PTSD: Not so New, Just the Recognition of It

Translations of ancient documents, as old as from 1300 BCE, suggest battle scars which we now call PTSD.

“The sorts of symptoms after battle were very clearly what we would call now post-traumatic stress symptoms.

“They described hearing and seeing ghosts talking to them, who would be the ghosts of people they’d killed in battle – and that’s exactly the experience of modern-day soldiers who’ve been involved in close hand-to-hand combat.”

BBC

 

Short Term Thinking in a Long Term World

Eduardo Porter, business columnist for the NY Times (and always worth reading) tells us the deferred gratification discipline that made modern capitalism such a force is falling apart.

… talk to a scientist in a research lab almost anywhere and you are likely to hear that the edifice of American innovation rests on an increasingly rickety foundation.

Investment in research and development has flatlined over the last several years as a share of the economy, stabilizing at about 2.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2012, according to the National Science Foundation.
That may not be far from the overall peak. But other countries are now leaving the United States behind.

And even more critically, investment in basic research — the fundamental building block for innovation and economic advancement — steadily shrank as a share of the economy in the decade to 2012, the last year for which there are comprehensive statistics.

The trend poses two big challenges. The first concerns government budgets for basic research, the biggest source of financing for scientific inquiry. It fell in 2013 to substantially below its level 10 years earlier and, as one of the most politically vulnerable elements in an increasingly straitened federal budget, looks likely to shrink further.

Of course this would have been made clearer by removing the passive voice.  It didn’t just fall.  It was deliberately and consciously cut by a  determined sector of congress, almost entirely Republicans…”

The second, equally important, challenge regards the future of corporate research. Evidence suggests that American corporations, constantly pressured to increase the next quarter’s profits in the face of powerful foreign competition, are walking away from basic science, too.

And again pressured by whom? Actual pressure, or imputed pressure?  The following is more specific:

Corporate executives, their compensation tied overwhelmingly to short-term gains in the market value of their companies, may be responding accordingly.

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Barney Frank

Gary Wills is sorry he wasn’t able to vote for Barney Frank as the first gay president. So should we all. Here’s a snip from Wills’ look at Frank’s new book.

“Frank fears some forms of “big government”—especially our monstrous financing of exotic weaponry, occupying forces around the world, and the wars we start rapidly and end (if at all) after guaranteeing our own defeat. But he knows that the same people who hand out huge contracts for this overkill capacity are calling for “small government” when its services could help the poor, or disabled, or ordinary citizens.

They base their claim that government does not work not on the part that really does not work, the defense that we make too big to control, but on service to our own citizens. They are following the “starve the beast” strategy of men like David Stockman and Grover Norquist—declare that programs cannot work, deregulate them as not worthy of correction, underfund them, and then, when they do not work, declare the first presumption vindicated.

Frank was horrified when Bill Clinton said, in effect, that the starvers were right but that he would starve government moderately. After the president in 1996 declared, “The era of big government is over,” Frank says he wanted to ask, “What country are you describing?” And he asked Clinton’s staff, “Did I sleep through the big-government years?” “

Read all

Fog Catcher Produces Potable Water

With California reservoirs down to 30% perhaps we can look south to Chile’s Atacama desert for a good idea,

“There, (Carlos Espinosa Arancibia) came up with the idea of the fog catcher: netting with tiny openings of approximately 1mm across to capture the tiny water droplets in the fog.

“The droplets accumulate in the netting and form a bigger drop which eventually runs off the netting into a canal underneath.

“From there, it is channelled through a pipe to containers at the base of the hills, ready for use.”

Other trial sites are in Mexico and Guatemala 

“The largest expanse of fog catchers is located in Tojquia in Guatemala, where 60 fog catchers trap 4,000 litres of water a day.”

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I imagine wind would be a potential problem but the whole central-northern coast of California has month long cloud banks. In fact if you’ve ever walked in a redwood grove in the fog you’ll feel fog catchers at work

Don’t Buy Child Labor Produce

“California congressman on Friday introduced a bill to ensure U.S. retailers rid their supply chains of child and forced labor — legislation inspired by The Times’ Product of Mexico series, which documented widespread abuses at export farms south of the border.

“The Stop Blood Tomatoes Act, sponsored by Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), seeks to bring more oversight to the Mexican farms that supply much of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.

“Under the proposal, large companies would have to get independent audits of their suppliers to certify that they do not use child or forced labor. The legislation would apply to companies in other industries that also import large quantities of goods from developing countries.

LA Times Read all

Breaking the Silence in Israel

The war last summer between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead and reduced vast areas to rubble. On Monday, a group of Israeli veterans released sobering testimony from fellow soldiers that suggests permissive rules of engagement coupled with indiscriminate artillery fire contributed to the mass destruction and high numbers of civilian casualties in the coastal enclave.

“The organization of active and reserve duty soldiers, called Breaking the Silence, gathered testimonies from more than 60 enlisted men and officers who served in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

… “The 240-page report, “This is How We Fought in Gaza 2014”, was released Monday and accompanied by videotaped testimony that aired on Israeli news programs.”

Washington Post

Also from Tel Aviv, Philosophy professor, Anat Biletzki, sees the “Protective Edge” operation as one among several markers on the road moving from implicit understanding to explicit expression.

In Israel, we are used to hearing that everything is more “complex” than one might think. Situations are typically described as variegated, imprecise or intangible and they seem almost intentionally so. Implicitness — about politics, religion, military actions, and human rights — rules. But I would argue that that situation has changed. In the past year in Israel, things have become clear and precise. Things have become explicit.

The government that will be formed this week is the most clearly articulated, narrowest, most right-wing, most religious and most nationalistic government ever assembled in Israel. A combination of the fundamentalist Orthodox clerical parties with the nationalistic chauvinism of the Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett who makes no attempt to hide his annexation plans, has been orchestrated by Benjamin Netanyahu in no uncertain terms. Along with Likud, Netanyahu’s home, which is the largest party in Israel today, and Kulanu (All of Us – a breakaway of Likud), this whole bloc is unambiguous in its Jewish, nationalistic agenda.

… When the Firm Cliff fighting officially started, the Israeli media, whether on its own or while quoting political, cultural, religious and military leaders, was replete with clearly voiced messages of racism and hate toward any and all Arabs or Palestinians. “Death to the Arabs,” a call previously shrugged away as an instigation used mainly by erstwhile extremists and soccer fans, could be heard loud and clear. And antiwar protesters, now encountering without police protection the so-called “nationalist” supporters of the war, heard the loud and explicit “Death to the Leftists.” The long-brewing enmity between Jew and Arab, which had always been understood but sometimes unspoken, came out in full force, rising to the boiling surface. We were facing the nebulous — but no less substantial for that — move from the implicit to the explicit.

CO2: One More Bad Milestone; One Small Improvement

From the BBC:

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have reached a new monthly record of 400 parts per million, according to scientists.

The milestone was announced by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

They said it was the first month that the entire globe broke 400ppm, reaching levels that haven’t been seen for about two million years.

400 ppm environment(1)

In Holland, meanwhile, good folks are still trying to come up with another grain of sand in the effort to reverse the above record setting.

Engineers in the Netherlands say a novel solar road surface that generates electricity and can be driven over has proved more successful than expected.

Last year they built a 70-metre test track along a bike path near the Dutch town of Krommenie on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

In the first six months since it was installed, the panels beneath the road have generated over 3,000kwh. This is enough to provide a single-person household with electricity for a year.

“If we translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70kwh per square metre per year,” says Sten de Wit, spokesman for SolaRoad, which has been developed by a public-private partnership.

Aljazeera

Environment Solar Road Pre-fabricated-concrete-slabs2-700x400

Going After the Bigs

From Australia:

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey has said the government will introduce a new tax crackdown against 30 multinational corporations.

Without identifying the targets, Mr Hockey said the big corporations were “diverting profits earned in Australia away from Australia to no-tax or low-tax jurisdictions”.

He described the crackdown as “the first of its kind in the world”.

The legislation will be introduced to Parliament on Tuesday.

Mr Hockey said it was “pretty evident” which companies would be targeted.

Big multinational firms such as Google, Apple and Microsoft have been accused of moving their profits to countries with lower rates of tax.

BBC

From Bloomberg News: Elizabeth Warren is the Real Deal

Warren is a problem the financial industry didn’t expect to have right now. With the Republicans in control of Congress, this should be the time for Wall Street to soften regulators and their rules. The financial crisis is over, the housing market is recovering, and the economy is stable. A year ago, the sense of urgency about keeping a close watch over the financial industry seemed to be subsiding. Not anymore. Warren has re-sounded the alarm.

“There is a lot of talk coming from Citigroup about how Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect,” Warren continued. “So let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi. I agree with you, Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect.” She paused, then spoke very slowly and emphatically: “It should have broken you into pieces.”

“More than any of the senators, she is making Wall Street nervous,” says Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator from Illinois and a fellow financial reformer. This spring, news broke that bank executives had told Democrats they were unhappy about the anti–Wall Street rhetoric coming from Warren and others. In some conversations, executives reportedly suggested they might withhold donations. Warren used the news as an opportunity to remind the public once again how banks wield power in Washington. “The big banks have issued a threat, and it’s up to us to fight back,” she promptly e-mailed supporters, asking for donations.

Bloomberg News — including a nice graphic of friends and enemies.

And Krugman at the Times weighs in, calling out the Wall Street Vampires:

…. let’s just note that these days Wall Street, which used to split its support between the parties, overwhelmingly favors the G.O.P. And the Republicans who came to power this year are returning the favor by trying to kill Dodd-Frank, the financial reform enacted in 2010.

And why must Dodd-Frank die? Because it’s working.

…. Republicans would love to undo Dodd-Frank, but they are, rightly, afraid of the glare of publicity that defenders of reform like Senator Warren — who inspires a remarkable amount of fear in the unrighteous — would shine on their efforts.

Does this mean that all is well on the financial front? Of course not. Dodd-Frank is much better than nothing, but far from being all we need

Alberta, Canada: Pigs Do Fly

“The New Democratic Party (NDP) ended the Progressive Conservatives’ (PC) 44-year rule of the province.

“Political observers were stunned by the result, with one commentator saying: “Pigs do fly”.

“Alberta’s Premier Jim Prentice, a former member of Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet, said he was stepping down from political life.

BBC

Rachel Notley, the new Premier-designate for Alberta, promised “during the campaign, … to withdraw provincial support for the Keystone XL project, raise corporate taxes and also potentially to raise royalties on a regional oil industry already reeling from the collapse in world prices.”

“Ordinary Canadians were reeling from the sheer magnitude of the shift in Alberta, which has placed the country’s most notoriously conservative province, taken for granted as an impregnable redneck kingdom, in the hands of its most progressive regional government. To explain the phenomenon, Toronto-based writer Doug Saunders asked his American Twitter followers to imagine socialist presidential candidate Bernie Saunders “becoming Texas governor by a big majority”.

The Guardian

Now if the US democrats can get a hold of the Notley New Democratic Party play-book and tear up whatever led to the Conservative rout in England, our own 2016 would be looking a lot better.

Inequality Rules

Eduardo Porter in the NY Times business section, always interesting to read, reminds us that inequality is not simply a minimum wage issue.  Citing Joseph Stiglitz’s latest book, “The Great Divide” (W.W. Norton & Company), he writes:

It includes the steady tightening of intellectual property rights and the rise of finance, with its lavish rewards for activities of dubious social value. It includes the furious consolidation of industry, which has reduced competition across the economy.

Professor Stiglitz is particularly incensed by the Obama administration’s attempt to include investment pacts in trade agreements it is negotiating with Asia and Europe, which would allow multinationals to sue governments for compensation if regulation hurts their profits.

Another commentator, Shi-Ling Hsu at the Florida State University College of Law, that that a huge piece of the inequality puzzle is being missed:

 the role of law in distributing wealth.” Subsidies, tax treatment, legal protection and other mechanisms conspire to aid the wealthy while often serving to damp economic gains.

Grandfathering existing businesses to protect them from new regulation is a classic way to protect profits, shielding incumbent businesses and deterring new entrants that would face costlier regulations. Granting water rights to whoever first uses the water amounts to another gift to business that can entail large social costs. (In California, for example.)

Read it all.  Good thought points