friday | 3 may 2013 |

POLITICS

POLITICS IS NOT HERE TO PLEASE YOU

Ezra Klein | Wonkblog | The Washington Post

Peggy Noonan says of today’s dysfunctional politics, “if you’re a leader you can lead right past it.” How? Well, uh, look over there!

Maureen Dowd writes that the job of the president “is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.” Actually, I think getting people who disagree with you to do what you want them to do is called “the Jedi mind trick,” but I digress.

It’s impossible to argue with these columns because they never actually say what they’re about. If Noonan or Dowd explained what the president should actually do, we could have a discussion. But they don’t, presumably because they can’t.

. . . Fournier and other adherents of the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency are caught between a question they can’t answer and an answer they can’t abide. They don’t know exactly what Obama — or any other president — could do to overcome the structural polarization that’s cracking Congress. But the idea that there’s nothing the president can really do is too displeasing to entertain. It suggests that politics is broken, and it won’t be fixed, at least not anytime soon. And that’s an unacceptable answer, even if rejecting it leaves you with an unanswerable question.

They have it backward. It’s raising the white flag to cling to an unanswerable question rather than staring down an unpleasant answer. The problems of American politics today are not overly complicated, or even overly controversial. They’re just hard to fix.

. . . We’re not going to figure out a way to depolarize the parties. Whenever you think of the irenic Washington of the ’50s and ’60s, think about Strom Thurmond, one of the most ideologically conservative members of Congress, serving as a Democrat. The de-polarized parties of the mid-20th century were a historic aberration that had more to do with race scrambling our politics than anything else. They’re not coming back, nor should they. The most conservative members of Congress shouldn’t be in the Democratic Party, nor should liberals be in the Republican Party. Voters deserve a choice between two distinct political coalitions.

But that means the work of repairing American politics is the work of understanding what tweaks and reforms are needed for the American political system to withstand this new world of polarized political parties. That’s going to be a lengthy and difficult project, and many political fights in the coming decades will, on some level or another, be about it.

But that work is made harder by pundits who continue to falsely promise that the glowing briefcase of president leadership can fix what ails us. Telling the American people that the only thing missing is the president being more awesome promises them the easy way out. It says that all they need to do to fix our politics is get inspired by a new presidential candidate and then cast a hopeful vote for him or her at the polls. That’s terrifically convenient, because that also happens to be the part of American politics that voters most enjoy participating in and that media most enjoys covering. (It’s also convenient for the media, as Greg Sargent writes, because it keeps them from having to take sides in ongoing policy debates, but that’s a slightly different issue.)

But since the problem in American politics is not presidential leadership, telling them that the president — whether this one or a new one — can fix it traps voters in an endless cycle of inspiration and disillusionment. They vote for presidents expecting them to be “uniters,” expecting them to “change Washington,” and then they’re bitterly disappointed when their heroes fail. But on this score, presidents are going to continue to fail because they can’t possibly succeed.

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ANIMATED SHORT

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ASTIGMATISMO

Nicolai Troshinsky | Vimeo

“A boy, having lost his glasses, can only see one thing in focus at a time. His sight gets attracted by the sounds that surround him. He will have to explore a blurry world of unknown places and strange characters.”

“Astigmatismo” is a short-film about the feeling of being lost. This feeling is created thanks to an extreme blur effect, leaving only a very tiny space in focus. The focus shifts and moves rhythmically, synchronized with the sounds and the music, revealing a constantly changing landscape.
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AGING

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LONGEVITY: BEYOND 100

Stephan S. Hall | National Geographic

One afternoon Little Bird and three other Laron syndrome men from the region held court for an interview at the back of an appliance store, their feet dangling in child’s-size shoes from their chairs. Freddy Salazar, 39 years old and three feet ten inches tall, had recently had his 1997 Chevy Forsa retrofitted with elevated pedals and a raised seat so he could see through the windshield to negotiate his town’s steep hills. Victor Rivera, 23 years old and slightly taller than Salazar, was the subject of a famous photograph, shown at many scientific meetings, taken when he was four—so small that the ear of corn he was holding was a little larger than his arm. Luis Sanchez, at 43 an elder statesman among the group, threw back his head in laughter, which was joined by the others’ high-pitched voices, when someone asked if they were aware of the latest scientific reports about their condition.

“We are laughing,” he explained, “because we know we are immune to cancer and diabetes.”

That somewhat overstates the scientific results to date but reflects a growing interest among researchers to interrogate the genomes of unusually healthy or long-lived groups of people, whose isolation, geographical or cultural, makes it easier to find genetic clues to longevity, disease resistance, and good health at an advanced age.

AN ALMOND-SIZED BRAIN REGION IS CONTROL CENTRE FOR AGEING

Ed Yong | Phenomena | National Geographic

In a New York laboratory, a special group of mice is destined to outlive their cage-mates. Their muscles will stay strong for longer. Their brains will stay sharp for longer. When they eventually die, they will have seen more months than their peers.

The secret to their longevity isn’t a drug or a special diet. Instead, Dongsheng Cai from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine simply reduced the levels of a single protein called NF-kB in part of the brain called the hypothalamus. That was enough to extend their lives.

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ART

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POOL, THE ALCHEMY OF BLUE – FOUND CONCRETE INSTALLATIONS BY LIZZIE BUCKMASTER DOVE

Christopher Jobson | Colossal

Coledale is a small seaside village in New South Wales, Australia, a place known for its surfing and slow pace of life. It’s also home to artist Lizzie Buckmaster Dove who for years has taken daily walks along the beach, stopping to pick up things she found along the way. One of the objects she collected most frequently were smooth stones painted light blue on a single side which she would eventually discover were fragments of an oceanside sea pool that was being slowly consumed by the surf.

With help from a grant provided by the Australia Council for the Arts, Dove set to work on a series of installations using the swimming pool concrete. Titled Pool, The Alchemy of Blue, the works are meant as sort of an homage to lunar cycles and the moon’s power to create the tides that reclaimed the Coledale pool. Before an imminent construction project to completely resurface the pool Dove collected even larger pieces of the pool which would eventually help form the suspended installation you see above at Wollongong City Gallery.

You can see a video of Dove discussing the series by Theme Media and see much more work on her website.

pool-5
pool-6
pool-8
pool-1

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HISTORY

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OUR RADICAL FUTURE: CULTS, UTOPIAS AND REBELLIONS OF THE 1890’S

Jacob Mikanowski | The Awl
canudos

The photograph above shows prisoners from Canudos. It might be the first photograph of refugees, ever. It was taken just before the end of the siege by Flavio de Barros, a journalist embedded with the Brazilian Army. Barros’ equipment wasn’t very good. His pictures are scratched, damaged, and blown out by the force of the tropical sun. In this photo, the blurriness comes from the slow exposure time. Inadvertently, he caught the adults’ restlessness, the fidgeting of the children. We can’t know for sure if they are aware of what’s coming, but it’s a safe bet that they’re afraid.

The apocalypse they had been promised was different. It was supposed to be an end to poverty, an end to hunger, an end to drought, an end to property and rank. They were going to inherit the earth. For a time, it had even felt as if they had.

Canudos came into being because of a dream. It was a dream of utopia and a dream of escape. It was an ancient dream: the earthly Jerusalem, the heavenly city. And in the 1890s, it was shared by the dispossessed and marginalized the world over: by the inhabitants of Canudos in the drought-raved backlands of Brazil, by the anti-foreign Boxers in northern China, by the half-ecstatic, half-despairing practitioners of the Ghost Dance in the American West. All of them, in their separate ways, were searching for space and the means to remake the world over in their image.

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THE DRUG TRADE

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MAPPING THE INCREDIBLE SPREAD OF MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS INSIDE THE U.S.

Colin Daileda | Foreign Policy

As Barack Obama heads to Mexico, U.S. involvement in Mexico’s battle against drug cartels is getting a lot of press. But it’s worth noting that Mexico’s notorious narcotics trade isn’t just Mexico’s problem anymore. And Obama should be well aware of that, considering that this past February Chicago declared Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán its first “Public Enemy No. 1” since Al Capone. “While Chicago is 1,500 miles from Mexico, the Sinaloa drug cartel is so deeply embedded in the city that local and federal law enforcement are forced to operate as if they are on the border,” Jack Riley, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago office, told CNN.

The infiltration of the Windy City shows the extent to which Mexican drug syndicates have made inroads in the United States — the Associated Press and others have reported that cartel cells are operating in Atlanta, Ga., Louisville, Ky., Columbus, Ohio, and rural North Carolina. In fact, according to an excellent National Post infographic based on data from a U.S. Justice Department report and other sources, it’s much easier to list states that don’t have a drug trade tied to Mexican gangs. There are only twelve that haven’t reported the presence of one of four Mexican cartels since 2008: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Mexican drug trade is everywhere else.


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EURO | GERMANY

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THE RISE OF GERMANY’S TEA PARTY

Benjamin Weinthal | Foreign Policy

The new anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is well-positioned to capitalize on rising voter discontent with tax-payer bailouts of mismanaged and corrupt southern European governments. The party’s self-confident leader, Bernd Lucke, sees a chance to defeat Merkel’s wobbly governing coalition in September’s federal election. “Many of Angela Merkel’s supporters will vote for us. And when she loses public support, this will be the end of her political life,” Lucke said recently. If this happens, it could put Merkel’s triage efforts, and perhaps the entire effort to save the eurozone, into jeopardy.

Lucke is a deeply sober and analytical 50-year-old economics professor at the University of Hamburg. He spent 33 years as a card-carrying member of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party (CDU), before founding AfD this February. For Lucke, the tipping point came in 2010, when Germany bailed out Greece in violation of the EU’s founding document, the Maastricht treaty. He told the Telegraph that “It communicated the feeling that governments were not bound by law, and it introduced a policy which was economically misguided. It made me feel homeless in my party.”

Now, his new party seeks to abolish the euro and return Germany to the Deutsche mark, which passed out of existence in 2002 with the introduction of the common currency. He argues that a phased-in process of currency reform could enable the Deutsche mark to again become Germany’s currency by 2020. According to Lucke, this would relieve Germany of the burden of carrying the debt for bankrupt or near-bankrupt southern European countries and decrease the current tensions and resentments in Europe.

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BOSTON

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BOSTON, FROM ONE CITIZEN OF THE WORLD WHO CALLS HIMSELF A RUNNER

Haruki Murakami | The Page Turner | The New Yorker

In the past thirty years, I’ve run thirty-three full marathons. I’ve run marathons all over the world, but whenever someone asks me which is my favorite, I never hesitate to answer: the Boston Marathon, which I have run six times. What’s so wonderful about the Boston Marathon? It’s simple: it’s the oldest race of its kind; the course is beautiful; and—here’s the most important point—everything about the race is natural, free. The Boston Marathon is not a top-down but a bottom-up kind of event; it was steadily, thoughtfully crafted by the citizens of Boston themselves, over a considerable period of time. Every time I run the race, the feelings of the people who created it over the years are on display for all to appreciate, and I’m enveloped in a warm glow, a sense of being back in a place I missed. It’s magical. Other marathons are amazing, too—the New York City Marathon, the Honolulu Marathon, the Athens Marathon. Boston, however (my apologies to the organizers of those other races), is unique.

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ASTRONOMY

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THE GLOWERING REDD EYE OF A SATURN HURRICANE

Phil Plait | Slate

The Cassini spacecraft routinely sends pretty amazing pictures back to Earth, but every now and again I see one that makes me literally gasp. So, in the are-you-freaking-kidding-me department, here’s a gasp-worthy shot of a hurricane at Saturn’s north pole that rages over an area 2000 kilometers (1200 miles) across:

hurricane on saturn

This was taken in the near infrared, just outside what the eye can see, displayed in false color so we can see it—in other words, the storm isn’t really red, it’s just displayed that way. In these filters, low clouds look red and higher clouds are green*. I love the festoons, swirls, and delicate-appearing structures in the vortex. However, wind speeds there are about 500 kilometers per hour (330 mph) so it’s hardly a gentle breeze!

This storm sits centered on Saturn’s north pole, and now that Saturn’s northern hemisphere is approaching summer, it’s only recently begun seeing sunlight for the first time since Cassini’s arrival in 2004. I suspect the low angle of sunlight helps aid the contrast and beauty of this picture. This picture is even cooler than the last (greyscale) image of the storm from Cassini, released in November 2012.

saturn hurricane

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URBANISM

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L.A.’S ALTERNATIVE REALITIES

Martin Filler | The New York Review of Books

How can the most architecturally innovative part of the United States also be such a thoroughgoing urban mess? Los Angeles can boast, among other showpieces, Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall of 1989–2003, Charles and Ray Eames’s own Case Study House Number 8 of 1947–1949, and Raymond M. Kennedy’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater of 1926–1927—to name three of my favorite landmarks there. And yet LA is also a highway-strangled, traffic-choked expanse of artificially lush desert with no discernible organizing principle save for the allées of palm trees that filmmakers reflexively use to establish a recognizable sense of place.

Describing the persistent incoherence of Los Angeles, Dorothy Parker’s famously jibed that it was “seventy-two suburbs in search of a city.” More sympathetic observers like the British architectural historian Reyner Banham have long pointed out that it’s futile to apply traditional standards of urban design to this 469-square-mile sprawl, which they see not as a dysfunctional megalopolis but as a prophetically modern phenomenon. Yet to comprehend why the City of Angels remains so enduringly weird to outsiders, it is not architectural specialists but rather imaginative writers—from Nathanael West and James M. Cain to Evelyn Waugh and Joan Didion—to whom we must turn.

This spring and summer, two complementary exhibitions in Los Angeles seek to bring the unfathomableness into focus. The first, “Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940–1990,” which is at the J. Paul Getty Museum through July 21, explores how the city emerged through fitful initial development, explosive postwar growth, and a distinctive built legacy. The second, “Never Built: Los Angeles,” which opens at LA’s Architecture and Design Museum on July 13, examines a stunning array of unexecuted projects to show why the city didn’t become something else.

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MUSIC

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THE INVENTION OF DAVID BOWIE

Ian Buruma | The New York Review of Books

There is no question that Bowie changed the way many people looked, in the 1970s, 1980s, even 1990s. He set styles. Fashion designers—Alexander McQueen, Yamamoto Kansai, Dries van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier, et al.—were inspired by him. Bowie’s extraordinary stage costumes, from Kabuki-like bodysuits to Weimar-era drag, are legendary. Young people all over the world tried to dress like him, look like him, move like him—alas, with rather variable results.

So it is entirely fitting that the Victoria and Albert Museum should stage a huge exhibition of Bowie’s stage clothes, as well as music videos, handwritten song lyrics, film clips, artworks, scripts, storyboards, and other Bowieana from his personal archive. Apart from everything else, Bowie’s art is about style, high and low, and style is a serious business for a museum of art and design.

bowie

bowie-nextday

SCOTT MORGAN: THREE CHORDS AND A CLOUD OF DUST

David Fricke | Rolling Stone

It’s unfair but true: Scott Morgan is Michigan rock’s greatest unknown singer. Locally in the Sixties, with the Rationals, Morgan was as big as Bob Seger and Mitch Ryder, fusing British young-man blues with native soul on a stunning run of singles. Morgan kept on making near-miss classics (“Take a Look,” “Electrophonic Tonic,” “16 With a Bullet”) with a murderer’s row of high-energy accomplices, including the MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith and Stooges drummer Scott Asheton. This three-disc compilation covers all of that ground into this century, with official releases and rarities that affirm Morgan’s prowess, legend and the stardom he still deserves.

scott morgan

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