McArdle believes that the budget deal is good for the GOP:
[T]actically, I think this is a clear win for the Republican Party. The last thing they need right now is to take the focus off the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and revive Obama’s flagging poll numbers with an ill-timed budget battle. Their best shot at a budget they really like is, after all, to retake the Senate in 2014.
Republicans are way over-estimating the extent to which Obamacare will be a liability for Democrats.They assume the problems of the first two months will extend indefinitely into the future—that they’re structural (flawed conceit) rather than mechanical (flawed website)—when the evidencesuggests implementation is improving by the day. By contrast, the state of the economy is typically the biggest driver of the public mood. If the economy is humming along next fall, the Democrats’ prospects (and those of incumbents generally) could look pretty damn good.
If YouTube began as America’s Funniest Home Videos, it has now become Saturday Night Live — including the commercials. The platform’s biggest hits are all produced by professionals.
The change in the way that the most popular YouTube videos are produced parallels the professionalization of blogging that has occurred in the last decade. At one point, many of the most popular blogs were run by single individuals, just because. But media companies responded by creating blogs of their own, or simply hiring bloggers or purchasing blogs. So, after a brief flowering of user-generated online media rivaling the scale and reach of professional online media, we’ve seen a retrenchment of traditional media structures.
(Video: How Animals Eat Their Food by MisterEpicMann, YouTube’s #3 video for the year with over 89 million views.)
[T]op Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg – having just done extensive polling in 86 competitive House districts — is advising Dems they should go on offense over the Affordable Care Act. The key finding: Even though voters in the battlegrounds have extreme doubts about the law, they still prefer implementing it to the GOP stance of repeal. And after a month of crushingly awful press for Obamacare, opinions on this matter in the battlegrounds have barely budged since October.
Going on the offensive would be long overdue and desperately needed. Tomasky predicts that “HealthCare.gov is going to be a net plus for Obama and the Democrats”:
The Ryan-Murray deal will likely pass, despite opposition from the professional conservative movement, because it’s tiny enough to be uncontroversial while helping Republican leaders avert serious internal problems with the budget process. Ryan has given it his blessing, and as one Republican leadership aide puts it, “Paul Ryan is the Jesus of our conference.”
Albert R. Hunt sees the deal hurting Ryan’s chances for the presidency:
Howard Gleckman parses the bill that the House will vote on today. He notes that it “effectively would do nothing to reduce the deficit—the stated goal of many Republicans—or stimulate economic growth—the wish of many Democrats including President Obama”:
However, it would break—temporarily at least– the cycle of fiscal brinksmanship that has largely paralyzed Washington. The constant threat of government shutdowns—and the reality of one last fall—created uncertainty in the business community, made it impossible for the Federal Reserve to begin slowing its bond buying program, and completely disrupted other policymaking. If this deal is accepted, there will be no more shutdowns until at least October, 2015.
[P]erhaps the most stark reminder of how things have changed in Washington over the past few years is to look at the revised spending figure for discretionary spending in fiscal 2014—the one agreed upon by Ryan and Murray, which includes the give-backs from the sequester. It’s $1.012 trillion. (This number doesn’t include mandatory spending on Medicare, Social Security, or interest payments on the national debt.) That’s slightly more than the Republican negotiators wanted. But as Stein and Linden point out in a chart accompanying their analysis, it’s twenty-seven billion dollars less than Ryan proposed in his 2011 budget, which, at the time, was widely agreed to be so draconian it was unrealistic.
Yesterday, as we noted in our FOTD, India’s Supreme Court overturned a ruling legalizing gay sex, leaving it to Parliament to decide on the issue. Sonal Bhadoria’s reaction:
The verdict has been shocking on many levels. Firstly, landing a major blow to India’s claim of being a country with a modern outlook, the fact a law made by Britishers in the 1860′s has been upheld in 2013 makes for a strange sentence. Secondly, with many countries now equating gay equality with the rights for same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court ruling puts India back in the company of most nations in the Islamic world and many African countries which criminalise homosexuality. The only country in South Asia where gay sex is now legal is Nepal. “It is highly embarrassing for the country because now we will be among the dirty dozens of the world,” said Narayan, the lawyer from the Alternative Law Forum.
Gwynn Guilford notes that an “obvious factor keeping homosexuality illegal in many of these countries is Islam”:
Take for instance the countries that punish gay sex with death: Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and parts of Nigeria and Somalia. Some—Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia—inherited British colonial anti-gay laws. But they too instituted the death penalty long after independence—most in the last 40 years—in line with Islamic sharia law. Many of the other 76 countries with severe anti-gay laws are also Islamic states.
India, however, isn’t. And before the British invasion, it was much more tolerant of homosexuality. So why would India and so many other ex-colonial countries cling so tightly to the moral whims of Victorian Englishmen that were never their own?
One reason might be that morality codes give governments a way to build a national identity around shared values, often as a foil to permissive Western countries. But a more prosaic one is that anti-gay laws are also a handy way to fortify state control (as is now happening in Russia).
Erik Voeten made the above chart showing that India is now the most gay-friendly country where homosexuality is criminalized:
One concern is, of course, that if international precedents indeed matter, then other courts may use the Indian case as a precedent for their own decisions to preserve criminalization or overturn previous decisions to decriminalize.
TNC defends Mandela’s refusal to denounce necessary bloodshed:
Offered the chance to be free by the avowed white supremacist P.W. Botha if he would renounce violence, Mandela replied, “Let him renounce violence.” Americans should understand this. Violent resistance to tyranny, violent defense of one’s body, is not simply a political strategy in our country, it is taken as a basic human right. Our own revolution was purchased with the blood of 22,000 nascent American dead. Dissenters were tarred and feathered. American independence and American power has never rested on nonviolence, but on the willingness to do great—at times existential—violence.
The first thing that jumps out is that the nine states with the highest enrollment by share of population all run their own exchanges — which, in general, have been working much better than Healthcare.gov, the federally-run exchange. The 14 states running their own exchanges are indicated in red on the graph.
Vermont has, by far, the highest rate of sign ups as a share of its population: 0.8%. It’s followed by Connecticut, Kentucky and California. Because of its large population, California accounts for about 30% of total Obamacare sign-ups, at 107,087. New York, another state running its own exchange, has provided more than 45,000 enrollments.
Nationally, only 0.12% of Americans signed up for private health insurance made available by the Affordable Care Act between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30; that figure must rise to 2.2% for the Obama Administration to reach its goal of 7 million sign-ups by March 31.
[T]here is wide disparity across states — and a lot of that can be traced to HealthCare.gov’s problems. California (107,087) has enrolled almost as many people in private coverage as the 36 states served by the federal site combined. Kentucky (13,145), which built its own site, has enrolled almost as many people as Texas (14,038), which relied on the feds.
Jennifer Kirby explores the motivations and challenges of American would-be parents who seek to conceive using surrogates in foreign countries:
India is one of a few countries, though perhaps the most popularized, where commercial surrogacy is legal. The country emerged as a “hotspot” in part because of lower costs and laws passed in 2002 allowing commercial surrogacy. In the U.S., surrogacy can cost between $80,000 and $150,000, while in India it ranges from $20,000 to $60,000, depending on the types of services and the clinic. That amount rarely includes unforeseen expenses like surrogate hospitalizations, or the basic travel costs such as flight and hotel stay. Yet those “savings can be the difference between being a parent and not being a parent for a lot of people,” says Kathryn Kaycoff Manos, founder of Global IVF, a resource for fertility tourists…
William R. Polk provides an in-depth explanation of the origins of the crisis, connecting it to the food shortages that preceded it:
Four years of devastating drought beginning in 2006 caused at least 800,000 farmers to lose their entire livelihood and about 200,000 simply abandoned their lands, according to the Center for Climate & Security. In some areas, all agriculture ceased. In others, crop failures reached 75 percent. And generally as much as 85 percent of livestock died of thirst or hunger. Hundreds of thousands of Syria’s farmers gave up, abandoned their farms, and fled to the cities and towns in search of almost non-existent jobs and severely short food supplies. Outside observers including UN experts estimated that between 2 and 3 million of Syria’s 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to “extreme poverty.”
As they flocked into the cities and towns seeking work and food, the “economic” or “climate” refugees immediately found that they had to compete not only with one another for scarce food, water, and jobs, but also with the existing foreign refugee population. Syria was already a refuge for a quarter of a million Palestinians and about 100,000 Iraqis who had fled the war and occupation. Formerly prosperous farmers were lucky to get jobs as hawkers or street sweepers. And in the desperation of the times, hostilities erupted among groups that were competing just to survive…
Reviewing a new biography of chemist and writer Primo Levi, William Giraldi attempts to understand how the man could stoically survive the Holocaust yet ultimately cut his own life short:
Levi had a difficult time fully trusting the chrysalis of civilization after Auschwitz. He was a man of unflinching probity who never succumbed to the cutthroat Hobbesian conception of human striving, or to that toxic strain of bitterness which contaminated and ultimately ended the writer Jean Améry (also a Shoah survivor and suicide). But there is sometimes in Levi’s work the itchy suspicion that the hell could happen again, or that it never really ended. Beneath that unperturbed and almost placid prose creeps a fatalism, a capitulation before the vastitude and depravity of what he named “the demolition of man.” The stupefied silence before this vastitude and depravity is part of why his work remains ever pregnant and never born, because “our language lacks words to express this offense.”
What Levi would never understand was the willing remove of the Germans from their fellow humanity. The ability to look—for years on end—at a human being and see not a person but a thing became and remained for Levi the crime of crimes. Yet for this, he very nearly blamed not the Germans but life itself. After all, if thousands upon thousands of people were capable of not seeing themselves in others, could this capacity be anything other than innate? Life itself, he concluded, was to be pronounced guilty for having made possible such a monstrous divide within the human organism. This pronouncement became the unyielding indictment—enlarged upon many times in books, essays and stories—that made Primo Levi one of the greatest of the Holocaust writers.
A recent set of experiments found that a majority of skilled typists failed to “map more than an average of 15 keys on a QWERTY keyboard”:
The basic theory of “automatic learning” … asserts that people learn actions for skill-based work consciously and store the details of why and how in their short-term memory. Eventually the why and how of a certain action fades, but the performative action remains. However, in the case of typing, it appears that we don’t even store the action—that is, we have little to no “explicit knowledge” of the keyboard. In the first experiment conducted, the typists averaging 72 wpm and 94 percent accuracy were given 80 seconds to write letters in the correct places on a QWERTY keyboard. On average, they got 57 percent right and 22.3 percent wrong, and they forgot the rest.
In a second experiment, the researchers showed participants a simulation in which a key on a blank keyboard would be highlighted, and the participant would have to name which letter it was. Participants hardly performed better at this test, getting the keys right only around 55 percent of the time on the first try. Participants who were allowed to mime typing on the picture where the key was did slightly better, with just over 65 percent on the first try.
A generation ago film composers took a different approach when they wanted a score to sound significant. Compared to [composer John] Murphy’s “Adagio [in D Minor],” David Newman’s score from “Hoffa” sounds cloying: at the two-and-a-half minute mark, the orchestra overstates its case with high notes and a cacophony of percussion. Randy Edelman’s corny, relentless “Fire in a Movie Theater” sounds dated—anyone who went to the movies in the 1990s will wince when they hear the opening bars. There are some film scores that still sound fresh—James Horner’s score for “Aliens” is pulverizing, and John Williams’ work will always stand the test of time—yet there has been a sea change in film scores from complexity toward simplicity. This is because composers trust canny audiences to feel an emotional response when abstracted melodies contain an aural space for significance (or what feels like significance).
I talked about the power of simplicity with composer Nicholas Britell, who composed all the musical arrangements performed by Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in “12 Years a Slave.” … After studying neuromusicology at Harvard, Britell became deeply aware of, “patterns that trigger cascades of feeling.” … I asked Britell to give an illustrative example of powerful music.
Andrew Cohen contends that “no one who digs deeply into these grim cases ever seems to evolve from being a staunch opponent of capital punishment into being a fervent supporter of the practice.” He discusses three Supreme Court justices who changed from pro- to anti-death penalty:
Commenting on Susan Boyle’s revelation that she has Asperger’s Syndrome, Alyssa notes the proliferation of TV characters with autism spectrum disorders and the misconceptions they reinforce:
Many of these depictions of fictional people with variants of autism paint them as savants. I understand this tendency, because it’s a way to give people on the spectrum both dignity and work that they can do as part of a show’s plot mechanics, whether separately or part of a team. But it’s not as if getting diagnosed as somewhere on the autism spectrum is a one-way ticket to genius with side effects.
Often, they are products of the marginality of the people who speak them. Every group that is, in some way, set apart from a dominant, settled society because of ethnicity, caste, or profession—whether Jews, Gypsies, tinkers, peddlers, beggars—is liable over time either to retain its original tongue or, by dint of exclusion, to develop a language of its own. This holds for crooks as well. David W. Maurer, the 20th century’s leading student of American underworld slang, reported in The Big Con that most of his criminal informants were “amused at the idea that crooks are supposed to deceive people with their lingo.” Maurer spent decades studying the specialized language of pickpockets, con men, drug users, safecrackers, counterfeiters, and moonshiners and found that in most cases their individual cant or argot was simply a mark of their profession, “a union card … which takes several years to acquire and which is difficult to counterfeit.”
In another review of Dark Tongues, Elizabeth Schambelan highlights the possible connection between subversive slang and poetry:
Permitting miscreants to communicate about subversive modes of life and thought while leaving squares and suckers none the wiser, underworld jargons are “arms or shields employed by the dangerous classes of modernity,” Heller-Roazen asserts. … [He points] out that cant is nowhere attested before the Middle Ages, which means that it apparently found its way into poetry (specifically, François Villon’s ballads) almost as soon as it was invented. There may be “some hidden link between the two hermetic forms of speech, which makes of verse a kind of idlers’ talk, or jargon some variety of poetry,” he speculates, and intriguingly shows that cant’s lexical, phonetic, and syntactical operations satisfy Paul Valéry’s definition of poetry, in that they instigate a “prolonged hesitation between sound and sense.”
Rick Doblin, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). He received his doctorate in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he wrote his dissertation on the regulation of the medical uses of psychedelics and marijuana and his Master’s thesis on a survey of oncologists about smoked marijuana vs. the oral THC pill in nausea control for cancer patients. His undergraduate thesis at New College of Florida was a 25-year follow-up to the classic Good Friday Experiment, which evaluated the potential of psychedelic drugs to catalyze religious experiences.
His professional goal is to help develop legal contexts for the beneficial uses of psychedelics and marijuana, primarily as prescription medicines but also for personal growth for otherwise healthy people, and eventually to become a legally licensed psychedelic therapist. He founded MAPS in 1986, and currently resides in Boston with his wife and three children.
Our extensive coverage of the spiritual and therapeutic benefits of psychedelics is here (or, in chronological order, here).
Christopher Benfey explores the English writer’s “four-year sojourn in Vermont, from 1892 to 1896, [which] was a remarkably productive period for this versatile poet and short-story writer, and established patterns, aesthetic and political, for much that came later”:
During his American interlude, Kipling initiated his lifelong practice of adding verse epigraphs to stories, and sometimes verse epilogues and interludes as well, knitting whole books together with an alternating current of verse and prose. The main inspiration, as Charles Carrington, Kipling’s official biographer, pointed out long ago, was probably Emerson, an overwhelming influence on Kipling’s poetry and prose. It was in The Jungle Books, written in 1893 and 1894, that Kipling first systematically adopted a complicated mix of poetry and prose. Much of the main narrative of the book is built on a contrast between upholders of “The Law,” inculcated by Mowgli’s tutors, the kindly bear Baloo and the severe panther Bagheera, and those who undermine the Law—above all, the monkeys, or “Bandar-Log,” whose herd mentality prevents them from accomplishing anything of significance. Much has been written about The Jungle Books (with Kipling’s encouragement) as in part a political allegory, in which the monkeys figure as American populists, always promising great things and achieving nothing.
Robert Gottlieb flips through a new collection of Leonard Bernstein’s letters, bringing us a portrait of the musical icon away from the bandstand:
Letters came easily to the young Bernstein—he’s as fluent a writer as he’s fluent at everything else—and he understands how self-centered he is. (To his great pal Kenny Ehrman, he once said, “Who do I think I am, everybody?” To Helen Coates, first his piano teacher, later, and for decades, his assistant, guide, life-support system: “Before I forget myself and write an ‘I’ letter, I want to wish you a very pleasant summer.” He pours out his heart to just about everybody. He’s met the perfect girl (boy). He’s written this, he’s done that. So-and-so complimented him, so-and-so is giving him a hand up. Always there’s the assumption that anyone he’s writing to wants to know everything about him—a narcissism that’s normal, even touching, in a young man, but less so in a (supposedly) mature one. Think how he would have taken to blogging! …
[B]y the 1970s, his life as a homosexual had become flamboyantly open, to [his wife's] increasing distress. He was now immensely famous and powerful, and he cast off all restraints—the self-regard he had always exhibited had hardened into unmitigated narcissism. Burton reports that Paul Bowles, a very old friend meeting him after many years, thought that “he had become ‘smarmy’ and ‘false’; ‘a small crumb of what he once had been.’ His success had been ‘painfully destructive’ of his personality. It was,” [biographer Humphrey] Burton remarks, “a chilling assessment,” and the letters validate it.
(Video: Bernstein rehearses with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1982)