Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou hasn't exactly saved Europe, but could anyone have done much better?
Papandreou delivers a speech to the Panhellenic Socialist Movement parliamentary group in Athens / Reuters
This has not been Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou's best week. First he surprised a bunch of people -- including fellow European leaders who were bailing his country out -- by announcing a referendum on whether or not the help would be accepted. Then, in the resulting furor, came the next announcement: Just kidding! The referendum, which some feared could add that extra bit of instability that Europe doesn't need, has been cancelled.
If the first move made him look undiplomatic -- unmindful of the stakes, or the incredible risks that other countries were making on Greece's behalf -- the second move, especially because it was first announced by his finance minister, made him look weak. But his irritated allies are only part of the problem: Papandreou is now inches away from being ousted at home, facing a very tight confidence vote Friday evening. Reuters is reporting Papandreou saying privately, in a cabinet meeting, that he might stand down after building a coalition with the opposition. If he doesn't do that, his opponents might simply call for an election.
And yet, surveying the wreckage, one still wonders: did Papandreou do any worse than anyone else might have done in his position? Was he doomed from the start?
It's a familiar debate in politics and an even more familiar one among historians. Which counts for more: men or circumstances? Choices, or the framework that determines them? Papandreou came into power promising reform, and that's exactly what his government set about trying to enact. It was hardly their fault that, in the course of setting the books straight, they found that predecessors had lied for years about the government's finances.
It's hard to see how anyone could have gracefully navigated through the competing interests in Greece and Europe right now. Greek citizens are having none of the austerity measures Papandreou has imposed under pressure from Germany: aside from protests in the streets, there have been, for example, the trash collector strikes, leaving garbage in stinking piles all over Athens. Plenty of citizens seem to think the strings-attached bailouts from Europe are pointless, as Greece will have to default anyway. Meanwhile the European community wants more discipline still. And it needs Greece to take the money on the table: fears are rampant about a domino effect, Greece's troubles are increasing investors' fears about Italy, and so forth.
It's not quite that all of Papandreou's European peers want one thing while all of his constituents want another. Plenty of Papandreou's own party members, for example, were outraged by his referendum idea, feeling he risked Greek stability for a political trick. Reuters, at least, tracked down an ordinary shopkeeper with the same opinion.
As the BBC points out, despite anger over austerity measures, "A recent opinion poll in a newspaper showed 70% [of Greeks] wanted to remain within the eurozone."
But that, actually, was precisely Papandreou's point, many say, in calling for the referendum. One popular reading of the referendum gimmick is, as The Wall Street Journal's Terence Roth put it, that Papandreou's "solution" to opposition intransigence and public outcry was to "call the bluff." In other words, what he was really saying was something like: 'Okay, guys. You really want to sink this ship? Sink it. I dare you. And if you don't, shut up.'
It's too soon to tell for sure, but it looks like that may have backfired big time. Here's the quote from Antonis Samaras, leader of the opposing New Democracy party:
I am wondering: Mr. Papandreou almost destroyed Greece and Europe, the euro, the international stock markets, his own party in order to ensure what? So that he could blackmail me and the Greek public? Or to ensure what I had already said several days ago; that I accept the bailout agreement as unavoidable?
Not exactly an ideal sound bite to have on the airwaves.
So we'll see what happens with this confidence vote tonight. At least one expert -- Michael Thumann, writing out of Istanbul for German paper Die Zeit -- thinks Papandreou's finished regardless of the outcome. He calls this week's 180-degree turns "suicidal."
Perhaps that's true. If so, the real verdict won't come tonight, but a few decades down the line, and even then there will be a degree of provisionality. With a little more context, will historians decide the decisive factor was the hand Papandreou was dealt, or the way he played it? After all, people do stupid, suicidal things with bad hands all the time, and it looks a lot like boldness and brilliance if it works. But in politics as in poker, people tend to care less about strategy than outcome.
All the nominee had to do at the first debate was appear polite and reasonable for 90 minutes. He failed.
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.—Before this week’s first presidential debate, it was common for Donald Trump’s television surrogates to predict it would echo the sole 1980 encounter between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
It turned out, to borrow from another famous debate moment, Donald Trump was no Ronald Reagan.
On the surface, the analogy appeared reasonable. Like Hillary Clinton today, Carter in 1980 bet most of his chips on personally disqualifying Reagan. Carter painted his opponent as unqualified, ill-informed, extreme, and dangerous—an aging entertainer who might trigger a nuclear war through ignorance and belligerence.
For months, enough voters feared Carter might be right to keep him close in the polls, despite enormous dissatisfaction with his job performance. But when Reagan in the debate presented himself as composed, reasonable, and genial (swatting away even accurate Carter recitations of his most outrageous earlier statements with a jaunty “There you go again”) the doubts softened, Carter’s support crumbled, and the Gipper rolled to a landslide.
After Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, he was asked on Fox News about his views on NATO and other American alliances. He gave his familiar “they’re freeloaders” answer:
The fact is we are protecting so many countries that are not paying for the protection. When a country isn’t paying us and these are countries in some cases in most cases that have the ability to pay, and they are not paying because nobody is asking….
We’re protecting all of these countries. They have an agreement to reimburse us and pay us and they are not doing it and if they are not going to do that. We have to seriously rethink at least those countries. It’s very unfair.
A new study looks at rates of lethal violence across a thousand species to better understand the evolutionary origins of humanity’s own inhumanity.
Which mammal is most likely to be murdered by its own kind? It’s certainly not humans—not even close. Nor is it a top predator like the grey wolf or lion, although those at least are #11 and #9 in the league table of murdery mammals. No, according to a study led by José María Gómez from the University of Granada, the top spot goes to… the meerkat. These endearing black-masked creatures might be famous for their cooperative ways, but they kill each other at a rate that makes man’s inhumanity to man look meek. Almost one in five meerkats, mostly youngsters, lose their lives at the paws and jaws of their peers.
Gómez’s study is the first thorough survey of violence in the mammal world, collating data on more than a thousand species. It clearly shows that we humans are not alone in our capacity to kill each other. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, have been known to wage brutal war, but even apparently peaceful creatures take each other’s lives. When ranked according to their rates of lethal violence, ground squirrels, wild horses, gazelle, and deer all feature in the top 50. So do long-tailed chinchillas, which kill each other more frequently than tigers and bears do.
It’s true that heads of state are particularly flawed these days. But some deserve a little credit.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson managed to make foreign-policy watching eyes roll—again—this week after he failed to name even a single world leader he admired. (Johnson said he was having an “Aleppo moment,” but in deference to the long-suffering Syrian people, let’s agree to call it a “Gary moment.”) In truth, it’s not that easy to pick a universally respected leader these days. The world's current crop of presidents and prime ministers are a particularly flawed bunch. Here, in semi-defense of the indefensible, are five who deserve a little credit.
5. Angela Merkel. Sure, the German chancellor may have driven Greece to the economic brink to make a political point, but she stood up for refugees when it counted. Her decision to declare Germany open to those fleeing the otherwise ignored horrors of the Syrian civil war continues to hurt her party's chances in Germany's upcoming elections next year. (Though it did earn her the approval of Johnson’s running mate, William Weld, who declared her his favorite world leader.) And yet she is sticking to her guns, refusing to back down to internal pressure. Her tenure will be assessed on more than refugees, but on this issue, she has been the definition of political courage.
CHICAGO—It was Nordstrom’s anniversary sale, and Marnie couldn’t help herself. She ran to the shoe display, and, with a swooping bear hug, grabbed up an entire row of gemstone-hued Nikes.
Marnie is a self-identified hoarder, and she was here as part of an intervention of sorts. As she compulsively shopped, looking on were a group of other hoarders and psychologists.
Within seconds, Marnie had laced up a navy-blue pair of sneakers. A sales clerk wandered over. “Can I help you?” she asked, suspiciously.
The shopping expedition took place during the annual conference of the International OCD Foundation this July. Hoarding is one of the many manifestations of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a mental illness that forces its sufferers to perform specific rituals or think disturbing thoughts repeatedly. In the case of hoarding, it’s the uncontrollable desire to acquire and keep things.
In a unique, home-spun experiment, researchers found that centripetal force could help people pass kidney stones—before they become a serious health-care cost.
East Lansing, Michigan, becomes a ghost town during spring break. Families head south, often to the theme parks in Orlando. A week later, the Midwesterners return sunburned and bereft of disposable income, and, urological surgeon David Wartinger noticed, some also come home with fewer kidney stones.
Wartinger is a professor emeritus at Michigan State, where he has dealt for decades with the scourge of kidney stones, which affect around one in 10 people at some point in life. Most are small, and they pass through us without issue. But many linger in our kidneys and grow, sending hundreds of thousands of people to emergency rooms and costing around $3.8 billion every year in treatment and extraction. The pain of passing a larger stone is often compared to child birth.
It looked likelier than ever at this week’s “Super Bowl of climate law.”
WASHINGTON—There’s a commonplace when writing about climate change, a juxtaposition so familiar it almost deserves a name. It resembles CSPAN, but directed by Michael Bay. First, a speaker points to the prospect of 21st century ecological collapse: sloshing waves, ravenous forest fires, fathers weeping as their crops succumb to a drought.
Then, the camera reveals the rooms where people make climate-change policies today. They are wood-paneled, document-strewn, and full of briefcases. Compared to the Hollywood blockbuster that preceded them, they seem boring. They are boring. But then the punchline: In this room—this bureaucratic, tedious room—the fate of the whole planet is decided.
For decades, the candidate has willfully inflicted pain and humiliation.
Donald J. Trump has a cruel streak. He willfully causes pain and distress to others. And he repeats this public behavior so frequently that it’s fair to call it a character trait. Any single example would be off-putting but forgivable. Being shown many examples across many years should make any decent person recoil in disgust.
Judge for yourself if these examples qualify.
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In national politics, harsh attacks are to be expected. I certainly don’t fault Trump for calling Hillary Clinton dishonest, or wrongheaded, or possessed of bad judgment, even if it’s a jarring departure from the glowing compliments that he used to pay her.
But even in a realm where the harshest critiques are part of the civic process, Trump crossed a line this week when he declared his intention to invite Gennifer Flowers to today’s presidential debate. What kind of man invites a husband’s former mistress to an event to taunt his wife? Trump managed to launch an attack that couldn’t be less relevant to his opponent’s qualifications or more personally cruel. His campaign and his running-mate later said that it was all a big joke. No matter. Whether in earnest or in jest, Trump showed his tendency to humiliate others.
Sentiment-analysis software can help companies figure out what’s bothering workers—or what they’re excited about.
Every day, humans type out more than 200 billion emails, hundreds of millions of tweets, and innumerable texts, chats, and private messages. No one person could pick through even a tiny sliver of this information and stitch together themes and trends—but computers are starting to be able to. For more than a decade, researchers have been developing computer programs that can ingest enormous amounts of writing to try and understand the emotions stirred up by an idea or a product.
The field—known as sentiment analysis—got its start in market research. As online reviews started to gather steam in the mid-2000s, companies who wanted to understand how their products—or their competitors’ offerings—were being received began to use algorithms to aggregate reviews, says Bing Liu, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who has written extensively about the history of sentiment analysis. The algorithmic approach could reveal broader insights than a focus groups or surveys, the thinking went.