Global News Blog
Russian President Vladimir Putin is rejecting the advice of some of his PR specialists to dial back his trademark action-hero persona and instead cultivate the image of a "wise patriarch," according to the pro-government Moscow daily Izvestia.
President Putin, who's now over 60, has insisted on a full slate of his traditional macho stunts this year, including scuba diving, hockey playing, actions to protect endangered animal species, and a possible visit to a science station in Antarctica, Izvestia says.
"Vladimir Putin will continue his active hobbies. Maybe he will go scuba diving in the summer. He continues the fight to preserve endangered species," the paper quotes Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying.
"As for a more 'patriarchal' style? Well, he has his own style, and that's his personal choice," he added.
Putin has been plagued with rumors of ill-health ever since he was seen limping at last September's APEC summit in Vladivostok. The Kremlin reacted indignantly to journalists' questions about his condition – which only seems to have inflamed the rumor-mill – and at some point Mr. Peskov conceded that the president was suffering from back pains.
Some pollsters argue that a recent dip in Putin's public approval rating, to about 62 percent from his usual 70 percent or so, might have been due to the uncertainties about his health.
"Putin's rating is down a bit, but it's a small fluctuation and doesn't spell a stable trend," says Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy director of the independent Levada Center in Moscow.
"These fluctuations occur for various reasons, and we attribute the latest dip to rumors about Putin's health. It's logical, because his image has always been based on his robust health and capacity for extreme actions.... I think he will repeat such actions because they confirm his own view that he controls his health much as he controls the country," Mr. Grazhdankin says.
Until recently, Putin had been regularly practicing at nights on a Moscow ice rink with Russian hockey pros – and occasionally with journalists – in preparation for what some Moscow sources whisper might be an exhibition game Putin was hoping to hold with other world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Last September Putin took to the skies in a motorized hang glider to guide a group of endangered Siberian cranes onto their correct migratory flight path.
According to Izvestia, Putin accepted an invitation from Chilean President Sebastian Pinera during a meeting in the Kremlin last September to visit Chilean and Russian science bases in Antarctica sometime early this year.
Peskov told the newspaper that the date has yet to be decided, "but since Putin is occupied with ecological issues, he will work with this question."
Some professional spin doctors argue that Putin would be wise to go with the flow of advancing age and cultivate a different, more realistic image for himself.
"A good PR specialist should not concoct beautiful lies, but find some merit in the client to focus on, tell people about, to show him in the best possible light," says Stanislav Radkevich, director of PR-3000, a Moscow think tank.
"In Putin's case, it should be connected with positive changes in the country that he has championed.... He needs to develop the image of a wise reformer, a competent leader, who is thinking about the fate of the country," he adds.
Elder image? Nyet.
But other experts argue that Putin will never accept the image of an aging, sedentary leader.
"At the beginning of his new term there was a lot of talk about how Putin might now be positioned [in the media], because of his age, as a wise man sitting in his study and handing down advice," says Leonid Polyakov, a political scientist with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
"Then Putin had a spinal trauma during a training session, and his spokesman confirmed that. His response to that appears to be that he is definitely not going to become the old man in the Kremlin.... I'm absolutely sure we're going to see more of Putin on horseback, jumping by parachute, taming tigers, and so on," he says.
"The explanation is simple. He just likes it. Sport is a way of life, Putin's still in good shape, and he simply can't stop."
In Muslim majority Bangladesh beef is in high demand.
More than 90 percent of the 160 million people who live there are Muslims and for them beef is a delicacy.
The country's meat producers estimate that slaughterhouses need up to 3 million cows every year to feed Bangladeshi appetites, and to help meet demand, Bangladesh is eyeing neighboring India. Cows are everywhere in India, but the cow is considered holy in the Hindu-majority country. In fact, slaughtering cows is banned in many Indian states, and New Delhi refuses to export them.
That refusal hasn't done much to deter the demand for beef in Bangladesh, however. In fact, say officials in Dhaka, beef has become so valuable it's spurred a dangerous cow smuggling trade across the India-Bangladesh border.
More than 2 million cows are smuggled from India to Bangladesh every year and most of the illegal trade takes place through the Indian border state of West Bengal, says Bimal Pramanik, an independent researcher in Calcutta, India.
“Bangladeshi slaughterhouses cannot source even 1 million cows from within the country. If Indian cows do not reach the Bangladeshi slaughterhouses, there will be a big crisis there,” says Mr. Pramanik, adding that 3 out of every 4 cows slaughtered in the country are from India.
“In this thriving trade, [herds of] cows worth 50 billion rupees [$920 million] are sent across to Bangladesh every year. It’s the sheer economics of the trade that drives the smuggling,” says Pramanik.
Cattle smugglers say they routinely bribe the police, customs, Border Security Force guards, and even some politicians in India to look the other way.
However, locals call this part of the border the “Wall of Death,” for the smuggling-related tensions that sometimes turn into violence. In 2012, security forces killed 48 Bangladeshis along the border, according to the Bangladeshi human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra.
But Bangladeshis say there is a simple way to end violence along the border.
"If India begins exporting cows to Bangladesh, such untoward incidents will stop," said the Bangladeshi Commerce Minister Golam Mohammad Quader. "We are really keen to import cows from India, and want all illegal activities involving cow trade across the border to end," he said.
The former head of India's Border Security Forces Utthan Kumar Bansal recently agreed:
“The menace of smuggling might be best controlled if the trade across the border is made legal. The legalization of export of cows could also help curb tension on the volatile border,” Mr. Bansal said.
Although Bansal’s comment did not trigger any government reaction in India, some right wing Hindu groups said they would never let India export cows to any country.
Radhakanta Saha, who is a World Hindu Organization leader and heads a volunteer group that aims to prevent cow smuggling in West Bengal, said: “The cow is our mother. We shall begin country-wide agitation if India decides to export cows to a country where they are likely to be slaughtered for ... meat.”
Crowds lined his path and leaned off arched terraces to catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama at his first ever appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival. The annual gathering, Asia's largest, of literati in this city of desert palaces has begun to attract global celebrities in recent years, with even Oprah Winfrey holding court here last year.
The Tibetan spiritual leader addressed a crowd of about 4,000 in a conversation with his biographer Pico Iyer.
Calling the 20th century a century of bloodshed and violence, the Dalai Lama urged that the “21st century be a century of dialogue.” The title of his talk, "Kinships of Faiths: Finding the Middle Way," headlined his hopes for comity even in the potential divisive realm of religion.
In his words, secularism is mostly misunderstood as being against religion. He said in India every religion is respected and our fore fathers framed the constitution of India by keeping space for every religion. "There are so many religions in India but the country is stable," he said.
The Delhi rape case came up, when a reporter asked his view on the Indians demanding capital punishment for the rapists.
"I have been noticing crimes in big cities like Bombay and Delhi… when these kinds of things happen people take it for granted. Now the time has come that we must make efforts for special protection to women, physically and men’s protection is education," said the Dalai Lama.
The rape case trial opened yesterday. Before the trial opened Indians were debating whether the accused should be chemically castrated or even put to death if found guilty. The Dalai Lama expressed his dislike of capital punishment. “Since many decades Amnesty International started a movement banning death sentence. I signed it. I do not like death penalty but it is up to the country's law to decide,” he told the reporters after his session.
He also asserted that the independent Tibet should be a secular and democratic country. The Dalai Lama spoke about the China-Tibet dispute, although conceding that he has now retired from his political role. He urged good relations between India and China are must as they are the “most populous nations in the world” and put forth India as an example for China to learn to be democratic.
This year 285 speakers will be speaking during the five day schedule. Last year, around 120,000 people had attended the five day festival.
Reported around the globe as a license to drive drunk, an Irish council's motion to permit rural pub-goers to get behind the wheel not only lacks force of law, it's also a slightly odd solution to a serious issue.
It's not often that a vote by five county councilors in rural west Ireland makes headline news, but Danny Healy-Rae managed it this week when he and four colleagues passed a motion to allow drinkers to drive home – albeit at a severely restricted speed and only on barely-used backroads.
The political response? The same as that of the Irish public: bafflement and embarrassment.
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Leo Varadkar, minister for transport, said he disagreed with the council's motion and stressed the affect of the story spreading across the globe. "It doesn't really send out a good message internationally about Ireland," he said.
One fact that has barely been reported in the scramble to play-up rural Irish alcoholic clichés: It's not going to happen. As a county council motion, the proposal has no legal status.
Irish people are keenly aware of the country's drink-sodden image, with many feeling Mr. Healy-Rae's motion plays to outdated prejudices about the country.
The move may not seem so out of the blue as it first sounds, though. Not quite, anyway.
Healy-Rae proposed the motion as a response to isolation in rural areas, particularly among the elderly and would help to counter "depression and suicide." He said permits could be issued allowing holders to have "two or three drinks" and then still drive home.
"They're traveling on very minor roads, often on tractors, with very little traffic and it's not right they're being treated the same as the rest of the traveling public and they have never killed anyone," he said. "The only outlet they have then is to take home a bottle of whiskey," he says, "and they're falling into depression, and suicide for some of them is the sad way out."
To be sure, pubs in country areas of Ireland are at the center of community life and are more than just drinking dens, which is something even the motion's critics acknowledge. And going to the pub and drinking nonalcoholic drinks is already an option, as is the option of hiring a bus.
Healy-Rae is a member of a colorful County Kerry political dynasty known for rural populism – and occasional support for strange causes including, most recently, removing the number 13 from vehicle license plates.
He is also a pub owner – as are three more of the total five councilors who supported the idea. Three voted against the idea, seven abstained, and 12 were absent from the meeting.
Despite widespread criticism, the motion has attracted some support. Independent Galway councilor Michael Fahy says he will raise the idea at the next council meeting.
The chances of the government agreeing to the idea? Less than the amount of alcohol in a glass of tap water. The country has worked hard in recent decades to reduce road deaths, both by upgrading the road network and by stricter enforcement of the rules of the road.
Ireland's road death rate hit an all-time low in 2012, with 161 lives lost, 25 fewer than the previous year. It is has the sixth lowest road death rate the in EU.
“My first sense as a young girl of sexual menace came from my Indian grandfather. Let me be clear: He never even remotely sexually threatened or molested me. But he made sure I knew that the world in which I, a girl, was growing up was innately perilous to women.”
So starts an illuminating first-person recollection of an American learning the rules of purdah – or concealment of women from men – on visits to relatives back in India. Her grandfather upbraided her for uppity talk and anything but simple dress, to teach her that the more invisible she was, the more safe she would be.
Mira Kamdar, writing on the Asia Society website, connects these lessons to the recent gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi: “It is clear ... that a purdah mentality still dogs Indian society. A woman who can be seen is seen as a woman available for violation.” But, at the same time, “[r]apid modernization and urbanization in India have made women, especially young women, visible as never before.”
Babies born good
Parents, it turns out that your bundles of joy could also be described as budding altruists. Writing for the Smithsonian magazine, Abigail Tucker writes on a heartwarming new area of research that’s finding babies showing preferences for “good guys” over “bad guys” and a proclivity to help and care for others.
“These findings may seem counterintuitive to anyone who has seen toddlers pull hair in a playground tunnel or pistol-whip one another with a plastic triceratops,” notes Ms. Tucker.
But a series of cleverly designed experiments at Yale and Harvard universities are seeing an orientation toward the good long before parents would seem to have had much chance to shape behavior.
The eureka moment for one researcher came while passing a ball back and forth with a toddler. The ball got away from the scientist, and rather than get it, he faked an inability to reach it. Seeing his struggle, the toddler got up to retrieve it for him. Other experiments involved puppet shows in which one color puppet is shown helping or hindering another. Eye-tracking tests found infants as young as 3 months old preferring the helper.
Life, liberty, and the pursuit of meaning
Whether we are born with it, or taught it, altruism looks to be key to our well-being as adults.
Emily Esfahani Smith, writing for The Atlantic, highlights a new psychological study that suggests “a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different.” Researchers interviewing 400 Americans found meaning in life to be tied up with being a “giver,” while happiness was more linked with being a “taker.” Meaning is also found in contemplating the future and the past, while happiness is fixated on the present – and is consequently more fleeting.
From the nation’s foundational documents to the self-help aisles of bookstores, Americans are famously in pursuit of happiness. But that’s something of a mug’s game: “Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research,” Ms. Smith writes.
The magazine goes on to cite data that roughly 40 percent of Americans have not found a “satisfying life purpose.”
There will be no Death Star
A group of Internet pranksters raised the 25,000-plus signatures needed to get a response from the White House on their petition to have the US build a Death Star. The White House, to no one’s surprise, replied that the country would not be building the moon-shaped space station from the “Star Wars” films that could blast planets into space dust. But the wording of the response, glorious it was.
“Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars” – $850,000,000,000,000,000, according to one study – “on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” wrote Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Budget at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and arguably the best communicator to emerge from the intersection of space science, accounting, and the federal government.
This smooth-talking Jedi then went on to highlight the gee-whiz stuff the government and the private sector are doing in space.
“[W]e’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.”
In other news, the White House has just upped the signature threshold for a response to 100,000.
Engineers who surveyed the cantilever structure then reported that the struts supporting the girders of the bridge had already lost half of their metal casing: The corrosion was apparently caused by acids in the gutkha.
Soon the Lions Club of Howrah launched a “Save Howrah Bridge from Spit” campaign urging people not to spit on the bridge.
The campaign spread across the city of Kolkata, where reddish-brown gutkha stains are visible almost everywhere — pavements, streets, office staircases, business houses, and residential complexes. Prominent citizens of Kolkata joined the campaign in an effort to rid the city of the ugly stains.
Gutkha is a commercially produced pre-packaged mixture of crushed betel nut, tobacco, lime, paraffin, and other “secret” ingredients, many of which are carcinogenic and addictive.
Some brands of gutkha also contain lead, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and cadmium, which are as bad as nicotine. To make its shelf life longer, magnesium carbonate – which is used in fire extinguishers and is a known carcinogen – is also added to gutkha.
Activists reported about a year ago that one-third of men and one-fifth of women across India are addicted to chewing tobacco and gutkha was its most popular form.
Because of its candy-like flavor and dirt-cheap prices — 4 to 6 cents per sachet — gutkha has become increasingly popular among children, who chew and even eat it. An estimated 5 million of India’s children are addicted to gutkha, and every day another 5,000 try it for the first time, according to reports last year by the American Cancer Society.
Research indicates that tobacco kills 1 million Indians annually and that gutkha alone leads to 80,000 cases of oral cancer every year — the highest incidence in the world. In recent years an anti-gutkha campaign has picked up steam across the country with several nongovernment organizations lobbying for a ban on gutkha.
In August 2011, India’s Food Safety and Standard Authority issued a regulation declaring that no foodstuff, including gutkha, could contain tobacco. Last year some states began following the order by banning gutkha.
With Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states having banned it earlier this month, the manufacture and sale of the product has now been prohibited in 17 of India’s 28 states and 3 of the 7 union territories (UTs), including New Delhi. However, reports in many local newspapers suggest that gutkha is being smuggled from other regions and is still being sold in many states.
Kolkata-based anti-gutkha campaigner Sekharesh Ghoshal said that states and union territories should cooperate and ban the tobacco in the national interest.
“Sachets of gutkha display a warning that it’s dangerous for health. Yet gutkha users do not pay any attention to such health risks and keep on chewing it,” says Dr. Ghoshal.
“Unless gutkha is banned and actually made unavailable in the market, you cannot stop people from using it. A ban only in parts of the country is of no help.”
But in many states the gutkha companies are fighting the ban by taking the local government to court.
They argue that gutkha is a tobacco product that cannot be classified as a foodstuff, and therefore cannot be banned. Still, courts in most states have upheld the ban.
Bela Naskar, the mother of two child addicts in a slum in Kolkata, says she vehemently supports a ban on gutkha.
“My 10- and 13-year-old sons have been into gutkha for some years. They take several sachets of it every day. It’s bad for their health. But they don’t listen to my warnings.”
“We really need a ban on gutkha in our state,” Ms. Naskar says. “Otherwise I shall not be able to rid my children from this dangerous addiction.”
War and nationalist sentiment usually go hand in hand. The week-old war in Mali is no exception. As the war drums beat hotter in this landlocked former French colony in West Africa, nationalism is also on the rise.
But in this case, it is French nationalism that is rising.
Normally, Malian attitudes towards France, which once ruled the country as a colony, range from resentment to admiration. But when France launched a bombing campaign against Islamist rebels in central and northern Mali last week, French flags bloomed around the capital Bamako almost instantaneously.
Flags are waved on the street, show up on cars, motorcycles, appear in windows. Vive la France!
What might be called a panoply of pro-France merchandise is found everywhere, offering insight both into a quick shift in Malian attitudes toward France, and into the workings of Bamako’s street markets.
Moreover, the flags, like so much merchandise around the world, do not come from France – but are made, shipped, stocked and marketed through the larger Chinese vendors in Bamako.
Information about the new commodity of French flags begins downtown at the “Place d’Indépendance.” At this square, teenage boys work in groups to sell the French tricolor in the shadow of a monument to honor Mali’s independence from colonial rule. No one seems to notice the irony.
One young man, Cheickounah Koné, usually sells toys, battery-powered fly swatters, and odds and ends for about $5 a day, mostly to drivers stuck in traffic.
But two days after French jets began operations, a demand for flags made him change his product. He sells small flags on a staff with a suction cup on the end, that now adorn motor-scooters. Taxi drivers buy full-sized French flags and cover their rear windows with them.
For the last few days Mr. Kone has picked up some $25 a day in patriotic war spoils.
“Vive la France!” says one smiling customer who forks over $2 for the French colors.
Kone’s flag stash comes from a large chaotic market called “Sugu ba,” an intense zone of capitalism in this capital, where French paraphernalia is discovered finally at “Chez les Chinois,” on the edge of the market.
Rows of Chinese-owned stores sell an array of goods, ranging from plastics to electronics.
In the first shop the owner says she ran out of flags days ago, that boxes of French flags that sat on the floor for years, were now gone. But more are coming from her homeland, China, she asserts.
Along the row, nearly every shop was sold out of French goods, most in the last few days.
As I field a phone call in the halls of the House of China, my Malian guides discover with some disappointment that I am an American, not a Frenchman.
But they quickly recover: “No, no, no... it’s ok, it’s ok,” one guide, Moussa says in strained English. “Obama is still good, but [French President] Hollande saved us, he saved Mali.”
This week, Hindu ascetics in ostentatious chariots pulled by elephants and horses along with pilgrims and tourists from around the world arrived in Allahabad, about halfway between New Delhi and Kolkata, India.
Their faces smeared with ash and bodies covered in little more than marigold garlands, the religious men marked the opening of the Kumbh Mela, by rushing into the cold water to bathe at 5 a.m. on Monday.
The Hindu festival is billed as the world's largest gathering, a chance to wash away karmic debt and liberate oneself from the cycle of rebirth and death. It's also a broadly shared experience in a country where the saying goes that there are as many Indias as there are Indians.
"What is most endearing about the Kumbh festival is that all Hindus across caste and class come together. All hierarchies melt in the great river. It's unity in diversity," says Ram Naresh Tripathi, a retired journalist and Hindu astrologer in Allahabad.
This is one of four Kumbh Melas, each held in different cities over different intervals – this one comes to Allahabad every 12 years. These festivals are all miraculous, at the very least in terms of logistics.
On Monday's opening, at least 10 million people bathed in the sangam, or confluence, of three rivers, the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the Saraswati. By the end of the festival on March 10, an estimated 100 million people will have bathed in the river. Feb. 10 is the day considered most auspicious by religious followers, and is therefore the busiest day.
A temporary tent city has been set up on 6,000 acres of land, and the Indian Railways is running 750 special trains to make sure people from different parts of the country can reach it.
The numbers indicate the scale of the exercise: 18 pontoon bridges, 35,000 toilets, 97 miles of new roads, 355 miles of water pipelines, 497 miles of electric wires, 48 power sub-stations, four warehouses for grains, groceries and vegetables, 22 doctors, 120 ambulances, 30 new police stations, 100 beds for local hospitals and so on, according to Mela Officer Mani Prasad Mishra.
At a press conference addressed, journalists complained about incomplete work, to which Mr. Mishra replied that the authorities had been rushing against time. "We are in control of the situation and whatever requirements are needed to conduct it successfully have been put in place," he said.
The government has taken measures to fight contagious diseases, expected stampedes and fires, and terrorist attacks. Some 30,000 policemen are patrolling the Kumbh, which is under the surveillance of 56 watchtowers and 89 CCTV cameras. A market made up of 11,000 stalls has been set up to sell everything from food to ornaments and curios.
The festival cost an estimated $290 million to organize, but a study by The Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry in India says the Uttar Pradesh state government is likely to recover most of it through revenues generated by tourism.
Tourists and pilgrims are expected from across the world. Among the expected visitors: The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and actors Richard Gere, Michael Douglas, and his wife Catherine Zeta Jones.
Mr. Tripathi, the journalist-turned-astrologer, said the Kumbh had changed a lot since his childhood, with the gathering now catering to Hindus with newfound wealth. “The sadhus [ascetics] have all become hi-tech. They used to come on foot from hundreds of miles away but today they come in cars and carry gadgets like tablet computers,” he says.
Good Reads: Thick financial fog, unskilled workers, self-helped Americans, and a forgiveness that heals
Here’s the short answer to the question posed on the cover of the latest Atlantic Monthly, “What’s inside America’s banks?”: No one knows. Not the regulators, not sophisticated investors, and not even the bankers themselves.
“Banks today are bigger and more opaque than ever, and they continue to behave in many of the same ways they did before the crash,” write Frank Partnoy and Jesse Eisinger, authors of the Atlantic piece.
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Complexity and opaqueness are the core of the problem, according to the authors. They cite a wide range of former bankers, investors, and regulatory officials who know the banks best and who “absolutely” don’t trust their accounting. Even the banks with the best reputations, JP Morgan or Wells Fargo, are impenetrable black boxes with annual reports that defy parsing by even the most expert readers.
The fog of financial complexity is matched by a fog of rules – as regulators parry moves by the bankers – but always a few moves behind. The famed Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 ran to 37 pages. Dodd-Frank of 2010 was 848 pages and may balloon to 30,000 in the end. By the time the law’s “Volcker Rule” is finalized, “only a handful of partners at the world’s biggest law firms will understand it.”
The authors would offer the following version instead: “Banks are not permitted to engage in proprietary trading. Period.”
That would save a lot of paper.
Maybe the Luddites had a point
Traditionally, technology has raised incomes for each generation by raising worker productivity. But ever smarter technologies are replacing the need for unskilled labor altogether, argue economists Jeffrey Sachs and Laurence Kotlikoff in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Think, for example, of the fully automated turnpike tollbooths or checkout stands at Home Depot. Investors are benefiting from these innovations, as are highly skilled programmers and technologists. (And lines are shorter.) But the jobs that are disappearing are the unskilled ones that offer young people a first few steps up the economic ladder. Without them, the authors argue, we don’t really have a ladder, and lifetime well-being slips by a generation. So what to do? For individuals, this sounds like a warning to get some skills.
“Although smart machines substitute for unskilled workers, they are designed and run by skilled workers. So it’s no surprise that the incomes of skilled workers have risen relative to those of unskilled workers.” The authors note that this is one reason the wage premium for college graduates has increased from around 40 percent in 1999 to more than 80 percent today.
From Benjamin Franklin to Oprah Winfrey, from “How to Win Friends & Influence People” to “The 4-Hour Workweek,” self-help advice is a very American phenomenon – and getting more so, according to Laura Vanderkam writing in the quarterly City Journal. More than 45,000 self-help book titles are in print, she writes, and the genre’s share of all titles published doubled from 1975 to 2000.
“There is much to mock” in this field, she notes, and she runs through its history and various critiques. But there is much that is useful as well. Socially mobile Americans construct their own notions of the good life, in DIY-style, “from what we see of the world around us – and what we find at the bookstore.”
Crime and recovery
In these weeks following the Newtown, Conn., shooting, there is something – dare we say healing? – in The New York Times Magazine story by Paul Tullis about the killing of Ann Grosmaire by her fiancé, Conor McBride, in 2010. The crime came in a moment of overwhelming emotion after an argument between the two community college students that had stretched on for 38 hours. It was not premeditated exactly, but it wasn’t an accident either.
As the father of the mortally wounded and unconscious Ann sat with her in a Tallahassee, Fla., hospital, he “felt” her say “Forgive him” so clearly that he spoke his refusal aloud. But he kept hearing that message in her voice. A devout Roman Catholic, he was praying in the hospital four days later, shortly before removing her from life support, when he “realized it was not just Ann asking me to forgive Conor, it was Jesus Christ.”
The journey the family went on then took them through a process called “restorative justice,” which strives for agreement among everyone involved in and affected by a crime over how to make restitution. This means that victims, offenders, and their families sooner or later end up sitting around a table and talking.
The upshot, in this story as in others, is forgiveness. Says Ann’s mother, Kate: “I think that when people can’t forgive, they’re stuck. All they can feel is the emotion surrounding that moment.... Forgiveness to me was self-preservation.”
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If it weren’t for Eliezer Ben Yehuda, I wouldn’t be able to order ice cream, ask directions to the local furniture store, or discuss Gaza bombings in Hebrew.
Since I’m a new journalist in Israel who happens to love ice cream and arrived here with only one piece of furniture to my name, that would be grave indeed.
So I for one am grateful for Mr. Ben Yehuda, who was born 155 years ago today in the Russian empire.
Legend has it that the man was not only brilliant, but a little crazy. And you would have to be, if you were planning to try to resurrect an ancient language after roughly 2,000 years and expect it to become the primary spoken language of a country that didn't even exist yet.
But the Sorbonne-educated Ben Yehuda did just that – well before the state of Israel was founded in 1948, and even before Lord Balfour of Britain made his famous promise to the Zionists in 1917 to help establish a Jewish homeland.
Of course, Hebrew was the language of the Torah – the biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – as well as other religious writings. So many Jews were familiar with it. But they didn’t use it to talk about things like grocery shopping or even politics.
Where to start? With your family, of course. When Ben Yehuda arrived in Israel with his family, he banned his wife and children from speaking any other language. According to tradition, his family was the first to speak exclusively Hebrew in the home.
He also helped start schools and Hebrew-language newspapers, and published the first dictionary of modern Hebrew, often drawing on biblical words to coin modern terms. Ultra-Orthodox Jews pushed back hard, arguing that Hebrew is a holy language and not to be used to discuss the mundane. Many of them still prefer to speak in Yiddish when discussing daily affairs.
But Hebrew is nevertheless the dominant language in Israel today, although Arabic is an official language as well.
But I digress.
You were wondering about how to order ice cream, right?
G'lida. That’s your ticket.
Todah (thank you), Ben Yehuda.