Francois Hollande, who won the French presidential election this weekend, is part of a broader European movement against the EU and austerity.
Then-candidate Francois Hollande at an April event for his French presidential campaign. / Reuters
On Sunday, French voters struck back at President Nicolas Sarkozy's "anglo-saxonisme" policies of British-style austerity and free-market economics by electing socialist François Hollande to replace him. Ironically, in doing so, they are following a similar political path as those Anglo-Saxons across the English Channel. Hollande's win is also part of a larger European revival of left-wing politics, a reaction against the European Union's struggles.
As the French Socialist Party has gained ground against Nicolas Sarkozy's more conservative UMP, the Labour Party in Britain may be pulling ahead of the Conservative Party, which currently leads the UK's coalition government. What's more, in a set of polls from mid-April, Labour took its largest poll lead since the last election, while the right-wing UK Independence Party displaced the Liberal Democrats for the third place -- the UK Independence Party, like the similarly right-wing Front National that took third place in France, is strongly anti-E.U.
This weekend also saw German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), take their worst results in 50 years, in an election in Schleswig-Holstein. Their coalition partners, the Free Democrats, did poorly as well. That leaves the second-place Social Democratic Party taking roughly 30 percent of the vote, and able to form a coalition with the Greens.
Meanwhile, in Greece, New Democracy and its partner, the socialist Pasok party, failed to win a combined majority, losing ground to radical leftist coalition Syriza, which campaigned on rejecting the terms of the Greek bailout and freezing payments to creditors.
What do all these developments have in common? In France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Greece right now, the tide is turning against austerity. François Hollande's election may be the most prominent example: Hollande succeeded on a platform that only a few months ago was still being attacked as a spendthrift's pipe dream. Clearly, though, France is not the only country where attitudes are shifting rapidly.
Another possibility to consider, looking at these results, is that these national politics are looking simultaneously more leftist and more nationalist -- in other words, more anti-European Union. In France, Hollande's popularity stemmed in part from his promise to stand up to German leadership and chart a new course for French participation in the European Union. In Germany, Merkel is the one standing for self-sacrifice and collective European action, and she's rapidly losing support. Greek Syriza's entire platform is built on the idea of ditching the EU-International Monetary Fund plan for Greek recovery.
Britain's political landscape is a little more complicated, because the Labour Party has traditionally been more pro-Europe than the Conservative Party. But it's still not so different: the simultaneous rise of UK Independence Party (UKIP), which advocates a withdrawal from the EU, shows the joint leftist-isolationist streak is strong in Britain as well. UKIP gained record results in a local election just last week.
The UK, France, Germany, and Greece do not by any means represent the whole of Europe. These four countries, though, are crucial actors right now, the first three for their economic and political clout, and Greece for its potential ability to pull Europe down with it. Voters in all four countries seem to want governments that will spend more money and attention on them, and a little less on their neighbors. That's an understandable position in a time of continued economic distress. It doesn't, however, seem to bode well for Europe as a whole. Even from the economic perspective, there are reasons to be worried. Many economists -- though this is a heavily political issue in the U.S. -- still believe spending more money can revive an economy. You'd be hard-pressed, however, to find one who felt that stiffer impediments to trade would be good for the European economic recovery.
The euro fell heavily Monday morning, dropping to a three-month low against the dollar and a three-and-a-half-year low against the pound. Europe's leftist leaders, should they continue to gain ground, will have their work cut out for them.
The most comprehensive review of evidence on health consequences of caffeine use has just been published.
A Los Angeles news anchor said earlier this month, in response to the announcement that “the world’s strongest coffee” is now available in the United States. The product is called Black Insomnia, a playful nod to apotentially debilitating medical condition that can be caused by the product.
The anchor’s tone took a dramatic decrescendo as she read from the teleprompter: “The site Caffeine Informer says Black Insomnia is one of the ‘most dangerous caffeinated products.’” Her smile faded. “Oh. I’ll have to have this one sparingly.”
Black Insomnia is actually in competition for the title of “world’s strongest coffee.” Another, similar purveyor sells coffee grounds called Death Wish. They come in a black sack with a skull and cross bones. On its Amazon page, Death Wish claims to be “the world’s strongest coffee” and promises its “perfect dark roast will make you the hero of the house or office.”
Democracies across the West are vulnerable to foreign influence—and some are under attack.
Mike Conaway, the Republican who replaced Devin Nunes as head of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, has described his mission simply: “I just want to find out what happened,” he’s said. The more urgent question elsewhere in the world, however, isn’t confined to the past. It concerns what is happening—not just in the United States but in European democracies as well.
In the Netherlands, Dutch authorities counted paper ballots in a recent election by hand to prevent foreign governments—and Russia in particular—from manipulating the results through cyberattacks. In Denmark, the defense minister has accused the Russian government of carrying out a two-year campaign to infiltrate email accounts at his ministry. In the United Kingdom, a parliamentary committee reports that it cannot “rule out” the possibility that “foreign interference” caused a voter-registration site to crash ahead of Britain’s referendum on EU membership. And in France, a cybersecurity firm has just discovered that suspected Russian hackers are targeting the leading presidential candidate. “We are increasingly concerned about cyber-enabled interference in democratic political processes,” representatives from the Group of Seven—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S.—declared after meeting in Italy earlier this month. Russia, a member of the group until it was kicked out for annexing Crimea, wasn’t mentioned in the statement. It didn’t need to be. The subtext was clear.
The president has softened some of his tough talk toward China and Mexico, transferring it to Canada and disputes over softwood lumber and dairy products.
Donald Trump is not the first U.S. president to tangle with Canada over lumber. In fact, the first U.S. president to do so was the first U.S. president. George Washington’s administration saw a dispute over ownership of valuable forests on the border between New Brunswick and present-day Maine.
So despite Trump’s recent tough talk about the trade relationship with America’s neighbor to the north, his announcement Tuesday morning of new tariffs on Canadian lumber is actually consistent with what U.S. policy has been for decades. Where Trump differs from previous presidents, though, is in very publicly sounding off about a longstanding disagreement. In so doing he has also, apparently, found a new target for his trade-related ire, even as he softens his stances toward previous targets like China and Mexico.
It’s a shame that the standard way of learning how to cook is by following recipes. To be sure, they are a wonderfully effective way to approximate a dish as it appeared in a test kitchen, at a star chef’s restaurant, or on TV. And they can be an excellent inspiration for even the least ambitious home cooks to liven up a weeknight dinner. But recipes, for all their precision and completeness, are poor teachers. They tell you what to do, but they rarely tell you why to do it.
This means that for most novice cooks, kitchen wisdom—a unified understanding of how cooking works, as distinct from the notes grandma lovingly scrawled on index-card recipes passed down through the generations—comes piecemeal. Take, for instance, the basic skill of thickening a sauce. Maybe one recipe for marinara advises reserving some of the starchy pasta water, for adding later in case the sauce is looking a little thin. Another might recommend rescuing a too-watery sauce with some flour, and still another might suggest a handful of parmesan. Any one of these recipes offers a fix under specific conditions, but after cooking through enough of them, those isolated recommendations can congeal into a realization: There are many clever ways to thicken a sauce, and picking an appropriate one depends on whether there’s some leeway for the flavor to change and how much time there is until dinner needs to be on the table.
When astronomers talk about the search for life elsewhere in our solar system, they usually talk about microbes, simple and resilient forms of life known to exist in the most extreme temperatures and conditions. Space probes have mapped enough of the sun’s planets and moons to show there are no civilizations lurking in this star system, save for the one on Earth. But what if we’re not done looking yet? What if there are indeed signs of an ancient intelligent species right here, on the worlds in our own backyard, waiting to be found?
That’s the question posed by Jason Wright, an astronomer at Penn State University, in a new paper published Monday night. Wright posits the idea that an advanced civilization—an indigenous technological species, he calls it—could have arisen in the solar system before life as we know it did. (“Indigenous,” because it originates in the solar system, and not from extraterrestrial life that may exist elsewhere in the universe.) If it left behind traces of its technology—called technosignatures—some of those technosignatures may have survived, provided they were made of material not easily degraded by erosion or time. Perhaps, Wright writes, they remain hidden under the surface of Venus and Mars.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Film, television, and literature all tell them better. So why are games still obsessed with narrative?
A longstanding dream: Video games will evolve into interactive stories, like the ones that play out fictionally on the Star Trek Holodeck. In this hypothetical future, players could interact with computerized characters as round as those in novels or films, making choices that would influence an ever-evolving plot. It would be like living in a novel, where the player’s actions would have as much of an influence on the story as they might in the real world.
It’s an almost impossible bar to reach, for cultural reasons as much as technical ones. One shortcut is an approach called environmental storytelling. Environmental stories invite players to discover and reconstruct a fixed story from the environment itself. Think of it as the novel wresting the real-time, first-person, 3-D graphics engine from the hands of the shooter game. In Disneyland’s Peter Pan’s Flight, for example, dioramas summarize the plot and setting of the film. In the 2007 game BioShock, recorded messages in an elaborate, Art Deco environment provide context for a story of a utopia’s fall. And in What Remains of Edith Finch, a new game about a girl piecing together a family curse, narration is accomplished through artifacts discovered in an old house.
The Dems are trying to take advantage of the president’s tendency to make maximalist claims then retreat from them.
Mock Donald Trump’s legislative ignorance if you will, but for a brief, shining stretch during the past week, he managed to bring about a rare Washington phenomenon: House and Senate Democrats saying nice things about their GOP
counterparts. Publicly. With straight faces. That the president accomplished this entirely by accident makes the feat no less remarkable.
It has been like a scene straight out of a No Labels kumbaya, centrist fantasy: As Congress hammers out a deal to fund the government for the rest of this fiscal year, Democrats have been lauding Republicans for handling negotiations in a thoughtful, productive, bipartisan manner.
“Appropriators are all about getting something done,” a senior Democratic House aide noted approvingly of the process. And with the April 28 deadline looming, he told me, members of both teams “had been chugging along, making progress, doing a really good job of getting past some riders.”
The cuts-only plan President Trump is expected to unveil Wednesday follows a pattern: The risk associated with higher deficits takes a back seat when it comes with political pain.
“I am the king of debt,” Donald Trump famously boasted during last year’s campaign. On Wednesday, the president is going to set about proving it—but perhaps not in the way he originallymeant.
All indications are that the tax plan the White House is slated to unveil will include what Trump has described as a “massive” cut in the rate that corporations and many small businesses pay to the government. But it will omit the more politically painful choices that Republicans would need to make to offset the correspondingloss of revenue, such as HouseSpeaker Paul Ryan’s proposed tax on imports or the elimination of popular deductions for charitable giving and homeowners. The result is a tax plan that, like the ones Trump offered as a candidate, could add trillions of dollars to the national debt. You can call them tax cuts, but they aren’t tax reform.