Archive for May, 2011


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  • World events, Egypt, and snow storms have grabbed our attention hard since the State of the Union address.

    But one pledge – promise, goal – from President Obama still rings: That by the year 2035, eighty percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy.

    It was a careful pledge. It included natural gas and “clean coal” in the eighty percent equation. But even so, it’s a big pledge – for a country that overall has not been ambitious for clean energy.

    Can we do it? Will we do it? And how?

    We speak with Caltech energy guru Nathan Lewis, on President Obama’s big clean energy pledge.

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  • Brown says the world's rapidly expanding population has created elevated demand for grain, milk, cheese and eggs, but changes in climate and irrigation have made it increasingly difficult to increase production accordingly. Increased demand has also stripped the world of much of its excess crop surpluses. For example, Brown says, in 1965, when the Indian monsoon failed, the United States sent a fifth of its total wheat crop to India to avoid famine.

    "We couldn't do that today because we don't have that sort of slack in the system," he says. "The problem is not that we're producing less grain — we're producing more grain — but we're not increasing production fast enough to keep up with the growth in demand."

    Because of the increased demand for food, the ability to grow crops, Brown says, is increasingly becoming a new form of "geopolitical leverage."

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  • A psychology is being developed that the whole world is against Germany and that it lies defenseless before the world. People are being trained against gas attacks, against airplane attacks, and the idea of war and danger from one's neighbors is constantly harped upon. I wish it were really possible to make our people at home understand, for I feel that they should understand it, how definitely this martial spirit is being developed in Germany. If this Government remains in power for another year and carries on in the same measure in this direction, it will go far towards making Germany a danger to world peace for years to come.
  • Larson chronicles Dodd's time in Germany in a new book, In the Garden of Beasts. It's a detailed portrait of the man who served for four years as the ambassador to Germany before resigning — after repeatedly clashing with both Nazi Party officials and the State Department.

    "I was interested in him because I wanted to find out what was that like, to have met these people when you didn't know how all of this would turn out?" Larson says. "We, of course, have the power of hindsight in our arsenal, but people living in Berlin in that era didn't. What would that have been like as this darkness fell over Germany?"

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  • In the last decade the area has been going through dramatic changes.

    First, former President Bill Clinton, opened his post-White House office there.

    Then, as Manhattan real estate prices rocketed, wealthy people – many of them white – began moving in.

    Michael Goldfarb traces this iconic neighbourhood's story by telling the history of a single street – 120th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues – from 1910, when it was a Jewish neighbourhood, to the present day.

  • Why is surprise the permanent condition of the U.S. political and economic elite? In 2007-8, when the global financial system imploded, the cry that no one could have seen this coming was heard everywhere, despite the existence of numerous analyses showing that a crisis was unavoidable. It is no surprise that one hears precisely the same response today regarding the current turmoil in the Middle East. The critical issue in both cases is the artificial suppression of volatility — the ups and downs of life — in the name of stability. It is both misguided and dangerous to push unobserved risks further into the statistical tails of the probability distribution of outcomes and allow these high-impact, low-probability "tail risks" to disappear from policymakers' fields of observation. What the world is witnessing in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya is simply what happens when highly constrained systems explode.
  • We’re seeing the result of a democratization of American culture. It used to be that an invisible hierarchy governed who ran for president. To think about running, one had to have achieved a certain stature in national life. You had to be a senator or a governor, preferably from a larger state. It would have been a shocking effrontery to even think of running without qualifications. But now hierarchies have been smashed, standards are loosened and any publicity hound can run. Gresham’s law has taken over so the campaign trail is now inhospitable to anyone with self-respect. A few qualified candidates still run, but more and more decline.

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