Using Your Tongue To “See”

by Brendan James

When we really try, humans can perform echolocation à la bats and dolphins, like blind man Daniel Kish in the above video:

We can’t match the 200 or so clicks per second achieved by bats and dolphins, but it’s not really necessary. Kish, for one, simply makes a clicking noise every few seconds, with interludes of silence when he doesn’t need to get a new picture of his surroundings.

From there, the sound waves produced by the click are broadcast into our environment at a speed of roughly 1,100 feet per second. Shot out in all directions, these waves bounce off the objects, structures and people around the echolocator and arrive back in his or her ears. The volume of the returning click is much quieter than the original, but those with proper training readily identify the subtle sound. And although it might seem amazing to be able to analyze these sound waves to generate a picture of the environment, some of the basic principles in play are concepts you already rely on everyday.

Previous Dish on how the blind utilize other senses here.

Assaulted On Social Media

by Brendan James

Ann Friedman studies the mixed effects of social media in the aftermath of of rape and sexual assaults:

For decades, the challenge facing anti-rape activists was to take what is often an intensely private crime—54 percent of sexual assaults are estimated to go unreported—and bring it to national attention as a pervasive crisis. Now that cases regularly crop up in which photos and videos of sexual assaults are circulated on social media, it’s becoming harder to argue that rape is anything but a public scourge. We are all bystanders. We all bear witness.

Yet the increased attention on social media often has tragic consequences for victims. They don’t just have to grapple with the physical and psychological ramifications of being sexually violated. They have to deal with the fact that everyone else knows what happened, too. …

For a victim, there’s no difference between people who share footage of the assault because they want to raise awareness about the problem and people who share footage to laugh at it or, worse, because it turns them on. “The horror of having the intimate violation of your body exposed, shared, transmitted, and existing in a way that you know can never be expunged is awful,” says Kaethe Morris Hoffer, legal director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation. “Since the advent of the Internet, it has been a tremendous and devastating burden for survivors to live with the knowledge that they have no hope of ensuring that images of their sexual violation will ever be erased. What social media does is make the transmission of it a hundred times faster and more shareable.”

The Space Between Black And White

by Brendan James

Michael A. Fletcher bemoans the state of racial inequality 50 years after the March on Washington:

In 1963, blacks families earned 55 cents for every dollar earned by whites. In 2011, blacks earned 66 cents for every dollar earned by whites. The black unemployment rate averaged 11.6 percent between 1963 and 2012, more than double the white jobless rate over that time. The black poverty rate of 55.1 percent was just over three times the white rate in 1959. It dropped to 32.2 percent in 1972. But since then, progress has been slow. In 2011, 27.6 percent of black households were in poverty — nearly triple the 9.8 percent white rate, according to the Census Bureau.

Plumer lays out an array of charts tracking the largely unchanged disparity across the board:

“The wealth gap between minorities and whites has not improved over the past three decades,” reports the Urban Institute. “From 1983 to 2010, average family wealth for whites has been about six times that of blacks and Hispanics — the gap in actual dollars growing as average wealth increased for both groups.” And the Great Recession exacerbated that gap, as blacks and Hispanics were hit especially hard.


Joseph Ritter examines the role of discrimination:

Black workers seem to earn less because of differences in education or upbringing, while black workers’ employment shortfall appears to be more a factor of employer discrimination. In other words, black workers that manage to get a job appear to earn at comparable rates, controlling for education levels—but regardless of education, they appear to have a harder time getting a job, due to their race.

Derek Thompson homes in on the point about education:

“Today, white adults 25 and older are significantly more likely than blacks to have completed at least a bachelor’s degree,” Pew tells us. On the one hand, the black completion rate as a percentage of the white completion rate has increased from 42% then to 62% now. On the other hand, whites are still far more likely to graduate from a bachelor’s program by 25. This college advantage — reinforced through dual-earner households — translates into higher family incomes, higher home-ownership, and (as a result) higher wealth for whites. There is a reason why so many discussions of social mobility begin and conclude with education.

Painting Over W’s Sins

by Brendan James


Marc Tracy explains why Bush’s critics are captivated by his art:

The paintings are proof that Bush is an artist—that he invests his energies and imagination in creating works that are meant to be aesthetically pleasing and serve no utilitarian purpose. And being an artist is proof that Bush is an honest-to-God person, not the nightmarish, vague presence we all remember. It’s not even that Bush has a soul, just as it’s not even that the paintings are all that good. (And, I mean, are they, really?) It’s that he is of the same species as we are. He possesses an inner life—the very thing whose apparent absence seemed to connect all of his worst outer traits, from his intellectual incuriousness to his bullying nature (the nicknames!) to his economic cruelty to his foreign militarism.

The paintings are a reminder that—as Philip Roth wrote of the White House during the Clinton years—a human being lived there. Someone who provided unprecedented funding for combating AIDS in Africa and evinced tolerance at a personal level. A son, a husband, a father.

The Forgotten Genius Of Bayard Rustin

by Brendan James

Laura Williams welcomes more attention for a lesser-known hero of the Civil Rights Movement:

He helped organize and participated in the first freedom ride, 1947’s “Journey of Reconciliation” (for which he and several other participants were jailed and put in a chain gang). In the 1950s, he advised, strategized, and raised money behind the scenes for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, helping to direct King’s rise to national prominence. He’s also credited with honing the King’s nonviolent strategy. Later, Rustin was the mastermind of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (now simply known as the March on Washington), organizing it in just two months.

But Rustin was kept in the shadows by the homophobia of both his enemies (segregationist Strom Thurmond used Rustin’s sexuality to denigrate the movement) and his allies.

In November, Rustin will be posthumously honored with the Medal of Freedom. It comes after decades of marginalization, in no small part due to his homosexuality. In a profile worth reading in full, Steven Thrasher interviews Rustin’s longtime partner, Walter Naegle:

In his final years, by the time he was sharing his life with Naegle, Rustin was marrying the fight for racial civil rights with the emerging gay rights movement. He challenged the terrain of contemporary prejudice in a speech in which he said, “The new ‘niggers’ are gays.” Rustin, being so much older than Naegle, wanted to protect him legally for inheritance purposes. But “gay marriage” was almost unheard of, and any kind of legal status like domestic partnerships for legal couples was many years away. So Rustin, ever the creative problem solver when it came to outwitting discrimination, adopted Naegle as his son. …

In 1986, just a year before he died, Rustin gave a speech at the University of Pennsylvania in which he exhorted gay people to “recognize that we cannot fight for the rights of gays unless we are ready to fight for a new mood in the United States, unless we are ready to fight for a radicalization of this society.”

Previous Dish on Rustin here, here and here.

The Sarin On Our Hands In Iraq, Ctd

by Brendan James

In light of the fresh details exposing US assistance in Saddam’s chemical warfare, Juan Cole reposts an account of how we subsequently covered for Iraq at the UN. It comes off even worse with increased knowledge of our complicity:

[Secretary of State George] Shultz in the first instance wanted to protect Hussein from condemnation by a motion of “no decision,” and hoped to get U.S. allies aboard. If that ploy failed and Iraq were to be castigated, he ordered that the U.S. just abstain from the vote. Despite its treaty obligations in this regard, the U.S. was not even to so much as vote for a U.N. resolution on the subject!

Shultz also wanted to throw up smokescreens to take the edge off the Iranian motion, arguing that the U.N. Human Rights Commission was “an inappropriate forum” for consideration of chemical weapons, and stressing that loss of life owing to Iraq’s use of chemicals was “only a part” of the carnage that ensued from a deplorable war. A more lukewarm approach to chemical weapons use by a rogue regime (which referred to the weapons as an “insecticide” for enemy “insects”) could not be imagined.

“The Most Dangerous Negro”

by Brendan James

Tony Capaccio recalls the intense state surveillance brought down on MLK for his activism, his radicalism, and his socialism:

Initially approved in October 1963 by then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the FBI’s wiretap and hidden-microphone campaign against King lasted until his assassination in April 1968. It was initially justified to probe King’s suspected, unproven links to the Communist Party, morphing into a crusade to “neutralize” and discredit the civil rights leader. … At a time when the nation is absorbing revelations of telephone and e-mail surveillance by the National Security Agency, the FBI’s spying on King — which had no court authorization or oversight — stands as an example of domestic security gone to excess.

David Corn observes that King’s famous “Dream” speech (above) sent J. Edgar Hoover into a new stage of panic:

For years, Hoover had been worried—or obsessed—by King, viewing him as a profound threat to national security.  … The August 1963 march, which captured the imagination of many Americans, further unhinged Hoover and his senior aides.

The day after the speech, William Sullivan, a top Hoover aide, noted in a memo, “In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech… We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.” Six weeks later, pressured by Hoover, Bobby Kennedy authorized full electronic surveillance of King. FBI agents placed bugs in King’s hotel rooms; they tapped his phones; they bugged his private apartment in Atlanta.

Let’s not forget the anonymous letter the Bureau anonymously sent to King in November 1964, accompanied by audio tapes of his extramarital escapades. The letter implied that King should commit suicide:

King you are done.

The American public, the church organizations that have been helping — Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done. The American public, the church organizations that have been helping — Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done.

King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.

Resuming The Debt Dance

by Brendan James

Now that the Treasury has declared we’ll hit the debt ceiling mid-October, Congress is once again ready to fight over whether to raise it. Yglesias advises the White House to refrain from engaging the GOP on the issue:

Republicans have been offering a lot of wild theories about their negotiating strategy around this, but on CNBC this morning Secretary Jack Lew said the right thing about the administration’s bargaining strategy—there is no strategy because there is no bargain. Getting sucked into a negotiation over raising the debt ceiling back in 2011 is one of the biggest mistakes the Obama administration ever made. It’s one they avoided repeating the second time around and should never try to repeat again.

Schieber agrees, and puzzles at a proposed sitdown between administration officials and Republican senators:

The White House willingness to engage in a multi-issue mega-negotiation plays entirely into Boehner’s hand. It’s basically a strategy designed to maximize Republican leverage and minimize Obama’s. At the very least, the White House should want to keep each track of the negotiation unambiguously separate, forcing Boehner to acknowledge his terrible bargaining position.

But I’d go a bit further and recommend the following: Obama should announce immediately that he’s perfectly happy to negotiate over pretty much any budgetary issue the GOP wants to talk about, but that—and this is the key—he won’t negotiate for a second until Congress raises the debt ceiling. That is, don’t just say you won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling. Make raising the debt ceiling a precondition for any future negotiation.

Barro insists the GOP knows demanding default is a dead-end strategy:

If Republicans were to stage another debt ceiling showdown over entitlement reform, they would have to (1) threaten to cause an economic crisis unless (2) they are given a package of reforms that many Republican officials don’t even want, which (3) would also happen to be hugely unpopular with voters.

This. Is. Never. Going. To. Happen.

So why is Boehner making debt ceiling threats again? Well, for one thing, it’s August, and in August, Republican House members go to town halls filled with rabid conservative constituents who need red meat. A lot of Republican activists think rendering the government unable to pay its bills is just what the country needs.

Despite all that, Drum expects the debt loons may get their way:

[L]ogic is selling at a deep discount these days. The fever swamp wants a debt ceiling default, and there’s a pretty good chance they’re going to force one through. Boehner just doesn’t have the clout or the influence to stop his lemmings from racing over the cliff. At this point, the most germane question probably isn’t whether Republicans are going to force a default, but how long they’ll hold out after they’ve done it. Just how badly do global markets have to panic before they finally come to their senses?

What Would Science Do?

by Brendan James

Here’s some New Atheist crack: a study showing that merely thinking about science triggers moral behavior. Researchers at UC Santa Barbara “primed” participants with scientific buzzwords and then administered a series of moral quizzes:

Participants first completed a word scramble task during which they either had to unscramble some of these science-related words or words that had nothing to do with science. They then either read [a story about date-rape] and answered the same questions regarding the severity of that transgression (Study 2), reported the degree to which they intended to perform a variety of altruistic actions over the next month (Study 3), or engaged in a behavioral economics task known as the dictator game (Study 4). …

Across all these different measures, the researchers found consistent results. Simply being primed with science-related thoughts increased a) adherence to moral norms, b) real-life future altruistic intentions, and c) altruistic behavior towards an anonymous other. The conceptual association between science and morality appears strong.