Sunday, July 05, 2015
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New posts below.
Monday, July 06, 2015
by Grace Boey
Kyle Patrick Alvarez's latest award-winning film, The Stanford Prison Experiment, depicts a real-life psychology study from 1971 that went horribly wrong. What implications do the findings have for moral philosophy?
This month, moviegoers will flock to cinemas to watch The Stanford Prison Experiment (or, if they don’t, the film has at least already won two awards at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival). Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez, the drama depicts the infamous study of the same title conducted by Stanford Professor Philip Zimbardo in 1971. The experiment, which subjected its participants to a simulated prison environment, sparked intense debate at the time with the disturbing questions it raised about human nature. After being randomly assigned roles of either ‘prison guard’ or ‘prisoner’ in the simulation, participants became so engrossed in the experience that many guards turned abusive towards the prisoners, who themselves did little to protest the abuse. The experiment was meant to last two weeks, but Zimbardo pulled the plug after six days.
The Stanford Prison Experiment has since become required reading for college Psych 101 classes everywhere. The key takeaway from the study—other than the fact that it’s generally a good idea to terminate an experiment when subjects start denying each other access to basic sanitation—is the idea that seemingly ordinary people can be manipulated by their environment into committing very bad acts. Or, in other words: within everyone lies a ruthless tyrant, ready to reveal itself in the right situation.
At the time it was made, Zimbardo’s proposition was nothing new. Prior to the Stanford Prison Experiment, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram had found in 1961 that ordinary people would readily follow instructions by subjecting others to apparently dangerous levels of electric shocks, at the calm and cordial request of an authority figure. Later studies also showed similar findings that didn’t involve terrible atrocities: for example, researchers Mathews and Canon found in 1975 that when ambient noise was at normal levels, people were 5 times more likely to help an apparently injured man who had dropped his books than when a power lawnmower was running nearby. And—displaying just how arbitrary yet powerful such influencing factors can be—researchers Isen and Levin found in 1972 that people who had just found a dime were 22 times more likely to help a woman who had dropped some papers than people who had not.
by Carl Pierer
Braids are fairly simple to picture. A few interleaved strands of string, say, gives a complex and mesmerising object. They are aesthetically appealing, as their widespread use as ornament testifies. While most will be familiar with the standard braid used for braiding hair, there is basically no limit to complexity and beauty. Yet, braids are more than merely nice, artistic adornments for clothes and jewellery. The more and deeper you delve into braids and their complex interconnections, the more fascinating they become. Trying to look at them with a mathematical eye opens up pathways and connections to many deep and beautiful fields of pure mathematics.
Studied as mathematical objects, braids need to be defined rigorously. However, for present purposes it is enough to specify what we intuitively have in mind when thinking about braids. (Fig. 1) may well serve as an example. A braid consists of a certain number of strands n, say, together with a specification of how and where these strands cross each other. Furthermore, these strands (if they are not crossing) run parallel and we may adopt the convention that they are running from top to bottom. To avoid ambiguity, we require further that there are no two crossings at the same horizontal level. It is clear that for the braid to have any crossings at all, it must have at least two strands. If a braid does not have any crossings, it is called the trivial braid.
Braids also have a close connection to (mathematical) knots. Mathematical knots are simply everyday knots where the loose ends have been joined together. If you take an overhand (or trefoil) knot (Fig. 2) and join the loose ends, you have a mathematical knot. Imagine an extension cords where one end has been plugged into the other. One important feature is that there is no way of undoing this mathematical knot by pulling or stretching or any other deformation that does not break the connection. If you reconsider our
initial braid (Fig. 1), imagine that the ends have been joined up as in (Fig. 3). As all loose ends are now joined up, we can consider (Fig. 3) as a mathematical knot. Indeed, every mathematical knot can be expressed as a braid. Unfortunately, this is not a one to one correspondence. So, two different braids may end up as the same
knot. Or one and the same braid may give you two different knots. One problem is that there is no particular reason to join up ends of the braid as we did in (Fig. 3). If we have an even number of strands, we can equally well join up the endings that are next to each other (as in Fig. 4), which would give a very different beast altogether. Indeed, this is not a knot anymore but a so-called link, because it consists of 4 different components. A knot is a one component link. However, this connection between braids and knots is not the main concern here.
Sughra Raza. Catwalk Theater, Johannesburg, August 2014.
by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
The sun burnishes the walls every day for just over three quarters of an hour out of the fourteen I spend at my shop; the mannequin assumes a buttery glow then, her organza scarf liquefies in the golden light. The CD skips at mi amour every time but this hiccup is also golden and otherworldly. The sun lifts my surroundings, the merchandise, the credit card machine, the shelves, during this portion of time in a grandiose gesture; it’s our secret— the book I’ve been writing for years has a life somewhere and this is a furtive daily reminder. I’d rather not have customers at a moment so personal in a public place; I’m at a shopping mall, selling jewelry and shawls.
I’ve named my business “Moriama”— a variant of “Moraima” (or Mariam), the last empress of Al Andalus; my manuscript is a series of poems set in Al Andalus. No one knows or cares about this but I’m advised by friends to do away with the “World Gem Bazaar” part of the sign— too “middle-eastern” in 2003. The spectrum of emotions in response to the pressure to hide my identity for fear of hostility will permeate the poems describing the atmosphere of the inquisition as my book on Al Andalus progresses. Across from me is a mattress store. As I polish and arrange African garnets and checkerboard-cut citrines, nomad jewelry from Afghanistan and London Blue Topaz pendants, someone rolls and rolls dough next door, breathing in cinnamon powder and sugar I imagine, or mops spill after spill of coffee. We’re connected to each other by repetition, as if we were phrases of the same poem.
by Mathangi Krishnamurthy
The bell clangs loudly and I shuffle back into class trying to avoid the boys running in at dangerous speeds. I find my desk and sidle into place. I almost bump into Solomon. Solomon never studies, so the teachers always ask him to sit by me. All he does, though, is copy my notes. The afternoon sun sends bright rays into class and I inch away from him to find a cool spot on the tiny bench. The room smells of heat and dust, and I see particles floating. I feel temporarily dizzy.
I often daydream through classes. Things come easily to me, and I both know and doubt this. I am deeply suspicious that this will someday be found out, and exposed as fraud. So I am most always simultaneously attentive, and anxious at school. But daydreams come easily, because school is boring.
Solomon is gazing out of the window in his sleepy manner. Some day, I want to be Solomon, who is so cool, so uncaring, and hardly ever worried about the teachers. Mostly, it just seems to be that the world passes him by, and that he is on some other mission; something dangerous, and adult-like. I often see him hanging out by the school stile with the older boys. They all must know something about him that I don't, because there he looks happy, instead of sullen, and quiet. Solomon is really, really, dark and his white shirt often soiled. My blue pinafore, in contrast, is always immaculately pressed, its pleats like the lines of a ruler. Solomon's knees are scruffier than mine, and mine a little, only because I fell down the colony hillock last week. He never says anything in class, so I am not even sure what his voice sounds like. I imagine it to be deep. I often turn my eyes away when he looks at me. It's easy, because we sit side by side, parallel to each other, like the eyes of a cow. The only time he looks towards me is English class, where I cover my notes with my left arm, even as I can feel his eyes boring into my flesh.
Mrs. D walks in, brisk and monochromatic. She is wearing a beige sari today, and I stare up into her almost double chin. She is so tall and so pale. Her severe light brown hair is capped close to her head, but falls at her nape into a wispy ponytail. Her mouth is set in a straight line, but two front teeth escape and soften the severity. Her name is Roda, or at least, that is how I think it is spelled. I found it by accident, when Mrs.R called out to her in the teachers' room. She is pretty when she smiles. She might smile any moment, and she always smiles at me. The noise drowns as she commands us to settle down and hand in our homework.
by Brooks Riley
by Hari Balasubramanian
A selection of facts, research and personal impressions.
In February this year, I traveled to the small town of Angangueo in Central Mexico. A 4-hour bus trip from Mexico City, Angangueo is in a rural part of the state of Michoacan, in the mountainous trans-volcanic belt. Here, in a few select high elevation forests with oyamel (fir) and pine trees, millions of monarch butterflies from east of the Rocky Mountains congregate each year, after an astonishingly long journey – over 3500 km – from Canada and the northern reaches of the US.
The monarchs stay in Mexico from November to March. When the sun is shining, the butterflies – which otherwise huddle together in tightly packed and well camouflaged clusters on the branches and bark of oyamel trees – take to the air, like a beehive that has been stirred. If the sun stays up, as it did the day I visited, the monarchs quickly fill the sky and everything around you; you can even hear the faint flutter of their wings. I was in the very thick of things when this photograph was taken . Every speck in the picture below, however faint, is a butterfly.
Monarchs have fascinated me for years now. In Massachusetts, a few months prior to my Mexico visit, I'd seen the odd monarch or two flying unhurriedly, seemingly without a purpose. So languid was their flight – the classic flap, flap and glide – that there was no way to tell that each butterfly, following some mysterious signals – its reproductive system having been put on pause, allowing the organism to focus on the rigors of the coming journey – was leaving for a distant forest in Mexico.
It's worth reiterating this: each butterfly that migrates south starts the journey alone and has never made the journey before. When birds make long journeys, there are often older individuals that guide the young. In the case of monarchs there is no guide. The recent discovery that the thin, seemingly inconsequential antennae of monarchs house circadian clocks that help in orientation only deepens the wonder [ref. and figure]. Traveling by day and over land, a monarch, "with a mass 20% that of a penny" , covers thousands of kilometers in a two month period.
by Charlie Huenemann
How wonderful it would be to be a systematic thinker! One marvels at the Aristotles, the Aquinases, the Descarteses, the Kants, and the Hegels and the Marxes (well, the Karl Marxes anyway), the Freuds - those who know how to approach anything, how to incorporate any material into a systematic empire, those who can see the universe as fulfillments of their own plans. It may sound like I am satirizing them, but I really do admire them: I admire their imagination, their enthusiasm, and their persistence. Chiefly I admire their ability to take their own thought so seriously, since every time I have tried to construct a system, it turns into fits of giggles.
What causes such a mindset? Let us first see if we can discern its preconditions – those elements necessary for the possibility of system-building, as it were. One must first be convinced that reality, or human experience, is coherent – a big assumption, granted, but absolutely required for a system. And the coherence must be intelligible to a finite human mind, and specifically the specific mind of the specific system-builder. One must further believe that the coherent, intelligible world order has a kind of hierarchy that allows for some parts of it to be more basic, more foundational, or more universal than others. For the system builder is not so deluded as to believe that all of the facts can be fit within a single head: only the organizing principles need be grasped and kept forever in one’s mental field of vision.
That the world is a coherent, intelligible hierarchy – this much at least must be believed by any would-be builder of a system. But no one is going to leave it at that! To harbor that belief is to have the ambition to explain the hierarchy, and propound it to oneself and to the world. I’d say the belief and the ambition go hand in hand – but then again, if anyone has ever had the belief without the ambition, we probably would not have heard of them. Oh yes, a final thing: the system has to be new, if we are dealing with a genuine builder, and not a worker bee.
by Thomas R. Wells
The proponents of gun control in America are losing the argument and will continue to do so. Their complacency, typical of the left, that they are on the right side of history has blinded them to the fact that they have chosen to fight on the wrong ground. They keep harping on about guns killing people. As if guns were like cigarettes, and as if the numbers were big enough to matter.
I. The Public Health Argument Doesn't Work
Guns are indeed an excellent killing technology. They are really very good at transforming an intention to kill into its achievement. However, that doesn't mean that they are a particularly significant cause of death and it is rather ridiculous to imply that removing guns from citizens would change death rates much. America is not 42nd in the world for life-expectancy because of guns, but because of much more significant effects like the social gradient in health.
Let's go into this a little more.
We hear a lot about the large number of deaths caused by guns in America – now up to 33,000 per year. This seems like a big number. It is nearly as big as the rate of death from car accidents (another area in which America is an international outlier, by the way). But 2/3 of gun deaths are suicides. Most of those deaths would still occur if people didn't have access to guns. Many murders committed with guns would also go ahead without them, albeit with a smaller chance of success.
Mass killings by individual loonies get far more attention than they deserve. It feels like there are a lot of them, and perhaps they are even increasing – 133 between 2000 and 2014. But in a country with 320 million people and poor funding of mental health services there are always going to be murderous loonies making the national news somewhere. These atrocities make for wonderful news stories, full of pathos and inspiring great moral indignation. But they are statistically irrelevant to Americans' public health. They are not an argument for gun control.
The overarching assumption that murders are caused by weak gun control laws is weak. The decline of gun control began in the 1980s, but the murder rate in America has actually fallen by half since then (back to what it was in 1950). The reason is that rates of violence have a lot more to do with social conditions and inequality than with particular technologies. Most of America is nearly as safe as Western Europe, but some areas of concentrated hopelessness have the murder rates of Central America. The real causes of violence are something America is particularly bad at addressing, among rich countries, perhaps because the left in America spends most of its time campaigning for things that have little to do to with social justice.
Sunday, July 05, 2015
Jalees Rehman at the website of Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings:
The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is also a front-runner in the pantheon of polymaths because of his interests in geology, paleontology and optics. During his lifetime, Goethe assembled one of the largest collections of rocks, minerals and fossils ever owned by an individual person, consisting of 18,000 specimens! Even though he is revered as the greatest poet of the German language, Goethe’s longest published work is his treatise on a theory of color, the Farbenlehre. He devoted two decades of his life to studying light and he thought that this 1000-page tome would be his most meaningful contribution to humankind. In the Farbenlehre, Goethe vehemently disagreed with Newton about the nature of light. According to Newton, white light was a heterogeneous composite of colors and darkness was the absence of light. Goethe, on the other hand, felt that white light was a homogenous entity and that darkness was the polar opposite of light and not just its absence. Goethe also ascribed aesthetic qualities to specific colors such as “beautiful” to red and “useful” to green.
Goethe’s theory of color is not a scientific theory in the conventional sense because it did not offer any clear scientific hypotheses that could be tested and falsified by experiments. This did not prevent Goethe from viciously attacking Newton and those who accepted the Newtonian theory of light and color.
Lisa Lucile Owens in the Boston Review:
There was a moment during the First Gulf War when ideologues argued that warfare technology had reached a tipping point. Gains in efficiency would reduce casualties and destruction; supremely accurate weapons would minimize unnecessary suffering without compromising military objectives. This inaugurated the age of target bombings and stealth missions enabled by precision technology. Now, we are at the threshold of yet another tipping point for war and technology. Software interference and cyber technologies threaten mass disruptionand destruction without a shot or bomb explosion. Physically waged wars—populated and won by armed bodies and manned weaponry—have given way to data and coding wars, creating vast, powerful, and yet not fully tapped, spaces and abilities.
Cyberwarfare acts are broadly understood as the use of cyber capabilities for spying or sabotage by one nation against another. However, the term “cyberaggression” can refer to everything from individual cyberbullying and harassment to sabotage that affects national interests. One example of the latter type is the infamous Stuxnet computer worm that targeted and invaded Iranian nuclear facilities in order to derail the Iranian nuclear program. The term ‘cyberaggression’ was also applied to the April 2015 breach of cybersecurity at the White House when sensitive details of the President’s schedule were obtained. It is therefore of little surprise that civilian and military resources to wage and contain cyberaggression are on the rise.Last January, there were reports that North Korea had doubled its military cyberwarfare units to over 6,000 troops.
To be sure, it is not clear when an act is merely an instance of cyberaggression as opposed an act of war. To complicate matters further, our conception of cyberwarfare and cyberaggression is taking shape against a background of increasing state domestic surveillance and other incursions to privacy, often defended on the basis of considerations of safety or convenience.
It is in this context that the Department of Defense (DoD) Cyber Strategy memorandum, published in April, needs to be analyzed.
Matthew Francis in Forbes:
It’s easy to forget that. No other prize in science has nearly as high a profile. Nobel laureates are in demand as book authors, university faculty, and speakers to both scientific and public groups. In addition to the prize money itself, they can command large fees for their activities: people pay lots of money to be associated with a Nobel Prize winner.
And like it or not, people listen to Nobel laureates when they speak, even when they are out of their areas of expertise. Sometimes the prize seems to go to the winners’ heads so much that they seem to lose it entirely. William Shockley, a co-discoverer of the transistor, and James Watson, who won the Nobel for discovering the structure of DNA, both used their reputations to promote very racist ideas. Most recently, Tim Hunt said some sexist and insulting things in front of a group of female Korean scientists — who had invited him to speak, no less.
From the MIT Technology Review:
One of the curious things about social networks is the way that some messages, pictures, or ideas can spread like wildfire while others that seem just as catchy or interesting barely register at all. The content itself cannot be the source of this difference. Instead, there must be some property of the network that changes to allow some ideas to spread but not others.
Today, we get an insight into why this happens thanks to the work of Kristina Lerman and pals at the University of Southern California. These people have discovered an extraordinary illusion associated with social networks which can play tricks on the mind and explain everything from why some ideas become popular quickly to how risky or antisocial behavior can spread so easily.
Network scientists have known about the paradoxical nature of social networks for some time. The most famous example is the friendship paradox: on average your friends will have more friends than you do.
This comes about because the distribution of friends on social networks follows a power law. So while most people will have a small number of friends, a few individuals have huge numbers of friends. And these people skew the average.
Here’s an analogy. If you measure the height of all your male friends. you’ll find that the average is about 170 centimeters. If you are male, on average, your friends will be about the same height as you are. Indeed, the mathematical notion of “average” is a good way to capture the nature of this data.
But imagine that one of your friends was much taller than you—say, one kilometer or 10 kilometers tall. This person would dramatically skew the average, which would make your friends taller than you, on average. In this case, the “average” is a poor way to capture this data set.
I shall make a song like you hair . . .
Gold-woven with shadows green-tinged,
And I shall play with my song
As my fingers might play with your hair.
Deep in my heart
I shall play with my song of you,
Gently. . . .
I shall laugh
At its sensitive lustre . . .
I shall wrap my song in a blanket,
Blue like your eyes are blue
With tiny shots of silver.
I shall wrap it caressingly,
Tenderly. . . .
I shall sing a lullaby
To the song I have made
Of your hair and eyes . . .
And you will never know
That deep in my heart
I shelter a song for you
Secretly. . . .
by Gwendolyn Bennett
from Modern American Poetry
Adam Piore in Nautilus:
In the ninth century there was a Norwegian Viking named Kveldulf, so big and strong that no man could defeat him. He sailed the seas in a long-ship and raided and plundered towns and homesteads of distant lands for many years. He settled down to farm, a very wealthy man. Kveldulf had two sons who grew up to become mighty warriors. One joined the service of King Harald Tangle Hair. But in time the King grew fearful of the son’s growing power and had him murdered. Kveldulf vowed revenge. With his surviving son and allies, Kveldulf caught up with the killers, and wielding a double-bladed ax, slew 50 men. He sent the paltriest survivors back to the king to recount his deed and fled toward the newly settled realm of Iceland. Kveldulf died on the journey. But his remaining son Skallagrim landed on Iceland’s west coast, prospered, and had children. Skallagrim’s children had children. Those children had children. And the blood and genes of Kveldulf the Viking and Skallagrim his son were passed down the ages. Then, in 1949, in the capital of Reykjavik, a descendent named Kari Stefansson was born.
Like Kveldulf, Stefansson would grow to be a giant, 6’5”, with piercing eyes and a beard. As a young man, he set out for the distant lands of the universities of Chicago and Harvard in search of intellectual bounty. But at the dawn of modern genetics in the 1990s, Stefansson, a neurologist, was lured back to his homeland by an unlikely enticement—the very genes that he and his 300,000-plus countrymen had inherited from Kveldulf and the tiny band of settlers who gave birth to Iceland. Stefansson had a bold vision. He would create a library of DNA from every single living descendent of his nation’s early inhabitants. This library, coupled with Iceland’s rich trove of genealogical data and meticulous medical records, would constitute an unparalleled resource that could reveal the causes—and point to cures—for human diseases. In 1996, Stefansson founded a company called Decode, and thrust his tiny island nation into the center of the burgeoning field of gene hunting. “Our genetic heritage is a natural resource,” Stefansson declared after returning to Iceland. “Like fish and hot pools.” Stefansson set sail on an epic journey. He and his crew collected DNA from 150,000 of their fellow countrymen (half the population) and constructed a genealogical chart that accounts for the family tree of virtually every member of the small island nation. Next they succeeded in reading the entire 3-billion nucleotide genetic sequences of more than 11,000 Icelanders. They could now infer the individual genomes of the entire Icelandic population.
Eric Liu in The Atlantic:
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory. And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely. Yet from another perspective, much of this angst can be interpreted as part of a noisy but inexorable endgame: the end of white supremacy. From this vantage point, Americanness and whiteness are fitfully, achingly, but finally becoming delinked—and like it or not, over the course of this generation, Americans are all going to have to learn a new way to be American. Imagine that this is true; that this decades-long war is about to give way to something else. The question then arises: What? What is the story of “us” when “us” is no longer by default “white”? The answer, of course, will depend on how aware Americans are of what they are, of what their culture already (and always) has been. And that awareness demands a new kind of mirror.
Saturday, July 04, 2015
Timothy Judd over at his website (via Rick Perlstein):
Did the Boston Police really arrest Igor Stravinsky in 1943 for adding a dominant seventh chord to theStar Spangled Banner? The unlikely mug shot, above, seems to back up the story…until you look carefully at the date.
The tale is an enticing urban legend of twentieth century music history, rooted in a few grains of truth. The “mug shot” was actually taken for a 1940 visa application. Stravinsky emigrated to the United States in 1939 and became a citizen in 1945, eventually settling in sun-drenched West Hollywood, California. He did arrange the Star Spangled Banner for a series of Boston Symphony concerts, explaining his
desire to do my bit in these grievous times toward fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism in this country.
After the first performance, the audience was apparently shocked by what they considered to be an unconventional harmonization. The Boston Police, misinterpreting a Federal law prohibiting “tampering” with the National Anthem, told Stravinsky that he had to remove his arrangement from the remaining programs. Reluctantly, he conceded.
Someone must care for the dead, who, as the mortician Caitlin Doughty writes, “have become useless at caring for themselves”. In ancient Egypt, it was the job of the jackal-headed god Anubis, who would usher them to where their hearts would be weighed against the feather of justice. According to Greek legend, the task of ferrying the corpses went to Charon, “a shaggy-jowled, white-haired demon who piloted sinners by boat across the River Styx into hell”. But “at Westwind Cremation”, Doughty tells us, “that job belonged to Chris”.
Death is the point at which the profane and the sacred collide — an event completely natural and yet surrounded by mystery; steeped in the physical realities of bodily processes, yet enwreathed with existential hopes and fears. How therefore should we think about it? Many in the secular west and beyond, who have been unmoored from the spiritual certainties of the past, seem to have concluded that it is best not to think about it at all. For others, averting our gaze from death means stumbling through life half-blind.
For about 10 minutes on Sunday morning, I regretted not going to Santa Clara to hear the Grateful Dead. This was after I saw the set list from the first of the five “Fare Thee Well” shows scheduled to conclude July 3, 4 and 5 at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
“Alligator,” “Cream Puff War,” “What’s Become of the Baby?” — these were songs they hadn’t played live, if at all, in close to five decades. And yet, there was no Jerry Garcia. How could it be the Dead without Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995? This was a key reason I’d dismissed these goodbye shows; how could you say goodbye to something that was already gone?
My last Dead show was at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on April 6, 1982. Even then, my relationship with the band was ambivalent; I was an admirer of the intent if not always the execution of the music, the ideal of improvisation, making mistakes in public, but wary of nostalgia, then and now.
In the absence of any perceptible contractions of revolt, two writers — Charles Murray on the libertarian right, Chris Hedges on the apocalyptic left — have given up waiting and decided to induce labor. Their methods are different: Murray’s “By the People” administers a strong but targeted dose of Pitocin, while Hedges’ “Wages of Rebellion” counsels lots of sex, which is called “sublime madness.” But the most interesting aspect of these two books is where their authors overlap. Both are appalled by the collusion between the federal government and corporations. Both describe the legal system as essentially lawless. Neither has any faith that electoral politics, the three branches of government or the Constitution itself can make a difference. Neither fits with any sizable faction of either of the two parties. Both despise elites. Both are willing, even eager, to see Americans break the law, in nonviolent ways, to force change.
At times Murray and Hedges sound exactly the same. “It is part of our national catechism that government is instituted to protect our unalienable rights, and that when it becomes destructive of those rights, the reason for our allegiance is gone. At that point, revolution is not treason, but the people’s right,” says Murray, though it could be Hedges. “Appealing to the judicial, legislative or executive branches of government in the hope of reform is as realistic as accepting the offer made by the March Hare during the Mad Tea-Party,” writes Hedges, pulling off a pretty good Murray.
Joseph Stiglitz in The Guardian (Photograph: Sotiris Barbarousis/Sotiris Barbarousis/epa/Corbis):
Why are European Union leaders resisting the referendum and refusing even to extend by a few days the June 30 deadline for Greece’s next payment to the IMF? Isn’t Europe all about democracy?
In January, Greece’s citizens voted for a government committed to ending austerity. If the government were simply fulfilling its campaign promises, it would already have rejected the proposal. But it wanted to give Greeks a chance to weigh in on this issue, so critical for their country’s future wellbeing.
That concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the eurozone, which was never a very democratic project. Most of its members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. When Sweden’s did, Swedes said no. They understood that unemployment would rise if the country’s monetary policy were set by a central bank that focused single-mindedly on inflation (and also that there would be insufficient attention to financial stability). The economy would suffer, because the economic model underlying the eurozone was predicated on power relationships that disadvantaged workers.
It is hard to advise Greeks how to vote on 5 July. Neither alternative – approval or rejection of the troika’s terms – will be easy, and both carry huge risks. A yes vote would mean depression almost without end. Perhaps a depleted country – one that has sold off all of its assets, and whose bright young people have emigrated – might finally get debt forgiveness; perhaps, having shrivelled into a middle-income economy, Greece might finally be able to get assistance from the World Bank. All of this might happen in the next decade, or perhaps in the decade after that.
By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands.
Kim Soffen in the NYT:
Buoyed by a Supreme Court ruling, opponents of gerrymandering want to get more state legislatures out of the business of drawing congressional districts. So it’s worth examining the performance of the independent redistricting commissions validated by the court on Monday.
Arizona, via a ballot initiative in 2000, was one of the first states to entrust congressional boundaries to an independent commission, and California followed suit in 2010. Four other states have their congressional districts drawn by independent panels in an effort to make the process less partisan and yield more competitive districts. But those commissions were formed by their respective state legislatures and were not affected by Monday’s ruling.
Measuring the success of an independent commission is tricky, as it’s impossible to know how a legislature’s lines will have differed from a commission’s in the same year. And other factors like people’s relocations can alter a district’s ideological balance. But the evidence suggests that the commissions yielded more competitive races in Arizona and California.
The Arizona ballot initiative, Proposition 106, directed the commission to make the districts competitive “where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals.” Those goals included complying with theVoting Rights Act, equality of population, compactness, contiguity and respect for communities of interest and natural boundaries.
The “no significant detriment” clause, according to Willie Desmond, the lead map drawing consultant hired by the Arizona commission for the 2011 redistricting, “was kind of hard to interpret.” He said in an interview, “The commissioners all viewed that in slightly different ways depending on whether they wanted there to be more competitive districts.”
Even so, the maps resulting from both the 2001 and 2011 redistricting in Arizona were among the most competitive in the nation, as measured by election results. They had an average margin of victory more than 28 percent lower than that of the United States as a whole. Indeed, two of its nine districts were among the 29 in the nation that had margins of victory under 5 percent in 2014.