The Sources of Growing Middle Class Financial Distress

From the recent Boston Review’s New Democracy Forum, Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi look at the sources of growing middle-class financial distress and indebtedness.

“If middle-class families have more money and aren’t spending themselves into oblivion for the sake of designer water and DVDs, how did they get into so much financial trouble?

The answer begins with the most expensive and most important thing most Americans will ever buy: a home. Homes define the lives of the children who grow up within them. A home’s location determines whether there will be computers in the classrooms, sidewalks to ride bikes on, and a safe front yard to play in. And a home will consume more of the family’s income than any other purchase—more than food, more than cars, more than health insurance, more than child care. (Because the overwhelming majority of middle-class families are homeowners, this discussion focuses on the costs of owning rather than of renting.)

Everyone knows that people spend a lot more on homes than they used to. But what is easy to forget is that today’s prices are not the product of some clear demographic force. Quite the opposite: in the late 1980s, several commentators predicted the spectacular collapse of the housing market. They reasoned that because the baby boomers were about to become empty nesters, pressure on the housing market would soon abate, and prices would reverse their 40-year upward trend and drop during the 1990s and 2000s by anywhere from ten to 47 percent.”

See some critical responses here.

American Idle

Lawrence F. Kaplan at TNR diagnosing various post-9/11 failures in the American project.

The need for a moral equivalent of the cold war evaporated on September 11. Having failed to reverse the equation during the ’90s, the architects of national greatness would henceforth make a virtue out of necessity. If most opinion-makers concentrated on the war abroad, the potential benefits at home were never far from the minds of others. Celebrating the end of America’s “holiday from history,” columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote that “this land of ‘bowling alone,’ of Internet introversion, of fractious multiculturalism developed an extraordinary solidarity. … It turned out that the decadence and flabbiness were just summer wear, thrown off immediately.” As to what awaited the United States on its return from this holiday, Commentary Editor-at-Large Norman Podhoretz wrote, “Beyond revenge, we crave ‘a new birth’ of the confidence we used to have in ourselves and in ‘America the Beautiful.’ But there is only one road to this lovely condition of the spirit, and it runs through what Roosevelt and Churchill called the ‘unconditional surrender’ of the enemy.” President Bush put the point somewhat more bluntly: “For too long, our culture has said, ‘If it feels good, do it.’ Now, America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: ‘Let’s roll.'”

The significance of national greatness was never the movement it spawned, but rather the moment it encapsulated–a minute, really, in which it was hoped that something good might come from bad. What its adherents anticipated after September 11 was really less a return to national greatness than a return to basic national goodness, a civic quality the excesses of the ’90s seemed to have corroded. Civic attachments, a sense of shared purpose, a propensity to sacrifice for the common good–if historical precedent offers any guide, all of these should have been renewed in the aftermath of September 11. As Harvard’s Theda Skocpol noted in her 2001 study, “Patriotic Partnerships: Why Great Wars Nourished American Civil Voluntarism,” “America’s civic vigor was greatly enhanced, both following the national fratricide of the 1860s and amidst the plunge into global conflict between 1917 and 1919.” The pattern held during World War II and the cold war, conflicts that boosted everything from membership in voluntary associations to the fortunes of the civil rights movement. And, yet, not only has everything not changed since September 11; nothing has. According to a mountain of attitudinal and behavioral data collected in the past four years, the post- September 11 mood that former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge dubbed “the new normalcy” resembles nothing so much as the old normalcy.

believer, n+1

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An article by A.O. Scott in the NY Times Magazine looks at The Believer and n+1. It calls the group around them the next-gen literary intellectuals, which seems pretty fair. Anyway, it’s not a bad read and gets at the basic distinction between the two literary endeavors. As some of us 3Quarkers are also contributors to those ventures, we were glad to read such a sympathetic piece.

In the end, this may be the common ground n+1 and The Believer occupy: a demand for seriousness that cuts against ingrained generational habits of flippancy and prankishness. Their differences are differences of emphasis and style – and the failings that each may find in the other (or that even a sympathetic reader may find in both) come from their deep investments in voice, stance and attitude rather than in a particular set of ideas or positions. For The Believer, the way to take things seriously is to care about them – “to endow something with importance,” in Julavits’s words, “by treating it as an emotional experience.” And this can lead, at times, to the credulous, seemingly disingenuous naïveté that Greif finds infantile. For n+1, the index of seriousness is thought for its own sake, which can sanction an especially highhanded form of intellectual arrogance. But, of course, this distinction, between a party of ardor and a party of rigor, is itself too schematic, since The Believer, at its best, is nothing if not thoughtful, and n+1 frequently wears its passions on its sleeve.

Togetherness, once removed

From The Guardian:Seth

The ‘two lives’ of Vikram Seth’s new book belonged to his great-uncle, Shanti, and his great-aunt, Henny. Seth went to live with them in Hendon, north London, when he came from India to boarding school at Tonbridge aged 17. The curiosity they inspired in him then grew over the years into the kind of obsession that fuels his writing.

Seth’s uncle was a dentist who had left Delhi to train in Europe; he lost an arm at Monte Cassino having volunteered for the Medical Corps in the war, but continued to practise until his retirement. His aunt was a German Jew who escaped in 1939, before her mother and sister were sent on transports and killed in Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt. Seth has spent much of the past six years trying to reconstruct their remarkable marriage from letters and memories and interviews he conducted with his uncle before his death. Despite all his efforts, he is left with a sense of incompleteness. ‘I’m not sure anyone can understand a whole life,’ he says, ‘even their own.’

More here.

Pounding Pavement Generates Electricity When Wearing Novel Backpack

From Scientific American:Backpack

Scientists have developed a backpack that makes “power walking” a reality. Described today in the journal Science, the novel device translates the regular up and down movement of a walker’s hips into electrical energy. The contraption could conceivably help provide power to soldiers, relief workers, scientists and others on remote trips. When out for a stroll, a person’s hips move up and down between five and seven centimeters during every step. Larry Rome of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues exploited this trait to design their new “suspended load” backpack. The bag is based around a frame, which is connected to a wearer’s hips, and as the frame gets raised and lowered, the backpack’s contents move up and down.

More here.

Is Osama Bin Laden Winning?

Mark Danner in the New York Times Magazine:

BinladenToday marks four years of war. Four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops ruled unchallenged in Japan and Germany. During those 48 months, Americans created an unmatched machine of war and decisively defeated two great enemies.

How are we to judge the global war on terror four years on? In this war, the president had warned, “Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign.” We could expect no “surrender ceremony on a deck of a battleship,” and indeed, apart from the president’s abortive attempt on the U.S.S. Lincoln to declare victory in Iraq, there has been none. Failing such rituals of capitulation, by what “metric” – as the generals say – can we measure the progress of the global war on terror?

More here.

Sleep patterns reveal more than you think…

From Reuters:

New York – Doctors commonly view excessive daytime sleepiness as a cardinal sign of disturbed or inadequate sleep. But a new study suggests it could also signal depression or even diabetes, regardless of whether an individual doesn’t sleep well.

Among a random sample of 16,500 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 100 years old from central Pennsylvania, 8.7 percent had excessive daytime sleepiness.

Researchers, who considered a wide range of possible reasons for why these individuals were excessively sleepy during the daytime, found that excessive daytime sleepiness was more strongly associated with depression and obesity or metabolic factors than with sleep-disordered breathing or sleep disruption.

Depression was by far the most significant risk factor for excessive daytime sleepiness, they report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

More here.

Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and JM Coetzee fail to make the Booker Shortlist

Sarah Crown in The Guardian:

Barnes1Given the heavyweight status of almost every one of the authors on the 17-strong longlist, this year’s Booker judges were always going to struggle to stir up controversy at the shortlist stage. But by leaving off Ian McEwan they’ve managed to do just that.

Saturday, McEwan’s tale of an extraordinary day in the life of brain surgeon Henry Perowne, has widely been seen as a shoo-in for the shortlist from the date of its publication. And he was joint favourite with Julian Barnes at the longlist stage to take home the gong for the second time. Instead, he has become the shortlist’s most high-profile casualty – although with previous winners Salman Rushdie and JM Coetzee also failing to make the cut, he is in very good company.

More here.

Why They Do It

Christian Caryl in the New York Review of Books:

Suicide bombing is increasingly becoming the weapon of choice for a new kind of global insurgency. The terrorized grope for explanations. It is hardly a surprise that many of us assume that suicide terrorists are religious zealots whose irrational fanaticism makes them seek death. Or perhaps, we think, they are depressed people who have nothing to live for, refugees from the ranks of the impoverished or ignorant. Yet the reality is far more complex, and, it should be said, far less comforting.

More here.

Gotham 9/11/01

A day after the attacks of 9/11/01, I sent an email to my family and some friends. In retrospect, it was a sentimental thing, and I suppose I did it more for catharsis than anything else. Someone forwarded it to others and it soon became one of those things that got very wide circulation on the internet, and I got hundreds of emails from people thanking me for my “nice words”. It was even published here and there and translated into various languages, etc. It was apparently read in church services and at political meetings. I don’t think it was a particularly great thing, I think I just said something very quickly while everyone else was still speechless with shock. Well, here we are four years later with another American city in shock and pain, and here, if you want to see it, is the email I had sent that day:

Hello,

As time elapses, I am more clearly able to identify and articulate what it is that has been making me so sad about this attack. It is this: some cities do not belong to any particular Twin_lightsacountry but are treasures for all people; cosmopolitan and international by nature, they are the repositories of our shared world culture and artistic production, testaments to what is common and binding among diverse peoples, and sources of creative energy. They come to stand for our notions of community and brotherhood. New York has been by far the most magnificent of these world treasures, and it still is today. Here, on every block you will meet people from forty different countries. Here you can speak Urdu with the cab drivers, and Korean at the grocery store. Here, bhangra rhythms and classical sitar mix with calypso and Finnish ambient chants. Here is where mosques and synagogues are separated by no green-lines. Here is where Rodney King’s wish has mostly come true: we do get along. This city is the least provincial; no nationalism flourishes here. It is the most potent fountainhead of intellectual and artistic endeavor. What this mindless attack has done is desecrate and damage the ideals of international community that this city not only symbolizes, but instantiates as fact and lovely example. And it is this desecration which is so devastatingly heart-breaking.

I recall two things: one, the pleasure and awe with which my mother took in the incomparably stunning view from the 110th floor observation deck of the World Trade Center on a visit from Pakistan in 1974. And two, her reading in Urdu, the words of welcome inscribed in the lobby of that building in over one hundred languages, to all people of the world. Alas, no one shall ever do either again.

Abbas

[This post is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend Ehteshamullah Raja who didn’t make it out of his business meeting at the World Trade Center that day.]

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Deepening Gloom About Ground Zero’s Future

Nicolai Ouroussoff in the New York Times:

Zero1184There has been no healing, really. Four years have passed since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and the road to recovery at ground zero looks bleaker than ever. A rebuilding effort that was originally cast as a symbolic rising from the ashes has long since turned into a hallucinogenic nightmare: a roller coaster ride of grief, naïveté, recriminations, political jockeying and paranoia.

The Freedom Tower, promoted as an image of the city’s resurrection, has been transformed into a stern fortress – a symbol of a city still in the grip of fear. The World Trade Center memorial has been enveloped by a clutter of memorabilia.

And the promise that culture would play a life-affirming role has proved false now that Gov. George E. Pataki has warned that freedom of expression at ground zero will be strictly controlled. (“We will not tolerate anything on that site that denigrates America, denigrates New York or freedom, or denigrates the sacrifice and courage that the heroes showed on Sept. 11,” he has said.)

More here.

wacky stories, scare stories and “breakthrough” stories

Ben Goldacre in The Guardian:

Badscience128It is my hypothesis that in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them, the media create a parody of science, for their own means. They then attack this parody as if they were critiquing science. This week we take the gloves off and do some serious typing.

Science stories usually fall into three families: wacky stories, scare stories and “breakthrough” stories. Last year the Independent ran a wacky science story that generated an actual editorial: how many science stories get the lead editorial? It was on research by Dr Kevin Warwick, purporting to show that watching Richard and Judy improved IQ test performance (www.badscience.net/?p=84). Needless to say it was unpublished data, and highly questionable.

Wacky stories don’t end there. They never end. Infidelity is genetic, say scientists. Electricity allergy real, says researcher. I’ve been collecting “scientists have found the formula for” stories since last summer, carefully pinning them into glass specimen cases, in preparation for my debut paper on the subject.

More here.

MIA

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Robin has posted about Maya Arulpragasm a few times in the past, including here. As he has noted, her politics seem a little sketchy, what with the seeming romantics around the rather nihilistic tactics of the famed Tamil Tigers. But her music is pretty damned good. Go figure.

Here’s a new interview from The Observer.

‘The Tigers killed two groups off, leaders and kid soldiers included. When it came to my dad’s group he said, “I don’t want to kill off all these boys for the sake of an ideal.” He gave up and walked away, and Eros eventually disintegrated.’

Though she remembers the soldiers in their house, bouncing her on their knee, saying: “Tell me where your dad is,” she remembers little of her father himself. He has been in contact recently but, says Maya, ‘I don’t want to start that relationship and then have to go on tour. I’ve read about what he did and people come out at Tamil conventions to tell me how great he was. But because I was raised by my mum, I got to see behind the scenes of a person like him.’ Far from falling in love with an activist, her mother met her father through an arranged marriage, having been told he was an engineer. ‘Ever since she was a baby she was raised to be the housewife that all Sri Lankan women are meant to be. She couldn’t play out the fantasy ‘cos she didn’t have a husband. Him going away was worse for her. All the women were like, “He didn’t even die? He just left you with two children, what’s wrong with you? Fuck him starting a revolution, he isn’t at home!”‘ When Maya reached womanhood herself, she decided, like Marianne Faithfull reading William Burroughs and deciding to become a drug addict, that, having fallen in love with hip-hop, she was going to move to South Central LA and become a gangsta’s bitch. It was a move both rebellious and reactionary.

wulffen

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Amelie von Wulffen’s collages work like the labyrinthine chambers familiar from dreams. Using photographs as a point of departure, Wulffen paints over the images’ borders, extends lines into the far distance, and combines different views into kaleidoscopic montages of memory. As “real” as they seem from afar, once you get close the arrangements seem to collapse into fragments: Suddenly the anti-illusionism and impossible perspectives of the painted sections are revealed. This mini-retrospective starts with architectural collages from 1998 in which shards of ‘70s socialist architecture morph into futuristic agglomerations.

more from Artforum here.

Record spin rate for cosmic body

From BBC News:Space

Astronomers have discovered the fastest rotating object for its size in the Solar System. The Kuiper Belt Object 2003 EL61, discovered in July, rotates once every 3.9 hours. Rather than being spherical like Pluto, the object has a shape much like a squashed rugby ball, its discoverers say. Details of the work were presented at a scientific meeting in Cambridge, UK. “It’s by far the record,” said David Rabinowitz, of the department of astronomy at Yale University, US.

More here.

Dangerous Characters

From The New York Times:

Face_3 The destruction of the World Trade Center transformed the preceding dozen years, since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, immediately into a historical period. It was clear at once that American statecraft, domestic politics and popular consciousness would not go on as before. As for literature, it couldn’t matter much at first, in the face of so much murder and alarm. Camus observed that extreme suffering deprives us of the taste for reading, and this may be the more true of extreme fear.

Once it became possible to think about books again, there was no doubting that the American novel was bound to be altered as well. But we would have to wait to see how. The novel registers historical change profoundly but not swiftly, for the simple reason that it usually takes several years to conceive, write, revise and publish a book. In terms of literary history, it’s only now that the period before 9/11 is drawing to a close.

More here.

Howard’s folly

“James Lasdun enjoys echoes of Forster in Zadie Smith’s expansive and witty new novel, On Beauty.”

From The Guardian:

Beauty_finalAmong the many tasks Zadie Smith sets herself in her ambitious, hugely impressive new novel is that of finding a style at once flexible enough to give voice to the multitude of different worlds it contains, and sturdy enough to keep the narrative from disintegrating into a babel of incompatible registers. Its principal family alone, the Belseys, comprises its own little compact multiverse of clashing cultures: the father a white English academic, the mother a black Floridian hospital administrator, one son a budding Jesus freak, the other a would-be rapper and street hustler, the daughter a specimen of US student culture at its most rampagingly overdriven. Still more worlds open up beyond them as their lives unravel out through the genteel Massachusetts college town to which they have been transplanted: Haitian immigrants, hip-hop poets, New England liberal intelligentsia, reactionary black conservatives …

More here.

How Europe fails its young

From The Economist:

Csu834Europe created the modern university. Scholars were gathering in Paris and Bologna before America was on the map. Oxford and Cambridge invented the residential university: the idea of a community of scholars living together to pursue higher learning. Germany created the research university. A century ago European universities were a magnet for scholars and a model for academic administrators the world over.

But, as our survey of higher education explains, since the second world war Europe has progressively surrendered its lead in higher education to the United States. America boasts 17 of the world’s top 20 universities, according to a widely used global ranking by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. American universities currently employ 70% of the world’s Nobel prize-winners, 30% of the world’s output of articles on science and engineering, and 44% of the most frequently cited articles. No wonder developing countries now look to America rather than Europe for a model for higher education.

More here.

Could Earth survive the Sun’s demise?

David L. Chandler in New Scientist:

Dn79721_250Solar systems may continue to exist around stars that have reached the end of their lifetimes, flared up and collapsed. New evidence shows that asteroids and dust discs, and perhaps even planets, may circle white dwarf stars, the burned-out remnants of stars that have already undergone their all-consuming red-giant phase.

This suggests that, for our solar system too, there is a possibility of life after the presumed death of the inner planets – when the Sun expands to such a bloated size that it envelops the orbit of the Earth and beyond. But it may be a grinding sort of life.

The new findings, to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, are based on high-resolution spectroscopic imaging of the white dwarf GD 362, made with the Gemini North, IRTF and Magellan telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. These observations showed an unexpected excess of infrared in the light of the star, as well as a huge abundance of calcium – the second-highest ever seen from a white dwarf.

More here.

Friday, September 9, 2005

The Tao that can be named is not the real Tao

From Now or Never:

I’ve mentioned this before, but did you know that the Tao that can be named is not the real Tao? This bit of info is attributed to Lao Tzu who may or may not have existed as an individual per se, but as an ad hoc committee of poets. The experts can’t say for sure. So it may be that Lao Tzu was a literary phantom, but he makes a good point whether he existed or not.

If you’ve never heard of the Tao you may ask, “What the hell is the Tao? I never heard of it.”

But if what Lao Tzu said about the Tao is true, you can’t have an answer to that question, can you? It’s a catch-22 cul de sac. There’s no point in being told what something is if, in naming it, you’re automatically not talking about it. Besides, if you’ve never heard of the Tao you’re probably closer to it than a crew of theologians in deep exegesis trying to build cathedrals out of morning mists with nail guns and cordless screwdrivers.

More here.