voodoo economics kills, save those mind maps, southern sadness and mythologizing

Study finds Income inequality leads to more U.S. deaths

A new study provides the best evidence to date that higher levels of income inequality in the United States actually lead to more deaths in the country over a period of years.

The findings suggest that income inequality at any one point doesn’t work instantaneously – it begins increasing mortality rates 5 years later, and its influence peaks after 7 years, before fading after 12 years.

[  ]…The Gini coefficient has been steadily rising in the United States in recent decades, from .403 in 1980 to .469 in 2010.

In this study, Zheng found that a 0.01 rise in the Gini coefficient increases the cumulative odds of death by 122 percent in the following 12 years. This is after taking into account a wide variety of factors that may also influence mortality, including a person’s age, gender, race, marital status, education, work status and family income.

“Income inequality has a substantial effect on mortality,” he said.

But if income inequality does indeed affect mortality rates, why have other studies found mixed results? Zheng reviewed 79 previous studies to look for the reasons. The 11 best studies looked at income inequality at a particular point in time to see how it affected mortality rates at a specified time later.

“But current mortality isn’t just affected by income inequality at one time, say 10 years ago. It is also affected by income inequality 9 years ago, and 11 years ago, and the current level of inequality, and so on,” he said.

In this study, Zheng was able to look at deaths in a particular year and control for income inequality for each of up to 21 years preceding the death.

Even though the represent a smaller percentage of the population studies have shown that politicians/our political institutions – including the courts are more responsive to the desires of the wealthy. Wealth in the USA is political power. Votes can and do change policy, sometimes it the direction of the non-wealthy, but wealth equals contact and influence. ALEC has an enormous affect on legislation in the US because it can afford to field a literal army of lobbyists who can meet with with legislators ad over helm with with data saying that for profit prisons are the best thing since the invention of the telephone. Or that not policing the release of toxic pollution is increases the bottom line. While those who think corporations are responsible for cleaning up their waste are marginalized as anti-business or Marxists. There are likely some copyright issues with this cartoon or I would post it here. On the left is an older gentleman being stopped and asked for voter ID. On the right panel is a guy bringing in a wheel barrel full of money to influence the election, no ID required. If you are an authoritarian who does not trust or believe in the common good, that little piece of satire represents your dream come true. It is difficult, it obviously costs a lot, to undermine the fundamental principles of a democratic republic, but it can and is being done. Not all at once, no Kristallnacht ( Night of Broken Glass) where everyone wakes up one day and realizes that democracy has been destroyed in one fatal action, but slowly, a step at a time. All the while, every step is accompanied by shrill cries of patriotism, family values and Bible quotes.

spring beach wallpaper

Picking the Brains of Strangers Improves Efforts To Make Sense of Online Information

People who have already sifted through online information to make sense of a subject can help strangers facing similar tasks without ever directly communicating with them, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft Research have demonstrated.

This process of distributed sensemaking, they say, could save time and result in a better understanding of the information needed for whatever goal users might have, whether it is planning a vacation, gathering information about a serious disease or trying to decide what product to buy.

The researchers explored the use of digital knowledge maps — a means of representing the thought processes used to make sense of information gathered from the Web. When participants in the study used a knowledge map that had been created and improved upon by several previous users, they reported that the quality of their own work was better than when they started from scratch or used a newly created knowledge map.

“Collectively, people spend more than 70 billion hours a year trying to make sense of information they have gathered online,” said Aniket Kittur, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. “Yet in most cases, when someone finishes a project, that work is essentially lost, benefitting no one else and perhaps even being forgotten by that person. If we could somehow share those efforts, however, all of us might learn faster.”

There are places to seek expert advice or the advice of knowledgeable novices – like Ask Yahoo. Google Scholars is still up. Though generally its difficult to find an index of individual research. Sounds like a project that someone could make some money at, but the individuals who may have put hours, if not days or weeks into finding resources and making citations may feel they’re being used. Wikipedia’s citations can be helpful, but their links seem to go dead fairly often. My example may differ from others but I have found that work groups and study groups can be a good source of inspiration – despite having to filter out a lot of non-helpful information. Maybe an extension of Wikipedia would work – as in here are some research outlines with their sources. That would also include some community policing for veracity.

The helicopter plane from Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. I was watching The 39 Steps the other day and wondered if such a vehicle really existed. I cannot find any source that directly speaks to the airplane-helicopter used in that film (released in 1935), but according to Wikipedia there was a hybrid plane-helicopter called an autogyro flown as early as 1923. In the movie the police were using it to try and find a fleeing Robert Donat in the hills of Scotland.

If you grew up reading southern writers like Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, Alice Walker, Edgar Allan Poe and watching the plays or movie version of Tennessee Williams, you grew up as much with myths of the south as you did with documentations of the south. For even the average southern a good tale was even better with with a little myth thrown in. That is not to say those myths were always bad or the tendency to mythologize is always a slur on the truth. Crosses, Flowers, and Asphalt: Roadside Memorials in the U.S. South

Beginning in 2003, Tom Zarrilli has traveled around the American Southeast documenting handmade memorials to departed loved ones found alongside highways. He discovered differences in not only the memorials, but in the attitudes that officials and the general public expressed toward these shrines that affected their composition and longevity. In his photographic essay with accompanying text, Zarrilli offers a brief overview of the memorials, his approach to photographing them, and their significance to the contemporary southern imaginary.

[   ]…These memorials remind us of the enormous human cost of our national obsession with cars and car culture, an aspect of American life that has flourished in the U.S. South and in popular culture representations of southern culture. The images include romanticized moonshine runners evading the law, country singers meeting their fate in Cadillacs (the 1952 Cadillac Hank Williams died in attracts visitors in Mongomery, Alabama), dirt track racers defying death in stripped-down vehicles with high performance engines, the glitz and product promotion of modern day NASCAR, and the window-tinted, stretch-limo world of rap culture.

[  ]…The appearance and structure of roadside memorials varies greatly. They may be simple small crosses constructed on site from pieces of scrap lathe or metal and roughly hand painted with the name of the deceased. Others may be prefabricated in a home workshop, resulting in a more durable and finely crafted display. Adornments range from generic artificial flowers, ribbons, and stuffed animals to more personal items reminiscent of Georgia and South Carolina coastal African American grave site decorative traditions, such as personal photographs, items of clothing, and other relics and items that provide the traveler or mourner with a direct link to the deceased.

Highway 19 and 41, central Georgia, 2004. By Tom Zarilli,

I see them quite a bit. Most of the ones I see are memorials to those killed by a drunk driver.

Conservatives want to have small government and extra large government. The rhetoric, a  dilapidated jig-saw puzzle with frayed edges, weathered and beaten, no one can tell for sure if they even belong to the same original puzzle. The average person looks at it and before having the chance to decide exactly what the mess represented is told, in nauseating and reactionary regularity, that it stands for small govmint. It hardly matters, if it matters at all to the conservative movement that their historical record hardly adds up to a movement that has made government smaller. They have mode the actual apparatus of government larger and extended government by having government become the Siamese twin of government – see the surveillance state, the national security state, the partnerships to share information of the private activities of ordinary citizens, to help set prices for commodities, to give corporations special status above that of individual persons. So it is no surprise that one of conservatives’ most visible pundits believes government cannot create jobs even as the candidate he supports is running on a job creation platform. Austerity Can’t Be Just For Regular People

Markets all over the world freaked out over the prospect of having ignorant European voters meddling in the recovery process the geniuses of the high finance world had already painstakingly laid out for them. The model for economic progress in the financial bubble era, after all, is supposed to go something like this:

Let banks inflate massive asset bubbles with the aid of cheap or even free government cash, and tons of leverage;

Before it all explodes, carve out gigantic sums for bonuses and compensation for the companies that inflated those bubbles;

After it explodes, get the various governments to bail those companies out;

Pay for it all by slashing services to what’s left of the middle class.

This is the model we used in America. We had a monster asset bubble based on phony mortgages, which Wall Street was allowed to inflate to spectacular dimensions with minimal reserve capital, huge amounts of leverage, and tons of fraud for good measure. When that bubble exploded, we first rescued the banks who inflated the thing in the first place, and then our plan for paying for it mostly revolved around folks like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie, who made great political hay by trying to take an ax to “entitlements” like health care and retirement benefits.

While I remember a couple of stories about some odd trader or banker having some rough times back in 2009, the same financial players are in place, enjoying the same massive bonuses as though the crash never happened. That still leaves an 8.1% unemployment rate with a couple more percent being people who have just given up and their unemployment benefits have run out. Along comes David brooks to tell us the way things are:

Hyperefficient globalized companies need fewer workers. As a result, unemployment rises, superstar salaries surge while lower-skilled wages stagnate, the middle gets hollowed out and inequality grows.

Politicians tried to compensate by reducing the tax bill, increasing deficit spending, ensuring easy credit for homebuyers and by helping workers shift out of the hypercompetitive, globalized part of the economy and into the less productive and more sheltered parts of the economy – mostly into health care, government and education.

But you can only mask structural problems for so long …. The current model, in which we try to compensate for structural economic weakness with tax cuts and an unsustainable welfare state, simply cannot last.

Has Romney heard that a voice from the vaulted tower of conservatism says not to bother creating jobs. My favorite part of the brooks fairy tale is how the millions in food stamps that keep people who had nothing to do with creating the Great Recession are getting literately less than a penny for every dollar of welfare people like Mitt Romney’s friends got so they can live in their milti-million dollar condos. We need to start resenting those people under the table who are grasping the crumbs that trickle down, not the crony corporatists who are self-made men until the next crash and the clock strikes twelve when they suddenly turn back into their true selves, corporate Marxists, otherwise known as conservatives.