European leaders will spend $172 billion to delay Greece's collapse, but it's hard to get excited when "success" looks like failure, a feeling that may be familiar to American warplanners.
A man walks next to a kiosk selling Greek flags in Athens / Reuters
At long last European leaders have agreed to a second bailout for Greece. Don't expect any celebrations, though. The $172 billion agreement, reached in the early hours of Tuesday morning, will reduce Greek debt to around 120.5 percent of the country's GDP by 2020. The modesty of that target -- which might still prove unreachable -- should tell you a lot about how this deal has progressed. In the negotiations, Greece's massive structural problems have become even more obvious, and the enduring message from the process is that (a) this bailout is unlikely to be enough to save Greece and (b) now not just the policymakers, but the people they serve, know it's probably doomed.
This dreary consensus has been building for weeks. The way that French and German media talk about Greece's crisis can feel an awful lot like the U.S. media coverage on the war in Afghanistan, and for a similar reason: resolution is so far off that it's not even clear what "success" would look like. In Greece as in Afghanistan, there are profound negative consequences associated with both action and inaction. It's not clear that a good solution exists, but everyone feels compelled to muddle on anyway. There's a suspicion that, at best, all our planning will only delay the inevitable to a more convenient time: don't let Afghanistan collapse until the Taliban are a bit weaker, don't let Greece collapse until the rest of Europe is in recovery and able to absorb it. Even if that's a chance worth taking, it's not one that American troops or European taxpayers are going to be especially excited about.
On Monday night, the Financial Timesobtained a copy of a confidential ten-page debt sustainability analysis prepared for eurozone finance ministers. "It warned," related the FT's Peter Spiegel from Brussels, "that two of the new bail-out's main principles might be self-defeating. Forcing austerity on Greece could cause debt levels to rise by severely weakening the economy while its €200bn debt restructuring could prevent Greece from ever returning to the financial markets by scaring off future private investors." And none of this is coming cheaply for the other residents of Europe. Though huge segments of the bailout burden are being borne by private companies, continental taxpayers will also be taking a hit indirectly through the public sector funds going to Greece.
Even before this report became public, the conversations being aired in the media in crucial eurozone countries such as France and Germany were deeply pessimistic. "The price for saving Greece is too high," declared a headline in Germany's Die Welt on Sunday. The article, by Florian Eder, emphasized that Greece is nearly impossible to fix, and in attempting to do so Europe is likely only to destroy the union. "There's a feeling that the euro crisis has just entered a new phase," wrote Clemens Wergin in his blog for the same paper last Thursday. "For over two years," he explained, "politicians in Europe have tried to hold the shop together," working to keep nationalistic self-interest at bay, to sacrifice for the greater European good. "Now this arrangement has reached its limits."
Europe's mood has not gotten much better with this deal. Eder has a new piece out declaring that "the billions Greece is getting would be better spent [...] on an exit from the euro." Those setting themselves up as Greece's defenders appear to be somewhere between resigned and desperate. "Give Greece a chance!" cries the headline over another opinion piece in German Die Zeit. "Greeks want to keep the euro," the author argues, and Greece "is willing to give up substantial sovereignty rights" to do it. The last sentence offers a clue, though, as to the extent European unity now appears to be a hypothetical rather than categorical imperative. The message seems to be, "We should support the Greeks--as long as they want it."
But perhaps most revealing is a long plea signed by a large "group of European artists and intellectuals" in today's Libération, a French paper. "The goal cannot be the 'saving' of Greece: on this point, all the economists worthy of this name are agreed," they write. "It's about buying time to save the creditors while leading the country to a deferred bankruptcy." The group argues against race-tinged arguments blaming Greeks for their own situation, and desperately urges for Europe to keep the Greek perspective in mind.
What we're witnessing right now in the European media is an attitude of defeatism. It's exactly the kind of reaction, in fact, that greets newly announced plans for Afghanistan in the U.S., where it's public knowledge that the jig is up, and that we're only sticking it out until we can leave with slightly less of a disaster. If cutting Greece loose is indeed European policymakers' plan -- to use the bailout to buy time, betting on Greece's exit being less painful in a few years than it would be now -- then there's an obvious takeaway from the Afghanistan analogy. Though the current path may be the only sane one, don't expect the voters to thank you for taking it.
Altruism, even when indirectly serves one's own interests as with Europe's bailout here, is a game of patience, and voters' patience tends to wear thin pretty quickly. The numbers that decide Greece's fate may not, in the end, be the ones pushed out by financial analysts. If Greece is to be abandoned on the rocks, the pollsters may be the first to know.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
In 12 of 16 past cases in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power, the result has been bloodshed.
When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.
And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.
Life in Ohio's proud but economically abandoned small towns
Just over a decade ago, Matt Eich started photographing rural Ohio. Largely inhabited by what is now known as the “Forgotten Class” of white, blue-collar workers, Eich found himself drawn to the proud but economically abandoned small towns of Appalachia. Thanks to grants from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and Getty Images, Eich was able to capture the family life, drug abuse, poverty, and listlessness of these communities. “Long before Trump was a player on the political scene, long before he was a Republican, these people existed and these problems existed,” Eich said. His new book, Carry Me Ohio, published by Sturm and Drang, is a collection of these images and the first of four books he plans to publish as part of The Invisible Yoke, a photographic meditation on the American condition. Even with a deep knowledge of the region, Eich was unprepared for the fury and energy that surrounded the election this year. “The anger is overpowering,” he said. “I knew what was going on, and I’m still surprised. I should have listened to the pictures.”
Universities themselves may be contributing to burnout.
With half of all doctoral students leaving graduate school without finishing, something significant and overwhelming must be happening for at least some of them during the process of obtaining that degree. Mental illness is often offered as the standard rationale to explain why some graduate students burn out. Some research has suggested a link between intelligence and conditions such as bipolar disorder, leading some observers to believe many graduate students struggle with mental-health problems that predispose them to burning out.
But such research is debatable, and surely not every student who drops out has a history of mental illness. So, what compels students to abandon their path to a Ph.D.? Could there be other underlying factors, perhaps environmental, that can cause an otherwise-mentally-healthy graduate student to become anxious, depressed, suicidal, or, in rare cases, violent?
President-elect Donald Trump has committed a sharp breach of protocol—one that underscores just how weird some important protocols are.
Updated on December 2 at 7:49 p.m.
It’s hardly remembered now, having been overshadowed a few months later on September 11, but the George W. Bush administration’s first foreign-policy crisis came in the South China Sea. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet near Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese jet was killed, and the American plane was forced to land and its crew was held hostage for 11 days, until a diplomatic agreement was worked out. Sino-American relations remained tense for some time.
Unlike Bush, Donald Trump didn’t need to wait to be inaugurated to set off a crisis in the relationship. He managed that on Friday, with a phone call to the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. It’s a sharp breach with protocol, but it’s also just the sort that underscores how weird and incomprehensible some important protocols are.
Comedy-drama series like Fleabag and Transparent show how vulnerability is as important as unlikeability and strength when it comes to portraying fictional women.
In the first episode of the HBO series Enlightened, the show’s heroine, Amy Jellicoe, learns that she’s been fired. She does not take the news well. Within minutes, she goes from pitiable victim, sobbing abjectly in a bathroom stall, to mascara-streaked fury. “Go back to your sad, fucking, little desk,” she sneers at her assistant before tracking her ex-lover and presumed betrayer to the office lobby. “I will destroy you—I will bury you—I will kill you, motherfucker!” she screams at him through the elevator doors that she somehow, in a feat of desperation, manages to pry open.
Though the scene aired five years ago, it’s still a pretty radical few minutes of television, and not just because of the ferocity of Laura Dern’s performance. What feels most striking is the series’ willingness to dramatize an extended scene of female distressfor something other than a moralizing end. In this sense, Enlightened anticipates the Amazon series, Fleabag, which evinces a similar empathy toward a female character in the grip of powerfully negative emotions: anger, sadness, grief, self-doubt, shame. It’s probably no accident the two shows have almost identical promotional stills—close-ups of their protagonist’s makeup-smudged faces, staring directly to camera. Like a number of other female-centric, female-created tragicomedies to have emerged on TV in recent years—Transparent, Girls, Catastrophe, Insecure—the series also share a commitment to more compassionate portrayals of dysfunctional heroines, by suspending judgment even (or especially) when they’re at their worst.
Switching pastas and breads is a small decision that could save lives.
Multigrain is a genius approach to selling both white bread and righteousness. The term crept under the umbrella of health quietly. It wasn’t clear why, exactly. (The grain part? Or the multi?) At least it wasn’t white bread, right?
As many eaters of bread came to understand that white bread is a nutritional equivalent of Pixy Stix—the nutritious, fibrous shell of the wheat having been removed, leaving us with only the inner starch, which our bodies almost instantly turn into sugar—it needed some rebranding.
Multigrain is now often used to imply wholesomeness, a virtue to which it often has no claim. Containing the flour of multiple grains does not mean containing whole grains. When millers leave the grain intact before milling, this is whole grain flour. It contains fiber, appeasing the pancreas and microbes that demand it for optimal performance. So, the term to look for is 100 percent whole wheat. (Or wholegrain, though the grain is usually wheat.)
It’s not because they’re inherently harsher leaders than men, but because they often respond to sexism by trying to distance themselves from other women.
There are two dominant cultural ideas about the role women play in helping other women advance at work, and they are seemingly at odds: the Righteous Woman and the Queen Bee.
The Righteous Woman is an ideal, a belief that women have a distinct moral obligation to have one another’s backs. This kind of sentiment is best typified by Madeleine Albright’s now famous quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” The basic idea is that since all women experience sexism, they should be more attuned to the gendered barriers that other women face. In turn, this heightened awareness should lead women to foster alliances and actively support one another. If women don’t help each other, this is an even worse form of betrayal than those committed by men. And hence, the special place in hell reserved for those women.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
A century ago, millions of Americans banded together in defense of white, Christian America and traditional morality—and most of their compatriots turned a blind eye to the Ku Klux Klan.
On August 8, 1925, more than 50,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan paraded through Washington, D.C. Some walked in lines as wide as 20 abreast, while others created formations of the letter K or a Christian cross. A few rode on horseback. Many held American flags. Men and women alike, the marchers carried banners emblazoned with the names of their home states or local chapters, and their procession lasted for more than three hours down a Pennsylvania Avenue lined with spectators. National leaders of the organization were resplendent in colorful satin robes and the rank and file wore white, their regalia adorned with a circular red patch containing a cross with a drop of blood at its center.
Nearly all of the marchers wore pointed hoods, but their faces were clearly visible. In part, that was because officials would sanction the parade only if participants agreed to walk unmasked. But a mask was not really necessary, as most members of the Klan saw little reason to hide their faces. After all, there were millions of them in the United States.