Saturday Reads: A li’l bit of This and That

Good Morning!

I thought I’d just try to put up a bunch of interesting articles that I’ve read recently, so I’m pretty sure there’s no theme here.  I guess we’ll see as I meander into each of them.

Economics started out as the study of Political Economy. Many of its early thinkers were definitely more essayists than researchers using data and vintage-science-picture-5statistical methods to look for trends.  The study of what we call frictions–or things in markets that cause them to stray from a perfect model—has been really important since we’ve learned to use data to empirically test theoretical models and constructs.  It’s interesting to go back to many of these early philosophical writers and notice that their gut feelings–as expressed in their essays–are as germane now as they were then. Karl Polanyi critiqued early market Capitalism in the 20th century in “The Great Transformation.” Polanyi argued that the idea of an efficient market economy was basically as utopian as its Marxist counterpoint.  Two sociologists have written a book that revisits the Polanyi critique.  Is the Free Market an impossible Utopia?  This is from an interview with the two researchers.

Polanyi’s core thesis is that there is no such thing as a free market; there never has been, nor can there ever be. Indeed he calls the very idea of an economy independent of government and political institutions a “stark utopia”—utopian because it is unrealizable, and the effort to bring it into being is doomed to fail and will inevitably produce dystopian consequences. While markets are necessary for any functioning economy, Polanyi argues that the attempt to create a market society is fundamentally threatening to human society and the common good In the first instance the market is simply one of many different social institutions; the second represents the effort to subject not just real commodities (computers and widgets) to market principles but virtually all of what makes social life possible, including clean air and water, education, health care, personal, legal, and social security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods and social necessities (what Polanyi calls “fictitious commodities”) are treated as if they are commodities produced for sale on the market, rather than protected rights, our social world is endangered and major crises will ensue.

Free market doctrine aims to liberate the economy from government “interference”, but Polanyi challenges the very idea that markets and governments are separate and autonomous entities. Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government rules and institutions. It is not just that society depends on roads, schools, a justice system, and other public goods that only government can provide. It is thatall of the key inputs into the economy—land, labor, and money—are only created and sustained through continuous government action. The employment system, the arrangements for buying and selling real estate, and the supplies of money and credit are organized and maintained through the exercise of government’s rules, regulations, and powers.

By claiming it is free-market advocates who are the true utopians, Polanyi helps explain the free market’s otherwise puzzlingly tenacious appeal: It embodies a perfectionist ideal of a world without “coercive” constraints on economic activities while it fiercely represses the fact that power and coercion are the unacknowledged features of all market participation.

tumblr_n30dq5LmdH1qbn5m1o3_500I have another study for BB.   This one was published in the July issue of Cognitive Science.  The authors found that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in “fantastical stories” are fictional.  Children raised in a religious environment even “approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly.”  

In “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds,” Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen, and Paul Harris demonstrate that children typically have a “sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative,” and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as “invisible sails” or “a sword that protects you from danger every time.”

However, children raised in households in which religious narratives are frequently encountered do not treat those narratives with the same skepticism. The authors believed that these children would “think of them as akin to fairy tales,” judging “the events described in them as implausible or magical and conclude that the protagonists in such narratives are only pretend.”

And yet, “this prediction is likely to be wrong,” because “with appropriate testimony from adults” in religious households, children “will conceive of the protagonist in such narratives as a real person — even if the narrative includes impossible events.”

The researchers took 66 children between the ages of five and six and asked them questions about stories — some of which were drawn from fairy tales, others from the Old Testament — in order to determine whether the children believed the characters in them were real or fictional.

“Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.

Archaeologists have found an 8000 year old skull containing residual brain matter. Girton Laboratory

Archaeologists in Norway have found what could potentially be an 8,000-year-old human skull – which contains traces of brain matter.The finding at a site in Stokke, Vestfold, could shed light on life in the Stone Age, a period that lasted roughly 3.4 million years, and ended between 6000 BC and 2000 BC.It was among a number of discoveries unearthed during the excavation, The Local reported.

It is too early to tell whether the bone remains are those of a human or an animal, but early tests have dated the skull to around 5,900BC, placing it within the prehistoric Stone Age period.

Gaute Reitan, dig site leader, told NRK that the “one of a kind” skull contained a grey substance that appeared to be brain matter.

But he said it was not possible to confirm if it belongs to a human.

mad-scienceThe Guardian reports that the Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists are scurrying to cover up their guilt in the shoot down of the Malaysian commercial jet killing hundreds of people.

The OSCE was trying to gain access to one part of the large crash site but the commander of a rebel unit, known as Commander Glum, blocked them. After the warning shot, the OSCE convoy departed.

There is also confusion over the black boxes and other devices apparently salvaged from the plane. A rebel military commander initially said he was considering what to do with them, while another rebel leader, Aleksandr Borodai, contradicting his colleague, said the rebels had no black boxes or any other devices.

The Ukrainian interior ministry added to fears of a cover-up when it released video purportedly taken by police showing a truck carrying a Buk missile launcher with one of its four missiles apparently missing, rolling towards the Russian border at dawn. The video could not be independently verified.

Other material on rebel social media sites was being deleted, including pictures showing the alleged capture of Buk missile vehicles by rebels from a Ukrainian air base last month.

Rebels said the boast on the social media site on Thursday that a plane had been shot down was not put up by them but by a sympathiser who mistakenly assumed it was a Ukrainian military plane that had been shot down. But in a separate posting a rebel leader also claimed that a plane had been brought down. “We warned you – do not fly in our sky,” he said. That too was removed.

A Nato intelligence specialist quoted by the military analysts Janes said the recordings “show that the Russian ‘helpers’ realise that they now have an international incident on their hands – and they probably also gave the order for separatists to erase all evidence – including those internet postings. It will be interesting to see if we ever find this Buk battery again or if someone now tries to dump it into a river.”

Video footage allegedly taken on Thursday appeared to support the idea that pro-Russia separatists had been to blame. It showed a Buk battery seemingly being moved in the rebel-held area between Snizhne and Torez close to the crash site. A still picture allegedly shows a missile in vertical launch mode beside a supermarket in Torez. However, the location has still to be established.

Ukrainian intelligence has published a tape said to be a recording between rebels and Russian intelligence in which they realise there has been a catastrophic blunder. One recording is said to be between a rebel commander, Igor Bezler, and a Russian intelligence officer in which he says: “We have just shot down a plane.” A second recording from an unidentified source puts the blame on Cossack militiamen.

Defence analysts with Russian expertise shared Power’s scepticism that Russia-backed rebel groups would have had the expertise to fire the missile and suggested it was more likely to have been Russian ground troops who specialise in air defence, seconded to help the rebels.

At the Pentagon, officials said a motive for the operation had yet to be determined, as had the chain of command. One said it would be “surprising to us” if pro-Russia separatists were able to operate the Buk missile battery without Russian technical support. The Ukrainian military confirmed it has Buk batteries but said it had none in the area the missile was fired.

Nato had Awacs surveillance and command-and-control planes flying in the Baltics around the time of the crash, but Pentagon officials did not think the aircraft picked up indications of the disaster.

Bob Latiff, a former US weapons developer for the air force and the CIA and now a professor at Notre Dame University, said he leaned towards a belief that it was a case of mistaken identity on the part of those who pressed the button.

“A radar return from an airplane like this would look very similar to that from a cargo plane, as was initially claimed by the separatists. If radar was all they were using, that is a shame,” he said. “All airliners emit identification signals which identify the aircraft and provide other information like altitude and speed. They also operate on known communications frequencies. It doesn’t sound like the separatists were using any of this.

“My guess is the system’s radar saw a return from a big ‘cargo’ plane flying at 30,000 ft or so and either automatically fired, or some aggressive, itchy operator fired, not wanting to miss an opportunity.”

Latiff said that if they had only one radar, as Ukrainian officials suggest, it would have been pointed at the target. A second, rotating one would normally have been part of a battery to pick up other planes in the immediate vicinity, but he said even that would not have established whether it was a commercial plane and there would normally have been communications equipment to pick up signals showing the plane was non-military.

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military specialist at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said he regarded the tape recordings as genuine, as well as postings on social media pointing the finger at pro-Russia separatists or Russia itself.

But getting evidence would be very difficult. He said: “A decision has been made on the Russian side to hide their tracks. It will be hard to find the battery.” Satellites might have been able to catch something, but the trail from the missile would have been very short, Sutyagin said.

So, I still can’t discern much of a pattern here but I just found all these links very interesting.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


31 Comments on “Saturday Reads: A li’l bit of This and That”

  1. RalphB says:

    Good post. Here’s a little something to add to the conversation.

    Pando: Homophobia, racism and the Kochs: San Francisco’s tech-libertarian “Reboot” conference is a cesspool

    The word “liberty” is the giveaway, of course. With “Reboot,” libertarianism is making its Big Pitch to Silicon Valley. The event features the movement’s superstar scion, Rand Paul, as keynote speaker; alongside Nick Gillespie, the leather-jacketed editor of, the online edition of Reason magazine, the longest-running and most successful libertarian media outlet, backed by the infamous Koch Brothers. In fact, the entire event is sponsored by the Kochs.

    Under the weird banner of “conservatarianism,” other key speakers include prominent republicans like Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference, and Andy Barkett, CTO of the Republican National Committee.

    This is very definitely a Valley event, though, …

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Hi Dak,

    Thanks for study on fantasy and stories. I wonder how the researchers found a pool of kids who had never been exposed to religious stories. I imagine that would be difficult. The results are interested, because kids who are 5 or 6 generally have some difficulty telling reality from fantasy anyway. Did you find the original study? Your link doesn’t work.

    • Pat Johnson says:

      Most kids of 5 or 6 believe in Santa Claus. The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny isn’t far behind.

      Very easy to accept Noah and Jonah as “real” if these kids are raised in home where this is taught.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I also enjoyed reading about Polanyi and the “fictions” or “frictions” that arise in free market philosophy. This seems analogous to the Cognitive Science study, except that it’s adults who can’t (or won’t) distinguish between reality and fantasy.

    • NW Luna says:

      I remember testing out the Tooth Fairy story by putting a tooth under my pillow, without telling my parents. The next morning — tooth still there, no money. I felt betrayed more than anything else: my parents had lied to me, was how I saw it. Guess I was a strange child.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I think I always knew the tooth fairy was my parents. But I was really angry about Santa Claus. Once I knew they had deceived me about Santa, I began to wonder about the existence of “God.”

        • dakinikat says:

          Same with me. That’s why we never really did those lies. Both of them figured it out pre-k anyway. What we had to do was tell them not to blurt it out to the other kids. I always wondered what why the Jewish kids got skipped. It never made sense to me.

    • NW Luna says:

      Cogn Sci. 2014 Jul 4. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12138.

      PubMed abstract:

      Not a free article, though, so you’d have to track it down at a university library. The lead author is with the School of Education, Boston University.

      • NW Luna says:

        BB, I downloaded a PDF of the article … let me know if you want a copy via email.

        • bostonboomer says:

          I’d love that. I’m an alumnus of Boston University, but I can’t get into their databases from home anymore. I have to go on campus to do it. I’ll send you my e-mail. My PhD thesis was on children’s narratives.

          • NW Luna says:

            Just getting back late …. will send it now. I thought I remembered that you earned your doctorate from Boston Univ, that’s why I mentioned the lead author was from there.

            Cool topic for a thesis!

          • bostonboomer says:

            Thanks so much!

  3. Pat Johnson says:

    There are days – and this may be just one of them – when you feel as if the world is on the brink of destruction.

    The global waters are heating up faster than expected. We have the capability of shooting planes out of the sky. Thousands of innocents are being slaughtered in the mideast on a day to day basis. More people today are living in poverty or close to. Religious beliefs seem to be on the rise throughout most of the globe. The rich are getting richer. The proliferation and easy access to guns has risen to an all time high throughout the US. Political candidates proudly display their ignorance and hypocrisy. Idiots seem to be fully in charge of the future. Repression tops the agenda everywhere.

    No wonder that “magical thinking” is acceptable. A lot easier to believe in “magic” than to confront the reality of the world that surrounds us today.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    I didn’t see this until now:

    Actress And Singer Elaine Stritch Has Died

    She was 89.

  5. RalphB says:

    tpm: RT Anchor: If Missile Was Russian, It Shows Why Governments Shouldn’t Give Weapons To Militias

    An anchor on the Russian-funded network RT America took to the airwaves on Friday to say that if a Russian-backed rebel militia brought down the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine, it shows why governments should not be providing weapons to insurgent forces.

    “If an international independent investigation does indeed find that the missile was shot by rebel fighters, then the criminals responsible need to be held accountable,” said Abby Martin, host of “Breaking the Set.”

    Russia has denied having anything to do with the attack.

    “Russia has been logistically backing the rebels in this territory,” she noted, adding “if an investigation finds that this missile was indeed Russian, then it exemplifies exactly why state power should not be providing high-grade weaponry to militias.”

    This was not the first time Martin had taken a critical line against the Russian government. In March she denounced Russia’s invasion of Crimea, stating that she would prefer to risk her job and “go down on the right side of history” than remain silent. …

    Some RT anchors have a spine. Don’t think I could say that about CNN.

  6. Fannie says:

    It seems like we are revisiting the past. Where have I seen all this before? We seem to be pushing back into history, and not onward.

    I fine myself back to the times of Hillary Clinton’s first run for office. I mean things are so ridiculous now. I’ve thought to myself who needs women voters in 2016? WTF is going on, because women seem to be eating each other. They are using the same language that was used against Hillary in 2008. She has too much baggage, what about the electoral vote, then the never ending,”she’s a hawk, she’s connected at the hip to wall street.” Dak, I’d like to know why she seems to be the only candidate being blasted on this, while all others get a pass?

    The deficit has been cut (by third?) since Obama. Yes he bailed out wall street, much to my liking, cause I lost my home to Wells Fargo. Do I blame Bush? Yup. But how far back in history (including economies) do we go? I thought Hillary did a great job as SOS, now I hear it was all about the miles she put in, not a single accomplishment. She had a role in the improvement of many countries, and how woman pulled their countries up for the betterment of society. People are saying Hillary was a sell out, bullshit.

    Hillary is the best for 2016, that I will defend, because of her career, her leadership abilities, and her achievements, which all played a part in getting this country on a better footing after what George Bush left for Obama to clean up.

    • Sweet Sue says:

      In 2012, Clinton brokered a peace deal between Israel and Hamas; an accomplishment the great Kerry has not been able to repeat.
      He’s doing one heck of a job as SOS, isn’t he/?

    • dakinikat says:

      She is the solid favorite right now and that situation does not create job security for journalists and profits for their corporate overlords. They benefit from turmoil.

      • RalphB says:

        The “progressives” who are bitching about her running are the same douche nozzles who were pushing the “Bill’s such a racist” line in ’08. I don’t care about them since they’re idiots at best.

    • Fannie says:

      I know I am putting the cart before the horse when I said she was the only “candidate” not getting a pass. We have a lot of damn malfunctioning going on. You know I will defend her.

      Thanks to you all, spot on as usual. I feel better now.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    Must read:

    Tyler Hicks on the four Palestinian boys playing on a beach who were killed by Israeli

    I had returned to my small seaside hotel around 4 p.m. to file photos to New York when I heard a loud explosion. My driver and I rushed to the window to see what had happened. A small shack atop a sea wall at the fishing port had been struck by an Israeli bomb or missile and was burning. A young boy emerged from the smoke, running toward the adjacent beach.

    I grabbed my cameras and was putting on body armor and a helmet when, about 30 seconds after the first blast, there was another. The boy I had seen running was now dead, lying motionless in the sand, along with three other boys who had been playing there.

    By the time I reached the beach, I was winded from running with my heavy armor. I paused; it was too risky to go onto the exposed sand. Imagine what my silhouette, captured by an Israeli drone, might look like as a grainy image on a laptop somewhere in Israel: wearing body armor and a helmet, carrying cameras that could be mistaken for weapons. If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?

    • NW Luna says:

      I will never understand how the people responsible for these events can sleep without nightmares of dead and dying children and mothers.

      • bostonboomer says:

        They do it by dehumanizing the enemy.

        • RalphB says:

          It is, unfortunately, the only way to survive some really horrible situations with any humanity left at all.

          • bostonboomer says:

            Sadly true for soldiers in war, but many pay a heavy price in psychological problems later on. In this case we’re talking about civilians doing the dehumanizing. I don’t think there’s any excuse for what Netanyahu is doing in riling up Israelis.

        • RalphB says:

          I’d like to add that I don’t believe I could ever personally become detached enough to kill with missiles from a drone. Dehumanizing an enemy in combat is one thing but killing in cold blood is quite something else.

  8. bostonboomer says:

    NBC Correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin Is Returned to Gaza

    Only days after NBC removed him from its coverage of the fighting in Gaza, the correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin will be reinstated and sent back into the region, the network said Friday evening.

    The decision to pull Mr. Mohyeldin off the story, after he witnessed an Israeli air attack that killed four Palestinian children and then posted remarks on Twitter about it, prompted a round of questions, and much criticism of NBC among Internet commenters. Some accused the network of reacting to pressure from the Israeli side of the conflict. Mr. Mohyeldin is an Egyptian-American who previously worked for the cable news channel Al Jazeera English.

    Other commenters speculated that NBC might have felt that Mr. Mohyeldin showed too much empathy in his social media comments. At one point he wrote, “just spent 45 min see family relative after relative learn that their children have been killed in #Israeli shelling of #Gaza port #horror.”

    When it removed Mr. Mohyeldin, NBC did not give a reason for its decision, which was first reported by the news sites TVNewser and The Intercept, other than unspecified security concerns.

    On Friday, NBC declined to give any explanation — official or not — for the sudden decision to send Mr. Mohyeldin back into Gaza. In a statement, NBC said only that its “deployments were constantly reassessed” in the region.Social-networking sites have given reporters in war zones the ability to immediately communicate their experiences. But those communications have also been closely examined by readers looking for bias.

  9. RalphB says:

    NoMoreMisterNiceBlog: Israel’s Pickle

    This story, from the Jerusalem Post, with the above illustration, is grotesquely upsetting and yet in a very dark way unspeakably funny:

    Terrorists in Gaza attempted to attack IDF soldiers with an explosives-laden donkey on Friday, the military said.

    IDF forces operating in the Rafah area near the Gaza-Egypt border located the donkey suspiciously approaching their position and were forced to open fire at it, causing the explosives to detonate. …

    This post argues that Israel needs psychotherapy, not more militarism.