Saturday, December 31, 2016

Six Easy Twists on the Bloody Mary

Some cocktails, you like; others, you crave. And when in search of morning-after hair of the dog, no other drink compares to the bloody. Savory, spicy, salty, and often camouflaging the booze within, the Bloody Mary is a purpose-built cocktail, intent on restoring the drinker to a sounder state. In other words: It’s perfect for New Year’s Day.

But just as it can be hard to muster up the energy to make a pot of coffee when caffeine is all you need, whipping up a great bloody when the need arises is easier said than done. Sure, Zing Zang is a noble way to go, but it's a new year, and you can do better.

That’s why we’ve rounded up six no-fail twists on the classic, each from one of New York’s top mixologists or chefs. They’re exactly what you’ll want if you’re craving the type of complex drink you’d order at brunch—a flavor-packed tomatillo bloody or clarified “bloodless” Mary, perhaps—but lack the time, patience, or fully sober state of mind to execute your vision. (...)

The Booziest Mary
from Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster Harlem

Samuelsson’s “Bloody Rooster” gets a bright lift from citrus and olive brine, and a higher-than-usual proportion of vodka makes it a serious eye-opener.

1 1/2 cups tomato juice
1/4 cup grated horseradish
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
1/8 cup fresh lime juice
1/8 cup Cholula hot sauce
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. green olive brine

Mix together well in a sealable container. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes enough mix for about 10 drinks.

For each drink
1.5 oz. bloody mix
1.5 oz. vodka

Pour bloody mix and vodka into a collins glass and stir. Fill the glass with ice and stir again. Garnish with a lemon wedge and pickled okra—ideally on a bamboo skewer.

The Detox Mary
from Naren Young of Dante

With the aid of a juicer, this “All Day Bloody Mary” mix comes together in minutes. And with enough vegetables to pack a Naked juice, it’ll fortify you in more ways than one.

4 cups fresh tomato juice
1/2 cup carrot juice
1/2 cup celery juice
1/2 cup fennel juice
1/2 cup cucumber juice
1/2 cup red bell pepper juice
2 oz. lemon juice
1/2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tbsp. ground Maldon salt
3/4 tbsp. celery salt
3/4 tbsp. ground black pepper
1.25 oz. Worcestershire sauce

In a large, sealable container, dissolve tomato paste in lemon juice. Add all remaining ingredients and stir well. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Makes enough mix for about 10 drinks.

For each drink
5 oz. bloody mix
1.5 oz. vodka (Aylesbury Duck recommended)
0.25 oz. Ricard pastis
2 dashes green Tabasco sauce
2 dashes red Tabasco sauce

Combine all ingredients in highball glass with ice and stir. Garnish with any and all of the following: skewer of pepperoncini, cherry tomato, and/or cornichon; cucumber stick; grated horseradish.

by Carey Jones, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Dante

Alabama Beats Washington 24-7 in Peach Bowl

Inequality and Skin in the Game

There is inequality and inequality.

The first is the inequality people tolerate, such as one’s understanding compared to that of people deemed heroes, say Einstein, Michelangelo, or the recluse mathematician Grisha Perelman, in comparison to whom one has no difficulty acknowledging a large surplus. This applies to entrepreneurs, artists, soldiers, heroes, the singer Bob Dylan, Socrates, the current local celebrity chef, some Roman Emperor of good repute, say Marcus Aurelius; in short those for whom one can naturally be a “fan”. You may like to imitate them, you may aspire to be like them; but you don’t resent them.

The second is the inequality people find intolerable because the subject appears to be just a person like you, except that he has been playing the system, and getting himself into rent seeking, acquiring privileges that are not warranted –and although he has something you would not mind having (which may include his Russian girlfriend), he is exactly the type of whom you cannot possibly become a fan. The latter category includes bankers, bureaucrats who get rich, former senators shilling for the evil firm Monsanto, clean-shaven chief executives who wear ties, and talking heads on television making outsized bonuses. You don’t just envy them; you take umbrage at their fame, and the sight of their expensive or even semi-expensive car trigger some feeling of bitterness. They make you feel smaller.

There may be something dissonant in the spectacle of a rich slave.

The author Joan Williams, in an insightful article, explains that the working class is impressed by the rich, as role models. Michèle Lamont, the author of The Dignity of Working Men, whom she cites, did a systematic interview of blue collar Americans and found present a resentment of professionals but, unexpectedly, not of the rich.

It is safe to accept that the American public –actually all public –despise people who make a lot of money on a salary, or, rather, salarymen who make a lot of money. This is indeed generalized to other countries: a few years ago the Swiss, of all people almost voted a law capping salaries of managers . But the same Swiss hold rich entrepreneurs, and people who have derived their celebrity by other means, in some respect.

Further, in countries where wealth comes from rent seeking, political patronage, or what is called regulatory capture (by which the powerful uses regulation to scam the public, or red tape to slow down competition), wealth is seen as zero-sum. What Peter gets is extracted from Paul. Someone getting rich is doing so at other people’s expense. In countries such as the U.S. where wealth can come from destruction, people can easily see that someone getting rich is not taking dollars from your pocket; perhaps even putting some in yours. On the other hand, inequality, by definition, is zero sum.

In this chapter I will propose that effectively what people resent –or should resent –is the person at the top who has no skin in the game, that is, because he doesn’t bear his allotted risk, is immune to the possibility of falling from his pedestal, exiting the income or wealth bracket, and getting to the soup kitchen. Again, on that account, the detractors of Donald Trump, when he was a candidate, failed to realize that, by advertising his episode of bankruptcy and his personal losses of close to a billion dollars, they removed the resentment (the second type of inequality) one may have towards him. There is something respectable in losing a billion dollars, provided it is your own money. (...)

The Static and the Dynamic

Let us make a few definitions:

Static inequality is a snapshot view of inequality; it does not reflect what will happen to you in the course of your life

Consider that about ten percent of Americans will spend at least a year in the top one percent and more than half of all Americans will spent a year in the top ten percent. This is visibly not the same for the more static –but nominally more equal –Europe. For instance, only ten percent of the wealthiest five hundred American people or dynasties were so thirty years ago; more than sixty percent of those on the French list were heirs and a third of the richest Europeans were the richest centuries ago. In Florence, it was just revealed that things are really even worse: the same handful of families have kept the wealth for five centuries.

Dynamic (ergodic) inequality takes into account the entire future and past life

You do not create dynamic equality just by raising the level of those at the bottom, but rather by making the rich rotate –or by forcing people to incur the possibility of creating an opening.

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Medium | Read more:
Image: William Powell Frith

Stanley Kubrick“Untitled (I Hate Love), 1950.”

Flying Cars of the (Near) Future

People have dreamed about flying cars for decades, but the technology has always seemed far out of reach. Airplanes have long been too big, expensive, dangerous, loud, and complex for personal aviation to be more than a hobby for rich people.

But that might be about to change. “There’s a couple of technologies that are maturing and converging” to make small, affordable airplanes feasible, says Brian German, an aerospace researcher at Georgia Tech.

German argues that lighter and more powerful electric motors, batteries that can store more energy, and more sophisticated aviation software could transform the market for small aircraft.

Indeed, several companies are already working on prototypes of car-size airplanes that could soon become cheap, safe, and versatile enough for ordinary people to use them regularly. Google co-founder Larry Page has secretly funded one startup in this market, Zee Aero, since 2010. In 2015 he also invested in another called Kitty Hawk, led by former Google self-driving car guru Sebastian Thrun.

The flying cars of the future won’t look exactly like the ones on The Jetsons. There’s a good chance you’ll rent them on demand from a company like Uber instead of buying one that parks in your driveway — a possibility Uber explored in a recent white paper. But a future where millions of people take short trips by air on a regular basis could be closer than you think.

Silicon Valley innovations are spilling over into aviation

A conventional airplane takes off horizontally, building up enough speed for the wings to carry it skyward. That means a normal airplane needs a long runway to take off and land. Vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, by contrast, take off vertically like a helicopter, then switch to flying horizontally once they’re in the air. That allows them to take off and land in locations where conventional airplanes can’t.

VTOL airplanes are not a new technology — craft like the Harrier and the V-22 Osprey have been around since the 1960s. But these airplanes have never been very practical. They’re complex and expensive, and require pilots with specialized training to fly them.

But a shift from internal combustion engines to electric motors dramatically changes this equation. Electric motors can be much lighter, simpler, and cheaper than traditional aircraft engines powered by fossil fuels — and they’re getting lighter and more powerful every year. And that opens up a lot of new opportunities for airplane designers.

To see what the small, electric-powered aircraft of the future might look like, check out this image from a patent filing by Zee Aero, the Page-funded startup. It shows a tiny personal airplane not much wider than a conventional parking space (you can get a sense of scale from this photograph of a man standing next to a prototype):

It takes a lot more thrust for an aircraft to take off vertically than it does to keep the aircraft moving once it’s in the air. So Zee Aero’s design has eight vertical propellers that are used for takeoff, while there are just two in the back to provide horizontal thrust. Once the plane is soaring through the sky, the eight vertical propellers can be turned off to save power.

This kind of design wouldn’t work with conventional aircraft engines because 10 engines would be way too heavy. But electric motors can be made extremely small and light, allowing even a car-size vehicle to have 10 of them.

Of course, electric motors aren’t a new invention. But they’ve gradually gotten lighter and more powerful over time. Beyond that, it has taken rapid progress in two other areas to make VTOL vehicles practical: batteries and aviation software.

The big advantage of traditional airplane fuel is that it can pack a lot of energy into a small package, minimizing the amount of weight airplanes have to carry and allowing them to travel long distances without refueling.

“Right now, batteries that you could actually put in an airplane wouldn’t let you fly very far,” German says. “But you give it a few more years, and the writing’s on the wall that you will be able to make a very practical aircraft.”

Improvements in battery technology are a spillover benefit of innovations elsewhere in Silicon Valley. The burgeoning markets for laptops, smartphones, tablets, and electric cars have inspired companies to pour billions of dollars into better battery technology. As a result, the energy density of batteries has been improving steadily. And each time batteries improve, electric airplanes can be a little lighter and fly a little farther on a single charge.

German says battery technology isn’t quite there yet. He predicts the energy density of batteries will need to approximately double for small electric airplanes to really take off.

Batteries don’t improve as rapidly as computer chips, so it’s hard to say exactly how quickly batteries will improve. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is currently building a giant battery factory, has said that battery density typically improves by 5 to 8 percent per year, which implies that density could double in the next decade — though that could require finding new battery chemistries.

The other key breakthrough is better software. An airplane with 10 propellers is just too complex for a human pilot to manage effectively. But computer software can easily manage 10 propellers at once, supplying power to the propellers where the most thrust is needed.

And German says multi-propeller designs have significant safety advantages. “If you lose one, you still have some left,” he says. “You can design a lot of redundancy.”

The combination of smaller, more powerful electric motors, better batteries, and sophisticated software will open up dramatically new possibilities for aircraft design. I focused on Zee Aero’s 10-propeller design above, but there are lots of other prototypes under development.

by Timothy B. Lee, Vox | Read more:
Image: Joby Aviation and Zee Aero

Power Poser

When big ideas go bad

Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on power poses has been viewed 37 million times. For comparison purposes, Kanye West’s video "Famous," which features naked celebrities in bed together, has been viewed 21 million times. Cuddy’s talk is the second-most-watched video in TED history, behind only Ken Robinson’s "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" — and, at its current pace, will eventually take over the No. 1 spot, thereby making power poses the most popular idea ever on the most popular idea platform. (...)

As scientific ideas go, power poses could hardly be more clickable. For starters, it’s simple to understand: Standing like Wonder Woman or in another confident pose for two minutes is enough, Cuddy informs us, to transform a timid also-ran into a fierce go-getter. Even better, this life hack comes straight from an Ivy League professor who published her findings in a peer-reviewed journal bolstered by charts and percentages and properly formatted citations. This wasn’t feel-good conjecture; this was rock-solid research from a bona fide scientist.

What went unmentioned on those shows, however, was that the study supporting Cuddy’s claims had begun to crumble. Well before the publication of her book, another research team had tried and failed to replicate the most-touted finding — that assuming a power pose leads to significant hormonal changes. In addition, the intriguing discovery that power poses made subjects more willing to take risks seemed dubious. In the wake of the apparent debunking, online science watchdogs sank their teeth into the study, picking apart its methodology and declaring its results risible.

Then, in late September, one of Cuddy’s co-authors, Dana Carney, did something unusual: She posted a detailed mea culpa on her website, siding with the study’s critics. "I do not believe that ‘power pose’ effects are real," wrote Carney, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley’s business school. Her note went on to say that, while the research had been performed in good faith, the data were "flimsy" and the design and analysis, in retrospect, unsound. She discouraged other researchers from wasting their time on power poses.

So how did arguably the most popular idea on the internet end up on the scientific ash heap? For that matter, how could such questionable research migrate from a journal to a viral video to a best seller, circulating for years, retweeted and forwarded and praised by millions, with almost no pushback? The answer tells us something about the practice and promotion of science, and also how both may be changing for the better. (...)

Eva Ranehill was intrigued by power poses. Ranehill, a postdoctoral student in economics at the University of Zurich, had studied gender differences in risk-taking and competitiveness between boys and girls in an attempt to understand and, ideally, combat stereotypes. Maybe, she thought, body posture could play a role in overcoming the gender gaps she had observed.

She decided to give it a go. The design of Ranehill’s study mostly mirrored the original, though there were a few changes. For instance, in the original study, subjects were told how to stand by the experimenters; in the Ranehill study, the instructions were given, by a computer, a less-personal approach intended to eliminate any accidental influences. Also — and this was the biggest difference — Ranehill’s study put 200 subjects through the experiment, more than four times as many as the original.

Ranehill didn’t get the same results. Not even close. Testosterone didn’t go up, cortisol didn’t go down. Standing in a power pose didn’t cause people to take more risks in a gambling game. Ranehill hadn’t set out to undermine power poses; she had wanted to build on the idea. But after trying and failing with 200 subjects, it was obvious that something was amiss. "We started talking to others who had done studies on power poses, and it was clear we were not the only ones who couldn’t replicate it," she says.

Ranehill was disappointed, if not entirely surprised. She knew that in recent years the field of social psychology had been dealing with growing suspicions about the reliability of some of its best-known and most exciting findings. Last year an attempt to replicate 100 randomly selected psychological studies, an effort led by Brian Nosek, executive director of the Center for Open Science, found that fewer than half passed the test. It wasn’t so much a case of a few rotten apples, as some hopeful observers had claimed, but rather an entire barrel gone bad. One of the main culprits of this sorry state of affairs is thought to be sample size. Too few subjects means there’s a much greater chance that a seemingly significant result is just noise in the data.

Andrew Gelman wrote about the Ranehill study last year in Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, the deceptively dull title of his often-irreverent blog. Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University and director of the university’s Applied Statistics Center. He’s taken it upon himself as a sort of hobby, or perhaps a mission of mercy, to expose and correct what he sees as glaring ineptitude in psychological studies.

One problem Gelman has zeroed in on repeatedly is researcher freedom. There’s too much of it, he says. When conducting a study, researchers get to decide which data to exclude, how to code data, and how to analyze the data they produce. They’re also at liberty to alter their theory to comport with any outcome. When you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for, it’s tempting to seize on some effect — illusory or not — and proceed to manufacture a narrative about why it matters. Choose what works and discard the rest.

This is sometimes called "p-hacking," a reference to p-value, a tool used to determine a study’s statistical significance. Gelman doesn’t like that term, because he thinks it implies that researchers are intentionally skewing their results. In some cases they are: Psychology has been shown to have its share of charlatans. But in most cases, he believes, researchers are fooling themselves, too. That’s why he prefers the less disparaging and more poetic phrase "garden of forking paths," borrowed from the title of a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Scientists are, in Gelman’s formulation, leading themselves down the wrong path.

And it happens constantly. You can hear the exasperation in his voice when he talks about the number of flawed studies that worm their way into the pages of seemingly respectable journals. "Once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere," he says. "It’s like when you’re in New York City and you look around, you don’t notice anything, but when you start looking down at the ground, you see rats everywhere."

Gelman counts power poses among the vermin. "I feel like I care more about the effect of power poses than Amy Cuddy does, in some way, in that I actually care if it really works," he says. "And I don’t think it does."

by Tom Bartlett, Chronicle of Higher Education |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Friday, December 30, 2016

Josh Keyes
, Descent

Seven Things To Know About Israeli Settlements

When Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, no Israeli citizens lived in the territory. The following year, a small group of religious Jews rented rooms at the Park Hotel in Hebron for Passover, saying they wanted to be near the Tomb of the Patriarchs, one of the holiest sites in Judaism (as well as Islam and Christianity).

The Israeli government reluctantly allowed them to stay "temporarily." From that beginning, hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews now reside in the West Bank, citing religion, history and Israel's security among their reasons for being there.

But the Palestinians, along with the rest of the world, see their presence as one of the key obstacles to a peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state.

The issue returned to the headlines last week when the United Nations Security Council voted 14 to 0 to condemn Israeli settlements. The United States, which often vetoes resolutions critical of Israel, abstained and allowed the resolution to pass.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded angrily, unleashing a stream of accusations against the Obama administration. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the U.S. position Wednesday in a lengthy speech that repeatedly admonished Israel over settlements.

Here are seven key things to know about the settlements:

1. Settlements are growing rapidly

The term "settlements" may conjure up images of small encampments or temporary housing, and many have started that way. But they now include large subdivisions, even sizable cities, with manicured lawns and streets full of middle-class villas often set on arid hilltops. Israel is constantly building new homes and offers financial incentives for Israelis to live in the West Bank.

When the Israelis and Palestinians first began peace talks after a 1993 interim agreement, the West Bank settlers numbered a little over 100,000. Today they total around 400,000 and live in about 130 separate settlements (this doesn't include East Jerusalem, which we'll address in a moment).

They have grown under every Israeli government over the past half-century despite consistent international opposition. Hard-line leaders like Netanyahu have actively supported them. Moderates and liberals have also allowed settlements to expand, though usually at a slower rate. The settler movement is a powerful political force, and any prime minister who takes it on risks the collapse of his government.

2. Settlements complicate efforts for a two-state solution

Critics of settlements say they've intentionally been established in every corner of the West Bank, giving the Israeli military a reason to be present throughout the territory and making it impossible to create a viable Palestinian state. The settlement locations and the roads that connect them make Palestinian movement difficult.

The settlements are just one of many obstacles to a peace deal. Drawing boundaries, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees, and myriad security questions — including terrorism — are equally challenging, if not more so.

And as the settlements grow, it will be increasingly difficult to remove a large number of them, a tactic known as "creating facts on the ground."

3. The distinction between East Jerusalem and the West Bank

Shortly after the 1967 war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, which is part of the West Bank and had a population that was then entirely Palestinian. Israel declared the entire city to be Israel's "eternal and indivisible" capital.

No other country recognizes Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem, with the United States and others saying the city's status must be determined in negotiations. This is why the U.S. and other countries have never moved their embassies to Jerusalem. Most are in Tel Aviv.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, claim the eastern part of the city as their future capital.

Around 200,000 Israelis now live in East Jerusalem. Combined with the roughly 400,000 settlers in the West Bank, about 600,000 Israelis now live beyond the country's 1967 borders. That's nearly 10 percent of Israel's 6.3 million Jewish citizens.

While the Israelis tend to speak of East Jerusalem and the West Bank as two separate entities, the Palestinians regard them as a single body — the occupied West Bank.

4. What does Israel say about settlements?

The settlers and their supporters cite the Jewish Bible, thousands of years of Jewish history, and Israel's need for "strategic depth" as reasons for living in the West Bank.

by Greg Myre and Larry Kaplow, NPR |  Read more:
Image: Majdi Mohammed/AP

How Russia Recruited Elite Hackers for Its Cyberwar

While much about Russia’s cyberwarfare program is shrouded in secrecy, details of the government’s effort to recruit programmers in recent years — whether professionals like Mr. Vyarya, college students, or even criminals — are shedding some light on the Kremlin’s plan to create elite teams of computer hackers.

American intelligence agencies say that a team of Russian hackers stole data from the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign. On Thursday, the Obama administration imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering in the election, the bedrock of the American political system.

The sanctions take aim at Russia’s main intelligence agencies and specific individuals, striking at one part of a sprawling cyberespionage operation that also includes the military, military contractors and teams of civilian recruits.

For more than three years, rather than rely on military officers working out of isolated bunkers, Russian government recruiters have scouted a wide range of programmers, placing prominent ads on social media sites, offering jobs to college students and professional coders, and even speaking openly about looking in Russia’s criminal underworld for potential talent.

Those recruits were intended to cycle through military contracting companies and newly formed units called science squadrons established on military bases around the country. (...)

The military’s push into cyberwarfare had intensified in 2012, with the appointment of a new minister of defense, Mr. Shoigu. The next year, a senior defense official, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov published what became known as the Gerasimov Doctrine. It posited that in the world today, the lines between war and peace had blurred and that covert tactics, such as working through proxies or otherwise in the shadows, would rise in importance.

He called it “nonlinear war.” His critics called it “guerrilla geopolitics.”

But Russia is certainly not alone.

“Almost all developed countries in the world, unfortunately, are creating offensive capabilities, and many have confirmed this,” said Anton M. Shingarev, a vice president at Kaspersky, a Russian antivirus company.

Recruitment by Russia’s military should be expected, he said. “You or I might be angry about it, but, unfortunately, it’s just reality. Many countries are doing it. This is the reality.”

American intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency, have for decades recruited on college campuses. In 2015, the N.S.A. offered a free summer camp to 1,400 high school and middle school students, where they were taught the basics of hacking, cracking and cyberdefense.

In Russia, recruiters have looked well beyond the nation’s school system.

by Andrew E. Kramer, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

My New Year's Facebook Status

I'll never forget 2016—the year I met the love of my life, welcomed my twin boys into this world, climbed Mt. Rainier, bought my first house, built an engine from scratch, opened a Cuban food truck, beat pneumonia, paid off my parking tickets, went back to night school, trained my dog to fetch me beer, got my fishing license, was elected the secretary and treasurer of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., tried crab, couch-surfed through Venezuela, parachuted out of a moving plane, threw out the opening pitch at a Dodgers game, filed a patent, quit drinking, sold my family peanut-butter recipe to Whole Foods, filed for a recount in Wisconsin, opened a Roth I.R.A., reached five hundred thousand Periscope followers, rode a camel across the Gobi, reprogrammed Pinterest in Java, made partner, got really into fermenting, fixed a cracked iPad screen for my former linguistics professor, finished “Infinite Jest,” churned my own butter, invented a new type of hat, hacked the D.N.C., watched every Woody Allen movie with the director’s commentary on, lucid-dreamed, relearned metalworking, became fluent in Portuguese, tampered with the smoke detector on a Delta flight, informed the attendant of my misconduct, creamed corn, deserted my station in Afghanistan, timed cargo trains between Texas and Oklahoma with a stopwatch, bled less, blew glass, relaunched Chris Pratt’s career as an action star, declared rubella eradicated in the Americas, picked up the accordion, got over my fear of water snakes, met an Irishman I wasn’t related to, umpired every Little League game in Pasadena for an entire summer, rallied for higher tariffs on Gulf exports, organized a surprise Mumford & Sons concert, inherited a controlling stake in Netflix, cultivated yams, opened a vegan-leather shoe boutique in SoHo, directed “La La Land,” reupholstered all the chairs in my sister’s home, devastated a fishing community in Malaysia, opened a nonprofit to distribute universal remotes, changed the star settings on my Yahoo Mail inbox, sold a narrative remake of “March of the Penguins,” redesigned the American yield sign, adopted an angsty tween named Mel, gave up grapes, edited a bimonthly “Men’s Health” column, negotiated an alternative to Obamacare and signed up twelve million uninsured millennials, broke up with Adele...

by Zack Bornstein , New Yorker | Read more:
Image: Anne Rippy/Getty

Fish Seek Cooler Waters, Leaving Empty Nets

There was a time when whiting were plentiful in the waters of Rhode Island Sound, and Christopher Brown pulled the fish into his long stern trawler by the bucketful.

“We used to come right here and catch two, three, four thousand pounds a day, sometimes 10,” he said, sitting at the wheel of the Proud Mary — a 44-footer named, he said, after his wife, not the Creedence Clearwater Revival song — as it cruised out to sea.

But like many other fish on the Atlantic Coast, whiting have moved north, seeking cooler waters as ocean temperatures have risen, and they are now filling the nets of fishermen farther up the coast.

Studies have found that two-thirds of marine species in the Northeast United States have shifted or extended their range as a result of ocean warming, migrating northward or outward into deeper and cooler water.

Lobster, once a staple in southern New England, have decamped to Maine. Black sea bass, scup, yellowtail flounder, mackerel, herring and monkfish, to name just a few species, have all moved to accommodate changing temperatures.

Yet fishing regulations, which among other things set legal catch limits for fishermen and are often based on where fish have been most abundant in the past, have failed to keep up with these geographical changes.

The center of the black sea bass population, for example, is now in New Jersey, hundreds of miles north of where it was in the 1990s, providing the basis for regulators to distribute shares of the catch to the Atlantic states.

Under those rules, North Carolina still has rights to the largest share. The result is a convoluted workaround many fishermen view as nonsensical. Because black sea bass are now harder to find in their state waters, North Carolina fishermen must steam north 10 hours, to where the fish are abundant, to even approach the state’s allocation. Mr. Brown and other New England fishermen, however, whose states have much smaller shares, can legally land only a small fraction of the black sea bass they catch and must throw the rest overboard. And New England states like Maine, where fishermen are beginning to catch black sea bass regularly, have only a tiny allocation and no established fishery.

“Our management system assumes that the ocean has white lines drawn on it, but fish don’t see those lines,” said Malin L. Pinsky, an assistant professor in the department of ecology, evolution and natural resources at Rutgers University, who studies how marine species adapt to climate change. “And our management system is not as nimble as the fish.”

The mismatch between the location of fish and the rules for catching them has pitted recreational fishermen against commercial ones and state against state. It has heightened tensions among fishermen, government regulators and the scientists who advise them and raised questions for fishery managers that have no easy answers. (...)

Although such shifts in allocations are possible, said Tom Nies, the executive director of the New England Fishery Management Council, in practice they are difficult to execute.

“If you’re giving fish to somebody, you’re taking them away from somebody else,” Mr. Nies said.(...)

Richard J. Seagraves, the senior scientist for the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, said that in a series of surveys distributed and town hall-style meetings held by the council, “the most pressing concern expressed by all parties was the failure to address ecosystem considerations, like a changing climate and the physical effects on fish stocks.”

The government periodically monitors fish species to see if they are thriving or at risk of extinction. The surveys are intended to determine how much fishing a given species can sustain, in order to avoid overfishing.

But even in the best case, trying to estimate the size of fish populations is an uncertain proposition. And the migration of species in response to warming temperatures has made the task considerably harder.

“From a scientific perspective, there are some really interesting questions,” Dr. Pinsky said. “Where did the fish go? Did we eat them? Or did they go somewhere else? Those are questions we haven’t really had to grapple with.”

by Erica Goode, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Christopher Capozziello

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What Does Any of This Have To Do with Physics?

Einstein and Feynman ushered me into grad school, reality ushered me out.

Have you ever been happy?”

My girlfriend asked me that question, after work over drinks at some shiny Manhattan bar, after another stressful day on the trading floor.

How to answer that? I knew she was talking about work, but how unhappy did she think I was? I took a sip of single malt scotch and scrolled back through time in my mind until I had it.

It was the spring of ’93, 16 years earlier, at the University of Rochester, where I went to graduate school for physics. An afternoon that I can play back like a home movie. It’s a bright sunny day in the wake of one of Rochester, New York’s typically brutal winters. The sky is blue, the clouds are cotton balls, and sunlight shimmers off the deep green leaves of the grass, bushes, and oak trees of campus, all freshly nourished by the recently melted snow. Undergraduates are out in shorts on the quad, some gathered on steps, others tossing Frisbees, all surrounded by ivy-covered halls of red brick and gray stone, including Bausch and Lomb Hall, home of the physics department. I’m in the dining room of the university’s Faculty Club, where the daylight is smothered by heavy velvet drapes. Maroon, I think, bordered by sunlight. Chandeliers sparkle above. There are seven or eight people sitting around the table, which is set with a white cloth and place settings decked out with multiple forks. A bottle of wine is making the rounds. The meal feels like what it is: a celebration.

It was the end of my second year of graduate school and I had what I’m sure was a very goofy grin on my face as I listened to the little pecan-colored man with the remarkably round head to my right. He wore wire-framed glasses and was smiling too. Actually Sarada Rajeev was always smiling, although his smile had several variations. There was the default smile he had on now, a smile of surprise that lifted his glasses in synchrony with his eyebrows, and a smile of discomfort where his eyes gave his true feelings away. But my favorite of all was the subversive smile he’d get after one of his own mischievous jokes, the one where his eyes would light up and meet yours until you were smiling too. Rajeev was an assistant professor of physics in his early 30s, just five years older than me. He had a soft voice, a quick wit, and a way of sauntering the department’s hallways—chin up and smiling—that prompted one of my classmates to admiringly comment on how “prosperous” he looked. Rajeev had arranged the lunch, having gathered all of his students and postdocs to welcome me into his group.

I’d met him for the first time a year earlier, after finding a slip of paper in my Bausch and Lomb mail cubby and on it a handwritten note:
“Mr. Henderson. If you’d like to discuss research in high-energy theory, please come by my office. – S.G. Rajeev.”
I was thrilled, even though I knew little about Rajeev. There were 15 of us in my class at Rochester and I was the only one who still hadn’t found a research advisor to take me on as an apprentice once classes were over. That was because I was the only one holding out for high-energy theory, aka theoretical particle physics—Rajeev’s specialty. High-energy theory is also sometimes called “fundamental physics” because it concerns the fundamental laws of nature that govern the way elementary particles, like electrons and quarks, act and interact, and therefore how everything made of those particles (which meant, as far as I knew, everything) behaves, too. I’d quit a good job as an electrical engineer in Southern California and come to Rochester with a dream of studying fundamental physics and pursuing its Holy Grail: a theory of quantum gravity that would reconcile quantum mechanics with Einstein’s general theory of relativity and therefore, as I understood things at the time, amount to a Theory of Everything.

Like Don Quixote, I was propelled on my quest by books, New Agey ones like The Tao of Physics and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and biographies of physics greats like Einstein and Feynman, books that gave me the very welcome news that there were still frontiers to explore, even in the late 20th century, even for a bookish sort like me. Basically I was a naïve and dreamy kid who hadn’t yet hit any intellectual limits. My dad was an NYPD detective whose one pearl of career advice was, “You can do whatever you want.” And, at the time I switched to physics, I saw no reason to doubt him.

I staggered back into the hallway punch-drunk from all the new concepts that had just been pounded into my head.

Rajeev must have heard about me from one of the more senior theorists in the department who I’d already approached but who wasn’t taking students. So Rajeev wasn’t my first choice, but by the time I found his note he seemed like my only hope.

The next thing I knew I was crouched in a chair in Rajeev’s little office, with a notebook on my knee and focused with everything I had on an impromptu lecture he was giving me on an esoteric aspect of some mathematical subject I’d never heard of before. Zeta functions, or elliptic functions, or something like that. I’d barely introduced myself when he’d started banging out equations on his board. Trying to follow was like learning a new game, with strangely shaped pieces and arbitrary rules. It was a challenge, but I was excited to be talking to a real physicist about his real research, even though there was one big question nagging me that I didn’t dare to ask: What does any of this have to do with physics?

After a couple of hours, Rajeev turned to me with a look that I later realized must have been heightened scrutiny.

“Maybe, you could work it out?” he said, about a problem he’d just described but hadn’t solved.

Sure, I said, stuffing my notebook into my backpack, I could give it a try.

I staggered back into the hallway punch-drunk from all the new concepts that had just been pounded into my head. So it was only as I stepped out of Bausch and Lomb altogether and back into the bright of the quad that I added two and two together and got four. Rajeev had said little about his research or his group, and the only question he’d asked me was that one problem at the end.

Clearly it was a test.

by Bob Henderson, Nautilus |  Read more:
Image: Jackie Ferrantino

Balance Billing

Perhaps the most monstrous thing about the American medical system — and the bar for that title is high indeed — is predatory billing.

A great many medical providers adjust their prices based on how defenseless the patient is, and bleed the weakest ones for every last red cent, often with preposterously inflated charges for things like aspirin and bandages. A 2015 study looked at the worst price gougers in the country and found 50 hospitals that charged uninsured people roughly 10 times the actual cost of care.

Key to this practice is something called "balance billing," and it's why the American Medical Association is strongly supporting Donald Trump's pick of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare. Balance billing is forbidden for Medicare enrollees, but Price wants to allow it — thus allowing doctors and hospitals to devour the nest eggs of thousands of American seniors.

So what is balance billing? It's the practice of billing the patient for the difference between the sticker price and what insurance will pay. So if a hospital visit costs $1,000, but your insurance will only cover $300, some providers will "balance bill" you for $700.

For unscrupulous providers, the method of exploitation is obvious: When doing any sort of expensive procedure, take a rough estimate of the absolute maximum the patient can pay, and jack up the price so the balance hits it. Or if you're short on time, just bill them into the stratosphere, and you'll get whatever the patient has during the bankruptcy proceeding.

Balance billing is basically illegal for Medicare patients, and heavily restricted for Medicaid patients. It was restricted under the Affordable Care Act as well, but only partially. Out-of-network care — increasingly common as insurance networks get narrower and narrower — can still be balance billed even if it is for an emergency, both for ACA plans and employer-provided ones, and doesn't have to be counted toward out-of-pocket limits. People being blindsided by immense out-of-network bills — going to an in-network hospital that employs an out-of-network surgeon they conveniently failed to tell you about, for example — is an increasingly common experience. That is why ObamaCare failed to stop people being bankrupted by medical debt (though it did slow medical bankruptcies substantially).

Permanently obliterating the financial security of helpless families with no or bad insurance as a loved one dies slowly and painfully of a chronic illness is a nice little profit center for providers. But it pales in comparison to the gravy train they might get if they can bring balance billing to Medicare. Seniors use far more care than the younger exchange population, and there are a lot more of them — 55.5 million, versus 12.7 million people on the exchanges. Perhaps most importantly, they're quite a bit richer on average. Many seniors have been scrimping their whole lives to save for retirement, in keeping with decades of agitprop from conservatives and Wall Street, and the more sociopathic among the health-care population are licking their chops at the prospect of being able to devour those nest eggs.

That brings me back to Tom Price and the AMA. In 2011, Price (an orthopedic surgeon himself) introduced a Medicare "reform" bill in Congress that, among other things, would have brought balance billing to the program. This would greatly increase provider and physician revenues, and the AMA eagerly lined up behind it. Physician salaries are of course already none too shabby: An average salary for a primary care doctor in 2015 was $195,000; for specialists it was $284,000. Hey, a few thousand grandparents might lose their retirement, but that fourth BMW isn't going to buy itself.

by Ryan Cooper, The Week |  Read more:
Image: Gary Waters / Alamy Stock Photo

HGTV Will Never Upset You: How the Network Beat CNN in 2016

Nikki Justice doesn’t seem like she’d be a big fan of HGTV’s show “Property Brothers.” A first-year astronomy and physics major at Ohio State University, she’s never owned a home, let alone flipped one. But her parents watched regularly, and now Justice tunes in several hours a week to watch one home transformation after another.

“A lot of the news these days is really stressful,” she said. “HGTV is not something that’s going to hurt me. I watch it and dream of what I want for my future house.”

So does Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who recently said that he prefers HGTV to ESPN. Taylor Swift shared on Instagram her affection for HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” And Hillary Clinton said she likes “Love It or List It” and “Beachfront Bargain Hunt,” calling them “relaxing, entertaining and informative.”

The escapist appeal of looking at other people’s beautiful homes turned Home & Garden Television into the third most-watched cable network in 2016, ahead of CNN and behind only Fox News and ESPN. Riding HGTV’s reality shows, parent company Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. has seen its shares rise more than 30 percent this year, outperforming bigger rivals like Walt Disney Co., 21st Century Fox Inc. and Viacom Inc.

HGTV’s formula is relentlessly consistent: a shabby house gets a makeover, and a happy couple moves in. A variation on the theme -- house-flipping for fun and profit -- works too. The network has aired 23 different flipping shows over the past few years. Today “Flip or Flop” and “Masters of Flip” run in prime time.

In the cable industry, though, success is relative. Like other networks, HGTV has lost nearly 4 million subscribers in the past two years, though ESPN lost about 6 million in that time. In a note last month titled “As Good As It Gets?” Michael Nathanson, an analyst at MoffettNathanson LLC, predicted viewership at HGTV has peaked and advised clients to sell Scripps shares. “I just worry that ratings at cable networks are volatile,” he said in an interview.

‘Real America’

Since the mid-1990s, HGTV has made its home in a low-slung building about 15 minutes outside of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. Like HGTV itself, the offices feature some homespun touches. The walls of Scripps Chief Executive Officer Ken Lowe’s office feature framed press clippings from the local newspaper, the Knoxville News Sentinel. Nearby, a 96-square-foot tiny house -- a feature of several HGTV shows -- has been decorated to look like a gingerbread house.

The last year has been vindicating for Lowe. When he started HGTV in 1994, few people thought anyone would watch his network “about grass growing and paint drying,” he says. For a while, Time Warner Cable wouldn’t even carry the channel in New York City, because, he was told, the metropolitan audience wasn’t interested.

Lowe shrugged it off. Walking the aisles of Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. stores around the country, he had identified an audience that was passionate about their houses.

“If you watch a lot of our competitors, it’s about bling-y expensive real estate in New York or crazy flipping in L.A.,” said Scripps chief programming officer Kathleen Finch. “For the most part, our viewers live in suburban houses with yards. We embrace the real America.”

by Gerry Smith, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: via:

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Paul Simon

Low Definition in Higher Education

Every year for nearly a decade, I’ve assigned Anna Karenina to students enrolled in my course on the novel. At more than 800 pages, Tolstoy’s saga can invite hurried reading, so a lot of class time is spent applying the brakes: “Not so fast.” “How do you know that?” “What’s it look like from her point of view?” There’s a useful speed bump in that famous first line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In its own way. Don’t assume you know who these people are, Tolstoy cautions, however familiar they may seem.

The book then proceeds to earn that caution, for what follows is a fantastic braid of self-deceptions, mistakes, and misunderstandings, all of which we see (as the characters themselves never can) from Tolstoy’s skybox of omniscience. The knowledge we’re exposed to can often seem too much—not just to take in, but to bear. Karenin’s solemn, impassive reaction to Anna’s tearful declaration of love for Vronsky, for example, seems initially to confirm Anna’s description of her husband as a mechanical functionary for whom time is a schedule and life a series of kept appointments. Only later do we learn that the dead look on Karenin’s face conceals a man so fully alive to his wife’s tears that he had to will himself inert so as not to fall apart. As happens so often in the book, just when we think we finally understand someone, Tolstoy drops a more powerful lens into the scope, or shifts its viewing angle, and we’re bewildered all over again.

I didn’t like bewilderment when I was in college, and my students don’t either. Their lives are chaotic enough without any help from books. So they’re just as inclined as I was to bypass complication as a way of preserving the clarity of their judgments, which is precisely what Tolstoy’s characters do. Anna needs to construe her husband as an unfeeling machine in order to withstand her own guilt, just as her husband needs to construe Anna as a thoroughly depraved woman so as to sharpen his own hatred. It’s one of the book’s many indelible patterns: the easiest way to streamline your feelings is to simplify the people who provoke them.

A college ought to be the ideal place to help students learn to resist such simplifications—to resist them not just inside the classroom, in the books they read, but outside in the lives they lead. Rightly understood, the campus beyond the classroom is the laboratory component of college itself. It’s where ideas and experience should meet and refine one another, where things should get more complicated, not less.

But what happens when the administrators who supervise this lab—sometimes in tandem with professors who teach the courses—pretend to have so mastered the difficult questions of race, of social justice, of meaning and intention, that they feel entitled to dictate to others? What happens when they so pixelate the subject matter that what emerges is a CliffsNotes version of human experience, the very thing that a college curriculum should be working against?

What happens is that many students will accept these simplifications. Some will even cling to them for dear life. Finally a map—with shortcuts!—and a way out of bewilderment. Feeling offended implies an offense, and where there’s an offense there must be a culprit guilty of having committed it. No need to bother with the complexities of context and intention—it says here that “impact” is what matters, that how I feel is what counts. No need to wonder whether an expression of hatred is real or a ruse, isolated or endemic—assume the worst and take the part for the whole.

But of course that’s the problem with homophobia, racism, sexism, religious extremism, and any other “ism” you care to mention. They’re shortcuts. Tell me your skin color, or your gender, whom you want to sleep with or marry, what god you worship or deny, and I’ll fill in the rest.

The epitome of shortcuts, the one to which all others aspire, is the straight line. It’s the simplest of moral geometries and the most seductive. When George Orwell was working as a policeman in Burma, he saw a man being led down just such a line on the way to the gallows. Held tightly between his two Indian guards, and with only minutes to live, the man did something extraordinary. Or rather, he did the most ordinary thing in the world. “[H]e stepped slightly aside,” Orwell tells us in “The Hanging,” “to avoid a puddle on the path.”

Did any of Orwell’s fellow officers see that swerve? Maybe. But as the efficient managers of an execution, they had reason not to see it. Their job required them to see only the condemned criminal, not the human being who didn’t want to get his feet wet. His swerve was not on the map.

There are no rules for noticing swerves. There are no lines—whether drawn in the sand or in a speech code—that will help students grasp the complexity of another person’s experience or their own. On the contrary, such lines often profile the groups they mean to describe, and deepen the mistrust they pretend to diminish. Draw up a list of microaggressions, for example, and you implicitly divide a campus into two macro-aggregates: on the one side, recklessly aggressive students who need to be constrained, and on the other, vulnerable students who need to be protected. Then, reality yields to that representation, as students start listening for rather than to: they become fearful of what they might say or hear, rather than interested in what they might say or hear. (...)

Another aspect of current undergraduate experience is at play here too—speed. It’s often said that the lives of young people today are more complicated than those of preceding generations. It’s possible, but I doubt it. In my experience, “complicated” is a consoling euphemism for “distracted.” With every acquaintance they’ve ever made, every song they’ve ever heard, and every consumer good they’ve ever imagined just a touchscreen away, students today live more distracted lives, in relation to which complexity can be an unwelcome guest, requiring as it does both focus and time. Most millennial students readily acknowledge this, even the ones rightly suspicious of other clichés about their generation. It’s hardly their fault, after all, though it is their problem, since the pressures of triage—pressures increased by the compulsory communication of social media—make them more susceptible to snap judgments and sloganeering, in the way that people on the go are more susceptible to fast food and people in crisis are more susceptible to religious dogma. (...)

Whatever its pretensions to an enlightened, progressive politics, the overarching spirit of the placemat is consumer society’s emphasis on speed and convenience. No need to think through these issues yourselves—we’ve done the thinking for you. Besides, it’s what everyone else will be thinking this fall. This covert consumerist ethos helps explain what otherwise seems especially incongruous about higher education in America today: how to square the putatively “progressive”—but in fact retrograde—imposition of speech codes, safe spaces, bias response teams, and the like on college campuses, with the simultaneous emphasis on commerce and entrepreneurship, an emphasis especially favored by the business-oriented boards of trustees. The answer is that they’re both interested in the same thing: smooth operations at any cost. Often that cost is the mission of the university itself.

It’s higher education’s version of what the British psychoanalyst and essayist Adam Phillips has called the phobia of frustration in a capitalist culture: a manic tendency to direct our states of uncertainty—moments when we might be genuinely puzzled by our desires, when we don’t know what we want or think—to an immediate source of satisfaction. Such a culture is like a conversational partner who constantly finishes your sentences for you—or rather, finishes your questions by turning them into positive declarations of beliefs and desires.

by Lyell Asher, The American Scholar | Read more:
Image: Sarah Browning/Flickr

Teaching Kids Philosophy Makes Them Smarter in Math and English

[ed. I'm all behind this. It reminds me of one of my favorite films Blue is the Warmest Color. Most of the story is devoted to the relationship between Adele and Emma, but I found the classroom scenes equally fascinating (Adele as student, and later a teacher herself). The focus on philosophy and ethics and connections and cultural diversity helped children become thinking people rather than simple regurgitation machines. I'd love to find a set of philosophy/ethics-based children's books that I could recommend.]

Schools face relentless pressure to up their offerings in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math. Few are making the case for philosophy.

Maybe they should.

Nine- and 10-year-old children in England who participated in a philosophy class once a week over the course of a year significantly boosted their math and literacy skills, with disadvantaged students showing the most significant gains, according to a large and well-designed study (pdf).

More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another’s thoughts and ideas.

Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported a beneficial impact on students’ confidence and ability to listen to others. (...)

The beneficial effects of philosophy lasted for two years, with the intervention group continuing to outperform the control group long after the classes had finished. “They had been given new ways of thinking and expressing themselves,”said Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF. “They had been thinking with more logic and more connected ideas.”

England is not the first country to experiment with teaching kids philosophy. The program the EEF used, called P4C (philosophy for children), was designed by professor Matthew Lippman in New Jersey in the 1970s to teach thinking skills through philosophical dialog. In 1992, the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE) was set up in the UK to emulate that work. P4C has been adopted by schools in 60 countries.

SAPERE’s program does not focus on reading the texts of Plato and Kant, but rather stories, poems, or film clips that prompt discussions about philosophical issues. The goal is to help children reason, formulate and ask questions, engage in constructive conversation, and develop arguments.

by Jenny Anderson, Quartz | Read more:
Image: Blue is the Warmest Color, Univeral Pictures

Let Them Drink Blood

Silicon Valley’s elites are a revolutionary vanguard party developing the not-too-distant future of cybernetic capitalist reconstruction. Despite cultish personas and massive social influence, however, they tend to keep their politics on the low. That changed this year when Peter Thiel, PayPal founder and Facebook board member, who also has investments in SpaceX and data analysis firm Palantir, revealed himself as mastermind of the litigious assassination of Gawker, a fellow-traveler of right-libertarian White Nationalists, and a prominent supporter of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Thiel’s “Don’t Be Evil” competitors now look like saints in comparison. Some colleagues distanced themselves, while others wrote off the endorsement as part of his “disruptive instinct” to break down regulations preventing his Founders Fund investments from expanding. Then, in August, it was rumored that Thiel bragged to friends that Trump promised to nominate him to the Supreme Court, which would make him one of the most powerful men in America for a lifetime term. And Peter Thiel plans to live for a long time. He has a personal and financial stake in life extension technologies, including “parabiosis”–the (theoretically) rejuvenating transfer of young blood to an older person.

For those outside the valley, Thiel’s vampiric ambitions appeared to vindicate populist imagery dating back to Voltaire, who wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary that the real vampires were “stock-jobbers, brokers, and men of business, who sucked the blood of the people in broad daylight.” A century of trite political cartoons have depicted moguls or aristocrats growing fat on the blood of innocents. Most recently, Matt Taibbi’s popular description of Goldman Sachs as a “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” revivified this discourse as a conceptual rallying point of Occupy Wall Street. It was a sentiment that even played out in the campaigns of Sanders, and to a far worse extent, Trump, who towards the end of his campaign regularly parroted Infowars radio host Alex Jones’s discourse about a world-dominating conspiracy of shadowy globalists.

“Elites around the world have been obsessed with blood for thousands of years,” Jones said in an Infowars video this summer concerning Thiel. He goes on to argue that elites throughout history, including the British Royal Family, have undergone similar parabiotic treatments for decades. “Where the story really gets weird,” Jones opined, “is that Prince Charles came out in the last decade and said I am a direct descendent of Vlad the Impaler… the people running things aren’t physical, immortal vampires, but they have the spirit of what you describe as a vampire, and they believe their god, Lucifer, if they establish a world government, is going to give them eternal life. And now they’re mainlining the idea of baby parts and blood from the young to make the rich live longer.”

Dropping in Dracula’s relation to the British Monarchy would be irrelevant for a journalist, but for a conspiracist like Jones, the detail is delicious enough to aid both his legitimate thesis–that the rich and powerful treat the world’s populations as nothing but commodities–and the farfetched one: Thiel, despite being a fellow traveler of Jones’ paleoconservatism, is an early adopter of technology that would free him from the eternal hellfire he would otherwise be due through his deals with the devil. Jones warns that Thiel’s fellow globalists will continue to push wars, cancer-causing vaccines, and abortions in a eugenic blood-ritual to depopulate the world by 80% and install a one-world government.

Thiel’s visionary investments suggest a similar blurring of science fiction, paranoia, and plausible dystopian scenarios. In a 2009 essay for Cato Unbound, he stated his anti-national principles: “I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual.”

So what’s standing in the way of a “death and taxes”-optional world? The same thing that fellow frontier industrialist Daniel Plainview lamented in 2007’s There Will Be Blood: People. Poor and female ones, specifically. “Since 1920,” Thiel continued, “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women–two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians–have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” (...)

Thiel views the world much like the early Soviet futurists. Their utopian dreams ran far ahead of the chaos of revolutionary Russia, where Civil War and social upheaval posed a significant impediment to the development of the Soviet Union’s productive forces. Our own era of bicameral stagnation, social unrest, and organized labor similarly threaten the reactionary acceleration envisioned by Silicon Valley futurists, who are developing technology to eliminate rebellion through expansion of the carceral state, scientific breakthroughs to protect the wealthiest from irreversible environmental depletion, and a new relationship between life and death mediated by the dead labor of capitalism.

Organs, blood, or stem cells may soon be freely traded like an Uber for Sein-zum-Tode (although, with scant evidence that life extension is anything other than pseudoscience, it’s more likely to be a Theranos for Thanatos). For the middle class, extra years of life will be purchasable in mortgage-like installments. Life extension will be distributed just like the resiliency plans of major population areas under the menace of natural disasters amplified by global warming. The wealthiest areas will fortify structures, raise sea-walls, and afford for evacuations, while places like Haiti and Bangladesh are doomed to drown. Dying will increasingly be viewed as a manageable epidemic, like AIDS, violent crime, or homelessness.

Mars is even more open to the whims of venture capitalists who talk about it as if it’s a cold red stress-ball for the worst mistakes of humanity. The most commonly discussed technique for making the planet habitable involves exporting global warming to Mars by building robotic factories that produce nothing but greenhouse gases, thus melting the ice caps and making the atmosphere more like that of Earth. Elon Musk had one other idea: nuking it.

by A.M. Gittlitz, TNI |  Read more:
Image: uncredited

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How to Get the Most Out of Your Amazon Prime Membership

Since it first appeared back in 2005 as a way of getting faster shipping all year round, Amazon Prime has grown to be a premium members' club with a whole host of added benefits and goodies to enjoy.

As well as speedier deliveries, a subscription now gets you access to Amazon Prime Music and Amazon Prime Video, special offers, ebook loans, unlimited photo storage in the cloud, Dash buttons and even takeaway food.

The number of bonuses keeps on growing - and here's how you can make sure you're getting the maximum value out of your £79 (or $99) a year.

Signing up for Amazon Prime

If you've not yet signed up for Amazon Prime, the good news is you don't even have to pay anything straight away, because everyone gets a 30-day free trial to test out the benefits.

Log into Amazon and you should see Prime advertised somewhere; if not, you can visit the landing pages for both the UK and US sites.

Click through on the 30-day trial offer and, as you're already logged in and Amazon already has your details, you'll be up and running very quickly. If you don't have an Amazon account yet, you can of course sign up for one.

Straight away you'll be taken to a landing page where some of the best perks of Amazon Prime are shown off - click on anything that looks interesting.

Faster deliveries forever

This is the whole reason Amazon Prime started in the first place: unlimited one-day delivery (two-day in the US), so you can get your Amazon items as fast as possible without paying a premium for quick postage each time. If you order a lot of stuff from the site, the savings can quickly eclipse the money you've forked out for a monthly or yearly subscription.

Stick anything you like in your Amazon basket and head to the checkout to see if Prime can help you out - on many products, the expedited delivery option is selected at no extra charge, though this can vary between items, suppliers and locations.

In some parts of the UK and US you might find the even faster Prime Now is an option. Deliveries can arrive within the hour though you'll often have to pay extra for that.

There's also another choice: the no-rush delivery option. If your delivery can wait a few days, that obviously helps Amazon out, and you'll be rewarded with a small digital credit you can use towards something else. (...)

Amazon Prime Music

Amazon Prime Music may not have the high profile of Spotify or Apple Music but it's a decent music streaming service in its own right.

As with video, your web browser is a good way into the service - follow the Prime Music link from the Prime front page and you're up and running. You'll see straight away that music you've ordered from Amazon in the past, whether in digital or physical format, is already available to listen to.

There are dedicated apps available for iOS and Android, and you can access the service through your Amazon Echo or your Sonos speakers too. You can import your own songs from your computer as well - the maximum is 250 tracks before an extra payment is triggered, but digital music bought straight from Amazon doesn't count against the limit.

You might also want to consider Amazon Music Unlimited, which gives you millions more songs to stream on demand without purchase, and which costs an extra £7.99 or $7.99 a month for Prime members.

by David Nield, Techradar | Read more:
Image: uncredited

The Crisis of Market Fundamentalism

The biggest political surprise of 2016 was that everyone was so surprised. I certainly had no excuse to be caught unawares: soon after the 2008 crisis, I wrote a book suggesting that a collapse of confidence in political institutions would follow the economic collapse, with a lag of five years or so.

We’ve seen this sequence before. The first breakdown of globalization, described by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their 1848 The Communist Manifesto, was followed by reform laws creating unprecedented rights for the working class. The breakdown of British imperialism after World War I was followed by the New Deal and the welfare state. And the breakdown of Keynesian economics after 1968 was followed by the Thatcher-Reagan revolution. In my book Capitalism 4.0, I argued that comparable political upheavals would follow the fourth systemic breakdown of global capitalism heralded by the 2008 crisis.

When a particular model of capitalism is working successfully, material progress relieves political pressures. But when the economy fails – and the failure is not just a transient phase but a symptom of deep contradictions – capitalism’s disruptive social side effects can turn politically toxic.

That is what happened after 2008. Once the failure of free trade, deregulation, and monetarism came to be seen as leading to a “new normal” of permanent austerity and diminished expectations, rather than just to a temporary banking crisis, the inequalities, job losses, and cultural dislocations of the pre-crisis period could no longer be legitimized – just as the extortionate taxes of the 1950s and 1960s lost their legitimacy in the stagflation of the 1970s.

If we are witnessing this kind of transformation, then piecemeal reformers who try to address specific grievances about immigration, trade, or income inequality will lose out to radical politicians who challenge the entire system. And, in some ways, the radicals will be right.

The disappearance of “good” manufacturing jobs cannot be blamed on immigration, trade, or technology. But whereas these vectors of economic competition increase total national income, they do not necessarily distribute income gains in a socially acceptable way. To do that requires deliberate political intervention on at least two fronts.

First, macroeconomic management must ensure that demand always grows as strongly as the supply potential created by technology and globalization. This is the fundamental Keynesian insight that was temporarily rejected in the heyday of monetarism during the early 1980s, successfully reinstated in the 1990s (at least in the US and Britain), but then forgotten again in the deficit panic after 2009.

A return to Keynesian demand management could be the main economic benefit of Donald Trump’s incoming US administration, as expansionary fiscal policies replace much less efficient efforts at monetary stimulus. The US may now be ready to abandon the monetarist dogmas of central-bank independence and inflation targeting, and to restore full employment as the top priority of demand management. For Europe, however, this revolution in macroeconomic thinking is still years away.

At the same time, a second, more momentous, intellectual revolution will be needed regarding government intervention in social outcomes and economic structures. Market fundamentalism conceals a profound contradiction. Free trade, technological progress, and other forces that promote economic “efficiency” are presented as beneficial to society, even if they harm individual workers or businesses, because growing national incomes allow winners to compensate losers, ensuring that nobody is left worse off.

This principle of so-called Pareto optimality underlies all moral claims for free-market economics. Liberalizing policies are justified in theory only by the assumption that political decisions will redistribute some of the gains from winners to losers in socially acceptable ways. But what happens if politicians do the opposite in practice?

By deregulating finance and trade, intensifying competition, and weakening unions, governments created the theoretical conditions that demanded redistribution from winners to losers. But advocates of market fundamentalism did not just forget redistribution; they forbade it.

The pretext was that taxes, welfare payments, and other government interventions impair incentives and distort competition, reducing economic growth for society as a whole. But, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “[…] there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” By focusing on the social benefits of competition while ignoring the costs to specific people, the market fundamentalists disregarded the principle of individualism at the heart of their own ideology.

After this year’s political upheavals, the fatal contradiction between social benefits and individual losses can no longer be ignored. If trade, competition, and technological progress are to power the next phase of capitalism, they will have to be paired with government interventions to redistribute the gains from growth in ways that Thatcher and Reagan declared taboo.

by Anatole Kaletsky, Project Syndicate | Read more: