MONDAY | 15 JULY 2013



Julie Oberlander | News Desk | The New Yorker

riday afternoon, the D.O.J. released its Report on Review of News Media Policies, describing a set of changes to the Department’s policies regarding when and how the government can seek information from the media.

On first review, the Department has taken its task seriously, and the changes are significant and noteworthy. They could go a long way toward limiting the secret collection of media-related information by the government. There is a new, and stronger, presumption of notice before a subpoena or other process is issued. Notice is important, because it allows the media a chance to negotiate or limit the information sought by the government, or to go to court in an attempt to quash the subpoena.





Rick Poyner | The Observatory | Design Observer

The street art that grabs me, if street art is even the right term, is much looser and messier than these manifestations. It’s less a resolved image with a clearly stated intention and definite physical boundaries, and more a sprawling, evolving process of layering and accretion. It’s often the work, over time, of multiple hands, most likely to be anonymous. For some reason Porto was especially rich in elaborate examples of this kind of collectively composed street marking. These chaotic fusions of collage, scribble, stencil and runic symbols sprang out wherever I walked. I’d barely arrived in the city before seeing the images in the photo above, across the street from where I was staying. Here’s a picture showing the piece’s immediate context.

3 of 14





Ross Douthat | The New York Times

But without a vision of the common good, a party is basically just a faction, seeking only the interests of its constituents, with no sense of its responsibilities to the country as a whole. And the Obama-era Republican Party’s worst tendency has been toward just this sort of factionalism: Not an ideological extremism, exactly, but rather a vision of government that you might call “small government for thee, but not for me,” in which conservatism is just constituent services for the most reliable Republican groups and voters.

This is what produced the party’s unfortunate Mediscare tactics during the 2009 health care debate, and it’s what produced yesterday’s egregious farm bill vote. It should go without saying that America’s agriculture policy has always been a terrible, stupid, counterproductive exercise in self-dealing cronyism. But when House Republicans severed the traditional connection, arbitrary but politically effective, between farm subsidies and food stamps, it briefly seemed like they were looking for an opportunity to put libertarian populist principle into practice, by separating both outlays in order to trim or reform both separately. But no — instead they were just making it easier for the party’s congressmen to vote for a bloated, awful big government program that benefits mostly-Republican states and interest groups, knowing that they weren’t also voting for something that pays out to the (mostly-Democratic) poor as well.


Michael Dimock | Civil Eats

Because of this alliance of entrenched interests, new policies that respond to current health, environmental and economic challenges that impact all Americans have been stopped or kept to the Bill’s margins and starved for funds. Consequently, I am in rare agreement with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who led the fight to split the Bill. But our goals are very different. Cantor wants to cut SNAP and public investments in agriculture. He bet that killing the powerful political alliance between the two lobbies will ensure cuts. I believe that the powerful urban members of Congress (particularly in the Senate), large city mayors and governors will limit SNAP cuts in any new nutrition bill. It is more likely that major cuts will undermine agriculture’s ability to feed the nation and the world without destroying our resource base in the process.





Alec | Not Shaking the Grass
winner takes all





Bruce Fisher | Art Voice

When the Indianapolis Colts play the Denver Broncos on October 20, 2013 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the average ticket price, according to a ticket website called Vivid Seats, will be $467. That is the before-tax weekly household income of more than 54 percent of the 410,000 people who filed tax returns in Erie County, New York, in the last year the IRS counted. But everybody in Erie County pays local sales taxes, which is the revenue source that local governments use to subsidize professional sports venues like the Ralph Wilson Stadium.

. . . Yet the American political economy today is better set up to deliver to the Buffalo area its own new version of the Indianapolis Colts-Denver Broncos game than it is to deliver new jobs to the Rust Belt. As Assemblymember Sean Ryan noted in a recent statement, the latest review of local industrial development agency operations shows what we have long known: that in the rare event that net new jobs are actually created by the tax breaks, interest-rate subsidies, and outright corporate handouts that IDAs pass around, the net new jobs tend to be in retail, services, and distribution—not in wealth-creating industries. Mostly, though, IDAs hand out subsidies and create few jobs. The New York State Budget Office report is stark: Since 2008, the Erie County IDA has incentivized 12 active projects with tax incentives totaling $2,959,172; the projects were supposed to create 262 jobs, but 14 jobs have actually been lost.

. . . It’s increasingly clear that the American future will belong to plutocrats alone unless many dozens of small startups and innovators, supported by civil servants and educators who are paid decently and allowed to do their jobs, are protected and promoted. Small startups and innovators require a different infrastructure than what our political class wants to deliver.





MARIANA MAZZUCATO is a Professor in Economics at the University of Sussex, where she holds the RM Phillips Chair in Science and Technology Policy. She is interested in the interactions between technological change, economic growth, and the ways that industries are structured. Her recent work has looked at the leading role of the State in fostering innovation, and hence the implications of ‘austerity’ for Europe’s ability to be an ‘Innovation Union’. In her last book The Entrepreneurial State she argues that active State investment has been the secret behind most radical innovations, and that this requires economists to analyse the State as market ‘maker’ and market ‘shaper’ not just market ‘fixer’.


Reihan Salam | The Agenda | National Review

Not surprisingly, I disagree with the general thrust of Eisenbrey and Mazzucato’s take. Consider, for example, the extraordinary success of Samsung, the Korean multinational that, among other things, has developed a series of successful iPhone competitors. Samsung has a long history of entanglement with the Korean state, which might to reinforce Eisenbrey and Mazzucato’s basic point. It is also true that Samsung — which represents as much as one-fifth of South Korean GDP — makes use of capacitative sensors, solid-state memory, the click wheel, GPS, internet, cellular communications, Siri, microchips, and touchscreens, much like Apple. But this presumably doesn’t mean that Samsung ought to pay the U.S. federal government some kind of tribute. As Amar Bhidé often notes, an Englishman pioneered the World Wide Web under the auspices of the government-financed CERN laboratory in Switzerland, yet the U.S. has been the main source of consumer internet innovation. U.S. internet firms do not, however, pay the Swiss and other European governments a formal innovation bounty. Part of the reason is that everyone profits from the free flow of knowledge, which is why excessive patents are such an economic scourge. The U.S. government devised the technologies Mazzucato identifies for its own, usually defense-oriented reasons. Mazzucato implicitly suggests that in a counterfactual universe in which the Cold War had never taken place, and in which defense expenditures hadn’t diverted spending from other domains or forced higher tax levels, etc., innovations in information technology would not have taken place either. The decades that preceded the Cold War, during which there was considerable private sector innovation in early information technologies, suggests that this is not the case, but of course we can’t really say. What we do know is that in our world, incremental innovations by private firms made the defense-oriented technologies that power smartphones more useful over time. What we are dealing with is a complex innovation ecosystem, in which the government undoubtedly plays a role. Yet to characterize the government’s role as more important or more essential strikes me as a mistake.


Ashwin Parameswaran | Macroresilience

The first is the experience of the Soviet economic system. In The Soviet Union, most of the research and development was conducted by designated research institutes who were also partially responsible for implementing the new discoveries and inventions within the relevant industrial enterprise. The Soviets were reasonably successful in coming up with new inventions in their research institutes. Yet even when new products and technologies had been invented, the Soviet research institutes struggled to convince incumbent firms to introduce them into production.

Now how is this example relevant to a capitalist economy? Some of you may argue that unlike the communist enterprises in the Soviet Union, capitalist enterprises are strongly incentivised to jump upon any innovation that would come out of a research institute. But in reality there was no shortage of positive incentives to innovate or increase production for managers of Soviet enterprises. Soviet managers were not motivated by the communist ideal but by that most capitalist of incentives, the bonus. The economist Joseph Berliner estimated that a director of a coal-mine could earn as much as 150% of his base salary as a bonus just for outperforming plan production targets by 5%. On top of this, Soviet managers were provided with ‘innovation’ bonuses as the Soviet planning authorities became increasingly concerned with the slow pace of productivity growth in the 1950s and 60s. But none of these bonuses worked. In fact the bonuses served to further discourage the rollout of any risky innovation that could endanger the fulfilment of short-term plan targets. Managers would focus on low-risk process innovation to fulfil their innovation targets and focused on maximising their short-term ‘plan fulfillment’ bonuses. Ultimately the Soviet system could not replicate the real threat of failure that compels firms in a free enterprise economy to chase disruptive innovation for fear that an upstart new entrant may overtake them.





e-David | Vimeo

e-David, our painting machine, uses visual feedback to create different kinds of paintings. We equipped a standard robot with all necessary means for painting. Five different brushes can be used, color can be selected from a repository with 24 colors, brushes can be cleaned and colors can be distributed precisely on the canvas.

The machine watches itself while painting and decides indepentently where to add new strokes. This way paintings are created that are not completely defined by the programmer but are the result of a visual optimization process.




HOLD THE MSG: Gluten and MSG intolerance may be only in your head. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Alan Levinovitz | Slate

One reason for this unreliability is that memory and perception are prone to confirmation bias. Once a bias is in place, we’ll selectively remember—and notice—whatever facts help confirm it. Food historian Ian Mosby has explained the “success” of Chinese restaurant syndrome by connecting it to racialized discourse that drew on a vision of Chinese cooking as bizarre or extreme. In the case of gluten intolerance, it doesn’t take much to come up with a plausible confirmation bias. Only nine years ago, 1 in every 11 Americans was on a low-carb diet. In a country terrified of weight gain and recently obsessed with the Atkins diet, gluten makes a great villain. It’s hard not to notice the theme of weight loss on gluten-free sites. Pasta, bread, cake, cookies, pretzels—they don’t just make you fat, they make you sick! (Added bonus: Diets motivated by a medical condition are far more effective—ask any diabetic.)

Confirmation bias meets physiology in the placebo effect, a well-documented phenomenon in medical treatments ranging from sham drugs to sham acupuncture (where patients respond positively to sham needles) to sham knee surgery. People’s desire to believe in a cure actually affects their symptoms. That’s why placebo-controlled, double-blinded studies are integral to medical research. Without them, we’d be in constant danger of ascribing physiological causality to treatments that are actually psychological.

Needless to say, placebo effects aren’t always beneficial. Strong belief can also render a harmless substance poisonous, which is exactly what happened with MSG. Scientists refer to this as the nocebo effect, and it means that careful studies are necessary to distinguish between poisons and poisonous beliefs.

None of this minimizes the relief felt by those who undergo sham acupuncture, or the symptoms of those who think they are gluten intolerant. Pain is pain; chronic diarrhea is chronic diarrhea. All it means is that pain relief might not be caused by the physical presence of an acupuncture needle, and diarrhea might not be caused by the physical presence of gluten. In these instances, the symptoms may be real, but their cause (and potential resolution) is all in our heads.





Darshak Sanghavi | Slate

Why do some women wait so long? The answer is that comprehensive fetal testing, such as anatomical sonograms and ultrasounds of the heart, are typically performed just before 20 weeks of gestation. Such scans are critical for uncovering major birth defects, such as anencephaly (severe brain malformations), major heart defects, missing organs and limbs, and other severe birth defects. Fetal development is a complex process that often goes awry. Roughly 2 percent of all pregnancies are complicated by a major birth defect, and of those about 0.5 percent have a chromosomal defect, such as an extra or missing segment of normal DNA. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality, and in many cases of severe birth defects, no medical treatment can salvage a fetus’s life or result in any measure of normal future health.





Maciek Janicki | Vimeo

The streets are paved with paper. This delicate animation follows the charming rise and fold of a fragile metropolis.
Captured by an unseen helicopter, the narrative unfolds through winding roads, erupting forests and emerging mountains.
Paper City grows in one fluid take, with skyscrapers rising from the page – only to crumble, wrinkle and gently crease back into the ground.

Direction, Animation, Scultping, Camera, Architecture:
Maciek Janicki ( / )





Tate Watkins | Medium

Last year, I co-produced a video story on pepe. I thought I knew the topic front- and back-wards going in: The hand-me-down clothing you see all over Haiti comes by way of rich-country donors who think they’re helping, but the donations actually stifle local producers, may be completely unwanted, and create significant transport and sorting costs. And all of those things can be effects of donations to the developing world.

But as people like Haitian professor of sociology Renol Elie, who has watched the market for decades, told me, donations dumped in Haiti by religious and aid organizations are negligible. They’re a drop in the ocean of pepe, which is a massive trade with all the signals of a well-functioning market. Demand for all the same brands that are favored in the States – from mainstays like Ralph Lauren, to athletic-chic marks like Puma, to Italian names like Dolce & Gabbana – drive the market here. Buyers in U.S. thrift stores sort through donations to find the best apparel for the Haitian market, they send it to wholesalers in Haiti’s port cities, and it eventually winds up in every urban street market and the most rural regions of the country. Inevitably, many kitschy t-shirts make it through, perhaps to serve lower end of the local market, which is how you wind up with a dark-skinned Haitian woman in a “Kiss me i’m a blonde” aqua tee.

Economists talk a lot about the difference between stated preferences – what you claim to like – and “revealed” ones – what your actions say about what you truly like. There are 10 million Haitians in Haiti today, and nearly 10 million of them wear pepe.





Tom Jacobs | Pacific Standard

In the first group, “liberal Democrats significantly overestimated their liberalism,” the researchers report. “However, moderate Democrats, Independents, and Republicans significantly underestimated their liberalism.”

A very similar pattern was found in the other groups, with an underestimation of one’s liberalism “more pronounced” among self-described conservatives.

These findings line up nicely with previous political science research, including a working paper we wrote about in 2011. It found that although about 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservatives (with 35 percent calling themselves moderates and 21 percent liberals, according to a 2012 Gallup survey), only about one-quarter of them are truly conservative on the issues.

In still another paper, presented at the Southern Political Science Association meeting in January, three researchers from Washington University in St. Louis echoed those findings, reporting that “symbolic conservatives often are operational liberals.”





Brian Howe | Pitchfork | amazon

I attend several contemporary dance performances a year and encounter a few more through recorded scores. Based on this limited sample, it seems almost mandatory for modern choreographers to power dancers with blends of acoustic classical instruments and electronic tones by the likes of Ben Frost or Gavin Bryars. The third full-length by Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson, a score for a ballet by Stephen Petronio, is a textbook case of this approach. Architecture of Loss pits gravely emotive chamber music against furtive electronic frequencies. Drawing from the ballet’s concepts of loss and forgetting, it’s like something sneaky by Anton Webern and something subliminal from Touch Music playing in synch: bold, yearning themes often break free, but feelings of occlusion and indeterminacy linger.

valgeir sigurosson - architecture of loss


Harley Cassidy | Louder Than War | amazon

Jagwar Ma are a band intent on looking to the future, something which is echoed in their music. No other ensemble have created such a furore by spinning Madchester on it’s already niche head and filtering it into current dance music with traces of house and trance in the mix. Gabriel Winterfield is the perfect frontman for the outfit: his distorted, nonchalant vocals are akin to that of a certain Ian Brown, renowned for less singing but more swagger. Perforating The Throw with a disharmonic, falsetto verging “I DON’T EVEN CARE” over lazy, chugging beats and Oompa Loompa style chants of la-la-la before picking up the pace into a fully-fledged indie dance number without sounding anything like Hot Chip, Bloc Party or LCD Soundsystem, Jagwar Ma have already secured their place as a new found entity. And God, it’s good.

jagwar ma - howlin