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26. Ted Levin on the reintroduction of timber rattlesnakes


Ted Levin’s recent piece for the Boston Globe Magazine on reintroducing timber rattlesnakes to a Massachusetts island was aptly subheaded, “The plan to release poisonous snakes in the Quabbin freaks people out. But snakes are the ones that should be worried.” Timber rattlers are the subject of Levin’s forthcoming America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnakeso he’s certainly the go-to authority on the situation. Below follows a brief excerpt, which outlines the perspective Levin suggests we embrace:

Releasing snakes on Mount Zion may pose far more danger to the snakes themselves than there ever will be to shoreline fishermen or outdoors enthusiasts. Yes, rattlesnakes occasionally swim, but there is no evidence that they ever lived in the hills (now islands) in Quabbin Reservoir’s man-made wilderness. And it isn’t clear that Mount Zion could support a population of overwintering rattlesnakes. Even if the snakes could find a retreat below the frost line, no one knows if there are enough mice and chipmunks on the 1,400-plus-acre island to support them.

The unleashing of rattlesnakes on Mount Zion should be viewed as a scientific experiment, starting with snakes from populations not as threatened as those here (like Pennsylvania). Step one should be: Release a number of adult, nonnative rattlesnakes with radio transmitters. Step two: Track the snakes; discover where they eat, bask, shed, mate, and birth. Then, when October ushers in cold weather, discover if they find sanctuary below the frost line or freeze to death during the winter. If the rattlesnakes survive for a couple of years, augment the population with additional releases of young native snakes. They’ll follow the pheromone trails of the adults back to the den. Once the native rattlesnakes begin to breed and the nonnative snakes have been removed, the experiment will be deemed a success.

I truly hope it works. This plan may prove to be the last, best chance to keep an iconic serpent in Massachusetts.

To read Levin’s piece in full, click here.

To read more about American Snake, click here.

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27. Ted Cruz as Kenneth Widmerpool next Halloween


File under deep cuts. Recently in the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat suggested an apt analogy, or at least a plausibly shared archetype, between Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool, the fictional (anti) anti-hero from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series:

A dogged, charmless, unembarrassed striver, Widmerpool begins Powell’s novels as a figure of mockery for his upper-class schoolmates. But over the course of the books he ascends past them — to power, influence, a peerage — through a mix of ruthless effort, ideological flexibility, and calculated kissing-up.

Enduring all manner of humiliations, bouncing back from every setback, tacking right and left with the times, he embodies the triumph of raw ambition over aristocratic rules of order. “Widmerpool,” the narrator realizes at last, sounding like a baffled, Cruz-hating Republican senator today, “once so derided by all of us, had in some mysterious manner become a person of authority.”

This is not exactly a flattering comparison. But the American reader, less enamored of a fated aristocratic order, may find aspects of Widmerpool’s character curiously sympathetic. And some of that strange sympathy could be extended to Cruz.

To read more about A Dance to the Music of Time, click here.

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28. The Essential Paul Laffoley


The Essential Paul Laffoley: Works from the Boston Visionary Cell publishes this May (*super exciting*), but the meantime, here’s a teaser featuring a few of Laffoley’s paintings and video of the documentary The Mad One (Jean-Pierre Larroque/Doublethink Productions), after the jump.



Cosmolux, 1981. Oil, acrylic, and lettering on canvas. 73 1/2 x 73 1/2 in. © Paul Laffoley.



The Living Klein Bottle House of Time, 1978. Oil, acrylic, and lettering on canvas. 73 1/2 x 73 1/2 in. © Paul Laffoley.



Geochronmechane: Time Machine from the Earth, 1990. Serigraph on rag paper. Edition of 75. 28 in. x 28 in. © Paul Laffoley.

To read more about The Essential Paul Laffoley, click here.

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29. Kate Turabian is #1


From Time‘s slightly soiled (c/o a surprise appearance by Evelyn Waugh) list of the 100 Most-Read Female Writers on College Campuses:

Toni Morrison and Jane Austen are among the most-read female writers on college campuses, a new TIME analysis found.

First place on the list—which is based on 1.1 million college syllabi collected by the Open Syllabus Project—goes to Kate L. Turabian for her Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, assigned in 3,998 classrooms over the last 15 years.

Though much coverage of Time‘s list skewed toward questioning how Waugh’s inclusion made it so far along in the editing process (he clocked in at number 97), some blogs did point out that Turabian, while securing the top spot based on her gender affiliation at #17 overall, was still surpassed by 16 male-identified writers on a general ranking of syllabi (with Shakespeare, Plato, and Freud finishing near the top), rather unfortunately (and sadly, not all that surprisingly) leaving woman-identified writers completely out of the top ten.

Read more about all things Turabian here.

Read Time’s list in full here.

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30. “Welcome to Austin; don’t move here.”


Sociologist Jonathan R. Wynn went live in the Guardian last week with piece coincident with the 29th annual SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas—in which he articulated the role festivals like SXSW play in urban infrastructure, as they replace previously staid (and spatially permanent) cultural institutions, all the while playing an increasingly major socioeconomic role, especially in terms of gentrification and symbolic impact. All of this draws on the research behind Wynn’s recent book Music/City, which considers the expansive and shifting roles played by these kind of festivals in contemporary urban and cultural life. In a brief excerpt from the Guardian piece below, he explores how previous mayor Will Wynn’s strategy of nurturing SXSW as a crucial part of the city’s downtown development played out of the course of several years:

There are direct and indirect costs and benefits to Wynn’s strategy. While Austin’s downtown has seen robust growth, its inner core has gentrified, homeownership has risen well above the city’s median income, and the city’s poor have moved to Austin’s outer ring.

Downtown condo, hotel and residential growth has boomed. When I returned to the Mohawk two years later, for example, I saw that the onetime dirt lot across the street had transformed into a 120-unit luxury apartment complex called The Beverly.

At the same time, musicians and other creatives feel they have become victims of the successes they played a part in. Musicians and venue owners claim they aren’t seeing the benefits of Austin’s boom. In 2011, the owner of Emo’s and co-owner of Antone’s – two downtown Austin standbys – felt the pressures of these changes, evoking the gentrification of New York’s East Village to claim his venues were priced out of the downtown core, telling Billboard: “We were going the way of CBGB.” Perhaps more vitally, Austin’s downtown has grown, but it has also become richer, and whiter. A team of sociologists from the University of Texas at Austin have tracked the multiple effects of these economic changes for those on the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City.

Austin is the model of a Music City. As the mayors of cities like Phoenix, Portland, and Kansas City leave SXSW after their “secret” meeting on Stem-fueled (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math ) economic development, they should learn from Austin’s events-based cultural policy as well. Festivals can be the foundation of a low risk urban cultural policy with long-term rewards, including promoting arts education, developing local media, stimulating tourism development and crystallizing a city identity. But these urban cultural policies need to be held to a high standard. They must attract capital to a city while also maintaining an economic and symbolic responsibility to its local communities.

As the 29th SXSW kicks off this week, the Music City will be on full display, hitting both high notes and low. Festivals will increasingly be a part of our city culture. Just as the first SXSW was designed to be a showpiece for Austin talent, these large-scale events can and should maintain that commitment to their localities.

To read Wynn in full at the Guardian, click here.

To read more about Music/City, click here.

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31. David Hall on The Last Hurrah


In timely coincidence with today’s primaries and the book’s return to print, The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor received some well-tailored praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Hall, writing in the Columbia Daily Herald,  who suggests we:

Take a breather from the daily pounding of politics and reflect: chaos, confusion, and gutter campaigning are not new. . . . Even today’s politics are not speeding away. We have survived travail through democracy. Good and thoughtful fiction lets us pause and reflect.

Honing in on The Last Hurrah, an almost-story adapted from the life of notorious Boston mayor James Michael Curley, he writes of the book’s foreboding about the nature of the relationship between media and politics:

Another poignant tale of American politics is The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor. Set in an old and mainline northeastern city, the novel examines the dying days of machine politics when largess held voters in sway. Frank Skeffington, 72, believes he is entitled to one more term. His political compass loses its bearing against a young, charismatic challenger, void of political experience but adorned with war medals and good looks. O’Connor’s 1956 novel was prescient in portraying the impact television would have on politics. While The Last Hurrah lacks the intellectual complexity of All the King’s Men, it raises good questions about how religion, ethnicity, class and economics foster into political alliance—questions still relevant starting even at the city and county level.

To read more about The Last Hurrah, click here.

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32. Sara Goldrick-Rab on #FAKETENURE

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Sara Goldrick-Rab, author of the forthcoming book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dreamwith a powerful piece at Medium on #FAKETENURE:

Driven by a desire to be a professor that worked for the public, I fought hard for tenure, earning it over a period of 7 years of 80-hour work weeks only slightly interrupted by the births of my two children. At several points, I tested the need for tenure — while still on the tenure-track, attempting to speak out and question the Boss. In response I received the sorts of threats and retaliation that affirmed, without a doubt, that tenure would be required to do my job effectively. But just 4 short years after I finally received it, tenure was taken from me.

I’m not alone. Tenure has been vanquished throughout the University of Wisconsin System. In its place is a savvy new #FakeTenure that fools even the most intelligent people into believing it is real. Except it is not. Following passage of #FakeTenure by the UW Regents later this week, firing me would be quite easy. All the Boss would have to do is decide that the Department of Educational Policy Studies no longer needs a scholar of higher education policy. This would be straightforward since there’s another department in the same school where faculty work in this general area. As I’m the only professor in EPS studying higher education policy, I could be dismissed. Done. Gone. That’s “program modification,” plain and simple.

Terrified sheep make lousy teachers, lousy scholars, and lousy colleagues. And today at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thanks to #FakeTenure, I’m surrounded by terrified sheep. To be honest, commitments to the growing number of people whom I am responsible for (including my two children, but also my students and staff), put me at risk of becoming one of them.

To read Goldrick-Rab’s piece in full, click here.

To read more about Paying the Price (September 2016), click here.

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33. The Restless Clock at the THE


Jessica Riskin’s The Restless Clock situates a new dialectic at the center of the life sciences, the role played by agency—simultaneously underscored, dismissed, banned, and advocated—in our relationships to nature and its mechanisms.

From a review at the Times Higher Ed:

The Restless Clock is a sweeping survey of the search for answers to the mystery of life. It begins with medieval automata – muttering mechanical Christs, devils rolling their eyes, cherubs “deliberately” aiming water jets at unsuspecting visitors who, in a still-mystical and religious era, half-believe that these contraptions are alive. Then come the Enlightenment android-builders and philosophers, Romantic poet-scientists, evolutionists, roboticists, geneticists, molecular biologists and more: a brilliant cast of thousands fills this encyclopedic account of the competing ideas that shaped the sciences of life and artificial intelligence.

Riskin writes with clarity and wit, and the breadth of her scholarship is breathtaking. In particular, she explores scientific theories that aimed for some built‑in “agency”, some active principle that allowed matter to move in a way that did not require a predesigned mechanism (which seemed to imply a divine designer). Her goal is to “re-open scientific possibilities” – to show that, while passive mechanism is the “winning” principle in science, the “losing” agency theories have also shaped the life sciences.

To read the review in full, click here.

To read more about The Restless Clock, click here.

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34. Free e-book for March: The Longevity Seekers


Our free e-book for March is Ted Anton’s
The Longevity Seekers:
Science, Business, and the Fountain of Youth 


People have searched for the fountain of youth everywhere from Bimini to St. Augustine. But for a steadfast group of scientists, the secret to a long life lies elsewhere: in the lowly lab worm. By suppressing the function of just a few key genes, these scientists were able to lengthen worms’ lifespans up to tenfold, while also controlling the onset of many of the physical problems that beset old age. As the global population ages, the potential impact of this discovery on society is vast—as is the potential for profit.

With The Longevity Seekers, science writer Ted Anton takes readers inside this tale that began with worms and branched out to snare innovative minds from California to Crete, investments from big biotech, and endorsements from TV personalities like Oprah and Dr. Oz. Some of the research was remarkable, such as the discovery of an enzyme in humans that stops cells from aging. And some, like an oft-cited study touting the compound resveratrol, found in red wine—proved highly controversial, igniting a science war over truth, credit, and potential profit. As the pace of discovery accelerated, so too did powerful personal rivalries and public fascination, driven by the hope that a longer, healthier life was right around the corner. Anton has spent years interviewing and working with the scientists at the frontier of longevity science, and this book offers a behind-the-scenes look at the state-of-the-art research and the impact it might have on global public health, society, and even our friends and family.

With spectacular science and an unforgettable cast of characters, The Longevity Seekers has all the elements of a great story and sheds light on discoveries that could fundamentally reshape human life.
Download your copy here.
To read more about The Longevity Seekers, click here.

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35. The Book of Frogs


Boing Boing recently profiled Tim Halliday’s The Book of FrogsA Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from Around the Worldbut the real coup was a live link to sample pages, which showcase some of the majestically weird amphibians curated therein. You can see a handful of those images after the jump, but be sure to check out a glossy PDF of even more, via (full-size) additional samples posted to the book’s UCP site.






To read more about The Book of Frogs, click here.

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36. Dave Hickey at Momus


What follows below is a very brief excerpt from a feature-length interview with Dave Hickey, whose book 25 Women: Essays on Their Art published this fall, over at Momus.


Tell me about the timing. Why did you decide to produce 25 Women when you did?

I was putting together a book of what I considered to be my best essays about what I considered to be the best art. I got up to about ten or twelve essays and I realized that most of these essays were about the art of women artists, so I shifted my hand on the tiller. Also, I wanted to memorialize Marcia Tucker, so I did that. I thought it would be a kick.

You say in your introduction that it’s not “a fair book.” What do you mean by that? How would it look if it was fair? 

Well, there are lots of women artists whose work I like, about whom I never had a chance to write. Agnes Martin, Cindy Sherman, and Hannah Wilke come to mind. This was mostly in the seventies when men couldn’t write about women artists if a woman writer was available, and there always was. I also wrote some essays that weren’t salvageable, in my opinion, because the writing was not good. I have essays about Joan Snyder, Patricia Tillman, Helen Frankenthaler, and others that I really screwed up. Also I have written about some women artists whose work has changed so dramatically that what I had to say was irrelevant.

So the book is not fair, nor does it embody a singular theme about the plight of women artists. I’m like Donald Trump in that: I like winners. So the book is not about the plight of women artists in general. This is a flaw I cannot fix. The tenor of contemporary criticism is sociological, and since I am neither clairvoyant nor a sociologist, I have no insight into what is called the issue of “women’s identity.” I don’t understand women, but I don’t understand a lot of things. The rule today is that you can’t write about the art of women artists without having a foundational opinion of all women artists. I don’t have that.

To read the interview in full, click here.

To read more about 25 Women, click here.

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37. Sixteen for ’16: A primer for Bernie Sanders


A free chapter from Sixteen for ’16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America
by Salvatore Babones (Policy Press)


Back in the good old days, that is to say the mid-1990s, taxpayers with annual incomes over $500,000 paid federal income taxes at an average effective rate of 30.4%. For 2012, the latest year for which data are available, the equivalent figure was 22.0%.

The much-ballyhooed January 1, 2013 tax deal that made the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for all except the very well-off will do little to reverse this trend: The deal that passed Congress only restores pre-Bush rates on the last few dollars of earned income, not on the majority of earned income, on corporate dividends, or on most investment gains.

Someone has had a very big tax cut in recent years, and the chances are that someone is not you. In the 1990s taxes on high incomes were already low by historical standards. Today, they are even lower. The super-rich are able to lower their taxes even further through a multitude of tax minimization and tax avoidance strategies.

The very tax system itself has in many ways been structured to meet the needs of the super-rich, resulting in a wide variety of situations in which people can multiply their fortunes without actually having to pay tax. In general, it is also much easier to hide income when most of your income comes from investments than when your income is reported on regular W-2 statements from your employer direct to the IRS.

Whatever our tax statistics say about the tax rates of the super-rich, we can be sure they are lower in reality. At the same time that their tax rates are going down, the annual incomes of highly paid Americans are going through the roof.

In the 1990s the average income of the top 0.1% of American taxpayers was around $3.6 million. In 2012 it was nearly $6.4 million.6 And yes, these figures have been adjusted for inflation. Thanks to the careful database work of Capital in the Twenty-First Century author Thomas Piketty and his colleagues, it is now relatively easy to track and compare the incomes of the top 1%, 0.1%, and 0.01%. The historical comparisons don’t make for pretty reading.

Forget the merely well-off 1%. In the 21st century the top 0.1% of American households have consistently taken home more than 10% of all the income in the country, up from 3% in the 1970s.7 And these figures only include realized income: that is to say, income booked and reported to the tax authorities. If you own a company that doubles in value but you don’t sell any shares, you don’t have any income. Ditto land, buildings, airplanes, yachts, artwork, coins, stamps, etc.

High inequality plus low taxes equals fiscal crisis. The rich are taking more and more money out of the economy, but they are not returning it in the form of taxes. The result is that the US government no longer has the resources it needs to properly govern the country. The country needs universal preschool, universal healthcare, and a massive government-sponsored jobs program. The country needs a complete renewal of its crumbling human and physical infrastructure. The country needs funds for everything from the cleanup of atomic waste in Hanford, Washington to improvements at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. And the country needs higher taxes on today’s higher incomes to pay for it all.

In 2010 the United States government collected a smaller proportion of the nation’s total national income in income taxes than at any time since 1950.8 That figure has since rebounded, but it is still well below the average from 1996-2001. Under current law the federal income tax take is projected to rise from the historic low of 6.1% in 2010 to 8.6% of national income in 2016. This is an improvement over recent years, but it is still far below the average of 9.5% for the years 1998-2001, the last time the federal government actually ran a budget surplus.

The top marginal tax rate on the highest incomes is now 39.6%, as it was in the 1990s. This is still a far cry from the 50% top tax bracket of the 1970s or the 70% top tax bracket of the 1960s, never mind the 91-92% top tax brackets of the 1950s.10 The return to 1990s levels is a good start, but the next President should push to go much farther back because the tax system has been moving in the wrong direction for a very long time. High incomes are much higher than they ever were and people with high incomes pay much less tax than at almost any time in our modern history. The result, unsurprisingly, has been the enormous concentration of income among a small, powerful elite documented by Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century but no less obvious for all to see.

The concentration of income among a powerful elite may be very good for members of that elite, but it is bad for our society, bad for our democracy, and even bad for our economy. Socially, highly concentrated incomes undermine our national institutions and warp our way of life. For example, people who can afford to send their children to exclusive private schools cease to care for the health of public education, or they erect barriers to separate “their” public schools from everyone else’s public schools. Similarly, people who can afford the very best private healthcare care little about ensuring high-quality public healthcare. People who fly private jets care little about congestion at public airports. People who drink imported bottled water care little about the poisoning of rivers and underground aquifers. Enormous differences in income inevitably create enormous distances between people. The United States is starting to resemble the fractured societies of Africa and Latin America, where the rich live in ated “communities” with armed guards who enforce the exclusion of the lower classes—except to allow them entry as maids and gardeners.

These nefarious effects of inequality can already be seen in America’s sunbelt cities, where there are fine gradations of gated communities: armed guards for the super-rich, unarmed guards for the merely well- off, keypad security for the middle class, and on down the line to the unprotected poor. We should be ashamed, one and all.

Politically, highly concentrated incomes threaten the integrity of American democracy by fostering corruption of all kinds. When the income differences between regulators and the industries they regulate are small, we can count on regulators to look after our interests.

But when industry executives make two or three (or ten) times as much as regulators, it is almost impossible to prevent corruption. Even where there is no outright corruption, it is impossible for regulators to retain talented staff. People will take modest income cuts to work in secure public sector employment. They will not take massive income cuts. Those who do are often just doing a few years on the inside so they can better evade regulation when they go back to the private sector. When doing a few years on the inside includes serving in Congress merely as way to get a high-paying job as a lobbyist, we are in serious trouble.

Along with highly concentrated incomes come vote buying and voter suppression. When the stakes are so high, people will play dirty. No one knows how many local boards of one kind or another around the country have been captured by local economic interests, but the number must be very large.

Economically, highly concentrated incomes ensconce economic privilege, suppress intergenerational mobility, and can ultimately lead to the total breakdown of the free market as a system for effi driving production and consumption decisions. Privilege is perpetuated by excessive incomes because with enough money the advantages of wealth overpower any amount of talent and effort on the part of those who are born poor.

Nineteenth-century English novels were obsessed with inheritance and marriage because in that incredibly unequal society birth trumped everything else. Twenty-first-century America has now reached similar levels of income concentration among a powerful elite. To make this point graphically clear, a family with a billion-dollar fortune that does absolutely no planning to avoid the 40% tax on large estates and no paid work whatsoever can comfortably take out $15 million a year to live on (after taxes, adjusted for inflation) in perpetuity until the end of history—while still growing the estate. That’s how mind-bogglingly large a billion-dollar fortune is.

But probably the least recognized impact of high inequality on our economy is that it severely impairs the efficient operation of the free market itself. Market pricing is at its core a mechanism for rationing. The market directs limited resources to the places where they command the highest prices. The basic idea of rationing by price is that prices encourage people to carefully weigh their purchases against each other—in other words, to economize.

In an economy where everyone earns roughly the same income, rationing by price works just fine for most goods. People take care of their necessities first. Then they can choose whether to spend their extra money on eating out, taking vacations, renovating their homes, or saving up to buy something big like a boat. Because all of these goods are priced in the same currency, people can directly compare their values against each other. And if everyone has roughly the same amount of money to spend, market prices represent roughly the same values for different people. If you and I have the same income, a $20 restaurant meal means as much to me as it does to you.

Problems set in when incomes are very unequal. For people with extraordinarily high incomes, prices become meaningless. What does a $20 restaurant meal mean to someone who makes $20 million a year? Nothing.

The result is incredible waste as the market economy no longer forces people to economize. When rich people accumulate dozens of cars, maintain yachts they only use once a year, or have servants order fresh-cut flowers every day for houses they rarely visit, they are wasting resources that could be put to much better use by other people. Waste like this invalidates the foundational principle of modern economics: that the market maximizes the total utility of society.

That principle only holds if a dollar has the same meaning for you as it does for me. Highly concentrated incomes undermine the whole idea of the market as an economy—that is, as something that economizes. And that is the strongest argument for much higher taxes on higher incomes. There are many ways to reduce inequality, but the simplest and most efficient way is through taxation. The goal of income taxes should be to tilt the field so that earning an after-tax dollar means just as much to a CEO as to a fast food worker. That’s why a 90% marginal tax on incomes over a million dollars is entirely appropriate.

For a poor person who pays no income tax, a $20 restaurant meal costs $20. That person must make a real sacrifice to eat out. For a CEO with a 90% marginal tax rate, a $20 restaurant meal costs $200 in before-tax income. That may not be a huge sacrifice for someone who makes several million dollars a year, but it does change the equation. A CEO may not hesitate to eat out, but may hesitate to buy a private jet when flying business class will suffice.

To be sure, we need higher taxes on higher incomes to raise money for government. But we also need higher taxes on higher incomes just to make the economy work properly. That’s why the economy worked so much better in the high-tax 1950s and 1960s than it has since.

The ultimate goal of income taxes should be to make money as meaningful to a millionaire as it is to you or me. If we can’t quite get there in the next few years, we can certainly get closer than we are. One of President Obama’s most important accomplishments has been to set us on the path toward economic sanity by raising taxes on the highest incomes. The next President should build on this legacy—and in a big way.


Salvatore Babones is associate professor of sociology and social policy at the University of Sydney.

To read more about Sixteen for ’16, click here.


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38. On personal liability: Better Bankers, Better Banks in the NYT


A recent New York Times piece on the necessary culpability of bankers in bank misconduct builds on interviews with Claire A. Hill and Richard W. Painter, the authors of Better Bankers, Better Banks: Promoting Good Business through Contractual Commitmentwhich argues that it’s the bankers’ ability to hide behind their banks to dodge any personal stakes in the hefty fines, penalties, and legal fees levied by the government in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, or any forthcoming. And Hill and Painter have a plan for how to change that—make bankers personally liable. Here’s a bit from the NYT:

A different proposal comes in a new book by Claire A. Hill and Richard W. Painter, professors at the University of Minnesota Law School. In “Better Bankers, Better Banks,” they argue for making financial executives personally liable for a portion of any fines and fraud-based judgments a bank enters into, including legal settlements.

The professors call this covenant banking. And it looks a lot like the kind of personal liability that was a fact of life among the top Wall Street firms when they were private partnerships.

With their own money at risk, partners of Salomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs were much more careful about their business dealings. When these firms became public companies funded more by outsiders’ money, that self-discipline diminished.

“In the old days, because a partnership paid the fine, it would all come out of the partners’ pockets,” Mr. Painter said in an interview. “We’re not going to roll back the clock, but what we can do is come up with a contractual agreement in the compensation package that mimics some of that structure.”

Their plan contains a crucial element, requiring the best-paid bankers in the company to be liable for a fine whether or not they were directly involved in the activities that generated it. Such a no-fault program, the professors argued, would motivate bankers not only to curb their own problematic tendencies but to be on the alert for colleagues’ misbehavior as well.

This would help instill a culture, the law professors wrote, “that discourages bad behavior and its underlying ethos, the competitive pursuit of narrow material gain.”

Putting such a covenant in place would also help eliminate the problem of banking regulators who become captured by the institutions they are supposed to police. “Those in the best position to choose conduct that is appropriate may not be regulators but, rather, bankers with a stake in the bank,” the professors wrote.

. . . . “We don’t take the position that this should only be about banks,” she said. “But banks can do huge damage, and we have seen this ethos in the industry that cries out for responsibility.”

To read more about Better Bankers, Better Banks, click here.

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39. Masters of Uncertainty on Thinking Allowed



Click here to listen to author Phaedra Daipha’s recent appearance on the BBC 4’s Thinking Allowed. During her segment, Daipha delves into some of the extensive ethnographic fieldwork she performed at a northeastern office of the National Weather Bureau, which helped to generate her recent book Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth. In the book, Daipha argues that weather forecasting is a craft-based practice—and as neither artists nor scientists, its practitioners are closer to something like improvisational data-junkies, odd oracles for a labor of anticipation.

From the BBC’s synopsis:

Weather forecasting: Laurie Taylor explores a scientific art form rooted in unpredictability. He talks to Phaedra Daipha, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, who spent years immersing herself in a regional office of the National Weather Service in America. How do forecasters decide if a storm is to be described as severe or hazardous; or a day is breezy or brisk? Do they master uncertainty any better than other expert decision makers such as stockbrokers and poker players? Charged with the onerous responsibility of protecting the life and property of US citizens, how do they navigate the uncertain and chaotic nature of the atmosphere?

To read more about Masters of Uncertainty, click here.

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40. Norman Maclean and the Christian Tragedy


The most recent issue of Commonweal includes “The River Runs On: Norman Maclean’s Christian Tragedies,” a long-form piece by Timothy B. Schilling, who goes on to read Maclean (expectedly, given the title) through both Christianity and tragedy—but most compellingly, through the author’s own often contradictory and ambivalent relationship to religion. You can read the piece in full here; a brief excerpt from Young Men and Fire that situates the Smokejumpers—first responders to the Mann Gulch fire of 1949, from which the book takes its name— in this context follows below.

Maclean tells us that most of the Smokejumpers believe in God. “You wouldn’t dare jump,” they say, “if it was empty out there.” But of the sixteen who descended to fight the fire, only three survived. What then—for them, for us—is the last word in this story? Does the Mann Gulch fire reveal the ultimate tragedy of all human experience? Or does it enjoin us to embrace the world’s faith traditions in looking for a life and a truth beyond death? As in A River Runs Through It, Maclean counters fatalism with Christian symbols and biblical allusions, including references to the Stations of the Cross, the Mass, Calvary, and the Book of Job. He also calls again on Psalm 23. But perhaps the most telling biblical reference in Young Men and Fire is the scorched deer included in the “Black Ghost” section. This image, reinforced in a photograph, calls to mind Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for running streams, so longs my soul for You, O God.” Here, as in Maclean’s earlier book, the river is a potential source of relief and rescue—not the Big Blackfoot this time, but the Missouri, sporadically “glaring” through the smoke and trees. The ambivalence is typical of both of his books and very much to Maclean’s point; it sharpens our sense of the tragedy without “answering” it in any definitive way.

To read more about Young Men and Fire, click here.

To read editorial director Alan Thomas’s essay on working with (the ghost of) Maclean, click here.

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41. Publishers Weekly on Patterns in Nature


Advanced praise for Philip Ball’s forthcoming Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does (April 2016),
from Publishers Weekly:

Acclaimed English science writer Ball (Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen) curates a visually striking, riotously colorful photographic display of the most dramatic examples of the “sheer splendor” of physical patterns in the natural world. He lightly ties the work together with snippets of scientific history, using bits of physics, chemistry, and mathematics to show that although patterns in living beings can offer clear, functional evolutionary advantages, the small set of design elements that we can see—symmetries, branching fractals, spirals, flowing swirls, spots, and stripes—come from a basic set of organizing properties of growth and equilibrium seeking. Ball ranges across the whole spectrum of creation—from the living to the nonliving, and from the macroscopic to the microscopic—for displays of nature’s patterned beauty. He finds symmetry in grains of pollen, drops of falling water, and owl’s eyes; fractals in leaf veins, lungs, and nebulae; spirals in seashells, sunflowers, and cyclones; and flow patterns in wood grain, flocks of birds, and dunes on Mars. This is formidable eye candy for the I-love-science crowd, sure to spark a sense of impressed wonder at the beauty of our universe and our ability to photograph it.

To read more about Patterns in Nature, click here.

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42. Andrew R. Highsmith on the crisis in Flint


Below follows an excerpt from “Flint’s toxic water crisis was 50 years in the making,” Andrew R. Highsmith’s op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, which builds on the scholarship of his book Demolition Means ProgressFlint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American MetropolisRead his piece in full here.


As with so many environmental disasters, this one was preventable. Evidence suggests that the simple failure to use proper anti-corrosive agents led to the leaching of lead into the city’s water. It has also become apparent that the slow responses of local, state and federal officials to this crisis — as well as their penchant for obfuscation — prolonged the lead exposure.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that Flint’s predicament is simply the result of government mismanagement. It’s also the product of a variety of larger structural problems that are much more difficult to untangle and remedy.

Over the past three-quarters of a century, waves of deindustrialization, disinvestment and depopulation eviscerated Flint’s tax base, making it all but impossible to improve — or even maintain — the city’s crumbling infrastructure. Flint — which once claimed 200,000 residents — now contains fewer than 100,000, nearly half impoverished, more than half African American. The economic prospects of locals are grim. After decades of plant closures and layoffs, GM’s workforce in the area, which once surpassed 80,000, is less than 10,000. The hemorrhaging of jobs has produced unemployment rates that routinely reach into the double digits. . . .

If there was ever a canary in Flint’s coal mine, it may have been Ailene Butler. When she stepped forward in 1966, she crystallized the tight connections between environmental inequality and social injustice. To be sure, much has changed since Butler sounded the alarm half a century ago. Whereas in the 1960s it was the encroachment of industrial plants upon black neighborhoods that fueled local resentment, Flint’s current water crisis stems in many ways from the absence of those plants — and the jobs, taxes, services and infrastructure they supported. Still, looking ahead at Flint’s uncertain future, Butler’s message seems more relevant than ever.

To read more about Demolition Means Progress, click here.

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43. Verdi’s Nabucco at the Lyric Opera



Photo by: Ariel Uribe for the Chicago Maroon.

Full of “blood and thunder“—words for the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, an amalgamation of quasi-stories from the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Daniel coalesced around a love triangle, here revived for the first time since 1998. On the heels of its opening—the full run is from January 23 to February 12—UCP hosted a talk and dinner featuring a lecture “Nabucco and the Verdi Edition” by Francesco Ives. That Verdi Edition, The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, is the most comprehensive critical edition of the composer’s works. In addition to publishing its many volumes, the University of Chicago Press also hosts a website devoted to all aspects of the project, which you can visit here; to do justice to the scope and necessity of the Verdi Edition, here’s an excerpt from “Why a Critical Edition?” on that same site:

The need for a new edition of Verdi’s works is intimately tied to the history of earlier publications of the operas and other compositions. When Verdi completed the autograph orchestral manuscript of an opera, manuscript copies were made by the theater that commissioned the work or by his publisher (usually Casa Ricordi). These copies were used in performance, and most of the autograph scores became part of the Ricordi archives. Copies of the copies were made, and orchestral materials were extracted for performances. With the possible exception of his last operas, Otello and Falstaff, Verdi played no part whatever in preparing the printed scores: almost all printed editions of his works were prepared by Ricordi after Verdi’s death in 1901.

Predictably, these copying and printing practices have yielded vocal and orchestral parts that differ drastically from the autograph scores. Indeed, the problem of operas performed using unreliable parts and scores dates to Verdi’s own lifetime. After the premieres of Rigoletto, Il trovatore, and La traviata, for example, Verdi wrote to Ricordi on 24 October 1855: “I complain bitterly of the editions of my last operas, made with such little care, and filled with an infinite number of errors.”

Copyists and musicians who prepared these errant printed editions were not consciously falsifying Verdi’s text. They merely glossed over particularities of Verdi’s notation (e.g., the simultaneous use of different dynamic levels—“p” and “pp”, for instance) and altered details of his orchestration, which differed considerably from the style of Puccini, whose music dominated Italian opera when the printed editions of Verdi’s works were prepared. These editions, which in certain details drastically compromise the composer’s original text, are the scores that are used today, except where the critical edition has made reliable scores available.

The critical edition of the complete works of Verdi undertaken jointly by the University of Chicago Press and Casa Ricordi is finally correcting this situation.

To read more about The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, click here.

To visit the project’s website, click here.

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44. WJT Mitchell on Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur


From WJT Mitchell’s review of Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur, live at the LA Review of Books:

The Pet Collector reminds us of the most fundamental role of language: the ability to name things, and by doing so, to make them belong to us, and we to them. (The naming of and “dominion over” animals are central to Adam’s role in the Garden of Eden.) But the Collector doesn’t just take possession of his adopted family of animals; in his excessive abundance of attachments, he is clearly also possessed, and appears to be a fearful hoarder of living things. Arlo, by contrast, only needs his one companion, Spot, and he is comfortable with letting Spot go when he finds a human family to join at the conclusion of the film.

All this reeks of what anthropologists used to call totemism, the adoption of natural things (animals and plants) as kinfolk and symbols of kinship in so-called primitive cultures. The problem is that dinosaurs were unknown to primitive cultures; they are a thoroughly modern discovery, never named, classified, or adopted until the British paleontologist Richard Owen proclaimed their existence in 1843. Could it be that modern cultures need totemism too? Freud’s Totem and Taboo argued that totemism was obsolete in the modern world, while taboos still abound. But he failed to consider the possibility of a distinctively modern totemism, in which the animal counterpart and companion to the human species is an extinct family of prehistoric animals discoverable only by modern science. Dinosaurs provide the perfect Darwinian allegory for the human race — namely, the possible (or should we say highly probable) prospect that human beings could wind up just like them — extinct. That, it seems to me, is the best explanation of the strange array of contradictory attitudes toward dinosaurs as popular icons. They are friends and companions, on the one hand, and feared enemies, on the other. They are ferocious wild animals and domestic pets, vicious predators and peaceful vegetarians. In short, they are a mirror of all the varieties of our own human species, distributed across a genus of extinct animals that exist only in the realms of unbridled imagination and biological science — a perfectly modern combination.

To read the review in full at LARB, click here.

For more information about Mitchell’s The Last Dinosaur, click here.


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45. The Party Decides on The Brian Lehrer Show


The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform is having quite a week—and quite an election season, in general. The book was adopted early by Nate Silver at his FiveThirtyEight blog, which led to explorations of its hypothesis here and here, and most recently here: where Silver posits the book as the most “misunderstood” of the 2016 primary season.

The point of Silver’s statement rests on whether or not a Trump nomination would destroy the Republican Party. The book’s argument is that party elites—unelected insiders—control who ultimately ends up nominated at the convention, and that decision is made many months before the primary campaign season even begins. Was anyone but Trump the nominee (say Marco Rubio, or even Jeb Bush), then The Party Decides had it right all along; if Republicans put forward DT, then it may be less a sign that the statistically supported data of the book is incorrect, and more a case of the possible dissolution of the Grand Old Party.

In the meantime, you can hear more about the book and what a Trump nomination might signify on today’s episode of The Brian Lehrer Show below:

To read more about The Party Decides, click here.

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46. “Anthropology’s Storyteller-Shaman-Sorcerer”


From a recent review of Michael Taussig’s The Corn Wolf at Pop Matters:

Taussig’s work is the sort of bewilderingly beautiful prose (one is often tempted to call it poetry) that’s able to operate on multiple intellectual levels. The first essay in the collection, “The Corn Wolf: Writing Apotropaic Texts”, immerses the reader fully and mercilessly in the style. It opens with a poor graduate student realizing that writing up their fieldwork is the most difficult and important task of graduate school, and also the one thing graduate school teaches you nothing about. Fieldwork and writing; “they are both rich, ripe, secret-society-type shenanigans. Could it be that both are based on impossible-to-define talents, intuitions, tricks, and fears?”

No wonder many careerist academics dislike him.

Of course the essay isn’t so much about graduate writing as about his own writing, and about the act of writing—the magical act of writing—itself.

For example, Taussig considers anthropology’s treatment of magic and shamanic sorcery: “Pulling the wool over one’s eyes is a simpler way of putting it… What we have generally done in anthropology is really pretty amazing in this regard, piggybacking on their magic and on their conjuring—their tricks—so as to come up with explanations that seem nonmagical and free of trickery.”

This seemingly nonmagical academic form of writing—or mode of production, as he calls it—is what he refers to as ‘agribusiness writing’: “Agribusiness writing is what we find throughout the university and everyone knows it when they don’t see it.” Against it he pitches the idea of ‘apotropaic writing’, a magic that connives with the prosaic to produce a counter-magic of its own.

When anthropologists demystify shamanic sorcery, for instance, the ‘wolfing’ moves of apotropaic magic would reveal the sorcery implicit in the act of the ‘scientific’ anthropologist’s recasting of shamanism. Indeed, the fact that the wonder and magic of the everyday world has been demystified by science is a sort of magical transformation itself. Is this how we re-enchant the world? By the use of story-telling and writing to re-position what seems like the boring, unmagical workaday world of everyday capitalist drudgery and expose it as the magical sleight-of-hand and tricksterism that it is? “I have long felt that agribusiness writing is more magical than magic ever could be and that what is required is to counter the purported realism of agribusiness writing with apotropaic writing as countermagic, apotropaic from the ancient Greek meaning the use of magic to protect one from harmful magic.”

To read more about The Corn Wolf, click here.

To read the Pop Matters review in full, click here.


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47. Jennifer Tyburczy on Sex Museums for Artforum


Just a snippet from a fab piece by Jennifer Tyburczy for Artforum on the research informing her recent book Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display, which places the museum in its spatial, political, and sexual contexts, each imbricated by the other, as well as our notions of public and private. You can read more from her “500 Words” piece here.


The big surprise, though, was that as soon as I started to write about sex museums, they started to close. The latter part of my book is dedicated to an ethnography of these spaces. It was disconcerting when I would plan out a visit to Los Angeles to see an erotic museum that then closed mere months before I could make the trip. Part of the book became about the failure of these ventures, and I don’t mean in a Jack Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure kind of way. Ultimately, many of these museums could not provide what visitors wanted, which was a really raw experience with sex drawn from the archive and arranged in displays. A lot of the museums I discuss—whether in New York, Denmark, or Spain—had an ingrained idea of who their normative visitor was and where their threshold of shock was located. Without fail, they always set the bar too low. People wanted more! The demands of being a twenty-first-century museum taking on the onus to display sex overwhelmed a lot of the museum planners. Typically they censored themselves in some way that visitors noted. The heartening message here is that we shouldn’t assume that people will be shocked and turned off by displays of diverse sexual cultures and people. Museum visitors are smart and savvy, and ready and willing to have that experience. My work makes an argument for the emotional and sexual intelligence of a viewer.

To read more about Sex Museums, click here.

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48. What is an Air Guitar?


The University of Chicago Press: you’ve got the answer(s), we’ve got the question(s).

(And by questions, I mean Dave Hickey’s other books.)


To read more about The Invisible Dragon, click here.

To read more about 25 Women: Essays on Their Art, click here.

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49. Free e-book for February: Outside the Gates of Eden


Our free e-book for February:
Peter Bacon Hales’s Outside the Gates of Eden: The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now

Download your copy here.


Exhilaration and anxiety, the yearning for community and the quest for identity: these shared, contradictory feelings course through Outside the Gates of Eden, Peter Bacon Hales’s ambitious and intoxicating new history of America from the atomic age to the virtual age.

Born under the shadow of the bomb, with little security but the cold comfort of duck-and-cover, the postwar generations lived through—and led—some of the most momentous changes in all of American history. Hales explores those decades through perceptive accounts of a succession of resonant moments, spaces, and artifacts of everyday life—drawing unexpected connections and tracing the intertwined undercurrents of promise and peril. From sharp analyses of newsreels of the first atomic bomb tests and the invention of a new ideal American life in Levittown; from the music emerging from the Brill Building and the Beach Boys, and a brilliant account of Bob Dylan’s transformations; from the painful failures of communes and the breathtaking utopian potential of the early days of the digital age, Hales reveals a nation, and a dream, in transition, as a new generation began to make its mark on the world it was inheriting.

Full of richly drawn set-pieces and countless stories of unforgettable moments, Outside the Gates of Eden is the most comprehensive account yet of the baby boomers, their parents, and their children, as seen through the places they built, the music and movies and shows they loved, and the battles they fought to define their nation, their culture, and their place in what remains a fragile and dangerous world.

To read more about Outside the Gates of Eden, click here.

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50. The Catharine Stimpson Prize for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship


From our colleagues at Signs:

The University of Chicago Press and Signs are pleased to announce the competition for the 2017 Catharine Stimpson Prize for Outstanding Feminist Scholarship. Named in honor of the founding editor of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, the Catharine Stimpson Prize is designed to recognize excellence and innovation in the work of emerging feminist scholars.

The Catharine Stimpson Prize is awarded biennially to the best paper in an international competition. Leading feminist scholars from around the globe will select the winner. The prizewinning paper will be published in Signs, and the author will be provided an honorarium of $1,000. All papers submitted for the Stimpson Prize will be considered for peer review and possible publication in Signs.

Eligibility: Feminist scholars in the early years of their careers (fewer than seven years since receipt of the terminal degree) are invited to submit papers for the Stimpson Prize. Papers may be on any topic that falls under the broad rubric of interdisciplinary feminist scholarship. Submissions must be no longer than 10,000 words (including notes and references) and must conform to the guidelines for Signs contributors.

Deadline for Submissions: March 1, 2016.

Please submit papers online at http://signs.edmgr.com. Be sure to indicate submission for consideration for the Catharine Stimpson Prize. The honorarium will be awarded upon publication of the prizewinning article.

Papers may also be submitted by post to

The Catharine Stimpson Prize Selection Committee
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society
Northeastern University
360 Huntington Avenue
263 Holmes Hall
Boston, MA 02115

To visit the Signs site, click here.

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