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Chinese Pollution, Chinese Philosophy

[ 0 ] May 26, 2016 |


You owe it to yourself to read this interesting essay the intersection of Chinese philosophy and contemporary Chinese air pollution. Just a quick excerpt:

According to professor Liu, the Chinese word for pollution, 污染 [wu ran], has a very specific meaning. The first character of the word, 污 (wu), consists of 氵, the three dots of the ‘water’ radical that signified a meaning related to water, and the word 亏 (kui), which on its own means loss, or deficiency. The second character of pollution, 染 (ran), which also has the ‘three dots of water’ in it, means to infect, or to dye. In this sense, pollution in Chinese implies an action in which something foreign intrudes into something else, and by that, disturbs its purity. Taken literally, pollution is what happens when a foreign substance is mixed in with water, causing it to become impure.

Even though it might seem that the pollution is a recent problem, its seeds were sown much earlier, before China overtook the United States in 2015 to become the world’s largest economy, before China’s booming years in the 1990s when it became the world’s largest factory, and even before former leader Deng Xiaoping opened up China’s economy in the late 1970s to private enterprises and the rest of the world. According to the Professor, it was Mao who essentially changed China’s relationship to nature.

“In the past, Taoists believed that everything in the world, including humans, had to follow the rules of nature,” he explained. “But since Mao, we came to believe that we can manipulate the world to our own will.”

After the People’s Republic of China was officiated in 1949, Mao set out to transform the new nation from an agricultural society to an industrial powerhouse. Using newly developed scientific ideas and technologies, with much of its early stages based on the Soviet model, natural resources were all subjected to rapidly expand heavy industry, a maniacal increase in steel and coal production, and an amped-up agricultural yield by collectivizing traditional farms into agricultural co-operatives. Human lives were seen as natural resources too, and between 1958 and 1961, tens of millions of lives were lost in a famine caused by The Great Leap Forward, a Mao-led movement that urged farmers to prioritize steel production over farming, forcing many to melt their pots and pans in make-shift backyard furnaces to reach the steel quotas. The Professor traced the lineage of contemporary large-scale production and the technological conquering of nature back to Mao’s legacy.

“In the Mao era, [mankind] didn’t just think that [it] could manipulate nature, but believed that [it] should.”

These questions were very urgent to contemporary Chinese philosophers.

“What we care most about is: Is this the necessary road for humans, going from an agricultural to an industrial and then to a developed society? And in that, do we have to pollute?”

Of course, this was all just another way to get at the connections between personal wealth, national glory, and modernization, all of which has prioritized pollution over sustainability.

Read the whole, etc.


Don’t Look At Us, We Didn’t Do It!

[ 62 ] May 26, 2016 |


Megan McArdle proposes that the Donald Trump taking over the Republican Party was an amazing coincidence the previous actions of party elites had nothing to do with. Jonathan Bernstein disposes:

Republicans had encouraged, or at least tolerated, schoolyard taunts and far-fetched conspiracy talk long before Trump’s campaign. He started out in Republican presidential politics by accusing the president of not being a U.S citizen, a slur that had been bandied about by many highly visible Republicans. He has now moved on to recycling conspiracy theories from 20 years ago about Hillary Clinton that were promoted at the time by talk-show hosts and Republican members of Congress.

The fact that Donald Trump rose to prominence within the Republican Party by promoting birtherism while Republican elites first looked the other way and then eagerly sought his support is indeed crucial.

Another part is how Republicans lowered the standards for their politicians. Normally voters might oppose Trump as flat-out unqualified for the job, both by lack of relevant experience and lack of knowledge of government and public affairs. But by giving a megaphone to people like Pat Robertson, Herman Cain, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, Republicans showed their voters what counts as a “normal” Republican presidential candidate — and it isn’t all that different from Donald Trump. Republican voters had many well-qualified candidates in 2016, but they had been taught by their party to ignore normal qualifications, and they did so.

Jonathan is actually leaving out the best example here: Sarah Palin. John McCain — at the urging of party elites — selected her to be second in line to the presidency with no input from the voters, and party elites and conservative pundits* strongly defended the choice contemporaneously. It’s pretty hard to convincingly claim that an ignorant buffoon like Donald Trump isn’t a serious candidate for president when you’ve put an ignorant buffoon on a presidential ticket. (And while George W. Bush was not as unqualified as Palin, the proudly ill-informed anti-intellectualism that was central to his shtick was not incidental to the rise of figures like Trump.)

That same observation can be made about how Republicans have tolerated and promoted bigotry, forging a path for Trump to go even further. McArdle is wrong to say that the Republicans’ “Southern strategy” of the Richard Nixon era was only incidentally pitched to bigots. In 1968, Nixon was clearly and deliberately going after pro-segregation voters abandoned by the Democratic Party, a strategy continued (for example) by Lee Atwater in the 1988 presidential race on behalf of George H.W. Bush.

Right, the southern strategy had nothing to do with racism. When, say, Richard Nixon worked with the not-at-all-racist Strom Thurmond’s top political advisor to try to gut the Voting Rights Act, that had nothing to do with race.

The idea that the Republican Party doesn’t own Trump is simply absurd.

*Guess which conservative pundit said the following things when McCain selected Palin:

This woman is an Obama-level political natural. She is a ferociously good speaker, and almost preternaturally composed.

The Democrats are, as my colleague Clive Crooks notes, in trouble. Whatever you think of her as a potential president, she is a politically brilliant choice, and Democrats are going to have a very hard time finding traction to attack her.

I have no reason to think that she would be a particularly bad president. Obama hasn’t any more relevant experience than she has; he’s simply been coaching for the thing longer.

The fact that Republican voters took Donald Trump seriously is truly mysterious.


[ 9 ] May 26, 2016 |


It seems that the octopi may be allying with the cats, jellyfish, and apes to declare war on the human race.

So, why are cephalopods kicking butt when pretty much everything else in the oceans is dying? Doubleday and her co-authors are still investigating, but they suspect it has to do with rapid population turnover rates. “Cephalopods tend to boom and bust—they’re called the weeds of the sea,” Doubleday said. “If environmental conditions are good, they can rapidly exploit those conditions because they grow so fast.”

One reason environmental conditions might have improved is that humans are picking off cephalopods’ main competitors—predatory fish. Other large-scale changes like global warming could also be playing a role. “I don’t think it’s any one single factor,” Doubleday said. “But something’s changing on quite a large scale that’s giving cephalopods an edge.”

Sounds like an Axis of Oceanic Evil to me.

More seriously, is this connected to climate change? Maybe.

As the oceans continue to change, the long-term fate of all marine organisms remains uncertain. For instance, early laboratory evidence suggests that ocean acidification might impair the development of some cephalopods. And as squid and octopuses become a larger part of human diets, we’re harvesting more cephalopods from the sea than ever before.

Another strange possibility is that cephalopods will become too weedy and run out of food. If that happens? “They’re highly cannibalistic—they might start eating each other if they overgrow,” Doubleday said.

In short, it’s too early to predict whether octopuses will continue to boom or whether the oceans will devolve into a frenzied cannibalism fest. Still, if an intelligent race of tentacled underwater beings winds up outmaneuvering us and taking over the planet, we can’t say there weren’t warning signs.

Domino’s Wage Theft

[ 51 ] May 26, 2016 |


Not only is the pizza inedible, but Domino’s also steals money from its already low-wage workers.

The workers who assembled and delivered the pie clock their hours on a computer system, and those workers are then paid.

But for years, according to the lawsuit against the corporate franchiser that owns Domino’s Pizza, the computer system used by franchises across the state systematically undercounted hours worked by employees, shortchanging them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The lawsuit, announced on Tuesday, was the latest salvo in a campaign by the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, against what he says is a pattern of corporations shortchanging low-wage workers.

Since 2011, Mr. Schneiderman has secured more than $26 million for almost 20,000 workers who were bilked of wages.

But unlike past cases, this one directly targets the corporate franchiser. If the state wins, Mr. Schneiderman hopes the case sets a precedent that makes it harder for corporations that run franchise businesses to avoid responsibility for the actions taken by the stores under their corporate umbrella.

“Wage theft is an epidemic causing harm to low-wage workers struggling to support their families every single day,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement.

The real importance here is moving the lawsuit away from the franchise to the corporation. This is absolutely critical in labor rights because it peels back one of the strategies used by corporations to shield itself from legal responsibility. Fast food chains like Domino’s routinely control costs by telling franchiers what to do, but then take no responsibility for what happens. If you want to change that, you have to fight for parent corporate legal repercussions for what happens at the franchise level. The same goes for subcontractors and temp agencies.

The surge in lawsuits, according to labor advocates, is a reflection of the changing nature of the American workplace.

Increasingly, corporations are using franchises, subcontractors and temp companies to fill jobs. One result is fierce competition to fill jobs with people who will work for the lowest possible wages. And, in turn, corporate franchisers can insulate themselves from charges of wage violations by creating a degree of separation between the corporation and the employees.

All of this needs to be a major front in the war on worker exploitation.

The Wages Of Inequality, Cont’d

[ 129 ] May 26, 2016 |


If a plutocrat wants to destroy a media outlet, it will be almost impossible for all but the best-capitalized to stop:

Thiel’s interview with the New York Times about his legal campaign, in which a $10 million investment on lawyers managed to bring an entire media company to the brink of disaster, is the new required reading in Silicon Valley, especially the bit where he says that it’s “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done.”

Thiel, like most Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, loves to think of himself as a visionary. His first company, PayPal, started as an attempt to create a whole new global currency; since then he has invested most of his time and money into ambitious attempts to change the world. But it’s his investment in a campaign against Gawker, intended to inflict as much damage as he can on Gawker Media and its proprietor, Nick Denton, which could prove to be his most effective – and his most harmful.

Thiel’s tactics in going after Gawker are very, very frightening for anybody who believes in freedom of speech; they’re also extremely effective, in an evil-genius kind of way.


It gets worse. If Thiel’s strategy works against Gawker, it could be used by any billionaire against any media organization. Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump, the list goes on and on. Up until now, they’ve mostly been content suing news organizations as plaintiffs, over stories which name them. But Thiel has shown them how to go thermonuclear: bankroll other lawsuits, as many as it takes, and bankrupt the news organization that way. Very few companies have the legal wherewithal to withstand such a barrage.

This is a problem that’s likely to get worse before it gets better.


It all comes down to a simple point. You may not like Gawker. They’ve published stories I would have been ashamed to publish. But if the extremely wealthy, under a veil secrecy, can destroy publications they want to silence, that’s a far bigger threat to freedom of the press than most of the things we commonly worry about on that front. If this is the new weapon in the arsenal of the super rich, few publications will have the resources or the death wish to scrutinize them closely.

The Hogan case, it must be admitted, is not one that makes Gawker look very sympathetic. Hogan’s lawsuit was not at all frivolous, even if the size of judgment was far too high, and even if we assumed arguendo that Gawker didn’t violate Hogan’s legal rights it showed horrible judgment in publishing sex tapes without his consent. But whatever one thinks about the case at hand, the tactics being used against them can be used against anybody.

Salmon, Dams, and Climate Change

[ 10 ] May 25, 2016 |


As the endless battle to manage salmon in the Columbia River basin marches on, the courts are now forcing the govenrment agencies that manage salmon to respond to new data on how climate change will affect the salmon, making a harder case that the government is actually protecting the salmon under the Endangered Species Act.

Joseph Bogaard, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon, says, “This is a very significant — and significantly different — ruling.”

A week after the decision, a spokesman for the losing party, NOAA Fisheries (aka the National Marine Fisheries Service), declined to comment on it. He said federal agencies at the regional and national levels were still discussing what comes next. Thirteen Columbia River system salmon population have been listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1991. So, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates and sell power from the dams, have had to consult on Columbia policies with NOAA Fisheries, which has had to issue biological opinions.

This time around, Judge Simon basically said that NOAA Fisheries had offered up the same old, same old — and that wasn’t good enough. The most recent BiOp, he said, “continues down the same well-worn and legally insufficient path taken during the last 20 years.” He also faulted it for relying on “a recovery standard that ignores the dangerously low abundance levels of many of the populations of the listed species.”

That flawed standard is “trending toward recovery,” something the Bush administration dreamed up for the 2008 BiOp and the Obama administration subsequently embraced. Basically, trending toward recovery means that if you have more fish this year than last, you’re not jeopardizing the long-term survival of the fish. It ignores the fact that a) it may take a long, long time to get the numbers up to a sustainable level; and b) at low numbers, a population runs a high risk of going extinct. “Without ‘trending toward recovery,’ ” says Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda, “the bar [for future BiOps] is automatically higher.”

The 2014 BiOp was chock-full of information on climate change, but it was devoid of any specific new action to deal with changing climate. Mashuda pointed out at the time that there were two threats — the river conditions that have reduced fish runs and climate change — “and they’re using the same bullet on both of them. That just doesn’t work.” Since then, climate and our knowledge of its effects have marched on. Mashuda now points to last summer when high water temperatures led to the death of nearly half the sockeye that started up the river, including virtually all of those bound for Idaho.

Simon’s opinion called attention to the BiOp’s lack of both new climate information and new proposals to deal with climate change. He said “the court is troubled” by NOAA Fisheries’ apparent effort to ensure that “the climate literature reviews . . . bolstered NOAA Fisheries’ contention that all new climate information is encompassed by NOAA Fisheries’ previous analysis.”

None of this really gives me hope that the government will effectively respond to the problem or that the unnecessary dams on the Snake River will be torn down to restore salmon habitat, but it’s good news nonetheless.

Fallen Starr

[ 103 ] May 25, 2016 |


Ken Starr might outdo Inspector Javert when it comes to the consensual sex of political enemies. When it comes to sexual assault by his football players, not so much:

Ken Starr isn’t exactly in Bill Cosby territory, but with the revelation that he’s apparently being canned from the presidency of Baylor University for ignoring charges of sexual misconduct by football players, he has made himself into one of the most exquisite hypocrites of our age. (I should note that the university, responding to reports Tuesday of Starr’s impending dismissal, refused to confirm the news, although it didn’t deny it either.)

Here is morality according to Starr, who by the way is (of course) a great Christian. It’s appropriate to expose sexual misconduct (wrong, but consensual) when it gives you a shot at bringing down a president you loathe and creating a constitutional crisis over a few blow jobs. But when sexual misconduct risks messing with the football team, well by God, you brush it under the rug! You’re in Texas, boy.

A great deal of excellent background here. And it shouldn’t just be Starr’s head that metaphorically rolls here either.

…More here.

The Breakfast-Industrial Complex

[ 187 ] May 25, 2016 |


While I enjoy most standard breakfast foods to various degrees, the American fetish for breakfast is completely out of control. This is especially true for bacon, a vastly overrated meat. But really, the fetish is for the whole experience. There are multiple parts to it. One of course is the bacon thing. The second is idea of eating a big ol’greasy meal that supposedly provides us with joy. The third, and really the most ridiculous, is that not eating breakfast is somehow unhealthy and therefore those of us who don’t eat breakfast are hurting ourselves and should be lectured about it. Personally, I find eating a large meal in the hours after waking up repulsive. Perhaps a yogurt or an egg, maybe a bagel if I am feeling indulgent, but that’s it until at least noon if not 2. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m doing it right. It just means that I’ve figured out the combination of how much I can eat to maintain my weight and enjoying own aesthetic preferences. There are however days, when I’ve had a large meal for dinner, that I don’t take in a single calorie until 4 or so. The point is that you have to read your own body and act accordingly. At least now those of us who eschew breakfast have some hard evidence that the breakfast-industrial complex is behind our demonization.

It does not take much of an effort to find research that shows an association between skipping breakfast and poor health. A 2013 study published in the journal Circulation found that men who skipped breakfast had a significantly higher risk of coronary heart disease than men who ate breakfast. But, like almost all studies of breakfast, this is an association, not causation.

More than most other domains, this topic is one that suffers from publication bias. In a paper published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2013, researchers reviewed the literature on the effect of breakfast on obesity to look specifically at this issue. They first noted that nutrition researchers love to publish results showing a correlation between skipping breakfast and obesity. They love to do so again and again. At some point, there’s no reason to keep publishing on this.

However, they also found major flaws in the reporting of findings. People were consistently biased in interpreting their results in favor of a relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity. They improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited others’ results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others’ results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad.

Good reviews of all the observational research note the methodological flaws in this domain, as well as the problems of combining the results of publication-bias-influenced studies into a meta-analysis. The associations should be viewed with skepticism and confirmed with prospective trials.

Few randomized controlled trials exist. Those that do, although methodologically weak like most nutrition studies, don’t support the necessity of breakfast.

And who is behind this?

Many of the studies are funded by the food industry, which has a clear bias. Kellogg funded a highly cited article that found that cereal for breakfast is associated with being thinner. The Quaker Oats Center of Excellence (part of PepsiCo) financed a trial that showed that eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes reduces weight and cholesterol (if you eat it in a highly controlled setting each weekday for four weeks).

Fight the Man. And Tony the Tiger! Don’t give in to Big Breakfast!

You Mess With Steve Rogers, You Mess With Me (X-Posted from Graphic Policy)

[ 116 ] May 25, 2016 |

captain america steve rogers 1 featured
Oh hey, there’s a new Captain America: Steve Rogers comic book out today. Why does this fill me with incandescent rage?

Find out below the cut!

Read more…

Why We Need the Liberal Arts

[ 291 ] May 25, 2016 |


Danielle Allen has a long essay on the attack on civic education by proponents of vocational education who think STEM fields are the only legitimate fields. There are of course an endless number of problems with STEM-only education. One of them is that it undermines political participation and an understanding of the world in which we all live together. That’s one of the most powerful parts of the essay.

To make judgments about the course of human events and our government’s role in them, we need history, anthropology, cultural studies, economics, political science, sociology, and psychology, not to mention math—especially the statistical reasoning necessary for probabilistic judgment—and science, as governmental policy naturally intersects with scientific questions. If we are to decide on the core principles that should orient our judgments about what will bring about safety and happiness, surely we need philosophy, literature, and religion or its history. Then, since the democratic citizen does not make or execute judgments alone, we need the arts of conversation, eloquence, and prophetic speech. Preparing ourselves to exercise these arts takes us again to literature and to the visual arts, film, and music.

In other words, we need the liberal arts. They were called the free person’s arts for a reason.

To say that we need all these disciplines in order to cultivate participatory readiness is not to say that we need precisely the versions of these disciplines that existed in the late eighteenth century. To the contrary, it is the job of today’s scholars and teachers, learning from the successes and errors of our predecessors, to build the most powerful intellectual tools we can. Where their versions of the tools were compatible with preserving patriarchy, enslaving black Africans, and committing genocide against indigenous peoples, ours must not be. This revision of the liberal arts curriculum is controversial but necessary, for we want to retain the purposes and intellectual methods of the liberal arts, if not all of its content. We still need to cultivate capacities for social diagnosis, ethical reasoning, cause-and-effect analysis, and persuasive argumentation.

Given that the liberal arts are especially useful for training citizens, it should come as little surprise that attainment in the humanities and social sciences appears to correlate with increased engagement in politics. There is a statistically significant difference between the rates of political participation among humanities and STEM graduates. Data from the Department of Education reveal that, among 2008 college graduates, 92.8 percent of humanities majors have voted at least once since finishing school. Among STEM majors, that number is 83.5 percent. And, within ten years of graduation, 44.1 percent of 1993 humanities graduates had written to public officials, compared to 30.1 percent of STEM majors. As college graduates, the students are generally of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, suggesting that other distinctions must account for the difference in political engagement.

Of course, the self-selection of students into the humanities and STEM majors may mean that these data reflect only underlying features of the students rather than the effects of teaching they receive. Yet the same pattern appears in a study by political scientist Sunshine Hillygus, which controls for students’ preexisting levels of interest in politics.

Hillygus also finds that the differences in political engagement among college graduates are mirrored in K–12 education. High SAT verbal scores correlate with increased likelihood of political participation, while high SAT math scores correlate with decreased likelihood of participation. Again, since socioeconomic effects on SAT scores move both verbal and math scores in the same direction, this difference between how high verbal and high math scores affect the likelihood of participation must be telling us something about the relationship between attainment in specific subject domains and participatory readiness. Moreover, the SAT effect endures even when college-level curricular choices are controlled for. Just as Glaeser, Ponzetto, and Shleifer conclude, it is attainment in the verbal domain that correlates with participatory readiness.

Of course, there are probably zero non-STEM professors who argue that we don’t need engineers and chemists and biologists and computer scientists. We definitely need all of these people. However, a society that trains people only for these sorts of professions is a barren society, devoid of generations of human knowledge and understanding, one with real consequences for our politics and society.

Modern Heroes

[ 34 ] May 25, 2016 |


I still maintain that some of the greatest heroes in the United States are those in the deepest red states fighting for reproductive rights.

Opening an abortion clinic in the United States is never easy, and it’s especially difficult in a state hostile to abortion rights. That’s one of the reasons no one has attempted to open a clinic in Oklahoma since 1974 — at least, not until now. With the state down to just two clinics since the closure of Outpatient Services for Women in December 2014, Julie Burkhart decided to bring back abortion services to Oklahoma City, the largest metropolitan area in the country without a provider.

Just a month from opening her doors, Burkhart, CEO of Trust Women and owner of South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas (which faced its own contentious opening in 2013), now finds herself facing a state legislature that’s not only anti-choice, but just approved a radical, headline-grabbing bill that would make the act of performing an abortion a felony.

This will be the first abortion clinic to open in Oklahoma in 40 years.

You may not be surprised that Julie Burkhart is not patient with the idea that the 2016 election does not matter so we might as well vote for true leftist Jill Stein.

Every Crisis is an Opportunity to Punch Hippies

[ 41 ] May 25, 2016 |


I love Republicans. Every crisis is an opportunity to tear down the safety net and push forward a pro-corporate, pro-polluter agenda.

The House voted along party lines Tuesday to approve a bill that would loosen pesticide regulations in the name of fighting the Zika virus.

Democrats almost unanimously opposed the bill, which was recently retooled by House GOP leaders as an effort to prevent the spread of Zika. The final tally was 258-156, with all but 23 Democrats opposed to the bill.

The bill, which loosens environmental protections on pesticides and other chemicals, was called the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act until earlier this month.

Democrats have accused Republicans of seizing on the Zika virus to pass a years-old bill that would make it easier for corporations to skirt regulations.

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), the bill’s sponsor, said it would help to eliminate a “duplicative and unnecessary permitting regulation” that has made it more difficult for some local governments to spread for mosquitoes.

In a statement opposing the bill on Monday, the White House said nearly all state and local officials spraying for mosquitoes are already allowed to use chemicals “as needed to respond to Zika virus concerns and do not require any additional authorization.”

Makes sense though since we all know Rachel Carson is the greatest mass murderer since Hitler.

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