Archive | October, 2012

Here’s Inequality For You, 10 powers of 10 from richest to poorest

16 Oct

In the last of his current series of articles on math, Visualizing Vastness, Steven Strogatz starts with the solar system, generalizes to powers of 10, and then offers these two paragraphs:

This style of thinking, this powers-of-10 mentality, is our best hope for making sense of the immensity of the natural world. What makes subjects like biology and climate science so hard is not just that they involve so many variables; it’s that the crucial phenomena in them occur over such a wide range of scales. Biologists need to contend with everything from nano-size DNA molecules on up to cells, organs, organisms and ecosystems. For climate scientists the relevant scales go from the molecular (the photochemistry of ozone) to the global (the fluid mechanics of the jet stream). Many of the great scientific puzzles of our time have this multiscale character.

A contentious example, especially in this election season, is inequality. The distribution of wealth in the United States spans at least 10 powers of 10, ranging from people whose net worth is measured in tens of billions of dollars, to those with barely a dollar to their names. This disparity dwarfs even the six powers of 10 in the solar system. As such, the distribution is extremely difficult to depict on a single graph, at least on the standard kinds of plots with linear axes, which is why you never see it displayed on one page.

The juxtaposition is striking.

Check out the website for the classic movie and book, Powers of Ten.

Gary Johnson Libertarian Candidate Worries Republicans – NYTimes.com

15 Oct

Now campaigning as the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee, Mr. Johnson is still only a blip in the polls. But he is on the ballot in every state except Michigan and Oklahoma, enjoys the support of a few small “super PACs” and is trying to tap into the same grass-roots enthusiasm that helped build Representative Ron Paul a big following. And with polls showing the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney to be tight, Mr. Johnson’s once-fellow Republicans are no longer laughing.

Around the country, Republican operatives have been making moves to keep Mr. Johnson from becoming their version of Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate whose relatively modest support cut into Al Gore’s 2000 vote arguably enough to help hand the decisive states of Ohio and Florida to George W. Bush.

Of course the Repugnants are worried. They’re morally bankrupt. And they don’t listen, except to the jingle jangle of $$$$$.

via Gary Johnson Libertarian Candidate Worries Republicans – NYTimes.com.

The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent – NYTimes.com

14 Oct

The 1% is destroying America, and their grandchildrens’ future.

The story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.

The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken. Elites that have prospered from inclusive systems can be tempted to pull up the ladder they climbed to the top. Eventually, their societies become extractive and their economies languish.

That was the future predicted by Karl Marx, who wrote that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. And it is the danger America faces today, as the 1 percent pulls away from everyone else and pursues an economic, political and social agenda that will increase that gap even further — ultimately destroying the open system that made America rich and allowed its 1 percent to thrive in the first place.

via The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent – NYTimes.com.

Tribes Add Powerful Voice Against Northwest Coal Plan – NYTimes.com

12 Oct

And as history has demonstrated over and over, especially in this part of the nation, from protecting fish habitats to removing dams, a tribal-environmental alliance goes far beyond good public relations. The cultural claims and treaty rights that tribes can wield — older and materially different, Indian law experts say, than any argument that the Sierra Club or its allies might muster about federal air quality rules or environmental review — add a complicated plank of discussion that courts and regulators have found hard to ignore.

Lummi tribal leaders recently burned a mock million-dollar check in a ceremonial statement that money could never buy their cooperation. Last month, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a regional congress of more than 50 tribes in seven states, passed a resolution demanding a collective environmental impact statement for the proposed ports, rather than project-by-project statements, which federal regulators have suggested.

via Tribes Add Powerful Voice Against Northwest Coal Plan – NYTimes.com.

Simple Gratitude

9 Oct

I prepared a pot roast yesterday for the first time in two or three years.

Most of the time my dinner preparations are embarrassingly primitive. Yes, I do eat out of get take out—mostly cheap take-out the year and a half I lived in Hoboken. But for most of my adult life I’ve prepared dinner.

Two or three times a year I’d do a pot roast. Certainly nothing elaborate or fancy. Still, it’s a step above rock-bottom basic. After all, it does require that you peel onions, carrots, and potatoes—though I didn’t peel them this time. I do like the skins. You have to dredge the meat in a flour and spice mixture. It’s got to cook for several hours, so you’ve got to watch it, help it along.

There’s enough to do that one has a sense of involvement with the food. It’s something you think about, tend to, and care for.

It felt good.

And when I put the food on my plate, I blessed it. I didn’t say anything, but I felt something. That something was a blessing.

Which I realized only as I composed this note. That blessing is the point of the note, it’s why I set out to write it. But the specific word wasn’t in my mind when I sat down to type.

It’s one I associate with Coleridge, his poem “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” at the very end:

My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beat its straight path across the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While thou stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.

War is the Health of the State: The Impact of Military Defense on the History of the United States by Jeffrey Hummel :: SSRN

8 Oct

There you have it: the primary function of the state is to wage war.

Abstract: Of all the functions of government, or the State, national defense is generally considered to be the most essential. Ideally, national defense should be a service provided by government to the people. The service entails protection from aggressors outside the State’s jurisdiction, usually foreign States although sometimes foreign terrorists. Yet a government’s ability to provide such protection ultimately rests on its power to wage war. Governments therefore have tended to devote more resources to war than to anything else. Indeed, prior to the advent of the modern welfare State, they usually spent more on war than on all other things combined. Governments were essentially war making institutions that did a few other things on the side. As a result, the history of nearly all governments is dominated by the conduct of wars, the preparation for wars, and the consequences of wars; and this is no less true for the United States government than for any other.

This manuscript therefore surveys the domestic repercussions of past U.S. wars, from the American Revolution through World War II. Not only did the State swell in authority, reach, and intrusiveness while waging war, but also a postwar ratchet effect almost always left government in America more powerful after the fighting was over. Post-war retrenchment was rarely sufficient to bring government back to its prewar levels. The State had assumed new functions, taken on new responsibilities, and exercised new prerogatives. The impacts of modernization, urbanization, economics, demography, complexity, or other domestic developments pale in comparison. Of all the myriad factors that historians have studied and identified as contributing to the evolution, contours, and scope of government at all levels within this country, none is more crucial, pervasive, and ubiquitous than warfare.

via War is the Health of the State: The Impact of Military Defense on the History of the United States by Jeffrey Hummel :: SSRN.

A Politics of Love | The Nation

7 Oct

We need to embrace the direct-action spirit of the Occupy movement, and we need to broaden that spirit by offering the millions of people who are hurting ways to connect and participate. We should claim the significant voter protection, registration and mobilization work that was done to promote democratic participation in this election cycle. We can embrace the many ways in which people are coming together already to support one another and meet their communities’ growing needs.

We need to engage in massive efforts to change the culture, both within and beyond our movements. We need to engage in politics from a place of love and care; we must challenge the tendency toward individualism and self-interest that has dominated our politics for several decades. We need to reaffirm our humanity and spirit, emphasizing the importance of building emotional connections between people in local communities and identifying where interests overlap across constituencies.

via A Politics of Love | The Nation.

Devaluing care work — and women – Salon.com

2 Oct

“Once upon a time, we lived in a world where men engaged in paid work and women stayed home and took care of the children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled,” says Nancy Folbre, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the editor of the recent book “For Love and Money: Care Provision in the United States.”

We no longer live in that world, for reasons that go well beyond women’s individual fulfillment (though that matters too!), including stagnating real wages and loss of worker protections in traditionally male jobs that once provided a “family wage.” But you wouldn’t know that looking at the American workplace, still structured as it is around the assumption that someone is at home to care for those who can’t care for themselves. And even in this election year of tailoring messages to women, the failure of the economy to catch up to household realities is scarcely on the table — not for Republicans, of course, but not for too many Democrats either. Given how women still pick up most of the slack on care work, even when they’re in the paid workforce, this is as much an issue of feminism as it is one of reproductive rights.

via Devaluing care work — and women – Salon.com.