thursday | 18 april 2013

THE BOSTON MARATHON

THE SAUDI MARATHON MAN

Amy Davidson | News Desk | The New Yorker

A twenty-year-old man who had been watching the Boston Marathon had his body torn into by the force of a bomb. He wasn’t alone; a hundred and seventy-six people were injured and three were killed. But he was the only one who, while in the hospital being treated for his wounds, had his apartment searched in “a startling show of force,” as his fellow-tenants described it to the Boston Herald, with a “phalanx” of officers and agents and two K9 units. He was the one whose belongings were carried out in paper bags as his neighbors watched; whose roommate, also a student, was questioned for five hours (“I was scared”) before coming out to say that he didn’t think his friend was someone who’d plant a bomb—that he was a nice guy who liked sports. “Let me go to school, dude,” the roommate said later in the day, covering his face with his hands and almost crying, as a Fox News producer followed him and asked him, again and again, if he was sure he hadn’t been living with a killer.

THE TRAGEDY OF OTHER PLACES

Rafia Zakaria | Guernica

As a weekly columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, I’ve become adept at writing about bombings. Pakistan suffered 652 of these last year; terrorist attacks took down everything from girls’ schools to apartment buildings and felled members of Parliament, singers, and school children—each person sentenced by coincidence to be at a given location in the moment it became a bomber’s target. Through my columns, I have offered up fumbled expressions of grief and comfort to Pakistani readers whose stores of empathy are bled daily without any promise of replenishment. I believe that these rituals of caring, made so repetitious in Pakistan by the sheer frequency of terror attacks, are crucial; in preventing the normalization of violence and senseless evil, they keep a society human.

The bombings in Boston on April 15, 2013 pose their own conundrum to those like me who are in the habit of writing about bloodier conflicts with more frequent conflagrations. There is an inherent cruelty in every terror attack—an undeniable reverberation of evil in the destruction of an ordinary moment and the forced marriage of that moment to sudden violence. Boston is no different, no more or less tragic than the bombings that have razed the marketplaces of Karachi, the school in Khost, the mosque in Karbala.

And yet it seems so. Attacks in America are far more indelible in the world’s memory than attacks in any other country. There may be fewer victims and less blood, but American tragedies somehow seem to occur in a more poignant version of reality, in a way that evokes a more sympathetic response. Within minutes American victims are lifted from the nameless to the remembered; their individual tragedies and the ugly unfairness of their ends are presented in a way that cannot but cause the watching world to cry, to consider them intimates, and to stand in their bloody shoes. Death is always unexpected in America and death by a terrorist attack more so than in any other place.

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INTERNATIONAL

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MONKS GONE BAD

Swe Win | Latitude | The New York Times

YANGON, Myanmar — Five years ago, when Myanmar was still under military rule, some Western and Chinese friends asked me how there could be such oppression in a country where Buddhism, which preaches nonviolence, is the predominant religion.

I was in self-imposed exile at the time, studying journalism at the University of Hong Kong, and I would answer that the country’s military leaders were immoral, Buddhists in name only. I would also point out that Myanmar’s pre-colonial monarchical rulers — they, too, nominally Buddhist — also had committed great crimes. In other words, nothing was wrong with the religion itself; the problem was with the politicians who were flouting it.

I can’t give such answers any more — not since the recent deadly attacks by Buddhists against Muslims in Meikhtila, a city in central Myanmar with no history of sectarian violence. Reports that monks instigated some of those burnings, beatings and killings suggest a much deeper problem than unprincipled state officials.

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MUSIC VIDEO | TRAVELOGUE

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ADVENTURES IN FILM: IAN PONS JEWELL IN BOLIVIA

Whilst planning a trip to Argentina with Bruno (focus puller and part of Studio Murmur, imagining I would just go there for a couple months holiday whilst also seeing what opportunities there were for work, I got an email out of the blue from Luisa Gerstein (the lead singer of Landshapes, and vocalist for TEED) asking if I was interested in doing her next video. There was a problem though, as it involved shooting the Cholita wrestlers in Bolivia and the budget wasn’t big. What luck! I can speak Spanish and we were already going to Argentina, so the flight costs would be just the single from Buenos Aires to La Paz, which suddenly made the whole project very viable, with us just budgeting to fly out our DOP Doug Walshe. There’s nothing better than being contacted directly by the artist and working with them directly. I had just started to work independently myself with Studio Murmur, so it was a wonderfully perfect coincidence, and I was in love with the music. So it was set, Studio Murmur’s first foray in Latin America.

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CORPORATE GOVERNANCE

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CORPORATE REPORTING NEEDS A REBOOT

Paul Druckman | Harvard Business Review

From the investor standpoint, integrated reporting provides insights about a firm’s business model, strategy, risk, performance and prospects that are simply not available under the current reporting model. It therefore supports investor decision-making by providing a more complete basis for dialogue with the company’s board and an assessment of present and future value. This benefits not only the investor, but also investors’ beneficiaries and the broader economy by providing a platform that encourages financial stability. Companies such as Danone, SAP, AkzoNobel and Unilever are already pushing the boundaries on their corporate reporting in this direction.

This week, the International Integrated Reporting Council (of which I am the chief executive) launched the consulting draft of integrated reporting framework. Over the next ninety days, the IIRC is seeking feedback on the draft from companies, investor groups, reporting standards organizations, accounting bodies and regulators — anybody who has a stake in seeing the transformation of corporate reporting.

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MEDIA

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THE PERILS OF WONKERY

Peter Frase | Jacobin

As the policy wonk has risen in prestige, we seem to have reached the point where this entire class of commentators is highly susceptible to what I’ll call “Charlie Rose disease.” It’s a malady named for the host of the eponymous TV show, who has always impressed me with his ability to convey an impression of knowledge and gravitas to his viewer. If you watch his show and actually listen to him talk, you’ll quickly notice that Rose is a shallow thinker even by television standards, and generally quite ignorant about the things he interviews people about. But everything about him — from his face to his cadence to his posture to his austere black-background set to having his show on public television — works together to produce the image of intellectual seriousness, even more than for most TV news hosts.

And so it is with the wonk — he needs to appear to be deeply knowledgeable about a wide range of obscure and technical subjects. But this entails concealing both one’s ideological biases and one’s substantive lack of knowledge, and relying on the borrowed prestige of academics and experts. In doing so, the wonk becomes the conduit for the experts, or more exactly a crucial means by which their authority is reproduced. The wonk takes the expert’s pronouncements at face value because they are serious, mainstream figures, and the fact that journalists do this reinforces their seriousness and mainstream-ness. One could hardly devise a better way of policing ideological boundaries and maintaining the illusion that the ruling ideology is merely bipartisan common sense.

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URBANISM

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DENSITY

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

. . . although America is a vast, thinly populated country, with fewer than 90 people per square mile, the average American lives in a quite densely populated neighborhood, with more than 5000 people per square mile. The next time someone talks about small towns as the “real America”, bear in mind that the real real America — the America in which most Americans live — looks more or less like metropolitan Baltimore.

Second, however, although the US population and hence the population density rose about 10 percent over the course of the naughties, the average American was living in a somewhat less dense neighborhood in 2010 than in 2000, as population spread out within metropolitan areas. If you like, we’re becoming a bit less a nation of Bostons and a bit more a nation of Houstons.

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ECONOMICS

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REINHART, ROGOFF, AND HOW THE MACRO-ECONOMIC SAUSAGE IS MADE

Justin Fox | Harvard Business Review

After watching a presentation by Kaggle founder and CEO Anthony Goldbloom at a conference last year, I went up to the front of the room to ask him a question about macroeconomics.

Kaggle organizes competitions in which data scientists (which in most cases means anybody who wants to sign up) compete to build predictive models based on huge troves of data. Goldbloom founded the company after working as a macroeconomic modeler at the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Treasury.

“Could you use the Kaggle approach to make macroeconomic predictions?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied. “Not nearly enough data.”

I couldn’t help but think back to that as controversy erupted this week over Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s oft-cited three-year-old finding that economic growth plummets when a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio exceeds 90%. Three University of Massachusetts economists — Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin — came out with a working paper that recrunched the Reinhart and Rogoff data set and arrived at a very different result: instead of average -0.1% growth in countries with debt/GDP of more than 90%, they came up with 2.2% growth.

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ART

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ALAN CRAIG: GENTE RETRADA POR GENTE

Marcelo Poblete | Pousta

Replacing pixels with real people, composing images with the bodies of others, is the idea of ​​Alan Craig, the Californian, with great creativity and power of attraction, managed to create these amazing portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O, among others. (translation adapted from translate.google.com)

marilyn
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HISTORY

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DEAD WHITE REDS

Matt Karp | Jacobin

It’s easy to get nostalgic.

A longer glance back into the past should cure us of this sentimentalism. The British historian Eric Hobsbawm and the American critic Irving Howe, both eminent socialist members of Ralph Miliband’s dead generation, can help. Hobsbawm, born in the red year of 1917, remained a defiant communist all his life. Howe, arriving three years later, devoted his own career to defending the socialist idea against Stalin’s Soviet Union. But taken together, their memoirs — Howe’s A Margin of Hope, published in 1982, and Hobsbawm’s Interesting Times, in 2002 — form as poignant a record as exists of the courageous hopes and constant sorrows of the twentieth century Anglo-American left.

These memoirs remain valuable today — both as vivid portraits of a previous century’s problems, and as bracing reminders to the contemporary left that those problems are not our own. “The central experience of the twentieth century,” as Howe once quoted Theodore Draper, “was communism,” and this was as true for the left-wingers who resisted it as it was for those who succumbed to its chilly embrace.

The central experience of the twenty-first century, of course, cannot yet be reckoned. But whatever it is, we can be grateful that all our dreams and arguments about a just, egalitarian future will not be defined — or distracted, or divided, or destroyed — by the fate of a particular Russian dictatorship.

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FOOD | AGRICULTURE

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THIS IS WHAT HUMANE SLAUGHTER LOOKS LIKE, IS IT GOOD ENOUGH?

Matt McCelland | Modern Farmer | via Longreads.com

“How would [your methods] play with your wedding guests from New York?” Grandin asks them. New Yorkers, she explains, are the people least likely to understand what really happens on your farm. If you can sell it to them, you can sell it to anybody, because it’s the most uninformed people, who spend their lives in offices, abstracted from farming reality, who have the most radically negative views about farms.

In other words, Grandin is describing my general type—suburban raised, urban dwelling, mechanically unskilled — rather pointedly. It was time to witness that $5 hot dog being slaughtered for myself.

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POLICY | RETIREMENT

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CUTTING SOCIAL SECURITY AND FIXING SOCIAL SECURITY AREN’T THE SAME THING

Reihan Salam | The National Review

. . . The conservative goal for Social Security shouldn’t just be reducing Social Security expenditures. Rather, it should be leveraging Social Security to raise incomes for older Americans, including low lifetime earners. As I argued earlier this month, there is a clear way forward that’s been articulated by Biggs and other Social Security reform advocates: transform the core part of Social Security into a universal flat benefit; create a new pre-funded mandatory savings component; and reform Social Security Disability Insurance by adding a new front-end of mandatory private disability insurance (PDI), as proposed by David Autor and Mark Duggan. The end result will be a system that is more fiscally sustainable, yet it will also be a system that does a better job of meeting the needs of retirees.

. . . We need to combine sticks with carrots, e.g., if we call for trimming benefits for the earliest retirees, we should also call for cutting or eliminating Social Security payroll taxes for workers over the age of 62.

Again and again, a narrow focus on the 10-year budget window is leading us to miss the forest for the trees. It’s a trap.

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ANIMATION | MUSIC VIDEO

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HIATUS: WE CAN BE GHOSTS NOW

Tom Jobbins | Vimeo

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ART | URBANISM

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OFFCUT CITYSCAPES

Web Urbanist

James McNabb has crafted fine wooden designs using lasers and routers, but the band saw drove this stunning series of abstract city landscapes shaped into circles and in some cases patterned after furniture, from tables and shelves to chandeliers.

offcut-mfa-student-debut
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MUSIC

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KELLY HOGAN: I LIKE TO KEEP MYSELF IN PAIN

Greg Kot | The Chicago Tribune | amazon

It’s nice to have talented friends. Kelly Hogan has collected dozens of them over the years in a career marked as much by her personal generosity as her remarkable singing voice, and ace songwriters such as Vic Chesnutt, Robyn Hitchcock and Stephin Merritt step up with some durable tunes on her first studio album in 11 years. But it’s what Hogan does with the songs that makes “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” (Anti) such a landmark.

hogan_kelly_iliketoke_101b

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