What We're ReadingPOSTED: Mar 25, 2013 01:17 PM
Steve Lagerfeld: A book bent on rescuing the reputation of bankers? The contrarian in me couldn’t resist Robert J. Shiller’s Finance and the Good Society (2012), a searching look at sleaze and the potential for good in the world of money. Shiller doesn’t stop at bankers; he sprinkles fairy dust over virtually every other group of players in the financial sector. But he also delivers some sharp jabs, arriving at the measured judgment that “we have to accept that some less-than-high-minded behavior may be the product of an economic system that is essentially good overall.”
Shiller is the Yale economist who famously predicted the stock market bust of 2000 in Irrational Exuberance and later the real estate collapse of 2007-08. He’s hardly a Wall Street shill—he favors progressive taxation, among other things, and is often mentioned as a Nobel Prize candidate. It’s unfortunately true that he writes in a style befitting such a prudent, even-handed sort, lumbering with that basket of fairy dust through the financial world, examining the vices and virtues of bankers, mortgage lenders, accountants, and many others. It’s odd and strangely touching, however, to read an Ivy League academic come to the moral defense of Wall Street types, and he’s persuasive.
Along the way, Shiller provides an enlightening ground level understanding of how the financial system works. He is passionate about the need to continue &... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Dilemma of a Football FanPOSTED: Feb 01, 2013 02:47 PM
By Cullen Nutt
Football binds us together. Millions of Americans will gather to watch this Sunday’s Super Bowl. I’ll be watching at home with my dad. As Benjamin J. Dueholm put it recently, NFL football is “the central liturgical act of American civic religion.”
Dueholm is a Lutheran pastor in Wauconda, Illinois and a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan. In the Winter 2013 WQ, we highlighted his reluctant but compelling argument against American football. Writing as a concerned member of the faith in The Christian Century, Dueholm says the game’s physical and possibly neurological damage to those who play it is too large to ignore.
On the face of it, the evidence is mounting that a career in professional football, or even playing in high school or college, can haunt athletes after they hang up their cleats. A four-year study completed in December 2012 of the brains of 85 deceased athletes and military veterans found at least some symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease, in the brains of 34 of the 35 athletes who had played professional football.
These findings grabbed headlines, but the doctors behind the study cautioned against snap judgments. The players were far from a representative sample. Players’ families usually donate their loved ones’ brains to this research because they showed symptoms of CTE, such as dementia or depression, while still living.
Another group of doctors recently tested... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Prickly German PrivacyPOSTED: Dec 21, 2012 01:49 PM
By Cullen Nutt
Germans would seem to have modern living down pat. On my wintry weeklong stay there last month, Berlin hummed with activity. People thronged 60-odd Christmas markets, drinking mulled wine and buying up ornaments and trinkets. Cranes loomed over new buildings in what was East Berlin, the dreary capital of communist East Germany. German beer lived up to its billing. There was hardly a whiff of worry in the air.
I was in the country with 14 young American journalists as part of the Berlin Capital Program, a short fellowship paid for by the German Fulbright Commission. Despite the festive atmosphere, I discovered that the Germans do few things better than worry. Parliamentarians, journalists, editors, and academics we met repeated a long list of fears: Greek debt, nuclear power, right-wing nationalists, global warming, the failure of immigrant integration, enduring disparities between former East and West Germany, anti-Semitism, being late to appointments. You can count on Germans to touch every base.
The passion behind one German concern took me by surprise: data protection. Like many Europeans, Germans jealously guard their privacy. They shudder at the thought of government bodies or corporations storing their personal information, perhaps in part because the Nazis and, later, the East German secret police did this with deadly consequences. Companies in Germany cannot keep any personal information on file without specific permission from individuals. The Federal Data... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Food and RhetoricPOSTED: Dec 11, 2012 11:23 AM
By Cullen Nutt
Land grabs—a catchall term for purchases by governments and private investors of huge tracts of farmland, mostly in the developing world—are on the rise. Some 568 million acres of land—an area as large as Western Europe—changed hands or were leased between 2001 and 2011, according to one study. The lion’s share of those transactions occurred after 2008. Michael Kugelman, who in the Autumn 2012 WQ surveyed India’s sense of its unique role to play in world affairs, tackles the issue in The Global Farms Race: Land Grabs, Agricultural Investment, and the Scramble for Food Security (Island), which he co-edited with Susan L. Levenstein. Food prices reached new heights in 2008 (but have leveled off since then) and many governments fear the social and economic consequences of high commodity costs and diminishing resources. One solution is to bypass the global market and till faraway lands to supply your own needs. Countries as diverse as China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Brazil have gotten in on the action—as have investors from the United States.
If the various actors involved play nice, land grabs could benefit local growers and faraway consumers alike. But there is plenty of room for predation, writes Kugelman, a senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Wilson Center. Land designated unused or fallow by central governments often turns out to be vital to people living nearby. The wheeling and dealing over land... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Punting on AcademicsPOSTED: Nov 09, 2012 11:05 AM
By Alex Tate
Nothing excites Americans more than football. The last three Super Bowls were the most watched television events ever in the United States. With the NCAA poised to profit more than ever when it moves to a playoff system in 2014, debate swirls over compensation for student athletes and institutional spending on athletics. But does college football detract from students’ academic performance?
In the October 2012 issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Jason Lindo, Isaac Swensen, and Glen Waddell tracked students’ grades during the football season at the University of Oregon from 1997 from 2007. As the Ducks' winning percentage went up—the team finished the 2001 season in the top five nationally—the grades of male non-athletes took a dive. The gap between male and female GPAs widened, and boys were more likely to receive failing grades. Girls’ performance may have suffered too, but the practice of grading on a curve obscures a clear answer. In a survey designed by the authors, both sexes said that the Ducks' wins fueled alcohol consumption, but males were more likely to party harder and study less.
The good news is that a winning football team doesn’t seem to do longer term damage to students’ careers. In fact, among girls with lower than average SAT scores and/or high financial need, the Ducks' winning streaks reduced the probability of dropping out. These girls could have been the main... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
A Pilgrimage to Ukraine: The Story Behind a PhotoPOSTED: Oct 24, 2012 05:50 PM
By Darcy Courteau
Finding the right artwork to accompany an article is a pleasant but exacting task. It’s especially hard when the story’s subject is as solemn as that of anthropologist Margaret Paxson’s “Precipices” in our new issue, which considers two European communities’ very different responses to the Holocaust. To accompany parts of the essay that take place in France, we scored a couple of images by Pulitzer-winning photographer Lucian Perkins, who’s worked with Paxson in the past. But only after hours of searching did we find the work of Ted Seymour, who in 2009 visited Babi Yar, a ravine outside of Kiev that figures prominently in Paxson’s story. There, 100,000 people were killed during the war; in two days in September 1941, Nazi executioners, with the help of local collaborators, shot 34,000 Jews, letting their bodies fall into the ravine.
© Ted Seymour
Seymour had traveled to Ukraine in part to visit the homeland of his grandparents, Jews who immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, he said when I spoke with him over the phone. Once in Ukraine, he made three separate trips to Khotyn, the home town of one of his grandfathers, and attended religious services at the single remaining synagogue in the city. There was no rabbi, so one man volunteered to lead the services. According to members of the community, only 29 Jews remained in Khotyn. In 1900, Khotyn had been home to 24 synagogues and 18,000 Jews... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Possible UsPOSTED: Sep 05, 2012 11:49 AM
By Erica Bleeg
A month ago, the National Park Service unveiled panels documenting the long human history of Jones Point Park. “The hardest part of our work,” said Pam Cressey, a city archeologist involved in the effort, “is deciding what to say within a limited space.” A detail of the panel on astronomer Benjamin Banneker is shown below. (All photos © Erica Bleeg.)
By Erica Bleeg
In Alexandria, Virginia, just south of a wharf where at low tide great egrets feed, there is a 40-acre park on a small peninsula that since colonial times has been called Jones Point. Recently, I followed a dirt path into a grove of trees to explore, stopping at what the National Park Service calls an “interpretive wayside panel,” one of those ubiquitous educational plaques scattered throughout America’s parks. I was surprised to find a name I hadn’t seen in years: Benjamin Banneker.
As I walked and read the other half-dozen panels scattered throughout the park, each attempting to capture a different era of the peninsula’s history, I wondered how Banneker came to be remembered there. Banneker’s panel pictures two men, one white and peering into the lens of his surveying instrument, and one black, looking into the same distance with his naked eye, pencil and paper in hand. The man with the gadgetry is Major Andrew Ellicott, charged with surveying the D.C. boundary and based in Jones Point, the panel explains,... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
Horse NationPOSTED: Aug 03, 2012 03:20 PM
By Darcy Courteau
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the National Museum of the American Indian’s “A Song for the Horse Nation,” an exhibit celebrating the relationship between Native Americans and horses, animals introduced by the Spanish and whose value American Indians quickly appreciated. Having grown up with horses, and a competent, not to say elegant rider, I went in. Who doesn’t like to look at horses?
The horse was a major player in Indian history for only 100 years, but in that short time, many peoples, particularly those of the Great Plains, became legendary riders. “Horse Nation” attests to the intensity of that human-animal interdependence. The exhibit debuted in the museum’s New York wing, but the subject, too big for the 5,000-foot space, soon migrated to DC. Here, a full-size teepee and two life-size horse mannequins, among other things, spread out over nearly twice as much alloted space.
The curator, Emil Her Many Horses, works as a professional artist—he marries traditional Lakota beadwork with contemporary installations—and the exhibit is full of intricately-beaded horse head dresses and other decorations. Objects such as dance sticks, each carved to resemble a particularly treasured horse and carried into ceremonies, point to a spiritual link with horses. But the collection also contains traces of another story, an economic one. Horses were capital. Before horses arrived, women or dogs would carry teepees... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
SeekersPOSTED: Jul 26, 2012 02:50 PM
By Steven Lagerfeld
There is no easy way to say it: Our new Summer issue is the last print edition of The Wilson Quarterly.
Beginning with the Autumn issue, the WQ will appear in digital form only—as an app available for Apple and Android devices, on the Nook and Kindle, and as a PDF available for download on your computer. It is a change born of both economic necessity and faith in the future. We hope you will join us on the next leg of a journey that has already stretched over 36 years.
Technology is often painted as an enemy, a disrupter, but that has not been our experience at the WQ. Without the technological advances of the last two decades, this magazine would not have survived. I don’t remember with any great fondness the days when editors leafed through mounds of books in search of illustrations, then set assistants to work typing letters to hidebound clerks at distant museums begging them to mail copies of the selected images, before the next millennium, please. Thanks to online databases and other resources, we can now do that work quickly, with many fewer hands. I distinctly remember the excitement I felt in 2001 when we were able to gather essays from all over the globe via e-mail for our cluster “How the World Views America.”
Still, this is an apt moment to salute all that has gone before. I tip my hat to the late Peter Braestrup, the Yale-educated former Marine who pulled off the astonishing feat of launching the WQ in 1976 and shepherding it... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
What We're ReadingPOSTED: Jul 23, 2012 10:48 AM
Cullen Nutt: Yesterday I finished the last line of Alan Jacobs’ slim but satisfying book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Though it’s a mere 150 pages, it took me several months to finally go the distance. Jacobs, an English professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, might applaud this. He argues in favor of reading slowly and deliberately, of taking more notes, of re-reading, and, most important, of reading at Whim, which he reverentially capitalizes. Reading at Whim means letting go of guilt and obligation and reading what interests us. It also means shaking off the dangerous habit of reading to have read: to impress other people or to check off a book from some list. (I’m guilty of these tendencies.) Little wonder that 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die comes in for some very harsh criticism here.
In fact, Jacobs would rather we bluff than surrender whim. “It is wrong to lie, but it may be still more wrong to read a bunch of books you don’t want to read,” he writes, “in order to impress people whose opinion you shouldn’t be deferring to anyhow.” Instead, “take a little time to figure out what people will be impressed to hear that you’re reading, use Wikipedia to find out just enough about these books to enable you to bluff plausibly when questioned—and then go back home and read whatever you want to read.” Amen to Whim.
Darcy Courteau: I just finished David... READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY >>
WQ editors share their winter weather reads.
If football is harmful to players, is it ethical to be a fan?
Germans know how to enjoy themselves during the holidays, but don’t invade their Internet privacy.
Two new books illuminate politics high and low—the role of high principle and the urgency of land grabs around the world.
College football success upends boys’ grades, but girls may actually benefit.
One photographer's journey to trace his family roots yielded an image for our fall issue.
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