August 5th – International News Round-Up (Part I)

Alt-Right/ Neo-Nazi

Breitbart

Steve Bannon found a guy who managed to find his way to the white house with a book. He also endorsed him in a photo that’s doing the rounds. A lot of people were mad because this was like the Ivanka Trump endorsement fiasco, except with a poorly written book. In this excerpt from Breitbart, the author makes his point about how the left is the real bastion of fascism. I really hate reacting emotionally to stuff that I write about and I usually try as best as I can to avoid berating people and using emotive language to describe something that somebody wrote and clearly believes in, but this is the most patently absurd idea that I have ever heard.

He also gets it ass backwards by trying to explain why nationalism does not get to the core of what fascism means.

You can be nationalist without being a fascist, but fascism has always needed nationalism, ethnicity and religion, as a means to mobilize people. This isn’t particularly difficult to see. Literally every time this has happened in the history of the damn world, you can observe this pattern.

I’m not going to get into this in detail here, first because I don’t have the time and second because I really don’t want to engage with an idiot who can’t figure this out.

Steve Bannon (Image Source: Wiki Commons)
Steve Bannon (Image Source: Wiki Commons)

Race

Pharyngula

Coates on the series that the GoT writers (I think?) are going to make. Alternate history shows are fascinating as an idea, but Coates makes some very good points. It’s one thing to have an alternate history show where Nazi’s have won. Nazism in America obviously does elicit the kind of response that Confederate causes do. Nazis were tried and executed for their crimes. Confederate generals are still seen as an integral part of southern (white) history.

Unions

Splinter News

Slate’s staff are trying to unionize and apparently the management are against it. They have their reasons and the staff obviously have enough incentives to want to unionize. The language that the management are employing to dissuade them is really dodgy though.

August 4th – International News Round-Up (Part II)

Feminism

Feministing

Very interesting article on the nature of what we would call modern feminism today. Again, I’m not criticizing the nature of any movement for equality that people desire. I just think there’s much to criticize in most post-modern movements. I think they all arise from this idea of absolute individual autonomy that borders on the western notion of owning something (in this case, the body) as the absolute. I also think that there are very real problems with how we code consent (as a binary), when it’s really about power relations. Take for example the fact that we think it’s wrong for a tenured professor to sleep with an undergrad student. There’s clearly no parity in terms of power between the two.

“That self-criticality means advocating for consent while questioning Western individualism’s reliance on the language of capitalism. For example, in Richard M. Wright’s essay on teaching consent through playtime, Wright explains sexual consent using the example of a friend wanting to borrow a book – if your friend says no or expresses hesitation, the author writes, you shouldn’t borrow their book. While the example itself is useful, upon closer examination it troubled me: I want to be able to make an argument for our rights over our bodies without necessarily relying on the idea of property ownership.

How do we imagine a standard of bodily autonomy which doesn’t reduce us to a libertarian vision of atomized individuals trading consent on a free market, but instead emphasizes our codependence?”

Feminist Current

Article and podcast on how the movement about reproductive rights should not be about “rights” but should be about sovereignty.

Iran

The Iran Project

Iran says its non-oil exports remain uncompetitive. This, despite the fact that the dropping of the sanctions was supposed to ease some pressure.

Iran Export Ship (Image Source: Flickr)
Iran Export Ship (Image Source: Flickr)

United States

FiveThirtyEight

Discussion on what Trump needs to do to right the ship. Strictly Machiavellian (as they mention themselves).

August 4th – International News Round-Up (Part I)

Opioid Crisis

Vice

Very thorough article on the nature of what we call the opioid epidemic in the United States and the fact that it’s really about more than just opioids and it’s a lot deadlier than people think. It’s also true that this affects poorer people disproportionately. Most people agree that middle America is already having a tough time with the exodus of manufacturing jobs. Those started leaving in 90s, I believe.

Jobs

Washington Post

Manufacturing jobs might not be dead in America. They might have just migrated to the coast. Trump also said that he wanted to make encouraging people to move, a part of the outreach to his voter base. He wants to send the message that if you want jobs, you might have to move for it. There’s a hitch though (it’s also mentioned in the article). The 2008 mortgage crisis made the homes of individuals worthless. Most of them lost their homes. Some of them managed to pay off the debt, but are stuck with homes that nobody wants to buy. That’s an enormous sunk cost to just leave lying around.

LGBT

Vice

I think that is we have a romantic view of what it might be to part of communities such as the furry community. It seems to be a way for people to connect sexually in a manner that makes them feel more comfortable. For young LGBT kids, as the article points out, the furry community can be very important. I get all of that, and I think that it’s pretty great, but I can’t help feeling like our sexuality is slipping further and further into the realm of the imagination. Our ideas of sexuality have changed so drastically over the past century. Just think about that for a second. In all the years of human existence, even modern human existence, we haven’t seen a period of such rapid change. There’s no way all of this will turn out to be positive in the long term.

Dutch Furries Gorichem (Image Source: Wiki Commons)
Dutch Furries Gorichem (Image Source: Wiki Commons)

Real Estate

Richard Green

It is not that difficult–if you have access to capital.  Here are the steps:

(1) Buy an apartment complex for $10,000,000 at a 4.5 percent cap rate with a 35 percent downpayment; finance $6,500,000 with an interest only loan at 3.5 percent that comes due in five years.

(2) Let’s say 35 percent of the value of the property is land and the remainder is improvements. Improvements on apartments are depreciated on a straight line basis over 27.5 years.  So taxable income is

450,000-227,500 (interest) – 236,363 = -13,863 or a taxable loss.

Meanwhile, cash flow is 222,500 per year.  So one gets cash while taking a tax loss.

(3) It gets better.  Suppose when refinancing happens in five years, the property has gained 20 percent in value.  Now one gets a 65 percent LTV loan on a $12,000,000 property–and gets to pull $1,300,000 out of the property.  Suppose NOI has also gone up 20 percent.  Sow now taxable income is

540,000-273,000-236,363 = 30,636.

Assume that the owner’s all in marginal tax rate is 50 percent.  In exchange for a one time $1,300,000 in cash and cash flow of $267,000, the owner pays a little over $15,000 in taxes and 3.5 percent in interest on the extra money.  No matter how one looks at it, this is a tax rate on cash of less than 10 percent.

It keeps going for 27.5 years, at which point the owner can defer taxes via a like-kind exchange. All of this is perfectly legal.  And it explains why salaried workers pay more in taxes than owners of capital.

Race

Vice

Affirmative action is controversial in any country that it is practiced in. In India, it’s a bit (very) different. Government institutions have quotas to fill. Also, we deal with caste, and not race. Very different monster, but that’s a story for another day.

I know you’re not a lawyer, but what’s your sense of how this might play given the Supreme Court has repeatedly said some consideration of race is kosher?
It’s very difficult to know what the Supreme Court would decide given the recent personnel changes. But even before, it’s a very divisive topic. One judge could change the ruling. And the Supreme Court has already made it more difficult for institutions to implement affirmative action. They want some more accountability. So an institution cannot just say they gave admission to a minority student because they want diversity. That’s not enough. The institution has to bring evidence that it tried every other option available that is race-neutral to increase racial and ethnic diversity, like implement various programs, before they started using affirmative action. The court sees the benefit of diversity but would prefer that people achieve that with race-neutral means. Of course, that’s quite impossible. And that’s a very important point to keep in mind. But the institution has to prove they tried.

So the University of Texas did a great job demonstrating they had these programs, which is why the court granted them the option to continue with Affirmative Action. There will be another institution that is less diligent in designing race-neutral admissions policies before they do racial preferences. I don’t know what the court decision will be then.”

August 3rd – International News Round-Up (Part II)

United States

Vice

Trump tweeted out that the market was at an all-time high and that stocks have never been worth as much. I haven’t checked, but this is probably true. Vice provides you with all the usual caveats to this statement.

Job Market

Zero Hedge

Article speculates that real unemployment numbers are much higher than the government is telling them. I don’t know either way. I’m more interested in the number of people who want jobs in Amazon now. It feels like it did a couple of years ago when everybody wanted a job at facebook, then at google, and now at Amazon.

Amazon (Image Source: Flickr)
Amazon (Image Source: Flickr)

Authorship

Nieman Storyboard

Katherine Boo on her craft. It’s an interesting read. Actually, makes me want to find that book of hers and see if it manages to buck the trend and not be another white person writing about Bombay. That being said, I actually like point number 8 in the article.

8) I don’t try to find simple characters.

“If you’re searching for a super-virtuous character, you’re denying … the infinite variety of the human condition,” Boo said. “When I select people to write about, I’m looking for individuals who don’t necessarily fit existing blueprints and whose choices and actions reveal the most about the societies they inhabit.” Boo also doesn’t believe in making herself a character in the story so that readers will have someone to identify with, as many of her editors have encouraged. “If you have this image of me constantly present, that distracts you from what’s going on,” she said.

August 3rd – International News Round-Up (Part I)

Society

Jezebel

Dave Chappelle is famous and was up until recently pretty well loved by liberals. Good life. At least it felt like that. What the article talks about isn’t really new though. I think Anita Sarkeesian put out a video on how being transgender is the butt of many jokes in movies that are today considered close to many people’s hearts (90s movies and that kind of stuff). I also think this makes people really question the fact that the celebrities, sport players and musicians that they love are complex characters and are going to have divergent views from you. Though it is also a fact that people like Chapelle are opinion makers and the fact that they are this widely viewed in society means that their actions and words have a normalizing effect on the transphobia that undoubtedly exists.

Dave Chappelle (Image Source: Flickr)
Dave Chappelle (Image Source: Flickr)

AI

Motherboard

Deep Blue beat Kasparov way back in 1997. Looking back, maybe people were too enthusiastic on how AI would turn out and the pace at which this would continue. Starting with the basic name that we have given to it, Artificial Intelligence. Kasparov feels that calling out AI is a bit of a stretch. Playing against Deep Blue apparently didn’t feel like you were playing against an intelligent player. Instead, it felt like brute force. How much do neural networks rely on brute force algorithms to induce deep learning? Is it a fraction of it? Is it all of it in some cases?

Bitcoin

Motherboard

Bitcoin split into two different versions. One is the standard one, and the other one is called Bitcoin Cash, which is apparently a more populist alternative, according to another Motherboard article. I’m not sure what that means though. Anyway, I want to step away from the implications of this financially in the world right now and concentrate on what this presents in terms of a consensus on how value should be stored. I mean, this was literally a bunch of people who owned a certain “thing” who decided on how best to handle a situation that might have wrecked it. Instead, they came out pretty much unscathed and inspired enough confidence to send Bitcoin to new heights.

Genetics

Motherboard

Has this never happened before? I don’t believe that for a second. Also, the scientist quoted in the article goes out of his/her way to use terminology that does not imply any genetically modification/ enhancement. This is just “editing” apparently. Okay then.

Alt-Right/ Neo-Nazi

Bare Naked Islam

Right wing website which shared a CAIR video with the message that Castle Rock, Minnesota did not want the Muslim Cemetery in the first place. The message is this: you have been warned.

July 28th – International News Round-Up (Part I)

Psychiatry

Slate Star Codex

Clozapine is widely accepted as one of the most effective drugs when it comes to treating schizophrenia, which is notoriously tough to treat. Apparently, it also does well at treating refractory schizophrenia. I don’t really understand a lot of these terms, but I guess it’s good research to keep track of. Author speculates as to what the exact mechanism is that allows Clozapine to be so effective, and how do you replicate the therapeutic properties without the list of side effects (and it’s a fairly large list). He also speculates that it might be possible to achieve the two separate effects that Clozapine provides, with two separate substances, instead of using Clozapine and subjecting people to the side-effects. None of this is conclusive.

Argentina

The Bubble

Buenos Aires City has something called the “Netflix Tax”. The Mayor of the city, back in 2014, levied 3% on the final sales prices of Netflix services in the city. There’s a whole lot to unpack here and it is pretty interesting stuff. Since governments have less and less brick and mortar business to tax each year, they’re going to have to find a way to recover some of that shortfall. Thus far, they’ve only managed to try to tax the hell out of them. The above linked article also talks of how Pasadena, California was considering a 10% tax back in February of 2017. Not sure what the state of that is. Internet services such as Netflix are notoriously tough to tax. I mean, the internet and internet services have been around for quite a while now, but nobody has found a way to get around the confusion of not having a physical entity to tax. Another way to potentially move around this problem is to ask Netflix to create a certain quota of Indian based content for a set portion of International content. This would offset some of the potential loss in taxation. This might also come down to how strong Television lobbies are in various countries. I’m assuming TV channels are the losers if Netflix wins over more subscribers?

Netflix Headquarters (Source: Wiki Commons)
Netflix Headquarters (Source: Wiki Commons)

Society

Understanding Society

Blog posts on the natural of social process and how they contrast with closed systems (which is often what we see in the physical sciences). We can isolate phenomenon in closed systems and engineer outcomes. Social science on the other hand is concerned mainly with open systems (the real world where there are an infinite number of moving parts). It becomes tough to come up with causal mechanisms. We can of course theorize causal processes when it comes to macro-phenomenon, but every theory has to be understood contextually. He uses the 1967 Detroit race riots as a way to illustrate his point.

Vox

I shelved this under society because I think that the effects of drug addiction spread through society in a manner that we really have not witnessed thus far. Vox’s video on the page says that drug overdose kills more people in America than guns. I’m not sure if they included deaths from alcohol abuse in those stats, I know that some agencies do count deaths from alcoholism as deaths from drug abuse. Regardless, I think literally everybody would agree that the pharmaceutical industry is to blame for this. I don’t know how complicit doctors were in prescribing OxyContin, but there was obviously enough evidence to suggest that Opioid based painkillers were addictive. It took the US about 27 years to come to this stage. I don’t know if it’s a generation that is addicted and that as time passes, the numbers will just decrease or if the Opioid addiction cuts across different age groups. The next stop is something called Carfentanil, which is an elephant tranquilizer.

FiveThirtyEight

A Pew survey of Muslim Americans was conducted and findings were presented at a conference. There’s nothing enormous shocking, except for one small detail. 41% of American Muslims identify as white. That is an amount I did not expect. It’s also something that I can’t explain. It can’t be Albanians. Additionally, foreign born American Muslims all came from countries that have a negligible Caucasian population. Are the 41% of white Muslims all second-generation converts?

Financial

Zero Hedge

I think Zero Hedge is a website that is a great counterpoint to what we have to come to call “Mainstream News”. By this, I mean mainstream financial and economic news. I generally do not agree and cannot condone a lot of their social commentary (though I still read it). I tend to agree with their general viewpoint that the financial system of the present day is a lot more unstable than we would give it credit for, although I am not completely sold on the doomsday scenario that they posit. Article is an interesting read on what the author considers to be the current scenario and why every market peak is different. The amount of easy money that we have in the world economy has gone towards fueling a bunch of the world’s biggest players and this has inflated stocks to a point where they have to eventually correct themselves. Or so the reasoning goes. I’m not a finance guy, but this seems like reasoning that I can accept. Among other things, Zero Hedge also speaks of the Silicon Valley culture and the litany of strange massive IPOs that have come out of it. Everything from Snapchat to the really expensive juicer and how they hold absolutely “no value” and that eventually the fact that these kinds of companies exist will force the world financial market to lose value and achieve a mean.

Religion

RT

Seyran Ates, a Turkish-born German lawyer who was involved with opening a liberal muslim mosque in Berlin is looking to open one in the UK. There have been death threats to those involved with the one in Berlin, as they accept various different Islamic faith, as well as LGBT Muslims.

Ates said there was a need for liberal mosques in the UK as Sharia courts are allowed to operate. “Sharia is a war against women’s rights, nothing else,” she told the Guardian. “The UK has helped Islamists to bring women under Islamic Sharia law and its patriarchal structures.”

July 24th – International News and Writings Round-Up (Part I)

Iraq

Musing on Iraq

Ayatollah Ali Sistani called on Iraqis and the Iraqi forces in specific to not engage in the handing out of the extra-judicial punishment to captured IS forces in the recently captured city of Mosul. There have also been reports of confrontation between the various armed forces/militia that helped in the military assault on IS controlled Mosul. Bodies continue to be moved as an eerie calm descends on the city.

Iraqi News

2 policemen were killed in a bomb blast took place at the entrance of Fallujah City in the Anbar Province in Iraq. Iraqi defense forces have restored some calm since retaking the cities in the Anbar province from the Islamic State.

Ukraine

Kyivpost

Anzhelina Diash, a Femen activist who bared her breasts, which had “Long Live Belarus” scrawled on, in black. Her protest took place at the meeting of the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The specific action that could lead to her facing time in prison is the fact that she resisted arrest when a law-enforcement official attempted to remove her from the premises.

Femen Activists
Femen Activists (Image Source: Wiki Commons)

France

Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron has been having a rough time. His approval ratings dropped a full 10 percentage points, though he still enjoys 54% approval in France. The drop-off in popularity comes after spats with his Prime Minister and with the former Chief of the Armed Forces.

Venezuela

Reuters

Venezuela’s opposition coalition controlled parliamentarians called for a 2-day strike against the government of Nicolas Maduro. Violence continues to grip the country. Wuilly Arteaga, a violinist, who is famous for adding a musical flavor to the protest has been injured in the newest wave of protests. Maduro does not seem to be backing down, despite increasing national and international pressure. He also reportedly took to state TV to sing along to John Lennon’s Imagine, in a confusing display of symbology.

Syria

Iraqi News

Russian cluster bombs have killed 25 people in the besieged city of Raqqa. Reports suggest that they were probably civilians.

United States

Marginal Revolution

President Trump might not have the power to grant pardons to anybody he wants to. According to Marginal Revolution, the President can only grant pardons for federal crimes, and not crimes that came under the jurisdiction of specific states.

“President’s authority to grant clemency is limited to federal offenses and offenses prosecuted by the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia in the name of the United States in the D.C. Superior Court.  An offense that violates a state law is not an offense against the United States.  A person who wishes to seek a pardon or a commutation of sentence for a state offense should contact the authorities of the state in which the conviction occurred.  Such state authorities are typically the Governor or a state board of pardons and/or paroles, if the state government has created such a board.”