April 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Lakers' World Peace ejected for elbowing Harden (The Associated Press, 4/22/12)

 Lakers forward Metta World Peace has been ejected for elbowing Oklahoma City's James Harden in the head.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Charles Colson, Nixon's 'dirty tricks' man, dies at 80 (Michael Dobbs, 4/22/12, Washington Post)

Mr. Colson's reputation as a "dirty tricks artist" overshadowed his achievements as a darkly brilliant political strategist. He helped lay the groundwork for the Nixon landslide of November 1972 by appealing to disgruntled Democrats and blue-collar minority voters.

A self-described "hatchet man" for Nixon, Mr. Colson compiled the notorious "enemies list" of politicians, journalists and activists perceived as threats to the White House. And most fatefully, he helped orchestrate illegal activities to discredit former Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg, who was suspected of leaking a top-secret history of the Vietnam War to the New York Times and The Washington Post.

It was the targeting of Ellsberg -- rather than Mr. Colson's peripheral involvement in the growing Watergate break-in scandal -- that eventually led to his conviction for obstruction of justice. In the midst of this crisis, Mr. Colson said he underwent a profound religious transformation in August 1973.

Acting against the advice of his lawyers, Mr. Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, a step that he depicted as "a price I had to pay to complete the shedding of my old life and to be free to live the new."

Released on parole in January 1975, after seven months in a minimum-security prison, Mr. Colson became a leading voice in the evangelical movement and an advocate for prison reform.

The need for such work, he said, was drawn from what he called his frightening experience in confinement. Prison, he said, was filled with embittered prisoners who contemplated escape and revenge at every turn.

"He transferred his huge drive, intellect and maniacal energy from the service of Richard Nixon to the service of Jesus Christ," said his biographer, Jonathan Aitken, a former British government minister who endured a similar journey of political disgrace and personal redemption after a 1999 conviction for perjury.

Mr. Colson's autobiography, "Born Again," first published in 1976, sold millions of copies over the years. In 1993, he was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize, worth more than $1 million, which is given each year to the person who has done the most to advance the cause of religion.

Outwardly, Mr. Colson remained recognizably the same person before and after his conversion. Even toward the end of his life, he retained the same amused expression in his heavily wrinkled face. [....]

Mr. Colson attributed his guilty plea to his conversion to evangelical Christianity on the night of Aug. 12, 1973, by a close friend, Thomas L. Phillips, then-chairman of the defense contractor Raytheon, and the powerful influence of a book by C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity."

Mr. Colson said another turning point in his faith was a probing interview in May 1974 conducted by Mike Wallace of the CBS News program "60 Minutes." Wallace asked about the "morality" of working for a White House engaged in intimidation and smear campaigns and asked whether Mr. Colson was truly living up his Christian beliefs.

Mr. Colson later described feeling gradually "stripped and broken" of his old combative habits and decided not to fight the criminal charges any longer, despite urging by his family to beat the lawsuit and return to a "normal" life.

"Hubris became the mark of the Nixon man because hubris was the quality Nixon admired most," Mr. Colson wrote in "Born Again." He added that he "was willing at times to blink at certain ethical standards" because " 'Chuck will get it done' was the phrase I so loved to hear in the White House."

News of his rebirth was greeted with skepticism and even hilarity by many columnists, including humorist Art Buchwald, who imagined a prayer session between Mr. Colson and the grandmother he once vowed to run over in the process of helping Nixon.

"Shall we kneel together?" Mr. Colson asked.

"Not me," his grandmother replied. "I haven't been able to kneel since you screamed at me, 'Four more years,' and then put your Oldsmobile into drive."

According to Aitken, doubts about the sincerity of Mr. Colson's conversion were put to rest by his subsequent actions on behalf of prisoners around the world. The Prison Fellowship Ministries founded by Mr. Colson in the United States in 1976 grew into a worldwide movement with branches in more than 110 different countries. It is now based in the Loudoun County community of Lansdowne.

"Look at the incredible good he has done," Aitken said. "He completely changed the face of faith-based caring for prisoners and offenders, not just in America but across the world."

In addition to befriending prisoners and converting them to Christianity, Mr. Colson established a rehabilitation program that aimed to cut the recidivism rate. He publicly opposed the death penalty and called for alternatives to incarceration, particularly for nonviolent offenders, who make up a significant portion of the prison population.

Leading Republican politicians including President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain of Arizona cited Mr. Colson's work with prisoners as evidence that faith-based initiatives can help to solve America's most intractable problems.

Bush invited Mr. Colson to the White House in June 2003 to present the results of a scientific study by a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Byron Johnson, that concluded that participants in Prison Fellowship programs were much less likely to return to prison than other former inmates.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Man On A Wire: Joe Manchin's Two-Step Alienates Dems And Fails To Convince Republicans (BRIAN BEUTLER, APRIL 20, 2012, TPM)

Sen. Joe Manchin's may think running for re-election as a Democrat while remaining uncommitted to President Obama will buy him cover with ... somebody. But it's not with Republicans.

"What a difference one Democratic Senator's upcoming re-election and three years of failed economic policies by the Democrats makes," emails Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement. "But no amount of election-year rhetoric from Senator Manchin will cause voters in West Virginia to forget that three years ago he unabashedly supported President Obama, while predicting great things for West Virginia under his Administration. Instead of trying to put distance between he and the President, Senator Manchin should be more focused on a simple, three word message to his constituents - 'I am sorry.'"

Sen. Lieberman declines to endorse in presidential race (Mike Lillis, 04/22/12, The Hill)

Lieberman, who became an Independent after losing the Democratic primary race in 2006, still caucuses with the Democrats, but said he won't put his weight behind either President Obama or Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee.

"This year when it comes to the presidential election, I'm just gonna do what most Americans do: go into the voting booth on election day, and in the privacy of the booth, cast my vote," Lieberman said during an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Monumental Egos : "Starchitects" like Frank Gehry do not build for people -- they build to shock. (Roger Scruton, April 2012, American Spectator)

Gehry belongs to a small and exclusive club of "starchitects," who specialize in designing buildings that stand out from their surroundings, so as to shock the passerby and become causes célèbres. They thrive on controversy, since it enables them to posture as original artists in a world of ignorant philistines. And their contempt for ordinary opinion is amplified by all attempts to prevent them from achieving their primary purpose, which is to scatter our cities with blemishes that bear their unmistakable trademark. Most of these starchitects--Daniel Libeskind, Richard Rogers, Norman Foster, Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas--have equipped themselves with a store of pretentious gobbledygook, with which to explain their genius to those who are otherwise unable to perceive it. And when people are spending public money they will be easily influenced by gobbledygook that flatters them into believing that they are spending it on some original and world-changing masterpiece.

The most important feature of a Gehry "masterpiece," like the absurdly costly Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, is that it "challenges" the surrounding order. Gehry does not build for people, but sculpts a space for his own expressive ends. You see this clearly in his Stata Center at MIT, a building that takes the old ideas of wall and window and holds them up to ridicule, to create a kind of collapsed caricature of a building, which is already springing leaks and cracking at the joints. In a striking monograph, Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber, former president of Boston University, details all the faults of the building, including its enormous cost overrun, and the expense of maintaining it.

But by far the most telling criticism is one that can be leveled at all the starchitects, who adopt the same a priori approach to construction as Gehry, and also the same self-image of themselves as revolutionary geniuses. Gehry decided that, since the Stata building was to house the high-powered researchers that MIT collects, and bring them together in a single space, he should design an interior that encouraged them to interact, to share their ideas, to amplify each other's creativity by throwing concepts like footballs from room to room. So he got rid of inner walls, made all boundaries transparent, opened everything out in spaces that are made stark and bleak by the childish supermarket colors that shout from the open corridors.

This kind of a priori thinking, by an architect who has never troubled to observe another member of his species, recalls Le Corbusier's plan for a hospital in Venice, in which there would be no windows, and all doors would open inward, since this would further the utter tranquility from which (according to the architect) convalescence springs. In fact researchers need walls, privacy, solitude if they are ever to produce the ideas that they can then bounce off their colleagues, just as invalids need light, air, and a view of the life outside, if ever they are to be motivated to get better. The Stata Center therefore fulfils no function as well as its primary one, which is to draw attention to the person who created it.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Johnny Winter On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, April 18, 2012)

Johnny Winter makes his first appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded live on the campus of West Virginia University in Morgantown. Arguably the first artist to drag electric blues kicking and screaming into the land of hard rock, Winter remains one of the most respected guitarists alive, representing the clear link between British blues-rock and Americana.

His latest album, Roots, is a collaborative effort, featuring contributions from fellow heavyweights such as Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Vince Gill
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Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Iran And India: A Tangled Web Of Oil And Geopolitics (PALASH R. GHOSH, April 21, 2012, IB Times)

In the 21st century, the relations between these two great nations must be framed along the lines of geo-politics and oil, rather than art and culture.

Although India was greatly worried by the 1979 revolution in Iran that toppled the Shah and established an Islamic state, New Delhi and Teheran have generally enjoyed good relations. That tie became stronger with India's insatiable appetite for energy in tandem with western sanctions that have pressured Iran to find customers for its crucial oil exports.

International Business Times spoke to an expert on Mideast and South Asian affairs to discuss the tangled web of Iran-India relations.

Dilshod Achilov is a professor of political science at East Tennessee State University at Johnson City, Tenn.

IB TIMES: Due to western sanctions, Iran is desperate to sell its oil to the two big Asian customers, India and China --- and at a significant discount. Generally speaking, how have Iran and India gotten along since the 1979 Islamic Revolution?

ACHILOV: The bilateral relations between India and Iran go back for centuries. However, after the Iranian revolution, the dynamics of cooperation changed to a certain degree. Even thought the 1979 revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan complicated the relations between Tehran and New Delhi, strategic and regional cooperation between two states continued to exist, but in a more wary and cautious fashion.

The newly formed theocratic Iranian regime was not warmly received by India at first. In particular, India's main concern was a potential strong alliance that could emerge between Iran and Pakistan. However, given the strong anti-American sentiments in the post-1979 Iran, Pakistan's close relations with the U.S. was a complicating aspect (i.e., a major roadblock) for future Iran-Pakistani cooperation.

...who was worried about the Persian Shi'ites allying with the Sunni tribes of Pakistan?  It is Pakistan, in large part, that makes India, the US and Iran natural allies. That's where the war ends.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


China's Achilles heel: A comparison with America reveals a deep flaw in China's model of growth (The Economist, Apr 21st 2012)

[V]ery low fertility rates still prevail, especially in the richest parts of the country. Shanghai reported fertility of just 0.6 in 2010--probably the lowest level anywhere in the world. According to the UN's population division, the nationwide fertility rate will continue to decline, reaching 1.51 in 2015-20. In contrast, America's fertility rate is 2.08 and rising.

The difference between 1.56 and 2.08 does not sound large. But over the long term it has a huge impact on society. Between now and 2050 China's population will fall slightly, from 1.34 billion in 2010 to just under 1.3 billion in 2050. This assumes that fertility starts to recover. If it stays low, the population will dip below 1 billion by 2060. In contrast, America's population is set to rise by 30% in the next 40 years. China will hit its peak population in 2026. No one knows when America will hit its population peak.

The differences between the two countries are even more striking if you look at their average ages. In 1980 China's median (the age at which half the population is younger, half older) was 22. That is characteristic of a young developing country. It is now 34.5, more like a rich country and not very different from America's, which is 37. But China is ageing at an unprecedented pace. Because fewer children are being born as larger generations of adults are getting older, its median age will rise to 49 by 2050, nearly nine years more than America at that point. Some cities will be older still. The Shanghai Population and Family Planning Committee says that more than a third of the city's population will be over 60 by 2020.

This trend will have profound financial and social consequences. Most obviously, it means China will have a bulge of pensioners before it has developed the means of looking after them. Unlike the rest of the developed world, China will grow old before it gets rich. Currently, 8.2% of China's total population is over 65. The equivalent figure in America is 13%. By 2050, China's share will be 26%, higher than in America.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


'Protestant Ethic' 2.0: The New Ways Religion Is Driving Economic Outperformance (Joel Kotkin, 4/05/12, Forbes)

 In countries with a substantial historical Protestant influence such as Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands continue to outperform economic the heavily Catholic nations like Italy, Ireland and Spain, according to a recent European study. The difference, they speculate, may be in Protestant traditions of self-help, frugality and emphasis on education. None of this, of course, would have been surprising to Max Weber.

Religious people also tend to live longer and suffer less disabilities with old age, as author Murray notes. Researchers at Harvard, looking at dozens of countries over the past 40 years, demonstrated that religion reinforces the patterns of personal virtue, social trust and willingness to defer gratification long associated with business success.

But perhaps the most important difference over time may be the impact of religion on family formation, with weighty fiscal implications. In virtually every part of the world, religious people tend to have more children than those who are unaffiliated. In Europe, this often means Islamic families as opposed to increasingly post-Christian natives. Decline in religious affiliation -- not just Christian but also Buddhist and Confucian -- seems to correlate with the perilously low birthrates in both Europe and many East Asian countries.

Singapore-based pastor Andrew Ong sees a direct connection between low birthrates and weakened religious ties in advanced Asian countries. As religious ideas about the primacy of family fade, including those rooted in Confucianism, they are generally supplanted by more materialist, individualistic values. "People don't value family like they used to," he suggests. "The values are not there. The old values suggested that you grow up. The media today encourages people not to grow up and take responsibility. They don't want to stop being cool. When you have kids, you usually are less cool."

Religious people, prepared to be seen as uncool, are more likely to seek to produce more offspring. In the United States 47% of people who attend church regularly see the ideal family size as three or more children compared to barely one quarter of the less observant. Mormons have many more children than non-Mormons; observant Jews more than secular. "Faith," the demographer Phil Longman concludes, "is increasingly necessary as a motive to have children."

This pattern is reflected in the geography of childbearing. Where churches are closing down, most particularly in core urban areas such as Boston or Manhattan, as well as their metropolitan regions, singletons and childless couples are increasing. In more religiously oriented metropolitan areas like Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, the propensity to have children is 15% to nearly 30% higher (as measured by the number of children under the age of 5 per woman of child bearing age- 15-49).

In the future, many high-income societies, whether in East Asia, Europe or North America, may find that religious people's fecundity is a necessary counterforce to rapid aging and eventual depopulation of the more secular population . The increasingly perilous shape of public finance in almost all advanced countries -- largely the result of rapid aging and diminished workforces -- can be ascribed at least in part to secularization's role in falling birthrates.

There may be other positive fiscal effects of religiosity. Religious people donate on average far more to charities than their secular counterparts, including those unaffiliated with a religion. Nearly 15% of the religious volunteer every week compared to just 10% among the secular.

Social networks, much celebrated among the single, might provide people with voices, but religious organizations actually do something about meeting real human needs. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


The elephant on the court: Predicting performance in basketball (DARYL MOREY, 4/20/12, The Economist)

Take, say, Josh Slater, a guard from Lipscomb University who is the same height (six feet, three inches or 1.91 metres) as Mr Lin. Mr Slater averaged 17 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals per game--a dead ringer for Mr Lin's 16 points, four rebounds, five assists, and two steals per game. Just as Mr Lin put up 30 points, nine rebounds and three assists against Connecticut, a powerhouse team, Mr Slater posted 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists versus North Carolina, another elite basketball school. Was Mr Slater, and all the other college players like him, unjustly passed over as well? Could your favourite NBA team go on a magical playoff run by inserting him in their starting lineup?

Of course not, counter advocates of the traditionalist camp. Mr Lin and Mr Slater might look the same in a spreadsheet, but they couldn't look more different on the court. All one had to do, they claim, was watch Mr Lin play--and shame on those teams like the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks and my own Houston Rockets, who had him in their organisation and failed to recognise his brilliance.

Neither argument is completely wrong. Maybe Mr Slater could succeed in the NBA, and maybe Mr Lin should have been given playing time sooner. But the structure of professional basketball makes it impossible for teams to give a chance to every prospect who shows some potential.

For example, Major League Baseball (MLB) drafts some 1,500 players a year. Once selected, they must work their way up four levels of minor-league teams before joining the parent club. This gives MLB organisations the incentives of salmon, which spawn scores of young far upriver in hopes that a handful make the treacherous journey all the way back to sea. Each team can invest in hundreds of prospects and see which pan out, needing only a few winners that "hit it big" to make up for all the failures.

In contrast, NBA teams cannot hold the rights to anyone beyond the 15 players on their active roster. That makes them more like elephant mothers, who give birth to very few babies and have to gestate them for almost two years. With limited investment opportunities, teams are forced to choose only the players with the greatest likelihood of success, and then give them a long-term contract and a potential path to significant playing time. And no one could have called Mr Lin a high-probability prospect. In the end, he only got his break after he had polished his game for a year in the NBA Development League ("D-League"), basketball's minor league, and when a series of injuries on the Knicks created an opening at his position.

But they don't choose players likely to succeed, as a Josh Slater was.  They consistently choose physically talented players over skilled players.  Then they have to keep them on the team and they pay them so much money that you can't convince them they have anything to learn.  The result is the wretched iteration of the game we're subjected to these days.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


The Next Generation of Reforms in India (Fault Lines, 4/14/12)

For a large vibrant economy like India's, there is always hope. We still have tools to tackle our problems. But we must exercise those tools with vigor and a sense of urgency. I know that sense of urgency is shared within the government, but urgency has to translate to persuasion and action. We need a common minimum program across all sensible political parties to ensure that we stabilize the economy and foreign investor perceptions quickly.

The reality is that the size of India, at 1.2 billion people, is a hindrance rather than a help.  It needs to devolve into its constituent parts, none of which should have as many as 100 million citizens if they are to be successful.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM

Magic Slim And The Teardrops On Mountain Stage (NPR: Mountain Stage, 4/18/12)

The '60s Chicago blues sound shines in "Part Time Love," while Slim's roots are on full display in "Going to Mississippi." Magic Slim is backed here by his own trio The Teardrops: the great Jon McDonald on rhythm guitar, Brian Jones on bass and Andre Howard on drums. They're followed by Mountain Stage band pianist Bob Thompson and his take on the African-American spiritual "Wade in the Water."

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