Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teddy Bear Airstrikes In, Indian Power Out (Link Round-Up 8/1/12)

[via Stereogum]

Belarus sacks air chief over teddy bear air-bombing
Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko has sacked his air defence chief and the head of the border guards for failing to stop a Swedish aircraft from dropping hundreds of teddy bears over the hardline state in a pro-democracy stunt.
The aircraft, chartered by a Swedish public relations firm, crossed into Belarussian air space from Lithuania on July 4th and dropped about 800 teddies near the town of Ivenets. Each bear carried a message calling for Belarus to show greater respect for individual human rights.
Egypt denies sending a nice letter to Israel
The return letter, released by the Israeli president's office, was on the stationery of the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv.

In it, Morsi appeared to write in English, "I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle east Peace Process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including that Israeli people." The Israeli president's name was spelled "Perez."

Then a spokesman for Morsi, Yasser Ali, said in Cairo that Morsi had not written a letter to the Israeli president at all.
The Olympics have turned London into a "ghost town"
“There are two groups of people missing. The first are general visitors to London who are staying clear because of the perception that London will be busy.

“The second are Londoners and Brits who have been warned there will be a transport nightmare.

“Our message to them is that, while it may be sensible to avoid certain peak times and locations, transport is running very smoothly.

“Ironically there has never been a better time to visit our attractions because the queues are shorter and opening times have been extended.”
Running 70% of India on coal power couldn't stop the power outage
“Coal operates at a steady output 24 hours a day - it's baseload,” says Mr. Guay, the Washington Representative of the Sierra Club International Climate Program. “But coal can’t be ramped up quickly to accommodate quick peak surges in demand.”
He says solar energy, improved efficiency, and natural gas are much more plausible solutions for delivering energy when India needs it - at peak times, such as when millions flip on their air conditioners. 
Russian blogger criticizes Orthodox Church, escapes to Poland over threatened detainment
In the capital of Karelia, we see anti-Church sentiments growing. There is nothing shocking about this. The thinking part of society understands that the Church is another wing of the Party of Power [United Russia]. The Russian Orthodox Church, just like United Russia, cons the public with fairytales about how well we are living, all while scooping up money for itself. Total corruption, the oligarchy, and the all-powerful intelligence agencies are directly linked to the rise of the Russian Orthodox Church. Using money from the state budget, which isn’t even necessary to fund the Orthodox Church's operations, churches are being built in Karelia. The Church is also being granted the use of land that now hosts several nursery schools (which are currently in catastrophically short supply).
New Iranian sanctions cut off Chinese, Iraqi banks
On the call with reporters, Cohen said the "collateral benefit" of the sanctions is that Iran is finding it increasingly difficult to make payments in the international financial system, which in turn make it more difficult to procure materials for the nuclear program. The sanctions on Kunlun and Elaf would have a "chilling effect" on the willingness of other international financial institutions from doing business with Iranian banks Cohen said.
How WikiLeaks transformed Brazilian investigative reporting
If WikiLeaks on the Brazilian media community has been unmistakable: within a couple of months, articles based on documents from Brazil’s dictatorship period started popping up in the press. Folha de S. Paulo started its own WikiLeaks-type section, the “FolhaLeaks,” and established an investigative unit in Brasília. More investigative stories are being produced by both the traditional and the independent media. A year later, corporate media outlets such as Globo and Grupo Bandeirantes—major TV networks in Brazil—are fighting to sponsor the annual congress of the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism. And Publica is now up and running.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ain't No Riot Like A Pussy Riot (Link Round-Up 7/30/12)

Romney completely ignores why Israel actually has a better economy than Palestine
Almost all outside observers have acknowledged that continued military occupation is one of the things stalling economic development in the Palestinian territories. In a lengthy report issued just last week, the World Bank said that “the removal of Israeli restrictions on access to markets and to natural resources continues to be a prerequisite for the expansion of the Palestinian private sector.” The Bank’s country director for the occupied territories, Mariam Shirman, described Israeli restrictions on economic activity as “the biggest impediment to investing” there.
Anti-Putin, all-girl punk band faces seven years in jail over Cathedral protest 
The defendants, speaking from a courtroom cage, used the first day of trial testimony to define their stunt as a purely political protest against the Russian Orthodox patriarch's support for rule by Mr. Putin. The patriarch, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, has called their act blasphemous.

The church, to which most Russians belong, has been a pillar of support for Mr. Putin during his 12 years as Russia's president and prime minister.

The government prosecution of the women appeared to mark an end to the relative tolerance the Kremlin displayed during a winter of large antigovernment demonstrations. It also signaled an attempt by Mr. Putin to shore up his authority by appealing to his conservative and religiously observant base.
The Western world's "narcissistic" view on post-colonial history (particularly in Asia)
Asian intellectuals couldn't help but notice that Europe's much-vaunted liberal traditions didn't travel well to its colonies. Mohammed Abduh, the founder of Islamic modernism, summed up a widespread sentiment when, after successive disillusionments, he confessed in 1895 that: "We Egyptians believed once in English liberalism and English sympathy; but we believe no longer, for facts are stronger than words. Your liberalness we see plainly is only for yourselves, and your sympathy with us is that of the wolf for the lamb which he deigns to eat."
Kashmiri journalist arrested over reporting destruction of ancient trees by Pakistani government
"Trees were chopped unnecessarily by the government workers in pretense of ensuring a safe landing for the plane of the Prime Minister," said Amiruddin Mughal, who has widely covered environmental issues of this region.

"In the past U.S. humanitarian forces had used the same landing area without any intervention in local forests to provide aid to the victims of the Kashmir earthquake in October 2005. They came in Chinook helicopters, which are larger than plane of our Premier," said Mughal.

Environmental groups and members of the community are angry that the head of the Pakistani government, who has vowed to protect the local forests, was making his speech on the same ground where trees were chopped by his government functionaries.
Indonesia's collective amnesia (or apathy) over the violent purge of 1960's communists
On Monday, the National Commission on Human Rights, an independent state body, released its findings from a four-year investigation. The commission concludes that the army-led campaign amounted to a gross violation of human rights. It urged the government to prosecute the perpetrators and compensate victims and survivors. It also called upon President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue a public apology.

But the report failed to generate much public interest, if the reaction of the country's major newspapers is any indication. They either ignored the story or buried it in the inside pages -- which made for a jarring contrast to the hysterical headlines devoted to shooting in faraway Denver last the weekend. But then the mainstream media have always been complicit in the conspiracy of silence over the killings, whether knowingly or out of ignorance.
Latin Americans are visiting (and living) in each other's countries
Millions of Latin Americans head nearby for their vacations, enjoying Patagonia, Machu Picchu, and the Galapagos Islands, among other places. Brazilians are the most active international travelers (in sheer numbers) with 1.5 million people (30 percent of their travelers) headed to locales in Central or South America. Latin American students are also increasingly studying abroad within the region. More than 50 percent of Chile's international students were from neighbors (Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador), with most opting to study professions such as business, health, and the social sciences.

Immigration too has shifted. Today nearly two thirds of all South American immigrants come from neighboring countries (compared to just a quarter forty years ago). Argentina and Chile have received the most immigrants, with 70 and 90 percent coming from neighboring countries. Whole communities of Bolivians live in Argentina, Brazilians in Bolivia and Paraguay, and Colombians and Peruvians in Ecuador. Further north, over four hundred thousand Nicaraguans live in Costa Rica.
Thousands in Hong Kong protest required "Chinese patriotism" school classes
"China wants Hong Kong's next generation to know how great it is and not know the bad stuff," said Chan Yip-Long, a 9-year-old primary school student. "The booklet is very biased, so I am opposing it."

The protest is the latest sign of growing discontent in Hong Kong over mainland China's increasing influence 15 years after the freewheeling financial center was returned to China by Britain following more than a century of colonial rule. Tensions have also been stoked by growing economic inequality and as well as an influx of free-spending wealthy Chinese, who are seen as driving up property prices and shop rents.
Vietnam considers legalizing same-sex marriage
Vietnam seems an unlikely champion of gay-rights issues. It is routinely lambasted by the international community over its dismal human rights record, often locking up political dissidents who call for democracy or religious freedom. Up until just a few years ago, homosexuality was labeled as a "social evil" alongside drug addiction and prostitution.

And Vietnam's gay community itself was once so underground that few groups or meeting places existed. It was taboo to even talk about the issue.

But over the past five years, that's slowly started to change. Vietnam's state-run media, unable to write about politically sensitive topics or openly criticize the one-party government, have embraced the chance to explore gay issues. They have run lengthy newspaper stories and television broadcasts, including one live special that won a top award.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brutality, Violence and The Olympics (Link Round-Up 7/29/12)

Venkatesh is the author of the best-selling book Gang Leader for a Day, in which he ran with the Black Kings gang and analyzed their business model. He says large gangs that grew rich and treacherous selling drugs were scattered when many gangbangers were jailed — or killed by each other. Ironically, he says, "gangs for a long time had an interest in keeping the neighborhood safe because if you didn't have violence, you have a thriving drug market. No police were around, you weren't getting arrested." Now, though, there's "just the basic thrill for a lot of these young people of having a gun," Venkatesh says. "Of being able to act like a man, as it were."
People in richer Chicagoland neighborhoods live longer on average
Those with lower income tend to live in less safe neighborhoods with less access to fresh food and quality health care. Of course the segregation splits the city in half. The census statistics also showed that more than a quarter of Cook County census tracts have experienced persistent poverty, "meaning that at least 20% of households have been in poverty for two decades.
The case that rape is a bad thing, but not always the worst bad thing
Though some feminists regard “rape equals devastation” as sacred fact, the notion that a man can ruin me with his penis strikes me as the most complete expression of vintage misogyny available. Common sense instructs us that it is far more “dangerous” to insist to young women that they will be broken by an unwanted sex act than it is to propose they might have a happy, healthy, and sexually pleasant future ahead of them in spite of a sexual assault. Weldon ventured this same conclusion when she said that “defining it as some peculiarly awful crime may even be counter-productive.”
The dwindling Chinese dream of middle class prosperity
It is true that no growth story in history can match China’s—at least as it is viewed by the millions of people it has welcomed into the middle class in a short span of three decades. Still, officials have been known to cook their books under pressure from Beijing bosses. Unemployment, for instance, probably goes under-reported: party officials have been known to offer large packages to workers to “resign” from their factories rather than accept lay-offs, as reported in Foreign Policy. In late June the New York Times suggested that the government could be exaggerating electricity usage statistics to mask the current nadir into which industry has fallen. And for a brief period three years ago, car sales mysteriously took off in China while gas usage sat still, raising questions (and, some would say, conspiracy theories) over whether government-linked bodies were purposely buying up cars that were not being used. It is hard to believe that the struggling souls of Lemos’s study are buying them. 
Is China, therefore, a “paper tiger"? Yes and no. Predicting an imminent Chinese collapse is a cliché among pundits, such as Gordon G. Chang, who has continuously set and then changed his doomsday dates since 2001. (His latest China doomsday is pegged on 2012. Sometime this century he will be proven right.) Lemos tip-toes toward the Chang school of alarmism, but he is shrewd enough not to cross into it—in part because he uses well-grounded examples from the field rather than speculation based on economic data.
China cancels waste management project after facing violent protests
The outpouring of public anger is emblematic of the rising discontent facing Chinese leaders, who are obsessed with maintaining stability and struggling to balance growth with rising public anger over environmental threats.

Such protests "suggest that the middle class, whose members seemed willing to accept in the 1990s that being able to buy more things equaled having a better life, is now wondering whether one's quality of life has improved, if you have to worry about breathing the air, drinking the water, and whether the food you're eating is safe," said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, of the University of California Irvine.

The protest followed similar demonstrations against projects the Sichuan town of Shifang earlier this month and in the cities of Dalian in the northeast and Haimen in southern Guangdong province in the past year.
Koch-backed study shows humans cause global warming
Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases
Ukraine bill proposes prison for positive gay depictions
Although homosexuality was decriminalized in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and Russia after the fall of communism, animosity toward gay people remains high in both countries. St. Petersburg, which is Russia’s second-largest city, passed a law this year mandating fines of up to $33,000 for “promoting” homosexuality among minors. A gay pride parade in Georgia, another former Soviet republic, ended in a scuffle with opponents in March. 
The Ukrainian bill follows a decision in May to cancel the country’s first gay pride parade because organizers feared violence. Two Ukrainian gay rights activists have also been brutally attacked in recent months. 
The hostility toward gay people raises wider questions about tolerance in Ukraine as it strives to join the European Union.
A woman's plea for suicide highlights India's problem with acid attacks
Sonali's desperate plea highlights the heinous crime of throwing acid on women in India, the lack of support for victims, and lax laws which have allowed attackers to get away with what activists say is the equivalent of murder.

Acid violence - where acid is intentionally thrown to maim, disfigure or blind - occurs in many countries across the world, and is most common in Cambodia, as well as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India where deep-rooted patriarchy persists.

Around 1,500 acid attacks are reported globally each year, with 80 percent of them on women, says London-based charity, Acid Survivors Trust International, adding this is a gross under-estimate as most victims are scared to speak out.
The Olympian from India's troubled state
"It's just so strange," he says to me. "It's just so strange to be in such a busy city and yet not to see any policemen or soldiers with guns." The civil unrest in Manipur is violent and unrelenting.

Almost every day there are bomb blasts, kidnappings and killings. Just over three years ago, Onler's own father was murdered by rebel gunmen.

Friday, July 27, 2012

So Much For The Chicago Cultural Plan Town Hall...

[via Chicago Tribune, photo credit Armando L. Sanchez]

Gapers Block posted a piece I wrote about a Chicago Cultural Plan town hall meeting I attended on Tuesday.

Let's just say I wasn't impressed.
After the town hall concluded, I wondered if the opinions I voiced really mattered. Because if they did matter, then I only got to sound-off on 1/10th of the actual plan, and had a significantly disproportionate voice in that sound-off. And if they didn't matter, then I had just spent two hours participating in a city-sponsored focus group masquerading as democracy.
Howard Reich with the Tribune did a good summary of the event, and Deanna Isaacs with the Chicago Reader cut straight to the chase.

I like parts of the plan, I don't like others, and I'm not even sure if the parts of the plan I like will necessarily benefit everyone in Chicago. Eased art space zoning/permitting and funding for artists benefits my circle of friends, but I'm not so sure if it's going to improve the lives (or ease the rent) of the people raising families on minimum wage.

Regardless, the final plan that gets passed probably won't look much different from the current draft. And then we'll see how Rahm spearheads the implementation from there.

On a lighter note, guess who that out-of-focus guy in the middle of the photo is? Whoever he is, he definitely needs to shave.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pots, Droughts, and Blow-Up Dolls (Link Round-Up 7/26/12)

[via BoingBoing]

US Drought Could Cause Global Unrest
In both 2007 and 2010, massive unrest almost immediately followed food price surges, tracking market behavior with uncanny synchronization. Some Middle East experts say that rising prices even triggered the Arab Spring, providing a spark that ignited long-simmering tensions and resentments. 
While the exact role played by food is difficult to isolate, a new NECSI analysis of the 2008 Yemeni uprising supports the spark hypothesis. In a paper released July 24, NECSI found that the geographical character of violence changed immediately after the price spikes, shifting from ethnically localized to widespread. 
"I think the analysis has merit," said political geographer Charles Schmitz of Towson University. "The food prices did disturb things. The legitimacy of the government was undermined."
China cops mistake sex toy for body of a woman
BEIJING: Eighteen policemen recently struggled for an hour in a river to recover what was initially mistaken for a woman's body, but turned out to be an inflatable sex toy at Wendeng in eastern China's Shandong province.
Officials said the toy's design and size was so similar to an adult female body that the policemen had to act. Shandong is an important center for producing sex toys in China and supplies them across the globe.
Study: Ocean could power Melbourne-size city by 2050
But that is likely to be a long way off. Wonhas says getting ocean energy off the sea floor and into homes is fraught with environmental as well as technical and commercial barriers.

"The technical challenges are really around making sure these devices last in the quite hostile ocean environment for maybe one or two decades," he says.

"The commercial challenge is about reducing the cost of these devices."
 Mitt Romney's economic plan resembles Europe
This is a common critique that Romney makes, claiming that President Obama is “taking us down a path towards Europe.” However, he conveniently ignores that his policies closely align with the austerity that’s been adopted across Europe, which has unnecessarily blunted economic growth. In fact, the European governments that have embraced austerity the hardest have seen their economies contract the most.
Cuba broadens economic reforms, plans new measures
The five-year reform plan calls for moving from government administration of just about the entire economy to managing it through “"indirect" means such as taxes and bank credits. 
Most retail services and minor production and farming are scheduled to go over to a “"non-state" sector that will account for more than 40 percent of the labor force, compared with the current 15 percent. 
At the same time, the Communist Party plans to move away from a paternalistic state system of collective work and consumption to one where individual effort is better rewarded. Across the board subsidized goods and services are to be replaced by targeted welfare.
Turkey stops cross-border trade with Syria
In all, about 120,000 Syrian refugees have registered with UNHCR in four neighbouring countries - Iraq (7,490), Jordan (36,323), Lebanon (31,004) and Turkey (43,387) - since the uprising began. 
In the past few weeks, the rate of Syrians arriving in Jordan has doubled to 1,200-1,300 per day, stretching a transfer facility overflowing with 6,500 people staying in desert conditions, Wilkes said.
The Islamist militants fighting with Syrian rebels
Abu Mohammad, a local FSA commander with 25 men, said he dealt with the Jabhat because he needed their “explosives, bullets and other things … They have experience that I can benefit from, and I can also give them some help, information that benefits them.” 
Abu Mohammad said he preferred the Jabhat to the “more showy” Ahrar. “If you ask [the Ahrar] for a device, they will give you a camera so you can film [the explosion], and they take credit for it,” he said. Still, he wasn’t really sold on the Jabhat either. “I am one of those people who is afraid of extremism,” he said. “I told [the Jabhat], It’s possible that perhaps one day we will stand armed against each other because of your activities. If they intend to do to us what happened in Iraq, it’s wrong.” 
Myanmar's Buddhist monks block humanitarian assistance to Muslim population
In a move that has shocked many observers, some monks' organisations have issued pamphlets telling people not to associate with the Rohingya community, and have blocked humanitarian assistance from reaching them. One leaflet described the Rohingya as "cruel by nature" and claimed it had "plans to exterminate" other ethnic groups.
Archaeologists uncover Palaeolithic ceramic art
The finds consist of 36 fragments, most of them apparently the broken-off remnants of modelled animals, and come from a site called Vela Spila on the Adriatic coast. Archaeologists believe that they were the products of an artistic culture which sprang up in the region about 17,500 years ago. Their ceramic art flourished for about 2,500 years, but then disappeared. 
The study, which is published in the journal PLoS ONE, adds to a rapidly-changing set of views about when humans first developed the ability to make ceramics and pottery. Most histories of the technology begin with the more settled cultures of the Neolithic era, which began about 10,000 years ago.

Monday, July 23, 2012

America's Kinda, Sorta, Maybe Decline (Link Round-Up 7/24/12)

[via BoingBoing]

The U.S. is in decline
"And this idea of America in decline, it was interesting [Carr] said that; he led the talk of American being in decline," Romney said at the fundraiser, according to The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. "And if they're thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America -- if they think America's in decline they're not gonna do it."
The U.S. is in decline (just like all the other times we were)
The wave of nostalgia for Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and for the vanished halcyon America it supposedly enshrined says more about the frazzled state of America in 2012 and our congenital historical amnesia than it does about the reality of America in 1960. The eulogists’ sentimental juxtapositions of then and now were foreordained. If there’s one battle cry that unites our divided populace, it’s that the country has gone to hell and that almost any modern era, with the possible exception of the Great Depression, is superior in civic grace, selfless patriotism, and can-do capitalistic spunk to our present nadir. For nearly four years now—since the crash of ’08 and the accompanying ascent of Barack Obama—America has been in full decline panic. Books by public intellectuals, pundits, and politicians heralding our imminent collapse have been one of the few reliable growth industries in hard times.
Do foodies care about food workers? Probably not.
But if it disturbs you that an estimated 79 percent of food-service workers don’t have paid sick days, 52 percent don’t receive health and safety training from their employers, 35 percent experience wage theft on a weekly basis, and 75 percent have never had an opportunity to apply for a better position, maybe it’s time to put down your fork and open your mouth. After all, these food-service workers are disproportionately black and Latino. Many are undocumented immigrants. It’s optimistic at best to think the traditionally elite, environmentally driven food movement will inevitably embrace the concerns of these workers and be the driving force for change.
When a news executive sits on a (scandalized) bank’s board
Rona Fairhead, who heads the Financial Times Group, the unit of British publishing and education giant Pearson PLC that owns the Financial Times newspaper, sits on the board of HSBC, the banking behemoth now engulfed in a money-laundering and corporate-governance scandal. 
Long story short, a Senate report this week found that HSBC let Mexican drug lords launder billions in blood money, intentionally helped rogue states, especially Iran, get around U.S. sanctions, and did business with an Al Qaeda-connected Saudi bank. That’s quite a list, and it’s just a partial one for the sake of brevity.
Giuliani uses reputation to get consulting gigs with terrorist groups and war criminals
Giuliani’s paid speaking gigs are no less controversial. In March, he traveled to Paris for the latest of several appearances on behalf of Mujahedin-e Khalq (commonly known as MEK), an Iranian-exile group appearing on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list. The group served as a militia for Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war and assisted in Hussein’s slaughter of the Kurds in 1991. But MEK claims to have reformed itself and actively opposes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime. Giuliani joined a crowd of high-profile Democrats and Republicans who have been paid lavishly to argue that MEK’s members, branded as fanatical, violent, and cultish by the United States, are actually heroic freedom fighters. Giuliani has not revealed his fees, but others have been paid more than $150,000 to speak on MEK’s behalf and call for its removal from the terrorist list. Now the Treasury Department is investigating whether the speakers broke a law prohibiting Americans from doing business with designated terrorist groups. It’s ironic that Giuliani would appear before such an organization, but his image as an anti-terrorism warrior is precisely what MEK would prize.
The mythical benefits of a "vibrant arts community"
Indeed, art production is supposed to be linked, through the black box of “vibrancy,” to prosperity itself. This is something so simple that one proponent has illustrated it with a flowchart; it is something so obvious that just about everyone concerned agrees on it. “Corporations see a vibrant cultural landscape as a magnet for talent,” goes the thinking behind Kansas City’s vibrancy, according to one report; it’s “almost as vital for drawing good workers as more-traditional benefits like retirement plans and health insurance.” (Did you catch that, reader? Art is literally a substitute for compensating people properly. “Let them eat art,” indeed.)
 Alberta dinosaur fossil sites vandalized
While there's a lucrative global black market for fossils, Currie said the specimens usually aren't from Alberta. Taking fossils out of the province has been illegal since the 1970s and the fines are steep, which deters smuggling. Much of the world's black market fossils are coming from Mongolia where, despite similar laws prohibiting exports, many have made their way out of the country hidden in mining trucks, Currie said.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Blood Red Temples of the Maya (Link Round-Up 7/22/12)


Super rich (illegally) hiding up to $32 trillion in offshore accounts
"What's shocking is that some of the world's biggest banks are up to their eyeballs in helping their clients evade taxes and shift their wealth offshore," said Christensen. 
"We're talking about very big, well-known brands - HSBC, Citigroup, Bank of America, UBS, Credit Suisse - some of the world's biggest banks are invovled...and they do it knowing fully well that their clients, more often than not, are evading and avoiding taxes." 
Much of this activity, Christensen added, was illegal.
Vietnamese soliders kill rare monkeys, post pictures to Facebook
The photos showed one of the monkeys, believed to be pregnant, being made to smoke a cigarette before it was tortured and killed. 
Col Nguyen Van Hai, head of Tay Nguyen Command's Military Prosecutor's Office, told the Voice of Vietnam that the soldiers had been detained and were being questioned.
South African vendors evicted, riots and looting against foreign-owned businesses result
A riot broke out in Thaba Nchu, Free State. Many black people started attacking Chinese, Indian and Pakistani shops on Sunday night. This morning [July 2] around 10am, a couple of dozen people started attacking our factory and other factories in the district. We fought back and the black people failed. But the Indian furniture factory next door has been raided as they don't have enough security. In the black town, all our Chinese clients' shops were emptied last night.
Mexico's student movement takes on widespread election fraud
Four days after the elections, members of the movement stated that the elections “are not nor will they be accepted,” because “election day was plagued by irregularities” that they themselves documented, and they consider to be sufficient proof that the elections were undemocratic. “We reject the electoral process, which was corrupt from the beginning, with institutions that were deliberately incapable of preventing and sanctioning countless anomalies.”
Mayan temple with large, carved faces discovered in Guatemala
"With the play of light on these things, the faces would have been extremely dramatic," said Taube, of the University of California, Riverside (UCR),who also was not involved in the project. 
Project leader Houston added that the masks' color—crimson, according to paint traces—would have also helped them stand out. "With that bright red pigment, it would have had a particularly marked effect at dawn and at the setting of the sun," Houston said. 
Blazing red and perched on high, the Temple of the Night Sun was meant "to see and to be seen," Houston said.
The Islamists in Mali, Timbuktu, and the battle over "real" Islam
Destroying rival gods is nothing new. The ancient Romans called the practice damnatio memoriae. A new emperor would lop off the heads of his divine predecessor’s statues or re-carve the nose or chin on a face to reflect his own. This was, at its roots, a turf battle over power, and that’s what’s happening in Mali right now, where Ansar al Dine is one of several rival groups that has seized control of the north. Ansar al Dine considers Sufi Islam illegitimate because it involves the veneration of saints, as well as singing and dancing. Most Sufis, who make up the majority of Africa’s nearly 500 million Muslims, see it differently. They view their ecstatic prayers as authentic in contrast to what many call “Arabized Islam,” the newly imported and militant form of the faith that has gained ground in Africa, as elsewhere, over the past several decades. 
This struggle reflects the complicated bid within Islam today over who is a legitimate believer and who isn’t—a clash within that is increasingly influential in determining the religious future of the world’s nearly two billion Muslims. Yet for Ansar Dine, which currently controls a region just shy of the size of Texas in northern Mali, Sufis are really just the means to create a public relations coup. Destroying tombs, flogging inadequately veiled women, imposing an arbitrary hudud, the Islamic criminal code—all of these actions are tools in their bid to grab the world’s attention, to identify with the putative glories of other international Islamist movements (including Al Qaeda), and in so doing, prove the reach of their own global power.
Why words like "liberal" and "extremist" don't entirely apply in the new Arab democracies
We need better terms that this, or perhaps more terms than merely liberal, secular (these two sometimes wrongly used interchangeably) and Islamists. Let's start with Islamists: a wide range of people fall under this label, with different views. Arguably the Muslim Brotherhood tendency deserves in own label, due to its relative ideological coherence and strength. Salafis are also diverse, since only a segment engage in politics, but that segment is pretty reliably ultra-conservative. And then there are new variants of Islamism usually described as "moderate" which is not quite satisfactory either, especially when the Brothers in particular often use this word to describe themselves. So we may have:
  • Ikhwani Islamist for Muslim Brothers; 
  • Salafi Islamist for the various Salafi parties, who are mostly socially ultra-conservative; 
  • Wasati Islamist for individuals like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh or the Wasat or Egyptian Current parties.
The show HBO should make about the (complicated) history of  70's race relations 
In the blockbusting storyline, you’ll find a lot of bad guys. Thing is, not all of them were white. White realtors and black realtors often worked in collusion, the white realtor targeting and harassing white residents, the black realtor lining up the prospective black tenants who’d be used to flood the neighborhood. Some black realtors even went door-to-door in white neighborhoods themselves, inquiring about properties for sale. They knew full well that the color of their skin would incite a panic in white residents, producing a slate of properties they could pick up on the cheap. And because black homebuyers were being denied fair mortgage credit at banks, black-owned banks and mortgage brokers enjoyed a captive, inflated market; their clients often had nowhere else to go.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Questionable Aspects of the Chicago Cultural Plan Draft

As a Chicagoan and proprietor of a blog with the word "culture" in its title, I (of course) have a very strong opinion on the proposed Chicago Cultural Plan.
When I looked up the phrase "cultural infrastructure" to see if it had any specific meaning outside of this plan, I found it can be defined as infrastructure that (surprise, surprise) supports cultural activities and industries, such as libraries and museums. However, if the plan is going to "Integrate culture across all City departments and agencies and within major infrastructure projects," (34), then doesn't that make just about anything in the city fair game for private "cultural" investment? And if private investment vehicles are designed to re-coup a profit, how many of these "cultural infrastructure" assets that they fund are going to end up resembling the Chicago Parking Meters deal?

While there are noble goals within the Chicago Cultural Plan draft, it's obvious that much of it is really a thinly-disguised economic plan to expand Chicago's cultural and tourist industries by any means possible. There's a lot in the plan draft that I like, and that I believe will vastly benefit Chicagoans of all stripes. However, as outlined above, there are several aspects to the plan that deserve far more scrutiny than has been given so far. An expanded Creative Class in Chicago would be great for some, but several of the means to accomplish this may not be so great for many Chicagoans.
Read more here

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Egypt's Favorite Obama Conspiracy Theories (Link Round-Up 7/18/12)

[via BoingBoing]

State Department to fight online jihad by...trolling message boards?
But why trolling? Would-be jihadists are actually emotionally wimpy. People who post to the forums are "are massive narcissists [who] need constant ego boosts," Jordan Brachman, a researcher of online Jihadism, told Ackerman. The thought here is, if you take away the ego boosts and instead, troll, make fun of, and break jihadis souls online--they won't develop followings to support them in terrorist acts. Viral Peace's creator, Amanullah says, "he wants to use 'logic, humor, satire, [and] religious arguments, not just to confront [extremists], but to undermine and demoralize them.'"
Islamic law, women, and the veil - all open to interpretation
The veil has gone through many changes over the years as a cultural symbol, religious icon and tool of control and oppression. Sharia law, which governs nearly all aspects of Islamic life, is ambiguous and unclear about whether women should be completely veiled at all times. Just as laws about the veil have changed over time, the rules that govern Islamic tradition are not uniform in all communities. Even within Iran, religious fundamentalism, Western influence, and minority populations affect the spoken and unspoken social norms regarding the veiling of women. Though global trade and expansion continues to loosen many cultural restrictions on women, the hijab remains an important part of Iranian and Islamic culture.
The Rohingya: Myanmar's newly-persecuted ethnic group
After a long silence, Myanmar's Presidential Office recent anouncement surprised and shocked people around the world. 
"It is impossible for Burma to accept people who are not ethnic to the country and who have entered illegally," the statement read, going on to offer the Rohingya people to the UN. They suggested the Rohingya should be put in camps for a year, at which time they could be taken to a third country. 
The UN, quite rightly, were quick to reject Thein Sein's kind offer, explaining that communities cannot be repatriated from their own country. While the UN may have, for now, endorsed the Rohingya presence in Myanmar, the government's intentions were made very clear to the world. It was the most transparent, clear cut message that the Myanmar government is now hell-bent on ridding Myanmar of the Rohingya people by any means possible.
An absolutely brilliant satire of Shell's arctic exploration campaign
Shell’s Let's Go! Arctic campaign comes after exhaustive market research, in which we found out that people like straight talk about oil, and that what they prize most is honesty and enthusiasm about the challenges in obtaining it, with sensitivity to environmental and cultural ramifications riding a distant second.

With the Let's Go! Arctic campaign, therefore, we have stressed the excitement of working in distant frontiers, in some of the most dangerous conditions known or unknown to Man, and depending for survival not so much on the cutting-edge quality of our equipment, as on the sharpness of our wits. We have also insisted on communicating some of the ways we can minimize risks to environment and culture, without ever compromising our safety.

Another thing our research has found is that people prefer certainty to mere possibility; a bird in the hand, after all, is worth two in the bush (or the snow, as the case may be). So while climate change is a serious thing, and its effects, as scientists say, could wipe out a large chunk of humanity, such outcomes are a mere possibility—whereas the benefits from oil extraction are a certainty. Not only does oil certainly permit our civilization to continue, it is also certain that it could be used to help us transition to clean fuels, not to mention rebuild our infrastructure should climate disaster strike.
The cost of buying a house while black in Chicago 
It's not just a problem for those who lose their houses, or hang onto them while paying substantially more. As Megan Cotrell has written, mortgages blowing up en masse drove the financial crisis, and racial disparities in lending and homeownership played a vital role. The plague of abandoned homes undermines communities, lowers the value of nearby homes and the wealth of their owners, creates public-safety problems, and bleeds public coffers—instead of generating revenue for the city, the city has to pay to tear them down. The new, opaque housing disparities are a legacy of the old, encoded ones, and in some ways more difficult to address because they're ingrained in people instead of law.
Egyptians are starting to believe American right-wing conspiracy theories about a "secret Muslim" Obama
Time's Abigail Hauslohner attended a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton and secular Egyptian activists, many of whom feared the Obama administration's meddling. "One Egyptian-American Christian ... even cited Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachman’s recent assertion that the Obama Administration is pursuing a closeted pro-Muslim agenda," wrote Hauslohner. Newspaper editor and activist Youssef Sihom told her that the Obama administration "is blessing the rise of political Islam in Egypt.”
Suriname's rainforest-destroying, miner-exploiting gold rush (or lack thereof)
All this was once unspoiled rainforest. Now it's the latest victim in the gold rush that is transforming Suriname into a magnet for fortune seekers from around the world. An estimated 20,000 small-scale miners work within Suriname's borders, and supporting these DIY gold seekers are legions of shop owners, cooks, and drivers. The country’s gold industry produces roughly 16.5 metric tons of gold per year while poisoning local water supplies and laying waste to untold acres of rainforest. We've come to Suriname to see the depredation for ourselves, and to find out if anyone is actually getting rich from the boom.
Infographic: the reach of drug cartels through Mexico and the United States

Monday, July 16, 2012

This Is Where The Jobs Are (Link Round-Up 7/16/12)

Cross-border crime generates $870 billion every year
Researchers found that drug trafficking is “the most lucrative” for international crime rings, fetching them $320 billion a year.  
The $250 billion-a-year illegal counterfeiting business “is also a very high earner for organized crime groups,” the report added.  
Human trafficking generates $32 billion a year.  
The environment also continues to be taken advantage of by criminal groups, with timber trafficking in Southeast Asia bringing in $3.5 billion annually, for example, and elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts illegally taken from Africa and Asia generating an annual $75 million, said the report.
The rise of American exports
A decade ago Air Tractor sold almost all its crop-dusting and fire-fighting aircraft in the United States, leaving it vulnerable both to America’s business cycle and its weather. Now, helped by federal financing, it has increased foreign sales to about half its total. Employment has more than doubled, to 270. From its home in Olney, Texas (population 3,285), Air Tractor this year will sell 40 aircraft, a fifth of its annual total, to Brazil, which needs bigger crop-dusters to expand grain sales worldwide. “If we can do it from a town that has three stop-lights and one Dairy Queen, it can be done by anyone,” says David Ickert, the chief financial officer.
The future of the American economy: glorified service jobs for glorified creative industries
Realistically, it’s going to be hard to transform an illiterate and innumerate burger flipper into an IT support specialist overnight—Per Scholas, for example, will only take applicants with a high school diploma or GED who also test at the 10th grade level or higher in math and English. So Katz also sees improving basic education—upgrading school quality and graduation rates, and channeling more graduates into post-secondary training—as essential to building a new artisan economy.
The booming temp worker economy
It's not a pretty formula, but it works. With 600 offices and a workforce of 400,000—more employees than Target or Home Depot—Labor Ready is the undisputed king of the blue-collar temp industry. Specializing in "tough-to-fill, high-turnover positions," the company dispatches people to dig ditches, demolish buildings, remove debris, stock giant fulfillment warehouses—jobs that take their toll on a body. (See "I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave.") And business is booming. Labor Ready's parent company, TrueBlue, saw its profits soar 55 percent last year, to $31 million, on $1.3 billion in sales. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that "employment services," which includes temporary labor, will remain among the fastest growing sectors through 2020. TrueBlue CEO Steve Cooper, who took home nearly $2 million last year, predicts "a bright future ahead."
Homeboy Industries: creating jobs for the people no one else will hire
In her book The New Jim Crow, Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander counts all the ways that felons, even those arrested for minor drug offenses, end up excluded from productive life. Depending on where they live, they can lose, forever, the right to vote, to serve on a jury, to receive professional licenses, and to qualify for food stamps and even financial aid for college. Alexander points to recent research by the National Employment Law Center that found Craigslist job postings for warehouse workers and pizza-delivery drivers that explicitly bar anyone who has committed a felony from applying. In Ohio, where Alexander lives, a felon can even be denied a barber’s license.
Cuba receives first US shipment in 50 years
US President Barack Obama has somewhat eased the embargo, lifting some travel restrictions and allowing Cuban Americans to send unlimited remittances back home, a significant move as 80 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million members of the Cuban diaspora live in the US.
Kenyan cellphone banking skyrockets
n 2011, the percentage of cell phone users exceeded the percentage of people over 15 years old, suggesting that most adults had mobile access. And you can see that mobile payment users now exceeds the number of people who have internet access: in other words more people are using mobile payments in Kenya than there are people browsing the web on their laptops or desktop computers.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Interview: Dave Zirin

Author, radio host, and columnist Dave Zirin was kind enough to talk with me about sports, politics, and the man in Chicago who embodies the worst of both:
When you think of "Chicago politics" and you think of "Chicago sports" are there any overlaps in your mind or anything that strikes you? 
Yeah, the biggest is how many public subsidies go into Chicago sports. It is like a public welfare cornucopia and [Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox owner] Jerry Reinsdorf is the biggest welfare queen in the United States. And I find it very ironic that one of Jerry Reinsdorf's great personal projects is standardized testing in the public schools. Because if you think about how much money his stadiums have taken out of the public school system in Chicago, and then he helps fund and underwrite the same standardized tests that are used to undermine public education because the scores are low, and that then promotes charter schools and the privatization of education... it's all just, at the same time, very ironic and also very suspicious.
Check out the rest of the interview here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Don't Go In The Water (Link Round-Up 7/11/12)

[via Reddit]

LIBOR (and the scandal) in one handy infographic

Climate change forces salmon to evolve mating patterns
Many species have changed their migration patterns over the past few decades in response to warmer temperatures. What is difficult to tell is whether the species are changing their behaviour or evolving genetically – or both.

Thanks to an old experiment, researchers at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks were able to confirm that genes play a role in at least one animal's response to warmer temperatures – the pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha). Its migration from the ocean to the river is controlled largely by its genes.
Ocean acidity: climate change's evil twin
“We’re just beginning to uncover many of the ways in which the changing chemistry of oceans affects lots of behaviors,” Lubchenco said. “So salmon not being able to find their natal streams because their sense of smell was impaired, that’s a very real possibility.”

The potential impact of all of this is huge, Lubchenco said. Coral reefs attract critical tourism dollars and protect fragile coastlines from threats such as tsunamis. Seafood is the primary source of protein for many people around the world. Already, some oyster farmers have blamed higher acidity levels for a decrease in stocks.
Chemicals in river cause interspecies reproduction
The study, published in Evolutionary Applications, also reports on possible ecological implications for this kind of cross-species confusion. It could, for instance, damage biodiversity by breaking down species barriers. This could be a particularly significant problem when invasive species are involved. If native species start to mate with invasive species, they may grant the invasive species a foothold in a new habitat. This can prevent a major risk to other species living in that habitat, especially if the invader relies on similar sources of food.

Ms. Ward warns that this kind of interspecies interaction has “the potential for the decline of our native species.”
State officials have been trying to change the perception of the fish, calling it a nutritious food that could become a consumer item. Last year the agency offered a free community dinner featuring the bony fish. 
Mark Miller, who heads the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, says Asian carp tastes good deep fried, sautéed and even crab-cake style. More importantly, he says eating the carp helps control the population in Illinois waters.
College degrees are becoming increasingly worthless to everyone but universities
Quadrupling the supply of gold stickers is one way to devalue the credential; getting rid of the sticker system altogether is another. In our pay-to-play society, many of those toward the bottom of the educational pyramid are getting fleeced; others, though, are getting a leg up. Because it’s callous and unreasonable to ask the disadvantaged to decline opportunities to advance, subverting credentialism must start at the top. What would happen to the price of a bachelor’s degree if the 42,000 high school valedictorians graduating this spring banded together and refused to go to college? And is it too much to ask the Democratic Party to refrain from running any candidate for national office who holds a degree from an Ivy League school?
People with broad interests...the new elitists?
Unlike the shared class character of Gilded Age elites, omnivores seem highly distinct and their tastes appear to be a matter of personal expression. Instead of liking things like opera because that’s what people of your class are supposed to like, the omnivore likes what he likes because it is an expression of a distinct self. Perhaps liking a range of things explains why elites are elite, and not the other way around.

By contrast, those who have exclusive tastes today — middle-class and poorer Americans — are subject to disdain. If the world is open and you don’t take advantage of it, then you’re simply limited and closed-minded. Perhaps it’s these attributes that explain your incapacity to succeed.
Kim Jong-un shows off Disney characters on North Korean TV
The appearance of the characters from the United States, North Korea’s mortal enemy, was remarkable fare on tightly controlled North Korean television, which usually shows more somber and overtly political programs. A Disney spokeswoman, Zenia Mucha, had no comment Monday beyond a statement: “This was not licensed or authorized by the Walt Disney Company.”

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Chicago Firm That Sued Big Banks Over Rigging LIBOR

Earlier today, I wrote in Gapers Block about a Chicago trading firm's lawsuit against the major banks for their role in manipulating LIBOR.

The catch? The suit was filed over a year ago.
The seemingly-obscure LIBOR rate affects everything from student loans to mortgate rates. Since LIBOR is the interest rate that the world's largest banks are supposed to pay whenever they borrow money, and since several of the world's largest banks have offices in Chicago, I wonder how much banking fraud and manipulation took place right here in the Windy City?
We'll see what justice - if any - is served, as the flood of lawsuits by swindled investors pop up in the coming weeks. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

If You're Not an Investment Bank, You're A Wank (Link Round-Up 7/7/12)

Easterners are angry that their region, one of three in Libya, has only been allotted 60 of the 200 seats in the new assembly compared to 102 in the west around the capital Tripoli - a formula the interim government says is based on their weighting within a national population of six million.

"There is no doubt there could be a civil war between us in the east and the west because we do not have an equal number of seats as the west," said Hamed al-Hassi, head of the High Military Council of Cyrenaica, the name of the eastern region.

"The country will be in a state of paralysis because no one in the government is listening to us," said Hassi, whose group of ex-rebels is charged with securing the east but has fallen out with the government over the representation dispute.
Don't be a Groucho Marxist: speak (or tweet) your mind
Retweets are more common than tweets, and listeners are more common than singers. 
Because we believe we don't belong. That we're not qualified. That someone with a louder microphone is better than we are.

Past tense perhaps.

Here's the thing: the number of people contributing is going up, and fast. The number of folks that are happy to speak up, to be a member of the contributing group, is as high as it's ever been.
What happened to Occupy? It went local. 
Despite new activists drifting away, Occupy has hardly disappeared. Nationwide, it is defending homeowners from evictions and disrupting auctions of foreclosed homes. There is a national campaign to force the government to break Bank of America into regional banks. Students are fighting against tuition increases and school cuts and for a moratorium on student debt. Occupiers are working with unions to battle corporations cutting wages and benefits. And many Occupy groups have joined movements for single-payer healthcare and against environmentally destructive oil and gas drilling.
Manchester United joins the U.S. stock market
The company generates revenue from three sources: commercial fees from sponsorships and brand marketing and licensing, broadcasting rights, and ticket sales to its live games.

Manchester United says its key competitive strengths are its globally recognized name and its ability to monetize that as a brand. It plans to expand its portfolio of global and regional sponsors, and to expand its global broadcasting platform, MUTV.
China's empty ghost town in Angola
"The government needs to start giving priority to building low-cost housing because great majority of the population live in shacks with no water, electricity or sanitation," Elias Isaac, country director at the Angolan Office of the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA), told the BBC.

"There is no middle class in Angola, just the very poor and the very rich, and so there is no-one to buy these sorts of houses."
Pentagon contractor caught selling technology to China
The events are once again raising questions about the circumstances under which major defense contractors might be barred from government work. Independent watchdogs have long complained that few such firms have been barred or suspended, even for egregious lawbreaking, such as supplying armaments or related equipment to a hypothetical adversary.

Nothing in the settlement agreement, in which Pratt & Whitney and two related companies, United Technologies and Hamilton Sundstrand agreed to pay a total of $75 million for multiple violations of export rules, directly threatens Pratt's existing or future government contracting.
Former Nigerian militants have job training (but no jobs)
The cause of the battles that once raged on the creeks and rivers of the Niger Delta — poverty and corruption in a land awash with natural wealth— has not been resolved. And it’s not just the “boys” who are angry.

Amnesty International reports that foreign oil companies continue to rake in huge profits from Nigeria’s natural resources, helped along by corrupt officials and weak governance. Meanwhile, average people in the Niger Delta live on less than $1 a day and lack access to electricity or transportation other than dug out canoes. Oil spills, too, have poisoned much of the water and decimated the fishing and farming industries.
The squirrel-tailed, feathered dinosaur fossil suggests all dinosaurs had feathers
"Probably all dinosaurs were feathered," he added, "and we should say good bye to the familiar image of the overgrown lizards."

Previous research had already suggested that feathers were widespread in the Cretaceous and late Jurassic periods (prehistoric time line), noted Corwin Sullivan, a paleontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing—even if few specimens have been found.

Feathered-dinosaur remains are sparse because "we only find them in places where conditions were just right for their bodies to be buried and preserved in a way that kept the feathers as well as the bones intact," Sullivan, who was not involved in the research, noted by email.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Summer Of Marx And The Modern Worker


I covered a conference last weekend called Socialism 2012 for Gapers Block, where I noted the following:
But subject matter wasn't the only diverse aspect of the conference. Throughout the weekend, there were nearly a thousand people of different ages, races, and nationalities sharing stories and debating ideas on how to approach social problems both local and global in scope. A wide variety, including people with hijabs and jean shorts, dreadlocks and bald spots, Birkenstocks and Converse All-Stars. People with name tags listing locations from Portland to Paraguay, Corpus Christi to Rochester. College-aged Occupy activists and union activists twice (and thrice) their age. Self-identified Marxists, socialists, anarchists, leftists along with people learning what those words meant for the very first time.
Coincidentally, a Marxism 2012 conference in London began today:
I ask Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal, a 22 year-old English and drama student at Goldsmiths College, London, who has just finished her BA course in English and Drama, why she considers Marxist thought still relevant. “The point is that younger people weren’t around when Thatcher was in power or when Marxism was associated with the Soviet Union,” she says. “We tend to see it more as a way of understanding what we’re going through now. Think of what’s happening in Egypt. When Mubarak fell it was so inspiring. It broke so many stereotypes – democracy wasn’t supposed to be something that people would fight for in the Muslim world. It vindicates revolution as a process, not as an event. So there was a revolution in Egypt, and a counter-revolution and a counter-counter revolution. What we learned from it was the importance of organisation.” 
This, surely is the key to understanding Marxism’s renaissance in the west: for younger people, it is untainted by association with Stalinist gulags. For younger people too, Francis Fukuyama’s triumphalism in his 1992 book The End of History – in which capitalism seemed incontrovertible, its overthrow impossible to imagine – exercises less of a choke-hold on their imaginations than it does on those of their elders.
And while we're on the subject of class consciousness and worker solidarity, Crooked Timber has an interesting critique of libertarianism, specifically about private sector oppression on personal liberty.
Outside a unionized workplace or the public sector, what most workers are agreeing to when they sign an employment contract is the alienation of many of their basic rights (speech, privacy, association, and so on) in exchange for pay and benefits. They may think they’re only agreeing to do a specific job, but what they are actually agreeing to do is to obey the commands and orders of their boss. It’s close to a version of Hobbesian contract theory—“The end of obedience is protection”—in which the worker gets money, benefits, and perhaps security in exchange for a radical alienation of her will.

At least the Hobbesian contract specifies this alienation of the will. Few employment contracts do. If they specify anything, it is the performance of labor—and often indeterminate labor at that—in return for a wage. What they don’t specify is the rules of bathroom access, employer prerogatives over speech onsite and offsite, dress codes, and more. That is why many workers are surprised to learn, for example, that they have no freedom of speech or right to privacy on the job: no one—least of all their employer—ever told them. It may also be why, according to the most systematic meta-study of this issue, most Americans believe that “employers should have good reasons [i.e., just cause] for discharging their employees.” Again, no one told them otherwise.
If anything, we're definitely going to see some fierce debates in the United States over the nature of personal freedom and worker's rights in the coming years. Whether Marx stays a taboo topic in mainstream political discourse remains to be seen.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bye Bye, Western Rock 'n Roll (Link Round-Up 7/2/12)

[via Fuse.tv]

Associated Press summer intern found dead in Mexico City
During his time in the bureau, Montano covered stories including the saga of nine young elephants from Namibia who wound up on an animal reserve in Mexico’s Puebla state, and the shooting of three federal policemen at the Mexico City airport.

He was not on assignment at the time of his death. The U.S. embassy is monitoring the course of the investigation.
Mexico's new president: a recipe for disaster?
Peña Nieto could be even more of a disappointment than Fox, since he will have his hands tied from the very beginning of his term. For example, the country's roughly 20 state governors from the PRI (there are 32 states in Mexico) will enjoy unprecedented influence over the Peña Nieto administration. Twelve years without a president from the PRI to control them from above has empowered these local leaders and turned them into the de facto leaders of the party. They now rule like feudal lords without a glimmer of oversight or public responsibility, especially in those states -- including Coahuila, Mexico, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz -- where the PRI has never lost power. As former governor of the state of Mexico, Peña Nieto is a member of this group and will have to co-govern with it from the start.
Billy Corgan: Western culture won't produce next the great rock star
Corgan says you can't even point to one example of a genre-crossing musical genius in 2012. "It should be easy to identify a twentysomething right now who's getting it done. And there isn't a single one of them. At that level—at the level of a Kurt Cobain, John Lennon or Bob Marley. [The next one is] going to show up somewhere where no one anticipates. The next one is going to be in India, Africa, or China and it's going to blow us out of the water, because it's going to be a real movement with real power behind it."
White American visits Nigeria, becomes accidental Nollywood star 
Oh, also, about a year after all this, I was out at a club in Manchester. It was about five in the morning, and I was having a pee. This guy taps on my shoulder and goes, "Are you that boy from that movie Festival Of Love?" I told him I was, so he got five of his mates into the loo and they made me reenact the "You're the most beautiful black creature..." scene in this nightclub toilet at five in the morning. It was bizarre.
Hypothesis: fungi ended coal production 300 million years ago
The findings were a surprise result from US Department of Energy-funded research project focussed on understanding fungal diversity and their role in converting biomass to biofuels.

One of the barriers in biofuel production is that the sugars that need to be fermented are trapped inside the plant biomass, which needs to be broken down by fungi.
Brazilian prisoners charge batteries with bicycles to reduce sentences 
Jornal Nacional reports that city judge José Henrique Mallmann got the idea for his battery-charging bikes from other prisons that offer prisoners incentives for riding bikes. For example, in Phoenix, Ariz.'s Tent City Jail, female prisoners are required to pedal a stationary bicycle when they watch television, with the bike generating enough energy to power the TV set. Under Mallmann's plan, however, prisoners can actually reduce their sentences by pedaling, albeit a little bit at a time. For every 16 hours a prisoner pedals, he shaves a day off of his sentence.
Six pegs on the American wealth gap
I approached Wayne, as he's known, for wholly mathematical reasons. I'd worked out that there are six degrees of economic separation between a guy making ten bucks an hour and a Forbes billionaire, if you multiply each person's income by five. So I decided to journey across America to meet one representative of each multiple. By connecting these income brackets to actual people, I hoped to understand how money shapes their lives—and the life of the country—at a moment when the gap between rich and poor is such a combustible issue. Everyone in this story, then, makes roughly five times more than the last person makes. There's a dishwasher in Miami with an unbelievably stressful life, some nice middle-class Iowans with quite difflcult lives, me with a perfectly fine if frequently anxiety-inducing life, a millionaire with an annoyingly happy life, a multimillionaire with a stunningly amazing life, and then, finally, at the summit, this great American eagle, Wayne, who tells me he's "pissed off" right now.

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