Commentary

Michael Riordan on United Technologies

April 13, 2016
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Michael Riordan on United Technologies

Michael Riordan, coauthor of Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Supercollider penned a recent op-ed for the New York Times on United Technologies and their subsidiary, the air-conditioning equipment maker Carrier Corporation, who plans “to transfer its Indianapolis plant’s manufacturing operations and about 1,400 jobs to Monterrey, Mexico.” Read a brief excerpt below, in which the author begins to untangle a web of corporate (mis)behavior, taxpayer investment, government policy, job exports—and their consequences. *** The transfers of domestic manufacturing jobs to Mexico and Asia have benefited Americans by bringing cheaper consumer goods to our shores and stores. But when the victims of these moves can find only lower-wage jobs at Target or Walmart, and residents of these blighted cities have much less money to spend, is that a fair distribution of the savings and costs? Recognizing this complex phenomenon, I can begin to understand the great upwelling of working-class support for Bernie Sanders and Donald J. Trump — especially for the latter in regions of postindustrial America left behind by these jarring economic dislocations. And as a United Technologies shareholder, I have to admit to a gnawing sense of guilt in unwittingly helping to foster this job exodus. In pursuing . . .

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Patterns in Nature is PW’s Most Beautiful Book of 2016

April 11, 2016
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Patterns in Nature is PW’s Most Beautiful Book of 2016

It might only be April, but there’s already one foregone conclusion: Philip Ball’s Patterns in Nature is “The Most Beautiful Book of 2016” at Publishers Weekly. As Ball writes: The topic is inherently visual, concerned as it is with the sheer splendor of nature’s artistry, from snowflakes to sand dunes to rivers and galaxies. But I was frustrated that my earlier efforts, while delving into the scientific issues in some depth, never secured the resources to do justice to the imagery. This is a science that, heedless of traditional boundaries between physics, chemistry, biology and geology, must be seen to be appreciated. We have probably already sensed the deep pattern of a tree’s branches, of a mackerel sky laced with clouds, of the organized whirlpools in turbulent water. Just by looking carefully at these things, we are halfway to an answer. I am thrilled at last to be able to show here the true riches of nature’s creativity. It is not mere mysticism to perceive profound unity in the repetition of themes that these images display. Richard Feynman, a scientist not given to flights of fancy, expressed it perfectly: “Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of . . .

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Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

April 8, 2016
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Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

For those of you who missed it, here is Levi Stahl’s 31-part Twitter essay from late last week, which responds to an op-ed in the New York Times by columnist Ross Douthat comparing Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to Widmerpool, the anti-anti-hero from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time:   To read more about A Dance to the Music of Time, click here. . . .

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Rodney Powell on the anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death

April 4, 2016
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Rodney Powell on the anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death

To commemorate the third anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death, we asked UCP film studies editor Rodney Powell to consider his legacy. Read after the jump below. *** It’s three years since Roger Ebert’s death; for three years we’ve been deprived of his reviews, “Great Movies” essays, and journal entries. Fortunately most of his writing remains available online, and the University of Chicago Press has been privileged to publish three of his books—Awake in the Dark, Scorsese by Ebert, and The Great Movies III, with a fourth, a reprint of Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook just out. And there’s more to come, with The Great Movies IV due this fall. So I think this should be an occasion for celebrating rather than lamenting. My own hope is that, as the celebrity status he attained fades from memory, he will be recognized for the brilliant writer he was. Within the confines of the shorter forms in which he wrote, he was an absolute master. Of course not every piece was at the same high level, but a remarkable percentage of his vast output will, I think, stand the test of time. Here I will only mention the high . . .

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David Hall on The Last Hurrah

March 15, 2016
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David Hall on The Last Hurrah

In timely coincidence with today’s primaries and the book’s return to print, The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor received some well-tailored praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Hall, writing in the Columbia Daily Herald,  who suggests we: Take a breather from the daily pounding of politics and reflect: chaos, confusion, and gutter campaigning are not new. . . . Even today’s politics are not speeding away. We have survived travail through democracy. Good and thoughtful fiction lets us pause and reflect. Honing in on The Last Hurrah, an almost-story adapted from the life of notorious Boston mayor James Michael Curley, he writes of the book’s foreboding about the nature of the relationship between media and politics: Another poignant tale of American politics is The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor. Set in an old and mainline northeastern city, the novel examines the dying days of machine politics when largess held voters in sway. Frank Skeffington, 72, believes he is entitled to one more term. His political compass loses its bearing against a young, charismatic challenger, void of political experience but adorned with war medals and good looks. O’Connor’s 1956 novel was prescient in portraying the impact television would have on politics. While The Last . . .

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The Book of Frogs

February 26, 2016
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The Book of Frogs

Boing Boing recently profiled Tim Halliday’s The Book of Frogs: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from Around the World, but the real coup was a live link to sample pages, which showcase some of the majestically weird amphibians curated therein. You can see a handful of those images after the jump, but be sure to check out a glossy PDF of even more, via (full-size) additional samples posted to the book’s UCP site. *** To read more about The Book of Frogs, click here. . . .

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Dave Hickey at Momus

February 24, 2016
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Dave Hickey at Momus

What follows below is a very brief excerpt from a feature-length interview with Dave Hickey, whose book 25 Women: Essays on Their Art published this fall, over at Momus. *** Tell me about the timing. Why did you decide to produce 25 Women when you did? I was putting together a book of what I considered to be my best essays about what I considered to be the best art. I got up to about ten or twelve essays and I realized that most of these essays were about the art of women artists, so I shifted my hand on the tiller. Also, I wanted to memorialize Marcia Tucker, so I did that. I thought it would be a kick. You say in your introduction that it’s not “a fair book.” What do you mean by that? How would it look if it was fair?  Well, there are lots of women artists whose work I like, about whom I never had a chance to write. Agnes Martin, Cindy Sherman, and Hannah Wilke come to mind. This was mostly in the seventies when men couldn’t write about women artists if a woman writer was available, and there always was. I also wrote some essays . . .

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Sixteen for ’16: A primer for Bernie Sanders

February 22, 2016
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Sixteen for ’16: A primer for Bernie Sanders

A free chapter from Sixteen for ’16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America by Salvatore Babones (Policy Press) *** Back in the good old days, that is to say the mid-1990s, taxpayers with annual incomes over $500,000 paid federal income taxes at an average effective rate of 30.4%. For 2012, the latest year for which data are available, the equivalent figure was 22.0%. The much-ballyhooed January 1, 2013 tax deal that made the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for all except the very well-off will do little to reverse this trend: The deal that passed Congress only restores pre-Bush rates on the last few dollars of earned income, not on the majority of earned income, on corporate dividends, or on most investment gains. Someone has had a very big tax cut in recent years, and the chances are that someone is not you. In the 1990s taxes on high incomes were already low by historical standards. Today, they are even lower. The super-rich are able to lower their taxes even further through a multitude of tax minimization and tax avoidance strategies. The very tax system itself has in many ways been structured to meet the needs of the super-rich, resulting in a . . .

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On personal liability: Better Bankers, Better Banks in the NYT

February 19, 2016
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On personal liability: Better Bankers, Better Banks in the NYT

A recent New York Times piece on the necessary culpability of bankers in bank misconduct builds on interviews with Claire A. Hill and Richard W. Painter, the authors of Better Bankers, Better Banks: Promoting Good Business through Contractual Commitment, which argues that it’s the bankers’ ability to hide behind their banks to dodge any personal stakes in the hefty fines, penalties, and legal fees levied by the government in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, or any forthcoming. And Hill and Painter have a plan for how to change that—make bankers personally liable. Here’s a bit from the NYT: A different proposal comes in a new book by Claire A. Hill and Richard W. Painter, professors at the University of Minnesota Law School. In “Better Bankers, Better Banks,” they argue for making financial executives personally liable for a portion of any fines and fraud-based judgments a bank enters into, including legal settlements. The professors call this covenant banking. And it looks a lot like the kind of personal liability that was a fact of life among the top Wall Street firms when they were private partnerships. With their own money at risk, partners of Salomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs were much . . .

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Masters of Uncertainty on Thinking Allowed

February 18, 2016
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Masters of Uncertainty on Thinking Allowed

  Click here to listen to author Phaedra Daipha’s recent appearance on the BBC 4’s Thinking Allowed. During her segment, Daipha delves into some of the extensive ethnographic fieldwork she performed at a northeastern office of the National Weather Bureau, which helped to generate her recent book Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth. In the book, Daipha argues that weather forecasting is a craft-based practice—and as neither artists nor scientists, its practitioners are closer to something like improvisational data-junkies, odd oracles for a labor of anticipation. From the BBC’s synopsis: Weather forecasting: Laurie Taylor explores a scientific art form rooted in unpredictability. He talks to Phaedra Daipha, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, who spent years immersing herself in a regional office of the National Weather Service in America. How do forecasters decide if a storm is to be described as severe or hazardous; or a day is breezy or brisk? Do they master uncertainty any better than other expert decision makers such as stockbrokers and poker players? Charged with the onerous responsibility of protecting the life and property of US citizens, how do they navigate the uncertain and chaotic nature of the atmosphere? To read more about Masters . . .

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