Kim Stanley Robinson's "Aurora": space is bigger than you think

Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora is the best book I read in 2015, and by "best" I mean, "most poetic" and "most thought provoking" and "most scientific," a triple-crown in science fiction that's practically unheard of. I wouldn't have believed it possible, even from Robinson, had I not read it for myself.

China state TV airs footage of detained reporter saying he regrets writing stock market story

Photo: Reuters
China's state broadcast network today aired footage of Wang Xiaolu appearing to announce to the world that he solemnly regrets writing his influential story.

What does $60 trillion in debt look like?


There's about $60 trillion in public government debt worldwide, and the folks at Visual Capitalist created a chart to show proportions and debt-to-GDP ratio in one handy image.

About two dozen countries carry over 90% of the world's debt, with Japan and Greece having the worst debt-to-GDP ratios.

$60 Trillion of World Debt in One Visualization Read the rest

U.S. home ownership rates drop to lowest level in 48 years


U.S. homeownership rate is 63.4%, the lowest since 1967. Bloomberg blames it on a combination of "stringent mortgage standards and wage growth that hasn’t kept up with surging home prices." As a result, rental vacancy rates a falling and rental rates are increasing. Read the rest

The high cost of being poor

An excerpt from Linda Tirado's 2014 book Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America lays out some of the ways that being poor costs more than having a comfortable income -- it's more than having to pay for high daily rents in a motel because you can't afford first-and-last. Read the rest

GOP's not-so-secret weakness: unfairness

"A capital gains tax rate (making money off money) that is lower than the earned income rate (making money off work) is just not fair; bestowing that rate on hedge-fund managers through a specially designed loophole is just not fair" -Wick Allison, American Conservative, Nov 12, 2012. Read the rest

Princeton economists: democratic presidents are just "lucky"

It's well established that the US economy fares better when a democrat is president. Why is this? Read the rest

How good is your zip code?

The Washington Post reports on "super zips"--postcodes that rank highly for income and college education levels. A striking interactive map is included in the article, to show what money looks like from space. Read the rest

Employment advice for Millennials

Diesel Sweeties creator R. Stevens has some advice for Millennials who are having a hard time finding work in the modern economy. It's so simple!

Six Totally Easy Tips For Millennials To Get Ahead In Today’s Economy (via Wil Wheaton) Read the rest

UK sex-workers hit hard by recession

The Economist claims that prostitution in the UK has been hard-hit by the down economy, with men treating sex-for-money as a luxury lacking precedence behind rent, petrol and energy bills. At the same time, more women are reportedly engaging in sex-work, looking for money in an economy with high unemployment and inflation and contracting welfare and benefits. This increases competition for sex-work, driving prices down further. Some sex workers are dropping their prices, and one independent escort in the south of England says that she believes that prostitution can no longer serve as full-time employment adequate to covering all bills and expenses . Read the rest

Dead WalMart reborn as library

A dead WalMart in McAllen, Texas has been remodelled as a library, making it the largest single-floor library in the USA. It's award-winning design makes excellent use of all that space -- two football fields' worth -- and includes an acoustically separated teen space. Read the rest

German children use bundled inflationary money as blocks, 1923

Here's a little visual aid for any inflation hawks out there who're looking for just the right graphic to stick in a powerpoint decrying stimulus packages or extolling gold's virtue: a group of Weimar-era kids using bundles of devalued Deutsche marks Reichsmarks as building blocks.

German children using marks as building blocks, when Germany tried to pay its war debts by printing money, causing hyper-inflation. 1923. (via Dark Roasted Blend) Read the rest

An unbiased view of what the meat industry looks like from the inside

Most of the time, when somebody goes undercover inside a meat processing facility, it's done with the express goal of convincing other people to stop eating meat. But that wasn't what journalist Ted Conover had in mind. He was more just curious, especially given the growing trend of state laws preventing undercover infiltration of agribusiness facilities. So, using his real name and address, Conover got a job as a USDA meat inspector at a Cargill plant.

What's fascinating here is that the problems he finds have less to do with animal abuse (Maryn McKenna reports that Conover was surprised to find himself in a clean, safe, humane facility) and more to do with the abuse of antibiotics — a trend that is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance.

You can't read the full story for free, unfortunately. Such is the way of Harpers. But Maryn McKenna has a summary, Conover has a blog post on agribusiness gag laws, and you can buy access to the full story with a Harper's subscription. Read the rest

Widespread, illegal debtors' prisons in Ohio

A new ACLU report called The Outskirts of Hope (PDF) documents the rise of illegal debtors prisons in Ohio. A majority of municipal and mayors' courts (an unregulated and rare system of courts only permitted in two states) surveyed by the ACLU routinely imprison people for their inability to pay fines, a practice banned in both the US and state constitution. 20 percent of the bookings in the Huron County Jail are "related to failure to pay fines."

Taking care of a fine is straightforward for some Ohioans — having been convicted of a criminal or traffic offense and sentenced to pay a fine, an affluent defendant may simply pay it and go on with his or her life. For Ohio’s poor and working poor, by contrast, an unaffordable fine is just the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.

The U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio Revised Code all prohibit debtors’ prisons. The law requires that, before jailing anyone for unpaid fines, courts must determine whether an individual is too poor to pay. Jailing a person who is unable to pay violates the law, and yet municipal courts and mayors’ courts across the state continue this draconian practice. Moreover, debtors’ prisons actually waste taxpayer dollars by arresting and incarcerating people who will simply never be able to pay their fines, which are in any event usually smaller than the amount it costs to arrest and jail them.

Read the rest

Game theory and bad behavior on Wall Street

An opinion piece by Chris Arnade on the asymmetry in pay (money for profits, flat for losses), which he describes "the engine behind many of Wall Street’s mistakes" That asymmetry "rewards short-term gains without regard to long-term consequences," Chris writes in a new guest blog at Scientific American. "The results? The over-reliance on excessive leverage, banks that are loaded with opaque financial products, and trading models that are flawed." [Scientific American Blog Network] Read the rest

Database documenting payouts to UK slave-owners to be launched for public use

The British government paid out £20 million to compensate 3,000 slave-owning families for the loss of their "property" when slave ownership was abolished in Britain's colonies in 1833. At the time, that sum amounted to 40% of the UK's annual spending budget; today, one could calculate the total value of the 19th-century payouts to be around £16.5 billion (=USD $25 billion; the actual sum can vary, depending on how you calculate).

In The Independent, an article digging in to the data, which will be released this week in the form of a publicly accessible database. Read the rest

Caviar vending machines in LA malls

Caviar vending machines have been installed in three upscale malls in LA. In addition to $500/oz caviar, they also dispense blinis, mother of pearl spoons, and other caviar essentials. The vending machines (they're billed as "ATMs for caviar") can be found at Westfield Century City, Westfield Topanga, and the Burbank Towne Center. Apparently, these are old news in Russia, where they are favorites of oligarchs and their entourages.

Finally! Caviar by ATM (via Super Punch) Read the rest

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