Archive | February, 2012

Amid Winter Blooms, Wondering What That Means for Spring – NYTimes.com

27 Feb

David W. Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University and an expert on climate change, said the temperatures this winter appeared to “represent an extreme,” even within the context of climate change. But, he said, the federal climate-zone guides from 1960, 1990 and this year reveal “an extremely fast pace” of change.

“This winter, when they do the final analysis, will be close to an all-time record breaker,” Dr. Wolfe said. “It’s a rare event. But I think it will become less rare.”

That is little solace to farmers, horticulturalists and home gardeners, who have worried about their charges this winter. Rod Dressel Sr., who owns a 300-acre apple orchard in the Hudson Valley, said the buds on his trees were starting to swell. If the trees flower too early, a freeze could kill the blossoms and, with them, the promise of apples this fall.

via Amid Winter Blooms, Wondering What That Means for Spring – NYTimes.com.

Moscow Protests Continue Week Before Russians Vote on Putin – NYTimes.com

26 Feb

Are these Russinas setting  an example for Americans? Do they care about their government’s future more than we care about ours?

The Kremlin has been shaken by the recent emergence of the protest movement among middle-class Muscovites, who only a few months ago were considered to be largely politically indifferent. But tens of thousands have braved subzero temperatures, occasional arrests and the loss of weekend shopping time to attend boisterous protests against Mr. Putin’s rule.

On Sunday, amid slush-clogged streets and a steady snow, a carnival atmosphere prevailed, with vendors handing out free hot tea and pancakes to mark the last day before the beginning of Orthodox Lent.

via Moscow Protests Continue Week Before Russians Vote on Putin – NYTimes.com.

Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber

26 Feb

This is from the ‘middle’ (I suspect) of an ongoing conversation which I don’t have time to (even attempt to) summarize. But the suggestion is that it’s Jubilee time for all. That is, if the Powers That Be had any sense, which they don’t:

Well, no firm in any business can make a big profit if there is too much supply. Globally there is US$40 to $60 trillion zapping around, fast as electrons, looking for big yields.

Now they are running out of bubbles to blow up, while their yields in the safe sovereign harbors are negative, or almost negative.

The correct solution is redistribution, jubilee. But in today’s terms: let’s have higher fiscal deficits in the short-term to boost infrastructure and human capital (a.k.a. “education”), to get the economy moving again. Then afterward, let’s have a series of slow and progressive tax hikes to pay down deficits until the safety-net programs are long-term robust—which is also, incidentally or double coincidentally, a fiscal policy to reduce inflation from the wage side, and thus also to keep interest rates in check. And perhaps include a charter for a small-business investment bank, perhaps the only one with government deposit insurance.

via Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber.

Ghastly Outdated Party – NYTimes.com

26 Feb

I like that, Ghastly Outdated Party, especially as “ghastly” has a whiff of zombie about it, which is what these folks are, the walking dead. They aren’t going to nominate Ron Paul, who’s still proudly among the living. Wish he’d ditch them and go out with the Reform Party.

The contenders in the Hester Prynne primaries are tripping over one another trying to be the most radical, unreasonable and insane candidate they can be. They pounce on any traces of sanity in the other candidates — be it humanity toward women, compassion toward immigrants or the willingness to make the rich pay a nickel more in taxes — and try to destroy them with it.

via Ghastly Outdated Party – NYTimes.com.

Bell Labs, Innovation for the Ages

26 Feb

Bell Labs, Innovation for the Ages

Jon Gertner has an interesting article in today’s New York Times about Bell Labs, the place that gave us the transistor and the Unix operating system, information theory and the background radiation of the universe, among many other ideas and devices. It was perhaps the greatest industrial lab America, or the world, has seen. Ever. So far.

in the search for innovative models to address seemingly intractable problems like climate change, we would do well to consider Bell Labs’ example — an effort that rivals the Apollo program and the Manhattan Project in size, scope and expense. Its mission, and its great triumph, was to connect all of us, and all of our new machines, together.

In his recent letter to potential shareholders of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg noted that one of his firm’s mottoes was “move fast and break things.” Bell Labs’ might just as well have been “move deliberately and build things.”

Perhaps the ecology of innovation has changed so much in the last couple of decades that Zuckerberg’s philosophy is the right one. Perhaps not. So far Facebook is only one idea.

And again: Continue reading

Work Less, Help Economy And Environment

26 Feb

Today, the typical employee in the Netherlands works fewer than 35 hours per week, often spread from Monday to Thursday.

In the U.S., a trial program begun in Utah in 2008 compressed the 40-hour work week for state employees to four days. Without the need to commute or turn on the lights, elevators and computers on Fridays, employees helped cut the state’s energy bills and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 10,000 metric tons — the equivalent of removing about 1,700 gasoline cars from U.S. roads. The workers also appeared to like the lifestyle change: 82 percent wanted to stay on the new schedule. Nevertheless, the program ended in September 2011.

Meanwhile, Germany and France are among nations following the Dutch lead.

via Work Less, Help Economy And Environment.

Should Corporations Have More Leeway to Kill Than People Do? – NYTimes.com

26 Feb

In Citizens United the Supreme Court held that corporations had rights heretofor restricted to humans. Now they are being asked to decide whether or not they have resposibilities.

The story behind the Kiobel case is compelling: The plaintiffs are members of the Ogoni people in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where Royal Dutch Shell had extensive oil operations in the 1990s through contracts with the brutal military dictatorship that held power at the time. The region is widely considered a zone of calamity, in terms of both environmental and human rights. In the suit, Royal Dutch Shell was accused of assisting the Nigerian government in torturing and, through sham trials, executing Ogoni activists who had threatened to disrupt Shell’s operations because of the devastating health and environmental effects of unregulated drilling practices. The plaintiffs are either victims of torture themselves or had relatives who were executed. Esther Kiobel, the plaintiff after whom the suit is named, is the widow of a victim.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Royal Dutch Shell and against the plaintiffs, multinational corporations — particularly in mining and other extractive industries — could draw the lesson that it is now safer to forge alliances with autocratic regimes that have poor human rights records because they will not be judged culpable in the way individuals can be. …

A decision affirming that Shell should go unpunished in the Niger Delta case would leave us with a Supreme Court that seems of two minds: in the words of Justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent from Citizens United, it threatens “to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation” by treating corporations as people to let them make unlimited political contributions, even as it treats corporations as if they are not people to immunize them from prosecution for the most grievous human rights violations.

via Should Corporations Have More Leeway to Kill Than People Do? – NYTimes.com.

Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber

25 Feb

In his magisterial Debt: The First 5000 Years David Graeber mentions numerous debt jubilees in the ancient world, always with the qualification that it is individual debt that is forgiven, not commercial debt. This is a review the examines that point.

So it is noticeable that the concept of “too big to fail” has grown up hand in hand with the concept of the debt relation for the entire traceable history of debt. Although the parallel track of debt as obligation, religion and morality has certainly been there, and is described expertly in the book, from day one it has been recognised among merchants and men of commerce that the point of the debt relation is to serve the organisation and arrangement of commercial need.

To my mind, this fact rather colours one of the central theses of Debt – the idea that debt has from its origins been entwined with slavery, military tribute and imperialism. I’d advance the suggestion that of course the first people to start codifying the debt relation were the first emperors and rulers; they were the first people who ever came across the problem of organising a productive economy larger than a small village or subsistence farming community. The fact that debt has its origins in the creation of tax-collecting, military societies seems to me to be equivalent to the fact that NASA invented Teflon – they had to do it, in order to solve the problems put in front of them.

via Too Big To Fail: The First 5000 Years — Crooked Timber.

Squatter’s Space in Berlin | Urbanscale

25 Feb

Some provocative paragraphs from the newsletter of a an urban design firm in NYC. The underlying theme is a call for a more flexible and resilient use of urban space.

A further instructive example, this one European, might be Kunsthaus Tacheles, the squatted former department store in the Mitte district of Berlin. Until its shuttering earlier this year, Tacheles supported the widest possible array of creative activity; unimpeded by any sort of regulation, the single structure functioned as a mothership for dozens of ad hoc artist’s studios, workshops, performance spaces, restaurants and bars.

Anyone who ever spent so much as an hour on the grounds of Tacheles will remember a few things about the place: its energy, of course. The way it encouraged (and rewarded) curiosity. The multiple modes in and through which you could engage it and the people who made it what it was. The point isn’t that every place can or should be reimagined as a graffiti-bedizened hive self-managed on anarchist lines — though a boy can wish — but that particularly intensive mixed use gives rise to a vivid and resonant micro-urbanity that has to be experienced to be understood.

via Week 39: On space as a service | Urbanscale.

The Rise of the Warrior Corporation: Win or Lose on the Battlefield, Big Business Always Comes Out on Top | World | AlterNet

24 Feb

Although early drone technology was already being used over North Vietnam, it’s in another sense entirely that drones have been heading into America’s future since 1973. There was an eerie logic to it: first came professional war, then privatized war, then mercenary and outsourced war — all of which made war ever more remote from most Americans. Finally, both literally and figuratively, came remote war itself.

It couldn’t be more appropriate that the Air Force prefers you not call their latest wonder weapons “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs, anymore. They would like you to use the label “remotely piloted aircraft” (RPA) instead. And ever more remotely piloted that vehicle is to be, until — claim believers and enthusiasts — it will pilot itself, land itself, maneuver itself, and while in the air even chose its own targets.

In this sense, think of us as moving from the citizen’s army to a roboticized, and finally robot, military — to a military that is a foreign legion in the most basic sense. In other words, we are moving toward an ever greater outsourcing of war to things that cannot protest, cannot vote with their feet (or wings), and for whom there is no “home front” or even a home at all. In a sense, we are, as we have been since 1973, heading for a form of war without anyone, citizen or otherwise, in the picture — except those on the ground, enemy and civilian alike, who will die as usual.

via The Rise of the Warrior Corporation: Win or Lose on the Battlefield, Big Business Always Comes Out on Top | World | AlterNet.