October 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


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

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

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

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazelnuts? What were the hazelnuts for?

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

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


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

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

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

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

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

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


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

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

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

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

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


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

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

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

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

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


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

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

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

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

October 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


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

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

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


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

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

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

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

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Big Box Retail's Latest Bright Idea: Solar Power (Caroline Winter  October 20, 2014, Businessweek)

Big companies are finally beginning to see the light. Over the past two years, the top 25 corporate solar users in America have more than doubled their capacity, according to a new report by the Solar Energy Industries Association. Cumulatively, these companies produced enough electricity last year to power more than 115,000 homes. [...]

The expansion comes down to basic business logic, not just high-minded attempts to demonstrate noble ecological thinking. The average price of completing a commercial photovoltaic project has dropped more than 45 percent since 2012, according to the study, while average electricity rates have gone up more than 20 percent in the past 10 years.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


America, the Balanced (Jeffrey Frankel, OCT 20, 2014, Project Syndicate)

[T]he world's investors declared loud and clear in 2008 that they were not concerned about the sustainability of US deficits. When the global financial crisis erupted, they flooded into dollar assets, even though the crisis originated in the United States.

Moreover, a substantial amount of US adjustment has taken place since 1982 - for example, the dollar depreciations of 1985-1987 and 2002-2007 and the fiscal retrenchments of 1992-2000 and 2009-2014. The big increase in domestic output of shale oil and gas has also helped the trade balance recently.

As a result, the US current-account deficit in 2013 had narrowed by half in dollar terms from its 2006 peak, and from 5.8% of GDP to 2.4%. This is a decline of two-thirds when expressed as a share of global output.

A symmetric adjustment has also occurred in China, via real appreciation of its currency and higher prices for labor and land. China's current-account surplus peaked in 2008 at more than 10% of GDP and has since narrowed dramatically, to 1.9% last year. China's trade adjustment in some respects followed that of Japan, the original focus of American trade anxieties in the 1980s.

I propose a third, more speculative reason why it may be time to stop worrying about the US current-account deficit. It is possible that, properly measured, the true deficits were smaller than has been reported, and even that, in some years, they were not there at all.

The global economy can not withstand American balance.

October 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


Dueling Visions : a review of Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate,  edited by George W Carey.  (MORGAN N. KNULL, University Bookman)

Regarding man as an imperfect creature, the division between conservatives and libertarians occurs because the former see an imperative for the state to shepherd errant persons toward greater virtue, whereas the latter are leery about entrusting too much power to the state when its guardians always will be fallible men. Conservatives embrace a paternalistic structure whereas libertarians favor a minimalist one. Ironically, but insurmountably, fusionism can never be a lasting paradigm precisely because defining the state's proper aims and scope is intrinsic to politics, since issues of the day must be analyzed within some theoretic framework. Murray Rothbard puts it most explicitly: "Intellectually, the concept must be judged a failure."

Since the specifics of conservative and libertarian statecraft are more exhaustively articulated in other works, the richness of the present book is found in the colorful arguments and unexpected concessions which often emerge. "My instincts are libertarian, and I am sure that I would never have joined effort with the conservatives if I had not been convinced that they are the defenders of freedom today," Richard M. Weaver confesses. Advancing Hobbes as the creator of a liberal state that permits the "greatest range of human liberty consistent with peace," Walter Berns complains that he's a conservative because libertarians' view of nature is wrong: "I do not believe that without government there can be any order." Machan contends that "man is perfectible" and conservatives are anti‑rationalistic, but Meyer observes that it is the "pure" libertarians like Machan who cannot satisfactorily account for concepts like Providence and honor. And so it goes for 225 pages.

One recurrent criticism voiced most forcefully by Bozell and Wilhelmsen is that the logic of libertarianism implies a belief in the Ubermensch. What they find particularly objectionable is the view expressed by Meyer that virtuous actions are not ethically meaningful unless men perform them "free from the constraint of the physical coercion of an unlimited state." Drawing from Thomistic philosophy and employing withering rhetoric, Bozell denounces as a "burlesque of reason" the "inner logic of the dictum that virtue-not-freely-chosen is not virtue at all." The genius of his essay alone justifies the purchase of Freedom and Virtue. "In short, libertarianism's first command--maximize freedom--applies with equal vigor to all of society's activities; and the meaning of the command, in effect, is this: virtue must be made as difficult as possible," Bozell sarcastically concludes [italics original]. "While only a few men, if any, can be expected to meet the challenge successfully, the proliferation of unvirtuous acts in the objective order is one of the prices that must be paid for the fulfillment of heroic man."

Robert Nisbet offers a caveat of his own, observing, "I believe a state of mind is developing among libertarians in which the coercions of family, church, local community, and school will seem almost as inimical to freedom as those of the political government." Later in the volume, Nisbet's fear appears to be realized in Paul Kurtz's assertion that: "It is not evident that religious societies are any more moral than non-religious ones. Religious societies may be insensitive to other forms of injustice. They may seek to impose order, hierarchy, and the status quo on those who resist it." In a tightly reasoned reply, Edward B. McLean challenges the adequacy of Kurtz's secularized political assumptions. "All constructive notions of liberty are infused with the predicates of Christian faith and cannot be sustained without their explicit or implicit guidance," McLean notes.

The notion of the perfectability of men is the great evil against which conservatism is the bulwark.
Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Obama Could Reaffirm a Bush-Era Reading of a Treaty on Torture (CHARLIE SAVAGE, OCT. 18, 2014, NY Times)

When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" as not applying to C.I.A. and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.

Mr. Obama supported legislation to make it clear that American officials were legally barred from using cruelty anywhere in the world. And in a Senate speech, he said enacting such a statute "acknowledges and confirms existing obligations" under the treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama's legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration's position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


In Ferguson, activists in search of a revolution (Amanda Sakuma, 10/19/14, MSNBC)

It took seven University of Pennsylvania students piled into a rental van nearly 16 hours to drive to St. Louis. They had raised $600 in three days from a Go Fund Me account that was supposed to last them through the weekend. They slept wherever they could crash for free -- the basement of a St. Louis couple's home, or packed on the floor of a church at night.

But once in Ferguson, it was nothing like the war zone they had seen splashed on their television screens exactly two months earlier. 

Instead of armored vehicles blocking suburban intersections and stoking chaos in the streets, police squad cars were escorting peaceful marches that were careful organized and tailored during the day. Instead of training assault rifles on the faces of protesters, officers were standing idly by, at times even joking around with anyone within earshot.

"It was awesome to go and be there in solidarity -- we went to the events, we went to the protests -- but it still feels a little like it was not ours." [...]

Krasovitzky and her crew of classmates were there to join the "Weekend of Resistance" -- what they saw as their generation's own civil rights revolution over the death of Michael Brown, who was unarmed when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer. That officer, Darren Wilson, remains free while a St. Louis grand jury investigates whether he should be charged with a crime. 

National groups had stepped in to plan the four-day event, organizing rallies and marches to keep the movement alive. They set up a website offering a forum for local residents to offer couches or beds for visitors, and connected people from across the country who needed a ride to the Midwest. 

Hundreds of people poured into the city - far short of the thousands organizers had projected - representing a diverse coalition of trade unions, student associations, religious groups and concerned citizens. Still, the disconnect between the die-hard protesters who had camped out for nearly 60 days and the activists who were now joining months later was difficult to overcome.

That divide between the local activists and those joining events just for the weekend was on full display last Sunday night when audience members at an interfaith event heckled black leaders who came to St. Louis to urge for peaceful demonstrations in the face of police crackdowns.

"The brother with the suit and tie on isn't the guy who's protecting me," local rapper Tef Poe said to the crowd after he had been called onstage to speak. "It's the dude with tattoos on his face that look like Chief Keef."

That same division was on display during the protests last weekend. By the time the group of University of Pennsylvania students arrived in Clayton, where the first organized march was to take place, police officers had already blocked off the streets with barricades to neatly contain the protests. Volunteers wearing neon vests walked along the center of the street, acting as a human boundary between the oncoming traffic and the crowd of barely a few hundred participants who marched the predetermined eight-block route. Though pockets of protesters continued to brave the brutal rain while chanting at the phalanx of police guarding the county prosecutor's office, the demonstration wrapped up in less than two hours.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Paul Krugman's sloppy, wet kiss (Thomas Frank, 10/19/14, Salon)

As Salon readers know, Krugman has for years been willing to criticize the Obama administration. However, in a much-discussed essay the economist published in Rolling Stone last week, he reverses himself and declares that Obama has won him over; that the president is "one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history."

What makes Krugman's article peculiar is that he now derides as irresponsible "Obama-bashing" some of the very criticisms of the administration that he himself has made over the years. In 2010, for example, he strongly hinted that bankers had been engaged in "white-collar looting"; in Rolling Stone he laughs at people who complain that "Wall Street hasn't been punished." The Krugman of today also, amazingly, distances himself from certain misguided souls who are upset because "income inequality remains so high"; amazing because this is a subject on which Krugman has written for decades--indeed, just a few months ago he penned a scorcher against people who deny the mushrooming problem of inequality.

Sure, the UR's a pale imitation of W and Bill Clinton, but this is the most liberal presidency Mr. Krugman will get to see for the remainder of his life.  He may as well embrace it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Jeanne Shaheen attacks Scott Brown in new TV ad (Joshua Miller, AUGUST 27, 2014, Boston Globe)

In a shift in strategy, US Senator Jeanne Shaheen Wednesday launched her first attack television advertisement against Scott Brown, painting the Republican as a pawn of "big oil" and a candidate looking out for himself rather than New Hampshire.

It might make sense to run these ads when folks are angry at big oil, but as prices plummet they just seem odd.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


The Dead Hand of Socialism: State Ownership in the Arab World (Dalibor Rohac, August 25, 2014, Cato)

Extensive government ownership in the economy is a source of inefficiency and a barrier to economic development. Although precise measures of government ownership across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are hard to come by, the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen all operate sizeable segments of their economies--in some cases accounting for more than two-thirds of the GDP.

International experience suggests that private ownership tends to outperform public ownership. Yet MENA countries have made only modest progress toward reducing the share of government ownership in their economies and are seen as unlikely candidates for wholesale privatization in the near future.

MENA countries need to implement privatization in order to sustain their transitions toward more representative political systems and inclusive economic institutions. Three main lessons emerge from the experience of countries that have undergone large privatization programs in the past. First, the form of privatization matters for its economic outcomes and for popular acceptance of the reform. Transparent privatization, using open and competitive bidding, produces significantly better results than privatization by insiders, without public scrutiny. Second, private ownership and governance of the financial sector is crucial to the success of restructuring. Third, privatization needs to be a part of a broader reform package that would liberalize and open MENA economies to competition.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Eurozone stagnation is a greater threat than debt (Wolfgang Munchau, 10/19/14, Financial Times)

Financial markets have woken up to the possibility of a eurozone-wide economic depression with very low inflation over the next 10 to 20 years. This is what the fall in various measures of inflation expectations tells us. Investors are not worried about the solvency of a member state. That was clearly different two years ago.

But the present scenario is no less disturbing. The implications for those who live in such an economic snake pit are already visible: high unemployment; rising poverty; real and nominal wage stagnation; a debt burden that will not come down in real terms; a decline in public sector services, and in public investment. A shocking example is the decrepit state of German military hardware. Of the Luftwaffe's 254 fighter planes, 150 cannot fly.

The eurozone's stagnation will affect the rest of the world to different degrees. The UK might manage to escape the same fate, but the eurozone economy is big enough to pull Britain down with it. Hardest hit will be the parts of central and eastern Europe that do not use the euro. They are caught between an imploding Russia and a stagnating Europe. It is hard to see how the oil price can recover in an environment of permanently low growth. And it is even harder to see how Russia can live with a permanently depressed oil price.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Poland leads opposition to EU energy deal (Henry Foy in Warsaw, Christian Oliver in Brussels and Pilita Clark in London, 10/19/14, Financial Times)

The opponents to the deal, led by Poland and the Czech Republic, but also including Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, are ready to walk away from the summit if they are not offered improved terms.

"This may fail," Rafal Trzaskowski, Poland's European affairs minister, told the Financial Times. "We have our well-entrenched red lines . . . If they are not ready to take into consideration our apprehensions, then we will decide later this week or early next week not to deal with the issue at the summit."
Brussels wants to compensate eastern European nations for the potential costs by allocating them allowances from the EU's carbon market but officials in Warsaw argue that the current plan on the table cannot guarantee enough cash that the huge overhaul of its coal industry requires to meet the EU's targets. [...]

The central Europeans think that their best chance of a sweetened deal is to postpone a decision on the emission reduction targets into the next commission, rather than accept a rushed compromise this month. Brussels is proposing that, by 2030, countries should reduce their emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels.

Poland fears that this target would hit its economy disproportionately because 90 per cent of its electricity comes from coal and Warsaw argues that the EU deal will drive up consumer prices 120 per cent between 2021 and 2030. Likewise, an unusually high percentage of Czech industry is dependent on energy-intensive manufacturing.

"What we are trying to do is work with the assumption that we want a compromise," said Mr Trzaskowski, describing a "common position" between the five countries. "The most important thing is that we do not take additional burdens that will increase the cost of energy."

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


What a menu tells you about a restaurant: The language of food (CLINT WITCHALLS, 30 September 2014, Independent)

Writers are often given the advice: "Don't use a $5 word when a 50-cent word will do." But the advice should come with the disclaimer: "Unless you write menus for a living." As Dan Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University discovered, using long words to describe a dish is a sign of an expensive restaurant.

In his hugely entertaining book, The Language of Food, out today, Jurafsky explains that every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents (42p) in the price of that dish. In a study of 6,500 menus, Jurafsky found that the words "exotic" and "spices" also raise the price of a dish. But "linguistic fillers" like "mouth-watering", "sublime" and "crispy", tend to feature more often on cheap menus.

"At the expensive restaurant, you're supposed to assume that the crispy food will be crispy," Jurafsky said in a telephone interview. "The cheaper restaurants are a little worried that you might not know. It's a kind of status anxiety."

Eat at home and call it breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


Poll: Likely Voters Favor GOP-Led Congress (REID J. EPSTEIN, 10/18/14, WSJ)
Voters likely to cast ballots in the midterm elections favor a Republican-led Congress over a Democratic one, 49% to 44%, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey finds.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Hamas reconstructing damaged Gaza attack tunnel (ELHANAN MILLER, October 19, 2014, Times of Israel)

Hamas's armed wing is reconstructing an attack tunnel damaged by Israel during Operation Protective Edge, the movement's newspaper reported on Sunday, admitting that renovation work was carried out on the tunnel under the protection of a humanitarian ceasefire during the operation

It's more like polishing their victory trophy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Author Katha Pollitt Claims "Abortion is Part of Being a Mother" (THERESA BONOPARTIS, 10/19/14, Aleteia)

Ms. Pollitt tells us," We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women." But it is not "normal," regardless of its frequency, and no amount of writing or talking will ever make it so. That is why abortion continues to be such a controversial issue. She tries to justify her position by stating abortions occur worldwide and throughout history. So have rape and murder, but simply because an action is widespread does not make it normal or acceptable. [...]

Her rationalizations are extremist: she tells us abortion is "part of being a mother and of caring for children, because caring for children is knowing when it's not a good idea to bring them into the world." If a woman is pregnant, she is already a mother and her child is already in the world. Does she even hear what she's saying? Part of being a mother is to NOT be a mother by doing the most unmaternal act of having one's child eliminated? Caring for children consists in killing them? And if it's not a good idea for them to be in the world and this decision is solely the mothers', why stop at birth?

...and ask why a caring mother would not then kill her children whenever she feels its a bad idea for them to be in the world?  It's not an argument about caring for others, but about aggrandizing power to the self. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Marriage Is Not a Water Fountain (ANTHONY ESOLEN, 10/18/14, Crisis)

Consider the segregationist in Alabama, who wanted to keep one water fountain (the nice one in the middle of the hall) for whites, and another (the rusty one out back) for colored people. What can we say about that?

What the southern slaveholders themselves said about it, for one: it is a peculiar institution. It is not part of the universal human experience, this uncharitable preoccupation with race. Ancient Rome knew nothing of it. Does anyone know the color of Saint Augustine's skin? He was born in Africa to a father with a Roman name and a mother with a Punic name. Was his blood Caucasian, Semitic, Berber, Ethiopian, or some combination thereof? No one knows, because no one thought it worth mentioning. After the first century, none of the emperors are specifically Roman, and very few are even Italian. No one cared. [...]

Third: the separation violated the natural law. The water fountain is designed to meet the natural bodily needs of a human being. Everyone needs to drink. Thirst is far more distressing than hunger. Every traveler or stranger needs a place to sleep. Every sick person needs a bed and a doctor. The black man needs water, or food, or a bed, or medicine no more and no less than does the white man, and for the same reasons. The right to these things, without any encumbrance based upon the fantasy of race, flows from our common human nature. I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink. [...]

Now, none of these conditions characterizes our efforts to restore and protect the institution of marriage. If anything, they characterize some of our opponents in the debate. Let us see why. [...]

First, the idea that marriage requires a man and a woman is not peculiar to us. It is universal in human culture. Its universality is based upon the obvious functions of the reproductive organs, and the obvious need to propagate the species. We may add, too, that in a multitude of manifestations, wide in variety but recognizably of the same kind, what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are also universal in human culture. That too is observed and accepted as natural and good, most nobly embodied in the complementarity of marriage, man and woman.

What is peculiar? The idea that there are no such things as manhood and womanhood; that the sexes are empty of significance, except in the sole case of what must then be considered a mere irrational and inexplicable desire: that this particular male must have another male, and this particular female must have another female. We can pretend that a man can possibly marry another man, because we have shut our eyes to what marriage is, and what men and women are.

That means that we have to shore up a lie. Suppose I say, "A marriage by our bodily nature requires a man and a woman. If we think about it for a moment, it also requires a vow of permanence and exclusivity, because marriage involves the time-transcending act that brings a new generation into being." What about that is not true? When a man and a woman unite in the congress of the sexes, that is exactly what they are doing, even if they try to thwart its natural result. Nothing in human reality is comparable to that act.

So clear it is that sodomy and sexual congress are different kinds of things, biologically and ontologically, that it takes tremendous pressure to pretend otherwise. We must engage in bad science (social "research" on the children of gay parents, with self-selected participants and no check on their veracity). We must engage in linguistic subterfuge (saying that it shouldn't matter whom you "love," finessing the meaning of "love" and diverting attention away from the issue, which is the nature of marriage and its current health). We must indoctrinate children, vilify ordinary people ("breeders"), put hesitant parents under suspicion, and concentrate the massive might of the State against normal and unremarkable cultural expression (trying to compel Irishmen in Boston to celebrate sodomy on Saint Patrick's Day).

And what is this for? It is not for a universal need. Human beings do need friendships, but we do not register friendships with the State. Human beings do need a mother and a father; but the movement for homosexual pseudogamy, like the sexual revolution generally, cruelly denies that need. The person at the water fountain needs a drink. But no one needs sodomy, in part because no one, as an individual, needs any sexual activity at all. If you keep your clothes on, you are not going to shrivel up and die. You may want the activity. You may want it very much. But it is not a necessity. In fact, most of our noblest thinkers have cautioned against putting too much stock in the nether regions, arguing that what we really need in that regard is self-control, lest our lives become dissipated and debauched.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


A Jewel in the Buckle of the Bible Belt: Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery (Dwight Longenecker, 10/19/14, Imaginative Conservative)

Because Baroque art was unpopular in the 1950s, "Dr Bob" got started with twenty-five paintings including works by Botticelli, Botticini, Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Ribera. By 1954 his collection had grown to 40 paintings, then within ten years the owned 211 old masters, and by 1991 the Bob Jones Gallery had over four hundred works on permanent display including works by Rubens, Dore, Rembrandt, Murillo and van Honthorst. They added seven large Benjamin West paintings and also began acquiring valuable antiques, vestments and a glittering collection of Russian icons.

On entering the Bob Jones gallery one is entranced by the austere beauty of altarpieces from the early Sienese school, then as one progresses through the galleries the history of European sacred art opens up through the late medieval Flemish and Italian masters through the Renaissance and Baroque to the nineteenth century. The paintings in the Bob Jones collection are arranged chronologically and by geographical regions in galleries that are lavishly decorated and professionally lit. The artwork is displayed with salvaged architectural features, complementary wall hangings, tapestries, sculpture, church fittings and period furniture.

The visitor to Bob Jones University campus who knows only of the school's unfortunate reputation will be bemused and bewildered. "How is it that a school once known for being racist, rabidly fundamentalist and virulently anti-Catholic could have acquired such an outstanding collection of Catholic art?" The questions continue: "What do the fundamentalist students make of the art collection? How do the anti-Catholic supporters of Bob Jones University feel about the overtly Catholic artwork?

The answers remain with the eccentric and unique flair of Bob Jones Jr. who died in 1997. On the event of the museum's opening in 1951 he explained to the students, "Bob Jones University believes that nothing is too good for God, and here on these walls we see great talent employed in His service. We want you to enjoy these pictures as well as be blessed by them. Come back again and again to look at the pictures. After you have formed a general acquaintance with them all, concentrate on them one by one. Your appreciation and understanding of art will grow, your life will be enriched, and your culture increased as great masters, long gone to dust, speak to you of their faith and their dreams--reveal to you something of their own personalities. You will realize more and more how universal is the message of the Word of God in its appeal to human hearts in every generation."

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Low oil price means high anxiety for Opec as US flexes its muscles (Terry Macalister, 10/18/14, The Observer)

The US, the world's biggest oil consumer, has relied in the past on Saudi to keep Opec price rises relatively low. But now it has the complicating factor of protecting its own huge shale industry.

Even US oil producers see the political benefits of abundant shale resources and the resultant downward pressure on prices. Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, the biggest US oil company, said recently that his country had now entered a "new era of energy abundance" - meaning it is no longer dependent on the politically unstable Middle East.

So there will be understandable tension next month when the ruling Opec body meets in Vienna and its member states fight over what to do. The cartel would like to reassert its authority over oil prices but some producing countries, such as Saudi, can withstand lower crude values for much longer than others, and the relative costs of production vary wildly between nations.

Since the Arab spring, many countries in the Middle East have hugely increased their public spending in response to growing dissent over unemployment and high prices. A lower oil price endangers this.

The best strategy for the free world to use against the authoritarian petro states is to keep the prices low while reducing consumption, which is done with gas taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Deus Ex Musica : Beethoven transformed music--but has veneration of him stifled his successors? (ALEX ROSS, 10/20/14, The New Yorker)

Beethoven is a singularity in the history of art--a phenomenon of dazzling and disconcerting force. He not only left his mark on all subsequent composers but also molded entire institutions. The professional orchestra arose, in large measure, as a vehicle for the incessant performance of Beethoven's symphonies. The art of conducting emerged in his wake. The modern piano bears the imprint of his demand for a more resonant and flexible instrument. Recording technology evolved with Beethoven in mind: the first commercial 33⅓ r.p.m. LP, in 1931, contained the Fifth Symphony, and the duration of first-generation compact disks was fixed at seventy-five minutes so that the Ninth Symphony could unfurl without interruption. After Beethoven, the concert hall came to be seen not as a venue for diverse, meandering entertainments but as an austere memorial to artistic majesty. Listening underwent a fundamental change. To follow Beethoven's dense, driving narratives, one had to lean forward and pay close attention. The musicians' platform became the stage of an invisible drama, the temple of a sonic revelation.

Above all, Beethoven shaped the identity of what came to be known as classical music. In the course of the nineteenth century, dead composers began to crowd out the living on concert programs, and a canon of masterpieces materialized, with Beethoven front and center. As the scholar William Weber has established, this fetishizing of the past can be tracked with mathematical precision, as a rising line on a graph: in Leipzig, the percentage of works by deceased composers went from eleven per cent in 1782 to seventy-six per cent in 1870. Weber sees an 1807 Leipzig performance of Beethoven's Third Symphony, the titanic, turbulent "Eroica," as a turning point: the work was brought back a week later, "by demand," taking a place of honor at the end of the program. Likewise, a critic wrote of the Second Symphony, "It demands to be played again, and yet again, by even the most accomplished orchestra." More than anything, it was the mesmerizing intricacy of Beethoven's constructions--his way of building large structures from the obsessive development of curt motifs--that made the repertory culture of classical music possible. This is not to say that Beethoven's predecessors, giants on the order of Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, fail to reward repeated listening with their cerebral games of variation. In the case of Beethoven, though, the process becomes addictive, irresistible. No composer labors so hard to stave off boredom, to occupy the mind of one who might be hearing or playing a particular piece for the tenth or the hundredth time. [...]

How did Beethoven become "BEETHOVEN"? What prompted the "great transformation of musical taste," to take a phrase from William Weber--the shift on the concert stage from a living culture to a necrophiliac one? The simplest answer might be that Beethoven was so crushingly sublime that posterity capitulated. But no one is well served by history in the style of superhero comics. This composer, too, was shaped by circumstances, and he happened to reach his maturity just as listeners of an intellectual bent, such as E. T. A. Hoffmann, were primed for an oversized figure, an emperor of an expanding musical realm. The scholar Mark Evan Bonds, in his new book "Absolute Music," describes the "growing conviction at the turn of the nineteenth century that music had the capacity to disclose the 'wonders' of the universe in ways that words could not, and that the greatest composers were in effect oracles, intermediaries between the divine and the human." As Bonds observes, people had spoken of Mozart's genius but had not referred to him "as a genius." With Beethoven, genius became a distinct identity, fashioned by the self rather than furnished by God.

That, in a nutshell, is the damage he did, turning artists inwards on themselves, where they had looked outward to Creation.  He was sufficiently a genius that he could still produce art.  Very few of his fellow modernists ever have or will.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members (JAY LIVINGSTON • October 16, 2014, Pacific Standard)

The 1954 sociology classic When Prophecy Fails describes groups built around a prediction that the world would soon be destroyed and that they, the believers, would be saved by flying saucers from outer space. When it didn't happen, they too faced the problem of cognitive dissonance--dissonance between belief and fact. But because they had been very specific about what would happen and when it would happen, they could not very well use the  denial and equivocation favored by the economists. Instead, they first claimed that what had averted the disaster was their own faith. By meeting and planning and believing so strongly in their extraterrestrial rescuers, they had literally saved the world. The economists, by contrast, could not claim that their warnings saved us from inflation, for their warning--their predictions and prescriptions--had been ignored by the Fed. So instead they argue that there actually is, or will be, serious inflation.

The other tactic that the millenarian group seized on was to start proselytizing--trying to convert others and to bring new members into the fold. For the conservative economists, this tactic is practically a given, but it is not necessarily a change. They had already been spreading their faith, as professors and as advisors (to policymakers, political candidates, wealthy investors, et al.). They haven't necessarily redoubled their efforts, but the evidence has not given them pause. They continue to publish their unreconstructed views to as wide an audience as possible.

That's the curious thing about cognitive dissonance. The goal is to reduce the dissonance, and it really doesn't matter how. Of course, you could change your ideas, but letting go of long and deeply held ideas when the facts no longer cooperate is difficult. Apparently it's easier to change the facts (by denial, equivocation, etc.). Or, equally effective in reducing the dissonance, you can convince others that you are right. That validation is just as effective as a friendly set of facts, especially if it comes from powerful and important people ,and comes with rewards both social and financial.

It is possible to forgive Alan Greenspan for tanking the economy twice by raising rates into the teeth of deflation, after all, he'd been in positions of power during the great inflation of the 70s.  It is understandable if some such people remain terrified of the phenomenon.

But the problem now is not just that these guys are obsessed with a problem that no longer exists, but that they can not even begin to face the potential issue that does exist : deflation.

October 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 PM


The Last Founding Father : Richard Brookhiser's new biography of Lincoln is splendid : a review of Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Richard Brookhiser  (MYRON MAGNET, 17 October 2014, City Journal)

Though what we call the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred in their Illinois senatorial contest of 1858, the "six years from 1854 to 1860 were one long Lincoln-Douglas debate," writes Brookhiser, as Douglas went around the state defending the act and an indignant Lincoln pursued him, rebutting his emollient arguments in a string of immortal speeches. In Peoria in October 1854, Lincoln condemned Douglas for reopening an already scabbed-over wound. "Every inch of territory we owned already had a definite settlement of the slavery question," he observed; but thanks to Douglas, "here we are in the midst of a new slavery agitation." Douglas wants the people of the territories to decide? Fine. But who the people are "depends on whether a Negro is not or is a man." If he is, then isn't it "a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself?" When a white man "governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism." [...]

Brookhiser properly devotes an entire chapter to Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, which he rightly judges the greatest of his speeches--and (in my view) is perhaps the greatest speech ever made. In it, Brookhiser believes, Lincoln completed his lifelong search for a surrogate father, moving from the Founding Fathers to God the Father. To be sure, this speech, delivered on March 4, 1865, like the Gettysburg Address given some 15 months earlier, resounds with the poetry of the King James Bible, which a childhood friend of Lincoln's sons' remembered the president would often read after lunch in the White House, while the children played, "sometimes in his stocking feet with one long leg crossed over the other, the unshod foot slowly waving back and forth" as he kept time to the rhythm of the Elizabethan language's stupendous music.

But if I have one disagreement with Brookhiser's splendid book, I would think of Lincoln not as the Founders' son but rather as the last Founding Father, shoulder to shoulder with them in greatness as he completed their work, giving the nation a "new birth of freedom" and ensuring that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, that they had instituted but could not perfect, would not perish from the earth. And in the Second Inaugural, he sounds like an Old Testament prophet, questioning God's purposes, even quarreling with them, as he felt himself to be the instrument of accomplishing them. Yes, the war was just and necessary, but why was it lasting so long? Why did so many have to die in the flower of their youth? "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come;" Lincoln quoted, "but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" Why would God decree that offenses must come and then punish those who act according to His decree? Why would He decree slavery, then decree its removal, and decree punishment to everyone who had benefited from it, not just Southern slaveowners but every Northern broker and shipper who had profited from it, down to his children and his children's children? We can only carry on "with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right," said Lincoln--however dimly that may be.

After the Confederate capital of Richmond fell a month later, Lincoln wanted to see it with his own eyes, and he walked the silent streets on April 3, 1865, with a bodyguard of only ten sailors, six days before Lee surrendered. But suddenly crowds of blacks surrounded him, shouting, "Glory to God! The great Messiah! Come to free his children from bondage." Several touched the president, as James McPherson recounts in Battle Cry of Freedom; and one old woman cried, "I know I am free, for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him." She was right: he was one of those world-historical figures we can never account for but can only marvel at with gratitude.

Six days after the victory, Lincoln was dead. "The Almighty has His own purposes," he had said in the Second Inaugural. But who can tell what they are?

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