Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 27th, 2013

Official trailer for Dirty Wars

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Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 5:59 pm

Dying Worms Emit Blue Glow

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Probably the worm’s soul leaving its body.  Ruth Williams reports in The Scientist:

BlueWorm1

In the final hours of a nematode worm’s life, a wave of cell death propagates along the length of its body. But, as if to have one last hurrah, the dying cells put on a bright blue light show, according to a paper published online yesterday (July 23) in PLOS Biology.

“It’s a really neat phenomenon that they’ve uncovered,” said Sean Curran, a professor of biogerontology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study. “And the fact that they’ve looked at the circuitry that controls it and they know the molecular mechanism, I think is fantastic.”

The discovery of this unusual death-related phenomenon came as a result of studies into aging, said University College London’s David Gems. One of the prevailing theories to explain aging in organisms, he said, is that throughout life there is a slow accumulation of damage to cellular components. In mammals, some of that damaged material accumulates in the lysosomes of aging cells as a substance called lipofuscin—“a sort of biological crap,” Gems said.

Gems studies aging in the nematode worm C. elegans, and like his fellow worm researchers, he assumed these tiny critters also accumulated lipofuscin as they aged. Although lipofuscin had never been isolated from C elegans, the assumption was based on the fact that worms develop a fluorescent emission as they age, which fits with the fact that lipofuscin itself emits fluorescence. “Worm biologists said, ooh it looks like lipofuscin, and it became almost taken as a fact,” Gems said.

But Gems became suspicious. For one thing, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 3:57 pm

Posted in Science

Tom Friedman: A New Ayn Rand for A Dark Digital Future

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Richard Eskow on Tom Friedman:

If Thomas Friedman didn’t exist, America’s high-tech entrepreneurs would have had to invent him.  Come to think of it, maybe they did. The dark science-fiction vision he celebrates serves them well, at pretty much everyone else’s expense.

Friedman’s vision is worth studying, if only because it reflects the distorted perspective of some very wealthy and influential people. In their world the problems of the many are as easily fixed as a line of code, with no sacrifice required of them or their fellow billionaires.

Case in point: 15 or 20 million Americans seeking full-time employment? To Thomas Friedman, that’s a branding problem.

Ayn Rand with a human face …

Friedman occupies a unique place in the pundit ecosystem. From his perch at The New York Times, he idealizes the unregulated, winner-take-all economy of the Internet and while overlooking human, real-world concerns. His misplaced faith in a digitized “free” market reflects the solipsistic libertarianism of a technological über-class which stares into the rich diversity of human experience and sees only its own reflection staring back.

Friedman is a closet Ayn Rand in many ways, but he gives Rand’s ugly and exploitative philosophy a pseudo-intellectual, liberal-friendly feel-good gloss.  He turns her harsh industrial metal music into melodious easy listening: John Galt meets John Denver. That make him very useful to those who would dismantle the engines of real economic growth, the ones that create jobs while protecting life and limb.

Friedman’s column in this weekend’s New York Times is, characteristically, a Panglossian panegyric to online technology as the salve for all economic problems. In it he paints the picture of a global dystopia where decent jobs are scarce, educational advancement is unattainable, and people must sacrifice their homes, their possessions, and their personal lives to serve and amuse complete strangers.

He can hardly wait.

Mi casa es su casa …

The framing device for Friedman’s vision is the tale of two twenty-somethings who, like so many Friedman protagonists, built an Internet company. Friedman’s column is called “The Sharing Economy,” and it celebrates the creators of an online platform called “Airbnb” which lets people rent out their homes to strangers.  Online marketplaces like Airbnb are very interesting economic phenomena. They can be useful and even transformative. But they can also be dangerous, unsafe and overhyped.

Enter Thomas Friedman.

Digital libertarians like Jeff Bezos of Amazon see these digital marketplaces as the electronic realization of a free market fantasy. They promote platforms like Bezos’ “Mechanical Turk” system of online job sharing, unconcerned about their ability to accelerate the destruction of decent wages and secure jobs. (They’re also blissfully unaware of the embarrassing contradiction between their own libertarianism and the fortunes they’ve earned from government-created technologies like the Internet.)

Friedman seems to share a Bezos-like vision of unregulated marketplaces for every aspect of  human activity. He waxes ecstatic about Airbnb, which he sees as both a practical solution and a broader model for a future economy. Friedman thinks that renting out your private space, your personal time, and your possessions will soon become the only way to make ends meet – that is, unless you possess extraordinary skills, which could land you a mediocre job at best.

And he thinks that’s just fine.

Decoding Friedman

Consider this passage from Friedman’s column: . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Media, NY Times

Good Alternatives to US Capitalism

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An extract from Jerry Mander’s new book, via AlterNet:

The following is an excerpt from Jerry Mander’s new book The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System (Counterpoint, 2013):

Which Way Out?

Let’s start with some good news. There is no shortage of good alternative ideas, plans, and strategies being put forth by activist groups and “new economy” thinkers in the United States and all countries of the world. Some seek to radically reshape the current capitalist system. Others advocate abandoning it for something new (or old). There is also a third option, a merger of the best points of other existing or proposed options, toward a “hybrid” economic model that can cope with modern realities.

Meanwhile, U.S.-style laissez-faire capitalists, who now dominate the politics and economy in this country, continue to argue that all solutions must be determined by the “free market.” But the free market does not focus on the needs of democracy, or the implications of rampant inequity, or the catastrophic problems of the natural world. The free market is interested in one thing: expanding wealth. That is its only agenda. Nothing else matters, at least until the system collapses. Klaus Schwab had it right. And the situation is not much better abroad.

Ecological economist Brian Davey reported from the Beyond Growth Congress in Berlin (2011) that there was “much talk of the need for democratization to facilitate the post-growth economy. However, there was great skepticism for how much could be achieved. . . . The grip of corporate lobby interests over politics at national [U.S.] and European levels is too great. The state is a weak instrument for the kind of change that has to happen.” (Adbusters, December 2011)

In the same issue, Simon Critchley, professor of philosophy at the New School, New York, concurred: “Citizens still believe that governments represent the interests of those who elect them, and have the power to create effective change. But they don’t, and they can’t. We do not live in democracies. We inhabit plutocracies; government by the rich.”

So, the change will be up to us. And yet the puzzle persists: How do we get from here to there? How do we bridge the chasm from corporate, oligarchic, global dominance of governments, economies, media, and, not least important, military, all driven by the ideologies of consumerism, growth, and “progress,” toward some new set of values and structures?

What struck me most about the Occupy Wall Street movement was the way the Occupiers initially resisted formally articulating the kinds of changes they hoped to see. By their very lack of expression, they deliberately seemed to imply that the problem is more extreme. Systemic. Total. They seemed to say that there was little point in describing ways to modify governance, because all the currently available forms and instruments of power are themselves inaccessible, and no longer valid. One of the precursors of the U.S. Occupy movement, the Indignados (the “outraged”) of Spain—who’ve been doing mass demonstrations in Madrid’s public squares since May 2011—put it explicitly: “You do not represent us!” It’s their complaint about lack of responsive government, but also their desire to break with representation altogether, and to act for themselves. It expresses a loss of faith in the leaders and systems of governance as they now exist.

Living in the United States and watching the near dissolution of our own governance system over recent decades makes it hard to disagree with the perception that government is moribund, bought and sold by a small oligarchic class. As we try to describe good new approaches begging for application toward transformative change, the governing institutions of this society—corporate power, military power, media— continue to control all the levers of change as few systems before have done. These governing institutions are emphatically not interested in our transformative projects. This seems to apply nearly as much to the Obama regime as it does to Republicans. At most, each party gives systemic reform some lip service. But really, they prefer to co-opt, repress, or kill it in order to protect their benefactors.

In June 2011, the Nation published a special issue on “Reimagining Capitalism,” edited by William Greider. In his introduction, Greider asked respondents to “imagine you have the ability to reinvent American capitalism. Where would you start?” Greider acknowledged that the political parties “are locked in small-minded brawls, unable to think creatively even to tell the truth about our historic crisis.” As a result, he said, it would be extremely unlikely for the proposed ideas “to have any traction in regular politics. . . . [But] at some point, it will become obvious that our economy will not truly recover until American capitalism is refashioned, stripped of its self-aggrandizing excesses, and made to serve the interests of society rather than the other way around . . . this will require deep structural change, not simply new politics.”

One response to Greider’s call came from Villanova University professor Eugene McCarraher: “Why should we want to reinvent capitalism?The nature and logic of capitalism are incorrigibly avaricious. As a property system driven by the need to maximize profit and production, capitalism is a giant, ever-whirling vortex of accumulation. . . . Capitalism compels us to be greedy, callous, and petty. It takes what the Greeks called pleonexia—an endless hunger for more and more—and transforms it from a tawdry and dangerous vice into the central virtue of the system. The sanctity of growth stems from this moral alchemy, as does the elevation of market competition into a model of human affairs.”

Certain aspects of capitalism seem okay to me, at least if they’re small and local. For example, I don’t see a problem with privately owned small businesses, in which someone begins an enterprise and it supports him or her, plus their family and community. But by “small,” I mean small! Serving a single community. Rooted locally. No outside controllers. Predefined maximum size. Focused on a single line of products or services. Like the furniture store in the first graphs of this book. Or local farmers. Or the publisher of this book. Or the most marvelous small neighborhood coffeehouse/café located in Japantown, San Francisco, YakiniQ, run by a young woman who is there every day, Christy Hwang, and an ardent and cheerful young staff of students and artists. They are making a little profit but have no wish to be Starbucks.

Scale is paramount. We don’t want Starbucks dominating the coffeehouses of the world. We don’t want bookstores buying other book stores in other towns—and we don’t want any Amazon.com shutting down our local bookstores or turning reading solely into an Internet experience. We don’t want banks buying other banks, or banks buying corporations, or banks or corporations buying governments. We don’t want military contractors like General Electric buying up mass media. We don’t want Rupert Murdoch owning hundreds of newspapers and broadcast outlets. We don’t want some rich guy coming into our neighborhood and buying up all the property and local businesses for himself. We don’t want a few companies like Google or Apple or Facebook dominating global communications in every form, as seems to be rapidly developing.

Some aspects of capitalism could be easily reformed, if only the laissez-faire, anti-government capitalist fundamentalists weren’t depositing gifts into the pockets of legislators. Regulations could be advanced to control pollution and resource use, to prevent banking excess, to stop the buying of all politicians and government, and to promote equity.

Theoretically, we could quickly start mitigating inequity problems. We could require that the wealthy pay taxes at the same rate as the middle class, or at “surplus wealth” rates (graduated rates that went as high as 90 percent) that rose from the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman through Dwight Eisenhower. We could/should have “excess profits” taxes on corporations to cover their externalized costs, or their depletion of the public-resources commons. We could ban tax havens and the many subsidized tax rates on financial transactions and inheritance. We could establish maximum and minimum guaranteed income levels. We could place controls on salary ratios within corporations. That’s all good.

We could have better guarantees for . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Successful Cooperative Economic Models

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They work elsewhere, why not here? Frank Joyce writes at AlterNet:

Years ago food critic Ruth Reichl declared, “There is no bad food in Italy.” She was right. Within Italy, the Emilia Romagna region is thought by many to offer the best food of all.

But that is by no means its only distinction. What I did not appreciate until a recent trip to Bologna, is that major components of the entire economy are organized as co-ops. That includes global market manufacturing businesses, facilities management, social services, transportation, food and wine production,  banking and other financial services and food sales from small markets to nationwide supermarkets and hypermarkets (similar to Meijer).

Capitalism rests on a foundation of myths. One of them is that capitalism somehow “invented” entrepreneurship. Another is that capitalism provides the only “market” economy. Then there is the self-proclaimed virtue of capitalism that only capitalism is compatible with “self-reliance” and individual responsibility. (The reality of course is that most people are utterly dependent on capitalists for jobs,  financing, education,  transportation, health care, shelter and just about everything else.) Capitalism also presents itself as the model of “efficiency,” when in truth it generates enormous waste of all kinds.

Finally, the biggest whopper of all is that There Is No Alternative. All of this is nonsense. The economy of  the Emilia Romagna region of Italy and its largest city, Bologna, is living proof.

Even though Emilia Romagna has a “leftist” history, co-ops did not arise as an “anti-capitalist” phenomenon. Many of the largest and most successful co-ops trace their origins back to the 19th century.  Understanding that markets—a place where buyers and sellers meet—were in existence for thousands of years before capitalism privatized ownership of the means of production, co-ops offer a different way of organizing economic activity.

Production co-ops empower workers to create products and services. The manufacturers of Emilia Romagna make industrial machines, ceramic tile and many other products. They are multi-billion-dollar businesses that compete successfully in the global market. Likewise Manutencoop, from its art-filled and architecturally spectacular headquarters in Bologna, coordinates facilities management (janitorial,  security, building maintenance etc.) for schools, hospitals and shopping malls throughout Italy.

Many co-ops contract with the government to provide various services. While this is similar to “outsourcing” as we would describe it in the US, the result is very different because the intent is not to drive down the wages, benefits and working conditions of those doing the work.

Co-ops can also offer innovative solutions to social and government problems. A co-op in Rome composed entirely of ex-offenders offers waste management services to private sector and government clients. (I learned in Italy that returning citizens in Springfield, Massachusetts who have upholstery skills are in the process of setting up a co-op to organize and market their services.)

While comparable in scope and economic impact to for-profit businesses, co-ops are fundamentally different from them. Their values and economic relationships between managers, workers and communities are not driven by the obligation to deliver enormous wealth to top managers and distant shareholders. While many of the larger co-ops have employees in the traditional sense, as well as members who are the owners of the business, they all share common facilities such as cafeterias. Managers are strictly limited in how much more they can make than workers.

Of course co-ops face their own challenges in competing within a dominant capitalist global economy. Challenges of . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

The Yellen-Summers decision

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Digby has a powerful post at Hullabaloo:

This says it all:

Richard W. Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said this year that if the president chose Ms. Yellen, the decision would be “driven by gender.”

I think most of us can see just how insulting that is to a woman of Yellen’s qualifications. It’s also really, really stupid. Amanda Marcotte says it best:

Oh, he admits she’s qualified for the job, but hastened to add, “There are other capable people.” Which seems to suggest that Obama should exhaust every male candidate before settling on a female one, a course of action that would not be “driven by gender” because men don’t have a gender.

Exactly. It’s so telling that men never seem to think that their preference for men in certain positions might have something to do with gender. Apparently, the fact that women make up half the population of the human species and yet men are still in at least 85% of the positions of power in the world is just a reflection of their superiority as individuals:

For years, economic policy making has been dominated by a small, close-knit group of men who have known one another since the Clinton administration, if not before. In addition to Mr. Summers, Mr. Geithner and Mr. Sperling, the group includes Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew; Daniel Tarullo, a Fed governor who has taken a leading role on financial regulation; and Jason Furman, currently nominated to be the head of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Numerous current and former administration officials have described the world as cloistered. A series of women who have worked alongside those men have ended their tenures saying that they felt excluded and ignored. Recent examples include Sheila C. Bair, who ran the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation during the financial crisis; Elizabeth Warren, who led the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but was passed over for nomination as its first director in favor of a deputy, Richard Cordray; and Ms. Romer, who left the administration in 2010.

“I was always officially where I should be,” Ms. Romer said of her White House experience. “When there was a quick meeting on the phone, or the side meeting, that’s when you felt like maybe business was being done or maybe I was being left out of things.”

Similarly, Ms. Yellen clashed with Mr. Sperling during the Clinton administration, when she ran the Council of Economic Advisers and he the National Economic Council, with the two engaging in turf battles and Ms. Yellen at times feeling pushed out of important decision-making, colleagues at the time said.

Several former administration officials, who spoke about personnel policy only on the condition of anonymity, strongly disputed the idea that the White House was institutionally sexist, that Mr. Obama did not value the promotion of women or that women were excluded because of their gender.

But they acknowledged that women on the economic team had tended to hold advisory roles, rather than policy-making roles. They also said that women tended to be further to the left than the more centrist Rubinites that have generally prevailed in policy debates.

I don’t know if listening to the women on his team would have made a difference, but listening to the Wall Street cabal he didlisten to has not served us all that well. If he cares about the economy as much as he says he does, he might want to broaden his horizons.

The fact is that all the reasons the boys club thinks Yellen’s personality isn’t the right one for the Fed are just wrong. She’s a much better match. Summers is a bull in a China shop who doesn’t even have the discretion to keep his sexist assumptions about women scientists to himself in a roomful of women scientists. Unless they’re willing to get rid of all the women who are involved with the Fed and economic policy, (and hey, maybe that’s the plan) putting Summers in there is a recipe for disaster.

Given that both are highly experienced but . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 1:21 pm

Trailer for Terms and Conditions May Apply

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Watch this while keeping in mind the Dyson article I blogged earlier today:

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 12:59 pm

NSA: The Decision Problem

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George Dyson was commissioned by a German newspaper for this article:

GEORGE DYSON, Science Historian, is the author of Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, and Darwin Among the Machines.

[ED. NOTE: George Dyson’s piece was commissioned by Frank Schirrmacher, co-publisher of the national German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), where he is Editor of the Feuilleton, cultural and science pages of the paper. First published by FAZ on July 26, 2013.]

NSA: THE DECISION PROBLEM

Shortly after noon, local time, on 19 August 1960, over the North Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, a metal capsule about the size and shape of a large kitchen sink fell out of the sky from low earth orbit and drifted by parachute toward the earth. It was snagged in mid-air, on the third pass, by a C-119 “flying boxcar” transport aircraft from Hickam Air Force base in Honolulu, and then transferred to Moffett Field Naval Air Station, in Mountain View, California—where Google’s fleet of private jets now sit parked. Inside the capsule was 3000 feet of 70mm Kodak film, recording seven orbital passes over 1,650,000 square miles of Soviet territory that was closed to all overflights at the time.

This spectacular intelligence coup was preceded by 13 failed attempts. Secrecy all too often conceals waste and failure within government programs; in this case, secrecy was essential to success. Any reasonable politician, facing the taxpayers, would have canceled the Corona orbital reconnaissance program after the eleventh or twelfth unsuccessful launch.

The Corona program, a joint venture between the CIA, the NSA, and the Department of Defense, was coordinated by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and continued, under absolute secrecy, for 12 more years and 126 more missions, becoming the most productive intelligence operation of the Cold War. “It was as if an enormous floodlight had been turned on in a darkened warehouse,” observed former CIA program director Albert D. Wheelon, after the operation was declassified by order of President Clinton in 1995. “The Corona data quickly assumed the decisive role that the Enigma intercepts had played in World War II.”

The resources and expertise that were gathered to support the Corona program, operating under cover of a number of companies and institutions centered around Sunnyvale, California (including Fairchild, Lockheed, and the Stanford Industrial Park) helped produce the Silicon Valley of today. Google Earth is Corona’s direct descendant, and it is a fact as remarkable as the fall of the Berlin wall that anyone, anywhere in the world, can freely access satellite imagery whose very existence was a closely guarded secret only a generation ago.

PRISM, on the contrary, has been kept in the dark. Setting aside the question of whether wholesale, indiscriminate data collection is legal—which, evidently, its proponents believed it was—the presumed reason is that for a surveillance system to be effective against bad actors, the bad actors have to be unaware that they are being watched. Unfortunately, the bad actors to be most worried about are the ones who suspect that they are being watched. The tradecraft goes way back. With the privacy of houses came eavesdropping; with the advent of written communication came secret opening of mail; with the advent of the electric telegraph came secret wiretaps; with the advent of photography came spy cameras; with the advent of orbital rocketry came spy satellites. To effectively spy on the entire Internet you need your own secret Internet—and Edward Snowden has now given us a glimpse into how this was done.

The ultimate goal of signals intelligence and analysis is to learn not only what is being said, and what is beingdone, but what is being thought. With the proliferation of search engines that directly track the links between individual human minds and the words, images, and ideas that both characterize and increasingly constitute their thoughts, this goal appears within reach at last. “But, how can the machine know what I think?” you ask. It does not need to know what you think—no more than one person ever really knows what another person thinks. A reasonable guess at what you are thinking is good enough.

Data mining, on the scale now practiced by Google and the NSA, is the realization of what Alan Turing was getting at, in 1939, when he wondered “how far it is possible to eliminate intuition, and leave only ingenuity,” in postulating what he termed an “Oracle Machine.” He had already convinced himself of the possibility of what we now call artificial intelligence (in his more precise terms, mechanical intelligence) and was curious as to whether intuition could be similarly reduced to a mechanical procedure—although it might (indeed should) involve non-deterministic steps. He assumed, for sake of argument, that “we do not mind how much ingenuity is required, and therefore assume it to be available in unlimited supply.”

And, as if to discount disclaimers by the NSA that they are only capturing metadata, Turing, whose World War II work on the Enigma would make him one of the patron saints of the NSA, was already explicit that it is themetadata that count. If Google has taught us anything, it is that . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 12:13 pm

Interesting question: Would a large private university have made a difference in Detroit?

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Justin Pope writes in the Atlantic:

Detroit’s bankruptcy filing last week and the decades of decline that preceded it have been a predictable political and historical Rorschach test. The right blames the city’s demise on moral failures and weak character — the banana-republic-caliber corruption and fiscal fecklessness of its politicians, the greed of its unions, the spinelessness of automobile executives who gave into them. To the left — more inclined to see history as the product of “great forces” than “great men” (or terrible ones) — the Motor City was swamped by powerful tides:racism, sprawl, and unbridled capitalism.

But what was distinctive about Detroit? Other cities struggled mightily to adapt to the decline of manufacturing. But only Detroit struggled mortally – at least in terms of municipal cash flow. Why do Detroit’s troubles so vastly exceed not only those of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, but Baltimore, Providence, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Rochester?

Here’s a possible part of the answer, in the form of question. What exists in each of those cities, but can’t be found in Detroit? One answer: a large, and usually quite wealthy, private research university. Where is Detroit’s Johns Hopkins? Or, to limit the comparison to neighboring Rust Belt states, where is its Carnegie-Mellon, or Case Western Reserve? Why is there no, say, Henry Ford University in Detroit? And if there had been one, would it have made a difference?

First, why focus the question on private universities? Of course, public universities matter to cities, and had the University of Michigan not decamped from Detroit to Ann Arbor in 1837, the region’s entire history might well be different (better or worse is hard to say). But that move was part of a bigger pattern. As University of Kentucky historian of higher education John Thelin notes, most leading public universities were established in what were, at least at the time, rural areas. Cheaper land, the domination of state legislatures by rural interests, the initial agricultural focus of many such institutions, and anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant nativism all pushed public campuses out into the country. That left private (including Catholic) institutions positioned for a greater impact in urban areas.

In the United States, private universities occupy a disproportionate share of the very top tier in wealth and prestige — places that operate in education, research and health care on a scale that could substantially affect the economy of a city as large as Detroit. Yes, Detroit has public Wayne State and a smattering of mostly small and often Catholic private colleges. But while Wayne State does important work, and even a fair amount of research, its operating budget is $576 million. In Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon and the quasi-private University of Pittsburgh are about $3 billion combined, in a city less than half Detroit’s size.

Private non-profit institutions enroll fewer than 15 percent of U.S. undergraduates, but they account for 27 of the 60 U.S. members of the Association of American Universities, the leading group of elite research institutions, whose members employ on average 11,400 people each. In 1950, about the time Detroit’s population began falling, private institutions were 18 of the 32 AAU members.Today, the top 20 universities in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings are all private institutions, as are 15 of the 20 largest university endowments. That dominance is regretted by many, but it’s no coincidence. Top private institutions are more varied in their missions, and more malleable and flexible to respond to new opportunities and change direction. The best of them are more entrepreneurial and less bureaucratic. Those and other reasons have simply made them, historically, more appealing places for very rich people to give enormous amounts of money (and unlike any public university I know of, at a certain price they’ll even name the place after you).

Of course, Detroit isn’t the only major American city without a prominent private research university . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Education, Government

Growing Number Of States Are Reporting Lower Than Expected Health Care Premiums

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At ThinkProgress Igor Volsky reports good news for consumers, bad news for the GOP:

Health premiums in Maryland’s exchanges will be “among the lowest of the 12 states that have available proposed or approved rates for comparison,” the state’s exchange —Maryland Health Connection — announced Friday. The news comes just as New York,OregonMontanaCalifornia, andLouisiana are also reporting lower than expected premiums.

In Maryland, a 25-year-old will be able to purchase a plan that is more comprehensive than policies currently available on the individual market for $114 per month, while a middle aged adult will have to pay approximately $260 per month for insurance. A 21-year-old non-smoker can start as low as $93 a month. Officials say they used their authority to deny rate increases to reduce the proposed premiums by “more than 50 percent.” Thirty other states have have similar authority.

The prices Marylanders will pay are lower than the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) anticipated, but do cost more than the bare-bones plans that are available today. Residents will have a choice of nine insurance carriers and three out of four people purchasing coverage through the exchange will qualify for tax credits, further reducing the cost of coverage. Nationally, 6 million out of the 7 million people who are expected to enroll in 2014 will receive subsidies.

“Historically, insurance carriers have been allowed to turn down people with pre-existing conditions and allow only the healthiest individuals into their plans,” said Rebecca Pearce, Executive Director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. “In 2014, that will change, and 740,000 Marylanders will have new access to health coverage with more robust benefits.

Earlier this week, the Connecticut exchange announced that since a new insurer lowered its projected premiums, “the average cost for an individual-market HealthyCT plan dropped by 36 percent, from $427 per month to $271.” In Nevada, preliminary costs find that strong competition between insurers in some areas of the state will lower individuals’ premiums.

The news is on track with a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, which found that “the lowest cost silver plan in the individual market in 2014 is, on average, 18 percent less expensive” than past projections.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Government, Healthcare

iKon Slant and Merkur Slant, along with Al’s Shaving

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SOTD 27 July 2013

I wanted to play around with different handles, so today the iKon head rests atop the UFO Zeus XL handle.

But first, the prep—always. I used the Jlocke98 formula with olive oil this morning, and it works quite well. My 24mm Whipped Dog Silvertip worked up a fine lather quite easily from Al’s Saigon, a very pleasant shaving cream—and a little goes a long way. (BTW, I highly recommend this recent Sharpologist interview with Al: illuminating.)

And now the shave. It quickly became apparent that, yep, I was right: the Zeus XL is too big for me. In addition, it made comparing the Merkur and the iKon difficult because the feel was so different. So I switch the iKon back to a UFO handle closer in size to the original.

The two are very close in performance, though I would give the edge in comfort to the iKon—but it’s an edge. Indeed, the iKon slant, the Bakelite slant, and the Merkur slant are like the gold, silver, and bronze medal winners at the Olympics: small differences in performance, and any of the three could totally dominate the average regional track-and-field meet. Any of these is better than most straight-bar razors, and the performance differences among them are slight.

The differences in design and construction are another matter. Take fragility: here the iKon is clearly superior to the (plated cast Zamak) Merkur, which is superior in turn to the Bakelite slant. Or design: the two-piece design has some definite drawbacks, including the inability to swap out handles, so here the Merkur comes in last. I will ignore aesthetics, since that is shaver dependent. With “comfort,” we are again back on the Olympics stand, with gold going to the iKon slant, silver going to the Bakelite slant (in a photo finish), and immediately behind and far ahead of the rest of the pack, the Merkur slant secures the bronze.

In other words, getting a Merkur is not at all a bad move in terms of shaving performance, but some will certainly want the iKon. In yesterday’s lengthy discussion on Wicked Edge, I learned that iKon will be selling the heads separately, a boon for those who already have a couple of handles (from iKon or Weber or Tradere or the like). Monday I plan to use the iKon Slant—not a big surprise, I’m sure—with a red jasper handle from Elite Razor.

After three passes, between the two razors I achieved a BBS result. A tiny dab of Al’s aftershave balm, and the weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

27 July 2013 at 9:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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