31 August, 2013

The Belgravia Dispatch: Make It Stop

The Belgravia Dispatch: Make It Stop:
Several days ago I wrote I was extremely conflicted on the question of punitive action in Syria, but no longer. I am now staunchly opposed having better detected an utter lack of true seriousness by the Obama Administration. The myriad leaks around what type of mission, the palpable trigger-happiness among some, the British debacle (they won't even have their poodle this time, the cat-calls will ring!) and the ‘shot across the bow’ nonsense showcases an Administration unready for an invigorated course correction of its flailing Syria policy. Frankly, I am astonished by the lack of seriousness and mediocrity on display. Our NSA Advisor has taken to Twitter to issue inanely faux-imperious pronunciamentos that would embarrass prior occupants of the office like Kissinger, Brzezinski, or Scowcroft, while abdicating an inter-agency coordination role that would actually bottoms-up a credible policy (memo to Susan Rice: calling foreign leaders to lobby coalitions is the easy work—if their Parliaments are another matter--having a convincing strategic end-game the true value-add, so perhaps you might tweet about the former less often). Defense Secretary Hagel is likely biting his tongue and saluting best he can but fundamentally opposed. And I don’t even need to speculate about what CJCS Martin Dempsey is thinking. Secretary of State Kerry, with respect, will be pulled in too many directions and himself is opposed to the pin-prick approach, which is essentially what is in the offing. In short, the team is not ready for prime time. 

A hyperbolic argument rooted in truth

Is It Evil to Send Your Kids to Private School?� - Bloomberg: Now, Benedikt could lecture you until the cows came home about your moral obligation to public schooling, but you still wouldn’t leave your kids in a school where the teachers were being set on fire (and neither, I imagine, would Benedikt). If you couldn’t send your kids to private school, you’d just move. That, in fact, is what happened to most urban school systems; any resident who had any means at all picked up and moved outside the city’s borders, beyond the legal limits of busing so that there could be no question of bused students importing these problems to their kids’ schools.

Orchestras in Crisis: Outreach is Ruining Them | New Republic

Orchestras in Crisis: Outreach is Ruining Them | New Republic: In short, orchestras became more like newspapers than Internet start-ups, with huge fixed costs and a distressing dependency on consumer loyalty and on habits that proved fickle. The subscription model failed to keep up with rapidly changing demographic patterns, with the blandishments of the emerging entertainment economy, and with younger audiences—whose heterodox taste included classical music as only a part of their musical interest—unwilling to commit to a block of Thursday-night concerts. During the flush years, including the 1990s, when many orchestras raised more than adequate cash to cover costs, musician contracts became more generous, leaving a legacy of obligations that continues to stress budgets. At some point—no one can agree quite when, with some citing the rapid expansion of the Internet more than a decade ago and others blaming the economic crisis of 2008—the trend away from the subscription model and new financial pressures converged, and a sense of crisis set in.

30 August, 2013

Obama Is About to Undermine His Mideast Doctrine - Bloomberg

Obama Is About to Undermine His Mideast Doctrine - Bloomberg: The crucial first lesson of the Bush presidency for Obama was simple: Disentangle the U.S. from Iraq, and then Afghanistan. He has pursued this policy of disentanglement with great vigor, even in the face of obvious evidence that U.S. withdrawal from these nations could well have consequences that will one day force America to re-engage. Short-term, and particularly domestically, these policies have been successful.

The second prong of the Doctrine of Disentanglement is to avoid new entanglements.

Obama was tempted to try to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but quickly thought better of it (the peace process now taking place in fits and starts is the secretary of state John Kerry’s idea, and largely John Kerry’s problem, should it fail.) Obama participated (from behind, of course) in the liberation of Libya only because it seemed at the time like a clean mission, but, again, he soon learned better: He did not receive the thanks of a grateful America for helping to defeat Muammar Qaddafi, and he suffered personally and politically because of the subsequent attack on the American mission in Benghazi.

29 August, 2013

Restraining Order - By Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy

Restraining Order - By Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy: The rumored air strikes would drag the United States across a major threshold of direct military involvement, without any serious prospect of ending the conflict or protecting Syrian civilians (at least from non-chemical attacks). They likely would not accomplish more than momentarily appeasing the whimsical gods of credibility. The attack would almost certainly lack a Security Council mandate. Meanwhile, the response from Arab public opinion to another U.S. military intervention has been predictably hostile; even the very Arab leaders who have been aggressively pushing for such military action are refraining from openly supporting it. And nobody really believes that such strikes will actually work.

Syria is not Iraq (but at least the Iraq War had a clear objective) � Spectator Blogs

Syria is not Iraq (but at least the Iraq War had a clear objective) � Spectator Blogs: In other words, what if spanking Assad does not work? How far are we prepared to go? What do we do next? And, for that matter, what great difference does it make to the Syrian people if they are killed by chemical weapons or by “conventional” arms? Upon what grounds do we make that moral distinction ourselves? Chemical weapons are horrifying; so is war. Is it worse for 1,000 Syrians to be killed by chemical weapons than it is for 5,000 to be slaughtered by “traditional” means?

I don’t know. I know that the argument for doing something can seem preferable to doing nothing at all. But, again, what are we really hoping to achieve? Would a limited two day bombing campaign really provide the kind of exemplary punishment that would make other tyrants think twice before they wage war against their own citizens? Perhaps it would but that does not seem obvious either.

So for whom – and what – would we be fighting? Not for the Syrian opposition since, again, we do not really want them to win either. And not for the Syrian people either.

The red line fallacy: What everyone gets wrong about why the U.S. would strike Syria

The red line fallacy: What everyone gets wrong about why the U.S. would strike Syria: The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is old, reasonably well established and recognized by almost every country on Earth. It was established by the 1925 Geneva Protocols and has been observed far from perfectly but at least partially ever since. It’s one of the few international norms restricting warfare that we have in the world. And, while Obama’s red line might matter a whole lot in Beltway politics, the international norm against chemical weapons matters in just about every corner of the globe, because no country wants to expose itself to future chemical weapons use by letting the norm slacken.

The best bullpen in the world, two years running - Baseball Nation

The best bullpen in the world, two years running - Baseball Nation: But real or not, the Braves are having another excellent bullpen season. It still might be a fluke. The odds are that it probably is a fluke. No one has a bullpen this good in consecutive seasons -- with turnover, mind you.

The Braves do. Where the Rays, Orioles, Giants, and Nationals have faltered, the Braves have kept on keeping on. Kimbrel (and his ridiculous strikeout rate) are probably buoying the rankings a bit, and the strong starting pitching means less garbage time for the garbage-time pitcher, so everyone is put in a good spot.

If there was something about the Braves and their success that you couldn't put your finger on, it's probably the bullpen. It's a mighty fine bullpen. It really is the common denominator. Maybe this is a step toward appreciating how much that's worth.

28 August, 2013

ArionVII comments nerve agents

ArionVII comments on Kerry Lays Groundwork for Attack on Syria - ecretary of State John Kerry said the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons against civilians was a "moral obscenity," delivering the clearest indication yet that the Obama administration is preparing to attack President Bashar al-Assad's regime: Neuroscience student here.

I'm not telling you this to make any political point. I'm just going to inform you about nerve agents.

Your brain interfaces with your body at junctions between your body and your nerves. Communication at these junctions (called synapses) is chemical: nerve agents disrupt this signaling.

You've likely consumed ethanol, nicotine, or cannabis: drugs which cause pleasure.

Chemical weapons are drugs which cause pain.

Let's say you're walking with a group of people, and you're overcome by a cloud of sarin gas. The first thing I bet would happen is you would know something was profoundly wrong; the same way you know you're getting sick. You'd feel it as a tightness in your chest and limbs - your eyes, nose, and mouth would all feel runny. You'd start sniffling, and tearing up, and the feeling of wrongness would intensify to something like motion sickness, but worse.

Much worse.

This is why we train: 2,060 Minutes: Gordo Cooper and the Last American Solo Flight in Space - Megan Garber - The Atlantic

2,060 Minutes: Gordo Cooper and the Last American Solo Flight in Space - Megan Garber - The Atlantic: Ground Control determined that Cooper, given the problems Faith 7 was experiencing, would need to make a manual re-entry back to Earth. The margin of error for angling the craft correctly would be slight: If Cooper came in too steeply, g-forces would crush him; if his trajectory were too shallow, the craft would bounce off the atmosphere and be shot back into space.

But a manual re-entry it was going to have to be. Cooper made his calculations, with help from the ground, based on his knowledge of star patterns. In the process, he disproved the "spam in a can" idea that Chuck Yaeger had famously derided when it came to the Mercury missions: Gordo was much more than simply an experimental body in a NASA-piloted spaceship. He put his education -- and his environs -- to use, drawing lines on Faith 7's window to help him check his orientation against the constellations outside. He shifted from passenger to pilot. "I used my wrist watch for time," Cooper later recalled, "my eyeballs out the window for attitude."

Alarming Japan-China Trends

Today's Alarming Japan-China Charts - James Fallows - The Atlantic: Japanese leaders have made repeated inflammatory visits to the wartime Yasukuni shrine; Chinese state media have run nonstop anti-Japanese war dramas on TV; both sides have pushed the dispute over the Diaoyu / Senkaku islands. You can also think of officials in each country who would back off (and have, in the past few months) if the hostile attitudes threatened to provoke actual hostilities.

Still, this is a nastier situation than most Americans realize -- and nastier than prevails between any other pair of countries with whom the U.S. has such important ties. Not to mention that they are the second and third largest economies in the world. There is a lot more in the study worth checking out, for what we hope turn out to be purely theoretical reasons

26 August, 2013

Mark Leibovich on Glitz and Greed in Washington | Moyers & Company | BillMoyers.com

Mark Leibovich on Glitz and Greed in Washington | Moyers & Company | BillMoyers.com: Bill talks with journalist Mark Leibovich about his latest book, This Town, a city where money rules the day and status is determined by who you know and what they can do for you. “If you can sell yourself as someone who knows how Washington works, someone who has these relationships,” Leibovich explains, “that’s a very marketable commodity. If you’re seen as someone who knows how this town works, someone who is a usual suspect in this town, you can dine out for years — that’s why no one leaves.”

U.S. Mideast Policy Has Failed - WSJ.com

U.S. Mideast Policy Has Failed - WSJ.com: In the beginning, the Hebrew Bible tells us, the universe was all "tohu wabohu," chaos and tumult. This month the Middle East seems to be reverting to that primeval state: Iraq continues to unravel, the Syrian War grinds on with violence spreading to Lebanon and allegations of chemical attacks this week, and Egypt stands on the brink of civil war with the generals crushing the Muslim Brotherhood and street mobs torching churches. Turkey's prime minister, once widely hailed as President Obama's best friend in the region, blames Egypt's violence on the Jews; pretty much everyone else blames it on the U.S.

The Obama administration had a grand strategy in the Middle East. It was well intentioned, carefully crafted and consistently pursued.

Unfortunately, it failed.

Liberals and conservatives are both right about big banks | AEIdeas

Liberals and conservatives are both right about big banks | AEIdeas: An elite academic criticizes capitalists; a conservative condemns overregulation. Seems like standard fare. But when we look beyond the tired, old narrative of right-wing business backers versus left-wing government cheerleaders, a surprising truth comes into focus:

Both critiques are on point.

Big banks do have it too easy. Per the chart below, America today is just as reliant on a few colossal institutions as before the meltdown. This is great news for those deemed too big to fail: Bloomberg View estimates that implicit guarantees boost megabank profits by more than $80 billion. Less lucky are the smaller firms that receive no such subsidy — not to mention the taxpayers.

25 August, 2013

D'Andre Brown's basketball dream - ESPN

D'Andre Brown's basketball dream - ESPN: "I can't lie to you," he finally says, both feet out of the car. "I just can't see giving up on my dream, or my job, just because it's not somebody else's dream of what happiness is." He reaches his huge right hand through the window and gives me some dap. "I'm working, Kiese, and I'm happy. That's what you have to understand. I'm getting better at my job, and I'm working every day. How many people like us can say that they're working and they're happy? I'm not stupid. I know the NBA ain't right around the corner. But I'm working. I'm happier doing this work than any other work in the world. Right now, I know it's not what you or anyone else reading this will want to hear, but I'm working. I'm happy. That's enough for me."

What I learned from getting shot - Salon.com

What I learned from getting shot - Salon.com: That’s what I remembered when I began my recovery five years ago. In the preceding 25 years, I’d crossed paths with thousands and thousands of black people (including, obviously, those who became friends). Over the same stretch I’d also crossed paths with thousands and thousands of people wearing hoodies (there was surely some overlap). I got very, very unlucky one time. Adding it all up, I figured my odds of avoiding a repeat of that night are pretty good.

And that’s ultimately what I want everyone, but particularly future victims of crime, to take away from my story. You can’t tell victims how they should react to the crimes committed against them. That’s wrong, and anyhow it’s largely out of their control. But to anyone whose instinct is to crouch defensively and treat everyone who resembles their attackers like criminals, I’m living proof that there’s another way.

Everyone who’s ever shot me was black and wearing a hoodie. There just aren’t any reasonable inferences to draw from that fact.

RedState would prefer Muslims be silent on 9/11.....as if they are guilty of terrorism?

Never Forget: Why bikers are descending on DC on 9/11 to Counter-Protest the Million Muslim March | RedState: Though it’s been 12 years next month, like most Americans, September 11th is a day that I will never forget. In the months that followed September 11th, for the briefest of moments, our nation was united as one people, one party–all American.

Now, however, despite the fact that we are a nation politically divided, I still believe that most Americans have not forgotten September 11th. Regardless of political view, most Americans view Sept. 11 as a day of mourning, of sadness for America. It is, for most, a sacred day.

This is why the American Muslim’s Political Action Committee‘s planned “Million Muslim March” in Washington, DC on Wednesday, September 11th is ill-conceived, distasteful and, quite frankly, antagonistically insulting to many Americans.

While Muslim Americans have the same First Amendment rights as any other American, AMPAC’s protest on September 11th is a slap in the face to many Americans–and, moreso, to those whose lives were lost on that sunny Tuesday twelve years ago.

An overlooked dream, now remembered - The Washington Post

An overlooked dream, now remembered - The Washington Post: I was too late to hear the speeches but soon heard about them, particularly the address by John Lewis, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. This is the same John Lewis we know today as an avuncular Georgia representative, a gentle though forceful agitator for the rights of African Americans and the poor. In 1963, Robert F. Kennedy’s Justice Department considered him a dangerous radical. So he got a disproportionate share of attention from reporters and officials.

The Post’s courtly civil rights reporter, Robert E. Lee Baker — he used Robert E. Baker as a less-provocative byline — reported: “Lewis had intended to scorch the Kennedy Administration and Congress and ‘cheap politicians’ in a highly emotional speech.” But, Baker wrote, “he toned it down.” No one got scorched.

The Post, however, got embarrassed. The main event that day was what we now call the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most important speeches in U.S. history. But on the day it was given, The Post didn’t think so. We nearly failed to mention it at all.

Rethinking a classic | Ordinary Times

Rethinking a classic | Ordinary Times: While I still haven’t seen the whole thing from start to finish, I’ve seen pretty much the whole thing piecemeal. I’ve certainly seen enough to be staggered by its overt racism and (somewhat) subtler sexism. I’d never seen either discussed before, and wouldn’t have thought to investigate before I bought the movie for my kid.

Midway through the film the plot involves the kidnapping of Tiger Lily, an Indian princess. This is revealed by the character of her father, the Indian chief. He speaks in the most horrifyingly hackneyed stereotypical fake Native American patois I have ever heard, complete with intermittent “um” suffixes. It was painful to listen to, as was the charming ditty “What Makes the Red Man Red?“.

Here Is Every Foreign Country That Gets More Federal Aid Than Detroit – Next City

Here Is Every Foreign Country That Gets More Federal Aid Than Detroit – Next City: Thirty-two foreign countries receive more direct aid from the U.S. government than the city of Detroit. This is not to say that Iraq and Nigeria and Mexico don’t need foreign assistance or are undeserving of help from the United States. But when you look at the raw numbers, you start to wonder if some of that cash could be better served in Oakland and Baltimore instead of Karachi and Kabul.

24 August, 2013

Holding Italy Hostage by Tim Parks - Oh Italy.....

Holding Italy Hostage by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books: After a dozen trials, many of which have gone through all three levels of Italian justice (primary trial, appeal, counter appeal), after making ad personam laws to have his crimes de-penalized, or using delaying tactics to have trials thrown out because the crimes alleged in them are time-barred, or facing guilty verdicts at one level and acquittals at another, Berlusconi has finally received a definitive and unappealable criminal sentence at the highest level, for tax fraud in the region of €7 million ($9 million) and for the creation of a slush fund of some €280 million ($375 million). Sentenced to four years in prison, he has benefited from a pardon aimed at emptying the country’s jails, which has reduced the sentence to one year—this despite the fact that, being over seventy, he will be allowed to serve his sentence at one of his various luxury homes. However, as an elected member of the senate, he enjoys immunity from arrest and cannot be forced into confinement until the senate approves his expulsion, a vote that could take place in September. He has now made it clear that if that vote goes against him he will bring the whole house down.

Kevin Spacey Mactaggart lecture – full text | Media | theguardian.com

Kevin Spacey Mactaggart lecture – full text | Media | theguardian.com: Keynote speech made by the Academy Award-winning actor at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival 2013

23 August, 2013

Apartment Blockers | Sightline Daily

Apartment Blockers | Sightline Daily: City requirements for off-street parking spaces jack up rents. They jack it up a lot at the bottom of the housing ladder. Proportionally speaking, the bigger the quota and the smaller the apartment, the larger the rent hike. For one-bedroom apartments with two parking places, as is required in places including Bothell and Federal Way, Washington, as much as one-third of the rent may actually pay for parking. A flotilla of studies supports that claim, and I’ll summarize them in this article, but first, a case study of residential real estate development may illuminate how critical parking is to the affordability of housing.

22 August, 2013

Who Is Ali Khamenei? | Foreign Affairs

Who Is Ali Khamenei? | Foreign Affairs: In June, Hassan Rouhani was elected president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rouhani ran as a reform candidate, and many have interpreted his victory as a harbinger of a possible liberalization or rationalization of Iranian domestic and foreign policy. But the dominant figure in Iranian politics is not the president but rather the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian constitution endows the supreme leader with tremendous authority over all major state institutions, and Khamenei, who has held the post since 1989, has found many other ways to further increase his influence. Formally or not, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government all operate under his absolute sovereignty; Khamenei is Iran’s head of state, commander in chief, and top ideologue. His views are what will ultimately shape Iranian policy, and so it is worth exploring them in detail.

The strange death of the British middle class � The Spectator

The strange death of the British middle class � The Spectator:
This trend seems set to continue. George Osborne’s so-called recovery is being driven by the incomes of the wealthy. For the best-paid 1 per cent, the boom years never stopped. They now collect 14 per cent of all the money paid in salaries in Britain, a record high. Meanwhile the average earner has taken a real-terms pay cut of about 10 per cent since the crash — and this is not expected to improve. Government figures suggest it will take until 2020 for the average salary to get back to where it was in 2010. The middle class is suffering what Sir Mervyn (now Lord) King described as the longest squeeze in living memory. But for the richest, these are the best of times.

It’s is no accident. Mark Carney, the new Bank of England governor, has said he’ll continue with the policy of quantitative easing, which explicitly aims to revive the economy by inflating the value of assets. Most valuable assets are, of course, owned by the wealthy — especially by the London establishment. While houses in Northern Ireland are still worth less than half what they were at the time of the crash, the value of property in the capital soars higher and higher. By some estimates, house prices in Westminster have risen by an extraordinary 70 per cent since the crash. For MPs who own homes near the Commons, it’s a bonanza.

21 August, 2013

Best way to find a phone

Lost, then Found - From the MOVING desk of KIM HO: Every once in a while you meet people who become a constant reminder that there is AWESOMENESS in this world.

Antoinette Tuff: Meet the Woman Who Prevented a Mass School Shooting Yesterday

Antoinette Tuff: Meet the Woman Who Prevented a Mass School Shooting Yesterday: Fortunately, Tuesday's gunman incident at an elementary school near Atlanta ended with no injuries or deaths. This is mainly thanks to Antoinette Tuff, a school clerk who spent about an hour calmly persuading the gunman to put his rifle down and surrender.

Tuff feared the worst when she encountered the gunman carrying an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons in her school office. She told reporters, "I saw a young man ready to kill anybody that he could." Approximately 870 pre-kindergarten to fifth grade students at the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia were safely evacuated during the incident. While the gunman exchanged some shots with the police, no one was hurt.

Giant Military Hovercraft Lands on Crowded Beach Because Russia

Giant Military Hovercraft Lands on Crowded Beach Because Russia: In the most recent bit of Russian bizarreness, a 550-ton military hovercraft carrying sophisticated weaponry casually pulled up onto a crowded, seemingly public beach. Because, apparently, Russia wants to become Europe's own personal prison planet.

These giant Zubr vessels are purportedly the largest in their class (which consists of the world's largest hovercrafts) and—when fully loaded—can carry tanks as well as up to 400 troops. So what was it doing landing on a beach full of people? Well, uh, no one entirely seems to know.

20 August, 2013

Unfortunate news

The look of music | Harvard Gazette: In a study by Chia-Jung Tsay, who last year earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior with a secondary Ph.D. field in music, nearly all participants — including highly trained musicians — were better able to identify the winners of competitions by watching silent video clips than by listening to audio recordings. The work was described in a paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s a very counterintuitive finding — there have been some interesting reactions from musicians,” Tsay said. “What this suggests is that there may be a way that visual information is prioritized over information from other modalities. In this case, it suggests that the visual trumps the audio, even in a setting where audio information should matter much more.”

Orbital Speed

Orbital Speed: This leads us to the central problem of getting into orbit: Reaching orbital speed takes much more fuel than reaching orbital height. Getting a ship up to 8 km/s takes a lot of booster rockets. Reaching orbital speed is hard enough; reaching to orbital speed while carrying enough fuel to slow back down would be completely impractical.[5]

These outrageous fuel requirements are why every spacecraft entering an atmosphere has braked using a heat shield instead of rockets—slamming into the air is the most practical way to slow down. (And to answer Brian's question, the Curiosity rover was no exception to this; although it used small rockets to hover when it was near the surface, it first used air-braking to shed the majority of its speed.)

19 August, 2013

The cases for and against cutting U.S. aid to Egypt, explained

The cases for and against cutting U.S. aid to Egypt, explained: President Obama said today he would ask his staff to “reassess” U.S. aid to Egypt, in response to the country’s crackdown on two Islamist sit-ins that killed more on than 600 people on Wednesday. But he held back from actually reducing or canceling the $1.3 billion in annual aid, much of which goes to the military. The aid has been a major feature of U.S. policy in the Middle East since it was enshrined in the 1979, U.S.-brokered Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel.

There is little indication that the Obama administration is about to cut aid to Egypt. Still, Obama left the door open enough to revitalize a long-running debate in Washington over the aid package and whether it does more harm or more good. Here, then, are summaries of the best cases for and against.

This American Life on Testosterone

Transcript | This American Life:

Alex Blumberg

You have the testosterone of two linebackers.

Griffin Hansbury

Exactly. Exactly. That's a lot. That's a lot of T. And what's amazing about it is how instantaneous it is, that it happens within a few days really. The world just changes.

Alex Blumberg

What were some of the changes that you didn't expect?

Griffin Hansbury

The most overwhelming feeling is the incredible increase in libido and change in the way that I perceived women and the way I thought about sex. Before testosterone, I would be riding the subway, which is the traditional hotbed of lust in the city. And I would see a woman on the subway, and I would think, she's attractive. I'd like to meet her. What's that book she's reading? I could talk to her. This is what I would say.
There would be a narrative. There would be this stream of language. It would be very verbal.
After testosterone, there was no narrative. There was no language whatsoever. It was just, I would see a woman who was attractive or not attractive. She might have an attractive quality, nice ankles or something, and the rest of her would be fairly unappealing to me.

Why is the U.S.’s 1 percent so much richer than everywhere else?

Why is the U.S.’s 1 percent so much richer than everywhere else?: He’s right, at least in saying that public policy is unlikely to be determined by conclusive economic evidence. Both sides have built cases around different metrics, and deride the other side’s methodology as inadequate or incomplete (they’re also not mutually exclusive–both sides are probably a little bit right). But now that we’ve recognized that inequality is real and getting worse, it’s better to have a debate about what to do about it with more information rather than less.

18 August, 2013

The government’s biggest secret - The Washington Post

The government’s biggest secret - The Washington Post: We endorse the need to keep some things under wraps, like intelligence sources and methods or ongoing operations, and we believe that laws and rules are the proper way to keep secrets. But very often, the only way important information reaches the American people is through leaks — by government employees, including very high-ranking officials, who discuss sensitive information with reporters because they believe it is critical to understanding decisions, or they want to influence those decisions. It’s essential not to criminalize this process; more leak investigations will only serve to dry up the vital flow of information to reporters and the public. It seems out of whack that prosecutors are on the prowl for leakers yet the massive system of over classification lumbers on, unhindered. No one in Washington is ever punished for needlessly stamping “secret” on a document.

15 August, 2013

This is not an excuse of violating rights

NSA statements to The Post - The Washington Post: Looking over a 3-year period that includes the 1st first quarter 2010 through second quarter 2013, the data for that quarter are above the average number of incidents reported in any given quarter during that period. The number of incidents in a given quarter during that 3-year period ranged from 372 to 1,162. A variety of factors can cause the numbers of incidents to trend up or down from one quarter to the next. They include, but are not limited to: implementation of new procedures or guidance with respect to our authorities that prompt a spike that requires “fine tuning,” changes to the technology or software in the targeted environment for which we had no prior knowledge, unforeseen shortcomings in our systems, new or expanded access, and “roaming” by foreign targets into the U.S., some of which NSA cannot anticipate in advance but each instance of which is reported as an incident. The one constant across all of the quarters is a persistent, dedicated effort to identify incidents or risks of incidents at the earliest possible moment, implement mitigation measures wherever possible, and drive the numbers down.

This is entirely unsurprising

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds - The Washington Post: In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.

14 August, 2013

Now I Know – Paved With Good Intentions

Now I Know – Paved With Good Intentions: The oil spraying went on from 1972 to 1976 and for years after, went undetected. But in December of 1982, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ran a test on some dirt samples, finding that the amount of dioxin was 100 times higher than what was considered safe for humans. Soon after, the EPA did something rare — it shut down the entire town. Everyone was evacuated, and for all intents and purposes, Times Beach, Missouri, ceased to exist.

This is now discontinued, but.....

This recycling bin is following you - Quartz: Recycling bins in the City of London are monitoring the phones of passers-by, so advertisers can target messages at people whom the bins recognize.

Renew, the startup behind the scheme, installed 100 recycling bins with digital screens around London before the 2012 Olympics. Advertisers can buy space on the internet-connected bins, and the city gets 5% of the airtime to display public information. More recently, though, Renew outfitted a dozen of the bins with gadgets that track smartphones.

The idea is to bring internet tracking cookies to the real world. The bins record a unique identification number, known as a MAC address, for any nearby phones and other devices that have Wi-Fi turned on. That allows Renew to identify if the person walking by is the same one from yesterday, even her specific route down the street and how fast she is walking.

Strengthening the Border gave us...more immigrants?

How Dumb Is Immigration Debate? This Dumb. - Bloomberg: According to Massey, the rise of America’s large undocumented population is a direct result of the militarization of the border. While undocumented workers once traveled back and forth from Mexico with relative ease, after the border was garrisoned, immigrants from Mexico crossed the border and stayed.

“Migrants quite rationally responded to the increased costs and risks by minimizing the number of times they crossed the border,” Massey wrote in his 2007 paper “Understanding America’s Immigration ‘Crisis.’” “But they achieved this goal not by remaining in Mexico and abandoning their intention to migrate to the U.S., but by hunkering down and staying once they had run the gauntlet at the border and made it to their final destination.”

13 August, 2013

How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets - NYTimes.com

How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets - NYTimes.com: Before long, Poitras received an encrypted message that outlined a number of secret surveillance programs run by the government. She had heard of one of them but not the others. After describing each program, the stranger wrote some version of the phrase, “This I can prove.”

Seconds after she decrypted and read the e-mail, Poitras disconnected from the Internet and removed the message from her computer. “I thought, O.K., if this is true, my life just changed,” she told me last month. “It was staggering, what he claimed to know and be able to provide. I just knew that I had to change everything.”

Georgia Miscellany - Public Policy Polling

Georgia Miscellany - Public Policy Polling: -We asked Georgians their opinions about a number of current and historical figures in the state. Martin Luther King Jr. has a 73/15 favorability rating- it's 83/6 with Democrats but just 59/28 with Republicans. Paula Deen remains quite popular in her home state at a 54/21 spread- she's very popular with Republicans at 73/11 but seen positively by a plurality of Democrats at 40/33 as well. Zell Miller has a 47/21 favorability- he's now much more popular with Republicans at 64/7 than he is with Democrats at 34/32. He may have ravaged the state 150 years ago but 56% of Georgians have no opinion about William Tecumseh Sherman- 16% see him favorably and 28% unfavorably. And Georgians aren't too proud of one of their newest home state celebrities- just 8% have a favorable view of Honey Boo Boo to 63% with a negative one.

By a current member of the House of Representatives

Repoliticizing Politics (and Sex) | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson: Don't hold your breath. Congress all too often abdicates its duty, passing vexatious policy questions to the bureaucracy and the courts via vaguely worded statues. By doing so, legislators avoid taking stances on controversial issues, which is to say they protect their hides for the next election. The phenomenon is not isolated to sexual harassment: Congress has punted continually on racial preferences, environmental regulation, entitlement reform, etc., ad nauseam.

Such diffidence frustrates representative democracy by telling citizens their genuine opinions do not matter, which is just another way of saying they are incapable of self-government. To prove otherwise, we need to reclaim for politics such properly political matters as sexual harassment law. We need to compel Congress to confront such matters if we are to continue to demonstrate our capacity for self-government through representative democracy. In short, we need to re-politicize our politics.

Stories of Babylost parents

glow in the woods - home: I lost a few friends after George died. Well, really, they were in the process of being lost during the five weeks that he was in the process of dying and that I was in the process of changing into something different than before. For those weeks and the ones immediately following, phone calls went unanswered and emails went unreturned. Our previously close relationships changed into something else, something not anything anymore. I was taken by surprise by the change but I probably shouldn’t have been.

12 August, 2013

Hyperloop | SpaceX

Hyperloop | SpaceX: As things stand today, there is not even a short distance demonstration system operating in test pilot mode anywhere in the world, let alone something that is robust enough for public transit. They all possess, it would seem, one or more fatal flaws that prevent them from coming to fruition.

Constraining the Problem

The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart. Around that inflection point, I suspect that supersonic air travel ends up being faster and cheaper. With a high enough altitude and the right geometry, the sonic boom noise on the ground would be no louder than current airliners, so that isn’t a showstopper. Also, a quiet supersonic plane immediately solves every long distance city pair without the need for a vast new worldwide infrastructure.

Metaphor Alert:

Family leaves US on sailboat over religious concerns to start new life, becomes lost at sea - The Washington Post: PHOENIX — A northern Arizona family that was lost at sea for weeks in an ill-fated attempt to leave the U.S. over what they consider government interference in religion will fly back home Sunday.

Hannah Gastonguay, 26, said Saturday that she and her husband “decided to take a leap of faith and see where God led us” when they took their two small children and her father-in-law and set sail from San Diego for the tiny island nation of Kiribati in May.

But just weeks into their journey, the Gastonguays hit a series of storms that damaged their small boat, leaving them adrift for weeks, unable to make progress. They were eventually picked up by a Venezuelan fishing vessel, transferred to a Japanese cargo ship and taken to Chile where they are resting in a hotel in the port city of San Antonio.

11 August, 2013

The Great Molasses Flood

The Science of..: Scientific American: More than 7.5 million liters of molasses surged through Boston's North End at around 55 kilometers per hour in a wave about 7.5 meters high and 50 meters wide at its peak. All that thick syrup ripped apart the cylindrical tank that once held it, throwing slivers of steel and large rivets in all directions. The deluge crushed freight cars, tore Engine 31 firehouse from its foundation and, when it reached an elevated railway on Atlantic Avenue, nearly lifted a train right off the tracks. A chest-deep river of molasses stretched from the base of the tank about 90 meters into the streets. From there, it thinned out into a coating one half to one meter deep. People, horses and dogs caught in the mess struggled to escape, only sinking further.

09 August, 2013

Why It Often Rains in the Movies

By Lawrence Raab:
Because so much consequential thinking
happens in the rain. A steady mist
to recall departures, a bitter downpour
for betrayal. As if the first thing
a man wants to do when he learns his wife
is sleeping with his best friend, and has been
for years, the very first thing
is not to make a drink, and drink it,
and make another, but to walk outside
into bad weather. It's true
that the way we look doesn't always
reveal our feelings. Which is a problem
for the movies. [...]
Read the Rest

08 August, 2013

WinCo: Low-Key, Low-Cost Grocer Called 'Wal-Mart's Worst Nightmare' | TIME.com

WinCo: Low-Key, Low-Cost Grocer Called 'Wal-Mart's Worst Nightmare' | TIME.com: Prices are kept low through a variety of strategies, the main one being that it often cuts out distributors and other middle men and buys many goods directly from farms and factories. WinCo also trims costs by not accepting credit cards and by asking customers to bag their own groceries. Similarly to warehouse membership stores like Sam’s Club and Costco, and also to successful discount grocers with small stores like Trader Joe’s and Aldi, WinCo stores are organized and minimalist, without many frills, and without the tremendous variety of merchandise that’s become standard at most supermarkets. “Everything is neat and clean, but basic,” Hauptman told Supermarket News. “Though the stores are very large, with a lot of categories, they lack depth or breadth of variety.”

Science is not the Enemy of the Humanities | New Republic

Science is not the Enemy of the Humanities | New Republic:
The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and super- stitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief—faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, conventional wisdom, the invigorating glow of subjective certainty—are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. To understand the world, we must cultivate work-arounds for our cognitive limitations, including skepticism, open debate, formal precision, and empirical tests, often requiring feats of ingenuity. Any movement that calls itself “scientific” but fails to nurture opportunities for the falsification of its own beliefs (most obviously when it murders or imprisons the people who disagree with it) is not a scientific movement.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Why I changed my mind on weed - CNN.com

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Why I changed my mind on weed - CNN.com:
I apologize because I didn't look hard enough, until now. I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.

 I have seen more patients like Charlotte first hand, spent time with them and come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana.

We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.

Sarah Stillman: The Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture : The New Yorker

Sarah Stillman: The Use and Abuse of Civil Forfeiture : The New Yorker: The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.

“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.

A prison block run with democracy?

[Letter from Lima] | All Politics Is Local, by Daniel Alarc�n | Harper's Magazine:
Block Seven houses many men who, by virtue of their occupation, have traveled the globe, hold multiple passports, and speak several languages. The standard of living here reflects the relative wealth of this elite. The traffickers are businessmen, accepting as an article of faith that most problems can be resolved, if not avoided altogether, with money. The majority are Peruvians, many from the coca-producing jungle regions in the east, but there are others, too: men from China, Holland, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, Turkey. The walls of the yard show the diversity of its residents: painted maps of the European Union, logos of Colombian soccer teams, murals celebrating jungle life, one of which shows a small biplane, the emblem of the drug trade, floating high above green, forested hills. There are nearly thirty nations represented, and inmates range from the unlucky would-be drug mule who never made it past airport security to the experienced cocaine trafficker patiently serving out his third or fourth prison sentence in as many countries. There are ordinary inmates as well, men brought in to the block to work. The result is a uniquely cosmopolitan culture — in Lurigancho, but not of it — a gated community within a prison. Because the nearly 400 inmates there have little interest in or connection to the hierarchies of Lima’s dark streets, Block Seven is not run by a single boss. Here, there is democracy.

[Letter from Lima] | All Politics Is Local, by Daniel Alarc�n | Harper's Magazine

[Letter from Lima] | All Politics Is Local, by Daniel Alarc�n | Harper's Magazine: To understand a place like Lurigancho, it’s best not to dwell on words like prison or inmate or cell, or on the images these terms generally connote. The 7,400 men who live in Lurigancho, Peru’s largest and most notorious penal institution, do not wear uniforms; there is no roll call or lockdown or lights-out. Whatever control the prison authorities have inside Lurigancho is nominal. They secure the gate to the prison, and little else.

06 August, 2013

What Tobacco Tax Advocates Can Learn From American Drug Policy | Keith Humphreys

What Tobacco Tax Advocates Can Learn From American Drug Policy | Keith Humphreys: As recently noted by drug policy expert Dr. Peter Reuter, anti-tobacco advocates see the smoking rate as the only index of public policy success. When it goes down -- as it virtually always will in response to higher taxes -- they cheer unreservedly. I passionately want more Americans to kick the smoking habit. But I worry about how extremely high tobacco taxes expand black markets, which in turn can trigger draconian law enforcement responses.

In New York City, a legal, fully taxed pack of cigarettes costs $10-15; Chicago prices are only slightly less. Working class and poor addicted smokers (i.e., most smokers) thus face great temptation to enter into the black market. Columbia University Professor Shelley Cantrell documented that "the $5 man" -- a street seller of untaxed black market cigarettes -- is now a pervasive feature of life in low-income New York City neighborhoods.

Extremely high cigarette taxes are widely evaded. Professor David Merriman of the University of Illinois at Chicago organized teams of apparently non-squeamish research assistants to gather discarded cigarette packs from garbage cans and sidewalks in 100 Chicago neighborhoods. He discovered that 75 percent had no tax stamp, indicating a black market or grey market provenance.

05 August, 2013

The GOP’s kamikaze mission to stop Obamacare

The GOP’s kamikaze mission to stop Obamacare: Take Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio’s effort to shut down the federal government unless the Obama administration agrees to defund its signature piece of legislation. If they managed to gather enough support to make good on the threat, the result would be a painful government shutdown that the public would — rightly — blame entirely on the Republican Party. They would’ve hurt their constituents and their chances of retaking the Senate majority in 2014.

“If I thought this would work, I would support it,” writes my colleague Charles Krauthammer. “But I don’t fancy suicide. It has a tendency to be fatal.”

Why Christie Is Wrong

Why Christie Is Wrong - Peggy Noonan's Blog - WSJ:
To call growing concerns about the size, depth, history, ways and operations of our now-huge national-security operation “esoteric” or merely abstract is, simply, absurd. Our federal government is involved in massive data collection that apparently includes a database of almost every phone call made in the U.S. The adequacy of oversight for this system is at best unclear. The courts involved are shadowed in secrecy and controversy. Is it really wrong or foolhardy or unacceptably thoughtful to wonder if the surveillance apparatus is excessive, or will be abused, or will erode, or perhaps in time end, any expectation of communications privacy held by honest citizens?

It is not. These are right and appropriate concerns, very American ones.

Is Morocco the Model for Arab Democracy? | TheTower.org

Is Morocco the Model for Arab Democracy? | TheTower.org: Morocco has been outperforming its Arab neighbors for years. Now that a political hurricane is battering the rest of the region, it looks better than ever. Morocco evolves instead of explodes, and while incrementalism does not offer the instant gratification of uprising and revolution, it’s precisely what the United States should be promoting throughout the Middle East.

Scott Simon and Tweeting About Death : The New Yorker

Scott Simon and Tweeting About Death : The New Yorker: On Sunday, July 21st, the NPR host Scott Simon’s mother entered the I.C.U. at a Chicago hospital, following a surgery. She died on Monday night, at the age of eighty-four. In the week before her death, Simon began live-tweeting his mother’s final days to his almost 1.3 million followers from her hospital room. The tweets were poignant and haunting, and have brought Simon—already a mini-celebrity—a new level of renown. Total strangers read what he wrote and responded deeply.

Ed Helms, Reggie Watts

01 August, 2013

GOP’s Long-Predicted Comeuppance Has Arrived | TPM Editors Blog

GOP’s Long-Predicted Comeuppance Has Arrived | TPM Editors Blog:
“With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted three months ago,” said an angry appropriations chair Hal Rogers (R-KY). “Thus I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end.”

All of this is a harbinger for the coming fight over funding the government. If House Republicans can’t establish a position of their own, then the Senate will drive the whole process (its Transportation/HUD bill will probably pass on a bipartisan basis this week) and appropriations will be extended past September one way or another on the strength of Democratic votes.

It also suggests that the GOP’s preference for permanent sequestration-level spending, particularly relative to increasing taxes, is not politically viable. If they want to lift the defense cuts, they’re going to have to either return to budget negotiations with Democrats, or agree to rescind sequestration altogether.
But it raises much bigger, existential questions for the Republicans as a national party. If they can’t execute key elements of their governing agenda, even just to establish their negotiating positions opposite the Democrats, what can they do, and what argument can they possibly make for controlling more (or all) of Washington?

Some US conservatives laud Russia's anti-gay bill

Some US conservatives laud Russia's anti-gay bill: The latest step drawing praise from social conservatives is a bill signed into law Sunday by President Vladimir Putin that would impose hefty fines for holding gay pride rallies or providing information about the gay community to minors.

"You admire some of the things they're doing in Russia against propaganda," said Austin Ruse, president of the U.S.-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. "On the other hand, you know it would be impossible to do that here."

And that's why the movie is called "2guns"

The trick that’s pushing movie titles to the front of the alphabet - Quartz: For many movies these days, the shortest route to the top of the charts is through the alphabet.

Film studios have figured out that, all else being equal, it’s better for a movie to appear toward the top of the A-to-Z listings where people increasingly pick what they’re going to watch next.

“We call it alpha-stacking,” says Paul Bales of the Asylum, an independent studio that specializes in straight-to-video horror films. Last year, the company generated $16 million in revenue with movies that included Adopting Terror, Air Collision, Alien Origin, American Worships, and Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.

Update: Now We Know Why Googling 'Pressure Cookers' Gets a Visit from Cops - Philip Bump - The Atlantic Wire

Update: Now We Know Why Googling 'Pressure Cookers' Gets a Visit from Cops - Philip Bump - The Atlantic Wire: Michele Catalano was looking for information online about pressure cookers. Her husband, in the same time frame, was Googling backpacks. Wednesday morning, six men from a joint terrorism task force showed up at their house to see if they were terrorists. Which prompts the question: How'd the government know what they were Googling?

Update, 7:05 p.m.: Because the Googling happened at work.

Collapse of the House Republican majority.

Collapse of the House Republican majority.: It's in the conjunction of these two failures that you see a mortal threat to the practical existence of the Republican governing majority in the House. That's because if you can't find 218 Republicans out of 234 to vote for a bill, the other option is to start with 201 Democrats and try to add two dozen Republicans. And in many ways, that kind of coalition makes more sense given that to become law a bill also needs to pass a majority-Democratic Senate and be signed into law by a Democratic president. A "Pelosi Plus" House bill, in other words, can actually become law whereas a Boehner Majority House bill is at best a bargaining ploy. Now normally that kind of legislation simply can't move in the House. The party that holds the majority forms a cartel and blocks bills from coming to the floor that don't have support in the majority caucus. Boehner has allowed select violations of this so-called Hastert Rule (though in practice the rule predates Hastert) but there's at least a chance that he'll be forced to suspend it wholesale throughout the appropriations process.

Farm bill debacle shows John Boehner needs Nancy Pelosi

Farm bill debacle shows John Boehner needs Nancy Pelosi: “This underscores that Boehner cannot pass bills on his own,” Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein told me in a quick interview today. “He can’t do anything with only Republicans. The real power center in the House is not Boehner. It’s not Cantor. It’s not Ryan. It’s not McCarthy. It’s the extreme right. This shows the real dilemma ahead for a Speaker who is very weak and very conscious of his weakness within the party.”

AP Exclusive - GOP Donor's School Grade Changed - NYTimes.com

AP Exclusive - GOP Donor's School Grade Changed - NYTimes.com: Yet Bennett wrote to staff twice in four days, directly inquiring about DeHaan's status. Gubera broke the news after the second note that "terrible" 10th grade algebra results had "dragged down their entire school."

Bennett called the situation "very frustrating and disappointing" in an email that day.

"I am more than a little miffed about this," Bennett wrote. "I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months."

Bennett said Monday that email expressed his frustration at having assured top-performing schools like DeHaan's would be recognized in the grading system, but coming away with a flawed formula that would undo his promises.

Pope Francis’s beautiful take on sins: ‘We don’t have the right to not forget’

Pope Francis’s beautiful take on sins: ‘We don’t have the right to not forget’: His comments on forgetting the sins of others is harder — in both directions. On the one hand, it accepts — as Catholic teaching continues to accept — the idea that a consensual gay tryst is a sin. Pope Francis’s more tolerant regime has its limits.

But on the other, it sets a bar for mercy that few of us reach. We live in an age where your neighbor’s past indiscretions are only a Google search away — and they’re only a Google search away forever. Washington is particularly obsessed with digging up decades-old indiscretions and embarrassment in order to humiliate people running for office or serving in government.

"Kindness" - George Saunders's Advice to Graduates

George Saunders's Advice to Graduates - NYTimes.com: So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

On Research in Libya

Abandoned Footnotes: The Perils of Public Opinion Research in Libya, circa 2000: It was not possible to wander around knocking on people's doors and requesting them to fill in forms. Libyans are not familiar with surveys of any kind apart from the population census that takes place every few years, so it is highly unusual for them to have individuals on their doorsteps asking them to answer unusual questions.

The problem was how to calm people and attain their trust. I wanted to show good will by presenting the security permission, but people then suspected me of being sponsored by the security agencies, and consequently were afraid of me. When I approached people without showing my permit, they were also nervous and would not cooperate with me, fearing that I might have been doing something against the regime and wishing to avoid any involvement in this. People expressed a great deal of hesitation and apprehension when they read the questions set in the questionnaire. A number of them just said sorry and slammed their doors in my face. (pp. 2-3)

“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria | Quite Alone

“God Is Shy” – a story from Syria | Quite Alone: Last night (29 July) the news came through from Syria that Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a highly respected Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for thirty years, had been kidnapped. Rumours began to swirl on social media, first about his kidnapping, then about his supposed late-night release.

At this writing (30 July) it’s not clear exactly what’s happened, or where Father Paolo is.

This is no ordinary abduction (if abduction it is). Since the revolution began in Syria in 2011 Father Paolo has campaigned vociferously among the Syrian people and the international community for a peaceful democratic transition. In 2012 he wrote an open letter to the UN’s envoy Kofi Annan. Then the Assad regime expelled him. He has been living in exile since – and continues to call for ‘victory without revenge‘. His is a voice of sanity amid the madness which has engulfed his adoptive country.

For news of Father Paolo, and the appalling war in Syria, follow the independent media project Syria Deeply.

I have never met Father Paolo. Middle East writer and campaigner Daniel Adamson – a good friend of mine – has. Daniel wrote the following story in 2005, after visiting Father Paolo at the monastery of Deir Mar Musa outside Damascus. He has given me permission to post it here. Read it. It’s beautiful.