To understand the Scottish secession movement, just look at the problems in the European Union
A busker plays bagpipes for tourists near the Houses of Parliament in London / Reuters
Who knew the first secession story of 2012 was going to be Scotland, not Greece? Last year was filled with stories of the European Union on the rocks -- critics proposed everything from troubled states leaving the euro to Germany forming its own newer, better union. This year, though, has opened with split-up talk within an individual member-state: the United Kingdom.
Talk of Scottish independence has been around for centuries, but it's heated up dramatically in the past few months. Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond recently declared his intention to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in the fall of 2014. British Prime Minister David Cameron says this is unlawful without UK parliament's approval, and he'd like to force a Scottish referendum to be held earlier, as he says the uncertainty over the outcome is hurting the economy. At rock bottom, however, both he and even British opposition leader Ed Miliband are opposed to Scotland leaving the UK.
At first blush this situation seems strikingly different from the current crisis of federalism in the EU. Scotland and England have been unified, if contentiously, not since the 1990s but since the 16th century, and the union didn't emerge from potential economic benefit, but rather from dynastic and religious strategizing; out of the oft-dramatised rivalry between the Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots came rule of both kingdoms by a single monarch, James VI -- Mary's son but, like Elizabeth, a Protestant. This paved the way for the Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707, which formally united the kingdoms.
But the UK and EU unity crises may not actually be as different as they first appear. In fact, just as the EU federalist structure was coming together in the 1990s, the Scotland-UK relationship was trending slightly towards federalism as well. In 1997, a referendum passed that led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament. The devolution of power in some ways brought the UK and EU cases closer together in terms of governmental division, and the complicating nature of the new Scottish setup wasn't lost on critics, who feared this would lead Scotland irreversibly towards independence.
The question, of course, is "why now?" It's here that the movements towards disunity really start to look similar. Sure, there are plenty of arguments in favor of Scottish independence -- aside from the whole national identity thing, Scotland still produces a decent quality of coal, and there's a lot of optimism about the country's potential in green energy, particularly marine energy. Alex Salmond mentioned this in his pro-independence piece in the Economist back in November, also noting that "the UK is saddled with a large deficit, so size clearly offers no protection or immunity from the vagaries of the global economy. Instead," he wrote, "the countries which appear best equipped to deal with such conditions are those that are nimble and fleet-footed enough to adapt quickly to change."
There are also plenty of arguments both on the English as well as the Scottish side for a continued association: Scotland's a mess in other ways, it would have more international clout as a member of the UK, it's not actually clear how the energy resources would be divided up or that Scotland would be all that financially successful on its own, and nothing seems to be going horribly wrong with the union, so if it ain't broke, why fix it? Below, to get a sense of what secession looks like, demographically, Scotland's piece of the UK population. As you can see, it's not much:
It's hard not to see the present thrust towards independence, though, as part of a general nationalist mood in Europe right now. Salmond's point about smaller countries being better-equipped to deal with the present economy echoes the current European Union debate. As Scottish journalist and commentator Alex Massie argued persuasively in The Telegraph, Scots don't favor independence because they "are now more different from the English than they used to be." Rather, "it is precisely because of the greater uniformity that so many Scots feel the need to assert that we are distinct and different." He, too, ties this to broader trends. "After all," Massie writes, "isn't it because national distinctions are everywhere being elided or blurred that many elsewhere too feel a similar need to assert their own individuality? Opposition to the European Union has grown in England even as English life becomes more like life as it is lived in Continental Europe."
It's more than just emotional, though: nationalism surges as economies stagnate. And this comes back to Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman's theory, which I've mentioned before in connection with EU fractures. Intra-group cooperation appears to be linked, historically, to economic expansion, and it breaks down when growth slows. This has previously resulted in anti-immigrant rhetoric and ethnic-based hate speech, but it doesn't have to appear this way. You can see the change economically in the form of trade barriers, or politically in the form of identity-based movements like the Tea Party or a resurgence in popular support for Scottish independence.
Whether on the Continent or in the United Kingdom, "smaller is better" appears to be the new slogan. It wouldn't hurt, if you're interested in either of the Scottish independence or the European unity debates, to keep an eye on the other. The background may be different in each case, but histories have a way of converging. And with the present political and cultural integration, who's to say how mood may translate across state lines.
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Tucker Carlson’s latest reinvention is guided by a simple principle—a staunch aversion to whatever his right-minded neighbors believe.
Tucker Carlson is selling me hard on the swamp. It is an unseasonably warm afternoon in late January, and we are seated at a corner table in Monocle, an upscale Capitol Hill eatery frequented by the Fox News star. (Carlson, who typically skips breakfast and spends dinnertime on the air, is a fan of the long, luxurious, multi-course lunch, and when I requested an interview he proposed we do it here.) As we scan the menus, I mention that I’ll be moving soon to the Washington area, and he promptly launches into an enthusiastic recitation of the district’s many virtues and amenities.
“I’m so pathetically eager for people to love D.C.,” he admits. “It’s so sad. It’s like I work for the chamber of commerce or something.”
Plagues, revolutions, massive wars, collapsed states—these are what reliably reduce economic disparities.
Calls to make America great again hark back to a time when income inequality receded even as the economy boomed and the middle class expanded. Yet it is all too easy to forget just how deeply this newfound equality was rooted in the cataclysm of the world wars.
The pressures of total war became a uniquely powerful catalyst of equalizing reform, spurring unionization, extensions of voting rights, and the creation of the welfare state. During and after wartime, aggressive government intervention in the private sector and disruptions to capital holdings wiped out upper-class wealth and funneled resources to workers; even in countries that escaped physical devastation and crippling inflation, marginal tax rates surged upward. Concentrated for the most part between 1914 and 1945, this “Great Compression” (as economists call it) of inequality took several more decades to fully run its course across the developed world until the 1970s and 1980s, when it stalled and began to go into reverse.
Polymath computer scientist David Gelernter’s wide-ranging ideas about American life.
Last month, David Gelernter, the pioneering Yale University computer scientist, met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of joining the White House staff. An article about the meeting in the Washington Post was headlined, “David Gelernter, fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist, is being eyed for Trump’s science adviser.”
It is hard to imagine a more misleading treatment.
By one common definition, anti-intellectualism is “hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science, as impractical and contemptible.”
Here is the exchange that I had with Gelernter when I reached out to ask if he would be interested in discussing the substance of his views on science, politics and culture.
High-school textbooks too often gloss over the American government’s oppression of racial minorities.
Earlier this month, McGraw Hill found itself at the center of some rather embarrassing press after a photo showing a page from one of its high-school world-geography textbooks was disseminated on social media. The page features a seemingly innocuous polychromatic map of the United States, broken up into thousands of counties, as part of a lesson on the country’s immigration patterns: Different colors correspond with various ancestral groups, and the color assigned to each county indicates its largest ethnic representation. The page is scarce on words aside from an introductory summary and three text bubbles explaining specific trends—for example, that Mexico accounts for the largest share of U.S. immigrants today.
A $100 million gangster epic starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci has become too risky a proposition for major studios.
Martin Scorsese’s next project, The Irishman, is as close as you can get to a box-office guarantee for the famed director. It’s a gangster film based on a best-selling book about a mob hitman who claimed to have a part in the legendary disappearance of the union boss Jimmy Hoffa. Robert De Niro is attached to play the hitman, Al Pacino will star as Hoffa, and Scorsese favorites Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel are also on board. After Scorsese branched into more esoteric territory this year with Silence, a meditative exploration of faith and Catholicism, The Irishman sounds like a highly bankable project—the kind studios love. And yet, the film is going to Netflix, which will bankroll its $100 million budget and distribute it around the world on the company’s streaming service.
“The question confronting us as a nation is as consequential as any we have faced since the late 1940s,” a group of Republican and Democratic experts write.
Ben Rhodes, one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, once dismissed the American foreign-policy establishment—those ex-government officials and think-tank scholars and journalists in Washington, D.C. who advocate for a particular vision of assertive U.S. leadership in the world—as the “Blob.” Donald Trump had harsher words. As a presidential candidate, he vowed never to take advice on international affairs from “those who have perfect resumes but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.” Both men pointed to one of the Beltway establishment’s more glaring errors: support for the war in Iraq.
Now the Blob is fighting back. The “establishment” has been unfairly “kicked around,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former official in the Reagan administration. As World War II gave way to the Cold War, President Harry Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, “invented a foreign policy and sold it successfully to the American people. That’s what containment was and that’s what the Truman Doctrine was. … That was the foreign-policy establishment.” During that period, the U.S. government also helped create a system for restoring order to a world riven by war and economic crisis. That system, which evolved over the course of the Cold War and post-Cold War period, includes an open international economy; U.S. military and diplomatic alliances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East; and liberal rules and institutions (human rights, the United Nations, and so on).
In late 2015, in the Chilean desert, astronomers pointed a telescope at a faint, nearby star known as ared dwarf. Amid the star’s dim infrared glow, they spotted periodic dips, a telltale sign that something was passing in front of it, blocking its light every so often. Last summer, the astronomers concluded the mysterious dimming came from three Earth-sized planets—and that they were orbiting in the star’s temperate zone, where temperatures are not too hot, and not too cold, but just right for liquid water, and maybe even life.
This was an important find. Scientists for years had focused on stars like our sun in their search for potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. Red dwarfs, smaller and cooler than the sun, were thought to create inhospitable conditions. They’re also harder to see, detectable by infrared rather than visible light. But the astronomers aimed hundreds of hours worth of observations at this dwarf, known as TRAPPIST-1 anyway, using ground-based telescopes around the world and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
Some Republicans want fewer immigrants of any stripe.
With so many other confrontations over immigration already raging, it was easy to overlook that new skirmish that Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia started last week.
Just weeks into office, President Trump is embroiled in legal and political struggles over his contested travel ban on seven Muslim-majority nations and the expanded criteria for deporting undocumented migrants his administration finalized this week. Cotton and Perdue opened a new front in these escalating immigration wars by proposing legislation that would cut in half the number of legal immigrants and refugees allowed into the U.S. from today’s combined level of about 1.1 million annually. Echoing Trump, Cotton insisted that high immigration levels undermined wages for working-class Americans and threatened to leave them as “a near permanent underclass.”
You can tell a lot about a person from how they react to something.
That’s why Facebook’s various “Like” buttons are so powerful. Clicking a reaction icon isn’t just a way to register an emotional response, it’s also a way for Facebook to refine its sense of who you are. So when you “Love” a photo of a friend’s baby, and click “Angry” on an article about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl, you’re training Facebook to see you a certain way: You are a person who seems to love babies and hate Tom Brady.
The more you click, the more sophisticated Facebook’s idea of who you are becomes. (Remember: Although the reaction choices seem limited now—Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, or Angry—up until around this time last year, there was only a “Like” button.)