March 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


The Problem Isn't That Trevor Noah Is Offensive. The Problem Is That He's a Giant Dope. (Jessica Winter, 3/31/15, Slate)

It's true that Twitter is a space for comics to try out material that isn't fully baked. And I have no doubt that Saint Jon Stewart has some fat skeletons in his closet--after all, he took over the Daily Show from smarmy king-of-the-bros Craig Kilborn, who strictly enforced a tiresome weekly quota of "Janet Reno looks like a man" gags. But during Stewart's 16 years at the helm, The Daily Show has taken on a moral authority and responsibility that simply cannot condone this kind of bigoted and misogynist ... no, who am I kidding. The problem is not that Trevor Noah tells offensive jokes. It's not even that he routinely breaks The Daily Show's covenant of speaking truth to power in favor of speaking truth to fat chicks or Thai hookers or, as the Washington Post's Wendy Todd points out, black Americans who give their kids names that Noah disapproves of. The problem is that Noah's jokes are so annihilatingly stupid. Are they even jokes?

On the other hand, these kind of self-destructive dust-ups are the only times liberals are funny.
Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


America's most generous con artist (Jason Caffrey, 3/31/15, BBC)

As a teenager Landis had suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of his father, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Art therapy revealed his talent for copying, and he was able to turn out fakes at astonishing speed.

"I know everybody's heard about forgers that do all these complicated things with chemicals and what-have-you," he says. "I don't have that kind of patience. I buy my supplies at Walmart or Woolworth - discount stores - and then I do it in an hour or two at most.

"If I can't get something done by the time a movie's over on TV, I'll give up on it."

Posing as a wealthy benefactor, Landis donated counterfeits to dozens of respected institutions across the US until, in 2008, he walked into the Oklahoma City Museum. Matt Leininger was the museum's registrar, tasked with looking after new works.

"We just thought Landis was a really eccentric art collector," Leininger says. "The first piece he gave us, he actually hand-delivered - a watercolour by Louis Valtat.

"We framed the Valtat and put it on display next to a Renoir in our gallery, not knowing what we had just hung was a fake."

Landis continued sending forgeries to museums, and might never have been rumbled had he not offered copies of the same works to different galleries.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Expect oil to tumble if Iran deal gets done (Nick Cunningham, 3/31/15, CNNMoney)

Although nuclear weapons proliferation is the headline item, one of the most significant side effects of the negotiations will be their effect on the price of oil. Iran, as a member of OPEC and a major oil producer on the world stage, still has substantial influence on oil markets.

Oil producers are still producing more oil than the world can handle, with around 1.5 million barrels per day in excess capacity. That glut could grow much bigger if the U.S. and Iran resolve their differences.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Under Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Opens the Door to Privatizing Half its Public Housing  (REBECCA BURNS, 3/31/15, In These Times)

Chicago, long a pioneer of privatization, is poised to embark on a sweeping experiment with the city's public-housing stock. The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) plans to court private investment in as much as half of its public-housing units through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), a new federal program billed as a way to "revitalize" housing for the poor and address a $26 billion backlog in needed repairs.

But housing advocates around the country worry that RAD is just a prelude to privatization. RAD, approved by Congress in 2011, gives local housing authorities broad latitude to raise funds, including the ability to mortgage or sell public-housing buildings. Critics believes that if public housing is opened up to the vagaries of the mortgage market and the whims of private developers, large swaths of low-income housing could wind up in foreclosure, or become luxury condos once RAD's affordability requirements expire.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


New renewables broke through 100GW barrier in 2014 (Mark Kinver, 3/31/15, , BBC News)

New renewable generating capacity broke the 100GW barrier in 2014, equivalent to the entire fleet of nuclear power plants in the US, a UN report shows.

Global investment in renewable energy during 2014 increased by 17% from 2013 levels to US$270bn (£183bn).

Investors have been attracted by the increasing cost effectiveness and low risk of the solar and wind sectors.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


How Red States Learned to Love the Gas Tax : In Washington, raising the levy on fuel is a non-starter. But Republican legislatures that actually have to balance their budgets are finding increases indispensable. (RUSSELL BERMAN, MAR 31 2015, Atlantic)

Don't believe the axiom that Republicans reflexively oppose tax increases: Outside the Beltway, it just doesn't hold up.

States across the country are raising their fuel taxes to pay for the upkeep of deteriorating roads and bridges, and in a surprising number of those states, the governors and legislative leaders pushing those changes are Republicans, not Democrats. In Utah, GOP Governor Gary Herbert signed a law last week passed by the state's Republican-controlled legislature that raises the gas tax by 5 cents and ties future increases to prices at the pump. A month ago, Iowa's Republican governor, Terry Branstad, approved a gas-tax hike that sailed through the legislature in under two weeks. Top Republicans in Georgia, Michigan, and South Dakota have proposed similar increases, and as many as 12 states could raise fuel taxes in 2015 alone, after six did so in the last two years, according to an analysis by Carl Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

The transition to taxing consumption instead of income/investment/savings is one of those impossible/inevitables.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Toyota's Rav4 gets cheap automatic braking (Chris Isidore, 3/31/15, CNNMoney)

Toyota is bringing automatic braking to the masses.

The company is cutting the price of automatic braking and other crash-avoidance options, a move that could greatly increase the availability of the safety features.

Toyota is offering it on the Rav4, one of its top selling models. It expects to have the package available on all models in the next few years.

At the New York auto show this week, Toyota (TM) is announcing that a package of those three safety features will be available for between $300 to $500. It will also be available for $500 on Lexus luxury vehicles.

Nevermind the obvious deflation--how much cheaper the technology got in just a few years--consider instead the value added over the car you bought twenty years ago.

March 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 PM


Nuclear Deal Could Drive Foreign Investors to Iran Stocks (BILL SPINDLE And  DAN KEELER, March 30, 2015, WSJ)

If Iran reaches a nuclear deal and sanctions are lifted, Western investors are likely to queue up to invest in the country.

The first stop for much of that money, at least initially, could be the Tehran Stock Exchange.

"Iran has a unique combination of frontier and developed characteristics that make it potentially compelling," said Alison Graham, chief investment officer of New York-based frontier-markets investor Voltan Capital Management LLC. "It has a well-educated population, a large middle class, a substantial industrial base and has made progress in dismantling subsidies to get its macro house in order. At the same time, growth, valuations and potential investment upside are similar to frontier countries at a much earlier stage of development."

Americans Favor Deal With Iran by 2-1 (GARY LANGER, 3/30/15, WSJ)

Americans by a 2-1 margin favor an agreement with Iran over its nuclear development program, even while broadly questioning whether a deal would, in fact, prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons. [...]

In a result that supports the Obama administration's position in the face of Republican and Israeli criticisms alike, Americans by 59-31 percent back a plan to lift major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions making it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


America's Hinge Moment : Presidential politics in 2016 will reflect the shifting reality of America. (DOUG SOSNIK, March 29, 2015, Politico)

Years from now we are going to look back at this period of time and see it as a "hinge" moment, a term Princeton Physicist Freeman Dyson used to describe a connection point that ties two historical periods in time, one before and one afterwards.

The University of Virginia historian Philip Zelikow has observed that "for only the third time since the founding of the United States we are in the early or transition phase of a new era in American and global history." He goes on to say that "from the narrower point of view of economic and social history, however, we are in the early stages of a transition phase faster than anything we have encountered in more than 100 years, the largest since the economic and industrial revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th century."

As the Industrial Revolution made clear, these kinds of moments don't happen overnight; they build over time. Like then, a series of factors are now contributing to the tipping point we are rapidly approaching--most notably the economic uncertainty, global instability and technological advances that the country is experiencing. On top of these drivers, there is a demographic transformation taking place that is literally changing who we are as a country.

Of course, the political phase began over 30 years ago, when Thatcher and Reagan broke the momentum of the union movement and with it inflation, then instituted a massive free trade movement and defeated the only, even theoretical, alternatives to capitalism, all the while unleashing waves of free migration of peoples.  Meanwhile, the innovations of the information/computer age were chugging along in the background.  Additionally, the demographic changes in the workplace mean that rather than adding women and minorities to a white male workforce, all groups are now competing for only such jobs as are actually required.

The result is we're tipping into an economy where we achieve higher output (wealth) with less human input (labor), meaning that the former can not be redistributed fairly via the latter.  

We are then faced with two choices : we can try to cling to the labor redistribution model, at only a cost of reducing the wealth created in the first instance and requiring of people that they work in meaningless jobs to obtain that decreased wealth; or we can continue to maximize wealth creation and find another means of redistribution for that increased wealth.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Rising healthcare costs are pressuring patients (LISA ZAMOSKY, 3/30/15, LA Times)

Americans who get health insurance through work and on their own have seen big rise in costs over last decade

A recent survey by private health insurance exchange EHealth highlights the pressure Americans are feeling. It found that more than 6 in 10 people say they're more worried about the financial effect of expensive medical emergencies and paying for healthcare than about funding retirement or covering their kids' education.

People who get health insurance through work and on their own have seen their costs rise dramatically over the last decade.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, a New York think tank, annual increases in work-based health plan premiums rose three times faster than wages from 2003 to 2013. Out-of-pocket costs have also been climbing.

"More people have deductibles than ever before," says Sara Collins, a Commonwealth Fund vice president. From 2003 to 2013, the size of deductibles has grown nearly 150%.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


GOD AND JEB : Inside his spiritual journey and his stealth campaign to woo Christian conservatives. (TIM ALBERTA AND TIFFANY STANLEY, 3/29/15, National Journal)

Two weeks after his defeat, Bush went to Miami's Church of the Epiphany and began the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults--a months-long process that required him to go to confession, find a sponsor, and attend weekly courses on church doctrine and practice. He later told a Florida Catholic newspaper that the process allowed him "to take some time to pause and reflect"; this wasn't the kind of dramatic, "I was blind, but now I see" conversion that his brother had experienced. On Easter weekend of 1995, Bush was formally received into the Roman Catholic Church. In the years since, he has said that he finds the tradition's sacraments comforting and that his "faith was strengthened when I converted to my wife's faith." Between his first two campaigns, Bush continued his previous work in real estate, but he also helped start a charter school in a struggling Miami neighborhood. He cowrote a book, Profiles in Character, which cribbed its title and premise from Profiles in Courage, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of America's only Catholic president, John Kennedy. Bush dedicated the book to his family, and "to God, whose divine and guiding light is the ultimate means to virtue."

"I think he grew spiritually in that decade of the '90s," says Al Cardenas, the former American Conservative Union chairman who has known Bush for almost four decades. "It made him a better husband and dad. I saw that before my very eyes."

It also made him a different politician. When he tried again for governor in 1998, Bush was no longer the same combative, even angry, candidate he'd been four years earlier. His stances had changed little, but his tone was softer, his outlook more--well--compassionate. Bush explained to a St. Petersburg Times reporter that his Catholic commitment changed the tenor of his campaigning. "It's softened it in the sense that it is a position of love, not of intolerance," he said. "It is a deeper belief about the value and sanctity of life itself." This time, he campaigned vigorously in black churches. He talked of his conversion and caring for the poor. "He certainly was a different candidate, but he seemed to some degree to be a different person as well," says Aubrey Jewett, a political-science professor at the University of Central Florida. He won easily, by 11 percentage points. At Bush's inauguration, the Rev. Billy Graham prayed that the new governor would lead Florida in "a moral and spiritual awakening."

Gov. Bush seemed bent on doing just that, and in the process, he pioneered new ways to infuse Christian faith into state government. "Jeb connected his moral and religious beliefs to his public policies more openly than a lot of people," says Matthew Corrigan, a political-science professor at the University of North Florida. Nowhere was this more evident than in his pro-life work. (Bush would later tell the Christian Broadcasting Network that his faith informed him about "the dignity of life more than anything else.") During his first year in office, he made good on a campaign promise, signing into law a controversial bill that created "Choose Life" license plates whose proceeds benefited crisis-pregnancy centers that encouraged women to choose adoption over abortion. Bush went on to push for a "partial-birth" abortion ban, and for legislation requiring doctors to notify the parents of girls under 18 at least two days before an abortion procedure. He signed both laws, but they were blocked by courts. Subsequently, however, Bush and conservative lawmakers got parental notification on the state ballot, and voters changed the Florida constitution to allow it to go forward. The governor happily signed parental notification into law in 2005.

Bush was not averse to deviating from Catholic doctrine at times. He supported the death penalty, despite sustained lobbying from Catholic bishops. His pro-business policies were a far cry from the papacy's blistering critiques of capitalism, though they lined up neatly with those of most Christian conservatives in the United States. (More recently, Bush, who has been known to tweet praise for Pope Francis, has publicly criticized the U.S. deal with Cuba, which the pontiff helped broker.) Former colleagues and staffers say the governor was private about his Catholicism on the job, but the signs were there--in the rosary he was known to carry, or in the Bible he kept in his second office, where he did most of his work. State Rep. Dennis Baxley, the dean of the Florida Legislature's social conservatives, took comfort in the fact that Bush's Bible was usually open at a different chapter and verse each time he visited. "It was used," he says. "It wasn't a decoration."

Indeed, Florida's faith community could find little fault with Bush as governor. His great ambition was to leave a lasting mark on education, and he delighted social conservatives by championing school choice. He created the country's first statewide voucher system, despite legal challenges and heavy criticism from the ACLU and other champions of church-state separation. (Part of the original plan was declared unconstitutional, and rebooted as a tax-credit program.) After his brother opened the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Jeb created a similar board at the state level. He also converted three correctional facilities into faith-based prisons--the first of their kind in the nation--that used religious programs to promote rehabilitation. And whenever he made a key appointment, it seemed, Bush turned to prominent social conservatives. He tapped Patricia Levesque, a graduate of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, as his education adviser (she still leads his two education nonprofits). He appointed Bob Brooks, a state lawmaker and physician well-known for opposing abortion and homosexuality, to serve as Florida's health secretary. The first president of the Family Research Council, a mainstay of the Christian Right lobby in Washington, headed Bush's Department of Children and Families. Prominent activists from Focus on the Family and the Liberty Counsel (a conservative Christian law firm) were placed on the state nominating commissions that recommend judges for the governor to appoint.

But it was the strange case of Terri Schiavo where Bush's faith emerged most publicly.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Tax Proposals Would Move U.S. Closer to Global Norm (JOHN D. MCKINNON,  March 29, 201, WSJ)

U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle increasingly are finding appeal in an ambitious concept for overhauling the nation's income-tax system: a tax based on consumption, a tool long used around the world.

The tax-writing Senate Finance Committee is giving new consideration to the consumption-tax idea with the hope that its promised boost to economic growth would ease the way to a revamp. [...]

Many GOP members "believe that there are economic benefits to moving away from taxation of income and toward taxation of consumption," a Senate aide said. That includes Republican John Thune of South Dakota, co-chairman of the working group along with Mr. Cardin, the aide said.

As the name implies, consumption-style taxes hit the money taxpayers spend, rather than income they receive. One prominent feature of consumption systems is that they generally tax savings and investment lightly or not at all. That, in turn, encourages more investment and innovation, and ultimately more growth, many economists contend.

We are all Pigovians now. Of course, the key is to not tax income.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Upset By Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Banks Debate Halting Some Campaign Donations (Emily Flitter, March 27, 2015, Reuters) 

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party's tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said. [...]

JPMorgan representatives have met Democratic Party officials to emphasize the connection between its annual contribution and the need for a friendlier attitude toward the banks, a source familiar with JPMorgan's donations said. In past years, the bank has given its donation in one lump sum but this year has so far donated only a third of the amount, the source said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


The dangers of the Arab intervention in Yemen (Kenneth M. Pollack,  March 26, 2015, Brookings)

Saudi Arabia remains the leader of the Arab world, an important American ally, and one of the most important oil producers in the world. But it is also a country with significant internal challenges, financial problems, and now a dramatic shift in government power as a result of the death of King Abdullah and the accession of King Salman. The Kingdom lacks the military capacity to intervene decisively in Yemen, and if it tries by sending in large numbers of ground troops, the most likely outcome would be a debilitating stalemate that will drain Saudi military resources, financial reserves, and political will. It could also easily enrage key segments of the populace: some furious that after spending so much on defense the Kingdom has so little capability, others equally enraged that so much money is being wasted on a senseless quagmire in Yemen instead of being spent on critical domestic problems.  

(As an aside, I would note that the Egyptians have stated that they are ready to send ground troops to Yemen if airstrikes prove inadequate. This, in and of itself, is curious given the painful history of Egypt's failed involvement in the Yemeni civil war of 1961-1967. But it is no more comforting than if the Saudis were to go in alone. The Egyptians are not likely to improve the chances of success, and Egypt is also a fragile state struggling to deal with enormous domestic political and economic problems. It does not need a potentially debilitating and divisive foray into Yemen any more than the Saudis do.) [...]

The long and well-examined history of civil wars offers a clear warning that greater Saudi intervention in Yemen is unlikely to improve the situation and could easily undermine the Kingdom's own security and stability over the medium to longer term. 

It would be sufficient to destabilize Yemen in order that the Houthis gain seld-determination, the potential to destabilize the anti-democratic regimes in Arabia and Egypt as well is a bonus.

March 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Turning Victims Into Victimizers : From the Rolling Stone rape story to Ferguson to Eric Garner, conservatives are blaming the victim. (Nicole Hemmer, Dec. 9, 2014, US News)

On Sunday night, Charles C. Johnson doxxed the young woman featured in Rolling Stone's disputed story of a gang rape at the University of Virginia. He revealed not only her name but posted screengrabs of what he called her "rape-obsessed" Pinterest site. Johnson justified his actions - which he coupled with calls for donations and boasts about media requests - by stating that he was acting on behalf of "victims of false rape claims." A day earlier, National Review's Brendan O'Neill railed against the "Ivy League lynch mob" calling for students accused of rape to be kicked off campus.

Sandwiched in between these two events was a Sunday morning interview on "Fox News Sunday" with Rush Limbaugh. Asked about the protests surrounding the failure to indict police officers in the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Limbaugh assigned blame to the protesters. "I think that there is a grievance politics in this country that's tearing the country apart," he told Chris Wallace. "It's not based on real-world grievance. It's grievance that's being amplified and made up."

In each case - the doxxing, the "lynch mob" accusations, the cries of "grievance politics" - victims were transformed into victimizers, imbued with far more power than they actually possess. And in each case, victim-blaming papered over the real failure that links the campus rape problem with the police brutality problem: the failure of our criminal justice system to achieve anything like justice - or even fairness.
Take the University of Virginia case. Even if we stipulate that the gang rape didn't happen, or going a step further, that nothing happened at all - which is stipulating quite a lot...

Just in case the author hadn't sufficiently embarrassed herself, Friend Matt points out she also goes all Fox Butterfield:  "In his interview, Limbaugh said protesters should "respect the criminal justice system." Respect it? It is a system that imprisons black men at six times the rate of white men, that makes police encounters for black teenagers 21 times more deadly than for white teens, that incarcerates an ever-growing number of Americans even as crime rates drop precipitously."


Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


How Sufjan Stevens Subverts the Stigma of Christian Music : The genre has had a bad reputation since the 1960s, but the singer-songwriter succeeds by focusing on aesthetics over evangelism. (DAVID ROARK, MAR 29 2015, The Atlantic)

While many believers have been busy copying the latest radio hit (transforming Taylor Swift songs into trite melodies about Jesus instead of ex-boyfriends) others have been taking a different approach altogether. Even since the days of "Jesus music," artists such as Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, who were also professed Christians, have gone another route. They didn't see music as just a means to an end, or a way of evangelizing to young people. Instead, they focused on telling compelling stories and creating aesthetically pleasing music, while still expressing themselves personally and spiritually. It's not as if they separated their faith from their work--on the contrary, Christian themes and ideas are woven throughout their lyrics. It's more that their endeavors were simpler: They cared more about writing good songs than converting the world through music.

The same can be said for one of the most renowned bands of this generation: U2. As the writer Joshua Rothman noted in a 2014 story in The New Yorker, "Most people think of U2 as a wildly popular rock band. Actually, they're a wildly popular, semi-secretly Christian rock band." Formed in the late 70s, the Irish rockers--led by the devoutly religious Bono--shaped music as we know it. Yet, even though most of the band are believers, U2's success has had little effect on the perception of music made by Christians and the apparent influence of the religion on popular culture.

These bands only function as a small sample size of the many others with similar approaches that have existed over the years. Music groups that proclaim Christ have dominated the hardcore and hard-rock music scenes in recent years, from the likes of Underoath to Norma Jean to Thrice. But in the last decade especially, there seems to be a greater influx of Christians making music this way, including Sufjan Stevens.

Stevens doesn't hide his beliefs when it comes to the lyrics he writes: from the overt Bible stories in Seven Swans to the theodicy that is "Casimir Pulaski Day," which tells the story of a young girl who dies from cancer. Yet the gist of Stevens' work transcends religious and spiritual subjects to tackle broader themes. Asthmatic Kitty Records, the label Stevens created, notes that The Age of Adz, his latest non-Christmas album before Carrie and Lowell, explores themes of "love, sex, death, disease, illness, anxiety, and suicide." In other words, Stevens sings about topics that matter to humans, regardless of their worldview.

Stevens intentionally keeps his distance from the label of "Christian artist"--as if the adjective even made sense in the first place--and the likes of CCM. "Christian music (as a genre) exists exclusively within the few insulated floors (cubicles and computers included) of some corporate construction in Nashville, Tenn. Otherwise, there's no such thing as Christian music," Stevens told the music blog DOA in an interview.

For the musician, the gospel doesn't just play some small, personal role in life and culture; it infiltrates and restores all of life and culture. It addresses the entire human experience, or "the totality of life" as Schaeffer described it. Stevens' music also doesn't alienate listeners of different beliefs. His work may seem less spiritual than that of others, given its seeming focus on "secular" rather than "sacred" things, but it actually proves more accessible to the wider world than that of contemporary Christian music--an irony given the evangelical intentions of these artists.

"Logistically I suppose my process of making art is driven less by abstractions of faith or politics and more by practical theory: composition and balance and color," said Stevens. "It's not so much that faith influences us as it lives in us. In every circumstance (giving a speech or tying my shoes), I am living and moving and being. This absolves me from ever making the embarrassing effort to gratify God (and the church) by imposing religious content on anything I do."

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


The Tallis Scholars' Luminous Way With Arvo Pärt (Tom Huizenga, 3/19/15, NPR)

Arvo Pärt was saved by the bell. The Estonian composer, who turns 80 in September, hit a creative roadblock in 1968. After a hiatus of eight years he returned with a new sound inspired by the simple triad (a stack of three notes, an essential building block of Western music) and by bells. He called his new style tintinnabuli (from the Latin for bells).

It's also the title of the new album released last week by The Tallis Scholars, a veteran British vocal ensemble with a reputation in Renaissance masters like Palestrina and Josquin des Prez. Little by little, Peter Phillips, the group's director, has been adding Pärt's a cappella pieces to their repertoire, judging them a perfect fit.

The Tallis Scholars sing Pärt pared down. They employ just two voices per part as in their Renaissance music performances. This method makes a significant difference. It adds clarity and spaciousness to music already suffused with airy silences.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


How Philadelphia became the unlikely epicenter of American cricket (Raf Noboa y Rivera, 28 March 2015, The Guardian)

The greatest bowler - arguably - in cricket's long history was an American. Let that sink in for a moment.

Here's another fact: cricket was America's first modern team sport.

These may be strange words to write; even stranger to read them. The United States of America, as recently as the turn of the last century, possessed cricketing talent on par with England, Australia, and other cricket nations.
And then it all ended.

On the eve of the Cricket World Cup final on Saturday, it's worth exploring just how cricket was all but extinguished in America - and if there's any route back for the sport in a country where once it reigned supreme.

Cricket's American roots run deep and gnarled through the soil of American history. In fact, it predates the establishment of the United States by nearly a century, if not more. The first evidence of its existence comes from the secret diaries kept by Virginia planter William Byrd III. Byrd, an infamous bon vivant, was famous for establishing the first major horse race in the New World; something he arranged with other planters he knew. His involvement in American cricket is less well-known, but no less important, because it places it in the historical record.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


How to Read Willmoore Kendall : a review of Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum. By Willmoore Kendall (George W. Carey, 3/28/15, Imaginative Conservative)

What was Kendall trying to tell us? What were his central teachings? I will list some that are highly interrelated.

(1) He told us to trust the American people. He always loved America and in his later years he came to love its political institutions and procedures. That is one theme that permeates most of his works dealing with the American system and his critiques of the proposals for reform offered by the modern American liberal. The three articles that best reflect this are "Dialogues on Americanism," "Deadlock," and "How to Read Richard Weaver: Philosopher of 'We the (Virtuous) People'."

Having noted this much we must proceed to (2). Willmoore was a majoritarian of very special order. He was a conservative populist of sorts. One will detect a shift of thinking on his part over the years. His early writings, and even those not published here which appeared in the middle 1950′s, illustrate this. "Majority Principle and the Scientific Elite" and "On Preservation of Democracy in America," both reproduced in this volume, indicate his early liberal bent of mind. (See in this regard the first four chapters of Ranney and Kendall, Democracy and the American Party System, for which he bears primary responsibility. See also his classic, John Locke and Majority Rule.)

What brought about the obvious change in his thinking and in what ways did he change? The reader of this work can readily see that in his early writing he accepted all the fundamental premises of liberalism. All opinions were deemed equal, which in very short order led him to the proposition that all values are equal, and, then, into the swamps of relativism. In sum, by a tortuous route well known to Western man, he accepted the fact-value dichotomy. By the late 1950′s, certainly after his conversion to Catholicism, we can discern a distinct shift in his writings with respect to the fact-value dichotomy and the liberal interpretation of majority rule. This is brilliantly manifest in his seldom-read article, "The People Versus Socrates Revisited." And he hammers away at this thesis in "How to Read Milton's Areopagitica." He nails all of this to the door with his "Fallacies of the Open Society," an article which oddly enough is not reproduced in this volume but which did appear in the American Political Science Review in the same year as the Milton article (1960).

I do not mean to imply that Willmoore's conversion to Catholicism produced the change in his thinking to which I have referred. It was, so far as I can determine, the other way around. In his earliest writings such as those I have cited, one will, if he reads closely enough, detect a tension, points and issues involving liberal premises with which Kendall did not quite feel at home. Contrast the "Preservation of Democracy" article with the "Weaver" article, or, better yet, "How to Read The Federalist." Over the years he came to realize that there is a hierarchy of values, that there are transcendent Truths which, however clumsily we might try, we should seek to explore with our "heart" and intellect. 

I've told my own story about this book here.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Al-Qaeda vs. ISIS: The Battle for the Soul of Jihad (DANIEL BYMAN AND JENNIFER WILLIAMS, 3/27/15, Newsweek)

[T]he implications of one side's vic­tory or of continuing division are profound for the Middle East and for the United States, shaping the likely targets of the jihad­ist movement, its ability to achieve its goals and the overall stability of the Middle East. The United States can exploit this split, both to decrease the threat and to weaken the movement as a whole.

The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda fundamentally differ on whom they see as their main enemy, which strategies and tactics to use in attacking that enemy and which social issues and other concerns to emphasize.

Although the ultimate goal of Al-Qaeda is to overthrow the corrupt "apostate" regimes in the Middle East and replace them with "true" Islamic governments, Al-Qaeda's pri­mary enemy is the United States, which it sees as the root cause of the Middle East's problems.

The logic behind this "far enemy" strategy is based on the idea that U.S. mili­tary and economic support for corrupt dic­tators in the Middle East--such as the lead­ers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia--is what has enabled these regimes to withstand attempts to overthrow them. By targeting the United States, Al-Qaeda believes it will eventually force the United States to withdraw its sup­port for these regimes and pull out of the region altogether, thus leaving the regimes vulnerable to attack from within.

The Islamic State does not follow Al-Qa­eda's "far enemy" strategy, preferring instead the "near enemy" strategy, albeit on a re­gional level. As such, the primary target of the Islamic State has not been the United States, but rather apostate regimes in the Arab world--namely, the Bashar Assad regime in Syria and the Haider al-Abadi regime in Iraq.

Baghdadi favors first purifying the Islamic community by at­tacking Shia and other religious minorities as well as rival jihadist groups. The Islamic State's long list of enemies includes the Iraqi Shia, Hezbollah, the Yazidis (a Kurdish eth­no-religious minority located predominantly in Iraq), the wider Kurdish community in Iraq, the Kurds in Syria and rival opposition groups in Syria (including Jabhat al-Nusra). And (surprise!) the Jews.

It is in the interest of the Anglosphere, the Shi'a, the Jews, the Kurds, Islamist political parties, etc. to defeat ISIS, al Qaeda and the Wahhabi dictatorships, starting with the Sa'uds.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Deflation: the modern policy bogeyman (Gillian Tett, 3/29/15, Financial Times)

In 2009, the Bank of Japan conducted a public survey on deflation. The results were not what the esteemed central bank wanted or expected - at least not after a "lost decade" of falling prices. Instead of expressing horror at the idea of deflation, 44 per cent of those surveyed deemed it "favourable"; 35 per cent felt neutral about the phenomenon; and just 20.7 per cent described it as "unfavourable". Although a subsequent survey painted a slightly more negative picture, the pattern was clear. As Kathy Matsui, vice-chair of Goldman Sachs Japan, says: "More Japanese actually feel that deflation is a positive than a negative." [...]

[A]n institution called the Bank for International Settlements has just published a striking study of the history of deflation. The BIS, as it is known, operates as something of a central bankers' bank-cum-think-tank. Given its position, you might expect it to echo the orthodox view that deflation is a disaster. But in recent years the BIS has started to pump out some rather subversive research. Its deflation study - like that BoJ survey - goes against the usual grain: it argues that price falls are not always such a disaster, or a reason to panic. Sometimes they can be almost positive.

This argument will horrify most policy makers, not to mention mainstream economists. The BIS paper begins by pointing out that price falls are not so unusual. On the contrary, it states that "deflations were very common before the second world war". And even in the postwar period, there have been 100 or so transitory deflations in the 38 economies that the BIS studies and four persistent ones (in China, Hong Kong and - twice - in Japan).

The crucial point is that you cannot assume that falls in the price of goods (such as food or travel) and assets (shares, houses and so on) are the same. Economists typically assume these price falls go hand in hand, and use the "d" word to describe both. But their impact can differ.

When asset prices crash, this undermines growth because it shatters confidence and increases the size of debt relative to assets. But if the price of goods and services declines, the result is more mixed.

If wages stay high as prices fall, that can hurt productivity and undermine growth. Falling income can also sometimes make it harder to repay debt. But lower prices can boost consumer and corporate spending power, and thus confidence. And in practical terms, the BIS research shows that there have been numerous periods since 1870 when deflation occurred amid growth. "The evidence from our long historical data set sheds new light on the costs of deflations," the report states. "It raises questions about the prevailing view that goods and services price deflations, even if persistent, are always pernicious."

The simple reality is that we create more wealth more cheaply.  Pretending that's a crisis is silly on its face.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Saudi Sunnis and Iran's Shiites--Why the U.S. Can't Support Both (RIYADH MOHAMMED, 3/29/15, The Fiscal Times)

[Saudi Arabia] also harbors Wahhabism, an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, making the Kingdom a dividing force in the region.

Wahhabis are the most anti-Shiite group among the Sunni Muslims. This is one of the reasons Saudi Arabia is in a regional competition with Iran, which is ruled by adherents of an extreme Shiite version of Islam. While the Obama administration was retreating from Iraq in 2011, and as the Arab Spring was emerging, the worried Saudis began a series of military interventions throughout the Middle East. They planned to protect friendly autocratic governments, overthrow others and attack rebel groups. 

The Saudi actions began in the small Shiite-majority kingdom of Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni royal family. The Saudis provided a small contingency force to suppress the Bahrainis who rose up against their government in 2011. In that case, the Saudi motivation to keep a Sunni government in power was combined with the fear that the fall of the Bahraini royal dynasty would open the door to similar uprisings in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries. Add to that the presence of a suppressed Shiite minority that lives in the oil rich eastern region of the Kingdom and the fear that Iran could control Bahrain -- all were factors in the Saudi decision to act in Bahrain.

It's why we're natural allies with the Shi'a.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Congress Does Something Useful (WSJ, March 27, 2015)

The other House victory was a 392-37 vote to put doctor payments under Medicare on a more honest budget path. Congress has typically raised these payments for only a year or two, which let it hide future liabilities. Then the Members would use the next year's must-pass "doc fix" as a vehicle to sneak other bad policies into law. Democrats used it as a carrot and stick to win the American Medical Association's support for ObamaCare.

In addition, the GOP persuaded Democrats to accept modest but meaningful reforms in Medicare that could save tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over time. These include raising premiums for wealthier seniors and better incentives for first-dollar Medicare supplemental insurance. 

...but the key, as we transition to a defined contribution welfare net, is means-testing, which will disqualify all of us from defined benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Germany needs more immigrants, study says (Deutsche-Welle, 3/27/15)

Over the long term, Germany will need to attract an average of 533,000 immigrants per year above the number of those that emigrate from the country, according to a study released on Friday by the Bertelsmann Foundation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


The Spy (Novelist) Who Loved Me: Olen Steinhauer's Top 4 Fictional Spies (Seira Wilson, March 24, 2015, Amazon Book Review)

Neil Burnside: As the Director of Special Operations for MI-6, this icy kingmaker took viewers through the complex and fraught world of British espionage in The Sandbaggers, which lasted three impeccable seasons from 1978 to 1980. Not quite as bleak as Callan, The Sandbaggers still pulls no punches and, even on a shoestring British-seventies budget, puts most contemporary spy shows to shame. Sadly unknown on this side of the Atlantic, The Sandbaggers should be required viewing for fans of the genre. I return to it regularly.

John Drake: Before starring in the cult classic The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan became the highest-paid TV actor in part because of Danger Man. In two series (1960-1962 and 1964-1968), he played John Drake, an "Irish-American" NATO intelligence operative whose jobs take him all over the world. Smart scripts and a solidly moral character made this a stunning show that holds up remarkably well fifty years later. McGoohan, a staunch Catholic, made ground rules for his character: He never bedded a woman, and he would not kill people. Only occasionally would he produce a gun. What that meant was that, unlike a lot of TV spies, Drake had to use his brains to get himself out of trouble. What it meant for audiences was that they quickly grew to trust their leading man, week after week.

Most of us of a certain age saw at least some episodes of Danger Man and all of The Prisoner on various outlets, but if you've never seen it you owe it to youself to track down The Sandbaggers.

March 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Vinyl's comeback powered by second-hand records (John Sakamoto, Mar 27 2015, Toronto Star)

"The used-vinyl market is absolutely the driving force behind the revival," says Aaron Keele who, with Akim Boldireff, a.k.a. The Record Guys, is putting on the latest edition of the Toronto Record Show this Sunday.

"It's what fuelled the beginning of the comeback, as not many classic albums were available on new pressings even five years ago," Keele says via email. "Even now that they are becoming available again, many new reissues of classic albums are quite costly or simply still haven't even been reissued yet, so used vinyl fills the need."

Despite being overshadowed by new records, used records also neatly sidestep the trap of what Neil Young sneeringly calls vinyl as "fashion statement."

A lot of record buyers today, he said recently in an interview on Southern California Public Radio, "don't realize that they're listening to CD masters on vinyl and that's because the record companies have figured out that people want vinyl. And they're only making CD masters in digital, so all the new products that come out on vinyl are actually CDs on vinyl, which is really nothing but a fashion statement."

An increasingly expensive fashion statement, at that. Given the shortage of pressing plants and, in this country, the added pain of the U.S. exchange rate, is there a danger the vinyl revival could price itself out of the market?

March 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Yemen's Houthi rebels advance despite Saudi-led air strikes (Reuters, 27 March 2015)

Yemen's Houthi rebels made broad gains in the country's south and east today despite a second day of Saudi-led air strikes meant to check the Iranian-backed militia's efforts to overthrow President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Shia Muslim Houthi fighters and allied army units gained their first foothold on Yemen's Arabian Sea coast by seizing the port of Shaqra 100km (60 miles) east of Aden, residents told Reuters.

The advances threaten Hadi's last refuge in Yemen and potentially undermine the air campaign to support him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


How Kate Upton's Cleavage Could Destroy North Korea (JAMES PEARSON, 3/27/15, Reuters)

A $50 portable media player is providing many North Koreans a window to the outside world despite the government's efforts to keep its people isolated - a symbol of change in one of the world's most repressed societies.

By some estimates, up to half of all urban North Korean households have an easily concealed "notel," a small portable media player used to watch DVDs or content stored on USB sticks that can be easily smuggled into the country and passed hand to hand. People are exchanging South Korean soaps, pop music, Hollywood films and news programs, all of which are expressly prohibited by the Pyongyang regime, according to North Korean defectors, activists and recent visitors to the isolated country.

"The North Korean government takes their national ideology extremely seriously, so the spread of all this media that competes with their propaganda is a big and growing problem for them," said Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organization that works with defectors. "If Pyongyang fails to successfully adapt to these trends, they could threaten the long-term survival of the regime itself."

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


What We Can Learn From Patrick Henry's 'Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death' Speech (Carson Holloway, March 23, 2015, Daily Signal)

[T]he speech can remind today's Americans of three important political virtues, virtues as relevant to Patrick Henry's time as to ours.

First, the speech reminds us of the importance of both civility and candor to a healthy politics. Perhaps surprisingly in view of its impassioned ending, the speech begins by noting the importance of civility. Henry opens his remarks by acknowledging the "patriotism, as well as the abilities" of those who spoke on the other side of the issue. He disclaims any intention to be "disrespectful" to them.

Nevertheless, the speech also points to the need for a candid civility. The stakes in play--freedom or slavery--require each citizen to speak his mind forthrightly. Only on the basis of such open debate, after all, can we "hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility we hold to God and our country." Civility means not seeking to give offense. It does not mean avoiding hard truths because they may offend others.

Second, the speech is an exercise in prudence, and it therefore teaches us something about prudence. According to Aristotle, prudence is the virtue by which we know how to act for the best in the circumstances we face. Thus understood, prudence involves complex political judgments, and it cannot be reduced to a simple formula. We often try to do this, however, and especially to reduce prudence to caution.

Henry, however, suggested that a prudent regard for "experience" taught in this case the need for bold, immediate action. All of the colonists' experience, he argued, showed that further argument with the British would be fruitless. The government of Great Britain was preparing to use force to bring the colonies to heel, and so prudence rejected further delays and called instead for immediate resistance--before the British force in America grew so strong that such resistance would become impossible.

Finally and most obviously, the speech shows forth a spirit of courage. According to Aristotle, courage is the virtue that faces death for a good cause. The speech is a call to arms--not figuratively as the expression "call to arms" is often used, but literally a call to armed resistance against the British. Henry's electrifying final words--"give me liberty or give me death"--remind us that finally a just freedom can be held securely only by those who are willing to risk everything to preserve it.

March 2015
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31