Laura Parker picks up on a new trend:
Daniel Mendelsohn, the classicist and essayist, reflects on the rudiments of good criticism:
One of the courses I like to teach is a Great Books course that’s mandatory for first year students, and after I read their first papers it’s always very clear to me that they have no model, no template for what a critical essay is supposed to do—what (or how) you’re supposed to be arguing when you’re writing about a text or a movie or anything. They don’t understand there is a rhetoric of criticism—that there’s a stance you have to have, that you have to position yourself, that you don’t just blather about your impressions or your “opinions” or, worse, your “feelings” about a work. They literally have no idea, at first, what the point of being critical is—no doubt because, in part, they are being raised in a culture where a bland, everything-goes, multi-culti niceness is the paramount virtue. You have to know who you are—as a person, but also as a member of a given civilization—in order to speak about a work.
I always tease them at the beginning of the semester about their writing—I say, “Whenever you write me at 11 o’clock on a Thursday night begging me for an extension on the paper, the prose is always so beautiful and the email is so wonderfully structured.”
It is small, a punch: Krapp, a desk, a banana, a closet with a light, a tape recorder, some reels, and some fart jokes. Every year on his birthday, Krapp records a tape about his thoughts and whatever’s happening in his life. Then he listens to it and the ones he made earlier. The play is very funny and very sad and still beautiful. It is barely half an hour — all power, no clutter. There is no one else, not even a dog or a landlady, and since Krapp doesn’t seem cold or hungry or locked in we think yes, okay this is how he wants it. …
The first five minutes — or ten or fifteen — of the play are silent. Krapp shuffles around the stage; he eats a banana, pours himself booze. When he finally speaks — “spool” — it’s funny, like blowing a raspberry at a funeral to make a baby laugh. First Krapp listens to older reels — here he is, throwing a ball for a little white dog; and there in a boat, with a lady who has gooseberry scratches on her thigh — and next he records a tape for this year, his sixty-ninth. He has to restart it a couple times. He is freaking out about his dogs loose in the desert. “Everything there, everything on this old muckball, all the light and dark and famine and feasting of… the ages!” Krapp says. “Yes! Let that go! Jesus!” He is passionate and so crabby.
Case imagines a conversation between Krapp and Gertrude Stein:
A long excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s “The Depressed Person” (pdf), which first appeared in the January 1998 issue of Harper‘s:
The feelings of shame and inadequacy the depressed person experienced about calling members of her Support System long-distance late at night and burdening them with her clumsy attempts to describe at least the contextual texture of her emotional agony were an issue on which she and her therapist were currently doing a great deal of work in their time together.
Eva Holland recounts her journey to the site where Christopher Johnson McCandless, the idealistic hiker depicted in Into The Wild, died in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. Admirers of the young adventurer – some of whom Holland met in the above video – still retrace McCandless’s steps to see the abandoned bus where he spent his last days:
Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142 has become a shrine, its rusting shell etched with motivational phrases left by visitors. But the pilgrimage is risky. One hiker died while crossing the Teklanika [River] in 2010, and dozens more – 12 in the summer of 2013 alone – have become lost, hurt or stranded by the rising river and have needed to be rescued by local authorities. …
The trail is nobody’s idea of a lovely hike – one of many things that mystify the Alaskans who watch the McCandless pilgrims set off each year. (“Of all the places you could hike in Alaska …” one local had said to me two nights earlier, shaking her head in disbelief.) The Stampede Trail is a boggy thoroughfare for motorized off-roaders. During the day that I spent on it, I counted seven bus-bound hikers, 22 four-wheeling moose hunters, two guided Jeep tours and one guided ATV [all-terrain vehicle] tour. Hiking there today is no way to capture the solitude and engagement with nature that McCandless was seeking. As I slogged back to my waiting car, I could not see the point of the pilgrimages. Nor could I fathom how the loss of more young lives honored his memory.
The pilgrims, of course, see the journey differently.
Vauhini Vara draws attention to the plight of the lower-middle class – families who make between $15,000 and $60,000 a year:
Compared with the poorest families, lower-middle-class families are more likely to be headed by married couples and to benefit from two incomes. They are also more likely to include a family head who has attended college. So far, so good: studies have shown that children who live with two parents are more likely to be more economically secure and to be healthy, as well as to graduate from high school; other studies show similarly positive effects for children of college-educated parents. And parents benefit, too.
And yet, many of these lower-middle-class families are still struggling to get by. About 60 percent of families below the poverty line receive food stamps (shown in the chart [above] as SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program); so do more than 20 percent of lower-middle-class people. All told, more than 30 percent of lower-middle-class people receive food stamps, unemployment benefits, welfare, or other benefits.
This matters for a couple of reasons.
Reflecting on the demise of three alternative weekly papers in Connecticut – the New Haven Advocate, Hartford Advocate and Fairfield County Weekly - Brian LaRue laments “the loss of opportunity for journalists, particularly young journalists” it reflects:
Oh, sure — it’s 2013, and there’s no shortage of outlets for a young, loud, opinionated writer to be loud and opinionated in media. But oftentimes — and I’ve written about this before, talking about the shift in media from the all-hands-on-deck newsroom to these networks of isolated bloggers — you lose the wisdom of the tribe that comes from being part of an editorial staff at a decades-old publication. And beyond that, working at an alt-weekly teaches a journalist so many important lessons. For reasons I’ve already laid out, when you report for an alt-weekly, you have to go deep. You have to figure out the not-obvious story. You have to become an engaging storyteller, not just a sharp transcriber. The editorial staff is small. (When I worked at the New Haven Advocate, the most full-time editorial staffers we ever had was seven, and that didn’t last long.) Your beat is broad. You need to learn your history, fast, so you know what to ask about and who to talk to. In general, you need to get really good. Really. Goddamned. Good.
He goes on to argue that alt-weeklies aren’t just important, “they’re also fun“:
They kind of have to be. The salaries are typically atrocious, the hours are long and the benefits are slim. … In his excellent appreciation of Boston Phoenix upon that esteemed alt-weekly’s shuttering, former Phoenix editor S.I. Rosenbaum pointed out how “the job itself had to be the reward.” You work for an alt-weekly because, every week, it feels like some combination of a public service and a tremendous prank you can’t believe you’re getting away with. You spend countless days in which you work from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed again because you know you’re helping to create an ongoing community institution, something thousands of people rely on for an experience they can’t get anywhere else, and you have to bring your A-game for them.
James Hamblin digs into what’s really going on with Toxoplasmosis gondii, a parasite spread by cats, and its effect on the human mind:
Toxo has been all over the news in recent years, since it became known that the parasite manipulates people’s behavior. Maybe most interestingly and notoriously, it seems to make men more introverted, suspicious, unattractive to women, and oblivious to the way others see them. Infected women, inversely, have been shown to be more outgoing, trusting, sexually adventurous, attractive to men, and image-conscious. Infected men tend to break more rules than their uninfected peers, and infected women tend to pay them more heed. Infected men and women are 2.5 times more likely to have traffic accidents, more likely to develop schizophrenia, and more likely to engage in self-directed violence. …
Paul Waldman wonders about the moment when click-bait burnout sets in:
Once you’ve clicked on a few posts that promised to make you cry or change your view of the world forever but didn’t deliver, your default assumption will become that when you see something like that, it means somebody’s trying to get you to be a part of something artificial. It’s one thing to send something truly inspiring or outrageous to your friends or Twitter followers and brighten their day for a moment, but nobody wants to be a tool of someone else’s phony marketing campaign or mean-spirited hoax.
And I think that’s the danger for these ventures. The more conscious people become that by passing something along they’re not so much participants in a beautiful collective celebration of our shared humanity, but are instead part of an intentionally constructed attempt at content viralization, the less they’ll want to be a part of it. Because after all, one of the hallmarks of not just Millennials but the couple of older generations going back at least as far as Generation X is media savvy, or at least the desire for media savvy. We all want to think we’re immune to advertising’s manipulations and we don’t get suckered by even the cleverest marketing campaigns.
Rob Horning’s related musings:
Paul Pillar points out the costs to the US of applying sanctions to foreign countries, particularly countries like Iran:
The formidable, fear-inducing enforcement of U.S. sanctions against Iran entails substantial costs for U.S. companies. Not only are these companies excluded from some major opportunities for new business; they have to jump through additional hoops to make sure they do not run afoul of the enforcers in areas where they still are doing business. A Washington Post story concerns how this fear leads American companies to report to government regulators in excruciatingly minute detail anything they do that could conceivably brush up against the sanctions. Citibank, for example, felt it necessary to report that it made four dollars in profit from ATM transactions in Bahrain that involved a joint venture that included two Iranian-owned banks.
It is remarkable that some members of Congress who otherwise do not hesitate to preach that onerous government regulations and the administrative burdens they impose are bad for the American economy are also enthusiastic backers of the sanctions.
Earlier this week, Beinart railed against any new Iranian sanctions:
If today’s conservatives actually studied Reagan, instead of deifying him, they might find a useful model in the way he handled the Soviet Union.
Richard Cooper worries that “comic-book movies are all about superior beings dominating everybody else”:
The main problem is force: sheer physical force, which lies at the heart of the superhero myth, something Steven T.Seagle observed nicely in “It’s a Bird…”, his poignant autobiographical graphic novel about his reluctance to write for a Superman comic, in which he points out that Superman triumphs by being able to move faster and hit harder than everyone else: essentially a fascist concept. … Fascism also relies on people who must be crushed. The Batman films — and indeed the entire Batman mythos — are based on the idea that what criminals really need is a damn good thrashing, because it’s the only language these punks understand. The vicarious thrill in seeing Batman yell “Swear to me!” at some pitiful creep who swears to God he doesn’t know anything is for the nasty-minded child in all of us: an innocent pleasure until you start to think about the politics.
Chris Yogerst is unimpressed by this argument:
This week, two thieves in Mexico made off with a truck full of cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope with medical applications. But it seems they didn’t know what they were dealing with:
While Mexican officials initially feared that the material could have been stolen as part of a plot to build a dirty bomb, the material itself has since been recovered. What hasn’t been found are the two carjackers, but they won’t get far: authorities say the thieves will almost certainly [die] of exposure if they haven’t already … It wasn’t initially clear if the thieves knew what they were stealing. But when a small amount (a few dozen grams) of the cobalt-60 was found removed from its casing, authorities figured the duo had no idea what they had, as a thief deliberately targeting radioactive material probably wouldn’t have exposed himself to a deadly dose of radiation.
Julia Fisher details what that level of radiation exposure does to a human body:
It’s worth recalling the glee with which many hacks determined that the Obama presidency was over before the second term had really kicked in, well, only a month ago. The Healthcare.gov fiasco was Katrina; the Syrian pivot was a disastrous wobble; the Iran negotiations were abject surrender; the economy was going nowhere. And it’s not as if there weren’t good reasons for the punditocracy’s sudden lunge for the presidential jugular. The botched website launch remains a pretty unforgivable product of presidential negligence.
But it’s worth digesting how all these alleged disasters have settled down. Obama’s alleged surrender to Putin on Syria … has led to something no one really believed possible: a potential shut-down of Syria’s WMD potential. What Bush failed to do in Iraq (because Saddam’s WMDs were a fantasy), Obama has almost succeeded in doing in Syria – with Putin’s help. The Iran negotiations – far from being a surrender – have set the stage for a real rapprochement. Les Gelb notes:
The Obama team has won the first round on the six-month agreement with Iran by a knockout. The phony, misleading, and dishonest arguments against the pact just didn’t hold up to the reality of the text. As night follows day, the mob of opponents didn’t consider surrender, not for a second. Instead, they trained their media howitzers on the future, the next and more permanent agreement, you know, the one that has yet to be negotiated.
Even George Will has conceded as much. There is a chance that the Middle East, far from exploding in another spasm, is actually safer today than in recent times. Netanyahu’s worst instincts have been rather coolly checked. The reactionary forces in Iran are on the defensive. Kerry has in no way given up on a two-state solution on his watch. And today, we got a glimpse of a much stronger economy than most were expecting, and the disastrous website … has been patched up as promised (with, of course, some ways to go). Alec McGillis sums it up:
The bungled healthcare.gov Web site emerged vastly improved following an intensive fix-it push, allowing some 25,000 to sign up per day, as many as signed up in all of October.
Joe Lhota’s prognostications of doom (seen above) are looking ever more unfounded. NYC mayor-elect Bill de Blasio appointed William Bratton as his new police commissioner on Thursday. Bratton, who led the NYPD under Giuliani in the ’90s, was the architect of the very same stop-and-frisk program de Blasio ran against during campaign season. Mychal Denzel Smith is disappointed, but not surprised, at the choice:
While he criticized outgoing commissioner Ray Kelly for the “overuse-and-abuse of stop-and-frisk,” de Blasio has stopped short of calling for an end to the policy altogether. He has been in favor a “mend, don’t end” approach, supporting the reforms as handed down by US district court judge Shira Scheindlin as a result of the Floyd v. City of New York case. His choice of Bratton for police commissioner is consistent with his previously stated positions … The mayor-elect had an opportunity to signal a fundamentally new approach to the way policing would be done in NYC, but chose instead the safe and familiar, which has never benefited the communities that elected him to office. De Blasio has always been the most progressive candidate with a chance of winning, not the most progressive.
Heather Mac Donald declares Bratton’s appointment proof of “the limits that now constrain even the most left-leaning urban politicians”:
Though de Blasio demagogued against the NYPD during the election campaign, his selection of Bratton shows that he understands that his mayoralty will be judged first and foremost on whether he maintains New York’s status as the safest big city in America …
Earlier this week, Suzy Khimm outlined a possible budget deal:
Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan, Congress’s budget leaders, are currently aiming for a deal that would undo somewhere between $60 and $80 billion of sequestration cuts over the next two years, according to Congressional aides and others familiar with the talks. Overall, the deal would raise 2014’s discretionary spending levels from $968 billion to $1 trillion, and Republicans are insisting on additional deficit reduction.
The basic outlines of the deal are still in flux, and those figures could change in the coming days. “The actual numbers are very fluid. I wouldn’t take them as certain by any means,” said one Republican aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Barro discounts such reports:
I can buy the idea that Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), who is leading negotiations for House Republicans, will reach a spending deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) I remain skeptical that such a deal can pass the House of Representatives with a majority of Republican votes, and without making outside conservative groups go insane, before the government shutdown deadline of Jan. 15.
Josh Green throws more cold water:
What appears to have happened here is that Republican leaders who’d like very much to do something positive gave a sunnier take to outlets such as Politico than was warranted, perhaps in an effort to build momentum toward a deal.
A reader writes:
Please take a moment to merge your miscarriage series with the religious corporations thread, because science: Plan B does not cause abortion because it does not prevent implantation. Plan B is progesterone. It does absolutely nothing if you have already ovulated and had the misfortune of having conceived the night before. In fact, as every woman who has had trouble staying pregnant knows, progesterone is what they prescribe, after a few miscarriages, to help a fertilized egg implant and “stick” in the uterus. So it actually HELPS pregnancies become more viable.
But if you already conceived, you are screwed; Plan B actually ups the chances that you will end up with a baby. Plan B only works if you had sex and have not yet ovulated, in which case the hormone surge will push your ovulation a couple weeks into the future, preventing you from releasing that egg down into the fallopian pool of waiting sperm. It in no way whatsoever interrupts an actual pregnancy after the moment of conception. It does not harm a single hair on a blastocyst’s one-celled head.
Indeed, an overwhelming number of studies in the past decade back up the reader’s point that Plan B does not prevent implantation. Last year the NYT did an extensive investigation that showed how all the ambiguity around the issue is traced to the FDA’s dubious labeling of Plan B back in 1999:
Labels inside every box of morning-after pills, drugs widely used to prevent pregnancy after sex, say they may work by blocking fertilized eggs from implanting in a woman’s uterus. Respected medical authorities, including the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic, have said the same thing on their Web sites. … But an examination by The New York Times has found that the federally approved labels and medical Web sites do not reflect what the science shows. Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.
It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion, a divisive issue in this election year, is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work.
The above video of Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens cracking a joke at the expense of sick people makes Kilgore, well, sick:
The robust laughs of Hudgen’s audience when he compared pre-existing condition coverage to an ex post facto request for auto insurance collision coverage after a motorist causes a wreck is about as disgusting as the stupid analogy itself.
Beutler comments on the video:
This might sound unusually callous, even for a Georgia Republican — or like typical reactionary anti-Obamacare horseshit taken just a bit too far. But it’s actually worse. It’s a symptom of how deep the rot of 47 percenter thinking has crept in the conservative movement.
About fifteen years after most gay men figured it out, Mark Joseph Stern stumbles onto the truth that, with HIV no longer a death sentence in developed countries, the era of simply scaring gay men away from unprotected sex is over. And, unlike so many well-meant public health campaigns, he is prepared to tell the obvious truth:
Bareback sex feels better for both partners. At some point, almost every gay man will learn this fact—so why lie about it?
Indeed. That one fact combined with one other – that middle-class gay men can suppress the virus indefinitely with the cocktail – has to be integrated into a sane, safer sex message. I’ve been banging on about this for years, of course, and there have been initiatives, in San Francisco particularly, where these insights have indeed been integrated into public health campaigns. And they’ve been among the most successful in restraining infection. But Stern goes one step further:
If we don’t give gay men the promise of the reward, a foreseeable end to the hassles of condoms, they’re bound to get frustrated and either slip up or give up. Giving men the goal of a committed relationship—and with it, the perk of unprotected sex—might convert barebacking from a forbidden fruit to a reward worth working toward.
Yes, and no. First off, can we retire the term “barebacking” and simply refer to it as sex without condoms, i.e. the activity formerly known as sex? Stigmatizing latex-free sex as “barebacking” may have had some logic in the plague years, but it can be psychologically toxic today. It renders the most intimate of sexual interactions a pathology, and that can’t be right.
Second, the prize of non-rubbered sex in a monogamous relationship is a little more fraught than Stern makes it out to be. It makes huge sense if both men are HIV-positive. In that case, there is no danger that sex outside the marriage – sometimes lied about, or hidden, or unspoken – can lead to indirect infection, because both men are infected already. But if both men are negative, it puts much more pressure on monogamy and on a marriage than might be wise. One slip and you’re not only betraying your partner, you could also be deeply damaging his health. Although it’s noble as an ideal, the standard here may be simply practically too high, certainly over a lifetime, for most men to achieve. And the consequences of failure can be terrible for a relationship.
I think we should leave it to married couples or committed lovers to figure their way through this – and avoid harshness and easy judgment. We’re all human and in sexual desire, more human and flawed than in most other areas. But, as a practical matter, you don’t have to restrict non-rubbered sex solely to monogamous married couples to have an impact on infection rates.
It’s moving in that direction:
On December 4th, the lower house of parliament voted [268 to 138] to make prostitution a crime for those who pay for sex, subject to a fine of €1,500 ($2,030) for a first offense and €3,750 thereafter. “I don’t want a society in which women have a price,” said Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the women’s minister. She wants nothing less than to “abolish” prostitution in France. With Germany having second thoughts about its decision over a decade ago to liberalize the world’s oldest profession, the French have decided to follow Sweden, Finland and Norway in restricting prostitution. Paying for sex is not now illegal, although brothels, soliciting and pimping are.
The bill must still pass the Senate and be signed by the president before it becomes law, a process that could take several months. Christopher Dickey calls the debate “ferociously ideological in ways that are very French indeed”:
While just about everyone denounces the trafficking of women and men treated as virtual slaves, much of the most passionate debate has focused on the cases of independent sex workers, a relatively small minority, and whether they have the right to use their bodies – and sell their services – as they see fit. The free-wheeling publication Causeur provoked sensational headlines when it issued a manifesto signed by hundreds of self-proclaimed “bastards” – all men – warning the government, “hands off my whore.” “We love liberty, literature and intimacy,” it claimed, “and when the state concerns itself with our asses, all three are in danger. … Against the ‘sexually correct,’ we intend to live like adults.”
But the most intense debate is not so much with or against macho posturing, it is among France’s feminists. The daily Le Monde discerned four or five distinct currents:
The part of Healthcare.gov that pays insurers won’t be built by January:
The administration is planning a “workaround” for payments, said Daniel Durham, vice president for policy and regulatory affairs at America’s Health Insurance Plans. Health plans will estimate how much they are owed, and submit that estimate to the government. Once the system is built, the government and insurers can reconcile the payments made with the plan data to “true up” payments, he said ”The intent is to make sure plans get paid on time, which is a good thing,” Durham told Reuters.
The fix puts an additional “burden” on insurance companies, already taxed by having to double-check faulty enrollment data from the HealthCare.gov system. Now, companies need to quickly put together financial management systems to make the payment estimates, so they can be paid beginning in January, he said. ”They have to recognize that plans are already quite stressed and introducing this at the last minute just adds substantial burden for plans to deal with,” Durham said.
Suderman takes the administration to task:
The core service that health insurers provide is paying for eligible claims by beneficiaries. But if insurers don’t get paid themselves, they can’t cut checks for those claims.
Massie pays tribute:
We lapse into cynicism all too easily and sometimes cynicism is an appropriate response to the daily degradations of ordinary politics. But there are other times – and this is one – in which cynicism is best put aside. If we can – and we do – recognise greatness in other fields of human endeavour we should be prepared to countenance the idea it can exist in politics too. Few may be admitted to the pantheon but the pantheon exists.
Nelson Mandela was a great man. The greatest man of my lifetime. No-one else these past forty years has had such an impact. There were many heroes who helped tear down the Berlin Wall but none of them as individuals played as decisive or transformational role as Mandela did in South Africa.
The words “Nelson Mandela is dead” feel strange in the mouth today, almost impossible to say, given the unique way he was both martyred and canonised during his lifetime. He embodies a paradox: on the one hand we love him for his humanity; on the other, he already passed long ago from the world of the flesh. He is a peak of moral authority, rising above the soulless wasteland of the 20th century; he is a universal symbol for goodness and wisdom, for the ability to change, and the power of reconciliation.
Gevisser considers how his halo affected South Africa:
Mandela’s perceived sanctity has had a powerful effect, not always positive, on the growth of the democracy he played so great a role in nurturing. Certainly, it has conferred on South Africa a moral heft that has enabled the country to punch significantly above its weight in the global arena, and it has accorded us South Africans an internal moral voice, even if we have not always heeded it: “What would Madiba do?”
But the Mandela legacy has also given South Africa a distorted sense of exceptionalism. We were, the world had us believe, the “world’s greatest fairy tale.” We were, our own beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu told us, “the rainbow children of God.” How could we ever live up to such hype? How could we be as good—as forgiving or as a noble—as Mandela? And how could we ever deliver to the expectations of a global community that used Mandela as its measure? With every massacre, every national strike, every corruption scandal, we were found wanting, not least by ourselves.
Richard Stengel compares the man Mandela was before prison to the one he was after:
David Kenner contends that the president’s foreign policy is best understood as a drive toward nonproliferation:
Obama’s non-proliferation agenda got off to a fast start in its first year, as the administration negotiated the New START treaty; held the Nuclear Security Summit, which included delegations from 47 countries across the world; and released a new Nuclear Posture Review, which called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy. In some of the global hotspots that concerned the United States, the focus on nuclear non-proliferation also took precedence over concerns about human rights or democracy promotion.
In Russia, Obama prioritized non-proliferation over concerns about Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on his domestic political opponents. “The nuclear issue is really important to his background,” Michael McFaul, the current U.S. ambassador to Moscow, told Mann for The Obamians. “He thinks you need a New START treaty, no matter whether the Russians are a democracy or an autocracy, because these are dangerous weapons and we’ve got to control them-and in a way, that’s a legacy from this 1980s era.” …
With the wind at the back of the president’s nuclear agenda, the stakes could extend far beyond Damascus or Tehran. The one notable exception to Obama’s non-proliferation agenda — so far – has been Israel, where this administration’s refusal to push for nuclear disarmament has led to charges of hypocrisy among both Arabs and Iranians.
Zachary Keck adds that it looks as though, despite some scary cases, nukes are not spreading very quickly:
[T]here has been an undeniable decline in the number of states interested in acquiring nuclear weapons.
Haley Bobseine documents their plight, which includes horrific threats from both sides of the civil war:
As the violence in Syria continues unabated, many have retreated into their ethnic and religious communities for protection. Unlike other minority groups — such as Christians, Kurds, and Alawites — sexual minorities, notably gay men, do not enjoy the protection of any political, ethnic, or religious institutions. For gay Syrians, nowhere is safe: Across the country, they have been the target of attack by pro-regime militants and armed Islamist militias alike — at times because of their sexual preference; at other times simply because they are perceived as weak and easy to extort in the midst of a chaotic war …
Emily Bazelon thinks American parents and educators could learn a thing or two from an outdoor school in Switzerland for children ages four to seven, profiled in the new documentary School’s Out: Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten:
It’s autumn. A few kids splash through a muddy creek. One boy falls down in the water, gets up, squawks, keeps going. A larger group sits and jumps in a makeshift-looking tent that consists of a tarp hung over a pole, with low walls made from stacked branches. A teacher tootles on a recorder. Later, the teacher describes the daily routine: Singing, story time, eating, and “then the children can play where they want in the forest.” … This is so intuitive to me, given my own kids’ need to move their bodies every other minute, that begging for more outside time is my main refrain at my 10-year-old’s school. I’m mystified by the Atlanta superintendent who said, in scrapping recess, “We are intent on improving academic performance. You don’t do that by having kids hanging on the monkey bars.” Actually, yes you do.
Rupert Neate talked to an educator in Germany, which has 1,500 such schools, about safety concerns:
A reader writes:
I have mixed feelings on the bankruptcy situation in Detroit. On the one hand, I don’t want retired public workers to be thrust into poverty because their pension vanished or was severely cut. On the other hand, it has always bothered me when some retiring public employees were able to game the system by working tons of overtime the last three years on the job to up the salary on which their pension was then based. I also feel for the current residents of Detroit who are currently paying the pensions for a pool of retired public works that is vastly disproportional to the current size of the city.
In the end, it will all depend on how humanely and rationally the cuts to the pensions are made. Go back and recalculate the pensions based on non-overtime and bonus pay. Figure out a minimum pension amount for everybody and then apply a percentage cut on pension amounts over the newly set minimum. I’d even say they should reduce the pension amounts less than other kinds of debt, but there will have to be some cuts, especially for those who are living well on the defaulting city’s dime.
A critic of the cuts points out:
Your post didn’t mention the big, glaring issue behind these pension cuts: