CRF Blog

Crash Course #29, U.S. History: Progressive Presidents

by Bill Hayes

Part of a series: Crash Course #29, U.S. History: Progressive Presidents.

Fierce Devotions

by Bill Hayes

In Fierce Devotions for the New York Times Book Review, Claire Messud reviews The Door by Magda Szabo.

Magda Szabo, who died in 2007, was one of Hungary’s most important 20th-century writers. Not that most of us Anglophones would know it, as very little of her work has been translated into English. “The Door,” her best-known novel, which appeared in Hungary in 1987, was initially translated by Stefan Draughon and brought out here by an academic publisher in 1995. Subsequently translated into French, the book won the Prix Femina Étranger in 2003 and was beautifully retranslated by Len Rix for British publication in 2005. A decade later, New York Review Books Classics — acting, yet again, in its capacity as the Savior of Lost Greats — has now delivered this version to an American audience.

If you’ve felt that you’re reasonably familiar with the literary landscape, “The Door” will prompt you to reconsider. It’s astonishing that this masterpiece should have been essentially unknown to English-language readers for so long …. [more]

Both sides in the New Republic meltdown are wrong about the magazine

by Bill Hayes

The New Republic, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary as a print magazine, is in an uproar. Its senior staff resigned en masse, it is reducing the number of its yearly issues from 20 to 10, and it will not be able to publish its next issue on time. Michael Hiltzik, a Los Angeles Times business columnist, argues that Both sides in the New Republic meltdown are wrong about the magazine.

Considering how devoted everyone involved in the meltdown of The New Republic is to the principles of trenchant journalism and lucid policy analysis, the most remarkable thing about the event is how obtuse they all are about the magazine’s past, present and future.

That includes not only Chris Hughes, the youthful multimillionaire owner of the century-old TNR and the instigator of the uproar, but the army of current and former writers and editors who resigned en masse last week or otherwise expressed their fury with the Hughes regime. In brief, the magazine’s past isn’t quite as glorious as the departing staff makes out, and its future is unlikely to be saved by the draconian vision Hughes seems to offer.

First, a recap. [more]

Chart of the Day: What are the longest-living animals?

Infographic: The Planet's Longest-Living Animals | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

How an Undocumented Immigrant From Mexico Became a Star at Goldman Sachs

by Bill Hayes

In How an Undocumented Immigrant From Mexico Became a Star at Goldman Sachs, a feature story, Bloomberg Businessweek tells the unlikely story of Julissa Arce.

Sitting at her desk at Goldman Sachs, Julissa Arce is doing her best to keep it together. It’s September 2007. Her father is dying in Taxco de Alarcón, a small and hilly city in Mexico, and she has just hung up after a call from her sister with bad news. Arce stands and leaves the row where she and her colleagues create derivatives and market them to rich people. She walks down the hall, opens the bathroom door, and locks herself in a stall.

“Do not be anxious about anything,” she says under her breath, repeating Philippians 4:6. “Do not be anxious about anything.” Then she straightens, washes her face, and returns to work. Her banker colleagues can’t understand why she won’t get on a plane to see her father. Arce tells them that her family will keep her posted, and she might be leaving tomorrow. There is no crying on the private wealth management floor.

The overachievers at Goldman Sachs aren’t all the same. Some have been valedictorians, or Navy SEALs, or the sons or grandsons of the company’s bankers. Some will stop at nothing to amass a fortune; others are patient. And at least one was an undocumented immigrant. Arce, who turns 32 in March, owed her bright career on Wall Street to fake papers bought for a few hundred dollars in a stranger’s living room in Texas. Over seven years at Goldman Sachs, she rose from intern to analyst, associate, then vice president, later becoming a director at Merrill Lynch. When her father died in Taxco hours after the 2007 phone call, she didn’t leave to see her family because with her bogus papers she couldn’t have come back.

Arce was 11 when she moved to San Antonio from Mexico. Despite arriving with little English, she joined the basketball, softball, cross-country, and dance teams, the student council, a Renaissance club, and two honors societies within a few years. She’s still intense. She likes The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends & Influence People and is eager to explain, without irony, why they’re illuminating. She does CrossFit and can hold 150 pounds behind her head. “You have to have a very A-type personality,” she says about weightlifting, sipping a beer in Ulysses, a bar three blocks south of Wall Street. “This workout — it’s not going to win. I’m going to win.”

She didn’t have to adjust to Goldman Sachs’s culture of undisguised ambition because she embodied it. [more]

Everything You Need to Know About the War on Drugs

by Bill Hayes

In 23 short cards, Vox tells you Everything You Need to Know About the War on Drugs. Here is the first card:

“If we cannot destroy the drug menace in America, then it will surely in time destroy us,” Nixon told Congress in 1971. “I am not prepared to accept this alternative.”

Nixon inaugurated the the war on drugs at a time when America was in hysterics over widespread drug use. Drug use had become more public and prevalent during the 1960s thanks in part to events like Woodstock, and many Americans felt that drug use had become a serious threat to the country and its moral standing.

Over the last four decades, the US has committed more than $1 trillion to the war on drugs. However, the crackdown has failed to produce the desired results: the effort hasn’t significantly decreased drug use, and it didn’t cause drug prices to rise. The war on drugs is also blamed for several unintended problems, including the proliferation of drug-related violence around the world.

While Nixon began the modern war on drugs, America has a long history of trying to control the use of certain drugs. Laws passed in the early 20th century attempted to restrict drug production and sales. Some of this history is racially tinged, and, perhaps as a result, the war on drugs has hit minority communities the hardest.

Given the failures, unintended consequences, and racial disparities, many drug policy experts and reformers have called for reforms ranging from a larger focus on rehabilitation to the decriminalization and legalization of all drugs. But so far, few steps have been taken in that direction — and the US continues spending $51 billion on the war on drugs each year. [more]

The Debate Over Obama’s Actions on Immigration

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, legal scholars Erwin Chemerinsky and Samuel Kleiner argue that On immigration policy, the law and facts are on Obama’s side.

The Supreme Court long has recognized that immigration and deportations are closely tied to foreign policy, which is uniquely in the domain of executive power and control. The executive discretion granted by the Constitution certainly includes deciding whether to bring deportation proceedings. Throughout history, the federal government has chosen — for humanitarian concerns or foreign policy reasons — to not try to deport some individuals or classes of individuals, even though they are not lawfully in the United States. [more]

Writing for Justia, Chapman University law professor disagrees in The President’s Power to Waive the Immigration Laws.

[T]he issue is not whether one agrees with the President’s goals. (I share them.) The issue is whether it is constitutional for the President, unilaterally, to rewrite our immigration laws and change the status of about 5 million people. If the President can waive any law (by claiming prosecutorial discretion), future Presidents will be able, for example, to rewrite other laws. For example, if the next President does not favor the Affordable Care Act, he or she can simply grant a waiver to all of that law, just as the present President has already granted a waiver to important parts of the Affordable Care Act. [more]

Hotter Than Lava

by Bill Hayes

Police in Paris used stun grenades, or flashbangs, when they stormed the kosher supermarket in Paris where hostages were being held. In Hotter Than Lava, ProPublica reports that many U.S. police departments routinely use flashbangs in raids, and the devices can lead to serious injuries or even death.

Dukes had been hit by a flashbang, a $50 device used by the police to disorient suspects, often during drug raids. First designed nearly 40 years ago to help military special forces rescue hostages, flashbangs create a stunningly bright burst of light and an ear-splitting boom that temporarily blind and deafen anyone standing within a few feet of them. Last week, French special forces used flashbangs as part of a dramatic operation to free hostages held at a kosher supermarket in Paris. But when these modified hand grenades explode on the human body, they can cause severe injury or death. The flash powder burns hotter than lava. Dukes suffered second-degree burns across her body. When later asked to describe the pain she felt that morning on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the absolute greatest, Dukes said 100.

The military-style assault on the Laurel Park apartment the morning of July 21, 2010, did not uncover a violent criminal’s drug lair. Although Dukes’ boyfriend grabbed a handgun when the window shattered, he tossed it aside as soon as he realized that the intruders were police. He threw himself down on the ground and surrendered immediately. In the end, after storming the apartment and throwing three flashbangs, the police found about a tenth of an ounce of marijuana.

Such aggressive use of flashbangs has become common among today’s militarized police forces. The Clayton County police, who burned Dukes, deployed flashbangs on about 80 percent of their raids in the year prior to her injury, according to police records. Police argue that flashbangs save lives because they stun criminals who might otherwise shoot. But flashbangs have also severed hands and fingers, induced heart attacks, burned down homes and killed pets. A ProPublica investigation has found that at least 50 Americans, including police officers, have been seriously injured, maimed or killed by flashbangs since 2000. That is likely a fraction of the total since there are few records kept on flashbang deployment. [more]

The Best-Selling Vehicles in the U.S. Last Year

Infographic: America's Best-Selling Vehicles In 2014 | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

86 Viral Images From 2014 That Were Totally Fake

by Bill Hayes

Factually has assembled 86 Viral Images From 2014 That Were Totally Fake.

When Satire Cuts Both Ways

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times’ Room for Debate lets various knowledgeable contributors discuss news events and other timely issues. One recent debate covered: When Satire Cuts Both Ways.

People worldwide are outraged by the murders at the French satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic extremists angered by cartoons it published ridiculing Muhammad. But even some cartoonists have questioned whether satire can be pointlessly offensive.

Even if the most offensive speech deserves protection, is it worth considering its effects? Can writers and artists sometimes be too provocative and outrageous? Should they hold themselves back? [more]

Ancient and modern mariners

by David De La Torre

In Ancient and modern mariners, The Economist looks at modern container ships.

The bridge could easily accommodate 50 people, but at its busiest rarely holds more than ten. The high, surrounding windows and purposeful hush instil a vaguely ecclesiastical feel. At its centre is a large, sleek, wood-veneered steering wheel, used mainly when arriving and departing from ports. Otherwise the steering is automatic: if a human needs to intervene, he does so using a joystick the size of a child’s finger. Like the rest of the ship, the bridge smells of new-laid rubber and disinfectant — not an unpleasant smell, but a sterile one, with none of the undertones (tobacco, salt spray, fish, sweat) associated with sea journeys. Even in the ship’s bowels, the strongest odour is not the fuel oil used to power the engine but the coffee used to power the engineers.

Which artefact is the best emblem of modern life? The personal computer, perhaps, or the mobile phone, or the car. Or maybe, instead, the container ship, which transports all of those things and much besides: “90 Percent of Everything”, as the title of Rose George’s first-rate book on the shipping industry puts it. These ships are the workhorses of globalisation; they are also exemplars of another contemporary megatrend, automation. Their sterility would make them almost unrecognisable to Melville, the novelist-whaler, or to Joseph Conrad (who spent nearly two decades as a merchant marine). [more]

It’s All for Your Own Good

by Bill Hayes

In It’s All for Your Own Good for the New York Review of Books, Jeremy Waldron reviews two books by Cass R. Sunstein: Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism and Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas.

“Paternalism” is usually a dirty word in political philosophy: the nanny state passing regulations that restrict us for our own good, banning smoking and skateboarding because they’re unsafe, or former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg trying to limit the size of sugary sodas sold in New York City — “the Big Gulp Ban.” Now, a nudger wouldn’t try anything so crass. If you ordered a soda in nudge-world, you would get a medium cup, no questions asked; you’d have to go out of your way to insist on a large one. Not only that, but diet beverages would probably be the ones displayed most prominently in nudge-world and served without question unless the customer insisted on getting the classic version from under the counter.

You could order a supersized sugary beverage if you wanted it badly enough, but it wouldn’t be so convenient to carry it to your table because Thaler and Sunstein are in favor of abolishing trays. It is all too easy to load up a tray with food that will never be eaten and napkins that go unused. You could insist on a tray if you wanted to hold up the line, but a tray-free policy has been proved to lower food and beverage waste by up to 50 percent in certain environments. Nudge and Why Nudge? are replete with examples like this.

Nudging is paternalistic, but it is surely a very mild version of paternalism. It’s about means, not ends: we don’t try to nudge people toward a better view of the good life, with compulsory library cards, for example, or PBS always coming up when you turn on your TV. And it is mild too because you can always opt out of a nudge. Not that Sunstein is opposed to more stringent regulations. Sometimes a straightforward requirement — like the rule about seat belts — might be a better form of paternalism. These options are left open for the regulator. [more]

Job Training That Works

by Bill Hayes

In Job Training That Works for Bloomberg Businessweek, Peter Coy looks at how employers and schools are collaborating.

Employers, schools, and government agencies are learning to work together to fill jobs requiring “middle” skills — more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. The best community colleges and other training programs are preparing students for the jobs of today and tomorrow, not yesterday. They’re imparting education when and where students are most likely to absorb it, in keeping with a maxim of Lou Mobley, who started executive education at IBM (IBM): “Education is effective only at the time of felt need and clear relevance.” And employers are recognizing certificates like Murumba’s that attest to mastery of specific skills, sometimes in lieu of insisting on a two- or four-year diploma.

When it comes to getting people jobs, this isn’t the whole ball of wax, to be sure. Economic growth is essential. And career training is no substitute for general knowledge of the arts and sciences: cosmetology ain’t cosmology. But if this initiative succeeds, it will produce a stronger middle class and a more competitive U.S. economy. [more]

The Masked Avengers

by Bill Hayes

In The Masked Avengers for the New Yorker, David Kushner reports on the hacking group Anonymous.

In 2003, Christopher Poole, a fifteen-year-old insomniac from New York City, launched 4chan, a discussion board where fans of anime could post photographs and snarky comments. The focus quickly widened to include many of the Internet’s earliest memes: LOLcats, Chocolate Rain, RickRolls. Users who did not enter a screen name were given the default handle Anonymous.

Poole hoped that anonymity would keep things irreverent. “We have no intention of partaking in intelligent discussions concerning foreign affairs,” he wrote on the site. One of the highest values within the 4chan community was the pursuit of “lulz,” a term derived from the acronym LOL. Lulz were often achieved by sharing puerile jokes or images, many of them pornographic or scatological. The most shocking of these were posted on a part of the site labelled /b/, whose users called themselves /b/tards. Doyon was aware of 4chan, but considered its users “a bunch of stupid little pranksters.” Around 2004, some people on /b/ started referring to “Anonymous” as an independent entity.

It was a new kind of hacker collective. “It’s not a group,” Mikko Hypponen, a leading computer-security researcher, told me — rather, it could be thought of as a shape-shifting subculture. Barrett Brown, a Texas journalist and a well-known champion of Anonymous, has described it as “a series of relationships.” There was no membership fee or initiation. Anyone who wanted to be a part of Anonymous — an Anon — could simply claim allegiance.

Despite 4chan’s focus on trivial topics, many Anons considered themselves crusaders for justice. They launched vigilante campaigns that were purposeful, if sometimes misguided. More than once, they posed as underage girls in order to entrap pedophiles, whose personal information they sent to the police. Other Anons were apolitical and sowed chaos for the lulz. One of them posted images on /b/ of what looked like pipe bombs; another threatened to blow up several football stadiums and was arrested by the F.B.I. In 2007, a local news affiliate in Los Angeles called Anonymous “an Internet hate machine.”

In January, 2008, Gawker Media posted a video in which Tom Cruise enthusiastically touted the benefits of Scientology. The video was copyright-protected, and the Church of Scientology sent a cease-and-desist letter to Gawker, asking that the video be removed. Anonymous viewed the church’s demands as attempts at censorship. “I think it’s time for /b/ to do something big,” someone posted on 4chan. “I’m talking about ‘hacking’ or ‘taking down’ the official Scientology Web site.” An Anon used YouTube to issue a “press release,” which included stock footage of storm clouds and a computerized voice-over. “We shall proceed to expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form,” the voice said. “You have nowhere to hide.” Within a few weeks, the YouTube video had been viewed more than two million times.

Anonymous had outgrown 4chan. The hackers met in dedicated Internet Relay Chat channels, or I.R.C.s, to coördinate tactics. Using DDoS attacks, they caused the main Scientology Web site to crash intermittently for several days. Anons created a “Google bomb,” so that a search for “dangerous cult” would yield the main Scientology site at the top of the results page. Others sent hundreds of pizzas to Scientology centers in Europe, and overwhelmed the church’s Los Angeles headquarters with all-black faxes, draining the machines of ink. The Church of Scientology, an organization that reportedly has more than a billion dollars in assets, could withstand the depletion of its ink cartridges. But its leaders, who had also received death threats, contacted the F.B.I. to request an investigation into Anonymous.

On March 15, 2008, several thousand Anons marched past Scientology churches in more than a hundred cities, from London to Sydney. In keeping with the theme of anonymity, the organizers decided that all the protesters should wear versions of the same mask. After considering Batman, they settled on the Guy Fawkes mask worn in “V for Vendetta,” a dystopian movie from 2005. “It was available in every major city, in large quantities, for cheap,” Gregg Housh, one of the organizers of the protests and a well-known Anon, told me. The mask was a caricature of a man with rosy cheeks, a handlebar mustache, and a wide grin.

Anonymous did not “dismantle” the Church of Scientology. Still, the Tom Cruise video remained online. Anonymous had proved its tenacity. The collective adopted a bombastic slogan: “We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” [more]