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Nov 23, 15

most black students at even moderately selective schools — with high school preparation and test scores far below those of their classmates — rank well below the middle of their college and grad school classes, with between 25% and 50% ranking in the bottom tenth. That’s a very bad place to be at any school.

This, in turn, increases these students’ isolation and self-segregation from the higher-achieving Asians and whites who flourish in more challenging courses. At least one careful study shows that students are more likely to become friends with peers who are similar in academic accomplishment.

Put yourself in the position of manyHispanic and especially black students (recipients of by far the largest racial preferences) at selective schools, who may work heroically during the first semester only to be lost in many classroom discussions and dismayed by their grades.

As they start to see the gulf between their own performance and that of most of their fellow students, dismay can become despair. They soon realize that no matter how hard they work, they will struggle academically.

It is critical to understand that these are not bad students. They did well in high school and could excel at somewhat less selective universities where they would arrive roughly as well prepared as their classmates.

But due to racial preferences, they find themselves for the first time in their lives competing against classmates who have a huge head start in terms of previous education, academic ability, or both.

Nov 23, 15

Alberta’s NDP government is imposing an economy-wide carbon tax starting in 2017 and a cap on emissions from the oil sands in a sweeping plan aimed at showing it is serious about fighting climate change.

Premier Rachel Notley’s strategy – a major shift in environmental policy for Canada’s largest oil-producing province – will take centre stage as Canada’s premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gather in Ottawa on Monday for a first ministers’ meeting to craft a strategy for the coming Paris climate talks.

Nov 22, 15


CNN Money reported this year that a growing share of today’s rich are under 65. “America’s über-rich are getting younger and younger,”. . .Yet new research shows that despite their high profile, the young rich are a minority and the wealthy as a group are actually getting older. A study by Edward Wolff, a wealth expert and economics professor at New York University, found that the median age of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans increased to 63 in 2013 (the latest year available) from 58 in 1992.

People 65 to 74 accounted for almost a third of the wealthiest 1 percent in 2013 — up from 19 percent in 2001.

. . . The difference between the average age of the 1 percent and that of the wider population increased to 10 years in 2013 from eight in 1992, Professor Wolff found. While the share of 1 percenters under 35 has remained about the same since 1992, the proportion from 45 to 54 has fallen by almost half.

A study released this summer by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that the median wealth of old families (those with heads of household over the age of 62) rose 40 percent from 1989 to 2013, to $210,000. The median wealth of middle-age families (40 to 61) and young families (under 40) both fell by over 25 percent.

. . . . The main driver, he said, is the surge in top incomes, which are going mainly to executives, business owners, bankers, lawyers and other professionals who are more senior. He said the median age of the top 1 percent of income earners has jumped to 53 in 2013 from 45 in 1992.

“Top incomes are going to older people,” he said. “So it’s not as common for younger people to jump the ladder of success.”

. . . . “Sixty is the new 40 in Aspen,” he said.

Nov 22, 15

By Janell Ross November 17

In a new poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on Tuesday, a whopping 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. And an even bigger share of Americans — 53 percent — told pollsters American culture and "way of life" have mostly changed for the worse since 1950. (Survey graph)

First, there are some real and large differences in the way that different groups of Americans answered those two questions up above. Half of white Americans — including 60 percent of the white working class — told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of black Americans agreed. White Americans feel put-upon and mistreated — and large shares of non-white Americans do not seem to have any knowledge of the challenges that white Americans say they face.

Nov 22, 15

Heart attack mortality is WORSE when senior cardiologists attend at teaching hospitals:

"ask four simple questions when doctors are proposing an intervention, whether an X-ray, genetic test or surgery. First, what difference will it make? Will the test results change our approach to treatment? Second, how much improvement in terms of prolongation of life, reduction in risk of a heart attack or other problem is the treatment actually going to make? Third, how likely and severe are the side effects? And fourth, is the hospital a teaching hospital? The JAMA Internal Medicine study found that mortality was higher overall at nonteaching hospitals.
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<br />It is surprising how uncomfortable some physicians get when you ask these questions. No one likes to be second-guessed or have to justify their decisions. But studies show that when patients are systematically given information about benefits and risks they tend to consent to fewer interventions and feel more informed about their decisions.
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<br />So when your mother is being rushed to the hospital, it might be best not to seek the most famous senior doctor, but to ask those four questions.
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<br />Ezekiel J. Emanuel is an oncologist and a vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania.

Nov 22, 15


“The social responsibility of business,” Milton Friedman famously said in this newspaper 45 years ago, “is to increase its profits.” But he was careful to clarify that his dictum for business held true “so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” Our acute reliance on industry experts in thin political markets and the instances of their self-serving behavior together raise a curious challenge for capitalism. What is the social responsibility of business when it comes to setting the rules of the game? Can it ever be legitimate to manipulate the definition of profit in the spirit of increasing profits?
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<br />Karthik Ramanna, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, is the author of “Political Standards: Corporate Interest, Ideology, and Leadership in the Shaping of Accounting Rules for the Market Economy.”

Nov 22, 15

Krugman paper on liquidity traps is persuasive:

At FtAlphaville, Matthew Klein looks at the evidence, and is surprised to find that there’s little support for the bad-banks-did-it story, even though everyone repeats it. But look back at my 1998 BPEA on Japan, which is more or less where I came in. Back then it was almost universally insisted that the failure of monetary base expansion to filter through into bank lending showed that a dysfunctional banking system was the core of Japan’s problem. But I argued (154-158) that the nonresponse of monetary aggregates was exactly what you should expect in a liquidity trap, and that there was little evidence (174-177) that banking problems were actually central to the economy’s weakness.

Nov 21, 15

In the past 12 months, the 24 largest shale companies have reported losses totaling more than $62 billion and many show negative returns.

Energy companies will be forced to cull billions more dollars from their budgets next year as low crude prices halt drilling around the world, said Dennis Cassidy, the Dallas-based managing director of oil and gas at AlixPartners, an advisory focused on turnarounds. Shale producers with high debt or marginal oil fields will suffer the most, he said, but added, “Everyone is going to feel pain at $40.”

Nov 21, 15

Kolbert 2007

Lovins is a short man with a salt-and-pepper mustache, a fringe of tousled black hair, and droopy brown eyes that give him a passing resemblance to Einstein. . . .. Lovins first came to national attention in 1976, when he was twenty-eight. In an essay published in Foreign Affairs, he asserted that the United States could completely phase out its use of fossil fuels and do so not at a cost but at a profit. “We stand here confronted,” he wrote, quoting Pogo, “by insurmountable opportunities.” . . . Thirty years later, the world faces another energy crisis, and Lovins still sees limitless opportunity. . . . . .
This year, Americans will consume close to four trillion kilowatt hours of electricity. In addition, we will burn through a hundred and forty-three billion gallons of gasoline, which at current retail prices will cost us some three hundred and sixty billion dollars, and twenty-six billion gallons of jet fuel, worth fifty billion dollars. To heat our homes and businesses this winter, we will purchase sixty-two billion dollars’ worth of natural gas and heating oil, and just to grill our weenies we will buy some seven hundred and seventy-one million dollars’ worth of charcoal briquettes. In 2007, total energy expenditures in the U.S. will come to more than a quadrillion dollars, or roughly a tenth of the country’s gross domestic product.

With so much at stake, basic economics suggests that any significant inefficiencies should have been wrung out of the system long ago. . . . . . Lovins’s fundamental premise is that this fundamental premise is wrong.

. . . . .“Winning the Oil Endgame” is a characteristic Lovinsian project—ostensibly hard-nosed and at the same time shamelessly utopian. . . . .

John Holdren, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has known Lovins for more than thirty years

! ! ! ! ! “Amory has been more energetic, more persistent, and more creative in thinking about ways to make this happen than anyone else,” he told me. ! ! ! ! ! !

Nov 21, 15

Kolbert - 2007

Carbon dioxide is a by-product of just about every aspect of contemporary life—from driving and flying to farming and manufacturing and watching videos on YouTube. To reduce emissions by sixty per cent—or eighty per cent, as Senator Boxer advocates, or by two-thirds, as the McCain-Lieberman-Obama bill calls for—will thus require significant, and doubtless also disruptive, changes at every level of society. This may not seem an attractive prospect, but, as the latest I.P.C.C. report makes clear, change is not something that anyone at this point has a choice about. All that is at issue—and it is critically at issue—is how disastrous the change will be. Already enough CO2 has been pumped into the air to alter life on earth for thousands of years to come. To continue on our current path because the alternative seems like too much effort is not just shortsighted. It’s suicidal.

Nov 21, 15

Kolbert of Rachel Carson 2007

And while Carson clearly hoped that her book would make a difference, this hope was balanced by doubt. Her immediate topic was pesticides, but her deeper subject was human arrogance— the delusion that altering the world means controlling it. For the U.S.D.A., killing quails, woodcocks, wild turkeys, blackbirds, meadowlarks, opossums, and armadillos was no problem. The problem was stopping the fire ants. They now infest some three hundred and thirty million acres and can be found as far west as California.

Nov 21, 15

Canada’s synthetic-fuels boom.
By Elizabeth Kolbert 2007

Very clear piece

Nov 21, 15

Kolbert on Chu 2009

The transition to more efficient fridges, Chu pointed out, has saved the equivalent of all the energy generated in the United States by wind turbines and solar cells. “I cannot impress upon you how important energy efficiency is,” he said.

Nov 21, 15

As Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s climate-action commissioner, said, “To deliver what is needed to stay below a two-degrees-Celsius increase in global temperature, all countries, including the United States, must do even more than what this reduction trajectory indicates.”

Ezra Klein, of Vox, was more blunt about it. The goal of holding warming to two degrees, he wrote, now “looks laughable.” The difficulty that the Administration faces in trying to combat climate change—which, by extension, is the difficulty that we all face—is that the rules of geophysics cannot be amended to suit political realities. Thus, it is entirely possible for the new regulations to be the best that can reasonably be hoped for from Washington these days and at the same time for them to be woefully inadequate.

Nov 21, 15

Kolbert on Hansen 2009

"At first, Jim's work didn't take an activist bent at all," the writer Bill McKibben, who has followed Hansen's career for more than twenty years and helped organize the anti-coal protest in D.C., told me. "I think he thought, as did I, If we get this set of facts out in front of everybody, they're so powerful-overwhelming-that people will do what needs to be done. Of course, that was naïve on both our parts."

As recently as the George W. Bush Administration, Hansen was still operating as if getting the right facts in front of the right people would be enough.
. . . .
if Hansen's anxieties about D.A.I. and coal are broadly shared, he is still, among climate scientists, an outlier. "Almost everyone in the scientific community is prepared to say that if we don't do something now to reverse the direction we're going in we either already are or will very, very soon be in the danger zone," Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science and a provost at the University of California at San Diego, told me. "But Hansen talks in stronger terms. He's using adjectives. He has started to speak in moral terms, and that always makes scientists uncomfortable."

Hansen is also increasingly isolated among climate activists. "I view Jim Hansen as heroic as a scientist," Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said. "He was there at the beginning, he's faced all kinds of pressures politically, and he's done a terrific job, I think, of keeping focussed. But I wish he would stick to what he really knows. Because I don't think he has a realistic view of what is politically possible
. . . .
(Kolbert) Just because the world desperately needs a solution that satisfies both the scientific and the political constraints doesn’t mean one necessarily exists.

For his part, Hansen argues that while the laws of geophysics are immutable, those of society are ours to determine.

Nov 21, 15

Kolberft - Article that became a book

Currently, a third of all amphibian species, nearly a third of reef-building corals, a quarter of all mammals, and an eighth of all birds are classified as "threatened with extinction." These estimates do not include the species that humans have already wiped out or the species for which there are insufficient data. Nor do the figures take into account the projected effects of global warming or ocean acidification. Nor, of course, can they anticipate the kinds of sudden, terrible collapses that are becoming almost routine.

I asked Knoll to compare the current situation with past extinction events. He told me that he didn't want to exaggerate recent losses, or to suggest that an extinction on the order of the end-Cretaceous or end-Permian was imminent. At the same time, he noted, when the asteroid hit the Yucatán "it was one terrible afternoon." He went on, "But it was a short-term event, and then things started getting better. Today, it's not like you have a stress and the stress is relieved and recovery starts. It gets bad and then it keeps being bad, because the stress doesn't go away. Because the stress is us."

Nov 21, 15


What happened between the Neanderthals and us?

Maybe genes for social cue reading and cooperation - maybe genes for "madness" - - maybe genes for aesthetics.

Some interbreeding studies provide some clues.

Nov 21, 15


“One of the feared tipping points of the climate system appears to have been crossed.”

“This Is What a Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming Looks Like,” read a headline on the Web site of Mother Jones.

The vulnerability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, or WAIS, has been appreciated for a long time; all the way back in 1968

Nov 21, 15

Books May 12, 2008 Issue
Our Own Devices --Does technology drive history?
By Jill Lepore

James Prescott Joule, whose findings led to the first law of thermodynamics, spent his honeymoon jury-rigging a thermometer to take a reading at the top and bottom of a waterfall where a lesser man might merely have canoodled. Joseph Henry shredded his wife’s silk petticoat to make insulation for the coil of wire he needed to wrap around an electromagnet. Thomas Edison didn’t wash, and was convinced that changing his clothes would alter his body’s chemistry, and not in a good way. Nikola Tesla, who developed the first motor for alternating current, had to do everything in multiples of three: twenty-seven laps in the pool, twelve hundred electric lamps for the city of Strasbourg. He was also afraid of earrings, peaches, touching people’s hair, dropping tiny square slips of paper into bowls of liquid, and eating food whose cubic footage he had not been able to estimate at a glance.

(People argue that ) their machines, the engines of our abundance, make us who we are.

Klein’s book reads like a fairy tale: one thing is always leading to the next, inevitably, and changing everything, overnight, with the wave of a wand. . . . . “The Power Makers” is at once grandiloquent and granular. . . .

“To a larger degree than most people care to admit,” Klein writes, “we have become what our technologies made us.” . . . .
Awestruck wonder at machine-driven, millennial progress animated the nineteenth century the way the obsession with innovation animates American culture today. It’s what Perry Miller called the “technological sublime.” In prints and paintings, “Progress” was pictured as a steam-powered locomotive, chugging across the continent, unstoppable. Inventors and the people who operated their inventions abounded. . . . By the end of the nineteenth century, machines had become the yardstick by which Americans and Europeans measured the rest of the world, on a scale beginning with barbarity and ending with civilization. . . . . If, in the nineteenth century, the idea that machines make people who they are helped justify imperialism, it played a similar role in the twentieth century, when it influenced modernization theory, a set of ideas that served both as a model for historical change and as a rationale for American foreign-policy intervention in postcolonial states: every society, once on board a train called Progress, makes station stops at Literacy, Urbanization, Capitalism, and Democracy before reaching the end of the line at Prosperity. In short, the proposition that “we have become what our technologies made us” has a long and not always edifying history.

Historical narratives in which machines drive history look like this: x machine produces y kind of society. . . . This logic is usually called “technological determinism,” and is something that Mumford himself, during the course of his career, repudiated and vigorously attacked as “a radical misinterpretation of the whole course of human development.” . . . . . The cotton gin carried slavery to the American West. The automobile drove city dwellers to the suburbs. The Pill gave birth to the sexual revolution. Surgical strikes numbed us to the agony of war.

These statements have a ring of truth; they’re useful, insightful, and worth considering. . . .
But what if x isn’t all that triggers y, or even what mostly does; what if it just looks that way, because we are living y? It’s easy to forget that some of these y’s started long before the x’s, suburbs before automobiles. And none of the x’s tell the whole story;. . .

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