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unrepentant progress

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Name: Wouldn\'t you love to know?
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Member since: Sun Mar 24, 2013, 02:10 PM
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Journal Archives

Mark Blyth: Austerity -- The History of a Dangerous Idea

If you watch one thing this week, then watch this lecture by political economist, and my favorite capitalist, Mark Blyth. The bits about the pre-WWII Japanese and German economies are particularly interesting.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Sun Jun 23, 2013, 03:22 PM (3 replies)

Let Them Eat Diversity

An excellent interview with Walter Benn Michaels, author of The Trouble With Diversity, from a couple of years ago. It's lengthy so I'll just post a couple of short clips. Full interview here: http://jacobinmag.com/2011/01/let-them-eat-diversity

The fact that most of our poverty is not produced by prejudice should suggest to us that if we are actually concerned about poverty, no matter how much anti-discrimination work we do we are not going to take care of the poverty problem, certainly not in our little test group, the 61 percent of the country who are poor and White. So there are two ways to deal with that; one you say “Okay maybe it’s true that we should focus a little less on discrimination and a little more on other forms of dealing with this inequality,” or, two, the state of the art thing which is to say, “No actually it’s false. White people have been the victim of discrimination, because the lower class is itself a victim of discrimination.”

I wrote a piece on this last year based on the Gates episode for the London Review of Books, a review of a book that had just come out in the U.K. about extending anti-discrimination to deal with the white working class, as if the problem with the white working class was that it was insufficiently respected and that if you could only get a few more White working class guys up at the top … basically just treating the white working class as if it were an identity. That’s cutting edge neoliberalism.

WBM: ... My argument is fairly straightforward. To be poor in America today, or to be anything but in the top 20 percent in America today, is to be victimized in important ways and in so far as we’re appreciating the characteristic products of victimization, we are not actually dealing with exploitation, but rather enshrining victimization, treating it as if it had value and therefore ought to be preserved. And that’s obviously reactionary.

BKS: Like the Richard Geres of the world viewing Tibetan poverty as a commendable stand against materialism.

WBM: Completely.
Posted by unrepentant progress | Mon Jun 10, 2013, 08:49 PM (0 replies)

Medicare Spending Variations Mostly Due To Health Differences, Study Concludes

The idea that uneven Medicare health care spending around the country is due to wasteful practices and overtreatment—a concept that influenced the federal health law -- takes another hit in a study published Tuesday. The paper concludes that health differences around the country explain between 75 percent and 85 percent of the cost variations.

“People really are sicker in some parts of the country,” said Dr. Patrick Romano, one of the authors.

That’s a sour assessment for those hoping to wring large savings out of the health care system by making it more efficient. Some, such as President Barack Obama’s former budget director, Peter Orszag, assert that geographic variations in spending could mean that nearly a third of Medicare spending may be unnecessary.

Their conclusions are based on the wide differences in spending, which in 2011 ranged from an average of $14,085 per Medicare beneficiary in Miami, to $5,563 per beneficiary in Honolulu, even after Medicare’s cost of living and other regional adjustments — but not health status — were taken into account.

The new study comes as advisors to the government consider whether regional differences are a useful tool to reduce health spending. An Institute of Medicine panel is preparing a report on whether Congress should pay less to hospitals and doctors in areas where there is heavy use of medical services, and more in regions where spending is lower. That report is due out this summer, but an interim version indicated that the panel was opposed to the idea.

More: http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2013/May/28/medicare-state-geographic-variation-costs.aspx
Posted by unrepentant progress | Fri Jun 7, 2013, 12:05 AM (1 replies)

Bring back the United States of Pork

If there’s one thing most Democrats and Republicans can agree on, it’s that the US Congress has become an ineffectual disaster, frozen in partisan conflict and seemingly unable to pass any meaningful legislation. One of the few instances of efficient lawmaking they’ve managed this year happened only after flight delays caused by budget sequestration began to threaten their own vacation plans. Meanwhile, the bipartisan gun control bill is dead, and the fate of immigration reform remains uncertain.

American politics, it seems, has become so polarized that lawmakers simply can’t find common ground on the most important issues of the day. But partisanship has always been with us, and as Congress approaches yet another potential showdown over the federal budget, a chorus of thinkers from the world of political science is making a surprising argument about how to overcome the gridlock. In order to help Congress get moving again, they say, America needs to restore something that has long been considered a symbol of all that is wrong with government: pork-barrel politics.

Pork, in this context, refers to federal money that has been earmarked by lawmakers in order to fund projects in their home districts: things like roads, bridges, and museums, which tend to make voters happy and which lawmakers have been funding with federal money since the country’s birth. The past two and a half years have been unusual in American history in that Congress has been operating almost entirely without such earmarks, thanks to a pork ban that passed in both the Senate and the House in late 2010 and early 2011. Though driven primarily by conservatives concerned with fiscal responsibility, the move was ultimately applauded on the left and the right, and hailed as a victory against wasteful government spending and corruption on Capitol Hill.

But people who have thought hard about earmarks,and researched their history, say that in demonizing pork Congress accidentally gave up something deeply valuable: a tool for reaching compromise. Earmarks, they point out, can be used by party leaders as bait to convince—or simply bribe—lawmakers to support legislation and join coalitions they might otherwise spurn. “If a member of Congress can bring something home that’s really valued in their district, that’s powerful,” said Diana Evans, a professor at Trinity College in Hartford and author of the book “Greasing the Wheels: Using Pork Barrel Projects to Build Majority Coalitions in Congress.” “It’s something they can claim credit for.”

More: http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/05/11/bring-back-united-states-pork/gsa3RcmD4tXlQPs29ytsXJ/story.html
Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed Jun 5, 2013, 06:32 PM (0 replies)

How the U.S. Government Waged War Against the House of Tomorrow

Americans were promised one thing during World War II: life was going to be amazing in the "world of tomorrow." But when the war ended many companies, along with the U.S. government, turned back on that promise as quickly as they could.

Americans were told that as soon as the war was over, everyone would have so many shiny appliances and bubble-top cars and super-modern homes that they wouldn't even know what to do with them all. Sure, you may have to sacrifice now, with the wartime rationing of everything from gasoline to sugar, but once victory has been achieved the good life is ahead.


As Americans became more and more confident of victory in WWII during the war's later years of 1944 and 1945, cracks started to appear. People started to write articles (often unsigned or pseudonymously) in newspapers and magazines telling Americans to keep their shirts on.

That house we promised — that assurance that everything will be amazing after the war is done and peace has been secured? Now don't get your hopes up, Mr. Futurepants.

More: http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/how-the-u-s-government-waged-war-against-the-house-of-509785059
Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed Jun 5, 2013, 04:23 PM (0 replies)

In 1949, He Imagined an Age of Robots

A lost essay from mathematician Norbert Wiener.

These new machines have a great capacity for upsetting the present basis of industry, and of reducing the economic value of the routine factory employee to a point at which he is not worth hiring at any price. If we combine our machine-potentials of a factory with the valuation of human beings on which our present factory system is based, we are in for an industrial revolution of unmitigated cruelty.

We must be willing to deal in facts rather than in fashionable ideologies if we wish to get through this period unharmed. Not even the brightest picture of an age in which man is the master, and in which we all have an excess of mechanical services will make up for the pains of transition, if we are not both humane and intelligent.

Finally the machines will do what we ask them to do and not what we ought to ask them to do. In the discussion of the relation between man and powerful agencies controlled by man, the gnomic wisdom of the folk tales has a value far beyond the books of our sociologists.


Moreover, if we move in the direction of making machines which learn and whose behavior is modified by experience, we must face the fact that every degree of independence we give the machine is a degree of possible defiance of our wishes. The genie in the bottle will not willingly go back in the bottle, nor have we any reason to expect them to be well disposed to us.

In short, it is only a humanity which is capable of awe, which will also be capable of controlling the new potentials which we are opening for ourselves. We can be humble and live a good life with the aid of the machines, or we can be arrogant and die.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Thu May 23, 2013, 08:55 PM (2 replies)

Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side

Twice a day, seven days a week, a tractor trailer carrying 8,000 gallons of watery, cloudy slop rolls past the bucolic countryside, finally arriving at Neil Rejman’s dairy farm in upstate New York. The trucks are coming from the Chobani plant two hours east of Rejman’s Sunnyside Farms, and they’re hauling a distinctive byproduct of the Greek yogurt making process—acid whey.

For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It’s a thin, runny waste product that can’t simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a “dead sea,” destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years.

The scale of the problem—or opportunity, depending on who you ask—is daunting. The $2 billion Greek yogurt market has become one of the biggest success stories in food over the past few years and total yogurt production in New York nearly tripled between 2007 and 2013. New plants continue to open all over the country. The Northeast alone, led by New York, produced more than 150 million gallons of acid whey last year, according to one estimate.

And as the nation’s hunger grows for strained yogurt, which produces more byproduct than traditional varieties, the issue of its acid runoff becomes more pressing. Greek yogurt companies, food scientists, and state government officials are scrambling not just to figure out uses for whey, but how to make a profit off of it.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed May 22, 2013, 11:07 PM (19 replies)

Celebrating Inequality

THE Roaring ’20s was the decade when modern celebrity was invented in America. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” is full of magazine spreads of tennis players and socialites, popular song lyrics, movie stars, paparazzi, gangsters and sports scandals — machine-made by technology, advertising and public relations. Gatsby, a mysterious bootlegger who makes a meteoric ascent from Midwestern obscurity to the palatial splendor of West Egg, exemplifies one part of the celebrity code: it’s inherently illicit. Fitzgerald intuited that, with the old restraining deities of the 19th century dead and his generation’s faith in man shaken by World War I, celebrities were the new household gods.

What are celebrities, after all? They dominate the landscape, like giant monuments to aspiration, fulfillment and overreach. They are as intimate as they are grand, and they offer themselves for worship by ordinary people searching for a suitable object of devotion. But in times of widespread opportunity, the distance between gods and mortals closes, the monuments shrink closer to human size and the centrality of celebrities in the culture recedes. They loom larger in times like now, when inequality is soaring and trust in institutions — governments, corporations, schools, the press — is falling.

The Depression that ended Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age yielded to a new order that might be called the Roosevelt Republic. In the quarter-century after World War II, the country established collective structures, not individual monuments, that channeled the aspirations of ordinary people: state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organizations.

One virtue of those hated things called bureaucracies is that they oblige everyone to follow a common set of rules, regardless of station or background; they are inherently equalizing. Books like William H. Whyte’s “Organization Man” and C. Wright Mills’s “White Collar” warned of the loss of individual identity, but those middle-class anxieties were possible only because of the great leveling. The “stars” continued to fascinate, especially with the arrival of TV, but they were not essential. Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Perry Como, Joe DiMaggio, Jack Paar, Doris Day and Dick Clark rose with Americans — not from them — and their successes and screw-ups were a sideshow, not the main event.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed May 22, 2013, 11:06 PM (0 replies)

Obama vs. LBJ

Via historian Corey Robin: http://coreyrobin.com/2013/05/20/obama-at-morehouse-lbj-at-howard

LBJ at Howard University:

"But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair."

Obama at Morehouse College:

"Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too. ...if you stay hungry, if you keep hustling, if you keep on your grind and get other folks to do the same — nobody can stop you."
Posted by unrepentant progress | Tue May 21, 2013, 12:42 AM (16 replies)

Smoking Pot Offers Relief to the Lonely

Is there a rule that any study which finds cannabis beneficial has to conclude by telling people, "oh, but drugs are bad, m'kay?"

The four-part study included a total of 7,040 participants and three different methodologies. The researchers examined cross-sectional data from national surveys (including data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication), they interviewed high school students, and they conducted their very own experiment involving a computer-based game called Cyberball, which, by consistently ignoring players, causes them to feel socially excluded and rejected.

After considering the data, Deckman and his colleagues concluded that "marijuana use consistently buffered people from the negative consequences associated with loneliness and social exclusion," and that "[t]hese findings offer novel evidence supporting common overlap between social and physical pain processes."

"After considering the data, Deckman and his colleagues concluded that "marijuana use consistently buffered people from the negative consequences associated with loneliness and social exclusion," and that "[t]hese findings offer novel evidence supporting common overlap between social and physical pain processes." That said, the researchers said smoking pot is a "poor way of coping with social pain.""

Posted by unrepentant progress | Fri May 17, 2013, 12:14 PM (10 replies)
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