September 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 PM


Where is Puritan, Middle-Class America When We Need It? (Peter Lawler, 9/28/12, Liberty Law Blog)

When people relate too exclusively in terms of interests, they become, Tocqueville explains, emotionally isolated, locked up in themselves.  Tocqueville called that self-centered apathetic indifference to others INDIVIDUALISM.  Individualism not only keeps people from being the active citizens that democracy requires to resist the various forms of tyranny.  Individualism, Tocqueville observes, sometimes makes Americans much more unhappy--more sad and anxious--than they should be in the midst of their fortunate circumstances.  The excesses of sophisticated American individualism is what we see mocked, of course, on clever shows like SEINFELD--a show full of pathetic, unhappy people who'll never be relational enough to reproduce.

So Tocqueville says that, in America, the spirit of liberty depends on the spirit of religion.  He talks up not only our constitutional founding but our first Founding with the Puritans.   The Puritans were pure egalitarians who came up with many of our democratic institutions.  They were all about not only educating people for work but educating their souls.  Everyone should be able to read not only to earn a living but to read the Bible--to discover for themselves the whole truth about their origin and destiny as beings created in the image of God.  In America, we've taken pride in our public schools, but we used to know--and still do in the South--that what kids learn there needs to be completed by Sunday School.

The Puritans, by being concerned with the souls or irreducible greatness of everyone, were kind of about an aristocracy of everyone.

For the Puritan Christians, it's true, everyone had to work.  There are no aristocrats excluded from the consequences of sin.  But everyone also needs and deserves leisure.  And that's why, Tocqueville noticed, the Americans were so insistent that nobody work on Sunday.  Sunday is for reading about, hearing about (through sermons), and talking about the whole truth about who you are.  When we Americans surrendered Sunday to the busyness of commerce, we gave up, to some extent, on the deep source of civilized human enjoyment. [...]

So, from Tocqueville's view, we can thank ourselves--our love of freedom and our hard work--that we've flourished in such a magnificent way as the middle-class country.  But, thank God, we've always understood ourselves as more than middle-class beings, too.  That means that we remain about caring for one other, and we're good enough at it that we rely on government a lot less than more individualistic or indifferent people would in caring for those genuinely in need.  That category of being needy, vulnerable, and lonely includes us all to some extent or another.

And, it turns out, who you are doesn't have all that much to do with "work."
Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


The Arab Spring Still Blooms (MONCEF MARZOUKI, 9/27/12, NY Times)

The democratization of Tunisia, Egypt and other countries has allowed a number of extremist free riders into the political system. But it has also definitively refuted the myth that democracy and Islam are incompatible. Islamists are political actors like any others: they are no more pure, more united or more immune from criticism than anyone else.

Islamist parties are now free to take part in political debates and to win seats in legislatures and governments. However, these political changes have also rendered the divisions among Islamists more apparent than ever before.

Islamists span a wide ideological and political spectrum. Yet many observers still seem to believe that extremist Salafi groups represent a majority. They are wrong. Radical Salafis who advocate violence and Shariah constitute a very small minority in Tunisia -- and even in Egypt they are vastly outnumbered by more moderate Islamists. They are a minority within a minority, and extremely unpopular among both religious and secular Tunisians. They do not speak for all Tunisians, Arabs or Muslims.

The goal of these violent extremists is not political participation; it is to create chaos. We should not forget that before attacking American symbols, these extremists had degraded Tunisian symbols, like the flag and national anthem.

Despite their small numbers, the danger they pose cannot be dismissed. Tunisia's economy depends on the millions of foreign tourists who visit each year. If Salafi extremists were to attack just two or three foreigners in Tunisia, it would destroy our tourism industry and ruin our country's peaceful reputation. As a democratic government, we support the Salafis' freedom of expression, but advocating violence is a red line. Those who cross it will be arrested.

...about how obsessively the Tunisians we met thanked America for supporting the Revolution.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Sponging boomers : The economic legacy left by the baby-boomers is leading to a battle between the generations (The Economist, Sep 29th 2012)

More worrying is that this generation seems to be able to leverage its size into favourable policy. Governments slashed tax rates in the 1980s to revitalise lagging economies, just as boomers approached their prime earning years. The average federal tax rate for a median American household, including income and payroll taxes, dropped from more than 18% in 1981 to just over 11% in 2011. Yet sensible tax reforms left less revenue for the generous benefits boomers have continued to vote themselves, such as a prescription-drug benefit paired with inadequate premiums. Deficits exploded. Erick Eschker, an economist at Humboldt State University, reckons that each American born in 1945 can expect nearly $2.2m in lifetime net transfers from the state--more than any previous cohort.

Boomers' sponging may well outstrip that of younger generations as well. A study by the International Monetary Fund in 2011 compared the tax bills of a cohort's members over their lifetime with the value of the benefits that they are forecast to receive. The boomers are leaving a huge bill. Those aged 65 in 2010 may receive $333 billion more in benefits than they pay in taxes (see chart), an obligation 17 times larger than that likely to be left by those aged 25.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


The Adventures of the Real Tom Sawyer : Mark Twain prowled the rough-and-tumble streets of 1860s San Francisco with a hard-drinking, larger-than-life fireman (Robert Graysmith, October 2012, Smithsonian magazine)

On September 28, Sawyer and Twain went on a momentous bender. "Mark was as much sprung as I was," Sawyer recalled, "and in a short time we owned the City, cobblestones and all." They made the rounds of the Montgomery Street saloons, growing more expansive as they spent most of the night drinking brandy at the Blue Wing and the Capitol Saloon. "Toward mornin' Mark sobered up a bit and we all got to tellin' yarns," Sawyer said. The sun was up by the time the two called it a night.

"The next day I met Mark down by the old Call office," Sawyer continued. "He walks up to me and puts both hands on my shoulders. 'Tom,' he says, 'I'm going to write a book about a boy and the kind I have in mind was just about the toughest boy in the world. Tom, he was just such a boy as you must have been....How many copies will you take, Tom, half cash?'"

Sawyer did not take him seriously. He got to the firehouse on Fourth Street and tried to sleep off his hangover in a back room. Twain went home, slept and then wrote his sister. "I would commence on my book," he wrote. He had already spoken of his ambitious literary plan to write a novel to his brother Orion, cautioning him to say nothing of it. [...]

Viola Rodgers, a reporter at Twain's old paper, the Call, interviewed Tom Sawyer on October 23, 1898. She was intrigued by what Twain had written in a postscript to the book: "Most of the characters that perform in this book still live and are prosperous and happy. Some day it may seem worthwhile to take up the story of the younger ones again and see what sort of men and women they turned out to be; therefore it will be wisest not to reveal any of that part of their lives at present."

She reached the old-fashioned Mission Street saloon just to the east side of the Mint. "Over the door hangs a sign which reads 'The Gotham--Tom Sawyer. Proprietor,'" she later wrote. "To a casual observer that name means no more than if it were 'Jack Brown' or 'Tom Jones,' but to Mark Twain it meant the inspiration for his most famous work. For the jolly old fireman sitting in there in an old fashioned haircloth chair is the original Tom Sawyer....This real, live, up-to-date Tom Sawyer spends his time telling stories of former days while he occasionally mixes a brandy and soda or a cocktail." The walls were completely covered with helmets, belts, election tickets, badges, hooks, bugles, nozzles, mementos and other firefighting paraphernalia. "Next to his badges of his fire company, Tom Sawyer values his friendship with Mark Twain, and he will sit for hours telling of the pranks they used to play and of the narrow escapes they had from the police. He is fond of reminiscing and recalling the jolly nights and days he used to spend with Sam--as he always calls him."

"You want to know how I came to figure in his books, do you?" Sawyer asked. "Well, as I said, we both was fond of telling stories and spinning yarns. Sam, he was mighty fond of children's doings and whenever he'd see any little fellers a-fighting on the street, he'd always stop and watch 'em and then he'd come up to the Blue Wing and describe the whole doings and then I'd try and beat his yarn by telling him of the antics I used to play when I was a kid and say, 'I don't believe there ever was such another little devil ever lived as I was.' Sam, he would listen to these pranks of mine with great interest and he'd occasionally take 'em down in his notebook. One day he says to me: 'I am going to put you between the covers of a book some of these days, Tom.' 'Go ahead, Sam,' I said, 'but don't disgrace my name.'"

"But [Twain's] coming out here some day," Sawyer added, "and I am saving up for him. When he does come there'll be some fun, for if he gives a lecture I intend coming right in on the platform and have a few old time sallies with him."

The nonfictional character died in the autumn of 1906, three and a half years before Twain. "Tom Sawyer, Whose Name Inspired Twain, Dies at Great Age," the newspaper headline announced. The obituary said, "A man whose name is to be found in every worthy library in America died in this city on Friday....So highly did the author appreciate Sawyer that he gave the man's name to his famous boy character. In that way the man who died Friday is godfather, so to speak, of one of the most enjoyable books ever written."

Sawyer's saloon was destroyed that same year--by fire.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


MICHAEL KIWANUKA PERFORMS IN THE CURRENT STUDIO (Jim McGuinn, 9/28/12, Minnesota Public Radio)

Reviewer Lindsay Kimball had this to say: "He is a 24-year-old with the voice and music of someone three times his age. When you hear his debut album, Home Again, Michael Kiwanuka -- the UK native of Ugandan-born parents -- could fool you into thinking that you were listening to a long-lost Bill Withers record."

While in town for a show at Fine Line Music Cafe, Kiwanuka stopped by The Current studio to perform a few songs and chat with Program Director Jim McGuinn.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


The Short Run is Short (Eli Dourado)

My first bit of evidence is corporate profits. They are at an all time high, around two-and-a-half times higher in nominal terms than they were during the late 1990s, our last real boom.

If you think that unemployment is high because demand is low and therefore business isn't profitable, you are empirically mistaken. Business is very profitable, but it has learned to get by without as much labor.

And there's still plenty of deadwood left to clear.
Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


How Republican or Democratic Is Your Name? (SERENA DAI, 9/28/12, Atlantic)

Columnist Chris Wilson noticed that certain names popped up more for Republicans (Donald, Sharon) and certain ones went to Democrats (Angela, Willie). To figure out of this was actually a thing, Wilson looked at a Federal Election Commission database of names and political party for people who donated at least $200 to a federal campaign. The interactive above tracks donations from 452,000 Obama donators and 315,000 Romney donators. Wilson only used names that showed up at least 25 times and decided if they were individuals by looking at ZIP codes. The closer a dot is to the left, the more people with that name donate to Obama. For instance, 81 percent of people name Ellen donated to Obama, so that dot lands closer to the left. 

As you can see, women names (the pink dots) tend to support Obama while male name (blue dots) tend to go Romney.

Because being a Democrat is a chick thing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


End Of An Auto Era: Saying Goodbye To The Bench Seat (Jim Gorzelany, 9/28/12, Forbes)

Next to the wheel, it's one automotive component that dates back to the horse-drawn carriage era, and it's about to go the way of the buggy whip. The front bench seat, once a fixture among large American cars, will be headed for oblivion when the final 2013 Chevrolet Impala rolls off the assembly line in the coming months.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


George W. Bush posts better favorability ratings than Mitt Romney in new Bloomberg survey (Tom Benning, 9/27/12,

A Bloomberg News National Poll released Wednesday has Bush receiving a favorable rating from 46 percent of those surveyed and an unfavorable rating from 49 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Are Neanderthals Human? (Carl Zimmer, 09.20.12, NOVA)

It's been over 150 years since the bones first emerged from the Neander Valley--a time during which we've learned a vast amount about human evolution. Today, scientists can even scan the genomes of Neanderthals who died 50,000 years ago. And yet the debate still rages. It's a debate that extends beyond Neanderthals, forcing us to ask what it means to be a species at all.

It's just a lifestyle choice.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Warmonger or idealist: the roots of human conflict (Dan Jones, 9/25/12, New Scientist)

CONSIDER yourself lucky. You are living in the most peaceful era of our species' existence. Today, you are less likely to die at the hands of another person than at any time in human history. So argues Steven Pinker in his monumental history of human violence, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Drawing on a mountain of statistics, Pinker shows that deaths attributable to violent conflicts - from revenge killing and blood feuds to genocides and wars - have been declining for at least the past 6000 years. [...]

We are not the only species that engages in collective aggression. Wolves in one pack will team up to take out members of a rival group. Our closest relatives, chimpanzees, fight neighbouring troops. Indeed, primatologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University believes we share with chimps an evolved coalitional psychology that fuels collective attacks. But whereas chimp groups fight to take over territory, our aims are far more complex. "Human aggression is unique in that it can involve conflict over ideas, beliefs and symbols of cultural identity," says Michele Gelfand of the University of Maryland in College Park.

What's more, conflict seems to be an integral part of our social organisation. "We're one species, yet we bind ourselves into exclusive, conflicting groups," says anthropologist Scott Atran of the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris, France. Group hostility and aggression are horribly easy to induce, as social psychologists have long been aware. More than 40 years ago, the late Henri Tajfel showed how people put into teams according to whether they preferred the paintings of Klee or Kandinsky behaved favourably towards team-mates, while treating members of the other team harshly. Since then, numerous experiments have revealed how the flimsiest badges of cultural identity can create hostility towards outsiders - even the colour of randomly assigned shirts can do it.

Paradoxically, these antagonistic tendencies may be intimately linked with another, much more noble side of human nature: our unparalleled capacity for large-scale cooperation and altruistic self-sacrifice. Few activities draw on these traits like fighting on behalf of our group, with the high risk of injury or death that entails. Samuel Bowles, an economist at the Santa Fe Institute, New Mexico, argues that love for one's own group could easily have co-evolved with hostility towards outsiders, creating an unusual mix of kindness and violence. "It's Mother Theresa meets Rambo," he says.

Consider that America responded to the 9-11 attacks by liberating the "group" that perpetrated it in a series of different nations.  War, at least as the West wages it, often is altruism.