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Archive for May, 2011

The New Geopolitics of Food

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we’ve seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet’s poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute — and it has — to revolutions and upheaval.

Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year’s harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile — and a whole lot more contentious — than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.

Read more from Foreign Policy

Listen to the interview with Lester Brown on Fresh Air (optional)

Assignment for Grade 9 History Elective: Reading Responses

Assignment for APCG:  write a thorough summary and analysis of Brown’s article. Refer to specific evidence in the article. Discuss the implications of Brown’s findings. Try to connect the article to themes in the APCG course. Most importantly, come prepared to discuss the article.

Stunning Photographs of Civil War Soldiers

Friday, May 20th, 2011

In his marvelous new book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening, Adam Goodheart tries to capture what it felt like to live through secession and the opening months of the Civil War, at a time when it wasn’t clear, or destined, that the war would become the bloodiest and most important event in American history. A historian at Washington College and one of the lead authors of the New York Times’ Disunion blog, Goodheart writes especially vividly about photography, so last week I invited him to tour “The Last Full Measure,” a new Library of Congress exhibition of portrait photographs of Civil War soldiers.

See the slideshow

Mike Huckabee Fixes American History

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Don’t worry, American youth: Mike Huckabee has fixed American history. No longer will you suffer under what Huckabee calls “the ‘blame America first’ attitude prevalent in today’s teaching.”

Late Wednesday, Huckabee announced LearnOurHistory.com, a sort of BMG Music Club for what he calls “unbiased” historical lessons for kids. For around $15 each, the company will send you a new animated tale of American history each month, told through the eyes of a gang of time traveling kids.

Custer’s Last Stand

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, the bloody 1876 battle between Native Americans and the US Cavalry.

Free Will?

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the problem of free will – the extent to which we are able to choose our actions.

Putting Wisconsin’s Union Battle In Historical Context

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Republicans in state legislatures of Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio are trying to cut collective bargaining rights for workers in the public sector. A recent New York Times article described these bills as “the largest assault on collective bargaining in recent memory, striking at the heart of an American labor movement that is already atrophied.”

On today’s Fresh Air, journalist Philip Dray puts the union protests in the Midwest in a historical context. Dray is the author of There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America, which follows the labor movement as it grew out of 19th century uprisings in textile mills. The movement rallied workers around common causes before suffering a series of blows after the failed 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike, when more than 12,000 air traffic controllers walked off their jobs. In response, President Reagan said that the striking workers were in violation of the law and would lose their jobs if they did not return to work within 48 hours. When they failed to show up, Reagan fired the workers.

A Physicist Explains Why Parallel Universes May Exist

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Our universe might be really, really big — but finite. Or it might be infinitely big.

Both cases, says physicist Brian Greene, are possibilities, but if the latter is true, so is another posit: There are only so many ways matter can arrange itself within that infinite universe. Eventually, matter has to repeat itself and arrange itself in similar ways. So if the universe is infinitely large, it is also home to infinite parallel universes.

The ever-growing state: Taming Leviathan

Friday, May 20th, 2011

“IF SOMETHING cannot go on for ever, it will stop,” Herb Stein once observed caustically. The American economist’s aphorism has proved apt of late. Could it apply to the growth of the state?

Britain is on the verge of constitutional upheaval

Friday, May 20th, 2011

THIS may seem an odd moment to make the claim, but . The outside world may see an unvarying kingdom of royal weddings, golden carriages and clip-clopping Horse Guards, with a young prime minister drawn from the old Establishment. But strip away the pageantry, and David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is proposing radical changes to the constitutional order.

A national referendum Britain is a country in the grip of a modernising frenzy on May 5th and months of parliamentary wrangling lie ahead. But if all the changes being proposed by the coalition come to fruition, British democracy could look and feel very different by the next general election, set by the coalition for May 2015.

Depending on the outcome of the referendum [it failed miserably -DL], that general election may be held using a new voting system: supporters of change call it the biggest shake-up since votes for women in 1928. Voters are to be asked to choose between keeping the winner-takes-all system of first-past-the-post (FPTP) and moving to the alternative-vote (AV) method, in which voters rank candidates in numbered order of preference. Under AV, if no candidate wins more than 50% of voters’ first preferences, the least popular candidate is eliminated and the second preferences of those who voted for him are distributed. The process continues, redistributing third, fourth or lower preferences until someone crosses the 50% line.

Don’t worry, be happy: The government introduces the country’s new mantra

Friday, May 20th, 2011

THE pursuit of happiness, runs one of the most consequential sentences ever penned, is an unalienable right. That Jeffersonian sentiment seems to have influenced even China’s normally strait-laced, rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which has just wrapped up its annual session. Increasing happiness, officials now insist, is more important than increasing GDP. A new five-year plan adopted at the meeting has been hailed as a blueprint for a “happy China”.