October 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Eric Hobsbawm: A believer in the Red utopia to the very end : The grotesque facts never got in the way of Eric Hobsbawm's devotion to communism (Michael Burleigh, 10/01/12, The Telegraph)

Throughout, there was a dogmatic refusal to accept that the Bolshevik Revolution had been a murderous failure. Asked by the Canadian academic and politician Michael Ignatieff on television whether the deaths of 20 million people in the USSR - not to mention the 55 to 65 million victims of Mao's Great Leap Forward - might have been justified if this Red utopia had been realised, Hobsbawm muttered in the affirmative.

Everything Hobsbawm wrote deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties or the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945. Such a cosmopolitan thinker had ironically become imprisoned within a deeply provincial ideological ghetto, knowing or caring nothing for the brave Czechs or Poles who resisted Stalin's stooges, while being manifestly nonplussed by the democratic transformations of Central Europe since 1989-90. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Couples who share the housework are more likely to divorce, study finds (Henry Samuel, 27 Sep 2012, The Telegraph)

Divorce rates are far higher among "modern" couples who share the housework than in those where the woman does the lion's share of the chores, a Norwegian study has found.

The report found the divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work. 

In what appears to be a slap in the face for gender equality, the report found the divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work.

"What we've seen is that sharing equal responsibility for work in the home doesn't necessarily contribute to contentment," said Thomas Hansen, co-author of the study entitled "Equality in the Home". [...]

"One would think that break-ups would occur more often in families with less equality at home, but our statistics show the opposite," he said.

The figures clearly show that "the more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate," he went on.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM

Mumford & Sons On World Cafe (World Cafe, September 28, 2012)

In this session of World Cafe, David Dye talks to Mumford & Sons' members about how they achieved success. And, of course, they perform songs from Babel.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


The Last House in Randolph (THOM BASSETT, 10/01/12, NY Times)

Col. C.C. Walcutt of the 46th Ohio Volunteers had his orders. In response to an attack by Southern guerrillas on the unarmed ship Eugene, bound for Memphis from St. Louis, Walcutt was to take a regiment and unit of artillery to Randolph, Tenn., about 30 miles north of Memphis along the river, near where the ship had been fired on. Once there, Walcutt and his men, in the words of his commander, William Tecumseh Sherman, were to "destroy the town, leaving one house to mark the place."

Sherman had instructed Walcutt to "let the people know and feel that we deeply deplore the necessity of such destruction." Despite this regret, and even though he was sure that those actually responsible for the attack were already beyond the reach of Union forces, Sherman declared in his orders that "the cowardly firing upon boats filled with women and children and merchandise must be severely punished."

Walcutt's troops did their work well. The next day, Sept. 25, 1862, Sherman could write in his official report that "the regiment has returned and Randolph is gone."

There's no doubt the destruction of Randolph was a harsh response. However, given Sherman's reputation as an unrelenting scourge of Southerners in the last year of the war, it's easy to overlook that such collective punishment of civilians for guerrilla activity was largely accepted by the leading legal authorities of his time. In fact, both Union and Confederate commanders punished civilians in similar ways throughout the Civil War.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Is The United States Violating Pakistan's Sovereignty? (Art Keller, 10/01/12, Forbes)

In the USA's schizophrenic relationship with Pakistan, one accusation frequently flung at the U.S. is that our "kinetic" activities in the tribal areas of Pakistan violate Pakistani sovereignty. This view is held most strongly by those Pakistanis who don't live in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (aka FATA), and who don't have to endure the tyranny of armed militants controlling their lives.

While it is true that Pakistan's Army does maintain military outposts in the tribal areas, and those forces sometimes violently clash with militants, the Army does not now and never has had sovereign control as modern nation-states define the concept.

...then we'd be justified in attacking the rest of the country. It is only because Pakistan can not control the portions of territory where we are at war that we are not at war with the central state.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Let's start the foodie backlash : Food is the new sex, drugs and religion. Cookery dominates the bestseller lists and TV schedules. Celebrity chefs have become lifestyle gurus and cooking is referred to as a high art. Steven Poole has had his fill of foodism (Steven Poole, 9/29/12, The Guardian)

It is not in our day considered a sign of serious emotional derangement to announce publicly that "chocolate mousse remains the thing I feel most strongly about", or to boast that dining with celebrities on the last night of Ferran AdriĆ 's restaurant elBulli, in Spain, "made me cry". It is, rather, the mark of a Yahoo not to be able and ready at any social gathering to converse in excruciating detail and at interminable length about food. Food is not only a safe "passion" (in the tellingly etiolated modern sense of "passion" that just means liking something a lot); it has become an obligatory one. The unexamined meal, as a pair of pioneer modern "foodies" wrote in the 1980s, is not worth eating. Most cannily, the department of philosophy at the University of North Texas announced in 2011 its "Philosophy of Food Project", no doubt having noticed which way the wind was blowing, and presumably hoping that it would be able to trick food-obsessives into hard thinking about other topics. One can of course think philosophically about food, as about anything at all, but that is not what is going on in our mainstream gastroculture.

Where will it all end? Is there any communication or entertainment or social format that has not yet been commandeered by the ravenous gastrimarge for his own gluttonous purpose? Does our cultural "food madness", as the New York Times columnist Frank Rich suggests, tip into "food psychosis"? Might it not, after all, be a good idea to worry more about what we put into our minds than what we put into our mouths?

People with an overweening interest in food have been calling themselves "foodies" since a Harper's & Queen article entitled "Cuisine Poseur" in 1982, one of whose editors then co-wrote the semi-satirical The Official Foodie Handbook of 1984. The OED's very first citation of "foodie" is from 1980, an oozing New York Times magazine celebration of the mistress of a Parisian restaurant and her "devotees, serious foodies". "Foodie" has now pretty much everywhere replaced "gourmet", perhaps because the latter more strongly evokes privilege and a snobbish claim to uncommon sensory discrimination - even though those qualities are rampant among the "foodies" themselves. The word "foodie", it is true, lays claim to a kind of cloying, infantile cuteness which is in a way appropriate to its subject; but one should not allow them the rhetorical claim of harmless innocence implied. The Official Foodie Handbook spoke of the "foodism" worldview; I propose to call its adherents foodists.

The term "foodist" is actually much older, used from the late 19th century for hucksters selling fad diets (which is quite apt); and as late as 1987 one New York Times writer proposed it semi-seriously as a positive description, to replace the unlovely "gastronaut": "In the tradition of nudist, philanthropist and Buddhist, may I suggest 'foodist', one who is enthusiastic about good eating?" The writer's joking offer of "nudist" as an analogy is telling. I like "foodist" precisely for its taint of an -ism. Like a racist or a sexist, a foodist operates under the prejudices of a governing ideology, viewing the whole world through the grease-smeared lenses of a militant eater.

Everywhere in the ideology of foodism we see a yearning for food to be able to fill a spiritual void. Food is about "spirituality" and "expressing our identity", claims modern food-knight Michael Pollan. His celebrated catechism of modern foodism, The Omnivore's Dilemma, speaks of eating with a "full consciousness", and claims that every meal has its "karmic price"; it ends with the declaration that "what we're eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world". And so chewing on pork products becomes a sublime union of self with planet, a Gaian eucharist.

Note, too, how many manuals of eating are termed "bibles": in the cult of "nutritionism" we have Patrick Holford's Optimum Nutrition Bible and Gillian McKeith's Food Bible, and there also exist a Baby Food Bible, a Whole Food Bible, a Gluten-Free Bible, a Party Food Bible, a Spicy Food Lover's Bible, and so on ad nauseam or perhaps ad astra. If you don't want the Judeo-Christian overtones that come with biblical foodism, you can instead attain communion with the druids, a possibility noted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the late 1990s: "I suspect the fact that wild mushrooms (and the pursuit of them) have become popular alongside the burgeoning interest in New Age spiritualism may not be entirely coincidental."

Food, then, is considered the appropriate sustenance for all kinds of spiritual snackishness. But to suppose that eating can nourish the spirit looks like a category mistake: just the sort of category mistake that led the early church to define "gluttony" as a sin. (Man does not live by bread alone.) Gluttony, on the original understanding, wasn't necessarily a matter of eating too much; it was the problem of being excessively interested in food, whatever one's actual intake of it. Gluttony was, as Francine Prose (author of a pert monograph, Gluttony) puts it, all about the "inordinate desire" for food, which makes us "depart from the path of reason". (That diagnoses the figure of "loathsome Gluttony" in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, "Whose mind in meat and drinke was drowned so".) And the theologian Thomas Aquinas agreed with Pope Gregory that gluttony can be committed in five different ways, among which are seeking more "sumptuous foods" or wanting foods that are "prepared more meticulously". In this sense (whether we agree with it or not), all modern foodists, as the Atlantic writer BR Myers argues in his incisive "Moral Crusade Against Foodies", are certainly gluttons.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Carmakers Find Ways to Make Cheaper Hybrids : The fuel-sipping cars have typically been pricier than conventional counterparts, but technological advances are changing that. (KEVIN BULLIS, October 1, 2012, Technology Review)

Automakers have grown more enthusiastic about hybrids because the cost of making them has plummeted. Several years ago, Toyota's Prius hybrid cost the consumer about $6,000 more than an equivalent conventional car--and even at that price, the company was losing money on every one it sold. The difference is now $2,500, and the car is profitable, says Mike Omotoso, an analyst with LMC Automotive. The drop in cost is due to an accumulation of incremental technology improvements, along with economies of scale. And advances going forward--better batteries, electric motors, and power electronics and transmissions--could cut costs by another 50 percent.

At Toyota, for example, the company shifted from a 500-volt electrical system to a 650-volt one, a decision that produced "a host of benefits," says Justin Ward, advanced power-train program manager at the Toyota Technical Center. The company was able to reduce the cost and weight of copper wiring, use cheaper power transistors in the electronics that control the hybrid system, and make the electric motor cheaper and smaller.

Although other automakers have shifted to lithium-ion batteries, Toyota has stayed with nickel-metal hydride. But it's made improvements to these batteries, such as shifting from cylindrical cells to flat ones to save space and modifying the cases to improve battery cooling. Simple changes like moving connectors from one side of a circuit board to the other can have big implications in terms of manufacturing, Ward says, making it possible, for example, to replace a worker with a robot for an assembly step.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


End the Health Care Tax Break: Reduce Coverage? (MERRILL GOOZNER, 10/01/12,The Fiscal Times)

Health care insurance benefits have been excluded from taxable income since 1943, when the National War Labor Board ruled employers, who were offering health plans as a way to attract workers without violating wartime wage-and-price controls, could deduct their cost as an expense without reporting their value as income for workers.  As a result, employees get the benefit of the insurance without paying taxes on its value.
Workers weren't the only ones who benefited from the ruling. Neither employers nor workers had to pay their half of the Social Security (and later Medicare) payroll taxes that would have been assessed at a higher rate, had it been paid as straight wages.

Today, the ever-growing cost of health care has turned that little loophole into a subsidy program that costs the Treasury an estimated $240 billion a year. It is the single largest tax expenditure in the federal tax code.

Economists across the political spectrum are united in their analysis of its impact. It allows employers to spend more on health insurance than they otherwise would. It leads workers, especially if they are unionized and have voice in how any wage increases are allocated, to fight for lower co-pays and deductibles since those are paid with after-tax dollars. The two factors working in tandem encourage overuse of health care services, which drives up spending and eventually premiums.

"It turns into a vicious cycle," said Paul Fronstin, an analyst at the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

The exclusion is also unfair in the same way that any tax expenditure becomes unfair under a progressive income tax code. A person in the 30 percent tax bracket who gets a $15,000 family plan at work gets twice the subsidy as someone in the 15 percent bracket that belongs to the same plan.