Tuesday | 26 March 2013

journalism | obituary

ANTHONY LEWIS, 1927 – 2013


Rick Perlstein | The Nation

In my research, I endeavor to assemble massive piles of the kind of arguments ordinary Americans might encounter about current events in the course of a day, the better to reconstruct how public opinion is formed and deformed. As such, it’s pretty easy for me to put together a fairly representative sample of what the most prominent media voices were saying during those years. That’s what I’ve just done now. And what I’ve found is a stunning record of Anthony Lewis’s consistent astringent vision and moral courage when it came to executive power and the national security state—a willingness ещ record the ugliest things the American state was up to, and to unflinchingly interpret them not as the exceptions of a nation that is fundamentally innocent but as part of a pattern of power-drunk arrogance. Think of Noam Chomsky on the op-ed page, several times a week.

I read him reporting, after visiting North Vietnam during Richard Nixon’s relentless bombing of the country, about American planes bombing hospitals despite the obvious red crosses painted on their roofs. He visited the hospitals; he wrote, decimating American moral arrogance and the bombing campaign’s entire raison d’être—intimidating the Communists into surrender—“It is impossible for this visitor to detect any atmosphere of fear.” In a letter to fellow columnist Stewart Alsop (quoted in this book) he described his motives for reporting uncomfortable stuff with the bark off: “I happen to believe in the sanity of our country, and the last chance to save it from the eternal damnation that the Nazis earned Germany…. If you cannot see that the mass bombing of one of the most densely populated areas on the face of the earth is a crime, then nothing can save us and we shall deserve the reputation we have earned.”

international

OPPOSITION TAKES SYRIA SEAT AT ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT

BBC

Syria’s opposition National Coalition has taken the country’s official seat at the Arab League summit in Qatar. The delegation led by Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, who has said he will resign as head of the coalition, was applauded as it formally assumed the seat. Mr Khatib called it “part of the restoration of legitimacy” that Syrians had “long been robbed of”. The move has enraged Damascus who accused the League of handing the seat to “bandits and thugs”.

finance | international

FOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CYPRUS DEAL

Daniel Drezner | Foreign Policy

So, after reading up on the Cyprus deal from the Financial Times, the Economist, and Quartz, I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened. Tyler Cowen isn’t happy with the deal, and I can see why, but I don’t think that means the deal won’t stabilize things for a spell. My four quick takes:

1) I’ve been pretty insistent that the most surprising thing about the aftermath to the 2008 financial crisis is how much global policy norms haven’t changed. By and large the major economies are still rhetorically and substantively committed to trade liberalization, foreign direct investment, and a constrained role for the state in the private sector. The one exception? Capital controls. The earth has moved here, and the fact that this deal will require fair amounts of financial repression and cross-border controls is just the latest sign of this fact. . . .MORE

video

30 THINGS AT 30

Fabricio Lima | Vimeo

Last year, on 5th of January of 2012, I reached my 30th birthday on a hot summer day in Australia. I was a feeling a bit weird and lost. So I decided to list 30 things I knew about myself so far… I been starring at that list during the whole year and realizing that most of them wouldn’t change with time…

I decided to create a GIF animation to each one of them.
And this was the result. If you know me, then you probably know these things already! :)

Music: The Rhombus

media | economic

THE UNNATURAL RATE HYPOTHESIS

Paul Krugman | The Conscience of a Liberal | The New York Times

When I read opinion pieces by insiders, I often find the ostensible argument less interesting than what is taken for granted. It’s the throwaway lines, the statements that obviously are meant to refer to what “everyone knows”, that can be truly revealing about the state of conventional wisdom.

So it is with Fred Hiatt’s latest deficit-scold column. Dean Baker is exercised over Hiatt’s evident longing for a financial crisis to get action on the policies he believes are necessary to avoid an, um, financial crisis; indeed, Hiatt is following in the inglorious footsteps of Alan Greenspan, who declared almost three years ago that the failure of interest rates and inflation to soar was “regrettable”, rather than being an indication that his model of the economy was wrong.

But what I found striking was Hiatt’s offhand explanation of why his never-changing, never-right prediction keeps not happening; it’s because

the Federal Reserve is gobbling up U.S. debt to keep interest rates low

Clearly, this has become part of the CW. And once again we see how a highly dubious economic idea can become part of what Everyone knows and Nobody disagrees with, even if in this case Nobody includes a fellow by the name of Ben Bernanke, who gave a speech on this very topic just a few weeks ago.

In fact, the notion that rates are low just because the Fed is buying up debt is wrong on at least three levels. . .

economics | gold

HOW FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT SECRETLY ENDED THE GOLD STANDARD

Eric Rauchway | Bloomberg

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve continued to take in gold. Guards, many of them former Marines armed with machine guns, oversaw the trucks bringing back the treasure, which would never again leave. “I am keeping my finger on gold,” Roosevelt said that Friday, and he did.

It would take the next nine months for Roosevelt’s program to take shape in law, but when it had, he controlled the value of the dollar, and had a war chest full of gold to defend it on international markets. He had the power to adjust the value of the currency in keeping with domestic economic needs, and he used it to drive commodity prices back up. In time, the new dollar — managed to promote prosperity, a paper promise of gold stored, but always unavailable — would become the basis for a world of such currencies defined by the Bretton Woods agreements.

Though some contemporary critics of Roosevelt never forgave him — gold retained an alchemical power to turn nonsense into received wisdom — others eventually endorsed his policy. The banker James Warburg initially complained that “sacred cows were being slaughtered,” but later reversed himself, as he said in an oral history he gave decades later. “I had to learn through being wrong that none of these things worked by the book,” he said. “A man can do idiotic things, but if the man in the street thinks the fellow is all right and going in the right direction, they don’t notice the idiotic things,” Warburg reflected. “So all you do is scare a bunch of orthodox economists and bankers, and they’re scared anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference.”

The recovery from the Great Depression began instantly with Roosevelt’s policy shift, in March 1933. He had changed expectations, and begun an administration that would use money as a tool to bring widespread prosperity — rather than serve as a tool of moneyed interests.

THE END OF GOLD

Eric Rauchway | Crooked Timber

There’s widespread disagreement over when the US went off gold – was it with the end of domestic convertibility, which happened on March 6, though it wasn’t made clearly permanent until later? was it with the end of exports, on April 19? Scott Sumner just claimed the US didn’t permanently leave the gold standard at all in 1933, “just temporarily suspended it,” which is an answer Friedman and Schwartz sort of give, though they fudge it – “the gold standard to which the US returned was very different, both domestically and international, from the one it had left”. I myself like the answer given in one article, that the US went off gold “about crocus-daffodil time, 1933.”

Actually, I think the word “disagreement” isn’t quite right – it’s more lack of agreement; I’ve never seen anyone bother to pick apart who prefers which date and why. Obviously it depends on what you mean by “the gold standard,” and what it means to be on or off.

As the Bloomberg post indicates, I’ve been looking into Roosevelt’s intentions and expressed policies, and I’ve become persuaded that he knew pretty clearly what he was doing.

Two weeks before Roosevelt’s inauguration, Keynes wrote,

can it be possible today to forecast a respectable future for [gold], when in the meantime it has betrayed all the hopes of its friends? Yet it does not follow that the monetary system of the future will find no place for gold. A barbarous relic, to which a vast body of tradition and prestige attaches, may have a symbolic or conventional value if it can be fitted into the framework of a managed system of the new pattern. Such transformations are a regular feature of those constitutional changes which are effected without a revolution.

I predict, therefore, that central banks will continue in the future, as in the past, to keep gold reserves for the protection of their exchanges and as an emergency means of settling an adverse international balance.

That’s, in outline, the policy Roosevelt pursued – probably without having read Keynes, but who knows? – beginning with his inauguration. He wanted a managed currency, so he could influence commodity prices, but he also wanted enough gold in US vaults so he could fend off speculative attacks on his managed currency. That’s why he ended convertibility, but didn’t quite announce it. If he said convertibility was done for good and all, it would have been much harder to get hoarders to return their gold to the vaults.

art

PROJETO MOTION LAYERS

Wooster Collective | Flickr
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8592729618_14530d374e
Projeto Motion Layers – Curitiba Brasil

race | international

FOR BLACKS IN CUBA, THE REVOLUTION HASN’T BEGUN

Roberto Zurbano | Latitude | The New York Times

It’s true that Cubans still have a strong safety net: most do not pay rent, and education and health care are free. But the economic divergence created two contrasting realities that persist today. The first is that of white Cubans, who have leveraged their resources to enter the new market-driven economy and reap the benefits of a supposedly more open socialism. The other reality is that of the black plurality, which witnessed the demise of the socialist utopia from the island’s least comfortable quarters.

Most remittances from abroad — mainly the Miami area, the nerve center of the mostly white exile community — go to white Cubans. They tend to live in more upscale houses, which can easily be converted into restaurants or bed-and-breakfasts — the most common kind of private business in Cuba. Black Cubans have less property and money, and also have to contend with pervasive racism. Not long ago it was common for hotel managers, for example, to hire only white staff members, so as not to offend the supposed sensibilities of their European clientele.

. . . If the 1960s, the first decade after the revolution, signified opportunity for all, the decades that followed demonstrated that not everyone was able to have access to and benefit from those opportunities. It’s true that the 1980s produced a generation of black professionals, like doctors and teachers, but these gains were diminished in the 1990s as blacks were excluded from lucrative sectors like hospitality. Now in the 21st century, it has become all too apparent that the black population is underrepresented at universities and in spheres of economic and political power, and overrepresented in the underground economy, in the criminal sphere and in marginal neighborhoods

science

THE PROMISE AND PERIL OF A DATAFIED WORLD

CultureLab | New Scientist
Big Data: A revolution that will transform how we live by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier alternates between enthusiasm and apocalyptic caution

IN A former life I was a research assistant. After painstaking weeks spent gathering data, I was tasked with putting the numbers into a statistics application that would help us deduce our trends.

While I was analysing the figures, my boss peered over my shoulder and pointed at a record on the screen. “Get rid of that one,” I was told. “Also that one, that one, that one and that one.” They were outliers and they were going to mess up the findings. “You’re never going to trust science again,” said my superior with a rueful laugh.

But if you believe Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, science will be just fine because such practices are about to become as archaic as leeching. Indeed, in Big Data, Cukier, a business writer at The Economist, and Mayer-Schönberger, a professor at the University of Oxford, argue that the big data revolution will save science.

Big data seemed to reach the apex of its hype cycle around 2012, when journalists and experts variously extolled its virtues – or wrung their hands about its implications. And yet, somehow it remained elusive: what exactly was it? This book answers that question.

culture | demographics

9 FACTS ABOUT MARRIAGE AND CHILDBIRTH IN THE UNITED STATES


Ezra Klein | Wonkblog | The Washington Post

Some fascinating facts, graphs and insights from Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America, a new report from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and the RELATE Institute.

class | education

TACKLING THE GEOGRAPHIC DISPERSION OF LOW-INCOME HIGH-ACHIEVERS


Reihan Salam | The Agenda | The National Review

Caroline Hoxby and Chris Avery have drawn considerable attention to low-income high-achievers, i.e., low-income students who score in the top tenth of the SAT and ACT distributions. I was struck by the absolute numbers — there are between 25,000 and 35,000 of these students in the U.S. in any given year. And it turns out that efforts on the part of selective universities to recruit these students are undermined by geographical and cultural barriers

architecture | travel | treehouses

THIS COUPLE BUILT A REAL-LIFE EWOK VILLAGE IN COSTA RICA


Twisted Siftertreehouse-resort-in-costa-rica-finca-bellavista-17

Finca Bellavista (FBV) is a sustainable treehouse community situated on 600 acres of land in the mountainous South Pacific coastal region of Costa Rica. FBV is the brainchild of Mateo and Erica Hogan, a married couple from Colorado who fell in love with Costa Rica.

Today, the property boasts seven treehouses and cabins available for rent. The place now encompasses an entire peninsula of rainforest mountain, frontage on two whitewater rivers and countless big trees. There are even parcels of land now available for sale on the property.

Visitors can expect to find waterfalls, natural pools, hiking trails, wildlife and even a zip line course. The accommodations and activities cater to more adventurous travelers. If you’re looking for spa and hotel like amenities this is probably not the place for you.

music

ELIZABETH SHEPHERD: REWIND


Jack Goodstein | Blogcritics | 24 September 2012

Elizabeth Shepherd has the kind of breathy twinkling voice that can be alluringly sexy in one song and kittenishly playful in another, but whichever the choice, it is a voice that she uses to make that song distinctively her own. She is a jazz singer who can shape a lyric with the best of them. Rewind, her fourth studio album, has the singer more often known for her own original compositions, showing off her chops with a dozen tunes mixing some well known standards with some more obscure pieces. If the songs aren’t originals, her interpretations are, original and exciting both.

From the first tune, a stunning take on the sultry standard “Love for Sale” to the Duke Ellington classic “Prelude to a Kiss” which turns up as a duet with Denzal Sinclaire to end the album, she has made these songs her own.

So what’s the best thing your read today?

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