Capital Accounting

Apr 23 2014 @ 12:42pm

Piketty’s new book is already a huge financial success:

The unlikely bestseller, clocking in at nearly 700 pages, is already serving as an interesting case study for modern book publishing. One of the hallmarks of the book’s success is that it is sold out on Amazon, even though there is a digital version available on Kindle, too. … “You can have it on your e-book reader, but that’s not the same as having the book,” said [Harvard University Press sales and marketing director Susan] Donnelly. “I’m not saying this book is a Tiffany’s bag, but nobody goes to Tiffany’s and buys something and doesn’t get that little blue bag. I think there’s still some of that about books.”

The bestseller is already poised to become the most popular book ever for Harvard University Press. Donnelly predicts it will become akin to another classic for the publisher, John Rawls’ “A Theory of Justice.”

Yglesias points out that the book’s success is itself an example of inequality:

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The Senate Could Go Either Way

Apr 23 2014 @ 12:22pm

Senate Odds

The Upshot calculates the Democrats current chances of holding the Senate:

Every day, our computer churns through the latest polls and reams of historical data to calculate both parties’ chances of winning control of the Senate. Although the Democrats currently have a 51 percent chance, that doesn’t mean we’re predicting the Democrats to win the Senate — the probability is essentially the same as a coin flip.

Nate Cohn looks at the role incumbency plays:

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The Onion On Circumcision

Apr 23 2014 @ 12:02pm

An exhaustive look at the pros and cons. Among the pros:

Kid already European enough as it is

Among the cons:

Mohel looks like he’s had about eight cups of coffee

Yeah, I know. Sullybait. A reader adds:

I think there is a third way of looking at the question of circumcision.  As my grandfather likes to say, “Don’t cut it off; wear it off.”

A Rising Tide Lifts Some Boats

Apr 23 2014 @ 11:39am

Living Standards

David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy introduce the graphic above (click to enlarge):

In 1980, the American rich and middle class and most of the poor had higher incomes than their counterparts almost anywhere in the world. But incomes for the middle class and poor in the United States have since been growing more slowly than elsewhere.

The accompanying article goes into more detail:

The findings are striking because the most commonly cited economic statistics — such as per capita gross domestic product — continue to show that the United States has maintained its lead as the world’s richest large country. But those numbers are averages, which do not capture the distribution of income. With a big share of recent income gains in this country flowing to a relatively small slice of high-earning households, most Americans are not keeping pace with their counterparts around the world.

“The idea that the median American has so much more income than the middle class in all other parts of the world is not true these days,” saidLawrence Katz, a Harvard economist who is not associated with LIS. “In 1960, we were massively richer than anyone else. In 1980, we were richer. In the 1990s, we were still richer.”

That is no longer the case, Professor Katz added.

Douthat considers what this change means for politics:

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The “War” In Global Warming

Apr 23 2014 @ 11:20am

Last month, in an op-ed for Fox News, retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley made a national security-based case for worrying about climate change. Eric Holthaus interviews Titley about his belief that the changing climate will be a main driving force for conflict in the 21st century:

Q. What’s the worst-case scenario, in your view?

A. … You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.

Here’s another one: We basically do nothing on emissions. Sea level keeps rising, three to six feet by the end of the century. Then, you get a series of super-typhoons into Shanghai and millions of people die. Does the population there lose faith in Chinese government? Does China start to fissure? I’d prefer to deal with a rising, dominant China any day.

Titley thinks it’s time for conservatives to start grappling with the problem:

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I’m not much of a joiner, but I was more than glad to sign the joint statement by a wide array of supporters of marriage equality, gay and straight, declaring our commitment both to open and respectful, if robust, debate, and to ensuring that gay people have their fundamental constitutional right to marry. You can read the statement here. Money quote:

As a viewpoint, opposition to gay marriage is not a punishable offense. It can be expressed hatefully, but it can also be expressed respectfully. We strongly believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is wrong, but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion kamenypickets.jpgshould not be the loss of a job. Inflicting such consequences on others is sadly ironic in light of our movement’s hard-won victory over a social order in which LGBT people were fired, harassed, and socially marginalized for holding unorthodox opinions.

LGBT Americans can and do demand to be treated fairly. But we also recognize that absolute agreement on any issue does not exist. Franklin Kameny, one of America’s earliest and greatest gay-rights proponents, lost his job in 1957 because he was gay. Just as some now celebrate Eich’s departure as simply reflecting market demands, the government justified the firing of gay people because of “the possible embarrassment to, and loss of public confidence in . . . the Federal civil service.” Kameny devoted his life to fighting back. He was both tireless and confrontational in his advocacy of equality, but he never tried to silence or punish his adversaries.

Now that we are entering a new season in the debate that Frank Kameny helped to open, it is important to live up to the standard he set. Like him, we place our confidence in persuasion, not punishment. We believe it is the only truly secure path to equal rights.

Read the whole thing. We felt it necessary to take a joint, public stand, in the wake of the illiberal response to the Eich affair and some truly troubling sentiments in favor of shutting opponents up, demonizing rather than engaging, intimidating rather than persuading. Conor comments here; Peter Berkowitz here. The statement is also open for anyone to sign and join us in affirming these principles. Add your name here, if you want.

(Photo: Posters and placards from some of the very first public protests in defense of gay equality – from the Frank Kameny archive)

The $84,000 Cure

Apr 23 2014 @ 10:36am

Earlier this month, Polly Mosendz covered the debate over Hepatitis C drug Sovaldi:

[I]nsurers cannot stand this life saving, revolutionary medication. That’s because it runs $1,000 a day and the average patient requires a 12-week treatment of Sovaldi.That’s $84,000 for one cycle. For patients with a strain that is more difficult to treat, the regiment is 24 weeks. That comes in at $168,000. It is projected to rake in between $5 billion and $9 billion in profits in the United States this year alone. There are an estimated 4 million Americans with Hepatitis C, and 15,000 are killed each year by untreated chronic infections.

Unfortunately, there is not much insurers can do about the price. A comparable drug is not yet on the market.

Dr. Frank Huyler fumes:

The low cost of manufacturing the drug means that it can be sold all over the world. Only the price varies, and that price is set by Gilead executives and protected by patent law and the FDA. At the moment, Gilead has a monopoly.

In poor countries, such as Egypt, they can’t sell many $1,000 pills. But they can sell a lot of $10 pills. So that’s how much Sovaldi costs in Egypt — and Gilead Sciences is still making a profit. Thanks to the FDA, the Egyptian version of the drug can’t be imported.

This sort of blood money is nothing new. But it is among the worst of recent examples; yet another evil act, yet another predation on mostly poor, mostly desperate people, who inevitably will ask taxpayers to save them.

“Blood money?” “Evil act?” I have to say I find that rhetoric appalling.

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Cuteness In Captivity, Ctd

Apr 23 2014 @ 10:02am

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 2.07.38 AM

Unlike Bert Archer, Rachel Lu loves the zoo (joined by several readers below):

I’m confident [our local zoo] will linger in my kids’ memories as one of the most beloved places of their childhood. I joke to my friends that we’re “zoo junkies” because we generally visit once a week. Those animals are like old friends to my kids, and I’ve outlined many an article from the bench of the monkey house on a quiet winter afternoon. When there are no other visitors, the monkeys will sometimes come down and interact with the boys from the other side of the glass. …

When we see animals in real life, we get a perspective on the natural world that we just can’t get through television.

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How The Arab World Votes

Apr 23 2014 @ 9:30am

Marking the presidential elections in Algeria last week and the upcoming votes in Iraq, Egypt, and Syria, Marc Lynch reflects on Arab voting:

[W]hile elections have never been sufficient for meaningful democracy, they are manifestly necessary. It is painfully ironic that the mantra “democracy is more than elections” took hold following one of the only Arab elections that actually approached the minimal standard for democracy. Those votes really were different from the dozens of earlier elections across the region, offering a tantalizing potential for the consolidation of representative, accountable government and the peaceful rotation of power. That’s now mostly gone, with even the idea of democratic legitimacy mortally wounded. Few of the current round of elections have much to do with any of that.

Instead, the current round of elections should point us back toward the pre-uprisings literature on authoritarian elections, nicely summarized by a 2009 Jennifer Gandhi and Ellen Lust review essay. Elections under authoritarianism serve many purposes, none of which involve the peaceful rotation of power, the imposition of accountability on elites, or the representation of citizen interests. Instead, as Jason Brownlee points out, they do things like offering a safety valve for regimes, serving as a form of political theater, and activating patronage networks.

The West Is Burning Up

Apr 23 2014 @ 9:02am


John Upton flags a recent study showing that wildfires are affecting more and more of the Western US each year:

The numbers of big fires that strike annually are on the rise throughout most of the region, from the Rocky Mountains’ pine forests to the wind-whipped deserts that border Mexico. Worsening droughts are taking searing tolls, helping to nudge vast biomes into combustion. The only region spared seems to be coastal California—and, even there, in the relative respite of a Mediterranean climate, the amount of land affected by large fires continues to grow.

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Thank Uncle Sam For Your iPad

Apr 23 2014 @ 8:34am

Jeff Madrick praises Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths for going “well beyond the oft-told story about how the Internet was originally developed at the US Department of Defense”:

For example, she shows in detail that, while Steve Jobs brilliantly imagined and designed attractive new commercial products, almost all the scientific research on which the iPod, iPhone, and iPad were based was done by government-backed scientists and engineers in Europe and America. The touch-screen technology, specifically, now so common to Apple products, was based on research done at government-funded labs in Europe and the US in the 1960s and 1970s. Similarly, [economist Robert] Gordon called the National Institutes of Health a useful government “backstop” to the apparently far more important work done by pharmaceutical companies. But Mazzucato cites research to show that the NIH was responsible for some 75 percent of the major original breakthroughs known as new molecular entities between 1993 and 2004.

An Ancient Political Curse

Apr 23 2014 @ 8:01am

Rose Eveleth suggests that the “curse” of the Unlucky Mummy – blamed in Britain for a variety of disasters in the late 19th and early 20th century, including the sinking of the Titanic – reflected  sublimated anxieties about colonialism:

As it happens, the Unlucky Mummy arrived in England during the perfect curse-making storm. … At Pearson's_Magazine_1909_with_Unlucky_Mummythe time, Britain was occupying Egypt. It had invaded the Middle Eastern country in 1882, bombarding Alexandria for 10 and a half hours from the sea in an attack that was largely one sided – the British didn’t lose a single boat. The fires that followed destroyed much of the city and two days later the British army entered Alexandria and took on Egyptian forces in a handful of skirmishes, the most notable being the battle at Tel-el-Kebir. Because the Egyptian land was flat and open, the British decided to attack at night. After an hour of fighting, the Egyptians fled. The British military stayed in Egypt in a variety of capacities until 1922.

While the occupation of Egypt was a military success, it was met with trepidation back home.

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Ukraine’s Religious Battle Lines

Apr 23 2014 @ 7:31am

Anna Nemtsova discovers that the conflict has engendered a schism of sorts within the Orthodox church:

Throughout Ukraine, where 11,000 Orthodox churches serving over 10 million believers answer to the Moscow Patriarchate, priests prayed for peace without a “fascist” and “neo-Nazi” government, as they call the new authorities in Kiev, but also without war and victims. Yet the leaders of the church hierarchy are drawing their own battle lines in a country divided not only by language and ethnicity, but by the nationalist leanings of the religious patriarchs.

In Kiev, at the height of protests that brought down Yanukovych, Orthodox priests passed through the crowd blessing the demonstrators, and on Easter Sunday there, Patriarch Filaret made a blunt political speech. He described Russia as “evil” and prayed, “Lord, help us resurrect Ukraine.”

In Moscow, Patriarch Kirill addressed an audience that included Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kirill prayed “that peace be restored in the minds and hearts of our brothers and sisters in blood and faith and that the lost ties and cooperation which we all need so much also be restored”—which would sound benign if Putin’s political technicians were not working so hard to shatter peace in Ukraine so the Kremlin can restore “lost ties and cooperation” by invading and annexing the Russian-speaking parts of the country should Putin deem it necessary.

The Best Of The Dish Today

Apr 22 2014 @ 9:00pm

I spent the day monitoring the latest p.r. push by the Human Rights Campaign (i.e. the Becker book on the marriage equality movement), and absorbing the debates among the earliest Christians about how exactly they came to believe that Jesus was God. The fruits of Dishness, I guess.

On the Obama front, has anyone noticed that the latest surveys from Gallup and Rasmussen show his approval rating climbing back up quite sharply?

On the ex-sherpas front, I can’t help bit think of this classic Onion piece on the douchebags who want to climb Everest or sail around the world alone.

On the HRC front, another one of them pops up on HuffPo to defend their record on marriage. Steve Fisher insists that HRC was front and center under Elizabeth Birch in the 1990s. How?

To build a movement of Americans on the side of LGBT equality, she led the creation of a slick logo built on a carefully calibrated hrcfashion.jpgmessage about equality … With the logo as a calling card, HRC built a membership base of hundreds of thousands who have been called upon to lobby, take action and help move the bar in their home states, neighborhoods and workplaces … She and her team created the Corporate Equality Index, a mammoth project that annually graded (and thus coaxed) corporations on their LGBT employment policies.


Look: I’m not denying that these were decent initiatives and helped us all in the long run. But logos aren’t arguments. And on marriage, in the early and critical years, HRC said close to nothing and refused repeatedly to do anything. When some of us begged them to spend money on Hawaii’s marriage breakthrough, we were told to go raise the money ourselves. Pity all the donors had been told by HRC not to bother. For that matter, try and find a speech given by Birch in those years making the case for marriage equality. Try and find a clip of an HRC official on television making that case. Good luck.

As for Fisher, take a look at this NYT story from December 2004, reporting that HRC had decided even at that late date to drop marriage equality as an issue. And who in that piece is quoted backing this surrender? Steve Fisher!

Some gay rights activists, including the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign, said they believed that aggressively pursuing same-sex marriage only played into the hand of Republicans and religious conservatives, who skillfully used the issue this fall to energize their voters. Steven Fisher, the campaign’s communications director, said the group’s emphasis in coming months would be on communicating the struggles of gays in their families, workplaces, churches and synagogues … He also said the group would adopt a selective and incremental approach to winning rights rather than reaching for the gold ring of marriage right away.

You can spin but you can’t hide.

Today, we covered American oligarchy and Iraqi “democracy.” We took a look at responses – here and here – to Thomas Piketty’s new book on inequality. And we wondered what Chris Christie has been smoking lately. The Window View contest was a real, if romantic, teaser.

There’s still time to join this month’s book club - just download the e-book version of How Jesus Became God here. This reader did:

I just want to point that even before the book discussion begins, you are already doing what Ehrman specifically warns us not to do; you are treating the book as if it addresses the question of whether or not Jesus was (or is) ACTUALLY God.

Over and over and over – until I was ready to throw up my hands and scream “YES, I get the point already” – Ehrman emphasizes that he is investigating what early Christians believed about Jesus. He repeats endlessly that historians cannot make judgments about theological truth, only about historical investigation.

And as others have pointed out, the ideas in the book are not controversial among biblical scholars – except among those like the authors of the “response” book, who begin their investigation with the conclusion already determined.

I know, I know. But stay tuned for a Christian response (mine) to the book  – and then our debate.

A post update you might have missed: a reader in tiny Latta, SC gives his perspective on the firing of the town’s lesbian police chief. You can leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish.

17 more of you became subscribers today. Join them here.

And see you in the morning.

Trying To Close Up Shop

Apr 22 2014 @ 8:35pm

A bipartisan effort by Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lois Capps is trying to limit photoshopping in ads like the one above. DL Cade is skeptical:

These measures are being taken because, as the bill points out in its introduction, “The dissemination of unrealistic body standards has been linked to eating disorders … [and] has a particularly destructive health effect on children and teenagers.” Noble intentions, and we still don’t know how they will set about regulating Photoshop use in ads, but all of this begs a couple of questions. First, does Congress realize how prevalent Photoshopping really is in advertisements? And second, is there anybody on Capitol Hill that is truly qualified to set rules that regulate such use?

Katy Waldman is more critical:

In a world of limited time and resources, Photoshop seems like a strange drum for the Eating Disorders Coalition to beat. Diseases like anorexia and bulimia are largely understood now to be biological in origin, although cultural conditioning can definitely trip certain wires. There’s a lot of research linking media exposure to dieting and body dissatisfaction, but only a handful of studies directly implicate ads in eating disorders (and even those caution that the offending images likely triggered pre-existing drives). Given that the specific genetic causes of eating disorders remain so mysterious, and the treatment so hit-or-miss, lobbying money might be better spent on research than on making sure the thin, beautiful women who appear in magazines are naturally thin and beautiful.

Becker On Fresh Air

Apr 22 2014 @ 7:58pm

To Terry Gross’ immense credit, she had Jo Becker back on her radio show to defend the ridiculous premise and framing of her book, namely that the revolution of marriage equality began in 2008 with an epiphany by Chad Griffin. Gross tries repeatedly to get Becker to withdraw her idea that the “revolution” “began” in 2008. But Becker won’t. Money quote:

GROSS: So getting back to that first paragraph in your book, if you had it to do over again, would you have written this is how a revolution starts?

BECKER: I would.

GROSS: Because?

BECKER: Because I believe that this was a revolutionary step that they took, and not to say that it hadn’t been considered, but they were the ones that took the step.

But the case that actually made the difference federally was the Windsor case, argued by Roberta Kaplan, and not the case Becker has to hype because of her sources. And challenging Prop 8 was not a revolutionary step. It was risky, sure. But taking the issue to the federal courts had been part of the strategy for the previous twenty-five years. The idea that this was first dreamed up by Chad Griffin – after all of us had been clueless and cowardly beforehand – is absurd as well as insulting. She has no clue what she’s talking about.

Becker also describes 2008 as “a really, you know, dark moment in the gay rights movement.” Seriously?

Read On

Face Of The Day

Apr 22 2014 @ 7:37pm

The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Tour Australia And New Zealand - Day 16

An Aboriginal woman performs for Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, at the National Indigenous Training Academy in Ayers Rock, Australia on April 22, 2014. The royal couple are on a three-week tour of Australia and New Zealand, the first official trip overseas with their son, Prince George of Cambridge. By Scott Barbour/Getty Images.

In a review of Reiner Stach’s Kafka: The Decisive Years and Kafka: The Years of Insight, Cynthia Ozick rails against the term:

With its echo of “grotesque,” the ubiquitous term “Kafkaesque” has long been frozen into permanence, both in the dictionary and in the most commonplace vernacular. Comparative and allusive, it has by now escaped the body of work it is meant to evoke. To say that such-and-such a circumstance is “Kafkaesque” is to admit to the denigration of an imagination that has burned a hole in what we take to be modernism – even in what we take to be the ordinary fabric and intent of language. Nothing is like “The Hunger Artist.” Nothing is like “The Metamorphosis.”

Whoever utters “Kafkaesque” has neither fathomed nor intuited nor felt the impress of Kafka’s devisings. If there is one imperative that ought to accompany any biographical or critical approach, it is that Kafka is not to be mistaken for the Kafkaesque. The Kafkaesque is what Kafka presumably “stands for” – an unearned, even a usurping, explication. And from the very start, serious criticism has been overrun by the Kafkaesque, the lock that portends the key: homoeroticism for one maven, the father-son entanglement for another, the theological uncanny for yet another. Or else it is the slippery commotion of time; or of messianism; or of Thanatos as deliverance. The Kafkaesque, finally, is reductiveness posing as revelation.’

Update from a reader:

Can I please just say: POSEUR ALERT.

Read On

Sherpas On Strike

Apr 22 2014 @ 6:45pm


After threatening a work stoppage over unfair pay and grueling work conditions, the Nepalese mountaineers who clear the way for recreational climbers on Mount Everest have voted to leave the mountain and cancel the 2014 climbing season entirely out of respect for the 16 sherpas who died in an avalanche last Friday – the worst climbing accident in Everest’s history. Svati Kirsten Narula looks into how much more dangerous the mountain is for sherpas than for the climbers they serve:

There has always been a divide between Sherpas and Western summit-seekers, but these tensions have increased in recent years as Everest has become more accessible to unskilled-but-well-heeled climbers. The world’s tallest mountain has become much safer for the average Joe than ever before. For the people who live in its shadow, though, and must return to it again and again to earn a living, the risks haven’t declined in the same way. …

Western expedition leaders are acutely aware of this sobering reality [that being a Sherpa is more dangerous than being an American soldier during the Iraqi insurgency], and many have established funds for the families of fallen Sherpas. It’s difficult, though, to assuage the guilt of leaving the mountain with fewer people than you brought there. Melissa Arnot, the Eddie Bauer-sponsored American mountaineer who has summitted Everest five times, had a Sherpa die on an expedition of hers in 2010. Reflecting on this in 2013, she told Schaffer: “My passion created an industry that fosters people dying. It supports humans as disposable, as usable, and that is the hardest thing to come to terms with.”

Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disasterelaborates on what makes the job so dangerous:

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The View From Your Window

Apr 22 2014 @ 6:15pm


Bamako, Mali, 7.30 am. “I hope the bird doesn’t violate the ‘no animals’ rule. He stayed there forever.”