The Worrying Vacuity Of Hillary Clinton

The Worrying Vacuity Of Hillary Clinton
By Andrew Sullivan

Hillary Rodham Clinton Book Presentation

I’ve tried to avoid the Clinton book tour bullshit this past month or so. Not good for my blood pressure. When I checked in occasionally, it was to discover that nothing much has changed. The Clintons are still self-pitying money-grubbers – $12 million in speaking fees since she left the State Department? – and now their offspring, exploiting her nepotistic advantage with all the scrupulous ethics of her parents, is continuing the grift. If you ask of Clinton what she’s fighting for, what she believes in, if you want to get her to disagree with you on something, good luck. Any actual politics right now would tarnish the inevitability of a resume-led coronation. That the resume has little of any substance in her four years as secretary of state does not concern her. She was making “hard choices”, and if we cannot appreciate that, tant pis.

I’d like to find a reason to believe she’s a political force who stands for something in an era when there is a real appetite for serious change. She could, after all, decide to campaign vociferously in favor of the ACA this summer and fall (universal healthcare is, after all, one of her positions), but that might siphon money away from her foundation and candidacy. She could get out there and start framing a foreign policy vision. But, again, too risky. I see nothing that suggests a real passion for getting on with the fight – just the usual presumptions of a super-elite, super-rich and super-cocooned politician of the gilded age.

So I did watch the Daily Show interview last week, and was not surprised. As in most of her softball media appearances, she was both unctuous and vapid. But even I was aghast at the sheer emptiness and datedness of her one attempt to articulate a future for American foreign policy. She actually said that our main problem is that we haven’t been celebrating America enough, that we “have not been telling our story very well” and that if we just “get back to telling” that story about how America stands for freedom and opportunity, we can rebuild our diminished international stature. One obvious retort: wasn’t she, as secretary of state, you know, now responsible for telling that tale – so isn’t she actually criticizing herself?

Next up: could she say something more vacuous and anodyne? Or something more out of tune with a post-Iraq, post-torture, post- Afghanistan world? Peter Beinart had the same reaction: “As a vision for America’s relations with the world,” he wrote, “this isn’t just unconvincing. It’s downright disturbing”:

It’s true that young people overseas don’t remember the Cold War. But even if they did, they still wouldn’t be inspired by America’s “great story about [promoting] human freedom, human rights, human opportunity.” That’s because in the developing world—where most of humanity lives—barely anyone believes that American foreign policy during the Cold War actually promoted those things. What they mostly remember is that in anticommunism’s name, from Pakistan to Guatemala to Iran to Congo, America funded dictators and fueled civil wars.

Larison piles on:

Changing the substance of policies is never seriously considered, because there is little or no recognition that these policies need correction or reversal. This takes for granted that opposition to U.S. policies is mostly the product of misunderstanding or miscommunication rather than an expression of genuinely divergent interests and grievances. I don’t know that Clinton is naive or oblivious enough to believe this (I doubt it), but it’s instructive that she thinks this is a good argument to make publicly. She is more or less saying that there is nothing wrong with U.S. foreign policy that can’t be fixed by better marketing and salesmanship, and that’s just profoundly wrong. It’s also what we should expect from someone as conventionally hawkish and “centrist” on foreign policy as Clinton is.

My fear is that she doesn’t actually mean any of this. She just needed to say something, and so came out with a stream of consciousness that is completely platitudinous and immune to Fox News attacks. It’s a defensive crouch that is always her first instinct. Think of the Terry Gross interview – and her discomfort in grappling with actual disagreement, from her own base that time. Her goal is always safety. And safety won’t cut it in a populist age.

So if she runs, my guess is she’ll wrap herself tightly in the maximalist concept of American exceptionalism and make this her appeal as a post-Obama presidency. See? she’ll say to the same voting groups she went for last time. I’m a real American, and I believe in America. And yay America!

Maybe this is merely a function that she isn’t running yet (and still may not). Why stir the pot if your goal at this point is merely selling books and raking in more corporate, Goldman Sacks dough? But when, I wonder, has she been otherwise? She remains scarred by the 1990s, understandably so. But the country has moved on in a way she seems to find hard to comprehend.

(Photo: Hillary Rodham Clinton, former United States Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady of the United States, speaks during the presentation of the German translation of her book ‘Hard Choices’ (‘Entscheidungen’ in German) at the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater on July 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. By Adam Berry/Getty Images.)

July 24, 2014 at 1:40PM
via The Dish

What Paul Ryan still misses in his new, more serious poverty plan

What Paul Ryan still misses in his new, more serious poverty plan
By Emily Badger

Rep. Paul Ryan (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

To his credit, Paul Ryan did not once invoke “bootstraps.” In a speech unveiling his new poverty proposal Thursday morning at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, he did not describe the safety net as a “hammock” a single time. He did not use thinly veiled code words about the “inner city.” He did not misleadingly suggest — as he has often in the past — that the war on poverty has failed, when in fact much research tells us suggests that federal programs, despite their flaws, have lifted millions of Americans out of destitution.

Ryan is learning to talk about poverty in ways that don’t make his ideas instantly unpalatable to the left, to advocates for the poor, to researchers and program officers who recognize that poverty is a sign of so much more than the absence of effort. But for all of his welcome nuance — his new plan includes several ideas that can be cheered across the political spectrum — Ryan still misunderstands or glosses over some crucial points about the causes of poverty and what’s needed to alleviate it.

The centerpiece of Ryan’s deficit-neutral proposal is an idea to consolidate the federal government’s many anti-poverty programs, including food stamps, cash assistance and housing vouchers, into a single more flexible funding stream that would be available to the states in the form of block grants. Local public or private service providers who know best would then tailor those resources to the needs of individual recipients. Maybe one family needs housing help. Maybe another requires subsidies for child care. This idea rightly recognizes the poverty isn’t experienced the same way by everyone. But here is what how Ryan’s plan suggests what should happen next:

Providers must be held accountable, and so should recipients. Each beneficiary will sign a contract with consequences for failing to meet the agreed-upon benchmarks. At the same time, there should also be incentives for people to go to work. Under each life plan, if the individual meets the benchmarks ahead of schedule, then he or she could be rewarded.

His “discussion draft” says more about the benefits to achieving these goals (like “getting a job within six months”) than the sanctions consequences for failing to meet them. But the idea is fundamentally punitive. It betrays the fact that Ryan’s latest thinking has not strayed all that far from the simplistic notion that people in poverty are solely to blame for their own circumstances. An incentive system like this assumes that end goals such as employment are entirely within the control of a poor people if they would just try hard enough.

This notion fails to recognize that, while personal responsibility is important, so too are structural obstacles in the economy, in the education system, in the housing market. We can hardly expect personal effort alone to overcome poverty without systemic investment on society’s part on the fronts beyond a poor person’s control.

The idea of a contract with punitive benchmarks also ignores lessons that researchers have learned about the effects of poverty on cognition. Princeton psychologist Eldar Shfair and Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan have argued that the stress of living in poverty sucks up mental bandwidth the rest of us take for granted. That mental tax means that a mom may forget to take her medication, or to pay a utility bill on time, with each mistake yielding a cascade of other problems. This means that living in poverty is like living without room for error. It also means that we should design anti-poverty programs that are flexible and forgiving, not punitive and deadline-oriented.

Another crucial element of Ryan’s plan is that we should test results as states try out new programs, replicate what works and ditch what doesn’t. In theory, evidenced-based policy is an important idea, and it’s one everyone can agree on. But, particularly in the realm of poverty, measuring success is much more complicated than Ryan suggests (his proposal devotes just one page to this topic).

Poverty is inherited across generations, which means that success overcoming it is a long game, too. Measuring it is not just about having access to data; it’s about having patience in collecting it. It’s about finding rigorous ways to isolate the value of interventions among the many interconnected factors that contribute to and stem from poverty. How are we to know, for instance, if a child performs better in school because she was given extra tutoring, or because she was given nutrition assistance, or housing stability?

How will we know what outcomes we’re looking for? The literature is full of unexpected connections: food stamps improve graduation rates, health care access increases college enrollment, housing stability leads to children with better employment prospects as adults. If we’re going to look for “results,” then we must acknowledge that aid to the poor can yield positive outcomes that are only visible when we look beyond family income and employment.

Here is one final complication: The appeal of Ryan’s plan is that it would grant local officials greater control to tailor solutions to the kinds of problems their poor residents face. Perhaps housing affordability is a bigger issue in San Francisco. Maybe reliable transportation is an acute problem in Atlanta, or childcare access an obstacle in New York. Allowing local governments greater freedom here recognizes that different communities, just like different families, have varying needs.

But here is another way to look at this variation:

Annie E. Casey Foundation

Annie E. Casey Foundation

That’s a map of states ranked by a cumulative index of child well-being, from an Annie E. Casey Foundation report I wrote about Wednesday. This is a Census map of poverty rates in the United States:

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 2.06.55 PM

This is a map from the Kaiser Family Foundation of states that have refused the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act:

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 2.11.29 PM

This is a Census map of the share of adults by state, over 25, with more than a high school degree:

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 2.18.14 PM

In reality, some states have worse track records — and differing commitments — to caring for the poor, to providing them health care, to lifting children and families out of poverty, to educating them. While block grants would recognize that a state like Texas has different needs from Minnesota, it would also place greater control in combating poverty in the hands of local governments with weak records on this front.

A child’s chances of moving up in the U.S. are already partly determined (and constrained) by where he or she lives. How would that picture change if we turned over much of the challenge of confronting poverty to the states themselves, with their differing views on who’s “deserving,” which needs are “basic,” and what role government should play? government should do? Ryan says he wants to start a conversation about reforming poverty programs. These questions should be a part of it.

July 24, 2014 at 3:09PM
via Wonkblog

John Oliver on America’s Terrible Infatuation With Prisons

John Oliver on America’s Terrible Infatuation With Prisons


This is filed in our “Humor” category, and there is humor in it, but it’s of a decidedly dark nature.

For-profit prisons are an affront to civilization. There are certain (very specific) things that we must not incentivize via the profit motive.

July 21, 2014 at 3:15PM
via Little Green Footballs

The polariton laser: With 250x lower power consumption, could this be the answer to on-chip optical interconnects?

The polariton laser: With 250x lower power consumption, could this be the answer to on-chip optical interconnects?
By Sebastian Anthony

IBM's silicon nanophotonic modulator/photodetector chip, with integrated electrical components
Engineers at the University of Michigan and Intel have succeeded in creating the first practical, room-temperature polariton laser. The polariton laser is of extreme interest because it requires just 0.004% of the current required by normal lasers, making it a prime candidate for use with on-chip optical interconnects. It is also believed that the polariton laser is the first new practical method of producing coherent laser light since the laser diode debuted more than 50 years ago in 1962.


July 23, 2014 at 2:34PM
via ExtremeTech

What Separates The Best Homebrews From from Rest? (II: Suggestions)

What Separates The Best Homebrews From from Rest? (II: Suggestions)
By Chris Colby

Yesterday, I posted an article about my recent judging experience. In it, I wondering what separated the very best homebrews from the rest, especially those that were fair to good, but not great. This is the conclusion to that article. 


IMG_2410In order to fix a problem, you have to properly identify it, and diagnose what is causing it. So, what separated the middling beers from the best in terms in the judging? Usually, it was a series of small things, rather than one factor that could be easily identified. In general, the middle of the pack beers tended to pour with a slight to moderate haze. The best ones were very clear. (Not filtered, crystal clear, but “I can read the words on a pencil through this” clear.) The best examples had a nice foam stand, with small bubbles, and foam that persisted and clung to the glass. Lesser examples had less foam and it disappeared more quickly. The best beers had fresh, enticing malt and hop aromas. For many beers in the middle, the overall intensity of aroma was low and what there was was not as appealing as that found in the best beers. They weren’t bad, they were just lackluster compared to the better examples. (Also, I will admit that judges can get their noses “blown out” when smelling beer after beer after beer. However, in the flights I judged, both of the judges went back to the beers we ranked the best to confirm our initial observations.) Likewise, the best examples had a great, fresh malt and hop flavor. In general, most beers had fairly decent body. Most showed levels of carbonation that were in the right ballpark and most showed no sign of (serious) fermentation faults or contamination to the degree of causing obvious off flavors.

As I mentioned before, I felt that any of the “decent” homebrews I judged could have been great if a few key pieces of the puzzle had fell into place. Although they sometimes had an array of minor problems, I’m betting that a few underlying causes lead to all (or at least most) of them. Here are my suggestions for moving from brewing good beers to brewing great beers.

My overarching idea is that if you pay attention to every detail, your beer will improve. As with just about everything in the world, to brew a really spectacular beer, you need to be “firing on all cylinders.” Cutting corners and time-saving techniques are fine if your primary goal is to brew beer quickly or easily. (And sometimes I’ve chosen that goal, so I’m not up on a high horse here.) However, if you want to brew superior beer, you need to perform each and every technique in a highly effective manner. You need to substitute the best procedures for those you can “get away with.” If the beer you brew is already fair to good, it should not take too much intervention to make it great the next time around. Here are some more concrete suggestions.


The General Approach

The best thing you can do is taste your finished beers side by side with a few of the best commercial examples of similar beers, or the homebrew of others who are good at it. In the judging on Saturday, many of the middle-of-the-pack beers tasted fine. Tasted on their own, it might be hard to point to anything wrong with them. However, in a lineup with some better-executed beers, their deficiencies become more evident. So taste your homebrew side by side with beers you expect to be great, and look for ways that your beer could improve. Then tweak your procedures and recipe, as needed, and brew that beer again — if you brewed a good beer before, it should be better after a round of evaluation and adjustment. No great beer was brewed once, it’s a process of finding a good idea and then refining it to a higher level.


Specific Suggestions That May Help

Although taking any individual beer from good to great depends on how it was brewed, here are a few things I think could benefit many homebrewers.

1.) Make an effort to find and use only the freshest ingredients. In the Northern hemisphere, hops are harvested only once a year, in the fall. In order to remain fresh, hops must be stored properly. If you are having trouble finding a source of fresh hops year round, consider buying what you’ll need around hop harvest time from a hop farm that deals with homebrewers. Then, store them — preferably in packaging that keeps out oxygen – in a non frost-free freezer. Unless you are purposely aging your hops, use them all within a year, then buy fresh hops the next year after harvest. Malt is produced year round. If you buy your malt by the sack, make an effort to find out when it was malted. Always smell your hops and malt before using them and chew a few kernels of your malt. Write down your impressions in your brewing notebook. In time, you will become better attuned to the characteristics of fresh hops and malt.

2.) Don’t skip any steps that have a purpose. For example, don’t skip the recirculation step to save time. Recirculation clarifies your wort so that you won’t need to boil as hard and as long to get adequate hot break during the boil. It also reduces the amount of grain husks in the boil, which can contribute to excess astringency. This is not to say that a more complex brewday is always better. Sometimes a short, high-temperature, single infusion mash will be superior to a long, temperature-stepped mash. However, most of the standard pieces of a full brew day are there for a reason.

3.) Boil your wort hard. Don’t settle for a wimpy boil. (Brew smaller volumes if needed.) In many cases, extending your 60-minute boil to 90 minutes will give you better break material — and hence clearer wort and later clearer beer. Also, adjust your boil pH, if needed, by adding a small amount (<50 ppm) of calcium to the boil.

4.) After the boil, separate the trub in your kettle from your clear wort as best you can. A little trub carry over into the fermenter is a good thing. (It provides nutrition for the yeast.) Beyond that though, it’s not a good thing. (Sometimes, letting the chilled wort settle for awhile helps with this. Keep the kettle covered, though. A hop jack also does a great job of filtering the wort.)

5.) Do everything you can to keep oxygen away from your finished beer. This includes when dry hopping.

6.) Finally, step up your game when it comes to cleaning and sanitation. I know that this is the most boring part of homebrewing and the vast majority of homebrewers will say that their sanitation is “fine.” (I’ve found that even when beer is obviously contaminated, most brewers won’t admit to being lax with their sanitation.) But it’s not an all-or-nothing thing. All beers — even the best — are contaminated to some degree. I suspect, although I’ll admit I can’t prove, that beers can suffer negative side effects from contamination, even when the levels of contamination fall below that which produces obvious symptoms — sour beers, phenolic flavors and aromas, diacetyl, etc. I think that low levels of contamination can rob a beer of the “intangibles” that separate a good beer from a great one. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that homebrewers who are “OCD” about cleaning and sanitation tend to produce better beers.

Along those lines, learn what sterile technique is. This is what biologists use when they need to minimize contamination in procedures, such as culturing specific bacteria or yeasts. You can’t mimic every bit of it in a brewery, but it will give you an idea of the mindset. Consider every un-sanitized surface to be coated with bacteria. (It is.) Consider there to be clouds of bacteria in the air. (There are.) Chilled wort or beer should never come in contact with any un-sanitized surface — and if you touch a sanitized surface, it is no longer sanitized. Chilled wort or beer should always be covered if it is exposed to air, for example during chilling or in a bottling bucket. Know when your wort and beer is the most susceptible and be doubly careful at those times. Get fermentation started as quickly as possible after wort chilling to suppress the growth of contaminants.

Finally, keep in mind that improving your beer will likely require addressing the aspects of brewing you pay the least attention to. (Did you skip the sanitation section because it wasn’t what you wanted to learn about?) Alternately, it may involve getting a piece of equipment that will allow you to do something well, rather than just adequately. Brewing the absolute best beers requires effort. If it didn’t, everyone would be doing it. However, if you approach that pinnacle, you’ll be happy you made the journey.


Related articles

Evaluate Your Ingredients

Good comments, though “proper yeast health” and “fermentation temperature control” really should be on this list.

July 23, 2014 at 2:45PM
via Beer and Wine Journal™

Verizon Gets Snarky, But Basically Admits That It’s The One Clogging Its Networks On Purpose

Verizon Gets Snarky, But Basically Admits That It’s The One Clogging Its Networks On Purpose
By Mike Masnick

So the war of words over interconnection has continued. Last week, we wrote about the back and forth between Verizon and Level 3 on their corporate blogs concerning who was really to blame for congestion slowing down your Netflix video watching. As we noted, Level 3 used Verizon’s own information to show that Verizon was, in fact, the problem. Basically, in spite of it being easy and cheap, Verizon was refusing to do a trivial operation of connecting up a few more ports, which Level3 had been asking them to do so for a long time. In other words, Verizon was refusing to do some very, very basic maintenance to deliver to its users exactly what Verizon had sold them.

Earlier this week, Verizon went back to its blog with another blog post from David Young, this one even snarkier than the last. Snark can be fun, but if the underlying message is completely bogus, you’re going to run into trouble. In fact, Young’s underlying message is so weak, that he more or less admits to absolutely everything that Level 3 was claiming in its post — while pretending it’s Level 3 that actually admitted fault!

Last week, Level 3 decided to call attention to their congested links into Verizon’s network. Unlike other Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which pay for connections into ISP networks to ensure they have adequate capacity to deliver the content they have been hired to deliver, Level 3 insists on only using its existing settlement-free peering links even though, as Level 3 surprisingly admits in their blog, these links are experiencing significant congestion. Level 3’s solution? Rather than buy the capacity they need, Level 3 insists that Verizon should add capacity to the existing peering link for additional downstream traffic even though the traffic is already wildly out of balance.
Except… no. Level 3 did not, in fact, call attention to its congested links. It showed that Verizon was the one making them congested by refusing to do the most basic thing that Level 3 had asked them to do: open up some more ports. The claim that Level 3 needs to “buy the capacity” it needs is simply wrong. As was quite clear, Level 3 has plenty of capacity. The problem is the bottleneck… and the bottleneck is Verizon. And Verizon is refusing to fix that bottleneck unless Level 3 pays up. And not the cost of the upgrade. Remember, Level 3 offered to pay the cost of the upgrade itself. Verizon, instead, is trying to change the nature of the deal, allowing its border routers to clog on purpose to force Level 3 to pay a totally new kind of fee to free up the bottleneck that Verizon itself created. It’s basically acting as a classic troll under the bridge — failing to deliver what it promises both sides of the internet market, unless it can squeeze a ton of extra cash from Level 3.

Most of the rest of Verizon’s snarky post takes a fight that Level 3 had with Cogent a decade ago concerning peering totally out of context. In that fight, it’s true that Level 3 cut off peering to Cogent, arguing that Cogent was using much more traffic than Level 3, but that was a true peering arrangement between two transit providers, rather than a connection between a transit provider and the monopoly provider of the end users (who has sold connectivity to those users with the promise that it will enable them to access content from any website). The traffic ratios argument between a downstream/last mile provider and a backbone/transit provider is ridiculous. The traffic ratios have always been way off in part because the broadband providers themselves have always offered more downstream bandwidth than upstream bandwidth.

So, Verizon sets up a world in which the traffic ratios are always going to be off… and then complains that the traffic ratios are off and thus it needs truckloads of extra cash just to connect up a few more open ports? Yikes. Verizon’s snarky post simply confirms what many of us have been saying from the beginning. The company is deliberately letting its border router clog up because it wants to ring a lot more money out of other companies, based on a plan to twist old peering disputes between transit providers into a dispute about transit-to-last mile connections… when the traffic ratio has always been way off, in part because of how Verizon itself designed its network! That takes incredible hubris… or incredible market power. Maybe both.

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July 23, 2014 at 4:06PM
via Techdirt.

Exterminate All Rational Emoticons

Exterminate All Rational Emoticons
By jwz

@libraryofemoji: Randomly generated speculations about what emoji might appear in upcoming Unicode versions.


Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

July 22, 2014 at 8:00PM
via jwz