Friday Reads: A Little This n That

Good Morning!

I’m having a challenging week with my senior dog Karma who is really going down hill fast at the moment so I’m going to make this brief.  She’s been a bit of an issue this week since she sleeps a lot and frequently doesn’t wake up in time to get outside.  So, I’m tired too.

Wikileak’s Julian Assange has been granted asylum in Ecuador.

Ecuador has granted asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange two months after he took refuge in its London embassy while fighting extradition from the UK.

It said his human rights might be violated if he is sent to Sweden to be questioned over sex assault claims.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK would not allow Mr Assange safe passage out of the country and the move was also criticised by Stockholm.

Ecuador said it would seek to negotiate arrangements for Mr Assange to leave.

“We don’t think it is reasonable that, after a sovereign government has made the decision of granting political asylum, a citizen is forced to live in an embassy for a long period,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said.

Mr Assange took refuge at the embassy in June to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces questioning over assault and rape claims, which he denies.

Mr Patino had accused the UK of making an “open threat” to enter its embassy to arrest Mr Assange, an Australian national.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley Calls Romney a “Stupid Back Stabber”.

Responding to Romney’s plan to kill energy production and thousands of jobs in Iowa, long time conservative Senator Chuck Grassley called Romney “stupid” and a “back stabber” at two town hall meetings.

In his unabated campaign to piss off every possible voter, Mitt Romney called for the cancellation of tax credits for wind energy, a move that would kill 37,000 good paying jobs nationwide.

In Iowa alone, 7,000 people are employed in the wind energy sector, producing a quarter of the state’s electric power.

Why would Romney do something so heartless? To pay for tax cuts for the rich, naturally.

At a town hall meeting in rural Iowa, Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s conservative Senator for 32 years, said,

“I’m the author of the wind energy tax credit of 1992, and there were people from outside the state came into Iowa and issued a press release that the Republican candidate for president was opposed to wind energy, and I felt it was just like a knife in my back”.
Calling Romney’s proposal an insult, Grassley continued his attack on the Republican standard-bearer at a different town hall meeting:

“when you think at a time of 8.2 percent unemployment there would be any question that you wouldn’t want to lay off 4,000 more people in the state of Iowa and probably 25,000 people nationwide, but that’s kind of what’s at stake here.”
Grassley concluded by saying,

“I don’t know who’s behind it and I’m going to find out who’s behind it, and expose them and tell them how stupid their policy is.”

DU cited the Des Moines Register as a source of the quotes.

Economist Mark Thoma has an excellent Op Ed up at the NYDN titled “Paul Ryan’s imaginary expertise;The supposed economic policy wonk lacks basic understanding”.

When Mitt Romney introduced Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, he emphasized that Ryan “has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party” on economic policy. But a close examination of Ryan’s monetary and fiscal policy proposals makes it hard to understand why he is held in high regard.

Ryan’s views on monetary policy are, by his own admission, heavily influenced by Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” (In a 2005 speech, he said: “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”)

Concerns about inflation — currency debasement — are prominent in Rand’s novel, and those concerns drive Ryan’s monetary policy proposals. For example, Ryan introduced legislation in 2008 to replace the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate to stabilize both inflation and employment with a single mandate to stabilize inflation. Under Ryan’s proposal, the Fed would ignore employment when making policy decisions.

This lack of concern over employment is disconcerting, but it’s at least possible to find economists who support a single inflation mandate for the Fed. It’s much harder to find anyone who will support another inflation prevention policy Ryan has proposed, a policy similar to a gold standard.

Despite decades of stable inflation, and criticism from many experts that the Fed is too worried about inflation and not worried enough about unemployment, Ryan does not trust the Fed to keep inflation under control. Instead, he has proposed tying the value of the dollar to a basket of commodities. The Fed’s only job under this policy would be to keep the value of the dollar in line with the value of the commodities in the basket. The pursuit of stable employment or any other goal would interfere with this mission.

But this is not a recipe for price stability, as Ryan claims. Every time the price of oil, corn or other commodities in the basket changes due to ordinary fluctuations in supply and demand, which is often, the value of the dollar would change as well. This would make the dollar even more unstable and uncertain than it is now — and we’d also lose an important tool in the fight against unemployment.

That’s not even his worst proposal for monetary policy. That distinction goes to his call to raise interest rates to cure the recession — because “there’s a lot of capital parked out there, and we need to coax it out into the markets.”

This shows a serious misunderstanding of what’s holding the economy back. If interest rates are increased, the higher return on financial assets will cause more people to provide funds to financial markets — but the supply of funds isn’t the problem.

Romney is once again playing race baiting games.  Romney’s campaign has put together a petition to tell the President to stop being such an angry black man.  I’m only going to link to this.  You can go see it for yourself.  This is getting old.

Professional Village Idiot–Quitterella–was put to the Jon Stewart treatment when she said she didn’t know of any conservatives that talk the way liberals do; all nasty and vitriolic.

Jon Stewart poked fun at one of his favorite targets on “The Daily Show” on Wednesday night. Stewart ripped into Sarah Palin for saying that she couldn’t think of any prominent Republicans who talk the way liberals do.

“Does the lake behind you have reflective properties?” Stewart said. “If so, you may find the answer to your riddle.”

He then proceeded to show a video of Palin slinging harsh words: accusing Obama of pallin’ around with terrorists, calling Nancy Pelosi a dingbat and questioning the president’s “balls” (so to speak). Turns out, Stewart had quite a bit of material to work with.

He concluded: “So you don’t know of any prominent Republicans who spew divisive vitriol? There can only be two explanations for that. One: Not even Sarah Palin believes she is a prominent Republican anymore. Or two: Sarah Palin can no longer hear herself speak.”

Here’s  a cute item on Madam Secretary from Conde Naste Traveller. What’s it like to spend nine days on the road with Hillary Clinton?

According to Clinton, the swift resolution of the Chen debacle was the direct result of the intensive relationship-building that the United States and China have been engaged in during her nearly four years as secretary of state. “We were coming as people who had already experienced many hours of dialogue in many different settings and who were invested in a peaceful, cooperative relationship, so we had a personal trust,” she says. “Those conversations are not just about things—they’re about people, and how we listen to one another and interact with one another. Even if we saw things differently, we were not coming as strangers . . . and I think that really helped facilitate how we were able to move forward.”

It also helped that Clinton is so deft with the human touch: Sources familiar with the situation say that China agreed to Chen’s wishes after Clinton had an extended private conversation with Chinese state councilor Dai Bingguo, with whom she has cultivated close ties. “Their relationship is a great example of what she has been doing for the past three and a half years,” says deputy assistant secretary Philippe Reines. “If Chen had been taken into the embassy on January 21, 2009, this would not have had a happy ending. She didn’t yet have the personal relationships that she leaned on in this case.”

It’s precisely this sort of relationship-building that has compelled Clinton to travel more than 800,000 miles (she will have clocked over a million by the time she steps down, early next year) to more than one hundred countries during her time as secretary. She notes the irony that even though we live in an era of easy and instant communication, face-to-face meetings have never been more valued. “I could sit in my office and do videoconferences nearly anywhere in the world, but because that is so easy, people actually expect you to show up more, to make the effort and demonstrate the respect, to sit across the table and look eye to eye. It reflects a commitment to the relationship that you cannot get from sending an e-mail or doing a videoconference.”

Alright, let’s conclude with  my continuing to share my fascination with graves and grave goods.  This is a story from the UK on what mass burials can tell us about catastrophic disasters throughout history.  Many ancient gravesites in the UK and other areas have been removed to make way for shopping centers and the like. This has led to a lot of chances to learn about historic events and peoples.  Here’s a story from London’s volcanic winter.

The Medieval cemetery at Spitalfields is probably the largest excavated graveyard in the world. Work by MOLA between 1998 and 2001 unearthed a staggering 10,516 burials, of which just over 5,300 have been studied in detail. Allowing for those portions of the cemetery destroyed during the construction of Spitalfields market, it is probable that around 18,000 people were once interred there. As well as providing an unparalleled corpus of skeletal material for the period, a rigorous programme of Bayesian radiocarbon dating (see CA 259) by Alex Bayliss and Jane Sidell has provided a tight chronology for the Medieval cemetery. Securing detailed phasing for a site type that is notoriously hard to date proved crucial when it came to understanding how the cemetery population met their fate. It also allowed change within that population to be studied over time, providing vivid insights into the evolving nature of London life.

Spitalfields cemetery was closely associated with the priory and hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate, later known as St Mary Spital. Claimed to be the largest hospital in London when it was closed during the Dissolution in 1539, the institution was originally founded in around 1197. Intended to minister to the poor, sick and infirm, as well as women in childbirth, the new establishment was a reaction to the care needs of London’s growing population.

The first burials in the cemetery, however, seem to have been a response to pressures of a different kind. Radiocarbon dated to about 1120, the earliest bodies pre-date the priory by a good 70 years. Far from occupying ordered rows, the corpses were dumped in open quarry pits. Such opportunistic interment away from any known religious house evokes an emergency situation in which large numbers of bodies needed to be disposed of rapidly. If so, it was not the last time that a catastrophe heralded the suspension of normal burial practices at Spitalfields.

The foundation of St Mary Spital brought the construction of a priory church at the north-west corner of the cemetery, while the other buildings were clustered nearby. Although the majority of those laid to rest in the graveyard were placed in individual grave shafts sunk in neat rows, excavations revealed a group of 140 large pits clustered along the south and east margins of the burial ground.

Dug as far from the priory buildings as the cemetery confines allowed, each pit contained between 8 and 40 bodies. A sure sign that the death rate had once again outstripped existing burial measures, the desire to keep these mass graves away from inhabited areas underscores a very real fear of the dangers the bodies could pose for the living. In London, as elsewhere, the natural reaction to discovering such mass burials is to interpret them as plague pits from the 1348 Black Death.

Just the name Spitalfields was enough to attract me to the article. But hey, mass medieval graves? Whoa … just more lessons in impermanence for a practicing Buddhist.  But, it’s also a window in to a different world, isn’t it?

Okay, that’s it from me today.  What’s on your reading and blogging list?