August 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin lifts GOP hopes for US Senate takeover (Mark Guarino, August 15, 2012, CS Monitor)

Thompson had flirted with a 2008 presidential bid, but decided against it. His claim to fame outside Wisconsin is as the governor who authored welfare-to-work legislation that later became the blueprint for welfare reform during the Clinton presidency. Thompson later became secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush and, in recent years, has been an influential Washington lobbyist.

Thompson has a reputation as a moderate who strikes compromises with Democrats, says Arnold Shober, a government professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

"He represents a George W. Bush version of what Republicans should be: that government is a good thing, that we don't need to get rid of it; tax relief is good, but let's also make government do good stuff. He compromised," Mr. Shober says.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Paul Ryan: Realist or Neocon? (Jacob Heilbrunn, August 15, 2012, National Interest)

The issue of Paul Ryan's foreign policy views is starting to attract some attention among the pundit class. Andrew Sullivan asked yesterday, "Is Paul Ryan A Neocon?" It's a fair question. [...]

How much of this justifies deeming Ryan a "neocon" may be questioned. But there is another, more compelling reason--apart from these Kremlinological tidbits--to surmise that Ryan is sympathetic to neocon views. It is this: the surprising thing would be if Ryan rejected neocon theology. The doctrine is dominant in the GOP. 

No, theology is dominant in the GOP.  Neocon doctrine is a pale substitute so that the secular can at least ape some of the language of the party. Believing in God means that Mr. Ryan has no need for such.

Likewise, his faith prevents him from being a libertarian, Atlas Spurned (JENNIFER BURNS, 8/14/12, NY Times)

[W]hen his embrace of Rand drew fire from Catholic leaders, Mr. Ryan reversed course with a speed that would make his running mate, Mitt Romney, proud. "Don't give me Ayn Rand," he told National Review earlier this year. "Give me Thomas Aquinas." He claimed that his austere budget was motivated by the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which holds that issues should be handled at the most local level possible, rather than Rand's anti-government views.

This retreat to religion would have infuriated Rand, who believed it was impossible to separate government policies from their moral and philosophical underpinnings. Policies motivated by Christian values, which she called "the best kindergarten of communism possible," were inherently corrupt.

Free-market capitalism, she said, needed a new, secular morality of selfishness, one she promoted in her novels, nonfiction and newsletters. Conservative contemporaries would have none of it: William F. Buckley Jr. criticized her "desiccated philosophy" and Whittaker Chambers dubbed her "Big Sister."

Mr. Ryan's rise is a telling index of how far conservatism has evolved from its founding principles. The creators of the movement embraced the free market, but shied from Rand's promotion of capitalism as a moral system. They emphasized the practical benefits of capitalism, not its ethics. Their fidelity to Christianity grew into a staunch social conservatism that Rand fought against in vain.



Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 10:45 AM


Revised gov't protocol gives PM unprecedented powers : Ministers approve dramatic amendments to government protocol which enable Netanyahu to root out opposition to fateful decisions, delay implementation of approved decisions (Attila Somfalvi, 08.12.12,  Israel News

The government on Sunday approved amendments to its protocol which expand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's powers in an unprecedented manner in the backdrop of the Iran strike debate. Under the new protocol, the prime minister will have the power to delay motions passed by ministerial committees and the option to decide government voting orders.

They're just getting a jump on their undemocratic future.
Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Are tyrants good for art? : Culture thrives on conflict and antagonism, not social harmony - a point made rather memorably by a certain Harry Lime (John Gray, 8/15/12, BBC)

There was another turn in the story when, in 1949, George Orwell, by then in a sanatorium and dying of tuberculosis, was asked to supply the Foreign Office with a list of communist fellow travellers whose loyalty couldn't be counted on in the event of war with the Soviet Union. Orwell duly came up with a list, which included the name of Smolka, who was described as giving "the strong impression of being some kind of Russian agent".

Orwell has been much criticised for co-operating with the British authorities in this way, but it's worth remembering that during his time fighting with the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War, he'd seen the ruthlessness with which those who served the Soviet Union treated its enemies.

It's hard to imagine the writer feeling any qualms in giving the authorities the list. After all, he was right about Smolka, who was revealed to have been a Soviet agent only after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Jinja Safari's inspiration out of Africa (Kate Kingsmill, 8/09/12, Sydney Morning Herald)
Whether you call it Afro-beat or African-inspired dream-folk-pop, Jinja Safari have a distinct African bent to their sound. So when lead vocalist Marcus Azon visited Uganda for the first time last year, it was a musical pilgrimage of sorts. The Sydney-based band of five take their name from the Ugandan town that Azon's grandmother is from, and in late 2011 Azon visited her on a trip that became a formative experience for several reasons. ''It was my first time to a developing nation at all so it was very shocking,'' Azon says. ''And it was a whole big mecca, going to Jinja, the source of the Nile, and to see my grandma. The band has totally changed my life, and she's a big inspiration musically and lyrically for the group.'' With the band on the verge of releasing their debut album - last year's release Locked by Land, which while being a 15-track long player, was technically a compilation of the band's first two EPs - the trip was perfectly timed. They took a recorder and came home with a whole lot of samples from Uganda and India that they plan to feature ''as much as possible'' in the new music, bringing more authenticity to the band's already distinctive Afro-pop sound. ''It's still five white guys from the inner city playing Afro beats,'' Azon says. ''It's not going to be like Paul Simon's Graceland or Rhythm of the Saints.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


China blames West for UN discord on Syrian war (AP, 8/15/12)

China has accused some Western countries of seeking regime change in Syria and blamed their increasing support for rebel forces in the civil war there as hurting the solidarity of the UN Security Council.

...if consensus were possible with an evil regime like China's, which we also need to change.  Assad's present is their future.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Rebels Reject Jihad : Are Reports of al-Qaida in Syria Exaggerated? (Kurt Pelda, Christoph Reuter and Holger Stark, 8/15/12, Der Spiegel)

Intelligence reports claim that members of the al-Qaida terrorist network are streaming into Syria to join the rebel ranks. But the rebels deny the allegations and say that jihadists are not welcome. In any case, it is the Assad regime that has long had ties to al-Qaida.

Some rebel checkpoints in Syria are currently flying the black flag of al-Qaida. One of the flags is attached to a stick stuck into a tire weighed down with rocks in front of a checkpoint manned by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo, the country's largest city. The Islamic creed, "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God," is written in Arabic on the flag.

Even though it is Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, the clean-shaven men at the checkpoint offer the foreign reporter something to drink. Some do not abide by the fasting requirement.
When asked whether they know they are flying the al-Qaida flag, one of the fighters responds: "Of course we know, but is it al-Qaida's invention? It's also the flag of the Prophet, and we fly it because we are Muslims and we are waging a holy war." [...]

[A]ssessments are based on a small number of sources that are sometimes murky. According to the Washington Post, the CIA didn't have a single agent in Syria by the end of July but, rather, "only a handful stationed at key border posts." In contrast to the situation in Libya a year ago, the Americans must now rely on information from the intelligence agencies of Turkey and Jordan.

...because they'd spotted baseball fields.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Who needs a license? Self-driving cars coming our way (Reuters, August 15, 2012)

While most industry officials don't envision a fully self-driving, or autonomous, vehicle before 2025, features such as adaptive cruise control or traffic jam assist that automatically slow or apply the brakes for a car in certain situations are already being introduced. And much like anti-lock brakes became the norm after initial resistance, these new technologies will prepare drivers for a future where they are needed less.

"The whole concept of a car being able to drive itself is pretty profound," said Larry Burns, GM's former research and development chief and an adviser for Google's self-driving car project. "This is the most transformational play to hit the auto industry in 125 years."

The progress has been in the making for decades as GM's Firebird II, introduced in 1956, included a system to work with an electrical wire embedded in the highway to guide the car. Three years later, the rocket-like Cyclone boasted an autopilot system that steered the car and radar in front nose cones that warned of a collision and automatically applied the brakes.

However, the pace of invention has quickened, with such automakers as GM, Ford Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Volkswagen AG developing technologies to help drivers avoid accidents. Some even envision a future where today's cars are more amusement.

"In the same way we all used to travel on horses and now horses are entertainment, you could imagine automobiles driven by people becoming more entertainment," said Chris Urmson, the Google program's technical head.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


CPI: No inflation in July (Annalyn Censky, August 15, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Consumer prices held steady last month, as falling energy prices largely canceled out slight increases in food, clothing and shelter. [...]

The central bank aims to keep core inflation around 2% a year. That measure, which strips out food and energy prices, is currently up 2.1%

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Honda's Fit EV gives battery cars a much-needed jolt (Alex Taylor III, 8/14/12, FortuneMagazine)

The Fit takes most of the mystery out of EVs, gives drivers a clear understanding of the car's potential as well as its limitations, and is more fun to drive than anything I've been in recently -- gasoline or electric.

The key is transparency. Honda has cleared away extraneous data from the instrument panel and prominently displayed the single piece of data most essential to EV drivers: range.

Moreover, the range decreases in a measured, methodical way that -- at least in my experience -- isn't subject to any stomach-churning drops. There's nothing like being ten miles from home after being abruptly informed that your EV range has sunk to nine miles.

All the factors that can affect driving range are clearly posted. The Fit EV has three levels of energy usage: Econ, Normal, and Sport. Select any of the three, and the change in range registers immediately. Turn on an energy-sucking accessory like air conditioning or heater, and another gauge passes on the bad news.

The Fit EV even has enough oomph to make it an eminently practical daily driver. Running in Econ mode, my fully recharged car registered a range of 116 miles. Shifting to normal driving and it dropped to 100 miles -- still ample for most uses. Sport mode exacted an additional mileage penalty of 10%, but it did increase the fun factor. Honda says the acceleration in sport mode is equivalent to a gasoline car like the Volkswagen Jetta with an engine displacement of 2.0 liters or more.

Quick and responsive, the gasoline-powered Fit has always been fun to drive, and the instant torque generated by the battery-powered motor makes it even more so. By, in effect, downshifting from Eco to Normal to Sport, you get an immediate and gratifying jump forward. Although the lithium-ion batteries add more than 600 pounds of weight, you hardly know they are there.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Science and the Bible: Theistic Evolution (Ted Davis, 8/15/12, BioLogos)

The dictionaries I checked don't define the term, "theistic evolution," so I offer my own definition: the belief that God used the process of evolution to create living things, including humans. Some might find this a vague definition, since (for example) it doesn't include the adjective "Darwinian" before "evolution," but that would eliminate most of the people prior to World War Two who would otherwise fit the definition. On the other hand, if we left out a specific reference to human evolution, then the category would be even larger, since a number of important Christian writers have accepted evolution among the "lower animals," while explicitly rejecting it for human beings. We could argue endlessly about such things, and not pointlessly; my point here is simply to be clear about terminology.

...Natural and Theistic evolution are indistinguishable.  We choose between the two based on faith alone.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Pussy Riot's stunning victory over Putin's bureaucrats : Russia's crackdown on punk group Pussy Riot has handed Vladimir Putin's opponents a victory and begun a new phase in Russian politics (John Lough, 8/14/12, The Telegraph)

A guilty verdict is an almost foregone conclusion since acquittals by Russian courts are virtually unheard of. In 92 per cent of the 178 cases overseen by Judge Syrova, the defendants have been found guilty. The question, therefore, is whether the women will receive a suspended sentence or a jail term. The prosecutor is calling for them to be jailed for three years.

However, what is more interesting than the outcome is how the Russian system set out to punish three young punk anarchists, and ended up playing into their hands by making their case a Dreyfus affair at home and a cause célèbre abroad.

This is a result far beyond the wildest dreams of a hitherto marginal group of activists

The Putin system has made a PR catastrophe out of a situation that could have been easily contained with an administrative fine for a public order offence.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


The U.S. Natural-Gas Boom Will Transform the World : North America's massive resources are going to shift market power away from OPEC and Russia and to consuming nations. (JOHN DEUTCH, 8/14/12, WSJ)

Two summers ago, natural gas cost $4.50 per thousand cubic feet, which was less than half what it had cost two summers earlier. Today the price is under $2.50, as unconventional natural gas production has increased to 20% of domestic supply from 5% in 2008, with 40% anticipated by 2020.

Meanwhile, North Dakota's Bakken/Three Rivers field produces 600,000 barrels a day of unconventional oil--up from 250,000 barrels in 2010 and less than half that in 2008--making that state the second-largest U.S. oil producer. With such changes happening so fast, it's timely to consider their implications.

A United States hopelessly dependent on imported oil and natural gas is a thing of the past. Most energy experts now project that North America will have the capacity to be a net exporter of oil and natural gas by the end of this decade. whether the global economy can afford for us to be a net exporting nation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Most People Who Take Blood Pressure Medication Possibly Shouldn't (Jeanne Lenzer, Aug. 14, 2012, Slate)

A new study is turning decades of medical dogma on its head. A panel of independent experts reports this week that drugs used to treat mild cases of high blood pressure have not been shown to reduce heart attacks, strokes, or overall deaths.

Most of the 68 million patients in the United States with high blood pressure have mild, or Stage 1, hypertension, defined as a systolic (top number) value of 140-159 or a diastolic (bottom number) value of 90-99. The new review suggests that many patients with hypertension are overtreated--they are subjected to the possible harms of drug treatment without any benefit.  

The study was conducted by the widely respected Cochrane Collaboration, which provides independent analyses of medical data. The "independent" part is important: The panelists who conducted the analysis don't take money from drug companies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


What kind of conservative is Ted Cruz? (Dana Milbank, Tuesday, August 14, 2012, Washington Post)

During the 2000 presidential campaign, I went to Austin to profile the whippersnappers on George W. Bush's team. Bush headquarters was full of young talent, but one man surprised me with his blatant audition to be featured in my article.

This eager staffer told me about how at Princeton he was the nation's top debater, about his Supreme Court clerkship and his time on the Harvard Law Review, and about his well-placed connections. When I mentioned this self-promotional effort to a senior Bush adviser, I received a knowing eye-roll in response, and I decided to focus my profile on somebody else.