Journal 04/30/2012 (a.m.)

    • I have news for you: Economic growth leads to lower birth rates. In that  sense, it is self limiting. And it happens regardless of the culture.  Actually, increasing wealth and liberalism seem to reinforce each other, so  liberalism (as in the Enlightenment) may be a cause of shrinking birth rates,  but only because it tends to make societies richer.

      A bigger question  is: why is growth so holy, and why would population decline be so awful, if done  peacefully? Yes, the young generation in Japan face a terrible burden in caring  for their elders, but it will last a generation or two, and then things will  balance out. Meanwhile, is it worse than the suffering inflicted by the land  and water wars of Africa, or the Cultural Revolution, or the millenniums of  slaughter in the name of religion? They will get through it, and Japan will  still be a relatively rich and peaceful country. It is not as obvious one can  say the same for us.

    • These trends are forging a society that sometimes evokes the infertile Britain  in James’s dystopia. Japan has one of the  highest suicide rates in the developed world, and there were rashes of Internet-enabled  group suicides in the last decade. Rental “relatives” are available for  sparsely attended wedding parties; so-called “babyloids” — furry dolls that  mimic infant sounds — are being developed for lonely seniors; and Japanese  researchers are at the forefront of efforts to build robots  that resemble human babies. The younger generation includes millions of  so-called “parasite  singles” who still live with (and off) their parents, and perhaps hundreds  of thousands of the “hikikomori”  — “young adults,” Eberstadt writes, “who shut themselves off almost entirely by  retreating into a friendless life of video games, the Internet and manga  (comics) in their parents’ home.”
    • Considering the size of Japan and the number of people that live there, I’m  thinking Mr. Douthat has kind of missed the point. Imagine if the U.S had the  population density of Japan. Would we be having 2 children per household and be  welcoming immigrants?
    • There is a highly revealing graffiti war going on here pitting opponents of  Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his Lebanese ally, the Hezbollah leader  Hassan Nasrallah, on one side and their Lebanese and Syrian supporters on the  other. Assad and Nasrallah have long called themselves “the resistance” to  Israel, using that to build their legitimacy and to justify arming themselves  against their own people. What is stunning to me is how much their masks have  now been ripped off by their own people. It is written on the tenement walls  around Beirut. The  latest collection includes slogans like “The resistance is only resisting  our freedom,” or Assad’s picture above the words “Step here” and “The one who  kills his own people is a traitor.”
    • The Syrian uprising, it is crucial to remember, began  as a nonviolent protest by young men over corruption in the Syrian town of  Dara’a, for which they were brutally tortured. It stayed remarkably nonviolent,  nonsectarian for months, under the slogan “Silmiya, Silmiya.” (Or Peaceful,  Peaceful.) It was deliberately turned into a civil war by Assad. Syrian  opposition activists here in Beirut make clear that Assad opened fire on unarmed  demonstrators, hoping to provoke a violent backlash. Then he could argue that  this was not a peaceful democratic revolt but a sectarian revolt by Syria’s  Sunni Muslim majority, aimed at ousting Assad’s ruling Alawite/Shiite minority  and its allies. To some degree, it worked: Now we have a democratic struggle  intertwined with a sectarian one.

       

      This is why some Lebanese and Syrian activists here  believe that — though it’s a long shot — it is still worth giving time for the  U.N. envoy Kofi Annan’s effort to consolidate a cease-fire and put 300 Arab  observers inside Syria, because it might create the space for the nonviolent,  nonsectarian, democratic protests to re-emerge. These are the real threat to the  regime. It may take longer, but remember: The bloodier and more sectarian the  fight to depose Assad gets, the more deformed, violent and Islamist-dominated  the post-Assad regime will likely be — and the more the civil war there will  spread to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan or Iraq. That is why just arming the Syrian  opposition and standing back is a bad idea.

    • “Everyone expects these Arab revolutions to solve the problems, but what they  are actually doing is revealing the existence of all these problems that were  put in a freezer,” the Arab commentator Hazem Saghieh told me. “All these years,  the only thing that was allowed to come to the surface was that there is a  consensus on the beloved leader and animosity to Israel and imperialism. There  was no room for politics and differentiation. Behind this facade, Arab society  became rotten, and now we are seeing the return of the repressed.”
    • In Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea,” the true  identity of a princess is discovered after she spends a torturous night on top  of 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds, with a single pea lodged underneath this  pile. The desire to eat ethically is, perhaps, akin to this royal sensitivity,  as some would argue that it is a luxury of those who do have enough food to  select, in a conscious manner, their dietary patterns. But there is a more  charitable way to interpret the analogy.

       

      Ethical concerns are never problems to be resolved once and for all; they  make us uncomfortable and sometimes, when the sting of conscience is too strong,  prevent us from sleeping. Being disconcerted by a single pea to the point of  unrest is analogous to the ethical obsession, untranslatable into the language  of moral axioms and principles of righteousness.

    • Imagine a being capable of processing, remembering and sharing information —  a being with potentialities proper to it and inhabiting a world of its own.  Given this brief description, most of us will think of a human person, some will  associate it with an animal, and virtually no one’s imagination will conjure up  a plant.

       

      Since Nov. 2, however, one possible answer to the riddle is Pisumsativum, a  species colloquially known as the common pea. On that day, a team of scientists  from the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University in  Israel published the results of its peer-reviewed research, revealing that a  pea plant subjected to drought conditions communicated its stress to other such  plants, with which it shared its soil. In other words, through the roots, it  relayed to its neighbors the biochemical message about the onset of drought,  prompting them to react as though they, too, were in a similar predicament.

       

      Curiously, having received the signal, plants not directly affected by this  particular environmental stress factor were better able to withstand adverse  conditions when they actually occurred. This means that the recipients of  biochemical communication could draw on their “memories” — information stored at  the cellular level — to activate appropriate defenses and adaptive responses  when the need arose.

    • Recent findings in cellular and molecular botany mean that eating preferences,  too, must practically differentiate between vegetal what-ness and who-ness,  while striving to keep the latter intact. The work of such differentiation is  incredibly difficult because the subjectivity of plants is not centered in a  single organ or function but is dispersed throughout their bodies, from the  roots to the leaves and shoots. Nevertheless, this dispersion of vitality holds  out a promise of its own: the plasticity of plants and their wondrous capacity  for regeneration, their growth by increments, quantitative additions or  reiterations of already existing parts does little to change the form of living  beings that are neither parts nor wholes because they are not hierarchically  structured organisms.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Journal 04/29/2012 (p.m.)

    • In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was  warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of  the problem lies with the Republican Party.
    • When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible  for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
    • If our democracy is to regain its health and vitality, the culture and  ideological center of the Republican Party must change. In the short run,  without a massive (and unlikely) across-the-board rejection of the GOP at the  polls, that will not happen. If anything, Washington’s ideological divide will  probably grow after the 2012 elections.
    • In the House, some of the remaining centrist and conservative “Blue Dog”  Democrats have been targeted for extinction by redistricting, while  even ardent tea party Republicans, such as freshman Rep. Alan Nunnelee (Miss.),  have faced primary challenges from the right for being too accommodationist.
    • We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to  report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced  phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are  unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality  is portrayed to the public.
    • No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during  his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican  president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate  for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the  Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s  financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference  is striking.
    • And Mike Lofgren, a veteran Republican congressional staffer, wrote an anguished diatribe last year about why he was ending  his career on the Hill after nearly three decades. “The Republican Party is  becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative  democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely  ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe,” he wrote on the  Truthout Web site.
    • From the day he entered Congress in 1979, Gingrich had a strategy to create a  Republican majority in the House: convincing voters that the institution was so  corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the  Democratic majority. It took him 16 years, but by bringing ethics charges  against Democratic leaders; provoking them into overreactions that enraged  Republicans and united them to vote against Democratic initiatives; exploiting  scandals to create even more public disgust with politicians; and then  recruiting GOP candidates around the country to run against Washington,  Democrats and Congress, Gingrich accomplished his goal.
    • What happened? Of course, there were larger forces at work beyond the  realignment of the South. They included the mobilization of social conservatives  after the 1973Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in  1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a  congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing  blogs. But the real move to the bedrock right starts with two names: Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.
    • According to an  Associated Press analysis of data from 2011, 53.6 percent of college  graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed or, if they were lucky, merely  underemployed, which means they were in jobs for which their degrees weren’t  necessary. Philosophy majors mull questions no more existential than the proper  billowiness of the foamed milk atop a customer’s cappuccino. Anthropology majors  contemplate the tribal behavior of the youngsters who shop at the Zara where  they peddle skinny jeans.
    • Yes, many of the sorts of service-industry jobs now  available to people without higher education are less financially rewarding than  manufacturing jobs of yore, and so college has in that sense become more  imperative. And, yes, college graduates have an unemployment rate half that of  people with only high school degrees.

       

      But that figure factors in Americans who got their  diplomas and first entered the job market decades ago, and it could reflect not  just what was studied in college but the already established economic  advantages, contacts and temperaments of the kind of people who pursue and stick  with higher education.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Journal 04/27/2012 (a.m.)

    • But on the court, the Celtics display none of the selfish qualities inherent  in athletes who have been at the top of their fields for more than a decade.  With a roster that was supposedly too old and depleted, the Celtics have done  more with less. They’ve clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and  are guaranteed to finish 10 games above .500 with unheralded players like Greg  Stiemsma, Sasha Pavlovic, and Avery Bradley a major part of the rotation.  They’ve absorbed injuries to key players across the roster and moved past  near-tragic heart ailments that knocked both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox out for  the season. And they’ve done it all without whining to the media.

       

      In other words, they’re the anti-Red Sox.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Journal 04/22/2012 (a.m.)

    • Transfuge, a Parisian literary magazine, offered a harsh assessment this month:  French literature, obsessed with the past, is entering the 21st century walking  backward. Indeed, the French don’t like the 21st century, and would gladly give  it back. Their desire has its roots in a confluence of failures (the defeat in  1940 and the loss of their colonial empire) and the rejection, by other European  nations, of building a Europe à la française — France on a bigger  scale. France has become a middling power, with a mass culture and a society of  consumption like everyone else. Gaullism and Communism kept up the illusion that  a great history, a great destiny were still France’s to be had. It didn’t pan  out that way. So as the world heeds France less, the French long to shut  themselves off from it, to turn toward olden days and protect themselves.
    • The electoral campaign flattered their aspirations.  The populist candidates outdid themselves with magic formulas to get France out  of history as fast as possible. Marine Le Pen, the favorite of young voters,  promised the moon and the stars if France left the euro zone, limited employment  and social benefits to French citizens and finally drove all foreigners out.  

       

      Jean-Luc Mélenchon, that great orator, rekindled the  spirit of revolutionary mythology by summoning Robespierre, Fidel Castro, Jean  Jaurès, Hugo Chávez and Victor Hugo, while throwing to the wolves the bosses,  the bourgeois, the journalists, Wall Street and the CAC 40 index on the Paris  bourse.

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But Burton’s <br/>memo signals that Democrats are prepared to go in that direction: pointing out <br/>to the voters a range of things that Romney might not be letting them see.</p><br/><p>Among the possibilities, according to Priorities USA:</p><br/><blockquote><br/><p><u>Extent of Romney tax avoidance in the Cayman Islands</u> – Based on <br/>thorough reporting, we already know that Romney used funds based in the Cayman <br/>Islands that help him avoid paying a specific tax. This directly contradicts <br/>what the Romney Campaign told the public when confronted about Romney’s holding <br/>in the notorious tax haven. Tax records could clarify how long and to what <br/>extent Romney has been employing this technique.&nbsp;</p><br/><p><u>Unreported foreign accounts</u> – In just one year of tax returns, it was <br/>revealed that Romney had a multi-million dollar Swiss bank account as well as <br/>holdings in notorious tax havens in Europe and the Caribbean.&nbsp; Tax records <br/>would show whether Romney has a personal interest in the US Government’s efforts <br/>to crack down on foreign tax havens.</p><br/><p><u>Romney’s lowest rate</u> – In 2010, Romney was already beginning his <br/>second run for President and certainly had a team of lawyers and accountants <br/>review his tax returns. While Romney paid only 13.9% in taxes in 2010, it is <br/>likely his rate previous years was even lower, possibly even zero. Tax records <br/>would show Romney’s lowest tax rate and would provide context for his opposition <br/>to proposals like the Buffett Rule.</p></blockquote></div></div>

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Journal 04/19/2012 (a.m.)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.