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Ayn Rand as Adolescent Sap, Private Prison Scams, Patraeus Rewrites Vietnam: The Live Wire

| July 23, 2011

bletchely park codebreakers monument england

The Bletchely Park monument to World War II’s codebreakers in Bletchley, England. The town was where Britain’s decryption establishment broke Nazi codes. (bpteditor)

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No to Pre-Funding Nuclear Plants in Missouri

For the past three years, Florida law has allowed Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light to charge ratepayers years in advance for costs of building nuclear plants that have yet to be permitted. Missouri attempted doing the same. The state said no. From Public News Service: “Advocates for clean, renewable energy are pointing to nuclear power financing plans turned down in recent months in Missouri and across the country, as examples of how the industry is too expensive and too volatile to meet the nation’s energy needs. Ed Smith, with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, says the Construction Work In Progress (CWIP) bill defeated this year would be for an Early Site Permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the amount of $45 million. The bill would have repealed a portion of a consumer protection law voters overwhelmingly passed in 1976, explains Smith. […] Supporters of the CWIP bill want more debate on its funding. They say the bill would provide consumers a rebate if the plant is never built. It could come up during the special legislative session in September. Along with Missouri, Smith says other State Legislatures have defeated nuclear measures this year: in Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin. […] Smith also notes renewed concerns about nuclear energy safety since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami disaster in March, and recent flooding threats to a plant in Nebraska.” The full story.

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Private Prison Sell-Out

handcuffs children

Gray sites in Florida.

From In These Times: “On May 16, just four days after demonstrations against the private prison industry in cities across the country—part of the National Prison Industry Divestment Campaign—Pershing Square Capital Management, a New York-based hedge fund, sold its remaining shares of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) stock. After selling 3.4 million shares earlier in the year, the fund unloaded another 4.4 million. Altogether, the shares were worth nearly $200 million. […] CCA, the private prison industry’s largest company, which has contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshal Service, is also the nation’s largest detainer of undocumented immigrants. Since the company began to receive ICE contracts in 2000, immigrant rights groups have been targeting CCA for prisoner abuse, poor working conditions for guards and the company’s connections to anti-immigrant legislation. Now Enlace is trying to force reform by targeting firms that financially support CCA’s entire industry. […] A 2005 lawsuit brought by the watchdog group Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service against GEO, the nation’s second-largest private prison company, claimed there was only one social worker for 483 inmates at the GEO-run Michigan Youth Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich. The facility reported 61 suicide attempts in a six-month period that year, compared to 18 the previous year. As of December 31, 2010, Wells Fargo had $88.7 million invested in GEO and $5.9 million in CCA. “When we spoke to Wells Fargo, they denied having any holdings with CCA and GEO group. Even though the information is public, they still denied it,” said Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, director of Enlace. While the bank may not admit its connections to the private prison industry—at least to activists—its investments are sound. Detainment is a lucrative trade. Prisons can earn $90-$200 per inmate per night, which translates into nearly $5 billion in revenues each year. The industry has lobbied diligently to secure profits, supporting and even writing laws to increase prison sentences and populations, especially among undocumented immigrants. Between 2003 and 2010, private prison companies spent more than $20 million lobbying legislators and the Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, GEO has given $790,000 to lobbying firms HighGround and Podesta Group, while CCA has given $680,000 to the Washington, D.C. lobbying firm Akin Gump.” The full story.

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Ayn Rand, Adolescent Sap

ayn rand

Ayn Rand

Gary Percesepe writes in The Millions: “We met at a writer’s conference at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. At sixty-six, Patrick O’Connor had a roving eye and a drinking problem. A self-professed Trotskyite and anti-Stalinist from the old radical ‘30s left wing of the Democrat party, he was Ayn Rand’s editor at New American Library in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We quickly discovered we had something in common: our aversion to Ayn Rand’s philosophy. […] I was prepared to dislike Patrick O’Connor intensely, based upon his association with a writer I considered odious. But he knocked me off balance with his first words. I later learned he was quite practiced at this. […]

I asked him directly: What was she like to work with? How had he managed to be that woman’s editor all those years?

Do you want to know why Ayn Rand’s books sell so well? he countered.

Well, yes.

Because she writes the best children’s literature in America, O’Connor said. The Fountainhead is practically a rite of passage for alienated youth. She writes these epic, Wagnerian things. Where the sex takes place on the very highest plane and it speaks to the kids’ highest aspirations, their youthful idealism. It’s all YA stuff.

In that case, I argued, people should grow out of her, like a phase, they should get over her ideas when they become adults.

This is America, he said. There aren’t many ideas. Ayn Rand had a few simple ones which she believed in fiercely and promoted relentlessly.

But surely you don’t agree with her philosophy? The whole Objectivism thing from Atlas Shrugged?

Of course not! But we never talked politics. I knew better.” The full story.

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Circumcisees of the World, Unite

Michael Lerner opposes the proposed ban on circumcision. He writes in Tikkun: “Circumcision does not have a higher status in Torah law than other commandments that have been ignored or transformed in the course of the evolution of Judaism. The entire system of animal sacrifice has been abandoned. The author of the article on circumcision in this Summer 2011 issue of Tikkun contends that it has been a key element in patriarchal practice. Perhaps. But even the most cursory look at other societies that did not practice circumcision, e.g., feudal Europe, Chinese dynasties, Nazi Germany, or Soviet Russia, shows that they had no problem maintaining patriarchal practices without it. […] Why did circumcision become so important? Why did it not get “reinterpreted” or simply abandoned over the centuries as so many other ancient rites disappeared from Jewish practice? Largely because the Greek and Roman conquerors of ancient Israel found the practice “barbaric” and banned it on penalty of death. […] There is little evidence that circumcised men have less sexual pleasure than uncircumcised men, and some evidence that they are less likely to carry some diseases than the uncircumcised. The debate on circumcision will likely intensify in coming years. But one thing should be clear: the American majority should not impose its will or cultural preference on members of the Jewish minority who are committed to continuing the practice. Those who have put circumcision on the ballot in San Francisco and elsewhere, or used other methods to ban circumcision, are undermining the First Amendment rights of Jews and creating a slippery slope toward the abolition of all religious practices.” The full defense.

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Can Music Slow Down Aging?

The Flagler Youth Orchestra performing before the school board. (© FlaglerLive)

From Psychology Today: “The hours of rehearsal (amid the melodramatic interludes) of the high school students on Fox’s hit series, “Glee,” may be paying off for them as they eventually graduate and move into their adult lives. High school students around the world are re-thinking their involvement in what, in the past, was seen as one of the least cool routes to high school popularity (“Gleek-ish”?). […] According to two recent studies, the rising popularity of musical activity should help future generations by enabling them to stay mentally sharp throughout their lives. In the first investigation, University of Kansas researchers Brenda Hanna-Pladdy and Alicia MacKay compared three groups of 70 healthy older adults ranging from 60 to 83 years old: nonmusicians, low activity musicians (from 1 to 9 years of formal training), and high activity (10 years of playing, including formal training). As you might expect, before comparing the groups, the researchers thought to control for every possible condition of importance, including the obvious ones of intelligence, physical exercise, and education. The results provided clear superiority of the highly active musicians in several areas including spatial (nonverbal) memory, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility. The more the years of practice the individual engaged in, the better the cognitive performance. The second study focused on auditory memory, the ability to remember what you hear. A team of researchers led by Northwestern University psychologist Alexandra Parbery- Clark compared middle-aged individuals (40-65 years old) who remained musically active throughout their lives with non-musicians of the same age. Although the two groups were the same in their hearing acuity, the musicians were far superior in their auditory memory and in their ability to detect auditory signals amid a noisy background. Unlike the Hanna-Pladdy and MacKay study, these particular groups did not differ in visual memory, but of course, they were younger than the participants in that study.” The full story.

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Spielberg Takes On Tintin

From Wired: “Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson surprised audiences at Comic-Con with stunning new 3-D footage of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. They mentioned plans for a sequel and hinted at a forthcoming Jurassic Park 4. The duo, who received a standing ovation in Hall H, showed just over four minutes of unseen footage of Tintin in 3-D and discussed working together to create the film. Spielberg directed and Jackson produced the adaptation the Belgian comic strip by Georges Remi, aka Hergé. Jackson’s company Weta Digital handled the performance-capture animation. “This was the medium that was begging us to use it, I think, to the best of the current state of the art,” Spielberg said. “Every person who animated every frame of this, animated every frame of Avatar. We were very lucky to land in Peter’s backyard.” […] The Tintin footage they presented showed a lot more action than has been revealed in previous trailers (including the boy reporter’s first encounter with Captain Haddock). Each frame of Tintin took five hours to animate, and Jackson noted that about 2,000 computers are currently in use at Weta Digital.” The full story.

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Steve Carrell: the Profile

Tad Friend in The New Yorker: “What’s the smartest way to play dumb? Steve Carell carries that question around like a portable chessboard. […] Carell has a face built for comedy, its Sears-catalogue handsomeness hilarified by a butter pat of hair, an L-wrench nose, and deep-socketed, woe-is-me green eyes. On “Action,” his deadpan came alive; Barry was clearly enjoying the best party of his life. Carell earns his laughs not with wit—he dislikes jokey jokes, or dialogue that suggests his character is trying to be funny—but by investing all his faith and energy in deeply boneheaded convictions. […] Carell told me, “I look at improvising as a prolonged game of chess. There’s an opening gambit with your pawn in a complex game I have with one character, and lots of side games with other characters, and another game with myself—and in each game you make all these tiny, tiny moves that get you to the endgame. Not that your character would remember them all—who keeps track of everything he’s said to everyone?—but you as an actor have to remember everything.” The full profile.

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Gen. David Petraeus on the Lessons of Vietnam

Mr. Curveball.

David Patreus wrote an essay called “Lessons of History and Lessons of Vietnam” in an issue of Parameters in 1986, when he was a major, and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Sciences, US Military Academy. Parameters reprinted the essay. Patraeus writes: writing in Parameters: “The first error that policy-makers frequently commit when employing history is to focus unduly on a particularly dramatic or traumatic event which they experienced personally. The last war or the most recent crisis assumes unwarranted importance in the mind of the decision-maker seeking historical precedents to illuminate the present. This inclination often is unfounded. There is little reason why those events that occurred during the lifetime of a particular leader and thus provide ready analogies should in fact be the best guides to the present or future. Just because the decision-maker happened to experience the last war is no reason that it, rather than earlier wars, should provide guidance for the contemporary situation. […] Counterinsurgency operations, in particular, require close civil-military cooperation. Unfortunately, this requirement runs counter to the traditional military desire, reaffirmed in the lessons of Vietnam, to operate autonomously and resist political meddling and micromanagement in operational concerns. Military officers are of course intimately aware of Clausewitz’s dictum that war is a continuation of politics by other means; many, however, do not appear to accept fully the implications of Clausewitzian logic. This can cause problems, for while military resistance to political micromanagement is often well founded, it can, if carried to excess, be counterproductive. […] Nor should Vietnam be permitted to become such a dominant influence in the minds of decision-makers that it inhibits the discussion of specific events on their own merits. It would be more profitable to address the central issues of any particular case that arises than to debate endlessly whether the situation could evolve into “another Vietnam.” In their use of history politicians and military planners alike would do well to recall David Fischer’s finding that “the utility of historical knowledge consists . . . in the enlargement of substantive contexts within which decisions are made, . . . in the refinement of a thought structure which is indispensable to purposeful decisionmaking.”” The full essay.

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Lucian Freud (1922 – 2011)

Freud’s Standing by the Rags from Smarthistory Videos on Vimeo.

From the Times obituary: “Lucian Freud, whose stark and revealing paintings of friends and intimates, splayed nude in his studio, recast the art of portraiture and offered a new approach to figurative art, died on Wednesday night at his home in London. He was 88. […] Mr. Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud and a brother of the British television personality Clement Freud, was already an important figure in the small London art world when, in the immediate postwar years, he embarked on a series of portraits that established him as a potent new voice in figurative art. In paintings like “Girl With Roses” (1947-48) and “Girl With a White Dog” (1951-52), he put the pictorial language of traditional European painting in the service of an anti-romantic, confrontational style of portraiture that stripped bare the sitter’s social facade. Ordinary people — many of them his friends — stared wide-eyed from the canvas, vulnerable to the artist’s ruthless inspection. From the late 1950s, when he began using a stiffer brush and moving paint in great swaths around the canvas, Mr. Freud’s nudes took on a new fleshiness and mass. His subjects, pushed to the limit in exhausting extended sessions, day after day, dropped their defenses and opened up. The faces showed fatigue, distress, torpor. The flesh was mottled, lumpy and, in the case of his 1990s portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery and the phenomenally obese civil servant Sue Tilley, shockingly abundant.” The full obituary.

Chart Porn: Top 20 Google Keywords

From Tech Crunch: “Google makes a heck of a lot of money from online advertising. In fact, 97 percent of Google’s revenue, which totaled $33.3 billion in the past twelve months, comes from advertising. WordStream, a venture capital-backed provider of hosted software that automates most of the manual work involved with creating and optimizing both paid and natural search engine marketing campaigns, has done some research to discover which keyword categories fetch the highest costs per click (CPC) in Google’s AdWords solution. And of course, they made an infographic based on the results of their research” See:

Click on the graph for larger view

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A Few Good Links

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