Anti-social behavior

These two Pearls Before Swine cartoon strips caught my attention because they were slightly more extreme representations of me.

I too do not find large parties very congenial and sometimes end up wishing I could find a good book instead.

While I am not as bad as Rat, it is the case that I can find social interactions, even with people I really like, exhausting. The difference is that after a couple of hours, I tend to fade out somewhat and seek to leave, rather than becoming hostile.

Book review: Moneyland (2019)

The subtitle of this book by investigative journalist Oliver Bullough pretty much says it all: The inside story of the crooks and kleptocrats who rule the world. If you recall, my review of the film The Laundromat (2019) dealt with how the firm Mossack Fonseca specialized in creating shell companies for people to hide their ill-gotten gains from their victims and governments. This book lays bare how the corrupt system works, providing multiple detailed examples from all over the world.
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Good news: Rikers Island jail to close by 2026

The notorious jail will be replaced by four smaller, more modern jails close to New York’s main courthouses.

The Rikers complex counts 10 jails on an island between Queens and the Bronx that mainly houses inmates awaiting trial. The complex has housed jail inmates since the 1930s and has long been known for brutality. It saw hundreds of stabbings each year during the 1980s and early 1990s. It has been nicknamed Gladiator School, Torture Island, the Guantánamo of New York and, in summertime, the Oven.
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Save the whales, save the planet?

Whales are magnificent creatures and there is always great appeal among people for saving the lives of large mammalian species. But in a paper published by the International Monetary Fund, it turns out that that increasing the whale population might also be a good way of capturing carbon.

Marine biologists have recently discovered that whales-especially the great whales-play a significant role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere (Roman and others 2014).

The carbon capture potential of whales is truly startling. Whales accumulate carbon in their bodies during their long lives. When they die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean; each great whale sequesters 33 tons of CO2 on average, taking that carbon out of the atmosphere for centuries. A tree, meanwhile, absorbs only up to 48 pounds of CO2 a year.

Wherever whales, the largest living things on earth, are found, so are populations of some of the smallest, phytoplankton. These microscopic creatures not only contribute at least 50 percent of all oxygen to our atmosphere, they do so by capturing about 37 billion metric tons of CO2, an estimated 40 percent of all CO2 produced. To put things in perspective, we calculate that this is equivalent to the amount of CO2 captured by 1.70 trillion trees-four Amazon forests worth-or 70 times the amount absorbed by all the trees in the US Redwood National and State Parks each year. More phytoplankton means more carbon capture.

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Using big data to help ordinary people

I subscribe to a newsletter from Dick Tofel, the head of the investigate journalism outfit ProPublica, and the latest one featured how they have created easy-to-use databases for people researching or navigating the ghastly health care system in the US.

Last week, we updated our tool tracking the performance of more than 4,700 emergency rooms around the country, which we now call ER Inspector. This news app lets you look up emergency room wait times and problems each facility has encountered since 2015. The underlying data is collected by the federal government, but it’s very hard to find or to sift. You can use ER Inspector to show you results from the facilities nearest to you, sort the data by state and rank all of the emergency rooms included on each of these dimensions. It’s an extraordinary collection of information, and it required about six weeks of news apps developer Lena Groeger’s time to update and extend.
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Global student strike on climate change

This graphic pretty much tells the story of global warming.

Source: Ed Hawkins/Guardian

Students around the world staged a strike today to urge governments to take action on climate change to stop global warming. The Guardian has a live blog of the strikes. You can see photos of striking students around the world such as this one below.

Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images


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Yesterday’s Democratic debate

I have been busy on a tight deadline with the book proofs and creating an index. These are two crashingly boring tasks, requiring close attention to detail and the only thing that keeps me going is because of my desire to make the end product as free from errors as possible. But as a result, I just could not spare the two hours or so to watch the first night of the second round of debates. So this post is based on second-hand information, so read at your peril!

However, from what I could read after the debate, it seemed to consist of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren staking out and reinforcing their progressive visions on major issues, while John Hickenlooper, Steve Bullock, Tim Ryan, and John Delaney tried to dismiss those as unrealistic and election losers. Trying to straddle the space in-between were Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, and Marianne Williamson. The impression was that O’Rouke needed a big night to boost his campaign and remain viable but he did not achieve it.

[UPDATE: Robert Mackey describes how Warren and Sanders effectively swatted away the right-wing framing of the questions that looked to him like a planned ambush by CNN to discredit especially their health care plans that threaten the private health insurance industry. Mackey’s piece is well worth reading.

Rolling Stone magazine also had a good breakdown of each person’s performances in the debate.]
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More Saudi Arabian atrocities

That country’s barbarism is well documented. But Mehdi Hasan writes that it continues to sink even lower, now threatening to execute someone for an offense that was committed when he was just ten years old.

IN 2011, as Arab Spring protests swept across the Middle East, demonstrations also kicked off in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. Members of the kingdom’s repressed Shiite minority took to the streets, calling for equal rights and a fairer distribution of oil revenues. The protesters included a group of around 30 kids on bicycles. As a video released last week by CNN shows, those children were led by a smiling 10-year-old in flip-flops named Murtaja Qureiris.
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