Don’t believe it when you read that Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect who died this week only days before he would have turned 105, was the one who took the chill off modernist design with his flamboyantly curving, white thin-shell concrete buildings. That’s the sort of nonsense that gets peddled in obituaries and haigiographies, particularly when a charismatic charmer distorts the historical record to inflate his own contribution, takes credit for the innovations of others, and outlives—by decades!—his competitors.
From Diane Ravitch's latest piece in the New York Review of Books: No nation in the world has eliminated poverty by firing teachers or by handing its public schools over to private managers; nor does research support either strategy. But these inconvenient facts do not reduce the reformers’ zeal. The new breed of school reformers consists mainly of Wall Street hedge fund managers, foundation officials, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and policymakers, but few experienced educators.
Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live By Jeff Jarvis (Simon & Schuster, 263 pp., $26.99) In 1975, Malcolm Bradbury published The History Man, a piercing satire of the narcissistic pseudo-intellectualism of modern academia. The novel recounts a year in the life of the young radical sociologist Howard Kirk—“a theoretician of sociability”—who is working on a book called The Defeat of Privacy.
For years, the United Nations has taken pains to present itself to the world as an impartial, international institution dedicated to helping people around the world. But when the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram detonated a car bomb at the UN’s compound in Abuja, Nigeria, last Friday, killing 23 and wounding at least 75, it was a stark reminder that, no matter how hard the UN tries to be neutral, many, especially in the Muslim world, see it as a proxy of Western powers. Indeed, for many groups bent on wrecking havoc, the UN has become synonymous with the United States.
Today, more the two years after the official start of the recovery, we find ourselves mired in slow growth and high unemployment. The majority of Americans cannot distinguish between this recovery and stagnation, if not continued recession. One question is why the economy is performing so much worse than in the previous post-recessionary periods since World War Two. And once we think we have an answer to that question, we have another: What is to be done? Economics is the obvious place to turn for answers.
Today is Friday the 13th, a day feared by the campers at Crystal Lake, as well as nonfictional humans around the world. (A quick diagnostic quiz: Do you fear Friday the 13th? Then you have paraskevidekatriaphobia. Fear the number 13? Then you have triskaidekaphobia. Fear everything? Ask Lucy van Pelt.) The origins of both parts of the superstition are unknown: the fear of Fridays is mentioned as far back as Geoffrey Chaucer, and the fear of thirteen has been found in several cultures and religions.
This is one of those slightly hokey surveys that measures the happiness of nations. Done by the Gallup World Poll and written up for Forbes by Francesca Levy, its results are not entirely surprising. Rich countries generally do better than others, although Saudi Arabia ranks 58th just ahead of Pakistan. Almost three times as many Saudis are “struggling” than “thriving.” On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates (which is a country made up of wealthy scions and resident ex-pats) and Kuwait register respectably 20th and 23rd. So how about Egypt?
Over at Slate, Nina Shen Rastogi has a nice primer on the pros and cons of nuclear energy. The pros are pretty obvious—nuclear is a low-carbon energy source that, unlike wind or solar, can run all the time without the need to worry about storage. But there are downsides, too. Like cost: [T]he question of whether new reactors would be the most cost-effective way to lower electricity-related emissions is still hotly debated. The fuel itself is relatively inexpensive, at least for the time being.
Ezra Klein has been doing some great blogging from the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is indeed full of ideas--some good, some not so good. Into the latter category I would put some remarks by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, as relayed by Ezra today: Coming to the issue of taxes, this gets to the more fundamental issue of the effects of taxation and spending cuts. There are several studies out there evaluating past efforts at fiscal restraint that show the heavy weight of successful contraction has been on the spending side.
Tyler Cowan makes an interesting point -- countries have had success in cutting spending when the public trusts the government: The received wisdom in the United States is that deep spending cuts are politically impossible. But a number of economically advanced countries, including Sweden, Finland, Canada and, most recently, Ireland, have cut their government budgets when needed. Most relevant, perhaps, is Canada, which cut federal government spending by about 20 percent from 1992 to 1997.