wednesday | 27 march 2013



Jonathan Rauch | The Brookings Institute

Listening to the Supreme Court’s arguments on the big gay marriage case–which will decide if California, or for that matter any other state, can forbid same-sex marriage, as California’s Proposition 8 did in 2008–I was struck by the baldly political nature of the conversation.

“Baldly political” usually means something bad, such as unprincipled horsetrading. But in this case it means something good. The court just didn’t have enough clear law to decide the questions before it. So it had to do what the Supreme Court must do, and indeed should, when law can’t settle the problem. It openly considered the political consequences of its decisions.



Rick Perlstein | The Nation

Karl Rove’s predictions of a conservative Republican century seemed as reasonable as today’s arguments for Democratic demographically inevitability. Fear worked—in a way that could not possibly have been predicted by electoral prognosticators. Fear has a special way of confounding political predictions.

The Summer of the Shark illustrates something else: American culture is largely an ecology of fears, political culture included. And though it may flatter our liberal amour propre, conservatives don’t have a monopoly on exploiting fear for political advantage. Fear can be progressive—when Democratic politicians speak constructively to ordinary people’s fear of being manipulated and exploited by their bosses, of losing their way in a winner-take-all economy, of the consequences of a state without a safety net. It’s almost a very rough rule of thumb: when Democrats are able to successfully frame the meaning of an election season around middle-class fears, Democrats win the election; when Republicans are able to successfully frame the meaning of an election season around cultural fears, Republicans win the election.

Alas, many of Democrats’ political problems come when they forget that rule of thumb. And given that, it has to be said: when conservatives do fear—when they work to make elections referenda on cultural fears—they really do leave it all out on the floor . . .



Goli Mohammadi | Make

Skateboarding and rocking out go hand in hand, and now they literally can thanks to Buenos Aires-based Skate Guitar. The brain child of master luthier/old school skater Ezequiel Galasso and professional skateboarder/musician Gianfranco de Gennaro, Skate Guitars are handmade from two repurposed skate decks a piece. The duo embrace the scrappy nature of the used decks, noting that the 14 layers of pressed maple that make up a skate deck are rugged enough to withstand the hardest rocking out, without the musician having to worry about marring a pristine guitar. Skate Guitars, like skate decks, are designed to take abuse. Plus, they look and sound badass.


policy | class | taxes


David Kay Johnston | Tax Analysts

If we look at the half-century from 1961 to 2011, ignoring inflation, we can see how federal tax burdens have shifted, especially the Social Security tax. It expanded from 3.1 percent of GDP to 5.5 percent. That tax stops this year at $113,700 of wages, just about the threshold for the top 10 percent.

Over those 50 years, federal corporate income tax receipts grew 764 percent and personal income taxes 2,540 percent, while Social Security taxes soared 4,881 percent. Visualize it this way: Increases in national income are becoming more and more concentrated on the top rung, while the combined federal income and payroll tax burden grows down the ladder, where incomes are getting smaller.

That is a lot of stress being placed on people between the bottom rung and the top. I think it is more stress than the social ladder can bear, although when and how it will break no one will know until it happens. Tax policy is driving these trends.

Ponder again that ratio in income growth after 45 years between the vast majority and the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent — $59 more to $18.7 million more. For each extra dollar of annual income going to each household in the vast majority, an extra $311,233 went to households in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent. One inch to almost five miles.

What do you think will happen to our tax system, and to the United States, as tax policy helps extend that line to 10 miles?



Jared Diamond | National Geographic Live

Jared Diamond, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, studies how traditional societies around the world treat the aging members of their tribes, and suggests that these cultures have much to teach us about the treatment of our elderly.


Bryn Williams | Slate

In his new book, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, Diamond probes the differences between modern cultures and traditional societies that subsist through hunting and gathering, and he comes to several bold conclusions about their relative merits. His examples are evocative and his narration is powerful, but Diamond ultimately fails to substantiate his arguments. By the end of the book, it is impossible to tell if one has finished reading a masterpiece of rigorous analysis or a masterfully written collection of just-so stories.

Each chapter offers a window into a specific cultural practice. These chapters typically follow this script: He posits a difference between traditional and modern society, cherry-picks a few examples from ethnographic or archaeological sources, and provides an evaluation about potential benefits (and/or drawbacks) of the traditional compared with the modern approach. The choice of topics is eclectic: Danger, religion, diet, dispute resolution, childrearing, linguistic diversity, and the treatment of the elderly all get a hearing. Other classic subjects of anthropological analysis are missing. For example, there is no substantive discussion of kinship, sex and gender, or art. Diamond illustrates the chapters with a scattershot collection of ethnographic examples drawn from, among others, the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert, the Ache of the Paraguayan rainforest, the Nuer of East Africa and, most commonly, several groups from New Guinea, where he has conducted extensive research.

Diamond has a gift for storytelling. He presents his examples in a seductively readable voice with unflinching confidence, which makes his conclusions about the similarities and differences between traditional and modern society seem like common sense. But as I read the text, I found that I agreed with Diamond in inverse relation to my pre-existing knowledge about whatever subject he was addressing. When Diamond was writing about topics that I know in depth, I felt as though he was leaving out important information; when I didn’t know what he was writing about, I was thoroughly convinced. Diamond is a generalist and will always paint with a brush that a specialist finds too broad. The danger lies not in simplifying source material by leaving out extraneous details, but in selectively highlighting only the facts that support one’s argument and casting contravening cases aside . . .

penmanship | religion


This is Our City | Christianity Today | Vimeo

How Jake Weidmann, one of 11 master penmen in the world, uses ink to link the past and future.

computer science


The P versus NP problem is a major unsolved problem in computer science. Informally, it asks whether every problem whose solution can be quickly verified by a computer can also be quickly solved by a computer. It was introduced in 1971 by Stephen Cook in his seminal paper “The complexity of theorem proving procedures”[2] and is considered by many to be the most important open problem in the field.[3] It is one of the seven Millennium Prize Problems selected by the Clay Mathematics Institute to carry a US$ 1,000,000 prize for the first correct solution.

The informal term quickly used above means the existence of an algorithm for the task that runs in polynomial time. The general class of questions for which some algorithm can provide an answer in polynomial time is called “class P” or just “P”. For some questions, there is no known way to find an answer quickly, but if one is provided with information showing what the answer is, it may be possible to verify the answer quickly. The class of questions for which an answer can be verified in polynomial time is called NP.


Jessica Pellian | Princeton University Press
Lance Fortnow: The Golden Ticket: P, NP and the Search for the Golden Ticket

PUP: Ok, let’s start with the basics, what is P/NP?

Fortnow: The P/NP problem is best described by an example question: Are there 1000 people on Facebook whom are all friends with each other? Even if you worked for Facebook and had access to all its data, answering this question naively would require checking more possibilities than any computer, now or in the future, could possibly do. The P/NP question asks whether there is some very clever algorithm that can answer this problem and others like it.

PUP: Why does it matter?

Fortnow: It matters because if P=NP it would make a large number of difficult computational tasks immediately easy to solve and it would transform our lives beyond measure: we’d cure major diseases, make accurate predictions of weather, get near prefect translation, and much more. The computer could find solutions to virtually any question we could ask of it.

PUP: It really sounds like the “golden ticket” of your book’s title. But in the book, you also talk about some of the less positive outcomes to solving this problem. Can you describe those too?

Fortnow: We’d have a near complete loss of privacy as P=NP would allow anyone to reverse engineer any attempts to hide your activities. Also if P=NP virtually any job could be automated potentially leading to large-scale unemployment.

food | soup | recipes


Carri Thurman |

I quickly get out my biggest soup pot, pour in a healthy dose of olive oil, and get it heating on the stove. I set up my cutting board and roughly chop the onions, throw them in the pot, after a minute or two add the garlic, don’t chop, just smash. I stir and sauté until the onions are translucent and deglaze the whole mess with a little white wine. While this is cooking, I open up the cans of tomatoes and set them aside for when I’m ready to pour them into the pot. I take the cream cheese and cut it into chunks so it will quickly warm when I put it in the soup. The smell of the onion and garlic in the air weave their magic and lull the crowd; people start to smile and ask “What are you cooking back there that smells so good?” I just grin back and say, “Soup!” Several minutes later, the soup is done, the spell complete: 4 gallons of Creamy Tomato Basil Soup in under 30 minutes.

That would be some ancient magic, too, according to a radio piece I recently heard on NPR. Apparently researchers believe that for at least 25,000 years we have been making soup. They point out the information from primatologist Richard Wrangham in his book Catching Fire, that cooking food, or quite possibly making soup is what actually allowed us to evolve into the humans we are. There, I said it.

Here I’d like to share the recipeS
for two of our most popular soups, the quick and simple tomato soup I describe above and a warm and spicy rockfish chowder, a great way to use any seafood you have available.



Jeff Hamada | Booooooom

Her Tumblr project is a fascinating stream of consciousness sourced from Google image search and Youtube. Each image seamlessly leads to the next. The experience of scrolling through it all reminds me of the film Baraka.

I’ve included a zillion more images below so you can get a better sense of what I’m talking about!




Caroline Sullivan | The Guardian | 24 September 2008

For inspiration, McKay has returned to her 70s childhood – specifically, to the point just before soul transmuted into disco, when lubricious funk, a searing vocal and lyrics with a message were all crammed into three catchy minutes. McKay is exercised by teen parenthood, project housing and money’s pernicious effect, and she’s as urgent and direct as the backing tracks are horn-spattered and upbeat. Jackson Avenue stands out for its Philly-soul funkiness, but is by no means the only winner on this very likable return.


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