Weekend Reading 2/8/13

Wizards are genetically plausible, holding a rainforest hostage, and more.
This post is 93 in the series: Weekend Reading

Eric

Northwest cities are, for the most part, too young to have ruins. Seattle has a couple of good ones though, including the soon-to-be-demolished “ramps to nowhere” and Gasworks Park, about which Knute Berger had a good piece this week.

Andrew Sullivan posted a fascinating world map depicting policies on same-sex marriage. There’s a stark divide between many of the wealthy nations and Latin America on the one hand and most of the Islamic and African countries on the other.

At USA Today, Duncan Black argued that it is vitally important to expand and strengthen social security benefits in light of the rather dire savings picture for many Americans who hope to retire soon. I’ve been enjoying him take up this argument at Eschaton, in part because it strikes me as an almost perfect confluence between sound public policy and a political smash hit for progressives.

At the Oregonian, retired CEO Eric Strid scoffs at the notion that coal exports are a benefit to the Northwest’s economy:

I am convinced the coal companies’ arguments as “job creators” are smoke and mirrors, with an emphasis on the former. My former company has more regular employees than all of the proposed coal export projects combined, and we didn’t create an environmental disaster to do it.

David Brewster has a detailed and somewhat alarming story on Canadian newspaper publisher David Black who has recently been on something of a buying spree, picking up both the Seattle Weekly and the Everett Herald. As Brewster reports, Black is also a player in British Columbia’s controversial pipeline politics. He wants to build a refinery at Kitimat that would process Alberta tar sands oil coming in on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline into refined product for onward shipment. Brewster also notes:

Black’s practice of buying up dozens of papers and converting them to lesser versions to save money has not endeared him to the public. He got in trouble in 1998 when he ordered all his B.C. newspapers not to carry editorials on a certain hot subject. Asked about the conflict of his refinery proposal and coverage, Black told me, “I told them they can write whatever they want.” Still, Black has near-monopoly control over scores of towns in B.C. (including Kitimat), and here he is playing a high-profile role in politics and economic development for the province.

Last night, I finished reading The Last Narco, Malcolm Beith’s gripping account of the rise of the Sinaloa drug cartel into a global colossus. Beith focuses on the signal failure of American and Mexican agencies to locate the cartel’s chief after he practically waltzed out of a maximum security prison in Mexico more than a decade ago, but in a larger sense the book underscored for me several points powerfully. Among them: the American demand for illegal drugs is an engine so massively powerful and so staggeringly lucrative that it has created what is arguably the world’s most dangerous organized crime syndicate and has seriously destabilized Mexico. I came away with a stronger belief that a calculated US policy of drug legalization and production may be the only viable antidote to the poison, and it makes me wonder whether Mexico’s core institutions are simply too broken to be repaired until then. (Also, pro tip here, I don’t recommend getting on the wrong side of the narcotraficantes; they don’t seem like exceptionally nice people.)

Anna

More staggering numbers on Big Oil’s profits (more reasons they really don’t need our subsidies).

Plus, as a new Union of Concerned Scientists report shows, “the vast majority of what you spend at the pump ends up in oil company coffers.”

Mark Bittman says we’re all being used as guinea pigs in the testing of new product safety, including cosmetics. (And a side question arises: if we want safe products for ourselves and our families, what’s the animal cruelty trade-off?)

Jon Stewart takes on Frank Luntz’s latest language ploys.

Daily Kos compares the total number of American war deaths EVER to the number killed by domestic gun incidents since 1960. I was shocked; the chart may surprise you too.

And rising GOP star Marco Rubio on climate change. Ouch.

Alan

My younger kids graduated high school in about the same year as the heroes of the Harry Potter series, Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They are the same generation, and these fictional characters are the archtypes most dominant in their generation’s lives. So now that they’re in college, I am not surprised to learn that their generation is applying their newfound knowledge of things like genetics to the Harry Potter world. This scientific paper (published, appropriately for the generation, on tumblr) argues for the genetic plausibility of wizarding’s inheritability, including phenomena such as squibs and muggle-born wizards, as described by JK Rowling.

Matthew Yglesias says more or less what I would say about why Making Sustainability Legal’s call for less regulation is completely consistent with Sightline’s other calls for more regulation.

[The] economy is simultaneously overregulated and underregulated. It is much too difficult to get business and occupational licenses; there are excessive restrictions on the wholesaling and retailing of alcoholic beverages; exclusionary zoning codes cripple the economy, and I’m sure there are more problems than I’m even aware of.

At the same time, it continues to be the case that even if you ignore climate change, there are huge problematic environmental externalities involved in the energy production and industrial sectors of the economy. And you shouldn’t ignore climate change! We are much too lax about what firms are allowed to dump into the air. On the financial side, too, it’s become clear that there are really big problems with bank supervision. The existence of bad rent-seeking rules around who’s allowed to cut hair is not a good justification for the absence of rules around banks’ ability to issue no-doc liar’s loans. The fact that it’s too much of a pain-in-the-ass to get a building permit is not a good justification for making it easier to poison children’s brains with mercury. Now obviously all these rules are incredibly annoying. I am really glad, personally, that I don’t need to take any time or effort to comply with the EPA’s new mercury emissions rules. But at the same time it ought to be a pain in the ass to put extra mercury into the air.

The most arresting infographic I’ve seen this week is from the US Geological Survey, and it’s not new. But, Wow! All of Earth’s water, shown as a sphere, is dwarfed by the planet. The oceans, glaciers, and clouds are films as thin as gauze on the surface of our water planet.

Dodge’s “God Made a Farmer” Superbowl ad has generated a wave of corrections and dissent, such as this column on the ad’s blatant racism, and these video re-makes: “God Made Gushers,” “God Made a (Factory) Farmer,” and “God Made a (Latino) Farmer.”

Clark

A reflection on the predictable folly of prediction. My prediction: we’ll forget that predictions rarely pan out.

Serena

I listened to the following story and thought, “Are you kidding me? That’s the best deal in town! Take it, rich countries! Take it!” The deal? Ecuadorian rainforest preservation: $3.4 billion. Peanuts to the value of the oil sitting under it, but a big help to a country trying to maintain good standards of education, infrastructure, economic opportunities, and social services for its people. Richies better get wise soon and perhaps review a little history of their own resource abuse—abuse that makes saving this ideal piece of another country’s rainforest pretty imperative at this point.

And speaking of underdogs making waves and turning heads, I don’t think I’m the only one who’s been wondering about the Idle No More campaign that’s sporadically appeared in American press. Well, it’s big news just north of us, and we should probably pay attention. Then we should take notes and imitate. A recent interview with two of the four founders—all women, note—makes for a great primer on the fast-growing movement.

Has anyone out there noticed a change in her paycheck since the beginning of the year? “I wouldn’t expect it to have much of an effect on BMW consumption,” said Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “The people who will notice it the most are the ones making the least.” He’s talking about the restored payroll tax, which a NYT article yesterday demonstrated as woefully regressive.

Still goin’ on Wendy Pabich’s water challenge, by the way. Who’s with me? (Hint: it’ll be a cinch for all us vegetarians out there.)

 

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