(Un)happy Labor Day

Sep 1 2014 @ 9:05am
by Dish Staff

Is the American labor movement “friendless”? Roger Martin reflects on its unpopularity in partisan politics:

A key marker occurred in 1992 when President Bill Clinton signed into law a tax change that allowed only the first $1 million in CEO compensation to be deducted for corporate income tax purposes. It was supposed to discourage corporations from paying their CEOs more than what was then thought to be an excessive $1 million (imagine that!) – and failed spectacularly as they were given stock options instead, which made them wealthier than ever before.

But in whose favor was this measure intended? Labor? Hardly. There was no obvious benefit to them. Capital? Yes indeed. Shareholders were complaining about CEOs demanding ever-higher compensation – and the Democrats responded to help capital reign in CEO talent. Arguably the attention to the needs of capital has continued in the Obama administration. This administration featured enthusiastic embrace of the TARP bailouts of banks that protected their shareholders first and foremost and the continued low interest policies that favor capital owners. Of course, the argument can be made that these policies help labor too, by avoiding a recession/depression. But the careful attention to capital first is a relatively new behavior for the Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party has increasingly shifted its allegiance to high-end talent, a tiny offshoot of labor that began to emerge around 1960. During the Reagan era, for instance, they cut the top marginal income tax rate from 70% in 1980 to 50% just two years later. By 1988 it was 28%. In seven years, an executive earning a million-dollar salary went from keeping $340,000 after federal taxes to keeping $725,000. That’s quite a raise.

The View From Your Window

Sep 1 2014 @ 8:14am
by Dish Staff

image (3)

Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, 1.40 pm

Don’t Knock Weird Science

Sep 1 2014 @ 7:34am
by Dish Staff

That’s Josie Glausiusz’s takeaway after reading a paper published earlier this year by Patricia Brennan, an evolutionary biologist who’s received federal funding for her research into the sexual anatomy of ducks:

Brennan and her colleagues explain that many people believe the federal government should fund only applied science designed to “cure disease, develop renewable energy, or improve agriculture.” They may not understand that the scientific process is “convoluted and unpredictable,” or that it takes a great deal of basic science work before its application leads to significant health or economic benefits. Another problem, Brennan told me, is that many people “have absolutely no idea how science is funded and how little money we actually get for it.” In fact, as she notes, the percentage of the overall budget that Congress allocates to science “has declined from 2.91 to 2.77 percent of our GDP between 2009-2011 (and that percentage includes the science budget for the Department of Defense, which is about half of all our research budget).” For comparison, 19 percent of the U.S. budget, or $643 billion, was allocated for defense and “security-related international activities” in 2013.

She and her colleagues cite a number of technologies inspired by esoteric evolutionary innovations. Examples include Geckskin, “a reusable, glue-free adhesive pad” invented after decades of research on the soft hairs coating gecko toepads, which enables the lizards to walk upside down; and widespread use of an enzyme called Taq polymerase—first isolated in 1965 from a bacterium surviving in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park—to replicate short strings of DNA. That enzyme has brought “vast benefits” to medicine, agriculture, and the criminal justice system, they say. Brennan’s own research could lead to improved understanding of hypospadias, a birth defect that causes malformation of the penis in baby boys.

Looking Forward to Labor Day

Aug 31 2014 @ 9:03pm
by Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern

We used to think we worked pretty hard, but that was before we agreed to help out this week in Andrew’s absence. As Dish guest-bloggers we were each doing three posts a day, and the pressure seemed unrelenting – we’d sigh the minute one went up on the site because it felt like the countdown clock was ticking already. It felt like Lucy on that chocolate assembly line. We’ve always admired this place, but now we’re in a kind of awe: we have no idea how the staff and the proprietor keep it up day after day (and we think Maureen Dowd et al are living the high life – I mean, once every three days? Come on.)

We realized, too, that though we’ve always thought of ourselves as opinionated, there are actually vast swaths of current events on which we have no useful thought at all. Vladimir Putin is clearly a bad guy, but God knows what we should do about him. Ditto Libya. There are other questions, happily, where we can subcontract our opinion-forming to each other: anything to do with computers and internets, for instance, is Sue’s domain, for instance. Ditto butterflies, dogs, and how the brain works. Bill, as you may have noticed, is good on climate change and also climate change. But that leaves a little uncovered; which is why the crowd wisdom that comes with a Dish subscription seems like such a good value.

The one other thing we both know a little about is journalism.

Read On

Lessons From A Long-Time Loner

Aug 31 2014 @ 8:37pm
by Dish Staff

dish_mainemoonlight

Christopher Knight spent nearly three decades living alone in the woods of Maine, earning him the nickname “the North Pond Hermit,” before getting caught for theft and sentenced to prison. Michael Finkel asked Knight about what he learned from a solitary, hardscrabble existence:

Anyone who reveals what he’s learned, Chris told me, is not by his definition a true hermit. Chris had come around on the idea of himself as a hermit, and eventually embraced it. When I mentioned Thoreau, who spent two years at Walden, Chris dismissed him with a single word: “dilettante.”

True hermits, according to Chris, do not write books, do not have friends, and do not answer questions. I asked why he didn’t at least keep a journal in the woods. Chris scoffed. “I expected to die out there. Who would read my journal? You? I’d rather take it to my grave.” The only reason he was talking to me now, he said, is because he was locked in jail and needed practice interacting with others.

“But you must have thought about things,” I said. “About your life, about the human condition.”

Chris became surprisingly introspective.

Read On

He Worshipped His Way

Aug 31 2014 @ 7:51pm
by Dish Staff

Frank Sinatra discussed his approach to faith in a 1963 interview with Playboy:

Playboy: All right, let’s start with the most basic question there is: Are you a religious man? Do you believe in God?

Sinatra: Well, that’ll do for openers. I think I can sum up my religious feelings in a couple of paragraphs. First: I believe in you and me. I’m like Albert Schweitzer and Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein in that I have a respect for life—in any form. I believe in nature, in the birds, the sea, the sky, in everything I can see or that there is real evidence for. If these things are what you mean by God, then I believe in God. But I don’t believe in a personal God to whom I look for comfort or for a natural on the next roll of the dice. I’m not unmindful of man’s seeming need for faith; I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. But to me religion is a deeply personal thing in which man and God go it alone together, without the witch doctor in the middle. The witch doctor tries to convince us that we have to ask God for help, to spell out to him what we need, even to bribe him with prayer or cash on the line. Well, I believe that God knows what each of us wants and needs. It’s not necessary for us to make it to church on Sunday to reach Him. You can find Him anyplace. And if that sounds heretical, my source is pretty good: Matthew, Five to Seven, The Sermon on the Mount.

Playboy: You haven’t found any answers for yourself in organized religion?

Sinatra: There are things about organized religion which I resent. Christ is revered as the Prince of Peace, but more blood has been shed in His name than any other figure in history. You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I’ll show you a hundred retrogressions.

Update from a reader:

Kitty Kelly, in “His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra,” claims the interview (questions and answers) was written by Mike Shore, Sinatra’s friend and an executive with Reprise Records; however, Sinatra did sign off on it against the advice of people who feared the effect it may have on his career, so good for Frank. The interview is getting a lot of play on the Internets today – I was initially surprised by (and then suspicious of) Sinatra’s eloquence, but I’ll defer to James Phalen, over at Why Evolution is True, who offered the clearest skeptical eye regarding the interview’s authorship: “Only Steven Pinker (and Hitch before him) speaks (or spoke) in complete paragraphs.”

(Hat Tip: 3QD)

Return To Pangaea

Aug 31 2014 @ 6:46pm
by Dish Staff

dish_panamacanal

Morgan Meis meditates on the symbolic meaning of the Panama Canal, which officially opened 100 years ago this month:

[F]or all this talk of progress and accumulated knowledge of the continents and seas, there is also something prehistoric about the desire to bring all the continents closer together. That’s because they were all together once. … On Pangaea, what we now know as Africa was nestled in the crook between North and South America, almost like a baby. Eurasia was connected to the top of North America. Then, over millions of years, the land mass began to break up, due to motion of the tectonic plates. The continents separated from one another. The oceans filled up the spaces in between. What was one, split into many.

Unknowingly, unconsciously, the engineers of the Panama Canal were acting as agents of the ancient supercontinent of Pangaea. Bring it all back together. Shorten the distances. Heal the wounds, maybe, from the terrible splitting that tore the world out of its oneness hundreds of millions of years ago. That is how it can seem, anyway, when you take the long view, when you look at it from a geological perspective. It is like an old dream of continental unity that we never knew we had. It is like the crust beneath the earth found a way to influence the minds of the men who crawl upon the surface. “Bring us back together.” You can hear it whispered from the cracks and crevices and fault lines that go down into the dark places beneath.

(Image of the Panama Canal as seen from space via Wikimedia Commons)

Poems From The Country Parson

Aug 31 2014 @ 5:48pm
by Dish Staff

Reviewing John Drury’s Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, Mark Jarman traces the distinctiveness of Herbert’s religious vision to his years as a priest in a country parish – a situation quite different from that of his contemporary John Donne:

I don’t think we can ignore this dimension of George Herbert’s career, even as it seems to be the mirror opposite of John Donne’s. Where Herbert forsook the dish_herbertchurch aspiration of a career at court for a life in the country, Donne extricated himself from his country exile and got himself installed in a big urban church. … Herbert got his taste of worldliness at Cambridge, and as the son of his remarkable mother, and the rest from observing and living among and serving the good country people of his parishes. Increasingly, I think it is helpful to understand how George Herbert lived and believed in order to appreciate fully the beauty of his poetry. So much of the poetry acknowledges an ordinary human ambivalence with regard to faith. With John Donne, I recognize something else, something more dramatic, especially in his religious poetry—and that is the lineaments of ambition thrown into relief by apprehension and anxiety about the grace of God and the fear both that he may not be worthy of it and that he may not believe in it. I do not mean to imply that Herbert by contrast is more complacent, but he is more aware of the subtlety of belief, especially in its daily practices and encounters with God.

Recent Dish on Herbert here. We featured his poetry Easter weekend here, here, and here.

(Photo of stained glass depicting Herbert at Saint Andrew’s church in Bemerton, Wiltshire, where he was a rector, by Flickr user Granpic)

The View From Your Window

Aug 31 2014 @ 5:16pm
by Dish Staff

Montefino1

Montefino, Italy, 4.00 pm

“I Feel, Therefore I Am”

Aug 31 2014 @ 4:51pm
by Dish Staff

Alan Lightman shares the “tentative conclusions” he’s drawn from thinking about how to live with the belief that law, culture, and social codes “have no intrinsic value outside of our minds”:

[U]ntil the day when we can upload our minds to computers, we are confined to our physical body and brain. And, for better or for worse, we are stuck with our personal mental state, which includes our personal pleasures and pains. Whatever concept we have of reality, without a doubt we experience personal pleasure and pain. We feel. Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” We might also say, “I feel, therefore I am.” And when I talk about feeling pleasure and pain, I do not mean merely physical pleasure and pain. Like the ancient Epicureans, I mean all forms of pleasure and pain: intellectual, artistic, moral, philosophical, and so on. All of these forms of pleasure and pain we experience, and we cannot avoid experiencing them. They are the reality of our bodies and minds, our internal reality. And here is the point I have reached: I might as well live in such a way as to maximize my pleasure and minimize my pain. Accordingly, I try to eat delicious food, to support my family, to create beautiful things, and to help those less fortunate than myself because those activities bring me pleasure. Likewise, I try to avoid leading a dull life, to avoid personal anarchy, and to avoid hurting others because those activities bring me pain. That is how I should live.