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Category: General

Your Friday Links

[ 58 ] August 22, 2014 |

The Worst Place in the World

[ 194 ] August 21, 2014 |

Burning Man already sounded horrible. A bunch of white hippies on mushrooms and MDMA dancing to techno in the desert in 110 degree heat without proper sanitation is my version of hell.

Or so I thought. Burning Man has gotten so much worse:

A few years ago, this assumption would have been mostly correct. But now things are a little different. Over the last two years, Burning Man, which this year runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, has been the annual getaway for a new crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls, many of whom are one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else.

Some of the biggest names in technology have been making the pilgrimage to the desert for years, happily blending in unnoticed. These include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google founders, and Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon. But now a new set of younger rich techies are heading east, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, employees from Twitter, Zynga and Uber, and a slew of khaki-wearing venture capitalists.

Tyler Hanson, who started going to Burning Man in 1995, decided a couple of years ago to try working as a paid Sherpa at one of these luxury camps. He described the experience this way: Lavish R.V.s are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in. The rich are flown in on private planes, then picked up at the Burning Man airport, driven to their camp and served like kings and queens for a week. (Their meals are prepared by teams of chefs, which can include sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare — yes, in the middle of 110-degree heat.)

“Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you, so all you have to do is show up,” Mr. Hanson said. “In the camp where I was working, there were about 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees.”

Mr. Hanson said he won’t be going back to Burning Man anytime soon. The Sherpas, the money, the blockaded camps and the tech elite were too much for him. “The tech start-ups now go to Burning Man and eat drugs in search of the next greatest app,” he said. “Burning Man is no longer a counterculture revolution. It’s now become a mirror of society.”

Strangely, the tech elite won’t disagree with Mr. Hanson about it being a reflection of society. This year at the premiere of the HBO show “Silicon Valley,” Elon Musk, an entrepreneur who was a founder of PayPal, complained that Mike Judge, the show’s creator, didn’t get the tech world because — wait for it — he had not attended the annual party in the desert.

Hippies and Silicon Valley douchebag capitalists? I want to make one thing clear. Whatever terrible things Farley has said about the Air Force does not apply to all members of this site. Clearly air power could have real value here.


[ 59 ] August 21, 2014 |

Wow, the Dow topped 17,000! That must mean these corporate profits are really trickling down to American workers, right?

Call it the no-raises recovery: Five years of economic expansion have done almost nothing to boost paychecks for typical American workers while the rich have gotten richer.

Meager improvements since 2009 have barely kept up with a similarly tepid pace of inflation, raising the real value of compensation per hour by only 0.5 percent. That marks the weakest growth since World War II, with increases averaging 9.2 percent at a similar point in past expansions, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by Bloomberg.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has zeroed in on faster wage growth as an important milestone for declaring the job market healed and ready to withstand policy tightening, even as other labor measures improve. Stagnant earnings also explain an economy that’s having trouble sustaining a rebound in housing and consumer spending, according to David Blanchflower, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Doubling the taxes on corporate profits, closing the many loopholes that allow American corporations to
operate in the U.S. while taking advantage of foreign corporate tax rates
, punishing corporations for tax dodging, and spending those taxes on social and economic programs would be a great start to fixing this problem. Unfortunately, I’d probably get closer to reality by eating some tabs of LSD.

Evolution Navel-Gazin’

[ 98 ] August 21, 2014 |

Awhile back I wrote a an entry talking about evolution and how it was evident simply by looking at how various animals changed through the years and often resembled each other. I was corrected by a commenter who noted that while often animals resemble each other, they are not necessarily related. In other words, before the exchange in my old thread I may have assumed the  ichthyosaurs were the ancestors of our modern dolphins. I don’t think they are, since  ichthyosaurs were reptiles; dolphins are mammals. And then there are all the crocodilian-looking creatures from pre-history. It’s so tempting to think “Oh, early crocodiles.” But, nope, not always.


So I learned something new, but it kind of bummed me out. Evolution is a tricky bastard. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this new (for me) reality and it looks as though evolution just has a limited (although still quite large) bag of tricks…which is why you see the same forms/adaptations manifesting in various animals. So, it’s not that dolphins evolved from  ichthyosaurs, it’s just that evolution said “Hey, that fat, spherical shape worked before, why not try it again on this doohickey?” This stuff just fascinates me…

Then there are all the species of mouse lemurs of Madagascar, some of which are only distinguishable by their calls… Evolution, you are a cheeky monkey. A drunk, drunk cheeky monkey.

The Great Mistery of the Great Whore Unfolded

[ 31 ] August 21, 2014 |


Brooke Palmieri has a great discussion of early Quaker pamphlet printing and the impact they had upon 17th century English religious life. It sounds like that if you weren’t a Quaker, they were really annoying, in part because they flooded the nation with their literature. Well worth reading.

Lessons of Salaita

[ 118 ] August 21, 2014 |

Why have we seen a recent crackdown on academic freedom and freedom of speech against academics, whether Stephen Salaita or myself? The answer is that administrators are scared of controversy. It reminds me of World War I, when U.S. entry and the following Red Scare led to the firing of many academics. We are reaching a point where academics are increasingly unable to take controversial positions at the peril of their employment. But one key difference between the two periods is that while the earlier attacks on academic freedom were coming from leading politicians and major power players, what has happened to Salaita is that he made upper University of Illinois administrators worried about how he would reflect upon them. Modern university administrations do not operate to serve students or education. They exist primarily to send administrators farther up the administrative totem pole, whether at the current institution or at another. How do you rise up that food chain? You cut funding for liberal arts and humanities. You reorient resources to big rethinkings of some part of the university you can put on your c.v., even though they will never be implemented. You convince rich donors to give money to build a nice building for the departments and programs you care about, like business. You move resources toward whatever is going to serve your personal future and away from the core mission of the university. You denigrate any majors that rich donors don’t see as valuable or that you can’t fundraise from. If you can, you even retrench faculty, sending 50 year old professors of German and Philosophy who have been at your school for 20 years onto the street.

What you don’t do is have employees say things that might attract attention. For a long time, people said we needed to run our colleges and universities like corporations. And now we are and people like Salaita have no room in the corporate university. Like corporations, the executive class serves itself, not the employees or the students/clients. What happened to me and what happened to Salaita are examples of that. In the linked piece above, I thought this was fairly heartbreaking:

I worry that a lot of academics will decide it’s the latter, and that the only safe path for them is to stay out of the limelight. I’ve seen scholars face this question before, and retreat in order to preserve their careers—a decision I cannot fault. A few weeks ago, for example, an untenured friend of mine noted a powerful link between current events and her field of expertise. She’s a brilliant scholar and great writer, so I encouraged her to write about it. It would have been a great essay, one easily pitched to major publications. It would have helped to shape our understanding of the world in which we live. It was also political in nature.

When she ran the idea by her dean, he said that while he supported her writing about public issues in theory, he wouldn’t necessarily support an opinion piece. He said faculty members must remember that their institution will be judged by statements they make in public. My friend took this as a sign that she risked not getting tenure if she took a controversial stance in public. She didn’t write the essay.

This is bad for my friend’s institution and bad for her. Her small college loses the opportunity to demonstrate the expertise of its faculty members in a responsible way. And she not only has an idea she can’t express, she loses the chance to be read by thousands of people, an experience that most academics never get.

Of course the dean told her not to write it. What if it reflected poorly on him? And because she is an assistant professor, she can’t buck him. Or I mean, she could but there’s a risk there. And so the public discourse is denied a valuable voice and the ability for academics to connect with the broader public–something administrators always say they want but which they really don’t unless it is the business faculty working with local corporations or some such thing–is cut off.

Greenhouse on Halbig Trooferism

[ 71 ] August 21, 2014 |

As you would expect, an excellent analysis.  Particularly worth emphasis:

Flash back to December 2010, when the Commerce Clause challenges to the new law were beginning to fill the legal pipeline en route to the Supreme Court. At a conference held at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization in Washington, Michael S. Greve, an A.E.I. scholar and chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, had this to say in reference to the Affordable Care Act:

“This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it. I don’t care who does it, whether it’s some court some place, or the United States Congress. Any which way, any dollar spent on that goal is worth spending, any brief filed toward that end is worth filing, any speech or panel contribution toward that end is of service to the United States.” Mr. Greve went on to urge a litigating strategy that looked beyond the mandate to “concentrate on bits and pieces of this law.”

Meanwhile, more reviews of the latest troofer brief and the pathetic attempts to defend it are in, and they are appropriately scathing. The final point, on Adler’s egregiously bad faith defense of the “Moops invaded Spain” version of ACA trooferism, is especially good.

As a couple commenters noted, underscoring the risible quality of the arguments in the brief is the bizarre amount of italicization, which gives off a stronger whiff of desperation than a high school boy’s second application of Axe Body Spray before his first date. As elm accurately summarizes their stylistic choices:

Firstly, they use it for emphasis on rather random verbs. They italicize roughly one out of every three verbs. Secondly, they italicize adjectives and adverbs that are, by themselves, solely used for emphasis. Thirdly, they italicize every usage of an enumerating clause. Fourthly, they seem to italicize nouns at random throughout the entire brief.

I’ve never seen anything like it in a 21st century text, and I’ve been grading undergraduate mock case briefs the whole time. Still, after the D.C. Circuit en banc nukes the Halbig panel’s opinion from orbit, I feel that in subsequent litigation the troofers will have to up their game on their use of the typographic arts to express their self-refuting arguments. I offer this sample for their use free of charge:

There is a good reason why Congress, expressing its unambiguous intent to deny credits to people purchasing insurance on federal exchanges to coerce the states, went to the trouble of creating a worthless federal backstop rather than just not having a federal backstop altogether. Namely, look, it’s Halley’s Comet!

You’re welcome!

Not the Onion

[ 25 ] August 21, 2014 |


Egypt on Tuesday urged U.S. authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with racially charged demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri – echoing language Washington used to caution Egypt as it cracked down on Islamist protesters last year.

U.S. foes Iran and Syria also lambasted the United States, but while they are frequent critics of Washington, it is unusual for Egypt to criticise such a major donor. It was not immediately clear why Egypt would issue such a statement.

Ties between Washington and Cairo were strained after Egyptian security forces killed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters following the army’s ousting of freely elected President Mohamed Mursi in July 2013.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s statement on the unrest in Ferguson read similarly to one issued by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration in July 2013, when the White House “urged security forces to exercise maximum restraint and caution” in dealing with demonstrations by Mursi supporters.

The ministry added it was “closely following the escalation of protests” in Ferguson, unleashed by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman on Aug. 9.

SEK’s new AV Club column: On circles and lines in The Hudsucker Proxy

[ 27 ] August 21, 2014 |


Yes, I am a man obsessed — obsessed with circles!

Ferguson and the First Amendment

[ 34 ] August 21, 2014 |

Too true:

If all the narratives coming out of Ferguson, Missouri—the militarization of local cops, the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the acceptable uses of force—the constitutional story that has most captured our attention is that of the police persistently violating the First Amendment rights of both the protesters and the press. When we talk about constitutional violations there, we do so primarily with respect to our freedom of speech and assembly.

Now it is beyond dispute that what the media is doing in Ferguson is vitally important and that the arrest and incarceration of reporters is a scandal. And there is no denying that we learn something important about the scale of police lawlessness when they cross the line into arresting journalists, who are traditionally off-limits. It is also indisputable that the right of protesters to peaceably assemble and speak is being undermined by mass arrests, curfews, and attempted news blackouts. But search for the words unconstitutional and amendment in Ferguson coverage on Google, and the extent to which our outrage seems to begin and end at the First Amendment is quite striking. Searching Google News (admittedly not a scientific method, but pretty good), we got six times as many results on Ferguson coverage that mentioned the First Amendment as mentioned the 14th Amendment, which is the amendment that covers a wide range of police abuses having nothing to do with freedom of speech.


Jazz Hot

[ 29 ] August 20, 2014 |

In 1939, a promotional film in English was made for Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club of France. It’s unclear why, probably for a tour of Britain the group was doing that year. The start of this is a bit slow, with a history of jazz for the British uninitiated listeners. And then the Hot Club starts. You ever wanted to see Reinhardt’s fingers move across the guitar with excellent camera work that makes this very clear? Now is your chance. Just amazing footage.

For whatever reason, YouTube doesn’t allow this to be embedded, but you can watch it if you link.

Ferguson and Our Benevolent Local Overlords

[ 127 ] August 20, 2014 |

Paul Waldman is making sense:

So the local government, the one that’s supposed to be in touch with the people, is not only out of touch, it’s making their lives miserable. The events in Ferguson have also shown us a case of inept local government that has made the situation worse at every turn. First the Ferguson police responded to protesting residents like they were retaking Fallujah. Then when state troopers succeeded in calming things down for a night — a higher level of government trying to correct the failures of a lower level — the Ferguson police released the surveillance video from that convenience store, as though trying to make the case that Michael Brown had it coming, which enraged local residents and started a new cycle of unrest.

It’ll be great if this situation leads to liberals and conservatives joining together to do something about the over-militarization of law enforcement. And yes, that over-militarization is something that the federal government and local governments cooperated to create. But the next time you hear someone say that power should be devolved as far as possible to the state and local level, remember that those lower levels of government are often where the worst problems are.

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