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How the cost of a drug impacts the placebo effect

Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

The placebo effect has always been a bit of a mystery to science. Give patients a pill filled with sugar or in an injection of saline but tell them it's medicine, and a percentage of them will report feeling better.

A recent study in a handful of Parkinson's patients suggests you can boost the effects of the placebo even further by telling patients the drug costs a lot of money.

In the experiment by Alberto Espay and his colleagues at the University of Cincinnati, the patients received saline but were told they were testing the efficacy of two real drugs – one that cost $100, and another that cost 15 times as much.

“When they received the cheap formulation, they got better, but nowhere near those who received the expensive medication,” Espay says.

In fact, the people who thought they were getting the expensive drug did almost as well as when they were on a real drug. What the patients experienced was real, but it was entirely due to the placebo effect.  

Espay believes that cost affects the placebo because so many of us believe that expensive things are better.

“We feel the more be pay, perhaps the more value we're getting,” he says. “And of course that isn't true.”

It isn’t true, unless we believe it is, explains George Newman, a professor of psychology at Yale School of Management whose research has demonstrated that the pleasure we get from objects is determined by what we believe about them. 

For, example, if we believe we are drinking a $200 bottle of wine, it tastes better, and the regions of the brain devoted to pleasure light up more brightly than if we think it's a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck.

“What we're believing about the world, what we're imagining about the word directly effects how we experience things even very tangible things like the effectiveness of medication,” Newman says.

In this case, cost creates a bias in patient's expectations, says Ted Kaptchuk, director of the placebo studies program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

“But it's a bias we want to utilize, we want to maximize,” Kaptchuk says. “We want to optimize in clinical practice.”

But before drug manufactures start raising prices in the name of science, Kaptchuk says there are plenty of ethical ways to raise patient expectations. And most of them, like improvements in listening and attentiveness by physicians, are free.

Taking stock of U.S. aid to Israel

Tue, 2015-03-03 02:00

Political tensions are high around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress Tuesday, but that shows no sign of impacting aid agreements between the U.S. and Israel.  

In 2007, the Bush administration agreed to give Israel $30 billion in military aid over ten years. 75 percent of that money comes back to the U.S.—Israel uses it to buy weapons systems from American defense contractors.

“So it’s everything from Hellfire missiles to airplanes," says Haim Malka, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “U.S. aid to Israel accounts for about 20 percent of Israel’s total defense budget.”

The U.S. also gives Israel supplemental aid for things like its Iron Dome anti rocket system. And the U.S. allows tax breaks for donations and investment in Israel. 

“U.S. funds invest in Israel, annually, roughly $1.5 billion,” says Avner Cohen, a professor of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. 

The U.S. mainly gives Israel military aid. Non-military economic aid dried up as Israel’s economy grew.

Quit your job, become a longshoreman

Tue, 2015-03-03 01:30
55,000 pages

That's how many pages of emails were turned over to the State Department by Hillary Clinton's aides in order to comply with new federal requirements. As the WSJ reports, Clinton's extensive use of a private email account goes against current rules that emails be archived on department servers as part of the Federal Records Act.

-130.05 points

The Dow was down by triple digits at noon eastern time Tuesday. GM, Ford, Chrysler and Nissan all missed sales expectations, CNBC reported, driving the drop.

$1,500

In a recent study on the efficiency of two drugs, patients were told the two cost $100 and $1500 respectively. The group treated with the more expensive drug saw much more improvement. The catch? Both medicines were placebos, with the only difference being the perceived price. In fact, the people who thought they were getting the expensive drug did almost as well as when they were on a real drug. What the patients experienced was real, but it was entirely due to the placebo effect.  

$100,000 per year

About half of West Coast union longshoremen make at least that much, and some make more than three times that. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union's power and influence was felt last month when a labor dispute that nearly shut down ports along the coast, and this week the LA Times is looking into how dockworker wages have remained so high.

130,000

In 2008, the number of "non-domiciled" residents in the UK — that's citizens who can show their fathers were not born in the UK, or that they have a home elsewhere they plan to return to — surged to 130,000. That's because non-dom status also comes with an Edwardian-era tax break on foreign income, which has attracted the uber wealthy of Britain. As reported by the NY Times, the wake of the HSBC scandal in Switzerland has called the antiquated tax loophole into question.

50 percent

The portion of Americans who think it's important the U.S. be number one economically, up from 39 percent in 2007. That's according to a new Gallup poll, which also showed that priority was slightly split along party lines. Republicans were more likely than Democrats to think economic supremacy was important. 

Google's wireless gamble

Mon, 2015-03-02 14:23

It's official. In a speech Monday at the Mobile World Congress, Sundar Pichai, a Google senior vice president, confirmed the months-old rumors: The Internet giant is getting into the wireless network business. But only in what he called a "very small-scale" way. 

"They don’t plan on really setting up  a service that will go directly head-to-head with the two that dominate the market, AT&T and Verizon," says Gartner analyst Bill Menezes. Instead of building its own cell-phone towers, Google plans to choose certain locations to set up a "mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)"—a kind of middleman that buys and repackages access to data, texting and phone calls from the big wireless-network providers.

There are many MVNOs already in the market. Scott Allan, director of Ting — an MVNO that works with Sprint — says his company's innovation is flexible billing. Ting charges less when customers use less data. 

It remains to be seen what Google's product will look like, but Ben Schachter, Internet analyst at Macquarie, believes the company will focus on pushing more people online.

"At the end of the day, who benefits from that? Google," says Gartner's Menezes. "Because all those people are using search, accessing YouTube, using Google docs, and so on."

Commercial bees, the unsung heroes of the nut business

Mon, 2015-03-02 14:15

Bill Lewis is waiting for the sun to set, the time of day when his bees crawl back inside the short white boxes that house their colonies. As the sky turns pink behind the San Gabriel mountains, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Lewis climbs into the seat of a forklift and starts moving the hives onto the back of a flatbed truck. These bees are on the move.

“As soon as you get on the freeway and there’s air flowing past the entrances, all the bees run back inside,” says Lewis, of any stragglers.

Lewis, who runs Bill’s Bees, is taking about 700 of his hives on a road trip to the California’s Central Valley, where he’ll unload them across acres of almond orchards, working until 1 or 2 a.m. under the light of full moon.

All across the country, more than a million-and-a-half colonies are making a similar journey – traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to pollinate California’s almonds. Farmers rent hives for few weeks because in order for almond trees to produce nuts, bees need to move pollen from one tree to another.

No bees, no almonds.

“This pollination season there will be [some] 800,000 acres of almonds that need to be pollinated,” says Eric Mussen, a honey bee specialist at the University of California Davis. He says more than 100 different kinds of crops need these rent-a-bees, but almonds are significant for the number of acres that require pollination all at the same time. About 85 percent of the commercial bees in United States – which Mussen calls “bees on wheels” – travel to California for almonds.

The state supplies roughly 80 percent of the world’s almonds, worth $6.4 billion during the 2013-2014 season, according to the Almond Board of California.

“It’s a matter of numbers,” he says. “You’re trying to provide enough bees to be moving the pollen around between the varieties and whatnot. It’s just a huge, huge number of bees. The only way we can get a huge number of bees in one place at one time is to bring them in on trucks.”

In fact, bees are such an important part of the almond business that Paramount Farms, one of the biggest almond growers in the world, has decided they need to be in the bee business, too. The company just bought one of the largest beekeepers in the United States, based in Florida.

“Bees are so essential for the process of growing almonds,” says Joe Joe MacIlvane, Paramount’s president. “If we don’t have a reliable supply of good strong colonies, we simply won’t be a viable almond grower, so that’s our primary motivation for getting into the business.”

Renting bees is about 10 to 15 percent of Paramount’s production costs, but the motivation to keep their own bees isn’t simply economic.

“Many bee keepers are individual or family business and many people are getting on in years and we don’t see a lot of young people coming into the business,” says MacIlvane.

Additionally, bee populations are struggling. A significant number having been dying each year for the past decade or so, thanks to a mix of factors, from pesticides to lost habitat for feeding. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what’s killing them.

“We had a large problem last year with bees dying in the orchard because of something that was going on during bloom,” says Bill Lewis. He thinks a pesticide or fungicide may have been to blame.

This year, Lewis and his bee broker are being pickier about the farms they’re working with, vetting them more carefully because those lost bees had big economic consequences – about $300,000 in lost income for Lewis.

Silicon Valley's diversity issues highlighted in trial

Mon, 2015-03-02 13:52

There is a trial going on in San Francisco that has its roots down the road in Silicon Valley. Ellen Pao is suing her former employer Kleiner Perkins — the big-name venture capital firm — for gender discrimination and retaliation. 

The trial is offering a rare glimpse into the not-always-transparent side of Silicon Valley: who gets the money and how those decisions are made.

It's a landmark case, says Re/code reporter Liz Gannes, because it's surfacing some of the tech industry's long-time diversity problems.

"It's bringing together a whole bunch of issues around gender, around what happens at the highest echelon of the tech industry," Gannes says.

The case is far from over, but Gannes says it's clear Pao had to deal with some inappropriate workplace situations.

"I wouldn't say that they've really truly established a pattern of gender discrimination yet, but there's some pretty egregious stuff that's happened," says Gannes.

About 20 percent of venture capitalists who make investment decisions are women at Kleiner Perkins, Gannes says.

"These are the people who control who gets money, who builds products," she says, "and I think it would be a better situation if they were more representative."

Spirit Air: slashing prices at 30,000 feet

Mon, 2015-03-02 10:19

Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza isn't worried about providing passengers with free peanuts and complimentary hot towels. 

"When you talk to a lot of customers what you find is that most of them, when they think about what airline they want to fly, want the lowest price," he says.

Instead of pampering passengers with free drinks, Spirit charges customers for almost everything, including printing a boarding pass at the airport

How does Baldanza respond to criticism that his airline gets for being the only 'two star' rated carrier? "Economists call airlines an intermediate good, which means that you're not buying an airline trip because you want to be on the airplane, you want to be somewhere," says Baldanza. 

According to Baldanza, many of Spirit's customers are buying plane tickets for themselves, not for a business trip, so they're more worried about airfare. 

"We believe we have a totally different customer base than a Delta or an American or a United. The difference is that we target at Spirit customers who are paying for tickets themselves," he says.

But Baldanza says it's a pleasure to try to get his customers the lowest possible airfare.

"At Spirit it's really mind-opening and it's really rewarding to think about how can we make it cheaper to go tomorrow than today."

Jeep eyes international sales

Mon, 2015-03-02 08:46

Jeep, the iconic brand of rugged off-road vehicles, got its start internationally carrying soldiers and equipment across the battlefields of World War II. Now, Jeep is making another international push, but this time it’s hoping to drive sales in the white hot crossover SUV market, with the new Jeep Renegade.

Fiat-Chrysler, which owns the Jeep brand, sold over 1 million cars last year, and the company hopes to nearly double that figure to 1.9 million over the next five years as it adds production lines in Brazil, China and India.

Among CEOs, women are outnumbered by men named John

Mon, 2015-03-02 08:46

If your name is John, congratulations. If you've got a woman's name — literally any woman's name — well, here's the deal.

The New York Times' data journalism venture The Upshot reported Monday there are more CEO's named "John" at S&P 1500 companies than there are women CEOs.

If you toss the names Robert, William and James in the mix, you end up with four CEOs with those names for every female CEO. The Upshot has dubbed that measurement the "Glass Ceiling Index," and they spun it out to several other institutions and fields:

Courtesy:The New York Times

It's not a perfect measure of equality — the Times notes common names won't change at the same rate as gender representation — but it's a stark snapshot of women's standing in the boardroom.

Quiz: An econ lesson in open textbooks

Mon, 2015-03-02 07:34

College students spend more than $1,000, on average, for textbooks and supplies each year, according to the Student Public Interest Research Groups.

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Feds want fewer anti-psychotics prescribed to seniors

Mon, 2015-03-02 06:33

Some patients with dementia can behave in ways that caregivers find difficult: They hit, they yell. Sometimes, they get prescribed anti-psychotics.

The Food and Drug Administration says that such off-label uses are risky — people taking them are more likely to die.  A new report from the Government Accountability Office recommends steps for reducing their use.

Marketing efforts for these non-approved uses have drawn fire from federal prosecutors. In 2013, Johnson & Johnson paid more than a billion dollars in federal fines for improperly marketing its anti-psychotic drug Risperdal. In March of this year, a Chicago psychiatrist pleaded guilty to accepting $600,000 in kickbacks from another drug-maker.

Not all adoption is illicit, says Dan Mendolson, CEO of Avalere, a health-care consultancy.

"A lot of the demand is driven by the patients' families," he says. "These are effective drugs, and the reason why they’re so widely prescribed is because they work beautifully."

However, they may eclipse other, safer alternatives, says Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at Johns Hopkins University.

"There are certainly some settings where clinicians and patients and family members are between a rock and a hard place," Alexander says. "But I don’t think it’s fair to say that there aren’t other options. And I don’t think it’s fair to say that patients are breaking down the doors, trying to access these therapies."

The Department of Health and Human Services has been attempting to reduce the use of these drugs in nursing homes. Today’s report looks at their use with patients in other settings.

PODCAST: What's in a tech name?

Mon, 2015-03-02 03:00

For the second month in a row, Americans spent less. More on that. Plus, Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs] will be discussed in California today at the leading online course provider Coursera’s annual conference. A likely discussion on the agenda: the growth of corporate MOOCs. And many cities across the U.S. are trying to become the next Silicon Valley. The word "startup" is often thrown around as these towns try to compete in today's global economy. In Minneapolis, there's even an effort to attract young talent by pushing for a regional name change. 

What 5G means for you

Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

The Mobile World Congress begins Monday in Barcelona, Spain. The agenda for the first day: 5G.

It’s still an emerging technology, but it’s got everyone excited because of what it promises. You can download movies in seconds, play your GIFs in milliseconds, and power the Internet of Things.

Even the FCC is excited: they announced late last year they they want to plan for 5G cellular networks.  

“This is one of the most exciting things, in my mind, that the FCC has done in a while,” says Ted Rappaport, director of NYU WIRELESS, and a professor at New York University's polytechnic school of engineering. “They have issued a notice of inquiry about how we could we use a vast new spectrum resource that has never been used before for mobile.”

If this happens, says Rappaport, cell phone frequency will at least increase to ten times of what it is now: “Going from 2 or 3 gigahertz to 28 or 38 or 60 or 72 gigahertz.”

Those speeds would bring “enormous”  bandwidth, he adds.

“Billions of dollars are being spent on the research and development for this 5G millimeter wave future,” says Rappaport.

 

Could 'North' become the new Silicon Valley?

Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

Many cities across the U.S. are trying to become the next Silicon Valley. The word "startup" is often thrown around as these towns try to compete in today's global economy.

In Minneapolis, there's even an effort to attract young talent by pushing for a regional name change. That's right, a group of business leaders and academics think Minnesota should break away from the Midwest and establish a new region called the "North."

Tom Fisher is the dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. He says this change wouldn't just include the land of ten-thousand lakes.

"The 'North' isn't just Minnesota. It also includes parts of Iowa, a big part of Wisconsin, parts of Michigan and parts of the Dakota's," Fisher said.

Fisher says this grassroots effort gives the region a chance to promote something it is often ridiculed for.

"In the 'North,' where we often apologize for being cold, at least in the winter, part of what we're talking is that there's a huge advantage to that," Fisher said.

Fisher says in a cold climate, people aren't as distracted during the winter months, allowing them to huddle up and be creative. He points to the innovative culture in places like Scandinavia. Fisher also says Minnesota and surrounding areas are overlooked for their contributions to the tech community, especially when it comes to health-care technology.

But Paul DeBettignies, a local tech recruiter, says a campaign centered around a name change won't do much to convince young innovators to flock here. He adds that bragging about being able to thrive in harsh winters might not be a good idea.

"I usually get asked four questions by candidates. The first one is: 'how cold is it?' And then: 'No really, how cold is it?' DeBettignies said.

DeBettignies says those behind the regional name-change should ditch their geography obsession. He says they will get more mileage out of simply promoting the good things that are happening in the startup community. He also says it wouldn't hurt to remind the rest of the world that it does get warm here during the summer.

MOOCs 2.0, the corporate edition

Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

One of the top online course providers, Coursera, holds its annual conference Monday and Tuesday. Coursera offers a long list of mostly free, massive open online courses, or MOOCs.   

The latest trend? MOOCs designed for workers to sharpen their skills. Some corporations are now requiring them. 

About half of the people taking MOOCs on Coursera are trying to upgrade their job skills. Some corporations have started paying for Coursera’s certificate programs.

MOOCs are especially useful for new fields like analyzing big data for things like credit scoring.

“Since it’s a brand new field, nobody studied it in school," says Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera. "Anybody over 30 never even heard of it when they were in school.”

So, their employer tells them to take a MOOC.   

Jeanne Meister is founding partner of the consulting firm Future Workplace. She expects corporations to start demanding more.

“Custom MOOCs to fill particular skill gaps," she says. "That’s where it’s going.”

Meister surveyed 195 HR executives about MOOCs a year and a half ago. 

70 percent wanted to use MOOCs for training. But there weren’t enough MOOCs on the subjects they wanted. 

Their complaint now? Too many MOOCs to choose from.

MOOCs 2.0, the corporate edition

Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

One of the top online course providers, Coursera, holds its annual conference Monday and Tuesday. Coursera offers a long list of mostly free, massive open online courses, or MOOCs.   

The latest trend? MOOCs designed for workers to sharpen their skills. Some corporations are now requiring them. 

About half of the people taking MOOCs on Coursera are trying to upgrade their job skills. Some corporations have started paying for Coursera’s certificate programs.

MOOCs are especially useful for new fields like analyzing big data for things like credit scoring.

“Since it’s a brand new field, nobody studied it in school," says Rick Levin, CEO of Coursera. "Anybody over 30 never even heard of it when they were in school.”

So, their employer tells them to take a MOOC.   

Jeanne Meister is founding partner of the consulting firm Future Workplace. She expects corporations to start demanding more.

“Custom MOOCs to fill particular skill gaps," she says. "That’s where it’s going.”

Meister surveyed 195 HR executives about MOOCs a year and a half ago. 

70 percent wanted to use MOOCs for training. But there weren’t enough MOOCs on the subjects they wanted. 

Their complaint now? Too many MOOCs to choose from.

Advertising is built into 'House of Cards'

Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

Netflix has released the new season of “House of Cards." If there’s been one criticism of the show, it’s that it’s too heavy on product placement.

One plus for brands: viewers can’t fast -forward through product placement, says John Murphy, who teaches advertising at the University of Texas at Austin.

“It’s part of the story line, and therefore it’s potentially much more valuable exposure than a traditional 30-second spot,” he says.

The brands are definitely making money. But the shows? Unlikely, says Abram Sauer, founder of the Annual Product Placement Awards at Brandchannel.com.

“I would be shocked, personally, to learn that any money was paid to Netflix in any form,” he says. 

Sauer says a lot of times brands pay with props instead of cash. Like, if there’s a bar scene, the brewer will bring in everything needed to make it look like a real bar. For a show, that can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

What's pushing family homelessness to record levels?

Mon, 2015-03-02 02:00

Jenny Blahowski is trying to be a normal mom. On a recent afternoon she fetched two of her boys at a bus stop in a Minneapolis suburb.

"How was school?" she asked, cheerfully.

But things are not normal. The kids pile into her minivan, which is filled with stuff you’d probably keep in your home, if you had a home. Blahowski and her kids have been homeless since December. Blankets, clothes and toys fill the back of the minivan. 

Jenny Blahowski greets her boys Leon, 6, and Daniel, 9 at a bus stop outside the emergency shelter they stayed at for nearly three months in the Minneapolis suburb Shakopee.

Annie Baxter/Marketplace

They’ve been staying at an emergency shelter run by the nonprofit Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. Blahowski says that's helped a lot. But her six year-old, Leon, has been way more emotional lately. Crouched in his car seat, he peers out from under a purple ski cap with the word “LUCKY” emblazoned on it, and he begins to wail. His mom's not sure why. His crying jag lasts about half an hour.

There are now 2.5 million homeless kids in America today, according to the National Center for Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research or AIR.

“These are the highest numbers on record. It's truly epidemic levels that we've reached,” says John McGah, senior associate at AIR.

AIR came up with its number based on data from the U.S. Census and the Department of Education. The latter counts kids as homeless if they're on the street; in a car or a shelter; or if they're doubled up temporarily with friends or relatives. It’s a broader definition of homelessness than the one used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Experts say even doubling up can have bad consequences for kids. Wilder Research in St. Paul, Minn. has found that kids who are doubled up miss more school than kids in shelters, as shelters may provide transportation to school.

McGah and other experts say efforts to reduce homelessness among veterans and the chronically homeless have been successful in bringing their ranks down. But McGah says homeless kids and their families haven't gotten the same political attention.

At the same time, rents are rising. A lot of people are priced out of the rental market. And HUD’s Section 8 housing voucher program, its largest housing subsidy program for low-income people, isn't keeping up with demand.

“Everywhere you go, it's either there's a long, long wait-list or you can't even get on the wait-list because there are so many people on the wait-list,” says Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy with the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Jenny Blahowski says her six year-old son Leon has been more emotional than usual during the three months they’ve spent in a homeless shelter in a Minneapolis suburb.

Annie Baxter/Marketplace

Jenny Blahowski says she’s tried to get onto several section Section 8 wait lists to no avail. Beacon Interfaith is helping her on that front.

But she also faces another issue in today’s tight rental market: landlords are extra picky. Blahowski says she's been sober for four years but her past includes drugs and theft. Ditto for her husband, who's now in rehab. That all puts their family at a big disadvantage.

“You don't realize how far it will follow you even if you've been sober for so many years,” she says.

Still, a county program is helping Blahowski get out of the shelter and into transitional housing with three of her four kids. Her ex has custody of her oldest boy. Once her husband’s out of rehab, they’re both working, and the family has more permanent housing, Blahowski hopes to have all four boys under one roof.

“I want them to be someone that they're proud of,” she says. “So I try my hardest to find a home for them and make sure they’re going to school and doing what they have to do.”

Live Long and Draw my Image on $5 Bills

Mon, 2015-03-02 01:30
$11.8 billion

That's how much NXP Semiconductors will pay for Freescale semiconductor in what will result in a huge chip maker for all sorts of devices and industries. As reported by the NY Times, the merger will also benefit companies looking to simplify their list of suppliers for products like smart cars and mobile phones.

2.5 million

That's how many homeless children live in America today—the highest number on record—according to the National Center for Family Homelessness at the American Institutes for Research or AIR. Some say this demographic and their families have received less attention than homeless veterans and the chronically homeless. 

$5

In honor of the late Leonard Nimoy, The Canadian Design Resource called for a revival of "Spocking fives," the practice of drawing Spock's iconic hair, eyebrows, and pointy ears over the image of Canada's seventh prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier on $5 bills. As Quartz reports, defacing currency may be illegal, but it doesn't stop the $5 from being legal tender.

399 yuan

That's the price of Xiaomi's recently released Go Pro-like camera, as reported by the BBC. The device costs half as much as a Go Pro, and comes with certain features that its competitor lacks. It cannot, however, withstand some of the rough and tumble action related to filming oneself out in the wild.

$3 billion

For all you House of Cards fans, this is your official Spoiler Alert. Over at Vox, they've broken down a key element of the most recent season's 5th episode: the Stafford Act, which allows the President to allocate funding to what is deemed a national emergency. In the show, what President Frank Underwood attempts to pull off under the Stafford Act is met with intense skepticism. Turns out, real life isn't that different from television, with Congress worried that Presidents have started to abuse that power over time. There's even a theory that Presidents declare more states of emergency during election years. Though, with only a couple election years to compare since the act was passed, available data isn't conclusive, as you can see from Vox's chart:

VOX

Writers on Water: Tiphanie Yanique

Fri, 2015-02-27 14:40

We’re at the end of our month-long series about Water: The High Price of Cheap. How we take water for granted, don’t want to pay for it, and as a result, can find ourselves without it. Which is, you know… not good.

The poet and novelist Tiffany Yanique has a unique perspective on water. She grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, surrounded by the sea, but on land with very little water to drink. The author of “Land of Love and Drowning,” Yanique tells us what water means to her:

Land of Love and Drowning

Owen Arthur Bradshaw watched as the little girl was tied up with lace and silk. He jostled the warm rum in his glass and listened to the wind.

The storm outside wasn’t a hurricane. Just a tropical gale. It was the season for storms. Lightning slated through the heavy wooden shutters that were closed but unfastened. The thunder was coming through the walls built with blue bitch stone. There was no one outside walking in the rain. That sort of thing was avoided.

A scientist visiting from America had brought the lace and the silk. They were all at the house of Mr. Lovernkrandt, an eminent Danish businessman. Denmark was giving up on the West Indies and America was buying in, but Mr. Lovernkrandt was not leaving. The scientist was tying the girl up. He was demonstrating an experiment that had become stale on the Continent, an experiment of electricity. The little girl was very beautiful. And she was very little. And she was very afraid. She was also very brave.

Captain Bradshaw thought on his daughter, Eeona, who was not unlike this American girl. Only Eeona was more beautiful and at least as brave.

The people who had come together to make Captain Owen Arthur Bradshaw could be traced back to West Africans forced to the islands as slaves and West Africans who came over free to offer their services as goldsmiths. Back to European men who were kicked out of Europe as criminals and to European women of aristocratic blood who sailed to the islands for adventure. Back to Asians who came as servants and planned to return to their Indies, and to Asians who only wanted to see if there was indeed a western side of the Indies. And to Caribs who sat quietly making baskets in the countryside, plotting ways to kill all the rest and take back the land their God had granted them for a millennium.

Owen Arthur had been raised from a poor upbringing to a place of importance and ownership. He was the captain and owner of a cargo ship. And now he was among the important men who sat in this living room and watched through the haze of the oil lamps as a girl was hoisted off the ground via lace and silk and a hook in the ceiling. The little girl’s body jerked as the American scientist tugged. Her body jerked until she was a few feet off the ground, but she did not cry out. Owen Arthur Bradshaw was not sure how much longer he could bear to watch. But it was essential for him to be at this gathering. The host, Mr. Lovernkrandt, was a rummaker and Owen Arthur had always shipped rum. But with Americanness would come Prohibition, and Owen Arthur needed to ensure he was included in any of Lovernkrandt’s nonliquor endeavors.

He pressed his own earlobe between his thumb and forefinger. Success and solvency should have been on his mind, but Owen Arthur could not help but watch the American girl with a father’s tenderness. This little girl was pale-faced and blond, and Owen’s little girl, Eeona, was honey-skinned and ocean-haired. But still he looked at this strange little girl as though looking on his own child. The first half of him desired that he had created this little girl. She was a pretty yellow thing. The lower half of him desired the girl. How young could she be?

He put his mouth to his glass and tilted it until the warm sweetness met his lips. She will outlive me, he thought to himself. And who was the “she” he was referring to? Perhaps his wife, who was just then sitting at home doing the sewing that it seemed God had created her to do. Or perhaps he was speaking of his mistress, who was at that moment sitting in her home playing the piano he had bought her, making a music that only God or the Devil could bless. Or perhaps he was actually speaking of his daughter, whom he loved like he loved his own skin. Perhaps he was speaking of the little girl to whom the scientist was now attaching cords of metal. Perhaps the little girl was, in a way, all women to him, as all women might be to a certain kind of man.

Owen Arthur is right. All these shes will outlive him, though he cannot bear the thought of his women going on. He knows his daughter will live forever, in the way all parents do, simply because parents generally die first. But Owen will not die of old age. Owen will die of love. The Danish West Indies will become the United States Virgin Islands and then this patriarch will die. And perhaps these things are the same thing.

“Behold,” the American is saying in his strange accent. He hands the girl a glass ball and then whispers to her, “Do not drop it or I will punish you.” She does not make a move to suggest she has heard. She only takes the glass ball in both her hands. And then the first miracle happens—her hair begins to rise. The storm outside begins to howl.

“Christ, have mercy.” This is what the Christians whisper. The Jewish and Muslim men for whom these islands have been a refuge, mutter “Oy, Gotenu” and “Allahu Akbar” under their breaths respectfully. Yes, America will bring us progress. Here is progress before us.

Reprinted from Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, Copyright © 2014 by Tiphanie Yanique.

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