April 29, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Russia Says U.S. Buildup Violates Syrian Sovereignty (THOMAS GROVE, April 29, 2016, WSJ)

Russia said Friday that U.S. plans to increase the number of its military personnel in Syria was illegal and violated the sovereignty of the war-torn country.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Chobani's Shared Capitalism Bonanza : The Greek yogurt company just awarded its full-time employees a bunch of valuable shares in the company. Should more companies follow suit? (Dwyer Gunn, 4/29/16, Pacific Standard)

While Ulukaya's gesture is unique in its magnitude, the United States is actually an international leader in profit sharing and employee ownership programs, both of which fall under the umbrella of what economists describe as "shared capitalism." According to research conducted by economists Douglas L. Kruse, Richard B. Freeman, and Joseph R. Blasi as part of the National Bureau of Economic Research's Shared Capitalism Research Project, 45 percent of private sector, for-profit employees in the U.S. participate in some kind of shared capitalism program (either a profit sharing, gain sharing, employee ownership, or stock option program).

"This is the sort of thing where you can get everyone from Democrats to Tea Party Republicans to agree."

As inequality has increased in recent years, a growing number of economists, including Freeman, have also suggested that shared capitalism might be a way to more equitably distribute the gains of the one percent. The idea has caught on in the political sphere too: Last July, Hillary Clinton announced her support for a tax credit for businesses that adapt profit sharing programs.

"If we believe that an increase in the capital share is a major part of this inequality, then the question becomes what can we do to have the capital ownership widely distributed?" Freeman told me when I interviewed him earlier this year for an article on wage stagnation. "And that either means workers owning part of the companies they work for, or it means profit sharing, which means they own part of the profit stream."

Of course, there's another reason it makes sense for companies to get into the shared capitalism business: It more closely unifies the interests of workers with the interests of management. In a shared capitalism model, everyone benefits when workers are more productive and innovative. Ulukaya alluded to this when he told the Times that, now, his workers will be "working to build the company even more and building their future at the same time."

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


U.S. stands by South Korea defense talks despite China, Russia objections (Reuters, 4/29/16)

The White House on Friday said talks to install a new anti-missile defense system in South Korea would continue in the wake of nuclear arms and missile tests by North Korea despite calls by China and Russia for the United States to back off.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Tame U.S. inflation bolsters Fed caution on rate hikes (LUCIA MUTIKANI, 4/29/16, Reuters)

The tame inflation backdrop was reinforced by another report on Friday showing labor costs increasing moderately in the first quarter.

The Commerce Department said the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, excluding the volatile food and energy components, edged up 0.1 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.2 percent increase in February.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Journalist who profiled Melania Trump hit with barrage of antisemitic abuse (Lauren Gambino, 28 April 2016, The Guardian)

Journalist Julia Ioffe has experienced this kind of harassment before: in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

In the 24 hours since her profile of Donald Trump's wife, Melania, appeared in GQ magazine, the Russian-American journalist has received a torrent of antisemitic, vitriolic and threatening messages from supporters of the Republican frontrunner.

In the deeply disturbing response to her piece, Ioffe said she sees a frightening future of what freedom of the press - and the country - might look like under President Trump.

"What happens if Donald Trump is elected?" Ioffe said. "We've seen the way he bids his supporters to attack the media, his proposal to change libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists."

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 1:59 PM


Happy Birthday Duke!

April 28, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


People with more friends have higher pain thresholds, study suggests (Nicola Davis, 28 April 2016, The Guardian)

People with a larger circle of friends are better able to tolerate pain, according to research into the pain thresholds and social networks of volunteers.

The link is thought to be down a system in the brain that involves endorphins: potent pain-killing chemicals produced by the body that also trigger a sense of wellbeing.

"At an equivalent dose, endorphins have been shown to be stronger than morphine," said Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, who co-authored the research. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM

Soft Nutella chocolate chip cookies (Carol Ramos, APRIL 28, 2016, CS Monitor)

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened heaping 1/3 cup Nutella
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella (or more), for dolloping

1. Whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

2. Beat together butter, Nutella, sugars, egg and vanilla on medium-high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until well combined, about 3-4 minutes. 

3. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Dollop the Nutella on top of the dough and swirl very slightly. Do not try to mix into the dough but leave distinct swirls of Nutella.

4. Scoop into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.

5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space dough balls about 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake 9-11 minutes or until the edges are set and the middles no longer look raw or shiny.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


John Boehner Calls Ted Cruz 'Lucifer in the Flesh' (KRISTINA PETERSON, Apr 28, 2016, WSJ)

The Ohio Republican, who resigned from Congress last fall, on Wednesday night called the GOP presidential candidate "Lucifer in the flesh," telling an audience at Stanford University that he wouldn't vote for him for president even if he were the GOP nominee, according to the Stanford Daily student newspaper.

"I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life," Mr. Boehner said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Chairman Mao devours his foes : Cannibalism is added to Maoism's many other crimes in Frank Dikötter's final searing volume of A People's History (Jonathan Mirsky, 4/28/16, sPECTATOR)

Frank Dikötter, professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong and winner of the Samuel Johnson prize in 2011, is the author of many studies on China, most notably two on Mao's dark rule. This new book completes the trilogy. The first volume, The Tragedy of Liberation, made plain, more exhaustively than previous accounts, that from the beginning of his time as Chairman, Mao was paranoid and murderous, and that Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping egged him on. The second volume, the prize-winning Mao's Great Famine, examined, in characteristic detail, the Chairman's responsibility for the 1959-1961 famine, which killed 30 to 50 million Chinese.

Now we are shown that millions continued to starve for years after 1961. Dikötter doesn't explain how he obtained access to hitherto unexamined archives, but for this third volume he has trawled through a vast range of central and regional material, including both official and unofficial reports on disasters and horrors, and commentaries on what happened to ordinary Chinese throughout the country, including the sadists who obeyed Mao's deranged ukases. What comes over more clearly than ever is how accurate Roderick MacFarquhar's epitaph on the Cultural Revolution was: that 'the mark of Cain' hung heavily on it from the start. As Li Rui, one of Mao's secretaries, told a Harvard conference on the centenary of the Chairman's birth: 'Mao liked killing.' According to Dikötter:

Mao was easily offended and resentful, with a long memory for grievances. Insensitive to human loss, he nonchalantly handed down killing quotas. The Cultural Revolution, then, was also about an old man settling personal scores at the end of his life.

Here are some consequences. In the summer of 1968, 80,000 were slaughtered in Guangxi alone and some were eaten:

There was a hierarchy in the consumption of class enemies. Leaders feasted on the heart and liver, mixed with pork, while ordinary villagers were allowed only to peck at the victims' arms and thighs.

Dikötter shows that while Mao and his partisans were ravaging the old culture and hounding those who clung to it, millions, risking fatal retribution, held to their traditional practices. In this 'silent revolution',

lamas, imams and priests may well have been in education camps, but ordinary followers stepped in to hold their communities together and many villagers continued to worship at a small shrine or altar inside their home. They burned incense, offered vows, and invoked the spirits away from the public eye.... The ultimate act of subversion was probably to turn the Chairman himself into a local deity.

In this way, Dikötter contends, 'they buried Maoism'. This may have been true of the Tibetans who worshipped the 'criminal' Dalai Lama, and the Han Chinese, who revered their ancestors. But Mao's successors have continued to make life hell for dissidents. His portrait still gazes down on Tiananmen Square, and President Xi urges his people to honour one of history's greatest monsters.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Why so many Iranians have come to hate the hijab : Over the years the state crackdown on women's dress has become more of a show to placate the country's hardline base. Our correspondent shares stories from her personal repertoire illustrating the point (Denise Hassanzade Ajiri,  28 April 2016, The Guardian)

As time went by, the younger generation gradually became accustomed to the morality police, then known as komiteh. Just one encounter with them, and the spell of dread was broken. You were not scared of them any more. At least those in my circle were not.

During the early 1990s, the komiteh arrested my sister and her friend on the street. They were on their way to buy ice cream when a van pulled up beside them. A woman in black chador opened the van door and asked them to enter. Frightened, my sister and her friend ran toward an idling taxi a few meters away and jumped in. The van shot forward and veered in front of the taxi. Two soldiers leaped out and pointed their guns at the car while the woman in chador shouted at the top of her lungs for my sister and her friend to get in the van. They did.

Accompanied by other women, mostly young, who had similarly been arrested, they were driven to Vozara Detention Center where a group trial date was scheduled. A few hours later, my parents took my sister home. My mother was stunned, my father confused. My sister, who was then in middle school, had a very different take. She entered our house with a wide smile on her face, telling me it was the "coolest experience". She excitedly described how all the women were singing and clapping as they waited together in a communal cell. A few of their fellow scofflaws, apparently regulars at that particular detention center, were handcuffed. As my sister and her van companions entered the cell, one of them held her hands up in the air and shouted, "Hey kids! Check this out! They have given me bracelets!"

A few days later, the girls in the van showed up for their group trial and were fined 5,000 tomans each - the equivalent then of less than 20 dollars.

In the early 2000s, my dad was driving my sister back from a class when, a few blocks from home, they were stopped by the morality police.

"What's the relation between you two?" a male agent asked my father.

"She's my daughter," he calmly replied.

"Why are you in the car with this man? Who is he?" a female agent asked my sister.

"He's my dad," she calmly replied.

The agents asked for documents that could prove these incredible claims. My father and sister didn't have any. The agents talked between themselves for few minutes and let them go. By this point, no one took such encounters to heart. Hearing the story, my mom responded with an incredulous "What?" I just laughed.

This was during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, when many of us young people felt emboldened to publicly bend the morality rules and even, yes, protest. One night around that time, four of us were tooling down the Modarres Highway when a police car signaled for us to pull over. My sister's boyfriend was behind the wheel, while she rode shotgun. I was in the rear alongside my boyfriend, who'd been smoking out the window.

One policeman exited the car and walked toward us.

"What's the problem, officer?" my sister's boyfriend asked.

"This lady was sitting improperly," he said, pointing at me. I was resting my knees on the back of the front seat.

I'm certain that none of us were scared. My sister even chuckled quietly. I got angry and started shouting and crying. I felt insulted. It was the policeman, if anyone, who seemed less than sure of himself. He apologized, asked us to sit "properly", and invited us to go.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


World's Largest Viking Ship Sets Sail for the U.S. (Sebastian Modak   April 28, 2016, Conde Nast Traveler)

There was once a time when the sight of a Viking "Great Ship" on the horizon would cause mass hysteria, because it generally meant impending doom. But when the Draken Harald Hårfagre arrives in Duluth, Minnesota in August, just in time for the annual Tall Ships Festival, it will be cause for celebration. The world's largest Viking ship took sail on Saturday from its home port of Haugesund, Norway, and will be making its way across the Atlantic, stopping at ports in Iceland, Greenland, Canada, and the United States.

Once in the U.S., the Draken Harald Hårfagre will go through the Great Lakes to Duluth for the festival, and then loop back to New York City and Connecticut. Captain Björn Ahlander is commanding a crew of 32 men and women who will be tracing the approximate route that Leif Erikson--thought to be the first European to land in North America--took roughly 1,000 years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Shakespeare, Cervantes, and the Romance of the Real (R. V. Young, Spring 2016, Modern Age)

Although Cervantes reportedly regarded Persiles y Sigismunda as his crowning work (Delphi Cervantes, loc. 30753), I am aware of no ten-year-old boy in a later century who carried a copy with him at all times, as Howells carried Don Quixote, "so as not to lose any chance moment of reading it." The paradox of this great work of literary realism is, then, that it is more enchanting, more romantic, than not only the books of chivalry that Cervantes set out to mock but also his own effort at beguiling the reader with fantastic adventures, characters, and settings. Something analogous may be said of Shakespeare, who rarely devised his own plots, but rather lifted stories from hither and yon, turning material that ranged from ordinary historical chronicles to banal Italian novellas into fascinating dramas in which the characters--their doings and their speech--take luminous shape in our imagination and yet seem compellingly real.

Cervantes and Shakespeare are thus the literary embodiments of the genius of Western civilization, which is both shrewdly critical and aspirational. To grasp, however faintly, their means of achieving this is to apprehend in some measure the transformation of lead into gold in a way never attained by alchemy.

Ormsby points out the incongruity that emerges immediately from the title of the novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha:

It would be going too far to say that no one can thoroughly comprehend "Don Quixote" without having seen La Mancha, but undoubtedly even a glimpse of La Mancha will give an insight into the meaning of Cervantes such as no commentator can give. Of all the regions of Spain it is the last that would suggest the idea of romance. Of all the dull central plateau of the Peninsula it is the dullest tract.

"To anyone who knew the country well," he continues, "the mere style and title of 'Don Quixote of la Mancha' gave the key to the author's meaning at once" (Delphi Cervantes, loc. 115520-115527).

But the actual effect of reading the book is to endow this dullest district of Spain--and its dullness is part of the story's design--with endless fascination for generations of readers. Just as the drab, utilitarian windmills of La Mancha become giants in the mind of Alonso Quijano, the somewhat down-at-the-heels country gentleman who has assumed the guise of Don Quixote, doughty knight errant; even so La Mancha becomes in the mind of the young William Dean Howells and countless others a magical landscape where the reader eagerly anticipates the next misadventure of our benighted knight. Don Quixote's "quest" is thus to discover in ordinary places among ordinary men and women a vein of meaning and purpose. Insofar as both readers and the other characters are compelled to go along with him, to enter into his chivalric fantasies, he succeeds in opening up a realm of imagination among the poor, dusty villages of La Mancha.

Poor Cervantes; he lost control of his own text and it became the thing he disdained.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


The X-Files and the Demon-Haunted World  : On why we want to believe (Ari N. Schulman, Fall 2015, New Atlantis)

The X-Files toys with the way modern science understands itself. Science is not only a method but a worldview, with its own traditions and myths, heroes and villains. Consider the story of Galileo standing up to the Church, the classic tale of the champion of discovery persecuted by the powers that be for busting cherished beliefs. Like Mulder's appeals to science, the faithfulness of this story to the actual historical record is less important than the lesson it is meant to convey. What The X-Files offers is a series of cunning inversions of these mythologies science has developed about itself.

Chief among these is the myth of the Galilean skeptic clashing with the orthodox believer. And as far as that goes, it's really Mulder who's the skeptic, and Scully the believer. However much we're told that Mulder is driven by his traumatic origin story and his love of the spooky, we mostly only see Mulder's passions trumping his reason in the episodes where he is investigating his sister's disappearance or the vast all-wing conspiracy. And although these things are at the core of the show's mythology, they're also a departure from its normal depiction of Mulder as an investigator: Typically cool, wry, and curious, Mulder has the demeanor and style of a skeptic. And he and Scully are quite evenly matched, both critical, insightful, and attentive to the demands of evidence.

More to the point, it is of course Mulder, not Scully, who is willing to reckon with the reality of the observable phenomena of their world, which after all is the point of the scientific method. For all her forensic and investigatory chops, Scully the scientist is, as one of Mulder's few allies in the bureau puts it, "not what I'd call an open mind." She defends science -- "my science," she calls it, suggesting there might be others -- as if it were defined by some particular list of things that are not allowed to exist. And when she winds up seeing just about everything on this list and yet refuses to acknowledge it, her invocations of science begin to sound less like skepticism than clinging to blind faith.

Along with the clash of skeptic and believer is an inversion of science's relationship to authority. The agents illustrate this again: scientific Scully is actually deferential to authorities of all kinds, Mulder suspicious and confrontational. The scientific imperative to question arguments from authority is meant to counter our inherent complacency and deference. But in the noir world of The X-Files, authority must be fought because anyone and everyone could be out to deceive. Though Carl Sagan dismissed the paranoid style of the show, it shared more with his science and his politics than he would have cared to admit. "One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority,'" he writes in The Demon-Haunted World. Or, as The X-Files puts it: trust no one. Both seemed to agree that the authorities do not just happen to be wrong; it is in their interest to defend orthodoxy.

Here is where the broader scientific mythology, going beyond the strict dictates of method, is at its strongest play in the show: in the story of the brave loners, the few who seek and discover and sustain the Truth, no matter how they challenge the powerful or society's cherished beliefs, no matter how they are persecuted. But where Sagan saw science as the ultimate weapon in the struggle against power structures of all kinds, in the universe of The X-Files, the scientific establishment is both an orthodoxy and an instrument of the powers that be.

The ironic upshot is that The X-Files invokes the mythology of modern science in order to arrive at the very set of beliefs that modern science defines itself against. It tells a story of how, in a world riven by demons and spooks and witches, science would fall into the same kind of dogmatism it claims to vanquish.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


House Speaker Ryan invites India's Modi to address Congress (Reuters, 4/28/16)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to address a joint meeting of Congress when he visits Washington in June, an unusual show of warmth for a foreign leader.

"This address presents a special opportunity to hear from the elected leader of the world's most populous democracy on how our two nations can work together to promote our shared values and to increase prosperity," the Republican leader of the House of Representatives said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Teen birth rate hits all-time low, led by 50 percent decline among Hispanics and blacks (Ariana Eunjung Cha, April 28, 2016, Washington Post)

[T]he second cause is something that goes against the conventional wisdom. It's that teens -- despite their portrayal in popular TV and movies as uninhibited and acting only on hormones -- are having less sex.

"There has been a change in social norms that has happened in the past 20 years, and the idea of not having sex or delaying sex is now something that can be okay," said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

If God chose to incarnate Himself today, Mary would be a 20-year-old instead of a 12-year-old.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Does future growth depend on the universal basic income? (George Magnus, April 27, 2016, Prospect)

The most compelling argument for the UBI stems from our evolving social and economic organisation. Radical advances in digital technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence will transform our society beyond our capacity to imagine at this point. Already, new technologies are undermining an array of middle-wage paying, middle-skill level occupations, not just low paid and low skilled ones.

These new technologies are distributing rewards disproportionately to the owners and providers of capital, and to those companies and entrepreneurs who are in the forefront of wealth creation. Textbook economics tells us this is as expected. But it brings to mind the apocryphal conversation between Henry Ford and the Auto Workers union boss, Walter Reuther during a tour of a newly automated factory. "Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?" said Ford. "Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?" replied Reuther. In the end, productivity growth allowed Ford's workers the wages and the wherewithal to buy. But you get the point.

If we automate, digitise and use robotics more, how will people consume what new technologies allow us to produce? If they don't or can't, we are in Marx's world of over-production and under-consumption. We can redistribute income, but only so far. Eventually, productivity growth will come to the rescue, far-fetched though this seems in the near future. We didn't foresee the productivity rise as the early IT revolution took root, and we can't see the productivity shift that will come in the future. In the meantime, we will need new coping mechanisms to help people through a complicated transition, and our economies to sustain an essential growth in demand.

...of goods and services also means that ever less wealth will need to be distributed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Exclusive: US May Lift Vietnam Arms Embargo For Obama Visit (Prashanth Parameswaran, April 27, 2016, Diplomat)
In a historic move, the United States may consider lifting an arms embargo on Vietnam in line with U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the country next month, The Diplomat understands from U.S. and Vietnamese sources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


A Robot Monk Is Spreading Buddhist Teachings in China (Danny Lewis, 4/28/16, SMITHSONIAN.COM )

 By working with engineers and artificial intelligence experts from some of China's top universities, a Buddhist monk who lives just outside of Beijing has developed a little robot monk who can hold simple conversations and recite traditional chants in hopes of sharing ancient teachings through modern technology.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


The Fine-Tuning of Nature's Laws (Luke A. Barnes, New Atlantis)

Today, our deepest understanding of the laws of nature is summarized in a set of equations. Using these equations, we can make very precise calculations of the most elementary physical phenomena, calculations that are confirmed by experimental evidence. But to make these predictions, we have to plug in some numbers that cannot themselves be calculated but are derived from measurements of some of the most basic features of the physical universe. These numbers specify such crucial quantities as the masses of fundamental particles and the strengths of their mutual interactions. After extensive experiments under all manner of conditions, physicists have found that these numbers appear not to change in different times and places, so they are called the fundamental constants of nature.

These constants represent the edge of our knowledge. Richard Feynman called one of them -- the fine-structure constant, which characterizes the amount of electromagnetic force between charged elementary particles like electrons -- "one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man." An innovative, elegant physical theory that actually predicts the values of these constants would be among the greatest achievements of twenty-first-century physics.

Many have tried and failed. The fine-structure constant, for example, is approximately equal to 1/137, a number that has inspired a lot of worthless numerology, even from some otherwise serious scientists. Most physicists have received unsolicited e-mails and manuscripts from over-excited hobbyists that proclaim, often in ALL CAPS and using high-school algebra, to have unlocked the mysteries of the universe by explaining the constants of nature.

Since physicists have not discovered a deep underlying reason for why these constants are what they are, we might well ask the seemingly simple question: What if they were different? What would happen in a hypothetical universe in which the fundamental constants of nature had other values?

There is nothing mathematically wrong with these hypothetical universes. But there is one thing that they almost always lack -- life. Or, indeed, anything remotely resembling life. Or even the complexity upon which life relies to store information, gather nutrients, and reproduce. A universe that has just small tweaks in the fundamental constants might not have any of the chemical bonds that give us molecules, so say farewell to DNA, and also to rocks, water, and planets. Other tweaks could make the formation of stars or even atoms impossible. And with some values for the physical constants, the universe would have flickered out of existence in a fraction of a second. That the constants are all arranged in what is, mathematically speaking, the very improbable combination that makes our grand, complex, life-bearing universe possible is what physicists mean when they talk about the "fine-tuning" of the universe for life.

April 27, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


The World Needs More U.S. Government Debt (Narayana Kocherlakota, 4/27/16, Bloomberg View)

The yield on a 20-year inflation-protected Treasury bond, at just over 0.5 percent, is nearly two full percentage points lower than it was 10 years ago. This means that the price is near record highs, suggesting that the U.S. government's supply of such safe investments is falling far short of demand. In other words, we're starving the world of desperately needed financial safety.

To some, the idea that the U.S. government isn't issuing enough debt may seem counterintuitive -- after all, federal debt outstanding has more than doubled over the past 10 years. But scarcity is not about supply alone. In the wake of the financial crisis, households and businesses are demanding more safe assets to protect themselves against sudden downturns. Similarly, regulators are requiring banks to hold more safe assets. Market prices tell us that the government needs to produce more safety in order to meet this increased demand.

The scarcity of safety creates hardships for people and businesses. Retirees can't get adequate returns on their nest eggs. Banks can't earn enough on safe, long-term investments to cover the costs of attracting deposits (interest rates on which can't fall much below zero).

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


The No. 1 Cause of Traffic Fatalities? It's Not Texting, It's Driving (Philip Cohen, October 8, 2014, Sociological Images)

I generally oppose scare-mongering manipulations of data that take advantage of common ignorance. The people selling mobile-phone panic don't dwell on the fact that the roads are getting safer and safer, and just let you go on assuming they're getting more and more dangerous. I reviewed all that here, showing the increase in mobile phone subscriptions relative to the decline in traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.

That doesn't mean texting and driving isn't dangerous. I'm sure it is. Cell phone bans may be a good idea, although the evidence that they save lives is mixed. But the overall situation is surely more complicated than TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING EPIDEMIC suggests. The whole story doesn't seem right -- how can phones be so dangerous, and growing more and more pervasive, while accidents and injuries fall? At the very least, a powerful part of the explanation is being left out. (I wonder if phones displace other distractions, like eating and putting on makeup; or if some people drive more cautiously while they're using their phones, to compensate for their distraction; or if distracted phone users were simply the worst drivers already.)

Beyond the general complaint about misleading people and abusing our ignorance, however, the texting scare distracts us (I know, it's ironic) from the giant problem staring us in the face: our addiction to private vehicles itself costs thousands of lives a year (not including the environmental effects).

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Your Future Hip Replacement May Come Out of a Printer : Customized, printed orthopedic implants could be the future. In the meantime, the new manufacturing method is helping companies cut costs. (Mike Orcutt  April 27, 2016, MIT Technology Review)

Printed parts represent only a small fraction of the overall market for orthopedic implants, but for two important reasons that share could grow quickly in the coming years. First, an aging population is getting more joint replacement operations. The number of annual hip replacements in the U.S. doubled between 2000 and 2010. Second, in recent years engineers have gotten much better at using additive manufacturing technology--as 3-D printing is also called--to make titanium implants.

Leading orthopedic implant makers are investing substantially in the development of the technology; earlier this year Stryker announced plans to build a $400 million additive manufacturing facility. Companies hope to cut costs by simplifying the production process for these implants, which are often geometrically complicated assemblies of multiple metal pieces. Building them layer by layer allows companies to consolidate many pieces into one, and save material that would be wasted in traditional subtractive manufacturing processes like forging and casting (see "10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013: Additive Manufacturing").

But perhaps the biggest potential benefit is the ability to design implants that are specific to an individual patient's body, by using data from magnetic resonance imaging or computerized tomography scans. That's especially true for parts of the skeleton that have complicated geometries that can be very unique to an individual, like the pelvis, says Jason Koh, an orthopedic surgeon at NorthShore University Health System and director of the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute. Koh says customized total joint replacements could also have substantial benefits for patients.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


CHINA DEBUTS ANBOT, THE POLICE ROBOT (Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, 4/27/16, PopSci)

The 1.5 meter tall, 78 kg Anbot looks like a cross between Star Wars' R2D2 and Doctor Who's Daleks, with a touchscreen on top. It has enough battery power for 8 hours of operations, autonomous navigation and intelligent video analysis, and can reach speeds of 18 kmh to chase down fleeing criminals or respond to emergencies. The Anbot can also rush over to the scene if a bystander cries for help, and it can even recharge itself without human intervention (bad news in the event of a robot uprising). NDU promises that in addition to standard police patrolling, the Anbot can undertake riot control, by remotely firing its electroshock weapons (or by running over unruly protesters).

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Trespassing Across America: A Hike Along the Keystone Pipeline (NATHAN GELGUD, April 27, 2016, Signature)

Somewhere around the middle of Trespassing Across America, author Ken Ilgunas ponders what it means to be an environmentalist. He's been hiking from north of the Canadian border, on his way down to where Texas hits the Gulf of Mexico. When roadside strangers or table neighbors in pizzerias ask him why, he tells them the truth: that he's following, on foot, the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a massive energy project to be built by TransCanada. The pipeline has lots of populist support because of the jobs it would supposedly provide and the buyouts that landowners are getting. But it also faces opposition from people concerned about what it will do to their drinking water and because of what it represents: big oil companies contributing to global warming.

In his travel memoir, Ilgunas doesn't get into all of this with the farmers, cops, shop proprietors, and other strangers who ask him where he's headed. But this doesn't stop him from being asked frequently, in accusatory tones, if he's an environmentalist. Eventually, Ilgunas gets to wondering about this question, and gets frustrated that it's even a question at all. Do I care what we do to the earth? Does it matter what happens to the air we breathe and the water we drink? Do I want the planet to continue to exist? Are you really asking me this?

For all his disagreements with the people he encounters, Ilgunas's book is also the story of someone with liberal tendencies venturing through very conservative country, and gaining tolerance, respect, and occasional appreciation for the red-staters he meets. He gets annoyed with the suspicious glares he gets, but when he faces a test of his own ability to trust, he fails. He has to get over his long held grudge against conversion-happy Christians when he learns that he can often spend the night in small-town churches.

...Nickled and Dimed would have been readable.
Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


A Hidden Benefit to Common Core : High education standards prevent unprepared college students and help the economy. (Douglas Holtz-Eakin, April 27, 2016, US News)

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act required states to use standardized assessments to evaluate academic achievement. These standards could be of their own design. As a result, the rigor of the standards was as varied as the individual states, and there was essentially no ability to make cross-state comparisons.

Parents and others noticed that the results from state assessments often overstated proficiency levels when compared with national measurements. The inability to determine whether putative standards were actually binding efforts to raise achievement gave rise to the Common Core State Standards initiative; standards that have been shown to be more rigorous and effective.

A state-led effort, the Common Core standards were drafted by experts and teachers from across the country. They genuinely demanded that schools meet sensible metrics and provided parents and policymakers a way to check the quality of their schools against those in other states. To date, 46 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted Common Core. However, since then, there has been serious backsliding. Legislatures in 32 states have introduced bills to repeal the standards, and three states (Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina) have actually voted to repeal.

The danger is that opposition to Common Core, in conjunction with a rising opposition to standardized tests in general, will transform into a general opposition to holding educators to high standards. Lowering or eliminating standards will harm economic growth. It will reduce the attainment of educational degrees. But most harmful, it will exacerbate the trend toward under-prepared college students, lengthened time to completion and inflated tuition costs for families.

But the tests should show their kids are unprepared, not ours!

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Clinton Campaign Themes Failed To Resonate For Jeb Bush and Rubio (IRA STOLL, April 25, 2016, NY Sun)

Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat, just released a campaign commercial in which the words "so we can all rise together" appear on the screen. The "right to rise" was what the Republican former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, had said his presidential campaign was all about. Mrs. Clinton must be hoping the slogan, with its vaguely Christian overtones and association with the American dream of upward mobility, works better for her than it did for him.

By the Fall she'll be running on the Ownership Society.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Colorectal Cancer Screening: Not All It's Cracked Up to Be? (Nick Mulcahy, April 27, 2016, Medscape)'

"Unambiguous good news" -- that's what the trends are in colorectal cancer incidence and mortality for adults 50 years and older in the United States, according to a pair of experts.

Since 1975, incidence has dropped by about 40% and mortality by about 50%, observe Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH, and Douglas Robertson, MD, MPH, from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Lebanon, New Hampshire. [...]

They also point out that screening is not always needed for a gastrointestinal cancer to decline dramatically in the United States. "Since 1930, without any screening effort, gastric cancer incidence and mortality have decreased by almost 90%," they report.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


The Forgotten Lessons of the American Eugenics Movement (ANDREA DENHOED, 4/27/16, The New Yorker)

"Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck," by the journalist and lawyer Adam Cohen, gives a detailed account of the many forces that converged to bring about the Buck decision, tracing the intersecting paths of the people involved. He begins with Dr. Priddy, who was a true believer in the pure-blooded future. Priddy began pushing for legislation permitting eugenic sterilizations after he was sued by a patient whom he'd sterilized without her consent. He turned to a friend, a lawyer and politician named Aubrey Strode, who emerges as a fascinatingly banal character in Cohen's account. Strode apparently wasn't wholeheartedly in favor of the cause, but he did his job, drafting the law, suggesting the test-case approach, and representing the Colony in court. He argued the case before the Supreme Court, won, and then basically never mentioned it again. Carrie's attorney in the case, selected by her court-appointed guardian, was a man named Irving Whitehead, a childhood friend of Strode's and a former board member for the Colony. He collaborated with Priddy and Strode on the appeals process and handled Carrie's case in a thoroughly negligent way.

Strode wrote his legislation based on a model law drafted by the biologist Harry Laughlin, who was the director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Eugenics Record Office (an epicenter for research in the field) and perhaps the most influential eugenics advocate in the country. If Strode is Eichmann in this story, then Laughlin is Goebbels. (The Nazi comparison feels justified here, if only for its literal relevance: Laughlin corresponded with German eugenicists and was enthusiastic about Hitler's leadership, praising him for realizing that the "central mission of all politics is race hygiene." He was also a driving force behind the Immigration Act of 1924, which set strict quotas on various undesirable races, including Jews. He urged maintaining these quotas when, not many years later, large numbers of Jews were trying to flee Europe.)  [...]

Thirty-two states passed eugenic-sterilization laws during the twentieth century, and between sixty and seventy thousand people were sterilized under them. The rhetoric of the movement toned down after the U.S. went to war with Germany; most American eugenicists abandoned their explicit praise of the Nazi project, and the field dwindled as an area of officially sanctioned research. 

And so died Darwinism in America...

April 26, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


God's Avenger, Whore of Babylon: Political Power in the Bible (Paul D. Miller, Winter 2016, Providence)

Christian political theory understands that government, as an expression of human sin, is usually wicked, oppressive, cruel, and barbaric. Yet government is ordained by God; God is the ultimate authority behind every government; it is legitimate; it must be obeyed; it may rightly use violence and coercion to uphold order and execute justice; when it acts rightly, it is a great blessing to human beings; and rulers must seek to govern with wisdom and justice. This balanced view leads to a middle way between naïve, utopian pacifism and cynical realism.

Mainstream Christian political thought is not pacifist. That, by itself, is not uncontroversial. Some Christians have taken Jesus' command "do not resist an evil person" but rather to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39) quite literally, as prohibiting resistance to violent offenders, both personally and corporately. More broadly, this line of thinking prohibits Christian participation in government--an inherently coercive enterprise--at all. From Tertullian and St. Benedict to St. Francis, Menno Simms, John Howard Yoder, and Stanley Hauerwaus, a minority of Christians through the ages have argued that true fidelity to Jesus' example requires Christians to foreswear any and all violence, coercion, and engagement with the corrupting institutions of the world. Yes, they understand, this view is radical; it is "unrealistic;" and it is impractical. That, they believe, is the point. By living a radical life, the church is supposed to bear witness to the radical message of Jesus.

The arguments against pacifism are, I trust, well known. The Bible is well aware of the violent and coercive nature of all government, and yet quite clearly shows it to be ordained by God as a blessing to human life. That gives strong support to those who argue, rightly, that when Jesus tells us not to resist an evil person he is giving us guidance for our personal lives and our heart motivations, not articulating a political philosophy of pacifism and disengagement. Jesus, of course, knew the Old Testament and what God had told Noah in Genesis 9--and he knew as well what his apostles would write in the New Testament, in Romans 13 and elsewhere. We must use Scripture to interpret Scripture: read Jesus' command not to resist an evildoer in Matthew 5 in light of Romans 13 that specifically commands government to resist evildoers with the sword. That is why the mainstream tradition of Christian thinking on government and war has not been pacifist.

But if Christian political thought does not lead to a simplistic stance of pacifism and withdrawal, neither does it simply bless the dictates of realpolitik with a religious gloss. "Realism" as a school of thought is largely the creation of 18th century Enlightenment thinkers eager to escape the so-called "Wars of Religion" of the previous two centuries. In their view, the marriage of religion and politics led statesmen to believe it was in their interest to spread the true faith through force, leading to 150 years of pointless bloodshed and ruinous war throughout Europe, with nothing to show for it. Instead, the new "realists" argued, states should ignore religion and pursue material interests, like land, money, and industrial resources. As other states pursue the same, they will either join up in alliances, if their interests align, or seek to counter one another, if they clash. States will naturally line up to oppose any single state that threatens to become too powerful: the balance of power. "Realists" argued this was simply a recognition of the "realities" of the world as it actually is, not as religious zealots wanted it to be. War is merely a matter of calculating the nation's material interest and pursuing it with cold efficiency. Today's realists tend to counsel against humanitarian intervention and have been the loudest critics of peacekeeping, reconstruction and stabilization operations, and counterinsurgency because they believe such operations are dispensable exercises in charity.

Here is the paradox of Christian political theory--and its genius. God ordains the use of the very instrument that is the greatest danger to human life as a check upon that instrument. In the Federalist Papers, Madison wrote that "ambition must be made to check ambition," meaning that human selfishness was the best and most reliable tool to counteract human selfishness, and used that insight to craft a finely balanced constitution and control violence within one state. The same insight applies internationally. The only tool powerful enough to stop a marauding, murderous, thieving government--is another government. Government must be made to check government.

The Biblical view differs from both pacifism and realism. When we wield the instruments of statecraft, we must not do so solely with an eye for how it furthers our own national interest, narrowly conceived. Rather, we must also think about how our exercise of power effects those upon whom we exercise it, and our power must, to the extent possible, work for their good as well as ours. In practical terms, the United States cannot pursue a strategy of unilateral domination, nor unilateral withdrawal. Either position can be motivated by a naïve utopianism or by a cynical amoralism. We should not seek to dominate the world either out of utopian hopes to usher in world peace--nor a cynical drive to guarantee absolute security. But neither should we withdraw in utopian hopes of remaining unsullied by the world--nor out of cynical apathy that there is nothing worth fighting for.

Instead, the United States should pursue a grand strategy of fostering liberal order--order characterized by self-government and civil liberties; by open and transparent market competition and the rule of law; and by intergovernmental cooperation on issues of common concern. Love of neighbors and love for enemies requires as much.

Indeed, Christianity requires from us that we be activist on behalf of those who do not enjoy those blessings with which they are endowed by the Creator : life, liberty and the pursuit.   Therefore, our history is in fact one of cultural domination and often military domination that has brought the End of History to nearly the whole globe already.  

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