Wednesday, May 30, 2012


By easing up on the gas pedal of efficiency and creating jobs in what are traditionally seen as “low productivity” sectors, we have within our grasp the means to maintain or increase employment, even when the economy stagnates.

At first, this may sound crazy; we’ve become so conditioned by the language of efficiency. But there are sectors of the economy where chasing productivity growth doesn’t make sense at all. Certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on the allocation of people’s time and attention. The caring professions are a good example: medicine, social work, education. Expanding our economies in these directions has all sorts of advantages.

In the first place, the time spent by these professions directly improves the quality of our lives. Making them more and more efficient is not, after a certain point, actually desirable. What sense does it make to ask our teachers to teach ever bigger classes? Our doctors to treat more and more patients per hour? The Royal College of Nursing in Britain warned recently that front-line staff members in the National Health Service are now being “stretched to breaking point,” in the wake of staffing cuts, while a study earlier this year in the Journal of Professional Nursing revealed a worrying decline in empathy among student nurses coping with time targets and efficiency pressures. Instead of imposing meaningless productivity targets, we should be aiming to enhance and protect not only the value of the care but also the experience of the caregiver.

The care and concern of one human being for another is a peculiar “commodity.” It can’t be stockpiled. It becomes degraded through trade. It isn’t delivered by machines. Its quality rests entirely on the attention paid by one person to another. Even to speak of reducing the time involved is to misunderstand its value.

Care is not the only profession deserving renewed attention as a source of economic employment. Craft is another. It is the accuracy and detail inherent in crafted goods that endows them with lasting value. It is the time and attention paid by the carpenter, the seamstress and the tailor that makes this detail possible. The same is true of the cultural sector: it is the time spent practicing, rehearsing and performing that gives music, for instance, its enduring appeal. What — aside from meaningless noise — would be gained by asking the New York Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony faster and faster each year?

The endemic modern tendency to streamline or phase out such professions highlights the lunacy at the heart of the growth-obsessed, resource-intensive consumer economy. Low productivity is seen as a disease. A whole set of activities that could provide meaningful work and contribute valuable services to the community are denigrated because they involve employing people to work with devotion, patience and attention.

But people often achieve a greater sense of well-being and fulfillment, both as producers and consumers of such activities, than they ever do in the time-poor, materialistic supermarket economy in which most of our lives are spent. And here perhaps is the most remarkable thing of all: since these activities are built around the value of human services rather than the relentless outpouring of material stuff, they offer a half-decent chance of making the economy more environmentally sustainable.

The team evaluated two competing explanations for why some members of the public are unfazed by climate change. One possible reason is that people don’t have enough scientific knowledge, or they tend to make quick judgments instead of using analytical reasoning. Another hypothesis is that people stick to opinions that align with their social groups’ values.

To distinguish between these explanations, the authors asked 1,540 adults in the United States how serious a risk climate change presented. The team also evaluated the respondents’ scientific literacy and gave them math problems to test their “numeracy,” or ability to process quantitative data.

The higher the person’s scientific literacy and math skills, the lower he or she scored the risk of climate change, the researchers found. But people who valued an egalitarian, communitarian society rated the climate change risk higher than those who valued a hierarchical society and individualism.

Within each cultural group, scientific knowledge simply made a person more entrenched in that group’s beliefs. Egalitarian communitarians with high science literacy and math skills rated climate change as a more serious concern than their peers did, while hierarchical individualists with those skills rated climate change as a less serious concern than others in their group.

In other words, “polarization actually becomes larger, not smaller, as science literacy and numeracy increase,” the authors write. The team found a similar pattern when they polled people about the risks of nuclear power. Instead of leading disparate groups toward a consensus, science and math skills give people “a greater facility to discover and use—or explain away—evidence relating to their groups’ positions.”
Dave Roberts at Grist goes into some more detail:
Kahan found that, among those with low scientific literacy, assessment of climate risk was high among “egalitarian communitarians” (those with a worldview “favoring less regimented forms of social organization and greater collective attention to individual needs”) and low among “hierarchical individualists” (those with a worldview “that ties authority to conspicuous social rankings and eschews collective interference with the decisions of individuals possessing such authority”).

So what happens as scientific literacy increases? The naive view — what Kahan calls the “science comprehension thesis,” or SCT — predicts that hierarchical individualists with high scientific literacy will more accurately perceive the risk and converge with egalitarian communitarians.


[T]he SCT prediction is dead wrong — as science literacy and numeracy increase, polarization rises. Well-educated, carefully reasoning hierarchical individualists are less convinced of the danger of climate change.

What explains this? Here is Kahan’s alternative to SCT:
The alternative explanation can be referred to as the cultural cognition thesis (CCT). CCT posits that individuals, as a result of a complex of psychological mechanisms, tend to form perceptions of societal risks that cohere with values characteristic of groups with which they identify. Whereas SCT emphasizes a conflict between scientists and the public, CCT stresses one between different segments of the public, whose members are motivated to fit their interpretations of scientific evidence to their competing cultural philosophies.
The operative concept here is “motivated reasoning.” The idea is, we begin by absorbing the values of our tribes — what is and isn’t important, what is and isn’t a risk — and use whatever numeracy and scientific literacy we possess to seek out facts and arguments that support those views. Getting smarter, in other words, only makes us better at justifying our own worldviews. It does not necessarily give us more scientifically accurate worldviews.

Kahan’s alternative, needless to say, predicts survey answers better than SCT. It follows pretty straightforwardly that SCT is wrong and that educating people on science and reasoning will only reinforce the partisan divide on climate. This much, it seems to me, is beyond serious doubt. SCT is dead. Insofar as people still hold the naive view — and many (most?) still do, explicitly or implicitly — they should let it go once and for all. More and better science is not the answer, at least not a complete answer. If the partisan divide on climate is to be “solved,” it must be solved directly, on the level of worldviews, not by the indirect route of scientific education.

How might that be done? Kahan gestures at an answer:
As citizens understandably tend to conform their beliefs about societal risk to beliefs that predominate among their peers, communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values. Effective strategies include use of culturally diverse communicators, whose affinity with different communities enhances their credibility, and information-framing techniques that invest policy solutions with resonances congenial to diverse groups. Perfecting such techniques through a new science of science communication is a public good of singular importance.
Kahan offers more of his own take at his blog.

Could climate change be the impetus to extending our scope of moral behavior? (h/t Sourav):
[W]ere it not for climate change, we would be giving even less thought to polar bears, or to the global poor, and would see little connection between our actions and their fate. As Peter Unger’s Living High and Letting Die showed, our customary moral intuitions barely extend to poor foreigners, let alone to their descendants, or to Arctic fauna. It is thanks to climate change that an entire body of political thought has emerged which positions our everyday actions in direct relation to their most distant consequences.

Adam Smith once noted that we are less troubled by the prospect of a hundred million people dying as a result of an earthquake in some distant location than of losing our little finger, but would nevertheless be horrified by the idea we might allow them to die in order to save it. Climate change effectively transforms the former scenario into the latter, and so places unprecedented demands on our moral imagination. Almost every little thing we do contributes to our carbon footprint, which increases greenhouse gases, which could in turn ultimately threaten hundreds of millions of lives in some remote time and place – the uncertainty only adding to the sublime awfulness of our responsibilities.

Contrary to Gardiner’s concerns about moral corruption, climate change does not tempt us to be less moral than we might otherwise be; it invites us to be more moral than we could ever have imagined. Unlike the Dashwoods, we never knew how many relatives we had. Climate ethics is not morality applied but morality discovered, a new chapter in the moral education of mankind. It may tell us things we do not wish to know (about democracy, perhaps), but the future development of humanity may depend on what, if anything, it can teach us.

Kaid Benfield challenges his fellow advocates of smart growth to consider the full set of consequences of the actions they push for:
I believe the increasing urbanization of Washington (and, for that matter, other cities and metro areas) is necessary and good – for the environment, for the economy, for our social fabric. The alternative of the kind of chaotic suburban sprawl we suffered during much of the last 50 years is completely unacceptable. [...] But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s going to be universally good for all stakeholders, or that the costs that accompany the benefits don’t matter. We should be clear-eyed about them, and do everything we can to mitigate them, heal any wounds suffered along the way, and accommodate changing needs. If that means compromise or accepting a somewhat lesser degree of urbanization in some cases, I’m fine with that.

Zoos, conservation, and deciding which species to save:
If there are criticisms, they are that zoos are not transforming their mission quickly enough from entertainment to conservation.

“We as a society have to decide if it is going to be ethically and morally appropriate to simply display animals for entertainment purposes,” said Dr. Steven L. Monfort, the director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, part of the National Zoo in Washington. “In my opinion, that model is broken. There needs to be an explicit role for zoos to champion species.”

Dr. Monfort wants zoos to raise more money for the conservation of animals in the wild and to make that effort as important as erecting fancier accommodations for their captive collections. Zoos, he said, should build facilities — not necessarily open to the public — that are large enough to handle whole herds of animals so that more natural reproductive behavior can occur. And less emphasis should be placed on animals that are popular attractions but are doing fine in the wild, like African elephants and California sea lions, Dr. Monfort said, adding that they should be replaced with animals in desperate need of rescuing.

Many zoo directors say that such a radical reordering is not called for and that each zoo does valuable work even if conserving just a few species.

But Dr. Monfort is not satisfied. He wants all zoos within the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to aim higher on conservation efforts. “I am comfortable with raising the standards for zoos so that eventually it will be harder and harder to be accredited unless you are doing that,” he said in an interview. “If you can’t keep up, then you probably need to be dropped off the bottom.”

Freedom ain't so free for some who already thought they paid for their crimes:
In recent years, communities around the country have gone beyond regulating where sex offenders can live and begun banning them outright from a growing list of public places.

From North Carolina to Washington State, communities have designated swimming pools, parks and school bus stops as “child safety zones,” off limits to some sex offenders. They are barred from libraries in half a dozen Massachusetts cities, and from all public facilities in tiny Huachuca City, Ariz.

“Child safety zones are being passed more and more at the city and county level,” said Elizabeth Jeglic, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s becoming more and more restrictive. They’re not only limiting where sex offenders can live, but they’re limiting their movement as well.”

The proliferation of such restrictions reflects the continued concerns of parents and lawmakers about potential recidivism among sex offenders. But it has also increasingly raised questions about their effectiveness, as well as their fairness.

Opponents have dismissed “child safety zones” as unenforceable, saying they are designed to make politicians look tough on crime and drive sex offenders from the area, not make children safer.

“These are cheap laws that can be passed to make people feel good,” said Charles P. Ewing, author of “Justice Perverted: Sex Offense Law, Psychology, and Public Policy.”

Irene Pai, a lawyer with the Orange County public defender’s office, said “child safety zones” give parents a false sense of security, punishing many offenders who are not dangerous without actually stopping predators from entering parks.

Ms. Pai said she had a stack of cases involving people who were arrested for urinating in public in the 1970s and pleaded guilty to indecent exposure without realizing they would have to register as sex offenders.

“The very notion that a park ordinance could in any way protect children, more than an attentive caregiver’s presence or any other way we protect our children, is absurd,” she said.

Greg Bird was convicted of indecent exposure in 2001. Since then, Mr. Bird said, he has gotten married and turned his life around.

But he now pauses at the idea of having children of his own, because he knows he could not even take them to the park to play catch.

“Sometimes I wonder, is there any compassion?” Mr. Bird said. “I know I don’t deserve compassion. I broke the law. I get that. But these laws set people up to fail more.”

If you redefine all “collateral damage” as terrorists, then you'll never kill any innocents again:
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
Scott Horton addresses the bigger picture regarding targeted killings that the NYTimes piece is about.

Climate change the culprit in the fall of the Indus.

Addressing climate change via the market.

Communicating climate change via video.

A rather simplistic analysis that doesn't account for potential adaptation suggests higher death tolls from climate change-induced heat-related deaths.

Not all species lose with global warming.

The demand for freshwater and sea-level rise.

A potential link between BPA and breast cancer.

Bluefin tuna are transporting Fukushima's radioactive material to California.

More trees, less crime? Identifying an actual causal mechanism would be nice, though.

Chicago attempts to eliminate traffic fatalities.

Wind farms look to reduce bird deaths.

Marine reserves are good for commercial fisheries.

Concerns over oil drilling in the Arctic.

Brazil's president vetoed some, but not all, of the country's new forest code. WWF has more.

Big Pollution literally buys itself support at a public hearing.

Volunteer conservation can be effective.

Turning plastic waste into cash?

A net-zero energy use home in Brooklyn.

There is no war on coal, though there probably should be.

The Romney environmental advisor now working for Obama's EPA.

Vienna's response to the waste problem.

The pull of walkable urbanism.

David Byrne loves biking.

Oncologists and making space to grieve.

Too often, costly, overly aggressive medical care causes more pain and suffering than if nothing had been done at all.”

A Christian obstetrician explains why he performs abortions.

Hope and the emerging generation of feminists.

Republicans for equal rights! (For fetuses.) And more on this absurdity.

Each year many thousands of children are brought to America by their parents. They come before they have any concept of citizenship, much less of belonging. Like me, they will draw their notions of “home” not only from what is familiar and desirable but also from what is permitted and denied them.”

Convicts as chattel and a legal system essentially based on human commodification.”

Krugman on the phoniness of Chris Christie.

What to say on Twitter if you want to be tracked by DHS.

If there's one thing Teabaggers are generally consistent about, it's being hypocritical and inconsistent.

Bloomberg loves law and order?

Sandy Levinson on “our imbecilic Constitution.”

How the FBI creates home-grown “terrorists” via entrapment.

Taking on “shoot first” laws.

The phony regulation debate.

Florida proves once again that taking on voter fraud usually means suppressing minorities' ability to vote.

What India's sputtering economy means for the rest of the world.

One year post-non-apocalypse.

A family reunion thirty years after Guatemalan military massacre. This American Life brings the story to radio:

When do kids become adults?

Sacha Baron Cohen as minstrel, ironic racist?

Colonoscopies can be pricier than expected, thanks to anesthesiologists.

Does anonymizing the grant review process make a difference?

The consequences of bipedalism.

A newly discovered sensory organ in whales.

The structure and movement of the deep Earth.

Smelling danger.

Mapping the deaths in Mexico's drug war.

Language descriptivists aren't as evil as they're made out to be.

Portraits of miniscule royalty.

Things Jason saw.

The earliest musical instrument.

An interview with Spiritualized frontman Jason Pierce and a live performance of recent single “Hey Jane”:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Is chemical exposure from generations ago being passed down and causing current day health impacts?:
The World War II generation may have passed down to their grandchildren the effects of chemical exposure in the 1940s, possibly explaining current rates of obesity, autism and mental illness, according to one researcher.

David Crews, professor of psychology and zoology at the University of Texas at Austin, theorized that the rise in these diseases may be linked to environmental effects passed on through generations. His research showed that descendants of rats exposed to a crop fungicide were less sociable, more obese and more anxious than offspring of the unexposed.


"This, I think, is the first causal demonstration that environmental contamination may be the root cause of the great increase in obesity and the great increase in mental disorders," Crews said in a telephone interview. "It's as if the exposure three generations before has reprogrammed the brain so it responds in a different way to a life challenge."

In the study, a group of rats were exposed once to vinclozolin, a common fungicide used to protect fruits and vegetables. This single contact altered how their genes were activated, and future generations also carried this change, though they never had been exposed to the chemical, Crews said.
Seems like a big jump from obesity and diminished sociability in rats to pinpointing WWII-era chemical exposure as causing the same effects in humans. A case of an author overly generalizing results and a scence writer going along with it? Seems likely to me. Fortunately, the author includes a skeptical voice buried deeper in the article:
Andrew Feinberg, director of Johns Hopkins University's Epigenetics Center in Baltimore, said Crew's theory may be premature, after reading the paper. 
"We should be very careful about overstating what looks like basic science with public health implications," Feinberg said in an interview. "Currently we don't have enough evidence showing that these fungicides are causing common human disease through an epigenetic mechanism. It's research that's well worth doing, but it's clear that that hasn't been shown."
The sad thing is that the paper would be newsworthy even without the author jumping to conclusions not supported by the limited data — the evidence for heritable epigenetic modification of genes by toxics like a common pesticide is noteworthy in and of itself.

Public funds intended for the needy get diverted for other purposes. Case one, the foreclosure deal fund:
States have diverted $974 million from this year’s landmark mortgage settlement to pay down budget deficits or fund programs unrelated to the foreclosure crisis, according to a ProPublica analysis. That’s nearly forty percent of the $2.5 billion in penalties paid to the states under the agreement.

The settlement, between five of the country’s biggest banks and an alliance of almost all states and the federal government, resolved allegations that the banks deceived homeowners and broke laws when pursuing foreclosure. One part of the settlement is the cash coming to states; the deal urged states to use that money on programs related to the crisis, but it didn’t require them to.
Case two, public money intended for needy students goes instead to a boatload of other causes, including radical right-wing Christian educators in an end-around way to get past church-state separation (h/t Andrew):
“A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,” Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. “The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.”

A handout circulated at the meeting instructed families to donate, qualify for a tax credit and then apply for a scholarship for their own children, many of whom were already attending the school.

“If a student has friends, relatives or even corporations that pay Georgia income tax, all of those people can make a donation to that child’s school,” added an official with a scholarship group working with the school.

The exchange at Gwinnett Christian Academy, a recording of which was obtained by The New York Times, is just one example of how scholarship programs have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children.

Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs are operating in eight states and represent one of the fastest-growing components of the school choice movement. This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization. Legislators in at least nine other states are considering the programs.

While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show. Even some private school parents and administrators have questioned whether the programs are a charade.

Most of the private schools are religious. Nearly a quarter of the participating schools in Georgia require families to make a profession of religious faith, according to their Web sites. Many of those schools adhere to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. A commonly used sixth-grade science text retells the creation story contained in Genesis, omitting any other explanation. An economics book used in some high schools holds that the Antichrist — a world ruler predicted in the New Testament — will one day control what is bought and sold.

The programs are insulated from provisions requiring church-state separation because the donations are collected and distributed by the nonprofit scholarship groups.

A cottage industry of these groups has sprung up, in some cases collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees, according to tax filings. The groups often work in concert with private schools like Gwinnett Christian Academy to solicit donations and determine who will get the scholarships — in effect limiting school choice for the students themselves. In most states, students who withdraw from the schools cannot take the scholarship money with them.

Public school officials view the tax credits as poorly disguised state subsidies, part of an expanding agenda to shift tax dollars away from traditional public schools. “Our position is that this is a shell game,” said Chris Thomas, general counsel for the Arizona School Boards Association.

Making agriculture more efficient.

And more: feeding the planet, while not destroying the environment.

Oceanic mercury comes from rivers.

Seagrass as a carbon sponge.

Sometimes rich people get so used to the law not applying to them, they get upset when the law fights back.

Oh yeah, this looks like a really well-designed study.

NYC is under siege by skeeters.

What's holding back American innovation. (h/t Marci)

Arizona's Birther of State backs down. (And Hawaii again verifies what everyone knows.)

Catholics For Unwanted Pregnancies takes the Obama administration to court.

A remorseless, amoral scumbag gets 30 days, remains unapologetic.

Two of my loves: maps and intestines.

Sportswriters by readability.

New Antibalas on its way.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


The EPA is right to appeal a judge's decision attempting to curtail its authority:
The Environmental Protection Agency last year revoked a permit for a planned, 2,278-acre West Virginia coal mine that encapsulated everything wrong with a particularly destructive form of strip mining known as mountaintop removal. Two months ago, however, in a wrongheaded decision, a Federal District Court judge ruled that the agency had not only exceeded its authority but resorted to “magical thinking” to justify its action.

The agency has announced that it would appeal the judge’s decision. This is exactly the right move, on two counts. First, the Spruce No. 1 mine would have buried 6.6 miles of streams under tons of mining waste, inflicting permanent damage on the environment and local communities. Second, it is important for the E.P.A. to assert its authority under the Clean Water Act at a time when both the law and the agency are under fire in Congress.


As the agency pointed out, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act gives the E.P.A. broad authority to protect water quality, including the power to “withdraw” a permit “whenever” it determines that a project will cause unacceptable damage to the environment. This authority has been used rarely, but it is there.

Mountaintop mining involves blasting the tops off mountain ridges to expose subsurface coal seams, then dumping the rubble below. Thousands of miles of streams in Appalachia have been destroyed in this way. The administration is right to stop this mine as part of its broader campaign to halt a ruinous and unnecessary practice.

In light of the hullabaloo around TED's supposed censorship, some thoughts on what TED stands for:
The guiding principle of TED is that you can present a vision of ever-marching technological progress, that you can be a purveyor of the “big ideas” that will shape our society, that you can show the future, all without descending into the unpleasant muck of political debate. In other words, TED’s dominant political idea is the denial of politics—a refusal to acknowledge any real power struggle in public life.

This is evident in the contradiction between the TED website’s assertion that it “believe[s] passionately in the power of ideas to change...the world” and the Anderson’s insistence that the organization not include talks that would be “regarded as out and out political.” The notion that there is not only real disagreement about what changes are of benefit to our society, but actual conflict over these different political visions—involving the exercise of actual political power—does not fit within TED’s framework of “Ideas Worth Spreading.” The organization refuses to acknowledge that there are private interests—monied and staffed with lobbyists—that are aggressively promoting a version of the future in which their wants are met at the expense of others’ needs.

The default politics of TED, then, are an amalgam of Clintonian neoliberalism and techno-utopianism (the likes of which Evgeny Morozov has ably critiqued), with a philanthro-capitalist approach to social issues (an approach brilliantly taken apart in Alix Rule’s “Good As Money,” which ran in Dissent a few years back). The New Inquiry recently published a longer critique of TED, which featured a fine tweet by Mike Bulajewski: “TED’s ‘revolutionary ideas’ mask capitalism as usual, giving it a narrative of progress and change.”

NIMBYism in Marin County reveals deep-seated antipathy towards The Poors; apparently believing low-income people deserve housing is incitement of class warfare (h/t Andrew):
[A]fter spending years and millions of dollars, Mr. Lucas abruptly canceled plans recently for the third, and most likely last, major expansion, citing community opposition. An emotional statement posted online said Lucasfilm would build instead in a place “that sees us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire.”

If the announcement took Marin by surprise, it was nothing compared with what came next. Mr. Lucas said he would sell the land to a developer to bring “low income housing” here.

“It’s inciting class warfare,” said Carolyn Lenert, head of the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents.

Mr. Lucas said in an e-mail that he only wanted “to do something good for Marin,” waving away accusations of ulterior motives.

“I’ve been surprised to see some people characterize this as vindictive,” he said, adding that there was a “real need” for affordable housing here. “I wouldn’t waste my time or money just to try and upset the neighbors.”

Whatever Mr. Lucas’s intentions, his announcement has unsettled a county whose famously liberal politics often sits uncomfortably with the issue of low-cost housing and where battles have been fought over such construction before. His proposal has pitted neighbor against neighbor, who, after failed peacemaking efforts over local artisanal cheese and wine, traded accusations in the local newspaper.

The staunchest opponents of Lucasfilm’s expansion are now being accused of driving away the filmmaker and opening the door to a low-income housing development. That has created an atmosphere that one opponent, who asked not to be identified, saying she feared for her safety, described as “sheer terror” and likened to “Syria.”

Carl Fricke, a board member of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, which represents houses nearest to the Lucas property, said: “We got letters saying, ‘You guys are going to get what you deserve. You’re going to bring drug dealers, all this crime and lowlife in here.’ ”

Bring back Glass-Steagall:
Banks enjoy state support because they provide essential services, like a payments system and a repository for deposits. One proposal to limit them to these vital services is “narrow banking,” or requiring that deposits be invested in only safe and liquid instruments. This idea was put forward by Irving Fisher and Henry Simons in the 1930s, and has been championed by the right (Milton Friedman), the left (James Tobin) and banking experts (Lowell Bryan of McKinsey).

A less radical idea would be to eliminate credit default swaps over time (they are too embedded in current practice to ban them; banks need to be weaned off them). There are no socially valuable uses for the product. Contrary to defenders’ claims, they aren’t a good way to short bonds (not only does it deal with only one attribute of bond risk, it does so badly: payouts in actual credit events on credit default swaps vary considerably, and are generally less than payouts to holders of real bonds). These swaps were the driver of the crisis. They were the mechanism that allowed real economy exposures to risky subprime bonds to be multiplied well beyond the number of actual borrowers and thus cause vastly more damage.

Another route would be to implement the Volcker Rule as Paul Volcker envisaged, meaning without the portfolio hedging exemption that JPMorgan relied on. Or officials could enforce Sarbanes Oxley, which has the chief executive officer certify the adequacy of internal controls, which for a major financial firm includes risk controls. Had any chief executives been targeted for Sarbanes Oxley violations for the massive risk management failures during the financial crisis, it’s pretty likely that Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan, would have thought twice before giving the chief investment officer both the mandate and the rope to enter into risky trades.

Maybe it's time to recognize that these firms are too big and in too many complex businesses to be managed. Jamie Dimon was touted as a star who could supervise a sprawling firm running huge risks, and he fell short because no one can do the job adequately. A less disaster-prone financial system requires more simplicity and redundancy. Re-instituting Glass-Steagall or other variants on the narrow banking theme isn't a full solution, but it would make for a good start.

Former NEJM editor-in-chief Marcia Angell offers a left-wing critique of the individual mandate as nothing but a giveaway for private insurers:
Dworkin argues that there are national precedents for the ACA mandate to purchase health insurance. But is that true? The mandate is not like the requirement to pay for Medicare and Social Security through payroll taxes. Instead, it requires people to buy a commercial product from investor-owned companies at whatever price the companies choose to charge. In short, people are required to contribute to the profits and corporate salaries and marketing costs of companies like WellPoint and UnitedHealthCare. I don’t believe there is any precedent for that.

My objection to the mandate is not that it requires people to purchase insurance, but that it specifies they buy it from investor-owned companies, whose practices have done much to make our health care system the “unjust and expensive shambles” Dworkin accurately describes it as being. No one should be required to enter this treacherous market; it is not the same as paying for publicly administered services, like Medicare or police and fire protection.

Dworkin dismisses concerns that if Congress can make us buy private health insurance, then it can make us buy any other commercial product, arguing that public opinion would prevent Congress from unreasonably extending its power in that way (“politics supplies the appropriate check”). That’s a mighty thin reed to hold on to, given the recent record of Congress and its capture by corporate interests. I would feel better if we didn’t provide the precedent.

He is also too sanguine about the ability of regulations to stop the worst abuses of the private insurance industry, such as denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. The fact remains that these companies will profit by avoiding high-risk patients if they possibly can, and they will probably find ways to do so. The ACA does some of that work for them, by allowing them to charge up to three times as much for older patients as for younger ones, age being a good proxy for a higher risk of chronic illness. A few years ago, in a private discussion with a senior executive of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s trade association, I was told that if the regulations did squeeze the profits of the insurers, they would simply raise the premiums. There is nothing in the ACA to prevent that.
Dworkin offers a response to Angell in the pages of the NYRB, as well.

Toxic exposures and a cluster of male breast cancer cases among Marines.

Another reminder that it's more complicated than just pushing for screening, screening, screening.

Remembering to include people in transit-oriented design.

Eschewing the 'burbs for dense, walkable communities and compact housing.

Who's consuming water and how?

Mining sand: the other side of fracking.

Extreme rain storms are increasing in frequency.

The chemical industry hates disclosure.

Shanghai's land subsidence problem.

On green chemistry.

Unplug and save energy.

Methane bomb.

The BLM and subsidizing of coal development.

Mining threatens Alaska's Bristol Bay.

The ESA works.

Bribing inspectors is one way to get around fishing regulations.

While he obtained the docs through deceptive means (and has apologized), Peter Gleick did not engage in forgery.

Throwing unneeded pills away is the greenest disposal option.

The palm oil industry brings out the big guns.

2007: so quaint.

ProPublica rounds up the best reporting on student debt.

Everywhere is getting poorer.

Krugman on the necessity of financial regulation.

Both parties are corporatists, so it's no surprise private equity loves the Dems.

JPMorgan Chase is Tim Johnson's biggest contributor.

The dumbing down of Congressional speech?

Political lies and the liars who tell them.

DOJ says it's ok to record cops in public.

Holding tax dodgers accountable is what the Nazis would do.

Hawaii is just fucking with Arizona's birther Secretary of State.

Republican voter fraud paranoia: who needs evidence?

More from the GOP War on the Census: “Our laws are made by idiots.”

Is the fillibuster unconstitutional?

Why is Mitt laughing?

Yet another victory in our sane and righteous War On Drugs.

Patent trolls in Canada. (Somewhat reminiscent of the This American Life episode on Intellectual Ventures.)

Proprietary big data.

An economic approach to preventive medicine.

Who knew? There's apparently a good time and not-so-good time to brush your teeth.

Tapeworm cysts in your brain. (h/t Wifey)

Tough times in Alabama's schools.

Push up your credit score.

As my professional copyeditor wife would tell you, I use way too many commas.

Pictures of this Sunday's solar eclipse. And more pics.

The oil industry, as art.

O-Dub and Matthew Africa break down The Emotions' “Blind Alley.”

What were J. Spaceman's musical influences growing up?

Eugene Mirman gave a chuckle-worthy commencement speech at his alma mater, Hampshire College:

Think that's funny? Well, so is his advice book, The Will To Whatevs. And you can win yourself a signed copy of that book, while also helping me pay for cancer treatment. Everybody wins.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Unfortunately, managing how the endowment is invested often leads to conflicts with the stated social purpose of the foundation.

For example, one of the emerging controversies in the world of private philanthropy is the 95-5 question. Foundations are required to give away just 5% of their endowment each year. The other 95% is invested. But invested where? Environmentalists are particularly sensitive to this question because if the money is invested in companies that continue to pollute, you have a very disturbing reality. 5% does (theoretical) good while 95% does demonstrable bad: chasing profits in the same old dirty and irresponsible way.

This issue came to a head when the Los Angeles Times concluded a long investigation into the investment practices of foundations by revealing that the Gates Foundation funded a polio vaccination clinic in Ebocha, Nigeria, in the shadow of a giant petroleum processing plant in which the Gates Foundation was invested.

The Los Angeles Times report states:
But polio is not the only threat Justice [a Nigerian child] faces. Almost since birth, he has had respiratory trouble. His neighbors call it “the cough.” People blame fumes and soot spewing from flames that tower 300 feet into the air over a nearby oil plant. It is owned by the Italian petroleum giant Eni, whose investors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Say what you like about the need to invest wisely for the future of the foundation, but this is prima facie evidence of a deep moral conflict not just at Gates but in all of private philanthropy. The simple fact is that most boards actually don’t know if their investments and their missions align. When pushed on the matter, most foundations respond as Gates did: investments are the foundation’s private concern and no business of ours.

But the problem remains, when organizations receive funding, what confidence do they have that this happy money is not itself the expression of a distant destruction? (Perhaps your funder owns stock in British Petroleum. Of course, for the people of Louisiana, that’s anything but distant.) When philanthropy proceeds without acknowledging this reality, it proceeds without conscience. It proceeds pathologically. It destroys the thing it claims to love. And it makes the organizations it funds complicit.

The people who live within the culture of wealth can’t do the things that grassroots environmentalists want them to do without feeling that they are dying. They can’t fund the creation of ideas that are hostile to their very existence; they can’t abandon control over the projects they do fund because they fear freedom in others; and they can’t give away all of their wealth (“spending out”) without feeling like they’ve become the Wicked Witch of the West (“I’m melting!”). Instead, philanthropy clings to the assumption of its virtues. Its very being, it tells itself, is the doing of good. It cannot respond to criticism because to do so might lead it to self-doubt, might lead it to honesty. And that would be fatal.

The great paradox of environmental philanthropy is this: How do institutions founded on property, wealth, and privilege (in short, plutocrats) seek to address the root source of environmental destruction if that source is essentially the unbridled use of property, wealth, and privilege? And yet when we ask that foundations abandon their privileges and simply provide funding so that we activists can do our work without hindrance, what the foundation hears is a request that they will their own destruction. Not unreasonably, they are bewildered by the suggestion and unwilling to do so.

There’s an old saying on the Left that goes something like this: Capitalism accepts the idea that it will have enemies, but if it must have enemies it will create them itself and in its own image. In fact, it needs them in the same way that it needs the federal government: as a limit on its own natural destructiveness.

The periodic Wall Street meltdown aside, the most dramatic problem facing capitalism for the last thirty years has been its tendency to destroy the very world in which it acts: the environmental crisis in all its manifestations. The response to this crisis has been the growth of the mainstream environmental movement, especially the Environmental Protection Agency and what we call Big Green (the Sierra Club, et. al.). But, it should go without saying, Big Green was not the pure consequence of an up-swelling of popular passion; it was also the creation of philanthropic, federal, and corporate “gift giving”.


As with the Environmental Protection Agency, Big Green is not so much an enemy as a self-regulator within the capitalist state itself. The Sierra Club is not run by visionary rebels, it is upper management. It really does have effects that are beneficial to the environment (many!), but in no way are those benefits part of an emerging new world that is hostile to the industries that are the most immediate origin of environmental destruction.

Consequently, a given industry may attack environmentalism when it interferes with its business, but the plutocracy as such is dependent on Big Green and will regularly replenish its coffers so that it may stay in existence, never mind the occasional annoyance for an oil company that wants to spread its rigs and pipelines across delicate tundra.

Capitalism has taught environmentalism how to protect it from itself. Federal and philanthropic funding allows Big Green to play a forceful national role, but it also provides the means for managing and limiting the ambitions of environmentalism: no fundamental change. Sadly left out of negotiations between government, industry and environmental NGOs are the communities of people who must live with whatever decision is reached. As Paula Swearengin of Beckley, West Virginia, commented after House Republicans stripped the EPA of its authority to refuse a permit for yet another project for mountain top coal mining, “The people of Appalachia are treated like we’re just disposable casualties of the coal industry. We live in the land of the lost, because nobody wants to hear us.”

Will environmental philanthropy ever convince the federal government to limit the ability of the coal industry to destroy mountaintops in West Virginia? Maybe. But will they seek to curb that industry’s constitutional freedom to deploy capital in their ruinous “pursuit of happiness”? No. Absolutely not. In the aftermath of the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, no one understands the importance of environmentalism better than the stockholders of BP. They will be very happy for environmental groups to put pressure on the oil industry to provide more safety for deep sea drilling. But they are most unlikely to welcome the end of deep sea drilling itself, and putting an end to the reign of corporations is utterly beyond the pale.

Philanthropy and the organizations it funds are what they are. They are not in the revolution business. They are in risk management.

Being a world-renowned chef means not having to grapple with the ethical consequences of your decisions:
Supporting local agriculture and food traditions? Far too narrow a goal, they said.

Chefs’ obligation to help save the planet? A lofty idea, they agreed, but the priority is creating great, brilliant food.
Turns out that sustainability is for suckers:
“With the relatively small number of people I feed, is it really my responsibility to worry about carbon footprint?” Mr. Keller asked. “The world’s governments should be worrying about carbon footprint.”


“Is global food policy truly our responsibility, or in our control?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”

“I agree completely, and it is a brave answer,” came immediately from Mr. Aduriz, who also draws on a global palette of ingredients to amplify the northern Spanish ingredients that surround him. “Of course I buy as many things as I can nearby,” he said. “But to align yourself entirely with the idea of sustainability makes chefs complacent and limited.”
Keller is certainly right in noting the need for concerted national and international actions; these problems won't solve themselves on the basis of voluntary actions at the personal scale. But just because personal actions won't solve a collective action problem like climate change or biodiversity loss, that doesn't absolve individuals from doing the right thing.

There is absolutely nothing brave about choosing to ignore the impacts of our consumption choices. How agricultural workers are treated, how livestock and other animals are cared for, the consequences of overfishing, the impacts of pesticide and herbicide use, the carbon emissions associated with various foods, where food is grown — these and many more broader sustainability issues should absolutely concern any chef and restauranteur. To choose to ignore these issues is not brave, it's cowardly and pathetic. Moreover, limiting yourself to sustainable options need not make a chef complacent; in fact, any true artist can thrive under imposed constraints and limitations. Thus, Keller and Aduriz offer a false dichotomy in suggesting one must choose between being ethical and creating great food. It's not an either-or situation; one can choose to be both ethical and a great chef.

Over at Grist, Twilight Greenaway comments further on what the attitude of Keller means to those who practice sustainable methods, and how dependent they are on support from chefs like Keller and Aduriz:
[T]here are a number of small-scale farmers, ranchers, and artisans willing to live on next to nothing because they believe there’s a better way. Many of today’s most sustainable farmers live without insurance, buy almost nothing, and find ways — by hook or by crook — to live on what they could otherwise earn driving buses or cleaning offices. And — thanks in part to the chefs and eaters who support them — they’ve succeeded at maintaining a small but growing front against monocropping and factory farms.

The NYTimes editorial page catalogs the myriad ways in which the GOP is waging a War On Women:
On Capitol Hill and in state legislatures, Republicans are attacking women’s rights in four broad areas.

ABORTION On Thursday, a House subcommittee denied the District of Columbia’s Democratic delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, a chance to testify at a hearing called to promote a proposed federal ban on nearly all abortions in the District 20 weeks after fertilization. The bill flouts the Roe v. Wade standard of fetal viability.

Seven states have enacted similar measures. In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law that bans most abortions two weeks earlier. Each measure will create real hardships for women who will have to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy before learning of major fetal abnormalities or risks to their own health.

These laws go a cruel step further than the familiar Republican attacks on Roe v. Wade. They omit reasonable exceptions for a woman’s health or cases of rape, incest or grievous fetal impairment. These laws would require a woman seeking an abortion to be near death, a standard that could easily delay medical treatment until it is too late.

All contain intimidating criminal penalties, fines and reporting requirements designed to scare doctors away. Last year, the House passed a measure that would have allowed hospitals receiving federal money to refuse to perform an emergency abortion even when a woman’s life was at stake. The Senate has not taken up that bill, fortunately.

ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE Governor Brewer also recently signed a bill eliminating public funding for Planned Parenthood. Arizona law already barred spending public money on abortions, which are in any case a small part of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. The new bill denies the organization public money for nonabortion services, like cancer screening and family planning, often the only services of that kind available to poor women.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and the state’s Republican-dominated Legislature tried a similar thing in 2011, and were sued in federal court by a group of clinics. The state argues that it is trying to deny money to organizations that “promote” abortions. That is nonsense. Texas already did not give taxpayer money for abortions, and the clinics that sued do not perform abortions.

Last year, the newly installed House Republican majority rushed to pass bills (stopped by the Democratic-led Senate) to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X. That federal program provides millions of women with birth control, lifesaving screening for breast and cervical cancer, and other preventive care. It is a highly effective way of preventing the unintended pregnancies and abortions that Republicans claim to be so worried about.

EQUAL PAY Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the epicenter of all kinds of punitive and regressive legislation, signed the repeal of a 2009 law that allowed women and others to bring lawsuits in state courts against pay discrimination, instead of requiring them to be heard as slower and more costly federal cases. It also stiffened penalties for employers found guilty of discrimination.

He defended that bad decision by saying he did not want those suits to “clog up the legal system.” He turned that power over to his government, which has a record of hostility toward workers’ rights.

President Obama has been trying for three years to update and bolster the 1963 Equal Pay Act to enhance remedies for victims of gender-based wage discrimination, shield employees from retaliation for sharing salary information with co-workers, and mandate that employers show that wage differences are job-related, not sex-based, and driven by business necessity.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE Last month, the Senate approved a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, designed to protect victims of domestic and sexual abuse and bring their abusers to justice. The disappointing House bill omits new protections for gay, Indian, student and immigrant abuse victims that are contained in the bipartisan Senate bill. It also rolls back protections for immigrant women whose status is dependent on a spouse, making it more likely that they will stay with their abusers, at real personal risk, and ends existing protections for undocumented immigrants who report abuse and cooperate with law enforcement to pursue the abuser.

Protest and dissent have been criminalized in Quebec.

Aaron Bady on Quebec's Law 78.

Nick Kristof discusses the must-read Chicago Tribune series on toxics and the chemical industries efforts to lie and deceive. (In a sane world, the Tribune's series will be awarded a Pulitzer for investigative reporting.)

After two years of research, we learned that when it comes to reducing your carbon emissions, what matters most, in order of importance, is:  what and how you drive, the energy you use at home, and what you eat.”

The American public, despite what the GOP would like you to believe, still supports environmental protection.

Tell the truth about the environmental destruction caused by fracking and risk be sued by Big Oil.

Why killing Bambi is the right thing to do.

The secret to Tokyo's transit success: moving beyond transit-oriented development to embracing rail-integrated communities.

How far can you travel on 30 minutes of public transit?

Cheap gas limits CCS.

A strong economy requires a strong middle class.

The victims of our failed commitment to desegregation.

A photographic journey through the Central Valley.

Amanda Marcotte on the odious group of characters supporting a watered-down, pro-abused VAWA: “Prior to this year, even Republicans by and large felt that tacitly endorsing moderate levels of wife-beating was a bridge too far, but since their new motto is, "Bitches: Fuck 'Em", I suppose this sort of thing was inevitable”.

The perfect example of the GOP's anti-intellectualism and proud embrace of ignorance: eliminating the Census's ACS.

The House GOP sends the Constitution through the shredder yet again, all in the name of the War On Terror.

Arizona endorses malpractice in the name of religious liberty.

Arizona: Land of Ignorant-Ass, Racist Public Officials.

Changing attitudes towards gays across the world.

A belated apology for believing in a cure to gayness.

Where innovation really occurs.

The Beasties and the OED.

Celebrity food scraps.

A hilarious summary of Salem, MA's attempts to ban saxophones.

For my fellow dying-whale-sounds aficionados: the new album from Sigur Rós is streaming at NPR.

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: Pancakes!

Friday, May 18, 2012


The legacy of mining raises questions regarding how to deal with toxic landscapes — remediation or abandonment?:
The local Tar Creek is the color of orange juice, and it smells like vinegar. This is because when the mining companies left, they shut off the pumps that kept abandoned shafts from filling with groundwater. Once water flooded the tunnels, it picked up all the trace minerals underground — iron, lead and zinc — and flushed them into rivers and streams. Fish and fowl fled or went belly-up. “The only thing polluted in Treece,” says Rex Buchanan, interim director at the Kansas Geological Survey, “is the earth, air and water.”

A local couple, Dennis and Ella Johnston, agreed to give me the pollution tour. In Dennis’s blue Chevy truck, we drove through downtown — a church, trailers, a one-room City Hall with a pair of its windows boarded up — and then went down a dirt road to a pool formed by a caved-in mine. “Local kids used to skinny-dip here all the time,” Dennis said, grinning and pointing at the glassy water. “We’d see kids with sunburns all over their bodies.” But it turns out the kids hadn’t been burned by the sun, he said; they had been chemically burned by all the acids in the water.


There are 112 sites like Treece on the E.P.A.’s National Priorities List, an inventory of the most environmentally devastated places in the country. They’re in varying states of restoration, but all of them were ruined by mining or extracting operations. Near Jefferson, N.C., a dam holding mining waste from abandoned copper mines is in serious danger of eroding or collapsing, and nearby rivers have already been poisoned. And at the Midnite Mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State, years of digging for uranium have left piles of toxic rock on the landscape. Locals are safe enough living there — as long as they don’t eat the radioactive wild berries or the deer that forage on them. What’s tricky about all these places is that they’re not like Three Mile Island, where lives are immediately threatened by a catastrophic accident. It’s not quite clear if they should be cleaned up or abandoned or if there’s some other kind of solution.


[W]hile it was definitely dangerous for children to live in Treece, and while a lead-toxicology specialist told me that Treece residents were “almost certainly” poisoned by their environment, and while nearly everyone I interviewed offered anecdotes about friends or family suffering from lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, cancer, eczema or emphysema, no scientific study has conclusively linked these diseases to pollution in Treece. Of course, no comprehensive scientific study has ever been conducted in Treece. The first and only official lead test in children wasn’t carried out by the K.D.H.E. and the E.P.A. until 2009.

This April, officials abandoned their plan to turn Treece into a wildlife preserve. It had been a quixotic hope all along, dependent upon the desire of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, which had nothing to do with the buyout, to take over the land from the Department of Health and Environment. The Wildlife Department wouldn’t give an official statement, but one employee told me the agency wasn’t interested in the land. “It’s not because that couple stayed,” he said, referring to the Busbys. “Not only because of that, anyway. That land is inadequate for supporting wildlife, or from what I hear, any other kind of life.”

Just how hot has it been recently? This NOAA graphic tells the story pretty well:
Average national temperature records May 2011 to April 2012: NOAA/NCDC
More on these numbers and and the rest of the NOAA temperature report over at Mother Jones.

Stop pretending pot is evil, especially when it can be highly beneficial:
My survival has demanded an enormous price, including months of chemotherapy, radiation hell and brutal surgery. For about a year, my cancer disappeared, only to return. About a month ago, I started a new and even more debilitating course of treatment. Every other week, after receiving an IV booster of chemotherapy drugs that takes three hours, I wear a pump that slowly injects more of the drugs over the next 48 hours.

Nausea and pain are constant companions. One struggles to eat enough to stave off the dramatic weight loss that is part of this disease. Eating, one of the great pleasures of life, has now become a daily battle, with each forkful a small victory. Every drug prescribed to treat one problem leads to one or two more drugs to offset its side effects. Pain medication leads to loss of appetite and constipation. Anti-nausea medication raises glucose levels, a serious problem for me with my pancreas so compromised. Sleep, which might bring respite from the miseries of the day, becomes increasingly elusive.

Inhaled marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep. The oral synthetic substitute, Marinol, prescribed by my doctors, was useless. Rather than watch the agony of my suffering, friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance. I find a few puffs of marijuana before dinner gives me ammunition in the battle to eat. A few more puffs at bedtime permits desperately needed sleep.

This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue. Being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, I am receiving the absolute gold standard of medical care. But doctors cannot be expected to do what the law prohibits, even when they know it is in the best interests of their patients. When palliative care is understood as a fundamental human and medical right, marijuana for medical use should be beyond controversy.

Dahlia Lithwick identifies the common thread running through the GOP's War On Women:
[W]hat’s so striking about so many of the GOP initiatives that implicate women this year is that they betray not a deep suspicion of “politicians who say we should be dependent on government programs,” but rather a deep suspicion of other women. Underpinning virtually every changed rule and policy, every effort to defund and repeal, lies an argument about the ways in which women are trying to defraud the government and simply can’t be trusted.


I am always, deeply worried about the attempt to pit women against women for political gain. But I think we at least need to be honest about the fact that so many of the current GOP initiatives that seek to free women from the clutches of big government are rooted in the idea that women are systematically trying to cheat the system to get free stuff. You can argue all you want about whether it’s better for women to have access to health care, child care, maternity leave, equal pay, and preventive medicine. But when you base those arguments on rickety old Elizabethan stereotypes about deceitful women and their lying ways, it becomes harder to call yourself the party of women.

Scalia and his sadistic torture-loving friends will soon have the opportunity to further legalize police brutality:
The case involves Malaika Brooks, who was seven months pregnant and driving her 11-year-old son to school in Seattle when she was pulled over for speeding. The police say she was going 32 miles per hour in a school zone; the speed limit was 20.

Ms. Brooks said she would accept a ticket but drew the line at signing it, which state law required at the time. Ms. Brooks thought, wrongly, that signing was an acknowledgment of guilt.

Refusing to sign was a crime, and the two officers on the scene summoned a sergeant, who instructed them to arrest Ms. Brooks. She would not get out of her car.

The situation plainly called for bold action, and Officer Juan M. Ornelas met the challenge by brandishing a Taser and asking Ms. Brooks if she knew what it was.

She did not, but she told Officer Ornelas what she did know. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. “I am pregnant. I’m less than 60 days from having my baby.”

The three men assessed the situation and conferred. “Well, don’t do it in her stomach,” one said. “Do it in her thigh.”

Officer Ornelas twisted Ms. Brooks’s arm behind her back. A colleague, Officer Donald M. Jones, applied the Taser to Ms. Brooks’s left thigh, causing her to cry out and honk the car’s horn. A half-minute later, Officer Jones applied the Taser again, now to Ms. Brooks’s left arm. He waited six seconds before pressing it into her neck.

Ms. Brooks fell over, and the officers dragged her into the street, laying her face down and cuffing her hands behind her back.

In the months that followed, Ms. Brooks gave birth to a healthy baby girl; was convicted of refusing to sign the ticket, a misdemeanor, but not of resisting arrest; and sued the officers who three times caused her intense pain and left her with permanent scars.

The officers won a split decision in October from a 10-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco. The majority said the officers had used excessive force but nonetheless could not be sued because the law on the question was not clear in 2004, when the incident took place. While the ruling left the three officers in the clear, it did put them and their colleagues on notice that some future uses of Tasers would cross a constitutional line and amount to excessive force.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski dissented on the first point, saying Ms. Brooks had been “defiant” and “deaf to reason” and so had brought the incident upon herself.

As for the officers, he said: “They deserve our praise, not the opprobrium of being declared constitutional violators. The City of Seattle should award them commendations for grace under fire.”

Another dissenter, Judge Barry G. Silverman, said “tasing was a humane way to force Brooks out of her car.”

“There are only so many ways a person can be extracted from a vehicle against her will, and none of them is pretty,” he explained. “Fists, batons, chokeholds, tear gas and chemical spray all carry their own risks to suspects and officers alike.”


Michael F. Williams, a lawyer at Kirkland & Ellis, which represents Ms. Brooks, said the criminal justice system would endure even if the police were barred from delivering thousands of volts of electricity into the body of a pregnant woman who refused to sign a piece of paper.

“The officers are trying to defend inexcusable conduct,” he said. “They inflicted enormous pain on a woman who was especially vulnerable over what was essentially a traffic violation.”

How polluting is fracking? Well, we don't really know.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania officials are accused of ignoring fracking-related health concerns.

Pollution is expanding the tropics.

A great series on China's freshwater crisis and confronting the water-energy nexus at Circle of Blue.

Carl Zimmer explores the linkages between terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Wine versus fish.

A big decision on the future of Brazil's forests.

Buy one give one may not be an effective poverty alleviation model.

It wouldn't be the first development model to fail, though — and now we can start learning from those failures.

Disease as driven by rare, not common, mutations.

The problem of replication in psychology.

A “pro-lifer” accidentally lets it slip that women dying is just collateral damage.

Michelle Goldberg on why the House's version of VAWA is so atrocious.

[T]he GOP’s  War on Women has morphed into a War on Some Women, but We Love White, Married to Men, and with US Citizenship Women, Really, We Do!

Barbara Ehrenreich on the criminalization of poverty.

An interview with former FBI interrogator Alu Soufan.

A good reminder as to why it's important to quality check any data set before analyzing it.

Sloppy initial police work could be the undoing of the case against George Zimmerman.

Mittens: “I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.”

On beanballs. (It perpetually disappoints me that televised baseball broadcasts don't add the beanball sound from RBI Baseball to accompany whenever a batter gets hit.)

Thom Steinbeck discusses the letter he received from his father that recently went viral.

Ben Zimmer on backronyms.

Feynman on science.

Important grooming tips for those of us who are moustachioed.

Terry Gross plus Mike Birbiglia leads to funny times (h/t Angela):

Gratuitous self-promotion item of the day: it's Stax/Volt week over at the music Tumblr.

Speaking of Here Is Your Song Of The Day, on Augustus' request I put together a Spotify playlist of those tunes.

I've been trying to put together a playlist of covers of Beatles tunes that potentially exceed the originals (e.g., yesterday's post to the HIYSOTD Tumblr, David Porter's version of “Help!”) and this piece of complete and utter brilliance immediately came to mind:

Oh right, there's this piece of awesomeness, too:

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: Bravery with bees and garlic, and a whole lot of delicious greens.