Quote of the moment: Ebenezer Scrooge, and darkness is cheap (still, in 2012)

December 25, 2012

Roberto Innocenti, Scrooge on a dark staircase

Ebenezer Scrooge, up a dark staircase; “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” Illustration by Roberto Innocenti, via HornRimmedMagpie

Quote of the moment (an encore post for the season, with a bit of context thrown in later):

Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

I thought of that line of Dickens’s when, months ago,  I read of this celebration of darkness, ignorance and calumny. Although, with the recent renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap.

Still, it remains dark.

John Leach, Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

(More about the drawing below the fold)

Read the rest of this entry »


American tsunami

December 10, 2011

Alfredo Sabat on starvation in Africa, Lurie Award winner 2006

Alfredo Sabat on starvation in Africa, Lurie Award winner 2006

Remember this cartoon, from Sabat, in Brazil?  It was a commentary on the “tsunami” striking African children, who were not getting aid like victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami were getting.

Steve Benson, the genius cartoonist at the Arizona Republic, updated the idea.

Steve Benson on the increase in poverty and hunger in America, 2011

Steve Benson in the Arizona Republic, on the increase in poverty and hunger in America, 2011

More: 


7 billion people on Earth?

October 25, 2011

Exponential growth’s potential to rapidly change the numbers of a situation tends to fall out of the thoughts of most people, who don’t see such things occur in daily life.

You should stop and think about this one for a minute:  World population will tip to over 7 billion people soon, maybe in the next week, but most assuredly by next spring.

A very large crowd in a stadium

Seven billion people? Really? Are the concessions adequate? The restrooms?

Joel E. Cohen wrote about the event in Sunday’s New York Times:

ONE week from today, the United Nations estimates, the world’s population will reach seven billion. Because censuses are infrequent and incomplete, no one knows the precise date — the Census Bureau puts it somewhere next March — but there can be no doubt that humanity is approaching a milestone.

The first billion people accumulated over a leisurely interval, from the origins of humans hundreds of thousands of years ago to the early 1800s. Adding the second took another 120 or so years. Then, in the last 50 years, humanity more than doubled, surging from three billion in 1959 to four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987 and six billion in 1998. This rate of population increase has no historical precedent.

Can the earth support seven billion now, and the three billion people who are expected to be added by the end of this century? Are the enormous increases in households, cities, material consumption and waste compatible with dignity, health, environmental quality and freedom from poverty?

(Joel E. Cohen, a mathematical biologist and the head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University and Columbia University, is the author of “How Many People Can the Earth Support?”)

We’re in for some dramatic shifts in concentrations of people, if not shifts in how we think of the world (thinking is always slower than reality).

While the bulge in younger people, if they are educated, presents a potential “demographic dividend” for countries like Bangladesh and Brazil, the shrinking proportion of working-age people elsewhere may place a strain on governments and lead them to raise retirement ages and to encourage alternative job opportunities for older workers.

Even in the United States, the proportion of the gross domestic product spent on Social Security and Medicare is projected to rise to 14.5 percent in 2050, from 8.4 percent this year.

The Population Reference Bureau said that by 2050, Russia and Japan would be bumped from the 10 most populous countries by Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I’m not ready, and neither are most other people, I’ll wager.  How about you?

More: 


Class warfare and tax cuts for the rich

August 21, 2011

This claim that 51% of Americans don’t pay taxes — does anyone know where they fit in the economics scheme of things?

I wonder, partly because it’s mentioned over at Disaffected and It Feels So Good, and partly because in the light of what else is said over there, it’s relevant.

What is that blog saying?

The Heritage Foundation’s 2001 report proclaimed if the Bush tax cut legislation were to pass, it would:

1) Effectively pay off the federal debt;
2) Reduce the federal surplus by $1.4 trillion;
3) Substantially increase family income;
4) Save the entire Social Security surplus;
5) Increase personal savings;
6) Create more job opportunities.

Everyone of those claims did not happen and in fact the exact opposite occurred. But, what did happen was a massive transfer of wealth to the Ultra-Wealthy, which were the true goals of the Bush Tax Cuts.

Be sure to see the clip from Jon Stewart’s program about how America’s poor are really rich, and we could balance the budget on that demographic alone.

Who pays taxes, and is it fair?  Odd to me that the assumption is it’s the poor who don’t pay taxes, and that it’s unfair to the rich because the poor are living so high on the hog.

Evidence, anyone?


Barbara Ehrenreich wonders: What’s the real poverty rate in America?

August 10, 2011

Barbara Ehrenreich, “How America turned poverty into a crime,” Salon.com, August 9, 2011:

At the time I wrote “Nickel and Dimed,” I wasn’t sure how many people it directly applied to — only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty. But three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., issued a report entitled “Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families,” which found an astounding 29 percent of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a barebones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes — though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts. 29 percent is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.

The big question, 10 years later, is whether things have improved or worsened for those in the bottom third of the income distribution, the people who clean hotel rooms, work in warehouses, wash dishes in restaurants, care for the very young and very old, and keep the shelves stocked in our stores. The short answer is that things have gotten much worse, especially since the economic downturn that began in 2008.

Liberty does not flow to those who lack the money to eat, or keep warm.  We have strides to make to get to “liberty and justice for all.”

Libertarians, why do you oppose liberty for poor-but-working people?


Can public schools work? Texas Tribune’s interview with Michael Marder, Part II

June 11, 2011

From my earlier post on the Texas Tribune interview with Michael Marder, in which he questioned the assumptions that monkeying with teacher discipline, accountability, pay, training, vacations, or anything else, can produce better results in educating students, especially students from impoverished backgrounds.

Marder is the director of the University of Texas’s program to encourage much better prepared teachers, UTeach.

Michael Marder’s numbers show that it’s not the teachers’ fault that so many students are not ready for college, and not learning the stuff we think they should know.

Texas Tribune said:

In the popular 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said, “But even in the toughest of neighborhoods and circumstances, children excel when the right adults are doing the right things for them.”

After looking at the data, Marder has yet to be convinced that any teaching solution has been found that can overcome the detrimental effects of poverty on a large scale — and that we may be looking for solutions in the wrong place.

[Reeve] Hamilton’s interview of Marder takes up three YouTube segments — you should watch all three.

Here’s Part 2:

Read the original introductory article at Texas Tribune.

For the record, Michelle Rhee is probably right:  In the toughest neighborhoods, children excel when the right adults do the right things for them.  But the right adults usually are parents, and the right things include reading to the children from about 12 months on, and pushing them to love learning and love books.  Teachers get the kids too late, generally, to bend those no-longer-twigs back to a proper inclination.  The government interventions required to boost school performance must come outside the classroom.  Michelle Rhee’s great failure — still — is in her tendency not to recognize that classroom performance of a student has its foundations and live roots in the homes and neighborhoods who send the children to school every day.


Fatal flaw in American politico-economic system, that schools could fix, but won’t

November 7, 2010

. . . unless we change them soon, and in a fashion much different from what Arne Duncan wants.

John Quiggin, again:

Contrary to the cherished beliefs of most Americans, the United States has less social mobility than any other developed country. As Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution have shown, 42 percent of American men with fathers in the bottom fifth of the income distribution remain there as compared to: Denmark, 25 percent; Sweden, 26 percent; Finland, 28 percent; Norway, 28 percent; and Britain, 30 percent. The American Dream is fast becoming a myth.

Tea Partiers, most of them, believe they have a vested interest in keeping things that way, to preserve their own modest economic achievement.  And those at the top?  They delight in a little bit of “Let’s You and Him Fight.”

Quiggin’s article at Foreign Policy introduces five of the ideas in his new book, Zombie Economics; well worth the read.


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