From the Left, A Debate on Capitalism, Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism

Sdoa_1932_poster First, Sheri Berman in Dissent (via bookforum):

Helping people adjust to capitalism, rather than engaging in a hopeless and ultimately counterproductive effort to hold it back, has been the historic accomplishment of the social democratic left, and it remains its primary goal today in those countries where the social democratic mindset is most deeply ensconced. Many analysts have remarked, for example, on the impressive success of countries like Denmark and Sweden in managing globalization—promoting economic growth and increased competitiveness even as they ensure high employment and social security. The Scandinavian cases demonstrate that social welfare and economic dynamism are not enemies but natural allies. Not surprisingly, it is precisely in these countries that optimism about globalization is highest. In the United States and other parts of Europe, on the other hand, fear of the future is pervasive and opinions of globalization astoundingly negative. American leftists must try to do what the Scandinavians have done: develop a program that promotes growth and social solidarity together, rather than forcing a choice between them. Concretely this means agitating for policies—like reliable, affordable, and portable health care; tax credits or other government support for labor-market retraining; investment in education; and unemployment programs that are both more generous and better incentivized—that will help workers adjust to change rather than make them fear it.

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PanEuropean Picnic Redux: presented by Extremely Hungary and Pen World Voices Festival

Picnic_promo_image For those in NYC, there is a commemoration of the Pan European Picnic in DUMBO this Sunday.

Pack your picnic basket and blanket and take the family to Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park in DUMBO to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic, the seminal event at the Austrian-Hungarian border that helped bring down the Berlin Wall and end communism in Europe. We will be having the picnic rain or shine. A tent will be provided.


K. Anthony Appiah, President, PEN American Center


Michael R. Meyer, Newsweek's Eastern Europe correspondent in 1989, author of the upcoming “The Year that Changed the World”

Eszter Babarczy, historian and journalist, professor of media & culture at Moholy-Nagy University of Arts

Georg Hoffmann-Ostenhof, journalist, Editor-in-Chief Dept. Foreign Policy, Profil magazine

Alexander Wind, original Picnic organizer, former Middle School director of St. Margarethen

The 20th Anniversary of the Pan-European Picnic

Paneuropeanpicnic This year marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. On this Sunday, May 3, the Extremely Hungary Festival and PEN World Voices 2009 will host PanEuropean Picnic Redux in New York City, a free public commemoration of the event that opened the gates that keep the East from the West. Stefany Goldberg in The Smart Set:

The destruction of the Berlin Wall is now the iconic image of ’89, but the Wall was already beginning to crumble earlier in the year. One of the less celebrated events was a picnic held on August 19 at the border between democratic Austria from Hungary. The event was concocted by an alliance of young opposition organizations — the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), the Alliance of Young Democrats (Fidesz), and the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), to name a few. The idea at first was simple: They would picnic at the border in a peaceful, public demonstration against the Iron Curtain, which in Hungary was a pathetic barbed wire fence rigged up with high voltage. There would be Austrians on one side and Hungarians on the other. And despite the fact that these Hungarian youth groups hardly knew any Austrians, the idea started to grow. They decided that the border should be temporarily opened for a few hours on the pretense that it would make the picnic more accessible to Austrians. And amazingly, they convinced both the Austrian and Hungarian governments to allow it. Their next move was to inform visiting East Germans that for a short period on this day, the border would be open. On August 19, among the thousands of people who showed up for this picnic — including international press, government dignitaries, and curious participants — were around 700 East Germans who bum-rushed the border, weeping and elbowing their way into Austria and into freedom. The day set the stage for further incursions through the Wall, with East Germans continuing to use Hungary as a gateway to Europe’s other side for months to come.

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Friday Poem

Death is Smaller Than I Thought
Adrian Mitchell

My Mother and Father died some years ago
I loved them very much.
When they died my love for them
Did not vanish or fade away.
It stayed just about the same,
Only a sadder colour.
And I can feel their love for me,
Same as it ever was.

Nowadays, in good times or bad,
I sometimes ask my Mother and Father
To walk beside me or to sit with me
So we can talk together
Or be silent.

They always come to me.
I talk to them and listen to them
And think I hear them talk to me.
It’s very simple –
Nothing to do with spiritualism
Or religion or mumbo jumbo.

It is imaginary.
It is real.
It is love.

That Bird Can Boogie

From Science:

Bird Snowball, the dancing sulphur-crested cockatoo, is a big hit on YouTube–and now he's also a scientific sensation. Researchers have shown that the bird, who bobs his head and lifts his legs to the Backstreet Boys' song Everybody, is in fact listening to and following the beat. The findings–detailed in a pair of articles–challenge the notion that only humans have the neural wiring for dancing in time to music. “These are pathbreaking studies,” says Bruno Repp, a cognitive psychologist at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven, Connecticut.

Aniruddh Patel remembers the first time he saw Snowball on the Internet. A neurobiologist at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, Patel had argued in an earlier study that our talent for moving synchronously to a rhythmic beat is tied to our ability to learn and mimic sounds. “It seems to be a byproduct of a link between the auditory and motor parts of the brain,” he says. That seemed to rule out most animals except humans and parrots. Nevertheless, Patel was stunned to see Snowball's video. “My jaw hit the floor,” he says.

More here. (Note: Please watch the amazing video to the end!)

The Climate Crunch

From Nature:

Climate Research published in Nature reveals that once a trillion tonnes of anthropogenic carbon has been released into the atmosphere, a peak global warming exceeding 2°C is likely. Yet only a third of economically recoverable oil, gas and coal reserves can be burned before 2100 if that 2°C warming is to be avoided. Faced with this climate crunch, three news features ask: will cutting back on carbon be tougher than we think? Can we drag CO2 directly from the air? And could we cool the planet with a wisp of mist? The worst-case scenario is a world in 2100 that has twice the level of pre-industrial CO2 in the atmosphere. If we want to avoid that, the time for action is now, says Nature.

Time to act

Without a solid commitment from the world's leaders, innovative ways to combat climate change are likely to come to nothing. It is not too late yet — but we may be very close. The 500 billion tonnes of carbon that humans have added to the atmosphere lie heavily on the world, and the burden swells by at least 9 billion tonnes a year. If present trends continue, humankind will have emitted a trillion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere well before 2050, and that could be enough to push the planet into the danger zone. And there is no reason to think that the pressure will stop then. The coal seams and tar sands of the world hold enough carbon for humankind to emit another trillion tonnes — and the apocalyptic scenarios extend from there.

More here.