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Happy Bard Day

Apr 23 2014 @ 7:52pm

Daniel Hannan notes the occasion:

Four-hundred-and-fifty years ago today, in a village in the West Midlands, the greatest imaginative intelligence evolved by our species was born. Lawrence Olivier called Shakespeare “the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God”. John Dryden wrote that, of all the poets, “he had the largest and most comprehensive soul”. Thomas Carlyle asserted, “I know not such a power of vision, such a faculty of thought, if we take all the characters of it, in any other man.” For Harold Bloom, “Bardolatry, the worship of Shakespeare, ought to be even more a secular religion than it already is. The plays remain the outward limit of human achievement: aesthetically, cognitively, in certain ways morally, even spiritually.”

Bob Duggan traces the spread of bardolatry:

Once the modern taste for the individual took hold … Shakespeare found a home beyond England’s shores. American colonists staged plays by Shakespeare as early as 1750. “There is hardly a pioneer’s hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835 in Democracy in America. From the very beginning of the American experiment in democracy, Shakespeare and his individualized characters inspired a government of, by, and for the people, to paraphrase the Gettysburg Address of that notorious Shakespeare lover Abraham Lincoln. As kings fell and democracies rose throughout Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, Shakespeare (often in vernacular translation) showed the way, sometimes in the form of music, as in Giuseppe Verdi’s operas Otello and Falstaff, which provided the popular soundtrack to the political movement by which modern Italy was born.

Noting that Virginia Woolf wrote “man has Shakespeare & women have not” in an early draft of To the Lighthouse, Stefanie Peters considers what the playwright’s works have meant for women:

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A Pivotal Visit?

Apr 23 2014 @ 6:31pm

As Obama begins an East Asian tour, Keating asks whether the much-touted “pivot to Asia” is a real thing:

[T]here doesn’t seem to be much evidence that the administration is spending more of its energy on Asia, or less of it on the Middle East, than it did previously. As Gideon Rachman argues, the fact that the pivot hasn’t been much in evidence doesn’t mean that the idea wasn’t a sound one. The Pacific is an area of growing strategic and economic importance and the U.S. position still carries a significant amount of weight there.

But the fact is that more attention tends to be paid to the places where things are blowing up on a regular basis. Thankfully, despite tensions running high on the Korean peninsula and the East China Sea, Asia is not yet that place. But it means that the region is often going to be pushed to the back-burner when more obvious crises present themselves

Dan Blumenthal thinks the pivot was a bad idea from the get-go:

Yes, Asia is of emerging consequence in world affairs. All post-Cold War presidents have recognized this. And China has had the potential to pose the greatest challenge to the United States since it became the prime actor in world affairs. Without a doubt, Asia needs more U.S. attention and resources. But the United States is a global superpower with vital interests in several interlinked regions. There can be no Asia policy without a global strategy.

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Clapper’s Clampdown

Apr 23 2014 @ 5:14pm


Jack Shafer criticizes the gag order (seen above) that James Clapper recently placed on the entire intel community:

The nation’s top spy has prohibited all of his spies from talking with reporters about “intelligence-related information” unless officially authorized to speak. … Directive 119 increases the insularity of the national security state, making the public less safe, not more. Until this directive was issued, intelligence community employees could provide subtext and context for the stories produced by the national security press without breaking the law. Starting now, every news story about the national security establishment that rates disfavor with the national security establishment — no matter how innocuous — will rate a full-bore investigation of sources by authorities.

Tina Nguyen has more on how far the order extends:

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Kidnapped In Slovyansk

Apr 23 2014 @ 3:40pm

Pro-Russian forces in the eastern Ukrainian city have abducted American reporter Simon Ostrovsky (whose latest Vice dispatch from Slovyansk is above):

Ostrovsky, a veteran reporter for a number of outlets, had been filing regular video reports from the region for Vice, including the one above on Ukrainian forces’ botched attempts to retake Slovyansk, which was posted on Sunday. This just the latest is a series of attacks on the press by pro-Russian forces in the area, including the arrest of journalist and activist Irma Krat. [Ostrovsky's cameraman Frederick] Paxton himself was beaten by a pro-Russian crowd last week. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple cases of journalists being “assaulted, detained, or obstructed from reporting” in Russian-controlled Crimea.

It seems the insurgents have no plans to release him anytime soon:

“He’s with us. He’s fine,” [the group's spokeswoman] Stella Khorosheva told The Associated Press, adding, “(We) need to be careful because this is not the first time we’re dealing with spies.” Khorosheva also told The Daily Beast that Ostrovsky is being held according to the “laws of war” because “he was not reporting in a correct way.”

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John Cassidy worries that yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling in Schuette will have widespread consequences:

Without saying so explicitly, [the ruling] appeared to give its approval to ballot initiatives designed to roll back affirmative action in other areas as well, such as hiring employees, awarding contracts—and ending racial segregation. In effect—and, in the case of the Court’s conservatives, surely in intention, too—the justices on the majority suggested that if voters in individual states want to throw out laws designed to counter America’s long history of racial discrimination, that’s fine by them, and perfectly constitutional.

Bazelon is disturbed by what she sees as Roberts’ blindness to the enduring problem of racism in America:

I still think there is a difference between a local ordinance that bans busing or fair housing, which aim for equal treatment, and a ballot initiative that takes away a preference based on race. That’s how I made my peace with the outcome today. But I had my doubts when I got to a telling exchange between Roberts and Sotomayor. It’s over the basic underlying question that is nowhere resolved in this case: Whether affirmative action—or any awareness of race—is still needed or valid. …

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Dirty Corn

Apr 23 2014 @ 3:02pm

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Corn stover, or the stuff left over when a corn crop is harvested, has become a popular source of biofuel, partly because it doesn’t affect the food supply the way that corn or sugar-based ethanol does. Unfortunately, this type of fuel may actually have a bigger carbon footprint than gasoline:

It used to be that the stalks, leaves, and detrital cobs would be left on fields to prevent soil erosion and to allow the next crop to feast on the organic goodness of its late brethren. Increasingly, though, these leftovers are being sent to cellulosic ethanol biorefineries. Millions of gallons of biofuels are expected to be produced from such waste this year — a figure could rise to more than 10 billion gallons in 2022 to satisfy federal requirements.

But a new study suggests this approach may be worse for the climate, at least in the short term, than drilling for oil and burning the refined gasoline. The benefits of cellulosic biofuel made from corn waste improve over the longer term, but the study, published online Sunday in Nature Climate Change, suggests that the fuel could never hit the benchmark set in the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which requires that cellulosic ethanol be 60 percent better for the climate than traditional gasoline.

Michael Byrne explains what the problem is:

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Chris Hayes compares the fight against fossil fuels to the abolitionist movement. He states plainly that “there is absolutely no conceivable moral comparison between the enslavement of Africans and African-Americans and the burning of carbon to power our devices.” But he sees economic parallels:

[I]n the decades before the Civil War, the economic value of slavery explodes. It becomes the central economic institution and source of wealth for a region experiencing a boom that succeeded in raising per capita income and concentrating wealth ever more tightly in the hands of the Southern planter class. During this same period, the rhetoric of the planter class evolves from an ambivalence about slavery to a full-throated, aggressive celebration of it. As slavery becomes more valuable, the slave states find ever more fulsome ways of praising, justifying and celebrating it. Slavery increasingly moves from an economic institution to a cultural one; it becomes a matter of identity, of symbolism—indeed, in the hands of the most monstrously adept apologists, a thing of beauty.

And yet, at the very same time, casting a shadow over it all is the growing power of the abolition movement in the North and the dawning awareness that any day might be slavery’s last. So that, on the eve of the war, slavery had never been more lucrative or more threatened. That also happens to be true of fossil fuel extraction today. …

[T]he parallel I want to highlight is between the opponents of slavery and the opponents of fossil fuels. Because the abolitionists were ultimately successful, it’s all too easy to lose sight of just how radical their demand was at the time: that some of the wealthiest people in the country would have to give up their wealth. That liquidation of private wealth is the only precedent for what today’s climate justice movement is rightly demanding: that trillions of dollars of fossil fuel stay in the ground. It is an audacious demand, and those making it should be clear-eyed about just what they’re asking. They should also recognize that, like the abolitionists of yore, their task may be as much instigation and disruption as it is persuasion.

He goes on to argue that avoiding “planetary disaster will mean forcing fossil fuel companies to give up at least $10 trillion in wealth.” Barro sees “reason for somewhat less despair than Mr. Hayes shows, because there are crucial political and economic differences between abolition and carbon limitations”:

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A timely reminder of how old the struggle for marriage equality really is in the US:

And this is how revolutions begin:

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The debate over Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century continues to rage throughout the blogosphere. Weissmann thinks it will be the millennials’ liberal manifesto:

Conservatives have long had an easy framework for their economic ideas: The free market cures all. Liberals, instead of nebulously arguing that they’re fighting for the middle class, now have a touchstone that clearly argues they’re fighting against the otherwise inevitable rise of the Hiltons.

Capital will change the political conversation in a more subtle way as well, by focusing it on wealth, not income. Discussions about income can become very muddy, in part because Americans don’t like to begrudge a well-earned payday, and in part because it can be tricky to decide what should count as income. If you start adding health insurance and government transfers such as food stamps into the equation, as some do, the top 1 percent don’t dominate quite so severely.

Wealth is a different story. Americans don’t like the idea of aristocrats—there’s a reason campaigning politicians bring up family farms and steel mills, not Shelter Island vacation homes, when they run for office. Moreover, you can’t save food stamps or a health plan, and because wealth only includes what you can save, it’s a measure of who wins in the economy over the long term.

Robert M. Solow supports Piketty’s proposal for a global wealth tax:

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Why Rand Paul Matters

Apr 23 2014 @ 1:23pm

David Corn, who dug up the video footage above, notes:

These days, Paul, who is stuck in a civil war within the GOP over foreign policy issues, is trying to Reaganize himself and demonstrate that he’s not outside the Republican mainstream. (His Senate office did not respond to requests for comment.) But not long ago, Reagan was a foil for Paul, who routinely pointed out that the GOP’s most revered figure actually had been a letdown. It’s no surprise that denigrating Ronald Reagan—and commending Jimmy Carter—is no longer common for Paul. Such libertarian straight talk would hardly help him become one of the successors to the last Republican president who retains heroic stature within the party Paul wants to win over.

For me, though, these clips make Paul’s candidacy more appealing, not less. What the GOP needs is an honest, stringent account of how it has ended up where it is – a party that has piled on more debt than was once thought imaginable and until recently, has done nothing much to curtail federal spending. Reagan was a great president in many ways, as Paul says explicitly in these clips.

But Reagan introduced something truly poisonous into American conservatism.

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Capital Accounting

Apr 23 2014 @ 12:42pm

Piketty’s new book is already a huge financial success:

The unlikely bestseller, clocking in at nearly 700 pages, is already serving as an interesting case study for modern book publishing. One of the hallmarks of the book’s success is that it is sold out on Amazon, even though there is a digital version available on Kindle, too. … “You can have it on your e-book reader, but that’s not the same as having the book,” said [Harvard University Press sales and marketing director Susan] Donnelly. “I’m not saying this book is a Tiffany’s bag, but nobody goes to Tiffany’s and buys something and doesn’t get that little blue bag. I think there’s still some of that about books.”

The bestseller is already poised to become the most popular book ever for Harvard University Press. Donnelly predicts it will become akin to another classic for the publisher, John Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice.”

Yglesias points out that the book’s success is itself an example of inequality:

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The Senate Could Go Either Way

Apr 23 2014 @ 12:22pm

Senate Odds

The Upshot calculates the Democrats’ current chances of holding the Senate:

Every day, our computer churns through the latest polls and reams of historical data to calculate both parties’ chances of winning control of the Senate. Although the Democrats currently have a 51 percent chance, that doesn’t mean we’re predicting the Democrats to win the Senate — the probability is essentially the same as a coin flip.

Nate Cohn looks at the role incumbency plays:

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The “War” In Global Warming

Apr 23 2014 @ 11:20am

Last month, in an op-ed for Fox News, retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley made a national security-based case for worrying about climate change. Eric Holthaus interviews Titley about his belief that the changing climate will be a main driving force for conflict in the 21st century:

Q. What’s the worst-case scenario, in your view?

A. … You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.

Here’s another one: We basically do nothing on emissions. Sea level keeps rising, three to six feet by the end of the century. Then, you get a series of super-typhoons into Shanghai and millions of people die. Does the population there lose faith in Chinese government? Does China start to fissure? I’d prefer to deal with a rising, dominant China any day.

Titley thinks it’s time for conservatives to start grappling with the problem:

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The $84,000 Cure

Apr 23 2014 @ 10:36am

Earlier this month, Polly Mosendz covered the debate over Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi:

[I]nsurers cannot stand this life saving, revolutionary medication. That’s because it runs $1,000 a day and the average patient requires a 12-week treatment of Sovaldi.That’s $84,000 for one cycle. For patients with a strain that is more difficult to treat, the regiment is 24 weeks. That comes in at $168,000. It is projected to rake in between $5 billion and $9 billion in profits in the United States this year alone. There are an estimated 4 million Americans with Hepatitis C, and 15,000 are killed each year by untreated chronic infections.

Unfortunately, there is not much insurers can do about the price. A comparable drug is not yet on the market.

Dr. Frank Huyler fumes:

The low cost of manufacturing the drug means that it can be sold all over the world. Only the price varies, and that price is set by Gilead executives and protected by patent law and the FDA. At the moment, Gilead has a monopoly.

In poor countries, such as Egypt, they can’t sell many $1,000 pills. But they can sell a lot of $10 pills. So that’s how much Sovaldi costs in Egypt — and Gilead Sciences is still making a profit. Thanks to the FDA, the Egyptian version of the drug can’t be imported.

This sort of blood money is nothing new. But it is among the worst of recent examples; yet another evil act, yet another predation on mostly poor, mostly desperate people, who inevitably will ask taxpayers to save them.

“Blood money?” “Evil act?” I have to say I find that rhetoric appalling.

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Cuteness In Captivity, Ctd

Apr 23 2014 @ 10:02am

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Unlike Bert Archer, Rachel Lu loves the zoo (joined by several readers below):

I’m confident [our local zoo] will linger in my kids’ memories as one of the most beloved places of their childhood. I joke to my friends that we’re “zoo junkies” because we generally visit once a week. Those animals are like old friends to my kids, and I’ve outlined many an article from the bench of the monkey house on a quiet winter afternoon. When there are no other visitors, the monkeys will sometimes come down and interact with the boys from the other side of the glass. …

When we see animals in real life, we get a perspective on the natural world that we just can’t get through television.

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