Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein (via Wikipedia)
Today on Left and Center, Publius diagnosed American household wealth recovery, shared a fucking excellent video from NASA, charted greenhouse gas emissions around the world, cited reactions on the coming epidemic of the Coronavirus disease, considered China’s multi-billion purchase of an American pork producer, noted a really fantastic James Baldwin quote referencing Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein, and marveled at a lovely photo of Flüelapass, Switzerland.
Davos (cc photo by Daniel Zedda)
Lovely shot here of Flüelapass, Switzerland, a high mountain pass in the Swiss Alps in the canton of Graubünden. The pass road connects Davos and Susch in the lower Engadin valley.
Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein (via Wikipedia)
“I don’t try to be prophetic, as I don’t sit down to write literature. It is simply this: a writer has to take all the risks of putting down what he sees. No one can tell him about that. No one can control that reality. It reminds me of something Pablo Picasso was supposed to have said to Gertrude Stein while he was painting her portrait. Gertrude said, ‘I don’t look like that.’ And Picasso replied, ‘You will.’ And he was right.”
China Town pork floss (cc photo by Peter & Laila)
Tuesday brought news that China’s largest pork producer – Shuanghui International Holdings – is purchasing American pork producer Smithfield Foods Inc. for a staggering $4.72 billion, in order to provide for a nation that has become the largest consumer of meat over the last 30 years:
China’s Shuanghui International plans to buy Smithfield Foods Inc for $4.7 billion to feed a growing Chinese appetite for U.S. pork, but the proposed takeover of the world’s No. 1 producer has stirred concern in the United States.
The transaction, announced on Wednesday, would rank as the largest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company, with an enterprise value of $7.1 billion, including debt assumption.
As it stands. the deal is the biggest Chinese play for a U.S. company since CNOOC Ltd offered to buy Unocal for about $18 billion in 2005. The state-controlled energy company later withdrew that bid under U.S. political pressure.
Like similar foreign transactions, the Smithfield deal will face the scrutiny of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, a government panel that assesses national security risks.
WHO Director General Chan and Bill Gates (cc photo by United States Mission Geneva)
WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan’s statement from the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly:
Addressing participants at the closing ceremony, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan thanked delegates for their efficiency and productivity during the debates. At the same time, she sounded an alarm on a new threat that she warned requires urgent international attention.
“Looking at the overall global situation, my greatest concern right now is the novel coronavirus. We understand too little about this virus when viewed against the magnitude of its potential threat. Any new disease that is emerging faster than our understanding is never under control,” Dr Chan said. “These are alarm bells and we must respond. The novel coronavirus is not a problem that any single affected country can keep to itself or manage all by itself. The novel coronavirus is a threat to the entire world.”
Over at NPR, Scott Hensley notes the location where the disease seems to be originating from:
All the cases reported so far have a link to the Middle East — the people either lived there, had traveled there, or were in close contact with an infected person who’d been there.
Now, there’s a report in The Lancet that two people in France fell ill with the virus, too. A 64-year-old man who had visited Dubai in April was hospitalized in northern France later that month. A second man, who hadn’t traveled abroad recently, shared a hospital room with the first patient for a few days in late April. At the time, the doctors didn’t suspect the first man was infected with MERS-CoV.
And Michael Smith at MedPage finds that despite the threat, the disease is not so easily spread:
The novel coronavirus emerging from the Middle East can be transmitted between people, but not easily, according to reports in two separate journals.
The incubation period for infection may also be longer than expected — up to 12 days — and samples from the lower respiratory tract may be needed to identify the pathogen.
The new virus — now officially named Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV — infected four members of a large Saudi Arabian family late last year, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
But another 24 members of the family who lived in the same building, including some who cared for the patients before hospital admission, were not affected, reported Ziad Memish at the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Mass Gathering Medicine in Riyadh, and colleagues.
There have also been no cases among healthcare workers who looked after the patients while in hospital, Memish and colleagues reported.
Ecofys provides an all-encompassing flow chart that shows exactly where all of the greenhouse gases heating up the planet and ensuring our demise, come from:
Coal sucks. And it’s still hugely relevant despite the decrease in production thanks to shale extraction. Hopefully – and sorry to whatever coal miners reading this – the EPA’s new emissions regulations will render most of the coal industry uneconomical, thus removing a huge contributor to climate change.
Fossil fuels suck too, but they’re only part of the larger issue. While the chart shows what we all know, that 65 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from coal burning, oil and natural gas, 35 percent of emissions are a product of “direct emissions”, which include things like methane leaks from mining, methane emissions from livestock, and deforestation.
Cars aren’t the problem, buildings are. While we spend a heck of a lot of time, energy and money creating emissions standards for our cars and trucks, buildings produce way more greenhouse emissions than my Prius or your totally unnecessary raised F250.
American house of dollar bills (cc photo by Images Money)
The St. Louis Federal Reserve’s latest report brings with it what many would deem good news, but with a huge caveat. Basically, before the financial crisis in 2007, American households were worth a collective $64.7 trillion. According to the report – and verified elsewhere – at the end of last year, American households had recovered a staggering 91 percent of their wealth.
Here’s the catch, and it’s a big one: that 91 percent calculation doesn’t account for three really important factors, adjusting for inflation, adjusting for population growth, and most importantly, adjusting for inequality.
Once the report adjusts its calculations to the first two parameters – inflation and population – the amount of wealth recovered hovers somewhere around 45 percent. Not so rosy, huh? Well, it gets worse when it adjusts for inequality. The problem is exactly what the St. Louis Fed finds, that the majority of income recovered – 62 percent – is a product of families cashing in on higher stock prices. But like this chart shows, lower income families aren’t the ones that benefit from stock wealth
So the final lesson from the Fed is that while some have done well in recovering what they lost, most haven’t recovered even the average amount. Once all three factors are accounted for, 91 percent is a pipe dream and the real percentage is even lower than 45. Long live the recovery.
Salaheddin, Aleppo (cc photo by Freedom House)
Today on Left and Center, Publius expressed his fears for the release of Google Glass, exposed reparative therapy on transgendered youths, continued the argument that Syria is not our fight, shared a really moving commencement speech by Leon Wieseltier, considered John McCain’s trip to war torn Syria, and noted a new study showing that 1.2 billion are left without electricity.
Brad Plumer has the report:
The U.N. has set a big, ambitious goal of making sure everyone in the world has access to electricity by 2030. And how’s that going? Not so well.
That’s one upshot of a new progress report coordinated by the International Energy Agency and the World Bank, which notes that 1.2 billion people around the world are still stuck in the dark. And it’s unlikely that this number will shrink down to zero in the next two decades, the report notes, without a lot more money and effort.
The Economist has a handy chart showing regional access to energy, to put this in perspective:
Basically, population growth has far outpaced the rate of growth in electrification, leaving the IEA and World Bank to admit that the UN won’t be able to meet its 2030 goal if the current trend continues. Worse still is that the report also finds that, “business as usual would leave 12 percent and 31 percent of the world’s population in 2030 without electricity and modern cooking solutions, respectively.”
Sen. John McCain (cc photo by Jim Greenhill)
Seantor John McCain has been adamant for years that we know very well who to arm and support in the ongoing Syrian civil war – that the good guys are clearly the rebels, and they need our help. The old school Senator went to the warn torn country recently and met with a number of rebel leaders, and accidentally or not, posed for a photograph with rebels who had committed terrible crimes, like kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims:
The photo, released by McCain’s office, shows McCain with a group of rebels. Among them are two men identified in the Lebanese press as Mohamed Nour and Abu Ibrahim, two of the kidnappers of the group from Lebanon.
A McCain spokesman said that no one who met with McCain identified themselves by either of those names.
“In coordination with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, Senator John McCain traveled to and from Syria with General Salim Idris, the chief of staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian opposition, to meet with two senior Free Syrian Army commanders,” said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers on Wednesday in an email to BuzzFeed. “None of the individuals the senator planned to meet with was named Mohamad Nour or Abu Ibrahim. A number of other Syrian commanders joined the meeting, but none of them identified himself as Mohamad Nour or Abu Ibrahim.”
Rogers goes on to call the situation “regrettable” if indeed it turns out to be verified – which it has.
Joe Klein has the right perspective on this, I think:
I don’t blame McCain for this. It’s hard to advance a trip into rebel territory….The point is: We just don’t know these places well enough to go over and draw grand conclusions about policy. In a way, McCain’s trip is a perfect metaphor for the problem of involving ourselves with the Syrian rebels. We may be siding with the greater evil. We may be throwing fuel on a fire that could consume the region. Our track record when it comes to such things is dismal.
I don’t think McCain knowingly posed for a photo and subsequently exchanged pleasantries with Nour or Ibrahim, but that’s not the real point here. We simply can’t codify this conflict the way McCain claims we can, where the good guys are clear as day and eagerly awaiting our help to take over the country. This is a perfect example of why.
Leaving a light (cc photo by Hartwig HKD)
“For decades now in America we have been witnessing a steady and sickening denigration of humanistic understanding and humanistic method. We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience. The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work. Our reason has become an instrumental reason, and is no longer the reason of the philosophers, with its ancient magnitude of intellectual ambition, its belief that the proper subjects of human thought are the largest subjects, and that the mind, in one way or another, can penetrate to the very principles of natural life and human life. Philosophy itself has shrunk under the influence of our weakness for instrumentality – modern American philosophy was in fact one of the causes of that weakness — and generally it, too, prefers to tinker and to tweak.”
[...] “there is no task more urgent in American intellectual life at this hour than to offer some resistance to the twin imperialisms of science and technology, and to recover the old distinction — once bitterly contested, then generally accepted, now almost completely forgotten – between the study of nature and the study of man. As Bernard Williams once remarked, “’humanity’ is a name not merely for a species but also for a quality.” You who have elected to devote yourselves to the study of literature and languages and art and music and philosophy and religion and history — you are the stewards of that quality. You are the resistance. You have had the effrontery to choose interpretation over calculation, and to recognize that calculation cannot provide an accurate picture, or a profound picture, or a whole picture, of self-interpreting beings such as ourselves; and I commend you for it.”
Leon Wieseltier, speaking at the commencement ceremony of Brandeis University on May 19, addressing the graduates as “fellow humanists”.
Children in camp (cc photo by jenspie3)
Beth Schwartzapfel provides an elucidating look into the practice of reparative therapy for transgendered children, taking aim at Dr. Kenneth Zucker, prominent Toronto based gender-identity psychologist:
“Head of the child and adolescent gender-identity clinic at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Zucker is one of North America’s most widely published experts in the field of transgender and gender-variant. Since it was established in the mid-1970s, his clinic has assessed more than 600 kids with gender-variant behavior and gender dysphoria—the distress that results from feeling that one’s body does not match one’s sense of self. He has treated more than 100 of those children. […]
Zucker … believes that girls who say they are boys are not expressing their true identity. Rather, they are confused. Their mismatched gender identity is likely the result of a childhood experience or trauma, or a manifestation of some underlying psychiatric or family problem. The situation will only be made worse, he argues, if parents and teachers encourage it. Zucker’s aim, if a family comes in with a kid like Maggie, is to make her more comfortable in her own body: to make her understand that she is a girl.”
The little to nothing I still know about being transgendered aside, I didn’t really need to read on to realize the blatant link between what Zucker does and what gay-conversion clinics and camps do in the United States and elsewhere.
Schwartzapfel goes on to cite the critique of – among others – Dr. Herb Schrier, a San Fransisco based psychologist who has worked with young transgendered children:
“The therapy session starts with an incredible assumption: that these kids have a problem. ‘We’re trying to figure out what problem you’re dealing with that gives you this particular way of being.’ It’s not a neutral therapy if it starts with that premise,” Schreier says. “Any therapy that starts with that assumption is bound to be problematic. In essence, he’s asking parents to deny who the kids say they are.”
Schreier characterizes Zucker’s approach as, “I think we should change them, and this would be for their betterment.” To Schreier and his colleagues, this sounds ominously paternalistic. “We would strongly raise the point: Isn’t there a downside to be had by denying a child’s identity?”
Read Schwartzapfel’s article in full here.
On Google Glass (cc photo by Loic Le Meur)
I’m not quite sure whether to be terrified or excited by Farhad Manjoo’s recent interaction with what I immediately associate with the beginning of the human race resembling the lard population from Wall-E:
To turn on Glass, you tap the frame of your specs, or you nod your head up. When you do so, you see a big, digital clock just off to the side of your central field of vision, and a prompt to say “OK Glass” when you’re ready to ask it something. Even this main screen is useful: I don’t wear a wristwatch—I’ve never found them comfortable—and, when I’m not at my PC, I usually check the time on my phone. Glass offers me a quicker, less socially awkward way to access a clock.
I know what you’re thinking: A normal person would just wear a wristwatch. Yes, but even if you do wear a watch, there’s a good chance you look at your phone for dozens of other tiny bits of information during the day—texts, email, directions, photos, and especially Google searches.
Starner calls these “microinteractions”—moments when you consult your phone or computer for ephemeral, important information that you need immediately. Glass is built for these moments. Once you say “OK glass,” you’re presented with a menu of possible commands, including performing a Google search, asking for directions, and taking a picture. You can also access Google Now—the company’s predictive personal assistant—by swiping your finger along the frame. This shows you contextual information that you’d usually find on your phone—the weather, sports scores, directions to your hotel.
It’s bad enough that I have a total disdain for anyone who looks at their phone during dinner or a film, I don’t want to imagine a future where the entire human race – or those that can afford it – are walking around with computers on their faces. I’m in my twenties and I shudder at the idea.
I don’t want one. But I’m pretty sure I said the same thing about the iPad, which I’m using to write this.