Wednesday, November 30, 2011


UC-Berkeley land architect Louise Mozingo argues for letting go of pastoral capitalism and embracing a sustainable urban form that enhances our democracy — and stopping the subsidizing of sprawl by local, state, and federal incentives would be a good place to start to make the necessary changes:
In metropolitan areas across America, corporate campuses for research and development units proliferated and top executives ensconced themselves in palatial estates like the Deere & Co. Administrative Center outside Moline, Ill. Meanwhile, branch offices, small corporations and start-ups found footing in the office parks that lined suburban highways and arterial roads, like those of Silicon Valley in California and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

Born in an era of seemingly limitless resources, this pastoral capitalism restructured the landscape of metropolitan regions; today it accounts for well over half the office space in the United States.

Yet suburban offices are even more unsustainably designed than residential suburbs. Sidewalks extend only between office buildings and parking lots, expanses of open space remain private and the spreading of offices over large zones precludes effective mass transit.

These workplaces embody a new form of segregation, where civic space connecting work to the shops, housing, recreation and transportation that cities used to provide is entirely absent. Corporations have cut themselves off from participation in a larger public realm.

Rethinking pastoral capitalism is integral to creating a connected, compact metropolitan landscape that tackles rather than sidesteps a post-peak-oil future. This requires three interrelated strategies. State and federal governments should stop paying for new highway extensions that essentially subsidize the conversion of agricultural land for development, including corporate offices. Existing infrastructure needs maintenance and renewal, not expansion.

Apropos of that, the latest piece from KJZZ's fantastic series on remarking the southwest's culture of sprawl gives a nice case study of one company's relocation from the burbs to a pedestrian-friendly area, once again focusing on corporations and their employees with the public:
So these days, Hsieh is no longer just thinking about cubicle density. He is thinking about urban density.

“It turns out that the same principles that work for improving company culture actually work for driving productivity and innovation in a city,” Hsieh said.

In 2013, Hsieh is leaving the suburbs and moving everything downtown. He is taking over the city hall building in historic downtown Las Vegas, a quirky, gritty neighborhood north of the Las Vegas strip. Right now, the area is mostly known for its aging casinos, government buildings and a smattering of pawnshops.

But downtown is also home to the city’s arts district and a few hipster friendly hangouts. The neighborhood is one of the only pedestrian-friendly parts of Las Vegas, and has been a focus of the city government’s revitalization efforts. It will welcome a new performance arts space and a few new museums next year.

Hsieh is hoping to continue to build on that energy and help make downtown Las Vegas a vibrant, urban hub. The idea is to build a community for the 2,000 Zappos employees who will be working downtown, as well as other hi-tech and Internet-based companies he hopes to draw to the area.

“In an urban environment, suddenly every cafe and bar and restaurant becomes an extended conference room,” Hsieh said. He hopes new eateries and sidewalks will serve as the backdrop for serendipitous interactions among the new downtowners.

Thinking about sustainability and revitalizing the built environment was on Kaid Benfield's mind, as well:
When we think of “sustainability,” we usually are considering the viability of a place or action into the future – as my friend Steve Mouzon puts it, “can we keep it going in a healthy way into an uncertain future?” But I increasingly think that, when we consider that nourishing the human spirit is just as important as conserving natural resources – we humans are part of this ecosystem, after all – the continuity implied by sustaining something may need to relate to the past as well as to the future.

Preservationists know instinctively the importance of connecting to the past and maintaining a legacy as we go forward. But the integration of the past into the present and future is the hard part. In the case of the built environment, how much do we save and what do we do with it? What do we preserve as is, what do we alter and/or adapt, and what do we allow to be demolished? I’ve written before that both preservationists and environmentalists must be discriminating and wise in asserting our values. If we push our principles to the maximum without awareness of the consequences to other important societal values, we risk losing our credibility, among other things.

Jesse Ausubel has been optimistically writing about it for years, but are we really in a moment of dematerialization and decreased consumption? Of course, should it be true, what is still worth remembering (as John Sterman's carbon bathtub study reminds us) is that decreased rates of consumption still result in increased overall consumption over time — not to mention that past history still matters:
[A] lot of environmental impacts are cumulative. Even if we are destroying less rainforest each year, we are still reducing the amount of rainforest left for future generations.

Similarly, those carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere. We cannot escape our polluting past. China’s emissions of CO2 today may be the world’s largest (and 15 times those of Britain). But if you tagged every molecule of the gas in the atmosphere according to its origin, there would still be more up there from Britain than from China.

On the topic of reducing emissions and decarbonizing the economy, Andy Revkin labels a new study in Science that finds that “technically feasible levels of energy efficiency and decarbonized energy supply alone are not sufficient” to reach deep GHG cuts by 2050 as “straight talk,” leading to the inevitable blog wars between Revkin and Joe Romm. Yes, decarbonizing the economy will be difficult, but it needs to happen. The longer we wait, the harder it is. Time to start moving now, and creating the inertia to get things moving faster into the future. And it'll take more than just technological fixes.

What is and should be our relationship to animals? It's a question that has vexed many a moral philosopher from John Stuart Mill to the most prominent environmental ethicists of our day like Peter Singer, Holmes Ralston, and the wonderful Dale Jamieson. The Chronicle this week publishes two thought-provoking essays on the subject. First, Kathy Rudy calls for a re-assessment of how we think about animals:
For animal rights to become a mainstream movement, advocates must change the way the public thinks about animals. "Women's rights" does not mean the same thing in every pocket of feminism, nor does "gay rights" or "civil rights." Those terms point to orientations around social change, not specific, agreed-upon agendas. Indeed, inside each of those other movements, arguments and conflicts abound; what holds them together in the public eye, though, is a fairly general cultural acceptance. The same thing needs to happen for animal rights.

Let's step back from the rational principles employed by many animal-advocacy philosophies to examine the emotional and spiritual connections that, for many, produced the desire for change in the first place. Stepping back allows us to ask different questions about our relationship with animals: What mechanisms of language sorted all living things into only two categories called "humans" and "animals"? What practices in capitalism rendered some animals as killable commodities? What religious practices gave only some of us souls? What scientific data render some animals as wild and others as domesticated? What stories support the view that animals could and should be exploited for human benefit? And what, exactly, counts as exploitation?

How do we interact with and connect with real animals, and how do those connections reflect (or not) current ethical thinking about animals? How well are our relationships with animals reflected in culture today? Do these stories adequately portray the way we feel with and about animals? When and under what circumstances do we get our relationships with animals "right," and how can those examples serve as a model for treatment of other animals? Examining the ways that emotion, connection, and stories have constructed our current world can build new strategies for change.
And in the other essay, Justin Erik Halldór Smith takes the long view, invoking how humans have separated themselves from the animal world over recent millennia:
Before and after Darwin, the specter of the animal in man has been compensated by a hierarchical scheme that separates our angelic nature from our merely circumstantial, and hopefully temporary, beastly one. And we find more or less the same separation in medieval Christian theology, Romantic nature poetry, or current cognitive science: All of it aims to distinguish the merely animal in us from the properly human. Thus Thoreau, widely lauded as a friend of the animals, cannot refrain from invoking animality as something to be overcome: "Men think that it is essential," he writes, "that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride 30 miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain." What the author of Walden misses is that men might be living like baboons not because they are failing at something or other, but because they are, in fact, primates. Thoreau can't help invoking the obscene and filthy beasts that have, since classical antiquity, formed a convenient contrast to everything we aspire to be.

The best evidence suggests that this hatred of animals—there's no other word for it, really—is a feature of only certain kinds of society, though societies of this kind have dominated for so long that the hatred now appears universal. Until the decisive human victory over other predatorial megafauna several thousand years ago, and the subsequent domestication of certain large animals, the agricultural revolution, the consequent stratification of society into a class involved with food production and another, smaller class that traded in texts and values: Until these complex developments were well under way, human beings lived in a single community with animals, a community that included animals as actors and as persons.

In that world, animals and human beings made up a single socio-natural reality. They killed one another, yes, but this killing had nothing in common with the industrial slaughter of domestic animals we practice today: Then, unlike now, animals were killed not because they were excluded from the community, but because they were key members of it. Animals gave themselves for the sake of the continual regeneration of the social and natural order, and in return were revered and treated as kin.

The uber-rich are getting richer and richer, and paying less and less in taxes:
The tax burden on the nation’s superelite has steadily declined in recent decades, according to a sliver of data released annually by the I.R.S. The effective federal income tax rate for the 400 wealthiest taxpayers, representing the top 0.000258 percent, fell from about 30 percent in 1995 to 18 percent in 2008, the most recent data available.
It's enough to make you think that perhaps we should increase the tax burden on the wealthiest of the wealthy, says Paul Krugman:
Once upon a time America was a middle-class nation, in which the super-elite’s income was no big deal. But that was another country.

The I.R.S. reports that in 2007, that is, before the economic crisis, the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers — roughly speaking, people with annual incomes over $2 million — had a combined income of more than a trillion dollars. That’s a lot of money, and it wouldn’t be hard to devise taxes that would raise a significant amount of revenue from those super-high-income individuals.

For example, a recent report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out that before 1980 very-high-income individuals fell into tax brackets well above the 35 percent top rate that applies today. According to the center’s analysis, restoring those high-income brackets would have raised $78 billion in 2007, or more than half a percent of G.D.P. I’ve extrapolated that number using Congressional Budget Office projections, and what I get for the next decade is that high-income taxation could shave more than $1 trillion off the deficit.
Raising taxes and having the kleptocrats forgo a drizzle of truffle oil on their gold-dusted extinction platter special of bluefin and caviar probably won't hurt them too much, but it probably would be useful to help pay for the growing number of subsidized school lunches:
The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the meals program. Eleven states, including Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Tennessee, had four-year increases of 25 percent or more, huge shifts in a vast program long characterized by incremental growth.
And those shifts towards greater reliance on food aid are just another reminder of how much the middle class is struggling to maintain any semblance of economic security:
More than 20% of the nation faced this condition in each of the three years spanning 2008 to 2010, a sharp increase from 14.3% in 1986. Some 62 million Americans faced economic insecurity last year.

Many of the people who suffered in the economic downturn are in the middle class.

"The middle class is facing much more instability and health care [cost] risk than a generation ago," Hacker said.

The Great Recession is also prompting deep losses among the insecure, with the median drop in income for this group hitting a record 46.4% in 2009.

Hacker, who launched the Economic Security Index with a team of researchers last year, looks at three measures to determine insecurity: major income loss, out-of-pocket medical expenses and the lack of savings. He considers available income to be money left over after paying health care costs and debts.

Cathy Davidson expands on her earlier blog post about the campus Occupy protests as a “Gettysburg Moment” in an open plea to college presidents, and explicitly connects growing economic insecurity and inequality, rising costs of education, and increasing debt with what we are seeing students protest:
What is this madness? The justification for calling in the police is typically to "maintain order" or to preserve "safety" or "security" or "health." But surely violence is a distorted response to the desire for "order," "health," and "safety." And it is certainly incommensurate when dealing with such minor crimes as camping overnight on university property.

Is this really what university leaders want for our campuses? Where are today's leaders who will take the moral high ground and side sympathetically with the rising tide of students who are Occupying Higher Ed and protesting what all of us—and university presidents more than anyone else—agree is a national crisis in higher education?

The issues students "occupying" our campuses are protesting, however, are not just student issues. They are widespread economic and social problems that, statistics confirm, hit the students' generation particularly hard. Those include the radical economic disparity between rich and poor that leaves a depleted middle class, a compromised future for productive and satisfying work, escalating educational costs that burden students with impossible debt, declining support for public education, and the irrelevance of much of the current educational system for 21st-century challenges that today's students will face tomorrow. There's not an administrator in America who isn't rattling off that list when talking to alumni groups or legislators


Students are not the enemy of administrators and faculty unless we invite them to be. Students, parents, faculty, administrators, and alumni should be banding together to fight for higher-education support and higher-education reforms, including such things as limitations on student debt. Instead, by sending in the police, we make enemies of allies. Watch the Davis video, and you see the seeds of that destructive turn.


We need prominent, articulate leadership that concedes that students putting their bodies literally on the line are also raising profound issues about the future of education, which is to say the future of our nation. We don't just need better "procedures" or "task forces."

We need Lincolnesque moral fervor that honors the courage of young students who have put themselves in peril, to date with remarkable self-control and self-organization. And with the awareness that the education they support is rapidly becoming something only the elite—1 percent—will be able to afford.

Our students are not wrong in the content of their protests on behalf of education. Calling the police does not solve their problems; as we have seen too often, it can foster violence—with an ever-more-imminent potential for tragedy.

Please, dear college presidents, stop sending for the police. Our students face a difficult future. This should not be a time to beat them up, to spray them with mace or pepper juice, to kick and hit them. On the contrary, in the brochures and in the Web sites advertising our campuses, we promise that we will inspire students to "change the world." Isn't that what these students are trying to do?
Bittman on reaching more consumers with local agriculture.

Some fun with satellite imagery. I may have a master's in geography and, from time to time I do fancy myself to be more advanced at remote sensing than a pure novice, but apparently I'm awful at identifying images that aren't already georeferenced — through sheer lucky guessing I was only able to identify 15 of these images correctly. (h/t Miller.)

A federal judge trashes the SEC's agreement with Citigroup. Why he was right to do so.

A pretty visualization of how Kahneman and Taversky's prospect theory has been cited through the academic sphere.

The new, absolutely magisterial album from The Roots, undun, is streaming at NPR.

I've said it before, but my favorite musical discovery of the last few years has been Tuareg rock (oft-called “desert blues”); perhaps the finest exponents of the genre, Tianriwen, appeared on Colbert last night:

Heather's Happy Link of the Day™ for today: John James Audubon’s Birds of America, digitized.

And finally, even I can share a fun link:

Monday, November 28, 2011


Urban planning expert Chris Leinberger points to the deeper cause of the housing crash, and believes the the exurbs are done for good thanks to demographic changes and preferences for dense, walkable regions and a focus on livability:
By now, nearly five years after the housing crash, most Americans understand that a mortgage meltdown was the catalyst for the Great Recession, facilitated by underregulation of finance and reckless risk-taking. Less understood is the divergence between center cities and inner-ring suburbs on one hand, and the suburban fringe on the other.

It was predominantly the collapse of the car-dependent suburban fringe that caused the mortgage collapse.


The shift is durable and lasting because of a major demographic event: the convergence of the two largest generations in American history, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the millennials (born between 1979 and 1996), which today represent half of the total population.

Many boomers are now empty nesters and approaching retirement. Generally this means that they will downsize their housing in the near future. Boomers want to live in a walkable urban downtown, a suburban town center or a small town, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors.

But what happens to the half-built suburbs in the middle of nowhere? Peter O'Dowd investigates:
Holway says letting land go back to nature – farming and parks – is one solution for the most unattractive zombies.

Farmers across the country are reclaiming land from developers, according to the Wall Street Journal. One Arizona dairy farm paid $8 million for a large alfalfa field that developers had planned to use for houses. The land had fallen into foreclosure.

"Some of these far-flung subdivisions, people really do want them to go away," the planner said.

Holway believes the defunct land closest to the urban core still has a chance. Some day, demand will breathe life back into the market, and just as planned, the dirt will become new houses.

Greening vacant lots can have community-wide benefits:
A control group of unimproved vacant lots was selected with a methodology designed to ensure fair comparability to the greened lots. The study, which was published earlier this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology, correlated the lots with data from the Philadelphia Police Department and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey.

Vacant lot greening was associated with significant reductions in gun assaults across all four sections of Philadelphia in the study and with significant reductions in vandalism in one section. Greening was also associated with the reporting of significantly less stress in one of the sections of the city and with more exercise in another. Cholesterol numbers were lower to a statistically significant degree for the greened areas across all four city sections.

The Nature Conservancy partners with commercial fishers in California in what could be a model for creating sustainable fisheries. Collaboration certainly seems to cause less antagonism than prosecuting lawbreakers; when the feds stepped in to try to stop illegal fishing in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the community rebelled.

An appetite for gold is destroying Peruvian rainforests.

Rob Stavins on redefining what successful climate talks in Durban should mean.

If you care about animal-welfare, you should probably be concerned with how dog breeding is inducing animal suffering; what is cute to humans can be dangerous to the animal (related slideshow here):
“There is little doubt that the anatomy of the English bulldog has considerable capacity to cause suffering,” Dr. Nicola Rooney and Dr. David Sargan concluded in one of the reports, “Pedigree Dog Breeding in the U.K.: A Major Welfare Concern?” “The breed is noted to have locomotion difficulties, breathing problems, an inability to mate or give birth without assistance. . . . Many would question whether the breed’s quality of life is so compromised that its breeding should be banned.”

In the United States, some veterinarians, breeders and animal-welfare experts are beginning to wonder the same thing. Last spring, the Humane Society organized its first conference on the topic of purebred-dog health and welfare. The society’s chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, told me the conference signaled the beginning of a new era for his organization, which until recently has been focused on what he calls “more obvious” forms of animal cruelty. “Inbreeding and other reckless breeding practices may not be as bloody as dogfighting or as painful to look at as puppy mills, but they may ultimately cause even more harm to the well-being of dogs,” he said.

Though a number of breeds were discussed at the conference (including the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, which is beset with severe heart and neurological diseases), the bulldog stole the show. “It is the most extreme example of genetic manipulation in the dog-breeding world that results in congenital and hereditary problems,” Pacelle said.

The folks at RealClimate chime in with their concerns regarding the new paper in Science that suggests we may be over-estimating climate sensitivity.

An open letter to university presidents and chancellors. (h/t Katelyn)

Just because you're a US citizen doesn't mean you won't be harassed by ICE agents who then try to deport you (h/t Wonkette):
[T]housands of U.S. citizens have been snagged along the way, in part because agents operate in a secretive judicial environment where detention hearings are held out of public view.

After a detailed examination of federal immigration records, Prof. Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University estimated this year that about 4,000 American citizens were illegally detained or deported as aliens in 2010. In a study published last summer, she found that as many as 20,000 citizens may have been wrongly held or deported since 2003.

Heather's Happy Link of the Day™ for today: Modern Squash.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


More on the connections between the War on Terror and the militarization of police, making a point I've made far less pithily before:
Americans should remain mindful bringing military-style training to domestic law enforcement has real consequences. When police officers are dressed like soldiers, armed like soldiers, and trained like soldiers, it's not surprising that they are beginning to act like soldiers. And remember: a soldier's main objective is to kill the enemy.

Why do the students protest?:
Huge increases in tuition fees are central to the protests on campus. Once upon a time the promise of better-paying jobs might have convinced students that it was worth going into debt to get a top-ranked education. In the present economy this is not a persuasive argument. Many are objecting to what they rightly see as the incremental privatisation of public education, which will eventually produce universities that all look the same: the poorest students who make the academic cut will be covered by financial aid, and everyone else will pay huge fees. Tuition at UC now stands at around $13,000 (it was $6400 in 2003-04) and according to some projections could double by 2015, without fully addressing the radical shortfall in state funding that has caused the problem. Even $25,000 may look like a relative bargain compared to the top private schools, but it is a massive shift in the ethos of the public university.
(And in graphic form.)

Want to embrace sustainability when it comes to eating? How about starting with not throwing away your food and eating your leftovers?:
Most of the year, we cook only for the one meal directly ahead, and we dispose of what’s left neatly in the trash — we budget- and time-conscious Americans throw out 40 percent of our food, worth over $50 billion (not to mention all the wasted time).


As we try to juggle food choices, tight budgets and busy schedules — and the constant question of what to make for dinner — we could do nothing smarter than approach all our meals as we do Thanksgiving: expecting each and every thing we cook to feed us well tomorrow and the day after, envisioning an efficient unraveling of future meals from previous ones, always having something to start with.

Is shark fin soup losing its cachet? Let us hope.

And after all that has gone wrong with India's massive dam-building schemes, could it be that sometimes things don't turn out horribly wrong?

Via Alex Steffen: visualizations of sustainability.

There's lots of money to be made in despoiling the environment, so Big Oil is going all in on a propaganda campaign to push for no regulations on fracking; they reap the benefits, while residents pay the costs.

Regardless of what we know about famines and their causes, our food-aid policies are not based in reality:
A common misconception is that hunger crises are about a lack of food. Yet there is food in Kenya and Ethiopia, and even in many parts of Somalia. The real issue is poverty. The people affected are poor to begin with; when things turned bad, they had no recourse. In April the World Bank reported that 44 million people worldwide were pushed over the edge by skyrocketing food prices.

Such a perspective is largely missing in our food-aid program. It’s like a health insurance system that waits until someone has a full-blown illness before he or she can get treatment. By the end of June, with the crisis in full swing, the United States had committed a total of about $64 million to Kenya, much of it in the form of food supplies (this doesn’t include relief for the Somali refugees). But food aid loses at least half of its value, according to the Government Accountability Office, because we ship actual food instead of sending cash for local purchase, like most countries. And only $5 million was allocated to agriculture, nutrition, water and sanitation — about $1.33 per hungry person — things that would have helped people during lean times. 

How the “wealth defense industry” rigs the game to keep on winning.

Speaking of the class war being perpetuated by the plutocrats, it's worth remembering that the .1% who've benefited disproportionately do little to contribute to the greater good:
For who are the 0.1 percent? Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of the super-elite are executives at nonfinancial companies, 18 percent are in finance and another 12 percent are lawyers or in real estate. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution.

Executive pay, which has skyrocketed over the past generation, is famously set by boards of directors appointed by the very people whose pay they determine; poorly performing C.E.O.’s still get lavish paychecks, and even failed and fired executives often receive millions as they go out the door.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis showed that much of the apparent value created by modern finance was a mirage.

A brief primer on how we got to this plutocratic moment in America, and a reminder that markets need not work this way:
Remember: the government writes the rules for how markets work. Markets aren’t “natural.” Property rights, regulations and other rules of the marketplace are derived from the law, and they can be written and rewritten to either promote or fight inequality. Over the past thirty years, the government had been changing the rules in ways that have grown inequality.

The dismantling of the fragile New Deal–era financial regulations over this time period tracked an explosion in salaries for those who work in the financial sector. Inequality at the top end, particularly at the top 0.1 percent, is largely a function of those highly paid employees. If the financial sector produced mass prosperity, those salaries might be worth it. But now that we’ve survived bubbles, knowingly created bad financial instruments and bailouts for “too big to fail” firms, it’s clear that financial services industry is not a generator of wealth for the average taxpayer.

Economic efficiency and being thankful that we don't let the perverse tools of economics always rule us:
What makes this the most efficient use of the scarce resource? Why, simply that it goes to the user who will pay the highest price for it. This is all that economic efficiency amounts to. It is not about meeting demand, but meeting effective demand, demand backed by purchasing power.


As Sen said, the same market would feed the hungry if they could afford it, so the way to combat famines is to make sure they have money or paying work or both. (If in this country we don't have to worry about famine, it's because we've arranged things so that most of us do have those resources; we still have a hunger problem because our arrangements are imperfect.) The larger point is that while what is technologically efficient depends on facts of nature, what is economically efficient is a function of our social arrangements, of who owns how much of what. Economic efficiency may be a good tool, but it is perverse to serve your own tools, and monstrous to be ruled by them. Let us be thankful for the extent to which we escape perversion and monstrosity.

Indeed. Let us never forget that the supposedly neutral love of efficiency is not value-neutral, as Uwe Reinhardt pointed out a few months ago.

More on the poor and near poor and what it means for social mobility and the future of our democracy:
Government surveys analyzed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicate that in 2010, just over half of the country’s nearly 17 million poor children, lived in households that reported at least one of four major hardships: hunger, overcrowding, failure to pay the rent or mortgage on time or failure to seek needed medical care. A good education is also increasingly out of reach. A study by Martha Bailey, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, showed that the difference in college-graduation rates between the rich and poor has widened by more than 50 percent since the 1990s.

There is also a growing out-of-sight-out-of-mind problem. A study, by Sean Reardon, a sociologist at Stanford, shows that Americans are increasingly living in areas that are either poor or affluent. The isolation of the prosperous, he said, threatens their support for public schools, parks, mass transit and other investments that benefit broader society.

Ew. Biodiversity is great, except when it's in the bathroom. “Fecal contamination” is not a phrase I find reassuring.

Yes, I know that plagiarism isn't black and white, but this is the worst defense ever:
"I was kind of upset 'cause I was pretty sure I did't do it," he says, claiming he copied from the Internet but didn't plagiarize. "I put that as two different sentences," he says. "So it's not like I copied it straight from the Web site. I changed it into two different sentences."

The students won the backing of their parents. "The problem in her classroom wasn't with the students, but with the teacher," says one parent.

"Plagiarism is black on this side, white on this side, with a whole lotta gray in the middle," said another parent.

How are you being surveilled?

Joe Lieberman thinks you should be able flag me as a terrorist for what I post on my blog and that Google should then shut me down. You're stupid, Joe.

J. Edgar Hoover ruined lives.

While Google takes away the best parts of Google Reader, shuts down Google Health and the potentially-groundbreaking Google Green Energy, at least there's Google Culture.

Alex Ross on the power of live music. The most singularly powerful live performance I ever saw was an encore performance by Alejandro Escovedo, in which he and his cellist climbed into the crowd and played an amazing version of The Velvet Underground's “Pale Blue Eyes.” Moved me to tears. Sounded a bit like this:

Big Boi loves Kate Bush. No, really.

I just noticed that Mohammed Rafi's “Jaan Pehechaan Ho” showed up in a Heineken commercial. I suppose I can't complain that NFL viewers just heard Mohammed Rafi, but it would've been better had if this clip from the movie Gumnaam aired in its entirety instead:

Poppy vs. Ramen. Ramen wins.

Willpower: is it all in your head?:
At stake in this debate is not just a question about the nature of willpower. It’s also a question of what kind of people we want to be. Do we want to be a people who dismiss our weaknesses as unchangeable? When a student struggles in math, should we tell that student, “Don’t worry, you’re just not a math person”? Do we want him to give up in the name of biology? Or do we want him to work harder in the spirit of what he wants to become?

Congratulations, America. your disgusting consumerism disgusts again.

While Black Friday is disgusting, you can go all Cyber Monday and get sweet crafty goodness at Saké Puppetsspecial sale. Do it.

And now introducing a new feature to the Daily(-ish) Link Dump: Heather's Happy Link of the Day™. Today, the Wifey suggests this to make you chuckle.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


A shorter post today, to be followed by a blogging hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday...

Canada loves asbestos. Not for its own citizens, of course, but so long as Canadian corporations make make a killing (literally) selling asbestos to India:
No surprise, then, that the stuff is effectively banned in Canada. And a surprise, to observers, that Canada exports it to other countries, most notoriously India, where public-health regimes are less vigorous than in Canada.

But that fact is no more mysterious than two forces that are as well known in India as they are in Canada. One is the power of supply and demand. The other is the vacuum of political indifference.

This would be why Canada lobbied hard to keep asbestos from being listed as a hazardous substance this past summer.

What happens to New Delhi's waste-workers when incinerators replace their jobs? If you think that they'll get job-training from the government and find alternate employment, you're probably wrong.

The trade-offs between conservation and hunger when it comes to bushmeat.

Solutions journal has a special issue on ecosystem services.

More on tuition costs and faculty salaries.

Foreign aid should be directed towards poverty alleviation, not driven by the Pentagon's interests.

The Pentagon is spending tens of millions on propaganda directed towards whitewashing human rights abuses:
Over the past three years, a subdivision of Virginia-based General Dynamics has set up and run a network of eight "influence websites" funded by the Defense Department with more than $120 million in taxpayer money. The sites, collectively known as the Trans Regional Web Initiative (TRWI) and operated by General Dynamics Information Technology, focus on geographic areas under the purview of various U.S. combatant commands, including U.S. Central Command. In its coverage of Uzbekistan, a repressive dictatorship increasingly important to U.S. military goals in Afghanistan, a TRWI website called Central Asia Online has shown a disturbing tendency to downplay the autocracy's rights abuses and uncritically promote its claims of terrorist threats.

The War on Thanksgiving? Adam Serwer takes the only reasonable approach to discussing the Muslim-hating bigots — snark:
[Y]ou might think that in a capitalist economy, halal turkeys are a sign of meat sellers responding to market demand for food prepared a certain way. You might even be tempted to observe that Muslim Americans marking a secular, American holiday celebrating pluralism and freedom from religious persecution might be a sign of the extent to which American Muslims have assimilated into American culture. What you didn't know was that when markets respond to the demands of Muslim consumers, freedom dies.

Newt Gingrich's “Dickensian work-study orphanage modelcould be even better, with a few small changes:
Mr. Gingrich’s plan, although morally and economically sound, unfortunately doesn’t go far enough. To instill a true work ethic in poor students, they need to double up on cleaning schools. I propose that after cleaning their own schools, squads of them be sent out to clean rich kids’ schools—especially prep schools. Not only would they earn even more money, they’d be inspired by having to mop the bathrooms where rich kids relieve themselves after studying non-stop in their school libraries in preparation for eventually going to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

Alaska Rep. Don Young is batshit crazy.

Carl Zimmer on the greatest zombie parasite ever, Toxoplasma gondii.

And finally, something totally awesome, courtesy of The Wifey: catchphrases and assorted exclamations from your favorite rappers. THIS IS THE GREATEST THING ON THE INTERTUBES.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


This post about online fundraising to cover the costs of health care hit close to home. My fine readers (um, all six of you?), I hope you're willing to open your wallets in the next few months. More info to come soon.

The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf calls on Orwell to explain the psyche of what could cause a campus cop outfitted in riot gear and the tools of warfare to use such disproportionate force against peaceful, passive, unarmed college students:
My point is this: At Occupy Berkeley and Davis, you have a bunch of skinny, hyper-earnest teenagers with high SAT scores. The vast majority have never even been in a fight. One day, they all lock arms on the quad, so administrators call in U.C. police officers, guys who are routinely ridiculed for not being real cops, and sometimes get ribbed by their colleagues in Oakland for having a laughably easy beat.

But that isn't all.

The U.C. police officers are dressed in riot gear. They're given guns, batons, body armor, face shields, and spray canisters of pepper spray. And they're sent out in force. If they were in a video game they'd be ready to face off against some bad-ass foe with machine guns and assault rifles. We're used to seeing officers like that in pitched battles on the street, or about to rush into a house filled with drug dealers. These guys are facing teenagers blocking a sidewalk.

But once they're out there -- people all around, photographs being snapped, video cameras rolling -- it's the cops who feel powerless. The kids won't listen. Nobody wants to be the one to say, "Um, should we retreat?" Had they left, the crowd would've burst into cheers at their expense. No one wants to make the first move either. Some of them seethe. Others feel embarrassed, like the macho high school wrestler forced to square off against a girl in practice. If he goes too hard he'll feel bad. If he goes too easy and loses he'll be humiliated and ridiculed.

He goes too hard.


As Orwell put it, "I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool."

A UCSD grad student, employee, and union rep explains why Occupy Davis is fighting against privatization of public education:
[T]he police brutality we have witnessed over the past two weeks at Cal State Long Beach, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis is only a symptom of the privatization of these universities. Chancellors Katehi and Birgeneau want safe and inviting spaces on campus, but not for students, for private companies and corporations. When they suppress dissent on our campuses it is in the interest of privatization and clearly not student safety. We must be careful not to treat the symptom alone, but attack the disease itself, the disease of privatization.

The shift towards privatization should come as no surprise when the state stops supporting public education (h/t once again to the indispensable The Edge of the American West):
The real reason why tuition has been rising so much has nothing to do with Baumol, and everything to do with the government. Page 31 of the report is quite clear: “except for private research institutions,” it says, “tuitions were increasing almost exclusively to replace losses from state revenues or other private revenue sources.”

In other words, tuition costs are going up just because state subsidies are going down. Every time there’s a state fiscal crisis, subsidies get cut; once cut, they never get reinstated. And so the proportion of the cost of college which is borne by the student has been rising steadily for decades.

 Lt. John Pike pepper-sprays his way through Art History 101. (h/t Everyone On The Intertubes.)

Given that Chancellor Katehi doesn't care for dissent at universities in Greece, it's not surprising that she was so willing to call on the police to stifle dissent at Davis.

Very exciting news for my fellow Phoenicians: Sustainable Communities, the very promising, innovative HUD-EPA-DOT partnership that is providing federal funding for a genuinely holistic approach to sustainability and smart growth (“[T]o help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide. ... [T]his partnership will coordinate federal housing, transportation, and other infrastructure investments to protect the environment, promote equitable development, and help to address the challenges of climate change.”), gives a $2.9 million grant to the City of Phoenix for transit-oriented development around the light rail:
[T]he program will create a plan to provide families with access to quality and affordable housing, high-paying jobs, education and training programs and health care along the Metro light-rail line.
If successful, this would be precisely the sort of equitable sustainable development that Phoenix needs and Andrew Ross discussed in his recent NYTimes op-ed.

Kaid Benfield mentions a few of the other Sustainable Communities grants that excite him.

As such, the upcoming KJZZ/Fronteras series on moving beyond sprawl in the southwest is certainly well-timed.

The USFS starts a program to support agroforestry.

There's a reason why some people suggest we should call it “global weirding.”

Acknowledging the value of ecosystem services through public investments in green infrastructure in NYC.

On the topic of ecosystem services, my advisor and some of my favorite ES experts published a recent piece in Science on the “promise and peril” of payment for ecosystem services schemes.

Lawrence Livermore National Lab offers up a Sankey diagram of U.S. energy use in 2010.

A survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reveals a majority of Americans support a revenue-neutral carbon tax — well, until the inevitable climate change denial propaganda campaign from Big Energy convinces them that we can't destroy our economy over a non-existent threat.

Sweet baby Jeebus, Herman Cain will only get chemo from a Christian doctor:
He did have a slight worry at one point during the chemotherapy process when he discovered that one of the surgeon's name was "Dr. Abdallah."

"I said to his physician assistant, I said, 'That sounds foreign — not that I had anything against foreign doctors — but it sounded too foreign," Cain tells the audience. "She said, 'He's from Lebanon.' Oh, Lebanon! My mind immediately started thinking, wait a minute, maybe his religious persuasion is different than mine! She could see the look on my face and she said, 'Don't worry, Mr. Cain, he's a Christian from Lebanon.'"

"Hallelujah!" Cain says. "Thank God!"

Alabama's draconian, racist immigration law is succeeding in harassing any who sounds too foreign:
Upon hearing of the incident, Alabama governor Robert Bentley called the state’s homeland security director to find out what had happened, the Washington Post reports. But there was no mistake; the arrest was exactly what was supposed to happen under the law that Bentley signed earlier this year. And, presumably, it’s what now happens on a routine basis to other, less-prominent people around the state, whether in the country legally or not.

“If it were not for the immigration law, a person without a license in their possession wouldn’t be arrested like this,” the homeland security director confirmed to the Post.
In response, the NYTimes calls for repealing this hateful law.

Watching Fox News actually makes you less informed:
“The (poll’s) results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all,” said Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the poll. 
Well, that's not surprising given the ignorant, depraved discourse about the UCD pepper-spraying, for instance. And no, Megyn Kelly, pepper spray is not essentially a food product.

Justin Erik Halldór Smith uses the inane tradition of the annual White House turkey pardon to reflect on the profound immorality of capital punishment:
Execution cannot be fully normalized or proceduralized, and the attempt to do so is in a certain respect more terrifying than the murder to which it is a response: the murder was plainly a transgression, whereas the compensatory execution is allowed for in our books of law, as the culmination of normal procedure-following. The death penalty makes it possible for killing to be encompassed within the normal carrying out of a bureaucratic procedure, rather than remaining a transgression or a suspension of our ordinary commitments. To uphold capital punishment is therefore to make killing itself normal: something that it is not even for the great majority of murderers.

Killing is, in short, cruel and unusual, and this is why murderers are rightly despised. This is also why capital punishment fits so well as part of the system of justice of absolutist states, but cannot, and never will, have an uncontested place in a democracy.

Money, money, money: “A chart of almost all of it, where it is, and what it can do.”

Money, you say? Who owes what to whom in the Eurozone?

More on Jeopardy! bad-ass Roger Craig. (A side-note for my fellow Carls: his data-mining method is pretty much what Eric Hilleman did with college quiz bowl questions.)

Optical illusions! (h/t Wifey.)

I can't say I'm a big fan of much of Leonard Cohen's post-70s work, but “Show Me The Place” from his upcoming Old Songs sounds pretty fantastic:

And lastly, as part of my efforts to ensure that everything from Yo-Yo et al.'s The Goat Sessions promo tour is shared, here's a delightful interview (and performance) with the foursome from All Things Considered.

Monday, November 21, 2011


More on the way police are trained to violently handle non-violent threats by Peter Moskos, a former cop and now sociology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice:
In the police academy, I was taught to pepper-spray people for non-compliance. Ie: “Put your hands behind your back or I’ll… mace you.” It’s crazy. Of course we didn’t do it this way, the way we were taught.


When police need to remove protesters—whether that’s even the case here I don’t know—it needs to be crystal clear who gives the order, be it the president of the university or the ranking officer on scene. Officers on the scene shouldn’t be thrown under the bus because their superiors gave stupid (albeit lawful) orders. Accountability matters.

And if police need to remove these students, then the police can go in four officers to one protester and remove them. Lift them up and take them away. Maybe you need one or two more officers with a threatening baton to keep others from getting involved. It really can be that simple.

People don’t hate the police for fighting off aggressors or arresting law breakers. They do hate police for causing pain—be it by dog, fire hose, Taser, or mace—to those who passively resist. And that’s what happened yesterday at U.C. Davis.

Making some of the same points I was trying to make yesterday with regard to the larger structural problems regarding the paramilitarization of police, the criminalization of dissent, and brutality-as-guideline, The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal notes that Lieutenant John Pike is the expected outcome of a morally bankrupt system of savage barbarism in law enforcement (h/t Miller via G+):
Structures, in the sociological sense, constrain human agency. And for that reason, I see John Pike as a casualty of the system, too. Our police forces have enshrined a paradigm of protest policing that turns local cops into paramilitary forces. Let's not pretend that Pike is an independent bad actor. Too many incidents around the country attest to the widespread deployment of these tactics. If we vilify Pike, we let the institutions off way too easy.

That these changes in the police force have occurred is not in dispute. They've been sufficiently open that academics can write long papers detailing the changes in police responses to protests from the middle of the 20th century to today. They are described in one July 2011 paper by sociologist Patrick Gillham called, "Securitizing America."
Tell them they're at war, that's how they'll act. Dress them up in riot gear, give them tanks, tear gas, LRAD and other tools of warfare, and they will use them. (Maybe the first thing Chancellor Katehi can do is explain why the hell campus cops had riot gear to begin with.) Indeed, Pike should not be seen as a monster. (Hell, as one pepper-sprayed student noted in the interview I shared yesterday, he knew the student protestors on at least a superficial level, having chatted and had coffee and food with them.) Nor, sadly, should he be seen as an aberration. The monster is the system, and it makes monsters of everyone in the system.

Before things devolve at UCLA and follow the trajectory of Berkeley and Davis, UCLA professors fight back on the war on dissent:
Their crime, formally, was to violate a campus policy against camping. But in reality they were arrested for engaging in political speech at a time and in a manner that did not please the campus administration. For this political action, they may face disciplinary proceedings.
As UCLA faculty we call on you, to drop any charges that may be pending against these students. The freedom to debate controversial topics is at the core of university life. The students occupying Wilson Plaza on Thursday night were not posing a health or safety risk. They were not disrupting the educational mission of the university. They were holding ongoing discussions—what they call a “general assembly”—to share information and experiences, and decide together how to face the future.

Meanwhile, Mark Yudoff, president of the UC system, is appalled by the treatment of nonviolent demonstrators (h/t Edge of the American West). The cynic in me says this came far too late for Davis; if he'd made these comments following the thuggish behavior of cops on Berkeley's campus, then perhaps what happened at Davis could have been prevented. Nevertheless, hopefully his statement and actions will prevent further displays of police brutality and the crushing of dissent.

Chancellor Katehi released a statement, as well.

Wondering who accompanied Chancellor Katehi as she walked past the students' silent shaming and condemnation? That would be Reverend Kristin Stoneking. The Edge of the American West has her moving reflection on her actions:
Why did I walk the Chancellor to her car? Because I believe in the humanity of all persons. Because I believe that people should be assisted when they are afraid. Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek. I am well aware that my actions were looked on with suspicion by some tonight, but I trust that those seeking a nonviolent solution will know that “just means lead to just ends” and my actions offered dignity not harm.

The Chancellor was not trapped in Surge II tonight, but, in a larger sense, we are all in danger of being trapped. We are trapped when we assent to a culture that for decades, and particularly since 9/11, has allowed law enforcement to have more and more power which has moved us into an era of hypercriminalization. We are trapped when we envision no path to reconciliation. And we are trapped when we forget our own power. The students at UC Davis are to be commended for resisting that entrapment, using their own power nonviolently. I pray that the Chancellor will remember her own considerable power in making change on our campus, and in seeking healing and reconciliation.

The Edge of the American West points me to another great blog post — this one explaining just how laughable the sudden emphasis on health concerns vis-à-vis student camping is. It happens at schools with big-time athletic programs all the time, with Duke's Krzyzewskiville being a perfect example:
[L]et’s look at the reason for calling the police in the first place.  I keep hearing the arguments that universities have to call in the police to protect the students, that the Occupy encampments are unsanitary, unsafe, and insecure.   That’s almost comical when you teach at Duke where “tenting” is one of our most venerable student traditions.   A tent-city called K-Ville has been thriving since 1986.  Krzyzewskiville ( is an encampment of students staying in tents, in winter, for weeks at time in order not to lose priority getting into Duke basketball games.  A few years ago, my students and I even looked at the community rules and community standards for K-Ville in order to understand self-organizing community groups, constitutions, and regulation.  You can read the university’s own evolving rules for this extraordinary phenomenon here:  If K-Ville can thrive safely, securely, and with proper sanitation even in the heat of winning and losing basketball championships, for a quarter of a century, so can a well-organized group of students fighting for their education, for better funding for their university, and for their future. (And certainly the photographs, linked to in the comment section below this blog, show an encampment at UC Davis that was clean and orderly as an ad in a sporting goods catalog:

Of course we’re going to riot,” he said. “What do they expect when they tell us at 10 o’clock that they fired our football coach?” Reading such painfully moronic justifications for the student riots at Penn State a few weeks ago, all I could think of was the episode of This American Life from a while back covering the culture of drinking/partying at the school. Lucky for us, they decided to re-visit that story and provide an update in light of the recent developments. A must-listen piece.

Mentioned in the TAL story is Michael Bérubé's recent op-ed in which he suggests that Paterno's commitment to improving academics at Penn State led to a culture of complacency when it came to taking a critical look at the football team and big-time college athletics:
Joe Paterno — author of the “Grand Experiment” that sought to uphold academic standards in a major football program, the English major from Brown, the coach whose favorite poet is Virgil and who said, after his first national championship, that Penn State had to improve its library because “you can’t have a great university without a great library.” He and his wife, Sue, led the capital campaign that quadrupled the library’s size; the new wing bears their name.

Mr. Paterno and three university presidents — Bryce Jordan, Joab L. Thomas and Graham B. Spanier — were determined to compete with their counterparts in the Big Ten off the field as well as on. The Paterno family endowed two professorships that testify to their commitment to the humanities; one is in the library. The other is in English. I’m well acquainted with that professorship, since I happen to hold it.


And yet there is a sense in which the Paternos’ academic legacy makes the scandal worse, or more complicated, insofar as their reputation for academic integrity was well earned. Because of that reputation, Penn State faculty members were permitted to feel less conflicted about the school’s football program than our counterparts elsewhere; we took pride in the fact that the school had never run afoul of the N.C.A.A. and that its football coach benched star players for missing class. Now we are in shock.

Amidst all the firings and calls for resignation, let's not forget about Sepp Blatter, the corrupt troglodyte head of FIFA who needs to step down now before he embarrasses himself and the sport further.

The Montreal Protocol outlawed CFCs, in order to protect the ozone layer. But one of the replacements, HFCs, are a potent greenhouse gas, with significantly greater global warming potential per molecule than carbon dioxide. And use of HFCs is increasing. Uh oh.

And here's your fun link of the day. Speaking of This American Life, the Bay Area comedy group Kasper Hauser, creators of the hilarious SkyMall parody SkyMaul, have a couple TAL parody podcasts. Not only do they nail Ira Glass' voice and delivery, but pretty much everything else about the pieces is pitch-perfect. “What's a bontoon?”

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Chancellor Katehi should have known what happens when you send a militarized police force to deal with peaceful protesters:
But it is clear that the use of pepper spray was not so much chilling as routine for the police officers and also, again, that Chancellor Katehi ordered the police to clear the quad of protesters. Was she then surprised by what ensued?  Did she not see what happened at UC Berkeley only a week ago?  Based on even a passing familiarity with both recent and more distant history, the results should and could have been predicted; a reasonable person should have known to a first approximation how UC campus police might respond when facing nonviolent protesters, and, most important, a prudent administrator should have given strict instructions on how to handle such a situation.
Given that we've seen paramilitarized police forces brutalize demonstrators with pepper spray in New York, Seattle, Portland and elsewhere, that we've seen them fire tear gas and rubber bullets in Oakland, strike down nonviolent protestors at Berkeley with batons, no one should have been surprised with the appalling sadistic barbarism exhibited by the cops in Davis. The problem is systemic.

In fact, brutish cruelty isn't some defect, this thuggery is a very feature of police training:
Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department's use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a "compliance tool" that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters.

"When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them," Kelly said. "Bodies don't have handles on them."

After reviewing the video, Kelly said he observed at least two cases of "active resistance" from protesters. In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer. In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball. Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.

"What I'm looking at is fairly standard police procedure," Kelly said.
Yes, we wouldn't want someone who's passively resisting arrest to get hurt by being lifted. Especially since “bodies don't have handles on them.” Clearly, the much more humane thing to do would be to spray them at point-blank range with pepper spray. And really, if they have the gall to “actively resist” by threatening an officer's safety and well-being curling into a ball to avoid being sprayed in the face, a baton strike is obviously warranted.

Keep in mind, the excerpt above isn't some rogue cop, it's the lieutenant who wrote the Baltimore PD's guidelines on using force. Clearly, the issue is structural. Lieutenant John Pike, for all his casual and callous disregard for the welfare of those student protesters, is a product of a system which trains officers to act in such a manner.

Glenn Greenwald connects the dots and explains how this sort of police brutality fits into a larger assault on dissent:
Pervasive police abuses and intimidation tactics applied to peaceful protesters — pepper-spray, assault rifles, tasers, tear gas and the rest — not only harm their victims but also the relationship of the citizenry to the government and the set of core political rights. Implanting fear of authorities in the heart of the citizenry is a far more effective means of tyranny than overtly denying rights. That’s exactly what incidents like this are intended to achieve. Overzealous prosecution of those who engage in peaceful political protest (which we’ve seen more and more of over the last several years) as well as rampant secrecy and the sprawling Surveillance State are the close cousins of excessive police force in both intent and effect: they are all about deterring meaningful challenges to those in power through the exercise of basic rights. Rights are so much more effectively destroyed by bullying a citizenry out of wanting to exercise them than any other means.

Greenwald also points to this video showing the power of “a wall of silent condemnation and shaming” of Chancellor Katehi:

Perhaps lost in all this is why the students at Davis were protesting. One of the pepper spray victims explains the motives of the protestors, in a must-read interview with Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing:
On Tuesday there was a rally organized by some faculty members in response to the brutality on the UC Berkeley campus, and in response to the proposed 81% tuition hike.

One of the reasons I am involved with #OWS, and advocating for an occupy movement on the UC campus, is to fight privatization and austerity in the UC system, and fight rising tuition costs. I think that citizens have the right to get an education regardless of economic condition. Most people are not going to get a job where they can afford to pay off student loans. But to exclude people from knowledge is unconscionable.

There actually was a time when Alabama didn't treat all immigrants like shit:
I’m waxing nostalgic because I miss the time when the sweet Southern air was, at least for this immigrant, not poisoned by fear, the malevolent phobia that haunts Dixie today. The new law is as much an ineffective solution to economic woes as a xenophobic reaction by an already bifurcated community to the arrival of new immigrants, be they Asians or Hispanics. As Charlie Chan might have asked, “What in the name of Confucius happened to Southern hospitality?”

Alabama isn't the only place with an inhumane policy towards immigrants.

The most powerful, thoughtful examination of the Penn State scandal I've read.

And finally, a public service announcement: freestyle walking can be very, very dangerous. Also, chew your mushrooms.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


The land of the free, indeed:

Was the UC-Davis police chief appalled and ashamed of insane brutality shown by her cops? Nope:
[UCD Police Chief Annette] Spicuzza, who observed the events on the Quad, said that she was “very proud” of her officers.
Shame on you, Chancellor Katehi. You allowed this to happen, and it's time for you to resign:
Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.


The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.

You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.
That sadistic motherfucker casually and almost gleefully brutalizing non-violent protesters is Lt. John Pike. His email address is Tell him that his Bull Connor bullshit is unacceptable.

And here is the contact page for Chancellor Katehi. Let her know she's a disgrace and should step down.

More on Bloomberg's war on free speech and expression:
Mayor Bloomberg’s decision, that led to the destruction of the People’s Library, is an act unbecoming of any citizen in a democracy, and is even less appropriate for an individual holding public office. Some may suggest that the People’s Library, as with other groups in Zuccotti Park, was given a warning by the police before they began their raid, but the idea that removing thousands of books (not to mention other materials) can be accomplished quickly, after 1 a.m., with the trains frozen, and with routes in and out filled with police officers making arrests, is plainly absurd.


Mayor Bloomberg clearly prides himself on his deeds and actions as a philanthropist [...] Yet his actions on November 15 make clear that when it comes to supporting the democratic ideals behind libraries, Bloomberg is just lying.

The “near poor”:
When the Census Bureau this month released a new measure of poverty, meant to better count disposable income, it began altering the portrait of national need. Perhaps the most startling differences between the old measure and the new involves data the government has not yet published, showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it. 


Of the 51 million who appear near poor under the fuller measure, nearly 20 percent were lifted up from poverty by benefits the official count overlooks. But more than half were pushed down from higher income levels: more than eight million by taxes, six million by medical expenses, and four million by work expenses like transportation and child care.

Demographically, they look more like “The Brady Bunch” than “The Wire.” Half live in households headed by a married couple; 49 percent live in the suburbs. Nearly half are non-Hispanic white, 18 percent are black and 26 percent are Latino.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that 28 percent work full-time, year round. “These estimates defy the stereotypes of low-income families,” Ms. Renwick said.
Elizabeth Warren sure is great, but we need a sustained progressive movement:
The key is not just emotional investment in election-year saviors but also an engagement with policy. A commitment to organized expressions of political desire — like those that have been harnessed so effectively in recent years on the right — have been absent for far too long in Democratic politics. Now, with labor protests, campaigns to block voter suppression and personhood measures and the occupations of cities around the nation, there seem to be some small signs that liberals are remembering that politics requires more of them, that they need movements, not just messiahs. But their engagement must deepen, broaden and persist beyond last week’s elections and well beyond next year’s elections if there is any chance for politicians like Warren to succeed.

Because while she might provide her supporters and her constituents a voice that, if properly tuned, will rattle doors that are now gummed shut, what Elizabeth Warren cannot do is fix this mess herself.

An interview with the creator of OWS’ “bat signal.”

All those links have you depressed? Well, don't forget that “Life's A Happy Song.”

Friday, November 18, 2011


The IPCC issues a special report on the risks of extreme weather and other climate-related disasters. Proper management actions can mitigate some of these risks:
Many measures, when implemented effectively, make sense under a range of future climates (medium evidence, high agreement). These “low regrets” measures include systems that warn people of impending disasters; changes in land use planning; sustainable land management; ecosystem management; improvements in health surveillance, water supplies, and drainage systems; development and enforcement of building codes; and better education and awareness.
Remembering the human vulnerability to hazards is comprised of exposure to a hazard, sensitivity to its impacts, and ability to access resources enabling adaptation, the NYTimes write-up notes that:
Even as such extremes are projected to increase, human vulnerability to them is increasing as well, the report said. Rising populations and flawed decisions about land use, like unchecked coastal development, are putting more and more people in harm’s way, the report said.

“Rapid urbanization and the growth of megacities, especially in the developing countries, have led to the emergence of highly vulnerable urban communities, particularly through informal settlements” — meaning slums — “and inadequate land management,” the report said.

In the context of adaptation, Time blogger Bryan Walsh points out that the greatest impact of adapting to climate change may be in the way such efforts divert limited resources (if such resources are even available for adaptation efforts):
The MTA could try to raise its tracks to higher ground and take other steps to adapt to higher sea levels and stronger storm surges, but that protection will cost billions of dollars at a time when the system can barely make ends meet. That's how climate change—along with the other factors intensifying the effects of natural disaster—will really make itself felt, draining away resources. And that's just in developed nations that can afford—if barely—to take the needed steps to prepare for a warmer world. Poorer countries will pay in human lives. "We need to see a two-pronged approach, preparing for climate change but also working to mitigate it," says Juanita Constible of the Alliance for Climate Protection. "There just isn't enough money" to adapt alone.

A new report from EDF (.pdf) makes the case for the Clean Air Act via avoided health care costs:
Reducing levels of those dangerous substances will, in turn, reduce rates of premature mortality, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, respiratory hospital admissions, and emergency room visits related to asthma.
That, in turn, will result in health care savings of $82 billion, including;
  • $44.6 billion in Medicare and federal-level health care savings
  • $2.8 billion in state-level Medicaid and other state and local savings
  • $8.3 billion in out-of-pocket individual savings
  • $24.7 billion in private insurance savings

The American Lung Association, Earthjustice and the Clean Air Task Force release a report arguing that limiting fine particulate matter would prevent 35,700 deaths each year, while saving $281 billion.
Amy Goodman hosts a great roundtable on the paramilitary policing of OWS; former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper makes this excellent point about those in the 99% who are working to protect the interests of the 1%:
[T]here are many compassionate, decent, competent police officers who do a terrific job day in and day out. There are others who are, quote, "bad apples." What both of them have in common is that they occupy, as it were, a system, a structure that itself is rotten. And I am talking about the paramilitary bureaucracy.

Matt Taibbi on the double standard in treatment between the fraudsters and other criminals who destroyed our economy and your typical citizen:
You get busted for drugs in this country, and it turns out you can make yourself ineligible to receive food stamps.

But you can be a serial fraud offender like Citigroup, which has repeatedly been dragged into court for the same offenses and has repeatedly ignored court injunctions to abstain from fraud, and this does not make you ineligible to receive $45 billion in bailouts and other forms of federal assistance.

This is the reason why all of these settlements allowing banks to walk away without "admissions of wrongdoing" are particularly insidious. A normal person, once he gets a felony conviction, immediately begins to lose his rights as a citizen.

But white-collar criminals of the type we’ve seen in recent years on Wall Street – both the individuals and the corporate "citizens" – do not suffer these ramifications. They commit crimes without real consequence, allowing them to retain access to the full smorgasbord of subsidies and financial welfare programs that, let’s face it, are the source of most of their profits.

In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson examines how the GOP went from being willing to consider tax increases when the situation warranted it to an insane, anti-tax party dedicated to benefiting only the richest of the rich:
For all their talk of cutting the deficit in recent years, Republicans have spent far more of the public's money to subsidize the wealthy.

Indeed, since Republicans began their tax-cut binge in 1997, they have succeeded in making the rich much richer. While the average income for the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers has remained basically flat over the past 15 years, those in the top 0.01 percent have seen their incomes more than double, to $36 million a year. Translated into wages, that means most Americans have received a raise of $1.50 an hour since the GOP began cutting taxes during the Gingrich era. The most elite sliver of American society, meanwhile, saw their pay soar by $10,000 an hour.

America became a great nation with a prosperous middle class on the strength of a progressive tax code – one that demands the most of those who benefit most from our society. But the Party of the Rich has succeeded in breaking the back of that ideal. Today, says Johnston, "the tax system ceases to be progressive when you get to the very top of the wealthiest one percent." Above that marker, the richer you get, the lower your relative tax burden. "We have moved toward a plutocracy," Warren Buffett warned in a recent interview. "As people have gotten richer and richer, they have been favored by taxation – and have gotten richer to a greater degree."

Far from creating the trickle-down economics promised by Reagan, the policies pursued by the modern Republican Party are gusher up. Under the leadership of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the House's radicalized GOP caucus is pushing a predatory agenda for a new gilded age. Every move that Republicans make – whether it's to gut consumer protections, roll back environmental regulations, subsidize giant agribusinesses, abolish health care reform or just drill, baby, drill – is consistent with a single overarching agenda: to enrich the nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations, even if it requires borrowing from China, weakening national security, dismantling Medicare and taxing the middle class. With the nation still mired in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, Republicans have categorically rejected the one financial policy with a proven record of putting the country back on a more prosperous footing. "You hear the Republicans say that you don't dare raise taxes in a weak economy," says Stockman. "Ronald Reagan did – three times." Not even the downgrading of America's debt – which placed the world's only superpower on credit par with New Zealand and Belgium – has given GOP leaders cause to reconsider their pro-wealth jihad.

Not only are those artificial islands in Dubai tacky and gaudy as hell, they're destroying the fragile coastal environment, as well.

Drawing attention to the sad, polluted status of the Jamuna River through a large-scale public art installation.

The mighty Colorado isn't so mighty by the time it reaches Mexico.

A Forbes slideshow on America's 20 dirtiest cities.

Visualizing the Farm Bill: where does the money go?

The plutocrats' strangle-hold on wealth in America, in video form.

Where are people going? Where are people leaving? An interactive map of American migration.

Americans don't necessarily believe the morally unconscionable act of using nuclear weapons is taboo as a first-strike option.