranged up to $110. Here is one typical example, which appeared in the World Journal on April 23, several weeks before the Times article was published:

Seeking several large and small work experienced hands. 
Base pay $120 plus tips and commissions.
Small work $70, plus tips and commissions.
Seeking part-time small and large work on weekends.
15 minutes two-way transport Flushing to Elmhurst provided.

The "base pay" in this ad indicates what is known in the business as "large work" salaries--for workers licensed to perform jobs like massage or facial treatments. The "small work" salaries are for manicurists. In our experience, tips and commissions (a percentage of the price for add-on services like massage or special nail finishes) would add between $25 and $50 a day to these figures. A few ads we came across offer higher rates. For example, an ad placed in June by a salon on King's Highway in Brooklyn was labeled "URGENT," and offered jobs at starting salaries of $110 to $130 a day. To attract workers, many ads, like the April 23 one quoted above, promise to provide free transportation from the sort of pickup places where the Times reporter first encountered Ms. Ren, with the ad indicating how long the ride will be. Another ad posted in World Journal that day, for example, says, "Long Island spa needs small work high pay full and part time, 20 minutes pickup from Flushing."

But could it be that the ads indicating salary were not representative? Since most ads do not specify compensation, my wife called a few of the advertising salons at random, speaking Chinese, posing as a salon worker, and asking what the pay would be. The lowest salary she was cited was $70 a day, but the woman she spoke to, who allowed that that salary was "low," quickly added that tips and commissions were "very good" at her salon, which she said was in Upper Manhattan. This conformed to the practice at our own two salons, where we offer starting salaries of $70 a day, plus tips and commissions. My wife has learned that if she is unable to assure her employees that they will earn a total of at least $100 a day, nobody will work for her. On busy days the take home pay can be $150 or more. Of course, even $150 a day does not constitute great wealth. Nonetheless, the classified ads, clearly and unambiguously, reveal the opposite of what the Times claims they do. They show that there is a lively demand on the part of nail salon owners for qualified workers and that the salons need to pay them at least minimum-wage rates to start, plus, in many cases, provide free transportation to and from pickup places in the Flushing Chinatown, to induce them to take the posts on offer.

Needless to say, it is not like The New York Times to get things so demonstrably wrong, or, if it did make a mistake, to show no willingness to correct it. As a former reporter at the paper familiar with its usual close editorial scrutiny of its contents, I was genuinely mystified by this matter of the classified ads, and I wanted to see if there was some explanation for them. And so, two days after part one of the Times exposé appeared, I emailed several senior Times editors, including Mr. Baquet, as well as Margaret Sullivan, the Times's public editor, who represents readers' interests vis-a-vis the editors, pointing out what appeared to be the paper's misrepresentation of the ads. I received cordial replies from editors, but my questions about the ads were ignored, except by Ms. Sullivan who, in an email, told me she had asked Wendell Jamieson, the editor of the paper's Metro Section, about them. Mr. Jamieson told her he had "direct knowledge" of the ads and was satisfied that they had been accurately described. I replied to Ms. Sullivan that I didn't know what Mr. Jamieson meant by "direct knowledge." Ms. Sullivan wrote again, saying that she had had a chance to "clarify" what Mr. Jamieson meant by that term: "that he has reviewed the newspaper ads over the past few days, and he is confident that they were represented accurately in the story."
But these were the very "past few days" during which my wife and I, both of whom can read Chinese, were examining the ads, and the Times description of them was unarguably, incontrovertibly wrong. The Times has neither furnished any copy of the ten-dollar-a-day ad in question, nor identified when it appeared. But even if such an ad did actually appear at some point, the unanswered question would remain: why did the Times reporter, in seeking to portray the whole industry, fail to describe or even mention the numerous, very different kinds of nail salon ads that are easily visible in any of the main Asian-language papers every day? The Times, moreover, seemed curiously incurious about another obvious question: given that there are numerous ads listing salaries of $70 to $110 a day--and salons quoting similar figures when contacted by phone--why would any job seeker answer an ad offering one-seventh or one-eleventh of that amount?

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Uber is the perfect poster child for the Republican economic agenda (Timothy B. Lee, July 24, 2015, Vox)

It's natural for conservatives to side with a business fighting regulators, but the inclination to highlight this particular business has a lot to do with political demographics. Republican voters tend to be older and more rural than Democrats. Uber has a young and disproportionately urban customer base. If Republicans can turn Uber into a salient example of government regulation, it could broaden the GOP's demographic appeal without compromising on conservative principles.

Best of all for Republicans, Uber makes a great wedge issue. Some liberals dislike Uber on ideological grounds, but others -- especially in the media, politics, and technology centers of New York, Washington, and San Francisco -- are regular Uber customers.

On one side of this debate are old-school liberals with strong ties to the labor movement and urban political machines. For them, Uber is a conventional story about worker and consumer rights. Labor unions believe Uber is flouting the law by classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees. And they would love to unionize Uber's fast-growing workforce.

More broadly, conventional liberals are suspicious of claims that deregulation and innovation will benefit workers and consumers in the long run. They view Uber's "gig economy" as part of a broader trend toward declining worker power. They blame decades of deregulation -- under both Republicans and centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton -- for this trend, and believe stricter regulation of Uber could be part of a larger trend toward stricter regulation of labor markets more generally.

In his campaign against Uber this week, Bill de Blasio primarily focused on congestion concerns, but he also mentioned workers' rights as a major concern.

It would be sufficient from a Republican (capitalist) viewpoint that Uber drivers are cheaper to employ.  But what makes it the poster child is Uber's plan to shift to driverless cars as quickly as technology allows, reducing labor costs even further and boosting profits accordingly.

This simply is not a fight that Democrats can win.  If they want to stay in the conversation they need to jump to dealing with the results and propose ways to share those profits more equitably amongst a citizenry that won't have jobs, before the GOP does.   

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


They Can Take It If They Want It : review of THE GRASPING HAND by Ilya Somin   (EDWARD GLAESER, July 24, 2015, WSJ)

[T]he U.S. Supreme Court supported the New London taking by a 5-4 margin. And to the more than 80% of Americans who disagreed--including both Rush Limbaugh and Ralph Nader--the court appeared to be radically redefining property rights. According to Mr. Somin, this view is wrongheaded.

The court had already given city planners extremely broad powers to take non-blighted land via eminent domain--in 1954, not 2005. (The case was Berman v. Parker.) In 1984, the justices unanimously reaffirmed (in Hawaii Housing Authority v. Midkiff), their deference to local government, and confirmed that eminent domain could transfer land from one private owner to another private owner. Indeed, Mr. Somin concludes, Kelo "represented progress relative to the Court's previous ultradeferential public use jurisprudence."

Eminent domain cases all look back to the Fifth Amendment, which states: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." The Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment extended this right to takings by state governments. Mr. Somin provides new evidence supporting the view that 19th-century courts often held a narrow definition of "public use" that would have excluded economic development. Hence an originalist approach in Kelo could have led the Supreme Court to reject the New London taking. Yet a sudden judicial shift restricting eminent domain would have also been a radical break with recent precedent--and a power grab, moving authority from local governments to federal courts.

Mr. Somin doesn't think we can trust the political process to protect private property, concluding that the majority of new state laws "provide little or no protection for property owners against economic development takings." But I don't think we can the trust courts entirely, either. For almost a century, courts have smiled on the overregulation of land use, which is a far more insidious threat to private property than eminent domain. A world of judicial empowerment over eminent domain would mean that judges could allow the takings that they like and ban the rest.

If property owners like Susette Kelo are to be protected, we need both judicial and legislative action. The simplest reform--a blanket ban on eminent domain--is off the table: No U.S. government will ever abjure the power to take land, which is clearly accepted in the Bill of Rights. But there are many more modest limitations that could be instituted.

Legislatures could require heightened scrutiny of costs and benefits and higher compensation rules: Some owners might still lose from a taking, but a market-price-plus-50% rule for compensation would do much to alleviate their pain.

Except that, as Mr. Glaeser has just noted, the Constitutional standard is just compensation, not just and a half.

July 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


U.S. Teens Waiting Longer to Have Sex: CDC (Dennis Thompson, July 22, 2015, HealthDay News) 

Less than half of U.S. teenagers aged 15 to 19 are having sex, a rate dramatically lower than it was a quarter-century ago, a new federal government report shows.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Before Beane : The origin story of AVM Systems, the little-known company that jump-started sabermetrics and made Moneyball possible (BEN LINDBERGH,  JULY 24, 2015, gRANTLAND)

Somewhere in your favorite sports franchise's front office, a team of analysts is teasing the truth out of a mess of misleading statistics. Regardless of the sport or the data source -- Corsi, SportVU, or Statcast -- the analysts' goals are the same: to capture contributions that standard statistics omit or misrepresent, and to find the positive indicators buried beneath superficial failures. The shot on goal that goes wide? In a sense, it's a good sign, since it might mean more shots in the future, some of which will find the net. The line drive caught by a leaping outfielder playing out of position? A double would've been better, but even an almost-double tells us that the player who came close to extra bases has the skills to drive the baseball at a speed and trajectory that would typically lead to a hit. Not all outs are created equal.

Whether they know it or not -- and nowadays, most of them don't -- all of these quants are re-proving the principle at the core of a product developed two decades ago by a company called AVM Systems, a small outfit founded by Ken Mauriello and Jack Armbruster, two businessmen based in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Illinois. AVM's central insight sounds hackneyed now, but it was -- to borrow a latter-day business buzzword -- disruptive at the time: Process is important, because results are sometimes deceiving. [...]

You might remember AVM (Advanced Value Matrix) from its cameo in Moneyball­ as the purveyors of then-Oakland assistant GM Paul DePodesta's secret weapon, a system that helped the A's determine (among other things) that the difference in defense between center fielders Terrence Long and Johnny Damon wasn't large enough to justify the difference in salary. AVM did this, Michael Lewis wrote, by "collecting ten years of data from major league baseball games, of every ball that was put into play," and then comparing the outcome of each individual play to the average outcome of all plays with similar characteristics.

Consider the case of a home run robbery, in which an outfielder perfectly times a jump and pulls back a ball from beyond the wall. Traditional stats would credit the outfielder with a putout, the pitcher with a batter retired, and the batter with an out made, making no distinction between the near-dinger and a lazy fly ball, even though the two types of plays tell us dramatically different things about the abilities of the players involved. AVM would chalk up most of a homer to the hitter, crediting the fielder and docking the pitcher by similar amounts. Home run robberies are rare, but by following a similar process for every play, AVM could arrive at a more complete accounting of players' contributions on both sides of the ball.

As one would expect, the value of this exercise wasn't always an easy sell to prospective clients. This was several years before the publication of the Baseball Prospectus study that eventually led to BABIP becoming a common fantasy tool, and the idea that luck made a meaningful difference in a player's performance over the course of a 162-game season met with some resistance.

"They'd always say, 'Well, it comes out in a wash,'" Armbruster says. "The hard liner that's caught, but then a soft hit. We were showing them it usually does, but it doesn't always come out in a wash. There's always going to be that one player out of 20 who's going to be pretty far off from what the numbers are showing. And there's going to be one guy in the league who's just off the charts. You need mathematics to understand that. To understand that if you flip a coin 20 times, it could come up heads 16 times. It doesn't mean it's a very talented coin. It's the randomness of life."

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


8 reasons why living in a city is terrible for you (SAMANTHA LEE AND TANYA LEWIS, 7/25/15, Business Insider)

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


World Jewry ever more uneasy with Israel, major study finds (RAPHAEL AHREN, July 23, 2015, Times of Israel)

World Jewry is finding it increasingly difficult to support Israel due to its ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, leading many communities to shun discussing the Jewish state altogether, a new major study has found.

The trend is eroding the Diaspora's support for the Jewish state, warns the report by the Jewish People Policy Institute think tank, to be formally published next week. [...]

"Many Jews doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one," according to the study's author, Shmuel Rosner.

"A sense of crisis has emerged in many Jewish communities regarding their relationships with Israel, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to discuss Israel because of the bitter political disputes these discussions spark," writes Rosner, a journalist and senior fellow at the JPPI.

Herzog: Netanyahu suffering from 'Tisha B'Av syndrome' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, July 25, 2015)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog launched a blistering attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, accusing him of suffering from "Tisha B'Av syndrome," and saying that Israel needs someone to lead, not instill fear.

Referencing a report in Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Netanyahu had rebuked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon for placing too many contracted workers in direct employment, Zionist Union chair Herzog called the prime minister a manipulator of people's fears.

"This is the precise opposite of what leadership should do," he wrote on Facebook. "Its role is to safeguard the country's diplomatic, social and security strength; a nation cannot function this way nor can a government. There has never been an Israeli leader who has invested so much effort in intimidation and threats, no one who has made his primary political tool the 'Tisha B'Av syndrome', the same old threat of destruction and extinction, as Netanyahu has."

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


What's Driving the Downturn in Number of Abortions (Charmaine Yoest, July 25, 2015, Daily Signal)

Assuming the drop in the abortion rate holds once we finally get updated statistics, we now have fewer abortions than at any time since legalization in 1973. [...]

First, and perhaps most significant, is the two-pronged advance of science related to the unborn child. Improvements in sonogram technology have made the life of the fetus difficult to deny. Coupled with the compelling images is the advancement of fetal surgery, driving the line of viability ever lower. Together these two elements are unassailably pow­erful in shaping how Americans think about the lives of unborn babies.

Second, there has been a dramatic increase in state-based laws defending life and affecting the abortion industry. This too is a trend with a much longer runway than has been reported. Although significant attention has been focused on the dramatic uptick in state-based legislation since the 2010 mid­term elections, the increase in state regulation of abortion has earlier antecedents.

In the early 1980s, Americans United for Life hosted a summit from which emerged a new state-level strategy of creating immediate real-world abortion limits, but also creating legal tests of the reach of Roe.

While news reports have highlighted the post-2010 surge in pro-life laws--some 260 pro-life laws have been passed across the country since that elec­tion--the previous decade, 2000 to 2010, had already seen a more gradual increase, totaling at least 175 new pro-life laws.

A third factor in the decline of the abortion rate is a focus on the underpinnings of Big Abortion. Gov­ernment supports Planned Parenthood, the larg­est abortion provider in America, to the tune of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars each year. Government subsidies are propping up an industry increasingly exposed for its reprehensible practices. Legal abortion is the back alley of American medi­cine, with which fewer and fewer doctors are willing to be associated. And as more states pass commonsense regulations requiring abortionists to come under the same scrutiny as other businesses, fewer abortion clinics are willing to comply, revealing the substandard conditions to which women have been subjected over the past 40 years.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


An historic choice awaits Iran's leaders (Editorial, July 14, 2015, The National)

Iran's population, the majority of them young, yearn, like all of us, for the opportunity to build their own lives and careers, to study, travel and work freely.

A country as great as Iran, a country with so much history, ambition and potential, should never have been so restricted. Sanctions have taken a brutal toll on ordinary Iranians. On this side of the Arabian Gulf, we have never wished that pain on the Iranian people - but we have also wished for responsible behaviour from the Iranian government. Stopping Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons would indeed be, as Saudi Arabia said yesterday, "a happy day".

This, then, is an historic moment for Iran and for Iran's leaders. They face a crucial choice and an important test. On Twitter, Iran's president Hassan Rouhani wrote: "With this unnecessary crisis resolved, new horizons emerge with a focus on shared challenges." If Mr Rouhani and his government genuinely mean that sentiment, and demonstrate it in the coming months, a new era in Arab-Iranian relations will have opened.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Al Qaeda Chief of Suicide and Explosive Ops Killed in American Airstrike (Emma-Jo Morris, July 24, 2015, Free Beacon)

Senior al Qaeda member Abu Khalil al-Sudani was killed in an American air strike in Afghanistan on July 11, the Pentagon said Friday in a statement.

Finally, a bureaucrat with an apt title.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Comparing Robo-Advisers for Retirees (ELEANOR LAISE, 7/25/15, Kiplinger's Retirement Report)

Traditional financial-services firms such as Charles Schwab and Vanguard Group, as well as newer players such as Wealthfront and Betterment, are competing to attract small investors wary of paying the 1% or more of assets that a typical human adviser charges. After assessing an investor's risk tolerance and goals through an online questionnaire, robo-advisers typically build each client a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds, often for a fee of 0.25% or less.

It was all just good economics when the machines came for the blue collar jobs....

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