tuesday | 7 may 2013

LAW

CORPORATIONS FINDS A FRIEND ON THE SUPREME COURT

Adam Liptak | The New York Times

the business docket reflects something truly distinctive about the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. While the current court’s decisions, over all, are only slightly more conservative than those from the courts led by Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, according to political scientists who study the court, its business rulings are another matter. They have been, a new study finds, far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.

In the eight years since Chief Justice Roberts joined the court, it has allowed corporations to spend freely in elections in the Citizens United case, has shielded them from class actions and human rights suits, and has made arbitration the favored way to resolve many disputes. Business groups say the Roberts court’s decisions have helped combat frivolous lawsuits, while plaintiffs’ lawyers say the rulings have destroyed legitimate claims for harm from faulty products, discriminatory practices and fraud.

Whether the Roberts court is unusually friendly to business has been the subject of repeated discussion, much of it based on anecdotes and studies based on small slices of empirical evidence. The new study, by contrast, takes a careful and comprehensive look at some 2,000 decisions from 1946 to 2011.

CHARTS: WHY YOU ARE IN DEEP TROUBLE IN YOU CAN’T AFFORD A LAWYER

Hannah Levintova, Jaeah Lee, and Brett Brownell | Mother Jones

Since the 1963 Supreme Court decision, America’s prison population has grown more than tenfold—from 217,000 inmates to 2.3 million—largely due to decades of the war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies. It’s been nearly impossible for the public defense system to keep pace. In 1973, the National Advisory Council on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (NAC) issued a report recommending annual caseload maximums for public defenders. They are the only national recommendations of their kind but are considered imperfect. “Many of us don’t consider them to be realistic if you expect quality representation,” says John Gross of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). “These standards were established 30-plus years ago when, arguably, criminal cases were a lot less complex.” And even so, these recommended caseload limits are consistently exceeded in public defenders’ day-to-day practice. On average, a public defender would need about 3,035 work hours—a year and a half—to do a year’s worth of work.

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ECONOMICS

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LESSON ON FISCAL POLICY SINCE THE GREAT RECESSION

Laura D’Andrea Tyson | The New York Times

But the conditions confronting fiscal policy in late 2008 were anything but normal. Output, employment and stock values were falling at a faster pace than before the Great Depression, and short-term interest rates had fallen to their zero lower bound. At least in the short term, conventional monetary policy alone could not stabilize the economy, so over dire warnings from some macroeconomists, in early 2009 Congress answered President Obama’s request for a large temporary stimulus package to end in 2011, by which time it was hoped or expected that a strong recovery would be under way.

Subsequent empirical analysis indicates that the stimulus worked. New research confirms that the multipliers for fiscal policy are significantly larger during downturns when there is considerable excess capacity and when interest rates are at or near their lower bound. They are also larger when private actors are credit-constrained, so their spending depends more on current income than on future expected income. These were the conditions in 2010-11. Even using a range of lower multiplier estimates consistent with more normal conditions, the Congressional Budget Office found that the effects of the stimulus on output and employment were in the predicted range.

7 MYTHS ABOUT KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS

Mark Thoma | The Fiscal Times

Harvard Historian Niall Ferguson has apologized for suggesting that John Maynard Keynes’ sexual orientation and lack of children made him indifferent to long-run economic issues. However, leaving the references to sexual orientation aside, it is commonly asserted, “Keynesian economists often dismiss … long-run concerns when the economy has short-run problems.” The claim that Keynesians are indifferent to the long-run is one of many myths about Keynesian economics.

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ART | GENETICS

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CREEPY OR COOL? PORTRAITS DERIVED FROM THE DNA FOUND IN HAIR AND GUM FOUND IN PUBLIC PLACES

Smithsonian | via Colossal

It started with hair. Donning a pair of rubber gloves, Heather Dewey-Hagborg collected hairs from a public bathroom at Penn Station and placed them in plastic baggies for safe keeping. Then, her search expanded to include other types of forensic evidence. As the artist traverses her usual routes through New York City from her home in Brooklyn, down sidewalks onto city buses and subway cars—even into art museums—she gathers fingernails, cigarette butts and wads of discarded chewing gum.

Do you get strange looks? I ask, in a recent phone conversation. “Sometimes,” says Dewey-Hagborg. “But New Yorkers are pretty used to people doing weird stuff.”

Dewey-Hagborg’s odd habit has a larger purpose. The 30-year-old PhD student, studying electronic arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, extracts DNA from each piece of evidence she collects and enters this data into a computer program, which churns out a model of the face of the person who left the hair, fingernail, cigarette or gum behind.

It gets creepier.
From those facial models, she then produces actual sculptures using a 3D printer. When she shows the series, called “Stranger Visions,” she hangs the life-sized portraits, like life masks, on gallery walls. Oftentimes, beside a portrait, is a Victorian-style wooden box with various compartments holding the original sample, data about it and a photograph of where it was found.

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TRADE

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CHINA SEEKS TO WATER DOWN KEY WORLD BANK REPORT

Robin Harding | The Financial Times

China is leading an effort to water down the World Bank’s most popular research report in a test of the development institution’s new president, Jim Yong Kim.

. . . According to people close to the matter, China wants to eliminate the ranking of countries in the Doing Business report, which compares business regulations – such as the difficulty of starting a company – in 185 different nations.

Critics of the report say it makes no sense if fast-growing economies such as China rank low. They also argue that it has a built-in bias towards deregulation and that the World Bank should not be in the business of ranking its members.

Mr Owens confirmed his role in the review but declined to comment further. Mr Bakvis said his main concern is that the report treats any kind of labour rules as a bad thing. “Basically countries that have no labour regulation whatsoever get the best marks,” he said. “The publication does have a deregulating bias which I don’t think can be got rid of without removing the ranking or even the indicators altogether.”

WHY FOCUSING ON EXPORTS DOESN’T MAKE ECONOMIC SENSE

Jock O’Connell | Pacific Standard

In any number of ways, promoting exports as a means to rebuild American manufacturing is like pushing on a string. In fact, even relying on export statistics as a means to gauge the health of America’s economy is, for mundane but powerful reasons, a terrible idea.

Export promotion has long been a staple of economic policy at the federal level. In the 1980s, when America’s economy seemed to be under siege from Japanese and European imports, states leapt into the game as well, opening trade offices overseas and sending representatives around the globe. It’s hard to say whether such efforts had any meaningful effect on the nation’s merchandise export trade, which grew in real (i.e., inflation-adjusted) terms by 123 percent between 1980 and 2008. What’s clear, however, is that American manufacturing jobs did not increase correspondingly. In fact, during that same period, about 5.3 million American manufacturing jobs vanished.

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NATURE

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COLORFUL ICEBERGS

Jeff McNeil | Flickr | via Twisted Sifter

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EDUCATION

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WHAT DOES IT TAKE FOR TRAUMATIZED KIDS TO THRIVE?

Laura Tillman | Pacific Standard

One day in the spring of 2010, (Principal) Sporleder made a three-hour trek north to Spokane to attend a workshop given by a molecular biologist. He was encouraged to make the trip by a community organizer affiliated with the Washington Family Policy Council, a state agency that had become unusually galvanized by a recent body of research. Sporleder was one of many educators, social workers, law enforcement officers, and other community leaders who were being sent to similar conferences around Washington with state dollars, all as part of a large-scale campaign to educate people about the impacts of trauma and stress on children.

For Sporleder, the workshop—with keynote speaker John Medina, a scientist and the author of a best-selling book called Brain Rules—was nothing short of a conversion. As soon as he got back to Lincoln, he began changing his methods, especially when it came to discipline. His old approach, which relied heavily on automatic suspensions, went out the window. Then he brought in a trainer to teach everyone on his staff, from instructors to secretaries, about the science of trauma and resilience. Bit by bit, he and his staff remade Lincoln to address what he now saw as the real force driving his students’ behavior: chronic stress.

Between 2009 and 2011, suspensions at Lincoln fell by 85 percent; expulsions dropped from 50 to 30. In the same period, the school’s graduation rate nearly tripled. By the time I met Sporleder in 2012, the student body had swelled from 77 to nearly 200—the result of students actually opting to transfer to what had once been the district’s “dumping ground.” It’s hard to say exactly what’s driving these transformations. But it’s striking that Sporleder himself—a former volleyball coach, and not a trained scientist—largely attributes Lincoln’s turnaround to a new understanding of the science of stress and the brain.

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ARCHITECTURE | DOCUMENTARY

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ANTONI GAUDI (1985)

Hiroshi Teshigahara | Criterion Collection

FAIRHAVEN RESIDENCE BY JOHN WARDLE ARCHITECTS

Erin | Contemporist

John Wardle Architects have designed the Fairhaven Residence above the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.

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MANHATTAN MICRO-LOFT BY SPECHT HARPMAN

Erin | Contemporist

From Specht Harpman:
This apartment was one of the most unusual residential renovation projects we’ve ever been involved with. Located at the top of a brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the footprint was a tiny 425 square feet, but the space stretched vertically for approximately 25 feet, and had access to a roof terrace. As it existed, the arrangement was so awkward that there wasn’t even a reasonable place to locate a bed or a couch.

Our solution created four separate “living platforms” inserted within the space that provide room for all the essentials and still allow the apartment to feel open and light-filled. The lowest level is an entry and kitchen space, and a few steps up is the main living area. Above the living area is a cantilevered bed pavilion that projects out into the main space, supported on steel beams. A final stair leads up to a roof garden. All the spaces flow into one another and the idea of distinct “rooms” is dissolved; in fact, the only door within the space is the one into the bathroom.

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GADGETS

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TOOL REVIEW: BIOLITE CAMP STOVE

Keith Hammond | Make

bio-lite-camp-stoveTwig stoves are handy and eco-friendly — you don’t haul fossil fuel, you just collect sticks wherever you’re camped. Plus they’re dirt cheap to make. DIY versions include “rocket stoves” that ensure secondary combustion of wood gases, making them super efficient and nearly smokeless (see MAKE Volume 27, “Wood Gas Camp Stove”); some of these incorporate fans to stoke the fire. Commercial versions are available too, but Brooklyn-based BioLite, a Kickstarter success story, has gone them all one better.

The BioLite CampStove ($129.95) is a fan-stoked rocket stove with a thermoelectric module that converts heat into electricity (see MAKE Volume 15, “The Amazing Seebeck Generator” ). So this stove charges its own battery, and, via USB, charges your cellphone, GPS, headlamp, or other gadgets too.

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SUSTAINABILITY | ARCHITECTURE

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ALGAE FUELED BUILDING: THE WORLD’S FIRST BIO-FUELED FACADE

The Web Urbanist

Bio-reactors and micro-algae sound like the stuff of science fiction, but this is the real deal: biomass built into panel glass is both generating heat and acting as a responsive light and sound barrier, all in one brilliant new building in Hamburg.

Arup has long been predicting incredible innovations in architecture, but they are also keen to show that their designers and engineers are actually working toward world-changing technologies.

Bright sunlight causes the bio-reactors to grow faster and supply more shade on demand. The resulting biomass captures solar heat as well, and can be harvested and used as a source of energy itself. It is, in essence, an architectural ecosystem in which all parts of the process are not only sustainable but multi-functional and fully integrated.

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MUSIC

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WHEELHARP: THE STUNNING INSTRUMENT THAT SOUNDS LIKE AN ORCHESTRA

Delana | The Web Urbanist

Stringed instruments have been played since time immemorial, and naturally as technology improves plenty of people are trying to recreate that kind of sound digitally. Of course, nothing compares to the rich, warm, sensual sound of an actual stringed instrument, and this is something that artist and artisan Jon Jones understands better than most people. That is why he created the Wheelharp, an incredible stringed instrument that manages to sound like the entire string section of an orchestra all on its own.

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The beautiful instrument was inspired in 2001 by Jones’ hurdy-gurdy, an ancient stringed instrument that produces tones via a hand-cranked rosined wheel rubbing against strings. As much as Jones enjoyed the hurdy-gurdy, he wanted to know if he could create a full-scale chromatic instrument in which each string could produce a different sound when individually bowed on the rosined wheel. He set out to produce the first Wheelharp.

FOXYGEN: KIDS OFF BROADWAY

Steven Hyden | Pitchfork | amazon

Broadway is fun and boisterous and consciously difficult to discern, like the sugary fuzz stuck between oldies stations. Band members Jonathan Rado and Sam France have been honing this sound for seven years, starting off as L.A. high school kids obsessed with the Brian Jonestown Massacre. (They’re also big admirers of singer-songwriter-producer Richard Swift, who gets a shout-out in Broadway’s closer, “Middle School Dance”.) The guys in Foxygen made 10 records together before unofficially splitting off to attend college, but they remained on the same musical page as they entered their 20s. Finally, they returned to the Foxygen fold to make a series of independently released EPs, including Broadway, which originally came out last year.

France and Rado beg, borrow, and steal from 20th-century legends in uniquely 21st-century ways, deconstructing their favorite Stones, Bowie, and Lou Reed records and brazenly re-assembling those elements into free-wheeling songs that melt old sounds into weird, wild shapes. Why reference Their Satanic Majesties Request when you can touch on every 1960s Stones album, plus every other classic record you’ve just downloaded, in the space of a single song? On Broadway, Foxygen’s music sounds like a stack of eight-tracks that’s been left out in the sun too long.

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MOONFACE WITH SIINAI: HEARTBREAKING BRAVERY

Embling | Tiny Mix Tapes | amazon

The previous two Moonface records were, to varying degrees, half-hearted, cryptic, and jammy, whereas Heartbreaking Bravery is nothing if not lucid and bulging with heart. “Yesterday’s Fire” is a prime example of this emotionality, opening with a glam Heroes chug before going full Meatloaf one and a half minutes in. There’s a sophistication to the way it plays big and dumb. Close your eyes and you can probably imagine this playing on some other Earth’s VH1 80s programming block, Spencer Krug, black suit, white shirt, sunglasses, the Robert Palmer girls beating along behind him.

The slick professionalism of Krug’s collaboration with Siinai, a Finnish band on absolutely nobody’s radar, does little to dispel this feeling of anonymous backing support. This is unmistakably Krug’s project, but for once, he not only composes, but also conducts. Even “Headed for the Door,” the longest song on Heartbreaking Bravery, fills its seven and a half minutes with a surplus of ideas, building in intensity, New Romantic percussion beating the song forward, until it breaks into a spoken-word climax that is as goofy as it is spectacular.

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