tuesday | 23 april 2013

ECONOMICS

PERILS OF PLACING FAITH ON A THIN THEORY

Wolfgang Münchau | The Financial Times

John Kenneth Galbraith memorably put down his fellow economist Milton Friedman by saying: “Milton’s misfortune was that his policies had been tried.”
The same observation might be made of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff. Especially in Europe, pro-austerity policy makers have tried policies based on their research with catastrophic economic and human consequences. The Harvard economists’ tragedy is not the misuse of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet but the misuse of Microsoft PowerPoint. They hyped their results. In doing so, they followed the golden rule of tabloid journalism: simplify then exaggerate.

. . . To see their enormous influence on the European debate, it is worth quoting an extract from a speech by Olli Rehn, the European Commission’s economic chief, to the Council on Foreign Relations in June 2011. “Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have coined the ‘90 per cent rule’,” he said. “That is, countries with public debt exceeding 90 per cent of annual economic output grow more slowly. High debt levels can crowd out economic activity and entrepreneurial dynamism, and thus hamper growth. This conclusion is particularly relevant at a time when debt levels in Europe are now approaching the 90 per cent threshold, which the US has already passed.”
Mr Rehn presumably did not read the original papers, which were more ambivalent in their conclusions, as academic papers tend to be.

INFOGRAPHIC: CAN ABENOMICS HEAL JAPAN’S TWO DECADE TRAUMA?

David Ingold | Bloomberg | via The Big Picture

japanese-yen
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EDUCATION

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WHY AMHERST COLLEGE IS NOT RUNNING TOWARDS ONLINE EDUCATION

Adam Sitze | Quartz

After considering various MOOC providers, we narrowed our focus to edX. Our discussion then began in earnest. This spring, we invited 12 guest speakers to help us analyze the ins and outs of online education. We discussed online education in five college-wide faculty meetings and in four different faculty committees. One of these committees—comprised of a technologist, an economist, a computer scientist, a biologist, a geologist, an English professor, an art history professor, and two law professors—produced a 16-page report outlining the pros and cons of an edX pilot project.

Assessing edX’s proposal meant posing difficult questions. Can we forge a fit between edX and our “purposefully small” residential liberal arts college? What really are the interests, stated and unstated, of edX and its competitors? What are our obligations to colleagues at institutions that likely will lose revenue if MOOCs become the norm? Given the absence of any impartial, scholarly evidence about the educational merits of MOOCs, why should we experiment with MOOCs rather than with some other model of online learning?

I can’t say which of these questions weighed most heavily in the minds of my colleagues last week. What I can say is that we aren’t Luddites, mired in nostalgia: we haven’t rejected online learning as such. Quite the opposite: we’ve affirmed our desire to craft online learning tools that are consistent with our educational mission.

ENVIRONMENT

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WHEN THE EARTH MOVED

Nicholas Lehman | The New Yorker
REVIEWED: Adam Rome “The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-in Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation” & Aaron Sachs “Arcadian America: The Death and Life of an Environmental Tradition”

Earth Day had consequences: it led to the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and to the creation, just eight months after the event, of the Environmental Protection Agency. Throughout the nineteen-seventies, mostly during the Republican Administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Congress passed one environmental bill after another, establishing national controls on air and water pollution. And most of the familiar big green groups are, in their current form, offspring of Earth Day. Dozens of colleges and universities instituted environmental-studies programs, and even many small newspapers created full-time environmental beats.

Then, forty years after Earth Day, in the summer of 2010, the environmental movement suffered a humiliating defeat as unexpected as the success of Earth Day had been. The Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, announced that he would not bring to a vote a bill meant to address the greatest environmental problem of our time—global warming. The movement had poured years of effort into the bill, which involved a complicated system for limiting carbon emissions. Now it was dead, and there has been no significant environmental legislation since. Indeed, one could argue that there has been no major environmental legislation since 1990, when President George H. W. Bush signed a bill aimed at reducing acid rain. Today’s environmental movement is vastly bigger, richer, and better connected than it was in 1970. It’s also vastly less successful. What went wrong?

Arcadian AmericaThe Genius of Earth Day

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ARCHITECTURE

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PANARAMA HOUSE BY MOON HOON

Erin | Contemporist | via Colossal

From the architect:
The basic request of upper and lower spatial organization and the shape of the site promted a long and tin house with fluctuating facade which would allow for more differentiated view. The key was coming up with a multi-functional space which is a large staircase, bookshelves, casual reading space, home cinema, slide and many more…

The client was very pleased with the design, and the initial design was accepted and finalized almost instantly, only with minor adjustments. The kitchen and dining space is another important space where family gathers to bond. The TV was pushed away to a smaller living room. The attic is where the best view is possible, it is used as a play room for younger kids. The multi-use stair and slice space brings much active energy to the house, not only children, but also grown ups love the slide staircase…An action filled playful house for all ages…

moon-2
>moon-1

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IMMIGRATION

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FIVE WAYS IMMIGRATION REFORM COULD HELP LOW WAGE WORKERS

Ezra Klein | Wonkblog | The Washington Post

Something odd happens whenever immigration reform enters the news: Politicians and pundits who barely spare a word for low-wage workers in normal times suddenly become extremely concerned that immigrants might compete with low-wage laborers.

There’s a reason for that: The overall economic benefits of immigration are clearly positive. Immigration is good for the economy. So opponents of the bill are left picking over the distribution of those benefits.

1) It’s better for low-wage workers to compete against immigrants here legally than immigrants here illegally.
2) Immigration reform will staunch the flow of unauthorized immigration.
3) Immigration reform will grow the economy
4) It could also reduce the budget deficit.
5) Immigrants are often low-wage workers, too.

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FILM

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SALVADOR DALI CREATES A DREAM SEQUENCE OF SPELLBOUND, ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S PSYCHOANALYTIC THRILLER

Dan Colman | Open Source Culture

. . . Hitchcock grudgingly agreed, setting the production gears turning on Spellbound. Selznick arranged for his own therapist to both act as the movie’s technical adviser and to cause Hitchcock a number of on-set headaches. So if Spellbound seems faintly un-Hitchcockian, we can chalk it up partly to Selznick’s psychoanalytic zeal, but some of the credit must also go to Salvador Dalí.

Hired to craft a dream sequence, the Spanish surrealist painter and filmmaker reportedly produced over twenty minutes of footage, four and a half minutes of which appear in the clip above. . . Surely those days offered no more ideal candidate for the job of realizing such a vision than Dalí.

Editor: the second dream sequence in the clip is from Un Chien Andaloun a 1929 silent short create by Luis Buñuel in collaboration with Salvador Dalí.

SPEAKING OF SALVADOR DALI

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FOOD

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MICHAEL MOSS – SALT, SUGAR, FAT: HOW THE FOOD GIANTS HOOKED US

Stephan Guyenet | Whole Health Source

salt-sugar-fatMichael Moss is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who has made a career writing about the US food system. In his latest book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, he attempts to explain how the processed food industry has been so successful at increasing its control over US “stomach share”. Although the book doesn’t focus on the obesity epidemic, the relevance is obvious. Salt, Sugar, Fat is required reading for anyone who wants to understand why obesity is becoming more common in the US and throughout the world.

The greatest strength of Salt, Sugar, Fat is its detailed insider perspective on the workings of the processed food industry. Similar to Dr. David Kessler’s book The End of Overeating, Moss interviewed a number of high-level current and former food industry executives, as well as industry and academic scientists, who were remarkably candid in explaining how the food industry gets people to buy its food. He also dove deeply into historical records that explain how the processed food industry became the behemoth it is today.

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LABOR

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WHEN THE UNION IS THE BOSS

Ned Resnikoff | Jacobin

But while labor leaders and corporate bosses face analogous pressures, their situations are not identical. Union bureaucracy is exceptional because the ideology that helps to sustain its sometimes exploitative labor practices is also exceptional. Pro-labor sentiment demands that union employees tolerate their own exploitation as a necessary condition of working to free others from exploitation.

Granted, some other employers use related modes of ideological conditioning to acclimate their workers to shoddy labor conditions. For example, Capitol Hill staffers accept remarkably low pay and long hours in exchange for the prestige of traversing the halls of power. A young creative professional — a designer, say — might tolerate low pay and no benefits because he loves the casual-cool ethos and high social capital of his workplace and industry.

We might be tempted to say these examples are basically identical to the case of the union staffer, but we can’t do that if we’re to take the ideology of unionism seriously. If promoting workplace democracy is a fundamentally noble goal, then those who make sacrifices in order to achieve that goal are not suckers.

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TECHNOLOGY

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NATION STARTING TO REALIZE THAT ERA OF AMERICAN INNOVATION IS NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN

Thomas Friedman | The Onion

WASHINGTON—After nearly a decade of promises that the nation was on the brink of a technological, economic, and scientific golden age, citizens across the country confirmed Monday they are now realizing a bold new era of American innovation is just flat-out not gonna happen.

Citing the fragile economy and an exceedingly volatile political landscape, many Americans told reporters they are now fairly certain that the chances of the United States spearheading global advancements within the likes of biotechnology, health care, or manufacturing are pretty much zilch.

“I always hear politicians talk about America being at the forefront of technological achievement, and it’s just now hitting me how completely absurd that sounds,” said 37-year-old Seattle resident Daniel Townsend. “They’ve been saying that stuff for years as if it’s always right around the corner. If we’ve really been at a crossroads with the next wave of cutting-edge innovation at our fingertips, wouldn’t we have seen at least one huge breakthrough by now? Like something more important and life-changing than a new type of phone?”

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GRAFFITI

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. . . COLORFULLY PAINTED

Artist: El Bocho, Berlin | URBAN ARTefakte | Flickr
steffireichert

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THE INTERWEB

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REDDIT’S ‘FIND BOSTON BOMBERS’ FOUNDER SAYS ‘IT WAS A DISASTER’ BUT ‘INCREDIBLE’

Alexander Abad-Santos | The AtlanticWire

There’s no way around it: As well-intentioned as Reddit’s power sleuthers may have been in their desperate, amateur efforts last week to track down the Boston Marathon bombers, they failed. And, yes, even the user behind the subreddit followed ’round the word is now admitting, in an interview with The Atlantic Wire, that his communal photo hunt was “doomed from the start” — while somewhat distancing his fellow Redditors from the media debacle they may have fostered, and taking “some responsibility for speculating about the possibility” that at least one suspect was someone he was not.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: get people who spend the majority of their time on the Internet to help with the most crowdsourced terror investigation in American history. But /r/findbostonbombers — the page that vanished from the user-powered site this weekend almost as suddenly as Reddit became a household name when the FBI released suspect photos in the climax-to-the-climax-to-the-climax of last week’s events in Boston — was “a disaster,” says Reddit user “oops777.” He started the subreddit last Wednesday — to mine through a massive amount of photos that had surfaced, including those posted on Flickr by Reddit users and published in a massive Google Doc titled “Boston Bomber Info Spreadsheet” — with seven rules (cached online here), including one in all caps: DO NOT POST PERSONAL INFORMATION. And while it helped shed light on a Facebook photo the FBI hadn’t found as of its photo release Thursday night — a photo that made its way to The New York Times — the Reddit page that was so closely watched by reporters and social media users that it sparked digital witch hunts of innocent people.

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MUSIC

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FEAR OF MEN: EARLY FRAGMENTS

Rowan Savage | Tiny Mix Tapes

Fear of Men’s influences include Anaïs Nin, Sylvia Plath, Freud (Sigmund and bonus points for Lucian), Jean-Paul Sartre, and Walter Benjamin. They wear these influences lightly but perceptibly, a translucent second skin. Bookishness may be another common indie trope, but, The Smiths aside, in a world where lyrics run somewhere between afterthought and cliché, to see inspiration of this caliber not only declared, but making its way into singer Jessica Weiss’ surrealist-confessional vignettes, is a pleasure that, in light of the subject matter, feels like it should be coupled with the term “guilty.” But let’s be clear, the guilt is that of voyeurism rather than elitism: Fear of Men, by their own account, take their work “as seriously as you can take pop music,” and that feels as it should be. As does the fact that Early Fragments is what it says on the box: a compilation (adorably described as “reverse chronological”) of pieces somehow fully formed yet still in the process of coming into existence, even if that box has been shredded into pieces fluttering to the ground, a phrase reflected too in cover art depicting dismembered Classical statuary. Oh, but there was one other act, enamored of Classicist imagery, who sunk deep into the literature of transgression and brought back what they found for our delectation, wasn’t there?

fear of men - early fragments

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