31 May 2016

The 50 greatest films by black directors.


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Mark Seymour

Elephants, in Denmark?

The BBC has an article by Josh Gabbatiss about an idea (not necessarily a good one) about wild elephants in an unlikely place:

Thousands of years ago, elephants and lions roamed the plains and forests of Europe and North America. If some conservationists have their way, they will again. 
Rewilding is here to stay. The term broadly refers to restoring areas of wilderness to their former glory, but it is the reintroduction of large mammals, from wolves to beavers, that has captured the popular imagination, and come to define this ambitious conservation strategy.
Such projects are not without controversy. Some ecologists worry that reintroducing extinct animals to our radically-changed modern ecosystems might have unforeseen impacts. Farmers and landowners, meanwhile, express concern about the effect interlopers like wolves or lynxes might have on their livelihoods.
Just imagine how they might react to the ideas proposed by a small but dedicated subset of extreme rewilders. In their vision, the plains of North America and Europe would become home to an even wilder array of species, including lions, elephants, and cheetahs.
"In the beginning, when we told people about this project, they just laughed at us," says Ole Sommer Bach, curator of Randers Rainforest zoo, referring to his institution's plan to introduce a population of Asian elephants in northern Denmark. "I think most people thought it was some kind of provocation, or a practical joke; but it really wasn't."
This is Pleistocene-era rewilding. Advocates want to set the clock back, not hundreds, but thousands of years. Around thirteen thousand years in fact, to when the Pleistocene era was drawing to a close: an almost incomprehensible length of time for us mortals, but the mere blink of an eye for Earth's ecosystems.
One correspondent labelled Greene a "goofball, dipwad, doofus, with a scrambled brain"
Today, the planet's remaining 'megafauna' are largely restricted to Africa and Asia. But, during the Pleistocene, every continent was populated with enormous mammals, from the giant wombats of Australia to the various species of elephant that roamed North America and Europe.
The animals themselves are now gone. But the ecosystems that evolved with them remain, and their function is severely reduced in the absence of such keystone species.
But help could be at hand. Pleistocene rewilders suggest that some animals still found in Africa and Asia, many of which are on the verge of extinction themselves, are similar enough to their extinct counterparts to serve as effective proxies.
These ideas were first proposed by geoscientist Paul Martin as part of his Pleistocene overkill hypothesis, which holds that humanity was the key instigator of global megafauna extinctions. However, they were crystallized in their current form a decade ago by a team led by two researchers from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York: Josh Donlan and Harry Greene. A team of what Greene calls "experts and visionaries" gathered together on a dusty New Mexico ranch. Together, they established a framework by which Pleistocene-type animals could be re-introduced to America.
The underlying rationale was that current conservation efforts to return the US to a pre-Columbian benchmark (i.e., prior to 1492) are totally arbitrary. By this point, humans had already contributed to the extinction of dozens of species.
The result of this meeting was a landmark paper published in Nature entitled "Re-wilding North America". In it, the team envisages the release of, among others, Bactrian camels to replace the late-Pleistocene Camelops, African lions to stand in for American lions, and elephants to take the place of the mammoths, mastodons, and gomphotheres.
Their core aims were twofold. First, they wanted to restore North American ecosystems and re-establish long-gone ecological processes. Second, they offered "a compelling vision for twenty-first century conservation biology: conserving animals away from Africa".
The response to the paper was extensive and frenzied. Fellow scientists, the media, and members of the public all weighed in, with one correspondent labelling Greene a "goofball, dipwad, doofus with a scrambled brain".
More eloquent criticism came from the likes of evolutionary ecologist Dustin Rubenstein, who described Pleistocene rewilding as "only a slightly less sensational proposal" than Jurassic Park. Crucially, he and his fellow researchers opined that the resources invested in this kind of rewilding would be better spent protecting African animals in Africa.
But perhaps Pleistocene rewilding is not as outrageous as it first appears. Donlan, Greene, and their colleagues were not, after all, suggesting a free-for-all on wild animal releases across North America. Instead, they suggested controlled, experimental releases to test their ideas. That was in 2006. Ten years later, there are still no African lions prowling the Wild West, and barring the bolson tortoises reintroduced to their prehistoric range in New Mexico, rewilding efforts in the US have been few and far between.
"In terms of realizing Pleistocene rewilding projects, it's still pretty limited," says Jens-Christian Svenning, a researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark and advisor for the Randers elephant project. "The scientific literature on the subject is filled with debate, but the empirical work is really missing."
Across the Atlantic, however, governments and the public have been more amenable to rewilding in general. There have been many successful projects across Europe, and one or two have even had the 'Pleistocene' label applied to them.
"What we want is to create room for natural processes," says Perry Cornelissen, an ecologist at the park. Instead of opting for artificial management systems to create the perfect habitat for wetland birds, the park's primary remit, its creators opted for a wilder approach. "The results of our monitoring show that the herbivores indeed create large-scale grasslands for geese and meadow birds such as lapwings and golden plovers," he enthuses.
More explicitly, there is Russia's Pleistocene Park, an attempt to "restore the mammoth steppe ecosystem" of the late Pleistocene. Much like Oostvaardersplassen, though, the park has so far drawn the line at introducing anything as exotic as lions or elephants.
"The animals being released in these parks are still mainly from the Holocene era, twelve thousand years ago to present day," says Svenning. "This is less provocative, and only a small step beyond traditional nature management, where you use domestic horses or cattle to graze."
But now, Bach and his colleagues want to stake their claim for the wildest rewilding experiment yet. Under their watch, they hope to see elephants roam the Danish landscape for the first time in millennia. Having successfully overseen the reintroduction of European bison in Randers, Bach and his colleagues see elephants as the natural progression. "European bison have been extinct in Denmark for maybe eight thousand years, and when we mentioned them as a possibility for rewilding almost fifteen years ago, people were also laughing at us," he recalls. "Now that is a reality."
Absolutely crucial to the project will be detailed preparation and monitoring. "We don't intend to just set them free and wait for them to end up in Spain or somewhere," explains Bach. "We will set up a fenced area, release the elephants, and then carefully follow what happens." The team intends to follow everything from their interaction with native trees to the impact their dung has on insect communities.
This is exactly the kind of relatively small-scale experiment Greene and Donlan had in mind. Only with the hard data that result from hypothesis testing and science-based monitoring will it be possible to ascertain how effective such seemingly radical strategies are at creating positive ecosystem change of the type seen in Oostvaardersplassen.
Then there are the economic benefits that arise from preserving ecosystems in this way. "If you built a machine that could do the same things as an elephant, you would probably become very rich," says Bach. "They can do everything from coppicing to spreading seeds, and they already exist! We just need to use them."
And what about that other Pleistocene rewilding goal: realistically, how feasible is the idea of using rewilding as a conservation strategy for endangered, exotic mammals? The answer to this may come from the most unlikely of places: Australia.
White rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) could be taken to Australia (Credit: Shannon Wild)
White rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) could be taken to Australia (Credit: Shannon Wild)
Nowhere is the issue of species introduction more contentious than in Australia. Decades of accidental and intentional species introductions have left the continent with highly fragile ecosystems.
The mission is to airlift a population of white and black rhinos 11,000km from South Africa to Australia
Even relatively modest science-based efforts by Rewilding Australia to introduce native marsupials like quolls and Tasmanian devils to former parts of their ranges on the mainland have had setbacks to deal with.
In this climate, it seems foolhardy to suggest further large-scale introductions of alien species, but this is exactly what David Bowman, professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, did back in 2012.
Bowman argued that the way to deal with the influx of the giant African gamba grass, which has been implicated in the increase in bushfires in Australia, would be to introduce rhinos and elephants – the only herbivores large enough to eat it. These animals, while far removed evolutionarily speaking from Australia's gigantic Pleistocene marsupials, might still serve as viable stand-ins.
Remarkably, a project of this nature actually is underway, albeit for rather different reasons.
The Australian Rhino Project in action (Credit: Shannon Wild)
The Australian Rhino Project in action (Credit: Shannon Wild)
The Australian Rhino Project is a drastic response to the disastrous situation currently unfolding on the African continent. If poaching continues at its current rate, rhinos will be extinct in the wild by 2024.
It could actually have a beneficial effect in Australia as a whole, as well as safeguarding the rhinos
This issue is what led project founder Ray Dearlove and his collaborators to arrive at the same conclusion as the Pleistocene rewilders: these animals must be conserved away from Africa.
The mission is to airlift a population of white and black rhinos 11,000km from South Africa to Australia. If all goes to plan the first batch will be sent over this year.
Once there, the similar conditions in Australia – and, crucially, its relative lack of poachers – should provide the rhinos with a safe haven.
A white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) (Credit: Shannon Wild)
A white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) (Credit: Shannon Wild)
For Svenning, this project marks an interesting opportunity: "If they add an ecological component, then it could actually have a beneficial effect in Australia as a whole, as well as safeguarding the rhinos," he suggests.
The Australian banteng actually outnumber their endangered Asian counterparts
While careful monitoring of the rhinos and their interaction with the Australian environment will be key to the success of the project, Dearlove does not see such habitat management as the key element. Instead, he sees this project as an exciting new approach to ex-situ conservation.
"It has been suggested that this could become a model for other endangered species, whereby you take them to a safer place until things are sorted out in their native country, then you can return them," he says.
"I think rhinos should be in Africa. I would prefer them to be surviving and breeding where they are, but the reality is that they're not. They've roamed the continent for millions of years, and now South Africa holds around 95% of the rhinos in the world. They've been wiped out."
Intriguingly, Australia already has form when it comes to providing a refuge for threatened mammals. A population of banteng – wild cattle from Southeast Asia – was established on the continent in 1849, and now, owing to habitat decline in their homeland, the Australian banteng actually outnumber their endangered Asian counterparts.
Banteng (Bos javanicus) now live in Australia (Credit: Rod Williams/naturepl.com)
Banteng (Bos javanicus) now live in Australia (Credit: Rod Williams/naturepl.com)
Researchers have highlighted the precedent set by this accidental success story, stressing the role these banteng may play in the survival of the species.
The success of all these projects – whether or not they operate under the banner of Pleistocene rewilding – will provide crucial insights into the efficacy of transferring exotic creatures in order to protect either them or their adopted ecosystems.
Within the next 50 years, Asian elephants might be gone from the world entirely
In fact, maybe Pleistocene rewilding itself is an unhelpful label, which detracts from the bigger picture of enabling natural processes and preserving species. "We are not aiming at restoration of Pleistocene or indeed Holocene ecosystems or landscapes. Those eras are over," says Cornelissen. "We now live in the Anthropocene."
The Anthropocene is by definition a period of highly altered ecosystems resulting from human activity. In this context, bringing elephants to Denmark, or rhinos to Australia, might be seen as just another extreme alteration to our planet's wildlife assemblages.
But extreme times call for extreme measures, and bold conservation strategies such as these could go a long way to revitalising some of our most treasured ecosystems and creatures in a manner that is not only effective but self-sustaining.
"Within the next 50 years, Asian elephants might be gone from the world entirely," says Bach. "Most people in Europe see elephants as exotic, and don't consider it our responsibility to conserve exotic animals, but I think it is a global responsibility."
We can never get back everything that has been lost, but we can still make good use of the resources that remain at our disposal. To do that, we will need to think big.
Rico says that 'goofball, dipwad, doofus' might even be overpolite... (And might have unforeseen impacts? Ya think?) But doesn't 'release the elephants' sound a bit like 'release the kraken'?

Undersea mine in the UK

The BBC has an article (with its usual unbloggable video) about a mine that goes down and out:

The Boulby mine in northern England is where much of Britain’s potash, used in fertilizer, is collected. But to do so they have to tunnel kilometers under the sea.
The mine is located more than 1,400 meters, nearly a mile, underground. Its tunnels are humid and reach temperatures of up to 40°C. It’s from here that Britain gets much of its potash, the potassium-rich salt used in fertilizer.
Boulby is the second-deepest mine in Europe, but it’s not the only thing that sets it apart; its tunnels extend several kilometers out to sea. Here, miners work to get the ore needed to help Britain grow its food, deep below and far from shore.
Rico says it's yet another place he's glad he never had to work...

Ranges on the Range

True West has an article by Sherry Monahan, who has penned The Cowboy’s Cookbook, Mrs. Earp: Wives & Lovers of the Earp Brothers; California Vines, Wines, & Pioneers; Taste of Tombstone and The Wicked West, and has appeared on Fox News, the History Channel, and AHC.about cooking in the Old West:

Whether frontier pioneers lived in a sod hut in Nebraska, an adobe in Arizona, or a frame house in Texas, they all needed a way to cook and bake. Most of the time, they did so in a stove or a fireplace. To prepare for the daily routine of cooking, a pioneer housewife or cook had to start the stove. But heat was not generated via the simple flip of a switch. In cooler months, cooks kept fires in the stove going throughout the night and stoked up the flames with new wood, which she chopped herself, or dried animal dung, if wood was not plentiful. In warmer months, cooks allowed the wood in the stove to burn out and ignited a morning fire using kindling wood, newspapers. or buffalo chips (dried buffalo dung).
Frontier stoves were generally made of cast iron. One side contained the area for burning wood, while the other was used as an oven. The surface was used as a stovetop, and some even had options for hot and cold water faucets. Most were equipped with a reservoir, which often held a few gallons of water at near-boiling throughout the day.
Pioneer cooks had to learn how to regulate the heat in their stove. The stove did not have a numbered dial; a cook held her hand inside the oven to gauge the temperature: warm, hot, very hot. A flue helped to regulate the heat. A familiarity with antique stoves clarifies why old-fashioned cookbooks might state a recipe should be baked in a slow, moderate, or hot oven.
Most people used their stoves to cook and bake, and sometimes to store their pots and pans, but one woman in Omaha, Nebraska, used hers for another purpose. Alice Nelson decided her range was a good place to store her stolen booty, reported Omaha’s The Herald, on 29 December 1888.
Because her husband had not been bringing in enough money to satisfy his wife, Alice, she stole $65 from her landlady. Worried about Mrs. Jacobson becoming suspicious, Alice hid the money in her cold oven. Mrs. Jacobson searched her house for the money and, unable to locate it, called the police. Sergeant Hayes searched the house. He was smart enough to look in the oven. “The only part of that article chilly enough to hold money was the oven,” the paper reported. “When he opened the door of the oven, there lay the roll in its original completeness.”
The Nelsons were arrested, but only Alice was held on bail of five hundred dollars. In the early part of 1889, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in the state penitentiary.
Alice should have stuck to making soufflés in her oven. A paper in Topeka, Kansas, offered a recipe in 1893 for soufflés that should be “eaten the moment it is out of the oven to be in perfection.” This potato soufflé is basically a twenty-first-century version of twice-baked potatoes:
Potato Soufflé6 large baking potatoes
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk or cream, hot
2 egg whites
Bake potatoes until they are done. Allow to cool enough to handle, and then remove the ends of each one. Carefully scoop out the cooked potato without breaking the skins. Beat the egg whites until frothy and set aside. Mash the potatoes until lump free, then add the remaining ingredients. Stand potatoes on one end and put in the filling. Do no put tops on the potatoes. Allow to bake in 375°F for about 10 minutes or until potatoes are browned or swollen.
Recipe adapted from The Weekly Capital and Farm Journal, Topeka, Kansas, 25 May 1893
Rico says he's just as happy to live in an era where food is prepared by experts...

A gun and a horse

True West has an article by Phil Spangenberger, who has written for Guns & Ammo, appears on the History Channel and other documentary networks, produces Wild West shows, is a Hollywood gun coach and character actor, and is True West’s Firearms Editor, about a gun and a horse:
Throughout history, the horse has been known as man’s noblest companion. Alexander the Great had Bucephalus, Marengo was Napoleon’s favorite mount, General Robert E. Lee rode Traveller, and Buffalo Bill loved his Isham. Our cowboy heroes, including Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Clayton “The Lone Ranger” Moore won the movie West on Trigger, Champion, and Silver, respectively. I’ve had horses for most of my life and have made part of my living with my six-guns and these magnificent creatures. I’ve experienced the heartfelt joy of working with a good horse for pleasure, in a competition or during a mounted performance.
Cowboy Mounted Shooters rely on their equine partners as much as they do their guns. Their firearms are very personal to them. Whether a Colt, Ruger, any replica Peacemaker-type single action revolver, or a longarm like a Winchester, Taylor’s & Co.’s Runnin’ Comanchero, Cimarron’s Saddle Rifle, Coach shotgun, or any other shootin’ iron, the gun becomes a part of the shooter. They also know the camaraderie and closeness provided by a solid, dependable mount. A willing, fast, and surefooted horse counts for most of any high-scoring Cowboy Mounted Shooting run. The shooters place untold value on their four-footed teammates, as was true of the riders of the famed war-horses of the past.
Knowing that Cowboy Mounted Shooting is a “team” sport, and not a “me” sport, we’ve loved and taken the best possible care of our equine companions and they’ve returned that devotion through their steadfast performances. Multi-winning Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA) champions’ quarter horses, like Annie Bianco’s Costa, Kenda Lenseigne’s Lieutenant Justin, Joe Whitely’s Sundance, and Chopo, the faithful little pard of Cowboy Mounted Shooting’s founder Jim Rodgers, and others, all earned well-deserved retirements after their long winning careers had ended. Although I retired from mounted shooting competition years ago, having earned World and National Divisional titles, I’ve continued performing my horseback shooting, lancing, and sword exhibitions on my own trusted mare, Nevada (photo). For the past several years, Nevada enjoyed the easy life in reward for her nearly thirty years of faithful service, only being called upon for an occasional, and always solid, performance. She carried me though our last mounted shooting show together in December of 2014 at the age of 33!
As one of the last horses trained by legendary motion picture horse trainer Glenn Randall, Nevada performed her graceful bow after an exciting lancing or mounted aerial shooting exhibition. Randall had trained Roy RogersTrigger, Gene Autry’s Champion, Rex Allen’s Koko, the 1959 Ben Hur chariot horses and many other famous performing equines.
Sadly, after having her for a full 28 years, one third of my own life, we recently had to have her humanely put to sleep. My wife, Linda, and I lost a valuable and beloved part of our family. In her 34 years, Nevada traipsed the high country on hunting trips and campouts, was ridden across the state of Nevada on a Pony Express re-ride, performed in countless Wild West shows and pageants throughout the country, served me as a bomb-proof “war-horse” in many smoke-filled Civil War re-enactments, proudly hoofed it through many Rose Parades and galloped across the television screen in numerous History Channel and other cable network documentaries. Perhaps most importantly, she was my mount in the exciting exhibitions we performed that inspired CMSA’s Jim Rodgers to create the sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting.
Nevada could always be counted on to safely and boldly carry me through anything. She was beautiful, fast, sure-footed and dependable. She didn’t always give me the easiest or smoothest ride, having a headstrong temperament, but she was smart, and knew when we had to go to work. I knew her moves and how to read her. When we’d ride into the arena, she was the star and I was her sidekick! Like a good gun or a trusted friend, she was my partner, and I can honestly say she never let me down. Nevada was truly a noble companion.

Rico says both are necessary for any cowboy, but he never cottoned to being on horseback. (Now a mule, maybe; they're not as showy, but they won't walk you off a cliff in the dark, either.)

Sweetwater shoot-out

True West has an article by Bob Boze Bell (who, with his partners, bought True West magazine, published since 1953, and moved the editorial offices to Cave Creek, Arizona; Bell has published and illustrated books on Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holliday, as well as Classic Gunfights, an Old West gunfight book series. His latest books are The 66 Kid and True West Moments) about a shootout in Sweetwater:
It's 1 October 1917, and Frank Hamer wants to go home. The Texas Ranger has just testified at the Callahan County Courthouse in Baird, Texas in a murder trial, and the case has been continued. Two men, waiting by a drugstore, warn Frank not to pass through Sweetwater on his way home, as men are waiting there to kill him. Hamer has no intention of changing his route, although he tells none of his car passengers about the threat. He does strap on an extra revolver, a .44 Smith & Wesson, to complement his .45 Colt.
His traveling companions are his wife, Gladys (three months pregnant), his brother, Harrison, Gladys’ brother, Emmett Johnson, and Emmett’s wife, Rocky. He points the car toward their home in Snyder.
As Hamer drives by a second-story building in Abilene, Texas, he spots a lawyer friend of former Texas Ranger and Sheriff Gee McMeans staring down out of his office, smiling a smug smile.
Around 1:30 p.m., on the approach to Sweetwater, one of the car tires goes flat. Hamer pulls into the City Garage, at the corner of Locust and Broadway, directly across from the courthouse.
Harrison and Emmett head across an alley to go to the bathroom. Gladys and Rocky remain in the car. Hamer enters the empty garage. Finding no one inside, he starts to exit when he runs into McMeans. The two are deadly enemies, as McMeans is related by marriage to the Sims faction of the Johnson-Sims Feud; Hamer is related by marriage to the Johnson faction. McMeans shoots Hamer, yelling: “I’ve got you now, God damn you!” The bullet drives Hamer’s watch chain deep into his left shoulder, incapacitating his normal gun hand. With his right hand, he grapples with the gunman, but McMeans gets off another shot. The second bullet tears into Hamer’s leg.
From the car, Gladys spots a man with a shotgun coming from the street toward Hamer. She grabs a .32 pistol off the seat and fires at the shotgunner, but misses. H.E. Phillips, McMeans’ hired man, squawks and ducks behind an automobile. Every time he tries to rise, Gladys sends another bullet his way, until she empties the magazine. As she ducks down in the seat to reload, the shotgunner runs toward Hamer, who is s still wrestling with McMeans. From the corner of his eye, Hamer sees the shotgun shooter approaching. McMeans breaks free, the shotgun roars, and the blast staggers Hamer as he falls to his knees. “I got him! I got him!” the shooter yells in triumph, only to see Hamer get to his feet. The blast, fired from two feet away, has missed Hamer's head by inches, but shreds his hat.
McMeans and the shotgunner run toward a waiting car. Hamer runs after them, stumbling, but regains his feet and pulls a gun with his right hand. He reaches the shooters’ getaway car just as McMeans fetches a pump shotgun from inside. As he turns, Hamer puts a bullet through his heart, killing him.
Behind the vehicle, the shotgunner crouches beside McMeans’ body, the smoothbore still in his hands. “Get up!” Hamer yells. “Fight me like a man!” The shotgunner scrambles to his feet and runs. “Turn around, damn you!” Hamer screams.
His brother, Harrison, runs up, raising his rifle toward the fleeing man. Frank knocks the barrel skyward as Harrison squeezes off the shot: “Don’t shoot him in the back! Leave him!”
Gladys runs up and takes her husband around the waist, his blood oozing onto her dress.
“Somebody get a doctor!” Gladys yells. “My husband’s been shot!”
The gunfight began while a grand jury in Sweetwater, Texas, was in session. The jurors ran to a window and witnessed the end of the fight. All participants, including pregnant Gladys Hamer, were lodged in jail. After five days in jail, Frank Hamer, still severely wounded, appeared before the panel and gave his version of events; the grand jury ruled that Gee McMeans’ death was “justifiable homicide”.
Hamer continued to work in law enforcement and security for another 32 years. He died in Austin, Texas in 1955 at the age of 71. During his career, Hamer was wounded by 23 buckshot and bullets; twice, he was declared dead. He reportedly killed a couple dozen baddies. His most famous? The shootings of outlaw sweethearts Bonnie and Clyde in 1934.
Hamer was reticent in the extreme and rarely discussed his shootings. In 1934, during one of the few detailed interviews he ever gave, he told Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist A.B. MacDonald that he had participated in over fifty gunfights. Many of these took place on the border between Texas Rangers, smugglers, and Mexican revolutionistas, and were never recorded.
Recommended reading: Texas Ranger by John Boessenecker, published by Thomas Dunne Books; I’m Frank Hamer by H. Gordon Frost and John H. Jenkins, published by Pemberton Press; and The Johnson-Sims Feud by Bill O’Neal, published by the University of North Texas Press.
Rico says no, not that Sweetwater...

A little light in the LGBT gloom

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this article by Rachel Lu from The Federalist:

I was just six years old when it happened. I showed up for the first grade, fresh-faced and ready to learn, only to have my innocence shattered by a monster from the swamps of expressive individualism. In the dark recesses of my memory, he has remained nameless through all these decades. Some Google searches enabled me to find him: inventive spelling.
Apparently, “inventive spelling” has been controversial for some time as a component of “natural child” educational curricula. I’m not sure how I, a young Idahoan, came to be subjected to it, but I clearly remember being encouraged to decide whether I was a “girlgurl, or grrrrrl. Hooray for creativity! Why shackle yourself to the tyrannical dictates of conventional spelling?
This theory seems to have fizzled in most schools, possibly because it’s idiotic. Words have conventional spellings for a reason: their purpose is to communicate. If we encourage kids to form bad habits, it will be that much harder for them to become capable writers later. This theory’s heyday was evidently brief, but still, it left its mark. My classmates and I can thank our lucky stars that, by the time we got to college, spell checkers had come along to cover our shame.
Bad ideas do die, eventually. At their peak this can be hard to believe. Whether it’s Malthusian population controls, global temperature freak-outs, low-fat diets, or disco, it often seems that idiocy seems unassailable until suddenly it isn’t. A page turns, and the emperor has no clothes, as his folly becomes a cautionary tale for future generations.
Here is my prediction. Within my lifetime, the LGBT movement will die. It will be remembered, not as a Selma moment, but as a Salem moment: a period of collective insanity.
Whether the memory of this period evokes mild derision or deep shame will likely depend on these next few years. It’s still possible that the madness might recede and leave gays, lesbians, and religious conservatives all free to live peaceful and productive lives, knowing their fundamental rights will be respected even where their beliefs and lifestyle choices aren’t. Less optimistically, the early twenty-first century could be remembered as a time when any or all of those groups were harshly persecuted, potentially leaving deep scars in our social memory.
Either way, the movement will die. How do we know? Predicting the demise of the LGBT movement may seem rash in the present moment, as North Carolina prepares to battle the Department of Justice and Washington issues edicts demanding submission from every public school in America. But gender ideology is too incoherent and too inimical to real human good. It cannot outlast the moral indignation of the present hour.
On some level, even its most ardent advocates may intuit this. Their desperation to push the boundaries as far as possible, as quickly as possible, may evidence the zeal of the terminally ill. Everything must be done today, because there is no tomorrow.
This is not an invitation to relax. Foolish ideas do eventually self-destruct, but they can do a lot of damage along the way. We also should not assume that the eventual collapse will precipitate a widespread resurgence of common sense. The evil fruits of the Sexual Revolution will likely plague us for the foreseeable future, potentially assuming a whole range of dystopian forms. Still, we can worry more productively about the next chapter when we recognize that this one will pass. The gender ideologies of the present moment just don’t have what it takes to stand the test of time.
If this seems implausible, consider that the past half-century really has not been a tale of near-unbroken moral decline. Some changes (like the introduction of artificial contraceptives and the embrace of no-fault divorce) seem here to stay. Other bad ideas, like open marriage, proved so unworkable that they were largely rejected. We have also seen particular problems mitigated through a concerted social response, as when Americans overwhelmingly agreed they did not want unmarried teenagers getting pregnant.
Historical trends would suggest that society’s wealthier and better-educated tend to reject life patterns quickly when it becomes clear they beget widespread misery and dysfunction. That’s one reason marriage took a hit in the 1970s and early 1980s, but then started to recover among more educated Americans. Once it was obvious that promiscuity and chaotic family structures were harmful to all concerned, people with resources took steps to correct the problem for their own and their offspring’s sakes.
For all its legal victories, gender warriors have little to show for themselves with respect to the most significant of milestones. They have yet to demonstrate that their ideology can provide a foundation for stable, thriving sub-cultures of the sort that can endure. Enormous energy has been poured into preventing skeptics from asking the relevant questions, but that kind of subterfuge can only last for so long.
The evidence we have looks bad. A few years after Facebook gave us our fifty genders, young people flounder to explain why a short white man isn’t a tall Asian woman. We can only imagine how much worse this will be ten years from now, if children nationwide are aggressively drafted into the transgendered social engineering experiment.
Same-sex coupling has been socially acceptable in mainstream society for a number of years now, but insofar as it is normalized, it’s the sort of normalization that involves coming to acknowledge that it’s really very different from traditional marriage. (That, of course, is problematic, insofar as social research still resoundingly affirms that stable two-parent households are the healthiest place for kids.) Victims keep emerging from the wreckage of libertine sub-cultures. It becomes increasingly obvious, as well, that children are at far greater risk in a culture that is unwilling to encourage almost any kind of sexual restraint.
Ideas have consequences, and gender ideologues are only beginning to grapple with the fruits of theirs. Political correctness can be powerful, but people are not endlessly willing to sacrifice themselves and their loved ones to its more ruinous offerings. Lacking the wherewithal to create a healthy culture, the LGBT movement will dwindle and die.
What shall we do in the meantime? My suggestions are threefold:
First, we need to take steps to protect our own children. Engaging the broader culture is important, but that task belongs to grown-ups, not six-year-olds. We must build and preserve communities in which morally important truths can be instilled at least in our own offspring. Within our communities and homes, we must shield our kids from the blight of pornography and a hyper-sexualized media, and more literally, from the sexual predators that predictably emerge when a society celebrates sexuality as a primary form of creative self-expression. Sexual appetite, once unleashed, will not consistently check itself at precisely the point when pious liberals become offended. Children will continue to be victimized. Protect yours.
Next, we must continue to engage our compatriots in civil discourse concerning the body, sex, marriage, and parenting. Encourage responsible sociological research on the dynamics of non-traditional relationships and families. Keep explaining again and again that traditional sexual morality is not a rejection of persons, but of behaviors that are inimical to real human good. As the dysfunction of various alternative lifestyles becomes more evident, that argument may become more plausible. In the meanwhile, we should do what we can to hold up our sub-cultures as beacons for those who are looking for alternatives to libertinism.
As the LGBT fervor starts to ebb, we should be particularly solicitous to the needs of America’s poor. We’ve seen already that privileged liberals tend to adapt their lifestyles to new data while continuing to mouth the politically correct pieties of yesteryear. No one likes to be seen as the stodgy moralist, but this hypocrisy shouldn’t be allowed to stand. Poor children deserve stability just as much as wealthy ones, and we should stand ready to object if our cultural elites start adjusting their habits without changing their memes.
Perhaps the most important thing is to avoid despair. It’s difficult when our culture seems to keep finding new lows on almost a daily basis. Still, when the wheels start coming off completely, it’s worth remembering that a wheel-less vehicle is no longer able to drive. That might factor into our calculations if the vehicle in question is a critical part of our opponents’ vanguard. Future generations are sure to ask: how could the gender revolution ever have reached such absurdities? I intend to see that day.
Rico says it always seems like they're having fun, but Rico suspects they're not...

Polish Codebreakers Cracked Enigma In 1939, before Alan Turing


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour

History for the day: 1859: Big Ben goes into operation

History.com has this for 31 May:

The famous tower clock known as Big Ben, located at the top of the three-hundred-foot-high St. Stephen’s Tower, rang out over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster in London, England for the first time on 31 May 1859.
After a fire destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster, the headquarters of the British Parliament, in October of 1834, a standout feature of the design for the new palace was a large clock atop a tower. The royal astronomer, Sir George Airy, wanted the clock to have pinpoint accuracy, including twice-a-day checks with the Royal Greenwich Observatory. While many clockmakers dismissed this goal as impossible, Airy counted on the help of Edmund Beckett Denison, a formidable barrister known for his expertise in horology, or the science of measuring time.
Denison’s design, built by E.J. Dent & Co., was completed in 1854; five years later, St. Stephen’s Tower itself was finished. Weighing in at more than thirteen tons, its massive bell was dragged to the tower through the streets of London by a team of sixteen horses, to the cheers of onlookers. Once it was installed, Big Ben struck its first chimes on 31 May 1859. Just two months later, however, the heavy striker designed by Denison cracked the bell. Three more years passed before a lighter hammer was added and the clock went into service again. The bell was rotated so that the hammer would strike another surface, but the crack was never repaired.
The name Big Ben originally just applied to the bell, but later came to refer to the clock itself. Two main stories exist about how Big Ben got its name. Many claim it was named after the famously long-winded Sir Benjamin Hall, the Commissioner of Works for London at the time it was built. Another famous story argues that the bell was named for the popular heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt, because it was the largest of its kind.
Even after an incendiary bomb destroyed the chamber of the House of Commons during the Second World War, St. Stephen’s Tower survived, and Big Ben continued to function. Its famously accurate timekeeping is regulated by a stack of coins placed on the clock’s huge pendulum, ensuring a steady movement of the clock hands at all times. At night, all four of the clock’s faces, each one over twenty feet across, are illuminated. A light above Big Ben is also lit to let the public know when Parliament is in session.
Rico says it's a grand thing; fortunately, the Nazis missed...

Movie for the day: The Meddler

Rico says he and the fiancée went to see The Meddler:

After the death of her husband, Marnie (played by Susan Sarandon) relocates to Los Angeles, California to be closer to her daughter Lori (played by Rose Byrne), a Hollywood screenwriter. While Lori frets about her mom's smothering ways, Marnie keeps getting involved in the lives of others: she dates an ex-cop (played by J.K. Simmons), helps an Apple Store employee study for law school, and pays for a lesbian couple's wedding. Lorene Scafaria wrote and directed this comedy-drama, which is based on her relationship with her real-life mom. The Meddler made its world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.

Rico says he and the fiancée agreed that it's lightweight, but funny...

30 May 2016

Memorial Day 2016 UF

FrontPage has an article by Daniel Greenfield about terrorism:

On Memorial Day, the flowers bloom. A dozen towns in a dozen states all claim that it began there when, after the long weary struggle of the Civil War, the mothers and sisters of the lost and the fallen brought fresh cut flowers to bring a touch of life to the dead men entombed in the cold, gray stone.
“From the silence of sorrowful hours, The desolate mourners go, Lovingly laden with flowers, Alike for the friend and the foe,” reads the famous Francis Miles Finch poem which helped popularize the practice.
Today the wars are no longer fraternal. The First World War is the last war that had anything brotherly in it. It was a war where soldiers from both sides could observe a Christmas truce and hurl nothing deadlier than snowballs at each other. The end of that terrible war on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" became Armistice Day and then, when the “war to end all wars” did not end them, but instead gave way to wars fought against terrible evils, Nazism, Communism, Islam, it became Veteran’s Day to remember those who would go on sacrificing in this eternal struggle against evil.
But, while wars are no longer fraternal, the flowers are laid now on the graves of foes, not friends. The men and women who die fighting for the cause of freedom are not accorded a fraction of the tender affection from the press that it lavishes on a single imprisoned al-Qaeda terrorist. We live today in an America in which the butchers of the jihad in Guantanamo Bay receive better medical care than veterans waiting endlessly at the VA. While Obama cut off hot meals for Marines in Afghanistan, Islamic terrorists in Guantanamo Bay were enjoying lemon baked fish, honey glazed chicken, lyonaise rice, tandouri chicken breast, okra, hummus, dates, honey, and seasoned lentils.
While veterans died at the VA, the men they had fought and helped capture were gifted with a soccer field. This treatment is an obscene echo of the days of segregation when German POWs were allowed to sit inside at eateries while the African-American soldiers who guarded them had to wait outside. This segregation no longer occurs by race, but by patriotism and creed.
Obama denies that Islamic terrorism exists, and suppresses any training materials about the role of Islam in Islamic terrorism, while his administration warns of domestic terror threats from veterans. Muslim migrants from Syria receive lavish social benefits while health care for veterans is slashed. The Muslim migrants, many of whom support Islamic terrorists, benefit from job programs while veterans head for the unemployment line. This hatefully discriminatory attitude has become pervasive on the left.
Hollywood bends over backward to avoid accurately portraying Muslim terrorists, but depicts returning veterans as unstable killers and ticking time bombs. The media gushes over each petty Islamophobia grievance, like Tahera Ahmad, who claimed that she didn’t receive a Diet Coke can on a plane only because she was Muslim, while sweeping the sweeping the thousand veterans who died because of the VA scandal under the progressive prayer rug. A Muslim Diet Coke matters more than a thousand dead veterans.
When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was slow to release Islamic jihadists from Guantanamo Bay, Obama summoned him and personally chewed him out over the delays for his beloved terrorists. His predecessor, Secretary of Defense Hagel, said: “I’d get the hell beat out of me all the time on this at the White House.”
Does anyone imagine that Obama summoned the VA secretary to yell at him over the treatment of veterans? Instead, he initially backed former VA Secretary Shinseki. And it’s doubtful that the current VA Secretary, Bob McDonald, will be getting personally yelled at by Obama for comparing wait lines at the VA to Disneyland.
33% of veterans who have served since 11 September 2001 suffer from a disability. Their unemployment rates are higher, and both poverty rates and food stamp use continue to rise. Behind these tragic facts is the tragic truth that we have forgotten how to honor our veterans. Worse still, the country’s leaders go out of their way to actively diminish the respect due to their courage and sacrifices.
On his visit to Vietnam, Obama referenced veterans, only to praise John Kerry while insisting that “the courage to make peace” is more important than the courage “to fight”. The old-fashioned kind of veteran who fought in Vietnam, who earned his Purple Heart honestly and came home wounded in body and spirit, who is not interested in pretending that the Communist death squads he fought deserve his tribute is, according to Obama, lacking in courage. True courage is appeasement while the courage that stopped Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan is truly something closer to cowardice.
In his apology speech at Hiroshima, Obama cynically equated American and Japanese soldiers, as he had both sides in Vietnam, dismissing World War Two as being fought out of a “base instinct for domination or conquest”. This is how the left sees war and soldiers: there are no good wars. Therefore, the only good veterans are the ones who transcend it by recognizing that they made a mistake by fighting. That war is a misunderstanding to be resolved by the truly courageous diplomacy of men like John Kerry.
Is it any wonder that an administration which views the military as an evil to be abolished, which sees the war against Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, not as proof of our moral convictions, but as an outgrowth of our ancestors “having learned to make blades from flint and spears from wood, used these tools not just for hunting, but against their own kind,” has such contempt and hostility for veterans?
And is it any wonder that this contempt trickles through the institutions of the left, from entertainment to academia, and that, in the shadow of these institutions, the honor due to the men who fought for our freedom, those still living and the dead, from the birth of our nation to its present crisis, is lacking?
Is it any wonder that veterans go hungry while lavish feasts are thrown in the institutions of government? Once we remembered that our freedoms come from the willingness to fight for them. Not with campus activism or empty words, but on the battlefield against those totalitarian enemies, whether they wear the death’s head, the red star or the crescent, which come to deprive us of them.
But our enemies today are as likely to come from within as without. We are in the midst of a quiet civil war and our veterans have become its first casualties. The heroes of today’s ruling class are racist rabble-rousers who tear down the flag for which so many of our soldiers died and replace it with their own militant banners of identity politics. The privileged leftist activists who once chanted "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win", who even attempted to murder soldiers to aid the enemy, are in charge of the country, while Vietnam veterans sleep on the streets and groan in prisons.
Obama’s disrespect for veterans and the military is only a symptom of a deeper rot. Once again a civil war is underway between those of us who love this Union and those who seek to divide it. It is a conflict fought with words and laws, rather than bullets, but it has its casualties who are all around us. It is not only the veterans who have died at the VA who are its victims, but those who have long slept under green grass and gray stone, whose graves wait to be decorated, whose courage waits to be remembered and whose cause waits to be fought once again. 
Rico says WHAT

Good news

Rico's friend Kelley forwards some good news from the War on Terror:

A 23-year-old (bleached) blonde European co-ed who dropped out of school to fight against the Islamic State says the jihadist militants "are very easy to kill".
According to the website Broadly, Joanna Palani (photo), of Copenhagen, Denmark, left college in the fall of 2014 to fight, first for the People's Protection Unit in Syria, known as the YPG, and then for the Peshmerga, the Western-trained and backed army of the Kurdish Regional Government.
"ISIS fighters are very easy to kill," she tells the site, adding that Syrian-trained fighters are a different story. "ISIS fighters are very good at sacrificing their own lives, but Assad’s soldiers are very well trained and are specialist killing machines."
She tells the website she was used as a trainer mainly for younger Kurdish fighters. "The young girls are amazing; they are exhilarated after coming back from the front lines," she tells Broadly. "They are very brave, more brave than I could ever have been at their age."
Born in a refugee camp in Ramadi, Iraq, Palani moved to Copenhagen as a toddler; Broadly reports the Danish government refused to renew her passport when she returned on leave last year. She subsequently returned to her studies in Denmark, where the government pays for her university education, but uses her Facebook page to recall her bond with Kurdish fighters, and says she's disappointed she can't go back to the anti-ISIS fight.
"I am a European Kurdish girl," she told the website. "Most of my beliefs and morals are European. I couldn't live in Kurdistan for more than one or two years, as it is not very comfortable there as a woman. I would rather choose public justice than personal happiness. I would give my life for Europe, for democracy, for freedom, and for women's rights. I feel like I have been betrayed by those who I was ready to sacrifice my life for."
Rico says when the girls think you're 'easy to kill', you're screwed...

History for the day: 1431: Joan of Arc martyred

History.com has this for 30 May:

At Rouen in English-controlled Normandy, Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who became the savior of France, was burned at the stake for heresy.
She was born in 1412, the daughter of a tenant farmer at Domremy, on the borders of the duchies of Bar and Lorraine. In 1415, the Hundred Years War between England and France entered a crucial phase when the young King Henry V of England invaded France and won a series of decisive victories against the forces of King Charles VI. By the time of Henry’s death in August of 1422, the English and their French-Burgundian allies controlled Aquitaine and most of northern France, including Paris. Charles VI, long incapacitated, died one month later, and his son, Charles, regent from 1418, prepared to take the throne. However, Reims, the traditional city of French coronation, was held by the Anglo-Burgundians, and the Dauphin (the heir apparent to the French throne) remained uncrowned. Meanwhile, King Henry VI of England, the infant son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois, the daughter of Charles VI, was proclaimed king of France by the English.
Joan’s village of Domremy lay on the frontier between the France of the Dauphin and that of the Anglo-Burgundians. In the midst of this unstable environment, Joan began hearing the voices of three Christian saints: St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret. When she was about sixteen, these voices exhorted her to aid the Dauphin in capturing Reims and therefore the French throne. In May of 1428, she traveled to Vaucouleurs, a stronghold of the Dauphin, and told the captain of the garrison of her visions. Disbelieving the young peasant girl, he sent her home. In January of 1429, she returned, and the captain, impressed by her piety and determination, agreed to allow her passage to the Dauphin at Chinon.
Dressed in men’s clothes and accompanied by six soldiers, she reached the Dauphin’s castle at Chinon in February of 1429 and was granted an audience. Charles hid himself among his courtiers, but Joan immediately picked him out and informed him of her divine mission. For several weeks, Charles had Joan questioned by theologians at Poitiers, who concluded that, given his desperate straits, the Dauphin would be well-advised to make use of this strange and charismatic girl.
Charles furnished her with a small army, and on 27 April 1429, she set out for Orleans, besieged by the English since October 1428. On 29 April, as a French sortie distracted the English troops on the west side of Orleans, Joan entered unopposed through its eastern gate. She brought greatly needed supplies and reinforcements and inspired the French to a passionate resistance. She personally led the charge in several battles and on 7 May was struck by an arrow. After quickly dressing her wound, she returned to the fight, and the French won the day. On 8 May, the English retreated from Orleans.
During the next five weeks, Joan and the French commanders led the French to a string of stunning victories over the English. On 16 July, the royal army reached Reims, which opened its gates to Joan and the Dauphin. The next day, Charles VII was crowned king of France, with Joan standing nearby holding up her standard: an image of Christ in judgment. After the ceremony, she knelt before Charles, joyously calling him king for the first time.
On 8 September, the king and Joan attacked Paris. During the battle, Joan carried her standard up to the earthworks and called on the Parisians to surrender the city to the king of France. She was wounded, but continued to rally the king’s troops until Charles ordered an end to the unsuccessful siege. That year, she led several more small campaigns, capturing the town of Saint-Pierre-le-Moitier. In December, Charles ennobled Joan, her parents, and her brothers.
In May of 1430, the Burgundians laid siege to Compiegne, and Joan stole into the town under the cover of darkness to aid in its defense. On 23 May 23, while leading a sortie against the Burgundians, she was captured. The Burgundians sold her to the English, and in March of 1431 she went on trial before ecclesiastical authorities in Rouen on charges of heresy. Her most serious crime, according to the tribunal, was her rejection of church authority in favor of direct inspiration from God. After refusing to submit to the church, her sentence was read on 24 May: she was to be turned over to secular authorities and executed. Reacting with horror to the pronouncement, Joan agreed to recant and was condemned instead to perpetual imprisonment.
Ordered to put on women’s clothes, she obeyed, but a few days later the judges went to her cell and found her dressed again in male attire. Questioned, she told them that St. Catherine and St. Margaret had reproached her for giving in to the church against their will. She was found to be a relapsed heretic and, on 29 May, ordered handed over to the secular officials. On 30 May, Joan, just nineteen years old, was burned at the stake at the Place du Vieux-Marche in Rouen. Before the pyre was lit, she instructed a priest to hold high a crucifix for her to see and to shout out prayers loud enough to be heard above the roar of the flames.
As a source of military inspiration, Joan of Arc helped turn the Hundred Years War firmly in France’s favor. By 1453, Charles VII had reconquered all of France except for Calais, which the English relinquished in 1558. In 1920, Joan of Arc, one of the great heroes of French history, was recognized as a Christian saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is 30 May.
Rico says lessee, the Church found her a dangerous heretic, and turned her over to the French to be burned alive. Then they decided, no, she was a saint... Is it just Rico, or are they confused, too? (But, no, not that Dauphin, either...)

A city built on sand, a monument to China’s problems UF

The Washington Post has an article by Simon Denyer about problems in China on the Silk Road:

Lanzhou New Area (photo) is supposed to be the “diamond” on China’s Silk Road Economic Belt , a new metropolis carved out of the mountains in the country’s arid northwest. But it is shaping up to be fool’s gold, a ghost city in the making.
Lanzhou New Area, in Gansu province, embodies China’s twin dreams of catapulting its poorer western regions into the economic mainstream through an orgy of infrastructure spending and cementing its place at the heart of Asia through a revival of the ancient Silk Road.
Hundreds of hills on the dry, sandy Loess Plateau were flattened by bulldozers to create the three-hundred-square-mile city. But, today, cranes stand idle in planned industrial parks while newly-built residential blocks loom empty. Streets are mostly deserted. Life-size replicas of the Parthenon and the Sphinx sit surrounded by wasteland, monuments to profligacy.
The project epitomizes what is wrong with China’s economic model, foreign experts say, in particular, how debt is rising to alarming levels as the government tries to prop up a slowing economy with projects that make little or no commercial sense.
“Where Gansu goes, China goes,” said Rodney Jones, founder of Wigram Capital Advisors in Beijing. “You’ve had massive credit growth and investment in projects that don’t generate an economic return. Now you’re facing two shocks— you’ve got to stop credit growing and deal with the bad loans, and you’ve also got to see how the economy expands once this credit boom is over.”
China launched an ambitious Go West campaign at the turn of the millennium, aiming to narrow the income gap between the booming eastern seaboard and the remote west, essentially by building modern infrastructure and exploiting the west’s natural resources.
The initiative got a huge push as China launched a nationwide economic stimulus after the 2008 global financial crisis. And President Xi Jinping’s plans to revitalize the Silk Road, the ancient desert trade route between East and West, have provided a further boost.

About $10 billion is being invested to clear Lanzhou New Area and build infrastructure that includes roads, railways and an expanded airport. Water is being diverted from a branch of the Yellow River and stored in three new reservoirs to create a city that a promotional video shows as awash with lakes and rivers.
A free-trade zone and logistics hub are meant to ensure that the city benefits from its location on a new Silk Road, while industrial parks dedicated to auto and equipment manufacturing, ­petro­chemicals and traditional Chinese medicine are supposed to create the jobs that will sustain a city of 1 million by 2030.

In Lanzhou New Area, construction workers at the gates of the new Free Trade Zone, designed to attract foreign businesses with tax advantages. (Gilles Sabrié/For The Washington Post)

In Lanzhou New Area, locals ride one-wheel electric scooters past a row of nearly empty apartment buildings. (Gilles Sabrié/For The Washington Post)
Struggling for investors
On a recent trip organized by the provincial government, journalists were shown around a heavy-machinery plant run by the state-owned Lanzhou LS Group and the privately owned Scisky factory, which makes a water-based polymer resin. Scisky executives said they hoped to take advantage of local raw materials and export to Central Asia and Europe.
Xu Dawu, deputy Communist Party secretary for the New Area, says 150,000 people live here, along with 40,000 temporary construction workers — but those numbers seem at odds with the largely empty vistas that visitors see.
The reality is that despite cheap land, tax holidays and large subsidies, the New Area has struggled to attract both investment and people. Yan Yuejin at E-House China R&D Institute in Shanghai looked at vacancy rates and concluded that the venture has been “very unsuccessful.”
[Why China won’t shut underused factories]
Even Xu admits to “a problem.”
“Lanzhou is a very important town on the Silk Road, but it is sandwiched between two mountains with a river running through it,” he said. To draw more industries from the south, he said, “we need to jump out of Lanzhou and seek a larger space.”
If that doesn’t work, he said in what sounded like a tacit admission of defeat, “we can at least develop modern agriculture here.”
Chinese economists said Gansu is making basic economic missteps, investing in heavy industry at a time of global overcapacity and building infrastructure when it should be reducing its debt.
“This is just copying the old development model without taking local reality into consideration,” said Ding Wenfeng, a professor of economics at the Chinese Academy of Governance, urging the government to apply an “emergency brake.”
“Urbanization and modernization are processes that naturally take place,” he said. “You can’t force it to happen or have 1,000 places copy the same model.”

The Lanzhou New Area ring road is being built through the Loess Mountains, which have been carved or had their tops leveled. (Gilles Sabrié/For The Washington Post)

In Lanzhou New Area, a plane flies above full-scale replicas of the Parthenon and Great Sphinx of Giza, set in an area still under construction. Mountaintops have been razed to make room for an outdoor movie studio and entertainment park. (Gilles Sabrié/For The Washington Post)
Bao Cunkuan, an environmental science professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, agreed, saying that the poorer northwestern provinces such as Gansu have typically survived by exporting people to richer parts of China, not by attracting people.
“People will vote with their feet,” he said. “If the place is not good enough, nobody will come no matter how many houses you build. Where people go, the allocation of capital and resources should follow.”
Gansu has a per capita annual income of just $4,000 and little trade with the outside world. Its growth was driven by metals and other minerals, as well as by real estate, but it is suffering the ill effects of China’s slowdown and a global slump in commodity prices.
[China’s economic growth hits six-year low]
The province’s attempt to spend its way to prosperity has only aggravated its problems. Last year, total credit expanded by about $50 billion, in an economy worth just $100 billion, Wigram Capital calculates. Despite the huge injection of credit, the economy shrank 1 percent in nominal terms, while the ratio of loans to gross domestic product expanded to 200 percent, up from less than 90 percent in 2009.

Andrew Polk at Medley Global Advisors in Beijing visited Lanzhou New Area recently and noted its “desolate” location. “You can just sense from being there it’s not a commercially viable place,” he said.
Yet the eagerness to support Xi’s hallmark Silk Road initiative — an economic belt running through Central Asia to Europe and a “Maritime Silk Road” hugging Asia’s southern coastline — seems to trump economic sense.

“It’s just another example of government priorities being at odds with each other,” Polk said. “There is a desire to do the belt and road program, and there is also a desire to de-leverage. You can’t do both at the same time, but we have seen time and time again in China which tends to win out.”
An old idea
Indeed, Gansu is far from an isolated case. The idea of building new cities around China caught on after the success of Pudong in the 1990s, as skyscrapers replaced farmland on the east bank of the Huangpu River facing old Shanghai.
But Shanghai’s success remains an exception.
“Everyone wanted to build new cities — they thought they could replicate Pudong all over China,” said Jones of Wigram Capital. “Provinces didn’t have a strategy built around their comparative advantages. Building a new city in Gansu just doesn’t make any sense.”
There are other problems with a project on the scale of Lanzhou New Area. Writing in Nature magazine in 2014, three Chinese scientists warned that the environmental impacts of this and similar “mountain-moving” undertakings had not been properly considered, likening them to “major surgery on the Earth’s crust.”
The Lanzhou project was halted in 2013 because of problems with air pollution, pending an environmental assessment, Peiyue Li, Hui Qian and Jianhua Wu wrote. Four weeks later, as contractors’ costs mounted, it was restarted — without the assessment.
[Air pollution in China is killing 1.6 million people a year, researchers say]
Gao Ying of the Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences told China Business News in November that petrochemical plants planned for the new city could cause serious environmental and air pollution and would use vast amounts of water in a fragile and arid zone.
In China, debt has ballooned to 280 percent of gross domestic product, from 135 percent in 2009, Wigram Capital calculates. Bad loans are soaring, and new debt is increasingly being used to pay back old loans.
It now takes 4 yuan of debt to generate 1 yuan of economic growth, up from 1 to 1 at the time of the financial crisis.

The Economist magazine warned this month of China’s “coming debt bust,” arguing that these trends are unsustainable and recommending that the government plan for “turmoil.”
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The central government talks of reducing industrial overcapacity, cutting debt and transitioning to a new, innovation-driven economy, but provincial leaders, under pressure to meet economic targets, seem unable to abandon the old playbook.
“You can see why they keep returning to the well, because it did work for a long time — it was extremely successful,” Polk said. “That’s the core of the issue right now. People are grappling with the changing nature of the economy. Old tricks don’t work.”
The old tricks could even be making matters worse: Fudan University’s Bao compares the approach to “drinking poison when you are thirsty.”
Rico says WHAT

Facing a different standard

The Washington Post has an article by Janell Ross about Hillary and The Donald:

On the list of topics that researchers— sociologists, political scientists, economists, criminologists, workplace rule-makers, pollsters, and even biologists— have been known to study is honesty.
With reason: honesty underpins the function of our courts and our personal relationships, our electoral system, our health-care operations, and our workplaces. And in the world of truth-telling studies, a sub-field exists: these researchers examine what role, if any, that gender plays in honesty.
With all the talk this week and during this entire campaign about honesty, transparency, emails, and tax returns in the 2016 race, The Fix thought it was time to examine just how gender and honesty play out in politics. Do voters have different expectations for honesty among male and female politicians? If they do, what do these dynamics mean for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the likely major-party nominees, whose honesty has often been called into question (Clinton for her alleged secrecy and Trump for his many false statements)? 
What follows is a Q&A conducted via email and edited for clarity and length. First, meet our experts: 
Kelly Dittmar is an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden and a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), also at Rutgers. Dittmar’s work involves both research on the role and influence of women and politics and advancing women’s political representation and power. Her 2015 book Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns, investigated how gender influences campaign strategy and campaign institutions. Dittmar has not been involved in any of the presidential campaigns, but does manage a nonpartisan project of CAWP and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation called Presidential Gender Watch 2016, which tracks and analyzes gender dynamics in the 2016 race.
Julie Dolan is a professor of political science at Macalester College in Minnesota. Dolan began graduate school in 1992, the election cycle often described as Year of the Woman, when women ran for and won seats in Congress at historic levels. She’s been studying women and politics ever since. Dolan is the lead author of the 2016 edition of Women and Politics: Paths to Power and Political Influence. The book, first published in 2007, was updated in 2010 and 2016. A fourth revision of the book is scheduled for release following the 2016 presidential elections. Dolan has donated what she described as a “small amount” to Clinton, but has not otherwise been involved in any of the presidential campaigns. 
The questions: 
The Fix: I get the sense this is an interesting time for political scientists focused on women voters and candidates. Beyond the obvious, a historic candidacy, is there anything else that keeps your work compelling right now?
Dittmar: Women voters are key to any election, especially at the presidential level. They outnumber and outvote men, and have done so since 1980. Since then, there has also been a persistent gender gap in presidential vote choice, with women more likely to support the Democratic candidate and men more likely to support Republican candidates. There is no expectation that this will change in 2016. However, this year provides an important reminder that women are not a monolithic voting bloc. While we often talk about women voters collectively or “the women’s vote”, there are key differences among women by race and ethnicity, party and ideology, and age, among other things. For example, while the majority of women are Democrats, Trump’s gender problems have put a spotlight on Republican women, a group of women voters often overlooked. How are Republican women reacting to Trump? And will his gender strategy be effective with GOP women (and which GOP women) as we move toward Election Day?
At the same time, women of color, black women, specifically, fuel much of the gender gap that gives Democratic candidates an advantage. Black women voted at the highest rate of any race and gender subgroup in 2008 and 2012, and nearly a hundred percent of black women voted for Barack Obama. Will they turn out at similar rates to support 2016’s Democratic nominee? And what strategies will be key to ensuring enthusiasm and equitable levels of engagement?
Last, there has been some discussion of Clinton’s “man problem” in a race against Trump, but talking about men and women’s voting behavior requires historical context. I recently wrote about this for Presidential Gender Watch 2016, showing that Clinton’s support among men is consistent with past Democratic nominees, while Trump’s support among women is well below average at this point in the race.

Dolan: Absolutely. Her candidacy raises questions as to whether any woman can be President of the United States, whether female presidential candidates can ever overcome voter stereotypes and media narratives that question women’s suitability for the White HouseClinton is the most experienced candidate in the field, but campaign rivals Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are leveling attacks against her that she’s not qualified for the job. In doing so, they're playing into a long-standing narrative that women lack what it takes to succeed in the male-dominated world of politics. The fact that two less-experienced male candidates are leveling this attack against her is telling. Neither Trump nor Sanders feels compelled to shore up their own credentials or justify their own relative lack of experience because they don’t need to; they benefit from a gendered double standard where men are automatically presumed qualified for public office and women are not. 
The Fix: How much do American voters care about honesty in a presidential candidate? 
Dittmar: It’s not surprising that American voters say they value honesty in a presidential candidate. In fact, you would hope that’s a credential desired in any elected official. However, I do think there is a difference between what voters want and what they expect in politicians. For example, just thirty percent of voters in a 2015 Pew poll said elected officials are honest. Unfortunately, then, the bar is low.
At the same time, a Quinnipiac poll from earlier this year showed that just sixteen percent of Democrats and twenty-three percent of Republicans rated honesty and trustworthiness as most important when asked to rate those traits alongside other key indicators of vote choice, like caring about needs and problems of people like them, being a strong leader, having the right experience, sharing their values, and having the best chance of winning. That may explain why political scientists David Holian and Charles Prysby found that presidential candidates viewed as most honest in recent elections have not often won.

Dolan: They care, but it’s not typically at the top of the list of desired character traits. In voting for the President, voters tend to prioritize masculine traits (toughness and decisiveness) over feminine traits (empathy and honesty). Because honesty is considered a feminine trait, it carries less sway with voters than do other competing traits.

The Fix: Do voters expect female candidates to be more honest than male ones? 
Dittmar: Research on gender stereotypes has shown that women are often perceived as more honest than their male counterparts. For example, a 2014 Pew poll found that thirty-four percent of respondents believe that women in high-level political offices are better than men at being honest and ethical, while just three percent see men as better on the same traits.
These perceptions can be advantageous to women. Some research, like Kathleen Dolan’s 2004 book, Voting for Women, has found that voters most concerned about honesty in government were more likely to vote for women candidates. Political consultants I spoke with in my book talked about women’s “virtue advantage” as beneficial in crafting female candidates’ images and messages. However, opponents, especially men, who are aware of that advantage are quick to develop strategies to eliminate it, raising questions about women’s honesty and integrity when given the chance. Those attacks may be more effective against women than men because women are held to a higher standard on honesty and ethics. In other words, since voters are more likely to expect women to be honest, the penalty to women for appearing dishonest may be greater than it is for men.
Dolan: Voters typically draw on gender stereotypes in evaluating political candidates and tend to punish candidates who diverge from gender expectations. Because the generic female candidate is presumed more honest than the generic male candidate, voters judge a female candidate more harshly if she appears to violate the expectation of honesty. For male candidates, dishonesty is problematic but the critique is muted because generic male candidates are presumed to be somewhat less honest from the start. 
The Fix: How do those dynamics effect Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?
Dittmar: This week’s YouGov/Economist poll finds that Clinton and Trump are rated equally poorly when it comes to perceptions that they are honest and trustworthy. Less than one-third of voters view both Clinton and Trump as honest and trustworthy, while nearly sixty percent do not view either candidate as holding these traits. These ratings may indicate perceptions of honesty and trustworthiness may have relatively little influence on outcomes this year, since no candidate appears to have an advantage. However, if women are held to a higher standard of honesty and integrity, Clinton’s honesty problem may actually have more detrimental effects than if she were a man.
Trump’s Crooked Hillary moniker indicates that he will work to ensure that Clinton’s dishonesty is front and center in voters’ minds, contributing to these negative effects and deflecting attention from his own problems with truthfulness. Still, if voter surveys are any indicator, it’s likely that other considerations will matter more to voters’ decision-making in November. That may be why Clinton has focused more on Trump’s lack of qualifications to be president, emphasizing the risk of having him in the Oval Office.
While both candidates would do well to improve voter perceptions of their honesty, they face steep climbs in reversing reputations, and will confront continued obstacles in the form of increasing negative attacks on past and present behavior. As a result, they may well have to find other sites on which to distinguish themselves from each other and position themselves as best suited to be the next Commander in Chief.
Rico asks do you want her face (let alone his) to represent America for the next four years?

Coral dying on Great Barrier Reef

The Washington Post has an article by Chris Mooney about coral losses in Australia:

We knew this was coming.
For months, coral reef experts have been loudly, and sometimes mournfully, announcing that much of the treasured Great Barrier Reef has been hit by “severe” coral bleaching, thanks to abnormally warm ocean waters.
Bleaching, though, isn’t the same as coral death. When symbiotic algae leave corals’ bodies and the animals then turn white or “bleach”, they can still bounce back if environmental conditions improve. The Great Barrier Reef has seen major bleaching in some of its sectors, particularly the more isolated northern reef, and the expectation has long been that this event would result in significant coral death, as well.
Now some of the first figures confirming that are coming in. Diving and aerial surveys of reefs by scientists with the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia, the same researchers who recently documented at least some bleaching at over ninety percent of individual reefs, have found that a striking thirty-five percent of corals have died in the northern and central sectors of the reef.
The researchers looked at corals from Townsville, Queensland, to New Guinea and examined two hundred thousand overall, said coral expert Terry Hughes, who led the research. The thirty-five percent, the researchers said, is an “initial estimate” that averages estimates taken from different reef regions.
“It varies hugely from reef to reef and from north to south,” said Hughes, who directs the ARC Center. “It basically ranges from zero to a hundred. In the northern part of the reef, in two dozen of the reefs we sampled, we estimate more than fifty percent mortality.”
Fortunately, the southern sector of the reef was largely spared, thanks to the ocean churning and rainfall caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston, which cooled waters in the area, Hughes said. In this region, to the south of the coastal city of Cairns, mortality was only about five percent.
But while coral death numbers are far lower to the south, “an average of thirty-five percent is quite shocking,” Hughes said. “There’s no other natural phenomenon that can cause that level of coral loss at that kind of scale.” He noted that tropical cyclones, that Americans call hurricanes, also kill corals at landfall, but typically over an area of about fifty miles. In contrast, he says, the swath of damage from the bleaching event was five hundred miles wide. “This coral bleaching is a whole new ballgame,” Hughes said.
The news comes just days after the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, an Australian government agency, similarly noted that “in the far north, above Cooktown, substantial coral mortality has been observed at most surveyed inshore and mid-shelf reefs.”
There has already been widespread attribution of this record bleaching event to human-caused climate change. One recent statistical analysis, for instance, gave extremely low odds that the event would have happened by chance in a stable climate. It was caused by record warm March temperatures in the Coral Sea, more than two degrees Fahrenheit above average.
The bleaching event is the third and worst such strike on the Great Barrier Reef; other major bleaching events occurred in 1998 and 2002. “So the question now is, when are we going to get the fourth and fifth bleaching event, and will there be enough time, now that we have lost a third of the corals, for them to recover before the fourth and fifth event?” Hughes said.
In the case of at least some of the corals, the answer is probably no. Some dead corals were fifty or a hundred years old, making it hard to see how these kinds of animals could grow back before another shock to the system arrives.
Indeed, the aforementioned statistical analysis suggested that, by the year 2034, a March with sea temperatures as warm as in 2016 could happen every other year, as the planet continues to warm.
What is happening to the Great Barrier Reef this year is just one part of a much broader global episode. “Unfortunately, there are islands in the central equatorial Pacific, like Christmas Island, where the effects have been even more catastrophic, with over eighty percent mortality,” said Mark Eakin, who coordinates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch. “It is essential to remember that even those corals still alive have a higher risk of dying from disease and have lost at least a year’s reproductive season and growth,” Eakin continued. “Even the corals that ‘only’ bleach are severely harmed by events like this one.”
The damage to the Great Barrier Reef, a major tourist attraction, has led to intense climate-focused debate in Australia, which is on the verge of an election on 2 July 2016.
But, for scientists, the idea that something abnormal is happening seems hard to escape. “We seem to have gone from an era when mass bleaching was unheard of to the modern era, where it has now occurred three times in eighteen years,” Hughes said.
Rico says that, as ever, Nature bats last...

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