TUESDAY | 14 MAY 2013

ECONOMICS

THINKING UTOPIAN: HOW ABOUT A BASIC INCOME

Mike Konczal | Wonkblog | The Washington Post

First, what are some advantages of providing a universal basic income? To those on the left, a UBI would create greater equality by ending poverty and providing a minimum living standard. It would also increase bargaining power for workers, who could demand better working conditions with a safety cushion. As Erik Olin Wright argues in Envisioning Real Utopias, such bargaining power “will generate an incentive structure for employers to seek technical and organizational innovations that eliminate unpleasant work,” which would “have not just a labor-saving bias, but a labor-humanizing bias.”

The fact that it is universal is crucial. This eliminates income traps that can cause severe work disincentives. A UBI answers the Foucauldian critique about the welfare state being a way for the state to stigmatize and control marginalized populations. There are no state officials determining whether or not a single mom “deserves” help or drug tests and other invasive, humiliating requirements. Others see UBI as a way of recognizing the value of decommodified caregiving and other cooperative, non-labor activities, by making sure there is space in the economy to both reward and carry them out.

Meanwhile, a few conservatives have advocated a form of basic income for a different set of reasons. The right likes basic income because it would allow for the removal of many overlapping and piecemeal government programs, such as food stamps and unemployment insurance, as well as programs the government directly runs. Charles Murray has advocated a universal basic income of $10,000 for every person, and paying for it by ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, virtually all transfer programs and certain tax breaks. Also, if you squint really hard, you could see a libertarian argument that a basic income compensates for the private appropriation of common, natural resources.

BUNDLING

Alex Tarrabok | Marginal Revolution

John McCain has introduced a bill to “encourage the wholesale and retail unbundling of programming by distributors and programmers.” Would a la carte pricing result in lower prices and greater consumer welfare or would it raise prices and result in less investment in television media? Time to take a look at the economics of bundling. In this video from our MRUniversity course on media economics I review the theory of bundling and then apply it to cable TV.

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BENGHAZI

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IN BENGHAZI, A TRUSTED LOCAL MILITIA THAT MELTED AWAY

Eli Lake | The Daily Beast

. . . While CIA operatives showed heroism during the rescue, the agency failed to properly vet beforehand the February 17 Martyr’s Brigade, a local militia comprised in part by Islamist fighters who had fought against Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi during the 2011 revolution. The State Department’s own Accountability Review Board (ARB) found most members of the brigade—one of the best armed militias in eastern Libya, with a membership in the low thousands—failed to show up on the evening of the attacks, despite agreeing to be the compound’s “quick reaction force,” intended to perform the role of the Libyan state in a city that lacked mature security institutions.

After the attack began, brigade members declined CIA security officers attempts to join them in mounting a rescue mission, according to the ARB—which also found that three Brigade members who were stationed that evening at the compound failed to provide advanced warning that a mob of attackers with bad intentions was approaching the embassy that night, leaving the five U.S. diplomatic security officers at the compound little time to prepare a defense.

The CIA’s failure to properly vet the February 17 Martyr’s Brigade has not been disclosed by the ARB or an interim report by House Republicans released last month.

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ANIMATION

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THE CLOCKMAKERS // LES HORLOGERS

National Film Board of Canada | Vimeo

In this experimental animated short from Renaud Hallée, we travel inside a mysterious mechanism made up entirely of revolving gearwheels, triangles and lines. In this whirling, hypnotic world, dozens of tiny gymnasts leap, somersault and twist through the air. Their spirited acrobatics trigger both narrative and musical sequences that are mesmerizing and, at times, dizzying. Half-figurative and half-abstract, The Clockmakers is a playful creation that is sure to captivate and dazzle its audience.

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WONKERY

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LIBERAL WONK BLOGGING COULD BE YOUR LIFE

Mike Konczal | Rortybomb

As the Reinhart-Rogoff story started up, Peter Frase of Jacobin wrote a critique of liberal wonk bloggers titled “The Perils of Wonkery.” Now that things have calmed down, I’m going to respond. Fair warning: this post will be a bit navel-gazing.

I recommend reading Peter’s post first, but to summarize, it makes two broad claims against liberal wonk bloggers. The first is the critique of the academic against the journalist. This doesn’t engage why wonk blogging has evolved or the role it plays. The second critique is the leftist against the technocratic liberal, which I find doesn’t acknowledge the actual ideological space created in wonk blogging. I find both of Frase’s arguments unpersuasive and also under-theorized. Let’s take them in order.

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URBANISM

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FINALLY THINKING SMALL: BUT CAN WE BUILD ON WHAT WE’VE LEARNED?

Ben Brown | Placemakers

Convincing communities to accept revamped flood maps, to acknowledge risks identified and quantified by the insurance industry, to change building and zoning codes to guide safer redevelopment, to rethink infrastructure investment priorities in light of environmental vulnerabilities and to encourage more realistic housing choices — all of those discussions took years to gain traction in even the most enlightened communities. And in many places, the forces of denial won out.

Original-Katrina Cottage
The original Katrina Cottage: Hurricane Katrina’s scrappy li’l legacy.

In the case of Katrina Cottages — conceived as an immediate solution to the toxic FEMA trailer problem, then as a way to seed resilient, affordable neighborhoods — the pushback was immediate and long lasting. Despite an unusual deal struck with the Feds to supply thousands of the cottages for free, many local communities outlawed them. Why permit these little things on small lots when we’ll get back to cranking out McMansions as soon as things get back to normal?

These days, as we claw our way out of the Great Recession, that sort of thinking sounds ludicrous. Even before the downturn, there was a certain demographic inevitability to downsizing. Chris Nelson, head of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah, has been showing us charts for years, demonstrating how out of balance we are in the attempt to match housing inventory with future housing demand. Reporting on a panel that featured Chris and Shyam Kannan, director of the economic development practice at Robert Charles Lesser & Co., at the New Partners in Smart Growth conference in San Diego in February, Roger Showley of the San Diego Union-Tribune pointed to Chris’s estimate that there’s a need for 10 million more attached homes and 30 million more small homes on 4,000-square-foot lots or less. That translates to about 10 units to the acre, unthinkable in many residential settings.

But change is coming. Consider this October 22 piece on new housing realities in the Huffington Post. And examples of communities responding to such realities are multiplying.

Chapin-01-525x374

LONDON IN 1927

Tim Sparke | Vimeo | via It’s Nice That

Incredible colour footage of 1920s London shot by an early British pioneer of film named Claude Frisse-Greene, who made a series of travelogues using the colour process his father William – a noted cinematographer – was experimenting with. It’s like a beautifully dusty old postcard you’d find in a junk store, but moving.

Music by Jonquil and Yann Tiersen.

LIFE IN THE CITY IS ESSENTIALLY A BIG MATH PROBLEM

Jeff Adler | Smithsonian

Out of that meeting emerged a collaboration that produced the seminal paper in the field: “Growth, Innovation, Scaling, and the Pace of Life in Cities.” In six pages dense with equations and graphs, West, Lobo and Bettencourt, along with two researchers from the Dresden University of Technology, laid out a theory about how cities vary according to size. “What people do in cities—create wealth, or murder each other—shows a relationship to the size of the city, one that isn’t tied just to one era or nation,” says Lobo. The relationship is captured by an equation in which a given parameter—employment, say—varies exponentially with population. In some cases, the exponent is 1, meaning whatever is being measured increases linearly, at the same rate as population. Household water or electrical use, for example, shows this pattern; as a city grows bigger its residents don’t use their appliances more. Some exponents are greater than 1, a relationship described as “superlinear scaling.” Most measures of economic activity fall into this category; among the highest exponents the scholars found were for “private [research and development] employment,” 1.34; “new patents,” 1.27; and gross domestic product, in a range of 1.13 to 1.26. If the population of a city doubles over time, or comparing one big city with two cities each half the size, gross domestic product more than doubles. Each individual becomes, on average, 15 percent more productive. Bettencourt describes the effect as “slightly magical,” although he and his colleagues are beginning to understand the synergies that make it possible. Physical proximity promotes collaboration and innovation, which is one reason the new CEO of Yahoo recently reversed the company’s policy of letting almost anyone work from home. The Wright brothers could build their first flying machines by themselves in a garage, but you can’t design a jet airliner that way.

Unfortunately, new AIDS cases also scale superlinearly, at 1.23, as does serious crime, 1.16. Lastly, some measures show an exponent of less than 1, meaning they increase more slowly than population. These are typically measures of infrastructure, characterized by economies of scale that result from increasing size and density. New York doesn’t need four times as many gas stations as Houston, for instance; gas stations scale at 0.77; total surface area of roads, 0.83; and total length of wiring in the electrical grid, 0.87.

Remarkably, this phenomenon applies to cities all over the world, of different sizes, regardless of their particular history, culture or geography. Mumbai is different from Shanghai is different from Houston, obviously, but in relation to their own pasts, and to other cities in India, China or the U.S., they follow these laws. “Give me the size of a city in the United States and I can tell you how many police it has, how many patents, how many AIDS cases,” says West, “just as you can calculate the life span of a mammal from its body mass.”

One implication is that, like the elephant and the mouse, “big cities are not just bigger small cities,” says Michael Batty, who runs the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London.

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SCULPTURE

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ZHANG XIANGXI: A SERIES OF HOLLOWED OUT TELEVISION SETS

Alec | Not Shaking the Grass

“A series of hollowed-out television sets frame beguiling scenes imagined in Xiangxi’s works, begun while studying sculpture at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art.

Situated in a small creative community in Hei Qiao Cun on the northeastern edge of the city, his studio is littered with second-hand appliances like washing machines, which become the sites of miniature worlds inspired by locations such as his old workspace in Guangzhou, the workers’ dormitory he once lived in, his parent’s sitting room, the interior of a train carriage—even his dream home. They are replicas rendered faithfully, but playfully, often using the cement, brick, glass, stone or paper materials found in their life-sized equivalents.”

zhang-xiangxi-a-series-of-hollowed-out-01
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EDUCATION

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HOW TO RESURRECT AN URBAN SCHOOL DISTRICT

Greg Anrig | Atlantic Cities

The recent public school test-cheating scandals in Atlanta and Washington D.C. are insidious not only in their impact on their own communities, but also in feeding a broadly held misperception that urban school districts are beyond salvaging. Reports suggesting progress in any city are now more likely to be dismissed out of hand as the product of selective data collection or outright misconduct. That’s what makes the case of Cincinnati, Ohio, so interesting and instructive.

The Cincinnati school district has improved both test scores and graduation rates since 2003 while — unlike Atlanta and Washington — transparently pursuing highly collaborative reform strategies that, counter to the current trend, don’t rely on rigid hierarchy and punitive accountability. Because Cincinnati has implemented proven instructional approaches while nurturing a culture in which administrators, teachers, parents, and community groups closely communicate and work together as teams, the case serves as an important counterweight to the public school stories that have been dominating the news in the past few years. It also can serve as a roadmap for reversing course from the high-pressure tactics that gave rise to the cheating scandals and led to little progress elsewhere.

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ADVERTISING

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SANTANDER 2013

Will Davies | Potlatch

It is one of the most unsettling pieces of film that I’ve ever seen, reducing advertising to a set of blank and bland facts, to be recited out of the mouths of an apparently arbitrary collection of sports stars. What are the celebrities doing in other people’s houses? Have they broken in illegally? Or are we to suppose that they are ghostly apparitions?

The atmosphere of the ad is one of oppressive silence, like that of a family that has lost a member but refused to ever discuss it. It’s difficult to know what is stranger: the fact that Jenson Button is standing behind someone’s fridge door, dressed in his racing gear, or the fact that he is sharing tips on gas bills, or the strange resignation to all of this on the part of the man using the fridge. Jessica Ennis is represented as a sort of track-suit-clad bag lady, who bothers people in the street with unwanted – and almost certainly false – information. The ordinary people, trying to go about their days in peace and privacy, exude a sad resignation that capitalism now drops (real? hallucinatory?) celebrities into their bathrooms and kitchens, to talk at them uninvited. If they could speak, what would they say? Their faces project fear and anxiety, as if they are now are trapped. Mostly they just want to be left the hell alone, to live, walk and paint; but this is the wish that sport, finance and above all advertising clearly will not grant. Is this a warning of some kind?

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PSYCHOLOGY

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HOW TO LISTEN WHEN SOMEONE IS VENTING

Mark Ghoulston | Harvard Business Review

Usually, people take one of two attitudes. Option 1 is to jump in and give advice — but this is not the same as listening, and the person doing the venting may respond with “Just listen to me! Don’t tell me what to do.” Option 2 (usually attempted after Option 1) is to swing to the other extreme, and sit there silently. But this doesn’t actively help the person doing the venting to drain their negative emotions. Consequently, it is about as rewarding as venting to your dog.

The way to listen when someone is venting is to ask them the following three questions:

1. What are you most frustrated about? This is a good question because when you ask them about their feelings, it often sounds condescending. And if you start out focusing on their anger, it sounds as if you are coldly telling them to get a hold on themselves, which may work, but more often will just cause the pressure inside them to build up even more. However, asking them about their frustration is less judgmental and can have the same effect as sticking a scalpel into their abcess. Let them vent their feelings and when they finish, pick any of their words that had a lot of emotion attached. These can be words such as “Never,” “Screwed up,” or any other words spoken with high inflection. Then reply with, “Say more about “never” (or “screwed up,” etc.) That will help them drain even more.

2. What are you most angry about? This is where their emotional pus drains. Again let them finish and have them go deeper by asking them, “Say more about _________ .” Don’t take issue with them or get into a debate, just know that they really need to get this off their chest — and if you listen without interrupting them, while also inviting them to say even more, they will. If you struggle to listen when someone is venting because intense negative feelings make you feel upset yourself, try this: Look them straight in the left eye (which is connected to their right emotional brain) and imagine you are looking into the eye of a hurricane, allowing whatever they’re yelling to go over your shoulders instead of hitting you straight in your eyes.

3. What are you really worried about? This is like the blood that comes out of wound following the pus. It is as the core of their emotional wound. If you have listened and not taken issue with their frustration and anger, they will speak to you about what they’re really worried about. Again push them to go deeper by asking them: “Say more about ___________.” After they finish getting to the bottom of it, respond with, “Now I understand why you are so frustrated, angry and worried. Since we can’t turn back time, let’s put our heads together to check out your options from here. Okay?

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LIGHTING

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CHANDELIER PROJECTS SPOOKY SHADOW FOREST ONTO WALLS

Twisted Shifter

Designed by Hilden & Diaz, Forms in Nature is a light sculpture/chandelier that transforms its surrounding space into a spooky forest made from shadows.

chandelier-projects-shadow-forest-on-walls-hilden-and-diaz-1

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MEDIA

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THE MELTING POT GAZETTE

Joel Smith | Pacific Standard

Seventeen people squeeze around a dark wood table in a low, redbrick office building on the outskirts of Los Angeles, picking at a potluck dinner of fried chicken, pad thai, and Cherry Coke.

The group is as oddly matched as the menu. There’s Eric Sunada, an engineer who also runs a small environmental non-profit. Kerrie Gutierrez, an instructional aide and mother of five. Joe Soong, an analyst for the Los Angeles Police Department. But they do have one thing in common: They are all newly minted journalists, contributors to a novel kind of local news outlet in the ethnically fractured, news-starved city of Alhambra, California.

The focus of this month’s meeting of contributors to the Alhambra Source website is to brainstorm ideas for their next getting-to-know-you meeting with the community. Someone suggests a journalistic version of speed dating, in which reporters conduct lightning-round interviews with regular Alhambrans. Paul Chan, a young entrepreneur, suggests an eating-with-chopsticks contest during the city’s Chinese New Year festivities.

This fixation on community interaction is part of the site’s DNA.

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TIME LAPSE

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DUBAI

dimid | Vimeo

This video was filmed during our trip to UAE in January 2013. Visiting all of rooftops in video was totally illegal and made by our own risk, but no fine was payed =)

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STAR WARS

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PHOTO SERIES VISITS ABANDONED FILM SETS IN TUNISIAN DESERT

DL Cade | Peta Pixel | via Design Boom

In September 2010, visual artist and filmmaker Rä di Martino set out on a quest to photograph and document old abandoned film sets in the North African deserts. The project had started when she discovered that it was common practice to abandon these sets without tearing them down, leaving them fully intact and crumbling over time, like archeological ruins.

Martino spent that month traveling around Chott el Djerid in Tunisia, finding and photographing three Star Wars sets in all for her photo series No More Stars and Every World’s a Stage.

. . . Interestingly enough, after the photos were published, Star Wars fans annoyed with the disheveled state of Skywalker’s fictional home spent $11,000 and worked with locals to restore the old set. Now tourists who are brave enough to explore the Tunisian desert may find themselves in a pristine slice of Tatooine history if they’re lucky.

To see more from Martino, including more photos from other well-known and abandoned film sets, check out her website here.

ra di martino - no more stars 01

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MUSIC

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DISCODEINE: AYDIN

PLEIX | Vimeo | amazon

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ALT-J: AN AWESOME WAVE

Jenny Stevens | NME | amazon

From the twisted a cappella interludes offsetting the distorted vocal and jagged guitars of ‘Intro’, to the wafting clap-happy breeze of ‘Dissolve Me’, each song flits between genres with the rapidity with which one would imagine Alt-J completed their algebra homework. ‘Breezeblocks’, starts as a smooth R&B groove before switching to a magnificent, clattering and sinister plea: “Please don’t go – I love you so!” The ‘In Rainbows’-indebted ‘Something Good’ is awash with piano and soaring melody. And while ‘An Awesome Wave’ might begun as some half-baked stab at a cinema concept album – ‘Matilda’’s drab strum is a paean to Luc Besson’s troubled child-star in Leon – it’s all the better for the added grit, real-life misery and heartache, as ‘Fitzpleasure’ attests. It’s a welcome injection of dirge, adding yet more sounds to the mix with rasping bass riffs and storming vocal before ‘Taro’’s finale, which fizzles disappointingly to the finish line.

The charm of Alt-J’s musical scatterbrain is that it works. On the surface, this is smart alt-pop, but Alt-J have messed with the formula just enough to make this a brilliantly disquieting debut. In refusing to submit to the rigours of a genre, they might just have made themselves masters of their own.

Alt-J-An-Awesome-Wave

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KOBO TOWN: JUMBIE IN THE JUKEBOX

Robin Denselow | The Guardian | amazon

Calypso has been in decline since the glory days of Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow, but Drew Gonsalves is determined to put that right. An émigré Trinidadian who moved to Canada as a teenager, he became fascinated by the musical heritage he left behind, and set out to write new songs echoing the wit and storytelling of classic calypso, but in a contemporary setting. He’s a powerful singer and an impressive multi-instrumentalist, playing guitars, bass and percussion, and he’s helped by producer Ivan Duran, best known for his work with Garifuna singer Andy Palacio. There are echoes of soca, dancehall, ska and reggae here, along with sturdy brass work, and the lyrics are suitably intriguing. He praises calypso as a news medium, covers topics ranging from the death penalty to tourists who take photos of Caribbean poverty, and ends with an apocalyptic calypso with echoes of TS Eliot. Impressively original.

kobo town - jumbie in the jukebox

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