September 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Perhaps when you are 6' 6', 300 lbs and your Dad is your high school football coach you are simply fated to attempt a pro football career. The newest King Arthur Flour employee, Brian Barthelmes, followed that path, foreordained or not, to four years of Division I football at the University of Virginia and then to the New England Patriots.

Then again, maybe when you find yourself on the margins of the pros for a few years-being released at the end of camp and then signed to the taxi squad-and realize you're getting more enjoyment out of teaching Junior Seau and Tedy Bruschi to play guitar and ukele than out of putting on your pads next to them, the fates have a different course in mind for you. Certainly, Brian found some inner peace, and a wholly new personal drive, when he accepted one last cut from Bill Belichick along with the coach's advice to figure out what he really wanted to do. That something was to walk away from a game he was ambivalent about anyway and to pursue a career as a musician instead.

It was unquestionably a fortuitous turn of events that saw Brian meet up with Scott Thompson in a Providence bar one night in 2007. By then the former offensive lineman had turned the bedroom of his apartment into an ersatz studio and was picking away at guitar and banjo, writing and recording his own songs. Thompson, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, was a guitar player with a shared interest in making music and the two began playing together in the early morning hours.

Their collaboration evolved into the band Tallahassee when they added one of Thompson's fellow students, Shawn Carney, on bass and then drummer Matt Raskopf. An EP and a full length album, "Wolfe Moon" (2009), were followed by  "Jealous Hands"  in 2011 and the indie music world really started taking notice.  My Old Kentucky Blog gushed , "this country-folk quartet have found a musical crossroads lying somewhere between The Avett Brothers, Iron and Wine, Alabama and themselves. The song Jealous Hands is a heart-stopping standout; a lush, halting, carnivalesque dirge whose lonely, spooky tone is outweighed by the all-encompassing, homey-warmth of Barthelmes' comforting croon." The Sound and the Fury named it one of  their top 20 albums of 2011].  In Your Speakers enthused, "Throughout the album, Barthelmes' vocals thrive. The songs themselves are populated with a wealth of folk-instruments masterfully mixed (guitar, banjo, resonator, mandolin, upright bass, keys), which sets the stage for Barthelmes pitch perfect vocals (somewhere between Tindersticks' Stuart Staples and Iron & Wine's Samuel Beam)." And all three reviewers at  The Round Table gave it a thumbs up .  Topping it off, they were invited to do a Daytrotter Session

Meanwhile, Brian's previous career makes an irresistible hook for stories and has led to appearances on NPR's Only a Game  and write-ups in places like the Providence Phoenix and ESPN Boston. But one thing stands out in all the posts and profiles, while the football past lures them in, it's the quality of the musical present that really grabs their attention.

This burgeoning success convinced the band members that they have a real shot at the brass ring and they decided that a full commitment to the music meant they all had to reduce their living expenses. So when Brian's wife had an interview for a job at Dartmouth, and the couple got a glimpse of the Upper Valley, they decided to make the move North.

Brian had been doing social work but felt like he needed a change of pace and something not quite so emotionally intense. He applied to a couple of companies whose products he liked and was hired by King Arthur Flour in Norwich, VT. The warehouse job provides him the sort of physical workout he hadn't been getting for the past several years-replenishers walk about 12 miles a day-and, thanks to the flexibility of supervisors Ryan Boynton and Robin Royce, a schedule that will allow him to continue touring and working on the band's third album.

Given the band members' backgrounds and Brian's own love of drawing it should come as no surprise that their website- -is a work of art. It also includes a generous helping of their music for listening and download. Visit because you're curious about the singing offensive lineman, but be prepared to stay because you will love the music.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


The Obama Delusion, Explained : Making excuses for the president.(ANDREW FERGUSON, 9/10/12, Weekly Standard)

Conservatives who consider Obama a thinly disguised Leninist will be surprised that liberals have grown disenchanted with their onetime hero. But you can't underestimate the naïveté and ignorance that inflated the bubble of the Obama Delusion--how fragile it was, how vulnerable to the first pinprick of reality. It turns out they really did expect a "transformative" presidency that would move us beyond left and right. They meant it! And in this childish belief they were encouraged by their candidate, who might have meant it too, for the same reasons. Obama's admiration for Barack Obama, after all, was even greater than theirs, and his ignorance of the messy practical realities of self-government almost as complete. 

By now, Fallows writes, "there is plenty of evidence about the things Obama and his team cannot do." These include managing the various crises in the Middle East, overcoming the culture wars, and restoring the economy to the full bloom of health. The author might have added several more items: writing a budget for the federal government, let's say, or containing health care costs, or reducing, rather than enlarging, the federal debt. .  .  . I'm sure you can come up with a few items of your own. Even balanced with what Fallows insists are Obama's successes--installing Obama-care, withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, "encouraging the Arab Spring" (?), managing relations with China--the executive tasks that were beyond Obama's competence should be enough to declare a mostly failed presidency. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Party of Strivers (DAVID BROOKS, 8/31/12, NY Times)

Speaker after speaker at the convention in Tampa, Fla., celebrated the striver, who started small, struggled hard, looked within and became wealthy. Speaker after speaker argued that this ideal of success is under assault by Democrats who look down on strivers, who undermine self-reliance with government dependency, who smother ambition under regulations.

Republicans promised to get government out of the way. Reduce the burden of debt. Offer Americans an open field and a fair chance to let their ambition run.

If you believe, as I do, that American institutions are hitting a creaky middle age, then you have a lot of time for this argument. If you believe that there has been a hardening of the national arteries caused by a labyrinthine tax code, an unsustainable Medicare program and a suicidal addiction to deficits, then you appreciate this streamlining agenda, even if you don't buy into the whole Ayn Rand-influenced gospel of wealth.

On the one hand, you see the Republicans taking the initiative, offering rejuvenating reform. On the other hand, you see an exhausted Democratic Party, which says: We don't have an agenda, but we really don't like theirs. Given these options, the choice is pretty clear.

But there is a flaw in the vision the Republicans offered in Tampa. It is contained in its rampant hyperindividualism. Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual. There was almost no talk of community and compassionate conservatism. There was certainly no conservatism as Edmund Burke understood it, in which individuals are embedded in webs of customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions. [...]

The wisest speech departed from the prevailing story line. It was delivered by Condoleezza Rice. It echoed an older, less libertarian conservatism, which harkens back to Washington, Tocqueville and Lincoln. The powerful words in her speech were not "I" and "me" -- the heroic individual. They were "we" and "us" -- citizens who emerge out of and exist as participants in a great national project.

Rice celebrated material striving but also larger national goals -- the long national struggle to extend benefits and mobilize all human potential. She subtly emphasized how our individual destinies are dependent upon the social fabric and upon public institutions like schools, just laws and our mission in the world. She put less emphasis on commerce and more on citizenship.

Which is why the sooner the Party stops nattering about repealing Obamacare and starts talking about how we'll reform it--to make it more market oriented--and extending it--so that it is truly universal--the easier it will make governing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


The Long Strange Trip of Dock Ellis (Patrick Hruby, ESPN)

In 1970, the Reds swept the Pirates for the National League pennant. Two years later, Cincinnati won again, knocking defending World Series champion Pittsburgh out of the postseason. Three months after that, Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente -- future Hall of Famer, team leader, civic icon, a father figure to Ellis -- died in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico. Heartbreak ensued. The Pirates fell into a deep and lasting funk. Ellis coped with the pain the only way he knew how: by getting angry. He fumed over the Reds' talking smack from their dugout in the waning moments of the '72 NLCS. He fumed over his teammates' subsequently being all too eager to laugh and josh with their rivals. Cincinnati used to be scared of Pittsburgh. Now, it was the other way around.

And so, on May 1, 1974, a cool evening, Reds at Pirates, Pete Rose crouched at the plate to lead off.

Third pitch, Ellis hit Rose in the side.

Fourth pitch, Ellis drilled Joe Morgan in the kidney.

Sixth pitch, Ellis nailed Dan Driessen in the back.

Tony Perez dodged four pitches, earning a walk. Ellis tried to hit Johnny Bench in the head. Twice.

Finally, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh walked to the mound. "What's wrong?" he asked, deadpan. "Can't find the plate?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


Obama's new challenge: Disappointment (JONATHAN ALLEN | 9/1/12, Politico)

You can hammer Obama on health care. Mock his golf outings. Demand to see his birth certificate and Harvard transcript, and call him a European socialist bent on turning the American Dream into a Belgian nightmare. He'll throw his head back and laugh at you like a Bond villain.

But tell voters he's not the man America fell in love with in 2008 -- and pine, however disingenuously, about his unfulfilled potential -- and a shiver runs through his Chicago campaign headquarters.

They must look like the Shackleton Expedition at this point.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Liberal Education as Problem Identification: The Case of Elections (Peter Lawler, August 31, 2012, Big Think)

One feature of democracy that we're thinking a lot about these days is elections.  The giants of political philosophy don't agree on how to think about elections,  but they tend to agree that they are both beneficial and dangerous to democracy.  But with all their problems, we democrats these days could hardly do without elections.

Harvey Mansfield, quite the relevant political philosopher, gives us a quick primer on how a freshman reading list in political philosophy can get anyone up to speed on the various identifiable features of the problem of elections.  You'll have to read his whole (brief) article to really learn something.  But for those whose learning style is PowerPoint or TED lecture or blog post, I will reduce each of the six philosophers to a single proposition (also known as bullet point).

One of the signal geniuses of democracy, and the reason that the Right's partisan hysteria about President Obama is so malignant, is that elections make us complicit in our own governance.  There is no reason to expect better of the Left, but conservatives have a moral obligation to remember that any duly elected government is a "we," not a "them."  

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Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


How Fed stimulus earns a profit for taxpayers (Annalyn Censky, September 1, 2012, Money)

The Fed then earns interest on the Treasuries it holds, and while interest rates are very low, the sheer mass of bonds the Fed holds nevertheless makes for quite a windfall.

The Fed earned a $77.4 billion profit last year, and of that, most was from interest payments. The year before, it earned $81.7 billion, and in 2009, it earned $53.4 billion.

That's up significantly from the pre-crisis years, when the Fed had a much smaller portfolio, with far fewer bonds. In 2007, it earned $38 billion.

After paying some of its own administrative expenses, the Fed turns most of those profits over to Treasury, which can use them to pay government bills.

So indeed, quantitative easing reduces the deficit and debt - but remember, the impact is just a drop in the bucket, when it comes to the $15 trillion national debt.

Note that the Fed might be holding down the deficit through two other channels: Simply by keeping interest rates low, it makes it cheaper for the U.S. government to borrow. Second, if the Fed's policies are working to boost the economy, they are also probably boosting tax revenue for the government.

His pledge to replace Mr. Bernanke is among Mitt's worst purely political moves.  Fortunately, he isn't serious.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Brutality, anger fuel jihad in Russia's Caucasus (Alissa de Carbonnel, Aug 31, 2012, Reuters)

Throughout the 12 years since Vladimir Putin rose to power and crushed a Chechen separatist revolt, Russia has battled a simmering insurgency across its mainly Muslim Caucasus mountain lands: Chechyna and its neighbors Ingushetia and Dagestan.

With Putin back in the Kremlin after a four year hiatus as prime minister, he has tried to end the violence by emphasizing the unity of Russia, providing backing for mainstream clerics and cracking down hard on religious radicalism.

But the formula seems to be failing here, driving communities further into the embrace of radical religion, and sending more young men into the mountains to take up arms.

In the first half of 2012 alone, the Caucasian Knot website recorded 185 insurgency-related deaths and 168 wounded, making Dagestan one of the deadliest places in Europe. The number of men seized by security forces as suspected militants so far this year, tracked by Russia's leading rights group Memorial, has already exceeded last year's total.

And the violence has begun spreading beyond the Caucasus to other parts of the country, like Tatarstan, long a peaceful area on the Volga river in Russia's European heartland.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


The Man in the Empty Chair (LAWRENCE DOWNES, 9/01/12, NY Times)

Who thinks Clint Eastwood did a fine job?

I do.

Go ahead and snicker about how last night's eagerly awaited surprise convention speech by a Hollywood legend turned out to be an 11-minute ramble by a rumple-haired guy, 82 years old, talking without notes to an imaginary Barack Obama in an empty chair.

An imaginary Barack who tells Mr. Eastwood several times to shut up, then tells him and Mitt Romney to do an unspeakable thing to themselves.

Yes, it was very unexpected. But memorable! And the perfect distillation of the Republican campaign.

Personally, I'd have just hung a blue suit on a coat rack....
Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Everything You Think You Know About China Is Wrong : Are we obsessing about its rise when we should be worried about its fall? (MINXIN PEI, AUGUST 29, 2012, Foreign Policy)

The disconnect between the brewing troubles in China and the seemingly unshakable perception of Chinese strength persists even though the U.S. media accurately cover China, in particular the country's inner fragilities. One explanation for this disconnect is that elites and ordinary Americans remain poorly informed about China and the nature of its economic challenges in the coming decades. The current economic slowdown in Beijing is neither cyclical nor the result of weak external demand for Chinese goods. China's economic ills are far more deeply rooted: an overbearing state squandering capital and squeezing out the private sector, systemic inefficiency and lack of innovation, a rapacious ruling elite interested solely in self-enrichment and the perpetuation of its privileges, a woefully underdeveloped financial sector, and mounting ecological and demographic pressures. Yet even for those who follow China, the prevailing wisdom is that though China has entered a rough patch, its fundamentals remain strong.

Americans' domestic perceptions influence how they see their rivals. It is no coincidence that the period in the 1970s and late 1980s when Americans missed signs of rivals' decline corresponded with intense dissatisfaction with U.S. performance (President Jimmy Carter's 1979 "malaise speech," for example). Today, a China whose growth rate is falling from 10 to 8 percent a year (for now) looks pretty good in comparison with an America where annual growth languishes at below 2 percent and unemployment stays above 8 percent. In the eyes of many Americans, things may be bad over there, but they are much worse here.

Much of the misperception must be just a function of the persistence of the Yellow Menace meme.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


The Woman Who Needed to Be Upside-Down : A doctor is baffled: Why did a 
giant man walk into the ER holding 
a tiny woman by her feet? (Louis F. Janeira, July-August, Discovery)

The emergency room was busy that afternoon. I had just started my shift and was making my way through a scrum of frantic doctors, nurses, and orderlies when I heard yelling coming from the ambulance bay entrance.

"Put her down now!" I recognized the stern voice of Herb, one of our security guards.

"Get a stretcher, stat," said Ellie, the head nurse.

"You're hurting her," a woman yelled.

I ran to the ambulance bay, rounded a corner, and saw a huge man, seven-foot-something, holding a petite woman, maybe five feet tall, by her feet, her head dangling down. "I have to hold her this way," the man insisted.

"I'm fine," said the woman through her dangling long black hair. "I feel OK now."

Herb grabbed at the man's muscular arms, attempting to free the woman.

"This is my wife," the giant shouted. "Let go of me." He glared at Herb, who kept pulling at his biceps and wrists. A large group of ER personnel was now watching them from a distance.

"Let's everybody take a deep breath here," I said. "What's your name, sir?"

Herb released his grip on the man and took a step back.

"Jason," he said, more calmly now.

"Okay, Jason," I said. "Why are you carrying your wife by her feet?"

"Hi, Dr. Janeira," said the upside-down woman. "Remember me?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


Gloria Romero: The Trials of a Democratic Reformer : In California's capital, union officials 'walk around like they're God.' This pro-labor former legislator wants to bring them back to earth. (ALLYSIA FINLEY, 9/01/12, WSJ)

Former Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson once referred to Sacramento as a "cowtown," but Gloria Romero, a pro-labor Democrat who served as California's Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2008, takes exception to the belittling description. The capitol building in Sacramento, she says, has "the eighth most powerful economy in the world under that dome," and it operates not unlike other wealthy kleptocracies. "There's no other way to say it politely. It's owned."

Topping the list of proprietors is the California Teachers Association, which she calls the most muscular union and political player in the state. Then there are the unions for nurses, prison guards, firefighters and police. Call them California's "deep state."

Ms. Romero now heads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, a large tent of liberals who are as diverse as an Occupy encampment but united by a common desire to improve accountability in public schools. The group supports Democratic school reformers running for political office and promotes legislation that toughens standards.

But before taking up her current charge, Ms. Romero served a dozen years in the legislature, where she was known for trying to clean up the capital's cronyism and corruption.

It wasn't exactly glamorous work, but it was eye-opening. "I've sat in all of those backroom meetings," she says. "That thing, if walls could talk, well think of me as a wall, and I'm talking. I've had it."

And talk she does, reflecting on how public unions have run (and overrun) the statehouse and how disgruntled, reform-hungry citizens like herself can take it back. 
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