October 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


The Rockabilly Queen (MARC MYERS, 10/02/12, WSJ)

Today, Ms. Jackson, 74, is one of the last original female rockabilly stars still performing and recording. Her twangy cap-gun voice and feisty confidence haven't dimmed much since her early television appearances, now posted on YouTube. But the raven-haired singer--dressed for her interview in a lipstick-red sequined top and black slacks--is no hayseed. Over the past year, she has been rediscovered by a new generation of rockers and fans curious about the music's roots.

On Tuesday, Ms. Jackson will release "Unfinished Business" (Sugar Hill), her 31st studio album, produced by folk-country musician Justin Townes Earle. It follows "The Party Ain't Over," her 2011 album produced by blues-rock guitarist Jack White. Last year she opened for Adele in North America, and Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello have hailed Ms. Jackson's sizzly voice and rock-history importance.

"In '55, most country songs were about hard times and adult life," said Ms. Jackson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. "Rockabilly was a new wind. The electric guitar replaced the fiddle, and the music was about the back beat and the excitement of being young."
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Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Why Long Lectures Are Ineffective : If students can only focus for 15-minute intervals, shouldn't we devote precious class time to something more engaging? (SALMAN KHAN | October 2, 2012, TIME)

In 1996, in a journal called the National Teaching & Learning Forum, two professors from Indiana University -- Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish -- described how research on human attention and retention speaks against the value of long lectures. They cited a 1976 study that detailed the ebbs and flows of students' focus during a typical class period. Breaking the session down minute-by-minute, the study's authors determined that students needed a three- to five-minute period of settling down, which would be followed by 10 to 18 minutes of optimal focus. Then -- no matter how good the teacher or how compelling the subject matter -- there would come a lapse. In the vernacular, the students would "lose it." Attention would eventually return, but in ever briefer packets, falling "to three- or four-minute [spurts] towards the end of a standard lecture," according to the report. This study focused on college students, and of course it was done before the age of texting and tweeting; presumably, the attention spans of younger people today have become even shorter, or certainly more challenged by distractions.

Middendorf and Kalish also cited a study from 1985 which tested students on their recall of facts contained in a 20-minute presentation. While you might expect that recall of the final section of the presentation would be greatest-- the part heard most recently -- in fact the result was strikingly opposite. Students remembered far more of what they'd heard at the very beginning of the lecture. By the 15-minute mark, they'd mostly zoned out. Yet these findings -- which were quite dramatic, consistent and conclusive, and have never yet been refuted -- went largely unapplied in the real world.

...that the average worker is only productive for about two hours a day.  We do stuff the way we do because that's the way we've done the stuff we do. No one cares whether it's effective or not.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


U.S. Automakers Cut Retirees Loose (Keith Naughton on June 27, 2012, Business Week)

GM and rival Ford Motor (F), rebounding from their near-death experiences during the financial crisis, are eager to rid their balance sheets of the huge pension obligations that Wall Street views as onerous debts weighing on their credit ratings and stock prices. So this spring they came up with an ambitious solution: buy out the lifetime pension payments due 140,000 salaried retirees. With both carmakers suddenly flush with profits--GM and Ford made $9.2 billion and $20.2 billion, respectively, in 2011--it seems like a smart way to remove decades of uncertainty from their finances. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


Has Democracy Died? : The author of After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy explains why he believes democracy is misunderstood, over-hyped, and underwhelming. (Carl E. Olson, 10/02/12, Catholic World Report)

CWR: As you demonstrate, it wasn't that long ago that democracy was considered impractical if not impossible. What changed? How did democracy become such a central notion--or even sacred belief--in the West? Why are we so enamored with "Democracy"?

Williamson: Democracy became a central--and, as you say, actually a sacred--notion when modern democrats lost touch with metaphysical reality to the point where they could no longer apprehend the reality of the human condition. When God "died," and human beings discovered themselves, as they think, capable of realizing the Christian God's plan for His Creation without His help and strictly by their own efforts (meaning scientific and pseudo-scientific means, like sociology)--that is when "Democracy" became, for them, a fully realizable goal.

...when the democratic Anglosphere won the Long War, instead?  Had Bonapartism, socialism, communism, Nazism, Maoism, Baathism, Salafism, or any of the other isms succeeded the rout wouldn't be quite so thorough.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Morsi, Obama, and the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship (Fouad Ajami, Oct 1, 2012, Daily Beast)

For America, the irony of the rise of Mohamed Morsi is that this colorless functionary of the Muslim Brotherhood is the first Egyptian ruler steeped in American ways. His doctorate in engineering comes from the University of Southern California, which he earned in 1982. A village boy from the impoverished delta, he had made his way to the United States, courtesy of a government scholarship. In hindsight, he claims that he was shaped by America only "scientifically." But he hadn't been eager to leave the United States after completing his degree. He stayed on as a faculty member at California State University at Northridge.

This big American republic is suffused with contradictions: it was in Los Angeles that Morsi's wife was pulled into the orbit of the Muslim Brotherhood. Two of Morsi's sons were born in the United States. The American net had pulled Egypt along. It shaped and helped countless Egyptians, and, with this, comes the free-floating anti-Americanism now at play in Egypt.

Barack Obama had been cavalier about Egypt. We need only recall what he and his devotees had taken to be his finest hour on distant shores: the speech he gave in Cairo, in June of 2009. He was a newly elected leader, the herald of change. He had the power and the prestige of the United States, but he could address the Egyptians--and Muslims beyond--as the first American leader who had an intimate knowledge of Islam, perhaps, some claim, to the faith. He had Muslim relatives, he had lived in a Muslim country, he was a student of history, he said, and he knew the pain and hurt that Western colonialism had inflicted on his audience.

This was a flawed history, and modernist Egyptians know that. It was the coming of the West--most dramatically, the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte's military expedition off the coast of Alexandria in 1798--that had pulled Egypt out of its destitution and lethargy. Bonaparte had come with his celebrated team of savants. They brought with them curiosity, studied the flora and the fauna of Egypt, and their monumental work, Description de L'Égypte, volumes of inquiry, gave Egyptians the full measure of their history.

Sure enough, colonialism, direct and indirect, humiliated Egyptians, and for decades they were outcasts in their own country. But colonialism (much as it did in that singular encounter between England and India) had invented modern Egypt. The British may have been brutes in that Suez Canal zone when they dominated it, but European finance had built the Suez Canal.

Mohamed Morsi may want to flatter himself that it was solely the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood that shaped him, but this fifth president of Egypt after the fall of the monarchy is the first civilian, and the first to receive a coveted American doctorate. The Brotherhood may have always railed against America, but leading technocrats from the Brotherhood rose to professional success and prominence through American degrees, and the years in America took them beyond the cloistered world from which they hailed.

Morsi and the collective leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood know the terms of Egypt's relationship with the United States. They are in need of American financial assistance--theirs is a country that is the world's top importer of wheat, a burdened country with a budget deficit of 11 percent of GDP. Governance in Egypt is tethered to feeding and subsidizing a huge and rebellious population. Rulers have leeway in that crowded country, but food riots have been the nightmare of rulers. Washington's help is crucial, and the Brotherhood knows when purity has to yield to necessity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


Providing Free Eye Exams And Glasses To Those Who Need Them Would Save $202 Billion Annually (Clay Dillow, 10.03.2012, Popular Science)

The economic costs of vision impairment are many, and in the developing world they are rampant. Refractive errors in vision make it difficult to read (and thus become educated), to drive or operate machinery, and to be productive in the workplace and in society in general. Limited mobility caused by visual impairments can also lead to other physical and mental health problems.

All said, the costs associated with these byproducts of refractive error are high--more than $200 billion per year globally. A study coming out of the Australia's Brien Holden Vision Institute and Johns Hopkins University says that with an initial investment of just $28 billion globally, authorities could train up 47,000 clinical eye car providers to provide exams and prescriptions as well as 18,000 optical dispensers to create those glasses. That would set up the program for five years, the study says, over which time nearly a trillion dollars in global economic benefits would be generated.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Spanish Prisoners (RICARD GONZÁLEZ and JAUME CLOTET, 10/02/12, NY Times)

The region accounts for about one-fourth of Spain's exports. But for every euro Catalans pay in taxes, only 57 cents is spent in the region. Before taxes, Catalonia is the fourth richest of Spain's 17 autonomous regions. After taxes, it drops to ninth -- a form of forced redistribution unparalleled in contemporary Europe.

For a society suffering the acute pain of budget cuts and a deep recession, the burden of fiscal transfers, which cripple the Catalan economy's ability to compete globally, is unacceptable. Unable to draw on its own tax base, the Catalan government recently went through the humiliation of being forced to ask Madrid for a bailout. Americans know well that an unfair taxation system can easily ignite calls for independence.

But money isn't the only cause of secessionist sentiment. We Catalans have long been attached to our distinct identity and never accepted the loss of national sovereignty after being defeated by the Spanish monarchy in 1714. For three centuries, Catalonia has striven to regain its independence. Most attempts to establish a state were put down by force. The "Catalan question" was a major catalyst of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and Gen. Francisco Franco's dictatorship harshly repressed Catalan culture.

At the core of Catalonia's unique identity is the Catalan language, which is distinct from Spanish. Since the re-establishment of Spain's democracy in 1977 and Catalonia's autonomy in 1979, Catalan has been revived in the region's schools. However, a recent ruling by Spain's Constitutional Court threatens this policy. To most Catalans, our language is a red line. If the current system of autonomy can't guarantee protection of it, independence is the only solution.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


Missing in Africa : How Obama Failed to Engage an Increasingly Important Continent (Todd Moss, October 1, 2012, Foreign Affairs)

 The president's Kenyan heritage inspired unreasonably high hopes for a robust Africa policy; but his administration has failed to meet even the lowest of expectations. Even Obama's most vocal supporters quietly admit that he has done much less with Africa than previous presidents have.

Compare Obama's approach to Africa with that of his predecessors. President Bill Clinton exuded enthusiasm for the continent. His Africa policy was defined by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which reduced trade barriers on more than 1,800 products exported from the continent to the United States. Partly as a result of the act, trade between the U.S. and Africa has more than tripled since 2000 to more than $90 billion. More important, Clinton approached Africa as a partner, not just as a receiver of goodwill.

President George W. Bush went further. He launched the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the President's Malaria Initiative, and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. These programs have had a major effect. The MCC developed compacts with 13 well-governed African countries to jointly implement business projects and boost economic growth. The malaria effort targeted 15 African countries and contributed to steep declines in child mortality. PEPFAR has been invaluable in the fight against HIV/AIDS, directly saving the lives of 2.4 million people via treatment and preventing infection for millions more. And these programs did not emerge under Bush by accident, but, rather, because of high-level engagement and the president's personal commitment.

In contrast, most of Obama's high-profile efforts have been washouts.