Edward Snowden and the Price of Zero

by Misha Lepetic

“Not philosophers but fret-sawyers and stamp
collectors compose the backbone of society.”
~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Pink Floyd.Dark Side.front.1973As the Outlaw Edward Snowden continues to languish in the transit lounge of the Sheremetyovo International Airport, I am struck by the overall nonchalance with which the revelations of comprehensive NSA-sponsored surveillance have been received. Obviously, it is still early days, but for the moment the broad-brush recording of vast amounts of telecommunications and social media information has not spurred any marches on Washington, the Googleplex or anywhere else for that matter. Let's look back on a little history and see why this relaxed attitude might be even more justified than we suspect.

One way to begin is by situating Snowden in his chosen brotherhood of US intelligence whistleblowers. In saying that he has been waiting for someone like Snowden for 40 years, Daniel Ellsberg plays John the Baptist to Snowden's – well, you get it. But Ellsberg's outing of what became the Pentagon Papers and Snowden's NSA reveal are extraordinarily different, not just in terms of the contents, but also in terms of each man's professional status, and the larger social context in which the leaks occurred. As Garance Franke-Ruta wrote on The Atlantic's website, Ellsberg was about as inside as an insider could be, whereas Snowden is the consummate outsider. Ellsberg was himself the author of swathes of the report that was a distillation of everything that the Pentagon needed to know about its own war, whereas Snowden – well, aside from a handful of documents, we still don't really know what he's got on those four laptops, although Glenn Greenwald, Snowden's chosen conduit, just might. Ellsberg knew that the stakes involved a country that was at war and – most crucially – was subjecting its population to a draft, while Snowden's revelations are of a decidedly more ambiguous variety, involving things that we use every day, that seem to be friendly, convenient (if not essential), and free. Finally, Ellsberg remained in the US, as Franke-Ruta puts it, “a powerful insider joining his conscience to an existing upswell in public opinion,” while Snowden is stuck playing Victor Navorski, with little chance of Catherine Zeta-Jones showing up in a stewardess outfit any time soon.

There is, however, an interesting thread that makes its way across all of these disparities. I would like to call it a matter of effort, and the difference that effort makes. In fact, I will further argue that the progress of technology has led to a progressive dissipation of the value of effort, and that in turn leads to a proportionate dilution of the stakes that we think we are talking about.

Read more »

Every suicide’s an asshole

Clancy Martin in Harper's Magazine:

ScreenHunter_247 Jul. 21 17.52The recent brouhaha over a spread in Vice magazine featuring artistic representations of women writers who took their own lives has me thinking about suicide. For years, growing up, I was obsessed with the thought; among my earliest memories is the desire, at age three or four, to run in front of an oncoming bus. Not because I wanted to see what would happen, but because I was sure I knew what would happen: I wouldn’t have to live any longer. I suspect there may be a suicide gene. My elder brother reports of wanting to kill himself from a very early age, and of having had to battle with the desire many times in his life. We know that suicide often “runs in the family”; three of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s four brothers killed themselves, and Wittgenstein at various points contemplated doing so — this despite his family’s enormous wealth and intelligence and its privileged position in Viennese society.

We tend to talk about suicide most when a famous person kills himself. There was, we all remember, the flurry of argument about suicide — much of it indignant, even outraged — when David Foster Wallace took his own life. His friends were deeply hurt, and many of them were writers, so they wrote about it. “[E]very suicide’s an asshole,” wrote Mary Karr, in a poem about Wallace’s death. “There is a good reason I am not/ God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.” Suicide, seen as among the most selfish of acts, pushes a button in us that even murder doesn’t.

More here.

Physicists Debate Whether the World Is Made of Particles or Fields or Something Else Entirely

Meinard Kuhlmann in Scientific American:

What-is-real_2Physicists routinely describe the universe as being made of tiny subatomic particles that push and pull on one another by means of force fields. They call their subject “particle physics” and their instruments “particle accelerators.” They hew to a Lego-like model of the world. But this view sweeps a little-known fact under the rug: the particle interpretation of quantum physics, as well as the field interpretation, stretches our conventional notions of “particle” and “field” to such an extent that ever more people think the world might be made of something else entirely.

The problem is not that physicists lack a valid theory of the subatomic realm. They do have one: it is called quantum field theory. Theorists developed it between the late 1920s and early 1950s by merging the earlier theory of quantum mechanics with Einstein's special theory of relativity. Quantum field theory provides the conceptual underpinnings of the Standard Model of particle physics, which describes the fundamental building blocks of matter and their interactions in one common framework. In terms of empirical precision, it is the most successful theory in the history of science. Physicists use it every day to calculate the aftermath of particle collisions, the synthesis of matter in the big bang, the extreme conditions inside atomic nuclei, and much besides.

So it may come as a surprise that physicists are not even sure what the theory says—what its “ontology,” or basic physical picture, is. This confusion is separate from the much discussed mysteries of quantum mechanics, such as whether a cat in a sealed box can be both alive and dead at the same time.

More here.

The Grand Scam: Spinning Egypt’s Military Coup

Esam Al-Amin in CounterPunch:

Every coup d’état in history begins with a military General announcing the overthrow and arrest of the country’s leader, the suspension of the constitution, and the dissolution of the legislature. If people resist, it turns bloody. Egypt is no exception.

As the dust settles and the fog over the events unfolding across Egypt dissipates, the political scene becomes much clearer. Regardless of how one dresses the situation on the ground, the political and ideological battle that has been raging for over a year between the Islamist parties and their liberal and secular counterparts was decided because of a single decisive factor: military intervention by Egypt’s generals on behalf of the latter.

As I argued before in several of my articles (as have others), there is no doubt that President Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) committed political miscalculations and made numerous mistakes, especially by ignoring the demands of many of the revolutionary youth groups and abandoning their former opposition partners. They frequently behaved in a naïve and arrogant manner. But in any civilized and democratic society, the price of incompetence or narcissism is exacted politically at the ballot box.

More here. [Thanks to Nadia Guessous.]

Sunday Poem

Rehearsal Dinner

My son claims that he is somebody now that he is
marrying into wealth. The bride’s family pays
for my trip to their Napa Valley home, where good fences,
manicured and surrounded by snapdragons, are still
fences. At rehearsal they serve the opposite of what I
ordered for the reception. The salmon skin, burnt and
curling, reminds me why I checked the box marked
chicken. His mother-to-be hands me a whiskey glass full
of frozen paradise apple flowers. She tells me that the
petals contain cyanide precursors and can only be
consumed in moderation. I compare her to the flower.
She does not laugh. My son leads me away from the
table, pleading in polished whispers for me to stop
darkening his crimson. I take this moment alone to offer him
an early wedding gift. He opens the box and feels the worn
fabric. I ask him to try it on. But my son claims that the
somebody he is now won’t fit into his father’s old suit.

by Paige Lewis
from Gravel, A Literary Journal

Color, light, impurity, and devotion in Louis Comfort Tiffany’s forgotten chapel

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

ID_IC_MEIS_TIFFANY_AP_001Its interior was designed and constructed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Chapel is “the only complete and unaltered totally Tiffany designed religious interior known to exist in the world.” It is significant that the Chapel is a religious interior since Louis Comfort Tiffany was, as everyone knows, in love with stained glass. And stained glass is, more often than not, found in churches. Indeed, it was in the churches of medieval Europe that the art and craft of making stained glass windows reached its zenith. That was how Louis Tiffany saw it, anyway.

Tiffany began his artistic career as a painter. But he was never satisfied with painting. Tiffany was drawn to glass. Perhaps he was fated to love the shininess of glass, being the son of famous jewelry maker Charles Lewis Tiffany. Looking at all those precious stones in his father’s shops, a young Louis Tiffany became obsessed with light and color as it penetrates jewels like diamonds and rubies. The opaque surface of the painter’s canvas was never going to light up that way. But stained glass does. Have you ever seen the way evening light comes through the Gothic stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle in Paris? Then you know something of Tiffany’s obsession. Standing inside of Sainte Chapelle is like standing inside a jewel box.

Louis Comfort Tiffany wanted to learn the old secrets of getting color into glass. The stained glass of the 19th century couldn’t even begin to compare with the incredible work in the 13th century cathedrals. Tiffany figured out why. It was a matter of impurities. Stained glass doesn’t respond well to refinement, to the industrial techniques that were being used in the 19th century. You can mass-produce colored glass with those techniques, but you can’t make the artful, deeply colored glass like the old masters once made.

More here.

The Macabre Beauty of Medical Photographs

From Smithsonian:

HIVNorman Barker was fresh out of the Maryland Institute College of Art when he got an assignment to photograph a kidney. The human kidney, extracted during an autopsy, was riddled with cysts, a sign of polycystic kidney disease. “The physician told me to make sure that it’s ‘beautiful’ because it was being used for publication in a prestigious medical journal,” writes Barker in his latest book, Hidden Beauty: Exploring the Aesthetics of Medical Science. “I can remember thinking to myself; this doctor is crazy, how am I going to make this sickly red specimen look beautiful?” Thirty years later, the medical photographer and associate professor of pathology and art at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine will tell you that debilitating human diseases can actually be quite photogenic under the microscope, particularly when the professionals studying them use color stains to enhance different shapes and patterns. “Beauty may be seen as the delicate lacework of cells within the normal human brain, reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock masterpiece, the vibrant colored chromosomes generated by spectral karyotyping that reminded one of our colleagues of the childhood game LITE-BRITE or the multitude of colors and textures formed by fungal organisms in a microbiology lab,” says Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue, a pathologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital who diagnoses gastrointestinal diseases.

Barker and Iacobuzio-Donahue share in interest in how medical photography can take diseased tissue and render it otherworldly, abstract, vibrant and thought-provoking. Together, they collected nearly 100 images of human diseases and other ailments from more than 60 medical science professionals for Hidden Beauty, a book and accompanying exhibition. In each image, there is an underlying tension. The jarring moment, of course, is when viewers realize that the subject of the lovely image before them is something that can cause so much pain and distress.

Picture: HIV.

More here.


From NewStraitsTimes:

FOR nearly six decades, Indians have revelled in this Punjabi joke in all its quirky broadness: “How are you? Relaxing?”

“No, I am Milkha Singh.”

It has taken them as long, and a biopic, to recognise the modestly educated soldier-sportsman who has been the butt of that joke. Bhag Milkha Bhag (Run Milkha Run) on the life of India's most famous sports icon has begun brisk business at the box office, even as critics compete to shower plaudits or aim barbs. Born in 1935 in Faisalabad, now in Pakistan, Milkha was a victim of India's brutal Partition in 1947. Seeing his kin being killed, he ran to escape. He kept running on arrival in Delhi as a refugee — from his memories, from the police as he became a little thug and an unrequited love. The “run” as a metaphor of life's expedient circumstances, threads through the narrative. udiences empathise with Milkha not only because he ran fast, but because he wasn't afraid to stumble, falter, fall, rise and run again. He found a sense of purpose in the Indian Army. The lure of milk, eggs and freedom from fatigue duty made him take to sports. Years of hard work helped him break national records; wins at the Asian and Commonwealth games. But the hot favourite at the Rome Olympics (1960), although he broke yet another record, came fourth, losing a medal by hair's breadth. Milkha has lived through two catharses: one of bitter Partition memories and the other, not bagging an Olympic medal. Fate helped him overcome both. On Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's persuasion and Pakistan president Ayub Khan's invitation in 1962, he ran in Pakistan and washed off the double agony. He raced ahead of Abdul Khaliq, the winner of the 100m gold at the Tokyo Asian Games. Ayub Khan christened him “The Flying Sikh”. In distilling these catharses, Bollywood has performed an unusual, but commendable task amidst continuing mistrust between India and Pakistan. Bhag Milkha Bhag seems inspired by a vision of the future and a departure from the countless narratives of the terrible past and a present that does not hold much hope.

More here. (Note: A lovely film now playing in New York and maybe elsewhere.)

unknown otto


Over the next two decades, Otto, in chronological order, (1) got a business degree in Paris; (2) studied at the London School of Economics; (3) fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War; (4) earned a doctorate in economics at the University of Trieste while acting as a courier for the Italian anti-Fascist resistance; (5) served in the French Army during its futile defense against German invasion; (6) biked and walked to the unoccupied Vichy southern France where, under the alias Albert Hermant (and the nickname Beamish, for his ingratiating manner), he helped spirit Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall and thousands of other refugees from Marseille to the United States; (7) made his own way to New Jersey, where he changed his name to Albert O. Hirschman; (8) continued west to the University of California, Berkeley, where he wrote his first book and met his wife-to-be, a beautiful French-Russian refugee who had been a favorite student of Simone de Beauvoir in Paris; (9) volunteered for the American Army, ending up as a translator for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the C.I.A., and serving as interpreter for a German general in the first Allied war-crimes trial; (10) worked for the Federal Reserve in Washington as a top adviser on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe; and, (11) driven from employment in cold war Washington by suspicions about his colorful past, moved with his family to Bogotá in 1952 to advise the Colombian government on behalf of the World Bank.

more from Justin Fox at the NY Times here.

a strange marvel


Kafka was not quite 41 when he died in a sanatorium outside Vienna in June 1924. Little-known in his own lifetime, he would later be recognised as one of the 20th century’s most important writers. Samuel Beckett was drawn to his bleak and unsparing vision; today his admirers include JM Coetzee, Lydia Davis and Jonathan Franzen. If Kafka still speaks to us, it is because he is a sort of 20th-century Dante, who wrote a story of Everyman who sets out in search of salvation in this world, only to encounter a proliferating darkness. A writer of such mystique would need a very good biographer and, at first, it looked as though Kafka had found him in his literary executor Max Brod, who had refused to burn his work as instructed, and seen to its publication. While Brod’s 1937 biography had much to say about Kafka’s fiction and inner life (as well as his famed sensitivity to noise and unlikely interest in Prague nightlife), it viewed Kafka as an essentially redemptive figure, whose perceived Jewish “spirituality” was the commanding side of his personality. It is true that Kafka’s literary friends and almost his entire circle in Prague were Jews; yet the word “Jewish” does not appear anywhere in his fiction. Like many German-speaking Jews within the Austro-Hungarian empire, Kafka saw assimilation as a means of escape from the pogrom-tainted past. Nevertheless, he was fascinated by Yiddish culture and Yiddish literature; his Jewish identity was conflicted at best.

more from Ian Thomson at the FT here.



For Macfarlane is clear that holloways are possessed of the past in the way other places, and other roads, are not: “You do not have to be a mystic,” he writes, “to accept that certain paths are linear only in a simple sense. Like trees, they have branches and like rivers they have tributaries. They are rifts within which time might exist as pure surface, prone to recapitulation and rhyme, weird morphologies, uncanny doublings.” Walking along such paths, he says, “you might walk up strange pasts, in the hunter’s sense of ‘walking up’ meaning ‘to flush out, to disturb what is concealed’.” In this he follows Thomas, who claimed to have heard “the voices of long-dead Roman soldiers as he walked an ancient trackway near Trawsfynydd in Wales. In Hampshire, where a stand of aspens whispered at the cross-roads of two old paths, he listened to the speech of a vanished village: the ringing of hammer, shoe, and anvil from the smithy, the clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing from the inn.” Thomas’s poems, Macfarlane writes, “are thronged with ghosts, doubles and paths that run through people as surely as they run through places”.

more from William Dalrymple at The Guardian here.

How Forensic Linguistics Outed J.K. Rowling (Not to Mention James Madison, Barack Obama, and the Rest of Us)

Virginia Hughes in her National Geographic blog, Only Human:

6092122923_7ef4ea00c8_b-990x662Earlier this week, the UK’s Sunday Times rocked the publishing world byrevealing that Robert Galbraith, the first-time author of a new crime novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling, is none other than J.K. Rowling, the superstar author of the Harry Potter series. Then the New York Times told the story of how the Sunday Times’s arts editor, Richard Brooks, had figured it out.

One of Brooks’s colleagues got an anonymous tip on Twitter claiming that Galbraith was Rowling. The tipster’s Twitter account was then swiftly deleted. Before confronting the publisher with the question, Brooks’s team did some web sleuthing. They found that the two authors shared the same publisher and agent. And, after consulting with two computer scientists, they discovered that The Cuckoo’s Calling and Rowling’s other books show striking linguistic similarities. Satisfied that the Twitter tipster was right, Brooks reached out to Rowling. Finally, on Saturday morning, as the New York Times reports, “he received a response from a Rowling spokeswoman, who said that she had ‘decided to fess up’.”

While the literary world was buzzing about whether that anonymous tipster was actually Rowling’s publisher, Little, Brown and Company (it wasn’t), I wanted to know how those computer scientists did their mysterious linguistic analyses. I called both of them yesterday and learned not only how the Rowling investigation worked, but about the fascinating world of forensic linguistics.

More here.

Myth, History and Norman O. Brown

Todd Walton in Counterpunch:

NOBin34web4Before I tell you a little more about Norman O. Brown, I would like to recount a scene from Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ, the novel, not the movie.

…“Great things happen when God mixes with man.” — Nikos Kazantzakis

So…in The Last Temptation of Christ there is a memo­rable scene in which Jesus and his disciples are sitting around a campfire after a long day of spreading their gospel, when Matthew, a recent addition to the crew, is suddenly impelled by angels (or so he claims) to write the biography of Jesus. So he gets out quill and papyrus and sets to work transcribing the angelic dictation; and Jesus, curious to see what’s gotten into his latest convert, takes a peek over Matthew’s shoulder and reads the opening lines of what will one day be a very famous gospel. Jesus is outraged. “None of this is true,” he cries, or words to that effect. And then Judas (I’m pretty sure it was Judas and not Andrew) calms Jesus down with a Norman O. Brown-like bit of wisdom, something along the lines of: “You know, Jesus, in the long run it really doesn’t matter if he writes the truth or not. You’re a myth now, so you’d better get used to everybody and his aunt coming up with his or her version of who you are.” Kazantzakis, trust me, wrote the scene much more poetically and marvelously than the way I just recounted it, but…

“All good books have one thing in common. They are truer than if they had really happened.” — Ernest Hemingway

Back to Norman O. Brown. In the late 1960s, Nor­man was among the most famous pop academic writers in the world. Not only had he written Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History, which made him famous, he had just published (in 1966) Love’s Body, a mainstream and academic bestseller exploring the impact of erotic love on human history; or was it the struggle between eroticism and civilization? In any case, here is one of my favorite blurbs from the hundreds of reviews that made Love’s Body so famous in its time. I will digress again (thank you, Norman) by saying if any book I ever publish gets a blurb even remotely as stupendous as the following, and said blurb appears in, say, the San Francisco Chronicle or even the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, drinks are on me.

“Norman O. Brown is variously considered the architect of a new view of man, a modern-day shaman, and a Pied Piper leading the youth of America astray. His more ardent admirers, of whom I am one, judge him one of the seminal thinkers who profoundly challenge the dominant assumptions of the age. Although he is a classicist by training who came late to the study of Freud and later to mysticism, he has already created a revolution in psy­chological theory.” — Sam Keen, Psychology Today

The myth and history web site known as Wikipedia says that Norman was a much-loved professor at UC Santa Cruz where he taught and lived to the end of his days (he died in 2002, or so they say).

More here. (Note: Why am I posting a 2011 article today? Because I am in the process of re-reading Brown and am deeply deeply affected. Please read his Life against Death and The Prophetic Tradition for a stunning snapshot of what history and the collective psyche of an epoch looks like when the mind-forged manacles are cast off)

Losing Face, Leaping Forward

Joseph Kahn in The New York Times:

ChinaAs told in the magnum opus of ancient Chinese history, “Records of the Grand Historian,” King Goujian knew how to nurse a grievance. At the start of his reign in the fifth century B.C., Goujian’s archenemy attacked his kingdom, captured Goujian and made him a slave. The king was granted amnesty after three years and allowed to reclaim his throne. But Goujian swore off the trappings of monarchy, eating peasant food and living simply. He slept on a bed of brushwood and dangled a gallbladder from the ceiling, licking it to taste its bitterness every day. A Chinese aphorism, “sleeping on sticks and tasting gall,” celebrates his determination to remember the shame and humiliation he suffered — and to draw strength from it.

In “Wealth and Power,” their engaging narrative of the intellectual and cultural origins of China’s modern rise, Orville Schell and John Delury note that the story of Goujian was a favorite of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who united China under his rule before being forced into exile in Taiwan. They might have called it the defining theme of contemporary China. From Wei Yuan in the early 19th century, the first major intellectual to insist that the mighty Chinese Empire had fundamental flaws, to Xi Jinping, who became China’s top leader last year, the humiliations China has suffered at the hands of foreigners over the past century and a half are the glue that keeps the country together. Many nations revel in their victories. America has its War of Independence. The British still churn out documentaries about World War II. But even $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves has not healed the psychological trauma of 1842, the year of China’s defeat at the hands of the British in the first Opium War. After that conflict, China was dismembered, first by the European powers, then, more devastatingly, by Japan. Chinese troops expelled the Japanese, and the country was reunified more than 60 years ago. But it is determined to keep the memory of the abuses it suffered from fading into history.

Shame often acts as a depressant. But through the 11 biographical sketches that constitute their book, Schell and Delury argue that for generations of influential Chinese, shame has been a stimulant.

More here.

The Spark: Starting a Revolution


Egyptian activist Ahmed Salah's account of the 2011 protests in Tahir Square and the toppling of the Mubarak regime, in the new journal The Brooklyn Quarterly (with Alex Mayyasi, photo by Alex Mayyasi). (You can read it on Atavist’s multimedia platform here. And if you are so inclined, they are raising money to help launch the journal via a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first issue.)

“Tahrir” means “liberation” in Arabic, but the symbolic value of Tahrir Square goes beyond the name. It is the beating heart not only of Cairo but of the entire nation, surrounded by symbols of the government’s power: the headquarters of the regime’s political party and of the Arab League, a major mosque where state funerals take place, and a massive bureaucratic building called the Mugamma. Egyptians have rallied there in protest since the days of British rule. Western businesses have also left their mark on it: enormous billboards top the surrounding apartment buildings, fast food chains line the sidewalks, a Ritz Carlton is under construction, and the old American University in Cairo lies at the southeast end of the square. A three-lane traffic rotary fed by seven streets dominates the central space; the entire square has a surface area equal to 10 American football fields. On its northern edge stands the Egyptian Museum, where on a normal day tourists line up for hours to see treasures like the burial mask of King Tut.

Yet January 25, 2011 was not a normal day. Around 4 p.m. I gazed up at the iconic pink stone of the museum as I approached Tahrir — with 6,000 other Egyptians marching all around me. When we entered the square, we realized we were entering a battlefield. Several people joining our rally told us that security forces had blocked the nearby 6th October Bridge spanning the Nile. Police were fighting to keep a similar-sized crowd on the other side of the square from crossing to our side. Dense smoke clouded the square, but I could make out the hazy forms of protesters and a dark tide of police opposite them.

Very few of the people around me had been to a protest before, let alone the sort of violent confrontation this was sure to become, and yet with a yell, they charged forward without hesitation. Spreading out into the open space, they sprinted four or five hundred yards to the frontlines halfway across the square, all the while ducking the stones and tear gas canisters that rained down on us. I remember thinking — even as I huffed and puffed in the back — that this was the scene I had always dreamt of seeing. And now I was seeing it.

Turns of the Century


Martin Eiermann in The European Magazine (photo by Eitan Abramovich):

As I am writing this, 300,000 people are marching in Rio de Janeiro against corruption and public sector cuts ahead of next year’s soccer World Cup. It must be bad if Brazilians start anti-soccer riots. In Greece, protests have been ongoing for several years. In Spain, Italy and Portugal, popular discontent has ousted several governments and continues to cause a headache for their successors (in Greece, the government coalition is crumbling right now). In Great Britain, cuts to the National Health Service inspired regular demonstrations and a special segment during the Olympic opening ceremony in 2012, which defiantly celebrated the NHS as one of the great achievements of modern British society. Look at any newspaper front page today, and you are likely to see one or more photos of police in riot gear, shooting tear gas into crowds of protesters.

The decades since World War II have brought unprecedented increases in expectations about living standards in much of the world. I’m saying “expectations” because the actual increase in wealth and living standards has often been highly stratified: Those at the top benefit the most, sometimes at the expense of those at the bottom. In many countries of the Global North, inequality has increased significantly since the 1970s as real wages have stagnated or declined for many income groups. In the countries of South America, Asia, and parts of Africa, living standards for the middle class have increased somewhat, but the amount of money accumulating at the top meant that middle class expectations often continued to outpace actual improvements. No wonder, then, that protests in Rio have driven a broad cross-section of the population into the streets. As the BBC’s Paul Mason reminds us, the chances for upheaval are much higher when the middle class grows frustrated: “Even where you get rapid economic growth, it cannot absorb the demographic bulge of young people fast enough to deliver rising living standards for enough of them.”