Face Of The Day

Oct 22 2014 @ 8:32pm

The Moscow State Circus Returns To The UK

Acrobat Vlad Khvostik performs during a photocall at the Moscow State Circus in Clapham in London, England on October 22, 2014. The circus is located at Clapham Common from 22nd October to 2nd November. By Carl Court/Getty Images.

Mike Konczal lets the air out of Cathie Jo Martin and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez’s claim that the US has a more progressive tax system than Sweden:

They are measuring how much of tax revenue comes from the top decile (or, alternatively, the concentration coefficient of tax revenue), and calling that the progressivity of taxation (“how much more (or less) of the tax burden falls on the wealthiest households”). The fact that the United States gets so much more of its tax revenue from the rich when compared to Sweden means we have a much more progressive tax policy, one of the most progressive in the world. Congratulations?

The problem is, of course, that we get so much of our tax revenue from the rich because we have one of the highest rates of inequality across peer nations. How unequal a country is will be just as much of a driver of the progressivity of taxation as the actual tax polices. In order to understand how absurd this is, even flat taxes on a very unequal income distribution will mean that taxes are “progressive” as more income will come from the top of the income distribution, just because that’s where all the money is. Yet how would that be progressive taxation?

Giving Gray Some Shade

Oct 22 2014 @ 7:31pm

The political philosopher John Gray is known, among other things, for his iconoclastic and often brilliant review essays (we recently featured his takedown of Richard Dawkins here). Anthony McCarthy returns the favor by panning Gray’s recent book, The Silence of Animals, quipping that it “could equally well have been called The Silence of Turnips:

Things take a downward turn towards the end of the first part of the book, where at least the examples are engaging and concern recognisable human travails. At the end of this first section, there is the statement: ‘When truth is at odds with meaning, it is meaning that wins.’ What is this supposed to mean?

Read On

Although the poet’s famed 1882 meeting with Oscar Wilde is now perhaps best known for alleged sexual shenanigans, David M. Friedman, the author of Wilde in America: Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Modern Celebrity, emphasizes the role their confab played in the development of celebrity culture. Friedman writes, “the real subject of Whitman’s conversation [with Wilde] was how to build a career in public, with all the display that self-glorifying achievement requires”:

Whitman_with_butterflyWe can deduce that with confidence because the first thing Whitman did when he reached his den was to give his guest [Wilde] a photograph of himself. … The portrait Whitman gave Wilde in 1882 appeared on his next book, Specimen Days & Collect, an assemblage of travel diaries, nature writing, and Civil War reminiscences. (Whitman had spent the war years in Washington, working as a government clerk and volunteering as a hospital visitor.) He is in profile in the photograph, sitting in a wicker chair wearing a wide-brimmed hat, an open-necked shirt, and a cardigan. A butterfly is perched on his index finger, held in front of his face. “I’ve always had the knack of attracting birds and butterflies,” Whitman once told a friend. Years later Whitman’s “butterfly” was found in the Library of Congress. It was made of cardboard; it had been tied to his finger with string.

By handing Wilde that photo Whitman was teaching him that fame as a writer is only partly about literature. It is also about committing oneself to a performance. Such role-playing isn’t the act of a phony; in Whitman’s mind every pose he struck was authentic. This type of authenticity – the fashioning of an image one would be faithful to in public – Wilde had experienced on a small scale playing the aesthete on the campus of Oxford’s Magdalen College and at parties in London. It was instructive to have its truth verified by a literary star who had proved its efficacy on an international scale. Wilde had always believed there was nothing inglorious about seeking glory. By handing Wilde his portrait, Whitman was confirming that instinct.

(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Losing The Opium War

Oct 22 2014 @ 6:17pm

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A new report (pdf) from the office of John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, reveals that poppy production in Afghanistan hit a record high of 209,000 hectares last year, despite a $7.6 billion eradication effort:

“In past years, surges in opium poppy cultivation have been met by a coordinated response from the U.S. government and coalition partners, which has led to a temporary decline in levels of opium production,” Sopko said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top U.S. officials. “The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of those prior efforts,” he said.

No shit, Sherlock. Keating notes that poppy production “actually fell dramatically from 2007 to 2009, and has been climbing steadily ever since”:

Read On

How SpaceX Achieved Lift Off

Oct 22 2014 @ 5:43pm

Tim Fernholz has a lengthy profile of the aerospace company:

SpaceX currently charges $61.2 million per launch. Its cost-per-kilogram of cargo to low-earth orbit, $4,653, is far less than the $14,000 to $39,000 offered by its chief American competitor, the United Launch Alliance. Other providers often charge $250 to $400 million per launch; NASA pays Russia $70 million per astronaut to hitch a ride on its three-person Soyuz spacecraft. SpaceX’s costs are still nowhere near low enough to change the economics of space as Musk and his investors envision, but they have a plan to do so (of which more later).

The secret to the low cost is relatively simple, at least in principle: Do as much as possible in-house, in an integrated manufacturing facility, with modern components; and avoid the unwieldy supply chains, legacy designs, layers of contractors, and “cost-plus” billing that characterized SpaceX’s competitors. Many early employees were attracted to the company because they wanted to avoid the bureaucracy of the traditional aerospace conglomerates.

Fernholz determines that the “question for Musk and his investors now is whether he can be more than just a better rocket builder”:

Read On

First Razor Blades, Now Cannabis?

Oct 22 2014 @ 5:14pm

Ahead of Halloween, the Denver police department are warning parents about pot-infused edibles:

Jacob Sullum is unconcerned:

For years law enforcement officials have been warning parents to be on the lookout for marijuana edibles in their kids’ trick-or-treat sacks. And for years, as far as I can tell, there has not been a single documented case in which someone has tried to get kids high by doling out THC-tainted treats disguised as ordinary candy. Since 1996, the year that California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, the newspapers and wire services covered by the Nexis database have not carried any reports of such trickery, although they have carried more than a few articles in which people worry about the possibility. …

Read On

Quote For The Day II

Oct 22 2014 @ 4:44pm

“I get that for many of you, life on Twitter has become more important than life out here in the big grimy. And on a certain level, I get it. But sometimes you’ve really gotta close that laptop, do you feel me? It’s a big brilliant world out here, and Twitter is really small in many ways. The thing about Twitter is that you get to turn it off and go outside. And once you do you can go around and look at all the messy humans out there and say to yourself “look at that guy! He doesn’t know I exist!” and “that lady has no idea what #gamergate is” and “that person couldn’t pick Suey Park out of a lineup.” Then you can go to a bar or make a friend or eat Funyuns or do any number of things that are more intense and interesting than everything that has ever happened in the history of the internet combined. And that’s a good feel,” – Freddie DeBoer.

Some terrifying footage of the shooting at Canada’s Parliament today:

Tim Mak adds:

It was the second attack inside Canada this week. The shootings come just two days after a 25-year-old man described by police as a “radicalized” Muslim drove his car into two Canadian soldiers in a city outside of Montreal, killing one and seriously injuring the other. Martin Couture-Rouleau, the suspect in that incident, was arrested in July while trying to travel to Turkey. Following his rampage, Courture-Rouleau was shot and killed.

Mental Health Break

Oct 22 2014 @ 4:20pm

A Hollywood horror musical: