Remember globalization neoliberals and conservatives? The market for oil is global, not national, and the United States accounts for a grossly disproportionate 25% of world usage. Moreover, gas prices have doubled since the inauguration because Obama took office during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has almost doubled since it’s March 2009 low too.
“If you’re in physics, you create inventions, you create lasers, you create transistors, computers, GPS.” If you’re an investment banker, on the other hand, “you don’t create anything new. You simply massage other people’s money and take a cut.”— Physicist Michio Kaku
As words and articles became digitized over the last 15 years, they began to float, there for the plucking and replication elsewhere. Words like “curation” and “aggregation” became the language of the realm, sometimes used as substitutes for describing the actual creation of content. What had once been a craft was rapidly becoming a task.
Traditional media organizations watched as others kidnapped their work, not only taking away content but, more and more, taking the audiences with them. Practitioners of the new order heard the complaints and suggested that mainstream media needed to quit whining and start competing in a changed world, where what’s yours may not be yours anymore if others find a better way to package it.
So where is the line between promoting the good work of others and simply lifting it? Naughty aggregation is analogous to pornography: You know it when you see it.
Humans have been changing the planet ever since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens began altering the land—and the plants and animals growing on it—rather than simply living as hunters and gatherers. Agriculture enabled humans to proliferate and literally changed the face of the planet; today 38% of the earth’s ice-free land has been cleared and cultivated for farming. But it wasn’t until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution around 1800 that human growth and its impact on the environment began to explode, and that’s the moment when many scientists believe the Anthropocene truly began.
Since then our ranks have ballooned from 1 billion to 7 billion, a rate of reproduction that biologist E.O. Wilson has characterized as “more bacterial than primate.” Today the total human biomass is a hundred times as great as that of any other large animal species that has ever walked the earth.
Of course, humans have been effectively geoengineering the planet for centuries. We were just doing it unconsciously, as a by-product of our relentless expansion. Humans aren’t even the first species to create change on a planetary scale. The earth’s atmosphere is oxygenated because cyanobacteria helped produce that gas more than 2 billion years ago. But even though cyanobacteria weren’t conscious of what they were doing, we are, or at least we should be. Our ability to comprehend the full extent of the human impact on earth puts us in a unique position as planetary gardeners, a responsibility we have no choice but to take on. We have been lucky for much of our species’ existence, blessed by the comfortably warm climate of the Holocene, able to spread our growing numbers across a seemingly limitless planet.
But that age is over, replaced by the uncertainty of the Anthropocene, whether geologists decide to formally call it that or not. We’ll decide whether human beings continue to thrive or flame out, taking the planet down along the way. It may be an unhappy reality, because there’s no guarantee that the Anthropocene—crowded with billions of human beings—will be as conducive to life as the past 12,000 years have been.
Computers, software applications, and the Internet are letting us produce more with fewer people.
In theory, this is a huge plus. We can live better and have more time off.
But as Tonto asked the Lone Ranger, “who’s ‘we,’ kemosabe?”
The challenge at the heart of the productivity revolution – and it is a revolution – is how to distribute the gains. So far, we’ve been failing miserably to meet that challenge.
True, some of the gains are widely spread in the form of lower prices and higher value. My 3-year-old granddaughter gets more out of an i-Phone in five minutes than my 98-year-old father ever got out of reading the daily paper (putting to one side their relative capacities to process the information).
But many of the gains are distributed narrowly in the form of profits to owners, and fat compensation packages to the “talent.”
The share of the gains going to everyone else in the form of wages and salaries has been shrinking. It’s now the smallest since the government began keeping track in 1947.
The benefits of the productivity revolution should be turned into more abundant public goods – cleaner air and water, better parks and recreation, improved public health, and better public transit.
Regressive right wingers want Americans to believe we’ve been living beyond our means, and can no longer afford it.
The truth is just the reverse. Most Americans’ means haven’t kept up with what the economy could provide – if the fruits of the productivity revolution were more widely shared.
Regressives growl about America’s borrowing and tut-tut about future federal budget deficits. The reality is the world is willing to lend us vast amounts of money because we’re so productive. And the productivity revolution is making us ever more so.
In the interest of national security, the military is pursuing advanced batteries and novel biofuels for the battlefield and energy-efficient buildings and energy-independent bases for the home front. The Armed Forces are investing and enabling green technologies independently, through its own research (e.g., DARPA) and procurement (e.g., the Army’s new Energy Initiatives Office) processes, as well is in cooperation with the Department of Energy.
“We in Defense must innovate to protect the country. Our technology is second only to the quality of the people we have in uniform in what makes our military the best in the world,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. “We’re all in with the Department of Energy (DOE). It makes sense and it is good for the taxpayer. We’re all in with ARPA-E. We look forward to working with [the DOE] well into the future. Just like DARPA has been around for 50 years, I dare say ARPA-E will be around for decades as well.”
The DOD is committed to greentech for the long term. Unlike venture capitalists, the military doesn’t invest from 10-year funds. Unlike the DOE, the Armed Forces are relatively insulated from changing political winds.
“We, unlike many in the economy, take the long view,” said Carter. “National defense is going to be around for a long time. We are prepared to make investments that are sure to pay off, but won’t pay off for 10 years, whereas [investors] in the economy with high discount rates can’t afford to place those kinds of bets. But we’re prepared [to do so because] it is in the national interest, the taxpayers’ interest and the interest of national defense.”
But what if Republicans take control of the White House or both houses of Congress? Might the military’s interest in green technology be politicized, much as the Obama administration’s investments and loan guarantees have come under fire?
“The military has bought in to alternative energy. It is their idea now. That makes a big difference,” said Perry. “It was my experience when I was Secretary [of Defense] that whenever you get military buy-in, you have a much greater chance to [accomplish] whatever it was you were trying to do. That has happened now in the case of alternative energy and the military. I don’t think it is dependent on an administration. I think it is going to be there for a long-time to come.”
Like a street façade on a movie set, Romney’s economic plans are designed to project an outward appearance of functionality. But when you look behind their cleverly made-up fronts, there’s nothing to see. Romney’s policy offerings on taxes, spending, and entitlements consistently lack crucial structural details; his campaign seems intent on emulating the outward appearance of policy proposals without providing anything that’s actually workable.
Take Romney’s proposed overhaul of the tax code. Vague on details and short on substance, it’s more like a press release than anything resembling an actual plan to rewrite the country’s massive, complex tax code. The few details it does reveal tend to focus on the goodies Romney would like to offer and less on their price. Romney proposes an across the board tax cut along with cuts to the corporate rate and various other reductions, including a repeal of the alternative minimum tax. Combined, the Manhattan Institute’s Josh Barro estimates that Romney’s proposals would reduce federal tax revenues by up to $5 trillion over the next decade.
In keeping with his vow to balance the federal budget, Romney also promises to make these cuts in a way that’s revenue neutral. How? He’s yet to say. The plan indicates that Romney would rely on dynamic tax effects while closing tax loopholes and reducing spending in order to offset the lost revenue. Which loopholes would he snip? Which spending would he cut? Anyone wondering about these questions might as well ask a magic eight ball, which would at least provide an answer.
Responding to questions from reporters yesterday, Barack Obama promised to restart a gimmicky Justice Department inquiry into whether speculators have unlawfully inflated oil prices. This task force was announced with great fanfare the last time gas prices were a big political issue, but it rarely met and didn’t accomplish much of anything. In other news yesterday, the price of Brent crude oil tumbled in response to both bad economic news from Europe and good diplomatic news from Iran. The juxtaposition should serve as a reminder that the idea of a rigorous separation between supply, demand, and “speculation” is nonsense. Speculators are speculating on, among other things, the likely outlook for supply and demand.
Under the circumstances, it’s ironic that the Obama administration is often attacked politically for its alleged softness on Iran. In the grand scheme of things, if the Iranian nuclear program really is a dire threat to American security, maybe something as petty as the fate of the economy doesn’t matter. But make no mistake, a war with Iran would have enormous consequences on the global price of oil, and it’s perfectly reasonable for speculators to take to the futures markets to try to bet on it.
Despite a century of research, memory encoding in the brain has remained mysterious. Neuronal synaptic connection strengths are involved, but synaptic components are short-lived while memories last lifetimes. This suggests synaptic information is encoded and hard-wired at a deeper, finer-grained molecular scale.
In an article in the March 8 issue of the journal PLoS Computational Biology, physicists Travis Craddock and Jack Tuszynski of the University of Alberta, and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff of the University of Arizona demonstrate a plausible mechanism for encoding synaptic memory in microtubules, major components of the structural cytoskeleton within neurons.
Why ‘Crony Capitalism’ is as American as Apple Pie
Conservatives are supposed to cherish tradition, to draw on customs and policies which worked well in the past to guide what office-holders ought to do in the future. So it is ironic, if not hypocritical, that they constantly peddle a notion about the separation of business and government that has no basis in American history. “The voters,” asserted Mitt Romney, after his victory in the Washington caucuses, “want a conservative businessman who understands the private sector and knows how to get the federal government out of the way, so that the economy can once again grow vigorously.”
In fact, the Republican nominee-to-be is distorting a long and bipartisan tradition of government support for big business in America. Conservatives now object to “crony capitalism,” but for much of U.S. history, businessmen have been hungry for it. Since the early nineteenth century, the government has helped fuel economic growth and corporate profit-making, and savvy businessmen and, recently, businesswomen have lobbied hard to keep those benefits coming.
Conservatives detested the Keynesian policies that every president from FDR to Nixon adopted. But major corporations were quite happy to gorge themselves at the federal banquet table. Agribusinesses got crop subsidies and irrigation projects, aerospace and defense firms got lavish, cost-plus contracts to manufacture everything from H-bombs to lunar modules, and drug companies kept their prices high with the blessing of patent monopolies. The Federal Highway Act enabled the building of 41 thousand miles of interstates—a great boon to construction, real estate, and trucking firms, which together composed what might be called the “suburban-industrial complex.”* All this government largesse, funded by high marginal tax rates, helped produce a quarter-century of growth that some economists refer to simply as “the golden years.”
Thus, the private sector that Romney and his fellow Republicans love to celebrate became large and prosperous only with aid—financial, legal, even regulatory—from public officials. The real political question has never been, should government be large or small but whose interests should it serve?
Corporate executives have always understood this fact and learned how to work the system that right-wing ideologues would have us believe is a recent invention of “socialist” Obamaites.
Measured in sheer legislative tonnage, what Obama got done in his first two years is stunning. Health care reform. The takeover and turnaround of the auto industry. The biggest economic stimulus in history. Sweeping new regulations of Wall Street. A tough new set of consumer protections on the credit card industry. A vast expansion of national service. Net neutrality. The greatest increase in wilderness protection in fifteen years. A revolutionary reform to student aid. Signing the New START treaty with Russia. The ending of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Even over the past year, when he was bogged down in budget fights with the Tea Party-controlled GOP House, Obama still managed to squeeze out a few domestic policy victories, including a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction deal and the most sweeping overhaul of food safety laws in more than seventy years. More impressively, on the foreign policy front he ended the war in Iraq, began the drawdown in Afghanistan, helped to oust Gaddafi in Libya and usher out Mubarak in Egypt, orchestrated new military and commercial alliances as a hedge against China, and tightened sanctions against Iran over its nukes.
Oh, and he shifted counterterrorism strategies to target Osama bin Laden and then ordered the risky raid that killed him.
That Obama has done all this while also steering the country out of what might have been a second Great Depression would seem to have made him already, just three years into his first term, a serious candidate for greatness.
Although we live in an age that worships focus—we are always forcing ourselves to concentrate, chugging caffeine—this approach can inhibit the imagination. We might be focused, but we’re probably focused on the wrong answer.
And this is why relaxation helps: It isn’t until we’re soothed in the shower or distracted by the stand-up comic that we’re able to turn the spotlight of attention inward, eavesdropping on all those random associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain’s right hemisphere. When we need an insight, those associations are often the source of the answer.
If you’re trying to be more creative, one of the most important things you can do is increase the volume and diversity of the information to which you are exposed.
Project Avatar: U.S. military researches ways for soldiers to control robot 'surrogates' using just their minds
According to the Darpa’s 2013 budget: ‘The Avatar program will develop interfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldier’s surrogate.’
The report, released this week and seen by wired.com, says the remote controlled androids will be capable of doing everything that a human soldier can.
They should be able to perform all the duties expected of a human soldier, including ‘room clearing, sentry control [and] combat casualty recovery,’ all via remote control.
The means in which this man-machine mind-meld are to be achieved are unclear, but Darpa’s description of the project notes ‘key advancements in telepresence and remote operation of a ground system’.
The agency has reportedly already funded successful attempts to control robots with thought - albeit using monkeys - raising the terrifying prospect that wars may in the future be fought by machine proxy.
The initiative seems like the next logical step in the U.S. military’s robotics and remote warfare research.
How a $1,000 test could destroy the health-insurance industry
In 2008, Congress overwhelmingly passed, and President George W. Bush signed, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Ron Paul was the lone dissenter. The legislation bars insurers from denying coverage or raising premiums on individuals who show a genetic predisposition toward particular diseases. And in doing, it armed a time bomb beneath the health-care industry.
Eventually, genomic testing will be a powerful predictor of future illness. And it raises the potential that young people will get themselves tested and then purchase insurance based off the result. So those with a clean genomic result might go for a cheap catastrophic plan, while those with a high risk of developing pricey illnesses will opt for more comprehensive insurance.
The result would be, in insurance terms, an “adverse-selection death spiral,” as the healthy opt out of expensive insurance, the sick opt into it, and premiums spin out of control.
The policy that solves this problem is an individual mandate, or Medicare-for-All, or some other approach that forces the healthy to insure themselves alongside the sick. In its absence, there’s no way to make a risk-selection model work for the health insurance industry, as consumers will be armed with detailed information about their health risks that insurers are legally prohibited from pricing into their insurance premiums.
Spider silk conducts heat as well as metals, study finds
Spider silks – particularly the draglines that anchor webs in place – conduct heat better than most materials, including very good conductors such as silicon, aluminum and pure iron. Spider silk also conducts heat 1,000 times better than woven silkworm silk and 800 times better than other organic tissues.
A paper about the discovery – “New Secrets of Spider Silk: Exceptionally High Thermal Conductivity and its Abnormal Change under Stretching” – has just been published online by the journal Advanced Materials.
"This is very surprising because spider silk is organic material," Wang said. "For organic material, this is the highest ever. There are only a few materials higher – silver and diamond."
Even more surprising, he said, is when spider silk is stretched, thermal conductivity also goes up. Wang said stretching spider silk to its 20 percent limit also increases conductivity by 20 percent. Most materials lose thermal conductivity when they’re stretched.
That discovery “opens a door for soft materials to be another option for thermal conductivity tuning,” Wang wrote in the paper.
And that could lead to spider silk helping to create flexible, heat-dissipating parts for electronics, better clothes for hot weather, bandages that don’t trap heat and many other everyday applications.
"We propose that when investors invent new financial products, they be forbidden to market them until they receive approval from a government agency designed along the lines of the FDA, which screens pharmaceutical innovations," the pair writes. "The agency would approve financial products if and only if they satisfy a test for social utility. The test centers around a simple market analysis: is the product likely to be used more often for hedging or speculation?"
The professors open by arguing that financial products are “socially beneficial” when they help us insure or hedge against risk. When they’re used for speculation and regulatory arbitrage, they’re “socially detrimental.” That’s because the “difference between hedging and speculation is that hedging enables people to reduce the risk they face whereas speculation increases it.”
The most vivid recent example of what they deem socially destructive speculation involves the investments in derivatives that played an important role in the financial crisis of 2008. “The costs of speculation are now widely recognized, and it is clear that speculation was facilitated by the financial innovations of the last thirty years.”
"In the current, highly polarized political environment, it is easy to predict that many people will regard our proposal as an excessively radical reform, one that is inconsistent with free market traditions in the Unites States. It is therefore important to emphasize that or proposal in large part revives an old regulatory system that served the United States well until it was dismantled in the 1990s."
Many of my conservative friends are deeply suspicious of climate change, and they hate carbon taxes and cap and trade. They’re not interested in adapting to a supposedly hypothetical future. Fair enough. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.
But these same friends embrace ideas like U.S. energy independence, reducing foreign oil imports, promoting economic growth, protecting our families from harm and improving the U.S. balance of trade. And many of these same friends, while skeptical about climate change, see the wisdom in protecting rain forests and the world’s biodiversity.
Guess what? Many of the things that help reduce the threats of climate change can also be good for our economy and national security, and vice versa. Many of the changes proposed to adapt to climate change are readily justifiable as approaches to shelter our wealth and well-being against the erratic forces of nature such as Hurricane Katrina and the recent floods in Australia. Why not work to boost innovation, the economy, disaster preparedness and national security, and be pleasantly surprised when greenhouse gas emissions and vulnerability to climate change go down, too? Why not approach the debate from another direction, and be happy that we find allies instead of adversaries?
”—Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of the Minnesota
Those who purchase ethically believe that they are more ethical than those who don’t. Ethical consumption is an act of acute narcissism. It’s all about casting a positive light on one’s self.
By viewing the acquisition and consumption of food as an ethical and moral act, we diminish the fundamental pleasure that eating food provides us. By attaching social worth and political meaning to what we eat, and hoping that consumption can make the world a better place, we will not only fail to improve the world, but in the process lose the essential fact that eating should be about enjoyment.
Eating should be seen as pleasure and not penance; something that brings happiness and joy rather than anxiety.
Those in the United States who genuinely yearn for war are still a neoconservative minority. But the danger that war might break out—and that the hawks will get their way—has nonetheless become substantial. The U.S. has just withdrawn the last troops from one Middle Eastern country where it fought a highly costly war of choice with a rationale involving weapons of mass destruction. Now we find ourselves on the precipice of yet another such war—almost purely because the acceptable range of opinion on Iran has narrowed and ossified around the “sensible” idea that all options must be pursued to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Given the momentousness of such an endeavor and how much prominence the Iranian nuclear issue has been given, one might think that talk about exercising the military option would be backed up by extensive analysis of the threat in question and the different ways of responding to it. But it isn’t. Strip away the bellicosity and political rhetoric, and what one finds is not rigorous analysis but a mixture of fear, fanciful speculation, and crude stereotyping. There are indeed good reasons to oppose Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, and likewise many steps the United States and the international community can and should take to try to avoid that eventuality. But an Iran with a bomb would not be anywhere near as dangerous as most people assume, and a war to try to stop it from acquiring one would be less successful, and far more costly, than most people imagine.
I am no friend of the Iranian regime, which helped create and arm Hezbollah, is certainly meddling in Iraq, has persecuted human rights activists, gays, women and religious and ethnic minorities, embraces racism and intolerance, and uses its power to deny popular will. And yes, it is a regime that appears determined to build a nuclear weapon, although I would stress that no one has offered any proof this is occurring. I have spent time in Iranian jails. I was once deported from Tehran in handcuffs. But I do not remember Iran orchestrating a coup in the United States to replace an elected government with a brutal dictator who for decades persecuted, assassinated and imprisoned democracy activists. I do not remember Iran arming and funding a neighboring state to wage war against our country. Iran never shot down one of our passenger jets, as did the USS Vincennes—nicknamed Robocruiser by the crews of other American vessels—when in June 1988 it fired missiles at an Airbus filled with Iranian civilians, killing everyone on board. Iran is not sponsoring terrorist strikes within the United States, as our intelligence services and the Israeli intelligence services currently do in Iran. We have not seen five of our top nuclear scientists since 2007 murdered on American soil. The attacks in Iran include suicide bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, sabotage and “targeted assassinations” of government officials and other Iranian leaders. What would we do if the situation were reversed? How would we react if Iran carried out similar acts of terrorism against us?
We are, and have long been, the primary engine for radicalism in the Middle East. The greatest favor we can do for democracy activists in Iran, as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf and the states that dot North Africa, is to withdraw our troops from the region and begin to speak to Iranians and the rest of the Muslim world in the civilized language of diplomacy, respect and mutual interests. The longer we cling to the doomed doctrine of permanent war the more we give credibility to the extremists who need, indeed yearn for, an enemy that speaks in the same crude slogans of nationalist cant and violence that they do. The louder the Israelis and their idiot allies in Washington call for the bombing of Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions, the happier are the morally bankrupt clerics who are ordering the beating and murder of demonstrators. We may laugh when crowds supporting [President] Ahmadinejad call us “the Great Satan,” but there is a very palpable reality that informs the terrible algebra of their hatred. And since even the most optimistic scenarios say that any strike on Iranian nuclear installations will at best set back Iran’s alleged weapons program by [only] three or four years, we can be sure that violence will beget violence, just as fanaticism begets fanaticism. -Chris Hedges
How to Fund an American Police State By Stephan Salisbury
The ubiquitous fantasy of “homeland security,” pushed hard by the federal government in the wake of 9/11, has been widely embraced by the public. It has also excited intense weapons- and techno-envy among police departments and municipalities vying for the latest in armor and spy equipment.
In such a world, deadly gadgetry is just a grant request away, so why shouldn’t the 14,000 at-risk souls in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, have a closed-circuit-digital-camera-and-monitor system (cost: $180,000, courtesy of the Homeland Security Department) identical to the one up and running in New York’s Times Square?
So much money has gone into armoring and arming local law-enforcement since 9/11 that the federal government could have rebuilt post-Katrina New Orleans five times over and had enough money left in the kitty to provide job training and housing for every one of the record 41,000-plus homeless people in New York City. It could have added in the growing population of 15,000 homeless in Philadelphia, my hometown, and still have had money to spare. Add disintegrating Detroit, Newark, and Camden to the list. Throw in some crumbling bridges and roads, too.
But why drone on? We all know that addressing acute social and economic issues here in the homeland was the road not taken. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security alone has doled out somewhere between $30 billion and $40 billion in direct grants to state and local law enforcement, as well as other first responders. At the same time, defense contractors have proven endlessly inventive in adapting sales pitches originally honed for the military on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan to the desires of police on the streets of San Francisco and lower Manhattan. Oakland may not be Basra but (as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld liked to say) there are always the unknown unknowns: best be prepared.
All told, the federal government has appropriated about $635 billion, accounting for inflation, for homeland security-related activities and equipment since the 9/11 attacks. To conclude, though, that “the police” have become increasingly militarized casts too narrow a net. The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government has been mobilized and militarized right down to the university campus.
Even the estimate of more than $635 billion in such expenditures does not tell the full spending story. That figure does not include the national intelligence or military intelligence budgets for which the Obama Administration is seeking $52.6 billion and $19.6 billion respectively in 2013, or secret parts of the national security budget, the so-called black budget.
Local funding is also unaccounted for. New York’s Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly claims total national homeland security spending could easily be near a trillion dollars.
The chances of an American dying in a terrorist incident in a given year are 1 in 3.5 million. To reduce that risk, to make something minuscule even more minuscule, what has the nation spent? What has it cost us? Instead of rebuilding a ravaged American city in a timely fashion or making Americans more secure in their “underwater” homes and their disappearing jobs, we have created militarized police forces, visible evidence of police-state-style funding.
There’s an old saw in American political science research that a long drawn-out primary campaign, rather than weakening a candidate, actually makes him (or her) stronger. Proponents of this theory will point to the example of Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign for president and his long slog for the Democratic nomination.
Conventional wisdom and political science: meet Mitt Romney.
It’s certainly possible that Romney has benefited from the series of humiliations and political gaffes that are more popularly known as the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest, but right now, it’s pretty hard to make that case.
Recent polling tells an ugly story. The latest ABC/Washington Post Poll gives him a favorability of 33% and an unfavorability of 46%; a recent Politico poll puts his unfavorability above 50%. The longer these numbers stay negative, the greater the risk that a toxic public perception of the candidate will be become firmly lodged in the minds of voters.
Romney’s dilemma, of course, is that he is perceived as something of a “Richie-rich”, who is out-of-touch with the economic concerns of ordinary Americans. This perception is due in some measure to the fact that Romney is probably the richest man ever to seek the nation’s highest office.
Conservatives have been criticizing academia for many decades. Yet only once the McCarthy era passed did this criticism begin to be cast primarily in anti-elitist tones: charges of Communist subversion gave way to charges of liberal elitism in the writings of William F. Buckley Jr. and others. The idea that professors are snobs looking down their noses at ordinary Americans, trying to push the country in directions it does not wish to go, soon became an established conservative trope, taking its place alongside criticism of the liberal press and the liberal judiciary.
The main reason for this development is that attacking liberal professors as elitists serves a vital purpose. It helps position the conservative movement as a populist enterprise by identifying a predatory elite to which conservatism stands opposed — an otherwise difficult task for a movement strongly backed by holders of economic power.
The idea is simple. Psychologists have known for some years that it is almost impossible to speak when your words are replayed to you with a delay of a fraction of a second.
Kurihara and Tsukada have simply built a handheld device consisting of a microphone and a speaker that does just that: it records a person’s voice and replays it to them with a delay of about 0.2 seconds. The microphone and speaker are directional so the device can be aimed at a speaker from a distance, like a gun.
In tests, Kurihara and Tsukada say their speech jamming gun works well: “The system can disturb remote people’s speech without any physical discomfort.”
Their tests also identify some curious phenomena. They say the gun is more effective when the delay varies in time and more effective against speech that involves reading aloud than against spontaneous monologue. Sadly, they report that it has no effect on meaningless sound sequences such as “aaaaarghhh”.
Kurihara and Tsukada make no claims about the commercial potential of their device but list various aplications. They say it could be used to maintain silence in public libraries and to “facilitate discussion” in group meetings. “We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking,” they say.
The discovery, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC), may eventually lead to alleviating aging and age-related characteristics in human cells.
Planarian worms have amazed scientists with their apparently limitless ability to regenerate. Researchers have been studying their ability to replace aged or damaged tissues and cells in a bid to understand the mechanisms underlying their longevity.
The immune system has to make a decision between fighting viral threats and protecting against bacterial invasions because it has a fixed fighting capability. In lonely people who see the world as a threatening place, their immune systems choose to focus on bacteria rather than viral threats. Without the antiviral protection and the body’s antibodies produced against various ills, the result means a person has less ability to fight cancers and other illnesses. Those who are socially isolated suffer from higher all-cause mortality, and higher rates of cancer, infection and heart disease.
In addition, loneliness raises levels of the circulating stress hormone cortisol and blood pressure, with one study showing that social isolation can push blood pressure up into the danger zone for heart attacks and strokes. It undermines regulation of the circulatory system so that the heart muscle works harder and the blood vessels are subject to damage by blood flow turbulence. Loneliness can destroy the quality of sleep, so that a person’s sleep is less restorative, both physically and psychologically. Socially isolated people wake up more at night and spend less time in bed actually sleeping, according to Cole and Cacioppo’s research.
The cycle created by loneliness can be a downward spiral. Studies by Cacioppo and others before him have found that lonely people tend to rate their own social interactions more negatively and form worse impressions of people they meet.
"Much like the threat of physical pain, loneliness protects your social body. It lets you know when social connections start to fray, and causes the brain to go on alert for social threats,” Cacioppo told LiveScience. “Being lonely can produce hyper-reactivity to negative behaviors in other people, so lonely people see those maltreatments as heavier. That makes it possible to fall more deeply into loneliness.”
The reasons trace back to humanity’s evolutionary history, when people needed each other to stay alive. Loneliness doesn’t just make people feel unhappy, it actually makes them feel unsafe — mentally and physically. This powerful evolutionary force bound prehistoric people to those they relied on for food, shelter and protection, to help them raise their young and carry on their genetic legacy.
Pagels then shows that Revelation, far from being meant as a hallucinatory prophecy, is actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time John was writing. It’s essentially a political cartoon about the crisis in the Jesus movement in the late first century, with Jerusalem fallen and the Temple destroyed and the Saviour, despite his promises, still not back. All the imagery of the rapt and the raptured and the rest that the “Left Behind” books have made a staple for fundamentalist Christians represents contemporary people and events, and was well understood in those terms by the original audience. Revelation is really like one of those old-fashioned editorial drawings where Labor is a pair of overalls and a hammer, and Capital a bag of money in a tuxedo and top hat, and Economic Justice a woman in flowing robes, with a worried look. “When John says that ‘the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth,’ he revises Daniel’s vision to picture Rome as the worst empire of all,” Pagels writes. “When he says that the beast’s seven heads are ‘seven kings,’ John probably means the Roman emperors who ruled from the time of Augustus until his own time.” As for the creepy 666, the “number of the beast,” the original text adds, helpfully, “Let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person.” This almost certainly refers—by way of Gematria, the Jewish numerological system—to the contemporary Emperor Nero. Even John’s vision of a great mountain exploding is a topical reference to the recent eruption of Vesuvius, in C.E. 79. Revelation is a highly colored picture of the present, not a prophecy of the future.
What’s more original to Pagels’s book is the view that Revelation is essentially an anti-Christian polemic. That is, it was written by an expatriate follower of Jesus who wanted the movement to remain within an entirely Jewish context, as opposed to the “Christianity” just then being invented by St. Paul, who welcomed uncircumcised and trayf-eating Gentiles into the sect. At a time when no one quite called himself “Christian,” in the modern sense, John is prophesying what would happen if people did. That’s the forward-looking worry in the book. “In retrospect, we can see that John stood on the cusp of an enormous change—one that eventually would transform the entire movement from a Jewish messianic sect into ‘Christianity,’ a new religion flooded with Gentiles,” Pagels writes. “But since this had not yet happened—not, at least, among the groups John addressed in Asia Minor—he took his stand as a Jewish prophet charged to keep God’s people holy, unpolluted by Roman culture. So, John says, Jesus twice warns his followers in Asia Minor to beware of ‘blasphemers’ among them, ‘who say they are Jews, and are not.’ They are, he says, a ‘synagogue of Satan.’ ”
And yet—by issuing rules on how and when it would allow military arrests, the administration sure is leaving the impression that it believes the authority exists.
I don’t know if the president’s rules are airtight, but they are good enough to have outraged Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte. They have accused the White House of undermining the new law–making clear, if it wasn’t already, that they think the NDAA broadened military power on American soil. At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Senator Graham even said “The homeland is part of the battlefield. I want to make sure we have a legal system that understands the difference between fighting a crime and fighting a war.”
It’s easy to believe that President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Panetta and National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon will prevent the military from operating as a police force (something the founders of this nation abhorred).
But I shudder to think what might have happened if President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had been handed that power. The rules the White House issued the other day can be revised or revoked by any future president. All of the Republican candidates, except Ron Paul, have made clear that they consider civil liberties secondary to security.
The liberal/libertarian uproar over the signing of the NDAA was completely justified, and critics of the President such as Glenn Greenwald on the issue of the continuation of Bush era “War on Terror” erosion of civil liberties are legitimate and fair. However the prospect of another neocon administration with these powers to wage endless war against an amorphous tactic instead of a nation state, including on domestic soil against American citizens, is a terrifying Orwellian vision. Obama has paid lip service to ending the war on terror preferring to focus his rhetoric on Al Qaeda, but ideally in a second term he would no longer feel the need to protect his flank on reelection with such a robust militaristic stance. Certainly Romney will have a difficult time making a case against Obama on foreign policy. His charges of apology and leading from behind carry little weight with Osama bin Laden’s corpse at the bottom of the ocean.
What makes conservatives conservative are the implications they have drawn from Burke’s view of society. Conservatives have always seen society as a kind of inheritance we receive and are responsible for; we have obligations toward those who came before and to those who will come after, and these obligations take priority over our rights. Conservatives have also been inclined to assume, along with Burke, that this inheritance is best passed on implicitly through slow changes in custom and tradition, not through explicit political action. Conservatives loyal to Burke are not hostile to change, only to doctrines and principles that do violence to preexisting opinions and institutions, and open the door to despotism. This was the deepest basis of Burke’s critique of the French Revolution; it was not simply a defense of privilege.
Though philosophical liberalism traces its roots back to the Wars of Religion, the term “liberal” was not used as a partisan label until the Spanish constitutionalists took it over in the early nineteenth century. And it was only later, in its confrontation with conservatism, that liberalism achieved ideological clarity. Classical liberals like John Stuart Mill, in contrast to conservatives, give individuals priority over society, on anthropological as well as moral grounds. They assume that societies are genuinely constructs of human freedom, that whatever we inherit from them, they can always be unmade or remade through free human action. This assumption, more than any other, shapes the liberal temperament. It is what makes liberals suspicious of appeals to custom or tradition, given that they have so often been used to justify privilege and injustice. Liberals, like conservatives, recognize the need for constraints, but believe they must come from principles that transcend particular societies and customs. Principles are the only legitimate constraints on our freedom.
The quarrel between liberals and conservatives is essentially a quarrel over the nature of human beings and their relation to society.
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.