Thursday, June 28, 2012


Ms. Slaughter delivers a long moment of rhetorical deceit. Of course we cannot have it all because we were never supposed to have it all in the first place. The fact that not even once does she question the inherent systems of inequality created by capitalism and corporate dictate is the first alarming sign in her long piece that fails to contextualize her own position in relation to well, pretty much everyone else. Ms. Slaughter laments that she couldn’t manage the pressure of her work, her teenage son’s puberty and her other family and social obligations. Nobody could possibly do that. And right there is the first form of exclusion which is not just about her status as “woman” but as active participant in this model that is set up specifically to leave some out and create scarcity. Unless you belong to the very top (and she did, but obviously not high enough to merit full inclusion and success), you are always going to be purposefully left out so that you can continue fighting in the supposed “race to the top” by further alienating and participating in the creation of further exclusion to prevent others from taking your job. Such is the system in which she failed: set up so that, in order to succeed, you need to make sure others fail.

I do feel for Ms. Slaughter. I am not being trite. I do feel for those women who did everything they thought was “the right thing” and still did not manage to succeed. In a lot of ways, I even admire her (as I admire Hillary Clinton). Obviously these are exceptional women who deserve praise not only for their hard work but also for their finely honed intellectual and political skills. However, I cannot pretend that their success would, in some ways, improve my chances of success or the chances of other millions of young girls and women. Moreover, in a sense, their success implies further suffering and possible death for women the world over. By being active participants in State administrations specifically created to further the gap between the haves and the have nots, their success is directly proportional to the oppression of other women. And right there is where Ms. Slaughter lost me in her piece. She failed to account for that, even as a footnote, as an aside, as a mere figure of speech in passing. Not only did she personally fail because the system is rigged so that we all fail, but she did not take into account how she contributed to make it worse for million others, domestically and overseas.

Now matter how you think of it, the five conservative judges on SCOTUS and their views on politics and the role of corporations are not good for our democracy:
Either (1) the five Republican-appointed Justices are completely unprincipled and simply will do whatever it takes to help Republicans gain power and enact a pro-corporate agenda. In a widely read Atlantic piece, James Fallows just accused the five Justices--Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito--of being part of a judicial "coup" running back to Bush v. Gore, which included three of these justices and two replaced by Roberts and Alito.

Or, to be more charitable, the Supreme Court might actually have a principle. The Supreme Court (2) might not care about the facts (as it doesn't) because it simply believes that corporations should be part of our democracy. They should be able, as a matter of right, to buy and sell candidates who agree and disagree with them, just as individuals should be allowed to vote for or against candidates. They don't think there's anything wrong with corporate involvement in campaigns. Justices on the infamous Lochner court probably didn't second-guess the health conclusions of the laws; they believed the laws conflicted with liberty.

From both Citizens United and this decision, it seems our Republican-appointed five man majority defines liberty and democracy to require unlimited corporate spending on elections--whatever the facts, whatever the outcomes (though knowing those outcomes favor Republicans and favor donors who fly Justices to nice events and fund their wives' organizations). (For more on this point, see Joshua Cohen's 2011 Dewey Lecture.)

This decision raises one other point: many hopeful activists have proposed ways around Citizens United they think would be upheld. That is probably nuts. The five-member majority will not let that happen. If a state Supreme Court, upholding its own legislature, on a hundred year law, on a colorful and deep record, to keep out the corruption of out-of-state corporations, is struck down without ceremony, I can't see many laws getting through these guys.

The Court has even undermined public financing and public matching funds more than most people will admit. If a state makes public financing available for one side, the state could not increase the amount provided or the matching funds formula based on the money spent by the other side or the supporters of the other side. These limits constrain the effectiveness of public funding; indeed, they effectively make it impossible to match the resources of those backed by billionaires willing to write huge checks.

Get your reverse racism on — how to oppress Whitey:
1. Enslave their bodies.

Ship them from Germany, Sweden, and other exotic countries. Force them to build entire cities, roads, bridges. Force them to plant and harvest all the food everyone eats. Let an entire economic system be built on their backs, with their blood and sweat. Later, deny them access to the system they have been used to build, and accuse them of being extremely lazy.

2. Steal their land.

If they were here before you, steal their land. This is essential. Basically, just go in there and take it. If you have to kill some of them to get it…no worries. If you have to kill almost all of them to get it…shit, no worries. After you steal their land, make sure you create laws to keep them from ever returning to it. If they try to return anyway, build fences, and let bands of POC vigilantes patrol the borders with guns. If they somehow get past the borders and into your country, no worries, you can always just deport them.

3. Enslave their minds.

From these systems, build a long lasting institution of reverse-racism until all the violence and microaggressions make many white people into suspicious people with a lot of internalized self-hatred, health problems, and mental illnesses. Then deny them access to adequate mental health care. Or, adequate health care of any kind, while you’re at it. ‘Cause, you know, fuck ‘em.


8. Make sure most representations of them in the media are negative.

They should almost always be portrayed as pasty, stringy-haired, rhythm-less, sexless, uptight, and booooring. Also, there should be very few representations of them and when they’re portrayed at all, they should always only be the comic relief, the silent exotic sex object, the Debbie Downer, or the incompetent sidekick. They are only allowed to be easily forgettable, one-dimensional characters. Sometimes use POC actors in white-face to portray these white people. By presenting this ONE image of them all the time, you will be able to convince the rest of the population that all white people are like this, thus ensuring a widespread belief in their inferiority.

9. Keep telling them how beautiful they are not.

White people know they will never be beautiful with their boring sour cream complexions and blonde hair (that was actually caused because of mutations). Plaster people of color on every magazine, show them in every television show and movie, and praise them as the most beautiful. When white people cry at these injustices, bottle their tears and sell them as health creams for people of color. Nothing like a soothing lotion made from the pain of white folks!
 The whole piece is pretty great.

Hotshot firefighters and no health insurance.

Visualizing a nation of meat eaters.

Sea-level rise: the news is not good.

Climate scientists under siege.

What are the medium-term trends for US emissions?

Taking Shell at their word that there won't be a big oil spill in Arctic waters.

The BP spill made the Louisiana marshlands even worse.

More bad news on BPA.

Despite the smells, a handful of cities are moving towards zero waste.

Photos from Brazil's big dam.

Land grabs sure aren't looking very good.

How to consider stormwater on timberlands.

In sustaining a political movement that has reimagined the courts, the right has already won.

Four-in-five ten-year-old girls have dieted.

Why we need social sciences.

Did UPenn whitewash an investigation into improper corporate ghostwriting of a scientific paper?

Shit on the sick and piss on the poor, it's the Christian way?

Every thing you know about Fast and Furious may be wrong.

Profits high, wages low.

The completely unnecessary paramilitarization of our police.

Those terrible textbooks are Texas' fault.

Texas Repubs are nuts: case in point is the GOP's new platform.

Your cell provider knows a lot about you, but it won't share that information with you.

Google search tips that might be handy even for the Google search pro. (intext and relational searches are new to me and seem to be potentially useful.)

Inequality, as viewed from satellites. And more.

An ode to umami.

Birds with arms.

Ten terrible book covers.

With Wifey out of town, here's Arijit's Happy Link of the Day: good environmental news?

The excellent pianist Jeremy Denk discusses and plays Ligeti:

His cover of Van Halen's “Panama” was pretty outstanding, but this may be even better:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


We're still uncomfortable with women's bodies:
In the year 2012, female athleticism still causes overt anxieties.

Why is that? I propose it’s for the same reason that a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy -- or even prevent one -- is still controversial in our society. As with reproductive rights, female athleticism brings forth social anxieties about women exerting mastery over their own bodies. The female body has been positioned for so long as an object that exists for other people’s use that contemplating a woman using her own body for her own purposes unsettles, whether it’s a woman controlling her fertility or a woman using her body to compete in an arena, sports, which was previously considered only the domain of men.

The way this anxiety is expressed has changed over the years. In the past, women’s reproductive abilities were framed against their athletic aspirations, in much the same way the right still tends to see tensions between women’s reproductive control and capacity. (Look, for instance, at the ready assumption on the right that a woman being pro-choice means she’s intrinsically anti-motherhood.) While fears that athletic women aren’t “real” women have faded somewhat, there are still traces of that belief in modern athletics, from the overly defensive femininity displays of the WNBA to the risible and outdated practice of gender-testing female athletes competing in the Olympics. It seems the fear of stereotypes about women and athletics cause the powers that be in athletic competitions to feel like they have to prove that their athletes are “real” women in the way that men competing in athletics never feel they have to prove their maleness.

The summer Olympics are starting in a month, which means anxieties about gender and athleticism are about to hit a semi-regular fever pitch. Watching women use their bodies to compete and win instead of to submit and serve just sends a lot of people spiraling off, and they don’t know how to handle the pressure. One strategy to put female athletes in their place is to aggressively sexually objectify them, and try to replace their obvious self-mastery with old models of women-as-objects-for-male-gratification. Alyssa Rosenberg chronicled an already egregious example of this at the Bleacher Report, where anxious male writer Thomas Delatte was so discombobulated by the idea that women might use their bodies for their own ends instead of just as objects of sexual display that he went so far as to argue that a certain soccer player should switch to volleyball simply because he prefers the skimpier volleyball uniforms. As the games draw closer, we can expect more of the same; anxious men who fear women controlling their own bodies using “jokes” and sexual objectification in an attempt to undermine those women.

It’s not just overt sexism that undermines female athletes, however. The anxiety produced by seeing women so in control over their own bodies expresses itself in subconscious ways, as well. As researchers at the University of Delaware found, sportscasters talking about the Olympics have very different frameworks when discussing male and female athletes. Male athletes who win were usually described as earning their victories through ability, but when female athletes win, the focus was on luck. In other words, men were granted their mastery of a sport, but women’s fortunes were framed as something outside of themselves. The fear of a woman controlling her own body runs so deep that it’s uncomfortable to even speak of it out loud, even for people who otherwise probably don’t think of themselves as particularly anti-feminist.

Understanding this anxiety around female athletes gives us a great deal of insight into why the topic of reproductive rights is so hard for our society to speak about honestly. It’s easier to advocate for women’s rights if you frame them in terms of women’s service to others, such as saying women need abortion and contraception so they can be better partners, mothers, and workers than to say something as discomforting as, “Women need reproductive rights so they can control their own bodies and therefore their own destinies.” We shy away from talking about women taking charge of their bodies to feel pleasure, and instead prefer to speak of women accessing health care so they’re better at their duties. We know we live in a society where people still squirm with unnamed discomfort at watching female athletes enjoy sports and winning for their own sake, and so certainly talking about women’s right to enjoy sex for itself is difficult to pull off.

But we’re never going to have equality for women as long as we dance around the issue of women’s right to totally own our own bodies, and to use them for our own ends instead of only for the ends of others. One place we can start is with this summer’s Olympics. Take this occasion to praise women for their strength, their athleticism, and above all, for their autonomy. If we can get used to talking about women’s relationships to their bodies in this way, then talking about sex and women will just become that much easier.

Everyone's talking about that Anne-Marie Slaughter piece on women having it all and feminism; this piece (which I already shared with half of my readership over email) offers what I found to be the most illuminating take on it:
Slaughter is a victim not of feminism, but of a sort of reinvigorated momism, the belief that mothers must sacrifice themselves and all their needs for the well being of their children or risk raising sociopaths. This neo-momism is sometimes called “helicopter parenting” (although it’s not parents as much as mothers who engage in it) and is linked to the trend among middle and upper class families to produce adult children who are unable to launch independent lives.

Slaughter’s neo-momism, like momism, will not lead to better lives for women or their children. Instead, a real and sustained commitment to feminist principles will.

When I was a young woman I asked Rayna Rapp, a successful professor, feminist, activist, and single mother how she could possibly do and be all these things. I asked her because I wanted to grow up to be just like her. Her answer has always structured my work and my home life. She said:
Oh, I just do everything half-assed.
I wish Slaughter had learned that lesson of feminism — that it is not the job of women to be “perfect” mothers or “perfect” workers, but to be good enough mothers and workers. We must change the structure of work in this country. That part Slaughter gets right. But we must also change what we think of as good mothering from “perfect” to “half assed” because children who are not the center of the universe of family life but rather just one among many moving parts grow up to be adults and that is a very good thing for everyone.
Another good take on the piece and the myth of being able to have it all.

Those who wage the War on Women are afraid of vaginas:
[T]he epicenter of the so-called conservative war against women seems to reside in the vagina. Conservatives are against comprehensive sexual education that would teach young people age-appropriate information about their sexual and reproductive anatomy, including the correct medical and anatomical terms for body parts. Information on sexually-transmitted infections that would preserve and protect these body parts are also taboo. Conservative legislators also want to prevent women from receiving contraceptive coverage through their health insurance providers while asserting the primacy of the conscience of religious employers and lawmakers over the conscience of women. The same state legislators who can’t say, or even hear, the word “vagina,” whether in Michigan or Texas, apparently do not feel the same compunction against legislating invasive and mandatory vaginal probes. (In women’s best interest, of course!).

Perhaps lawmakers should be required to have a vagina before regulating vaginas because in that case the discussion becomes less ideological and more real. The world looks very different when the vagina lies between your legs instead of between the pages of your law books.

If lawmakers were really concerned about women and their vaginas they would vote for the Violence Against Women Act, which was debated earlier this year in Congress, with Democrats largely favoring and Republicans opposing. The real violation of vaginas is not in saying the word, but rather entering one without consent. Vaginal decorum in state legislatures means not prohibiting the word, but rather appropriating funds to test rape kits to identify sexual assault perpetrators.
Speaking of vaginas and unspeakable words.

Another entry from our Dystopian Libertarian Future: The Privatization of Public Goods. If you liked Ayn Rand, you'll love this!:

KFC became a pioneer in this kind of unconventional ad placement earlier in the downturn, when it temporarily plastered its logo on manhole covers and fire hydrants in several cities in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee after paying to fill potholes and replace hydrants.


The downturn seems to have prompted more public entities to sell advertising or auction off the naming rights of public places, said Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, the campaign coordinator for the Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project, which works to curb the spread of commercialization. “We are bombarded by ads everywhere we go, and these are public spaces meant to be reflective of the values of our society, co-opted by the private sector,” she said.

Transit systems across the nation have been particularly aggressive in recent years in trying to sell the naming rights of stations. They are struggling with an estimated $77.7 billion shortfall just to get to a state of good repair, at a time of growing ridership, shrinking state support and budgetary shortfalls.


Such naming deals have grown more popular with advertisers as they try to reach consumers who have grown more adept at tuning out commercials, whether with remote controls or digital video recorders.

“All we’re ever looking for is not only to do something good for the community, but to find another place for eyeballs to be looking at things,” said Jody Berg, the principal of Media Works, a communications company based in Baltimore, who added that the city could find appropriate sponsors in fields like health care, education, sports or insurance.

But the ads would have to raise a great deal of money to avoid the fire company closings, which are expected to save the city more than $6 million a year.
And if you don't live where KFC is willing to pay for much-needed repairs to public infrastructure? Sorry, but that's just the free market at work; if the market isn't willing to give you quality roads, sewage systems, traffic lights and the rest, you just don't deserve it. Silly liberals and your silly public goods.

Facebook doesn't get the concept of privacy:
When I called Facebook on Monday to ask why the company had changed the settings for the display of people’s e-mail addresses without their permission, potentially violating users’ privacy, I was told that the swap was not a “privacy” change, but rather a “visibility setting” change.

I offered a genuinely confused response to Jaime Schopflin, a Facebook spokeswoman I spoke with. “Um, isn’t changing the visibility of something actually changing the privacy setting?” I asked.

“No,” Ms. Schopflin said, explaining that they are two different things.

The company recently changed e-mail address settings to automatically show addresses on user profiles where other addresses were once visible. All of a user’s friends can see that address, even if the user specified that no addresses should be visible on the profile.

To Facebook, the words privacy and visibility may be as different as peas and carrots. But Facebook users and one linguistic expert I talked to seem to disagree.

Jesse Sheidlower, the editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, said Facebook’s effort to draw such a distinction was “worse than playing semantics.”

“It is giving a different name to something that has aspects of privacy to it,” Mr. Sheidlower explained. ”Publishing a picture of someone naked might be regarded as a ‘modesty’ issue, but that does not mean that it’s not a privacy issue, too.” He added: “Even Facebook can’t possibly think that doing this has nothing to do with privacy.”

Yes, the EPA can regulate carbon emissions. “The E.P.A. is not required to reprove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

What drives BPA exposures.

Lead poisoning is keeping California condors from truly bouncing back.

Changing fire regimes — and ecosystems — of the West.

Tracking deforestation, nearly in real-time.

Sea-level rise is happening faster on the east coast.

The NRC on sea-level rise on the west coast.

Linking ozone and cardiovascular problems.

Big Coal is swindling American taxpayers.

Some possible outcomes of the ACA at SCOTUS.

Will Republicans suffer if the ACA is overturned?

She's a true genius, yet even Jan Brewer is completely wrong sometimes.

No, the centerpiece of SB 1070 wasn't upheld; the centerpiece was the section of the law that allowed police to stop any and all brown people for suspicion of being in the country illegally, regardless of whether they'd committed any other crime.

Scalia: Jim Crow laws let states keep out unwanted blacks and that was totally fine, so states should be able to harass unwanted brown people, too.

Scalia loves state sovereignty when it's used to harass brown-skinned people, but hates it when it's wielded to keep elections from being bought and sold.

On the ahistorical nature of Citizens United.

Campbell Brown wrote a shitty op-ed about how Planned Parenthood doesn't support politicians who don't believe in a woman's right to choose. This makes them evil and partisan, apparently.

Wasting federal money on promoting marriage.

Congress' biggest gay-haters. Though without bigots like the odious Steve King and idiotic Michele Bachmann, I'm not sure I believe it.

And the gold medal for dissembling goes to...

The founder of UVA answers some questions on the meaning of education.

Ira Glass: Car Talk repeats are lazy and hold up the next wave of innovative public radio programming.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


We propose a new approach — which we call 'wedging the gap' — consisting of 21 coherent major initiatives that together would trigger greenhouse-gas emission reductions of around 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2e) by 2020, plus the benefits of enhanced reductions in air-pollutant emissions. This supports and goes substantially beyond the emission reductions proposed by national governments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The approach would play a significant part in bridging the gap between current emission trends and what is necessary to put the world on a path that would limit global temperature increase to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The proposed initiatives build on actions that promise numerous benefits to the organizations and individuals undertaking them, and front-runners are already demonstrating that such benefits are real. These initiatives aim to take these benefits to the mainstream, drastically amplifying their impacts and showing all organizations involved that together they can play a leading role in solving the climate challenge. Many of the initiatives also generate significant 'green growth' benefits, stimulating economic development based on environmentally sound solutions and providing additional motivation to engage. We expect that working together on a grand coalition would serve as a catalyst for action, greatly enhancing the willingness of a range of sub-sovereign and non-state actors to contribute to greenhouse-gas emission reductions. This in turn would support the implementation and strengthening of the pledges for which national governments remain responsible, and eventually stimulate sufficient reductions to bridge the greenhouse-gas emissions gap.


The basis of the wedging-the-gap approach is to combine 21 coherent major global initiatives that involve a variety of actors, for example, major cities, large companies and individual citizens (Fig. 1). For each of the initiatives the following requirements hold: (1) there is a concrete starting position from which a significant up-scaling until the year 2020 is possible; (2) there are significant additional benefits next to a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions; (3) there is an organization (or a combination of organizations) that can lead the global initiative; and (4) the initiative has the potential to reach an emission reduction in the order of 0.5 Gt CO2e by 2020. The effects of the initiatives and other government actions will overlap, so the total effect will be smaller than the sum. Regarding requirements (2) and (3), the key is that actors in the initiative are driven by self-interest or internal motivation, not by external pressure — a green-growth approach to global action on climate change.

Figure 1: Wedging the gap.

Figure 1. A schematic representation of how the emissions gap is bridged by a combination of action by national governments under the UNFCCC (a) and other initiatives (wedges) (b). The effect of the different wedges overlap. The wedges and the government pledges overlap as well. The asterisks in b indicate that quantification is outside of the definition of the gap.

Why will this work? Action by an individual citizen, a municipality or even a large multinational company may be considered 'a drop in the ocean'. Even individual actions by large companies or big cities will rarely have an impact of more than a few megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. However, being part of a larger coalition that has the potential to completely bridge the entire emissions gap will make it much more attractive to participate in and take action. To this end, it is necessary that globally leading organizations in the world of business, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participate. They need to be part of a coalition that together provides leadership in bridging the gap. Therefore, the key to the success of the wedging-the-gap approach is forming and sustaining this coalition.

Emission-reduction pledges of countries under the UNFCCC and 'bottom up' initiatives by players other than national governments reinforce each other. Both have the objective to eventually bridge the emissions gap, but from two different angles. Ultimately, the objective is to close this gap, and both sides are essential. Emission-reduction pledges of governments under the UNFCCC are not sufficient to close the gap, and their ambition has not changed for 2.5 years. While recognizing that national governments remain responsible for implementing and increasing the ambition of their pledges and actions, a new coalition of scaled-up 'bottom up' initiatives driven by sub-sovereign and non-state actors and motivated by interests additional to emission reductions could give new momentum to international action on climate change. The successes of the coalition of initiatives have to be fed back into the UNFCCC process and have to have an impact on national government pledges. Otherwise national governments may feel released from the pressure to implement and strengthen their pledge, as they could rely on the success of action elsewhere.

Dahlia Lithwick offers a modest proposal to eliminate the word “vagina” from our political discourse (h/t Sourav):
Republican Rep. Mike Callton noted later that Brown’s comment “was so offensive, I don't even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company."

The scourge of women being allowed to speak the word vagina in a legislative debate over what happens when women use their vaginas must be stopped. And if women are not capable of regulating their own word choice, the state should regulate it for them. To that end, we propose that the Michigan House promptly enact HB-5711(b)—a bill to regulate the use of the word vagina by females in mixed company.

The bill will include Part A(1)(a) providing that any women who seeks to use the word vagina in a floor debate be required to wait 72 hours after consulting with her physician before she may say it. It will also require her physician to certify in writing that said woman was not improperly coerced into saying the word vagina against her will. Section B(1)(d) provides that prior to allowing a female to say the word vagina a woman will have a mandatory visit with her physician at which he will read to her a scripted warning detailing the scientific evidence of the well-documented medical dangers inherent in saying the word vagina out loud, including the link between saying the word vagina and the risk of contracting breast cancer.

Because some women who say the word vagina in legislative proceedings occasionally come to regret having used the word, Part C(7) provides that there will also be mandatory counseling with counselors who have never used the word vagina in their lifetimes, and who would indeed die before they ever used such a word. Moreover the state health code is to be amended such that no woman who says the word vagina may do so out loud or in mixed company until and unless she is in a facility with full surgical capabilities. Objections that speech is not in fact a surgical procedure notwithstanding, it’s clear that the risk of saying the word vagina out loud is such that it should not be undertaken without proper medical safeguards to guarantee against any and all risks of negative consequences.

There is to be no exception in the event that a woman uses the word vagina as a result of rape, incest, or to preserve her health or ability to have future pregnancies. If women were intended to use the word vagina there would be a word for vaginas.

Also, provision d(9)(a) of the bill would amend the current law to ensure that if any listener who hears the word vagina spoken aloud—although it may be the medically correct term for a woman’s reproductive organs—feels any religious objections to such speech, that speech may be curtailed in the interest of preserving the listener’s religious freedom as detailed in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Any other marginally relevant provisions of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution are herein rescinded as needed.

Finally, Michigan state health statutes shall be amended by provision 12(b)(6) which provides that prior to speaking the word vagina out loud, any female resident of Michigan shall undergo a mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound procedure, during which she must watch such ultrasound while listening to a government-scripted speech about the grave dangers of speaking anatomically correct words, aloud, in an enlightened democracy.

JPMorgan Chase is screwing over the American taxpayer — and the global economy — and laughing all the way to the bank while doing so:
To be precise, JPMorgan receives a government subsidy worth about $14 billion a year, according to research published by the International Monetary Fund and our own analysis of bank balance sheets. The money helps the bank pay big salaries and bonuses. More important, it distorts markets, fueling crises such as the recent subprime-lending disaster and the sovereign-debt debacle that is now threatening to destroy the euro and sink the global economy.

How can all this be? Let’s take it step by step.

In recent decades, governments and central banks around the world have developed a consistent pattern of behavior when trouble strikes banks that are large or interconnected enough to threaten the broader economy: They step in to ensure that all the bank’s creditors, not just depositors, are paid in full. Although typically necessary to prevent permanent economic damage, such bailouts encourage a reckless confidence among creditors. They assume the government will always make them whole, so they become willing to lend at lower rates, particularly to systemically important banks.

With each new banking crisis, the value of the implicit subsidy grows. In a recent paper, two economists -- Kenichi Ueda of the IMF and Beatrice Weder Di Mauro of the University of Mainz -- estimated that as of 2009 the expectation of government support was shaving about 0.8 percentage point off large banks’ borrowing costs. That’s up from 0.6 percentage point in 2007, before the financial crisis prompted a global round of bank bailouts.

To estimate the dollar value of the subsidy in the U.S., we multiplied it by the debt and deposits of 18 of the country’s largest banks, including JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. The result: about $76 billion a year. The number is roughly equivalent to the banks’ total profits over the past 12 months, or more than the federal government spends every year on education.

JPMorgan’s share of the subsidy is $14 billion a year, or about 77 percent of its net income for the past four quarters. In other words, U.S. taxpayers helped foot the bill for the multibillion-dollar trading loss that is the focus of today’s hearing. They’ve also provided more direct support: Dimon noted in a recent conference call that the Home Affordable Refinancing Program, which allows banks to generate income by modifying government-guaranteed mortgages, made a significant contribution to JPMorgan’s earnings in the first three months of 2012.

Like all subsidies, the taxpayer largesse distorts supply. If the government supports corn farmers, you get too much corn. If the government subsidizes banks, you get too much credit. As of March, households, companies and government in the U.S. had amassed debts of $38.6 trillion, or 2.5 times the country’s gross domestic product. That’s up from 1.3 times in 1980. The picture is similar in the euro area, where debt outstanding is 1.8 times GDP, double the level of 1995.

The oversupply of credit -- also supported in the U.S. by government-backed lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and by tax breaks on mortgage interest -- encourages risky behavior. People buy houses they can’t afford, companies borrow too much for acquisitions, and banks employ excessive leverage to boost the returns they can offer their shareholders. The result is a bloated finance industry: As of 2011, the sector accounted for 8.3 percent of the U.S. economy, compared with 4.9 percent in 1980.

The Dems move to the right by taking Republican ideas, and Repubs respond by moving even farther to the right and labeling the Dems as socialists:
The Republicans have made the individual mandate the element most likely to undo the President’s health-care law. The irony is that the Democrats adopted it in the first place because they thought that it would help them secure conservative support. It had, after all, been at the heart of Republican health-care reforms for two decades.

The mandate made its political début in a 1989 Heritage Foundation brief titled “Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans,” as a counterpoint to the single-payer system and the employer mandate, which were favored in Democratic circles. In the brief, Stuart Butler, the foundation’s health-care expert, argued, “Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seat-belts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement.” The mandate made its first legislative appearance in 1993, in the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act—the Republicans’ alternative to President Clinton’s health-reform bill—which was sponsored by John Chafee, of Rhode Island, and co-sponsored by eighteen Republicans, including Bob Dole, who was then the Senate Minority Leader.

After the Clinton bill, which called for an employer mandate, failed, Democrats came to recognize the opportunity that the Chafee bill had presented. In “The System,” David Broder and Haynes Johnson’s history of the health-care wars of the nineties, Bill Clinton concedes that it was the best chance he had of reaching a bipartisan compromise. “It should have been right then, or the day after they presented their bill, where I should have tried to have a direct understanding with Dole,” he said.

Ten years later, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, began picking his way back through the history—he read “The System” four times—and he, too, came to focus on the Chafee bill. He began building a proposal around the individual mandate, and tested it out on both Democrats and Republicans. “Between 2004 and 2008, I saw over eighty members of the Senate, and there were very few who objected,” Wyden says. In December, 2006, he unveiled the Healthy Americans Act. In May, 2007, Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, who had been a sponsor of the Chafee bill, joined him. Wyden-Bennett was eventually co-sponsored by eleven Republicans and nine Democrats, receiving more bipartisan support than any universal health-care proposal in the history of the Senate. It even caught the eye of the Republican Presidential aspirants. In a June, 2009, interview on “Meet the Press,” Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, had signed a universal health-care bill with an individual mandate, said that Wyden-Bennett was a plan “that a number of Republicans think is a very good health-care plan—one that we support.”

Wyden’s bill was part of a broader trend of Democrats endorsing the individual mandate in their own proposals. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton both built a mandate into their campaign health-care proposals. In 2008, Senator Ted Kennedy brought John McDonough, a liberal advocate of the Massachusetts plan, to Washington to help with health-care reform. That same year, Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, included an individual mandate in the first draft of his health-care bill. The main Democratic holdout was Senator Barack Obama. But by July, 2009, President Obama had changed his mind. “I was opposed to this idea because my general attitude was the reason people don’t have health insurance is not because they don’t want it. It’s because they can’t afford it,” he told CBS News. “I am now in favor of some sort of individual mandate.”

This process led, eventually, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as Obamacare—which also included an individual mandate. But, as that bill came closer to passing, Republicans began coalescing around the mandate, which polling showed to be one of the legislation’s least popular elements. In December, 2009, in a vote on the bill, every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate “unconstitutional.”

This shift—Democrats lining up behind the Republican-crafted mandate, and Republicans declaring it not just inappropriate policy but contrary to the wishes of the Founders—shocked Wyden. “I would characterize the Washington, D.C., relationship with the individual mandate as truly schizophrenic,” he said.

It was not an isolated case. In 2007, both Newt Gingrich and John McCain wanted a cap-and-trade program in order to reduce carbon emissions. Today, neither they nor any other leading Republicans support cap-and-trade. In 2008, the Bush Administration proposed, pushed, and signed the Economic Stimulus Act, a deficit-financed tax cut designed to boost the flagging economy. Today, few Republicans admit that a deficit-financed stimulus can work. Indeed, with the exception of raising taxes on the rich, virtually every major policy currently associated with the Obama Administration was, within the past decade, a Republican idea in good standing.
Klein goes on to discuss something that's come up here before (see Jack Balkin's piece I posted in the last link dump) — how the constitutional argument against the individual mandate went from batshit crazy fringe argument to batshit crazy mainstream Republican argument, and explain why this portends a future of even greater partisan squabbling and polarization:
What is notable about the conservative response to the individual mandate is not only the speed with which a legal argument that was considered fringe in 2010 had become mainstream by 2012; it’s the implication that the Republicans spent two decades pushing legislation that was in clear violation of the nation’s founding document. Political parties do go through occasional, painful cleansings, in which they emerge with different leaders who hold different positions. This was true of Democrats in the nineteen-nineties, when Bill Clinton passed free trade, deficit reduction, and welfare reform, despite the furious objections of liberals. But in this case the mandate’s supporters simply became its opponents.

In February, 2012, Stuart Butler, the author of the Heritage Foundation brief that first proposed the mandate, wrote an op-ed for USA Today in which he recanted that support. “I’ve altered my views on many things,” he wrote. “The individual mandate in health care is one of them.” Senator Orrin Hatch, who had been a co-sponsor of the Chafee bill, emerged as one of the mandate’s most implacable opponents in 2010, writing in The Hill that to come to “any other conclusion” than that the mandate is unconstitutional “requires treating the Constitution as the servant, rather than the master, of Congress.” Mitt Romney, who had both passed an individual mandate as governor and supported Wyden-Bennett, now calls Obama’s law an “unconstitutional power grab from the states,” and has promised, if elected, to begin repealing the law “on Day One.”

Even Bob Bennett, who was among the most eloquent advocates of the mandate, voted, in 2009, to call it unconstitutional. “I’d group us”—Senate Republicans—“into three categories,” he says. “There were people like me, who bought onto the mandate because it made sense and would work, and we were reluctant to let go of it. Then, there were people who bought onto it slowly, for political advantage, and were immediately willing to abandon it as soon as the political advantage went the other way. And then there’s a third group that thought it made sense and then thought it through and changed their minds.” Explaining his decision to vote against the law, Bennett, who was facing a Tea Party challenger in a primary, says, “I didn’t focus on the particulars of the amendment as closely as I should have, and probably would have voted the other way if I had understood that the individual mandate was at its core. I just wanted to express my opposition to the Obama proposal at every opportunity.” He was defeated in the primary, anyway.

But, whatever the motives of individual politicians, the end result was the same: a policy that once enjoyed broad support within the Republican Party suddenly faced unified opposition—opposition that was echoed, refined, and popularized by other institutions affiliated with the Party. This is what Jason Grumet, the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a group that tried to encourage Republicans and Democrats to unite around policy solutions, calls the “think-tank industrial complex”—the network of ideologically oriented research centers that drive much of the policy debate in Washington. As Senator Olympia Snowe, of Maine, who has announced that she is leaving the Senate because of the noxious political climate, says, “You can find a think tank to buttress any view or position, and then you can give it the aura of legitimacy and credibility by referring to their report.” And, as we’re increasingly able to choose our information sources based on their tendency to back up whatever we already believe, we don’t even have to hear the arguments from the other side, much less give them serious consideration. Partisans who may not have strong opinions on the underlying issues thus get a clear signal on what their party wants them to think, along with reams of information on why they should think it.
On a related note: how broccoli became part of the health care debate.

On the manifold idiocies associated with trying to run the University of Virginia in line with the latest fad in management consulting. Strategic dynamism is bunk when applied to academia:
I shall have to ignore a series of complications in that demand in order to discuss my larger point. The first complication is the idea that at a university founded by Thomas Jefferson–a man deeply in love with Greek and Latin–members of its Board would consider the classics obscure. The second complication is the idea that members of UVA’s board would find obscure the study of the language of the dominant economic power of Europe, one that is for better or worse (mostly for worse) running the European response to the Great Recession. The third complication is that UVA may, in fact, be required to study both of those subjects by state law and thus pressing the President to cut them seems incitement to a crime of some sort (misdemeanor or felony, I wonder?). The fourth complication is that both disciplines are remarkably cost-efficient. You don’t need lots of expensive heavy machinery, labs, equipment, or supplies to teach either. Instead, you need cheap labor (even tenured faculty are cheap by private standards; we won’t even get into the appallingly low costs of contingent faculty), and some modest infrastructure. Classics at UVA almost certainly makes a profit (based on the number of majors in this story) and German probably does as well.

But, no, I’m skipping over them, complications though they are. They obscure in this instance the purpose of higher education. That purpose is the creation, preservation, and transmission of knowledge, both for the current generation and future ones. This is not merely for current or prospective students, but for American (and even global) society in general. These lofty ambitions are frequently met more in the breach than the observance, and academia has all sorts of corruptions and problems unique to itself, but they nonetheless exist. One of the fundamental parts of that responsibility is actively to study, save, and talk about the obscure, the lost, the unpopular, and the unfashionable. In fact, in many ways that is the most important responsibility. Famous, popular, and fashionable knowledge tends to preserve itself, at least in the short term. Marginalized knowledge disappears. If classics was truly obscure, that would be all the more reason for the University of Virginia to study it. There are, of course, all sort of limits on this, but the fundamental point remains. Cutting things simply because they are obscure, lost, unpopular, and unfashionable, the heart of the market’s discipline, cuts out the core of the scholarly discipline. If business and academia function exactly as they should, especially if they function exactly as they should, they are antithetical to each other. The American secular religion may be business and its temple Wall Street, but scholars and their institutions should avoid genuflecting. There are few universities in the United States with more such responsibility than one birthed by a founding father.
Siva Vaidhyanathan has more on the silliness of strategic dynamism in academia (h/t Srijan):
I have spent the past five years immersed in corporate new-age management talk. For my recent book, The Googlization of Everything—and Why We Should Worry, I immersed myself in the rhetoric of Silicon Valley and the finance culture that supports it. I subjected myself to reading such buzzword-dependent publications as Fast Company. So I had heard about “strategic dynamism” before. I can’t say that I understand it fully. But if my university is going to be governed by a mysterious buzzphrase, I had better try.

Strategic dynamism, or, as it is more commonly called, “strategic dynamics,” seems to be a method of continually altering one's short-term targets and resource allocation depending on relative changes in environment, the costs of inputs, and the price you can charge for outputs. In management it means using dynamic graphs to track goals and outcomes over time, and having the ways and the will to shift resources to satisfy general goals via many consecutive short-term targets. Most management textbooks offer equations one may use to dynamically chart and execute strategy. And for all I know it makes a lot of sense.

Consider sailing, which one might do if one is a hedge fund billionaire from Connecticut. In sailing one sets a general course to a distant target but tacks and shifts depending on the particular environmental changes. I understand why “dynamic” is better than “static.” Who wants a static sailboat? But is a university, teeming with research, young people, ideas, arguments, poems, preachers, and way too much Adderall ever in danger of being static?

The inappropriateness of applying concepts designed for firms and sailboats to a massive and contemplative institution as a university should be clear to anyone who does not run a hedge fund or make too much money. To execute anything like strategic dynamism, one must be able to order people to do things, make quick decisions from the top down, and have a constant view of a wide array of variables. It helps if you understand what counts as an input and an output. Universities have multiple inputs and uncountable and unpredictable outputs. And that’s how we like them.
Kieran Healy chimes in with Thomas Jefferson's masterwork re-written for our new era of strategic dynamism.

A better way to deal with the tricky issue of gender-testing and athletics — should an athlete's self-identification be enough?:
We agree that sports need clear rules, but we also believe that the rules should be fair and as rational as possible. The new policy, if it is based on testosterone levels, is neither.

So what is a better solution?

First, at the very least, female athletes should be allowed to compete throughout any investigation. Suspending them from competition once questions are raised violates their confidentiality and imposes sanctions before relevant information has been gathered.

Second, when it comes to sex, sports authorities should acknowledge that while science can offer evidence, it cannot dictate what evidence we should use. Scientifically, there is no clear or objective way to draw a bright line between male and female.

Testosterone is one of the most slippery markers that sports authorities have come up with yet. Yes, average testosterone levels are markedly different for men and women. But levels vary widely depending on time of day, time of life, social status and — crucially — one’s history of athletic training. Moreover, cellular responses range so widely that testosterone level alone is meaningless.

Testosterone is not the master molecule of athleticism. One glaring clue is that women whose tissues do not respond to testosterone at all are actually overrepresented among elite athletes.

As counterintuitive as it might seem, there is no evidence that successful athletes have higher testosterone levels than less successful ones.

Yes, doping with testosterone will most likely improve your performance by increasing muscle size, strength and endurance. But you cannot predict how well athletes will do in a competition by knowing their relative testosterone levels. There is just too much variation in how bodies make and respond to testosterone — and testosterone is but one element of an athlete’s physiology.

Third, if we want a clear answer to who is eligible for women’s competitions, it is time to stop pawning this fundamentally social question off onto scientists.

Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian who is a professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto, favors prioritizing athletes’ rights to bodily integrity, privacy and self-identification, and promoting broad inclusiveness. “If the proclaimed human right of self-expression is to mean anything, surely it should protect the right to name one’s own gender,” he says.

We agree. At present, though, because most nations do not offer their citizens the right of self-defining gender, the best bet might be to let all legally recognized women compete. Period.

Fourth, any policies must be developed through a transparent process with broad input. A major problem with the I.O.C.’s effort to create a new policy is its opaqueness. Which types of expertise and evidence were drawn on? What issues were considered?

Finally, the I.O.C. and other sports governing bodies should denounce gender bashing among athletes, coaches, the news media and fans. Policing women’s testosterone would exacerbate one of the ugliest tendencies in women’s sports today: the name-calling and the insinuations that an athlete is “too masculine,” or worse, that she is a man. (Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia recently said that she lost at the French Open because her opponent “played like a man.” Such comments do not do female athletes any favors.)

Sex testing of female athletes will always be discriminatory. Under the new policy, men will most likely continue to enjoy freedom from scrutiny, even though they, too, have greatly varying testosterone levels, along with other variations in natural attributes that affect athletic performance.

Sex tests are based on the notion that fair competition requires “protecting” female athletes. Protection has been the cloak that covers all manner of sex discrimination, and it is seldom, if ever, the best way to advance equality.

What are these tests protecting women from? Men infiltrating women’s competitions? A century of monitoring competitions for sex fraud says no. Will superwomen crowd out other athletes? No again. Women who have been ensnared by sex-testing dragnets have often been impressive, but not out of line with other elite female athletes.

What about letting go of the idea that the ultimate goal of a fair policy is to protect the “purity” of women’s competitions? If the goal is instead to group athletes so that everyone has a chance to play, to excel and — yes — to win, then sex-segregated competition is just one of many possible options, and in many cases it might not be the best one.

Rigidly protecting the principle of sex segregation sometimes undermines female athletes, as with the recent rule that women’s marathon records cannot be set in races that include men; the rule could have eliminated Paula Radcliffe’s best time, in 2003, which beat the record by three minutes.

Sex segregation may obscure other gender inequities in sports. Men, for example, have 40 more events in the Olympics and have longer distances and durations — with no clear rationale.

Sex segregation is probably a good idea in some sports, at some levels and at some moments. But it is time to refocus policy discussions at every level so that sex segregation is one means to achieve fairness, not the ultimate goal. Ensuring gender equity through access to opportunity is just as important.

Unlike in doping cases, women with hyperandrogenism have not cheated. There is no reason to disqualify women whose bodies produce any of the complex ingredients that add up to athleticism, be they superb vision, big lungs, flexibility, long legs or testosterone.

The obsessive focus on sex has done enough harm. María José Martínez-Patiño, whose hurdling career was derailed by sex testing, said a new policy based on testosterone levels would further the “decades-long persecution of women in sports.” As she told us, “It’s enough.”
More on sex and the Olympics here. And a new study on sexist and racist tropes trotted out in televised Olympic coverage here.

Land grabs are not benign foreign direct investment.

The dark side of “green grabs”.

Walking and biking are un-American. Real Americans drive, drive, drive, so the House GOP is opposed to anything but subsidizing automobile transport.

Action at the global level may be lacking, but a number of major cities are working seriously to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

The editor in chief of Conservation Biology wanted authors to keep blatant advocacy out of the research articles published in the journal. She subsequently lost her job.

[T]he regime metaphor as a means of understanding, critiquing, and enabling efforts at social transformation.”

What drives climate change-related emissions, population or affluence? Yes.

Potential links between pollution and obesity, as mediated by epigenetics.

And similarly, evidence of toxic exposures and epigenetic changes.
Human decisionmaking and the environments of cities.

Clean coal means earthquakes? No, thanks. How about renewables instead?

Renewables may be doing better than was previously reported.

The impacts of climate change-induced depleted snowpack on hydropower.

The era of Big Dams in the West may be over, so now it's on to Big Pipeline.

How much water is in your hamburger?

The impending death of the Salton Sea.

Disputes regarding environmental protection lead, on average, to more than a death per week globallyTime's environment blog has more.

Americans are embracing planning. Well, it depends.

North Carolina choosing to willfully ignore climate change helps no one.

Depleting global fish stocks.

A ban of fishing discards could lead the way to sustainable fisheries in Europe.

Acidifying oceans mean more anemones.

Kudos to PLoS for turning an eye to Big Food.

EWG on the pesticides in your food.

Tom Philpott discusses the EWG report — and makes the much-needed point that workers' chemical exposures are sadly overlooked.

The UCS on the myths perpetuated by biotech on GMOs.

A new report in Nature suggests GM crops like Bt corn do, in fact, reduce pesticide use.

Even Mother Jones is willing to defend Bt corn.

The Economist on planetary boundaries.

And on the melting Arctic.

Testing a new approach to fire management.

The connections between climate change and wildfires. (This 60 Minutes piece, from about five years ago, was one of the better treatments of climate change, human actions, and wildfire I can recall coming across.)

Western Australia's forest collapse.

Researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre respond to some of the recent critiques of their work.

The EPA says meeting its new soot standard will be easy.

And the new soot standard has serious benefits for human health.

A first step: financial institutions recognize that natural capital has value.
Everyone's embracing natural capital.

The boondoggle of crop insurance.

Indirect subsidies for Big Pollution.

A French experiment in redesigning the bus stop.

Falcons are good for New Zealand's wine.

My friend Doug Mack gets interviewed in the WaPo.

And he wraps up his recent media appearances and give a plug for Poop Strong here.

An incredibly brave, powerful, and brutally honest look at one woman's decision to undergo an abortion, published in Boing Boing of all places.

The War On Women reaches dizzying heights of cruelty as the GOP stakes out a seemingly pro-rape stance. If you're not willing to help women who've been raped and actively working against measures to provide such women with help, you're functionally pro-rape.

The value of post-cancer rehab.

More and more radiation via diagnostic testing.

The importance of making clear your end-of-life choices before the end of life.

Private prisons by the numbers.

The unabashed cruelty and malice of Jim Crow redux: meet Alabama's Juan Crow.

The courageous and unstoppable DREAMers.

Those who stood, those who fell: fatal cases of Stand Your Ground in Florida.

David Simon on Baltimore crime statistics.

What exactly is executive privilege?: A primer.

Assessing the Obama administrations claims on drone deaths.

And in graphic form.

TNC on how conservative bigots always play the victim. And more.

Mocking Thomas Friedman.

Global language diversity dies a bit every couple of weeks.

Sequencing the human microbiome.

Don't be hating on parasites.

The unscientific myth of evil salt.

On the potential problems and pitfalls of Big Data.

Internet usage of depressive people is different.

A pretty picture of the Arctic before the sea ice all disappears.

On fair use, reproduction, and re-contextualization in art.

Pretty pictures of NYC.

Some pretty crazy photos of the flooding in Duluth. (h/t BBlo)

An absolutely fantastic cover of Neil Young's “Heart of Gold” by the Polyphonic Spree:

Heather's Happy Link of the Day: an interview with indie-rock greatest (only?) hype man, the beloved Bob Nastanovich on horse racing, the Silver Jews, and Pavement.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Lin Ostrom succumbs to pancreatic cancer.  Perhaps most telling of her wide-ranging impact is the fact of the 14-and-counting different people I saw post about her on Facebook on Tuesday, they represented at least seven different disciplines. Though perhaps just as tellingly, I didn't see a single economist make mention of her death. (Given the uproar — and often sexist contempt — in certain sectors of the economic discipline when she was awarded the Nobel a few years back, no one should find this to be surprising.)

I had the good fortune of meeting Lin a number of times over the past several years, and while many are focusing on her immense academic impact (and justly so), I'm glad to see that there are nearly as many who have focused on her incredibly generous character. Two ASU folks, Marco Janssen and Michael Schoon, both of whom were greatly influenced by Lin, share their thoughts on Lin Ostrom the human being.

Decades of research demonstrate that a variety of overlapping policies at city, subnational, national, and international levels is more likely to succeed than are single, overarching binding agreements. Such an evolutionary approach to policy provides essential safety nets should one or more policies fail.


Sustainability at local and national levels must add up to global sustainability. This idea must form the bedrock of national economies and constitute the fabric of our societies. The goal now must be to build sustainability into the DNA of our globally interconnected society. Time is the natural resource in shortest supply, which is why the Rio summit must galvanize the world. What we need are universal sustainable development goals on issues such as energy, food security, sanitation, urban planning, and poverty eradication, while reducing inequality within the planet’s limits.


Setting goals can overcome inertia, but everyone must have a stake in establishing them: countries, states, cities, organizations, companies, and people everywhere. Success will hinge on developing many overlapping policies to achieve the goals. We have a decade to act before the economic cost of current viable solutions becomes too high. Without action, we risk catastrophic and perhaps irreversible changes to our life-support system. Our primary goal must be to take planetary responsibility for this risk, rather than placing in jeopardy the welfare of future generations.”
In a short interview a few years ago with Yes! Magazine, she pithily captured some of the most fundamental insights of her work — this should be required reading for those who aren't especially familiar with her important contributions.

One of Ostrom's last big contributions was her work part of the Planet Under Pressure conference held in London earlier this spring, a large focus of which was on planetary boundaries. Simon Lewis argues we must be careful and thoughtful in thinking about planetary boundaries:
[The planetary] boundaries concept has two important flaws, and using it uncritically could unwittingly undermine Rio's twin goals of environmental stewardship and ensuring a good life for everyone.

The first flaw, from a human-welfare perspective, is that not all of the identified parameters are true thresholds that, once passed, can be recovered to move back to Holocene-like conditions. Some parameters are fixed limits, not boundaries. Take disruption of the phosphorus cycle: this is represented in the planetary boundaries concept as the quantity of phosphates flowing into the oceans from crop-fertilizer run-off, which can cause algal blooms and an oxygen deficit for marine life. Framed in this way — 'don't destroy the marine environment' — the boundary makes sense. But more serious for humanity is that phosphorus is a key plant nutrient. Fertilizer is produced from rock phosphate, which forms on geological time scales. When it is gone, it is gone. This does not represent a threshold boundary: it is a depletion-limit. Humanity cannot use more rock phosphate than there is.

This distinction between thresholds (which we can breach), and fixed limits (which we cannot) may seem academic, but it has important policy implications. To highlight a boundary on phosphate pollution, for example, would drive investment in technology to combat the impact on marine environments, but do nothing to stop the running down of rock-phosphate supplies. To emphasize the depletion limit would shift the focus to technology to use and re-use phosphorus to safeguard stocks.

Similarly, at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London in March, US scientist Steven Running proposed a new planetary boundary: terrestrial net primary productivity (NPP), or more simply, plant growth. Despite massive agricultural expansion in the past century, global NPP has not dramatically increased. It is a ceiling limit. Thus, the allocation of NPP to benefit biodiversity or food, fibre, fodder and fuel for humans is essentially a zero-sum activity. Yet Rockström's published planetary boundary suggests that we could expand croplands by 400 million hectares before reaching the threshold — something that would seriously harm biodiversity.

The second weakness relates to scale. True threshold boundaries come in two types. Some are unambiguously global, such as climate change, which is driven by well-mixed greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Others, such as nitrogen pollution, are global only if local problems are widely replicated. Even if nitrogen-fertilizer run-off is cleaned up in China's Yangtze River, it has no direct impact on nitrogen pollution in Nigeria's Niger Delta. These are regional problems, but in aggregate can be of global significance. The planetary boundaries concept does note that whereas climate change, ocean acidification and stratospheric ozone depletion are 'systemic processes', the rest are 'aggregate processes'. However, each published safe threshold is based on a single global number, and will probably be treated accordingly.

A global focus on nine boundaries could spread political will thinly — and it is already weak. There is no need for all the world's countries to enter protracted legal discussions on aggregate boundaries: those affected by regional problems should work among themselves to solve them. Global negotiations should focus on managing the clear global planetary boundaries of climate change and ocean acidification, as well as biodiversity loss, which has global drivers.

The concept of planetary boundaries and avoiding dangerous thresholds is important but limited. Furthermore, a narrow focus on maintaining Holocene-like conditions risks side-lining key problems such as the 'plastic soup' of particulate waste that stretches across the Pacific Ocean. This does not fit the boundaries model, because there was no plastic during the pre-industrial Holocene. A simple transfer of a neat scientific idea into the policy arena could cause as many problems for policy-makers as it solves.

As the world heads into the second United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio later this month, the collective failure to fulfil those initial pledges is all too evident. Countries have increased the rhetoric and their political commitments, but there is little to show for 20 years of work, apart from an impressive bureaucratic machine that has been set to indefinite idle. On urgent environmental issues, the world has perfected the art of incremental negotiation and redefined circular motion. Meanwhile, as documented elsewhere in this issue, pressure on the planet continues to build, greenhouse-gas emissions are still rising and species are still disappearing.

In short, development continues apace, as it must and should in order to lift the world's poorest out of poverty, but it is hardly sustainable. The goal of stabilizing greenhouse-gas emissions seems just as daunting today as it did two decades ago, and people continue to devour the world's remaining wild habitat at an alarming pace.


Despite progress on some issues — ozone loss, for example — the disconnect between science and politics seems to be growing, not shrinking. The accumulating evidence screams that the consequences of inaction could be dire. As each day passes, the problems become more expensive to solve and the number of available options decreases. New clean-energy technologies could make all the difference to climate, but many governments in the industrialized world are investing less money in clean energy now than they were just a few years ago.

In 1992, Nature warned against thinking that a single summit could eradicate poverty and redistribute wealth while setting specific limits on greenhouse gases. The expectations for Rio+20 are so low that almost any agreement or affirmation would qualify as a success. The fact is that politicians know what needs to be done, and countries committed to doing it 20 years ago; what is missing is political leadership and solutions that are cheap, scalable and politically viable. For the second time, the world has a chance to craft a workable agenda, but the elusive key to success lies in finding a way to overturn the widespread reluctance to make the necessary investments in time, money and intellect to get the job done.

Alex Steffen offers some thoughts on Twitter about historical and future emissions:

I shared a link to the Food Chain Workers Alliance's report on the treatment of workers in the food system yesterday, but it's nice to see Mark Bittman — as influential a voice as there is in contemporary food politics — write it up, as well. Far too many in the foodie/locavore/ethical eating communities ignore labor and, generally speaking, any humans in the food system other than consumers; a truly comprehensive look at a just, equitable, sustainable food system must consider how the workers in the system are treated:
Many people in the nascent food movement and in the broader “foodie” set know our farmers’ (and their kids’) names and what their animals eat. We practically worship chefs, and the damage done to land, air and water by high-tech ag is — correctly — a constant concern.

Yet though you can’t be a card-carrying foodie if you don’t know the provenance of your heirloom tomato, you apparently can be one if you don’t know how the members of your wait staff are treated. We don’t seem to mind or even notice that our servers might be making $2.13 an hour. That tip you debate increasing to 20 percent might be the difference in making the rent.

It’s true that a bit of attention has been paid to farmworkers — with some good results — and occasionally you read about the horrors of life in a slaughterhouse. But despite our obsession with food, the worker is an afterthought.

The Hands That Feed Us, and the work being done on the ground by groups like ROC-U — which contributed to the report and helped create the Food Chain Workers Alliance in 2008 — may signal the beginning of a change.

Take that $2.13 figure, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers. Legally, tips should cover the difference between that and the federal minimum wage, now a whopping $7.25. If they don’t, employers are obligated to make up the difference. But that doesn’t always happen, leaving millions of servers — 70 percent of whom are women — taking home far less than the minimum wage.

Which brings us to the happily almost-forgotten Herman Cain. What’s called the “tipped minimum wage” — that $2.13 — once increased in proportion to the regular minimum wage. But in 1996, the year Cain took over as head of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), he struck a deal with President Bill Clinton and his fellow Democrats. In exchange for an increase in the regular minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage was de-coupled. The result: despite regular increases in the regular minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage hasn’t changed since 1991.

Other disheartening facts: Around one in eight jobs in the food industry provides a wage greater than 150 percent of the regional poverty level. More than three-quarters of the workers surveyed don’t receive health insurance from their employers. (Fifty-eight percent don’t have it at all; national health care, anyone?) More than half have worked while sick or suffered injuries or health problems on the job, and more than a third reported some form of wage theft in the previous week. Not year: week.

There are societal considerations as well as moral ones: Food workers use public assistance programs (including, ironically, SNAP or food stamps), at higher rates than the rest of the United States work force. And not surprisingly, more than a third of workers use the emergency room for primary care, and 80 percent of them were unable to pay for it. These are tabs we all pick up.
Ten years after the publication of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, which along with Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, helped to kickstart today's foodie culture, it's a shame that labor issues — something that Schlosser explored in great depth — are given such scant attention. Those who decry the supposed power of Big Labor should take a look at the exploitation of the many million cogs in the machine chewed up and spat out each year and explain why it is that they believe labor has too much power in this country.

It’s time to start thinking about the unthinkable. Speaking of which, Christopher Mims does some good and interesting thinking in this post.

He frames things this way: The Earth has a certain amount of biological productivity, based on the energy it receives from the sun. Insofar as we degrade or destroy bits of that natural life-support system, we have to reconstitute its “ecosystem services” some other way, mainly through technology. Unfortunately, the Earth is better than us at creating a system in which humans can thrive; biology, after all, is just extremely advanced technology, in comparison to which our machines are clumsy and wasteful. Replacing ecosystem services with technological services — replacing freshwater with desalinized water, say — will exhaust an increasingly large portion of our inventive capacity, time, and work.

Here’s how Mims puts it:
In a hundred years, the biggest industries will all be devoted to the cybernetic enhancement of the planet itself. Whatever limbs we sever now, whatever critical systems we wreck, are going to have to be replaced. Imagining that they might even be upgraded underestimates the unfathomable parallel processing power of 4 billion years of evolution on this planet, which is essentially a vast computer for determining the optimal solution to the problem of resource allocation. So no, I don’t think we’re going to do better.
We might survive in a such a world, might even materially prosper (there are always underground colonies!), but it’s worth asking whether a fully cybernetic world is one we ought to choose. Is our own survival and material prosperity all we care about? Or is biodiversity worth something in its own right?

I guess if I differ with Mims anywhere it’s that I’m not quite so fatalistic, at least on even-numbered days. Like him, I think we’re clever enough to avoid a complete collapse of human population and wealth. But I also think we’re clever enough to at least envision a world in which we slow our degradation of ecosystem services, avoid global tipping points, and develop technology that is regenerative, working with nature, like nature, rather than clumsily trying to replace it.

What stands in the way of that vision is not lack of ingenuity or technology. It is myopia and tribalism. For most of our evolutionary history, it was small bands, maybe dozens, to whom we extended our trust and concern. In the Anthropocene, we’ve seen examples of tribal loyalty to city-states and nation-states, to races and religions, but only very rarely to humanity as such, much less to the entire biosphere. We are not accustomed or well-suited to thinking of “life on Earth” as the appropriate scope for fellow-feeling.

There’s no way we can rewire the human brain in the short time we have left to act. But we can cybernetically enhance our collective cognition and decisionmaking with information technology; we can reform our laws and governments; we can teach our children better. The first step is simply to take responsibility, to recognize that there is no longer any Other. There’s no them — no foreigners, no outsiders, no exogenous threats, no enemies. There’s only us, the crew of Spaceship Earth, hurtling through space, alone.
Arguments against the individual mandate used to be batshit crazy. They still are, but batshit crazy is now respectable GOP discourse:
The changing perception of the individual mandate is an example of one of the most important features of American constitutional law -- the movement of constitutional claims from "off the wall" to "on the wall." Off-the-wall arguments are those most well-trained lawyers think are clearly wrong; on-the-wall arguments, by contrast, are arguments that are at least plausible, and therefore may become law, especially if brought before judges likely to be sympathetic to them. The history of American constitutional development, in large part, has been the history of formerly crazy arguments moving from off the wall to on the wall, and then being adopted by courts. In the process, people who remember the days when these arguments were unthinkable gape in amazement; they can't believe what hit them.

American history is full of examples, ranging from the idea that governments can't engage in sex discrimination to the view that the Second Amendment protects an individual right of self-defense to the notion that states can't make homosexual sodomy illegal. In fact, this month the First Circuit Court of Appeals struck down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill supported by politicians from both parties only 16 years ago and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The First Circuit's decision is only one sign among many that a federal constitutional right of gays to marry is no longer unthinkable.

But how do constitutional arguments like the challenge to the individual mandate move from off the wall to on the wall? Law, and especially constitutional law, is grounded in judgments by legal professionals about what is reasonable: these judgments include what legal professionals think is obviously correct, clearly wrong, or is a matter of dispute on which reasonable minds can disagree. But what people think is reasonable depends in part on what they think that other people think. Arguments move from off the wall to on the wall because people and institutions are willing to put their reputations on the line and state that an argument formerly thought beyond the pale is not crazy at all, but is actually a pretty good legal argument. Moreover, it matters greatly who vouches for the argument -- whether they are well-respected, powerful and influential, and how they are situated in institutions with professional authority or in institutions like politics or the media that shape public opinion. The Obama Justice Department has now officially taken the view that discrimination against homosexuals should be subjected to close judicial scrutiny, and the president has recently declared himself in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages. Together these announcements give enormous momentum to the decades-long struggle for constitutional rights for gays and lesbians.


[T]he single most important factor in making the mandate opponents' constitutional claims plausible was strong support by the Republican Party, including its politicians, its affiliated lawyers, and its affiliated media. The unconstitutionality of the mandate quickly became virtually the official position of the Republican Party. As Republicans sought to prevent passage of the Affordable Care Act, Republican politicians who had previously supported an individual mandate now denounced it as the most egregious assault on the Constitution in recent memory, and the measure was enacted without a single Republican vote in either House. After the bill passed, over 20 Republican governors and state attorneys general joined together to challenge the mandate in federal court. It also didn't hurt that constitutional opposition to the mandate was good politics; it attracted the energy of Tea Party voters, which in turn helped the Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections.

Strong political party support also affects the treatment of constitutional claims by the media, and media organizations also play important roles in moving constitutional arguments from off the wall to on the wall. Once a major political party insists that a controversial piece of legislation is unconstitutional, the media is likely to take the argument seriously -- especially media with strong links to the party and its political fortunes. Conservative media, including Fox News, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, conservative talk radio, and the right wing of the blogosphere, helped publicize and lend additional authority to the arguments against the mandate. Meanwhile, conservative lawyers and intellectuals continuously restated and refined their arguments in the blogosphere, influencing other legal professionals and ordinary citizens in ways that were not possible before the Internet.

Mainstream media unaffiliated with the Republican Party were required by conventions of journalistic objectivity to cover the debate, and routinely quote opinions from both sides. Continuous reporting on the challenge as a viable controversy helped ensure that the unconstitutionality of the mandate would be widely viewed as an issue on which reasonable minds could disagree.


Was there a magic moment when the challenge to the mandate moved from off the wall to on the wall? There are many possible candidates. But the most important ingredient was the overwhelming support of the Republican Party and its associated institutions for the challenge. In the United States, parties are a central driver of constitutional change, both through the constitutional claims they get behind and through the judges they help appoint to hear those claims. Will yet another formerly off-the-wall argument become embedded in our nation's fundamental law? We'll soon find out.

Big Pharma buys itself favorable results in the peer-reviewed literature:
Drug companies occasionally conduct post-marketing studies to collect data on the safety and efficacy of drugs in the real world, after they’ve been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “However,” writes the anonymous author in the British Medical Journal, “some of the [post-marketing] studies I worked on were not designed to determine the overall risk:benefit balance of the drug in the general population. They were designed to support and disseminate a marketing message.”

Promotion enters into the picture as the company recruits doctors to enroll their patients into the study – a job for which they’re paid. The company tells doctors about the qualities of their drug, and the doctor relays that information to their patients.

According to the whistleblower, the results of these studies were often dubious. “We occasionally resorted to ‘playing’ with the data that had originally failed to show the expected result,” he says. “This was done by altering the statistical method until any statistical significance was found.” He adds that the company sometimes omitted negative results and played down harmful side effects. After all, post-marketing studies don’t face the scrutiny that pre-approval studies do.

The United States government has never acknowledged any error in detaining Mr. Boumediene, though a federal judge ordered his release, for lack of evidence, in 2008. The government did not appeal, a Defense Department spokesman noted, though he declined to answer further questions about Mr. Boumediene’s case. A State Department representative declined to discuss the case as well, except to point to a Justice Department statement announcing Mr. Boumediene’s transfer to France, in 2009.

More than a decade has passed since his arrest in Bosnia, since American operatives shackled his feet and hands, dropped a black bag over his head and flew him to Guantánamo. Since his release three years ago, Mr. Boumediene, an Algerian by birth, has lived anonymously in the south of France, quietly enraged but determined to start anew and to resist the pull of that anger.

He calls Guantánamo a “black hole.” Islam carried him through, he says. In truth, though, he still cannot escape it, and is still racked by questions. “I think back over everything in my life, all the stages, who my friends were, who I did this or that with, who I had a simple coffee with,” Mr. Boumediene said. “I do not know, even now, why I was at Guantánamo.”

THERE were early accusations of a plot to bomb the American Embassy in Sarajevo; he lived in that city with his family, working for the Red Crescent, the Muslim branch of the Red Cross. President George W. Bush hailed his arrest in a State of the Union address on Jan. 29, 2002.

In time, those accusations disappeared, Mr. Boumediene says, replaced by questions about his work with Muslim aid groups and suggestions that those groups financed Islamic terrorism. According to a classified detainee assessment from April 2008, published by WikiLeaks, investigators believed that he was a member of Al Qaeda and the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria. Those charges, too, later vanished.

In a landmark case that bears Mr. Boumediene’s name, the Supreme Court in 2008 affirmed the right of Guantánamo detainees to challenge their imprisonment in court. Mr. Boumediene petitioned for his release.

In court, the government’s sole claim was that Mr. Boumediene had intended to travel to Afghanistan to take up arms against the United States. A federal judge rejected that charge as unsubstantiated, noting that it had come from a single unnamed informer. Mr. Boumediene arrived in France on May 15, 2009, the first of two non-French former detainees to settle here.

Mr. Boumediene retreated into himself at Guantánamo, he says. He speaks little of his past now; with few exceptions, his neighbors know him only as a husband and a father. He lives with the wife and two daughters from whom he was once taken, and a son born here two years ago. More than vengeance, or even justice, he wants a return to normalcy.

He lives at the whim of the French state, though. France has permitted Mr. Boumediene to settle in public housing in Nice, where his wife has family, but he is not a French citizen, nor has he been granted asylum or permanent residence. His Algerian and Bosnian passports, misplaced by the American authorities, have not been reissued, leaving him effectively stateless.

Money comes in a monthly transfer to his French bank account. He does not know who, exactly, pays it. (The terms of his release have not been made public or revealed even to him.) He has been seeking work for years.


“He has no hate for the American people,” she said, though Mr. Bush is another matter. Mr. Boumediene has been disappointed too by President Obama, who pledged to close Guantánamo but has not done so.

Sure Jeb Bush is sort-of calling out the GOP for being absolutely batshit crazy, but as Amanda Marcotte reminds us, what he's really doing is placing the blame on liberals; don't believe his bullshit:
This is the sort of thing that more liberal-leaning media loves to highlight for its neener-neener quality, which I don't have a problem with per se. It is relevant to note that even many Republicans are alarmed at the right wing bent of their party. But one needs to be careful to look at these stories critically, especially when considering ludicrous arguments like suggesting that Reagan was anything but a right wing radical who laid the groundwork for decades of racism-tinged fighting over what should be non-controversial social safety net programs. Also, Bush's only real intention here is to blame Obama:
"His first year could have been a year of enormous accomplishment had he focused on things where there was more common ground," he said, arguing that Obama had made a "purely political calculation" to run a sharply partisan administration.
The problem with that comment is it's a pure, unadulterated lie. Obama didn't run a sharply partisan administration, but instead spent his first years in office dicking around trying to get Republican votes on various bills, working under the false assumption that Republicans give a flying fuck about this country and can be coaxed into supporting bills that prevent its destruction. It's only really been the last year that the administration gave up running to the press with the reach-across-the-aisle rhetoric to admit what anyone paying attention has seen since day one, which is that Republicans will fight Obama on anything, but especially on any idea that they believe would do the country good. They want to burn the country to the ground so they can blame him for it, full stop. No other motivations are in play. That's why, when Obama takes an idea Republicans came up with that actually seemed mildly pro-save-America, they fought him on those, too. Bush is just pulling the same old victim-blaming trick of claiming that reactionary extremism is the fault of progressives for having the nerve to ask for things, much less get them, no matter how mild. He should be paid no mind, and certainly not rewarded from this left for this nonsense.

Racial disparities in the burden posed by toxic flame retardants.

It's all about differential exposure.

And low exposures may be enough to cause adverse health impacts.

Fire retardants are in your food.

Thanks to the recent Chicago Tribune series, more attention is being paid to toxic flame retardants.

Rising temperatures and reduced river flows make electricity production vulnerable to climate change. The NYTimes adds more.

Conflict on interest questions and potential bias color the response to a supposedly independent new report on fracking.

The arrogance of scientists when the interact with arrogant members of Congress.

The ArtPlace partnership announces the recipients of some big grants intended to help build sustainable communities in a thoughtfully holistic manner.

$150k of ArtPlace money goes to our neighborhood!

Redevelopment in Denver that considers community voices and equity concerns.

Millions of new jobs from a green economy.

Romney is no moderate on energy policy, he's your standard batshit crazy Republican.

The Philadelphia experiment to end food deserts.

“The number of chickens produced  annually in the United States has increased by more than 1,400 percent since 1950 while the number of farms producing those birds has dropped by 98 percent” and other disturbing facts about factory farming and chickens.

The impact of Chipotle on the antibiotic-free meat market.

Overfishing and trophic cascades in a Cape Cod salt marsh.

Trees don't like noise pollution.

The biodiverse city.

Ecotourism to the most disturbed of environments: “Just because a place is polluted does not mean it is not interesting or fun to visit, or not worth caring about. People still live in these places, he reminds us, and nature persists.”

Pushing for sustainable forestry in Borneo.

“Wildlife-friendly farming” is great for rare species.

The FDA turns a blind eye towards science.

More wildfires in the west. Thanks, climate change!

Climate change, Arctic melt, and geopolitical implications.

The Clean Water Act turns 40.

For some strange reason, people in Wyoming don't want to drink nasty fracking-polluted water.

There's a better way to pay for DC's clean water. As Lin Ostrom would remind us, the scale of governance needs to match the scale of the resource being managed; that's not necessarily the case here: “Current fragmented efforts do not match the scale of the problem. Water may not be constrained by boundaries, but communities and utilities are. They have no authority beyond their own borders or narrow rate bases, yet they must address water issues that span multiple states and stem from multiple causes, including agricultural runoff, sewage, and storm water runoff and erosion.”

Water in Seattle in far more expensive than water in area's endowed with far less of the resource.

Water conservation in Oklahoma.

Is the news on clean water as good as the claims make it out to be?

Blood diamonds have an environmental toll, as well.

Greening the soda can.

When intuition conflicts with reality.

RealClimate offers a primer on sea-level rise.

Your annual physical exam and the battery of tests that may accompany it? Probably unnecessary.

Urging doctors to do less: “It is time for us to own up to our shortcomings in cancer screening, and we must start by acknowledging a hard fact: Doctors sometimes don’t know best. We are terrific at inventing new tests that can be performed on people. But we have been less good at figuring out which people should have them.

Eliminating unnecessary testing, waste, and other inefficiencies means not only better care, but cheaper healthcare.

Patients' voices aren't a large part of medical decisions.

Waiting for healthcare with the uninsured.

While cutbacks affect the insured, as well.

Discounts on medical treatment for the uninsured. Trust me, it's not really that great.

The consequences of striking down the ACA.

In an effort to further codify efforts to deprive women control over their bodies, the NRO argues that whatever women do it's probably abortion and should be illegal.

Welfare is bad when it goes to those poor people who don't make campaign contributions; welfare is wonderful when it goes to the plutocrats who own our political system.

Public goods are apparently a category error, according to the new GOP dogma that only recognizes value in that which is derived from or created by the private sector and labels public goods as inefficient shuffling around of other resources.

Are economists capable of learning from their mistakes?

At least 2,000 wrongful convictions that we know of in the past two decades.

The politics behind support for the welfare state.

Greenwald: Sullivan and other cheerleaders of government overreach are making the wrong consequentialist argument; if anything, it's the constant warmongering and killings of countless Muslims that will lead to another 9/11.

The president can do whatever he wants, the war on leaks, and the ever-expanding security state.

Assigning proper responsibility: Bush, not Obama, warrants more blame for our economic woes.

The triumph of drone warfare and an assassin president.

On fairness and equality in our political debates.

Where's racial gentrification occurring?

Cities must refuse to be held hostage by sports teams.

Questions regarding Columbia University's ties to JPMorgan.

Academic freedom under fire at UC-Davis.

It's not sugars that make heirloom tomatoes taste sweeter, it's the volatile organic compounds that modern-day breeding techniques have eliminated from the dominant hybrid tomatoes.

Play with the Census' American Community Survey data, in a very cool interactive graphic from the NYTimes.

Watching the transit of Venus.

The geography of the American prison-industrial complex.

Travel guidebooks as a window into how foreign visitors view the US. (h/t Patrice)

Acceptance of gay teammates among NFL stars.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Van Morrison (h/t Wifey): “I have long stopped asking what it is about listening to Van Morrison that I find so satisfying. Yes, it is the quality of his voice, now deepened and resonant with age, the unforced musicality and the yearning emotional intensity. But what is important is that I still love the music. As he says in a song celebrating the glories of an English summer, "It ain't why, it just is".

Some 40 years later, Ziggy  is still brilliant. (h/t Wifey)

Revisiting MBV. (h/t Wifey)

The legacy of Nudie Cohn and those beautiful suits. (h/t Wifey)

Elliott Carter turns 103.

NPR Music's top albums of 2012, so far.

And NPR Music's top tunes of the year so far.

Reggie Watts shows us how to do a real cover version.

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: Now That's What I Call Two Princes: