What Europe can learn from Alexander Hamilton

Jeremy Cliffe in New Statesman:

It says something about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius that he even managed to make fiscal integration catchy. In his musical Hamilton, the eponymous treasury secretary raps:

If we assume the debts, the union gets
A new line of credit, a financial diuretic
How do you not get it?
If we’re aggressive and competitive
The union gets a boost
You’d rather give it a sedative?

Miranda picked his subject well: resurrecting Alexander Hamilton from the economic history books and remaking him as a Broadway icon. Hamilton deserved no less. From a post-revolutionary muddle of individual American states he forged a coherent and unified nation, defying states-rights zealots such as Thomas Jefferson and using debt mutualisation to bind the new federation together. Even today, American power and prosperity rests on Hamilton’s intellectual victory over Jefferson. It is much harder to imagine a hit Broadway musical about Olaf Scholz, the former mayor of Hamburg and Germany’s current finance minister: “I’m a Hanseat/Saving’s where I’m at/That dude Salvini will make me rupture a spleen-i/If he persistently defies the Stability and Growth Pact.” If Europe was ever to experience a “Hamiltonian moment”, a grand mutualisation of debts forging a world-beating, unified economy, it would probably have begun in 2018. Unfortunately, it did not.

More here.

What We Know About Diet and Weight Loss

Gina Kolata in The New York Times:

You’d think that scientists at an international conference on obesity would know by now which diet is best, and why. As it turns out, even the experts still have widely divergent opinions. At a recent meeting of the Obesity Society, organizers held a symposium during which two leading scientists presented the somewhat contradictory findings of two high-profile diet studies. A moderator tried to sort things out. In one study, by Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at Stanford, patients were given low-fat or low-carb diets with the same amount of calories. After a year, weight loss was the same in each group, Dr. Gardner reported. Another study, by Dr. David Ludwig of Boston Children’s Hospital, reported that a low-carbohydrate diet was better than a high-carbohydrate diet in helping subjects keep weight off after they had dieted and lost. The low-carbohydrate diet, he found, enabled participants to burn about 200 extra calories a day. So does a low-carbohydrate diet help people burn more calories? Or is the composition of the diet irrelevant if the calories are the same? Does it matter if the question is how to lose weight or how to keep it off? There was no consensus at the end of the session. But here are a few certainties about dieting amid the sea of unknowns.

Some people thrive on low-fat diets, others do best on low-carb diets. Still others succeed with gluten-free diets or Paleo diets or periodic fasts or ketogenic diets or other options on the seemingly endless menu of weight-loss plans.

More here.

A Bear Ate My Turkey: Lessons From the Midterms

by Michael Liss

The day before Thanksgiving I got this wonderfully understated text from a close friend:

A 🐻 ate our 🦃 last night. (I forgot it on the patio while it was brining.)

There is a lot that’s packed in there. He followed it up with a picture of the now-overturned and empty brining vessel, and a quite stunning shot of bear tracks in the snow leading away from the patio. Unless a local who knew of his remarkable culinary skill with fowl decided to approach the house wearing bear-claw flip-flops (to throw him off the scent, as it were), there was definitely a visitation from a neighborhood ursus americanus.

Fortunately, he resides in a rather bucolic part of a rather bucolic college town, which enables him and his family to live a bucolic life…, but they have access to several Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and similar establishments when these unexpected encounters occur. The turkey in question was, in absentia, bid a respectful adieu, and quickly and calmly replaced. My friend happens to be unflappable. I, on the other hand, am more urban, and have more flap about these kind of things, so I asked a follow-up question. As the brined bird and the bear claw were really close to the back door, was he prepared to exercise his 2nd Amendment rights, if hearth and home were threatened. I’ll leave the answer to that one to the imagination.

Wild game and guns, a perfect lead-in to the Midterms and the Whole Foods-Cracker Barrel Old Country Store split that pollsters identified. Cracker Barrel has exactly one location in each of Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, two in Connecticut, eight in Massachusetts (take that, Michael Dukakis), and none in Vermont. By contrast, it has 39 in West Virginia, with nary a Whole Foods in sight.  In January (numbers from Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House Editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report), House Democrats will represent 78% of Whole Foods communities and 27% of Cracker Barrel ones. Apparently, my people are better with organic duck breast pate than chicken-fried steak.

OK, I’ve had my fun, so let’s get down to the actual meal. There were a couple of bumps (like the Senate), but, on the whole, the Democrats did quite well in November—at current count, they flipped a net 40 Congressional Districts, 400+ State legislators, 7 Governors, and an assorted contingent of State Treasurers, Secretaries of State, Commissioners and other sub-luminaries. Read more »

Lampedusa’s The Leopard & The Loss of Königsberg

by Robert Fay

Near the end of Italy’s greatest 20th century novel, The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, the elderly Prince Salinas is slumped in an armchair on a Sicilian hotel balcony looking at Mounte Pelligrino. The Prince knows he’s dying, but even more poignantly, he understands centuries of Salinas aristocratic mores and traditions will soon die with him. It is 1881 and a unified, republican Italy has recently displaced the monarchial customs and feudal relationships of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Prince has witnessed the complete collapse of his world within two decades. And though he has an heir, his grandson Fabrizietto, the boy is “odious” and incapable  of protecting the sacred Salinas patrimony. He is a product of this new, republican age, “with his good-time instincts, with his tendency to middle-class chic.”

Lampedusa’s narrator describes the Prince’s loss this way: “for the significance of a noble family lies entirely in its traditions, that is in its vital memories. And (the Prince) was the last to have any unusual memories, anything different from other families. Fabrizietto would have only banal ones like his schoolfellows, of snacks, of spiteful little jokes against teachers…”

Giuseppe di Lampedusa.

Trying to elicit sympathy for elites is generally a fool’s errand, but Lampedusa is such a master, that any unprejudiced reader of The Leopard will surely be moved by the enormous humanity of the Prince. He is undoubtedly a snob, but his snobbery is like the egoism of a fighter pilot or the boastful pride of a mother, which is to say, it is in inseparable from their mission, their vocation. The power of this portrayal undoubtedly stems from the personal pain and loss in Lampedusa’s own life. He was born in 1896 to an aristocratic family and in 1943 his beloved family estate in Palermo—the seat of the Lampedusa family for centuries—was destroyed by U.S. Army Air Corps bombers during World War II. It was a loss that Lampedusa could never reconcile himself to. He had believed he’d die in that house, just as all ancestors had.

There is an echo of Lampadusa’s fate in the life of fellow aristocrat and novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who lost his ancestral estate(s) in Russia to war and politics. The Nabokovs had roots dating back to a 14th Century Tartar prince, but the cadres of the Bolshevik Revolution cut those ties in 1918, seizing the family’s properties and forcing them into exile. Nabokov never got over this loss. In a 1964 interview with Playboy he explained why he’d never bought a house in America, despite being a resident for 20 years, “…the background reason, is, I suppose, that nothing short of a replica of my childhood surroundings would have satisfied me. I would never manage to match my memories correctly—so why trouble with hopeless approximations?” Read more »

Monday Poem

Rose in Winter

…… —for my mother, Mary Mraz Culleny,
……… b. December 8, 1917
Steeple rocket

a cathedral steeple’s being launched,
snow swirls around its nave

so much stone to be sent aloft
on the tiny spark of a solitary rose

so much weight to be thrust into something other
by the flame of a delicate rose

from cold to colder it ascends
by the blaze of a redhot dot of life
on a stem

from breath to unbreath it’ll rise
by the spit fire of a steadfast
solitary rose

Jim Culleny
Photograph by Abbas Raza

It Doesn’t End Well

by Akim Reinhardt

caveman and woman

What’s the ultimate fate of humanity?  It’s hard to picture a scenario that ends well.

Some hungry plague could kill us all off, or at least kill enough of us to send the survivors groping backwards down the trail towards caveman life.

An asteroid or some other space debris could smash into the planet, eradicating all but the Earth’s smallest life forms.  Roaches win in the end.

A black hole might swallow our sun.  That just happened near the constellation Draco.  Well, actually, it happened 3.9 billion years ago, but close enough for jazz.  We could be next.

Space aliens.  Can’t rule out an invasion by space aliens.  That probably won’t go well.

However, the more mundane, but perhaps likelier, possibility is that we just kill ourselvesRead more »

Tokyo Blossoms

by Leanne Ogasawara

I once lived in a town famous for plum blossoms.

To get there, you have to board an express train out of the busiest train station in the world. The view out the window won’t impress you all that much either; as Tokyo sprawls endlessly gray outward from the center. After about 30 minutes, you will notice the train crossing a bridge over a river (the unmistakable rhythmic sound will alert you even if you’ve closed your eyes). This is your cue to get ready to hop off at the next station; for there, on the western shore of the Tama River, you will need to change to a local train.

And from there, it is just one more stop.

Mogusaen. Its name means, “garden of a hundred grasses” (百草園). A sleepy little neighborhood not even large enough to merit an express stop on the Keio Line, Mogusaen would make the TV news every February, when something incredible happened. How to describe those fragile-looking plum flowers blooming defiantly in the snow? Especially at night, the pale flowers on frozen trees branches would shimmer in the moonlight. It was enchanting.

So splendid were the plum blossoms of Mogusean that blossom-viewers would travel from far and wide just to see them every year. In fact, such was the rush of people that the entire Keio Line train network would have to be reorganized to turn Mogusaen into an express stop for the several weeks when the plum trees were in bloom. During this brief period, huge crowds used to stream in on the express train to go plum blossom-viewing.

But all too soon, the flowers would fade– and Mogusaen reverted back to its ordinary incarnation of sleepy, little local stop again. Even now, I still can’t help but smile when I think of how those flowers commanded the complete rescheduling of one of Tokyo’s busiest train lines! Read more »

Finding my Work Ethic

by Richard Passov

Our uniform was a shirt tucked into jeans. Sandi stretched the smallest size over well-proportioned breasts, her black bra peeking through a run of buttons. Mine hung long in the sleeves and fell over my waist.

I was trying to work my way through college in the kitchen of a teaching hospital on the campus where the ARPANET, precursor to the internet, was sending single word messages between the five nodes across the country capable of receiving messages. I was also trying to stay away from drugs. But when Sandi, in tight jeans, smiled over her shoulder, I chose to follow.

“You cool, right?” she asked.

We went through the seating area, out the front door, around to the right, into a curve in the architecture where some thoughtful gardener had planted the rose bushes that Sandi used as a shield. “Here,” she said, after taking a hit from a joint.

The dope tasted like street dirt I had undercut in South Central. A soft weight came over me. My host brought her palms together then shimmied to silent music.

When she stopped and looked past me, I turned to see a young black man with a small head wearing a ribbed wife beater over beady muscles. His colors, stuffed into a back pocket, crept around his leg.

“Hey Pea,” she said walking to him. “You know I like it when you come see me while I working.” Read more »

Less Meat, Less Heat

by Anitra Pavlico

The gap between the gravity of climate change and the average person’s ability to mitigate the crisis is utterly dispiriting. If individual action is required, we feel powerless because it defies logic that using a gallon of hot water plus soap to prepare a mayonnaise jar for the recycling bin will save the planet. If government action is required, we feel powerless because most governments are either falling short, or in the case of the United States, actively denying that there is a problem. It is enough to cause climate-change burnout.

I recently attended a talk given by the head of a local environmental group on the connection between people’s diets, especially the consumption of animal products, and climate change. The current situation is irrational when you consider sheer numbers. In the relatively near future, considering the planet is projected to hold 10 billion people by 2050, it won’t be a question of whether we can continue to eat this way, but to what degree we will have to cut back on animal products. At this time almost half of Earth’s land surface is occupied by the industrial livestock system. Cows, chickens, and their ilk require a huge amount of food and a surprising amount of water when you factor in cleaning their dwellings and disinfecting equipment. Instead of feeding humans directly, we feed a large portion of what we grow to animals to fatten them up. Immense amounts of water and fertilizer are used to grow grain to feed animals. Twenty billion food animals certainly do eat and drink a lot, and make a huge mess besides. Read more »

Home, Identity, Exploitation, and Appropriation: A Conversation with David Krippendorff

by Andrea Scrima

David Krippendorff is a US/German interdisciplinary artist and experimental filmmaker. Based in Berlin, he grew up in Rome, Italy, and studied art at the University of Fine Arts in Berlin, Germany, where he graduated with an MFA. His paintings, drawings, prints, films, and videos have been shown internationally, including at the New Museum (New York), ICA (London), Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg), and the Museum on the Seam (Jerusalem). He has participated in three biennials (Prague, Poznan, Tel Aviv).

Krippendorff’s short film Nothing Escapes My Eyes is currently part of the group exhibition “The Women Behind” at the Museum on the Seam; it was also shown at the Belgrade City Museum for the 56th October Salon in 2016 and has been screened at numerous international film festivals, winning twice as Best Short Film. Kali, a short film based on Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, also features Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass; it premiered at the Braunschweig International Film Festival in 2017.

Scene from the video “There’s No Place Like Home,” 1999

Andrea Scrima: David, I’d like to begin with a question about your previous work. For decades now, you’ve been incorporating imagery from popular culture; earlier works, particularly There’s No Place Like Home, Sleeping Beauty, and The Beautiful Island, drew on the hidden subtexts in well-known American movies, such as The Wizard of Oz and Gilda. What was the motivating force behind this line of inquiry?

David Krippendorff: I grew up on classic American movies. The Wizard of Oz was an intrinsic part of my childhood, so it felt very natural to work with these films, because I had a personal relationship to them. My interest was in uncovering the ideologies and desires present in these films, but hidden beneath a polished layer of glamour and storytelling. I’m also fascinated by how thin the boundaries have become between the personal and the mediated experience, and films—with their almost mythological function—are the perfect material for this inquiry. Read more »

Wonderful Rainbow Aesthetics: The Song of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

by Bill Benzon

Sometime in 1993 Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, known as IZ to his many fans, calls his producer at 2AM and sets up a recording session ASAP. He records a handful of tunes, just his voice and ukulele, one tune after the other, all single takes, and goes home. One of those takes was a medley that inserted “What a Wonderful World” into “Over the Rainbow.” The medley was issued on Kamakawiwo’ole’s 1993 CD, Facing Future. In 1998 the medley was on the soundtrack of Meet Joe Black. In 2005 Facing Future went platinum (1 million or more units sold), the first Hawaiian album to do so. (Record label site for Kamakawiwo’ole.)

In this post I want to take a look at that medley and its subsequent history. The two songs in the medley are standards – a term of art in discussing pop music of the Big Band era and more recent music of that kind. Judy Garland recorded “Rainbow” for The Wizard of Oz at the height of the big band era, 1938. It became an instant hit and has been recorded hundreds of times. Armstrong recorded “Wonderful” in 1967, when big bands had been thoroughly eclipsed by rock and roll. It became a hit in the UK, but not in the USA. Armstrong’s recording got a second chance when it was used on the soundtrack of Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987. Though not the first, Kamakawiwo’ole’s cover of the song was one of the earliest.

Read more »

On the Road: In a Tough Neighborhood

by Bill Murray

In the middle of the night of March 24, 1992, a pressure seal failed in the number three unit of the Leningradskaya Nuclear Power Plant at Sosnoviy Bor, Russia, releasing radioactive gases. With a friend, I had train tickets from Tallinn, in newly independent Estonia, to St. Petersburg the next day. That would take us within twenty kilometers of the plant. The legacy of Soviet management at Chernobyl a few years before set up a fraught decision whether or not to take the train.

Monitoring stations in Finland detected higher than normal readings. The level of iodine-131 at Lovisa, Finland, just across the gulf, was 1,000 times higher than before the accident, according to the German Institute for Applied Ecology.

Russian authorities reported the accident in the media, and I think they felt self-satisfied for doing it, but Russian credibility had burned down with Chernobyl’s reactor 4. Any more, people thought the Soviets, as Seymour Hersh said about Henry Kissinger, lied like other people breathe. And as usual, solid information was hard to come by.

A news agency in St. Petersburg reported increased radiation, and the Swedish news reported panic in St. Petersburg. A lady in Tallinn that day told me her mother had called from St. Petersburg and they were closing the schools and sending children home to stay indoors. The Finnish Prime Minister fussed that seven hours passed before the Russians told him. It was frightening.

No one believed the plant spokesman when he said on TV, hey (big Soviet smile), no problem. No one trusted the Russians. Read more »

The End of the Forever War on Drugs, Pt. 5: Dispatch from New Jersey

by Dave Maier

It’s been a while since I posted on this issue, and I’ve already said most of what I intended to say about it, but things seem to be coming to a head in my own state, and I thought I’d report on that, including a couple of weird local wrinkles (the Garden State is a strange place). Three weeks ago, after months of missed deadlines, an adult-use marijuana legalization bill was approved by a joint (Assembly/Senate, that is, not … never mind) committee of the legislature, and may (note: may) be voted on later this year. If it is passed and signed into law by the governor – neither of which is a given – New Jersey would be the eleventh state to legalize adult use, and the second to do so by legislative action. (Washington and Colorado in 2012, Alaska and Oregon in 2014, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada in 2016, and Michigan in 2018 did so by voter referendum; Vermont did so by legislative action (in 2017, I think), although that state’s bill did not set up a legal market, which means that while it is legal to grow marijuana in one’s basement there, it remains illegal to buy seeds to do so.)

In this Friday’s local newspaper, one Republican senator, an opponent of the bill, was granted the entire space of the letters page for a long guest opinion on the matter. I’ll try not to debunk his points one by one, which would be boring (not to mention inconclusive, as we’ll see), but I did have a few thoughts. Read more »

Noam Chomsky at 90: On Orwell, Taxi Drivers, and Rejecting Indoctrination

John Nichols in The Nation:

Noam Chomsky was aptly described in a New York Times book review published almost four decades ago as “arguably the most important intellectual alive today.” He was 50 then. Now he is 90, and on the occasion of his December 7 birthday, the German international broadcasting service Deutsche Welle observed, again aptly, that Chomsky is “arguably the foremost political dissident of the last half a century.”

Chomsky reminds us that intellect and dissent go together, and that the vital challenge of our times is to maintain “an independent mind.” That’s not easy in an age of manufactured consent, but it is possible, as Chomsky so well reminds us—by continuing to speak, as consistently and as agilely as ever, about the lies of our times.

When I visited him the other day, he was as gracious, witty, and blunt as ever. He pulled no punches, decrying the flaws of capitalism and politics, sparing few politicians and no parties. The academic and activist, whose outspoken opposition to American imperialism earned him a place on former President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” answered a recent question (from Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman) about the approach of the Republican Party of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan to climate change with a question: “Has there ever been an organization in human history that is dedicated, with such commitment, to the destruction of organized human life on Earth?” His answer: “Not that I’m aware of.”

More here.

No Sustainability Without Intensification

Ted Nordhaus in The Breakthrough:

In the spring of 2015, with my colleagues at the Breakthrough Institute, I helped to organize and publish An Ecomodernist Manifesto. The manifesto was controversial in many environmental circles because it laid down a marker in its first paragraphs. To mitigate climate change and preserve the natural world while meeting the needs of a growing and increasingly prosperous human population, environmentalism would need to recommit to one foundational concept, the idea that environmental protection requires shrinking the footprint of human activity, while abandoning another, the notion that ecological salvation requires tethering human societies ever more closely to natural flows of energy and nutrients.

Reconciling environmental preservation with human development as the global population grew from 7 to 10 billion people, we argued, would require producing more, most especially food and energy, with less, particularly land and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Without draconian restrictions on population, which most environmentalists now disavow, or consumption, for a global population that is mostly much poorer than are most card-carrying environmentalists, the math simply didn’t add up otherwise.

Five years later, green NGOs, those on the more pragmatic and less ideological end of the spectrum at least, are recognizing this as well.

More here.

Ivan Krastev: The Iconoclast

From Politico:

Ivan Krastev’s last book landed like a warning shot on the desks of policymakers across the Continent. In his short 2017 volume, “After Europe,” the Bulgarian thinker warned that what had been until then widely regarded as a series of isolated shocks — the migration crisis, Brexit, the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, and the rise of European populism — are instead symptoms of a modern malaise, one with the potential to tear the European Union apart.

“People were still taking the European Union for granted,” he says, and assuming that while the status quo might be shaken, it would almost certainly remain unchanged. Krastev’s experience has taught him otherwise. As a university student in Sofia in 1989, he witnessed the Communist regime collapse and his country transform overnight. The experience, he says, impressed upon him the fact that “the unthinkable can very quickly become the inevitable.”

Krastev’s style is aphoristic and playful; in conversation, he will often tell a joke to illustrate a more serious political nuance. He doesn’t use social media, or even own a mobile phone. At public appearances, he rarely relies on prepared remarks, but seems to think through his arguments out loud. His often unorthodox analysis has established him as one of the more perceptive scholars of what he calls the “threatened majority” and “forgotten losers” of the age’s epochal shifts.

More here.

On the Origin of Cooperation

Kevin Laland in Atlantis:

You take a flight from New York to London. Thousands and perhaps millions of people — including ticket agents, baggage handlers, security personnel, air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants, but behind the scenes also airline administrators, meteorologists, engineers, aircraft designers, and many others — cooperated to get you there safely. No one stole your luggage, no one ate your in-flight food, and no one tried to sit in your seat. In fact, the hundreds of people on the airplane, despite being mainly strangers, behaved in an entirely civilized and respectful manner throughout.

For most of us in the industrialized world, every aspect of our lives is utterly reliant on thousands of such cooperative interactions with millions of individuals from hundreds of countries, the vast majority of whom we never see, don’t know, and indeed never knew existed. Just how exceptional in nature such intricate coordination is — with many unrelated individuals performing many different roles — remains hard to appreciate. Notwithstanding the familiar examples of ants, bees, and other species known for coordinating their behavior, largely with relatives, nothing remotely as complex as human cooperation is found in any of the other millions of species on the planet. And although modern marvels like air travel are very striking examples of large-scale cooperation, human societies have engaged in impressive feats of organized cooperation for many thousands of years. Carving terraces out of mountains, planting and harvesting crops, building granaries, and managing city-states all involved extraordinary levels of cooperation among community members. Hunter-gatherers also coordinated their actions in cooperative endeavors such as group hunting and foraging, as well as through sharing food, labor, and childcare, and when hostility or disputes with other societies arose. How is it that humans came to be the most cooperative species on earth? And how can understanding our evolutionary history help to explain human cultural, cooperative achievements, whether technological or artistic, linguistic or moral?

More here.