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.

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