My year in contributions, 2018

Did you have a good year this year? Great! Please consider sharing some of that good fortune with one of these organizations. (If you had a bad year, I’m sorry.)

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2018.

Riding the Rarely and Never

I’ve been trying to keep up with the extensive reporting by the Times on the shabby state of New York’s subway system, and how it got that way. Here’s a nugget from Brian M. Rosenthal et al.’s kickoff (it’s from November—did I say that I was trying to keep up?):

A bill passed by the Legislature in 1989 included a provision that lets state officials impose a fee on bonds issued by public authorities. The fee was largely intended to compensate the state for helping understaffed authorities navigate the borrowing process. It was to be a small charge, no more than 0.2 percent of the value of bond issuances….

The charge has quietly grown into a revenue stream for the state. And a lot of the money has been sapped from one authority in particular: the M.T.A.

The authority — a sophisticated operation that contracts with multiple bond experts — has had to pay $328 million in bond issuance fees over the past 15 years.

In some years, it has been charged fees totaling nearly 1 percent of its bond issuances, far more than foreseen under the original law….

But records show that other agencies have had tens of millions of dollars in bond issuance fees waived, including the Dormitory Authority, which is often used as a vehicle for pork projects pushed by the governor or lawmakers. The M.T.A. has not benefited as often from waivers.

The Dormitory Authority? What’s that? DASNY likes to style itself as New York State’s real estate developer. Its Wikipedia article needs some work.

My year in contributions, 2017

If you’re looking for a last-minute contribution to make—maybe to round up your tax-deductible total for the year—I have… some suggestions.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2017.

One of tens of thousands

Life achievement unlocked: today for the first time I marched in a major political protest on the streets of Washington, D.C. As a member of the March for Science, I walked from the Washington Monument grounds, within sight of the White House, down Constitution Avenue to 3rd Street, on the fringe of the Capitol grounds. Weather conditions at the rally were less than ideal (drizzle and showers), but I stuck to the principle that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.

getting ready to marchI walked with a group well-organized by Audubon Naturalist Society (that’s us mustering on the steps of the National Museum of Natural History). ANS’s march leaders had the brain wave of bringing decorative bird spinners as a rallying point. The spinners (and the stylin’ t-shirts) brought us lots of attention, especially from journalists major and minor.

My year in contributions, 2016

It’s too late for tax season, but I still encourage you to support the good work that these organizations are doing.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2016.

The view from Maine

Richard Russo (Empire Falls), in conversation with Renée Montagne, offers an interesting take on recent political developments:

… we’ve been hearing a lot of talk about jobs. But I would draw a distinction between jobs and work. I don’t have a job, but I have tons and tons of work. That work sustains me. I’m doing something that gives my life meaning, it connects me to other people.

I think when you lose a job, you have less money and you get scared. But when you lose work, which has happened to many of Donald Trump’s supporters – or they fear is going to happen to them – you lose your dignity. Maybe you’re nobody. Maybe you don’t matter.

I think that Trump supporters have really been worried about their sense of not belonging anymore. If I blame Trump supporters for anything, it’s that if they’ve been feeling undervalued, denigrated, ignored, that’s not a new feeling. It’s just new to them, you know? Black people in America have felt that way for a long time. So have Latinos.

ADHD

“Why Some Wars Get More Attention Than Others,” by Amanda Taub.

Conflicts gain sustained American attention only when they provide a compelling story line that appeals to both the public and political actors, and for reasons beyond the human toll. That often requires some combination of immediate relevance to American interests, resonance with American political debates or cultural issues, and, perhaps most of all, an emotionally engaging frame of clearly identifiable good guys and bad guys.

Most wars — including those in South Sudan, Sri Lanka and, yes, Yemen — do not, and so go ignored.

Lessons

… there’s a second way to look at this. The violent opposition to the Vietnam War and the particular violence of May 4 [, 1970] also played a major role in ending the draft and thus insulated students and young people generally from many of the issues that had spurred such activism in the 1960s. Waging war today is a matter of finding the right price point at which sufficient numbers of young men and women will be tempted to risk their lives in service to their country. Arguably, too, it’s a matter of fostering economic conditions—underpaid and underemployed youth, hyper-expensive higher education—that make military service an attractive choice. What’s apparent, though, is that American troops have been in combat somewhere in the world almost continually since November 2001 with barely a whimper from the campuses that led the opposition to the Vietnam War.

—Howard Means, 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence (2016), p. 220

Modern agriculture

Emily Helliwell explains her approach to talking with creationists. In short, focus on the concepts that are important to the here and now:

If we want to get back to the dinosaurs, we can say the cumulative effect of billions of years of changing environments have allowed for some pretty amazing creatures to come and go. But, let’s resist the urge to talk about that, and stay focused on the small-scale stuff. Because if there is any concept necessary for our modern, developed society to believe in and understand, it’s microevolution.

Through microevolutionary principles, we would not have developed two of the most important contributions to society, antibiotics and pesticides. Without antibiotics, we would be subject to horrible infections, and without pesticides, we would be subject to devastating crop failures. Many of us would be dead or suffering.

Letting go

In the first half of last year, The Guardian produced a very effective closed-end podcast about its reporting and advocacy concerning climate change. With no exaggeration, it can be called The Biggest Story in the World.

For me, the most important episodes consisted largely of interviews with Marc Morano, climate change heckler, and with Ben Van Beurden, CEO of Shell.

HowSound

The focus of the newspaper’s campaign was to persuade two large charitable foundations to divest from companies dependent on carbon-based fuel extraction—the big oil companies, in short.

Meanwhile, Joel Rose recently reported on stepped-up efforts by gun safety activists, asking pension funds and personal investors to drop gun-related stocks from their portfolios. Does divestment have an impact?

“Well, unfortunately, it does not have an effect,” says Paul Wazzan, an economist at the Berkeley Research Group in California. He has studied the divestment campaigns against companies that did business in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Wazzan says there was no measurable effect on their stock prices.

“But it does generate a lot of press and interest,” Wazzan says. “And the political pressure starts to build and that did ultimately have an effect. It’s not what our paper was about, but I think the political pressure ultimately did have an effect on these companies.”

That kind of pressure is harder to measure than a stock price. But divestment supporters say it’s still worth a try.

My year in contributions, 2015

The last-minute begging e-mails for the end of the year are still streaming in. Yet: please consider giving to one of the organizations below.

These are the groups and projects to which I gave coin (generally tax-deductible), property, and/or effort in 2015.