tetw:

by Nick Paumgarten

People who feel they have smooth, manageable commutes tend to evangelize. Those who hate the commute think of it as a core affliction, like a chronic illness. Once you raise the subject, the testimonies pour out.

Monster earthquakes are going off all around the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire. Is the West Coast of North America next?* And can you surf a tsunami?** Join us on a footnoted foray into the terrifying world of megaquakes, tidal waves, and the fine art of being your own Jesus. *YES **NO

“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”

Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care is free.

Shortly after eleven o’clock on the night of May 1st, two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters lifted off from Jalalabad Air Field, in eastern Afghanistan, and embarked on a covert mission into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. Inside the aircraft were twenty-three Navy SEALs from Team Six, which is officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. A Pakistani-American translator, whom I will call Ahmed, and a dog named Cairo—a Belgian Malinois—were also aboard. It was a moonless evening, and the helicopters’ pilots, wearing night-vision goggles, flew without lights over mountains that straddle the border with Pakistan. Radio communications were kept to a minimum, and an eerie calm settled inside the aircraft.

The deals that used to be struck on trading floors now take place via ‘matching engines’, computer systems that process buy and sell orders and execute a trade if they find a buy order and a sell order that match. The matching engines of the New York Stock Exchange, for example, aren’t in the exchange’s century-old Broad Street headquarters with its Corinthian columns and sculptures, but in a giant new 400,000-square-foot plain-brick data centre in Mahwah, New Jersey, 30 miles from downtown Manhattan. Nobody minds you taking photos of the Broad Street building’s striking neoclassical façade, but try photographing the Mahwah data centre and you’ll find the police quickly taking an interest: it’s classed as part of the critical infrastructure of the United States

The dinghy, fourteen feet long and low to the water, was designed for traveling on lakes or hugging a shoreline. There was no way it should’ve been in this part of the Pacific. If the San Nikunau had passed a quarter mile to either side, likely no one would have noticed it. Anyway, it appeared empty, another bit of the ocean’s mysterious flotsam. But then, as the big ship was approaching the dinghy, something startling happened. From the bottom of the tiny boat, emerging slowly and unsteadily, rose an arm—a single human arm, skinny and sun-fried and waving for help.

There were, as it turned out, three people on the boat. Three boys. Two were 15 years old and the third was 14. They were naked and emaciated. Their skin was covered with blisters. Their tongues were swollen. They had no food, no water, no clothing, no fishing gear, no life vests, and no first-aid kit. They were close to death. They had been missing for fifty-one days.

The brain is a remarkably capable chronometer for most purposes. It can track seconds, minutes, days, and weeks, set off alarms in the morning, at bedtime, on birthdays and anniversaries. Timing is so essential to our survival that it may be the most finely tuned of our senses. In lab tests, people can distinguish between sounds as little as five milliseconds apart, and our involuntary timing is even quicker. If you’re hiking through a jungle and a tiger growls in the underbrush, your brain will instantly home in on the sound by comparing when it reached each of your ears, and triangulating between the three points. The difference can be as little as nine-millionths of a second.

Yet “brain time,” as Eagleman calls it, is intrinsically subjective. “Try this exercise,” he suggests in a recent essay. “Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move.” There’s no evidence of any gaps in your perception—no darkened stretches like bits of blank film—yet much of what you see has been edited out. Your brain has taken a complicated scene of eyes darting back and forth and recut it as a simple one: your eyes stare straight ahead. Where did the missing moments go?

The question raises a fundamental issue of consciousness: how much of what we perceive exists outside of us and how much is a product of our minds? Time is a dimension like any other, fixed and defined down to its tiniest increments: millennia to microseconds, aeons to quartz oscillations. Yet the data rarely matches our reality. The rapid eye movements in the mirror, known as saccades, aren’t the only things that get edited out. The jittery camera shake of everyday vision is similarly smoothed over, and our memories are often radically revised. What else are we missing? When Eagleman was a boy, his favorite joke had a turtle walking into a sheriff’s office. “I’ve just been attacked by three snails!” he shouts. “Tell me what happened,” the sheriff replies. The turtle shakes his head: “I don’t know, it all happened so fast.”

govtoversight:

Big honking flowchart (pdf) by our friends at Public Citizen on the regulatory process.

The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a “personal” capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

Now, quoting from “A National Strategic Narrative" by Mr. Y:

America emerged from the Twentieth Century as the most powerful nation on earth. But we failed to recognize that dominance, like fossil fuel is not a sustainable source of energy. The new century brought with it a reminder that the world, in fact, is a complex, open system - constantly changing. And change brings with it uncertainty. What we really failed to recognize, is that in uncertainty and change, there is opportunity and hope.

It is time for America to re-focus our national interests and principles through a long of the global environment of tomorrow. It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment (sustainability); from an emphasis on power and control to an emphasis on strength and influence; from a defensive posture of exclusion, to a proactive posture of engagement. We must recognize that security means more than defense, and sustaining security requires adaptation and evolution, the leverage of converging interests and interdependencies. To grow we must accept that competitors are not necessarily adversaries, and that a winner does not demand a loser. We must regain our credibility as a leader among peers, a beacon of hope, rather than an island fortress. It is only by balancing our interest with our principles that we can truly hope to sustain our growth as a nation and to restore our credibility as a world leader.

By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans — the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow — we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.

The reopening of the National Museum is intended not only for domestic consumption, but to project China’s cultural strength abroad. It is the tip of a museum construction boom. As of 2009 there were 3,020 museums in China, including 328 private museums (the American Association of Museums estimates 17,500 in the US). One hundred new museums are being added each year. Attendance to most historic museums has been free since 2008. In March the government made entry to museums of modern and contemporary art free. The torrid pace of museum development is part of a national drive to build cultural infrastructure and, as Cai Wu, the minister of culture, put it earlier this year in a published comment, “to establish a batch of world-famous cultural brands.”

“The next ten years should be a golden period for the development of every aspect of cultural industries in China,” said Ye Lang, of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Beijing’s Communications University, at a January conference.

Whether steroids are considered an unforgivable sin or a culturally sanctioned misdemeanor akin to speeding, those inclined to question their significance will find themselves led reliably to a higher question: What is the significance of sports, today, in America? Even limited to professional spectator sports, the question will provoke a startling variety of answers, many of them incompatible. For some, sports are a fun and healthy hobby, for others a deadly serious competition. Sports are often denigrated as a surrogate form of combat in a culture where men no longer have to fight or hunt, although they are just as often held up as a surrogate form of worship in a secular age. They have served as an arena where heroes and villains battle for glory and a stage for political and ethical dramas to be acted out before partisan mobs. However, among those most closely associated with professional sports today—agents, owners, commentators, players—a rough consensus appears to be building around one description of sports. According to that description, professional American sports are, first and foremost, an entertainment business.

Ironically, the description of sport as an entertainment business, so widely embraced today, originated in the form of a lament, issued by social commentators suspicious of the convergence of athletics and capitalism (on the left), or dismayed by free agency—allowing players to sell their services to the highest bidder in a sordid yearly spectacle—and the increasingly “showy” aspects of the games (on the right). In 1979, cultural critic Christopher Lasch announced the end of sport in much the same mode that Hegel, in the nineteenth century, had announced the end of art. Sports would continue to be played and enjoyed by spectators, wrote Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism, but the rituals and conventions that once allowed sports to be truly significant had lost their meaning. It was no longer possible for fans to form long-term bonds with local players; the presentation of the games was corrupted by television and advertising; the players subscribed to an “entertainment ethic” more appropriate to actors and musicians. Such factors conspired, said Lasch, to explode the aura of illusion necessary for sports to elicit genuine enthusiasm. His chapter on “The Degradation of Sport” concludes with the report that “what began as an attempt to invest sport with religious experience … ends with the demystification of sport, the assimilation of sport to show business.”

Cricket, like India, had long intrigued me from afar. It seemed so mysterious: a game with strange rules, and stranger vocabulary, one that can last for days, captivating billions but meriting only an inch or two in the papers at home. Only madness made it to my radar. Fan hangs himself after India loss. … Pakistan’s coach allegedly murdered after upset defeat. There seemed something pure and savage that was missing from the glossy sports I follow at home.

The romance with the “other,” the Orient, and the stranger, however, diverts attention from something less sexy: the familiar. For those concerned with strife and violence in the world, like Said, the latter may, in fact, be more critical than the strange and the foreign. If the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted 15 years, can highlight something about how the West represents the East, it can also foreground a neglected truth: The most decisive antagonisms and misunderstandings take place within a community. The history of hatred and violence is, to a surprising degree, a history of brother against brother, not brother against stranger. From Cain and Abel to the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and the civil wars of our own age, it is not so often strangers who elicit hatred, but neighbors.

Russell Jacoby, in Bloodlust

I was born in 1945. When I grew up, there was a very concrete goal of El Dorado: it was called the United States. You listened to songs about girls adopted by families who lived in the U.S. by the seashore. There were G.I.s around, giving me chocolates and comic books. America looked like Heaven. What I’m saying is that the juxtaposition of a totally different world gave our people a very concrete psychology to work toward. We were trying to stand up from the ashes. People were living in miserable conditions, but we had hope.

The industrial facilities have to be rebuilt. If we are talking about one or two towns, yes, people may desert. But you are talking about a hundred and fifty kilometres of coastline. You cannot possibly abandon it.

Yukio Okamoto (Japan After the Earthquake and Tsunami)

theatlantic:

The Case for Happiness-Based Economics:

In 2008, economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers painstakingly converted incomes to purchase price parity, normalized different scales for happiness, and even re-interpreted survey questions in other languages. They then reexamined Easterlin’s claims and found that they didn’t hold up. Their conclusion: Absolute income matters. Life satisfaction continues to increase with greater income, after all.
Neoliberal economists cheered. Angus Deaton said wryly, “As an economist I tend to think money is good for you, and am pleased to find some evidence for that.” Stevenson and Wolfers wrote triumphantly that their findings “put to rest the earlier claim that economic development does not raise subjective well-being,” and all but broke out the green pom-poms to cheer for GDP.
Their research, however, also emphasizes something that most economists are less eager to discuss. Central to Stevenson and Wolfers’s analysis is the use of a logarithmic scale to relate happiness to income. What correlates with a fixed increment of happiness is not a dollar increase in absolute income (e.g., an additional $1000), but a percentage increment (e.g., an additional 100%). So, going from a $5000 annual income to $50,000 links with as much additional happiness as going from $50K to $500K, or from $500K to $5 million, or even from $5 million to $50 million.
To put it another way, as income rises, every additional dollar represents a smaller increment of happiness. At one level, this is perfectly obvious. The first increase of $45K — from $5K to $50K — would take a family from hunger and homelessness to being well-fed in an apartment, probably with a TV to boot. An additional $45K of income to $95K might allow for a few luxuries, but certainly nothing close to the difference between starvation and the middle class!
Economists know this at some level, but they largely neglect it in their models.

Read on at The Atlantic.

theatlantic:

The Case for Happiness-Based Economics:

In 2008, economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers painstakingly converted incomes to purchase price parity, normalized different scales for happiness, and even re-interpreted survey questions in other languages. They then reexamined Easterlin’s claims and found that they didn’t hold up. Their conclusion: Absolute income matters. Life satisfaction continues to increase with greater income, after all.

Neoliberal economists cheered. Angus Deaton said wryly, “As an economist I tend to think money is good for you, and am pleased to find some evidence for that.” Stevenson and Wolfers wrote triumphantly that their findings “put to rest the earlier claim that economic development does not raise subjective well-being,” and all but broke out the green pom-poms to cheer for GDP.

Their research, however, also emphasizes something that most economists are less eager to discuss. Central to Stevenson and Wolfers’s analysis is the use of a logarithmic scale to relate happiness to income. What correlates with a fixed increment of happiness is not a dollar increase in absolute income (e.g., an additional $1000), but a percentage increment (e.g., an additional 100%). So, going from a $5000 annual income to $50,000 links with as much additional happiness as going from $50K to $500K, or from $500K to $5 million, or even from $5 million to $50 million.

To put it another way, as income rises, every additional dollar represents a smaller increment of happiness. At one level, this is perfectly obvious. The first increase of $45K — from $5K to $50K — would take a family from hunger and homelessness to being well-fed in an apartment, probably with a TV to boot. An additional $45K of income to $95K might allow for a few luxuries, but certainly nothing close to the difference between starvation and the middle class!

Economists know this at some level, but they largely neglect it in their models.

Read on at The Atlantic.