After listening to Obama’s recent interview with Tom Friedman, Greg Djerejian wishes the president’s foreign policy showed “more transformative greatness”:
It is very easy to take cheap pot-shots at Obama. We must recall the alternatives would have been tragically worse. Even within his own party, as Hillary Clinton’s recent comments to Jeffrey Goldberg make clear, breezy certitudes around play-pretend muscularity are meant to showcase greater foreign policy gravitas, but actually too often indicate precisely the opposite. Indeed, we should commend Obama his caution, his rationality, his use of scalpels rather than hammers. By this I mean that a period of American retrenchment was well needed—almost inevitable—after the gross excesses of the post 9/11 Bush years. But Obama’s tragedy is that he has not accompanied a period of American retrenchment, even decline, with strategic panache (for instance, Nixon and Kissinger’s opening to China on the heels of the disastrous Vietnam War). He does not seem seized of the possibilities his office affords.
Due to his lack of an overarching strategy, Paul Saunders objects to those who would label Obama a “realist”:
In the last few years … scientists have begun to think that procrastination might have less to do with time than emotion. Procrastination “really has nothing to do with time-management,” Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, toldPsychological Science. “To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”
Instead, Ferrari and others think procrastination happens for two basic reasons: (1) We delay action because we feel like we’re in the wrong mood to complete a task, and (2) We assume that our mood will change in the near future.
And that’s what Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry believes is missing from most analyses of China’s involvement in the continent:
For sure, China’s drive into Africa is mainly motivated by natural resources. But this is merely the catalyst of a broader phenomenon, which is really driven by the frustration of so many Chinese with the unbearably stifling and corrupt Chinese system.
Julie Beck explains how TV medical dramas have warped our perception of health care and illness:
Treatments for patients with seizures are sometimes downright dangerous, with doctors trying to hold patients down, or put things in their mouths (they could choke). Patients tend to survive cardiac arrest more often on television than they do in real life, making CPR seem more effective than it often is. “That can lead to a misunderstanding as to the likelihood of a patient or loved one surviving a cardiac arrest,” says Dr. David Brown, chair of the department of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “But it isn’t really good TV if everybody dies, right?”
What does make for good TV: Rare diseases. Injuries. Natural disasters. Which means the amount of screen time given to different conditions isn’t proportional to how common those diseases are in real life, according to a new study published in Human Communication Research. People flock to these shows, after all, first and foremost to be entertained. So less sensational, more quotidian conditions like diabetes are underrepresented.
Etgar Keret speculates about why he turned to writing:
What I feel about fiction is that it’s removed from life, that nothing in it is real, the characters can die or have wings. For me it’s a great release. I’m the kind of person who thinks about the consequences of his actions. Especially as the youngest son of two Holocaust survivors. One of the first things I knew about my mother was that her mother and her brother were murdered in front of her eyes and that a year after that her father was murdered too. She was in the Warsaw ghetto. So from very early on I realized that if my mother were to ask me if I wanted to eat another cucumber, regardless of what I might or might not want, if I said yes, then this woman, whom I loved more than life itself and who had suffered so much, would be happy. And if I said no, then she would not be happy. So the idea was that whatever I felt or did resonated in life, caused people pain or happiness. This gave me a feeling of huge responsibility even as a child – to the extent that sometimes I had to block my own feelings or wishes. When I started writing fiction, suddenly I was allowed to do what I wanted.
[T]o qualify as pathological, narcissistic tendencies must impair functioning in real and painful ways. The self-absorption must not be explicable by age (toddlers are notorious tyrants) or socio-cultural environment (football stars are encouraged to act like Roman emperors). A true narcissist is all ego, unfettered and clumsy—he sees only himself, and yet the vision is opaque to him. He thrashes around in desires he can’t understand. Perhaps he loves No. 1 uncomplicatedly, or perhaps there is loathing mixed in. In her Harper’s piece “Me, Myself, and Id,” Laura Kipnis writes that the narcissist “lives as though surrounded by mirrors, but he doesn’t like what he sees.”
As Waldman explains, narcissism’s classification remains contested:
For psychiatrists, the question isn’t really “do narcissists exist” or “are narcissists any different from the rest of us.” It’s “are narcissists mentally ill?”
I took a cab and entered a single-story brick building where a few dozen people were crowded together in a scene that evoked Kafka; weariness, frustration and anger were palpable. Some stood in line, some paced and some sat hunched on the floor. A family huddled in a corner, an infant asleep on the father’s shoulder. A woman on a pay phone wept as she begged whomever was on the line to find money so she could get her car back–she said she needed $875. “I’m gonna lose my job if I’m not there at 5.”
Clerks sat on stools behind Plexiglas. At a window, a man pleaded with an agent, “I have to pick up my kids in less than an hour. What am I supposed to do?” At the next window, another man railed loudly and furiously, yelling, “How the hell am I supposed to get my goddam money if I can’t get to goddam work?” The clerk said, “If you can’t get cash, you can pay by credit card or cashier’s check.” The man shouted, “And if I had a goddam limousine, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Virginia Postrel suggests some improvements for hospital-room decor:
When the University Medical Center of Princeton tested a mock-up room with nice views, a sofa for guests and no roommates, it found that patients asked for 30 percent less pain medication, reports the New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman. This result shouldn’t be surprising.
The seminal study on the subject was published in 1984 — that’s right, 30 years ago — in Science. Roger S. Ulrich, now an architecture professor at the Center for Healthcare Building Research at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden after many years at Texas A&M University, compared two groups of patients recovering from gallbladder surgery in the same hospital, matching patients for characteristics such as age and obesity that might affect their recovery. One group looked out on some trees while the other faced a brick wall; their rooms were otherwise almost the same. Patients with a view of the trees required significantly less high-powered pain medication and left the hospital earlier, after 7.96 days versus 8.70.
Thirty years of follow-up research later, and it’s still news when someone designs a hospital room with a view.
Karen Abbot discusses women’s experiences in the Civil War South:
In the sudden absence of husbands, fathers, brothers and beaus, white Southern women discovered a newfound freedom — one that simultaneously granted them more power in relationships and increased their likelihood of heartbreak. Gone were the traditions of antebellum courtships, where family connections and wealth were paramount and a closed circle of friends and neighbors scrutinized potential mates, a process that could last for years. The war’s disruptions forced elite Southern parents to loosen rules regarding chaperoning and coquetry, which one prominent lecturer called “an artful mixture of hypocrisy, fraud, treachery and falsehood” that risked tarnishing a girl’s reputation. The girls themselves relinquished the anticipation, instilled since birth, that they would one day assume their positions as wives, mothers and slave mistresses, that their lives would be steeped in every privilege and comfort. The war ultimately challenged not only long-held traditions of courtship and marriage, but the expectation that one might wed at all.
Turning ahead several decades, Niamh Gallagher reviews Elisabeth Shipton’s Female Tommies, which chronicles women’s role in World War I:
Reading all the reader responses to my question about the books, poems, and stories that have meant the most to you has been such a rewarding experience. My reading list certainly has grown even more unmanageable. What I’ve appreciated the most, in addition to the gratitude for books on display, are the anecdotes that have accompanied many of your suggestions. Not only can a story or poem be a consolation, but they remain connected to what we were going through when we read them – and perhaps even shaped how we perceived and understood what was happening. Thank you all for sharing. Here’s more of your responses, with this reader reminding us of a recent classic:
I nominate David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon commencement address. Though a commencement speech, I encountered it as essay. I’ve been rather amazed at how it has stuck with me. “This is water. This is water,” has become a personal mantra, a constant reminder to practice mindfulness.
I’m late to the thread (as usual!), but I’ll throw on the pile anyway – Theses on the Philosophy of History by Walter Benjamin. Its theme, and the famous passage that reflects it, is undoubtedly dark, but in a way I have always found liberating rather than depressing:
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
At a time when I was always looking for an answer, a solution, a neat narrative to tie everything together – I read this book and realized that I could (obviously) be wrong, that there are no answers, no fix, no solution to magically make things whole, to return to whatever came before. Understanding that that’s not possible helped me, in its own way, face forward.
By the way, I didn’t actually see Angelus Novus until years later, in Jerusalem. To say it wasn’t what I was expecting would be putting it mildly.