05/23/2015 archive

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Joseph E. StiglitzL How Trade Agreements Amount to a Secret Corporate Takeover

The United States and the world are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called “free-trade agreements”; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the US and the European Union. Today, such deals are more often referred to as “partnerships,”as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But they are not partnerships of equals: the US effectively dictates the terms. Fortunately, America’s “partners” are becoming increasingly resistant.

It is not hard to see why. These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions.

Perhaps the most invidious – and most dishonest – part of such agreements concerns investor protection. Of course, investors have to be protected against the risk that rogue governments will seize their property. But that is not what these provisions are about. There have been very few expropriations in recent decades, and investors who want to protect themselves can buy insurance from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, a World Bank affiliate (the US and other governments provide similar insurance). Nonetheless, the US is demanding such provisions in the TPP, even though many of its “partners” have property protections and judicial systems that are as good as its own.

New York Times Editorial Board: Banks as Felons, or Criminality Lite

As of this week, Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are felons, having pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges of conspiring to rig the value of the world’s currencies. According to the Justice Department, the lengthy and lucrative conspiracy enabled the banks to pad their profits without regard to fairness, the law or the public good.

Besides the criminal label, however, nothing much has changed for the banks. And that means nothing much has changed for the public. There is no meaningful accountability in the plea deals and, by extension, no meaningful deterrence from future wrongdoing. In a memo to employees this week, the chief executive of Citi, Michael Corbat, called the criminal behavior “an embarrassment” – not the word most people would use to describe a felony but an apt one in light of the fact that the plea deals are essentially a spanking, nothing more.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Big Banks Are Corrupt — and Getting Worse

The Justice Department’s latest settlement with felonious big banks was announced this week, but the repercussions were limited to a few headlines and some scattered protestations.

That’s not enough. We need to understand that our financial system is not merely corrupt in practice. It is corrupt by design – and the problem is growing. [..]

Our banking system has a design problem, because its incentives are broken. Financialization is stifling the productive economy. And the systemic threat posed by our biggest banks has made them immune from real punishment.

These massive financial institutions don’t need a PR campaign. They need to be cleaned up – and they need to be broken up.

“If you ain’t cheating,” said one of the traders involved in the currency exchange scandal, “you ain’t trying.” If we’re not addressing the financial sector’s systemic threat to our economy, or its affronts to our system of justice, then we ain’t trying either.

Eugene Rodinson: Chasing Miracles in Iraq

If Iraqis won’t fight for their nation’s survival, why on earth should we?

This is the question posed by the fall of Ramadi, which revealed the emptiness at the core of U.S. policy. President Obama’s critics are missing the point: Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many troops he sends back to Iraq or whether their footwear happens to touch the ground. The simple truth is that if Iraqis will not join together to fight for a united and peaceful country, there will be continuing conflict and chaos that potentially threaten American interests.

We should be debating how best to contain and minimize the threat. Further escalating the U.S. military role, I would argue, will almost surely lead to a quagmire that makes us no more secure. If the choice is go big or go home, we should pick the latter.

Robert Reich: Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #5: How to Reinvent Education

Senator Bernie Sanders is making waves with a big idea to reinvent education: Making public colleges and universities tuition-free.

I couldn’t agree more. Higher education isn’t just a personal investment. It’s a public good that pays off in a more competitive workforce and better-informed and engaged citizens. Every year, we spend nearly $100 billion on corporate welfare, and more than $500 billion on defense spending. Surely ensuring the next generation can compete in the global economy is at least as important as subsidies for big business and military adventures around the globe.

In fact, I think we can and must go further — not just making public higher education tuition-free, but reinventing education in America as we know it.

Juan Cole: Washington Asks, ‘Who Lost Ramadi?’ But Washington Never Had Ramadi

The inside-the-Beltway debate set off by the fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) on Sunday is, as usual, Dadaistic in its disconnection from reality. Republican talking points blame Barack Obama for withdrawing US troops from Iraq in 2011, as though Daesh suddenly began in 2012. The GOP figures typically don’t mention that it was George W. Bush who set the end of 2011 as the date for a total US withdrawal from Iraq, because that was all he could get from the Iraqi parliament.

But the whole debate about “who lost Ramadi?” assumes facts not in evidence, i.e. that Ramadi has ever been “pacified” or somehow a United States protectorate, sort of like Guam or Puerto Rico.

The United States has been for the Sunni Arabs of Iraq what the Mongols were to Baghdad in 1258, an alien invading force that came in and turned things upside down.

The Breakfast Club (Instrumental Innovations)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgPeople who are not really familiar with Art Music (and even some who are) have a tendency to think that modern orchestral instrumentation sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus like Athena.  The truth is that composers often look for novel sounds and instruments and players instruments that are easier to play.

Consider the valved Brass instruments I’m most familiar with.  Until the late 18th, early 19th century there was no such thing.  Instead you were limited to major harmonics controlled by your embouchure (basically the tightness of your lips and facial muscles).  Sure you could flatten or sharp it a little, but if you wanted to play in a different key, you had to use a different instrument.

Even an unvalved French Horn (the oldest of the modern brass instruments) was invented as recently as 1725.

During the Baroque and Classical periods instrumentation changed quite a bit, so much so that there is now an Early Music movement dedicated to Renaissance and Medieval instruments and performance styles.  Concert strings switched from fretted to unfretted (which makes certain obvious and non-obvious changes to the harmonics that are too difficult to get into here).  Flat backs were replaced by shaped ones that sound louder.  Lutes are replaced by guitars.

The Woodwind instruments (flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon) owe their modern shape to Theobald Boehm who in 1847 introduced a simplified (Hah!  Too many for me.) fingering system that used a complicated set of levers and pads to control the airflow, and thus the harmonics.

You may be somewhat aware of the development of the Pianoforte (means Soft/Loud) from the earlier Harpsichord by replacing a plucked string system with a percussive hammer action.  Well, that happened in 1700, 400 years ago but not, you know, in the dim dark mists of some pre-historic time.  New York City had over 7,000 inhabitants and was to publish it’s very first newspaper in a mere 25 years (same time as the French Horn).

The Saxophone, the newest of what is generally considered a “classic” orchestra instrument was patented in 1840 by Adolphe Sax.  The Tuba in 1835.

So what occasions this discussion of the history of musical instruments?  The 81st birthday of Robert Moog.

There is an unfortunate prejudice against electronic instruments in Art Music.  Because they are programmable (with the right kind of controls) they are derided as mere recordings and, because they can replace many imperfect musicians with one that always does what you tell it to (which may not be what you want), are rightly viewed as an employment threat.

In their earliest forms though a considerable amount of skill and practice was required, just as with any instrument.  One of the first electronic instruments was the Theremin.  It was patented by Léon Theremin in 1928.  You don’t physically touch the instrument, it senses the capacitance between your hands and the sensors to control pitch and volume.  While it did gain some novelty attraction in Art Music world it is best known for lending its 87 year old “futuristic” sound to movie sound tracks and TV theme songs.

Recognize that?  It’s the Dr. Who theme commonly credited to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop that was really composed by Ron Grainer and performed by Delia Derbyshire.

Robert Moog built one himself and later put together a fairly popular (among electronics geeks) kit.

A really popular electronic instrument is the Hammond electric organ from 1935.  It was intended as a low cost, lighter, semi-portable alternative to a traditional pipe organ and quickly saturated the ecclesiastical market.  The sound is produced “by creating an electric current from rotating a metal tonewheel near an electromagnetic pickup.”  While it has many buttons and sliders that can produce different sounds none of them actually sound like an organ and the greatest similarity is the stop switches and keyboard controls.

What Moog did that was different with his synthesizer is that he didn’t try to duplicate anything.  I had an opportunity to work with an early model and it was basically a wave form generator patched through an amplifier.

There are 3 basic types, Sine, Square, and Sawtooth, so named because that’s what they look like on an oscilloscope which is your main output device (other than your speakers).  You can control amplitude and frequency and (in the case of Sawtooth) rate of attack and decline.  Using these fundamental tools it is theoretically possible to reproduce any sound at all.

Theoretically.  Most of my efforts sounded like that annoying hum you get when you haven’t plugged your components together properly, but I am decidedly unmusical and only had a couple of hours to play with it.

Modern practice is to sample the sound you want to duplicate, analyze it to its components, and tweak the output until it sounds the way you like.  Computer generated sound is capable of things human musicians can not duplicate any more than John Henry, on the other hand you still have to imagine it and tell them what to do.  60 Hz AC is perfectly acceptable noise, but it’s hardly a symphony.

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

On This Day In History May 23

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

May 23 is the 143rd day of the year (144th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 222 days remaining until the end of the year.

Click on images to enlarge

On this day in 1873, the Canadian Parliament establishes the North West Mounted Police, the forerunner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

North-West Mounted Police

The RCMP has its beginnings in the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). The police was established by an act of legislation from the Temporary North-West Council the first territorial government of the Northwest Territories. The Act was approved by the Government of Canada and established on May 23, 1873, by Queen Victoria, on the advice of her Canadian Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, with the intent of bringing law and order to, and asserting sovereignty over, the Northwest Territories. The need was particularly urgent given reports of American whiskey traders, in particular those of Fort Whoop-Up, causing trouble in the region, culminating in the Cypress Hills Massacre. The new force was initially to be called the North West Mounted Rifles, but this proposal was rejected as sounding too militaristic in nature, which Macdonald feared would antagonize both aboriginals and Americans; however, the force was organized along the lines of a cavalry regiment in the British Army, and was to wear red uniforms.

The NWMP was modelled directly on the Royal Irish Constabulary, a civilian paramilitary armed police force with both mounted and foot elements under the authority of what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. First NWMP commissioner, Colonel George Arthur French visited Ireland to learn its methods.

The initial force, commanded by Commissioner French, was assembled at Fort Dufferin, Manitoba. They departed on July 8, 1874, on a march to what is now Alberta.

The group comprised 22 officers, 287 men – called constables and sub-constables – 310 horses, 67 wagons, 114 ox-carts, 18 yoke of oxen, 50 cows and 40 calves. A pictorial account of the journey was recorded in the diary of Henri Julien, an artist from the Canadian Illustrated News, who accompanied the expedition.

Their destination was Fort Whoop-Up, a notorious whiskey trading post located at the junction of the Belly and Oldman Rivers. Upon arrival at Whoop-Up and finding it abandoned the troop continued a few miles west and established headquarters on an island in the Oldman, naming it Fort MacLeod.

Historians have theorized that failure of the 1874 March West would not have completely ended the Canadian federal government’s vision of settling the country’s western plains, but could have delayed it for many years. It could also have encouraged the Canadian Pacific Railway to seek a more northerly route for its transcontinental railway that went through the well-mapped and partially settled valley of the North Saskatchewan River, touching on Prince Albert, Battleford and Edmonton, and through the Yellowhead Pass, as originally proposed by Sandford Fleming. This would have offered no economic justification for the existence of cities like Brandon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Medicine Hat, and Calgary, which could, in turn, have tempted American expansionists to make a play for the flat, empty southern regions of the Canadian prairies.

The NWMP’s early activities included containing the whiskey trade and enforcing agreements with the First Nations peoples; to that end, the commanding officer of the force arranged to be sworn in as a justice of the peace, which allowed for magisterial authority within the Mounties’ jurisdiction. In the early years, the force’s dedication to enforcing the law on behalf of the First Nations peoples impressed the latter enough to encourage good relations between them and the Crown. In the summer of 1876, Sitting Bull and thousands of Sioux fled from the US Army towards what is now southern Saskatchewan, and James Morrow Walsh of the NWMP was charged with maintaining control in the large Sioux settlement at Wood Mountain. Walsh and Sitting Bull became good friends, and the peace at Wood Mountain was maintained. In 1885, the NWMP helped to quell the North-West Rebellion led by Louis Riel. They suffered particularly heavy losses during the Battle of Duck Lake, but saw little other active combat.

Extension of Patriot Act Provisions Blocked

C-Span is fast becoming my late night entertainment channel. The Senate’s votes on the House USA Freedom Act and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempts to extend the Patriot Act provisions for mass surveillance, for even one day past June 1, were well worth staying up to the early morning hours well worth the loss of sleep. (Not that I don’t anyway.) It was, at last, an epic #FAIL for the spies and fear mongers on both votes.

By a vote of 57-42, the USA Freedom Act failed on Friday to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance in the Senate after hours of procedural manoeuvering lasted into the wee hours Saturday morning.

The result left the Senate due to reconvene on May 31, just hours before a wellspring of broad NSA and FBI domestic spying powers will expire at midnight.

Architects of the USA Freedom Act had hoped that the expiration at the end of May of the Patriot Act authorities, known as Section 215, provided them sufficient leverage to undo the defeat of 2014 and push their bill over the line.

The bill was a compromise to limit the scope of government surveillance. It traded the end of NSA bulk surveillance for the retention through 2019 of Section 215, which permits the collection of “business records” outside normal warrant and subpoena channels – as well as a massive amount of US communications metadata, according to a justice department report. [..]

On Saturday morning, after both cloture votes failed, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell asked for unanimous consent to extend the Patriot Act for a week. Paul objected. Objections were then heard from Paul, as well as from Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich on four-day, two-day and one-day extensions. Eventually McConnell gave up and announced that the Senate would adjourn until 31 May, the day before the key provisions of the Patriot Act expire. [..]

Those who want a straight extension of the Patriot Act are in a distinct minority and supporters of the USA Freedom Act still cannot muster the necessary super majority to advance the bill. The result means those who are more than happy to simply let Section 215 expire on May 31 are in the driver’s seat.

When reporters asked Paul on Saturday morning whether he was concerned about the provisions of the Patriot Act expiring at the end of the month, the Kentucky Republican seemed unworried “We were liking the constitution for about 200 years and I think we could rely on the constitution.”

Watch Sen. Paul shut down Sen McConnell’s attempts to extend the Patriot Act,

Also caught in that clip was Sen. Huckleberry Butchmeup rolling his eyes and picking his nose as Sen. Paul was speaking.

This was Marcy Wheeler’s (emptywheel) reaction on the proceedings

It’s not certain just how “legal” Pres. Obama’s request to the FISA court would be considering the federal appeals court ruling last week that found the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of phone records illegal.

The Senate will return from the Memorial Day break one day early, on May 31, to reconsider an extension of the three provisions of the Patriot Act that will expire the next day.

Let me say two things. First, I am ashamed that any Democrat supported the farce House bill that does nothing to protect our Fourth Amendment rights. Sorry, Sen. Boxer, this is not protecting our county.

Second, a hearty thanks to Senator Rand Paul, who for the fist time that I can remember, went past Charles Pierce’s five minute rule for anything he says.

Health and Fitness News

Welcome to the Stars Hollow Gazette‘s Health and Fitness News weekly diary. It will publish on Saturday afternoon and be open for discussion about health related issues including diet, exercise, health and health care issues, as well as, tips on what you can do when there is a medical emergency. Also an opportunity to share and exchange your favorite healthy recipes.

Questions are encouraged and I will answer to the best of my ability. If I can’t, I will try to steer you in the right direction. Naturally, I cannot give individual medical advice for personal health issues. I can give you information about medical conditions and the current treatments available.

You can now find past Health and Fitness News diaries here and on the right hand side of the Front Page.

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Turn Your Fruit Into Ice

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Martha Rose Shulman helps cool off with a new way to ice up your favorite fruits. Her mango and lime sorbet is tangy and not very sweet, with just enough sugar and corn syrup to allow the mixture to freeze properly without developing ice crystals.

Mango Lime Sorbet

This sorbet is tangy and not very sweet.

Mango Lassi Ice

I used honey instead of sugar. The result is a creamy, tangy sherbet.

Watermelon Sorbet or Granita

This works only if your watermelon is juicy and sweet.

Pear Vanilla Sorbet

Wait until your pears are nice and ripe, for maximum flavor.

Fig Sorbet

Make sure to use fully ripe, sweet figs for this. My favorite way to make this is with red wine.