Weekend Reading 1/4/13

Measuring your 2013 resolutions, Ireland's budget-saving carbon tax, and more.
This post is 88 in the series: Weekend Reading
Weekend Reading 200w


I’m a bit late on this, but I have to point out Lummi fisherman Jay Julius’s blistering op-ed in the Bellingham Herald that explains his tribe’s opposition to the proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point.

I was riveted by Kevin Drum’s thoughtful exploration of the connection between lead exposure and crime rates. Particularly interesting is his estimate that full remediation of lead in homes and soil, while expensive, could yield a return on investment of roughly 20 to 1.


This article from Reader Supported News about the NRA’s real motivations is a must read for anybody trying to make sense of gun laws and attitudes in America. Wait a second! It’s not about freedom or protection or the American way, it’s about making money for corporations. Follow the money, it always knows!

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is not spending millions of dollars per year to protect gun rights as much as it is protecting gun sales. Arms dealing, that’s where the money is. And that’s what justifies the length the NRA lobbyists go to, both at the federal and state level. The NRA has helped protect the questionable right of Americans to own firearms, but they have also helped to transform the United States into the most lucrative personal arms market in the world. Arms dealing in America only differs from drug dealing in three significant ways: it’s more profitable, it’s more lethal and it’s legal.

And as we test out our resolutions for 2013, here’s a metric for measuring those new behaviors. Smoking, eating broccoli, exercise, booze—we know some things are good for us and others are bad, but just how good and how bad? David Spiegelhalter, a professor of risk assessment at the University of Cambridge boils it down to 30-minute units. Smoke 2 cigarettes, lose 30 minutes of your life; exercise for 20 minutes, gain an hour.

Over time bad habits accelerate your aging, and good habits slow it down. “That seems to resonate with people,” Spiegelhalter says. “No one likes to get older faster.”

Is abortion an issue millennials care about? Stepping down as NARAL’s president, Nancy Keenan tells Salon it’s time a new generation leads. But she’s not sure they will.


Events like Hurricane Sandy stun all of us, and perhaps the urban planners among us a little extra. I’m halfway through this fascinating New Yorker piece on cities’ adaptations (or lack of such) to climate change. Some have been at it for decades; others have been building on the very land deemed most vulnerable to natural disasters. If you’re a subscriber, don’t miss it. If not, you can read an abstract of the piece here.

And while I myself am not quite so cynical (yet), I couldn’t tear my eyes from Steve Cutts’ animated short summing up millennia of humanity’s toll on our environment.


Two articles on governance reform got my close attention. One is on gerrymandering of US Congressional districts. The other is on President Obama’s long-ago interest in alternative voting systems such as instant-runoff balloting.

Ireland has done what the United States and Canada have not yet: helped to solve its government budget problems with a tax on carbon, as this NYT piece describes.

You may have been tuned out for the holidays when this fascinating morsel appeared about how bad we are at estimating how long it takes to walk somewhere. Highlights: urbanites overestimate; suburbanites underestimate. And we’re better at estimating how long it takes to walk to the bus than to other destinations.

Probably someone in IBM marketing said, “What could we do that would go viral around Christmas?” So the company did a video of a crosswalk that lights up when you step into it. Even if it is a feel-good corporate PR piece, I still like it.

My favorite end-of-year item in Sightline Daily was this video of Earth from the international space station, stitched together by a film-school student.


As it turns out, public service announcements in New Zealand are pretty hardcore. And they’re actually willing to go after things that American PSAs would never touch—like high fructose corn syrup.


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  1. Alan Durning says:

    Re: Clark’s item about NZ PSAs and high-fructose corn syrup, I got to thinking about political economy, the structure of the U.S. Senate — with huge over representation of low-population states in the farm belt and enormous dependence on Big Ag dollars — and did a little checking.

    New Zealand plants very little corn (known as “maize” there), just 20,000 hectares. That’s one-third the acreage of New Zealand’s barley, a little more than a third of the acreage of wheat, and less than the acreage the country devotes to grapes.

    What’s more, I bet that a larger share of New Zealand’s corn goes to feed livestock than does US corn — despite the fact that New Zealand livestock are much more likely to be grass-fed than North American livestock. The kiwis just have a tremendous number of livestock. If so, corn is feed for animals, not a feedstock for sweeteners there. And livestock is probably the real political power in New Zealand. Big Sheep probably doesn’t want competition from soft-drink makers for the nation’s corn crop. That competition would make feed more expensive.

    Unlike the United States and Canada, where corn is king, in New Zealand, corn is not even a prince. In fact, the role that corn plays in NZ’s agriculture may be kind of like its role in Cascadia’s. It’s just one crop among many. It does not own the legislative branch, as it does in the United States.

    Now, I’m partly speculating, but I’m suspicious that the PSA messages a country broadcasts are affected by the political economy of its food sector.

    NZ ag stats from: http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/industry_sectors/agriculture-horticulture-forestry/AgriculturalProduction_HOTPJun12prov.aspx

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