March 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


The Fake Freedom of American Health Care (ANU PARTANEN, MARCH 18, 2017, NY Times)

Republicans are fond of criticizing this sort of European-style health care. President Trump has called Canada's national health care system "catastrophic." On CNN recently, Senator Ted Cruz gave multiple examples of how patients in countries with universal, government-managed health care get less care than Americans.

In Europe, he said, elderly people facing life-threatening diseases are often placed in palliative care and essentially told it's their time to go. According to the Republican orthodoxy, government always takes away not only people's freedom to choose their doctor, but also their doctor's ability to choose the correct care for patients. People are at the mercy of bureaucrats. Waiting times are long. Quality of care is dismal.

But are Republicans right about this? Practically every wealthy capitalist democracy in the world has decided that some form of government-managed universal health care is the most sensible and effective option. According to the latest report of the O.E.C.D. -- an organization of mostly wealthy nations -- the United States as a whole does not actually outshine other countries in the quality of care.

In fact, the United States has shorter life expectancy, higher infant mortality and fewer doctors per capita than most other developed countries. When it comes to outcomes in some illnesses, including cancer, the United States does have some of the best survival rates in the world -- but that's barely ahead of, or even slightly behind, the equivalent survival rates in other developed countries. In breast cancer survival, for example, the United States comes in second, after Sweden. Third-best is Norway, then Finland. All three countries have universal, government-run health care systems.

For colorectal cancer, the five-year survival rate after diagnosis in the United States brings it to a not very impressive ninth place in the O.E.C.D. statistics. Ahead of the United States are South Korea, Israel, Australia, Sweden and Finland, all with some form of government-managed universal health care. And when it comes to cervical cancer, American women are at a significant disadvantage: The United States comes in only 22nd. Meanwhile, life expectancy at age 65 is higher in 24 other developed nations, including Canada, Britain and most European nations.

Americans might still assume that long waits for care are inevitable in a health care system run by the government. But that's not necessarily the case either. A report in 2014 by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation specializing in health care research, ranked the United States third in the world in access to specialists. That's a great achievement. But the Netherlands and Switzerland did better. When it comes to nonemergency and elective surgery, patients in several countries, including the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, all of which have universal, government-guided health care systems, have faster access than the United States.

It's not just American patients who endure endless bureaucratic hassles. American doctors were also significantly more likely to report as major problems the amount of time they spent on dealing with administrative burdens related to insurance and claims, as well as on getting patients medications or treatment because of restrictions imposed by insurance companies, compared with doctors in most of the other 10 countries studied -- including Sweden and Britain.

Overall, Americans spend far more of their hard-earned money on health care than citizens of any other country, by a very wide margin. This means that it is in fact Americans who are getting a raw deal. Americans pay much more than people in other countries but do not get significantly better results.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Michael Flynn, Turkish officials secretly discussed removing exiled Muslim cleric from U.S. (DENIS SLATTERY, 3/24/17, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

President Trump's former national security advisor met with top Turkish officials during the campaign to discuss removing an exiled Muslim cleric from the U.S., according to reports Friday.

Retired Gen. Mike Flynn and Turkish government ministers talked about sneaking Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a failed coup last summer, out of the U.S. without going through the legal extradition process, former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal. [...]

The former Army general was reportedly receiving classified national security briefings last summer alongside Trump while also running his private consulting firm.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Wonder and Wickedness: The Anatomy of Good and Evil (Joseph Pearce, 3/25/17, Imaginative Conservative)

In Tolkien's magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, Saruman the White renounces his title and office, declaring himself to be "of many colours." He is no longer content to see reality as being a battle between good and evil, between the light and the darkness. Too "wise" to be bound to such a black-and-white understanding of the cosmos, he spurns the white, the unity of all light, fragmenting it into a pluralistic spectrum, beyond good and evil.

Scholars of philosophy can hardly help but see parallels with the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose late work, Beyond Good and Evil, sought to demolish all traditional notions of morality.

Gandalf tells Saruman, as he would no doubt have told Nietzsche, that he had "left the path of wisdom." Later, after Gandalf has assumed the title of Gandalf the White, he tells Saruman that he has "no colour now," casting him from the order and from the Council. In rejecting the unity of all colours in the One Light of Goodness, choosing instead the fragmentation of light into a host of relativistic hues, Saruman, in his peacock Pride, does not become resplendent with all the colours of the rainbow but fades into fifty shades of grey until, eventually, he has "no colour" at all. Refusing to be one who reflects the light he has become dark, a black hole of malice, shrivelling into a pathetic shadow of his former self, much as Nietzsche, shortly after the publication of Beyond Good and Evil, descended into the black hole of madness, declaring that he, Nietzsche, had created the world and signing himself "Dionysus," the god of drunkenness and ritualized insanity.

What do the cautionary examples of Saruman and Nietzsche, one fictional and the other historical, tell us about the anatomy of good and evil?

The answer is to be found in the black-and-white understanding of the cosmos that they spurned. It is to be found, in fact, in the light of wisdom and wonder shining forth from the mind of Thomas Aquinas, a light that is to the darkness of Nietzsche what the light of Gandalf is to the darkness of Saruman. It is a light that vanquishes the darkness of relativism as well as the will to power that relativism serves.

According to Aquinas, virtue, specifically the virtue of humility, is the prerequisite to all understanding of the cosmos.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


In Major Defeat for Trump, Push to Repeal Health Law Fails (ROBERT PEAR, THOMAS KAPLAN and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 24, 2017, NY Times)

[I]t was the biggest defeat of Mr. Trump's young presidency, which has suffered many. His travel ban has been blocked by the courts. Allegations of questionable ties to the Russian government forced out his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Tensions with key allies such as Germany, Britain and Australia are high, and Mr. Trump's approval ratings are at historic lows.

Republican leaders were willing to tolerate Mr. Trump's foibles with the promise that he would sign into law their conservative agenda. The collective defeat of the health care effort could strain that tolerance.

The American people, like the citizenry of every developed democracy, considers health care a right--considers providing access to health care to be one of the core functions of the federal government.  Indeed, one of the ways Donald made himself tolerable to voters was to promise that Trumpcare would expand Obamacare so that every American would have health coverage. 

Paul Ryan then proceeded to craft a bill that was designed to get the support of Republicans who oppose the provision of health care to anyone but not to get a single vote from Democrats, who universally support the goal.

There are plenty of Third Way improvements the GOP could make to our health care system that would drive down its cost and drive up personal savings, but none of them are possible until they party accepts the reality that it will get them by trading universailty.

On the other hand, the party can continue to undermine Obamacare and we'll end up with a National Health system like all our peers.  That would cut the cost of health care roughly in half, which would be worthwhile, but it would be a blown opportunity to expand personal wealth. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM



ST: After The Dangerous Animals Club came out, Simon & Schuster called and said, "Could you write another book?" They had noticed this theme of spirituality in Dangerous Animals, so the specific request was "Could you write a book on faith?" Of course I said yes before I had any idea what I would write. And then after thinking about it, I realized that my life and the life of just about everybody I've met follows the template of the Old Testament.

DM: Interesting.

ST: For example, all of us have a Genesis story about where we came from--our families, where we originated. The first questions on a first date over a first glass of chardonnay are usually our Genesis. Who was your first teacher? How did you grow up? Then we all go into slavery, like in Exodus, except instead of building pyramids, we go into slavery with first love and first heartbreaks, with menial jobs that don't fit our dreams. And then, like in the book of Exodus, we eventually become free, only to find that we're still wandering in the wilderness. Then we all have this Leviticus moment in the middle of our life where we say, "Wait a minute. This is what I am." For me, that's when I met Ann. That's when I had children. That's when I said, "This is what my life is going to be." And that's when I found my way back to the synagogue. Then, like in the book of Numbers, we're shaped by mortality. People we love pass away, and the visions of our own mortality begin to shape us. Finally, as in the book of Deuteronomy, we tell our stories like Moses told the children of Israel their stories, because they forgot what they were doing because they were wandering for decades in the wilderness. And we tell our stories to our children to try to make sense of our own journey.

DM: From listening to your podcast, it doesn't seem like faith was very present early on in your life. What changed? 

ST: In the middle of my life, when I came back to the synagogue, I found there was a comfort in the validation of tradition. I had one moment in the synagogue that completely turned me around. When I first started coming back, I went to a service one Saturday morning. I was the only person in the synagogue. No one had shown up but the old rabbi. And the rabbi said, "What, do you think it's something I said?" And then he said, "Come on, come on up here with me. Are you afraid to pray with an old man?" I said, "Oh, I'm very afraid." "You should be," he said. "Listen, we're going to take this opportunity to feel these prayers, to understand these prayers; the psalms are beautiful, you should understand the beauty of the psalms and enjoy them. Let's just start this together, you and me." And that is when I realized that the religious moment is a solitary moment, it's not a group moment. If you look back through the Bible, every real experience someone has with God, they're alone. You have Moses and the burning bush, you have Jesus at Gethsemane, you have Abraham looking out at the stars of the sky with "the stranger," who might be the personage of God. And that's when I realized, wait a minute, what we're talking about when we talk about faith is an element of our life that changes through our life, just like my waistline. I found this comfort in tradition, and I felt like I was able to be a student again and study the Torah and the Talmud and the Mishnah.

But then later in my life I started having catastrophes--I broke my neck, I had open-heart surgery. And in those moments my faith became something other than scholastic, and I began to feel the real power of the invisible and of faith, and the possibility of a miracle. A lot of times people like to think of miracles as something akin to a magic trick, but the way I see a miracle is when your mind suddenly changes and you see something that you never saw before.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Tillerson Didn't Want His Job, and So Far He's Bad at It (Daniel W. Drezner, 3/25/17,  The Washington Post)

[E]rin McPike, the one reporter permitted on Tillerson's plane for his latest trip, filed a 3,300-word story last Tuesday night. Reading it, I have come to one unmistakable conclusion: I was wrong about encouraging Tillerson to speak with the press. Tillerson should shut the heck up until he demonstrates that he knows what he's talking about.

This interview is terrifying, but not for the reason that Twitter focused on Tuesday night. McPike wrote that Tillerson, asked why he wanted the job, replied, "I didn't want this job. I didn't seek this job." Asked why he said yes, he said, "My wife told me I'm supposed to do this."

Tillerson said he'd never met Donald Trump before the election. As president-elect, Trump wanted to speak with Tillerson "about the world," to get Tillerson's views on the global issues he'd handled as ExxonMobil CEO, McPike wrote. " 'When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned.'

March 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Why Trumpcare Failed : There is more to passing major legislation than possessing a mathematical majority in Congress. (BRIAN BEUTLER, March 24, 2017, New Republic)

As one of the leading figures in American conservatism, Ryan spent so much time fantasizing about aligning procedural stars that he lost sight of all the other elements that went into creating the welfare state he hoped to roll back. The failure of Trumpcare--which would have kicked millions of people off health insurance, while delivering a tax cut to the wealthiest Americans--underscores the shortsightedness of the idea that major social change can be created with the will to power alone.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has never been so naive. In 2012, he acknowledged the centrality of public sentiment to the rise of liberalism, and that Republicans bore the obligation to win public trust before they set about dismantling what it took Democrats decades to build.

"[T]he American people have never given us the kind of hammerlock on Congress that Democrats had during the New Deal, that they had during the Great Society, and that they had in 2009 and 2010," he told Kentucky radio ahead of former President Barack Obama's reelection in 2012. "Why haven't you been able to get better results?...The answer to that is, we haven't had enough votes. We have elections in this country and the winners get to make policy and the losers go home. And the Democrats have had Congress, sometimes with whopping majorities, most of the time since the New Deal. And that's a great disappointment...because we've not been able to secure the support of enough of the American people to have the kind of big majorities you need to kind of roll things back. Maybe some day we'll have that. I hope so."

After Donald Trump's surprising Electoral College victory, McConnell was alone among Republican leaders in flashing yellow lights. It wasn't lost on him that his 52-vote majority in the Senate wouldn't have the capacity to pass significant, ideologically one-sided legislation, and that Trump had lost the popular vote by millions of ballots. Republicans won the presidency in 2016, but they lost seats in both the House and Senate, which is not the signal voters send when they are asking one party to impose its will.

Under those circumstances, enacting a vast, regressive, polarizing agenda wouldn't be a masterstroke--the product of the hard work of persuasion and consensus-building. It would be a mugging.

The most important takeaway is that Trumpcare did not die today, it was stillborn.  The bill could never have made it past the Senate so the whole thing was an exercise in ideological futility.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


We Redacted Everything That's Not a Verifiably True Statement From Trump's Time Interview About Truth (Ellie Shechet, 3/24/17, The Slot)

President Trump recently participated in an interview with Time Magazine's Michael Scherer for a cover story about his relationship with the truth. Predictably, this conversation really tested the limits of irony.

In the full transcript of the interview published by Time, Trump lies a lot, says a number of half-true things, does not admit he was incorrect to link Ted Cruz's father with Lee Harvey Oswald, foists responsibility for his inaccuracies onto media reports that he misrepresents, says the word "Brexit" 11 times, and forms sentences like "Brussels, I said, Brussels is not Brussels." But, listen, some of it was fine! In the transcript below, we have redacted everything that is not verifiably true. What remains is everything the president said that is definitely true.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


House Republicans pull health care bill (Stephen Collinson, Dana Bash, Phil Mattingly, Deirdre Walsh, Lauren Fox and MJ Lee, 3/24/17, CNN)

House Speaker Paul Ryan sensationally canceled a vote on his Obamacare repeal bill for a second time, repudiating President Donald Trump who has threatened to walk away from health care reform if the measure does not pass on Friday.

New poll shows GOP support plummets with Trumpcare backing (Shane Savitsky, 3/24/17, Axios)

The number that should terrify Republicans: voters generally said they'd reelect their member of Congress 44-38, but after being told about their member's support for the health care bill, that shifted to 45-38 in favor of a Democratic challenger.

Now put W and the UR in charge of making some proposals that get us to universal coverage with market-based plans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM



It started when Nunes asked, "Do Russians historically prefer Republicans to win over Democrats?" Nunes ticked through some recent elections and inquired whether the Russians supported John McCain over Obama, in 2008, or Mitt Romney over Obama, in 2012. Comey said that he didn't know the answer.

"I'm just asking a general question," Nunes said. "Wouldn't it be a little preposterous to say that, historically, going back to Ronald Reagan and all that we know about maybe who the Russians would prefer, that somehow the Russians prefer Republicans over Democrats?"

Watching the hearing, this seemed like a curious line of questioning. Because members of the House Intelligence Committee often know a great deal more than they can say publicly, they sometimes use their questioning to hint at what they have learned in classified settings. Nunes's questions seemed to suggest some broader debate, as Comey confirmed when he shut down the exchange.

"I'm not going to discuss in an unclassified forum," he said. "In the classified segment of the reporting version that we did, there is some analysis that discusses this because, remember, this did come up in our assessment on the Russian piece."

Nunes thanked him and turned to Representative Peter King, of New York. King was less circumspect than Nunes had been. "I would just say on that because, again, we're not going into the classified sections, that indicating that historically Russians have supported Republicans, and I know that language is there, to me puts somewhat of a cloud over the entire report," King said.

I didn't notice it at the time, though I was in the room, and the C-SPAN video of the hearing doesn't capture it, but Democrats told me that there was, at this point, a minor commotion on the dais. King had just revealed that the classified version of the report had concluded "that historically Russians have supported Republicans."

Two Democrats, confirming what King said, told me that there was a significant fight over this judgment during a recent classified briefing. "I was really taken aback that it came up in the hearing," one Democratic congressman on the committee told me. "I might just observe to you, if there was such a conclusion, you can bet that the Republicans would have pushed back very, very hard about such a conclusion. And I don't want to say more than that."

Sometimes it's difficult for someone privy to classified information to keep straight what is classified and what is not, especially when a classified judgment seems relatively innocuous. I asked King about the exchange, and his answer suggested that he was confused about the classification.

Do we really need to keep who they prefer secret from the Russians?  Aren't they likely to know?

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


White Supremacist Who Traveled to New York to Murder Black Men Followed Extremist Racist On-Line Groups Who Support Trump (Ben Norton, March 24, 2017, National Memo)

James Harris Jackson stabbed a black man with a sword on the street in Manhattan on Wednesday, March 22, in what he admitted to police was an intentional hate crime. Jackson, who is from Maryland, told police he is a member of a white supremacist hate group.

Jackson had traveled to New York with plans to kill black men in relationships with white women, but wound up targeting a homeless man in an act of terrorism. Jackson says he carried out the attack to "send a message" and claims he's written a racist manifesto.

On what appears to be Jackson's personal YouTube account, he subscribed to a variety of fascist YouTube channels, many of which support President Donald Trump and other far-right leaders and circulate anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. His subscription list is a who's who of alt-right figures, including Alex Jones, Stefan Molyneux, Paul Ray Ramsey and many more. 

Jackson subscribed to the channel for the National Policy Institute and Radix. The former is the white supremacist organization founded by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer (who led a "Hail Trump" chant at a white supremacist conference last year), and the latter is the fascist journal Spencer publishes.

Salafi is Arabic for alt-right.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Kids on winning robotics team told, 'Go back to Mexico' (Suzette Hackney, 3/24/17, The Indianapolis Star)

The day should have been one of glory and celebration for five fourth-graders.

The Pleasant Run Elementary students had just won a robotics challenge at Plainfield High School, and the students -- new to bot competition this year -- were one step closer to the Vex IQ State Championship.

The team is made up of 9- and 10-year-olds. Two are African American and three are Latino.

As the group, called the Pleasant Run PantherBots, and their parents left the challenge last month in Plainfield, Ind., competing students from other Indianapolis-area schools and their parents were waiting for them in the parking lot.

"Go back to Mexico!" two or three kids screamed at their brown-skin peers and their parents, according to some who were there.

This verbal attack had spilled over from the gymnasium. While the children were competing, one or two parents disparaged the Pleasant Run kids with racist comments -- and loud enough for the Pleasant Run families to hear.

"They were pointing at us and saying that 'Oh my God, they are champions of the city all because they are Mexican. They are Mexican, and they are ruining our country,' " said Diocelina Herrera, the mother of PantherBot Angel Herrera-Sanchez.

These are minority students from the east side of the city, poor kids from a Title I school.

The white kids only need to know enough science to cook up meth anyway....
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Trump the Dealmaker Projects Bravado, but Behind the Scenes, Faces Rare Self-Doubt (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 23, 2017, NY Times)

[T]hursday's reality check came with a Trumpian dose of the surreal.

Mr. Trump appeared almost oblivious to the dire situation unfolding in the hours after he hosted a meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus at the White House, where he made the case Mr. Winston pointed to -- that not passing the health bill risks the rest of the Republican agenda.

In the midafternoon, a beaming Mr. Trump climbed into the rig of a black tractor-trailer, which had been driven to the White House for an event with trucking industry executives, honking the horn and posing for a series of tough-guy photos -- one with his fists held aloft, another staring straight ahead, hands gripping the large wheel, his face compressed into an excited scream.

At a meeting inside shortly afterward, Mr. Trump announced that he was pressed for time and needed to go make calls for more votes.

A reporter informed him that the vote had already been called off.

That's Andrew Ferguson-worthy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM



Le Pen has expressed pro-Russian views and favors closer integration between France and Russia. The far-right politician has publicly stated that she sees the disputed region of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as part of Russia and wants the European Union to remove sanctions on Moscow.

"I see no reasons that would justify the current hostile attitude of the French authorities toward Russia," said Le Pen on Friday, according to TASS. "We have always believed that Russia and France need to maintain and develop the ties that have bound us for a long time."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Why Lying Is So Easy for Trump (BEN ADLER, March 24, 2017, New Republic)

[S]uch dramatic theories miss the simplest explanation for Trump's lying: He's a real estate developer from New York City. Lying isn't a personal failure. It's a business model.

New York real estate, where Trump first learned the art of the con, is a line of work that's built on chicanery. Under state law, real estate developers have a de facto legal license to lie, and they use it with abandon. The marketing materials for a luxury condo might advertise top-flight amenities--on-site SoulCycle, say, or valet stroller parking--but buyers have no legal recourse after they move in and discover they have to haul their strollers up six flights like a tenement-dweller; as a matter of New York law, only the final sales contract is binding. And with land values so high and profit margins so slim, developers have every incentive to hype the sales pitch. "Real estate investors sell their product--and in the process, they promise it will have benefits that may not ever be realized," says Thomas Angotti, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College and author of New York For Sale. Or as one real estate broker and property manager in New York puts it: "Everybody in this business is a f[****]g liar."   [...]

Trump is well versed in the dark arts of the New York mega-developer. In 1979, he got the city to approve 20 extra stories for Trump Tower by creating a fourth-floor "public garden" that is almost never open. He also replaced the lone bench in the public lobby with kiosks selling paraphernalia from his presidential campaign and The Apprentice. (Last summer, after losing a series of administrative decisions by the city, Trump returned the bench.) His now-infamous habit of stiffing contractors is common among developers. Trump has also lied to preservationists, promising to preserve the Art Deco friezes from the façade of the Bonwit Teller department store building that he demolished to make way for Trump Tower. When he realized it would take two weeks to remove them undamaged, he instead jackhammered them to pieces.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


US pilot describes challenges of bombing Islamic State (JON GAMBRELL March 24, 2017, AP)

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (AP) -- The crowded skies over Islamic State-held territory have complicated US-led airstrikes targeting the extremists, though military planners are working to keep fliers safe, an American pilot involved in the bombing campaign has told The Associated Press.

Lt. Cmdr. William Vuillet also described the efforts American forces use to try to minimize civilian casualties from strikes on major cities like Mosul, where allied forces are trying to sweep the remaining militants out of the western half of Iraq's second-largest city.

Vuillet said he believes coalition forces will "eradicate" the extremist group responsible for mass killings, beheadings and other atrocities targeting civilians across the Middle East and around the world.

It "is really above and beyond what we saw in the past from al-Qaeda," he said. "It is really a fight of good and evil."

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Trump Has No Good Options On Health Care : And it's his own fault. (Nate Silver, 3/23/17, 538)

Trump, and Republicans, have likewise made a lot of mistakes on health care. They didn't lock down key constituencies before they rolled the bill out, leading to it being attacked from every angle -- from the right wing of the GOP, from moderates and from conservative policy experts -- upon its debut earlier this month. Instead of taking a populist approach, they adopted a bill with many provisions that were likely to be unpopular and no clear strategy for selling it to the public. They ignored the lessons that Obama and Clinton had learned from their struggles to pass a health care bill. They've tried to rush the bill through at a time when the White House faces a lot of competing priorities and distractions. They adopted a bill that predictably got a miserable score from the Congressional Budget Office. And for years, they've made all sorts of promises to voters on health care that they knew they couldn't keep.

...just ask yourself if you really spent the last 8 years believing Obamacare would be repealed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Reports Say Six Russian Troops, Six Militants Killed In Chechnya Fighting (Radio Liberty, 3/24/17)

Russian news agencies say six Russian national guard troops and six assailants have been killed in an attack on a military unit in Chechnya.

The reports said a group of militants attempted to gain access to the unit in a thick fog at 2:30 a.m. local time on March 24.

Six servicemen were killed in the ensuing battle, and there are wounded," the state-run TASS agency quoted an unnamed representative of the national guard forces as saying.

March 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Colin Dexter: the writer who brought novel ideas to television (Mark Lawson, 23 March 2017, The Guardian)

Dexter's 13 books about the operatic, alcoholic, argumentative Oxford detective Endeavour Morse, have resulted in 93 peak-time dramas on ITV: 33 episodes of Inspector Morse, 42 of the sidekick spin-off Lewis, and 17 so far of a prequel, Endeavour. Dexter lived to 86, and it would be a fitting tribute if the TV afterlife of his characters reaches at least 100.

But beyond those numbers, the Morse franchise, which began on television 30 years ago, was largely responsible for making detective fiction the centrepiece of mainstream British schedules. When producer Kenny McBain and dramatist Anthony Minghella premiered their first adaptation of a Morse novel, The Dead of Jericho in January 1987, it was considered revolutionary (and by some in broadcasting, reckless) to hand over two hours of airtime to a police procedural - a length previously reserved for bought-in movies, or perhaps a Christmas or Easter special.

It soon became clear, though, that the extra time allowed a luxurious visual slowness - and an intensely deliberative performance from John Thaw in the title role - that took the genre into new areas of writing, direction, acting, and, with its shots of historic Oxford, location filming. The lessons it taught about place and pace have never been forgotten. In the leisurely, immersive experience it offered, Inspector Morse was box-set television long before the concept existed.

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Macro or micro? Fight looms over evolution's essence : Is evolution driven by genes, individuals or entire species? A new paper promises to ignite ferocious debate (Stephen Fleischfresser, 3/23/17, Cosmos)

In a paper, yet to be peer-reviewed, on the biological pre-print repository bioRxiv, Simpson has outlined a renewed case for species selection, using recent research and new insights, both scientific and philosophical. And this might be too much for the biological community to swallow.

The debate over levels of selection dates to Charles Darwin himself and concerns the question of what the 'unit of selection' is in evolutionary biology.

The default assumption is that the individual organism is the unit of selection. If individuals of a particular species possess a trait that gives them reproductive advantage over others, then these individuals will have more offspring.

If this trait is heritable, the offspring too will reproduce at a higher rate than other members of the species. With time, this leads to the advantageous trait becoming species-typical.

Here, selection is operating on individuals, and this percolates up to cause species-level characteristics.

While Darwin favoured this model, he recognised that certain biological phenomena, such as the sterility of workers in eusocial insects such as bees and ants, could best be explained if selection operated at a group level.

Since Darwin, scientists have posited different units of selection: genes, organelles, cells, colonies, groups and species among them.

Simpson's argument hinges on the kind of macroevolutionary phenomena common in palaeontology: speciation and extinction over deep-time. Species selection is real, he says, and is defined as, "a macroevolutionary analogue of natural selection, with species playing an analogous part akin to that played by organisms in microevolution".

Simpson takes issue with the argument that microevolutionary processes such as individual selection percolate up to cause macroevolutionary phenomena.

He presents evidence contradicting the idea, and concludes that the "macroevolutionary patterns we actually observe are not simply the accumulation of microevolutionary change... macroevolution occurs by changes within a population of species." that they have no idea how--or whether--it works, just pet theories.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Read President Trump's Interview With TIME on Truth and Falsehoods (Michael Scherer, March 22, 2017, TIME)

One of my ideas here is that throughout the campaign and now as president, you have used disputed statements, this is one of them that is disputed, the claim that three million undocumented people voted in the election...

Well I think I will be proved right about that too.

The claim that Muslims celebrated on 9-11 in New Jersey...

Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.

But my idea is that whatever the reality of what you are describing, the fact that they are disputed makes them a more effective message, that you are able to spread the message further, that more people get excited about it, that it gets on TV.

Well now if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people. In fact I'm forming a committee on it.

But there's no evidence that 3 million people voted with...

We'll see after the committee. I have people say it was more than that. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Eyeing Trump's Budget Plan, Republican Governors Say 'No, Thanks' (ALEXANDER BURNS, MARCH 22, 2017, NY Times)

As Mr. Trump and his advisers press for bone-deep cuts to the federal budget, Republican governors have rapidly emerged as an influential bloc of opposition. They have complained to the White House about reductions they see as harmful or arbitrary, and they plan to pressure members of Congress from their states to oppose them.

Of acute concern to Republicans are a handful of low-profile programs aimed at job training and economic revitalization, including regional development agencies like the Appalachian commission and the Delta Regional Authority, which serves eight Southern and Midwestern states, seven of them with Republican governors. They are also protective of grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $3.4 billion job training program funded through the Labor Department.

Mr. Trump's budget office has proposed to eliminate or deeply slash funding for all of those programs, along with dozens of others.

Kim S. Rueben, a budget expert at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, said the retrenchment in Mr. Trump's spending plan appeared to be significantly out of step with his campaign promises to use the federal government as a machine for creating jobs, especially in distressed Midwestern and rural areas.

"It just seems like you're going after places that are so pivotal to what you are arguing you wanted to do for your base," Ms. Rueben said of Mr. Trump's budget. "They're cutting all sorts of infrastructure projects and economic development projects at the same time that the president is still talking about how much of an investment he's going to put into infrastructure."

The White House's proposed cuts would be felt in matters well beyond economic development: A budget briefing circulated last week by the National Governors Association, a nonpartisan group, identified a long list of Trump-backed cuts to programs that support states. They include the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a $3 billion project in the Department of Health and Human Services that helps people pay for heating and air-conditioning, and the Community Development Block Grant program, a $3 billion initiative of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that funds local projects from affordable housing to Meals on Wheels.

A budget briefing circulated last week by the National Governors Association, a nonpartisan group, identified a long list of Trump-backed cuts to programs that support states.

Those cuts could come on top of a potentially huge restructuring of the federal Medicaid program under a Republican-backed health care law. A number of Republican governors, including John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, have publicly criticized the bill under consideration in the House of Representatives because they say it would impose an impossible fiscal burden on states.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


The Problem With Climate Catastrophizing (Oren Cass, 3/21/17, Foreign Affairs)

Climate change may or may not bear responsibility for the flood on last night's news, but without question it has created a flood of despair. Climate researchers and activists, according to a 2015 Esquire feature, "When the End of Human Civilization is Your Day Job," suffer from depression and PTSD-like symptoms. In a poll on his Twitter feed, meteorologist and writer Eric Holthaus found that nearly half of 416 respondents felt "emotionally overwhelmed, at least occasionally, because of news about climate change." 

For just such feelings, a Salt Lake City support group provides "a safe space for confronting" what it calls "climate grief."

Panicked thoughts often turn to the next generation. "Does Climate Change Make It Immoral to Have Kids?" pondered columnist Dave Bry in The Guardian in 2016. "[I] think about my son," he wrote, "growing up in a gray, dying world--walking towards Kansas on potholed highways." Over the summer, National Public Radio tackled the same topic in "Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?" an interview with Travis Rieder, a philosopher at Johns Hopkins University, who offers "a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them." And Holthaus himself once responded to a worrying scientific report by announcing that he would never fly again and might also get a vasectomy. 

It always begins with hating humans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


They Smashed Banks for Pol Pot. Now They're Founding Them. (JULIA WALLACEMARCH 22, 2017, NY Times)

MALAI, Cambodia -- For years, Tep Khunnal was the devoted personal secretary of Pol Pot, staying loyal to the charismatic ultracommunist leader even as the Khmer Rouge movement collapsed around them in the late 1990s.

Forced to reinvent himself after Pol Pot's death, he fled to this outpost on the Thai border and began following a different sort of guru: the Austrian-American management theorist and business consultant Peter Drucker.

"I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker's ideas and made the countries prosperous," he said.

The residents of this dusty but bustling town are almost all former Khmer Rouge soldiers or cadres and their families, but they have come to embrace capitalism with almost as much vigor as they once fought to destroy class distinctions, free trade and even money itself.

Mr. Tep Khunnal helped lead the way, as a founder of an agricultural export company and a small microfinance bank for farmers before rising to become the district governor. From that position, he encouraged his constituents to follow suit.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


Dames, detectives and dope: why we still love hardboiled crime (David Barnett , 23 March 2017, The Guardian)

Back in 1920, Henry Louis Mencken and George Jean Nathan ran a magazine for the well-heeled women and their sugar daddies up on Long Island: the Smart Set, they called it.

The Smart Set wasn't doing so well - but Mencken had an idea. He had noticed that a periodical called Detective Story Magazine, was flying off newsstands, so he started his own crime pulp: Black Mask, the first issue of which landed in October 1920, complete with a woman being menaced with a burning branding iron on the cover.

Mencken had no illusions about Black Mask, writing to a friend that it was "a lousy magazine" but "it has kept us alive during a very bad year". After just eight issues, Mencken and Nathan sold it on to a Madison Avenue publishing company - but there it pioneered a brand new genre: the hardboiled detective story.

Hardboiled is all about cynical, complex detectives; think of Humphrey Bogart's turns as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett's private eye, Sam Spade. What's now considered the first hardboiled story was published by Black Mask in 1922: The False Burton Combs, written by Carroll John Daly ("I ain't a crook; just a gentleman adventurer and make my living working against the law breakers. Not that work I with the police - no, not me. I'm no knight errant either." The archetype was born: men out for justice and/or revenge, pounding perpetually rainy streets in a dark American city. [...]

Amid an explosion of pulp crime magazines - Dime Detective, Detective Tales, Strange Detective, Ace G-Man Stories - in the 20s and 30s, Black Mask would publish some of the greats: Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, early stories by Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


'New' wave-like cloud finally wins official recognition (Matt McGrath, 3/23/17, BBC)

Last revised in 1987, its new fully-digital edition includes the asperitas after campaigns by citizen scientists. [...]

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) publishes the atlas, and also has the final say on the contents, including the addition of "new" clouds and cloud features.

This time around 12 new terms have been added. The best known of these is asperitas, meaning rough-like in Latin, as the clouds can look like the tossing of the waves at sea when viewed from below.

These clouds were first recorded over Iowa in the US in 2006, but soon a torrent of similar images from around the world began to pour in to the Cloud Appreciation Society, a citizen science body.

They began to lobby the WMO for official recognition of the cloud type. But the fact that it has now been officially included came as something of a surprise.

"Back in 2008, I thought the chances of this becoming official were really minimal," said Gavin Pretor-Pinney, president of the society.

"At first the WMO were saying they had no plans to do a new edition, but over time I think they began to realise there is an interest among the public in clouds and there is a need for that interest to be an informed one, there's a need for this authoritative work."

Asperitas becomes the first addition of a new recognisable term since 1953.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Americans' Shift To The Suburbs Sped Up Last Year (Jed Kolko, 3/23/17, 538)

The suburbanization of America marches on. Population growth in big cities slowed for the fifth-straight year in 2016,1 according to new census data, while population growth accelerated in the more sprawling counties that surround them.

The Census Bureau on Thursday released population estimates for every one of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. I grouped those counties into six categories: urban centers of large metropolitan areas; their densely populated suburbs; their lightly populated suburbs; midsize metros; smaller metro areas; and rural counties, which are outside metro areas entirely.

The fastest growth was in those lower-density suburbs. Those counties grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, the fastest rate since 2008, when the housing bust put an end to rapid homebuilding in these areas.

March 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


US Officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians (Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz,  March 22, 2017, CNN)

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source.

New Poll Shows Trump's Base Eroding, Approval Rating Sliding, as 60 Percent Find Him Dishonest (Elliot Hannon, 3/22/17, sLATE)

If it feels, to you, like Donald Trump is doing a terrible job as president--you're not alone. Recent polls have shown the president's support cratering to historic lows, and a new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday confirmed Trump's unpopularity. Trump's job approval rating stands at 37 percent with a whopping 56 percent of Americans disapproving of the job Trump's doing. By comparison, nearly two-thirds of Americans approved of Barack Obama at a similar stage, and George W. Bush had an approval rating nearing 60 percent, while roughly 1-in-4 Americans disapproved of the former presidents two months into their first terms.

Inside the numbers, Trump's support is eroding among Republicans--dropping 10 points--and his support among white voters and men--two demographics whose support was crucial to his election win--has also dipped. Trump's personal characteristics are also proving to be deeply unpopular. According to Quinnipiac's nationwide survey conducted March 16-21, some 60 percent of Americans think the president is not honest and does not share their values; 66 percent believe he is not level-headed; and 57 percent say President Trump does not share their values.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM

EVEN BETTER THAN THE RANT (profanity alert)...:

A classic Dallas Green tirade (Ray Didinger, August 11, 1980, Philadelphia Daily News)

The Phillies had just lost the opener, 7-1, in the style that has become their trademark, slipping into defeat as if it were a lounge chair. The loss was their third straight to the Pirates, their ninth straight on the road and it splashed kerosene on the fire that was already burning in the manager's belly. 

DALLAS GREEN STALKED into the clubhouse and opened up on his players, spraying them with a machine-gun burst of anger. The news media were locked outside but that hardly mattered, what with Green 's voice echoing through the Allegheny Mountains. 

"This bleeping game isn't easy," Green bellowed. "It's tough, especially when you have injuries. But you guys (have) got your bleeping heads down.

"You've gotta stop being so bleeping cool. Get that through your bleeping heads. If you don't, you'll get so bleeping buried, it ain't gonna be funny. 

"Get the bleep off your asses," Green said, "and just be the way you can be because you're a good bleeping baseball team. But you're not now and you can't look in the bleeping mirror and tell me you are. 

"You tell me you can do it but you bleeping give up. If you don't want to bleeping play, get the bleep in that (manager's) office and bleeping tell me because I don't want to bleeping play you."

That was Dallas Green 's best shot, his longest and surely his loudest thrust at what remains of this team's conscience. The Phillies reflected on Green's words, then went out and lost the nightcap, 4-1, swinging the bats as grudgingly as lifers working on a Leavenworth rockpile.  [...]

THE PHILLIES HAVE about as much chance of winning the National League East as Ted Kennedy has of stealing the Democratic nomination away from Jimmy Carter. But, like a crusty old campaign manager, Dallas Green is not about to concede until the last delegate is counted. to check out the roster of players it was hurled at.

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