CRF Blog

Going After Abusers Like N.F.L. Player Ray Rice

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: Going After Abusers Like N.F.L. Player Ray Rice.

The Baltimore Raven’s decision this week to terminate Ray Rice’s contract because of his assault on his then-girlfriend Janay Palmer, coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, which aims to hold abusers accountable. To combat domestic violence, some states have adopted mandatory arrest and “no-drop” prosecution policies.

Are these policies effective? When police have evidence of domestic violence, should prosecution be mandatory? [more]

Anthem was once a song of drinking and sex

by Bill Hayes

In Anthem was once a song of drinking and sex for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Muskal traces the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Americans this weekend will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the poem that became the nation’s national anthem, a bit of verse written by a pro-slavery lawyer put to the melody of a British song that praised drinking and sex.

Oh, say what?

Yes, the song that has been the nation’s musical glue through war and peace, the song that has been the bane of singers of all ages and creeds and led to performances both tragic and mesmerizing, and the song lip-synced by zealous fans at sports events near and wide, yes, that song is celebrating a milestone birthday. [more]

Below is Whitney Houston singing the anthem, a widely praised performance.

Crash Course #14, U.S. History: Age of Jackson

by Bill Hayes

Part of a series: Crash Course #14, U.S. History: Age of Jackson.

Japanese women and work

by David De La Torre

In Holding back half the nation, The Economist reports on the low status of women in Japan’s workplace and the prime minister’s attempts to change this.

Japan educates its women to a higher level than nearly anywhere else in the world: its girls come near the top in education league-tables compiled by the OECD. But when they leave university their potential is often squandered, as far as the economy is concerned. Female participation in the labour force is 63%, far lower than in other rich countries. When women have their first child, 70% of them stop working for a decade or more, compared with just 30% in America. Quite a lot of those 70% are gone for good.

Mr Abe says he wants to change that. In April 2013 he announced that allowing women to “shine” in the economy was the most important part of his “Abenomics” growth strategy. Raising female labour participation to the level of men’s could add 8m people to Japan’s shrinking workforce, potentially increasing GDP by as much as 15%, according to Goldman Sachs, an investment bank. More women working for more pay would also increase demand. Hence speeches from Mr Abe attaching new-found importance to matters such as the opening hours of kindergartens and the challenges of breast-feeding outside the home.

For the prime minister, who belongs to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), this is quite a turnaround. [more]

America’s Trash Is Treasure

by Bill Hayes

In To a Chinese Scrap-Metal Hunter, America’s Trash Is Treasure, a feature story, Bloomberg Businessweek profiles Johnson Zeng, who makes money from America’s trash.

Just before 8 a.m., Johnson Zeng eases his rented Chevrolet into a space in front of Cash’s Scrap Metal & Iron in St. Louis. He’s in the market to buy scrap metal he can ship to China, and this is the first stop of the day in the middle of a two-and-a-half-week road trip to regular suppliers that started in Albuquerque and will end in Spartanburg, S.C. But that, Zeng says, is nothing. “My last trip with Homer,” he recalls, referring to Homer Lai, the scrap importer in China’s Guangdong Province who provides him with most of his business, “we drove 9,600 miles in 26 days.”

The result: Millions of pounds of metal worth millions of dollars left the U.S. for China.

Zeng is one Chinese trader, in one rental car, traveling across the U.S. in search of scrap metal. By his estimate, there are at least 100 other Chinese traders like him driving from scrap yard to scrap yard, right now, in search of what Americans won’t or can’t be bothered to recycle. His favorite product: wires, cables, and other kinds of copper.

It’s an essential trade. In 2012, China accounted for 43.1 percent of all global copper demand, or more than five times the amount acquired by the U.S. that same year. A modern economy can’t grow without copper. One way to get that metal is to dig holes in the ground; the other is from scrap. Since the mid-1990s, China has taken both approaches, with scrap accounting for more than half of all Chinese copper production every year (peaking at 74 percent in 2000). Because China is still a developing economy, it doesn’t throw away enough stuff to be self-sufficient. Thus, for the last decade it’s imported more than 70 percent of the scrap copper it uses. Meanwhile, the U.S., which throws away far more scrap metal than it can ever use, has become the world’s most attractive market for the savvy Chinese buyer.

In effect, Zeng and his peers are the vanguard of sustainability, the greenest recyclers in an era when that means something. He’s the link that binds your recycling bin, and your local junkyard, to China. [more]

The Rise and Fall of a Radical Journalist

by Bill Hayes

In The Rise and Fall of a Radical Journalist for the New Republic, Paul Berman reviews A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption, And American Culture by the late Alexander Cockburn.

Cockburn arrived in New York in the early 1970s, and it always seemed to me unfortunate that he never bothered to look into the principal Marxist or Marxist-influenced currents, past and present, of his new home. These were variously social-democratic and post-Trotskyist, and they differed from Marxist currents in certain other parts of the world because of their anti-totalitarian bent and also because of their origin in the city’s Jewish working class of a couple of generations before. The left-wing currents were entirely visible in New York in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and especially so at the Voice, where someone was always gazing in the direction of Dissent magazine; or at Dissent’s editor, Irving Howe, who happened to be the historian of the New York Jews; or at Howe’s stalwart comrade Michael Harrington, the socialist leader, who was himself a Voice writer. But New York’s political culture never grabbed Cockburn’s imagination.

His own Marxism was a product of the little world in London around the New Left Review in the 1960s — an Anglo-Marxism that had gotten its start in the 1950s by inching away from the British Communist Party, and after many years had failed to inch very far. Anglo-Marxism, in his presentation, looked on the Soviet Union as a gray and uninteresting place, which, by lending support to Third World liberation struggles in the remote tropics and hotlands, nonetheless served as the powerhouse of social progress. And Anglo-Marxism, in Cockburn’s version, looked upon the United States as the corrupt and hypocritical center of a doomed imperialism, filled with pitiable victims and with anonymous noble resisters who were all too prone to fall prey to the corruptions of imperial life. This was not a subtle picture of the world.

The picture lent itself to jeering, though, and he jeered on a weekly basis, year after year. The tenor of his jeers never varied.  Reading Cockburn at the Voice, or later at The Nation and other journals, or today in A Colossal Wreck, you could feel that somehow he had gotten trapped in an anti–Vietnam war demonstration circa 1967 and was doomed forevermore to shiver in horror at Robert McNamara. He shivered also at Zionism, whose nature seemed to him intrinsically ghastly. [more]

Interview of the Day: Donald Shoup

by Bill Hayes

In Meter Man, Patt Morrison, a Los Angeles Times columnist, interviews Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor of urban planning and an expert on parking.

America has had parking meters for 80 years. Are they there for making money or behavior modification?

It does produce revenue, and if it didn’t — if the money went to the U.N. or the Iraq war — there wouldn’t be any city that would charge high prices for parking. It’s only if you get a local benefit that people see that parking meters can do some good for them.

When Old Pasadena was almost a skid row, they were the first city in California to dedicate all the meter revenue to public services on the metered streets. Every time you put a quarter in, it comes out on the other side to clean the sidewalk or something else. The merchants thought they would chase people away. When the city said all the revenue would go to pay for services, instantly people said, “Let’s run the meters on Sunday, late at night, charge a higher price.” In Pasadena, you see the meter money at work. In Los Angeles, who knows where it goes? If L.A. did what Pasadena did with parking, it’d be a much better place. [more]

The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets

by Bill Hayes

In The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets, Smithsonian magazine reports on the latest findings on the most important skeleton discovered in North America.

In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.

The skull, while clearly old, did not look Native American. At first glance, Chatters thought it might belong to an early pioneer or trapper. But the teeth were cavity-free (signaling a diet low in sugar and starch) and worn down to the roots — a combination characteristic of prehistoric teeth. Chatters then noted something embedded in the hipbone. It proved to be a stone spearpoint, which seemed to clinch that the remains were prehistoric. He sent a bone sample off for carbon dating. The results: It was more than 9,000 years old.

Thus began the saga of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest skeletons ever found in the Americas and an object of deep fascination from the moment it was discovered. It is among the most contested set of remains on the continents as well. Now, though, after two decades, the dappled, pale brown bones are at last about to come into sharp focus, thanks to a long-awaited, monumental scientific publication next month co-edited by the physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley, of the Smithsonian Institution. No fewer than 48 authors and another 17 researchers, photographers and editors contributed to the 680-page Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Texas A&M University Press), the most complete analysis of a Paleo-American skeleton ever done.

The book recounts the history of discovery, presents a complete inventory of the bones and explores every angle of what they may reveal. Three chapters are devoted to the teeth alone, and another to green stains thought to be left by algae. Together, the findings illuminate this mysterious man’s life and support an astounding new theory of the peopling of the Americas. If it weren’t for a harrowing round of panicky last-minute maneuvering worthy of a legal thriller, the remains might have been buried and lost to science forever.

The storm of controversy erupted when the Army Corps of Engineers, which managed the land where the bones had been found, learned of the radiocarbon date. The corps immediately claimed authority — officials there would make all decisions related to handling and access — and demanded that all scientific study cease. Floyd Johnson protested, saying that as county coroner he believed he had legal jurisdiction. The dispute escalated, and the bones were sealed in an evidence locker at the sheriff’s office pending a resolution. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see The Kennewick Controversies from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

Chart of the Day: Population growth in the world’s top 15 megacities

Infographic: The World's Megacities Are Set for Major Growth | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League

by Bill Hayes

In Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League for the New Republic, William Deresiewicz argues that elite schools “are turning our kids into zombies.”

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them — the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.

I should say that this subject is very personal for me. Like so many kids today, I went off to college like a sleepwalker. You chose the most prestigious place that let you in; up ahead were vaguely understood objectives: status, wealth — “success.” What it meant to actually get an education and why you might want one — all this was off the table. It was only after 24 years in the Ivy League — college and a Ph.D. at Columbia, ten years on the faculty at Yale — that I started to think about what this system does to kids and how they can escape from it, what it does to our society and how we can dismantle it.

A young woman from another school wrote me this about her boyfriend at Yale: “Before he started college, he spent most of his time reading and writing short stories. Three years later, he’s painfully insecure, worrying about things my public-educated friends don’t give a second thought to, like the stigma of eating lunch alone and whether he’s “networking” enough. No one but me knows he fakes being well-read by thumbing through the first and last chapters of any book he hears about and obsessively devouring reviews in lieu of the real thing. He does this not because he’s incurious, but because there’s a bigger social reward for being able to talk about books than for actually reading them.”

I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League — bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development. Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice. [more]

The future of NATO

by David De La Torre

In First principles, The Economist reports that the Crimean annexation has given new life to NATO.

LAST November, in their biggest live-fire exercise since 2006, NATO forces repelled an imaginary attack on Estonia by a fictitious country called Bothnia. Steadfast Jazz 2013 was partly a response to huge and deliberately intimidating Russian exercises since 2009 that had caused jitters in Poland and the Baltic states. (One ended with a simulated nuclear strike on Warsaw.) It was also intended to mark a return to the 65-year-old alliance’s original priority of collective territorial defence as its combat mission in Afghanistan winds down. At the time, despite surging Russian defence spending and belligerent pronouncements from the Kremlin—including threats to attack a modest European missile-defence system under construction—NATO was searching for relevance because most Europeans had never felt safer.

Four months on, thanks to Vladimir Putin, NATO no longer has to justify its existence. [more]

The TR Show

by Bill Hayes

In The TR Show for the New York Review of Books, Susan Dunn reviews The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s exuberant new book, The Bully Pulpit, offers a sprawling panorama centered for the most part on TR, the reformer in the White House, whom she portrays not as Hofstadter’s grudging Progressive, but as an inspired crusader. In addition to her principal focus on his already well-known presidency, Goodwin has found two other fresher and less well-known angles to investigate. First, TR’s relationship with William Howard Taft, the Ohio judge who would serve under him as governor of the Philippines, secretary of war, and then as his hand-picked successor in the White House before becoming, in the election of 1912, the political rival of a deeply embittered and vindictive Roosevelt. And second, Roosevelt’s adroit and enterprising use of what he called “the bully pulpit” of the presidency and the relationships he cultivated with a talented crew of muckraking reporters that included Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Ray Stannard Baker, all writers for McClure’s magazine.

Goodwin fathoms and interweaves the worlds of people and policies, of politics and journalism, of the White House and the halls of Congress and popular opinion, infusing her narrative with sketches and anecdotes of dozens of characters’ public, personal, and family lives, their backgrounds, educations, finances, wives, children, illnesses, golf games, travels — including on the Titanic — friendships, enmities, and daily routines. Goodwin is a superb storyteller, an author of fascinating narratives that are rich in hard-won detail, though The Bully Pulpit offers no distinctive interpretation of Roosevelt and his era. For that, one might turn to the likes of Hofstadter, Bruce Miroff, Sidney Milkis, William Harbaugh, George Mowry, and others.

When New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt was chosen to run as vice-president on the Republican ticket with President William McKinley in 1900, his reaction was disappointment. “These fellows have placed me in an awful position,” he complained, deciding to accept only so that people wouldn’t say that “Roosevelt has a big head and thinks he is too much of a man to be Vice-President.” The job he coveted was that of governor-general of the Philippines, an exciting challenge after the American seizure of the islands from Spain in 1898 — but McKinley had already tapped William Howard Taft to head the occupation authority. Unlike TR, who believed that if Americans refused to take tough stands abroad “the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and win for themselves the domination of the world,” Taft had been strongly opposed to the US occupation of the Philippines, but agreed to accept the job. After all, he would sigh, “we are there.” [more]

Concern Over Islamic Extremism at Home and Abroad

by Bill Hayes

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has a new report on the Growing Concern about Rise of Islamic Extremism at Home and Abroad. It contains numerous polls, including:

Growing Concern

Every Cheese Has a Story

by Bill Hayes

In Every Cheese Has a Story for the New York Times Book Review, David Kamp reviews The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti.

Beyond unraveling the tale of how and why this happened, Paterniti immerses you in an immersion-friendly milieu of sun-baked highland plateaus, argumentative village rustics and beguiling old ways. Dug into the hills in Ambrosio’s neck of the woods are old caves, known as bodegas, where local Castilians have for centuries stored their wine, cheese and other comestibles. Above each bodega is a room known as a contador, or counting room, originally a place where a Castilian kept inventory of his cave’s contents. As time went on, these rooms evolved into meeting places — de facto social clubs where friends and family members gathered to eat, drink and converse — and the word contador came to be associated with its other definition, “telling room,” a place where people tell stories. Hence the title. [more]

Money Talks

by Bill Hayes

In Money Talks for the New Yorker, John Lanchester explores the language of finance.

What often vexes the language of money is something I’ve come to call “reversification” — a process by which words take on a meaning that is the opposite of, or at least very different from, their initial sense. Consider the term “hedge fund.” It baffles outsiders, because it’s very hard to understand what these Bond villains, as hedge-funders are in the public imagination, have to do with hedges. The word “hedge” began its life in economics as a term for setting limits on a bet, and showed up in that sense in the prologue to the Duke of Buckingham’s 1671 play “The Rehearsal,” a parody of the Restoration fashion for heroic moralistic drama: “Now, Critiques do your worst, that here are met; / For, like a Rook, I have hedg’d in my Bet.” The word “rook” is being used in the now obsolete sense of a cheat or sharpster. The idea is that, by putting a hedge around a bet, clever gamblers can delimit the size of their potential losses, just as a real hedge delimits the size of a field.

At its simplest, a hedge is created when you make a bet and at the same time make another bet on the other side of a possible outcome. Say that at the start of the season you’ve made a bet that the Green Bay Packers will get to the Super Bowl, at odds of twenty to one. You put down ten bucks. The team advances to the conference championship, where it’s playing the San Francisco 49ers. At this point, you decide to hedge your bet by putting ten dollars on the 49ers, who are three-to-one favorites to win the game. You’re guaranteed a profit, whatever the outcome.

The classic hedge-fund technique, created in 1949 by Alfred Winslow Jones, a sociologist turned investment manager, developed a more sophisticated version of the gambling strategy. Funds like his employed mathematical analyses to bet on prices going both up and down in ways that are supposedly certain to produce a positive outcome. This is “long-short,” the textbook hedge-fund method. But many hedge funds don’t follow such hedging strategies. A hedge fund, as the term is used today, refers to a lightly regulated pool of private capital, one that is almost always doing something exotic — because if it weren’t exotic the investors could benefit from the investment strategy much more cheaply somewhere else. [more]