Weekly Roundup 158: A Curated Linkfest For The Smartest People On The Web!
Update: Due to holiday traveling. I will postpone the next weekly roundup to Jan 1st! Happy Holidays.
Handpicked to satisfy your intellectual curiosity!
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The Patriots Corner ( Inequality & Other Issues to Get Your Blood Boiling):
FiveBooks Interview: Daron Acemoglu on Inequality – via www.valueinvestingworld.com – The US, the UK and many other countries have become far less equal over the past 30 years. The MIT economics professor says it’s important we understand how and why this happened, and what it means for our societies
The Walmart Heirs Have The Same Net Worth As The Bottom 30 Percent Of Americans – via ThinkProgress – Upon closer inspection, the Forbes list reveals that six Waltons—all children (one daughter-in-law) of Sam or James “Bud” Walton the founders of Wal-Mart—were on the list. The combined worth of the Walton six was $69.7 billion in 2007—which equated to the total wealth of the entire bottom thirty percent!
Why Do People Defend Unjust, Inept, and Corrupt Systems? – via Association for Psychological Science – System justification isn’t the same as acquiescence, explains Aaron C. Kay, a psychologist at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, who co-authored the paper with University of Waterloo graduate student Justin Friesen. “It’s pro-active. When someone comes to justify the status quo, they also come to see it as what should be.”
Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments – via Brookings Institution – Technology trends are making such monitoring easier to perform. While the domestic surveillance programs of countries including Syria, Iran, China, Burma, and Libya under Gadhafi have been extensively reported, the evolving role of digital storage in facilitating truly pervasive surveillance is less widely recognized. Plummeting digital storage costs will soon make it possible for authoritarian regimes to not only monitor known dissidents, but to also store the complete set of digital data associated with everyone within their borders. These enormous databases of captured information will create what amounts to a surveillance time machine, enabling state security services to retroactively eavesdrop on people in the months and years before they were designated as surveillance targets. This will fundamentally change the dynamics of dissent, insurgency and revolution.
The coming era of ubiquitous surveillance in authoritarian countries has important consequences for American foreign policy as well, impacting issues as diverse as human rights, trade, nuclear nonproliferation, export control, and intellectual property security.
Social issues in America – via lanekenworthy.net – Lectures slides for my “Social Issues in America” course this fall are here.
Choice and Inequality – via thesituationist.wordpress.com – Wealth inequality has significant psychological, physiological, societal, and economic costs. We investigate how seemingly innocuous, culturally pervasive ideas can help maintain and further wealth inequality. Specifically, we test whether the concept of choice, which is deeply valued in American society, leads people to act in ways that maintain and perpetuate wealth inequality. Choice, we argue, activates the belief that life outcomes stem from personal agency, not from societal factors, leading people to justify wealth inequality. Six experiments show that when choice is highlighted, people are less disturbed by facts about the existing wealth inequality in the U.S., more likely to underestimate the role of societal factors in individuals’ successes, less likely to support the redistribution of educational resources, and less likely to tax the rich even to resolve a government budget deficit crisis. The findings indicate that the culturally valued concept of choice contributes to the maintenance of wealth inequality.
On fairy tales about inequality – via Economic Policy Institute – The idea that income inequality is a thing of the past or has reversed itself is simply not true. Inequality did fall from 2007 to 2009, but remained way above the inequalities that prevailed 30 years ago. Everything we know about trends in 2010 shows inequality is recovering lost ground. I would bet that further ground will be recovered in 2011 and ensuing years and it’s just a matter of how quickly this occurs. You can bet that the income growth at the top will be far stronger than that of the vast majority over the next several years. Of course, these trends in inequality are not dictated by a law of nature or economics, and they won’t be reversed until policies are shifted to make that happen.
Why a Democracy Needs Uninformed People – Miller – via McCune – In a lesson taught by schools of fish, researchers determine that uninformed individuals are actually a benefit to democracy by sanding off extreme views.
Finance Now Exists For Its Own Benefit – Via RealClearMarkets – Looking through the Byzantine maze of accounting interpretations and black box calculations that compose Bank of America’s latest quarterly balance sheet presentation, you get the idea that the company has increased its exposure to derivative positions in the first three quarters of 2011 by about $6 billion on the asset side. In the context of these dangerous and volatile times, knowing what happened in 2008, that may not seem like a very good thing for the bank. There was also an increase in derivative liabilities, about $4 billion, so at least most of that increase was funded in the same arena (banks always want to match risks or net them out somehow).
Who runs Russia? – via FT.com – Russians have an oddly reverential attitude about their gangsters. For a small fee, tour guides will lead you through Moscow’s Vagankovskoye cemetery, where mafiosi of means are buried – some under life-sized statues or headstones etched with a likeness of the deceased standing next to his BMW. You can tune into Radio Shanson, named after a style of folk music devoted to ballads about prison life, which is currently Moscow’s second most popular station. Or notice the traditional thief’s gesture known as the raspaltsovka, extending the index and little finger, now as ubiquitous as gold chains and Rolexes in Moscow’s nightclubs.
Confessions That Corrupt – via pss.sagepub.com – Basic psychology research suggests the possibility that confessions—a potent form of incrimination—may taint other evidence, thereby creating an appearance of corroboration. To determine if this laboratory-based phenomenon is supported in the high-stakes world of actual cases, we conducted an archival analysis of DNA exoneration cases from the Innocence Project case files. Results were consistent with the corruption hypothesis: Multiple evidence errors were significantly more likely to exist in false-confession cases than in eyewitness cases; in order of frequency, false confessions were accompanied by invalid or improper forensic science, eyewitness identifications, and snitches and informants; and in cases containing multiple errors, confessions were most likely to have been obtained first. We believe that these findings underestimate the problem and have important implications for the law concerning pretrial corroboration requirements and the principle of “harmless error” on appeal.
Carrier IQ: Actually, we don’t give your data to the FBI — or any other law enforcement – via VentureBeat – Carrier IQ is a company that monitors mobile data on more than 100 million phones around the world. It sends reports related to app performance, signal strength and battery life back to carriers and manufacturers.
IThe Deal: The debate over elite schools and elite jobs – via infoproc.blogspot.com – Manzi questioned the exclusivity of Rivera’s super-elite and argued from personal experience that consultants at least do demand not just high course and test scores, but a certain rigor in course selection, particularly in math and science. Hsiu, a physicist at the University of Oregon, then offered a further distinction between hard and soft firms, which are looking for subtly different skills. His distinction turns almost entirely on quantitative abilities. Hard firms, like hedge and venture firms and tech startups, demand sheer mathematical brainpower and will take it where they can find it. Soft firms such as investment banks, law and consulting firms that sell services, like advice, that is more “nebulous” and harder to measure, and where “prestige” matters more, embrace the elite-school brand more readily. Hsiu can’t help but give more value to those measurable standards, although a number of his commenters argued with him on that point.
Drone-Ethics Briefing: What a Leading Robot Expert Told the CIA – via The Atlantic – Last month, philosopher Patrick Lin delivered this briefing about the ethics of drones at an event hosted by In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture-capital arm. It’s a thorough and unnerving survey of what it might mean for the intelligence service to deploy different kinds of robots.
8 ex-Siemens executives and agents charged with bribing to secure $1 billion Argentine deal – via The Washington Post – Eight former Siemens senior executives and agents were charged with plotting to pay $100 million in bribes to secure a $1 billion contract to produce national identity cards for Argentine citizens, in a scam involving a “shocking level of deception and corruption,” an assistant U.S. attorney general said Tuesday.
More on those secret Federal Reserve loans to banks – via www.calculatedriskblog.com – But Professor Wray goes on to speak admirably about an analysis by his student James Felkerson that does exactly that, and concludes that the Fed lent not $7.77 trillion but instead $29 trillion. For example, Felkerson takes the gross new lending under the Term Auction Facility each week from 2007 to 2010 and adds these numbers together to arrive at a cumulative total that comes to $3.8 trillion. To make the number sound big, of course you want to count only the money going out and pay no attention to the rate at which it is coming back in. If instead you were to take the net new lending under the TAF each week over this period– that is, subtract each week’s loan repayment from that week’s new loan issue– and add those net loan amounts together across all weeks, you would arrive at a cumulative total that equals exactly zero. The number is zero because every loan was repaid, and there are no loans currently outstanding under this program.
Europe’s Deadly Transition From Social Democracy to Oligarchy – via Phil’s Stock World –
The problem is that Greece lacks the ready money to redeem its debts and pay the interest charges. The ECB is demanding that it sell off public assets – land, water and sewer systems, ports and other assets in the public domain, and also cut back pensions and other payments to its population. The bottom 99% understandably are angry to be informed that the wealthiest layer of the population is largely responsible for the budget shortfall by stashing away a reported €45 billion of funds stashed away in Swiss banks alone. The idea of normal wage-earners being obliged to forfeit their pensions to pay for tax evaders – and for the general un-taxing of wealth since the regime of the colonels – makes most people understandably angry. For the ECB, EU and IMF “troika” to say that whatever the wealthy take, steal or evade paying must be made up by the population at large is not a politically neutral position. It comes down hard on the side of wealth that has been unfairly taken.
Blackwater Has Third Identity Crisis in Two Years – via Vanity Fair – Security contractor Blackwater has not actually been named Blackwater for some time: in 2009, the company changed its name to Xe (pronounced “Oh, you mean Blackwater?”) in an effort to rehabilitate its atrocious public image. However, The Wall Street Journal reports, starting now Xe would preferred to be called “Academi.” Xe—sorry, Academi—would also like to attend an existentialism summer course at Brown, has no idea how the pack of American Spirits got in mom’s car, and is unable to participate in Thanksgiving dinner due to “the situation in Myanmar Burma.”
The Saudi Arab Spring Nobody Noticed – – via WhoWhatWhy – In the case of the mother of all petro-allies, Saudi Arabia, however, protests have been met with near silence by the media and no expressions of sympathy for the dissenters by Western governments.
EPA sounds alarm on fracking in Wyoming – via Dec. 9, 2011 – The Environmental Protection Agency said this week that chemicals from “fracking,” a controversial method of extracting natural gas from the ground, have polluted groundwater in Wyoming.
The ‘Circular World’ of a Chinese Venture Capitalist – via NYTimes.com – A business journalist, Roddy Boyd, who runs the Web site The Financial Investigator, digs into the dealings of Neil Shen, founding managing partner of the Sequoia Capital China Fund. “According to a host of Securities and Exchange filings, publicly traded companies where Shen is a board member have a robust history of taking spectacularly ill-advised stakes in other Sequoia-backed companies,” Mr. Boyd writes.
How Occupy Wall Street Is Alienating the Young 1% – via The Atlantic – There is a period in life when young men sitting above the poverty line who can crack a joke or cite football statistics see each other as peers, members of the same lusty, ill-behaved class. That camaraderie once tended to last from “I can’t believe we’re going to graduate” until “Have you met my wife?”, but it could now be abbreviated. As protestors parade through America’s cities shouting, “We are the 99%,” financially comfortable young men feel disingenuous engaging in the sort of “slumming it” activities that young men gravitate towards.
The Fed As The New Aristocracy – via Walker Todd – In this issue of The Institutional Risk Analyst, we ask a question that ought to be top of mind for all Americans – namely whether the US government and particularly the Federal Reserve System should be bailing out the Old Man of Europe once again. And to help us answer that question, we went to the nation’s leading expert on the constitutionality of the role currently being played by the Fed, Walker Todd.
How conservatives learned to stop fighting the 14th Amendment, and what it could mean for gay marriage – via Slate Magazine – Justice Antonin Scalia created a firestorm last winter when he opined that the 14th Amendment does not protect women against discrimination on the basis of sex. The truth is that this view has been, until recently at least, a bedrock conviction of conservative originalists. In that sense then, the bigger news came at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October when, confronted on his remarks by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Scalia backpedaled and suggested that the Equal Protection Clause did indeed protect women from state-sponsored discrimination on the basis of sex. For a Justice famous for his blunt and unchanging conservative views, Scalia’s fancy footwork was fascinating, and telling. In fact, Scalia’s backpedaling is part of a significant reassessment of the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause that is transforming the debate over the Constitution. This debate, which is happening in conservative legal and academic circles, could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of critical cases—including Perry v. Brown, the challenge to California’s Proposition 8 and the denial of marriage equality to gay men and lesbians. After a long detour to the California Supreme Court on the question of whether the case can even go forward, Perry is heating up, with the Ninth Circuit hearing oral argument last week on two separate issues, and a decision expected on the merits in the months to come.
“A Banking System is Supposed to Serve Society, Not the Other Way Around” – via Vanity Fair – Forget monetary policy. Re-examining the cause of the Great Depression—the revolution in agriculture that threw millions out of work—the author argues that the U.S. is now facing and must manage a similar shift in the “real” economy, from industry to service, or risk a tragic replay of 80 years ago.
Lane Kenworthy Presentation: Is Big Business Running America – Via Considering Evidence
Best Reads of The Week:
Free Chapter :The Information Diet By Clay Johnson – via Scribd
Lane Kenworthy Presentation: What Makes A Good Argument – via Considering Evidence
BBC’s Richard Feynman: No Ordinary Genius – via Brain Pickings – In 1993, five years after Feynman’s death, BBC set out to capture his spirit and his scientific legacy in a fantastic documentary titled Richard Feynman: No Ordinary Genius, part of their excellent Horizon program, which has also brought us such fascinations as the nature of reality, the age-old tension between science and religion, how music works, and what time really is. The film was subsequently adapted into the book No Ordinary Genius: The Illustrated Richard Feynman, and the documentary is now available on YouTube in its entirety — enjoy
Sir Isaac Newton’s Papers & Annotated Principia Go Digital – via Open Culture – In October, The Royal Society opened its historical archives to the public, bringing 60,000 peer-reviewed papers to the web, including Isaac Newton’s first published research paper. You can dive into this parallel digital archive here.
Freakonomics: What Went Wrong? – via www.americanscientist.org – In our analysis of the Freakonomics approach, we encountered a range of avoidable mistakes, from back-of-the-envelope analyses gone wrong to unexamined assumptions to an uncritical reliance on the work of Levitt’s friends and colleagues. This turns accessibility on its head: Readers must work to discern which conclusions are fully quantitative, which are somewhat data driven and which are purely speculative.
HAIL THE noble savage! – Haaretz Daily Newspaper – via Israel News – While many are convinced that the world is becoming more violent every day, evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker argues the exact opposite
Book Review: Models Behaving Badly – via WSJ.com – Trained as a physicist, Emanuel Derman once served as the head of quantitative analysis at Goldman Sachs and is currently a professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University. With “Models Behaving Badly” he offers a readable, even eloquent combination of personal history, philosophical musing and honest confession concerning the dangers of relying on numerical models not only on Wall Street but also in life.
Video Ted Talk- Put a value on nature! – via Video on TED.com – Every day, we use materials from the earth without thinking, for free. But what if we had to pay for their true value: would it make us more careful about what we use and what we waste? Think of Pavan Sukhdev as nature’s banker — assessing the value of the Earth’s assets. Eye-opening charts will make you think differently about the cost of air, water, trees …
What do we regret most? Why? – via Barking up the wrong tree – Education was the biggest inducer of regret, followed by career, romance, parenting, the self, and leisure. The rankings turned out to be remarkably consistent across studies of people in different age groups and locations. Roese thought education might consistently top the list because it is a part of life with endless opportunity, and opportunity breeds regret.
The Overjustification Effect– via youarenotsosmart.com – Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.
Empirical confirmation of creative destruction from world trade data – via arxiv.org – We show that world trade network datasets contain empirical evidence that the dynamics of innovation in the world economy follows indeed the concept of creative destruction, as proposed by J.A. Schumpeter more than half a century ago. National economies can be viewed as complex, evolving systems, driven by a stream of appearance and disappearance of goods and services. Products appear in bursts of creative cascades. We find that products systematically tend to co-appear, and that product appearances lead to massive disappearance events of existing products in the following years. The opposite – disappearances followed by periods of appearances – is not observed. This is an empirical validation of the dominance of cascading competitive replacement events on the scale of national economies, i.e. creative destruction. We find a tendency that more complex products drive out less complex ones, i.e. progress has a direction. Finally we show that the growth trajectory of a country’s product output diversity can be understood by a recently proposed evolutionary model of Schumpeterian economic dynamics.
How the World Works: Part II – via www.ribbonfarm.com – Both Ghemawat and Fukuyama belong to a breed of thinkers about world affairs whom you could characterize as being neither pro or anti-globalization. You could call them, instead, irreversabilists. They are historicists who believe that the process of globalization — gradual global political and economic integration — is irreversible. In the sense that reversal would be very painful, not conceptually impossible. A tiger-by-the-tail effect. Letting go could turn you into lunch.
Broadband vs. Internet – via blogs.law.harvard.edu – When a company says they plan to stop growing a business, they mean they have given up on it. (Hey, what business, especially a big one, doesn’t want to grow?) It’s also often a sign that the business is for sale, in this case probably to competitors in the cable business. Clues in that direction come from Cecelia’s following sentence: “The moves come as Verizon Wireless forges a new partnership with cable giants to cross-market phone, video, Internet and cellular services.” In that piece, she says “Verizon will pay $3.6 billion to Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks to use a swath of cellphone airwaves that the cable giants own but do not use.”
The Future of U.S. Health Care – via WSJ.com – Amid enormous pressure to cut costs, improve care and prepare for changes tied to the federal health-care overhaul, major players in the industry are staking out new ground, often blurring the lines between businesses that have traditionally been separate.
Taleb at The RSA (London) 1-DEC-2011 – via Investing In Knowledge – Taleb at The RSA (London) 1-DEC-2011
Hollywood woman turns 104 – Florida Wires – via MiamiHerald.com – A Hollywood woman says avoiding sugar, salt and dairy has helped live a healthy, long life.
Behavioral Economics, Complexity Research, Decision Making, Psychology, & Risk
How to Sell Furniture to Celebrities * Let’s Get Critical – via www.letsgetcritical.org – I worked at a luxury store in LA where people like Jennifer Lopez and Sharon Stone shopped. Here’s what I learned.
On Assets and Debt in the Psychology of Perceived Wealth – via pss.sagepub.com – We studied the perception of wealth as a function of varying levels of assets and debt. We found that with total wealth held constant, people with positive net worth feel and are seen as wealthier when they have lower debt (despite having fewer assets). In contrast, people with equal but negative net worth feel and are considered wealthier when they have greater assets (despite having larger debt). This pattern persists in the perception of both the self and others. We explore consequences for the willingness to borrow and lend and briefly discuss the policy implications of these findings.
Skeptic Michael Shermer Answers Your Questions – via www.freakonomics.com – All of our beliefs are influenced by our own priorities, but obviously some are more important than others. My rule of thumb is figuring out to what extent something affects your life. It doesn’t really matter if you read your astrology column in the newspaper for amusement. The important thing is: does it affect your job, your marriage, your close relationships, your family? That’s the criteria we use for our personal lives, as well as for society. I mean, to what extent does the Flat Earth Society affect public education? Zero. But creationists on the other hand are trying and in some cases succeeding in altering public education. So we need to take them seriously. And that’s basically how I judge it.
Heirarchies of empathy in the brain – via mindblog.dericbownds.net – There is a growing recognition of how animals respond to the affective states of other animals, including the show of empathy, a state once thought to be unique to primates…A key question concerns the nature of the rats’ motivations—the affective and cognitive underpinnings of their “empathy.” …Future research needs to untangle whether empathic responses in mammals arise more from higher cognitive or lower affective brain functions, or some combination of these (see the figure). Human brain imaging studies of empathy suggest both are involved, especially in coping with the distress of others. But solid neurobiologically based evolutionary evidence, both bottom-up and top-down, is so far lacking.
Dan Ariely Is It Irrational To Give Gifts? – via danariely.com – Behavioral economics has one more lesson for gift givers: If your goal is to maximize a social connection, don’t give a perishable gift like flowers or chocolates. True, people enjoy them, and you don’t want to impose by giving something more permanent. But what are you trying to maximize? Is your goal to avoid imposing on them or for them to remember you?
There at the New Yorker – via The Weekly Standard – But, then, the magazine has never been without its critics. Robert Warshow, in 1947, wrote: “The New Yorker has always dealt with experience not by trying to understand it but by prescribing the attitude to be adopted toward it. This makes it possible to feel intelligent without thinking, and it is a way of making everything tolerable, for the assumption of a suitable attitude toward experience can give one the illusion of having dealt with it adequately.” The charge here on the part of Kramer and Warshow, of course, is middlebrowism—the pretense of culture when the efforts behind attaining true culture have been efficiently eliminated for the reader.
Seeing Without Knowing: How the Conscious Mind Messes With Memory – via Why We Reason – Our memories aren’t very reliable. The sobering truth is that we forget most of what we experience, our memories are usually distorted after they are formed and we have the tendency to accept misinformation about the past and faithfully adopt it as our own. In other words, we don’t store memories like computers. Now, a new study out of Psychology Science by Deborah Hannula, Carol L. Baym and Neal J. Cohen suggests that there is a more accurate way of reading our memories.
When Incentives Go Bad – via Psy Fi Blog: – Way back in ’76, when heels were high, flares were wide and hair was long (for the men, at least) a couple of dudes called Michael Jensen and William Meckling proposed a solution to a problem that had vexed even the founders of economics. They attempted to resolve a puzzle that started with Adam Smith and which has ended in the crash to end all crashes; and as ever we’re looking at a set of consequences which was unforeseeable in advance but seems inevitable in retrospect.
How Brain Reacts to Surprise is Surprising Brown – via www.biospace.com – Primates learn from feedback that surprises them, and in a recent investigation of how that happens, neurosurgeons have learned that neurons in two important structures handle both good and bad surprises. The insight, which they gleaned from examining the response of specific brain tissues during a learning task, may inform future rehabilitative therapies after stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Our biological immune system activates our behavioral immune system. – via mindblog.dericbownds.net – Activation of the behavioral immune system has been shown to promote activation of the biological immune system. The current research tested the hypothesis that activation of the biological immune system (as a result of recent illness) promotes activation of the behavioral immune system. Participants who had recently been ill, and had therefore recently experienced activation of their biological immune system, in one study displayed heightened attention to disfigured individuals, and in a second study showed avoidance — cognitive and behavioral processes reflecting activation of the behavioral immune system. These findings shed light on the interactive nature of biological and psychological mechanisms designed to help people overcome the threat of disease.
Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance:
Beliefs and the stock market – via vox – Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists – How to ordinary people form their beliefs about the economy? These beliefs then shape the decisions they make and can, if widely held, prove to be self-fulfilling. This column looks at surveys of ordinary people in the US and finds that the beliefs people hold and the reasons behind them vary almost as much as the outcomes they try to predict.
A century of public debt and what have we learned? – via vox – Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists – As policymakers continue to grapple with high debts and the troubles that come with them, this column looks at the lessons from data on public debt in 178 countries stretching back as far as 1880. It argues that when faced with an unsustainable debt burden, slow but steady adjustment is the way to go.
The Growth of Degrowth Economics – Miller – via McCune – Degrowth theory, whose supporters push policies to reduce economic activity and end our obsession with GDP, is gaining momentum in Europe and Canada. Will the movement reach U.S. soil?
American Airlines, Bankruptcy, and the Housing Bubble – via www.newyorker.com – American wasn’t stigmatized for the move. Instead, analysts hailed it as “very smart.” It is now generally accepted that when it’s economically irrational for a company to keep paying its debts it will try to renegotiate them or, failing that, default. For creditors, that’s just the price of business. But when it comes to another set of borrowers the norms are very different. The bursting of the housing bubble has left millions of homeowners across the country owing more than their homes are worth. In some areas, well over half of mortgages are underwater, many so deeply that people owe forty or fifty per cent more than the value of their homes. In other words, a good percentage of Americans are in much the same position as American Airlines: they can still pay their debts, but doing so is like setting a pile of money on fire every month.
Trust Issues – via Lapham’s Quarterly – The unimpeded growth of a huge sum of money, central to the Thellusson case, was even more fascinating to authors. The 1899 H. G. Wells novel When the Sleeper Wakes features a wealthy young man who sleeps for 203 years after an 1897 drug overdose, only to discover upon his revival that his unattended bank account has funded an entire totalitarian society. Like the bank account and the society it created, Wells later deemed the story “one of the most ambitious and least satisfactory of my books.” That didn’t keep the eccentric pulp writer Harry S. Keeler from going even further with the 1914 story “John Jones’ Dollar,” in which a solar system’s economy is built around a single silver dollar left to accumulate until the year 2921 to the astounding sum of $6.3 trillion—an amount deemed roughly equal to “the wealth on Neptune, UranÂus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and likewise Earth, together with an accurate calculation of the remaining heat in the sun and an appraisement of that heat at a very decent valuation per calorie.” Instead of bankrupting the solar system, though, it finances an interplanetary socialist paradise.
In the Wake of Protest: One Woman’s Attempt to Unionize Amazon– via The Atlantic – Occupy demonstrators are shutting down ports along the West Coast today. For a movement that needs to show its strength and expand beyond city parks, it is a dramatic step that has many watching the news with bated breath. And yet, it has echoes in the past. In 1999, during the Seattle World Trade Organization protests, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union threatened to shut every port from Hawaii to Alaska if the city of Seattle didn’t let the protesters they had arrested out of jail. It worked. And for people like me, unions suddenly became relevant.
The global supply chain: So very fragile – via Fortune Tech – Manufacturers have spent years building low-cost global supply chains. Natural disasters are showing them just how delicate those networks really are.
The Eclectic Mix:
Google’s Thomas Williams finds creativity in computers – via latimes.com – In his personal life, Williams says he regularly gets obsessive about mastering new crafts, whether it’s creating homemade circuit boards with acid-etching techniques, making sourdough bread using yeast he grew himself, or woodworking. He built a 12-foot sailboat in his garage and helped a group of artisan carpenters build a house in Montecito using only Renaissance-era materials and hand tools. But to Williams, craft is the same, whether it’s creating software or building boats. “It’s personal expression. People don’t think of writing a program the same way as they do writing a book or poem, but it’s a creative process. There are rules, and when it’s flawed you have to go back and change it.”
Online tool helps predict college costs – Schools – via MiamiHerald.com – Choosing a college is one of the most important financial decisions that a teenager — and his or her parents — will ever make. But families that are going through the college-application process have usually had little in the way of meaningful cost estimates to guide them.
Can Tides Turn the Tide? – via Do the Math – Now is the time on Do the Math when we scan the energy landscape for viable alternatives to fossil fuels. In this post, we’ll look at tidal power, which is virtually inexhaustible on relevant timescales, is less intermittent than solar/wind (although still variable), and uses old-hat technology to make electricity. For this exercise, we mainly care about the scale at which the alternatives can contribute, leaving practical and economic considerations sitting in the cold for a bit (spoiler alert: most are hard and expensive). Last week, we looked at solar and wind, finding that solar can satisfy our current demand without batting an eyelash, and that wind can be a serious contributor, although apparently incapable of carrying the load on its own. Thus we put solar in the “abundant” box and wind in the “useful” box. There’s an empty box labeled “waste of time.” Any guesses where I’m going to put tidal power? Don’t get upset yet.
Tipping point for coral reefs? – via ihrrblog.org – Climate change has a tremendous impact on fauna living in coral reefs along with the corals themselves. Animals that live in the corals are moving to more suitable water temperatures as their habitats are heating up, while also being impacted by the increased presence of carbon dioxide in the oceans. This has resulted in a 30 percent increase in acidity over the past 250 years according to researchers with the Alfred Wegener Institute, the University of Gothenburg and the Rosensteil School of Marine and Atmospheric Science who announced their results at the AGU 2011 Meeting. Like animals and plants that live on land, sea fauna have a limited temperature range to live in. Ocean acidification enhances this sensitivity to their environment, especially when accompanied by thermal stress. The Earth’s oceans are a giant carbon sink. As they continue to absorb more and more CO2 mostly produced from human industrial activities it lowers the Ph of the water shrinking the biogeographical range of fauna. Right now many ocean fauna are moving from place to place in order to escape areas with high acidification and increasing temperatures.
Everyday Sociology Blog: How our Modern Lives Reflect Old – via fashioned Theories – Marx felt there were four elements to alienation; people are alienated from the work process, they are alienated from the product, they are alienated from the other workers, and they are alienated from fulfilling their human potential. I believe that most workers living in our society today can relate to this sense of detachment. After all we still live in a capitalist society and we look at jobs where people can be their own boss, as the ideal type of work.
Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice – via newbooksinhistory.com – If you want to know the truth about how the Nazis got away, read Gerald Steinacher remarkably thorough Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice (Oxford University Press, 2011). He shows that there was a sort of conspiracy to get the Nazis out, it just wasn’t very conspiratorial. Even before the war the Nazis (and the SS particularly) were thinking about how to get away from the crumbling Reich. They talked to one an other, made contacts abroad, and traded tips. After some experimenting with various routes, they determined one was far and away most effective: through Austria, into Italy, and then overseas. They had a lot of help. Some of it was for hire, for example in South Tyrol where a kind of Nazi-smuggling industry arose. Some was gratis, for example that offered by a German bishop in Rome. Add some bungling by the International Red Cross, some skullduggery by the OSS, some complicity by foreign powers (e.g., Argentina) seeking German “experts,” and–just like that–the “Ratlines” were clear and known to anyone paying attention. Steinacher shows that no ODESSA-like organization was necessary for the Nazis to escape. All they had to do was follow the well-trodden, clearly marked path that lead away from justice in Europe and into safety abroad. That’s more disturbing than ODESSA.
Who Are the Political .01% – via Visual.ly – The richest 1% control about one-third of America’s net worth. But just 0.01% contribute 25% of the money to all federal political campaigns.
The Cost and Effects of the Oil Spill – via Visual.ly – This infographic provides information for the BP oil spill. It shows the environmental and economic damage the oil spill has caused in the U.S.
Kickstarter the Science of Crowdfunding – via Visual.ly – This infographic provides information about Kickstarter, an online program that allows you to get donations online for a variety of projects. The infographic explains that this system of raising money online for a project is called “crowdfunding” and analyzes whether this method is effective.
The Google Earth of Financial Documents – via Envision Financials