Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Technology, the Economy and Pool Cleaning. By Chrystia Freeland.

Technology, the economy and pool cleaning. By Chrystia Freeland. Reuters, February 21, 2013.

Book review: “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change” by Al Gore. By Chrystia Freeland. Washington Post, February 22, 2013.

Freeland, Technology . . .:

One way to divide people is into foxes and hedgehogs. Another is into those who think this time is different and those who believe there is never anything new under the sun.

The latter split can be a matter of temperament, of politics or even of religion. But today it is relevant for another, more urgent reason: It describes how people think about the most critical economic problem in the industrialized world today — the dearth of well- paying middle-class jobs.

The this-time-is-different school attributes a lot of what is happening to the technology revolution. That makes them an intellectually eclectic bunch. On one hand, they include wide-eyed enthusiasts who believe in human progress and in the transformational power of technology. But they also include grim hand-wringers who fear the unprecedented changes may bring unprecedented woes.

That combination of Pollyanna and Cassandra is perfectly embodied in the multifaceted mind of Al Gore. Gore is a longtime fan of the geeks, and in his post-political life he has very nearly become one of them, with his seat on the Apple board and senior partnership with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley.

It thus comes as no surprise that in his new book, “The Future,” Gore foresees a world of “hyper-change” in which the technology revolution is “carrying us with it at a speed beyond our imagining toward ever newer technologically shaped realities that often appear, in the words of Arthur C. Clarke, ‘indistinguishable from magic.’”

But Gore has also always been part Savonarola — remember the campaign of his estranged wife, Tipper, against music with “profane language” — and his conviction that this time is different has a sharp edge. In “The Future,” Gore admits that the Luddites, who feared that the Industrial Revolution would create structural unemployment, were wrong: “The new jobs that emerged in factories not only outnumbered those lost on farms but produced higher incomes, even as farms became far more productive and food prices sharply declined.”

Yet he warns that there is no guarantee history will repeat itself. In particular, Gore worries that thanks to the technology revolution, the traditional link between rising productivity and a rising standard of living for the middle class has been broken. He fears that severed link may be causing the economic slowdown in the developed economies: A weakened middle class lacks the spending power to drive growth.

One of the smartest academics studying this phenomenon is Erik Brynjolfsson, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Brynjolfsson, who co-wrote the new book “Race Against the Machine,” also believes the technology revolution is having a powerful and unprecedented impact.

“Most of the debate in Washington is really playing small ball and is missing the tectonic changes in the way the economy works, which are driven by technology,” he said recently. “This is the big story of our time, and it is going to accelerate over the next 10 years.”

Like Gore, Brynjolfsson thinks the canary in the coal mine is the decoupling of gains in productivity and in wages. “Productivity since 2000 has grown faster than in the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s,” he said. “But starting in the late 1990s, we’ve had this decoupling of wages from productivity.”

Brynjolfsson believes this break is a historic watershed. “There have been big economic changes in the past, but productivity and jobs tracked each other pretty closely,” he said. “It is only since 1997 that they decoupled. There is no economic law that says they go together.”

That is a change with tremendous social and political implications. As Brynjolfsson put it: “A lot of economists felt that as long as productivity was growing, things would take care of themselves. That’s no longer true.”

This is indeed a watershed moment: Productivity and innovation, the focus of policymakers and business leaders, no longer guarantee widely shared prosperity. “Digital technologies are different in that they allow people with skills to replicate their talents to serve billions,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said. “There is really a drastic winner-take-all effect because every industry is becoming like the software industry.”

Classical economic theory isn’t entirely wrong. The danger isn’t — as it was easy to fear during the depths of the financial crisis — structural unemployment. The problem is what kind of jobs, at what kind of salaries, the shiny new technologically powered economy of the future will generate.

Lawrence H. Summers, the Harvard professor and former Treasury secretary, has a vivid way of describing the dystopian possibility. “As economists like to explain, the system will equilibrate at full employment,” Summers said in a public interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month. “But maybe the way it will equilibrate at full employment is there’ll be specialists at cleaning the shallow end and the deep end of rich people’s swimming pools. And that’s a problematic way for society to function.”

This is a personal problem — who wants to prepare their children for a life of deep- and shallow-end cleaning? It is also a political one. As Brynjolfsson points out, the technology revolution also has winners. The share they reap from the increase in productivity is greater than ever, and they might quite like a world of specialists in various depths of pool cleaning.

Campaign Address on Progressive Government at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. By Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Campaign Address on Progressive Government at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, California, September 23,1932. By Franklin D. Roosevelt. The American Presidency Project. Also find it here and here.

FDR’s Commonwealth Club Address: Redefining Individualism, Adjudicating Greatness. By Davis W. Houck. Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Fall 2004.

Chrystia Freeland on FDR’s Commonwealth Club Address. Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012, pp. 176-178.


So began, in American political life, the new day, the day of the individual against the system, the day in which individualism was made the great watchword of American life. The happiest of economic conditions made that day long and splendid. On the Western frontier, land was substantially free. No one, who did not shirk the task of earning a living, was entirely without opportunity to do so. Depressions could, and did, come and go; but they could not alter the fundamental fact that most of the people lived partly by selling their labor and partly by extracting their livelihood from the soil, so that starvation and dislocation were practically impossible. At the very worst there was always the possibility of climbing into a covered wagon and moving west where the untilled prairies afforded a haven for men to whom the East did not provide a place. So great were our natural resources that we could offer this relief not only to our own people, but to the distressed of all the world; we could invite immigration from Europe, and welcome it with open arms. Traditionally, when a depression came a new section of land was opened in the west; and even our temporary misfortune served our manifest destiny.

It was in the middle of the nineteenth century that a new force was released and a new dream created. The force was what is called the industrial revolution, the advance of steam and machinery and the rise of the forerunners of the modern industrial plant. The dream was the dream of an economic machine, able to raise the standard of living for everyone; to bring luxury within the reach of the humblest; to annihilate distance by steam power and later by electricity, and to release everyone from the drudgery of the heaviest manual toil. It was to be expected that this would necessarily affect Government. Heretofore, Government had merely been called upon to produce conditions within which people could live happily, labor peacefully, and rest secure. Now it was called upon to aid in the consummation of this new dream. There was, however, a shadow over the dream. To be made real, it required use of the talents of men of tremendous will and tremendous ambition, since by no other force could the problems of financing and engineering and new developments be brought to a consummation.

So manifest were the advantages of the machine age, however, that the United States fearlessly, cheerfully, and, I think, rightly, accepted the bitter with the sweet. It was thought that no price was too high to pay for the advantages which we could draw from a finished industrial system. This history of the last half century is accordingly in large measure a history of a group of financial Titans, whose methods were not scrutinized with too much care, and who were honored in proportion as they produced the results, irrespective of the means they used. The financiers who pushed the railroads to the Pacific were always ruthless, often wasteful, and frequently corrupt; but they did build railroads, and we have them today. It has been estimated that the American investor paid for the American railway system more than three times over in the process; but despite this fact the net advantage was to the United States. As long as we had free land; as long as population was growing by leaps and bounds; as long as our industrial plants were insufficient to supply our own needs, society chose to give the ambitious man free play and unlimited reward provided only that he produced the economic plant so much desired.

Obama’s Backers Seek Big Donors to Press Agenda. By Nicholas Confessore.

Obama’s Backers Seek Big Donors to Press Agenda. By Nicholas Confessore. New York Times, February 22, 2013.

Scientists Claim That 72 is the New 30.

Scientists Claim That 72 Is the New 30 . . . So, How Do We Pay for Increased Life Expectancy? Video. America Live with Megyn Kelly. Fox News, February 26, 2013. Also find it here.

72 is the new 30: Scientists claim healthcare and medicine extends keep us younger for longer. By Anna Hodgekiss and Martin Robinson. Daily Mail, February 26, 2013.

Human mortality improvement in evolutionary context. By Oskar Burger, Annette Baudisch, James W. Vaupel. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Early Edition, October 15, 2012. PDF.


Life expectancy is increasing in most countries and has exceeded 80 in several, as low-mortality nations continue to make progress in averting deaths. The health and economic implications of mortality reduction have been given substantial attention, but the observed malleability of human mortality has not been placed in a broad evolutionary context. We quantify the rate and amount of mortality reduction by comparing a variety of human populations to the evolved human mortality profile, here estimated as the average mortality pattern for ethnographically observed hunter-gatherers. We show that human mortality has decreased so substantially that the difference between hunter-gatherers and today’s lowest mortality populations is greater than the difference between hunter-gatherers and wild chimpanzees. The bulk of this mortality reduction has occurred since 1900 and has been experienced by only about 4 of the roughly 8,000 human generations that have ever lived. Moreover, mortality improvement in humans is on par with or greater than the reductions in mortality in other species achieved by laboratory selection experiments and endocrine pathway mutations. This observed plasticity in age-specific risk of death is at odds with conventional theories of aging.

The Egyptian Army is Making a Comeback. By Zvi Mazel.

The Egyptian army is making a comeback. By Zvi Mazel. Jerusalem Post, February 24, 2013.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.


Never has Egypt been so close to civil war and today it seems that only the army can prevent the worse from happening.

The Muslim Brothers and the opposition are both doing their utmost to bring the army to their side, with little success so far: Field Marshal Abd el-Fattah El-Sisi, the defense minister, never loses an opportunity to state that the army is taking no part in the political struggle and devotes its energy to protecting the country – while adding that it will not let it plunge into chaos. The opposition, in contrast, feels that only the army can bring back order – the way they want. During last Friday’s demonstrations people called on the army to “Get out of the barracks and make President Mohamed Morsi resign and call for new presidential elections.”

That state of affairs leaves the Brotherhood and Morsi with mixed feelings. In the course of the past few weeks they have became painfully aware of the fact that the army will not protect the regime should it lose its legitimacy and try to resort to force to stay in power. Last week the rumor that Morsi intended to fire the defense minister spread like wildfire, prompting an “unnamed military source” to warn that it would be “political suicide” for the president since the army – soldiers and officers alike – are angry with the regime. One of the president’s representatives hastened to placate army commanders and the army in turn distanced itself from the “unnamed source.”

Three days later Morsi declared that he had full confidence in the army and “the deepest appreciation” for the defense minister; the declaration was duly published in the media next to a photo of El- Sisi sitting opposite Morsi in the president’s office. The rumor may have been a trial balloon launched by the Brothers who wanted to gauge what kind of reaction could be expected to such a radical move. However the incident can also be seen as part of a wider series of clashes between the army and the Brotherhood.

Morsi first became aware of the problem last November during the violent demonstrations led by the opposition to protest the new Islamic constitution and the presidential declaration granting the president legislative power and full immunity for his decisions.

The army issued a call for dialogue between “both sides” while stressing “the legitimacy of the people.”

Suddenly the army was acting as an independent force distinct from the regime while asserting that legitimacy was vested in the people and not in the rulers, even though they had been democratically elected in free elections. There were some hasty – and secret – talks and the army shelved its call. However the Brothers will not forget that the army did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the elected president.

Especially since the Port Said riots last month between opposing demonstrators and security forces which leaving 60 dead, El-Sisi stated that the army was ready to intervene “to prevent the collapse of the country should no political solution be found.” Shortly afterward El-Sisi was quoted as allegedly having said that he would not let the Muslim Brotherhood take over the army.

There was an angry reaction from the Brotherhood and its Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie condemned “the widespread corruption of the army.” It was the turn of the army to protest and Badie apologized.

Maj.-Gen. Sedki Sobhi, commander in chief of the army, added fuel to the fire by saying that “the army does not intervene in politics but it will take to the streets if the people need it.” Deeds followed words.

When Morsi declared a state of emergency in the Suez canal zone following the Port Said clashes and imposed a curfew, the army refused to supervise it and Morsi had no choice but to cancel the state of emergency.

El-Sisi took Morsi by surprise and embarrassed him greatly by issuing on December 23, 2012 a ministerial decree turning the eastern border of Egypt with Israel and the Gaza Strip into a closed military zone five km. deep, Rafah city excluded.

Selling or renting land there was forbidden because it was a strategic area of military importance. The decree was issued days after the Egyptian government, in an attempt to promote better relations with Sinai Beduin and improve their lot, had informed them that they could sell or rent land in the peninsula.

El-Sisi had acted in order to tighten control over the border zone where the army is trying to prevent infiltration of jihadi operatives into Egypt from Gaza, and attacks on Israel from the Egyptian side while keeping a close watch on the contraband tunnels. However, he had apparently “forgotten” to consult with the president when he issued his decree – something well within his ministerial prerogatives.

The decree led to a renewed wave of anger from the Beduin who are threatening a civil disobedience campaign if it is not rescinded. The army has entered into negotiations with them with no result so far, and the situation remains volatile in the extreme.

Then it became known that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been meeting from time to time to discuss the situation in the country – without informing the president who is officially the head of the council. The meetings were described as “informal” which does not make them more palatable to Morsi.

Tensions between the army and the Brotherhood are a source of deep concern for the regime. Morsi had gotten rid of the former army commanders swiftly and unexpectedly a few weeks after his election, naming in their stead El-Sisi and Sobhi who were seen as devout Muslims; it was rumored that El-Sisi was a member of the Brotherhood.

However it soon transpired that though his wife wears the veil, El-Sisi is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, high-ranking elements in the Justice and Freedom Party tried to have him fired and the official party paper ignored him completely for weeks until Morsi himself explained to the Brotherhood that there was no use trying to reverse the situation.

However, Muslim Brothers are suddenly remembering that the army has always been against their movement – from Nasser to Mubarak – and that it was Islamic terrorists raised on their doctrine who assassinated Sadat.

There are widespread rumors to the effect that the Brotherhood is forming a clandestine militia while setting up listening posts to monitor the army, to be ready to confront the army should it become necessary.

And while the clash between the regime and the opposition shows no signs of abating, the president has called for parliamentary elections to be held over an unprecedented period of two months starting in late April.

Morsi will do all he can to achieve the complete takeover of the country before the new parliament can be convened in July. The opposition is up in arms threatening to boycott the elections if a new national unity government is not formed to ensure that they are free and fair, the large Coptic minority is outraged since polling will be held on their holy Easter week – and the country’s economy is still spiraling out of control.

What will the army do, if anything? On the one hand, the new constitution grants it powers beyond its wildest dreams. On the other hand, the army, for so long the symbol of Egypt’s greatness, cannot remain indifferent to the country’s slow degradation.

Gun Control Advocates Need to Acknowledge Owners’ Rights. By Cathy Young.

Gun control advocates need to acknowledge owners’ rights. By Cathy Young. Newsday, February 25, 2013.


This week, more than two months after the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Congress is finally set to tackle gun-control legislation.

Many proposed measures, such as expanded background checks and stronger penalties for those who act as “fronts” to buy guns for criminals, make eminent sense. But two things need to be recognized: One, these measures probably won’t do much to reduce gun crime, or even mass shootings. And two, reasonable gun control can only succeed if its advocates show respect for law-abiding gun owners, their rights and their culture.

Last month, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, novelist and literary critic Walter Kirn published a piece in The New Republic, the leading magazine of liberal opinion, titled “What Gun Owners Really Want.” Kirn disclosed that he grew up with guns and has owned them as an adult, at least once using a weapon to scare off a potential attacker and defend himself and his family. He also wrote about coming to support the need for more regulation, particularly for military-style firearms. His plea to readers was to stop demonizing responsible gun owners.

Yet the response on the magazine’s website was far from understanding. Some mocked gun owners as driven by “fear of death” at the hands of criminals or state tyranny – as if gun control advocacy did not rely on fear of death by firearms. Others questioned the truthfulness of Kirn’s personal narrative.

Around the same time, another piece in The New Republic admitted that most gun control legislation under consideration – including a renewed assault weapon ban – would barely make a dent in gun violence. But this, author Bill Scher wrote, was not important: While we don’t know yet what measures would work, we must affirm “the principle that it is our government’s responsibility to keep attacking the problem of death by firearms until we’re down to the low levels achieved by the rest of the developed world.”

Such rhetoric rightly alarms gun owners. The government, we’re told, can experiment indefinitely with restrictions in pursuit of what may be a utopian goal, considering that non-gun violence rates in the United States are also higher than in most developed countries, and that the correlation between gun possession and gun violence is by no means simple. (Switzerland and Norway have roughly half the gun ownership rate of the United States but about one-eighth the murder rate.)

Too many anti-gun liberals see the gun-owning culture as a baffling, repulsive, uniquely American barbarism. They are also inclined to treat gun owners as ignorant paranoid rednecks who don't know what's good for them – who think, for instance, that they need a handgun for protection but ignore the fact that it's far more likely to put them and their loved ones in danger of murder or suicide.

Of course, these comparisons leave out plenty of relevant facts: that most defensive uses of guns do not include actually shooting an attacker; that many gun murders between people who know each other involve criminals; or that the United States has fairly low suicide rates compared to many countries with strict gun regulations and few guns in civilian hands, such as Hungary or Japan.

When gun control advocates make it clear that they regard the ownership of guns – especially handguns – as stupid, unnecessary and dangerous, their assurances that they only want to promote reasonable regulations and have no wish to ban or confiscate guns ring hollow.

Any gun control debate must start with the acknowledgment that disarming America, even if it were desirable, is impossible, and that the concerns of gun owners must be taken into account. Then, perhaps, we can start moving forward.

When Pharaohs Ruled Jerusalem. By Peter van der Veen.

LADY IN RED. Dressed in a beaded wig and collar and holding a lotus scepter in her left hand, this rare 14-inch red granite statue of a Ramesside queen dates to the 19th Egyptian Dynasty (1280–1200 B.C.E.). Originally found by road pavers in Jerusalem in the 1920s, it gained interest when it resurfaced on a scholar’s bookshelf in Germany in 2006. R. Müller, Department of Prehistory, University of Mainz.

When Pharaohs Ruled Jerusalem. By Peter van der Veen. Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 39, No. 2 (March/April 2013).

When Egyptian Pharaohs Ruled Bronze Age Jerusalem. By Noah Wiener. Bible History Daily, February 25, 2013.

What’s an Egyptian Temple Doing in Jerusalem? By Gabriel Barkay. Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 26, No. 3 (May/June 2000). Also find it here.

A Late Bronze Age Temple in Jerusalem? By Gabriel Barkay. Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 46, No. 1/2 (1996).

Did Pharaoh Sheshonq Attack Jerusalem? By Yigal Levin. Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 38, No. 4 (July/August 2012).

van der Veen:

Perhaps our most exciting find was recovered in Germany. One day in 2006, I received a telephone call from my colleague Alexander Schick. The previous day he had seen something quite remarkable on a bookshelf in the office of a senior scholar from northern Germany (who prefers to remain anonymous), namely the upper body of a statue of an Egyptian queen made of coarsely grained red granite, some 14 inches high.

How in the world did it get to Germany? In the 1920s, when Palestine was under the British Mandate, the father-in-law of the scholar on whose bookshelf the statue stood had served the German Lutheran church in an ecclesiastical capacity in Jerusalem. At that time some Arab workmen discovered the statue in the gravel underneath the road they were paving. As the clergyman’s house was nearest to the place of the statue’s discovery, it was brought to the clergyman, and it has remained in the family’s possession ever since.

The red granite statue has now been fully studied by Egyptologist Simone Burger-Robin of Brussels, an expert in Ramesside statuary, who confirms that it definitely depicts a queen. Although the face is damaged, the other details are very clear. The royal lady wears a heavy wig with elaborate beading, originally mounted by a vulture crown. Her dress is close fitting with a beaded collar. She holds a lotus scepter in her left hand. Although no inscription remains on the statue, Burger-Robin concludes from its style that the provenance most likely falls within the reign of Ramesses II or of his son Merneptah (c. 1280–1200 B.C.E.). This date is fully concordant with the other finds from Jerusalem.

While male pharaonic statues are rare in Israel, queens’ statues are almost unknown. The only other one found in the entire southern Levant (it was found in a survey near Ashdod, in a coastal area where the Egyptians were especially active) includes a small inscribed fragment; she is apparently the daughter of Ramesses II.

. . . . . . . . . .

All these finds seem to confirm American archaeologist Carolyn Higginbotham’s summary of the situation. The Ramesside pharaohs of the 19th Dynasty used local vassal rulers to run daily affairs in Jerusalem, as had their Amarna-period predecessors of the 18th Dynasty, but the pharaohs also sent out royal envoys to gather taxes and watch over the provinces.

From the next period—just prior to David’s conquest of Jerusalem in about 1000 B.C.E.—we have almost no evidence of an Egyptian presence here—perhaps a few sherds at most.

The tenth-century B.C.E. pharaohs who were contemporaries of Solomon and his son Rehoboam, however, seem to have reasserted their age-old claim on Jerusalem, now firmly in Israelite hands. As the Bible tells us, Pharaoh Shishak sent his army north in about 925 B.C.E., in year 5 of the reign of King Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25). This is substantiated by Egyptian records: The Biblical Shishak, believed by most scholars to be the Libyan Pharaoh Sheshonq referred to in Egyptian texts, mounted a major attack into Canaan at this time. Although the Bible says he attacked Jerusalem, the Egyptian account does not include Jerusalem among the named cities he conquered. This may be because the name Jerusalem has not survived in the partially preserved Egyptian account. In any event, Sheshonq appears to have passed through the Jerusalem area when his army crossed over to the Jordan Valley.

In short, the Egyptians apparently ruled the area in the period before the Israelites consolidated their grip on the central highlands during Iron Age I (1200–1000 B.C.E.). The evidence of Egyptian dominance seems to have ended, however, at the time the Israelites fully settled the land in this period. But the Egyptians reasserted their power again in about 925 B.C.E. with Shishak/Sheshonq’s invasion of Canaan.

This certainly makes me wonder: Was David able to conquer Jerusalem (in about 1000 B.C.E.) because it was defended only by the Jebusite/Canaanites, without any Egyptian presence in the city?

Of course the absence of evidence—either textual or archaeological—of an Egyptian presence in Jerusalem in the period just before David’s conquest of the city or during his reign may be accidental. Or it may not be.

Texas Annexation. By Dick Morris.

Texas Annexation. By Dick Morris. DickMorris.com, February 23, 2013. At YouTube.

Our Second Adolescence. By David Brooks.

Our Second Adolescence. By David Brooks. New York Times, February 25, 2013.

The Forgotten Emancipationists. By Manisha Sinha.

The Forgotten Emancipationists. By Manisha Sinha. New York Times, February 24, 2013.