WEEKEND | 20 JULY 2013



Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff | Wonkblog | The Washington Post

How many younger people are needed each year to hold down premiums depends on how many people sign up for the marketplaces. If the total this year is 7 million people, then about 2.7 million need to be in the 18-to-35 set.

This, then, is the crux of Obamacare’s challenge: Can the federal government persuade young, healthy people to buy health insurance?

Simas is focusing his formidable analytical resources on understanding this group. He begins clicking through a Powerpoint that holds reams of data on these young adults. “What do we know about them?” he says. “They’re overwhelmingly male.” Click. “They’re majority nonwhite.” Click. “One out of every three lives in California, Florida or Texas.” Click. “We have census maps breaking this down into the smallest geographic units.”

A couple more clicks and Simas is showing which television channels they like to watch (Spike TV, among others), which social-media platforms they use (Twitter, Facebook) and who they listen to (“No surprise. It’s mom.”). “We can figure out the message that works best for this group,” Simas says.

The focus on young, minority voters. The heavy reliance on microtargeting. The enthusiasm about nontraditional communications channels. The analytics-rich modeling. It sounds like the Obama campaign. And administration officials don’t shy away from the comparison.

“When I hear the conventional wisdom about Obamacare,” said Jeanne Lambrew, deputy assistant to the president for health policy, “this is the difference between the Karl Roves who put their fingers to the wind and the Nate Silvers of the world who looked at the numbers.”





Xiaoran Liu and Yihuan Wu | Narratively

Xiaoran Liu and Yihuan Wu are two Chinese multimedia journalists and documentary filmmakers based in Beijing. This film is an abridged excerpt from “The Noodle Guy,” their upcoming documentary short about how a happy-go-lucky Chinese comedian is trying to establish himself in New York through noodle making. The film will be completed in August 2013 and holding screenings in New York City.





Josh Jones | Open Culture

On July 10, Indian Country Today announced the first film ever dubbed in the Navajo (or Dine’) language, with the headline “Jedis and Indians!” Yes, it’s a 35-year-old movie that’s been digitally enhanced and taken on new meaning (some would say cheapened) in the light of the three “prequels,” but it’s a film that will never lose its cultural cachet as a touchstone for several generations of movie lovers. I’m talking of course, about the first Star Wars (or Episode IV: A New Hope). Despite the fact that the film has been dubbed into hundreds of languages for billions of non-English speakers, this event is entirely different—the viewers of the Navajo Star Wars are all native English speakers who have understood and loved the original perfectly well.





Corey Robin | Crooked Timber

Never mind the formal and informal declarations of sympathy for the Confederacy that libertarians are currently debating. Barnett is grappling with a deeper kind of knowledge, or anti-knowledge, on the free-market right: the kind that Renan spoke of when he said that every nation is founded upon a forgetting. That forgetting — that deep historical error which held that the Civil War was a fight over tariffs or some other nonsense — lay for many years at the core of not only southern but also northern identity. It was not just the furniture of Jim Crow; it was the archive of American nationalism, the common sense of a country that was all too willing to deny basic rights, including voting rights, to African Americans. It was that forgetting that revisionist historians like Kenneth Stampp and C. Vann Woodward, with the Civil Rights Movement at their back, felt it necessary to take aim at. More than a half-century ago.

That Barnett — who’s been prodding libertarians on this issue for some time — has only recently gotten the news tells you much about his movement’s morning prayer, the sense of reality it brings to the table.

Editor: There have been important updates to this essay, please follow the link.





Graphic Detail | The Economist

MANY attempts to rank countries by their susceptibility to, and achievements in, innovation fall flat. Places like Switzerland come out on top when things like literacy are lauded; Japan dominates when patents are prized. A new innovation index by Cornell, the French business school INSEAD and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) itself innovates in how it measures innovation. Instead of objectively counting the inputs and outputs, it relies on nuance. For example, rather than ranking overall education, it looks at the top three universities, since elite institutions may be more important than the average. Instead of counting each patent, it tracks only those filed in at least three countries, which suggests it is a more valuable technology. And rather than look at scientific journal articles en masse, the index includes how often they are actually cited. Among the interesting findings are how Japan and South Korea differ in cited articles. And mon Dieu!, France falls below Canada in university ranking. China makes a strong showing—and leads Russia. Last year we questioned WIPO’s overall ranking, based on a less refined methodology. This year’s metric does better at tracking the ins and outs of new ideas.

measuring innovation





Oxford American

Cassilhaus is a dazzling home, art gallery, and residency created by Frank Konhaus and Ellen Cassilly, a couple who married in their forties and decided that they would “have artists” instead of children. Ellen, a green architect, teamed with husband Frank to design their modern home to include an adjoining apartment and studio space in the woods near Durham, North Carolina—a wonderful retreat for visiting artists to stay, relax, and make new art. This is the story of that creative community.





Francine Prose | The New York Review of Books

A trio of Indonesian men, dressed in elaborate cowboy outfits, are pretending to viciously beat a hugely overweight man who is wearing a curly black wig and a bright satin two-piece gown. Punching and striking the man playing the woman, the cowboys yell that she is a Communist, and that she is pregnant and will give birth to another little Communist. What makes the scene even stranger, more surreal and disturbing than it might otherwise be is that the men in the cowboy suits and the one in the dress belonged to a paramilitary death squad during the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia in 1965, and they are reenacting one of their crimes. The men are the subjects of Joshua Oppenheimer’s brilliant documentary, The Act of Killing, and they are filming a collective biopic about what they did during this most dramatic and exalted period in their lives. The cowboys’ attack on the woman is a scene from their movie.

. . . Fascinated by the action on screen, we might almost overlook the skill with which The Act of Killing has been conceived, edited, and directed. Shown a rough version of the film, Werner Herzog and Erroll Morris were sufficiently impressed to sign on as executive producers, and Herzog has described the documentary as one of the most powerful he’s seen in a decade. Early on, Anwar Congo—who, we hear, was personally responsible for killing over a thousand people—mentions his bad dreams. Filmed amid his extended family, surrounded by beloved grandchildren, he describes having nightmares brought on by the dawning realization that the people he killed didn’t want to die. He cannot forget the open eyes of a man he beheaded in a forest, and soon his dreams are such common knowledge that a scene—“Anwar’s nightmare”—is written into the script.





Haruki Murakami | The Believer

I listened to Billie Holiday a lot when I was young. And I found her moving. But I didn’t really appreciate how marvelous she was until later, when I was much older. Which means, I guess, that aging does have some compensations after all.

In the old days, I listened to the music she recorded in the 1930s and early ’40s. During those years, her voice was fresh and youthful, and she was coming out with one tune after another, most of which were later reissued by Columbia Records in the United States. They were brimming with imagination and acrobatic flights of song. The whole world was swinging in time to her swing. I mean, the planet was actually swaying. I am not exaggerating. We are talking magic here, not just art. The only other musician I know with such magical virtuosity was Charlie Parker.

The younger me didn’t listen that hard to Billie Holiday’s later recordings, her Verve era, which she recorded when drugs had coarsened her voice and corroded her body. Or maybe I consciously steered clear of them. I found her songs of that era, especially during the 1950s, painful, oppressive, pathetic. As I moved through my thirties and into my forties, though, I found myself putting those songs on my turntable more and more often. Unbeknownst to me, I was beginning to crave that music, physically and emotionally.

What was it that I was growing able to hear in Billie Holiday’s later songs, songs we might label somehow broken, that I could not hear before? I have thought a great deal about this. Why have they come to draw me so powerfully?





Grace Beaumont | Art Forum

In the first room of Bill Viola’s latest museum-scale exhibition is the piece Chapel of Frustrated Actions and Futile Gestures, 2013, where unproductive scenarios are played out across nine horizontal wall-mounted screens that are arranged in a three-by-three composition. A couple stands face-to-face, perpetually striking each other and then reconciling. A man alone at night digs a hole in the soil only to fill it again, continually repeating the same action. These scenes all operate around a central screen, the only one not featuring an entire human figure. In this screen we see a hand, which pours water into a broken glass bowl that then trickles out the cracks. It’s instantly recognizable as it is pointless, questioning the viewer’s own everyday chores, activities, and relationships with others.

In another room, two separate projections that make up Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity, 2013, are screened onto black granite blocks and depict an elderly man and woman.

bill viola 01bill viola 02





Robert Reich | Guernica

Almost everyone knows CEO pay is out of control. It surged 16 percent at big companies last year, and the typical CEO raked in $15.1 million, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, the median wage continued to drop, adjusted for inflation.

What’s less well-known is that you and I and other taxpayers are subsidizing this sky-high executive compensation. That’s because corporations deduct it from their income taxes, causing the rest of us to pay more in taxes to make up the difference. This tax subsidy to corporate executives from the rest of us ought to be one of the first tax expenditures to go, when and if congress turns to reforming the tax code.

We almost got there twenty years ago. When he was campaigning for the presidency, Bill Clinton promised that if elected he’d end the deductibility of executive pay in excess of $1 million.

Once in office, though, his economic advisers urged him to modify his pledge to allow corporations to deduct executive pay in excess of $1 million if the pay was linked to corporate performance–that is, to the value of the company’s shares.





Daniel Drezner | Foreign Policy

Your humble blogger has been fascinated by how and whether the financial sector has faced any kind of constraints in its lobbying efforts after, you know, almost plunging the global economy into a second Great Depression. Dodd-Frank and Basel III suggested there were some limits on Big Finance in the wake of the crisis. Still, I’ve also seen a lot of commentators point out that with each passing year, the financial sector has regained more of its political influence. They have successfully stalled on the implementation of Dodd-Frank, Basel III, and so forth.

I bring this all up because of two stories today that suggest that maybe this narrative isn’t so simple. The first, from Dealbook’s Peter Eavis, is that the banks’ very profitability is undercutting their political argument to be left alone . . .





Web Urbanist

This piece of Master Plan is (or rather: was) the first small and temporary installation of an ongoing series by Chad Wright (photography by Lynn Kloythanomsup of Architectural Black). The project is intended as a personal reflection on his own history as well as commentary on the American Dream in light of recent history, particularly the housing crisis. Much like market shocks (metaphorically) or the passage of time (literally), each incoming wave cracks and erodes the constituent buildings in a relentless yet unpredictable fashion.



Nina | Design Boom

New York sandsculptor Matt lLong is giving city slickers a slice of the beach. An intricately crafted 5.5 meter (18ft) sand tower has popped-up in downtown Manhattan’s financial district, astounding metropolitans who ogled from their skyscraper windows. The mammoth construction is detail-rich, adorned with renaissance architectural elements including tiny carved turrets, windows, drawbridges. a second sculpture is formed into a massive ship, with billowing sandy sails and crashing waves. Long is a professional sandsculptor, who has developed and designed a set tools for the everyday beachgoer to carve and mold their own creations. The series is presented as part of a city-wide campaign to bring free and fun summer events to tourists and New Yorkers.






Tim Hartford | The Undercover Economist | The Financial Times

The existence of touts has long been a puzzle for microeconomists: the entire tout business model of buying underpriced tickets and reselling them for a fat mark-up would appear to depend on irrationally low ticket pricing. Why don’t rock stars simply charge more?

. . . Kid Rock’s four-part solution: flood the market with lots of shows to make sure that even at the low price of $20, there are still tickets available; have a small number of super-expensive tickets near the front; allocate the very best seats by lottery to people who bought the cheap tickets; and enforce it all with paperless tickets and an ID check to prevent resale. According to Planet Money, it’s all working: concerts are pretty full but you can still buy $20 tickets from official sources.

Lesson two is about globalisation. A new article in The Economic Journal from Fernando Ferreira and Joel Waldfogel asks whether in a world of MTV and YouTube, national musical cultures are being crushed by American imports. Ferreira and Waldfogel have assembled more than a million data points covering chart hits in 22 countries, in some cases going back to 1960. In practice this covers pretty much the entire global music market, and the data are used to estimate the value of music sales.

At first glance, worries about the cultural dominance of the US seem justified: US artists are responsible for 60 per cent of world music sales. But US artists were responsible for 80 per cent of world music sales in the early 1960s before dramatically losing market share to the British. (We are now, alas, in sharp decline.)

In the early 1980s, less than 50 per cent of music sales were by domestic artists – that is, French artists selling in France, or Brazilian artists selling in Brazil. By 2007 that figure was around two-thirds. Domestically produced music is having a renaissance – proof that globalisation has more complex effects than we tend to assume.





Christopher Jobson | Colossal
2 of 9
flickr-5Jamie Frith
flickr-4Lou Rouge






New York based Australian artist Ian Strange (aka Kid Zoom) has created a multifaceted photography, installation, and film project titled Suburban.

“… Since 2011 Strange worked with a film crew and volunteers in Ohio, Detroit, Alabama, New Jersey, New York and New Hampshire to create, photograph and film seven site specific interventions incorporating suburban homes. The recording of these interventions through film and photographic documentation forms the basis of this new body of work.”

SUBURBAN will premier in a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia on July 26, 2013.

suburban_ian-strange_collabcubed 05





Anthony Cody | Atlantic Cities

Hanushek has also argued, by the way, that more money won’t help schools succeed, nor will small class size. The teacher is the only variable worth targeting. Unions are a problem to the extent to which they make it difficult to quickly fire teachers identified as ineffective.

But the real world is proving to be a difficult place for Hanushek’s theories to be verified. No school has ever replicated the results predicted by his “four great teachers in a row” theory. In fact, there is no real research to support the idea that we can improve student achievement this way—it is all based on extrapolations.

And in fact, new data shows that in the three large urban school districts where these reforms have been given full rein, the results are actually worse than in comparable districts that have not gone this route.

Some of the key findings from the Economic Policy Institute’s April report:

  • Test scores increased less, and achievement gaps grew more, in “reform” cities than in other urban districts.
  • Test-based accountability prompted churn that thinned the ranks of experienced teachers, but not necessarily bad teachers.
  • School closures did not send students to better schools or save school districts money.

Most importantly:

  • The reforms missed a critical factor driving achievement gaps: the influence of poverty on academic performance.





Sarah Goodyear | Atlantic Cities

When I meet up with Jim Dellavalle so he can show me around the new bike park that he’s helped to build on a vacant industrial lot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the city is locked in a weeklong heat wave. Even though the sun is blazing down on the site, all I can think about is how much I want to try riding the track he’s designed.

He has other ideas. Dellavalle is a cool cat, a former pro-cyclist on the downhill, dual slalom, and freestyle circuit who has been designing bike tracks for 20 years. But when he shows off his latest creation, he doesn’t go straight to the two pump tracks, one for beginners and one for experts, where BMX and mountain bike riders can work up a sweat. He doesn’t begin by talking about the logs you can ride over, or the rock trail features where you can sharpen your off-road bike skills.

No, the first thing Dellavalle wants me to see is the stormwater management system that runs all through it. He points out the blueberry bushes and serviceberry trees that he’s brought in from his home state of Pennsylvania. He explains how during a torrential downpour, the runoff will flow into a rain garden blooming with echinacea and black-eyed Susans. “Our designs are environmentally conscious on the regular,” says Dellavalle. “It’s part of the system.”






Lindsey Zoladz | Pitchfork | amazon

For all their sinister, shadowy abstraction, the Knife are at their most disarming and affecting when you’re briefly reminded– and you often are, over the course of their sprawling, magnificent fourth album Shaking the Habitual– that Andersson and Dreijer are human after all.

Boundary-busting in content and in form, the 2xCD Shaking the Habitual challenges plenty of perceived notions– about extreme wealth, the patriarchy, the monarchy, environmental degradation, decreasing attention spans (“It’s nice to play with people’s time these days,” Andersson says in explanation of the record’s marathon length), and not the least of which the Knife’s own identity as a band. The winding, unbridled song structures and industrial-tinged, organic sounds are such a departure from the rest of their output that they’ve said they initially considered releasing it under a different name. Shaking certainly pulls from a wider aesthetic palette than any of their previous records: found sound drones (they crafted the 19-minute “Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized” from editing hours of electronic feedback they’d recorded in a boiler room), zithers, an instrument they apparently made out of “an old bedspring” and “a microphone”– all employed in the name of breaking their own habits. “We went temporarily acoustic,” they declared in the madcap manifesto that served as Shaking’s press bio. “Electronic is just one place in the body.”

the knife - shaking the habitual


Michael Hann | The Guardian | amazon

John Murry’s would be a compelling story had he never made a record – grandson of William Faulkner, an addict who lost his wife and child and home, and almost his life, before cleaning up. And then you get to the record. The Graceless Age is extraordinary, a profound and moving meditation – the kind of album that answers questions you didn’t realise you were asking. Musically, it’s hardly unfamiliar – weeping Americana, backed with fuzzes of electric guitar and organ that slide in and out of focus, discomfiting and discombobulating – but expertly done. Lyrically, though, it’s remarkable: brutal, frank and beautiful. Through stories that are partly his own – the centrepiece, Little Colored Balloons, ends with Murry’s overdose (“I took an ambulance ride – they said I should’ve died, right there on 16th and Mission”) – Murry invests the South with a necromantic realism, where decay is the one constant, but he somehow avoids self-pity or lachrymosity. I don’t expect to hear a better album this year.




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