November 21, 2014

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 12:34 AM


Hampton Hawes: For Real! 

A year or two ago, a friend sent me a book I had never heard of, "Raise Up Off Me" the autobiography of the great bop pianist, Hampton Hawes.  Before that, I had heard of Hawes but was not very familiar with his music other than his playing on one Sonny Rollins album.  Well, his life story is fascinating, so I'll summarize it here before getting on to the music: born in Los Angeles in 1928 to a minister father and church pianist mother, he began picking out tunes on the piano at age 3.  Largely self-taught, he was gigging around while still in high school, and before the age of 20 he had played with the greats of the Central Avenue scene (including Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Art Pepper) and had a life-changing (for good and bad) stint as the pianist with trumpeter Howard McGhee's Quintet which featured Charlie Parker during Bird's longest West Coast stay.  Hawes said that Parker was his primary musical influence, but like many who fell under Parker's spell, Hawes also became a heroine addict, and his book is filled with tragicomic misadventures of trying to score drugs in a variety of settings, including while stationed in Japan with the US Army during the Korean War.  Returning to the States in the mid-50's, Hawes had his greatest success as a recording and touring musician over the next 4 or 5 years, despite missing more than a few dates because he was strung out or in search of a fix.  In 1958 he was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.  Three years into his sentence, Hawes watched JFK's inauguration on TV in prison and decided to write to the new President seeking a pardon.  Amazingly, he was granted executive clemency in 1963, and returned to his musical career before dying suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 48 in 1977. 
Although Hawes recorded a number of terrific albums, mostly in trio settings, For Real! (recorded a few months before his incarceration) is my favorite because his playing is so wonderfully complemented by his band mates, Harold Land (tenor), Scott La Faro (bass) and regular collaborator Frank Butler (drums). Hawes's playing is a unique blend of bebop rhythm, harmony and technique - learned at the feet of the master, Parker - and a bluesy/funky/gospel feel...sort of a mix of Bud Powell and Horace Silver (although if I had to pick one player he most reminds me of it would probably be Wynton Kelly).  The opening tune of the album, "Hip," is a Hawes composition and an odd one in that the theme is an 11-bar blues...12 measures being the standard blues form and the basis for the great solos that follow.  The album has 2 classic bebop performances that show Parker's influence, "Crazeolgy," played moderately fast, and the Cole Porter standard "I Love You," played insanely fast.  But even at those speeds Hawes and Land, never fall into playing clichés or just running scales to keep up with the bass and drums.  "For Real" shows off Hawes's gospel/down home style on a tune reminiscent of Sonny Rollins's "Doxy." 

A few comments on the sidemen:  Scott La Faro had already established himself as one of the great bassists in jazz by the time he died in a car accident at 25 in 1961.  In his short career he played with such great, and diverse, musicians as Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Stan Getz, Ornette Coleman, and perhaps most memorably, as a member of the Bill Evans Trio.  La Faro's rich sound, technical agility, steadfast time keeping and melodic solos are heard throughout this album.  Although I was very familiar with Harold Land from his recordings with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet (where he had the unenviable job of replacing Rollins), his playing, while first rate, had never really jumped out at me.  But his work on this album was a consistently outstanding that I can't imagine any other great bop or hard bop tenor player of the time (Rollins, Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley) doing any better.  I especially like the story he tells in his gorgeous, soulful, self-assured solo on "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams" (the YouTube clip linked at the top).

November 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


'Sovereignty' no defence against ICC action in Sudan (KAMAL ELGIZOULI, 20 November 2014, openDemocracy)

Arguably, the traditional concept of a sacrosanct and impervious sovereignty no longer exists, and this allows more space for international scrutiny and action to protect human rights. The state is responsible for protecting the rights of its people, and upon failing to do so, the international community is entitled to act, including in extreme circumstances through intervention. As Dr. Boutros Ghali, former Secretary General of the United Nations, said: "The time of absolute sovereignty and exclusive sovereignty has passed." The international system requires a balance between the necessities of good governance and the requirements of an interdependent world, as well as a balance between the rights of the state and rights of its people.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Obama's Immigration Plan Could Shield Five Million (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and ROBERT PEAR, NOV. 19, 2014, NY Times)

Up to four million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years can apply for a program that protects them from deportation and allows those with no criminal record to work legally in the country, President Obama is to announce on Thursday, according to people briefed on his plans.

An additional one million people will get protection from deportation through other parts of the president's plan to overhaul the nation's immigration enforcement system, including the expansion of an existing program for "Dreamers," young immigrants who came to the United States as children. There will no longer be a limit on the age of the people who qualify. 

But farm workers will not receive specific protection from deportation, nor will the Dreamers' parents. And none of the five million immigrants over all who will be given new legal protections will get government subsidies for health care under the Affordable Care Act.

Just this once he ought to act like a leader and use his pardon power to grant a blanket amnesty for all immigration violations, the way Jimmy Carter did for draft dogdgers.

November 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


The Tie That Binds : How Ronald Reagan, the sunniest president in recent memory, cemented the Republican Party to the dark vision of Richard Nixon. (Ed Kilgore, Nov/Dec 2014, Washington Monthly)

The Invisible Bridge, like its predecessor Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, addresses a great puzzle of political history. How was it, the earlier book asks, that the apparent liberal consensus reflected in Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 landslide victory ended so very quickly? The Invisible Bridge similarly explores why Richard Nixon's forced resignation, followed by the "Watergate Election" of 1974, gave way to an era dominated by Nixon's most obdurate defender, Ronald Reagan. And even as Nixonland suggested that the 1964 "consensus" disguised powerful fault lines in the New Deal/Great Society coalition that Nixon so skillfully exploited, this latest volume suggests that Reagan, even more skillfully, encouraged Americans to deny the evidence of their own eyes and ears and reimagine their country as the "shining city on the hill"--a vision threatened only by self-doubt and excessive domestic government. [...]

Reagan's political genius was to convert Nixon's saturnine and ultimately self-defeating vision of an America divided into a compelling (if no less divisive) narrative. It was a narrative that inspired reactionaries who were unwilling to accept Nixon's or America's sins, and seduced a bored mainstream media looking for a new story line. Though Perlstein never quite puts it this way, it seems that Reagan accomplished the "positive polarization" that Spiro Agnew had announced as his goal shortly before he was caught taking cash payoffs from Maryland highway contractors in brown paper bags in the White House. That Agnew and then Nixon had turned out, after all, to be crooks left millions of political orphans, and at nearly the perfect time along came Ronald Reagan to adopt them.

The hilarious thing about the Left's view of Reagan is that they're so convinced that America is evil and that the rest of us are brainwashed that they elevate Reagan into this almighty wizard who has permanently blinded us to reality.  If Republican hagiographries of the Gipper tend to be a tad silly, these are buffoonery. Ultimately, they aren't even talking about Ronald Reagan, but about their own estrangement from the American people.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


A Bernie Sanders candidacy could help Hillary Clinton (Doyle McManus, 11/19/14, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

This year, there could be three candidates running to the left of Clinton. In addition to Sanders, there might be Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (who says he's running, but hasn't succeeded in defining much of a theme yet) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who spent most of the summer saying she wouldn't run, but recently modified that to "I don't think so."

Meanwhile, former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has been talking about running as a moderate to Clinton's right.

Challenges like these would be a good thing for Clinton.

For one thing, they would give voters a reason to tune in to Democratic primary debates; otherwise, the brawling Republican field would get hours of television time all to itself.

For another, if she has challengers on both the left and right, Clinton could conveniently cast herself as the woman in the middle, the champion of her party's broad center.

Of course, Bradley drahged Al Gore so far Left that he lost an unlosable election.  Hillary could shoot the gap between a leftwing nut and a rightwing nut, but that requires both.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


An Encounter Along Sherman's March (MARK H. DUNKELMAN,  NOVEMBER 18, 2014, NY Times)

My great-grandfather John Langhans enlisted in September 1864, joined the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry in Atlanta, and made the subsequent marches through Georgia and the Carolinas under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. He went on to live another 60 years, but when he died, the headline of his obituary identified marching with Sherman as the central event of his life.

My father and aunt imbibed their grandfather's war stories during his waning years. Decades later they passed the tales on to me, piquing my interest in the Civil War. In our family legend, Sherman's march was a sort of rowdy picnic, in which Union soldiers feasted on pigs and chickens taken from protesting farm and plantation owners along their path. Sherman's army, like Napoleon's, marched on its stomach.

Another aspect of our family legend described a great freedom crusade, with the army mobbed by joyous, newly freed African-Americans. Here was our ancestor as liberator, obviously on the right side of history. But his abolitionism went only so far. According to our legend, a former slave attached himself to John, intending to accompany him all the way to a job on the family farm in Cattaraugus County, N.Y., but John left the fellow behind on the journey north.

Our family legend also whitewashed history. Not a word was said about the extensive destruction of Sherman's marches, or the suffering of the beleaguered Southerners, white and black (excepting John's forlorn companion).

Slavery being evil, their suffering is not worth consideration.
Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


The Limits of a Secular Age (Randall Smith, 19 NOVEMBER 2014, The Catholic Thing)

Rémi Brague, French Catholic philosopher and winner of the prestigious Ratzinger Prize was at my university last week. Prof. Brague is one of those lecturers who loves to make interesting little side comments, something I am particularly fond of. In one of these little "asides," he suggested that the "secular" are those whose lives are defined by a horizon of a hundred years. "That is simply what the word 'secular' means," he declared.

I hadn't thought about the word "secular" or its Latin predecessor saeculum in this way before, since the Latin root cent- (from centum, "one hundred") didn't appear in it. So I looked it up.

What I found is that, in the ancient Roman world, a saeculum was considered the length of time roughly equal to the potential lifetime of a person or the equivalent of the complete renewal of a human population. How long would that be?

Opinions differed on this point, but during the time of Caesar Augustus, the Romans decided that a saeculum was 110 years. Later generations settled on an even 100, and as a result, in Romance languages, words derived from saeculum have come to mean "a century," as is true for example of siglo in Spanish, secolo in Italian, and siècle in French. Thus Prof. Brague was quite right that the word "secular" is related to "a hundred years," although the relationship is much clearer in French than in English.

Consider, then, the difference between a "secular" view of the world as opposed to one whose vantage point is "eternity" (in saecula saeculorum).

The inability to consider anything beyond yourself borders on pathology.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Thank Germany for Falling Prices of Solar Panels and Wind Turbines (Harold L. Sirkin, November 18, 2014, Businessweek)

As the late Julian Simon wrote in 1996 in The Ultimate Resource, need and inventiveness, or innovation, typically go hand in hand. That's why he argued against the doomsayers of the time, who were predicting resource, energy, and food shortages. That won't happen, Simon said; we'll just find new and better ways to get what we need.

Germany's embrace of wind and solar power is a good example. All the world will benefit.

As the Times put it: "By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago."

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


2 GOP presidents acted unilaterally on immigration (ANDREW TAYLOR, Nov. 17, 2014, AP) 

Two presidents have acted unilaterally on immigration -- and both were Republican. Ronald Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush extended amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.

Neither faced the political uproar widely anticipated if and when President Barack Obama uses his executive authority to protect millions of immigrants from deportation.

Inherent powers don't go away just because the other party holds the Oval.

Obama Has the Law--and Reagan--on His Side on Immigration (Erwin Chemerinsky and Samuel Kleiner, 11/19/14, New Republic)

President Obama is soon expected to take a step toward fixing our broken immigration system by issuing an executive order to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens. Republicans, including Speaker of the House John Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have threatened reprisals against such an order. But one thing is clear: The president has the constitutional authority to decide to not proceed with deportations. It has always been within the president's discretion to decide whether to have the Department of Justice enforce a particular law. As the Supreme Court declared in United States v. Nixon, "the Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case."

A president may choose to not enforce particular laws when deciding how to allocate scarce resources or based on his view of the best public policy. Few object, for example, when the Department of Justice does not prosecute those who possess small amounts of marijuana, even though they violated the federal Controlled Substance Act. There are countless federal laws that go unenforced. In 1800, then congressman and later Chief Justice John Marshall stated, the president may "direct that the criminal be prosecuted no further" because it is "the exercise of an indubitable and constitutional power."

The president's broad prosecutorial discretion has been repeatedly recognized by the courts. In 2013, Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit, appointed by George W. Bush, offered a strong defense: "The president may decline to prosecute certain violators of federal law just as the president may pardon certain violators of federal law," Judge Kavanaugh wrote. "The president may decline to prosecute or may pardon because of the president's own constitutional concerns about a law or because of policy objections to the law, among other reasons."

This prosecutorial discretion is even greater in immigration because the treatment of foreign citizens is inextricably intertwined with the nation's foreign affairs, an area especially under the president's control. For example, the Supreme Court's decision in 2010 to overturn large parts of Arizona's restrictive immigration law, SB1070, was premised on the executive branch's need for discretion in the immigration context. "A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials," the Court wrote, adding that "[t]he dynamic nature of relations with other countries requires the Exec­utive Branch to ensure that enforcement policies are con­sistent with this Nation's foreign policy with respect to these and other realities." In a similar 1941 case, Hines v. Davidowitz, the Supreme Court voided a Pennsylvania system of alien registration because "experience has shown that international controversies of the gravest moment, sometimes even leading to war, may arise from real or imagined wrongs to another's subjects inflicted, or permitted, by a government." 

A slippery slope on immigration (Ruth Marcus, November 18, 2014, Washington Post)

Every Democrat should be nervous about President Obama's plan for unilateral action on immigration reform.

Not because of the impact on an already gridlocked Congress, or because it risks inflaming an increasingly hostile public. Democrats should be nervous about the implications for presidential power, and the ability of a future Republican president to act on his or her own.

November 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


German town tricks neo-Nazis into raising thousands of euros for anti-extremist charity (Elena Cresci,  18 November 2014, The Guardian)

Neo-Nazis gathered in a small German town found themselves the target of an anti-fascist prank this week when they inadvertently raised €10,000 for an anti-extremist organisation.

For decades, far-right extremists have marched through Wunsiedel in Bavaria every year, to the despair of those who live there. This year, the organisers of Rechts gegen Rechts (Right against Right) took a different approach.

Without the marchers' knowledge, local residents and businesses sponsored the 250 participants of the march on 15 November in what was dubbed Germany's "most involuntary walkathon". For every metre they walked, €10 went to a programme called EXIT Deutschland, which helps people escape extremist groups.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


United States of Brrr! Freezing or below temperatures hit all 50 states (Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2014)

Temperatures fell to freezing or below at recording stations in all 50 states on Tuesday morning, from the highest elevations in the mountains of Hawaii to the snow-paralyzed Buffalo area in New York.

Jeff Masters is meteorology director at the online site Weather Underground. He says the low temperatures are January-like instead of what's normal for November.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Alcohol Taxes May Give Boost to Public Health, Economy (Robert Preidt, Nov. 18, 2014, HealthDay News)

"Money not spent on alcohol, coupled with the newly raised tax revenues, will be spent on other goods and services which will create jobs in non-alcohol sectors, offsetting any losses experienced in alcohol sectors," study author Frank Chaloupka, professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in an association news release.

According to Chaloupka's team, excessive drinking causes about 88,000 deaths a year in the United States and cost the nation $223.5 billion in 2006, or $1.90 per drink. In contrast, total federal and state taxes on alcohol in 2006 totaled only about 12 cents per drink.

Heavy drinkers pay more alcohol taxes -- for example, 82 percent of the total in Louisiana, 80 percent in Texas and 77 percent in California -- than light drinkers. Chaloupka reasoned that any increase in alcohol taxes might help reduce heavy drinkers' alcohol consumption.

And while critics of higher alcohol taxes say such a move would cause job losses, the new study suggests that the opposite is true.

"This new research suggests this argument is not only false, but that alcohol taxes can actually lead to more jobs," Chaloupka said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


A Journeyman Pitcher Got There Before Jeter : The ex-Yankee's website gives us players' unfiltered views--like Jim Brosnan started doing in 1958. (BOB GREENE, Nov. 17, 2014, WSJ)

[I]n the summer of 1958, something unexpected in the sports world happened. Sports Illustrated readers opened a new issue and found a long article about the life of a journeyman relief pitcher who had recently been traded from the Chicago Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals. The author was Jim Brosnan.

This was unheard of: unfiltered thoughts from a professional athlete, free of polishing from ghostwriters, straight from the clubhouse to the reader. It wasn't that the revelations were salacious or scandalous--they weren't. It was the human-to-a-fault dailiness of a ballplayer's world that was so startling. It was as if, for the first time, you understood what it was like to play a sport for a living. I recall, as a boy, opening that issue of Sports Illustrated and feeling as if Brosnan were talking to me, telling me things no sportswriter ever quite had.

If the article was met with wariness in the major leagues, it was embraced by readers, and Brosnan followed it with one of the best sports books ever written: "The Long Season," a diary of life on the road in 1959. After losing a game for the Cardinals against the San Francisco Giants: "Four hours later I sat at a table in Thompson's cafeteria, stabbing ham and eggs, drowning my burned-up pride with cold milk, and salting, slightly, the lower lids of my angry eyes. How in hell can you get into such a sad position? How can you fall so far so fast? . . . I can't stand to be booed. Some people say I'm being childish; most ballplayers say you get used to it. . . . I manage only to turn up the sound, and it rings and reverberates for hours after I'm gone, the crowd's gone, the game's gone."

Brosnan wasn't telling secrets, at least not the hurtful kind. (A decade later, in a suddenly more freewheeling American social era, another major-league pitcher, Jim Bouton, would write the best-selling and considerably less circumspect "Ball Four.") Jim Brosnan, though, was letting readers in on a quieter, simpler secret: what it's like inside a big-league uniform. Sometimes literally, as in this passage after he was traded midseason to the Reds: "Life in the Cincinnati clubhouse in midsummer is lived in the raw. Pregame uniform is jock strap and shower clogs. The thought of putting on a flannel uniform over woolen socks and undershirt starts the sweat rolling. 'How many electric fans you got in here, Chesty?' I asked the clubhouse man. 'Not enough,' he said."

November 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Why The Best Supreme Court Predictor In The World Is Some Random Guy In Queens (OLIVER ROEDER, 11/17/14, 538)

Blackman also launched the website FantasySCOTUS in 2009 -- as a joke. Like fantasy sports, human players log on, pick justices to vote this way or that, and score points once the decisions come down. To Blackman's surprise, it took off, and thousands of people now participate.

The real promise of FantasySCOTUS isn't entertainment, but prediction. Like the Iowa Electronic Markets, or the sadly defunct Intrade, FantasySCOTUS can harness the wisdom of the crowd -- incentivizing its participants to make accurate predictions, and then observing those decisions in the aggregate. This year there is a $10,000 first prize put up by the media firm Thomson Reuters.

"I had no idea whether it'd be accurate or not -- I did this entirely on a whim. And then by the end of the year I found out that this is actually pretty good," Blackman said. The serious FantasySCOTUS players generate predictions cracking 70 percent accuracy.

Blackman is excited to find out what sort of cases the humans are good at predicting, and what sort the machines are good at. With that information, he can begin to craft an "ensemble" prediction, using the best of both worlds.

So there are the scholars and the machines and the crowd. Composing the crowd are the hobbyists -- the intrepid, rugged individualists of the predicting world.

Jacob Berlove, 30, of Queens, is the best human Supreme Court predictor in the world. Actually, forget the qualifier. He's the best Supreme Court predictor in the world. He won FantasySCOTUS three years running. He correctly predicts cases more than 80 percent of the time. He plays under the name "Melech" -- "king" in Hebrew.

Berlove has no formal legal training. Nor does he use statistical analyses to aid his predictions. He got interested in the Supreme Court in elementary school, reading his local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer. In high school, he stumbled upon a constitutional law textbook.

"I read through huge chunks of it and I had a great time," he told me. "I learned a lot over that weekend."

Berlove has a prodigious memory for justices' past decisions and opinions, and relies heavily on their colloquies in oral arguments. When we spoke, he had strong feelings about certain justices' oratorical styles and how they affected his predictions.

Some justices are easy to predict. "I really appreciate Justice Scalia's candor," he said. "In oral arguments, 90 percent of the time he makes it very clear what he is thinking."

Some are not. "To some extent, Justice Thomas might be the hardest, because he never speaks in oral arguments, ever."1 That fact is mitigated, though, by Thomas's rather predictable ideology. Justices Kennedy and Breyer can be tricky, too. Kennedy doesn't tip his hand too much in oral arguments. And Breyer, Berlove says, plays coy.

"He expresses this deep-seated, what I would argue is a phony humility at oral arguments. 'No, I really don't know. This is a difficult question. I have to think about it. It's very close.' And then all of sudden he writes the opinion and he makes it seem like it was never a question in the first place. I find that to be very annoying."

I told Ruger about Berlove. He said it made a certain amount of sense that the best Supreme Court predictor in the world should be some random guy in Queens.

"It's possible that too much thinking or knowledge about the law could hurt you. If you make your career writing law review articles, like we do, you come up with your own normative baggage and your own preconceptions," Ruger said. "We can't be as dispassionate as this guy."

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Better Economic Policy Won't Save Japan (Megan McArdle, 11/17/14, Bloomberg View)

[T]here may simply be limits on what good economic policy can achieve.  This is not a very useful thing for an economics columnist to write, because then what are we supposed to suggest week after week?  But there it is: Japan's economic problems, particularly its long demographic shift, may simply not be very amenable to better policy.  Japan's exports have a lot more competition than they used to, and the country is heading for the demographics of an Assisted Living facility.  Better monetary policy won't change either of those facts.

...nor is there any reason for it to. The salient fact about the dying of Japan is that the Japanese don't care.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


The Emerging India-Australia Maritime Relationship : Narendra Modi is making a triumphant tour of Australia at an interesting time in bilateral relations. (Abhijit Singh, November 17, 2014, The Diplomat)

Engaging with the Indian expatriate community is, indeed, fast becoming Modi's signature move on his tours abroad. There is nothing quite as effective as mass fervor in conveying political strength and India's charismatic premier realizes its inherent potential. From a foreign policy and regional security perspective, however, it is Modi's meeting with his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott that promises a more interesting outcome.

There are a number of issues for discussion, but one that is likely to top strategic agenda is "maritime security." Ever since Canberra officially declared its interests in the Indian Ocean last year, there has been speculation in the strategic community about an evolving maritime coalition in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Indeed, Australia has in recent years sought to strengthen its nautical posture in the Indian Ocean, reviving its ties with regional states. It is, however, the vigorous pursuit of its relationship with India that has provided evidence of Canberra's desire to play a larger security role in the IOR.

Maritime watchers point out that Australia's consistent efforts for a deeper, more purposeful maritime association with India have begun to bear fruit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Ice Visible on Lake Superior Weeks Ahead of Schedule (DAN PECK, 11/15/14, ABC News)

Cold temperatures and snow across the Great Lakes in November is certainly nothing out of the ordinary, but this morning, a layer of ice was visible on parts of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wis.

While this may not seem unusual given the current stretch of unseasonably cold temperatures, it is actually several weeks earlier than normal.

The first sightings of ice on Lake Superior and the Great Lakes overall usually occur during the beginning to middle of December. However, a perfect combination of last season's record ice coverage, cooler summer temperatures, and an early blast of arctic air this fall has allowed for areas of ice to form earlier than normal for the second year in a row.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues author and transgender campaigner, dies at 65 (Martin Pengelly, 17 November 2014, The Guardian)

An obituary written by Feinberg's wife, Minnie Bruce Pratt, said Feinberg was "an anti-racist white, working class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist".

Apparently not intentional parody.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Less Food Policy, Not More (Richard Williams Nov. 17, 2014, US News)

The United States has created supermarkets full of the widest variety of food that has ever been available to any country. But for some, this achievement is seen as creating more problems than it solves. One suggestion, the subject of a recent Washington Post piece, suggests that we need a national food policy. Those that suggest that we need additional government programs and initiatives focused on healthy eating should consider the programs the government already has in place and the results - or lack of results - they've produced. [...]

One of the big problems in our current system is that we both subsidize and tax specific foods, sometimes taxing and subsidizing the same food, like sugar and corn used to create high fructose corn syrup. Inevitably, much of this is misguided, as are most of our policies that target individual foods or macronutrients.

As the research grows, the government's recommendations change. In the past, we have warned people about nuts, and then said they were miracle foods. We pronounced animal fats bad, and that got us trans fatty acids. Eggs were dangerous, but now they're good for you. Dietary cholesterol needed to be avoided, and then it didn't. Too much total fat was bad for you, but then some fats were good.

We could avoid all of these nutrition missteps if, for one thing, we stop subsidizing, taxing or targeting individual foods. The science will change, or we will come to understand that whatever is substituted will be just as bad or worse for you. We are either subsidizing farmers or we are taxing foods, which is one of the most regressive taxes on the poor that we have. Macronutrients seem to have something of the same problem.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Let Them Play Assassin's Creed? : With sympathetic noblemen and bloodthirsty common folk, the French Revolution-set Unity is re-igniting an historic debate over the period's heroes and villains. (KABIR CHIBBERNOV 17 2014, The Atlantic)

The former leftist French presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, called it "propaganda against the people, the people who are [portrayed as] barbarians, bloodthirsty savages," while the "cretin" that is Marie-Antoinette and the "treacherous" Louis XVI are portrayed as noble victims. "The denigration of the great Revolution is a dirty job to instill more self-loathing and déclinisme in the French," he told Le Figaro (link in French). The secretary general of the Left Front, Alexis Corbière, said on his blog (link in French):

To all those who will buy Assassin's Creed: Unity, I wish them a good time, but I also tell them that the pleasure of playing does not stop you from thinking. Play, yes, but do not let yourself be manipulated by those who make propaganda.

Ubisoft, the maker of the Assassin's Creed series of video games, which has been going since 2007 and has sold more than 70 million copies, is in fact French. One of the makers of the game replied (link in French) that Assassin's Creed: Unity is a "consumer video game, not a history lesson" but did say that his team hired a historian and specialists on the Terror and other aspects of the Revolution. Le Monde lays out seven errors in the game here (in French).

The debate over who are the heroes and villains of the Revolution goes back to the 1790s.
In fact, the debate over who are the heroes and villains of the Revolution goes back to the 1790s. British counter-revolutionary thought often focused on the suffering of the monarchy in their stories, such as the King's tearful goodbye to his family before his execution on Jan. 21st, 1793 or Marie-Antoinette's perhaps apocryphal last words to her executioner after stepping on his foot just before her head was cut off: "Pardon me sir. I did not mean to do it."

Like the video game, many scholars also focus on the revolutionaries' violence. "Bloodshed was not the unfortunate by-product of revolution, it was the source of its energy," the historian Simon Schama wrote in his book Citizens (paywall), published in 1989 to mark the bicentennial of the French Revolution, which he said depended "on organized killing to accomplish political ends."

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Let's bring on the brave new world : The dominant concern about robots is that they will make us obsolete, but past changes suggest we should take off the blinkers of fear (Laurie Zoloth, 11/17/14, Cosmos)

I can get a robot to clean my house. I have a typing machine that fixes my wretched spelling. There are websites that know my tastes in philosophy and literature, and I have a cell phone that tells me where I am. My machines give me, a random humanities professor, the equivalent of a retinue of servants. Outside my home, robotic DNA sequencers and computers in labs are picking out signatures of cancer in patients' DNA (a task that not so long ago took an army of researchers more than a decade). In hospitals, tiny robotic arms perform microsurgery, allowing operations in remote locations. Out in space, satellites circle and warn me of weather hazards. We have already incorporated thousands of robotic achievements into our lives, and it is only sensible to hope for more, such as a robot car that may save tens of thousands of lives, a robot that can fight fires in rough terrain, or robot diagnosticians that can scan a patient and make a treatment plan. 

Of course not all the world lives like I do. Too many women and men dig, and fetch and carry burdens that are too heavy to bear, or do meaningless clerical work. For these people, who are too often invisible and who are treated like robots, the robot revolution cannot come too soon. And, I daresay, those who oppose it have never worked in a factory or a field. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Iran's emerging institutional power and its effect on negotiations with the United States (AHMED E. SOUAIAIA 17 November 2014, openDemocracy)

In the past, the US has argued that hardline figures in the Iranian government are the cause of failed attempts to reach a negotiated agreement. With both Iran's new "moderate" president and the same "hardline" supreme leader committed to negotiations, it is now the US shift in institutional power that is threatening the process and undermining the President's efforts. In other words, the new Congress may render what used to be reassuring American institutional power a thing of the past if President Obama fails to reach a deal within the allotted time--before November 23, which is fast approaching.

Since Iran and the P5+1 inked the interim agreement nearly a year ago, Iran has received some of its frozen assets, continued nuclear research and development without expanding uranium enrichment, and struck a number of trade and economic agreements with a many foreign companies, including European ones. Most of these agreements were structured in a way that would mitigate current or future western sanctions. In other words, with or without agreement, Iran is in a better position than before it signed the interim agreement. If the US keeps its current sanctions or imposes new ones, it would be like someone cutting the branch of a tree they are sitting on. In other words, it would deprive American companies and individuals of opportunities made available to everyone else thanks to the interim agreement.

US policy makers have been accustomed to dealing with Middle Eastern countries that lack established institutional power. It was often the case that when a US administration wanted a particular Middle Eastern country to do something, it simply asked the king, emir, or sheikh of that country to issue a decree. Iran's emerging institutional power requires a new strategy in the Middle East for US foreign policy to be relevant.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Obama Looks to Jump-Start Export Push (WILLIAM MAULDIN, Nov. 16, 2014, WSJ)

Mr. Obama met with heads of the Group of 20 leading economies over the weekend in Australia to discuss ways to juice growth, which has again disappointed in Europe and Japan. For the U.S., one goal of increasing exports is to lift the lackluster manufacturing sector and relieve the pressure on consumers to deliver economic growth.

The U.S. and European Union announced trade negotiations early last year as a way to kick-start sluggish growth without changing tax or spending policies. Japan sees a separate Asian-Pacific trade deal as part of its efforts to bring efficiency and growth to stagnant sectors of its economy.

At home, the Obama administration is dangling the prospect of export gains--and associated manufacturing jobs--to attract support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks that include Japan and other Pacific Rim countries, as well as for the EU deal. Trade deals are widely seen as one economic area where the president and congressional Republicans, which swept to gains in this month's midterm elections, are in general agreement.

"To ensure that TPP is a success, we also have to make sure that all of our people back home understand the benefits for them--that it means more trade, more good jobs, and higher incomes for people throughout the region," Mr. Obama said last week in China.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Russia May Want to Upend Dollar 'Diktat,' But Greenback's Still King (IAN TALLEY, 11/17/14, WSJ)

Beijing wants to internationalize the yuan in part for economic reasons. It helps the economy adjust to integration with the global economy.  It's also a political goal: China wants the yuan to be one of the core currencies held by central banks around the world as part of their emergency reserves. The yuan as a "reserve currency" would be a symbol of the country's international power.

There's no doubt the dollar is still king, however.

International investors are buying record amounts of U.S. debt, pushing the dollar to a five-year high earlier this month. Foreign holdings of U.S. treasury securities topped a record $6 trillion in August as Europe flirts with another recession, emerging markets slow down and Japan faces a tough battle to revive long-stagnant growth.

The greenback's share of global currency reserves has held fairly steady over the last two decades. In 1995, the dollar represented 59% of total global currency reserves reported to the International Monetary Fund. It rose to a high of 72% before the tech bubble burst in the early 2000s, but has hovered around 61% for four years.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


THE PROGRESSIVES' WAR ON SUBURBIA (Joel Kotkin, 11/17/2014, New Geography)

You are a political party, and you want to secure the electoral majority. But what happens, as is occurring to the Democrats, when the damned electorate that just won't live the way--in dense cities and apartments--that  you have deemed is best for them?   

This gap between party ideology and demographic reality has led to a disconnect that not only devastated the Democrats this year, but could hurt them in the decades to come. University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill notes that the vast majority of the 153 million Americans who live in  metropolitan areas with populations of more than 500,000  live in the lower-density suburban places Democrats think they should not. Only 60 million live in core cities.      

Despite these realities, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama has increasingly allied itself with its relatively small core urban base. Simply put, the party cannot win--certainly not in off-year elections--if it doesn't score well with suburbanites. Indeed, Democrats, as they retreat to their coastal redoubts, have become ever more aggressively anti-suburban, particularly in deep blue states such as California.  "To minimize sprawl" has become a bedrock catchphrase of the core political ideology.   

As will become even more obvious in the lame duck years, the political obsessions of the Obama Democrats largely mirror those of the cities: climate change, gay marriage, feminism, amnesty for the undocumented, and racial redress. These may sometimes be worthy causes, but they don't address basic issues that effect suburbanites, such as stagnant middle class wages, poor roads, high housing prices, or underperforming schools. None of these concerns elicit much passion among the party's true believers.

The miscalculation is deep-rooted, and has already cost the Democrats numerous House and Senate seats and at least two governorships. Nationwide, in areas as disparate as east Texas and Maine or Colorado and Maryland, suburban voters deserted the Democrats in droves. The Democrats held on mostly to those peripheral areas that are very wealthy--such as Marin County, California or some D.C. suburban counties--or have large minority populations, particularly African-American.

...they'd be at war with cities, The Neighborhood Effect: Localities and Upward Mobility (Jonathan Rothwell, November 12, 2014, Brookings)

In a new analysis published in Economic Geography, Douglas Massey of Princeton and I find that another element of parental advantage--the neighborhood in which they raise their children--matters a great deal. The effect of neighborhood income is 50 to 66 percent of the parental income effect, so that growing up in a poor neighborhood would wipe out much of the advantage of growing up in a wealthy household. Lifetime earnings are $900,000 (or $730,000 in net present value terms) higher for those raised in top quintile neighborhoods than for individuals from bottom quintile neighborhoods. That is slightly larger than the difference between the average college and high school graduate.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


In This Place: In Praise of the Music of Frank La Rocca : The sacred music of the American composer is remarkable and unaffected, breathing the atmosphere of mystical devotion (R.J. Stove, 11/02/14, Catholic World Report)

All this serves as a prelude to noting several facts: first, that there flourishes in America a composer named Frank La Rocca; second, that his creative talent for religious music is remarkable; third, that one can have been a professional musician--indeed a professional church musician--for decades without having encountered his name, let alone his output; and fourth, that those in that ignoramus category had included myself, until his CD In This Place, was recently brought to my attention--and by a non-musician! According to the Myth of Artistic Inevitability, such neglect could never have happened. I would, for certain, have discovered La Rocca's work in the quotidian course of events; every decent-sized musical reference book would have alerted me to that work; it would be needless to accord him wider fame by writing the present article; and pigs would fly.

A good case can be mounted for listening to all unfamiliar music, as it were, "blindfolded". In other words, for judging it entirely upon what the ear apprehends, with no biographical or other data to affect one's pleasure or distaste. Accordingly, before seeking any information about La Rocca's career, I began playing the CD, and I concentrated exclusively on what I heard.

What I heard managed to reveal, within the first 60 seconds of the initial track--O Magnum Mysterium, to words best known through Tomas Luis de Victoria's version--that something uncommonly interesting had unfolded. Stylistically the music (most of it choral, though it included a piano solo called Meditation) bore traces of Arvo Pärt, yet was conspicuously not by Pärt himself. Likewise, it bore traces of the late Sir John Tavener, yet just as conspicuously did not emanate from Tavener's pen. It showed a composer comfortable not only with the setting of Latin words but with large musical structures, a fact that in itself separated him from most of the minimalists whom his writing might otherwise have suggested. 

Equally unmistakably, it breathed the atmosphere of mystical devotion, Messiaen being occasionally implied in the piled-up vocal harmonies and the suggestion that "the still point of the turning world" had been intuitively (rather than logically) arrived at. But it could not be classified as fake-Messiaen either. One thing was sure: it defied switching off, whether literally through pressing the stereo's relevant button, or metaphorically through letting the attention drift elsewhere.

At this point, and not before, I called the Internet to my didactic aid. From various websites, including La Rocca's own site, I learned that La Rocca, born in New Jersey 63 years ago, had acquired his bachelor's degree in music from Yale (1973) and his doctorate in music from Berkeley (1981). Among his teachers he numbered Andrew Imbrie and John Mauceri, neither of whom would have the slightest inclination to waste time and effort on a mere cashed-up dilettante. A former Calvinist, La Rocca converted somewhere along the line to Catholicism, and since then has devoted a remarkable amount of his energy to the production of choral music, most of it in Latin. This music has been heard not solely in the United States, but also in Brazil, Portugal, Britain, France, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

It is among the most difficult of all pedagogical tasks to depict, through mere words, musical originality. This musical originality La Rocca has somehow acquired, without the smallest detectable straining after it. Especially notable in this connection is this album's Credo, a text that often gives second-rate composers trouble, because of its sheer length and its limited number of opportunities for word-painting. No such problems perturb La Rocca, who has treated it with a master craftsman's hand. His other Latin settings on this disc--they include Miserere, Expectavi Dominum, and O Sacrum Convivium--are equally free from either dullness or archeologism (which is really no more than dullness's arrogant elder brother).

November 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Egypt's New Police State (SARA KHORSHIDNOV. 16, 2014, NY Times)

Egypt seems to be headed back toward the 1960s, when Gamal Abdel Nasser set a precedent for the whole Arab world by creating a police state that brutally suppressed dissidents and instilled fear among its citizens.

Last week, on what seemed a calm Tuesday afternoon, I witnessed firsthand what it means to live in a hypernationalist atmosphere where ordinary citizens, encouraged by the state and allied media, snitch on fellow Egyptians. [...]

This is worse than the situation under Mr. Mubarak, when only state-owned media adopted an unwaveringly pro-government editorial policy whereas privately owned media were more open to diverse views. Now the ruling elite seems less confident of its ability to withstand criticism.

The space for freedom of expression that used to exist is narrowing. At first, shortly after Mr. Morsi's ouster, pro-Muslim Brotherhood TV stations were suspended and Islamists were essentially banned from appearing on state-run and private Egyptian channels.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Toil as Curse and Grace (Dylan Pahman, 11/12/14, Acton Commentary)

In the midst of the now-common Christian affirmation of all forms of work as God-given vocations, the image of Sisyphus, vainly pushing his boulder up a hill in Hades, only to watch it roll back down again, might serve to remind us of the reality of toil, the other side of the coin. While human labor does have a divine calling, we do not labor apart from "thorns and thistles" and "in the sweat of [our] face" (Genesis 3:18-19). Contrary to common assumptions, this toilsome aspect of our labor has a higher calling of its own, acting as the means by which labor prunes our hearts to bear fruit to God.

Given this aspect of human labor, some might impute to Christians who laud the virtues of vocation that error which the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) charged to "the flatterers of work" in his day. "In the glorification of 'work' and the never-ceasing talk about the 'blessing of labour,'" he writes in The Dawn of Day,

I see the same secret arrière-pensée as I do in the praise bestowed on impersonal acts of a general interest, viz. a fear of everything individual. For at the sight of work--that is to say, severe toil from morning till night--we have the feeling that it is the best police, viz. that it holds every one in check and effectively hinders the development of reason, of greed, and of desire for independence. For work uses up an extraordinary proportion of nervous force, withdrawing it from reflection, meditation, dreams, cares, love, and hatred; it dangles unimportant aims before the eyes of the worker and affords easy and regular gratification. Thus it happens that a society where work is continually being performed will enjoy greater security, and it is security which is now venerated as the supreme deity.

For Nietzsche, work ultimately serves as a tool of manipulation. Those who praise work really just want to hold down the masses and suppress their intellectual development, aspirations, and individuality. The true god of those who laud labor is their own security. They hold out to workers the "easy and regular gratification" of daily work only in order to distract them from the truly oppressive reality.

Nietzsche's conspiratorial leanings might be overblown, but his general criticism that our daily work might be no better than the fate of Sisyphus, if only we could see it, should be taken seriously. For many people, the words of Ecclesiastes would more readily resonate with their jobs than any exhortation to view them as vocations:

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun. (2:11)

On the worst of days (and for some even on the average day), working customer service in a retail store or the assembly line at a factory or cleanup at Chuck-E-Cheese's feels far more like "grasping after the wind" than fulfilling one's God-given station in life. Would we call out to Sisyphus, "Take heart; your work is divinely ordained!"? It was divinely ordained, but only as an instrument of retribution.

Even God favored the slacker Abel.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Genome Reveals How Cats Evolved to Tolerate Humans (Tia Ghose, LiveScience)

In domestic cats, genes linked to motivation and fear faced strong evolutionary pressure over history, leading the cats to be less shy and more driven by rewards, Warren said. [...]

"The study is great, especially in defining changes in the genome that have led to domestication or, more correctly, to the adaptation of the ancestors of domestic cats that allowed them to associate with humans and thus gain both protection from their predators and an ample food supply (rodents)," Niels Pedersen, a veterinary researcher at the University of California at Davisy, said in an email.

And yet, they're all still just cats.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Netanyahu backs 'Jewish state' bill, with revisions (MARISSA NEWMAN, November 16, 2014, Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday gave his support to a contentious bill that would enshrine Israel as a Jewish state, though he said revisions would need to be made before the bill fulfilled its goal of lending "balance" to the judicial system.

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