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.: 2003 --> december
And bloggers, it's not too late to participate in Link and Think.
[ 12/01/03 ]
:: In case you missed them, two important articles on the economy from the NYTimes:
Research by the economists David Autor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Mark Duggan at the University of Maryland shows that once Congress began loosening the standards to qualify for disability payments in the late 1980's and early 1990's, people who would normally be counted as unemployed started moving in record numbers into the disability system — a kind of invisible unemployment. Almost all of the increase came from hard-to-verify disabilities like back pain and mental disorders. As the rolls swelled, the meaning of the official unemployment rate changed as millions of people were left out.
By the end of the 1990's boom, this invisible unemployment seemed to have stabilized. With the arrival of this recession, it has exploded. From 1999 to 2003, applications for disability payments rose more than 50 percent and the number of people enrolled has grown by one million. Therefore, if you correctly accounted for all of these people, the peak unemployment rate in this recession would have probably pushed 8 percent.
For many years, government statisticians have used worker compensation to approximate output in many service industries, which makes little or no intuitive sense. The denominator of the productivity equation — units of work time — is even more spurious. Government data on work schedules are woefully out of touch with reality — especially in America's largest occupational group, the professional and managerial segments, which together account for 35 percent of the total work force.
For example, in financial services, the Labor Department tells us that the average workweek has been unchanged, at 35.5 hours, since 1988. That's patently absurd. Courtesy of a profusion of portable information appliances (laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants, etc.), along with near ubiquitous connectivity (hard-wired and now increasingly wireless), most information workers can toil around the clock. The official data don't come close to capturing this cultural shift.
As a result, we are woefully underestimating the time actually spent on the job. It follows, therefore, that we are equally guilty of overestimating white-collar productivity. Productivity is not about working longer. It's about getting more value from each unit of work time. The official productivity numbers are, in effect, mistaking work time for leisure time.
[ 12/01/03 ]
:: Let the people have peace. An Accord to Remember written by the authors of the Geneva Accord, describes the obstacles they overcame in producing their proposal. [free registration required] And, God bless him, Tim Bray has published the complete Geneva Accord for your perusal.
[ 12/03/03 ]
Ecotone, you may already know, is the wiki-meeting-room for a group of bloggers who maintain Weblogs of Place. Those of you who are interested in bioregionalism or enjoy the work of Wendell Berry will love these weblogs and this wiki. I imagine you photobloggers and photoblog fans will be especially interested in their new biweekly photo series.
[ 12/03/03 ]
Places like Reydon have 'high social capital,' said Curtis Suffernahn, a sociologist and co-director of the Center for Rural Studies at the University of North Dakota. 'In the Plains, it's a sustaining feature of life,' Mr. Suffernahn said. 'It's built on reciprocity and trust. You do favors without expecting you will be repaid, but you know you will be repaid by someone.'
People who linger can be said to have made an economically irrational choice, said Karl Stauber, chief executive of the Northwest Area Foundation, an organization in St. Paul that promotes ways to foster community revival. In this view, he said, 'anyone with any get-up-and-go has already gone.'
'There's another way to look at it,' Mr. Stauber said. 'These are folks who value family and an economically simple life. People are taken care of. What you see are decentralized, informal systems that sometimes deliver services better' than growing communities with government services and large employers.
[ 12/03/03 ]
A complete return to natural river flows is not practical. Our economies are too dependent on the dams and other infrastructure we have put in place. But a rebalancing of river management to better meet nature's flow requirements while still meeting human needs is possible and sensible. Indeed some degree of flow restoration is already taking place in more than 350 rivers around the world. Dams are being taken down, levees are being set back to reconnect rivers with their floodplains, conservation practices are enabling some water to return to river channels, and dam operations are being modified to recreate predam river flow patterns and critical habitats.
The good news coming from these restoration efforts is this: When given a chance, rivers do heal.
[ 12/03/03 ]
:: David Neiwert has written a thoughtful piece on his journey from conservative to 'not-conservative', the turning points in his mistrust of the current Republican party (which, incidentally, match my own), and the disturbing pathology of the leading 'conservative intellectuals'. It's worth reading every word.
One of the important things I learned as a cops-and-courts reporter lo these many years ago was something about crime victims: That they often make themselves vulnerable to violent crimes because they are not prepared to deal with people who are sociopathic, or who exhibit antisocial or narcissistic personality disorders, or in some cases outright psychoses. That they project their own normalcy onto these other people -- they really cannot believe that someone else would act in a way substantially different from their own decent, sane base of operations.
In a way, I think this is a large part of what is happening to our national body politic: People in key positions of media and conservative ideological prominence (Coulter, Limbaugh, even Bill O'Reilly) exhibit multiple symptoms of being pathological sociopaths, either antisocial or narcissistic, or a combination of both. And not only their fellow participants in the conservative movement, but mainstream centrists and even liberals are unable to figure out that there is something seriously wrong with these people because they are projecting their own normalcy onto them. They cannot perceive because they cannot believe -- that, above all, these people are not operating within a framework guided by the boundaries of basic decency that restrain most of us.
I can't help feeling that Conservatism has been hijacked, and that the majority of conservatives must be as distressed as I am by the turn things have taken. Like Neiwert, I can't help thinking that this imaginary core will have to wake up and start rejecting the wild rhetoric that now passes for reason in that camp.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe for some people it's simply a matter of being in power; maybe for others it's enough to be relieved of the responsibility of considering--or even acknowledging the existence of--thoughtful, legitimate, opposing points of view.
[ 12/03/03 ]
'There is no doubt that the composition of the atmosphere is changing because of human activities, and today greenhouse gases are the largest human influence on global climate,' wrote Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center, and Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
What's so nutty about the whole argument over natural causes vs. human influence is that it just a red herring. If a meteor was hurtling toward the planet, humans would do whatever was necessary to ensure their survival--from building meteor-safe shelters to devising strategies for mitigating the results of the impact. As best I can figure, big business has worked hard to focus the debate on human factors in order to buy themselves time to continue as usual. Instead of mobilizing to understand and respond to the threat, environmentalists have been reduced to defending their findings against a handful of deniers.The New Statesman recently ran an outstanding December 1st article called Why We Don't Give a Damn by George Marshall and Mark Lynas (available now only for a fee of £1, and yes I agree that interface is terrible). I don't know how easy their payment process is, but if you're interested in this subject, it's well worth the money to read the article. Among other things, the piece lists a who's who of naysayers:
Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician from Denmark, came to media prominence in 2001 with the launch of his book The Skeptical Environmentalist. He appears convincing by aggregating voluminous references without subjecting himself to the rigours of the scientific process. He accepts that climate change is happening, but applies a crude and selective cost-benefit analysis to argue that the cheapest option is to maintain economic growth and adapt to the impacts. He was the guest of honour and award-winner this year at a dinner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a far-right US think-tank to which ExxonMobil has donated $1m since 1998.
Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the only sceptic with credentials in the relevant area of climate science. His work focuses on atmospheric water vapour, which he claims will act through cloud formation to prevent excessive global warming. There is little evidence to support this hypothesis, which has gained no support from the wider scientific community. He has been a paid consultant to oil and coal interests in the US, and has compared the environmental movement to the Nazis.
Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, co-wrote a paper this year challenging the accepted scientific wisdom that the planet is now hotter than it has been for at least a thousand years. The White House and Republican senators loved the message, which supports their denials about human-induced climate change. It transpired that the paper was partly funded by the American Petroleum Institute, and that Soon and Baliunas are scientific advisers to the Marshall Institute, another far-right US think-tank. Three editors at Climate Research, which published the paper, resigned when prevented from printing a repudiation.
Philip Stott is Britain's leading climate-change denier and has built a career on criticising environmentalists. Professor emeritus of biogeography at the University of London, he has no climate-science qualifications. A skilled communicator who has written for the Times and New Scientist, he describes global warming as a "lie". On an advisory board of the Scientific Alliance, an anti-environmentalist campaign group that denies climate change; opposes organic agriculture and promotes genetically modified foods and nuclear power.
Julian Morris, director of the International Policy Network, is also research fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, for which he co-wrote a report called Global Warming: apocalypse or hot air? He is often in the media, undermining the case for Kyoto. The policy network's 'partners' around the world include Tech Central Station (funded by ExxonMobil, General Motors and McDonald's) and the Cambridge-based European Science and Environment Forum, an anti-environmentalist group originally set up for the Philip Morris tobacco company by a PR firm. Philip Morris often accuses environmentalists of inventing the global warming 'myth' in order to generate cash.
The main point of the article is that global warming is the type of threat humans are least equipped to handle--designed to respond to immediate danger, the complexity and time-scale of this kind of threat confound us. At most, it feels like a problem, not an emergency. That doesn't mean we can't survive--but it will require an immediate, ongoing, concerted effort. (via dangerousmeta and worldchanging)
[ 12/05/03 ]
:: Martha News: A fascinating article on the Martha Stewart trial, which does a fantastic job of explaining the charges (she's charged with lying, not insider trading--stock transactions of this type have never been considered illegal) and contextualizing the known facts of the case.
One common mistake in business is the tendency to judge decisions by what happens after they are made. Everything is obvious in hindsight, and knowing what happened makes it too easy to go back and confidently separate information from noise. If ImClone's stock had risen after Martha Stewart sold it, we might now consider her Dec. 27 sale premature and/ or dismiss Sam Waksal's attempt to sell some of his own shares as immaterial. Because Waksal's attempted sale was followed by bad news and a tanking stock, however, we now regard it as an obvious sell signal. But to evaluate the propriety of Stewart's trade, we have to analyze not what she and the market knew 36 hours later (that the FDA would reject ImClone's cancer drug Erbitux), or several months later (confirmation that Waksal had, in fact, idiotically tried to dump stock before the news was made public), but what they knew at the time of the trade.
I'd say Blodgett, based on what he currently knows, thinks she's not guilty. (via rc3.org)
[ 12/05/03 ]
And then Jon had a brainstorm. What if he offered Americans the jobs at the same rate he would be paying for Indian programmers? It seemed like a long shot. But it also seemed worth the gamble. So Jon placed some ads in The Boston Globe, offering full-time contract programming work for $45,000 annually. (He had decided that it was worth adding a $5,000 premium to what he'd pay the Indian workers in exchange for having the programmers on site.)
The result? 'We got flooded' with resumes, about 90 in total, many from highly qualified programmers having trouble finding work in the down economy, Jon says. His decision: 'For $5,000 it was no contest.' Jon went American. And the outcome? 'I think I got the best of both worlds. I got local people who came in for 10% more (than Indians). And I found really good ones.'
Short-term, people have jobs, but not at the standard they banked on when they worked on that IT degree. Long-term, I guess we'll lose programmers. If the jobs go overseas or pay at overseas wages, ambitious people will move to other fields. Is that what our political and economic leaders have in mind? That's essentially what our flavor of globalization is all about: evening out the costs of doing business, around the world.
The Lizard wonders when Boards of Directors will realize the savings they could accrue by hiring CEOs at overseas wages.... (thanks, kevin!)
[ 12/09/03 ]
:: Conservation Economy.net has produced an outstanding conservation economy pattern map [flash required] which visually represents the overall pattern, allowing you to click on any component for an overview, for example, Bioregional Economies.
Bioregional economies reflect the capacities and limitations of their particular ecosystems, honor the diversity and history of local cultures, and meet human needs as locally as possible. Bioregional economies are diverse, resilient, and decentralized. They minimize dependence on imports while focusing on high value-added exports. Paradoxically, this gives them an important competitive advantage in a global economy, allowing them to trade on favorable terms without sacrificing their economic sovereignty in the process.
By examining household patterns of consumption and work it is possible to shift them towards alignment with core values. Dollars spent can be carefully calibrated against the time and stress incurred in earning them. It is possible to reclaim a sense of peace, of expansiveness, and of connection to the whole that is grounded in the awareness with which money, time, and resources flow through our lives.
This is a terrific resource. (via worldchanging, a terrific resource of its own.)
[ 12/09/03 ]
The cold-process coffeemaker proves the secret that high-priced gourmet bean sellers don't want you to know -- good coffee is mostly in the preparation. Overheat your coffee, let the beans go stale, add too much or too little of the grinds or let it sit on a warmer all day, and even the most expensive beans grown inside the cone of a volcano and hand-picked by virgins will taste like pond water. On the other hand, my Toddy maker produces good coffee even from run-of-the-mill, pre-ground beans from a can. Sure, cold processing takes a little foresight, but the results are worth it. [...]
Even if your taste buds can't distinguish between a fine cup of gourmet kava and a plastic foam mug of overheated slag from a convenience store, the convenience of cold-processed coffee is easy to like. It is just as quick to make in the morning as freeze-dried instant coffee, and you can control the strength of each cup by using more or less concentrate. Heating the concentrate itself without adding hot water gives you a drink that resembles espresso. Making cold coffee drinks is a snap, and it even works well for baking recipes that call for coffee.
I've never tried it, but now I'm curious. Using cheaper coffee and no electricity to brew your cuppa joe would be a money-saver, too.
[ 12/09/03 ]
Looking at entrepreneurs' social networks and their career histories to see what the connection is to innovation, Ruef concludes that the most creative entrepreneurs spend less time than average networking with business colleagues who are friends and more time networking with a diverse group that includes acquaintances and strangers. 'Contrary to common assumptions,' says Ruef, 'the evidence suggests that in many cases strong social ties do not provide significant new information, so it helps not to be as embedded in them.'
Ruef has found that disparate information and its transmission are keys to innovation. 'Weak ties--of acquaintanceship, of colleagues who are not friends--provide non-redundant information and contribute to innovation because they tend to serve as bridges between disconnected social groups,' he says. 'Weak ties allow for more experimentation in combining ideas from disparate sources and impose fewer demands for social conformity than do strong ties.'
While Kyoto has become a convoluted, arbitrary and short-term measure to mitigate climate change, C&C could provide a simple, fair, long-term solution. And above all, it is based on science rather than politics. [...]
Industrialised nations have so far done most of the polluting. The US emits 25 times as much CO2 per head as India, for example, but if pollution is to be rationed, that cannot carry on.
So under the C&C proposals, national emissions will converge year by year towards some agreed target based upon each country's population (see graph). In effect, by a target date that the Royal Commission and Germany's advisory council agree should be 2050, every citizen of the world should have an equal right to pollute.
[ 12/11/03 ]
Reading or teaching all great books all of the time without occasional pause for lighter fare is not necessarily dangerous to your health. But such a practice might be akin to dining on steak au poivre with no appetizer, dessert, or piping hot espresso, preferably taken at an outdoor café. The digestion suffers. One of my graduate school professors, who has spent much of his adult life comparing the variant texts of Hamlet, confessed one evening in a seminar to his guilty pleasure of stooping to Anthony Trollope for bedtime reading. His example, I think, is well taken. An earlier sage, Samuel Johnson, wisely advised, 'A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.'
(via new pages)
[ 12/12/03 ]
In Germany, a young man named Rüdiger Gamm, who is not autistic and did poorly at math in school, has trained himself to divide prime numbers to the 60th decimal point, calculate fifth roots, and raise numbers to the ninth power in his head - skills previously thought to be the lofty province of math geniuses and savants like the calculating twins.
People typically use short-term memory to solve math problems, but PET scans show that Gamm has recruited areas of his long-term episodic memory - the neurological archive of his life story - to perform his lightning calculations. Brian Butterworth of the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience in London compares what Gamm is doing to the way 'computers extend the capacity of RAM by using swap space on the hard drive to create a larger "virtual memory."'
[ 12/12/03 ]
:: Question for the Pocket Brain Trust: All you San Francisco self-insurers, I'm looking for 1) a good dentist and 2) dental insurance that they will take. Do you have a particularly good combination? If so, I would appreciate a recommendation. (You'll need to convert that to a real email address.)
[ 12/18/03 ]
Researchers at Pennsylvania's Rodale Institute said organic agriculture could be one of the most powerful tools in the fight against global warming. A complete metamorphosis from conventional to organic farming would reduce annual carbon emissions by about seven percent from 1990 levels, which is the amount targeted for the United States under Kyoto.
Besides using 37% fewer energy inputs than conventional farming, apparently organic farming retains carbon in the soil, while conventional farming releases it into the atmosphere.
[ 12/18/03 ]
One theory is that this was exactly what the White House intended all along. According to this reasoning, Mr Bush has two basic fiscal goals, both of which mark him out as a radical conservative reformer rather than a reckless spendthrift. The first is to starve government of money to force it to tackle entitlement reform. The second is to reform the tax code in the process, moving gradually away from taxing income towards taxing consumption.
Unfortunately, this attempt to impose logic on the Bush strategy is belied by the administration's own actions. For all the talk of Social Security reform, the only White House action on entitlements has been to expand them.
[ 12/18/03 ]
6. The hole had only one opening. It was not only camouflaged with mud and bricks – it was blocked. He could not have climbed out without someone on the outside removing the covering.
7. And most important, $750,000 in 100-dollar notes were found with him (a pittance for his captors who expected a $25m reward)– but no communications equipment of any kind, whether cell phone or even a carrier pigeon for contacting the outside world.
I have no opinion about veracity of this theory, though I find the lid on Saddam's pit to be fairly compelling. [ 12/18/03 ]
By Wagner’s time, it was clear that a marginal individual would soon be able to unleash terror with the flick of a wrist. Oscar Wilde issued a memorable prediction of the war of the future: 'A chemist on each side will approach the frontier with a bottle.' Nor did the ring have to be understood only in terms of military science. Mass media now allowed for the worldwide destruction of an idea, a reputation, a belief system, a culture. In a hundred ways, men were forging things over which they had no control, and which ended up controlling them.
[ 12/18/03 ]
[One] client hoped to trace his ancestry back to which specific tribe of hunter- gatherers was living on or around the retreating glaciers of post-Ice Age Europe. Was he mostly descended from the cave artists in the Pyrenees, the proud Basques, or maybe one of those marauding gangs that roved through the region?
'Testing showed mostly northern European, but he also had some Asian markers,' Coleman said. 'He said the analysis must be wrong, that he didn't have any Asian ancestors. I told him, "Yes, you do."'
Go back far enough in anyone's genetic past, he noted, and these continental/ ethnic descriptions of genetic identity become meaningless. We all hail from the same human tribe, he said, which most scientists trace to a band of about 100,000 people who lived in Africa.
I claim a background that includes Native Americans, Scottish swineherds, Rom, Egyptian papyrus farmers, and, of course, Proud Basques. I can't prove it, but that doesn't stop me from constructing an interesting past. Next week: My Mauritanian roots. (thanks, lizard!)
[ 12/19/03 ]
:: Things to give for Christmas.
If you are looking for a last-minute gift for a cook in your family, may I suggest A Thousand Years Over A Hot Stove by Laura Schenone? It is a well-written, delightful history of American cooking.
I was so enthusiastic after reading it that I immediately ordered From Hardtacks To Homefries: An Uncommon History Of American Cooks And Meals by Barbara Haber (rather scattershot), and Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives Through The Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theophano, which, while interesting, is a little annoying in that academic way. A Thousand Years is, by far, the best book of the three. I have yet to read Laura Shapiro's Perfection Salad, which apparently is the book that started this particular genre.
More book recommendations:
The Thurber Album, James Thurber
- Warm, wise, delightful--and the best writing you will ever read.
The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
- I want every woman I know to read this book.
Database Nation: The Death Of Privacy In The 21st Century, Simson Garfinkel
- Every American needs to understand the ways in which their information is used and their privacy compromised. Database Nation is the best book to explain these issues in a clear, readable, non-polemic manner.
If you'd rather give a gift that keeps on giving, try the Heifer Project or Global Giving (which I found linked on worldchanging). Global Giving will point you to high quality grassroots social and economic development projects around the world. As I understand it, the site will receive a cut of your donation. Some of these projects require so little funding, you'll wish you could finance it all: the Yochin Tayel K'inal Coffee Cooperative in Mexico needs only $3,450, and Worm compost for 10 Indian villages' fallow land needs $3,300.
And of course, there is Modest Needs, the 'community of unlikely philanthropists' that are funding small, one-time necessary expenses for those who need just a little help.
[ 12/22/03 ]
:: It's a new look for a New Year. The main menu is on your right. The site should be completely changed over by January 1st.
[ 12/27/03 ]
:: An urgent request for my Swedish readers:
If you have (or can get) a copy of issue number 10 of Internetworld (Sweden) magazine, please contact me. I need to locate a copy of this magazine as soon as possible. I think I have located a copy. Thanks everyone for your quick response.
[ 12/19/03 ]