Richard Conniff rejects conservationist arguments that imply “animals matter only because they benefit humans, or because just possibly, at some unknowable point in the future, they might benefit humans”:

I understand the logic, or at least the desperation, that drives conservationists to this horrible idea. It may seem like the only way to keep what’s left of the natural world from being plowed under by unstoppable human expansion and by our insatiable appetite for what appears to be useful.

But usefulness is precisely the argument other people put forward to justify destroying or displacing wildlife, and they generally bring a larger and more persuasive kind of green to the argument. Nothing you can say about 100 acres in the New Jersey Meadowlands will ever add up for a politician who thinks a new shopping mall will mean more jobs for local voters (and contributions to his campaign war chest). Nothing you can say about the value of rhinos for ecotourism in South Africa will ever matter to a wildlife trafficker who can sell their horns for $30,000 a pound in Vietnam.

Finally, there is the unavoidable problem that most wildlife species – honey badgers, blobfish, blue-footed boobies, red-tailed hawks, monarch butterflies, hellbenders – are always going to be “useless,” or occasionally annoying, from a human perspective. And even when they do turn out, by some quirk, to be useful, that’s typically incidental to what makes them interesting.

Tweet Of The Day

Sep 18 2014 @ 11:59pm

Live-Tweeting The Scotland Vote

Sep 18 2014 @ 8:49pm

Originally posted at 8.49 EST. Scroll down for the latest updates, in rough chronological order:

Read On

Face Of The Day

Sep 18 2014 @ 8:41pm

BRITAIN-SCOTLAND-INDEPENDENCE-VOTE

Ballots are counted at the Emirates Sports Arena in Glasgow on September 18, 2014, after the polls close in the referendum on Scotland’s independence. The question for voters at Scotland’s more than 5,000 polling stations is “Should Scotland be an independent country?” and they are asked to mark either “Yes” or “No”. The result is expected in the early hours of Friday. By Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images.

Defaulting On Venezuelans

Sep 18 2014 @ 8:09pm

This article by Ricardo Hausmann and Miguel Angel Santos is getting attention from Venezuela-watchers (and President Maduro, who hated it – so you know they’re on to something). The pair argue that the country should default on its sovereign debt, because the government’s commitment to paying its creditors effectively means it’s defaulting on its citizens:

Severe shortages of life-saving drugs in Venezuela are the result of the government’s default on a $3.5 billion bill for pharmaceutical imports. A similar situation prevails throughout the rest of the economy. Payment arrears on food imports amount to $2.4 billion, leading to a substantial shortage of staple goods. In the automobile sector, the default exceeds $3 billion, leading to a collapse in transport services as a result of a lack of spare parts. Airline companies are owed $3.7 billion, causing many to suspend activities and overall service to fall by half.

In Venezuela, importers must wait six months after goods have cleared customs to buy previously authorized dollars. But the government has opted to default on these obligations, too, leaving importers with a lot of useless local currency. For a while, credit from foreign suppliers and headquarters made up for the lack of access to foreign currency; but, given mounting arrears and massive devaluations, credit has dried up.

Felix Salmon likes their way of thinking about defaults, which squares with his own formulation of last year’s US sequester:

America eventually cured its default, and never graduated to defaulting on Treasury bonds. But Venezuela’s problems are harder to fix. And at some point, it simply won’t make sense to spend desperately-needed billions on foreign bondholders any more.

Read On

Sleep Is For The Rich

Sep 18 2014 @ 7:41pm

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 9.55.44 AM

Olga Khazan explains:

Though Americans across the economic spectrum are sleeping less these days, people in the lowest income quintile, and people who never finished high school, are far more likely to get less than seven hours of shut-eye per night. About half of people in households making less than $30,000 sleep six or fewer hours per night, while only a third of those making $75,000 or more do.

Unsurprisingly, shift workers face the greatest risk of sleep deprivation; they get two to four hours less sleep than average. The consequences can be dire:

Exposure to bright light when it’s time to sleep makes it harder for the body to produce melatonin, a sleep hormone. Over time, this sleep deprivation translates to an increased risk for heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and reproductive issues. … For some, a sleep shortfall can lead to narcolepsy-like symptoms. One study found that 53 percent of night-shift workers report falling asleep accidentally on the job.

A Poem For Thursday

Sep 18 2014 @ 7:12pm

Retiarius_vs_secutor_from_Borghese_mosaic

“Colosseum” by Jericho Brown:

I don’t remember how I hurt myself,
The pain mine
Long enough for me
To lose the wound that invented it
As none of us knows the beauty
Of our own eyes
Until a man tells us they are
Why God made brown. Then
That same man says he lives to touch
The smoothest parts, suggesting our
Surface area can be understood
By degrees of satin. Him I will
Follow until I am as rough outside
As I am within. I cannot locate the origin
Of slaughter, but I know
How my own feels, that I live with it
And sometimes use it
To get the living done,
Because I am what gladiators call
A man in love—love
Being any reminder we survived.

Previous poems from Brown here and here.

(From The New Testament © 2014 by Jericho Brown. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. Detail of the Gladiator Mosaic, 4th century CE, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Other American Expansionism

Sep 18 2014 @ 6:44pm

Julia Belluz flags new research showing that American waistlines continue to grow:

Overweight peopleResearchers looked at waist circumference measurements taken from over 32,000 adults in 1999 and 2012. During that period, participants’ waists grew nearly a whole pants size, from 37.6 inches to 38.8 inches. Some groups gained an even more significant amount of abdominal girth. White women, aged 40 to 49, experienced a 2.6-inch expansion; the waists of black men, aged 30 to 39, got padded with 3.2 extra inches; Mexican-American men, aged 20 to 29, added 3.4 inches to their frames; Mexican-American women over the age of 70 packed on 4.4 inches; and black women between the ages of 30 to 39 increased their waists by 4.6 inches. (Abdominal obesity was defined as a waist circumference greater than 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women.) That racial minorities are experiencing greater gains maps on to the fact that they’re also disproportionately struggling with obesity compared to white people in the US.

Interestingly, Americans’ average body mass index has held relatively steady over the past decade. Or as Alison Bruzek puts it, “People haven’t been getting fatter, but their waistlines are still increasing”:

“We’re a little bit puzzled for explanations,” Dr. Earl Ford, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and lead author of the study, tells Shots. The two measures are closely related: While body mass index or BMI measures fat overall, waist circumference helps measure fat distribution. Stress, hormonal imbalances, environmental pollutants, poor sleep or medications that help pack on abdominal weight are possible causes, health and nutrition researchers speculate. And older adults typically lose muscle as they age, while fat continues to increase.

(Photo by myLoupe/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

When Cannabis Is No Longer A Crime

Sep 18 2014 @ 6:09pm

Sam Kamin and Joel Warner expect that, “as marijuana prohibitions continue to weaken and an increasing number of states reconsider stringent drug sentencing rules, people could begin to lobby to remove more serious pot convictions from their rap sheets or even get out of prison”:

Read On

Slave_Market-Atlanta_Georgia_1864

In his new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward E. Baptist details how “the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich.” Excerpt from the book here. Yglesias puts Baptist’s approach in context, explaining that he is countering “a tradition which views slavery as a kind of archaic institution … a New World form of feudalism that was doomed by the growing tide of industrialization”:

First, he shows that the slave economy was as modern as any other aspect of the mid-19th Century. There were, for example, slave-backed mortgages and other sophisticated financial products. So the genre of social history which pits old-timey southern agrarianism against modernizing northern industrialism is simply mistaken — major proprietors on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line participated in the rise of modern financial institutions.

Second, he argues that the slave economy’s success was critical to the larger success of what we call the Industrial Revolution. This is commonly portrayed as a question of technology — spinning jenny, mechanical loom, etc. — but developing the modern textile industry also required an enormous amount of fiber as inputs. All that technology would have run into fundamental ecological limits if you’d tried to fuel the factories with British wool. There isn’t nearly enough space for all the sheep.

Riding to the rescue was American cotton. In the 70 years between the adoption of the Constitution and the outbreak of the Civil War, US production rose 2,000-fold from 1.2 million pounds to 2.1 billion pounds.

Update from a reader:

The North absolutely profited from slavery, but the United States as a whole became a whole lot richer by ending it. This post from Scott Sumner is a good summary for all the reasons why.

(Photo of a slave market in Atlanta, Georgia, 1864, via Wikimedia Commons)