Saturday, June 16, 2012

nerd scientist, evil scientist....,

wired | To many – too many – science is something like North Korea. Not only is it impossible to read or understand anything that comes out of that place, there are so many cultural differences that it’s barely worth trying. It’s easier just to let them get on with their lives while you get on with yours; as long as they don’t take our jobs or attack our way of life, we’ll leave them in peace.

That’s very frustrating to scientists, who often bemoan the lack of public interest in what science has to say. They’re right to be frustrated: all our futures are dependent on proper engagement with science. So, how to solve this problem?

In recent years, like fervent evangelicals, scientists have begun to instigate outreach programs. If people could only hear about how exciting science is, the thinking goes, they’ll be converted. Then we’ll finally be able to get on with tackling climate change, creationism in the classroom, stem cell research and so on.

The trouble is, those who are already fans of science lap it up while everyone else shrugs – and nothing has really changed. That’s because the problem doesn’t lie with the science. It lies with the scientists. Or rather the myth the scientists have created around themselves.

Just over a decade ago, a cadre of researchers carried out an interesting experiment at an elementary school in Raleigh, North Carolina. They showed the students a gallery of 10 portraits and asked them to identify which ones were scientists. The portraits were all scientists, in fact. However, the children “showed a decided tendency to identify the smiling pictures as not being scientists.” Clearly, scientists are not people who smile.

Then there’s the ongoing and ever-entertaining “Draw A Scientist” experiment. It’s been done in various ways since 1957, and the result has always been pretty much the same. Ask children in second grade and upwards to draw a scientist, and you are presented with a white male wearing a white lab coat, glasses and an excess of facial hair. This stereotype persists: when Seed magazine asked adults in New York’s Madison Square Park to take the test, they came out with the same stereotype. Hilariously, even scientists do it.

But this comical spectacle takes a more sinister turn when you ask children to draw a second scientist. In one fourth grade class set this task, almost half the children drew images containing danger and threat: Frankensteins, bombs, poisons and even one scientist holding a test tube high over his head while shouting, “With this I destroy the world”.

We are not consciously aware of it, but we have a deeply-rooted suspicion of scientists. They are not like us. They are not fun, they are not well turned-out human beings, and if pushed, we will admit we think they are dangerous. To find where this came from, we have to visit the post-war period of our history.

In a piece written for the January 1956 edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists the geneticist Jacob Bronowski makes a rather shocking claim. “People hate scientists,” he says. “There is no use beating about the bush here.”

This attitude arose, Bronowski said, as people learned about some of the recent achievements of science: atomic bombs, rocket-powered missiles, nerve gas tests carried out on unwitting soldiers and civilians and gruesome experiments on prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates. No wonder Winston Churchill declared in 1951 that it was “arguable whether the human race have been gainers by the march of science beyond the steam engines”. Fist tap Dale.

Friday, June 15, 2012

u.s colleges put low priority on student learning

aera-l | Norman Stahl of the LrnAsst-L list pointed to Julie Mack's report "U.S. colleges put low priority on student learning, say authors of 'We're Losing Our Minds' ". Mack writes that Richard Hersh, co-author with Richard Keeling of "We're Losing Our Minds" commented at a recent Educational Writers Association convention: "Higher education really needs to question its priorities, rewards, structures, principles and values. Learning itself must become a primary touchstone for decision-making."

Among other recent books critical of higher education are: (a) "Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids - and What We Can Do About It" (Hacker & Dreifus, 2010); (b) "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses" (Arum & Roksa, 2011), and (c) "College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be" (Delbanco, 2012).

Richard Wolin, in his insightful review of Delbanco's book, has this to say about the current state of higher education: "America's most prominent philosopher of democracy, John Dewey, devoted a considerable portion of his oeuvre to reflecting on the methods and goals of public education. . . . . In his view, the pedagogical key to cultivating the virtues of active citizenship lay with the antiauthoritarian, dialogic approach of the Socratic method: Dewey believed that democratic education, instead of acquiescing to the mind-numbing requirements of rote instruction, should focus on honing critical thinking, thereby nurturing autonomy. . . . ...although contemporary educators might agree about the indispensable value of liberal learning, if directly challenged to define its content and purport, they become stricken with paralysis. . . . THE END RESULT HAS BEEN THE CONFUSED INTELLECTUAL SMORGASBORD THAT DEFINES UNDERGRADUATE STUDY TODAY. . .[My CAPS]. . . Regrettably, one of the major casualties of the restructuring of undergraduate education along vocational and pre-professional lines has been Dewey's ideal of liberal study as training for democratic citizenship."

study drugs

NYTimes | A 16-year-old, determined to succeed on her own merits, who finally bends under the pressure. Students with legitimate prescriptions who are hounded for their pills. Young men and women whose use of stimulants spirals out of control.

After inviting students to submit personal stories of the abuse of prescription drugs for academic advantage, The Times received almost 200 submissions. While a majority focused on the prevalence of these drugs on college campuses, many wrote about their increasing appearance in high schools, the focus of our article on Sunday. We have highlighted about 30 of the submissions below, almost all written by current high school students or recent graduates.

In often vivid detail — snorting their own pills, stealing pills from friends — the students described an issue that they found upsetting, valuable, dangerous and, above all else, real. Most of them claimed that it was a problem rooted not in drugs per se, but with the pressure that compelled some youngsters to use them. — Alan Schwarz

louisiana dismantling public education

reuters | Louisiana is embarking on the nation's boldest experiment in privatizing public education, with the state preparing to shift tens of millions in tax dollars out of the public schools to pay private industry, businesses owners and church pastors to educate children.

Starting this fall, thousands of poor and middle-class kids will get vouchers covering the full cost of tuition at more than 120 private schools across Louisiana, including small, Bible-based church schools.

The following year, students of any income will be eligible for mini-vouchers that they can use to pay a range of private-sector vendors for classes and apprenticeships not offered in traditional public schools. The money can go to industry trade groups, businesses, online schools and tutors, among others.

Every time a student receives a voucher of either type, his local public school will lose a chunk of state funding.

"We are changing the way we deliver education," said Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who muscled the plan through the legislature this spring over fierce objections from Democrats and teachers unions. "We are letting parents decide what's best for their children, not government."


The concept of opening public schools to competition from the private sector has been widely promoted in recent years by well-funded education reform groups.

Of the plans so far put forward, Louisiana's plan is by far the broadest. This month, eligible families, including those with incomes nearing $60,000 a year, are submitting applications for vouchers to state-approved private schools.

That list includes some of the most prestigious schools in the state, which offer a rich menu of advanced placement courses, college-style seminars and lush grounds. The top schools, however, have just a handful of slots open. The Dunham School in Baton Rouge, for instance, has said it will accept just four voucher students, all kindergartners. As elsewhere, they will be picked in a lottery.

Far more openings are available at smaller, less prestigious religious schools, including some that are just a few years old and others that have struggled to attract tuition-paying students.

The school willing to accept the most voucher students -- 314 -- is New Living Word in Ruston, which has a top-ranked basketball team but no library. Students spend most of the day watching TVs in bare-bones classrooms. Each lesson consists of an instructional DVD that intersperses Biblical verses with subjects such chemistry or composition. Fist tap Big Don.

how to cheat in online courses...,

freakonomics | An article in Chronicle of Higher Education explains how the increase in online courses has made cheating a lot easier. For example, Bob Smith (not his real name) successfully arranged a test-cheating scheme with several friends. The tests “pulled questions at random from a bank of possibilities” and could be taken anywhere, but had to be taken within a short window of time each week:

Mr. Smith figured out that the actual number of possible questions in the test bank was pretty small. If he and his friends got together to take the test jointly, they could paste the questions they saw into the shared Google Doc, along with the right or wrong answers. The schemers would go through the test quickly, one at a time, logging their work as they went. The first student often did poorly, since he had never seen the material before, though he would search an online version of the textbook on Google Books for relevant keywords to make informed guesses. The next student did significantly better, thanks to the cheat sheet, and subsequent test-takers upped their scores even further. They took turns going first. Students in the course were allowed to take each test twice, with the two results averaged into a final score.

“So the grades are bouncing back and forth, but we’re all guaranteed an A in the end,” Mr. Smith told me. “We’re playing the system, and we’re playing the system pretty well.”

Researchers who study cheating are urging cooperation. “Historically this kind of research has been a bit of a black box,” says Neal Kingston, an education professor at the University of Kansas and the director of the school’s Center for Educational Testing Evaluation. “It’s important that the research community improve perhaps as quickly as the cheating community is improving.” Fist tap Big Don.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

arnach makes another modest proposal

Almost exactly a year ago that I proposed a subreal summer reading list. I hope y'all read, enjoyed, and learned something from those books. Especially you, BD.

This year, I would like to ask all subrealists to submit "The One Book" that all other subrealists should read. For me, the suggestion is easy:Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Check out the NY Times review and yesterday’s New Yorker blog “Why Smart People are Stupid” by Jonah Lehrer.

You may need to read it more than once to absorb it all, but this book will change how you think. Good luck, and I look forward to your suggestions.

why smart people are stupid

New Yorker | Here’s a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

For more than five decades, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this and analyzing our answers. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way we think about thinking. While philosophers, economists, and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents—reason was our Promethean gift—Kahneman, the late Amos Tversky, and others, including Shane Frederick (who developed the bat-and-ball question), demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether. Asked about the bat and the ball, we forget our arithmetic lessons and instead default to the answer that requires the least mental effort. Fist tap Dale.


New Yorker | In the late nineteen-forties, Alex Osborn, a partner in the advertising agency B.B.D.O., decided to write a book in which he shared his creative secrets. At the time, B.B.D.O. was widely regarded as the most innovative firm on Madison Avenue. Born in 1888, Osborn had spent much of his career in Buffalo, where he started out working in newspapers, and his life at B.B.D.O. began when he teamed up with another young adman he’d met volunteering for the United War Work Campaign. By the forties, he was one of the industry’s grand old men, ready to pass on the lessons he’d learned. His book “Your Creative Power” was published in 1948. An amalgam of pop science and business anecdote, it became a surprise best-seller. Osborn promised that, by following his advice, the typical reader could double his creative output. Such a mental boost would spur career success—“To get your foot in the door, your imagination can be an open-sesame”—and also make the reader a much happier person. “The more you rub your creative lamp, the more alive you feel,” he wrote.

“Your Creative Power” was filled with tricks and strategies, such as always carrying a notebook, to be ready when inspiration struck. But Osborn’s most celebrated idea was the one discussed in Chapter 33, “How to Organize a Squad to Create Ideas.” When a group works together, he wrote, the members should engage in a “brainstorm,” which means “using the brain to storm a creative problem—and doing so in commando fashion, with each stormer attacking the same objective.” For Osborn, brainstorming was central to B.B.D.O.’s success. Osborn described, for instance, how the technique inspired a group of ten admen to come up with eighty-seven ideas for a new drugstore in ninety minutes, or nearly an idea per minute. The brainstorm had turned his employees into imagination machines.

The book outlined the essential rules of a successful brainstorming session. The most important of these, Osborn said—the thing that distinguishes brainstorming from other types of group activity—was the absence of criticism and negative feedback. If people were worried that their ideas might be ridiculed by the group, the process would fail. “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom while discouragement often nips it in the bud,” he wrote. “Forget quality; aim now to get a quantity of answers. When you’re through, your sheet of paper may be so full of ridiculous nonsense that you’ll be disgusted. Never mind. You’re loosening up your unfettered imagination—making your mind deliver.” Brainstorming enshrined a no-judgments approach to holding a meeting. Fist tap Arnach.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

long awaited return to wonderful strange ports of call...,

gmanetwork | In the early years of China's rise to economic and military prowess, the guiding principle for its government was Deng Xiaoping's maxim: "Hide Your Strength, Bide Your Time."

Now, more than three decades after paramount leader Deng launched his reforms, that policy has seemingly lapsed or simply become unworkable as China's military muscle becomes too expansive to conceal and its ambitions too pressing to postpone.

The current row with Southeast Asian nations over territorial claims in the energy-rich South China Sea (also called West Philippine Sea) is a prime manifestation of this change, especially the standoff with the Philippines over Pantag (Scarborough) Shoal.

"This is not what we saw 20 years ago," said Ross Babbage, a defense analyst and founder of the Canberra-based Kokoda Foundation, an independent security policy unit.

"China is a completely different actor now. Security planners are wondering if it is like this now, what is it going to be like in 20 years time?"

As China also continues to modernize its navy at breakneck speed, a growing sense of unease over Beijing's long-term ambitions has galvanized the exact response Deng was anxious to avoid, regional security experts say.

In what is widely interpreted as a counter to China's growing influence, the United States is pushing ahead with a muscular realignment of its forces towards the Asia-Pacific region, despite Washington's fatigue with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Pentagon's steep budget cuts.

And regional nations, including those with a history of adversarial or distant relations with the United States, are embracing Washington's so-called strategic pivot to Asia.

"In recent years, because of the tensions and disputes in the South China Sea, most regional states in Southeast Asia seem to welcome and support US strategic rebalancing in the region," said Li Mingjiang, an assistant professor and China security policy expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"Very likely, this trend will continue in coming years."

Last week, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta laid out the details of the firepower the Obama administration plans to swing to the Asia-Pacific region.

As part of the strategic pivot unveiled in January, the United States will deploy 60 per cent of its warships in the Asia-Pacific, up from 50 per cent now. They will include six aircraft carriers and a majority of the US navy's cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and submarines.

china excluded from iran oil trade waivers

NYTimes | Less than three weeks before stringent American sanctions intended to reduce Iran’s oil exports take effect, the Obama administration announced on Monday that it would exempt seven major importers of Iranian oil — but not China — from the measures because these countries had “significantly reduced” their oil purchases from Iran.

Administration officials said the United States was continuing to negotiate with China, the world’s No. 1 buyer of Iranian oil, after a confusing period in which Chinese purchases dropped sharply during a price dispute with Tehran but later rebounded.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the administration had issued waivers to India, Malaysia, South Korea, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan. They joined Japan and 10 European countries that the United States had previously said would be exempt from sanctions for six months.

“Today’s announcement underscores the success of our sanctions implementation,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement. “By reducing Iran’s oil sales, we are sending a decisive message to Iran’s leaders: until they take concrete actions to satisfy the concerns of the international community, they will continue to face increasing isolation and pressure.”

Still, the absence of China from the waiver list indicates the hurdles the administration faces in persuading Iran’s largest customer to curtail its purchases. And it sets up a potential collision with China, which along with the United States is a member of the group of major powers that is negotiating with Iran over the future of its nuclear program.

industrial scars...,

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

is the chinese kleptocracy like nothing in human history?

Business Insider | China is a kleptocracy of a scale never seen before in human history. This post aims to explain how this wave of theft is financed, what makes it sustainable and what will make it fail. There are several China experts I have chatted with – and many of the ideas are not original. The synthesis however is mine. Some sources do not want to be quoted.

The macroeconomic effects of the Chinese kleptocracy and the massive fixed-currency crisis in Europe are the dominant macroeconomic drivers of the global economy. As I am trying a comprehensive explanation for much of the world's economy in less that two thousand words I expect some kick-back.

China is a kleptocracy. Get used to it.

I start this analysis with China being a kleptocracy – a country ruled by thieves. That is a bold assertion – but I am going to have to assert it. People I know deep in the weeds (that is people who have to deal with the PRC and the children of the PRC elite) accept it. My personal experience is more limited but includes the following:

(a). The children and relatives of CPC Central Committee members are amongst the beneficiaries of the wave of stock fraud in the US,

(b). The response to the wave of stock fraud in the US and Hong Kong has not been to crack down on the perpetrators of the stock fraud (so to make markets work better). It has been to make Chinese statutory accounts less available to make it harder to detect stock fraud.

(c). When given direct evidence of fraudulent accounts in the US filed by a large company with CPC family members as beneficiaries or management a big 4 audit firm will (possibly at the risk to their global franchise) appear to sign the accounts knowing full well that they are fraudulent. The auditors (including and arguably especially the big four) are co-opted for the benefit of Chinese kleptocrats.

This however is only the beginning of Chinese fraud. China is a mafia state – and Bo Xilai is just a recent public manifestation. If you want a good guide to the Chinese kleptocracy – including the crimes of Bo Xilai well before they made the international press look at this speech by John Garnaut to the US China Institute.

if europe is a culture of peace, why nato?

aljazeera | It is undoubtedly true that the greatest unacknowledged achievement of the European Union is to establish "a culture of peace" within its regional enclosure for the 68 years since 1944. This has meant not only the absence of war in Europe, but also the absence of "war talk", threats, crises, and sanctions - with the single important exception of the NATO Kosovo War of 1999 that was part of the fallout from the breakup of former Yugoslavia. This legally controversial intervention was undertaken by the US-led alliance to achieve several goals: to rescue Albanian Kosovars from a feared imminent humanitarian catastrophe at the hands of their oppressive Serb occupiers; to facilitate the de facto independence of Kosovo from Serbian rule; to demonstrate the post-Cold War viability of NATO; and to reinforce the victory claims of the 1991 Gulf War, thereby showing that the West could win wars with minimal casualties on its side due to a recently acquired technological ability to shift the human burdens of war almost entirely to the adversary.

The contrast with the first half of the 20th century is stark when Europe seemed definitely the global cockpit of the war system in the East-West struggle for global supremacy. Tens of millions of Western soldiers and civilians died in response to the two German attempts by force of arms to gain a bigger role within this European nexus of geopolitics, as organised in the West. Germany challenged the established order, not only by recourse to massive aggressive wars in the form of World Wars I and II, but also by establishing a political infrastructure that gave rise in the 1930s to the violently genocidal ideology of Nazism, the most diabolical rendering of fascism.

'Culture of peace'

Even during the Cold War decades, Europe was not really at peace, but always at the brink of an unimaginably devastating third world war.

For the more than four decades of the Cold War there existed a constant threat of a war fought with nuclear weapons, a conflict that could have produced the scourge of apocalyptic warfare resulting from provocative US-led deployments of nuclear weapons or inflammatory Soviet interventions in Eastern Europe, or even from the periodically tense relations in the divided city of Berlin, or due to such mundane causes as human error and technological accident as with the misidentification of innocent behaviour as hostile.

Russia warns US over missile-defence shield

Also, to some extent the Soviet Union, with its totalitarian variant of state socialism, was as much European as it was Asian, and thus to a degree the Cold War was being fought within Europe, although its violent dimensions were prudently "outsourced" to the global periphery.

Despite the current plans to surround Russia with "defensive" missile systems, purportedly to construct a shield to stop Iranian missiles, there seems little threat of any war being fought within European space, and even a war-threatening diplomatic confrontation seems improbable at this point.

In many respects, the EU has incubated a culture of peace in its homeland, which although partial and precarious, has been transformative for Europeans - even if this most daring post-Westphalia experiment in regional integration and sovereignty has been wrongly assessed. It is almost always evaluated from an economistic perspective best appreciated by examining trade and investment statistics, monetary union, and regional economic management.

Monday, June 11, 2012

the solution is collapse

oftwominds | So the root problem is the system, human nature, blah blah blah. There are no "solutions" that can fix those defaults. Thus the "solution" is collapse.

Policies create incentives and disincentives. Some are intended, some fall into the category of unintended consequences. Regardless of their intention, policies that create windfalls ("easy money") or open spigots of "free money" (or what is perceived as free money by the recipient) quickly gather the allegiance of everyone reaping the windfall or collecting the free money.

This allegiance is soon tempered into political steel by self-justification: humans excel at rationalizing their self-interest. Thus my share of the swag is soon "absolutely essential."

Humans don't need much incentive to pursue windfalls or free money--seeking windfalls in the here and now is our default setting. Taking the pulpit to denounce humanity's innate greed, avarice and selfishness doesn't change this, as seeking short-term windfalls has offered enormous selective advantages for hundreds of thousands of years.

That which is painful to those collecting free money will be avoided, and that which is easy will be pursued until it's painful. Borrowing $1.5 trillion a year from toddlers and the unborn taxpayers of the future is easy and painless, as toddlers have no political power. So we will borrow from the powerless to fund our free money spigots until it becomes painful.

It won't become painful to borrow from our grandkids for quite some time, and it will probably not become progressively painful, either, because we will suppress the pain with superlow interest rates and other trickery. The pain will more likely be of the sudden, unexpected, "this can't be happening to me" heart-attack sort: the free-money machine will unexpectedly grind to a halt in some sort of easily predictable but always-in-the-future crisis.

in u.s. 46% hold creationist view of human origins

Gallup | Despite the many changes that have taken place in American society and culture over the past 30 years, including new discoveries in biological and social science, there has been virtually no sustained change in Americans' views of the origin of the human species since 1982. The 46% of Americans who today believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years is little changed from the 44% who believed this 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question.

More broadly, some 78% of Americans today believe that God had a hand in the development of humans in some way, just slightly less than the percentage who felt this way 30 years ago.

All in all, there is no evidence in this trend of a substantial movement toward a secular viewpoint on human origins.

Most Americans are not scientists, of course, and cannot be expected to understand all of the latest evidence and competing viewpoints on the development of the human species. Still, it would be hard to dispute that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution. Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.

the theory of "intelligent falling"

the onion | As the debate over the teaching of evolution in public schools continues, a new controversy over the science curriculum arose Monday in this embattled Midwestern state. Scientists from the Evangelical Center For Faith-Based Reasoning are now asserting that the long-held "theory of gravity" is flawed, and they have responded to it with a new theory of Intelligent Falling.

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

Burdett added: "Gravity—which is taught to our children as a law—is founded on great gaps in understanding. The laws predict the mutual force between all bodies of mass, but they cannot explain that force. Isaac Newton himself said, 'I suspect that my theories may all depend upon a force for which philosophers have searched all of nature in vain.' Of course, he is alluding to a higher power."

Founded in 1987, the ECFR is the world's leading institution of evangelical physics, a branch of physics based on literal interpretation of the Bible.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

joseph stiglitz: the price of inequality

project-syndicate | America likes to think of itself as a land of opportunity, and others view it in much the same light. But, while we can all think of examples of Americans who rose to the top on their own, what really matters are the statistics: to what extent do an individual’s life chances depend on the income and education of his or her parents?

Nowadays, these numbers show that the American dream is a myth. There is less equality of opportunity in the United States today than there is in Europe – or, indeed, in any advanced industrial country for which there are data.

This is one of the reasons that America has the highest level of inequality of any of the advanced countries – and its gap with the rest has been widening. In the “recovery” of 2009-2010, the top 1% of US income earners captured 93% of the income growth. Other inequality indicators – like wealth, health, and life expectancy – are as bad or even worse. The clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom.

It would be one thing if the high incomes of those at the top were the result of greater contributions to society, but the Great Recession showed otherwise: even bankers who had led the global economy, as well as their own firms, to the brink of ruin, received outsize bonuses.

A closer look at those at the top reveals a disproportionate role for rent-seeking: some have obtained their wealth by exercising monopoly power; others are CEOs who have taken advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance to extract for themselves an excessive share of corporate earnings; and still others have used political connections to benefit from government munificence – either excessively high prices for what the government buys (drugs), or excessively low prices for what the government sells (mineral rights).

Likewise, part of the wealth of those in finance comes from exploiting the poor, through predatory lending and abusive credit-card practices. Those at the top, in such cases, are enriched at the direct expense of those at the bottom.

It might not be so bad if there were even a grain of truth to trickle-down economics – the quaint notion that everyone benefits from enriching those at the top. But most Americans today are worse off – with lower real (inflation-adjusted) incomes – than they were in 1997, a decade and a half ago. All of the benefits of growth have gone to the top.

Defenders of America’s inequality argue that the poor and those in the middle shouldn’t complain. While they may be getting a smaller share of the pie than they did in the past, the pie is growing so much, thanks to the contributions of the rich and superrich, that the size of their slice is actually larger. The evidence, again, flatly contradicts this. Indeed, America grew far faster in the decades after World War II, when it was growing together, than it has since 1980, when it began growing apart.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, once one understands the sources of inequality. Rent-seeking distorts the economy. Market forces, of course, play a role, too, but markets are shaped by politics; and, in America, with its quasi-corrupt system of campaign finance and its revolving doors between government and industry, politics is shaped by money. Fist tap Arnach.

half of US social program recipients believe they "have not used a government social program"

boingboing | "Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era," a paper by Cornell's Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions Suzanne Mettler features this remarkable chart showing that about half of American social program beneficiaries believe that they "have not used a government social program." It's the "Keep your government hands off my Medicare" phenomena writ large: a society of people who subsist on mutual aid and redistributive policies who've been conned (and conned themselves) into thinking that they are rugged individualists and that everyone else is a parasite. Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era (PDF)

Friday, June 08, 2012

not a cost-effective way to address The Problem...,

the nation | The image of President Obama poring over baseball-card profiles of terror suspects in Jo Becker and Scott Shane’s now famous New York Times “kill list” exposé probably pleased the administration officials whose cooperation made the story possible, wrapping the president in glinting “warrior in chief” election year packaging. For those concerned about the constitutional protection of civil liberties and the rule of law, however, that image, and the extraordinary practices it represents, was profoundly disturbing. The drone policy the president has developed not only infringes on the sovereignty of other nations, but the assassinations violate laws put in place in the 1970s after scandals enveloped an earlier era of CIA criminality. The new details about Obama’s assassination program also remind us how the 2001 Congressional Authorization of the Use of Military Force established a disastrous policy of “borderless and open-ended war that threatens to indefinitely extend US military engagement around the world,” in the words of the only member of the House to vote against it, Barbara Lee.

The kill list makes a mockery of due process by circumventing judicial review, and turning the executive into judge, jury and executioner. Even worse, the “signature” strikes described in the Times article, in which nameless individuals are assassinated based merely on patterns of behavior, dispense with any semblance of habeas corpus altogether. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, signature strikes account for most of the attacks in Pakistan today, and they were recently approved for use in Yemen.

One of the darkest aspects of this story involves the administration’s method of counting civilian casualties: The CIA simply assumes that any military-age male in the vicinity of a terror suspect must be a militant too. Thus, counterterrorism chief John Brennan was able to state with a straight face in August 2011 that not one civilian had perished from US strikes outside Afghanistan and Iraq in more than a year—a declaration that was greeted with incredulity and outrage in Pakistan, where witnesses have attested to hundreds of civilian deaths. Fist tap Makheru.

transfer of the cost of the drug problem from the consuming to the producing countries

Guardian | The vast profits made from drug production and trafficking are overwhelmingly reaped in rich "consuming" countries – principally across Europe and in the US – rather than war-torn "producing" nations such as Colombia and Mexico, new research has revealed. And its authors claim that financial regulators in the west are reluctant to go after western banks in pursuit of the massive amount of drug money being laundered through their systems.

The most far-reaching and detailed analysis to date of the drug economy in any country – in this case, Colombia – shows that 2.6% of the total street value of cocaine produced remains within the country, while a staggering 97.4% of profits are reaped by criminal syndicates, and laundered by banks, in first-world consuming countries.

"The story of who makes the money from Colombian cocaine is a metaphor for the disproportionate burden placed in every way on 'producing' nations like Colombia as a result of the prohibition of drugs," said one of the authors of the study, Alejandro Gaviria, launching its English edition last week.

"Colombian society has suffered to almost no economic advantage from the drugs trade, while huge profits are made by criminal distribution networks in consuming countries, and recycled by banks which operate with nothing like the restrictions that Colombia's own banking system is subject to."

His co-author, Daniel Mejía, added: "The whole system operated by authorities in the consuming nations is based around going after the small guy, the weakest link in the chain, and never the big business or financial systems where the big money is."

The work, by the two economists at University of the Andes in Bogotá, is part of an initiative by the Colombian government to overhaul global drugs policy and focus on money laundering by the big banks in America and Europe, as well as social prevention of drug taking and consideration of options for de-criminalising some or all drugs.

The economists surveyed an entire range of economic, social and political facets of the drug wars that have ravaged Colombia. The conflict has now shifted, with deadly consequences, to Mexico and it is feared will spread imminently to central America. But the most shocking conclusion relates to what the authors call "the microeconomics of cocaine production" in their country.

Gaviria and Mejía estimate that the lowest possible street value (at $100 per gram, about £65) of "net cocaine, after interdiction" produced in Colombia during the year studied (2008) amounts to $300bn. But of that only $7.8bn remained in the country.

"It is a minuscule proportion of GDP," said Mejía, "which can impact disastrously on society and political life, but not on the Colombian economy. The economy for Colombian cocaine is outside Colombia."

Mejía told the Observer: "The way I try to put it is this: prohibition is a transfer of the cost of the drug problem from the consuming to the producing countries." Fist tap Dale.

golden dawn bout ready to start puttin in work...,

Thursday, June 07, 2012

our timebomb is mysticism. its delivery system is language...,

regmorrison | Exerpts from the book:

“… Here, evolution had hit on the sweetest of solutions. Such perceptions were guaranteed to produce a faith-dependent species that believed itself to be thoroughly separate from the rest of the animal kingdom, but followed its genetic instructions to the letter—and left more offspring as a consequence. Here was a gene-driven animal just like any other, yet one that believed itself to be under special guidance—guidance that was not merely ‘spiritual’, but in most instances ‘divine’. Here was a wonderfully practical insanity, an invincible, hereditary madness that eventually enabled this under-endowed ‘paragon of animals’ to devour the planet like a ripe fruit.

This breathtakingly innovative derangement—present in all mammals to some extent—seems to have switched into overdrive in humans to minimise the immense risks inherent in the major brain enlargement that began almost three million years ago. The human brain has doubled its volume and quadrupled the surface area of its rational cortex in that time, a degree of enlargement unprecedented in the evolution of any other species. If behavioral control had gradually transferred from the ‘instincts’ to the rational brain during this period—as is commonly assumed—I believe our end would have been bloody and swift. Even today, given our tenuous grasp of evolution and its complexities, the most genetically advantageous behavior usually lies far beyond the scope of instant rational computation. A million years ago too much rational thought would have been suicidal. In other words, without a genetic override mechanism securely wired into the brain of Homo erectus, that cortical enlargement would, I believe, have been lethal.

Armed with an X-factor, an automatic override device that cuts off rational thought at a moment’s notice and draws directly from a reservoir of pretested genetic behavior, we remained fully functional animals. It enabled us to continue to feed, mate, and reproduce without interference from our enlarged cortex. To put it yet another way, our neuronal circuitry remained ‘hot-wired’ to our genes so that we would not be handicapped by logic when genetic responses were called for. That is why, under the spell of our carefully programmed ‘spirituality’, we cannot help falling in love, yearning for sexual gratification, nurturing our children, forging tribal bonds, suspecting strangers, uniting against common enemies, and on occasions, laying down our lives for family, friends or tribe. No gene could ask for more.

* * *

So, although our species’ conquest of the planet might appear to represent the gradual triumph of the intellect over our brutish nature, in fact, precisely the reverse is true. Being primarily founded on, and driven by, mystical beliefs of one kind or another, human civilisation represents not so much a triumph of the mind over the body as the triumph of the gene over gene-threatening rational thought.

* * *

Precisely what we believe is immaterial; what matters is the kind of behaviour that belief generates. . . . As far as our genes are concerned we can believe that the universe is driven by an overweight fairy on a green cheese bicycle provided that such belief effectively coerces us into adopting tribal behaviour in all matters of evolutionary consequence, such as feeding, mating, nurturing, bonding, and protecting family, tribe and territory.

* * *

Despite the astonishing behavioral flexibility that has steered this maladapted primate so adroitly through some 2.5 million hazardous years, the animal is still vulnerable in the way that all animals are vulnerable: through its adaptive specialisations. By endowing the human brain with its language facility, evolution has ensured that human genes will continue to bypass the cerebral cortex at will, disguising fact with ‘significance’ and turning imagination into perceived fact. This prodigious talent for spiritualising its perceptions seems certain to keep this sapient primate safely sequestered from reality and well within reach of the biosphere’s standard forms of population control.

There were three evolutionary prerequisites for our particular flaw: in view of our physical inadequacy it needed to be extraordinarily beneficial to begin with, and even when switched into its destruct mode it had to remain well disguised and thoroughly tamper-proof. All of those evolutionary requirements have been fulfilled. Our timebomb is mysticism. Its delivery system is language. And its hiding place? The unfathomable coils of our DNA.” (The Spirit in the Gene, Cornell University Press, 1999)

the problems with The Problem

population elephant | Some things are so preeminent within their context that they need no adjectives or explanation. Ask any American football fan what is referred to by "The Play" and they will tell you abut the final play in the 1982 Cal/Stanford game when, after several laterals and a mad dash through the Stanford band, Cal scored the winning touchdown as time expired (do a Google search on "the play" and see for yourself). Likewise, "The Open" refers only to the British Open golf tournament, even though there are dozens of other "Open" athletic events.

The world today is beset with a host of major issues - oil depletion, climate change, food shortages, resource wars, species extinction - to name but a few. But these are only symptoms of the one true problem. "The Real Problem" - the one that spawns all others, and the one that mankind must face at some point - is that there are simply too many human beings on this planet.

Therefore, I suggest, that like "The Play" and "The Open" - hereafter overpopulation should be referred to as "The Problem".

Unfortunately, in today's world, we are content to address only the consequences of the The Problem - climate change, energy depletion, food shortages, etc. This is the same classic mistake that a physician makes in treating only the patient's symptoms, and ignoring the fundamental disease.

So then, the million dollar question is: "Why aren't we addressing the real problem?"

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

the high price of "dark fusion"

aljazeera | It was the height of the dot-com boom in the United States, but the bubble that fuelled the Clinton years wasn't fooling the American military. The top strategic planners of the day were still worried about potential threats to the US in the still young post-Cold War era - not despite, but because of the rapid spread of a still poorly understood globalisation.

Projecting ahead to the year 2020, the military planners and dozens of major corporations who were involved in the research argued that globalisation was making the world a more dangerous place precisely because it would widen the gap "between 'haves' and 'have-nots'" . This situation demanded that the US establish a "full spectrum dominance" over literally every plane of human existence - under and on the sea, on land, in the air and even in space.

Four years later, the September 11 attacks provided the pretext for launching a full spectrum war for global dominance that could not be launched during the "peace dividend" years of the Clinton presidency.

What documents such as the US Space Command's "Vision 2020" did not discuss was that the launching of a new "global war" would ultimately involve turning the American military, judicial and diplomatic machines on American citizens. It happened before: during the Vietnam and civil rights eras with the deployment of military-inspired SWAT units and COINTELPRO monitoring and infiltrations tactics against activist and minority communities.

During the last decade, more than 15 million Americans have entered the ranks of the global "have nots" whom Pentagon planners were, and no doubt remain, so worried about. It's no wonder that the militarisation of law enforcement, coupled with the reduction of constitutional protections for American citizens, have served as natural complements to large-scale incarceration and military recruitment as the best strategies for dealing with the problem of the unassimilable poor.

Yet at some point, gung-ho, ignorance-is-bliss patriotism, large scale imprisonment, foreign wars, even 1,000 TV channels and high speed internet won't keep people off the streets - especially in the wake of the worst recession in 70 years and a decade filled with multiple wars. And thus, the Occupy movement burst to life: inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and ultimately sparked by the same underlying global neoliberal system that has concentrated wealth and power and increasingly criminalised dissent everywhere.

Full spectrum propaganda
In Tunisia and Egypt, the "secret" or "security" police were infamous for ensuring that regime propaganda was put out as truth, and worse, for spying on citizens and abductions and long-term detention of anyone deemed a threat to the state. And yet now, as these countries struggle to create states that will be less inclined to inflict these practices on their citizens, the United States is moving in the direction they are trying to leave behind.

There are three new and interrelated threats to fundamental freedoms that are directly related to the ongoing war on terror; they involve attempts to permit the US government to deploy propaganda inside the United States, to increase the ability to spy on American citizens and to detain Americans indefinitely without trial for involvement in what until now have been constitutionally protected activities.

All three are direct results of a war on terror abroad that has morphed into a war on the have-nots and the want-nots - those who no longer want to be part of the existing system - at home. While the Obama Administration has not wholly embraced all three tactics, the groundwork is being laid for a full scale assault on the American people should the Republicans strengthen their control of the Congress and even win back the presidency this year.

Beginning with increased propaganda efforts, the most recent National Defense Authorization Act includes an amendment sponsored by Republican Representative Max Thornberry of Texas and Adam Smith, a Democrat from the state of Washington, referred to variously as the "Dissemination of Information Abroad" amendment, and as a separate bill, HR 5736, "The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012." Whatever one calls it, this legislation would overturn a 64-year old prohibition against the US government directly deploying propaganda material towards American citizens inside the United States, thereby "wiping out the distinction between domestic and foreign audiences".

Supporters of the change argue that it merely gets rid of an "artificial handicap to US global engagement while creating domestic awareness of international affairs". But in fact it does much more. It expands the authority to develop and disseminate propaganda from the Office of Public Diplomacy to the State Department as a whole and the Broadcasting Board of Governors - a presidentially-appointed body that includes entertainment executives, investment bankers and former White House press secretaries. These are people who have no institutional history of providing truthful or accurate information to the public, in or outside the United States. Fist tap Arnach.

no wonder the working man despises the elites

guardian | The European crisis is as much political as economic. It raises fundamental democratic questions. By what right do you govern us? How can we control you while you are in power and how can we remove you if your governance fails? Last week, Michael Ignatieff, former columnist on this newspaper and former leader of the Canadian Liberal party, came to London from a country where politicians can tell the electorate that they have limited powers to remedy their grievances and gazed on Europe with horror. "What," he asked, "is a working stiff in Piraeus meant to make of Christine Lagarde?"

His question answered itself. Madame Lagarde told Greek parents who were scrambling through rubbish tips to find food for their families that she had more sympathy for the children of sub-Saharan Africa. Having unburdened herself of the oafish thought that suffering is a competition in which the poorest can be used as a weapon against the poor, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund added: "I think they should also help themselves collectively. By all paying their tax." The knowledge that she does not pay tax herself in no way restrained her.

The better sort of journalist and, naturally, diplomats are appalled by the Greek charges of hypocrisy that followed. The world has tolerated an over-generous clause in the 1961 Vienna Convention that exempted "diplomatic agents" from tax for more than 60 years. In any case, they added, whether IMF officials and other diplomats pay tax has nothing to do with the eurozone's breakdown. They forgot that perks that no one notices in ordinary times can in crises become as intolerable as the tax exemptions of the aristocrats and clerics were to the French revolutionaries of 1789. In a crisis, the elite has to convince the masses that there is a rough equality of sacrifice – a connection between them and us – or lose legitimacy.

the limits to computation?

americanscientist | The Limits to Growth appeared at a moment of acute environmental foreboding. The previous decade had seen the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Garrett Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” essay, Paul R. Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and Barry Commoner’s The Closing Circle. This was the era when we began to refer to our planet as Spaceship Earth, and when Walt Kelly’s Pogo declared “We have met the enemy and he is us.” There was a receptive audience awaiting The Limits to Growth. The book has sold 10 million copies.

But if Limits has had a broad and sympathetic readership, it has also had vociferous critics. The most carefully argued rebuttal came from a group at the University of Sussex in England; their critique, Models of Doom, is longer than the book it evaluates. The economist William D. Nordhaus wrote a blistering review; the mathematician David Berlinski was snide and mocking. Vaclav Smil later dismissed the whole enterprise as “an exercise in misinformation and obfuscation.”

One complaint lodged against the World3 model is superfluous complication. If the intent is merely to show that exponential growth cannot continue forever, there’s no need for elaborate computing machinery. The model also stands accused of the opposite sin—oversimplification—in its wholesale aggregation of variables. In the resource sector, for example, the model lumps together all the raw materials of industrial civilization—coal and oil, iron and aluminum, diamonds and building stone—to form one generic substance measured in abstract “resource units.” Pollution is handled the same way, with a single variable encompassing everything from pesticides to nuclear reactor wastes. Quantities such as food per capita are global averages, with no way of expressing disparities of distribution. (A later Club of Rome model, written by Mihajlo Mesarovic and Eduard Pestel, did allow for regional differences.)

Still another line of criticism focuses on the inputs to the model—the initial conditions (such as the total stock of nonrenewable resources) and the numerical constants that determine the strength of interactions (for instance, the effect of pollution on agriculture). The Limits team made an effort to pin down these numbers, but huge uncertainties remain. There is no statistical analysis of these errors.

Both Forrester and the Limits group have responded to these objections, matching the vehemence—and occasionally the condescending scorn—of their critics. They stand by their models. When updated versions of the Limits book were published in 1992 and 2004, the authors reiterated their original conclusions and made only subtle changes to the model.

World3 now seems to be undergoing a revival. In 2009 Charles A. S. Hall and John W. Day, Jr., writing in American Scientist, defended the soundness of the model, particularly as it applies to energy resources. Graham Turner has compared predictions with data for 1970–2000 and reports a close match. Ugo Bardi, an Italian chemist, has recently issued a manifesto calling for the rehabilitation of The Limits to Growth.
The Dusty Deck

After 40 years of intense scrutiny, further probing of the World3 model is unlikely to yield big surprises. Nevertheless, nagged by a feeling that I still didn’t really understand the model, I decided to take it apart and put it together again.

When I wrote about Limits in 1993, I worked with a simulation package called Stella II, which offers a snazzy interface: You build a model by dragging icons of vats and valves across the screen. For my studies of World3 I was spared even that labor because a prebuilt version of the model came with the software. Stella II is still available, and so are competing products such as Modelica, Simgua and Vensim. These are impressive programs, recommended for serious work with system dynamics models. My aim, however, was not just to run or test the World3 model but to see how the parts fit together. I wanted to bake my cake from scratch, not from the Betty Crocker box.

The original World3 model was written in a language called DYNAMO, developed in the early 1960s by Phyllis Fox and Alexander Pugh for the Forrester group at MIT. The DYNAMO source code for the World3 model was published in Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World, a thick technical annex to The Limits to Growth. As a way of digesting the DYNAMO program, I decided to make a line-by-line translation into JavaScript, the scripting language built into Web browsers. (The result of this exercise is at

DYNAMO comes from the Fortran era, when programs were fed to the machine on punch cards, and variables had names like “FIALD” (which stands for “Fraction of Inputs Allocated to Land Development”). Beyond these musty lexical conventions, however, lies an interesting programming language, little known outside the system dynamics community. It is mainly declarative rather than procedural. A program is not a sequence of commands but a list of “equations” (really assignment statements) that specify relationships of variables. The sequencing is handled behind the scenes by the DYNAMO compiler.

The World3 program consists of about 150 equations. The vats and valves of the plumbing diagram correspond to “level equations” and “rate equations,” respectively. A level equation calculates a new value for the level in a vat based on the level at an earlier moment and on the rates of inflow and outflow. The calculation is an integration, which would be represented as follows in DYNAMO:

V.K = V.J + DT * (IN.JK – OUT.JK)

Here V is a level variable, IN and OUT are rate variables, and DT is the integration interval, the unit of time in the simulation. The suffixes .J, .K and .JK are time markers: V.J and V.K represent the level of V at successive instants, and IN.JK is a rate of flow during the interval between time J and time K.

Just as levels depend on rates of inflow and outflow, the flow rates in turn can depend on levels. (Think of a bucket with a hole in the bottom: The rate of flow depends on the height of water in the bucket.) This kind of feedback loop is what gives the system the potential for interesting behavior, but from a computational point of view it is an awkward causal circularity. DYNAMO breaks the circle by updating levels and rates in alternation. The level at time t0 determines the rate at t1, which determines the level at t2, and so on. Some conflicts are harder to resolve and require an explicit reordering of the equations, which DYNAMO handles automatically.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

will our kids be a different species?

Fist tap Dale.

is the human brain hardwired for god?

bigthink | Our Lady of Lourdes appears 18 times to a miller's daughter collecting firewood in a small market town in France. A young woman leads an army through critical strategic victories in the 100 Years' War, claiming to be guided by divine insight. In the very first hours of the 20th century, a student asks God to fill her with the holy spirit and begins to speak in tongues.

Are these incidents case studies in undiagnosed mental illness, spiritual transcendence, or something nebulously in between?

Monday, June 04, 2012

where the trough is overflowing (let my people go!)

NYTimes | Every five years or so, Congress promises a new, improved farm bill that will end unnecessary subsidies to big farmers, enhance the environment and actually do something to help small farmers and small towns. But what it usually does is find ways of disguising the old inequities, sending taxpayers dollars to wealthy farmers, accelerating the expansion of industrial farming, inflating land prices and further depopulating rural America.

The new five-year farm bill that could hit the Senate floor as early as this week promises more of the same — excessively generous handouts, combined with a serious erosion of environmental protections. The nearly trillion-dollar bill would provide over 10 years roughly $140 billion in farm subsidies, $55 billion or so in conservation programs and more than $750 billion in food stamp aid.

The subsidies have always been controversial. A mix of direct payments, price supports, loans, subsidized insurance and disaster relief, these subsidies provided protection for millions of farmers in the New Deal and afterward against the vicissitudes of the weather and the market. But in recent years, they have mainly lined the pockets of big farmers of big row crops who don’t need help, while ignoring the little guys who do.

As numerous studies from the Environmental Working Group have shown, the story of modern agriculture in this country is a story of concentration, of huge subsidies flowing to relatively few farmers who grow a handful of row crops — corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton and rice — in a dozen or so Midwestern and Southern states.

Because farm subsidies, old and new, have been tied to production, those cultivating the largest acreage get the biggest payouts. The top 20 percent of recipients from 1995 to 2010 got 90 percent of the subsidies; the bottom 80 percent just 10 percent. Many farmers — well over half the total, by some estimates — get no help at all.

The Senate bill leaves these basic contours unaltered. One positive change is the elimination of an indefensible program of “direct subsidies” that showered $5 billion a year on farmers in good times and bad. But big farmers won’t be worse off. The Senate Agriculture Committee redirected much of the savings into a different subsidy — crop insurance, which pays farmers if they have a loss in revenue or crop yield.

The existing crop insurance program, which pays on average 60 percent of the cost of insurance premiums for farmers, has risen from about $2.4 billion in 2001 to about $8.7 billion in 2011, and is expected to cost $9 billion annually in the coming years. The committee also added a second insurance-related program that could cost an additional $3 billion a year. The main beneficiaries of crop insurance will still be the big farmers, who take out the biggest policies.

this devil had the nerve to hollar "let my people go!"

Long, long ago(1980s) a 'Glorious Deal' was struck in Springfield, Illinois. Chicago wanted to get control of the failing Chicago Public Schools but suburban Republicans refused to allow Chicago Public Schools to 'secede'from the State Board of Education unless the State of Illinois agreed to pay for the teacher pensions of all suburban school districts and the pensions for all Illinois
public university and junior college teaching faculties.

The Illinois university/CC system also have the ability to tax to pay pensions but don't bother doing it.

Over the last 30 years, the entire Illinois State pension liability has risen to $53 billion dollars(2010) of which $38 billion(72%) was suburban/downstate teacher's pension and $14.3 billion(27%) was state university/CC faculty and all other state employee pensions(judges, state
troopers and other state workers) totalled <$1 billion(1%).

So what has this to do with downstate Republican State Rep Mike Bost's tirade(who squealed from the floor, 'Let my people go!') ?

At this time of great sacrifice(eg Medicare is getting slashed), IL House Majority Leader Mike Madigan inserted a 'poison pill' into the Pension bill ending 'the Glorious Deal' and forcing local school districts/colleges to pay the pensions of their own teachers (oh horror!). In Illinois schools are paid by property tax levy(schools are ~75% of property tax as is) and ending the Glorious Deal would unleash the Mother of All Property Tax Increases.

For Illinois conservatives this is a truly nuclear option.

Since Bost's Teapot explosion, Democratic Governor Quinn directed the Republican leader Tom Cross to try to mend the Pension bill without unloading the teacher pensions properly on to suburbanites/downstaters but Chicago's Madigan said he wants the poison pill included.

Quinn is terrified that not dealing with the Pension bill will cause Wall Street to downgrade the Illinois' terrible credit rating.

As of today there is still no compromise.

Mike Bost became unhinged at the possibility that his constituents' free ride was ending and for him to support that ending in the name of financial responsibilty would unleash a tsunami of property tax increases would amount to political suicide.

This is the real story of our current crisis---conservatives and the wealthy want to balance the books on the backs of the poor and middle class, 'let someone else pay for it!'( even though the poor simply haven't the money to do it) and given their superior lobbying abilities that is exactly what will happen.

The rich who fret over 'subsidies' to the poor and middle class, can't bear to lose a penny from the MUCH larger, MUCH more secret subsidies they suck from the system.

If this occurs, America will become more Haiti-like with the 99% masses sunk into the pit and the 1% comfortably living in chateaus. And these were also the condition in 1789 France.

"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche," said the Queen of France.

how corporate socialism works (let my people go!)

Reuters | A proposal to spend $250 million of taxpayer money on a retail project here illustrates the damage state and local subsidies do by taking from the many to benefit the already rich few.

Nationwide state and local subsidies for corporations totaled more than $70 billion in 2010, as calculated by Professor Kenneth Thomasof the University of Missouri-St. Louis

In a country of 311 million, that’s $900 taken on average from each family of four in 2010. There are no official figures, but this one is likely conservative because — as documented by Thomas, this column and Good Jobs First [1], a nonprofit taxpayer watchdog organization funded by Ford, Surdna and other major foundations — these upward redistributions of wealth keep increasing.

In Irondequoit, just outside Rochester, N.Y., and a few miles from where I live, developer Scott Congel wants $250 million in sales taxes to finance rebuilding the Medley Centre mall while adding condominiums and a hotel. Typically local governments issue bonds, which are paid off using sales tax receipts that are diverted from public purposes to the developer’s benefit.

Subsidies for retail businesses are the worst kind of corporate welfare because, as the end of the economic chain, retailing grows only when population and incomes increase. If population or income falls, then subsidies for new projects like Congel’s damage existing businesses, where people would otherwise be spending their money.

The mall, which struggled from the start, was built in 1990 for $140 million in today’s dollars. A Congel associate, Adam Bersin, bought it in 2005 for less than $6 million in today’s dollars. He then persuaded the Monroe County industrial development agency to issue $5.4 million in bonds and then flipped the real estate to Congel in 2007.

[2]Today the mall is empty, its doors sealed, except for a Sears at one end and a Macy’s at the other, each with a handful of customers during my visits.

Congel promised a $260 million project, but five years on nothing is built and Congel is seeking delays in fulfilling promises for which the mall was granted property tax breaks.

That’s how corporate socialism works – taxpayers contribute when the market rejects.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

goodbye faculty

Education is the means of propagating knowledge from one generation to the next. Education has grown exponentially, both in terms of its own food-powered/make-work employment base, and, in terms of the numbers of these humans receiving it. Sadly, for the most part, education methods and results have not improved.

Education is commonly regarded as a good. It is seen as being a means of ensuring the continuing development of society. Ironically, one of its continuing deficiencies is that as currently configured, it fosters the fallacious belief that society can continue to grow without paying ecological costs.

That hallucination is coming to an end, even though few currently understand that fact. Various forms of human growth - population, economies, affluence, information and misunderstanding are unsustainable and coming to an end. There will continue to be a place for various forms of education as society seeks to power down with as little pain as possible.

Knowledge of science and engineering principles will make primary contributions given increasing demand for frugal operation and maintenance of the vast infrastructure of civilization. However, economics based on unsound and fallacious principles must soon die.

Relearning how to use only natural forces to produce and distribute food will take curricular center stage. Research will cease to advance the frontiers of knowledge about extraneous issues as it seeks to make best use of what natural capital is still available. The redirection of education is bound to head the agenda as society slowly wakes up to what civilization has done wrong.

prosperouswaydown | Goodbye faculty, hello neoliberal MOOCs. I read a NY Times article last week and was clued into a recent ‘innovation’ in education which may soon be sweeping the globe. Massively Open Online Courses or MOOCs are being produced and promoted by some of the most prestigious universities in the world, such as a just announced MIT-Harvard ‘nonprofit’ partnership, and another with Stanford, Princeton, UPenn, and Michigan. MOOC courses include video lesson segments, embedded quizzes, immediate feedback and student-paced learning, and most so far have been produced in the areas of engineering, computers, software, etc, but courses in all fields are clearly coming. Most of the article is techy and upbeat, but they let this quote slip in. George Siemens, a MOOC pioneer ominously said, “But if I were president of a mid-tier university, I would be looking over my shoulder very nervously right now, because if a leading university offers a free circuits course, it becomes a real question whether other universities need to develop a circuits course.” Get it? This is the end of universities as we know them. A few top universities produce coursework for the world and there’s no need for any of the rest of you out there. Still, the reporter tries to keep it positive and ends with this quote, “What’s still missing is an online platform that gives faculty the capacity to customize the content of their own highly interactive courses.” That’s right, we’ll still need you to ‘customize’ the MOOC course for your classrooms.

So I started to search for articles on MOOCs. It’s all tech hype and whiz-bang. I could find nary a discouraging word. And I certainly could not find what I was really looking for, which is the corporate strategy behind all of this. Why are the big boys interested? I have some of my own ideas that I will try to relate and that refer particularly to issues of peak and descent.

markets and morals?

NYTimes | Does it bother you that an online casino paid a Utah woman, Kari Smith, who needed money for her son’s education, $10,000 to tattoo its Web site on her forehead?

Or that Project Prevention, a charity, pays women with drug or alcohol addictions $300 cash to get sterilized or undertake long-term contraception? Some 4,100 women have accepted this offer.

Michael Sandel, the Harvard political theorist, cites those examples in “What Money Can’t Buy,” his important and thoughtful new book. He argues that in recent years we have been slipping without much reflection into relying upon markets in ways that undermine the fairness of our society.

That’s one of the underlying battles this campaign year. Many Republicans, Mitt Romney included, have a deep faith in the ability of laissez-faire markets to create optimal solutions.

There’s something to that faith because markets, indeed, tend to be efficient. Pollution taxes are widely accepted as often preferable than rigid regulations on pollutants. It may also make sense to sell advertising on the sides of public buses, perhaps even to sell naming rights to subway stations.

Still, how far do we want to go down this path?

Is it right that prisoners in Santa Ana, Calif., can pay $90 per night for an upgrade to a cleaner, nicer jail cell?

Should the United States really sell immigration visas? A $500,000 investment will buy foreigners the right to immigrate.

hould Massachusetts have gone ahead with a proposal to sell naming rights to its state parks? The Boston Globe wondered in 2003 whether Walden Pond might become Wal-Mart Pond.

Should strapped towns accept virtually free police cars that come laden with advertising on the sides? Such a deal was negotiated and then ultimately collapsed, but at least one town does sell advertising on its police cars.

“The marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives,” Sandel writes. “We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.”

“Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?”

significant UK light crude refinery to shutdown this week...,

No doubt closing due to a multitude of interlinked factors. But basically not making profits for the owners anymore. The raw material is changing. While still nominally called "oil" it is moving to the heavy stuff rather than the light, easily refined oils of the recent past. To continue in business Coryton needs a major rebuild. They are probably not prepared to invest millions in a site that, in a few years, will have nothing to sell. Plus the markets are shifting. China, India are buying up the oil while the tired old economy of the UK has not got the financial clout to buy increasingly expensive oil. The chilling statement here, one that reverberates, full of portent for the coming days, is simply, "The plant will run out of crude oil to refine, and there are no ships on the way".

Guardian | The UK's financially strapped Coryton refinery will run out of crude oil and shut down in phases beginning by the middle of next week, its joint administrator has said.

The prospects of finding a buyer for Coryton look increasingly remote, warned Steven Pearson of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The refinery was one of several owned by Petroplus, Europe's largest independent refiner, before it declared insolvency.

Pearson said: "The plant will run out of crude oil to refine, and there are no ships on the way," adding that staff would remain for the time being to help shut the plant safely. "We will not announce any immediate redundancies – we'll have more detail in a week's time."

The plant employs 900 people including contractors.

Friday, June 01, 2012

capitol as power...,

bnarchives | Conventional theories of capitalism are mired in a deep crisis: after centuries of debate, they are still unable to tell us what capital is. Liberals and Marxists think of capital as an economic entity that they count in universal units of utils and abstract labor, respectively. But these units are totally fictitious: they can be neither observed nor measured. They don’t exist. And since liberalism and Marxism depend on these non-existing units, their theories hang in suspension. They cannot explain the process that matters most – the accumulation of capital.

This breakdown is no accident. Every mode of power evolves together with its dominant theories and ideologies. In capitalism, these theories and ideologies originally belonged to the study of political economy – the first mechanical science of society. But the capitalist mode of power kept changing, and as the power underpinnings of capital became increasingly visible, the science of political economy disintegrated. By the late nineteenth century, with dominant capital having taken command, political economy was bifurcated into two distinct spheres: economics and politics. And in the twentieth century, when the power logic of capital had already penetrated every corner of society, the remnants of political economy were further fractured into mutually distinct social sciences. Nowadays, capital reigns supreme – yet social scientists have been left with no coherent framework to account for it.

The theory of Capital as Power offers a unified alternative to this fracture. It argues that capital is not a narrow economic entity, but a symbolic quantification of power. Capital has little to do with utility or abstract labor, and it extends far beyond machines and production lines. Most broadly, it represents the organized power of dominant capital groups to reshape – or creorder – their society.

This view leads to a different cosmology of capitalism. It offers a new theoretical framework for capital based on the twin notions of dominant capital and differential accumulation, a new conception of the state of capital and a new history of the capitalist mode of power. It also introduces new empirical research methods – including new categories; new ways of thinking about, relating and presenting data; new estimates and measurements; and, finally, the beginning of a new, disaggregate accounting that reveals the conflictual dynamics of society.