August 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Mr. Ryan's Cramped Vision (NY Times, August 11, 2012)

Mitt Romney's safe and squishy campaign just took on a much harder edge. A candidate of no details -- I'll cut the budget but no need to explain just how -- has named a vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, whose vision is filled with endless columns of minus signs. Voters will now be able to see with painful clarity just what the Republican Party has in store for them.

...given an electorate that believes the federal government spends too much money, wastes most of what it spends and that the middle class receives next to none of it, Democrats have to convince them that GOP cuts will reach into their own pocketbooks.    

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Ryan and the Spirit of 2010 (Peter Lawler, August 11, 2012, Big Think)

[R]omney needed to rekindle the Spirit of 2010 and show he's not merely a businessman, but a statesman.  His concern needs to be clearly the future of the country and the lives of all its citizens. He needs to be more than a can-do manger; he needs to be an encouraging and confident leader.

Well, Ryan is the man when it comes to that Spirit.  The Tea Party battle cries are echoed in Ryan's speeches all about rights not being a gift of government, but given to us by nature and God.  The future of our country is threatened because we've wandered away from that Founding insight.  The result is unsustainable debt, rooted in degrading dependency.  We need to stop trusting in Big Government, and start trusting in ourselves.

Ryan has never been a businessman.  Political ideas have been his whole working life.  His faith is in the "opportunity society" championed so eloquently (if rather ineffectively) by his always-optimistic mentor Jack Kemp.

So the mainstream media is already attacking Romney for his hypocrisy:  He's says business experience is SO important, and he constantly reminds us the president doesn't have any.  But Ryan hasn't met a payroll either!  

Romney's obvious response is that the VP won't be governing.  I will be.  My experience will allow me to moderate Ryan's bold--often at least too much, too soon--ideas with an experienced appreciation of what will actually work.  Sure, Romney can say, I need Ryan's thoughtful advice, but I'm the guy who'll be in charge.

We can even see that, by taking Ryan out of Congress, Romney is actually enhancing his prospects for effective presidential leadership.  His proposed changes won't be as dramatic as what Ryan has recommended, and so Congressman Ryan could easily become his powerful rival and certainly a thorn in his side (or pain in his ass).  But VP Ryan will be a part of his team--a subordinate part!

Neither of those points--that Rep. Ryan's executive inexperience is a big negative in a VP and that removing him from the House may harm the prospects for a smooth legislative process--is really answerable on its own terms.  

Of course, Mr. Romney need not address either.  His emphasis can just be that rather than a candidate who believes in nothing, he's one who shares the Kemp/Bush/Ryan vision of an ownership society, indeed, shares it so deeply that he wanted Mr. Ryan on the ticket, irrespective of other factors.  

Meanwhile, despite the conventional wisdom that Mr. Ryan's intellectual pedigree opens him to winning attacks by the Democrats, the fact is that the candidates most closely tied to reforming the Welfare State--Reagan, Clinton, and W--have never lost a presidential election.  As regards the two Republicans, it would seem that Democratic hysteria simply served to convince voters that they were serious about reform. Mr. Romney must be hoping the same effect will rub off on him, giving him a patina of consequence he currently lacks. 

Will Paul Ryan's Ideas Overshadow Mitt Romney's? (Terry Moran, 8/11/12, ABC News)

[H]as there ever been a vice-presidential pick whose ideas/ideology so overshadowed the presidential nominee's? Has any presidential nominee ever essentially run on his vice-president's ideas?

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Preserving the Medicare Guarantee: Why I've Been Working with Paul Ryan (Sen. Ron Wyden, 03/19/2012, Huffington Post)

There have been a lot of mischaracterizations. So, let's be clear about what the Wyden-Ryan plans really says.

Wyden-Ryan doesn't eliminate the traditional Medicare plan, instead it guarantees that seniors who want to enroll in Medicare's traditional fee for service plan will always have that option.

Wyden-Ryan doesn't privatize Medicare because Medicare beneficiaries already have the option of enrolling in private health insurance plans. Wyden-Ryan makes those private plans more robust and accountable by forcing them to -- for the first time -- compete directly with traditional Medicare.

Wyden-Ryan protects the purchasing power of traditional Medicare and private sector innovation to make both types of Medicare stronger and more senior-friendly. All participating private plans will be required to offer benefits that are at least as comprehensive as traditional Medicare and any plan that is found taking advantage of seniors or providing inadequate care will be kicked out of the system. Cherry picking healthier seniors will be made unprofitable by a robust risk-adjustment mechanism and policed by the Medicare administrators.

Wyden-Ryan would also uphold the Medicare Guarantee by ensuring that seniors will always be able to afford their health benefits. Unlike a voucher program that would give seniors a fixed amount of money to purchase health plans, Wyden-Ryan would adjust premium support payments each year to reflect the actual cost of health insurance premiums. In addition, low income seniors, including dual-eligibles will receive additional benefits to cover out of pocket costs - ensuring that seniors have the same choices regardless of income. Yes, if private plans are able to devise a way to provide the same health benefits as traditional Medicare for less money, a senior might have to pay extra if he or she still wants to enroll in the government option. But if you could get the exact same benefits for less money, why would you want to pay more?

Beyond that, Wyden-Ryan creates a catastrophic benefit that does not exist in traditional Medicare, ensuring that no senior is bankrupted by a major illness.

Finally, Wyden-Ryan isn't a piece of legislation. It does not include legislative language or specifications detailing exactly how the system would work. If Wyden-Ryan or something like Wyden-Ryan gets to the legislative stage, those specifications will be important to get right as the devil is always in the details. Right now, however, Wyden-Ryan is simply a policy paper intended to start a conversation about how Democrats and Republicans might work together to uphold the Medicare Guarantee.

Yes, just as some in my party criticize Wyden-Ryan without knowing what the plan really does, some Republicans will undoubtedly declare their support for Wyden-Ryan without knowing what that means or believing in its principles. Mitt Romney, for example, claims to have helped write Wyden-Ryan even though I have never spoken to him about Medicare reform and have yet to hear him declare that there should always be a role for traditional government-run Medicare.

Those who say they support Wyden-Ryan simply for political cover are neither helping seniors nor being bipartisan. Rather, using Wyden-Ryan for political purposes harms seniors by making a bipartisan agreement to uphold the Medicare Guarantee that much harder. Anyone who does this deserves to be called out on it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Paul Ryan, Romney's Running Mate: Health Account Backer (ALLISON BELL, AUGUST 11, 2012, LifeHealthPro)

LifeHealthPro, its predecessor websites and the print publications that feed into it have mentioned Ryan more than 50 times over the years.

LifeHealthPro first mentioned Ryan when we covered his support for a proposal to add a semiprivate account program to Social Security. The accounts would have been owned by individual workers and invested in Treasury securities.

LifeHealthPro later talked about Ryan's participation efforts to support the health savings account (HSA) program.

In recent years, Ryan has worked with Alice Rivlin, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, to develop a Medicare reform proposal that might rely in part on a new Medicare medical savings account program and enrollee efforts to buy Medicare coverage through a multi-carrier exchange program that would involve stiffer competition than the current Medicare Advantage program does.

Ryan has said that the current approach to running Medicare is unsustainable.

"Yes, we are giving (Democrats) a political weapon to go against us (in the next election)," Ryan said in 2011, during an appearance on Fox News. "But they will have to lie and demagogue to make it a weapon. Shame on them. We can't keep kicking the can down the road."

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Superpower Denied? Why China's 'Rise' May Have Already Peaked (Minxin Pei, 8/09/12, The Diplomat)

The most serious long-term obstacle to Chinese growth is its state capitalist system.  In the last decade, Beijing has largely reversed pro-market reforms and embarked on a decidedly statist developmental path.  Consequently, state-owned enterprises have gained enormous clout in the economy and enjoy monopolistic privileges.  The financial system favors such firms at the expense of private entrepreneurs.  Household income, at 43 percent of GDP, is too low to support a higher level of consumption, a critical factor in rebalancing the Chinese economy and providing a source of future growth.  Without systemic reforms, according to an influential World Bank study, growth in the coming two decades will fall well below 7 percent per annum.   But reforming state capitalism is almost impossible politically because that will undermine the very foundations of the Communist Party's rule.

On the political front, the coming decade will likely be one of rising opposition against the party's political monopoly. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Border Skirmishes: The immigration debate pits voters against political elites. (W. JAMES ANTLE III, June 20, 2005, American Conservative)

While cities, states, and concerned citizens' groups grapple with the federal government's manifest failure to control the border, the administration and its allies on Capitol Hill continue to tout thinly veiled amnesty proposals.

The latest example is a bill introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)--bearing a restrictionist-sounding title, the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act--that would grant temporary-worker status to illegal aliens already in the country and import at least 400,000 new foreign workers a year. Congressmen Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz), and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) introduced a similar version in the House. Bush has so far avoided committing to a specific piece of immigration legislation, but McCain has expressed hope that the president will endorse this one. The bill was drafted with the White House's immigration policy goals in mind.

Like most such measures, it combines liberalization with promises of improved border security and interior enforcement. Illegal aliens would be able to apply for permits to work in the United States for up to six years, subject to a background check and English-proficiency test. Guest workers who can be matched with U.S. employers seeking to fill those ubiquitous jobs Americans won't do are eligible for four-year work permits. The enforcement provisions include an employee-verification system to make it easier to avoid hiring undocumented workers and a process for developing a new national border-security strategy.

Sponsors make much of the fact that the legislation would require illegal aliens to pay a $1,000 fine to receive a temporary work permit and another $1,000 when they (and their families) apply for a green card. "This bill is not amnesty," Sen. Kennedy has insisted. "This bill does not provide a free pass to anyone."

But it does indisputably give illegal workers the ability to regularize their status and avoid the consequences of flouting immigration laws. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies recently wrote that the only difference between this bill and past amnesties is that it is a "prospective amnesty" rather than a "retroactive amnesty." Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, echoed this sentiment more bluntly: "There is a little more lipstick on this pig than there was before, but it's most certainly the same old pig."

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Lebanese Shiite clerics back Syrian revolution (Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/11/12)

Two prominent Lebanese Shiite clerics, Mohammad Hassan al-Amin and Hani Fahs, issued a joint-statement on Thursday endorsing the Syrian revolution and calling on Lebanon's Shiite community to support the popular uprising against the al-Assad regime.

The statement called on Lebanon's Shiite community to "support the Arab uprisings...particularly the Syrian [revolution], which will triumph God willing."

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


Turkey treating Iraqi Kurdistan 'as independent'  (AFP, 8/11/12)

 Turkey has been dealing with Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region as though it were an independent state, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a statement released on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Early Meat-Eating Human Ancestors Thrived While Vegetarian Hominin Died Out (Katherine Harmon, August 8, 2012, Scientific American)

A team of researchers led by Vincent Balter, of École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, decided to probe into some of these debates. They used lasers to analyze the enamel from fossilized teeth belonging to Australopithecus africanus, Paranthropus robustus and early Homo specimens, which were all from southern Africa. By assessing ratios of calcium, barium and strontium as well as the number of strontium isotopes, the team was able to deduce both diet and the size of the area that these individuals ranged over. The findings were published online August 8 in Nature (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

The ancestral Australopithecus consumed a wide range of foods, including, meat, leaves and fruits. This varied diet might have been flexible to shift with food availability in different seasons, ensuring that they almost always had something to eat. Paranthropus, according to the elemental analysis, was largely a plant eater, which matches up with previous studies of tooth morphology and wear patterns. It also helps to explain the massive jaw structure they possessed, which could have come in handy for tough food stuffs and earned one specimen the nickname "nutcracker man." Early Homo, on the other hand, went in for a meat-heavy diet--possibly enabled by the use of tools for hunting and butchering.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Romney Picks Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (JEFF ZELENY, August 11, 2012, NY Times)

In choosing Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney was looking for a running mate to help shake up the race in the final three months. Mr. Ryan is seen as a rising star in the Republican Party and a favorite among conservative activists who view him as deeply committed to their fiscal principles.

But Mr. Ryan, a member of Congress since 1999, is also a lightning rod for Democrats who view him as the epitome of the Republican vision of deep cuts in social spending and entitlement programs. Unlike Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan has spent nearly his entire career in Washington either in or around the federal government.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he pushed his colleagues to boldly stake out an uncompromising position on the nation's fiscal burdens.

The Ryan alternative to the Obama administration's budget -- once seen by many Republicans as too politically fraught, with its blunt talk of overhauling Medicare and Social Security -- has become the core of the party's fiscal plan. He was a central pillar in winning a Congressional majority in 2010 and persuaded his party to embrace a "Roadmap for America's Future," and promoted himself as one of the party's leaders who called themselves the Young Guns.

Now, Mr. Ryan's budget becomes the centerpiece of the debate in the presidential campaign, with Democrats eager to pounce on a program, which is politically risky. Even for Republicans, the dangers were underscored by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich last year, who called the plan "right-wing social engineering," but was quickly scolded by conservatives.

Picking Mr. Ryan would indicate that Mr. Romney wants to double-down on his basic message, making his case for a conservative overhaul of the nation's economy.

The GOP also won the 2000 and 2004 presidentials and the 2002 midterm running on the Third Way reforms that Mr. Ryan advocates.  Likewise, he's nearly as Open Borders as W. The biggest downsides, and they are considerable, are that taking him out of the House makes it harder to pass reformist legislation and were something, God forbid, to happen to President Romney, he's as unprepared for the executive job as the UR was.  As W's choice of a running mate who added nothing to the ticket but had basically already been a president reflected his personal/political strength, so too does Mr. Romney's choice of someone who remakes the race ideologically but should not hold the higher office reflect his personal/political weakness.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


The Legendary Paul Ryan : Mitt who? (Jonathan Chait,  Apr 29, 2012, New York)

To find a parallel to the way Ryan has so thoroughly seized control of the Republican agenda and identity, you have to go back at least to Gingrich in his nineties heyday, or possibly to Reagan. Yet Gingrich and Reagan rose to the national scene while cultivating an image as radicals--it was their battle scars, inflicted by the mainstream political Establishment, that lent them the credibility to speak for the conservative base. Ryan, by contrast, has achieved something much stranger: He has ascended to his present position aloft a chorus of acclaim from the corners of the Establishment that once greeted Gingrich and Reagan with loathing. He is the only politician revered as much by the mainstream media as by the tea party. By some measure, he's the most popular guy in Washington.

The Paul Ryan that has been introduced to America is a figure of cinematic rectitude--a Jimmy Stewart character, but brainier. "Through a combination of hard work, good timing, and possibly suicidal guts," wrote Time last December, "the Wisconsin Republican managed to harness his party to a dramatic plan for dealing with America's rapidly rising public debt." He is America's neighborhood accountant, a man devoted to the task of restoring our fiscal health, whatever slings and arrows may come his way. Last year, a consortium of nonpartisan anti-deficit groups created a "Fiscy Award" (for "promoting fiscal responsibility and government accountability") and bestowed one upon Ryan--a laying of hands sanctifying his good standing by the good-government, let's-all-stop-fighting-and-fix-this crowd.

ABC News actually compared Ryan with Kevin Kline's character from the 1993 movie Dave--an endearingly naïve Everyman who accidentally finds himself president and does battle with cynical forces to scrub the federal budget of waste. After showing a clip from the film, reporter Jonathan Karl cut to footage of himself in Ryan's office attempting to re-create the scene. Karl opens a budget tome to a random page and looks on in awe as Ryan explains the dense prose and the savings to be had.

And so here we find a political dilemma for the Democrats. They have decided to make Ryan's agenda the central issue of the election. There are strong reasons for doing so, namely that most of the policies Ryan champions are disliked by a majority of Americans. But elevating Ryan to right-wing bogeyman--a remake of nineties-era Speaker Gingrich, the man who might personify Republican overreach--has proved difficult. When Obama denounced Ryan's plan last year, he provoked not just fury from the right but anguished wails from the bipartisan center. Earlier this month, he tried again, assailing the plan as "social Darwinism." The backlash was even more severe.

There's a haunting resemblance here to Dole/Kemp.  Happily, the UR is no Bubba.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Clinton visits Turkey to discuss how to bring down Syrian regime  (AP and ILAN BEN ZION August 11, 2012, Times of Israel)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton opened talks in Turkey on Saturday with Turkish officials as well as Syrian opposition figures on how to undermine the Syrian regime and lay the groundwork for a democratic transition.

Clinton met Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and was scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as President Abdullah Gul. Turkey is a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has welcomed Syrian activists working to overthrow him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


What Makes a Great Olympian? Sometimes It's Genetics (Jon Entine,  Aug 11, 2012, Daily Beast)

The director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Institute, Bengt Saltin, has concluded that an athlete's "environment" accounts for no more than 25 percent of athletic ability. The rest comes down to the roll of the genetic dice--with each population group having distinct advantages. In other words, running success is "in the genes."

Here are the facts. Genetically linked, highly heritable characteristics such as skeletal structure, the distribution of muscle fiber types (for example, sprinters have more natural fast-twitch fibers, while distance runners are naturally endowed with more of the slow-twitch variety), reflex capabilities, metabolic efficiency, and lung capacity are not evenly distributed among populations.

It's controversial stuff. Michael Johnson, the 400m world-record holder, recently postulated that black sprinters benefit from the outsize presence of ACTN3. The "speed gene" as it's been dubbed, makes fast-twitch muscles twitch fast. Lacking the ACTN3 protein does not seem to have any harmful health effects but does affect running ability. Scientists conclude that it is almost impossible for someone who lacks the ACTN3 protein to become an elite sprinter. The so-called sprint gene is more common in those of West African descent than in Europeans, according to a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Is this running's "smoking gun" gene? No. Sports ability, like IQ, is the product of many genes with environmental triggers influencing the "expression" of our base DNA. But its isolation does underscore that when it comes to performance, genes matter.

As UCLA's Jared Diamond has noted, "Even today, few scientists dare to study racial origins, lest they be branded racists just for being interested in the subject."

But we have no choice but to face this third rail of race. Over the past decade, human genome research has moved from a study of human similarities to a focus on patterned, population-based differences. Such research offers clues to solving the mystery of disease, the Holy Grail of genetics. So why do we readily accept that evolution has turned out Jews with a genetic predisposition to Tay-Sachs, Southeast Asians with a higher proclivity for beta-thalassemia, and blacks who are susceptible to colorectal cancer and sickle-cell disease, yet find it racist to suggest that Usain Bolt can thank his West African ancestry for the most critical part of his success?

The notion that different groups evolved differently is rather unexceptionable for most of us, but the Darwinist finds himself hoist on his belief that these differences must render different species.  Thus, it is easier--more politically correct--to ignore the differences than to follow their own theories where they lead--and led last century.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Mistaken Identities : a review of America's British Culture  by Russell Kirk.  (JOHN O'SULLIVAN, University Bookman)

 The simple message of his latest book is that America has its own national identity, but that it is one built firmly on British cultural foundations. He offers what he calls a "summary account" of the four main foundations: the English language and its literature; the rule of law based upon British common law; a system of representative government that in most respects imitated Britain's domestic political institutions; and an ethical heritage of mores and customs that reflected the surprisingly rich variety of British churches and religious sects in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although these foundations are at present being sapped by the multiculturalists, they are still capable of being restored to their original condition.

The volume is a slim one--but not too slim for Dr. Kirk to take us on some pleasant intellectual detours as he argues his case. He reminds us that, although we take for granted that Anglo-American law is friendlier to individual liberty than the European Roman Law tradition, its survival after 1776 was far from a foregone conclusion. Jefferson, who thought they did these things better in France, was among those suspicious of common law as a colonial relic. It was fortunate that he had been succeeded by the commonsensical Madison when Jeremy Bentham, a thoroughgoing rationalist on the French model, offered to draw up an entire system of American law de novo.

One of the blinder contretemps of our current politics involves the Right's insistence on American exceptionalism, which is more than balanced in its silliness by the Left's love of multiculturalism.  The reality is that the similarities within the Anglosphere and among the countries that have consciously aligned themselves with us are overwhelming, the differences pretty minor. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Joseph Mitchell and the Free Life (DERMOT QUINN, Summer 2012, University Bookman)

He cut his teeth in the hard winter of the Depression when, as he said, "nothing brightened up a front page so much as a story about human suffering." "The man on the street is so gloomy now," one of his editors used to say, "that a story about somebody else's bad luck cheers him up." There was, of course, no shortage of such stories. In this decade, the sights and sounds and smells of New York entered his blood and his ink, never leaving. Writing to a deadline and a word limit taught him his craft--never bury the lede, answer the obvious questions, get to the point, try to see what others miss, make the piece edgy and quirky and slightly offbeat. The stranger the story, the more likely it was to make print.

His apprenticeship complete, Mitchell joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1938, remaining there until his death in 1996. His greatest work was written for that magazine. He saw, in New York, an array of eccentrics, oddballs, misfits, lonely, gifted, strange, surly, lovable people that could not be found so concentratedly in any other city in the world. His profiles of them appeared from time to time, and their titles say all that need be said of his affection and admiration for them: "King of the Gypsies," "Lady Olga," "The Deaf-Mutes Club," "Santa Claus Smith," "The Don't Swear Man," "Hit on the Head with a Cow," "Professor Sea Gull," "I Blame it all on Mamma." The pieces were collected in four books--McSorley's Wonderful Saloon in 1943; Old Mr. Flood in 1948; The Bottom of the Harbor in 1960; and Joe Gould's Secret in 1965. All four books were themselves collected together in one compendium volume, Up at the Old Hotel published by Pantheon Books in 1992. If you do not own or have not read this book, buy it and read it today. Don't start reading it at night unless you have nothing to do the next day. If you have nothing to do the next day, you may be more like one of its characters than you realize.

How, then, to explain Mitchell's extraordinary power, his continuing appeal to our time? Let me suggest four ways. There are, of course, others.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Review: A fascinating education in 'The Jazz Standards' : Ted Gioia's monumental guide is an extended improv on the genre, looking not so much at the musicians as at the songs --252 classic pieces. (David L. Ulin, 7/22/12, Los Angeles Times)

"I recall the lament of a friend," Gioia writes, "who was enlisted to back up a poll-winning horn player at a jazz festival -- only to discover that he wouldn't be told what songs would be played until the musicians were already on stage in front of 6,000 people. Such instances are not unusual in the jazz world, a quirk of a subculture that prizes both spontaneity and macho bravado. Another buddy, a quite talented pianist, encountered an even more uncooperative bandleader -- a famous saxophonist who wouldn't identify the names of the songs even after the musicians were on the bandstand. The leader would simply play a short introduction on the tenor, then stamp off the beat with his foot ... and my friend was expected to figure out the song and key from those meager clues."

What makes "The Jazz Standards" so engaging is just this sort of anecdotal texture, Gioia's ability to write as an inhabitant of both the tradition and the songs. He takes us through music that's well known ("Beale Street Blues," "My Funny Valentine," "Mood Indigo," "Embraceable You") and not so well known ("Nardis," "Billie's Bounce," "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)"), but either way, his connection is a starting point.

"When I was a very young child," he recalls, discussing the song "I'll Remember April," "I saw the Abbott and Costello movie 'Ride 'Em Cowboy' on several occasions on television, but I have no recollection of 'I'll Remember April,' which was introduced in this unlikely film by Dick Foran. But a decade later, I encountered 'I'll Remember April' again -- this time in a version by pianist Erroll Garner from his landmark album 'Concert by the Sea.'" From there, he riffs briefly about Garner ("I am convinced that a young musician could build a killing style using his tricks and techniques as a foundation") before highlighting a dozen or so covers by artists including Getz, Keith Jarrett and Frank Sinatra, who recorded it in 1961.

Here we see Gioia's method in microcosm: to move from the general to the specific, and in so doing, to trace the saga of the song. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


The Arab Spring and Monarchies: Could Morocco Lead the Way? (Aymane Saidi, 8 August 2012, ISN Blog)

Egyptians wanted the fall of Mubarak; Tunisians the fall of Ben Ali and his family-dominated regime; and Yemenis wanted an end to Saleh's 33 years in power. Moroccans, on the other hand, have demanded reforms of the system.

Responding to the repression and oppression they have lived under since 1961, and inspired by the millions of people in the region who were brave enough to speak up, Moroccans took to the streets last year in protest. Along with the rest of the Arab population, people were angered by the overwhelming social inequality, corruption, unemployment, lack of basic freedoms, and most importantly, the makhzen - a Moroccan term used to describe the elitist group of individuals close to the establishment and monarchy who run the country. These shared frustrations sparked collaboration, ultimately tearing down the barrier of fear.

The mass protest movement was led by a youth group called the February 20th Movement for Change, named after the date planned for the first nation-wide protest. Armed with nothing but the will to change the face and fate of their country, desperate citizens tired of the status quo took to the streets in all major cities every Sunday and quickly grew to numbers in the thousands.

On March 9th 2011, King Mohammed VI responded to these protests by announcing the formation of a commission tasked with drafting a new constitution to be put to a referendum. According to the king, the new constitution would "consolidate the rule of law ... promote all types of human rights ... strengthen the principle of separation of powers ..." It would also choose the prime minister from the party who wins the majority of legislative elections - a right previously belonging exclusively to the king. Though some were in favor of the king's reform plan, his speech did not completely satisfy popular demands.

Political analysts as well as critics of the monarchy, such as Ahmed Benchemsi, currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University, reacted to the speech by saying: "Yes, Mohammed VI's March 9 speech was indeed historic. But no, it is not because it announced a major constitutional reform." In other words, the king's speech was historic in context but not in content. Leaders of the February 20th Movement similarly deemed the king's attempt to meet the needs of the protesters insufficient. They pointed out that the commission drafting the new constitution was chosen by the king himself, making it unrepresentative of the people it should be protecting. However, despite criticism, on July 1st Moroccans - both at home and abroad - voted on the newly drafted constitution. It passed with an overwhelming majority of 98% in favor of the change. Then, in response to the continuing protests and the calls for a new government, the prime minister at the time, Abbas al-Fassi, called for early legislative elections to take place immediately after the referendum.

After the government's resignation, legislative elections took place on November 25, 2011. Political groups such as the Independence Party (Istiqlal) or the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), as well as individuals close to the regime who have been sharing the power for the past few decades, were natural losers in this wave of reform. In peoples' eyes, they symbolized the need for change. This left two polar opposite parties: the moderate-appearing Islamist Justice and Development Party touting the Turkish model, and known by its French acronym PJD, and the newly-formed (and close to the king) Authenticity and Modernity Party, known by its French acronym PAM.

As in most nations in post-Arab Spring elections, the previously-oppressed Islamist parties were seen as agents of change and ultimately the PJD won 27% of the votes, while the PAM came in fourth with only 12%. For the first time in Moroccan history, the king was forced by the people to choose a prime minister from the winning party - the PJD - as stated in the new constitution, setting Morocco apart from the rest of the monarchies. This was a source of optimism not only for Morocco, but for Arab countries emerging from post-revolutionary period and transitioning towards a democratic state.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Arab monarchies are grappling with the paths to reform as they are in the process of identifying what these reforms will be, as opposed to Morocco, which is already implementing a reform process.

One can't help but envy their opportunity to learn from our mistakes.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The Top 10 Most Difficult Books  (Emily Colette Wilkinson & Garth Risk Hallberg, Aug 03, 2012, Publishers Weekly)

Back in 2009, The Millions started its "Difficult Books" series--devoted to identifying the hardest and most frustrating books ever written, as well as what made them so hard and frustrating. The two curators, Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg, have selected the most difficult of the most difficult, telling us about the 10 literary Mt. Everests waiting out there for you to climb, should you be so bold. If you can somehow read all 10, you probably ascend to the being immediately above Homo sapiens. 

...that texts that fail to communicate and have nothing to say are sub-human rather than transhuman?    Why not just read the pages that monkeys produce while they aren't typing Hamlet if you're looking for obscurity?

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Locked-in syndrome: rare survivor Richard Marsh recounts his ordeal (Amelia Hill, 8/07/12,

Two days after regaining consciousness from a massive stroke, Richard Marsh watched helplessly from his hospital bed as doctors asked his wife, Lili, whether they should turn off his life support machine.

Marsh, a former police officer and teacher, had strong views on that suggestion. The 60-year-old didn't want to die. He wanted the ventilator to stay on. He was determined to walk out of the intensive care unit and he wanted everyone to know it.

But Marsh couldn't tell anyone that. The medics believed he was in a persistent vegetative state, devoid of mental consciousness or physical feeling.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Marsh was aware, alert and fully able to feel every touch to his body.

"I had full cognitive and physical awareness," he said. "But an almost complete paralysis of nearly all the voluntary muscles in my body."

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


The dozens as American art form: No, your mama! : You can't understand hip-hop without understanding the insult-battle tradition, says Elijah Wald (Francie Latour, AUGUST 05, 2012, Boston Globe)

In 1939, a Yale psychologist named John Dollard traveled to the Jim Crow South to study the personality development of black children. Over and over again, he found something he hadn't been looking for. On street corners and in schoolyards, in big cities and small towns, among the young and old alike, he found black folks facing off in games of street banter that followed specific rules: two players, fueled by the reaction of a gathered crowd, insulting each other in rhyme. The more ingenious the insult, the better.

What Dollard had stumbled on--and breathlessly described in a psychoanalytic journal--was a tradition that influenced Langston Hughes in the 1920s, made Richard Pryor a legend in the 1970s, and continues to fuel rap beefs today: the dozens.

"The Dozens is a pattern of interactive insult which is used among some American Negroes," Dollard reported, in the first known article written about the street-rhyme combat typically touched off by two little words: yo' mama. "The jests fly--about infidelity, though each seems a faithful husband--about impotence, though both are apparently adequately married and have children--about homosexual tendencies, although neither exhibits such to public perception." Not to mention mothers, sisters, and girlfriends being stupid, raunchy, or just plain old ugly.

In "The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama," writer, musician, and blues scholar Elijah Wald traces the comic and profane arc of the dozens clear through African-American culture--through rural works songs and the competitive jamming of jazz masters, through Mississippi barrelhouse songs and the iconic literature of the Harlem Renaissance. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Beware the Nocebo Effect (PAUL ENCK and WINFRIED HÄUSER, August 10, 2012, NY Times)

In a curious study, a team of Italian gastroenterologists asked people with and without diagnosed lactose intolerance to take lactose for an experiment on its effects on bowel symptoms. But in reality the participants received glucose, which does not harm the gut. Nonetheless, 44 percent of people with known lactose intolerance and 26 percent of those without lactose intolerance complained of gastrointestinal symptoms.

In one remarkable case, a participant in an antidepressant drug trial was given placebo tablets -- and then swallowed 26 of them in a suicide attempt. Even though the tablets were harmless, the participant's blood pressure dropped perilously low.

The nocebo effect can be observed even when people take real, non-placebo drugs. When medical professionals inform patients of possible side effects, the risk of experiencing those side effects can increase. In one trial, the drug finasteride was administered to men to relieve symptoms of prostate enlargement. Half of the patients were told that the drug could cause erectile dysfunction, while the other half were not informed of this possible side effect. In the informed group, 44 percent of the participants reported that they experienced erectile dysfunction; in the uninformed group, that figure was only 15 percent.

In a similar experiment, a group of German psychologists took patients with chronic lower back pain and divided them into two groups for a leg flexion test. One group was told that the test could lead to a slight increase in pain, while the other group was told that the test had no effect on pain level. The first group reported stronger pain and performed fewer leg flexions than the second group did.