Israel’s cynical, punishing answer to Palestine’s UN vote: more settlements in Jerusalem: “As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said. The prime minister’s office refused to comment on whether the settlement expansion — first reported on Twitter by a reporter for the Israeli daily Haaretz — was punishment for the Palestinians’ success in upgrading its status from nonmember observer entity to nonmember observer state at the United Nations, but it was widely seen as such.” From the Times.
Attention Whiners: Your Tax Burden Is Indeed Lower Today Than It Was During the Reagan 80s: “Most Americans in 2010 paid far less in total taxes — federal, state and local — than they would have paid 30 years ago. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the combination of all income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes took a smaller share of their income than it took from households with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980. Households earning more than $200,000 benefited from the largest percentage declines in total taxation as a share of income. Middle-income households benefited, too. More than 85 percent of households with earnings above $25,000 paid less in total taxes than comparable households in 1980. Lower-income households, however, saved little or nothing. Many pay no federal income taxes, but they do pay a range of other levies, like federal payroll taxes, state sales taxes and local property taxes. Only about half of taxpaying households with incomes below $25,000 paid less in 2010. The uneven decline is a result of two trends. Congress cut federal taxation at every income level over the last 30 years. State and local taxes, meanwhile, increased for most Americans. Those taxes generally take a larger share of income from those who make less, so the increases offset more and more of the federal savings at lower levels of income. In a half-dozen states, including Connecticut, Florida and New Jersey, the increases were large enough to offset the federal savings for most households, not just the poorer ones. Now an era of tax cuts may be reaching its end. The federal government depends increasingly on borrowed money to pay its bills, and many state and local governments are similarly confronting the reality that they are spending more money than they collect. In Washington, debates about tax cuts have yielded to debates about who should pay more.” The full story in the Times, and see the graph below.
Many First for Women in Congress in 2013: “As the U.S. speeds down an increasingly bumpy road toward that dreaded “fiscal cliff,” the inability of this lame duck Congress to come to some sort of reasonable compromise makes all of its members seem as oily and despicable as your classic cartoon villain. So I was glad to turn my back on the 112th Congress and focus on the next iteration — the 113th one that will convene in January 2013. Who says 13 is an unlucky number? I’m tempted to say, “Oh boy, oh boy” to express my excitement. But “oh girl, oh girl” would be more gender appropriate. In 2013 we will see a record number of women take their seats in Congress, including the first openly gay Senator ever elected, the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate, and the first all-female Congressional delegation ever elected along with a female governor. (Can you guess what state is so progressive-minded to elect such strong, smart women?) It’s all in my forward-looking wrap-up of the women of the 113th Congress, coming soon to a nation’s capitol near you…though unfortunately not soon enough if the current partisan Congress continues to play chicken with that cliff and our economy.” Linda Lowen’s full article.
Pretty much everything you eat is associated with cancer. Don’t worry about it. ” The vast majority of studies purporting to link foods to cancer have incredibly weak associations, often insignificant, according to new research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Jonathan D. Schoenfeld and John P.A. Ioannidis recently combed through the body of research on 50 of the most common cooking ingredients. They found that a full 40 of them had been the subject of a study tying the ingredient to a different level of cancer risk. […] The changes in cancer risk were all over the map: 39 percent found an increased risk, 33 percent found a decreased risk and 23 percent showed no clear evidence either way. Ingredients that had not yet been associated with cancer risk included baking soda and molasses. Don’t panic yet, though: The vast majority of those studies, Schoenfeld and Ioannidis found, showed really weak associations between the ingredient at hand and cancer risk. A full 80 percent of the studies had shown statistical relationships that were “weak or nominally significant,” as measured by the study’s P-values. Seventy-five percent of the studies purporting to show a higher cancer risk fell into this category, as did 76 percent of those showing a lower cancer risk.” From the Washington Post.
Bach’s Music, Pure and Impure: From a Wonderful essay by Jeremy Denk reviewing Paul Elie’s new Reinventing Bach (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): “THE ONLY TWO things missing in Bach’s music are randomness and sex. And yet in our era—so consumed with both—Bach has not lost his appeal. Bach’s ongoing star quality and his endless DNA-like capacity for mutation and adaptation are the subject of Paul Elie’s passionate and grand book. It is a work with a cast of thousands, circling its protagonist. I got the feeling as I read along that Bach was coursing through history like a fugal superhero. There really was no end to his capabilities: repairing organs, dispensing epiphanies, keeping pace with technological transformation, driving Glenn Gould insane, healing wounds of war, being ignored in the D.C. metro, helping Steve Jobs to release the iPad. Citizens of Gotham, look to your stereos! At this point nobody needs to be told that Bach is good. The votes are in. But mass approval is a force to be reckoned with, and the intensity of humanity’s worship of Bach has unforeseen consequences. I propose to reverse-engineer the usual praise. Rather than using our words to measure his goodness, we can use his music as a standard to measure our ideas of the good, to assess our prejudices about virtue. […] This is Bach as David Copperfield, making everything disappear. It is powerful and very prevalent, this desire for nothing but Bach pure, this trope of the falling away of all the specific trappings, leaving the universal essence behind. In this respect, we may compare Bach with the other father figure of “classical music”: Beethoven is great, but he is not pure. Beethoven reached toward a tortured purity in the late years, and attained a noble perfection in the middle ones (the “Archduke” Trio); but he himself never vanishes. His music seems hewn out of his will, an assertion of the individual and the artist as hero. Bach, by contrast, self-effaces. He is no hero; it is we who have made an unwilling hero out of him. […] more than any other composer, Bach represents the triumph of pure logic. He is synonymous with the fugue—the music of proposition, propagation, permutation. […] It is a powerful element of the Bach aura: no matter how much you tell yourself that it’s just music, you cannot resist hearing the play of numbers, the cosmic calculus. As a rule we don’t want music to act like Spock. We want it to let go, to make us feel, to express inward states. But Bach is a multi-tasker: his logic is unassailable but is not tedious. His proofs soar. He captures the deepest feeling while remaining perfectly logical, thereby demonstrating that those imperatives are not at all opposed. On the strength of this tremendous logic, Nicolas Slonimsky labeled Bach the “supreme arbiter and lawgiver of music,” which seems like hyperbole but isn’t. Bach is much more than a logician—he is Moses, minus Charlton Heston, handing down commandments. Bach’s laws similarly tend to come in convenient even-numbered packages: the thirty-two parts of the Goldbergs, the forty-eight preludes and fugues, the six cello suites, the six keyboard partitas. They lay down prescriptions about harmony, about the treatment of dissonance, about design and voice-leading—musical morals that most people would never understand but can perceive through Bach’s vision.” The full essay.
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