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Posts Tagged ‘Theodore Roosevelt

“What is missing from the policy analyst’s tool kit – and from the set of accepted, well-developed theories of human organization – is an adequately specified theory of collective action whereby a group of principals can organize themselves voluntarily to retain the residuals of their own efforts”*…

Locals at the Marienfluss Conservancy in Namibia meet to discuss conservation

Further to yesterday’s post on privacy as a public good, a revisit of an apposite topic, the destructively-problematic concept of “The Tragedy of the Commons“…

In December 1968, the ecologist and biologist Garrett Hardin had an essay published in the journal Science called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. His proposition was simple and unsparing: humans, when left to their own devices, compete with one another for resources until the resources run out. ‘Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest,’ he wrote. ‘Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.’ Hardin’s argument made intuitive sense, and provided a temptingly simple explanation for catastrophes of all kinds – traffic jams, dirty public toilets, species extinction. His essay, widely read and accepted, would become one of the most-cited scientific papers of all time.

Even before Hardin’s ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ was published, however, the young political scientist Elinor Ostrom had proven him wrong. While Hardin speculated that the tragedy of the commons could be avoided only through total privatisation or total government control, Ostrom had witnessed groundwater users near her native Los Angeles hammer out a system for sharing their coveted resource. Over the next several decades, as a professor at Indiana University Bloomington, she studied collaborative management systems developed by cattle herders in Switzerland, forest dwellers in Japan, and irrigators in the Philippines. These communities had found ways of both preserving a shared resource – pasture, trees, water – and providing their members with a living. Some had been deftly avoiding the tragedy of the commons for centuries; Ostrom was simply one of the first scientists to pay close attention to their traditions, and analyse how and why they worked.

The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the ‘community’ doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions.

When it came to humans and their appetites, Hardin assumed that all was predestined. Ostrom showed that all was possible, but nothing was guaranteed. ‘We are neither trapped in inexorable tragedies nor free of moral responsibility,’ she told an audience of fellow political scientists in 1997…

Far from being profoundly destructive, we humans have deep capacities for sharing resources with generosity and foresight. Michelle Nijhuis (@nijhuism) explains: “The miracle of the commons.”

Elinor Ostrom (who received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for her work)

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As we come together, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that a Conference of Governors, convened by President Theodore Roosevelt and focused on the issue of conservation, opened in Washington. The brainchild of Gifford Pinchot, Chief Forester of the U.S., it was attended by the governors of the states and territories, the members of the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, scientists, and other national leaders. Seven days later, the governors adopted a declaration supporting conservation. One result was The National Conservation Commission, appointed by Roosevelt later that year, which prepared the first inventory of the natural resources of the United States with chairmen for water, forests, lands, and minerals. The conference also led to annual governors’ conferences, and the appointment of 38 state conservation commissions.

Roosevelt and Pinchot

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“If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you”*…

 

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Everyone always talks about how much money there is in politics. This is the wrong framing. The right framing is Ansolabehere et al’s: why is there so little money in politics? But Ansolabehere focuses on elections, and the mystery is wider than that.

Sure, during the 2018 election, candidates, parties, PACs, and outsiders combined spent about $5 billion – $2.5 billion on Democrats, $2 billion on Republicans, and $0.5 billion on third parties. And although that sounds like a lot of money to you or me, on the national scale, it’s puny. The US almond industry earns $12 billion per year. Americans spent about 2.5x as much on almonds as on candidates last year.

But also, what about lobbying? Open Secrets reports $3.5 billion in lobbying spending in 2018. Again, sounds like a lot. But when we add $3.5 billion in lobbying to the $5 billion in election spending, we only get $8.5 billion – still less than almonds.

What about think tanks? Based on numbers discussed in this post, I estimate that the budget for all US think tanks, liberal and conservative combined, is probably around $500 million per year. Again, an amount of money that I wish I had. But add it to the total, and we’re only at $9 billion. Still less than almonds!

What about political activist organizations? The National Rifle Association, the two-ton gorilla of advocacy groups, has a yearly budget of $400 million. The ACLU is a little smaller, at $234 million. AIPAC is $80 million. The NAACP is $24 million. None of them are anywhere close to the first-person shooter video game “Overwatch”, which made $1 billion last year. And when we add them all to the total, we’re still less than almonds.

Add up all US spending on candidates, PACs, lobbying, think tanks, and advocacy organizations – liberal and conservative combined – and we’re still $2 billion short of what we spend on almonds each year. In fact, we’re still less than Elon Musk’s personal fortune; Musk could personally fund the entire US political ecosystem on both sides for a whole two-year election cycle…

[A consideration of the factors that limit political giving/spending]

I don’t want more money in politics. But the same factors that keep money out of politics keep it out of charity too.

The politics case is interesting because it’s so obvious. Nobody’s going to cynically declare “Oh, people don’t really care who wins the election, they just pretend to.” It’s coordination problems! It has to be!

So when I hear stories like that Americans could end homelessness by redirecting the money they spend on Christmas decorations, I don’t think that’s because they’re evil or hypocritical or don’t really care about the issue. I think they would if they could but the coordination problem gets in the way.

This is one reason I’m so gung ho about people pledging to donate 10% of their income to charity. It mows through these kinds of problems. I may not be a great person. But I spend more each year on the things I consider most important than I do on almonds, and this is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen naturally. It’s the kind of thing where I have to force myself to ignore the feeling of “just a drop in the ocean”, ignore whether I feel like other people are free-riding on me, and just do it. Pledging to donate money (and then figuring out what to do with it later) ensures I will take that effort, and not end up with revealed preferences that seem ridiculous in light of my values.

Scott Alexander with a counter-intuitive– and provocative– take on politics and money: “Too much dark money in almonds.”

[Image above: source]

* Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), as well as acting White House Chief of Staff, in 2018, while serving as interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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As we take the pledge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that the words “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. paper currency– when the updated one-dollar silver certificate entered circulation that day.

Though it had only been adopted by Congress as the official motto of the U.S. the prior year, the phrase had appeared occasionally (as had variations on the theme) on coinage since Civil War times; regularly– despite Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that it was sacrilegious– from 1908.

220px-1in_god_we_trust source

 

Written by LW

October 1, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Natural history is not about producing fables”*…

 

Or, then again, maybe it can be…

Lori Nix has created  a series of photos that show the mayhem behind the scenes at an imaginary natural history museum.  Many of the scenes reveal back-room deceit, like the a T. rex skeleton built from a do-it-yourself kit (above), the half-made papier-mâché mastodon (below), and a family of beavers emerging from a crate marked “Product of Mexico.”  There is plenty of dark humor, like a bucket of fried chicken left in an avian storage room, and a pack of tigers and lions prowling around the remains of an unlucky custodian.  Ms. Nix, who assembled the foam-and-cardboard scenes in the living room of her Brooklyn apartment, was inspired by visits to the American Museum of Natural History.  “I come from the Midwest, the land of hunting and fishing, where there is a culture of stuffing your prize game,” she said. As for her favorite exhibits, like the bison and the Alaskan brown bear: “I hope they never update them.”

Read more, and learn where to see her work here.  And then visit the extraordinary Museum of Jurassic Technology… or if L.A. isn’t handy, read Lawrence Weschler’s extraordinary Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder.)

* David Attenborough

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As we look for our own inspiration, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that the American Museum of Natural history was incorporated.  Its founding had been urged in a letter, dated December 30, 1868, and sent to Andrew H. Green, Comptroller of Central Park, New York, signed by 19 persons, including Theodore Roosevelt, A.G. Phelps Dodge, and J. Pierpont Morgan.  They wrote: “A number of gentlemen having long desired that a great Museum of Natural History should be established in Central Park, and having now the opportunity of securing a rare and very valuable collection as a nucleus of such Museum, the undersigned wish to enquire if you are disposed to provide for its reception and development.”  Their suggestion was accepted by Park officials; the collections were purchased– and thus the great museum began.  It opened April 27, 1871.

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The Land of 10,000 Logos…

Designer Nicole Meyer has set herself a heroic– that’s to say, Herculean– task:

Lake logos have a tendency to be, well, fairly ugly. This project was created to rethink what they could be.

One Minnesota Lake. One Logo. Every day.

Should only take a little over 27 years to hit ’em all.

Check in on her progress-to-date at Branding 10,000 Lakes.

 

As we chose our vacation spots, we might recall that it was on this date in 1908 that avid outdoorsman and staunch conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt designated the Grand Canyon a National Monument.  Land and mining claim holders blocked efforts to reclassify the Canyon as a U.S. National Park for 11 more years.  But Grand Canyon National Park was finally established as the 17th U.S. National Park by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson in early 1919.

TR on Jacob’s Ladder, Bright Angel Trail (source)

 

Written by LW

January 11, 2012 at 1:01 am

Putting magic in the Magic Lantern…

In 1896, a young reporter for the New York Evening World was sent to interview Thomas Edison.  Ever on the make, Edison was concerned to impress the young man, Stuart Blackton, who before turning to journalism, had performed as “The Komical Kartoonist” in vaudeville shows, drawing “lightning sketches.”  Blackton accompanied Edison to his cabin studio, “Black Maria,” for a demonstration of Edison’s new motion picture technology.  Edison used the occasion to make a quick film of Blackton sketching.

The inventor did such a good job selling the new technology that he talked Blackton and a partner into buying a print of the new film, along with nine others, plus a Vitascope to show them to paying audiences.  The new act was a smash, so Blackton started making films of his own own– and the American Vitagraph Company (see also here) was born.

As Vitagraph did well, Blackton began to feel adventurous. And thank goodness he did: in the next few years, Blackton developed and instantiated the basic concepts of animation.

“The Enchanted Drawing” (copyrighted in 1900, but probably made at least a year earlier) depicts Blackton doing his lightning artist act, sketching a face, cigars, and a bottle of wine. He appears to remove the drawings as real objects, and the face appears to react.  The animation here is stop-action (the camera is stopped, a single change is made, and the camera is then started again),  first used by Méliès (who had a different kind of run-in with Edison) and others.

“Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” completed in 1906, was the first “true” animated film– in that an appreciable part of the action was accomplished with single exposures of drawings, simulating motion (though the film also employed live action, stop motion, and stick puppetry).

Having paved the way for Looney Toons, Merrie Melodies, and the rest of the cartoon cavalcade, Blackton and his partner sold Vitagraph to Warner Bros. in 1925.  (See here for a reminder of Vitagraph’s historical importance to live action films as well.)

(Thanks, Brain Pickings, for the prod.)

As we revel in fond memories of Saturday mornings past, we might recall, in anticipation of this weekend’s Final Four action, that it was on this date in 1906, as Blackton released “Faces,” that the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (subsequently known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA) was established.  When then-president Theodore Roosevelt’s own son, Ted, broke his nose playing football at Harvard, Roosevelt became aware of the growing number of serious injuries and deaths occurring in collegiate football (18 deaths in 05 alone).  He brought the presidents of five major institutions, Army (West Point), Navy (Annapolis), Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to several meetings at the White House in October, 1905 to discuss steps to make college athletics safer; the IAA was the result.

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