thursday | 2 may 2013



Joseph Stiglitz | The Great Divide | The New York Times

Singapore has had the distinction of having prioritized social and economic equity while achieving very high rates of growth over the past 30 years — an example par excellence that inequality is not just a matter of social justice but of economic performance. Societies with fewer economic disparities perform better — not just for those at the bottom or the middle, but over all.

. . . First, individuals were compelled to take responsibility for their own needs. For example, through the savings in their provident fund, around 90 percent of Singaporeans became homeowners, compared to about 65 percent in the United States since the housing bubble burst in 2007.

Second, Singaporean leaders realized they had to break the pernicious, self-sustaining cycle of inequality that has characterized so much of the West. Government programs were universal but progressive: while everyone contributed, those who were well off contributed more to help those at the bottom, to make sure that everyone could live a decent life, as defined by what Singaporean society, at each stage of its development, could afford. Not only did those at the top pay their share of the public investments, they were asked to contribute even more to helping the neediest.

Third, the government intervened in the distribution of pretax income — to help those at the bottom, rather than, as in the United States, those at the top. It weighed in, gently, on the bargaining between workers and firms, tilting the balance toward the group with less economic power — in sharp contrast to the United States, where the rules of the game have shifted power away from labor and toward capital, especially during the past three decades.

Fourth, Singapore realized that the key to future success was heavy investment in education — and more recently, scientific research — and that national advancement would mean that all citizens — not just the children of the rich — would need access to the best education for which they were qualified.





Matt Yglesias | Moneybox | Slate

I like the metaphor in Tom Friedman’s latest column, arguing that we now live in a 401(k) world. But I wish he’d spelled it out in greater detail, because the problem with living in a 401(k) world is that Planet 401(k) is a pretty sucky planet. Here’s the essential shape of 401(k) as a backbone of the retirement system:

  • Poor people get absolutely nothing.
  • Wealthy people who would have had large savings anyway get a nice tax cut that offers no meaningful incentive effect.
  • For people in the middle, the quantity of subsidy you receive is linked to the marginal tax rate you pay—in other words, it’s inverse to need.
  • A small minority of middle-class people manage to file the paperwork to save an adequate amount and then select a prudent low-fee, broadly diversified fund as their savings vehicle.
  • Most middle-class savers end up either undersaving, overtrading, investing in excessively high-fee vehicles or some combination of the three.
  • A small number of highly compensated folks now have lucrative careers offering bad investment products to a middle-class mass market based on their ability to swindle people.
  • Congratulations, America! Across a very wide range of products there’s a strong case for a large dose of consumer sovereignty. People should buy the shoes and sandwiches and shirts they want. They should watch the shows they want to watch. Get the furniture and appliances they like, and pick their own hairstylists and their own favorite grocery stores. Tastes differ, so even though competition and choice will rarely lead to a perfect outcome it’s going to lead to a much better outcome than trying to have a Shoe Commission tell everyone how many shoes they need and what they should cost and look like.

    Middle class retirement savings isn’t like that. We know roughly how much people need to put away in order to retire with a standard of living they’ll be comfortable with. And we definitely know what kind of investment vehicles are most appropriate for middle class savers. And we have abundant evidence that, left to their own devices, a very large share of middle class savers will make the wrong choices. What’s more, because of the nature of the right choices it’s obvious that the dominant business strategy for vendors of middle class investment products is to dedicate your time and energy to developing and marketing inferior products, since the essence of superior products in this field is that they’re less remunerative.

    In other words: A disaster. What’s needed is a much more forceful, much more statist approach to forced savings, whether that’s quasi-savings in the form of higher taxes and more Social Security benefits or something like a Singapore-style system where “private” savings are pooled into a state-run investment fund.





    Christopher Kezelos | Youtube

    A strange creature races against time to make the most important and beautiful creation of his life.

    The Maker has screened at over 60 festivals and won 21 awards. For the latest news and updates, visit





    Robert Levy | The New York Times

    I’m a libertarian who played a role in reducing handgun restrictions in the nation’s capital. In 2008, in a landmark case I helped initiate, Heller v. District of Columbia, the Supreme Court declared for the first time that the Second Amendment protected an individual’s right to bear arms.

    But the stonewalling of the background check proposal was a mistake, both politically and substantively. Following a series of tragic mass shootings, public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of reasonable legislation restricting the ownership of guns by people who shouldn’t have them. There was also plenty in the proposal that gun-rights proponents like me could embrace.

    . . . Gun-rights advocates should use this interval to refine their priorities and support this measure, with a few modest changes. If they don’t, they will be opening themselves to accusations from President Obama and others that they are merely obstructionists, zealots who will not agree to common-sense gun legislation.

    The focus on background checks should not distract gun owners from the positive provisions in the Manchin-Toomey proposal.

  • It would allow Americans to buy handguns from out-of-state sellers, which is not allowed currently.
  • It would explicitly prohibit the creation of a national gun registry, and make it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to misuse records from the national database used for background checks.
  • It would affirm that unloaded guns with a lock mechanism in place can be transported across state lines.
  • It would immunize private gun sellers from lawsuits if a gun they have sold is used unlawfully, unless the seller knows or should have known that the buyer provided false information or was otherwise ineligible to buy a gun.
  • _________________________________




    Alec | Not Shaking the Grass

    “towards another (big bang) theory” is an ongoing series exploring the relationship between terror and the sublime. These are the pictures I presented for my BFA (Hons) graduate exhibition at the Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland 2009. Four pieces from the series are included in “reGeneration2 – Tomorrow’s Photographers Today” produced by the Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland and published by Thames & Hudson.

    towards another theory o2
    towards another theory 03
    towards another theory 01





    Derek Thompson | The Atlantic

    May Day means many things is many people. For pagans, it’s a day to dress a maypole. For unions, it’s a day to reminisce. For Russians, it’s complicated. For us, it’s an excuse to answer an impossible and important question on International Worker’s Day: What policy would do the most to help international workers? . . . Women drive economic growth — more than China, more than the Internet, and more than banks. In the U.S., the growth of female employment added 2 percentage points per year to GDP growth. In Europe, working women accounted for 25% of the continent’s new wealth in the last 20 years, as I’ve reported.

    But internationally, there are still 1.5 billion women of prime-age who are not in the “formal global economy,” according to the Women’s Economic Opportunity Index. In the poorest African countries, women’s participation rate is high, but many work in the informal economy (selling cheap wares to tourists on the street, for example) with scarce pay. In lower-middle income countries — those undergoing the early stages of industrialization — women are half as likely to be working as men, and in many Middle Eastern countries fewer than one in five women are working at all. If there is an opportunity to intervene on the part of international worker, it is hard to find more opportunity than in improving the lot of women in these developing countries.





    Richard Lacayo | Lightbox | Time

    genesisThere’s a line from Henry David Thoreau that’s an old favorite of environmentalists: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Not many people have taken that idea so much to heart as the great Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who spent much of the past nine years trekking to the last wild places on earth to take the pictures collected in his new photography book, Genesis (Taschen; 520 pages), a window into the primordial corners of creation.

    The Genesis project grew out of two dilemmas in Salgado’s personal life. In the late 1990s, his father gave him and his wife Lélia the Brazilian cattle ranch where Salgado, now 69, spent his childhood. He remembers the place in those days as “a complete paradise, more than 50% of it covered with rain forest,” he told Time on the phone from his home in Paris. “We had incredible birds, jaguars, crocodiles.” But after decades of deforestation, the property had become an ecological disaster: “Not only my farm, the entire region. Erosion, no water—it was a dead land.”

    . . . As part of the Genesis project, Salgado has made 32 trips since 2004, visiting the Kalahari Desert, the jungles of Indonesia and biodiversity hot spots such as the Galápagos Islands and Madagascar. He hovered in balloons over herds of water buffalo in Africa (“If you come in planes or helicopters you scatter them”). He traveled across Siberia with the nomadic Nenets, people who move their reindeer hundreds of miles each year to seasonal pasture. “I learned from them the concept of the essential,” he says. “If you give them something they can’t carry, they won’t accept it.”






    David Moberg | In These Times

    The Boston Consulting Group’s optimistic estimate of hundreds of thousands of reshored jobs depends on this low-road strategy. Its analysis compares costs in Chinese factory centers, like Shenzhen, with U.S. manufacturing costs in right-to-work, low-wage, largely non-union states, like Mississippi.

    There is another road. Some countries pay higher manufacturing wages than the United States: $49.12 an hour total compensation in Sweden and $47.38 in Germany in 2011, for example, compared to $35.53 in the United States. More of their workforce belongs to unions. Yet their manufacturing sectors thrive and account for a larger share of their overall economies.

    On this high road—followed to varying degrees in Germany, the Scandinavian countries, other high-income continental European nations and Japan—both the countries and their companies tend to treat workers less as costs to be slashed, as in the United States, and more as assets and contributors. Workers reap the benefits of public investments in things like education, transportation, child care and healthcare. The ripple effects—a more egalitarian distribution of income, a stronger domestic market, a better-skilled workforce—strengthen the country’s economy and social fabric.

    . . . Should the United States go all-in on this kind of advanced manufacturing, the entire economy stands to gain. Advanced manufacturing creates more non-manufacturing jobs in fields such as research, software design and after-sale support—than traditional manufacturing. And by increasing productivity, it enables (but does not guarantee) higher wages. In fields such as medicine and energy, advanced manufacturing can—if guided by public policy—contribute to solving society’s problems, including the environmental problems caused by earlier phases of the Industrial Revolution. Manufacturing for domestic use and for export can reduce the unsustainable long-term trade deficit. And a healthy advanced manufacturing sector contributes to the creation of a culture of networked innovators—dubbed the “industrial commons” by Harvard Business School professors Gary Pisano and Willy Shih. (Think Silicon Valley, for example.)





    Chris Arkenberg | Co.Exist

    Much of the modern built environment we experience began its life in CAD software. In the Bio/Nano/Programmable Matter lab at Autodesk Research, engineers are developing tools to model the microscopic world. Project Cyborg helps researchers simulate atomic and molecular interactions, providing a platform to programmatically design matter. Autodesk recently partnered with Organovo, a firm developing functional bioprinters that can print living tissues. This pairing extends the possibilities from molecular design to biofabrication, enabling rapid prototyping of everything from pharmaceuticals to nanomachines.

    Tools like Project Cyborg make possible a deeper exploration of biomimicry through the precise manipulation of matter. David Benjamin and his Columbia Living Architecture Lab explore ways to integrate biology into architecture. Their recent work investigates bacterial manufacturing–the genetic modification of bacteria to create durable materials. Envisioning a future where bacterial colonies are designed to print novel materials at scale, they see buildings wrapped in seamless, responsive, bio-electronic envelopes.

    From molecular printing to volume manufacturing, roboticist Enrico Dini has fabricated a 3-D printer large enough to print houses from sand. He’s now teamed up with the European Space Agency to investigate deploying his D-Shape printer to the moon in hopes of churning lunar soil into a habitable base. Though realization of this effort remains distant, it’s notable to show how the thinking–and money–is moving to scale 3-D printing well beyond the desktop.





    Johnny Kelly | Vimeo

    A two-minute animated voyage through nature’s life cycle, following the trials and tribulations of a humble apple seed.

    The film was kindly funded by Adobe, made using their CS4 range of software. It was produced at Nexus Productions and features a soundtrack by Jape. It was made using a mixture of stop motion papercraft and 2D drawn animation.

    See making of here:





    Andrew Finkel | Latitude | The New York Times

    ISTANBUL — In 1921 an ecumenical service was held in six languages at St. John the Divine, New York City’s Episcopal cathedral, to call for the return of Byzantium’s most important monument to the Orthodox Church. Days after his 1453 conquest of Constantinople, today’s Istanbul, Mehmet II decided to turn the 6th century basilica of St. Sophia into a mosque. Some 500 years later, with the city under Allied occupation, Christendom wanted the building back.

    Its prayers were never answered. As the Turkish Republic emerged from the ashes of empire, the new nation’s founding president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ruled that a building over which two faiths squabbled should be made accessible to all: St. Sophia was turned into the Ayasofya Museum.

    That solution not only silenced self-righteous voices in the West; it also helped establish Turkey’s credentials as a worthy custodian for its cultural heritage. Since restoration work in the 1930s, St. Sophia’s stunning mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Jesus have sat beside huge panels of Islamic calligraphy.

    For some time, Turkey’s religious and nationalist right has demanded that Ayasofya be converted into a mosque again. Now a parliamentary commission is taking the request seriously.





    Juan Cole | Informed Comment

    After President Obama’s remarks about chemical weapons use in Syria, many newspaper articles appeared suggesting that he was rethinking his opposition to US involvement there. They were wrong, and weren’t listening. Obama said we don’t know who used the chemical weapons or to what extent. That isn’t building a case for intervention, it is knocking it down.

    Olivier Knox gets this story right, in part because he asked experienced Washington, D.C. insiders.

    Obama learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that US military intervention in the Middle East doesn’t actually work very well. Iraq is still a security basket case, with over 400 dead in bombings and attacks in April (nowhere near the high of 3000 a month in 2006 when the US was in charge of security, or even as much as contemporary Mexico, where over 1,000 a month have been dying in the drug war — but still no paradise). It has been 11 years and we are still stuck in Afghanistan, nor have we “stood up” a credible Afghan government.

    Why people think a US intervention in Syria would go better, I don’t know.





    Ursula Lindsey | Latitude | The International Herald Tribune

    CAIRO — This week I am one of many readers mourning the disappearance of Egypt Independent, a local English-language weekly that has provided sterling coverage of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and the painful, deeply confusing transition that followed.

    The paper’s final issue, its 50th edition, is only available online because last week the publication’s management –— the privately owned Arabic newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm — decided to shut down operations just as the issue went to print.





    Maria Farrell | Crooked Timber

    One surprising place a weirdly attenuated and manically zealous form of market thinking has popped up is in the Minnesota tax office. (via BoingBoing) They’re running a quite unhinged vendetta against Lynette Reini-Grandell and Venus DeMars, a married couple who make music, art, poetry and teach English. The taxman running their audit says Reini-Grandell and DeMars’ creative activities don’t make enough money, and haven’t for years, thus proving the artists are mere hobbyists who shouldn’t get a tax break. Either they should turn a consistent profit by now, or have given up already and gone back to being good little consumers.

    “The tone of all these proceedings have been completely anti-art. There has been an emphasis on creating a product, advertising it for sale, and then selling it. …
    Writers do not write a few lines and then advertise they have a poem for sale, making sure that the poem sells at a break-even point of what it cost monetarily to produce it. But this is what the Minnesota Department of Revenue insists I should be doing. It sickens me to have to participate in this because I know it is deeply wrong.”

    More here.

    Sometimes, these apparent miscarriages of justice loom large in the headlines and then kind of fall apart when you look at the detail. Not this one. The further you get into the taxman’s narrow view of capitalism – large record company: good. Independent entrepreneur: bad – the more apparent it is that he believes so implicitly in the winner-takes-all model of capitalism that it’s not enough for musicians in the long tail to bump along the bottom indefinitely. No, they must be shamed for failure and fined a six figure amount in back taxes.

    [Editor: As usual with a Crooked Timber post, you get the full value if you plunge in and read through the comment section.




    Bonnie Tsui | Atlantic Cites

    The time period between the last two zodiac years of the dragon is the subject of Rising Dragon, a new exhibition of contemporary Chinese photography at the San Jose Museum of Art. It charts the phenomenal urbanization of China from 2000 to 2012, during which the country left behind its largely agricultural roots to become the world’s fastest-growing economy and home to many of its largest cities.

    The show includes more than 100 photographs by 36 mainland Chinese artists who came of age during this period; through portraits, cityscapes, landscapes, and daily scenes from modern life, they document the erosion of millennia-old Chinese social traditions and the transition for millions to a fast-paced global society.

    salute to the patriot - o zhang
    “Salute to the Patriot,” from the series “The World is Yours (But Also Ours),” 2008 (O Zhang)

    O Zhang documented the identity crisis facing Chinese youth today in “The World is Yours (But Also Ours);” she photographed young people in T-shirts bearing “Chinglish” phrases (the use of which the Chinese government attempted to eradicate before the 2008 Beijing Olympics).

    beijing capital steel company - zhou haiBeijing Capital Steel Company, forced to close down due to pollution, from the series “The Unbearable Heaviness of Industry,” 2005 (Zhou Hai)
    the unbearable heaviness of industry - zhou haiTwo workers dismantling equipment used for making steel, Liaoning Anshan Steel Company, Anshan, Liaoning, from the series “The Unbearable Heaviness of Industry,” 2005 (Zhou Hai)

    Zhou Hai, in a series called “The Unbearable Heaviness of Industry,” created black-and-white prints focused on the ravaged environments of rapid development and the workers who labor in their poisonous conditions





    Alec | Not Shaking the Grass

    Brooklyn Museum: Ron Mueck (Australian, b. 1958). Mask II, 2001–2002. Mixed media, 30 3/8 x 46 1/2 x 33 1/2 in. (77.2 x 118.1 x 85.1 cm).

    A visitor looks at a sculpture entitled "Mask II" by artist Ron Mueck during his exhibition at the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain in Paris





    John Holbo | Crooked Timber

    Educational apps for kids are supposed to be fun. The Holy Grail is getting your kid hooked on something that is basically their homework. Via BoingBoing, I found the Holy Grail: Dragonbox. (You can get it through iTunes and from other sources, I’m sure.)

    It’s just algebra, rewritten as a genuinely addictive solitaire-ish card game. You have to isolate the ‘box’ (or card) so your dragon will grow. You have ‘powers’ to transform and move and eliminate boxes in various ways (analogs of algebra stuff); and, periodically, you gain new ‘powers’ as you clear levels and your dragons grow. The first thing to say is: gosh, my daughters now fight with each other about who gets to do algebra after breakfast, on the iPad, before school.

    The second thing to say is that it raises kind of a funny issue in the philosophy of mathematics. Everything gets introduced in a cartoony, pictorial, non-mathematical way. The x you are solving for is the box with its shy, peeking dragon that won’t grow until it’s ‘alone’ (everything needs to be moved to the other half of the screen). Parentheses are bubbles that a few boxes may be suspended in. Negative numbers are ‘night cards’. A black-and-purple ‘night’ version of a picture card will cancel the regular version out, removing both from play.

    . . . Now: the philosophy. Algebra turned into a card game is a nice case-in-point for the debate about formalism in mathematics. Is my daughter actually doing algebra, even though she thinks she’s growing a dragon, or clearing a level, or playing a card game? She’s a bit like those tribespeople Wittgenstein writes about, whose stamps and shouts can be related, in a regular way, to moves in chess, but who have no conception that they are playing chess. Very ‘wax on, wax off’.


    Prospero | The Economist

    CORALIE COLMEZ was raised in Paris and studied maths at Cambridge University. She is now a maths tutor in London and belongs to the Bayes in Law Research Consortium, an international team who work to improve the use of probability and statistics in criminal trials. She recently co-authored “Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom” with her mother, Leila Schneps.

    How does maths come into forensics?

    One example is DNA analysis—not an exact science at all. If you do find a perfect sample, and it’s a perfect match, then it is exact. But that’s not what normally happens. A DNA profile looks like a graph that is fairly flat apart from 13 pairs of peaks—these are the pairs of genes that scientists have found are the most different from person to person. The probability that the samples will match on all 13 pairs is 1 in several hundred billion, which is why it is considered to be exact.

    But normally you will have a degraded, small or mixed sample, so that even if you do find a match you are not 100% sure you have the right person. There is a case in our book where a defendant matches on 5 peaks, meaning there is 1 in a million chance that this is the wrong person. But, if you think about it, 1 in a million isn’t such a damning probability if you consider the whole world [around 7 billion].

    But I suppose the chance that more than one or two of these people were near the scene of the crime must be quite low.

    If you are considering other evidence, then yes. But if you have no other evidence and you’re considering the whole world it isn’t such a small number.
    . . .

    You’re saying that maths can be counter-intuitive?

    Yes. There is Simpson’s Paradox—the best example of this was at Berkeley in 1973. The university was accused of sexism because only 30% of women who applied were getting in but 50% of men were getting in. They decided there must be discrimination going on, but then when they looked more closely they saw that what was actually happening was that more women were being admitted than men. The women were applying to the more heavily subscribed subjects, the arts, and the men were applying to physics and mathematics where it is easier to get in.

    How can that be true? If more women were getting in over all then percentages would surely show that more women got in?

    It’s interesting because it’s so counter-intuitive—looking at the same figures you can come to completely different conclusions. But more women were applying so a smaller percentage of female applicants got in.





    Marc | The Wooster Collective

    Indonesian street artist, Andi RHARHARHA, sent us a few videos about the art he’s created with duct tape out in Jakarta. The first video consists of duct tape hop scotch, encouraging the concept of urban play with every day pedestrians. The second video documents a record breaking 570 meters of colorful and geometric tape art along the city’s sidewalks. Seeing Andi RHARHARHA’s work out in Indonesia reminds us of street art’s power to transcend borders and connect people all across the globe. Enjoy!





    Stephan Balleux | | via Devid Sketchbook

    They shoot horses don’t they This section displays the works I produced during my stay in Melbourne, at the Wardlow Art Residency






    Steven Hyden | Pitchfork

    In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a female monster who dwells in the forest and feasts on children. This doesn’t necessarily mean she’s evil– in some stories, she’s a benign or even helpful figure– but she’s certainly mythical and definitely mysterious. For starry-eyed cosmic country-rock band Futurebirds, Baba Yaga is also a metaphor, for the rigors the Athens-based outfit endured while trying to locate a label to put out its stunning second record, and for the ambiguous darkness that peers inside the lush sprawl of their beautiful, foreboding songs.

    Futurebirds have been honing this sound– a loose-limbed tangle of reverbed guitars, hollered harmonies, and driving yet contemplative Southern rock rhythms– over the course of two EPs, 2010’s full-length debut Hampton’s Lullaby, and countless gigs in support of kindred spirits like the Drive-By Truckers and Heartless Bastards.

    . . . Baba Yaga is very much an “on tour” record; the controlled chaos of Futurebirds’ live shows translates on record like never before. You feel the energy, forgive any flubbed notes, and soak in the past-midnight revelry. Many tracks extend past the five-minute mark, with the excess padding coming from guitar solos stacked upon guitar solos, and boisterous sing-alongs allowed to go on for several extra beats. Baba Yaga nails the melancholy of trying to chase and pin down something that’s special and fleeting, because Futurebirds were clearly doing the same when recording these songs. This “something” might be best described as relief; Futurebirds’ twin obsessions on Baba Yaga are dysfunctional relationships and death, with the music acting as a communal salve against the private anguish documented in the lyrics.