July 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


So, it turns out that when The Wife announces she's taking the kids to the Cape to visit her parents for 5 days, one of these is not on the acceptable response list:

(A) God, I'll miss you guys.
(B) I really wish I could go to.
(C) I don't know what I'll do without you for that long.
(D) Thank you!

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Obama then and now (Dan Balz, 7/08/12, Washington Post)

Four years ago, Obama used themes of hope and change to suggest that he could bring a new politics to Washington. He was open to the idea that, as he sometimes put it, the solutions to the country's problems were somewhere between the rhetoric and visions of both parties. His goal, he said, was to help guide the country, through his leadership, to that imagined golden mean while sticking to his principles.

Today, the battle-scarred president who has met almost uniform resistance from the Republicans sees the world differently, or so it seems from the way he talked in Ohio and Pennsylvania. At nearly every stop, he made it clear that he sees November in the starkest of terms and that there can be but one winner.

...but it's hard to believe he genuinely sees any difference between himself and Mitt.
Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Why Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals (Arthur Brooks, 7/08/12, New York Times)

[M]ost conservatives are married; most liberals are not. (The percentages are 53 percent to 33 percent, according to my calculations using data from the 2004 General Social Survey, and almost none of the gap is due to the fact that liberals tend to be younger than conservatives.) Marriage and happiness go together. If two people are demographically the same but one is married and the other is not, the married person will be 18 percentage points more likely to say he or she is very happy than the unmarried person.

The story on religion is much the same. According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, conservatives who practice a faith outnumber religious liberals in America nearly four to one. And the link to happiness? You guessed it. Religious participants are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives as are secularists (43 percent to 23 percent). The differences don't depend on education, race, sex or age; the happiness difference exists even when you account for income.

Whether religion and marriage should make people happy is a question you have to answer for yourself. But consider this: Fifty-two percent of married, religious, politically conservative people (with kids) are very happy -- versus only 14 percent of single, secular, liberal people without kids.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Dismantling the new atheism : A new book by a leading philosopher argues that there is a deep compatibility between science and religion and a hidden incompatibility between science and naturalism. (Christopher O. Tollefsen, 2 July 2012, MercatorNet)

But can't the new atheists simply help themselves to the premise that science is the only source of knowledge? We might wonder on what basis they could: surely it is not a claim of science that science is the only source of knowledge. But this, as we will see, is only one way in which extreme naturalism threatens to be its own worst enemy.

In the third part of the book, Plantinga turns to the question of whether in fact theism might be in concord with contemporary science, rather than in conflict. After looking at, and giving a fairly weak endorsement to, some arguments in support of intelligent design and fine-tuning, Plantinga argues that in fact the theistic worldview is as a whole deeply consonant with the goals and successes of contemporary science.

This is because theism holds, as atheistic naturalism denies, that God has created us in his image, as rational beings. But as rational, yet finite, beings, we are truth-seekers, and for the theist it makes perfectly good sense to think that God has also created a world that is available to us to know: "God created both us and our world in such a way that there is a certain fit or match between the world and our cognitive faculties."

Plantinga then identifies a number of features of our world, and our cognitive relationship to that world, that are much more likely, and make much more sense, on a theistic than on an atheistic picture: the reliability and regularity of nature, and its working in accordance with law; the role of mathematics in the understanding of nature; the possibility of induction; the appropriateness of theoretical virtues such as simplicity; and even the empirical nature of science, which Plantinga argues is underwritten by the contingency of divine creation. In all these respects modern science is deeply compatible with theism, a fact that renders unsurprising the further fact that all the great founders of modern science were theists, working from a deeply Christian background.

So the conflict between science and religion is, Plantinga shows, largely bogus (and I have only scratched the surface of his arguments here). But things are even worse from the standpoint of naturalism, for on the naturalist account, there is no good reason to think that our cognitive faculties are truth-tracking. After all, it is not because those faculties contribute to true beliefs that they are selected for in the Darwinian account; it is because they are likely to contribute to survival.

Can the naturalist expect, as the theist clearly can, that her cognitive faculties are reliable, i.e., that they lead to true beliefs? Since natural selection does not select for truth, or truth-tracking faculties, but for other unrelated properties, we have no reason to expect so given naturalism. Of course, we have very good reason to think our beliefs are reliable; so this claim should not bother most people. And non-naturalistic theists will believe that even if evolution is true, God has overseen evolution with a view to the reliability of our cognitive faculties. The naturalist cannot rely on any such claim.

But since the inability to rely on cognitive faculties as reliably truth-tracking is a defeater for any belief whatsoever, it is a defeater also for naturalism; accordingly naturalism turns out, on Plantinga's argument, to be self-defeating, and cannot be rationally accepted.

The Long War was ultimately just the playing out of the conflict between the English-speaking who understood Hume and the continentals who were fooled by Descartes, the latter's fundamental error being that they failed to comprehend that naturalism is incoherent not on religious terms but on its own.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


The Spark That Caused the Big Bang : There's a reason the newly discovered Higgs boson is called the 'God particle.' It started it all. (MICHIO KAKU, 7/05/12, WSJ)

For the past 50 years, this expensive process of smashing beams of particles has yielded an embarrassingly large zoo of hundreds of subatomic particles, which can be tediously reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle called the Standard Model of particles. More than 20 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to physicists who have pieced together parts of the Standard Model. All the particles of the Standard Model had been found, except the last, central piece of the jigsaw puzzle--the Higgs boson. That is why so much was resting on finding the Higgs particle. (If it had not been found, many physicists, I imagine, would have had a heart attack.)

The press has dubbed the Higgs boson the "God particle," a nickname that makes many physicists cringe. But there is some logic to it. According to the Bible, God set the universe into motion as he proclaimed "Let there be light!" In physics, the universe started off with a cosmic explosion, the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, which sent the stars and galaxies hurtling in all directions. But the key question is left unanswered: Why did it bang? The big-bang theory says nothing about how and why it banged in the first place.

To put it another way, what was the match that set off the initial cosmic explosion? What put the "bang" in the Big Bang? In quantum physics, it was a Higgs-like particle that sparked the cosmic explosion. In other words, everything we see around us, including galaxies, stars, planets and us, owes its existence to the Higgs boson.

Although, the interesting question is what sorts of particles subatomic particles are made of, and what those particles are made of....

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


The Sources of the Next American Boom : Nanotech, 3-D printing and other innovations point to a coming golden era, if we can unleash the animal spirits of the market. (MICHAEL S. MALONE, 7/05/12, WSJ)

[W]aiting in the wings for when we get our economic policies in order are a mounting number of stunning discoveries, inventions and technological breakthroughs that could set off a burst of growth and wealth creation as big as any in living memory.

The fracking technology that is making available vast new sources of recoverable oil and natural gas in North America is one such breakthrough. But all across the commercial and industrial landscape, there are exciting developments:

• Nanoculture: One of the truths of tech is that revolutions take longer than predicted, but they arrive sooner than we are prepared for them. That is the case with nanotechnology, the hot new science story of a decade ago.

Though it has largely disappeared from the front pages, nanotech is only now coming into its own. Breakthrough medicines; genetic research; new materials such as graphene (a lattice-sheet form of carbon used for everything from filters to computer chips); molecular electronics (extreme miniaturization, thus super-small sensors and other devices); and quantum computing (small, superfast supercomputers) have all been announced in recent months. Indeed, the range of emerging applications for nano materials is so wide-ranging and important that, together, they suggest an impending turning point in high tech as important as silicon and integrated circuitry were half a century ago.

• Cloud Crowd: In the world of information technology, the big story these days is the shift of data management from largely in-house computing centers to rented, easily scalable computing and storage from anonymous servers located somewhere out in the Internet. Much of this shift, driven by leading providers such as Amazon, is already well under way, rapidly driving down costs and making information management much more affordable both for industry and, increasingly, consumers.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Battling for every Iowa vote (JENNIFER JACOBS, 7/08/12, Des Moines Register)

Some of the once-euphoric Iowans who inspired the nation to embrace Barack Obama in 2008 are experiencing a deep-seated buyer's remorse over their role in delivering the White House to a candidate they think has let them down.

Take longtime Democrat Debbie Smith. Four years ago, she wore the Obama T-shirts, went to his rallies, made her first campaign contribution and caucused for the first time.

"I wish to have my vote back," said Smith, 51, a small business owner from Clive. "I feel completely responsible, and I feel like I need to tell people this."

A sense of betrayal shows up in Iowa polling conducted by rival Mitt Romney's campaign, said its pollster, Neil Newhouse.

It's a discomfiting hurdle for Obama in a state he professes to have strong emotional ties with, that he won by a landslide four years ago, and that could prove pivotal this year for him or for Romney. [...]

It's a fusillade of campaigning in a state that was not high on team Romney's target list for the general election just a few months ago. After all, Obama won Iowa in 2008 by a decisive 9.54 percentage points. Today, the race in Iowa is too close to call, a rolling average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com shows.

When polling showed Obama struggling here, and when his re-election campaign started dumping money and its top stars into the Hawkeye State, the Republican campaign didn't need any more clues that Iowa is up for grabs.

"We know how to hunt where the ducks are," said Romney political director Rich Beeson in an interview at the campaign's national headquarters in Boston.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


The Man Who Rescued the German Economy (Raymond Zhong, 7/08/12, Wall Street Journal)

'Reform yourselves, and ye will grow out of your debt." So goes Germany's unwritten mantra for the European crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel is urging Greece, Spain, Italy and the rest to shape up their economies and pay down their obligations--and withholding German money until they do.

The Berlin road to economic righteousness is no mere sermonizing. Germany itself has gone down it and grown stronger. Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, was German chancellor from 1998 to 2005, and during his second term his government lowered taxes, revamped unemployment benefits and streamlined labor laws. Mr. Schröder's shakedown of the welfare state--dubbed Agenda 2010 when it was launched in 2003--has been credited with insulating Germany against the debt mess that would later befall Southern Europe. [...]

Circumstance forced economic reform onto Gerhard Schröder's agenda as chancellor. When he took office in 1998, Germany's unemployment rate was 11% and economic growth was close to nil.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Another Thing Immigrants Do for the Economy: Invent Cool Things (Elizabeth Dwoskin, July 01, 2012, )

Each year the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awards about 200,000 patents to inventors. Last year a Stanford student built a camera that lets users change what's in focus after snapping a shot; Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers invented a tiny, foldable car; and a patent was awarded for devising a metal that is as strong as steel but can be molded like plastic.

Some of these patents are just cool. Others may turn out to have enormous economic value: This year, Microsoft (MSFT) paid $1.1 billion to buy AOL's (AOL) patent portfolio, which comes to about $1.2 million per patent. All of the patents above have one thing in common: They represent the work of immigrants to the U.S.

Which is why policy makers should flag a recent study that found more than three-quarters of patents from America's top ten patent-producing universities, including MIT, Stanford, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, were the result of breakthroughs by immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


The 5 myths of the great financial meltdown (Allan Sloan, June 13, 2012, Fortune)

Myth No. 1: The government should have done nothing.

There's an idea gaining currency that everything the government did, from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (the now infamous TARP) to the Federal Reserve's innovative lending programs and rate cutting, just made the problem worse. And that we should have simply let markets do their thing.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! During the dark days of 2008-09, when giant institutions like Washington Mutual and Wachovia and Lehman Brothers failed and the likes of Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC), AIG (AIG), GE Capital (GE), Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley (MS), Goldman Sachs (GS), and huge European banks were near collapse, letting them all go under would have brought on the financial apocalypse. We could well have ended up with a downturn worse than the Great Depression, which was the previous time that failures in the financial system (rather than the Federal Reserve raising rates) begat a U.S. economic slowdown.

You want to let big institutions fail? Okay, look at what happened when Lehman was allowed to go under in September 2008. (The Treasury and Fed insist there was no way to save the firm, though I wonder if they would have devised one had they not gotten tons of grief six months earlier for not letting Bear Stearns collapse.)

Lehman's collapse froze short-term money markets, making normal finance impossible. A run on money-market funds began when the Reserve Primary Fund, an industry pioneer, said it was "breaking the buck" because of losses on Lehman paper. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were about to fail because hedge funds and other "prime brokerage" customers began yanking their cash in response to prime brokerage assets at Lehman's London branch being frozen.

The federal government (including the Fed) had to front trillions of dollars and guarantee trillions of obligations -- a total I calculated last year (see "Surprise! The Big Bad Bailout Is Paying Off") at more than $14 trillion -- to stop the panic.

Lehman was a beta test for letting markets take care of problems themselves -- and it failed miserably.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


For China, It's All About America (Michael Auslin, July 6, 2012, The Diplomat)

Ultimately, as one European diplomat put it to me, when it comes to China's foreign policy, it's all about the United States.  This monofocus on America tells us a great deal about China's worldview, but it also reveals the degree to which Washington is hampered in forging a better working relationship with Beijing.

Unlike the United States, which has had a complex, yet robust set of alliances and more informal partnerships in Asia since the 1950s, China has not formed deep ties with any Asian state.  There is no analogue in Chinese foreign policy to America's relationship with Japan or its initiatives with Singapore.  While there is always skepticism abroad about Washington's true intentions towards it's Asian partners, and a resignation about the inherently unequal power relationship between America and any of its smaller allies, there is also recognition that the United States usually seeks some type of mutually-beneficial status.  Although a superpower (or perhaps because of it), American diplomats have a basic predisposition towards equality in their negotiations and agreements.  The U.S. military, for its part, has spent decades helping to train foreign armed forces, provide humanitarian aid, and of course serve as an ultimate guarantor of regional stability, at least theoretically.

China's foreign policy, at least today, is far different.  Once it may have seen itself as a co-leader of the global Communist bloc, or as the center of a Sinic grouping of nations up to the nineteenth century.  Now, its foreign gaze is centered squarely on its relationship with the United States. 

The reality is that they should be obsessed with us, while we can ignore them. All they are is cheap labor and there's always cheaper elsewhere.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Why Women Still Can't Have It All : It's time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here's what has to change. (ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, July/August 2012, The Atlantic)

Last spring, I flew to Oxford to give a public lecture. At the request of a young Rhodes Scholar I know, I'd agreed to talk to the Rhodes community about "work-family balance." I ended up speaking to a group of about 40 men and women in their mid-20s. What poured out of me was a set of very frank reflections on how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be, at a demanding time for my children (even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion's share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington). I concluded by saying that my time in office had convinced me that further government service would be very unlikely while my sons were still at home. The audience was rapt, and asked many thoughtful questions. One of the first was from a young woman who began by thanking me for "not giving just one more fatuous 'You can have it all' talk." Just about all of the women in that room planned to combine careers and family in some way. But almost all assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.

The striking gap between the responses I heard from those young women (and others like them) and the responses I heard from my peers and associates prompted me to write this article. Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating "you can have it all" is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.

I still strongly believe that women can "have it all" (and that men can too). I believe that we can "have it all at the same time." But not today, not with the way America's economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged--and quickly changed.

BEFORE MY SERVICE in government, I'd spent my career in academia: as a law professor and then as the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Both were demanding jobs, but I had the ability to set my own schedule most of the time. I could be with my kids when I needed to be, and still get the work done. I had to travel frequently, but I found I could make up for that with an extended period at home or a family vacation.

I knew that I was lucky in my career choice, but I had no idea how lucky until I spent two years in Washington within a rigid bureaucracy, even with bosses as understanding as Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills. My workweek started at 4:20 on Monday morning, when I got up to get the 5:30 train from Trenton to Washington. It ended late on Friday, with the train home. In between, the days were crammed with meetings, and when the meetings stopped, the writing work began--a never-ending stream of memos, reports, and comments on other people's drafts. For two years, I never left the office early enough to go to any stores other than those open 24 hours, which meant that everything from dry cleaning to hair appointments to Christmas shopping had to be done on weekends, amid children's sporting events, music lessons, family meals, and conference calls. I was entitled to four hours of vacation per pay period, which came to one day of vacation a month. And I had it better than many of my peers in D.C.; Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families (although of course she worked earlier and later, from home).

In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else's schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be--at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office--at least not for very long.

I am hardly alone in this realization. Michèle Flournoy stepped down after three years as undersecretary of defense for policy, the third-highest job in the department, to spend more time at home with her three children, two of whom are teenagers. Karen Hughes left her position as the counselor to President George W. Bush after a year and a half in Washington to go home to Texas for the sake of her family. Mary Matalin, who spent two years as an assistant to Bush and the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before stepping down to spend more time with her daughters, wrote: "Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work."

Yet the decision to step down from a position of power--to value family over professional advancement, even for a time--is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals in the United States. One phrase says it all about current attitudes toward work and family, particularly among elites. In Washington, "leaving to spend time with your family" is a euphemism for being fired. This understanding is so ingrained that when Flournoy announced her resignation last December, TheNew York Times covered her decision as follows:

Ms. Flournoy's announcement surprised friends and a number of Pentagon officials, but all said they took her reason for resignation at face value and not as a standard Washington excuse for an official who has in reality been forced out. "I can absolutely and unequivocally state that her decision to step down has nothing to do with anything other than her commitment to her family," said Doug Wilson, a top Pentagon spokesman. "She has loved this job and people here love her.

Think about what this "standard Washington excuse" implies: it is so unthinkable that an official would actually step down to spend time with his or her family that this must be a cover for something else. How could anyone voluntarily leave the circles of power for the responsibilities of parenthood? Depending on one's vantage point, it is either ironic or maddening that this view abides in the nation's capital, despite the ritual commitments to "family values" that are part of every political campaign. Regardless, this sentiment makes true work-life balance exceptionally difficult. But it cannot change unless top women speak out.

Only recently have I begun to appreciate the extent to which many young professional women feel under assault by women my age and older. After I gave a recent speech in New York, several women in their late 60s or early 70s came up to tell me how glad and proud they were to see me speaking as a foreign-policy expert. A couple of them went on, however, to contrast my career with the path being traveled by "younger women today." One expressed dismay that many younger women "are just not willing to get out there and do it." Said another, unaware of the circumstances of my recent job change: "They think they have to choose between having a career and having a family."

A similar assumption underlies Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's widely publicized 2011 commencement speech at Barnard, and her earlier TED talk, in which she lamented the dismally small number of women at the top and advised young women not to "leave before you leave." When a woman starts thinking about having children, Sandberg said, "she doesn't raise her hand anymore ... She starts leaning back." Although couched in terms of encouragement, Sandberg's exhortation contains more than a note of reproach. We who have made it to the top, or are striving to get there, are essentially saying to the women in the generation behind us: "What's the matter with you?"

They have an answer that we don't want to hear. After the speech I gave in New York, I went to dinner with a group of 30-somethings. I sat across from two vibrant women, one of whom worked at the UN and the other at a big New York law firm. As nearly always happens in these situations, they soon began asking me about work-life balance. When I told them I was writing this article, the lawyer said, "I look for role models and can't find any." She said the women in her firm who had become partners and taken on management positions had made tremendous sacrifices, "many of which they don't even seem to realize ... They take two years off when their kids are young but then work like crazy to get back on track professionally, which means that they see their kids when they are toddlers but not teenagers, or really barely at all." Her friend nodded, mentioning the top professional women she knew, all of whom essentially relied on round-the-clock nannies. Both were very clear that they did not want that life, but could not figure out how to combine professional success and satisfaction with a real commitment to family.

...the jobs were mainly makework in the first place.  The return to traditional family roles will not disrupt the economy at all.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Pricing Experiments You Might Not Know, But Can Learn From (Conversion XL, 10/31/11)

Offering 3 options

The old truth about offering 3 pricing options holds water. Here's a pricing experiment in selling beer - again from W. Poundstone's amazing book Priceless.

People were offered 2 kinds of beer: premium beer for $2.50 and bargain beer for $1.80. Around 80% chose the more expensive beer.

Now a third beer was introduced, a super bargain beer for $1.60 in addition to the previous two. Now 80% bought the $1.80 beer and the rest $2.50 beer. Nobody bought the cheapest option.

Third time around, they removed the $1.60 beer and replaced with a super premium $3.40 beer. Most people chose the $2.50 beer, a small number $1.80 beer and arounf 10% opted for the most expensive $3.40 beer. Some people will always buy the most expensive option, no matter the price.

You can influence people's choice by offering different options. Old school sales people also say that offering different price point options will make people choose between your plans, instead of choosing whether to buy your product or not.

How to test it: Try offering 3 packages, and if there is something you really want to sell, make it the middle option.

The Daughter Judd (racing into the kitchen) : "Mom, Dad's using horse shampoo!"

The Wife : "Oh, don't worry, honey, it was probably just the cheapest one he could find."

Me : "The biggest bottle at the Dollar Store!  32 ounces for a buck."

The Daughter : "If they have to tell you on the bottle that it's safe for human use it means humans shouldn't be using it...."

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


The most important chart of the 2012 election (Chris Cillizza, 07/06/2012, Washington Post)

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


A Big Deal: Canada and Mexico Join the Pacific Trade Pact (Claude Barfield, June 26, 2012, American)

Accounts of the G-20 summit in Mexico largely miss the most significant development.

The most significant development during the G-20 summit in Mexico occurred on the sidelines and was largely buried in media reports: The decision to invite Canada and Mexico to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). Adding Mexico and Canada to the current nine-member TPP will result--if negotiations are successful--in a free trade area covering some 658 million people and about $20.5 trillion in economic activity.

Further, many trade analysts predict that the move by Canada and Mexico will produce a domino effect, beginning with the addition of Japan and South Korea within the next year. That would produce a free trade area encompassing more than 700 million people with a combined GDP of some $26 trillion. It is this prospect that gives substance to the claim that, in an otherwise lackluster and frustrating G-20 summit, such a breakthrough is potentially a really big deal.

For most of their history, the TPP negotiations have been conducted beneath the radar of publicity or media attention. They began with four small nations--Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, and Chile (P-4)--aiming for a high standard, U.S.-model Free Trade Agreement, with the goal of providing a pathway to an inclusive, trans-Pacific trade and investment open market. Subsequently, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, and Malaysia signed on, but the transforming event came with the Bush administration's decision to start the process for membership in its last months in office.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


China lifts ban on lesbians giving blood (Molly Gray, July 6, 2012, CNN) 

The Chinese Ministry of Health has lifted a 14-year-old ban on lesbians donating blood in effect as of July 1.

The ban still applies to men who are sexually active with other men, but celibate homosexuals are permitted to give blood, according to the Ministry of Health's website.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Study Says 'Stand Your Ground' Laws Increase Homicides (http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2012/06/11/study-says-stand-your-ground-laws-increase-homicides/Joe Palazzolo, 6/11/12, WSJ)

In a new study, an economics professor and a PhD student at Texas A&M University take a broader look at the laws' effect. The authors, Professor Mark Hoekstra and Cheng Cheng, use state-level crime data from 2000 to 2009 to determine whether the laws deter crime.

The answer, they conclude, is no. In fact, the evidence suggests the laws have led to an increase in homicides.

From the study:

Results indicate that the prospect of facing additional self-defense does not deter crime.  Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault.  Moreover, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out meaningful deterrence effects.

In contrast, we find significant evidence that the laws increase homicides. Suggestive but inconclusive evidence indicates that castle doctrine laws increase the narrowly defined category of justifiable homicides by private citizens by 17 to 50 percent, which translates into as many as 50 additional justifiable homicides per year nationally due to castle doctrine. More significantly, we find the laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted castle doctrine.

Thus, by lowering the expected costs associated with using lethal force, castle doctrine laws induce more of it. This increase in homicides could be due either to the increased use of lethal force in self-defense situations, or to the escalation of violence in otherwise non-lethal conflicts. We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Number of German births hit post-war low (Elisa Oddone, Jul 3, 2012, Reuters)

The number of births in Germany fell to a post-war low last year despite government incentives meant to reverse a population decline in the European Union's biggest economy... [...]

A third of all babies born in Germany, still the EU's most populous member state, came from immigrant families, the analysts said, noting that without them the overall figure would have been much lower.

The preliminary data released by Germany's Federal Statistics Office showed 663,000 children were born in 2011, down from 678,000 in 2010.

"As in every year since 1972, the number of people who died was greater than the number of children born. In 2011 the difference amounted to 190,000 people and in 2010 to 181,000," the office said in a report.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Obituary: Fred Perry, 1909 - 1995 (The Telegraph)

Perry was the first player to win all four Grand Slam championships - of Wimbledon, the United States, France and Australia. He also played a key part in Britain's four Davis Cup triumphs between 1933 and 1936.

Especially memorable was the decisive final rubber against France, in Paris in 1933. Perry, who had taken five sets to beat Henri Cochet on the opening day, recovered from losing the first set and being two set points down in the second set to beat Andre Merlin 4-6, 8-6, 6-2, 7-5.

It was Britain's first success since 1912, and ended six years of French domination.

When the team arrived at Dover, they received a telegram of congratulation from King George V. A crowd of 10,000 greeted the train when it reached Victoria.

Perry competed in a total of 20 Davis Cup matches, winning 34 of his 38 rubbers in singles, and 11 out of 14 in doubles. Since then, Britain has reached the final once.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Something's rotten in Paris : Moves by the new socialist government are setting the country up to become the next major victim of the European financial crisis. (Cyrus Sanati, 7/06/12, Fortune)

On Monday, an independent audit of the French economy, ordered by the new government, spooked the markets as it showed that France was on course to run a budget deficit equivalent to around 5.2% of its output, up sharply from earlier estimates. The budget gap grew after the new government announced plans to roll back a number unpopular austerity measures passed by the former conservative government. The deficit also expanded as the government finally got real about its economic situation, forcing it to adjust its overoptimistic economic growth forecasts. The government now projects the French economy will grow at 0.3% in 2012, down from the rosier 0.7%. They also lowered their 2013 forecast, projecting a 1.2% growth, down from 1.75%.

The Socialist Party ran on a platform that envisioned lowering France's budget deficit to zero by 2017. To do that, it would need to achieve a budget deficit equivalent of 4.5% of GDP in 2012 and 3% in 2013. Achieving those targets now with the revised data means that the government will need to cut spending or raise revenue in 2012 by an additional 6 billion to 10 billion euros than what they had originally anticipated. The gap is then expected to explode to as much as 33 billion euros in 2013.

To close the chasm in the budget, the government is focusing on the revenue side of the equation by imposing a number of one-time and permanent tax hikes. The new taxes will focus mainly on investors, large businesses and the wealthy. In its revised budget, the government is aiming to raise an additional 7.2 billion euros in taxes for 2012. This massive tax hike comes through a number of sources, including controversial plans to raise the national tax rate for the wealthy French citizens, which according to the French government is anyone pulling over 1 million euros a year, to an astounding 75%.

The government projects its new wealth tax will bring in an additional $2.3 billion to the nation's coffers. That is, of course, assuming that many "wealthy" Frenchman and businesses simply won't flee France to a more friendly tax jurisdiction. The European Union's law of free movement of peoples makes it easy to pack up and establish residency in a neighboring country to avoid higher taxation in their own country. It is unclear how many of Frenchmen will make an effort to avoid the new tax, but the French government was livid last month when David Cameron, the United Kingdom's Prime Minister, said he would, "roll out the red carpet," for French businesses seeking to essentially dodge the tax hike.