December 5, 2013
Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM
A VITAL TOOL FOR OUR REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT:
House, Senate Negotiators Near Deal on Trade Powers (DAMIAN PALETTA And WILLIAM MAULDIN, Dec. 5, 2013, WSJ)
House and Senate negotiators are close to a deal on legislation that could streamline the Obama administration's efforts to finalize trade agreements with other countries, people familiar with the process said.A final deal had not been reached as of late Thursday, but senior lawmakers from the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee were close to a package, according to people with knowledge of the talks. A bipartisan deal on the measure could help the Obama administration finish negotiating and pass a trade agreement with 11 Asia-Pacific countries next year.Lawmakers are looking to renew "trade promotion authority," or TPA, a form of legislation that helps the U.S. negotiate and approve trade agreements. The timing is important because U.S. officials are seeking to clinch the Asia-Pacific trade deal as soon as this month, with meetings scheduled over the weekend in Singapore. The most recent version of TPA, frequently known as "fast track," expired in 2007, just after the Bush administration finished negotiating a free-trade agreement with South Korea. [...]Many Democrats have been opposed to renewing TPA, saying that it would cede too much power to the White House and limit lawmakers' ability to weigh in on agreements that could affect businesses and workers in their states. Meanwhile, some conservative Republicans are also skeptical of granting the Obama administration additional powers used in complicated agreements overseas.
Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM
DOWNHILL SINCE 1789 IS MORE THAN A TREND:
Can France Halt Its Decline? (Milton Ezrati | December 5, 2013, National Interest)
Talk of reform has put French economic policy back into the headlines and brought much skepticism, too. Enthusiasm would be well warranted were Paris truly to lift its outsized business tax burdens, stultifying labor regulations, and constraining product rules. That kind of reform would head off the grim economic and financial future otherwise facing France, including a loss of influence within the European Union (EU) and the prospect of finding itself numbered among Europe's beleaguered periphery. Sadly though, recent talk of reform sounds neither sincere enough nor sufficiently broad-based to address France's deep-seated problems.
Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM
Iran acting to allow closer monitoring of nuclear program (FREDRIK DAHL, Dec 5, 2013, Reuters)
U.N. inspectors are to visit an Iranian plant on Sunday linked to a planned heavy-water reactor that could yield nuclear bomb fuel, taking up an initial gesture by Iran to open its disputed nuclear program up to greater scrutiny.The increased transparency is one of the various spin-offs from a dramatic diplomatic rapprochement over the past month highlighted by a deal Iran struck with six world powers to curb its nuclear program in return for some easing of sanctions.It will be the first time in more than two years that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is allowed to go to the Arak heavy-water production plant, which is designed to supply a research reactor under construction nearby.
Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM
WE CALL IT THE PERSIAN GULF, SO IT IS:
Iran's president in storm over #PersianGulf tweet (BBC Trending, 12/04/13)
The Gulf. The Persian Gulf. The Arabian Gulf. What's in a name? A lot, if social media is anything to go by. These are all terms used to describe the body of water between Iran and the Arabian peninsula. When a tweet went out on Saturday from an account believed to be that of the Iranian president saying he had arrived in the "#PersianGulf port of #Asaluyeh" it did not go unnoticed in the Arab world. "Arabian Gulf Mr President!" chided one. "It is still called ARABIAN GULF, Sir," tweeted another. Iranians were quick to respond, citing a UN panel of experts - which in 2006 concluded that the term "Persian Gulf" should be used, based on its long history in maps and written records.
Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM
THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS SPECIES:
Oldest Known Early Human DNA Recovered (Ross Pomeroy, December 4, 2013, Real Clear Science)
The most famous site at Atapuerca, Sima de los Huesos -- "The Pit of Bones" -- is precisely that. Located at the bottom of a 43-foot chimney in the winding cave system of Cueva Mayor, it contains approximately 5,500 ancient human bones dated at over 350,000 years old! Now, drawing upon this piled wealth of history, Matthias Meyer, a lead researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and a team of colleagues have recovered and analyzed the earliest known human DNA. [...]After sequencing 98% of the mitochondrial DNA genome, Meyer and his colleagues estimated the specimen's age using the length of the DNA branch as a proxy. The femur clocked in at around 400,000 years old, placing its former owner in the Middle Pleistocene and making the DNA by far and away oldest human DNA ever collected. The previous record belonged to 100,000-year-old Neanderthal DNA.The team then attempted to determine the specimen's position in the ancient human family tree and were surprised to find that the owner did not share a common ancestor with Neanderthals, but instead with Denisovans, a mysterious subspecies of human discovered in 2008 that last shared an ancestor with Neanderthals and Homo sapiens about one million years ago. Indeed, the more scientists discover about our prehistoric ancestors, the further they seem to fall down Alice's Rabbit Hole. Things just get curiouser and curiouser.Meyer presented three possibilities that could account for the team's unexpected findings.*"First, the Sima de los Huesos hominins may be closely related to the ancestors of Denisovans.""Second, it is possible that the Sima de los Huesos hominins represent a group distinct from both Neanderthals and Denisovans that later perhaps contributed the mtDNA to Denisovans.""Third, the Sima de los Huesos hominins may be related to the population ancestral to both Neanderthals and Denisovans."
December 4, 2013
Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM
BAGEHOT OF HOBBITON:
An Economists' Oscar Wilde : a review of THE MEMOIRS OF WALTER BAGEHOT By Frank Prochaska (Martin Walker, Wilson Quarterly)
It is indeed remarkable to consider the many modern tropes Bagehot addressed in the years of Queen Victoria's reign. In weighing the controversies over the single European currency, there are few better places to start than the preface of his 1869 book A Universal Money, in which he suggested that a good idea in theory may in practice bring unexpected calamities. In the current debate over the widening gap between rich and poor, it's worth remembering Bagehot's observation that "in truth, poverty is an anomaly to rich people. It is very difficult to make out why people who want dinner do not ring the bell. One half of the world, according to the saying, do not know how the other half lives. Accordingly, nothing is so rare in fiction as a good delineation of the poor. Though perpetually with us in reality, we rarely meet them in our reading." (A curious comment, this, from one who greatly admired George Eliot and visited her regularly in St. John's Wood, where they would discuss the money markets and the pain she felt in composing her novels.)In today's discussions about the balance between personal freedom and national security, Bagehot again sets the tone: "So long as war is the main business of nations, temporary despotism--despotism during the campaign--is indispensable." Bagehot even has something useful to say regarding the recent arguments between atheists and believers: "The whole history of civilization is strewn with creeds and institutions which were invaluable at first, and deadly afterwards."Bagehot's epigrams rival even those of Oscar Wilde. One of my favorites, and a word to the wise for those of us who earn our livings from our pens, is his dry observation that "the reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything." Wilde himself would have been proud to concoct Bagehot's observation that "it is good to be without vices, but it is not good to be without temptations." And when it comes to relations between the sexes, I cannot decide which of Bagehot's gems I prefer. "Men who do not make advances to women are apt to become victims to women who make advances to them" is a classic. But how can one resist "A man's mother is his misfortune, but his wife is his fault"? [...]The tragedy is that Bagehot, in the vast range of his writings, left no autobiography. But that lacuna has been splendidly filled by an American scholar of Britain, Frank Prochaska, who has taught at Yale and at Oxford, where he was a visiting fellow at All Souls College. He has written on the British monarchy, and on women and philanthropy and Christianity in Victorian England, and has immersed himself so deeply in the life and times of Bagehot that the man's voice appears to be speaking to us eerily from the grave.
Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM
HOW COULD THE PARTY OF SECURITY HELP BUT BE FEMALE?:
Dems now party of women (Juan Williams - 12/02/13, The Hill)
As the 2014 midterm election season begins, the Democratic Party is in full bloom as the political home of the modern American woman.
Unless she's married--then she doesn't need the state for a husband,
Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM
THE POOR CONFLICTED RIGHT:
Why the military is becoming a lean, green fighting machine (Eugene K. Chow, December 2, 2013, The Week)
Between 2003 and 2007, over 3,000 American soldiers were killed during fuel supply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan. Put another way: One in 24 fuel convoys resulted in an American death.The experience of those wars taught the military a brutal lesson: Its dependence on oil is deadly and - with the cost of delivering gas to remote regions of Afghanistan at $400 a gallon -- financially unsustainable.So in response, the Pentagon is going green.It's a practical reaction to battlefield conditions: Less fuel consumption means fighter jets can stay in the air longer, fewer fuel convoys in Afghanistan that can be attacked, and lower overall costs as budgets shrink and the price of oil continues to rise.Take the Marines, for instance.Once skeptical of renewable energy, Marines on the front lines of Afghanistan have become some of solar power's greatest proponents.Marines have widely deployed several solar panel systems, including a small, pack-carried panel that can charge radio batteries, a solar tarp that fits over a tent to power lighting systems, and a larger ground unit that can power four computers at a time.In addition, by using solar chargers to power equipment at night, the Marines don't have to run noisy generators, which reveal their position to the enemy. The solar panels are also light and highly compact. With the ability to recharge batteries on the go, Marines can forgo packing spares and carry more ammo and other critical supplies.At forward operating bases, these chargers have reduced generator fuel consumption from 20 gallons a day to 2.5 gallons a day, which in turn has reduced the number of fuel convoys, which are prime targets for insurgents and IEDs.
Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM
BETTER LUCKY THAN GOOD:
Why Does Economy Grow More Under Democratic Presidents? (DAVID WESSEL, 12/03/13, WSJ)
Professors Blinder and Watson identify three factors that stand out statistically in their attempt to explain why the economy does better with a Democratic presidents. Together they account for somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of the growth gap:- Oil price shocks explain between one-eighth and one-fourth of the Democrat-Republican difference in growth rates, and tend to occur when Republicans are in the White House. They don't blame President Richard Nixon for the first OPEC oil shock or President Jimmy Carter for the second, but suggest that George H.W. Bush's Gulf War and George W. Bush's Iraq war were policy decisions that affected oil prices.- Surges in productivity, or output per hour, account for about one-quarter of the gap. "As with oil shocks, we consider them as mainly reflecting luck," they say.- Swings in consumer confidence explain about a quarter of the Democrat-Republican gap between 1962 (when the University of Michigan's survey data begins) and 2013. This, they say, "comes tantalizingly close to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which consumers correctly expect the economy to do better, and make that happen by purchasing more consumer durables. But direct measures showing increasing optimism after Democrats are elected are hard to find."
December 3, 2013
Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM
THANK YOU, BROTHER LUTHER:CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX 2013 (Transparency International)(
Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM
EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY VS EQUALITY OF RESULT:
The French Connection : How the Revolution, and two thinkers, bequeathed us 'right' and 'left.' (Gertrude Himmelfarb, December 9, 2013, Weekly Standard)
Hard cases, it is said, make bad law. So, too, extreme situations make bad policy and worse philosophy. The French Revolution was just such a situation; compared with the French, the English and American revolutions are almost unworthy of the title of revolution. No one took the measure of the extremity of that revolution better than its contemporaries Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. And nobody drew the most far-reaching, antithetical, and enduring political and philosophical lessons from that revolution."The Great Debate" between Burke and Paine, Yuval Levin demonstrates, has persisted to this day in the form of the great divide between right and left. Levin is uniquely qualified to deal with both the political and philosophical aspects of that debate, then and now. As a writer, editor, and former policy staffer in the White House (where he dealt with such "wonkish" issues, he explains, as health care, entitlements, and the budget), he is himself a combatant in that debate. He is also a credentialed political philosopher, having earned his doctorate from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. It is a formidable task Levin has set himself: to appreciate not only the exigencies and complexities of that historic moment (sometimes obscured by the passionate rhetoric of the protagonists), but also the underlying philosophical assumptions that drove the debate and continue to inspire it today.Edmund Burke does not make that task easy. On the contrary, he almost defies it. He made no secret of his contempt for "metaphysicians." "I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions," he wrote in his defense of the American Revolution. "I hate the very sound of them." Twenty years later, the French revolutionaries provoked him even more: "Nothing can be conceived more hard than the heart of a thoroughbred metaphysician. It comes nearer to the cold malignity of a wicked spirit than to the frailty and passion of a man."Nor was it only philosophy in the formal "metaphysical" sense that he derided. On one occasion after another, he expressed his distrust of "principles" and "abstractions." "History is a preceptor of prudence, not of principles," he declared.Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.The issue is complicated by the charge leveled against Burke, in his time and since, that he was inconsistent, most notably in his support of the American Revolution and condemnation of the French Revolution. Burke anticipated such criticism when he described himself, in the concluding words of his Reflections on the Revolution in France, as "one who would preserve consistency by varying his means to secure the unity of his end." That did not satisfy Thomas Jefferson, who, upon reading the Reflections, remarked that "the Revolution in France does not astonish me so much as the revolution in Mr. Burke." Nor did it satisfy Thomas Paine, who opened the preface to Rights of Man by explaining that he had thought of Burke, the defender of the American Revolution, as "a friend to mankind," and, as their acquaintance had been founded on that ground, he would have found it "more agreeable . . . to continue in that opinion, than to change it."
200-Year-Old Dispute Erupts Today in Battle Between Left and Right, But Beware of Burke (IRA STOLL, December 2, 2013, NY Sun)
Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France" and his other writings also include some keepers: "What is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness..." And also: "The idea of forcing every thing to an artificial equality has something, at first view, very captivating in it."However, "Those who attempt to level never equalize" -- the very attempt is a "monstrous fiction, which by inspiring false ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life serves only to aggravate and embitter that real inequality."
Americans just wanted their God-given rights as Englishmen. The French wanted the state to force equality. It doesn't seem that difficult to differentiate.
Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM
Cost of Health Care Law Is Seen as Decreasing (ANNIE LOWREY, 12/03/13, NY Times)
Administration officials have pointed to falling hospital readmission rates as one strong sign that cost-control provisions in the Affordable Care Act are working. Also, they noted that a growing number of insurers and health care providers are agreeing to contracts that pay for the quality of care, rather than the quantity, another indication that the law's encouragement on that front is starting to pay dividends.But those are responsible for only a tiny portion of the slowing rise of health care costs; other changes, like rising deductibles and copays that discourage some people from seeking extra services, play a bigger role, analysts say. Still, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group, estimates that the weak economy accounts for as much as three-quarters of the slowdown in the growth of spending on health care.But even if only about a quarter of the savings is because of noneconomic factors, said Larry Levitt, a top official at the Kaiser Family Foundation, "that's real change in the health system."
Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM
WHEN DOES ENGLAND EVER NOT CAST FRANCE IN AN UNFLATTERING LIGHT?:
UK revival leaves envious eurozone in shade (FT Reporters, 12/02/13, Financial Times)
The UK economic revival has taken almost everyone by surprise, confounding domestic and international forecasting groups. Having failed to predict the turn, most explain the sudden resurgence as a rebounding of confidence linked to the removal of previous impediments to growth, such as weak banks and fears of a eurozone crisis.Some economists believe the UK will be the world's fastest growing developed economy over the next five years. This is a tempting prospect for foreign corporates and investors, but they are weighing up potential opportunities against the political uncertainty of an EU referendum, as the coalition government staggers from one populist measure to another.In France, traditionally the third biggest source of foreign direct investment for the UK, Britain is regarded as a success story that casts an unflattering light on French malaise.
So austerity worked.
December 2, 2013
Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM
Prize-nominated German scientists turn to alchemy to develop warm LED light (Deutsche-Welle, 12/02/13)
[A] German invention employing a luminescent material that imparts a warm tone to the light may now make LEDs more of a household item.Peter Schmidt, who co-developed the invention in the labs of electronics company Philips, says the material is applied as a thin layer directly over the LED semiconductor."A portion of the blue light passes through this layer," says Schmidt, "but another portion is transformed into green and red light, with the help of this luminescent material."The tone of light from the new LEDs appears to the human eye to be nearly the same as that from a conventional bulb, a halogen lamp or even a candle. But in contrast to these light sources, a LED is far more energy-efficient.
December 1, 2013
Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM
AN ANGLOSPHERIC STATE, NOT A EUROPEAN ONE:
Gulf widens between UK and EU nations: poll (The Local, 01 Dec 2013)
The survey showed that just 26 percent of Britons think the EU is a "good thing" overall compared with 62 percent of Poles, 55 percent of Germans and 36 percent of French.But on the question of whether Britain is a "positive force" in the EU, only 9 percent of Germans, 15 percent of French and 33 percent of Poles agree.
Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM
FOLKS WOULD EVEN RATHER BE LAMARCKIAN THAN DARWINIAN:
'Memories' pass between generations (James Gallagher, 12/01/13, BBC News)
Behaviour can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory, animal studies suggest.Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behaviour of subsequent generations.A Nature Neuroscience study shows mice trained to avoid a smell passed their aversion on to their "grandchildren".
Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM
Israel's plan to forcibly resettle Negev Bedouins prompts global protests (Harriet Sherwood, 12/01/13, The Guardian)
Under the Prawer Plan, which is expected to pass into Israeli law by the end of the year, 35 "unrecognised" Bedouin villages will be demolished and between 40,000 and 70,000 people removed to government-designated towns. Israel says the proposal will bring benefits such as permanent housing and public services, but the majority of Bedouin says they do not want to give up their ancestral lands and way of life."We have been living here since before the creation of the state of Israel," Maqbul Saraya, 70, told Al Jazeera.
Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM
THE ALLIANCE IS ALREADY BEARING FRUIT:
OPEC Rift Emerging Over Iraq Output, Possible Return of Iran (BENOÎT FAUCON, SUMMER SAID and SARAH KENT, 11/29/13, WSJ)
Tensions are emerging within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries over which member countries should trim oil production to make room for a resurgence in Iraqi exports and the possible return of more Iranian crude to world markets if sanctions are eased.
Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM
WHY NOT BE THE MOST ADVANTAGEOUS?:Which Corporate Taxation for America? (Laura Tyson, Eric Drabkin, Ken Serwin, 11/30/13, Project Syndicate)
The current US system is based on a worldwide principle: the foreign earnings of US companies are subject to US corporate tax, with the amount owed offset by a tax credit for taxes paid in foreign jurisdictions. Most other developed countries, by contrast, have adopted "territorial" systems that largely exempt their MNCs' foreign earnings from home-country taxation.MNCs headquartered in countries that employ a worldwide tax system are at a disadvantage when they compete in third-country markets with MNCs headquartered in territorial systems. Whereas US MNCs must pay the high US corporate tax rate on profits earned by their affiliates in low-tax foreign locations, MNCs headquartered in territorial systems pay only the local tax rate on such profits.For example, when a US firm and a firm headquartered in a territorial system compete in a country where the local tax rate is 17%, the foreign firm owes 17% of its profits in taxes to the local country, while the US firm owes 35% of its profits in taxes - 17% to the local country plus 18% to the US. That difference translates into a sizeable cost advantage that allows the foreign firm to charge lower prices and capture market share from its US counterpart.Current US law attempts to offset this competitive disadvantage through deferral: US MNCs are allowed to defer - potentially indefinitely - payment of US corporate tax on their foreign earnings until the earnings are repatriated to their US parent firms. Not surprisingly, most US MNCs take advantage of the deferral option for at least some of their foreign earnings.As a means of bringing back this estimated $1.7 trillion in foreign earnings, the Senate Finance Committee's draft proposals suggest the elimination of deferral. However, faced with the threat to their competitiveness that this would pose, many US MNCs would shift their headquarters to countries with lower corporate tax rates and territorial systems.
Tax consumption, not earnings.
November 30, 2013
Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM
FIRST HE HAS TO RE-ELECTED:
Scott Walker, Wisconsin's action governor (George F. Will, November 29, 2013, Washington Post)
Act 10 required government workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pensions (hitherto, most paid nothing) and to pay 12.6 percent of their health-care premiums (up from 6 percent but still just half of what the average federal worker pays). Both percentages are well below the private-sector average. By limiting collective bargaining to base wages, Act 10 freed school districts to hire and fire teachers based on merit, and to save many millions of dollars by buying teachers' health insurance in the competitive market rather than from an entity run by the teachers' union. Restricting collective bargaining to wages ended the sort of absurd rules for overtime compensation that made a bus driver Madison's highest paid public employee.Act 10's dynamite, however, was the provision ending the state's compulsory collection of union dues -- sometimes as high as $1,400 per year -- that fund union contributions to Democrats. Barack Obama and his national labor allies made Wisconsin a battleground because they knew that when Indiana made paying union dues optional, 90 percent of state employees quit paying, and similar measures produced similar results in Washington, Colorado and Utah.Walker has long experience in the furnace of resistance to the looting of public funds by the public's employees. He was elected chief executive of heavily Democratic Milwaukee County after his predecessor collaborated with other officials in rewriting pension rules in a way that, if he had been reelected instead of resigning, would have given him a lump-sum payment of $2.3 million and $136,000 a year for life.To fight the recall -- during which opponents disrupted Walker's appearance at a Special Olympics event and squeezed Super Glue into the locks of a school he was to visit -- Walker raised more than $30 million, assembling a nationwide network of conservative donors that could come in handy if he is reelected next year. Having become the first U.S. governor to survive a recall election, he is today serene as America's first governor to be, in effect, elected twice to a first term. When he seeks a second term, his opponent will probably be a wealthy rival who says her only promise is to not make promises.
Marquette Poll: Scott Walker faces close reelection race in 2014 (JACK CRAVER, 10/29/13, The Capital Times)
As Prof. Charles Franklin, the poll's director, pointed out on Twitter, Walker's approval number has hardly budged in the 20 months since Marquette began its public opinion survey at the height of the recall election campaign in 2012. The most recent poll shows 49 percent of registered voters approve of the job he's doing and 47 percent disapprove, evidence that few in the Badger State haven't formed an opinion about the governor, whose aggressive conservatism has elevated the profile of state politics since his election in 2010.
The good news for Democrats is that their likely nominee, Madison school board member Mary Burke, is running neck-and-neck with Walker, even though she is still largely unknown.
Another relatively unknown candidate, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, also picks up 45 percent of the vote to Walker's 48 percent in a potential match-up, adding to the perception that Democratic-leaning voters are likely to vote for anybody over Walker. That has not been the case in past elections, including the three landslide reelection victories by former Gov. Tommy Thompson, in which he picked up a large share of Democratic voters.
Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM
ALL THAT'S LEFT IS A TRUISM:
Q&A: Richard Dawkins discusses evolution, religion and his fans : British author and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins talks about evolution, religion and his 'appetite for wonder.' (Eryn Brown, November 30, 2013, LA Times)
How do you define natural selection?That the bodies that survive are the ones that are good at surviving...
November 29, 2013
Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM
AMONG THE COOKS (profanity alert):
The first glimpse I had of what Mario Batali's friends had described to me as the "myth of Mario" was during a weekend in January last year, when I invited him to dinner with some friends. Batali, the chef and co-owner of Babbo, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan, is such a proficient cook that he is rarely invited to people's homes for a meal, and he went out of his way to be a grateful guest. He arrived with a jar of quince-flavored grappa, which he'd made himself (the fruit renders it almost drinkable); a bottle of nocino, which he'd also made (same principle, but with walnuts); three bottles of wine; and a white, dense slab of lardo--literally, the raw "lardy" back of a very fat pig, which he'd cured with herbs and salt. I was a reasonably comfortable cook, keen but a little chaotic, and I was delighted to have Batali in the kitchen, if only for his pedagogical interventions. He has been cooking for a cable-television audience for more than six years and has an uninhibited way of telling you that only a moron would wrap the meat in foil after cooking it. The evening, by then, had been effectively taken over. Not long into it, Batali had cut very thin slices of the lardo and, with a flourish of intimacy, laid them individually on our tongues, whispering that we needed to let the lardo melt to appreciate what the pig had eaten just before he died. The pig, evidently, had been five hundred and seventy-five pounds, almost three times the size of a normal pig, and, near the end, had lived exclusively on walnuts, apples, and cream. ("It's the best song sung in the key of pig," Batali said.) No one at dinner that evening had knowingly eaten pure fat before ("At the restaurant, I tell the waiters to call it prosciutto bianco, or else people won't touch it"), and by the time he had persuaded us to a third helping my heart was racing and we were all very thirsty.On trips to Italy made with his Babbo co-owner, Joe Bastianich, Batali has been known to share an entire case of wine during dinner, and, while we didn't drink anything like that, we were all infected by his live-very-hard-for-now approach and had more than was sensible. I don't know. I don't really remember. There was also the grappa and the nocino, and one of my last recollections is of Batali around three in the morning--back arched, eyes closed, an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, his red Converse high-tops pounding the floor--playing air guitar to Neil Young's "Southern Man." Batali had recently turned forty, and I remember thinking that it was a long time since I'd seen a grown man playing air guitar. He then found the soundtrack for "Buena Vista Social Club," tried to salsa with one of the guests (who promptly fell over a sofa), tried to dance with her boyfriend (who was unresponsive), and then put on a Tom Waits CD and sang along as he went into the kitchen, where, with a machinelike speed, he washed the dishes and mopped the floor. He reminded me that we had an arrangement for the next day--he'd got tickets to a New York Giants game, courtesy of the commissioner of the N.F.L., who had just eaten at Babbo--and disappeared with three of my friends. They ended up at Marylou's, in the Village--in Batali's description, "a wise-guy joint where you get anything at any time of night, none of it good."It was nearly daylight when he got home, the doorman of his apartment building told me the next day as the two of us tried to get Batali to wake up: the N.F.L. commissioner's driver was waiting outside. When Batali was roused, forty-five minutes later, he was momentarily perplexed, standing in his doorway in his underwear and wondering why I was there. Batali has a remarkable girth, and it was a little startling to see him so clad, but within minutes he had transformed himself into the famous television chef: shorts, high-tops, sunglasses, his red hair pulled back into a ponytail. He had become Molto Mario--the many-layered name of his cooking program, which, in one of its senses, means, literally, Very Mario (that is, an intensified Mario, an exaggerated Mario, and an utterly over-the-top Mario)--and a figure whose renown I didn't fully appreciate until, as guests of the commissioner, we were allowed on the field before the game. Fans of the New York Giants are happy caricatures (the ethic is old-fashioned blue-collar, even if they're corporate managers), and I was surprised by how many of them recognized the ponytailed chef, who stood on the field facing them, arms crossed over his chest, and beaming. "Hey, Molto!" one of them shouted. "What's cooking, Mario?" "Mario, make me a pasta!" On the East Coast, "Molto Mario" is on twice a day (at eleven-thirty in the morning and five-thirty in the afternoon). I had a complex picture of the metropolitan working male--policeman, Con Ed worker, plumber--rushing home to catch lessons in how to braise his broccoli rabe and get just the right forked texture on his homemade orecchiette. (Batali later told me that when the viewing figures for his show first came in they were so overwhelmingly male that the producers thought they weren't going to be able to carry on.) I stood back, with one of the security people, taking in the spectacle (by now a crowd was chanting "Molto! Molto! Molto!")-- this proudly round man, whose whole manner said, "Dude, where's the party?""I love this guy," the security man said. "Just lookin' at him makes me hungry."Mario Batali arrived in New York in 1992, when he was thirty-one. He had two hundred dollars, a duffelbag, and a guitar. Since then, he has become the city's most widely recognized chef and, almost single-handedly, has changed the way people think about Italian cooking in America. The food he prepares at Babbo, which was given three stars by the Times when the restaurant opened, in 1998, is characterized by intensity--of ingredients, of flavor--and when people talk of it they use words like "heat" and "vibrancy," "exaggeration" and "surprise." Batali is not thought of as a conventional cook, in the business of serving food for profit; he's in the much murkier enterprise of stimulating outrageous appetites and satisfying them aggressively. (In Batali's language, appetites blur: a pasta made with butter "swells like the lips of a woman aroused," roasted lotus roots are like "sucking the toes of the Shah's mistress," and just about anything powerfully flavored--the first cherries of the season, the first ramps, a cheese from Piedmont--"gives me wood.") Chefs are regular visitors and are subjected to extreme versions of what is already an extreme experience. "We're going to kill him," Batali said to me with maniacal glee as he prepared a meal for Wylie Dufresne, the former chef of 71 Clinton, who had ordered a seven-course tasting menu, to which Batali then added a lethal-seeming number of impossible-to-resist extra courses. The starters (variations, again, in the key of pig) included a plate of lonza (the cured backstrap from one of Batali's cream-apple-and-walnut-fattened pigs); a plate of coppa (made from the same creamy pig's shoulder); a fried pig foot; a porcini mushroom, stuffed with garlic and thyme, and roasted with a piece of Batali's own pancetta (cured pig belly) wrapped around its stem; plus ("just for the hell of it") tagliatelle topped with guanciale (cured pig jowls), parsnips, and black truffle. A publisher who was fed by Batali while talking to him about booking a party came away vowing to eat only soft fruit and water until he'd recovered: "This guy knows no middle ground. It's just excess on a level I've never known before--it's food and drink, food and drink, food and drink, until you start to feel as though you're on drugs." This spring, Mario was trying out a new motto, borrowed from the writer Shirley O. Corriher: "Wretched excess is just barely enough.""You learn by working in the kitchen," Batali told me. "Not going to cookery school. That's how it's done."That's what I wanted to do--to work in the Babbo kitchen, as Mario's slave.
Mr. Buford's Among the Thugs is one of the classics, if not the avatar, of immersion journalism, with the book that grew out of this profile--Heat--a worthy successor. Here's all you really need to know to get a flavor for it : the soccer thugs in the former are more sympathetic than the cooks in the latter.
Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM
HISTORY ENDS EVERYWHERE:
A Giant Awakens: Inside Africa's Economic Boom (The Economist, 11/29/13)
Africa's boom can be seen in many indicators: the volume of cars (and accompanying traffic jams) on the streets of its major cities, the glittering shopping malls and the major infrastructure projects. Highways, rail lines, airports, dams, power plants, pipelines and factories are all being built, and megacities such as Lagos, Nairobi, Addis Ababa are seeing the emergence of industrial parks and special economic zones.It's the start of a period of new growth and fresh beginnings, and many Africans seem more confident now than they have at any other time since the end of the colonial era, in the early 1960s. Economists attribute this to three main factors: political stability, economic reforms and a push toward technological innovation that has gripped the entire continent.Many countries have become better governed, and Africa as a whole is more peaceful and democratic than it once was. When the Cold War ended, just three out of 53 African nations had halfway functional democracies. Today, that figure is 25 out of 54. Aside from chronic conflict zones -- such as those in Congo, Sudan and Somalia -- the number of civil wars and military coups has decreased, as has the excessive use of violence.At the same time, a revolution is taking place in the information and communications sector, as Africa connects itself to the world via modern data highways. Nowhere is the spread of the Internet as all-encompassing as it is between Cairo and Cape Town, and nowhere is mobile-phone use increasing as explosively. There are now 650 million African mobile-phone users -- more than in North America.In Kenya, young local IT experts are doing globally pioneering work in developing innovative mobile-phone applications. Development experts call this "leapfrogging": As Africa catches up on modernization, it is able to skip the industrial age completely and jump straight to the digital future. And free access to information in turn stimulates economic activity, strengthens civil society and brings about societal change, especially in major cities. In this way, the young people and women of Africa are emancipating themselves.Driving this progress is a new middle class, which the African Development Bank estimates encompasses over 310 million people -- roughly equivalent to the population of the US.Those who have made it into this African middle class don't fit the cliché of the helpless, destitute African. These are self-confident citizens who have jobs, buy apartments and invest in their children's education, just as members of the middle class do around the world."The lions are on the move" is the new motto of the African elite, with the phrase being a play on the term "Asian tiger." After decades of decline, African nations are hoping to benefit from the same demographic dividend that made it possible for countries such as South Korea and Taiwan to make a leap of progress. By 2050, at least 2 billion people will live in Africa, accounting for one quarter of the world's labor force.Skeptics, though, pose the question of whether Africa's current economic miracle might be nothing but a flash in the pan, fueled primarily by high raw-material prices and improving life for only a thin layer of the upper class. In resource-rich countries, such as Gabon and Angola, many people experience those resources not as a blessing, but a curse. While those in power grow rich unchecked, everyone else remains just as poor as ever.Millions of Africans continue to go to bed hungry. Millions suffer from disease and epidemics. Millions of children attend abysmal schools.Nevertheless, the economic growth is bearing its first fruits. In many places, living conditions have visibly improved. Child mortality, illiteracy rates and AIDS infection rates are declining, and life expectancy has increased by 10 percent.Even those with a pessimistic view of Africa are looking on in astonishment as the continent once considered an ailing giant gradually picks itself up off the ground. In fact, Africa's economic successes of the last decade have most likely had more of a positive impact on it than all the development aid it received over the last half-century.
Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM
AND THEN THE VOUCHERS ARE THERE TO BE UNIVERSALIZED:
Meet The Man Who Wants To Help Paul Ryan Solve Poverty (DANNY VINIK NOV. 26, 2013, Business Insider)
Scott Winship is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who specializes in income inequality and economic mobility. He, along with other conservative wonks, has been working with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on a new anti-poverty agenda that will likely be unveiled in the Spring. We spoke yesterday evening and a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows. [...]Winship : Another interesting approach would be to promote a voucherized human capital investment program. The idea would be that if you're disadvantaged you qualify for a voucher that you could use for whatever services you think would most benefit your kid. That will vary by family obviously. Maybe it's tutoring. Maybe it's summer school. Maybe it's an after school program. Maybe it's violin programs. Essentially, you give folks vouchers. You create a regulated market of organizations that can receive vouchers and people who could receive the vouchers. But then you rigorously evaluate both overall approaches and individual providers and those who are ineffective at some point no longer qualify for the vouchers. What would be potentially interesting about that is you could attack this cultural element of poverty as well where people particularly in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty have kind of ended up with bad norms that inhibit mobility.It would be voluntary so it would encourage personal responsibility as well. If parents decided not to use these vouchers then they wouldn't help their kid at all so you're sort of building in an incentive for them to think about their kid's future and investing in it.Finally, one of the benefits of it would be you would find that more programs than not fail to be effective. In some sense that would be bad because you would be throwing dollars at problems without improving things. On the other hand, it would also be a way to build concerns and recognition around the fact that a lot of what we currently do is ineffective and there's no reason to spend money on ineffective things when we could discover things that do work and use the money there.
Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM
IT'S A START:
Don't let politics kill a good pension deal (Chicago Sun-Times, November 29, 2013)
The state's top legislative leaders reached a deal Wednesday to cut pension costs for teachers, state and university workers and legislators. State lawmakers should ratify that agreement when they return to Springfield on Tuesday. The deal is the closest the state has come to passing a desperately needed pension reform package in years. Lawmakers owe it to taxpayers not to blow this. [...]The plan, slated to save $160 billion over 30 years, includes a reduction in cost-of-living raises for retirees but in a way that shields long-term, lower income state workers and keeps up with inflation; a phased-in higher retirement age; a clause to help prevent the state from skipping pension payments; a slight drop in employee contributions; and the funneling of some of the generated savings back into the retirement systems.
Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM
PICK A LITTLE?:
Memphis was bursting with music. It was a hot stew of musical urgency: blues and Southern gospel, rock & roll, the "hillbilly" music that came to be called "country," and the new strains of rockabilly. At the same time, at the other end of the spectrum, Tommy Dorsey was performing at the old Claridge Hotel the year I was born.Radio station WMPS played the Louvin Brothers, and WHBQ had DJ Dewey Phillips, whose show "Red Hot & Blue" was enormously popular with young people. After my dad's first single was a hit, he did an interview with Dewey from the Chisca Hotel, a popular gathering spot. After listening so faithfully to Dewey, this must have been a huge moment for Dad. WDIA employed the first black disc jockeys, including Rufus Thomas and a guitarist named Riley B. King, who played live on the air and soon came to be known as B.B. My parents listened to all three of these stations, and absorbed equal parts of the blues, Appalachian harmony, Southern gospel, and rock & roll. All those strains imprinted themselves in the most profound way, and my dad became who he was out of that brilliant amalgamation.My parents' best friends were Marshall and Etta Grant and Luther and Birdie Perkins. Marshall and Luther had been mechanics who worked at the same car dealership as my Uncle Roy, who was also a mechanic. Automobile Sales, a large DeSoto and Plymouth dealership, was at 309 Union Avenue, just down the street from Sun Records at 706 Union. When my father was discharged from the Air Force and returned to Memphis, my uncle Roy picked him up at the bus station and then took him over to Automobile Sales to introduce him. Marshall told me that when my dad walked into the mechanic's bay he looked up, saw a lanky, dark-haired young man standing in the doorway, and that the hair on the back of his head stood up and chills went down his back. He knew."Roy says you boys pick a little music," Dad said to Marshall and Luther. "Very little," Marshall answered. "Maybe I can pick with you sometime," Dad responded. And that was the beginning.Marshall and Luther and Dad gathered at Marshall and Etta's home at 4199 Nakomis Ave. to play primitive rhythms on three guitars and sing old country and gospel songs, and a little band was formed. It was decided that Marshall should play bass, so he taught himself how to pick out a boom-chicka-boom rhythm on a stand-up bass. Etta, Birdie, and my mom played cards in the kitchen while the men practiced and began to forge a style out of their limitations.My mom and Etta became like the closest of sisters. They were always together, and then when Dad, Luther, and Marshall went on the road, Mom and Etta were close companions and a two-woman support group. When Dad and the Tennessee Two started performing in the area around Memphis, Dad would leave my mom and me and later Kathy at the Nakomis house with Etta. We'd go to bed, and Dad would come to get us after the show, late at night or in the early morning hours, to take us home to Tutwiler, then to a new house on Sandy Cove, and then eventually to an even nicer house on Walnut Grove. Marshall said he always thought I was asleep when Dad lifted me onto his shoulder, but then he'd see my little hand pat Daddy's back as we walked to the car. I suppose I already knew that a touring musician had a hard life.Marshall and Etta moved to Hernando, Mississippi, in the 1970s, but they never gave up the house on Nakomis. It became a place of memories for them, filled with souvenirs from the decades Marshall and Dad were on the road together, closer than brothers, from the first rudimentary attempts at music, through the Sun Records years, through staggering success and inconceivable fame, my dad's drug addiction, my parents' divorce, Dad's recovery from addiction and chronic relapses, a devastating lawsuit between them, and eventually, sweet reconciliation in their later years. One of the few times my dad got really angry with me was when I came to Marshall's defense during that lawsuit. Dad forgave me quickly, however, in a letter he wrote me saying that he knew my instincts were those of compassion.
Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM
MATCHED ONLY BY ED McBAIN...:
Michael Connelly Brings Harry Bosch to TV : Amazon produces a show about the famous LAPD detective (ALEXANDRA ALTER, Nov. 28, 2013, WSJ)
Crime writer Michael Connelly was standing in a light, cold rain on a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles. A garbage truck rolled by, then a beat-up maroon Cadillac. It had been dark for hours and the street was empty, except for 135 members of a film crew who had set up a makeshift production camp in a dirt clearing by the side of the road.They were shooting the opening scene of "Bosch," a one-hour TV pilot based on Mr. Connelly's iconic L.A. homicide detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch. Played by Titus Welliver, Bosch was glowering in the Cadillac, staking out the home of a suspected serial killer.Mr. Connelly looked tired, having just weathered several marathon shoots that went until six in the morning. But he was content. He'd been waiting to watch this scene unfold for nearly 20 years.After an epic rights struggle with Paramount, which optioned two Harry Bosch books in 1994 but never adapted them, Mr. Connelly finally bought the character rights back in 2011, spending $3 million of his own money. He was wary of getting tied up in development with another film studio. So he struck a deal with a company he knew was good at marketing and selling Harry Bosch: Amazon."The idea of the place that sells most of my books wanting to do a television show based on my books" was appealing, Mr. Connelly said. "That kind of synchronicity was attractive," he said.
...Mr. Connelly's is the great American police procedural series--we're more of a private eye culture. And nothing makes the books more American than Harry Bosch's personal ethos, the belief that every death matters and, therefore, every murder should be solved and justice done.
Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM
NO ONE ENVISIONS A FUTURE IN CHINA:
I Want an American Baby! Chinese Women Flock to the U.S. to Give Birth (Hannah Beech Nov. 27, 2013, TIME)
Jiang Wenjun was getting ready to go to America. His wife, due to give birth to their son any day, was already there. Like any expectant parents, the Shanghai couple agonized over how best to prepare for the arrival -- and upbringing -- of their firstborn child. American citizenship, they decided, was one of the finest gifts they could bestow. "America is the strongest country in the world," says Jiang, whose son was born just days after he eventually arrived in California this month. "We want our child to have the best future."The U.S. is one of the few nations where simply being born on its soil confers citizenship on a newborn. That policy has spawned a birth-tourism industry, in which pregnant foreigners flock to American hospitals to secure U.S. passports for their babies. Although the foreign couple can't acquire U.S. nationality themselves, once their American-born offspring turn 21 they can theoretically sponsor their parents for future U.S. citizenship. Another perk: these American-born kids can take advantage of the U.S. education system, even paying lower in-state fees for public universities, depending on where they were delivered. (California is a popular birth-tourism destination because of its well-known university system.)More rich Chinese than ever are sending their families and money abroad. One study of Chinese millionaires found that half had either emigrated or were thinking of doing so. Boston Consulting Group estimates that Chinese have some $450 billion stockpiled overseas.
Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM
23 charts to be thankful for this Thanksgiving (Dylan Matthews, November 28, 2013, Washington Post)
Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM
FUNNY SORT OF STAGNATION:
25 Charts That Will Make You Thankful You Live In America (ROB WILE, NOV. 28, 2013, Business Insider)