Maybe, as the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested, the rich really are different. They’re more likely to behave badly, according to seven experiments that weighed the ethics of hundreds of people.
The “upper class,” as defined by the study, were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to increase their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work, researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Taken together, the experiments suggest at least some wealthier people “perceive greed as positive and beneficial,” probably as a result of education, personal independence and the resources they have to deal with potentially negative consequences, the authors wrote.
Of the various expressions of right-wing hysteria that have flowered over the past three years—goldbuggery, birtherism, death panels at home and imaginary apology tours by President Obama abroad—perhaps the strain that has taken deepest root within mainstream Republican circles is the terror that the achievements of the Obama administration may be irreversible, and that the time remaining to stop permanent nightfall is dwindling away.
Even such a sober figure as Mitt Romney regularly says things like “We are only inches away from no longer being a free economy,” and that this election “could be our last chance.”
The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis—that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care—is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.
The GOP has reason to be scared.
What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. Doctrines like neoconservative foreign policy, supply-side economics, and climate skepticism may bear little connection to each other at the level of abstract thought. But boiled down to political sound bites and served up to the voters, they blend into an indistinguishable stew of racial, religious, cultural, and nationalistic identity.
Obama’s election dramatized the degree to which this long-standing political dynamic had been flipped on its head.
Obama actually lost the over-45-year-old vote in 2008, gaining his entire victory margin from younger voters—more racially diverse, better educated, less religious, and more socially and economically liberal.
We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night - but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural.
Night became fashionable and spending hours lying in bed was considered a waste of time.
"People were becoming increasingly time-conscious and sensitive to efficiency, certainly before the 19th Century," says Roger Ekirch. "But the industrial revolution intensified that attitude by leaps and bounds."
When the Brookings Institution issued its blueprint for a manufacturing revival this month, it was noteworthy that one of its four key recommendations was for “an increased role for workers and communities in creating and sharing the gains from innovative manufacturing.” Germany provides the model for how a high-wage country can still have a globally competitive manufacturing sector, and like most others who have studied it, the Brookings researchers found that employee involvement and gains-sharing is a key to that success. It’s also true here: The data are pretty clear that companies that have some level of employee-ownership have higher productivity and profitability than those that don’t.
The best way to revive American manufacturing isn’t to add yet another loophole to the corporate tax code, the latest lame proposal from the Obama economic team. It’s to reach beyond Wall Street and the corporate mind-set and tap into the ingenuity and the entrepreneurial instincts of the American worker.
By all accounts, Mitt Romney is a smart businessman with a sophisticated understanding of how economies work. So why is he so tied up in knots over basic questions of government spending in a recession and the limits of the free market?
Because he’s running for president in a party that has lost its economic common sense, its political bearings and probably Michigan’s electoral votes.
Here’s the Republican candidate off-script (the best way to find out what’s in his head) at a town hall meeting Tuesday in Shelby Township, Michigan: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, why, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy, so you have to at the same time create pro-growth tax policies.”
This is a classic example of a “Kinsley gaffe” (named for my Bloomberg View colleague Michael Kinsley), which is when a politician accidentally says something that’s true but politically inconvenient.
Sure enough, Andy Roth, vice president for government affairs at the fiscally conservative Club for Growth, called Romney’s comments “hogwash.” Roth said the statement “confirms yet again that Romney is not a limited government conservative. The idea that balancing the budget would not help the economy is crazy. If we balanced the budget tomorrow on spending cuts alone, it would be fantastic for the economy.”
If you want to know why an entire group of people are choosing to behave in a certain way, and especially why they’re collectively behaving conspicuously differently than they used to, the explanation is necessarily going to be something exogenous to any individual’s idiosyncratic choice. Whatever you think of 21st century American bourgeois mores, there aren’t many reports of Aztec royalty or !Kung bushmen spontaneously adopting them; people read from the locally available scripts. At the group level, “choice” isn’t an adequate explanation for anything, because it’s the pattern of choices that stands in need of explanation.
One hypothesis may be that certain macro-level changes are partially explained by a cultural shift away from norms of strong individual responsibility. But this is not at all the same as saying that we’re individually responsible for the cultural norms we absorb. Sometimes we arguably are—as when we opt to seek out and join a particular subculture—but more often we’re not. I didn’t decide to grow up speaking English. If you and your peers acquired cultural norms conducive to health, prosperity, stable families, law-abidingness, and so on, odds are you had the good fortune to grow up in an environment where those norms were both espoused and modeled—and you can scarcely claim responsibility for that. It is at least possible, however, that an important component of this salutary body of norms involves talking and acting as though individuals are responsible for how they fare on these various dimensions, whether or not this is true. It is false that economic success is a sign of predestined salvation, but if you believe Max Weber, it was economically advantageous for Calvinists to hold this false belief.
”—Julian Sanchez making the nuanced case that despite a conservative desire to emphasize personal responsibility in economic outcomes, societal and cultural forces constrain the set of individual choices available. The either/ or dichotomy fails as usual, but a complex interweaving of layered factors just isn’t as soundbite worthy.
I’ve gotten some grief for my remark that if it were announced that we faced a threat from space aliens and needed to build up to defend ourselves, we’d have full employment in a year and a half. But that’s true. Why couldn’t we do that to repair our sewer systems and put an extra tunnel under the Hudson instead of to fight imaginary space aliens? Everybody in the world except us is doing a lot of investment in infrastructure and education. This is the country of the Erie Canal and the Interstate Highway System. The Erie Canal was a huge public infrastructure project financed with no private or public-private partnership. Can you imagine doing that in 21st century America? We really have slid backward for the past 200 years from the kinds of things we used to understand needed to be done now and then. And all of that because we are shackled to the wrong ideas.
The United States is finished with the business of sending large land armies to invade and occupy countries on the Eurasian mainland. Robert Gates, when still Secretary of Defense, made the definitive statement on that subject. The United States is now in the business of using missile-armed drones and special operations forces to eliminate anyone (not excluding U.S. citizens) the president of the United States decides has become an intolerable annoyance. Under President Obama, such attacks have proliferated.
This is America’s new MO. Paraphrasing a warning issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Washington Post dispatch succinctly summarized what it implied: “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, anywhere in the world.”
Operationally, a war launched by the conventionally minded has progressively fallen under the purview of those who inhabit what Dick Cheney once called “the dark side,” with implications that few seem willing to explore. Strategically, a war informed at the outset by utopian expectations continues today with no concretely stated expectations whatsoever, the forward momentum of events displacing serious consideration of purpose. Politically, a war that once occupied center stage in national politics has now slipped to the periphery, the American people moving on to other concerns and entertainments, with legal and moral questions raised by the war left dangling in midair.
Is this progress?
”—Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University.
Only by working together can we create a coherently sustainable community out of the fragmented entropy we have inherited. Not the greatest genius among us is competent to concoct a grand scheme that will solve all our problems and meet all our needs. Top-down plans have always suffered from the law of unintended consequences. But with everyone connecting, communicating, and co-creating together we can, over time, develop new ways of living that will work for generations to come. When we experiment a little bit at a time and learn as we go, we can adjust and change course based upon our experience.
Invisibility cloak could protect buildings from earthquakes
The prospect of cloaking devices has become more realistic in recent years as scientists have developed means of making objects invisible to certain wavelengths in limited circumstances.
Now researchers from Manchester University say a similar approach could be used to defend structures against earthquakes and other natural disasters.
In the same way that cloaking devices make objects appear invisible by deflecting light around them, the team claimed that pressurised rubber could be used to “hide” structures from shock waves produced by earthquakes, sending them around the structure rather than through it.
Despite shrinking newsrooms and overworked reporters, journalism is in fact thriving. The art of information gathering, analysis and dissemination has arguably been strengthened over the last several years, and given rise and importance to a new role: the journalistic curator.
The concept of curating news is not new. One can look to the supply-chain process of a news organization to see that several roles (editor, managing editor, etc.) have curation as a core competency; that is, the organizing of information filed by reporters into a deliverable packages for readers.
But with the push of social media and advancements in communications technology, the curator has become a journalist by proxy. They are not on the front lines, covering a particular beat or industry, or filing a story themselves, but they are responding to a reader need. With a torrent of content emanating from innumerable sources (blogs, mainstream media, social networks), a vacuum has been created between reporter and reader — or information gatherer and information seeker — where having a trusted human editor to help sort out all this information has become as necessary as those who file the initial report.
“Curation,” says Sayid Ali, owner of Newsflick.net, “gathers all these fragmented pieces of information to one location, allowing people to get access to more specialized content.”
Having (somewhat) unwittingly turned my Facebook wall into a curated selection of news over the last several years, the recent transition into more explicit curation here on Tumblr has been a natural progression. The fundamental question which remains is how long aggregation and reblogging will be an effective medium for information filtering if producers and publishers of original content are unable to sufficiently monetize their own output. Content farms are processed corn products compared to a well written steak of a piece like How Your Cat is Making You Crazy, but Felix Salmon makes a great argument that the more is more philosophy of content as commodity is the better business model. As audiences fracture and hyper specialization and differentiation increase, there still seems to be a genuine opportunity to compile and disseminate the highest quality writing to a more discerning readership. My experience of sharing weightier pieces on Facebook with my friends and family has consistently surprised me with the unexpected level of interest from certain quarters. My intention with this blog is to walk the slack line between connecting readers who aren’t avid media junkies with the best content from mainstays such as The Atlantic and The New York Times, without alienating a hardcore audience with nothing more than trending retreads.
In our post postmodern, remix friendly, pastiche culture of wikipedia copy and paste, where do we define the line between symbiosis and parasitism? Editorial discretion and the expression of taste through selectivity is a means of reducing the signal/noise ratio of the internet, but it remains a fundamentally secondary role. Without the production of original content, Tumblr and the internet itself would be reduced to the giant echo chamber some fear it has already become. One of my favorite quotes is:
"Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again." — Andre Gide
I hope that through tasteful culling and insightful commentary I am able to provide a symbiotic rather than parasitical contribution to the interwebs.
Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a robotic device made from DNA that could potentially seek out specific cell targets within a complex mixture of cell types and deliver important molecular instructions, such as telling cancer cells to self-destruct. Inspired by the mechanics of the body’s own immune system, the technology might one day be used to program immune responses to treat various diseases. The research findings appear today in Science.
“It’s understandable that politicians say this: it was America’s experience in the past. In the years following World War II, we built a solid middle class on the foundation of high-paying, mostly unionized jobs in the manufacturing sector. But those days are history. Today, automation and computers have eliminated millions of jobs, and private-sector unions have been crushed. On top of that, in a globalized economy where capital can hire the cheapest labor anywhere, it’s no longer credible to believe that America’s middle class can prosper from labor income alone. So why don’t we pay everyone some non-labor income — you know, the kind of money that flows disproportionally to the rich? I’m not talking about redistribution here, I’m talking about paying dividends to equity owners in good old capitalist fashion. Except that the equity owners in question aren’t owners of private wealth, they’re owners of common wealth. Which is to say, all of us.”—How to Restore the Middle Class (via azspot)
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has hammered rival Rick Santorum on his support for federal pork as a senator, but Romney, too, is guilty of nabbing Washington cash, especially while heading the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Romney sought congressional directed funds — known as earmarks — to help build transportation systems and augment security operations for the Games and argued that such money was vital to putting on the events.
"No matter how well we did cutting costs and raising revenue, we couldn’t have Games without the support of the federal government," Romney wrote in his first book, Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership and the Olympic Games.
The federal government pumped more than $340 million into Utah in advance of the 2002 Games, funding about 18 percent of the cost, including funds for buses, light-rail construction and a host of security-related projects, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. If costs for rebuilding Interstate 15 and all of the light-rail expenses are added, the federal sum zooms to $1.3 billion.
Turns out public-private partnerships can be incredibly effective. It’s a shame that today Romney is unwilling to defend or credit the role of government in a functioning society, instead preferring to worship at the altar of “free market” economics and the caricature of Reagan the Republican demigod.
Suddenly, manufacturing is back – at least on the election trail. But don’t be fooled. The real issue isn’t how to get manufacturing back. It’s how to get good jobs and good wages back. They aren’t at all the same thing.
Republicans have become born-again champions of American manufacturing. This…
Successful human tests for first wirelessly controlled drug-delivery chip
Medication via remote-control instead of a shot? Scientists implanted a microchip in seven women that did just that, oozing out the right dose of a bone-strengthening drug once a day without them even noticing. Implanted medicine is a hot field, aiming to help patients better stick to their meds and to deliver those drugs straight to the body part that needs them.
"You could literally have a pharmacy on a chip," says Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT. "You can do remote control delivery, you can do pulsatile drug delivery, and you can deliver multiple drugs.”
As a white, male, middle-aged conservative talk radio host from Virginia, John Fredericks is something close to the Platonic ideal of a Fox News fan.
And until last year, he was one. But then Fox’s treatment of the Republican primary race — the presentation of Karl Rove as a political analyst despite his having “thrown in for Romney” and Sean Hannity’s clear ties to the Republican establishment — began to grate on him. So he changed the channel.
“I’ve gone from all Fox to no Fox, and replaced it with CNN, which I think right now is giving me a much fairer analysis of what’s going on,” he said. “I feel they’ve lost that independent conservative mantra that had drove people like me to them. I used to feel that I got it straight, and I got an independent conservative view. Now, what I get is some wholly owned subsidiary of the RNC [Republican National Committee].”
Newsflash: Fox News viewers don’t actually want fair and balanced.
Al Gore: How to modify capitalism so it takes a greener long view
The practice of companies issuing earnings guidance every quarter should be stopped, in the name of long-term and environmentally sustainable investing, according to Al Gore.
Quarterly reporting is mandatory for public companies in the US, and has been increasingly widely adopted in Europe and other regions. But the practice of issuing guidance on future earnings at the same time leads to a focus on short-term results and an unwillingness to make investments that can take years to bear fruit, such as energy efficiency.
Joining in a now widespread debate on how future financial crises can be avoided, Gore said he wanted to reform capitalism to make it more sensitive to social and environmental issues.
He said: “Some of the ways in which [capitalism] is now practised do not incorporate sufficient regard for its impact on people, society and the planet. Capitalism in its current form is creating and fostering numerous challenges, not least short-termism, over-reliance on GDP growth as a primary metric of prosperity, rising inequality, increasing volatility in the global financial market, and growing contributions to the climate crisis.”
Like many successful entrepreneurs in the United States, Woehrle followed what seems like an ancient business model: making things by hand. He rejected the high-volume, low-margin commodity business in which ConAgra and PepsiCo compete against each other with their Slim Jim and Matador jerky products. Instead, Kings County found a niche in which engaged consumers will pay a premium for a specialty product.
Contrary to popular belief, the revival of craft manufacturing isn’t just a fad for Brooklyn hipsters.
It’s tempting to look at craft businesses as simply a rejection of modern industrial capitalism. But the craft approach is actually something new — a happy refinement of the excesses of our industrial era plus a return to the vision laid out by capitalism’s godfather, Adam Smith. One of his central insights in “The Wealth of Nations” is the importance of specialization. When everyone does everything — sews their own clothes, harvests their own crops, bakes their own bread — each act becomes inefficient, because generalists are rarely as quick or able as specialists.
For most of human history, though, people needed to do a bit of everything to survive. The result was a profoundly inefficient economy that required almost everyone to work very hard just to create enough of the essentials for survival; even then, famines were still disturbingly common. Efficiency, Smith explained, comes when individuals focus on specific tasks. The miracle of the Industrial Revolution was that through specialization, humankind became far more productive.
In the United States, this works so well that, despite all the economic pain we’re enduring, the average American leads a shockingly good life by any historical or international standard. As other countries move into mass production, the United States, even in the depths of economic doldrums, has a level of wealth that translates to fewer people willing to do dreary, assembly-line work at extremely low wages. More significant, we’re entering an era of hyperspecialization. Huge numbers of middle-class people are now able to make a living specializing in something they enjoy, including creating niche products for other middle-class people who have enough money to indulge in buying things like high-end beef jerky.
Spray-on Nanoparticle Mix Turns Trees Into Antennas
A small company called ChamTech Operations based in Utah has developed a nanoparticle mix that can be sprayed on any vertical object—like a tree—and make that object act as a high-powered antenna.
Not only can the sprayed-on nanoparticles make trees into antennas, but it can also extend the range of an existing antenna by a factor of 100, according to one of the principals of the company, Anthony Sutera. For instance, in RFID tags the nanoparticle spray extended the readable range of the tag from a mere five feet (1.5 meters) to 700 feet (200 m).
The material that Chamtech came up with contains nanoparticles that when sprayed on a surface act as nanocapacitors. The nanocapacitors charge and discharge very quickly and don’t create any heat that can reduce the efficiency of your typical copper antenna. The trick was to get the nanocapacitors to spread out in just the right pattern.
Another intriguing application, Sutera suggests in the video, is using the spray-on material in the white lines of the highway. This could make it possible to have high bandwidth connectivity in your car.
Is it useful to make generalizations about whole classes of people? We all know the reasons why it’s not—they stoke prejudice, crush nuance, distort reality, are unkind and unfair.
Perhaps the biggest political puzzle of our time is why, as the lives of working-class whites have descended from the stability and comfort of “All in the Family” to the chaos and despair of “Gran Torino” and “Winter’s Bone,” these same Americans have voted more and more reliably Republican.
Sunday’s Times had a fascinating and disturbing lead story about the pattern of government dependency around the country. A map showing areas of greatest reliance on public benefits corresponds with weird exactness to the map of red America: the South, Appalachia, and rural areas in general.
In addition, reliance on the safety net has more than doubled in the past four decades. During the same period, median incomes in America have stagnated or declined.
[The] persistent argument is that government programs do more harm than good and create a dependent class rather than alleviating hardship, because socio-economic differences are based on innate ability, not external circumstance. The white working-class has suffered a moral collapse caused in part by the sorting of society into rich and poor, with the traditional virtues surviving only among the former—not by an economic battering at the hands of globalization, technology, and corporate power. Inequality is a natural state, and people at the bottom of society should either resign themselves to their fate, or else revive themselves through a moral and spiritual reawakening (likely inspired by their betters) that will allow them to rise above the lousy hand dealt them by their brain power.
And the predictable left-right argument over causes and solutions doesn’t help. Is it disappearing jobs, or disappearing values? This isn’t an analytical choice I find very useful. Jobs and values are intertwined: when one starts to go, the other is likely to go with it, and the circle becomes truly vicious. A textile factory moves south of the border, and a town loses its mainstay of employment. Former textile workers scurry to find fast-food and retail positions. The move from blue-collar to service work is brutal, and over time some employees lose the will to stick it out in a hateful job. Their children do even worse. Soon enough there are two or three generations of one family on government help, and kids grow up without a model of the work ethic. When a technology plant opens in the area (with a fifth the number of jobs as the textile factory), few locals are remotely qualified to work there. It’s a dismally familiar story—but is it a story of jobs or values? The obvious answer is both, which is why no one’s five-point solutions or three-word slogan is convincing.
In the Times story, there’s a man named Ki Gulbranson from a small Minnesota town called Chisago, both barely clinging to the middle class. He tries to make ends meet selling apparel and refereeing kids’ soccer games. All around him, he sees growing dependence on government. No fan of government spending, he joined the Tea Party in 2010; at the same time, he benefits from the Earned Income Tax Credit, free school breakfasts for his children, and Medicare for his mother. “I don’t demand that the government does this for me,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need the government.” Yet he finds it hard to imagine surviving without the safety net. “I don’t think so,” he said. “No. I don’t know. Not the way we expect to live as Americans.”
Gulbranson’s moment of hesitation contains a certain explanatory power. He doesn’t want to say that he can’t live without government. In places like Chisago, the old ethic of self-reliance is real and fierce. But it’s disintegrating under the pressure of several bad economic decades. People in Park Slope, Brooklyn and the north shore of Chicago don’t see their neighbors going on disability when they could work. But the more Gulbranson sees it, the more he resents the government. Perhaps he resents it most of all because he knows he needs it. That’s a political conundrum for both parties, but even more, it’s an American problem.
A couple of years ago, on a slow day at the office, I decided to experiment with editing one particularly misleading assertion chiseled into the Wikipedia article. The description of the trial stated, “The prosecution, led by Julius Grinnell, did not offer evidence connecting any of the defendants with the bombing. … “
Coincidentally, that is the claim that initially hooked me on the topic. In 2001 I was teaching a labor-history course, and our textbook contained nearly the same wording that appeared on Wikipedia. One of my students raised her hand: “If the trial went on for six weeks and no evidence was presented, what did they talk about all those days?” I’ve been working to answer her question ever since.
I have not resolved all the mysteries that surround the bombing, but I have dug deeply enough to be sure that the claim that the trial was bereft of evidence is flatly wrong.
So I removed the line about there being “no evidence” and provided a full explanation in Wikipedia’s behind-the-scenes editing log. Within minutes my changes were reversed. The explanation: “You must provide reliable sources for your assertions to make changes along these lines to the article.”
That was curious, as I had cited the documents that proved my point, including verbatim testimony from the trial published online by the Library of Congress. I also noted one of my own peer-reviewed articles. One of the people who had assumed the role of keeper of this bit of history for Wikipedia quoted the Web site’s “undue weight” policy, which states that “articles should not give minority views as much or as detailed a description as more popular views.” He then scolded me. “You should not delete information supported by the majority of sources to replace it with a minority view.”
The “undue weight” policy posed a problem. Scholars have been publishing the same ideas about the Haymarket case for more than a century. The last published bibliography of titles on the subject has 1,530 entries.
"Explain to me, then, how a ‘minority’ source with facts on its side would ever appear against a wrong ‘majority’ one?" I asked the Wiki-gatekeeper. He responded, "You’re more than welcome to discuss reliable sources here, that’s what the talk page is for. However, you might want to have a quick look at Wikipedia’s civility policy."
Another editor cheerfully tutored me in what this means: “Wikipedia is not ‘truth,’ Wikipedia is ‘verifiability’ of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of something, Wikipedia will echo that.”
Following the bail-outs, the president eventually forced Chrysler and GM into bankruptcy, a step Mr Romney thought should occur naturally. And the government oversaw painful restructurings at both companies, which were largely in line with Mr Romney’s broad suggestions. But the course Mr Romney recommended in 2008 began with the government stepping back, and it is unlikely things would’ve turned out so well had this happened.
Free-marketeers that we are, The Economist agreed with Mr Romney at the time. But we later apologised for that position. ”Had the government not stepped in, GM might have restructured under normal bankruptcy procedures, without putting public money at risk”, we said. But “given the panic that gripped private purse-strings…it is more likely that GM would have been liquidated, sending a cascade of destruction through the supply chain on which its rivals, too, depended.” Even Ford, which avoided bankruptcy, feared the industry would collapse if GM went down. At the time that seemed like a real possibility. The credit markets were bone-dry, making the privately financed bankruptcy that Mr Romney favoured improbable. He conveniently ignores this bit of history in claiming to have been right all along.
Corporate Citizens Can Do Well by Doing Good: Richard H. Thaler
More generally, is any way of making money acceptable as long as it is both profitable and legal?
There is an interesting irony here. Those who would favor this narrow definition of corporate responsibility are typically very skeptical of governments. Yet, in their worldview, it is the government that decides the limits of what a company should do.
If an activity is legal, no matter how unsavory or unscrupulous it might be, then corporations aren’t merely allowed to pursue it, it is their corporate responsibility to do so.
As a matter of logic, if the only standard you are willing to live by is the letter of the law, then you should expect that the letter of the law will become increasingly specific.
Cormac McCarthy on the Santa Fe Institute’s Brainy Halls
I asked whether something analogous happened in fiction: was a beautiful sentence more likely to be true in some way? McCarthy laughed. “That’s tough. It’s hard to define beauty, though there’ve been some strange attempts. We know it involves harmony, repetition, symmetry. These things speak to us and have for a long time.”
In addition to aesthetics, McCarthy noted a deeper link between great science and great writing. “Both involve curiosity, taking risks, thinking in an adventurous manner, and being willing to say something 9/10ths of people will say is wrong.” Profound insights in both domains also tend arise from a source beyond the limits of analytic reason. “Major insights in science come from the subconscious, from staring at your shoes. They’re not just analytical.”
Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer want to change the way Americans think about politics, and they want to do this with a new metaphor to describe how governance should work. This is the premise behind their new book, The Gardens of Democracy: that Americans politics can be greatly improved if we can agree that the country is like a garden.
Real gardens need to be tended to and cared for, but they are also alive and must be left alone to actually grow. Liu and Hanauer see a similar way to govern America: tend to the big objectives (for example, creating a green energy industry) and make sure the garden has no weeds, but don’t try to micromanage each individual.
Liu and Hanauer write their book from the left-hand side of politics but are the arguments in this book applicable to both sides of the spectrum? Or will the right find this view completely objectionable? While the book makes its argument from a strong liberal and progressive background, this does not mean conservatives and the center-right have no claim to these ideas.
The metaphor that America is like a garden is not a gimmick, but powerful refutation of neoclassical economics. If you think that human beings are atomized individuals who only make rational decisions in a marketplace with the goal of maximizing their utility, Liu and Hanauer will not only disagree, they will argue that science has proven that view to be wrong.
Gardens of Democracy is like a Cliff Notes for the major advancements in social science that have occurred in the modern era. Liu and Hanauer are interested in presenting readers with summaries of major research that has occurred to justify their view that humans are much more social and co-dependent then we previously assumed.
In the past decade, increased public support for gay marriage and a growing acceptance of domestic partnerships has helped to redefine what it means to be a couple — and a family — in this country. But what do we make of a person who remains single by choice? Our politically correct culture keeps us from voicing our judgments about people based on skin color, ethnicity, gender, or orientation. Yet we’re quite comfortable telling people that they’ll be better off when they’ve found someone to share their life with. That’s in part because we’re constantly being told that happiness and success come through our partnerships.
But what happens to that logic when more of us than ever before are going it alone?
The 2010 U.S. Census found that nearly half of all American adults — 100 million — are now single, the highest rate in recent history, and 61 percent of them have never married. Here in Boston, 59 percent of men and 55 percent of women have never walked down the aisle, which has us out-singling New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. And while those stats reflect both our sizable student population and our professional aspirations — our median marrying age, hovering around 30, is among the highest in the nation — it’s also a reflection of national trends. In 1960, 15 percent of American adults had never been married. By 2010, that had nearly doubled to 28 percent. The census also found that for the first time since it started counting, married couples now make up less than half of American households.
Have we really — finally — reached the point at which quality is asserting itself in the form of monster pageviews? Especially given the fact that the New York Observer, the subject of my original post, is getting fewer pageviews now than it was in its much more assiduously edited days at the end of 2007.
If we have reached that point — and I hope that we have — it’s a function of the way that the world of the web is moving from search to social. Companies like Demand Media were created to game search — to take what people are genuinely interested in, and then exploit those interests to get undeserved traffic and ad revenues. Gaming social media, by contrast, is much harder: people tend not to share things they don’t genuinely like.
…while I’m extremely happy to see high-quality journalism reach a very large audience online, I’m far from convinced that we’re about to enter a golden age where publishers get rewarded for spending lots of effort and money on commissioning, editing, and publishing extraordinary content. The web is still a mass medium, and cats-make-you-crazy stories are hard to scale, while commodity content is much easier to replicate. If you want to get to half a million pageviews, you’re always much more likely to get there with a thousand blog posts than you are with a single swing for the fences.
Human Waste-Powered Robots May Be Future of Machines
The first EcoBot (created in 2003) was powered by E. coli bacteria feeding on refined sugar. Then “EcoBot-II” (2005) harnessed sludge microbes to break down dead flies, prawn shells and rotten apples. Finally, “EcoBot-III” (2010) showed how a “digesting” robot could also dump its leftover waste, so that its microbes wouldn’t be poisoned by their own filth and could keep powering the robot.
"EcoBot-III is a robot that collects its own food and water from the environment,” said Ioannis Ieropoulos, a roboticist at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). “It performs the task we design it to do, and at the end of the day, it gets rid of its own waste. It literally craps into its own ‘litter’ tray.”
Ieropoulos, Greenman and BRL Director Chris Melhuish, give credit to other researchers for first showing how robots could use bacteria, and for pioneering the development of microbial fuel cells powered by sludge. But they have pushed the field forward by making robots capable of performing tasks — such as maintaining a circulatory system and wirelessly reporting on their environment while moving toward food, water or light — when solely powered by microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to digest organic matter and dump any waste.
Human waste might also someday help power space robots that accompany astronauts on long-distance space missions or to planetary colonies, Ieropoulos said. On Earth, the robots might crawl through the debris of growing cities, or survive on their own for years in the great outdoors.
Mattel Will Finally Release The Hoverboard From ‘Back To The Future’
The year 2015 is coming up fast, and it seems like many of the future inovations seen in the future Hill Valley of Back to the Future: Part II have not come to pass — but I’m still hopeful that we’ll all be in flying hovercars in just three years time (um, yeah). Last year, Nike finally produced a limited edition “preview” run of the self-lacing Nike MAG sneakers. I saw last week on Gizmodo that we’re getting close to inventing the real-life Mr. Fusion. And this weekend at the New York Toy Fair, Mattel has finally announced the much anticipated release of the Hoverboard, a futuristic hovering skateboard that Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) used in the Back to the Future sequels.
Romney spoke about how he would fix the safety net for poor people “if it needs repair.”
Let me suggest one place to fix things: end child poverty.
Whatever the causes of poverty, when children grow up in desperate circumstances - circumstances that they had no role in creating - studies show that they will be more likely to drop out of high school, be unemployed, use drugs, have children out of wedlock and get ill.
In other words, they will be unproductive members of society and cost taxpayers huge amounts of money over the course of their lives.
We know that we have an education problem with the poor. Seventy-seven percent of our kids who entered high school graduated. Compare that with other rich countries: 90% in Switzerland, 91% in the UK, 93% in Finland and 97% in Germany. Studies show that dropouts are twice as likely to slip into poverty than high school graduates.
Children in extreme poverty do badly even when they are smart. A recent U.S. study tracked a group of eighth-graders in 1988. It found that students who did very well on a standardized test but were poor were less likely to get through college than their peers who tested poorly but were well-off.
On indicator after indicator, the U.S. compares badly with other rich nations on not only how impoverished it is but on the facilities and opportunities it is giving the poor. That’s why social mobility has stalled in America. Compared with other rich countries, poor Americans are more likely to stay poor. More than 40% of American men whose fathers had earnings in the bottom fifth end up in the same bracket. Britain, Denmark, Finland and Norway all perform much better.
The sad part is, these statistics are reversible. Compare child poverty rates in America and the UK. You’ll see that the UK’s rates were halved within a decade from the mid-1990s. The U.S. has actually risen since then.
There’s no secret sauce. Tony Blair’s Labour government simply made reducing child poverty a priority through various programs.
So, Romney: Yes, the media took your comments out of context. But you do need to be concerned about the very poor. We all do.
Compound May Help in Fight Against Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs
North Carolina State University chemists have created a compound that makes existing antibiotics 16 times more effective against recently discovered antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”
These so-called superbugs are actually bacterial strains that produce an enzyme known as New Delhi metallo-β-lactamase (NDM-1). Bacteria that produce this enzyme are practically impervious to antibiotics because NDM-1 renders certain antibiotics unable to bind with their bacterial targets. Since NDM-1 is found in Gram-negative bacteria like K. pneumoniae, which causes pneumonia, urinary tract, and other common hospital-acquired infections, it is of particular concern.
"We’ve demonstrated that we have the ability to take out the scariest superbug out there," Melander says. "Hopefully further research will allow us to make the compound even more effective, and make these infections little more than a nuisance."
Before the compromise, the spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops went even further, arguing that entirely secular corporations, if owned or run by faithful Catholics, should be able to exclude contraception from their employees’ health-insurance coverage. “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell,” he declared, “I’d be covered by the mandate.” And even that would be unacceptable.
So Catholic doctrine should, according to the bishops’ spokesman, also apply to non-Catholics—even if they are merely selling burritos.
This kind of rhetoric is not about protecting religious freedom. It is about imposing a particular religious doctrine on those who don’t share it as a condition for general employment utterly unrelated to religion at all. And if that is the hill the Catholic hierarchy and evangelical right want to fight and die on, they will lose—and lose badly. Which may in part be why the American bishops, in responding to Obama’s compromise, suddenly took a much more restrained tone. Contraception is popular. Even in conservative Mississippi, a recent ballot initiative to amend the state constitution to ban the morning-after pill failed badly at the polls. If this issue won’t work for the GOP in Mississippi, they’ll have a hard time winning a general election over it. And if the bishops think opposing Obama’s compromise will rally Catholics to their cause, they are even more out of touch than they realize. This will indeed become a wedge issue—between the bishops and their flocks. Yes, finally a social wedge issue that helps Democrats, not Republicans.
There was a time not so long ago when Catholics and other Christians weighed various moral claims to find a balance. Sometimes, the lesser of two evils was preferable. For centuries, for example, Catholic theologians, including the greatest, Thomas Aquinas, argued that human life begins not at conception but at some point in the second trimester. For centuries the Catholic Church allowed married priests. For centuries Catholics believed that extending the end of life by extreme measures like feeding tubes was a violation of natural death, which Christians of all people should not be afraid of. But this ancient, moderate, pragmatic reasoning has been rejected by the last two popes, who have increasingly become rigid, fundamentalist, and hostile to prudential balancing acts in the real, modern world we live in. Their radical fundamentalism—so alien to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and to so many lay Catholics—has discredited the core priorities of Christianity, failed to persuade their own flock, and led to increasing politicization. And the obsession among Catholic and evangelical leaders with an issue like contraception stands in stark contrast to their indifference to, for example, the torture in which the last administration engaged, the growing social inequality fostered by unfettered capitalism, the Christian moral imperative of universal health care, and the unjust use of the death penalty. That’s why younger evangelicals are also alienated. They want to refocus on issues of the poor, prison rape, human trafficking, and the kind of injustices Jesus emphasized, rather than on these sexual sideshows the older generation seems so obsessed with
Is it true that the Bible teaches peace and the Koran war? Only if you approach the books selectively, taking the gentlest of Jesus’ teachings and setting them against the harshest of Muhammad’s.
Philip Jenkins’s challenging new book Laying Down the Sword shows that the Bible contains incitements not just to violence but also to genocide. He argues that Christians and Jews should struggle to make sense of these violent texts as a central element of their tradition, rather than hurry past them or ignore them altogether.
The most painful passages come in the books of Joshua and Judges, which Jenkins describes as an “orgy of militarism, enslavement, and race war.” The Israelites, emerging from the desert after their escape from Egypt, attack Canaanite cities, whose people are described by the biblical narrator as very wicked. God commands the Israelites to exterminate the inhabitants—men, women, children, and animals alike, until nothing is left alive. Likewise in the Book of Samuel, King Saul eventually loses God’s favor not for his bloodthirstiness in war but for his restraint—he fails to annihilate his enemies. The prophet Samuel denounces him for sparing some of the Amalekites, takes up a sword, and personally hacks the captive King Agag to pieces. To make matters worse, says Jenkins, God sometimes deliberately “hardens the hearts” of other peoples, using them to chastise the sinful Hebrews. Then He raises up Judges, righteous Israelites, to smite and destroy them in turn. It’s almost as if He wanted the highest possible body count.
Jenkins offers a useful thought experiment, asking readers to view these stories through the eyes of the Canaanites themselves. To them, the Israelites would seem as terrifying as the Janjaweed militia of Darfur in our own day, or as the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda, whose leader, Joseph Kony, has justified the mass torture and killing of men, women, and children in God’s name.
For centuries Jews and Christians have struggled to come to terms with these stories. One option was always to take them at face value and act accordingly. Crusaders in the Middle Ages, militant Christians on both sides during the wars of religion that followed the Reformation, and extremist Zionists in Israel today have taken the stories as evidence that killing your enemy without mercy is exactly what God wants. Sometimes, in their view, we must accept that God’s purposes are inscrutable but nevertheless just and righteous.
Similarly, the genocidal passages settled the consciences of European empire-builders between 1500 and 1900. They attributed “Canaanite” wickedness to their American, African, and Asian enemies, then exterminated them, noting that in doing so they had emulated God’s chosen conqueror, Joshua. One of the difficulties of becoming Christian for Native Americans and Africans since then has been God’s apparent willingness to victimize people like themselves en masse.
Not until the Enlightenment did significant numbers of European intellectuals begin to use the genocidal passages to argue against religion itself. Some, like Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and a hero of the American Revolution, regarded the God disclosed by these passages as so morally inferior that no civilized people should accept him. In The Age of Reasonhe described the Old Testament as “a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.” Paine became a radiant figure for skeptics through the 19th and 20th centuries. His most recent heirs include our own era’s leading atheists, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
The New Geography of Trade: Globalization’s Decline May Stimulate Local Recovery
It is an article of faith that global trade will be an ever-growing presence in the world. Yet this belief rests on shaky foundations. Global trade depends on cheap, long-distance freight transportation. Freight costs will rise with climate change, the end of cheap oil, and policies to mitigate these two challenges.
At first, the increase in freight costs will be bad news for developed and developing nations alike but, as adjustments in the patterns of trade occur, the result is likely to be decreased outsourcing with more manufacturing and food production jobs in North America and the European Union. The pattern of trade will change as increasing transportation costs outweigh traditional sources of comparative advantage, such as lower wages. The new geography of trade will not result from policy or treaties but from the impact of changing environmental conditions due to the growth of the human economy. Global trade can be disrupted by many kinds of natural disaster: the tsunami and nuclear emergency in Japan slowed auto production in the United States, and Australian floods lowered coal exports to China.1,2 The supply chains of global production and distribution are more vulnerable than we would like to admit. Up to now, we have adapted to disruptions and global trade has continued to expand. But greater challenges to global trade lie ahead. Continual growth, or even maintenance, of the current physical volume of trade is unsustainable.
Many goods will be manufactured closer to where they are consumed, as supply chains become more regional and local.3 Petroleum- and transport-intensive products, such as imported food, clothing, appliances, and building supplies will become more expensive; lifestyles and consumer purchasing in developed nations will shift to reflect these changes. Export-oriented nations relying on a limited number of exports to pay for imported necessities will need to become more self-reliant in meeting basic needs.
[Romney’s] stump speeches rely almost entirely on fantasies and fabrications designed to appeal to the delusions of the conservative base. No, President Obama isn’t someone who “began his presidency by apologizing for America,” as Mr. Romney declared, yet again, a week ago. But this “Four-Pinocchio Falsehood,” as the Washington Post Fact Checker puts it, is at the heart of the Romney campaign.
How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!
My short answer is that the long-running con game of economic conservatives and the wealthy supporters they serve finally went bad. For decades the G.O.P. has won elections by appealing to social and racial divisions, only to turn after each victory to deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy — a process that reached its epitome when George W. Bush won re-election by posing as America’s defender against gay married terrorists, then announced that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security.
Over time, however, this strategy created a base that really believed in all the hokum — and now the party elite has lost control.
The point is that today’s dismal G.O.P. field — is there anyone who doesn’t consider it dismal? — is no accident. Economic conservatives played a cynical game, and now they’re facing the blowback, a party that suffers from “severe” conservatism in the worst way. And the malady may take many years to cure.
Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It
The government safety net was created to keep Americans from abject poverty, but the poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.
And as more middle-class families like the Gulbransons land in the safety net in Chisago and similar communities, anger at the government has increased alongside. Many people say they are angry because the government is wasting money and giving money to people who do not deserve it. But more than that, they say they want to reduce the role of government in their own lives. They are frustrated that they need help, feel guilty for taking it and resent the government for providing it. They say they want less help for themselves; less help in caring for relatives; less assistance when they reach old age.
The recent recession increased dependence on government, and stronger economic growth would reduce demand for programs like unemployment benefits. But the long-term trend is clear. Over the next 25 years, as the population ages and medical costs climb, the budget office projects that benefits programs will grow faster than any other part of government, driving the federal debt to dangerous heights.
Americans are divided about the way forward. Seventy percent of respondents to a recent New York Times poll said the government should raise taxes. Fifty-six percent supported cuts in Medicare and Social Security. Forty-four percent favored both.
One of the oldest criticisms of democracy is that the people will inevitably drain the treasury by demanding more spending than taxes. The theory is that citizens who get more than they pay for will vote for politicians who promise to increase spending.
But Dean P. Lacy, a professor of political science at Dartmouth College, has identified a twist on that theme in American politics over the last generation. Support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates.
Conversely, states that pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits tend to support Democratic candidates. And Professor Lacy found that the pattern could not be explained by demographics or social issues.
Those who reject gay marriage while (at least in principle) accepting practical equality for gay couples have found themselves in a bind when trying to explain their position in court. For most, the basis for this stance surely lies in religious traditionalism. Mores have changed, and discrimination against gay people is no longer socially acceptable in many circles. But marriage is so bound up in religious tradition that a radical change, like the possibility of same-sex unions, challenges people’s settled expectations and their ideals of what marriage is supposed to be.
The establishments of most conservative religious denominations and the bulk of followers — from Catholics to Baptists to Orthodox Jews to Mormons to Muslims — are the stalwarts in opposing gay marriage. In these traditions, change comes incrementally and over generations. Almost 500 years after the Reformation, Catholicism still rejects divorce. Orthodox Judaism is not going to endorse marriages between Jews and non- Jews, no matter what more-liberal Jewish denominations might do.
Yet such religious traditionalism has proven difficult to translate into a legally cognizable argument. Because of the separation of church and state, Proposition 8’s proponents couldn’t simply tell the truth: That they oppose gay marriage because it is against their faith and their customs. They did claim in court that their religious liberty was affected, but this argument is a sure loser, since they may continue to determine their own marriage rules. The state’s adoption of gay marriage will have no more coercive effect than the state’s recognition of divorce does on the Catholic church.
There is a certain paradox here. The state recognizes marriages performed by priests, rabbis and imams — a privilege that itself deviates from strict separation between religion and government. This makes civil, state-sanctioned marriage seem religious, which is exactly why religious traditionalists are threatened by the idea of state marriage extending to gay people.
Imagine that the state didn’t use the word marriage to describe any relationship, but only recognized civil union for all couples, gay or straight. In this parallel universe, there would be no discrimination. And presumably, neither religious traditionalists nor gay-rights advocates would have reason to complain. But that imaginary world isn’t ours. Once the state calls something marriage, supporters of gay equality have every reason to insist that this honorable word must extend to everyone equally.
What You Need to Succeed—and How to Find Out If You Have It
Whether you succeed at work may depend on many factors—intelligence, empathy, self-control, talent and persistence, to name a few. But one determinant may outweigh many of these: how you perceive those around you. New research suggests that your own ability to get things done—not to mention your success in non-work relationships—is highly correlated with how you see others. Are your coworkers capable and kind, or are they, dare I say, incompetent jerks?
It turns out that such opinions are tied to a key component of achievement called psychological capital, a mixture of efficacy (self-confidence), resilience (you believe you can bounce back from setbacks), hope (you believe you can achieve your goals) and optimism (you expect good things to happen in the future). As a concept, psychological capital reflects our capacity to overcome obstacles and push ourselves to pursue our ambitions. Not surprisingly, scoring high on this measure is linked to markers of success: being promoted, winning awards, popularity with peers, stability of marriage and even longevity.
Few things so embitter a nation as squandered valor; hence Americans, with much valor spent there, want Iraq to master its fissures. But with America in the second decade of its longest war, the probable Republican nominee is promising to extend it indefinitely.
Mitt Romney opposes negotiations with the Taliban while they “are killing our soldiers.” Which means: No negotiations until the war ends, when there will be nothing about which to negotiate. “We don’t,” he says, “negotiate from a position of weakness as we are pulling our troops out.” That would mean stopping the drawdown of U.S. forces — except Romney would not negotiate even from a position of strength: “We should not negotiate with the Taliban. We should defeat the Taliban.” How could that be achieved in a second decade of war? What metrics would establish “defeat”? Details to come, perhaps.
The U.S. defense budget is about 43 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies. Are Republicans really going to warn voters that America will be imperiled if the defense budget is cut 8 percent from projections over the next decade? In 2017, defense spending would still be more than that of the next 10 countries combined.
Do Republicans think it is premature to withdraw as many as 7,000 troops from Europe two decades after the Soviet Union’s death? About 73,000 will remain, most of them in prosperous, pacific, largely unarmed and utterly unthreatened Germany. Why do so many remain?
Since 2001, the United States has waged war in three nations, and some Republicans appear ready to bring the total to five, adding Iran and Syria. (The Weekly Standard, of neoconservative bent, regrets that Obama “is reluctant to intervene to oust Iran’s closest ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”) GOP critics say that Obama’s proposed defense cuts will limit America’s ability to engage in troop-intensive nation-building. Most Americans probably say: Good.