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Leonard Nimoy was BAFFLED!

The Editors   February 27, 2015
Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 3.15.08 PM

We lost a true American hero today. There are so many reasons to love the late, great Leonard Nimoy. The fact that he starred in an action-packed 1973 TV movie called Baffled! just happens to be ours. ( description: “Race car driver suffers from visions where he sees people killed. An ESP expert believes that his visions will really happen.”) Yes!

Please enjoy the trailer below; live long, and you know the rest:


The Economist as Culture Hero: Robert Shiller’s Irrational Exuberance

Jonathan Clarke   February 27, 2015
A third edition of Robert Shiller's Irrational Exuberance

Once creatures of the faculty lounge, bearing fuzzy sweaters and mugs of oolong, academic economists are now increasingly men and women of the world, moving in and out of elite policy roles, penning meme-establishing best sellers, mixing business and pleasure in Aspen. The dismal science has suddenly developed sex appeal.

One of the new rock star economists, Yale professor Robert J. Shiller, has recently issued a slightly updated edition of the work that first brought him to the public’s attention: Irrational Exuberance (Princeton University Press, 392 pages, $29.95). The first edition, published in early 2000, correctly predicted the market correction that year would bring. The decision to re-issue the book smacks a bit of triumphalism; Shiller’s ideas and those of his allies in behavioral economics have recently been in ascendance. The text of the book itself, however, is a model of tolerant discourse.

For this, his third edition, Shiller has added a new preface, a chapter on the functioning of the bond market, and a slightly edited version of his Nobel lecture. Otherwise, Irrational Exuberance remains largely as it was first published. This is the gesture of a man confident in his position.


Bad Faith and Bull from ACA Critics

Scott Beauchamp   February 27, 2015
Sartre sees what's going on here. / Photo via the public domain.

Bad Faith, from the French mauvaise foi, is a concept in existentialist thought used to describe people who are deceiving themselves by dutifully accepting larger social illusions of identity. One of the examples that Jean-Paul Sartre uses is a waiter who too self-consciously behaves “waiter-esque,” his movements a studied performance of how he believes a waiter should act. Unlike a child who “plays with his body in order to explore it, to take inventory of it; the waiter in the café plays with his condition in order to realize it.” Simply put, having Bad Faith means believing your own bullshit.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) channeled Sartre’s waiter this week during his keynote at a Heritage Foundation event billed as “King v. Burwell: Why the IRS Obamacare Handouts Should Lose at the Supreme Court.” Hatch expertly performed the facile outrage that has come to typify the Republican response to the Affordable Care Act. His main argument was that insurance subsidies built in to the ACA are being illegally distributed. State-run exchanges get the subsidies; federal exchanges don’t. He’s right in a narrow sense, but wrong in a larger, more important one.

In order to properly plumb the depths of the Bad Faith shared by Hatch and his cohorts, we have to examine what this SCOTUS case is really about, what’s at stake, and how ridiculously the ACA’s critics have responded to it.


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 27, 2015
Photo by Moralist

• Today in Bespoke: Australian artisan Dan Bolwell charges $3500 to $6000 (AUD) for his handmade penny farthing bikes, just like great-great-(great?)-grandpa used to ride. The prices range because “the purchaser can inject their personality into the design by adding copper coatings, electroplating or gold plating, and choosing a traditional or fluoro colour and the style of handlebars,” according to the Age. “The majority of his customers are men but he would like to see more women climb aboard. Mr. Bolwell has noticed a certain type of personality is drawn to the bike. ‘It tends to be someone who is quite confident and quite creative.’”

• Scott Walker won a standing ovation on Thursday when he told the CPAC audience that “if we can do it in Wisconsin, there’s no doubt we can do it across America.” But maybe he tried to extend that Wisconsin-is-the-world analogy a little too far, when he boasted that he didn’t fear ISIS, because “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.” (Meanwhile, back at home, Wisconsin’s Senate has just approved a right-to-work bill.)

• Speaking of protests: after conceding to German demands to win a bailout extension, the backlash among the Greeks against Tsipras’s anti-austerity party has begun, and it’s ugly.


Dangerous Designs on (AP) American History

Stuart Whatley   February 26, 2015
Photo via the University of Illinois Library

Any city upon a hill invariably rests on a mound of bullshit, and the extent to which one knows it depends largely on one’s willingness to inhale through his or her nose. In this sense, we might simplify the ongoing debate over the College Board’s updated AP U.S. History framework as a debate over whether or not public schools should be cultivating future generations of mouth-breathers.

A wave of recent proposals in state legislatures across the south and southwest seems to advocate for the former. The College Board claims to be emulating “current thinking” in the field of history by encouraging a focus on larger concepts, historical argumentation, and critical thinking skills, rather than the previous, superficial focus on rote people, places and events (PDF). But state legislators in places like Georgia have proffered resolutions charging that the new framework favors a “biased and inaccurate view of many important themes and events in American history,” and that it maligns “American free enterprise” and that system’s role in the country’s development over time (PDF). (And this language apes similar resolutions in other states.)

The opening shot in this latest installment of the textbook wars was fired last year in an op-ed by Jane Robbins, of the American Principles Project, and Larry Krieger, a former AP U.S. History teacher. They complain that, under the new framework, the “units on colonial America stress the development of a ‘rigid racial hierarchy’ and a ‘strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority…’” while ignoring “the United States’ founding principles and their influence in inspiring the spread of democracy and galvanizing the movement to abolish slavery.”


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 26, 2015
Under Warren Buffett's desk, probably. / Photo by Jasonk.

• Today in Billionaires: Fortune reports that Warren Buffett, 84 years old but going on 6, “stays youthful by drinking at least five Cokes a day,” three during the day and two at night. He is also really into Utz “potato stix,” and eats ice cream for breakfast.

• Even with the proposed wage hike, many Walmart employees can’t make enough money to live on the inconsistent, part-time hours they’re forced to work. Like many other hospitality and retail companies, Walmart benefits by having more part-time workers and fewer full-timers. “By hiring a large pool of hourly workers whose hours can expand or contract depending on business need, retailers can better sync hours to demand, experts say; posting schedules with limited advance notice allows managers to further minimize the risk of assigning too many hours,” the New York Times explains. “Restricting work hours also limits outlays on overtime and employee benefits.”

• Can Qatar end its migrant worker abuses in time to host the World Cup in 2022, many are asking? Um, probably not, others are answering.


Hacks, Backdoors, and Cyberwars

Jacob Silverman   February 25, 2015
The NSA has the keys to unlock untold numbers of cell phones and computer systems throughout the world. / Photo by Teresa

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Oscar win by Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s documentary about Edward Snowden, represented a symbolic capstone to our country’s surveillance story. Perhaps the well of new revelations had run dry, and we were now in the realm of theater, congratulations, and prizes. We know the stakes; time to do something about it.

But in the past week, some vital leaks have appeared that offer a much clearer sense of the U.S. government’s surveillance and cyberwarfare practices. Combined with a listless public appearance by the NSA director on Monday, it’s fair to ask if our dear unelected officials of America’s security apparatus have any idea what they’re doing.

First, Reuters’s Joseph Menn—who had previously reported about alleged secret payments from the NSA to security company RSA to weaken one of its encryption products—wrote about findings by Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab that a powerful hacking group had managed to manipulate the firmware on a number of major manufacturers’ hard drives. (Kaspersky didn’t credit the work to any particular agency, but they might as well have planted a sign that said, “NSA WUZ HERE.”)


Daily Bafflements

The Baffler   February 25, 2015
Photo by Lwp Kommunikáció

• Chicagoans appear to be disillusioned; Rahm now faces a runoff. As the the AP puts it, “Emanuel discovered it wasn’t enough to spend millions of dollars on TV ads, earn the backing of the city’s business leaders, and secure the hometown endorsement of President Barack Obama.” Bob Secter at the Chicago Tribune adds, “There also could be broader political implications heading into the 2016 presidential election season, with progressive liberal and union forces signaling an ability to make life hard for a prominent Democrat whom they consider cozy with the interests of Wall Street and distant from the cares of everyday workers.”

• Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day, a protest staged against adjuncts’ job insecurity and relatively low pay.

• Well, D.C. is about to get a lot more interesting: the Secret Service is soon going to be conducting drone exercises while everyone gets high.

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