The British royal family is an expensive anachronism and little more.
Queen Elizabeth visits the Dersingham Infant and Nursery School in Dersingham on the 60th anniversary of her rule / Reuters
Today is the sixtieth anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to
the British throne, which occurred upon her father's death in 1952.
Happy anniversary -- or Diamond Jubilee, as it is known -- Your Majesty.
Now: what exactly are you still doing there, anyway?
and the royals' tourist appeal aside, there's something a bit jarring
both to logic and to liberal democratic sensibilities about what the
queen stands for. After all, British "citizens" are still at least
nominally, and arguably legally, considered "subjects." The United
Kingdom's Home Office and the passports it issues reflect the
country's switch in 1949 from the language of subjecthood to
citizenship, and thus make a distinction between "citizens of the United
Kingdom" and "British subjects." That's not a particularly pretty
distinction, since the latter is mostly a leftover of the country's
But as plenty of experts have pointed out, there is no piece of paper that
officially designates Brits as "citizens."
And if a magazine-length article
can be written under the headline "Are we subjects or citizens?" as the BBC did in 2005, whatever scraps of citizenship clinging to Britons can't be all that substantial.
The financial side of the British monarchy is no less quirky. Governing for payment is standard, but the queen reigns, which appears mostly to mean visiting things. Strange as this looks from a practical standpoint, it's even stranger in theory. In 2012, why would the people of a Western state pay someone to subjugate them? That Britain is Western matters here not so much because of values but because of history. The British state was arguably the first in the region to be organized along the principles of an explicit social contract; it's the heir to the English Magna Carta in 1215 as well as the Glorious Revolution, where, for the first time, monarchs -- King William and Queen Mary -- were brought in to accept a crown on the subjects' own terms. Yet, in a twist that continues to fascinate historians, William and Mary paved the way for remarkably conservative stability in the ensuing centuries. France, as the trope goes, had a political revolution, Britain had an industrial one. And here the two countries are today, France heading into the final stretch of a presidential election, while a not insignificant portion of the British economy gets poured into preparations for a June-weekend Diamond Jubilee of a figurehead queen, who Britons never explicitly agreed to support.
Though the March 2011 financial report on royal finances proudly announced a 19% decrease in the Queen's official expenditure over the course of five years, is this really much solace? Her family will still spend £32.1 million, quite a lot of money. Remarkably, UK education secretary Michael Gove reportedly also wanted the public to donate a £60 million royal yacht to Her Majesty for the 2012 celebrations, although the details of that proposal are disputed, and private donations were mentioned as well.
Downing Street nixed the public funding idea, fortunately. Prime Minister David Cameron did declare early Monday, though, that "Today is a day to pay tribute to the magnificent service of Her Majesty the Queen." Her "experience, dignity, and quiet authority," he also mentioned are indisputable, but "pay tribute" seems a bit too atavistically close to home for comfort, and Brits don't have as much tribute to give up as they used to. And "magnificent service"? No one doubts the queen keeps a pretty punishing schedule of standing in formal ceremonies and visiting schools for a lady her age -- but there are a few palaces and a lifetime source of income in the deal.
The royal wedding is over. Kate's and Pippa's dresses were fantastic, and the hats were fun. No argument there. As a privately funded theme park, the royals have real potential. The monarchy, so the crown defenders' argument goes, does indeed bring in cash for the country through tourism and from the Crown Estate. But the current set-up is bizarre, and the frenzied yearning for a U.S. equivalent among so many of my American countrymen and women last spring was puzzling. In the cold, clear light of this less glamorous royal event, the monarchy looks like exactly what it is: a major anachronism. Nothing more.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
As the world frets over Greece, a separate crisis looms in China.
This summer has not been calm for the global economy. In Europe, a Greek referendum this Sunday may determine whether the country will remain in the eurozone. In North America, meanwhile, the governor of Puerto Rico claimed last week that the island would be unable to pay off its debts, raising unsettling questions about the health of American municipal bonds.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks. Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent. The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
The Fourth of July—a time we Americans set aside to celebrate our independence and mark the war we waged to achieve it, along with the battles that followed. There was the War of 1812, the War of 1833, the First Ohio-Virginia War, the Three States' War, the First Black Insurrection, the Great War, the Second Black Insurrection, the Atlantic War, the Florida Intervention.
Confused? These are actually conflicts invented for the novel The Disunited States of Americaby Harry Turtledove, a prolific (and sometimes-pseudonymous) author of alternate histories with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. The book is set in the 2090s in an alternate United States that is far from united. In fact, the states, having failed to ratify a constitution following the American Revolution, are separate countries that oscillate between cooperating and warring with one another, as in Europe.
The executive producer of Masterpiece says Jane Austen works a lot better on screen than Hemingway does.
For 44 years, PBS’s Masterpiece franchise has brought high-end Britain TV programs to American audiences. While the ultra-successful Downton Abbey comes from an original screenplay, many of Masterpiece’s shows over the years have been adapted from great works of literature. And the vast majority of those great works of literature, unsurprisingly, have been British.
But every so often, an American novel—like James Agee’s A Death in the Family or Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark—has been turned into a Masterpiece. On Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Rebecca Eaton, the longtime executive producer of Masterpiece, said she wished that the program had tackled more U.S. authors over the years. “The reasons that we haven't are twofold,” she said. “One is money, the second is money. And the third is money. Also, the dark nature of American literature, which is something to think about for a moment."
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
Brian Grazer has some rules for success. He hasn’t always followed them.
There’s no secret formula to making a hit, according to Brian Grazer, the producer of film and TV successes like 24, Splash, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Empire, and Friday Night Lights. But there are some guidelines. “In television I don't ever want to try and reinvent the wheel,” he said on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday. “But changing the spokes within the wheel is a good thing.”
Take Jack Bauer, the terrorist-fighting hero of 24. “He does thing that are very wish-fulfillment oriented,” Grazer said. “That makes people very excited, because wish fulfillment almost always works. You have to root for the character, and rooting for the character is rooting for what they want. It's easier to root for what somebody wants if what they want is noble.”