Energy Conservation “Nudges” Shaped by Political Ideology

Dora L. Costa and Matthew E. Kahn in Vox EU (via the Monkey Cage):

Residential electricity consumption represents roughly 35% of California's total electricity demand. Conservation by consumers would both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and economise on the construction of costly new power plants. But how can we encourage conservation?

Behavioural economists have promoted the use of “nudges” to encourage energy conservation (Allcott and Mullainathan 2010 and Thaler and Sunstein 2008). “Nudges” offer a politically palatable alternative to stricter building codes and price increases. Research by Allcott (2009), Ayers et al. (2009), and Schultz et al. (2007) found that providing feedback to customers on home electricity and natural gas usage with a focus on peer comparisons decreased consumption by 1% to 2%, potentially saving 110 million kWh per year if feedback were provided to all of the utility’s customers (Ayers et al. 2009).

Conservatives and conservation

In recent research, we present evidence that behavioural economists have underestimated the role that ideological heterogeneity plays in determining the effectiveness of energy conservation nudges.

We find that the effectiveness of energy conservation nudges depend on an individual’s political views. Although liberals and environmentalists are more energy efficient than conservatives (Costa and Kahn 2010b) – thus making it harder for them to reduce consumption further – we find that liberals and environmentalists are more responsive to these nudges than the average person. In contrast, for certain subsets of Republican registered voters, we find that the specific “treatment nudge” that we evaluate has the unintended consequence of increasing electricity consumption.

People who refuse the “treatment” of a feedback nudge or do the opposite of what the nudge is meant to encourage are known in the literature as “defiers” (Freedman 2006). But there are few specific examples of what motivates the defiers. We argue that political ideology may provide one explanation; an energy-conservation nudge may be ignored by conservative Republicans. Some may increase their consumption as they learn that their past consumption was “low” relative to others.

Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth

Debora MacKenzie in New Scientist:

Mg20627606_100-1_300 Heard the latest? The swine flu pandemic was a hoax: scientists, governments and the World Health Organization cooked it up in a vast conspiracy so that vaccine companies could make money.

Never mind that the flu fulfilled every scientific condition for a pandemic, that thousands died, or that declaring a pandemic didn't provide huge scope for profiteering. A group of obscure European politicians concocted this conspiracy theory, and it is now doing the rounds even in educated circles.

This depressing tale is the latest incarnation of denialism, the systematic rejection of a body of science in favour of make-believe. There's a lot of it about, attacking evolution, global warming, tobacco research, HIV, vaccines – and now, it seems, flu. But why does it happen? What motivates people to retreat from the real world into denial?

Here's a hypothesis: denial is largely a product of the way normal people think. Most denialists are simply ordinary people doing what they believe is right. If this seems discouraging, take heart. There are good reasons for thinking that denialism can be tackled by condemning it a little less and understanding it a little more.

Whatever they are denying, denial movements have much in common with one another, not least the use of similar tactics (see “How to be a denialist”). All set themselves up as courageous underdogs fighting a corrupt elite engaged in a conspiracy to suppress the truth or foist a malicious lie on ordinary people. This conspiracy is usually claimed to be promoting a sinister agenda: the nanny state, takeover of the world economy, government power over individuals, financial gain, atheism.

More here.

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment

Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books:

Netanyahu_benjamin-061109_jpg_230x867_q85 Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Google Earth

The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from
earth to heaven.
……….. Theseus, from a Midsummer Night's Dream
……….. (Act V, Scene 1) Shakespeare

We started in Africa, the world at our fingertips,
dropped in on your house in Zimbabwe; threading
our way north out of Harare into the suburbs,
magnifying the streets–the forms of things unknown,
till we spotted your mum's white Mercedes parked
in the driveway; seeming–more strange than true,
the three of us huddled round a monitor in Streatham,
you pointed out the swimming pool and stables.
We whizzed out, looking down on our blue planet,
then like gods—zoomed towards Ireland–
taking the road west from Cork to Kinsale,
following the Bandon river through Innishannon,
turning off and leapfrogging over farms
to find our home framed in fields of barley;
enlarged the display to see our sycamore's leaves
waving back. Then with the touch of a button,
we were smack bang in Central London,
tracing our footsteps earlier in the day, walking
the wobbly bridge between St Paul's and Tate Modern;
the London Eye staring majestically over the Thames.
South through Brixton into Streatham–
one sees more devils than vast hell can hold–
the blank expressions of millions of roofs gazing
squarely up at us, while we made our way down
the avenue, as if we were trying to sneak up
on ourselves; till we were right outside the
the lunatic, the lover and the poet– peeping through
the computer screen like a window to our souls.

by Adam Wyeth
from Landing Places: Immigrant Poets in Ireland
Dedalus Press, Dublin, 2010

start them off in the wrong direction


Artist/filmmaker Pat O’Neill’s 1989 Sundance Grand Jury Prize–winning experimental feature Water & Power — a sort-of Chinatown-meets–Koyaanisqatsi-on-nootropics dealie — is rightfully recognized as one of the signal artifacts of late 20th century L.A. culture, not to mention a radical turning point in experimental cinema. Since making that splash, after a quarter-century toiling in the experimental-cinema mines (and the somewhat more lucrative special-effects fields), O’Neill has expanded his reputation into the art world with gallery and museum exhibitions of his sculptures, drawings, prints and projection-based installations. His double-barreled 2002 magnum opus film/interactive CD-ROM, The Decay of Fiction, took his ambivalent relationship with narrative into even more interdimensional realms (by way of Hollywood noir and the Ambassador Hotel), and marked his first artistic engagement with digital media.

more from Doug Harvey at the LA Weekly here.

a bedu hick town


MUZAHMIAH WAS A BEDU HICK TOWN in 1968, when my father was nine years old, and it’s a Bedu hick town now. The one-truck farming outpost twenty-five miles west of Riyadh is best known as the home of the Reem International Circuit, Saudi Arabia’s answer to the Daytona International Speedway. But back in 1968, it was not even that. My father, Mohamed, remembers that winter as “the season of the television,” when his world was dilated by the arrival of a black-and-white Sears set on a ledge overlooking my great-uncle Saleh’s courtyard. In my father’s telling of the seasons, that winter was preceded by “the season of the Hell,” when he’d encountered his first oil flare. He and Uncle Ali were hitching a ride to a relative’s camp near al-Hassa on the back of a postman’s truck. It was dusk, and the sun had settled deep into the reddening west. But oddly, there was also light coming from the east: a clean, yellow, too-bright light that threatened to bring the morning out to meet the night. My father and Ali climbed up from behind the shield of the cab and into the open, where they were buffeted by sandy gales. On the horizon there appeared a roaring flame, more brilliant than the sun. It was unfathomably large and impossibly high off the ground, exactly like a mirage—only there was no way this was an illusion.

more from Sophia Al-Maria at Triple Canopy here.

the new authoritarian Marxism


I propose to write a series of posts on what I will call the “new authoritarian Marxism” of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. I think their ideas are a theoretical disaster and I find their popularity on campuses across Europe and North America to be deeply depressing. In this first post I claim that at the theoretical core of the new authoritarian Marxism is a terrorist theory of the state based on totalitarian notions of (always capitalized) Truth and Good. Here is the leading philosopher of the new authoritarian Marxism, Alain Badiou:

My personal position is the following: It is necessary to examine, in a detailed way, the contemporary theory of Evil, the ideology of human rights, the concept of democracy. It is necessary to show that nothing there leads in the direction of the real emancipation of humanity. It is necessary to reconstruct rights, in everyday life as in politics, of Truth and of the Good. (…) Terror is a political tool that has been in use as long as human societies have existed. It should therefore be judged as a political tool, and not submitted to infantilizing moral judgment. (…) As for the love of the Other, or, worse, the “recognition of the Other,” these are nothing but Christian confections. There is never “the Other” as such. There are projects of thought, or of actions, on the basis of which we distinguish between those who are friends, those who are enemies, and those who can be considered neutral.

more from Alan Johnson at Dissent here.

Lingering Questions

Vu Tran reviews About a Mountain by John D'Agata in The Wilson Quarterly:

D'agata-about a mountain Our relentless search for solutions to our self-created problems, D'Agata posits, has made us displace our grasp on reason and reality, on the problems (the questions) themselves. This is where his myriad investigations dovetail with suicide. D'Agata learns that Levi Presley was the fourth person since 2000 to jump off the Stratosphere, and that shiny Las Vegas has the country's highest suicide rate, though he hunts fruitlessly for someone in town to explain why. His investigation into the circumstances surrounding Levi's death is similarly stymied, yielding only arbitrary details of the boy's life (his affinity for Applebee's restaurants, purple-tinted glasses, a girl named Mary, etc.). So, eschewing psychoanalysis, D'Agata reconstructs Levi's journey through the Stratosphere's carnival of games and wares and advertisements, up its 1,149-foot tower, and to his death, in the book's most profound statement on the absurdity of how we as humans invent, communicate, and self-destruct.

About a Mountain is ultimately about that absurdity: the unreasonableness of reason. Yucca Mountain may be the most thoroughly studied parcel of land in the world, but its endless unknowns reveal “only the fragility of our capacity to know.” The one certain truth is that we interpret the elusive universe at our own risk, that meaning — however one may confront or pursue it — is inevitably fluid, conditional, and ambiguous.

More here.

Doomsayers Beware, a Bright Future Beckons

John Tierney on The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley in The New York Times:

Lamp “The modern world is a history of ideas meeting, mixing, mating and mutating,” Dr. Ridley writes. “And the reason that economic growth has accelerated so in the past two centuries is down to the fact that ideas have been mixing more than ever before.” Our progress is unsustainable, he argues, only if we stifle innovation and trade, the way China and other empires did in the past. Is that possible? Well, European countries are already banning technologies based on the precautionary principle requiring advance proof that they’re risk-free. Americans are turning more protectionist and advocating byzantine restrictions like carbon tariffs. Globalization is denounced by affluent Westerners preaching a return to self-sufficiency.

But with new hubs of innovation emerging elsewhere, and with ideas spreading faster than ever on the Internet, Dr. Ridley expects bottom-up innovators to prevail. His prediction for the rest of the century: “Prosperity spreads, technology progresses, poverty declines, disease retreats, fecundity falls, happiness increases, violence atrophies, freedom grows, knowledge flourishes, the environment improves and wilderness expands.”

If you’re not ready to trust an optimist, if you still fear a reckoning is at hand, you might consider the words of Thomas B. Macaulay, a British poet, historian and politician who criticized doomsayers of the mid-1800s. “We cannot absolutely prove,” he wrote, “that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us, and with just as much apparent reason.”

More here.

The Red and the Slack

1272912258kirsch_050310_380pxAdam Kirsch in The Tablet:

Is it too soon to say that the Brandeis novel is having a moment? It is, at least, an intriguing coincidence that two novels published recently are set at Brandeis University in the 1970s and that both feature a comically ineffectual campus protest. In 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, which came out at the beginning of this year, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein thinly disguised the school as Frankfurter University (Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, Frankfurter the second) and joked about a student uprising against the introduction of fraternities and sororities. Taking a cue from some earlier Jews who didn’t like the Greek system, Goldstein’s protesters call themselves Maccabees.

Politics and protest are far more central to Something Red, the new novel by Jennifer Gilmore, but she too conceives of a Brandeis uprising as something inherently comical. Early in the book, Benji Goldstein, the athlete son of a liberal D.C. clan, stumbles into a ragged rally on the Waltham campus—actually a counterprotest, in which a few students are opposing a larger student movement to ban nonkosher food from the dining halls. Here Benji meets Rachel Feinglass—“olive-skinned, black-haired, short, big-breasted”—who is sufficiently political to fight for the right of Jewish students to eat pork, even though she herself is a vegetarian. “This is about truth, about what this university is supposed to stand for. This is a participatory democracy,” she harangues, and Benji is more than convinced. On the spot, he falls in love with Rachel, with Brandeis, and with the idea of radical protest, all of which are mixed up in his inarticulate but heartfelt declaration, “I fucking love college.”

Of course, student demonstrations at Brandeis were not always so silly. In the 1960s, Benji learns in his class “American Protest!” (the exclamation point is a nice touch), the school produced radicals like Abbie Hoffman and Angela Davis. But Gilmore’s novel is set in 1979—the year of the Iran hostage crisis and President Carter’s grain embargo on the Soviet Union—and all that remains of the ’60s spirit is the Grateful Dead and dropping acid. “Each and every day Benji sat in a lecture, he wished he’d been born a decade and a half previously,” Gilmore writes, and this sense of belatedness is the real theme of Something Red. Can Jews in the 1970s—and by implication, in our own time—really lay claim to the legacy of Jewish radicalism that dates back to the early 20th century?

Non-Normalizable Probability Measures for Fun and Profit

Seancarroll Sean Carroll over at Cosmic Variance:

Here’s a fun logic puzzle (see also here; originally found here). There’s a family resemblance to the Monty Hall problem, but the basic ideas are pretty distinct.

An eccentric benefactor holds two envelopes, and explains to you that they each contain money; one has two times as much cash as the other one. You are encouraged to open one, and you find $4,000 inside. Now your benefactor — who is a bit eccentric, remember — offers you a deal: you can either keep the $4,000, or you can trade for the other envelope. Which do you choose?

If you’re a tiny bit mathematically inclined, but don’t think too hard about it, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that you should definitely switch. After all, there seems to be a 50% chance that the other envelope contains $2,000, and a 50% chance that it contains $8,000. So your expected value from switching is the average of what you will gain — ($2,000 + $8,000)/2 = $5,000 — minus the $4,000 you lose, for a net gain of $1,000. Pretty easy choice, right?

A moment’s reflection reveals a puzzle. The logic that convinces you to switch would have worked perfectly well no matter what had been in the first envelope you opened. But that original choice was complete arbitrary — you had an equal chance to choose either of the envelopes. So how could it always be right to switch after the choice was made, even though there is no Monty Hall figure who has given you new inside information?

Here’s where the non-normalizable measure comes in, as explained here and here. Think of it this way: imagine that we tweaked the setup by positing that one envelope had 100,000 times as much money as the other one. Then, upon opening the first one, you found $100,000 inside. Would you be tempted to switch?

Paul Berman, Tariq Ramadan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Western liberals

FlightoftheIntellectuals Hussein Ibish over at his blog:

Paul Berman's important and frequently brilliant, but also seriously flawed, new book “The Flight of the Intellectuals” (Melville House, 2010) is an old-fashioned polemic that takes aim at two main targets. Berman's main subject, judging from the title and certainly the conclusion of the book, are his fellow liberal intellectuals Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, who he accuses of a witches' brew of offenses involving white liberal guilt and displaced racism, abandoning Enlightenment values and craven cowardice in the face of Islamist bullying, and who he sees as emblematic of a widespread rot in the Western liberal intelligentsia. But to get to them, he has to go through Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim academic and activist who also happens to be the grandson of the founder of the original Muslim Brotherhood party in Egypt, Hassan al-Banna, and the son of his second in command, Said Ramadan. So actually, the bulk of the book dwells on not only Ramadan but also al-Banna and, in great detail, his ally Amin al-Husseini, the one-time “grand mufti” of Jerusalem.

The book makes a series of loosely connected cases, some much stronger than others, and hits some very important points with extreme precision, but in other cases runs wildly off the mark and occasionally goes running down a rabbit hole of pointlessness. Even within each case, there are moments when Berman seems to lose the plot completely and inexplicably. In my first response to this very significant book I want to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the two main cases one by one.

Case one: Tariq Ramadan

Berman does a very good job of explicating Ramadan's highly problematic family background and his troubling, albeit perfectly natural, fealty to the frankly baneful legacies of his grandfather and, to a lesser extent, his father. I don't think Berman is exaggerating at all in his no holds barred description of al-Banna's extremism and the highly negative impact his thinking has had on contemporary Muslim political discourse. Describing him as the godfather of all practical applications of contemporary Islamism, especially in the Arab world, is exactly right. I also don't think he's exaggerating how problematic Ramadan's championing and soft-pedaling of his grandfather's ideas and legacy really is. But, he concedes, the son is not the father or the grandfather, and ultimately needs to be considered on his own terms. And, Berman is to be congratulated for, it is sad to say unusually, actually reading his Arab subjects' writings carefully, taking them seriously and taking them at their word.

The Times Square Bomber: Home-Grown Hatred?

GettyImages_91593635_jpg_230x363_q85Ahmed Rashid in the NYRB blog:

The Pakistani media is in a state of apoplexy about the would-be Times Square bomber, the Pakistani-born US citizen Faisal Shahzad. Predictably a great many commentators in the press and on the non-stop talk shows that run on over 25 TV news channels have discussed whether it was a CIA plot to embarrass Pakistan or provide an excuse for American troops to invade us: Was Shahzad an Indian or Israeli agent? And in any case, why should Washington hold Pakistan responsible, since he was an American citizen?

Not surprisingly, the Zardari government, the army, and Pakistani politicians have also muddied the waters. Although the government has said it will fully cooperate with US investigators seeking to find out which extremist groups trained Shahzad and where, Islamabad continues to fudge the paramount issue—the need for Pakistan to launch a comprehensive campaign against all extremist groups rather than the hit-and-miss anti-terrorism measures it is presently pursuing. That selective campaign leaves untouched the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan—including Mullah Omar and other top leaders—who are not killing Pakistanis but are organizing attacks against US troops in Afghanistan; it also has ignored the Punjabi Taliban groups who have been attacking Indian nationals and government buildings in Kashmir, Kabul, and elsewhere, as well as killing numerous Pakistanis in suicide bombings in Lahore and other cities.

Both the Zardari government and the press have also made much of the conflicting statements by US officials, with Hilary Clinton threatening Pakistan with dire consequences if it does not deal with terror attacks, while General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, and other military officials suggesting that Shahzad may have been a lone wolf. But what about the US press?

One would have thought that with the growing number of American Muslims who have been radicalized and planned or even launched an act of terrorism—the Fort Hood shooting spree of Army doctor Nadal Hasan last November is another example—there would be some effort to determine why Islamic radicalism is growing in the United States. But so far there has been very little.

The Empire of Conversation

Image Posted over at n+1, Dushko Petrovich's piece in the upcoming issue of the innovative contemporary arts journal Paper Monument:

The British Empire is now the Empire of Conversation. The distant lands are lost, but the language has increased, and its experts, still there on the island, are practicing nightly, drinking their way through the rain, refining their understatements somewhere inside the gray labyrinth of human feeling. No one suffers their expertise quite like the American, who will also be down at the pub, also losing an empire, often getting more loudly (but never more charmingly) drunk than his hosts. His empire consists of something else entirely. He tries to think what. Something gangly and violent, is all he can think.

This was some years ago. London kept attracting money and people, but New Labour’s magnet had worn off. Tony Blair’s dependable grin was now purely automatic. He ended up a warmonger, the little shit. Still, after just twenty seconds of Prime Minister’s Questions, our visitor was burning with envy. His own legislature couldn’t be called a parliament, he thought—its members don’t even know how to speak. Not to mention the president, who was so inarticulate he’d reduced himself to an initial and reduced several nations to war. Or that’s how it seemed to our visitor, staring at the TV, mesmerized by the overhead view of Westminster’s green leather.

But our visitor had come for culture. He had been invited, he reminded himself, for culture. That same evening, he had to attend a panel comparing the art worlds in America and Britain. He found a seat at the back, and settled in. From behind an intricate podium, in an accent that hovered somewhere over the Atlantic, the event’s organizer introduced a curator, an artist, and a journalist—all British. The tall man who had recently taken a job in Cincinnati expertly presented the American experience: everything was big and new and basically friendlier.

In the library, over a glass of claret, our visitor couldn’t but confirm this testimony for his inquiring friends. American art schools did tend to have newer facilities; people sometimes smiled at one another; and yes, the curricula often blurred into a kind of career development seminar. America was always entrepreneurial, and these were the boom years. At openings, yes, but also at drunken parties and staff meetings, or even at a hungover brunch, cheerful self-promotion spread like a vine in the protective shadow of the market. Everybody was shaking hands and kissing. Our visitor never thought he’d miss it.

hitch’s threesome


My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May. —Martin Amis, The Independent, January 15, 2007. Events elicited the above tribute from Martin only after the mid-September of our real lives, when the press had been making the very most of a disagreement we had been having in print in the summer of 2002 about Stalin and Trotsky. Looking back, though, I am inclined to date the burgeoning refulgence of our love to something more like the calendar equivalent of April. Still, it was actually in the gloomy autumn of 1973, around the time of the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War, between Israel and Egypt, that we properly met. To anchor the moment in time: Salvador Allende had just been murdered by Pinochet in Chile, W. H. Auden had died, James Fenton (the author of the most beautiful poems to come out of the Second Indochina War) had won an Eric Gregory Award for poetry and used the money to go off and live in Vietnam and Cambodia, and at the age of 24 I had been hired to fill at least some of the void that he left behind at the New Statesman. Peter Ackroyd, literary editor of the rival and raffishly Tory Spectator, was giving me a drink one evening after returning from a trip of his own to the Middle East, and he said in that inimitable quacking and croaking and mirthful voice of his, “I’ve got someone I think you should meet.” When he told me the name, I rather offhandedly said that I believed we’d once met already, with Fenton at Oxford. Anyway, it was agreed that we would make up a threesome on the following evening, at the same sawdust-infested wine bar, called the Bung Hole, where my New Statesman career had begun.

more from Christopher Hitchens at Vanity Fair here.

germaine greer glances back 40 years or so


Feminism was no sooner recognised as a social force than the commercial media were bound to declare that it was over. The odd woman had barely got her bottom on a seat in the boardroom before we were told that high-flying female executives were ditching wealth and power and opting for stay-at-home motherhood. Contrariwise we were told that now that women could have it all, there was no need for feminist activism or even feminist attitudes. Under the twitter could be heard the rumble of massive change. Something terrible happened to marriage. Why do half of all marriages end in divorce and why are so many of those divorces initiated by the partner who has most to lose, the wife? Is this the end of monogamy and the patriarchal family? Are men and women struggling to arrive at rational systems of child-rearing that do not presuppose the subjection of one partner? Or is it just women? Patterns of cohabitation and parenting are disintegrating and reforming, as women walk away from relationships that are at worst demeaning or dangerous, or at best unfair and unrewarding. At the same time, lovers of the same sex are demanding and winning the right to marry. This may look very like chaos, but chaos is the matrix out of which viable structures form.

more from Germaine Greer at the ALR here.

my father was a communist

Rajk_sr_138x219Question from the audience: You said there is no place for morality when it comes to dealing with the past – it's not about saying “I was young and stupid”. So it seems that in your opinion it's about the facts rather than reconciliation. But what would that achieve? Is there a purpose in that? Or is it just about the truth – full stop?

MS: No, otherwise I wouldn't care so much. I think that the younger generation – my son for instance, who is 25 – has no chance of understanding history. The 1950s were exceptional, communism and Nazism were exceptional regimes. It's still important to talk about the past, about personal experience, about how it was in detail, and not only to rely on archives. I think that it's the responsibility of those writers and intellectuals who are still alive to talk about the past openly, as Ivan Klíma has done. Through their experience you can understand what it means to lose your freedom. That danger still exists. You can lose your freedom every day. I believe that the younger generation is not aware of the dangers. It is not systematic, it is perhaps not about life and death, but it can be. So what I am calling for is to give the younger generation at least the chance to understand the past and to prevent them from making the same mistakes.

Martin M. Simecka and László Rajk deal with the past at Eurozine here.

Tuesday Poem

I Never Knew When I Arrived In This Country

That my pillow might hold your scent
as I tried to sleep, beginning to know
you were with your first wife and son

That my dowry bought
you and your parents
a larger house in Richmond.

That if I believed you each time you warned
you'd hurt me and our baby if I left,
I would only feed the rakshas inside you.

That our elders' protests, our daughter's
brimming eyes, and my shame
might mean nothing to you

That I did not have to live
with a man shouting,
“I didn't choose to marry you!”

That the library and the internet
are such private places
to find shelters and friends

That if I threatened to show your boss
my bruises, it could stop you, mid-strike
and I'd smell your thwarted breath

That I wouldn't be raped
by a policeman or prostituted
in a shelter if I called for help.

That other women have seen
the noose of Yama move behind
their husband's eyes, and survived

That I wouldn't have to take
my three-year-old girl and leave
our home — instead, you would.

That if I did decide to leave and divorce,
someone in this country
would pay fairly for my work

That I could find one room with a stove
and a fridge, and live with
my daughter, on my own.

But I know now.

by Shauna Singh Baldwin
from The Fieldstone Review,
Issue 3, May 2008

Mathematical model explains marital breakups

From PhysOrg:

Journal_pone_0009881_g004 Most couples marry only after careful consideration and most are determined to make their marriage last, and a happy is widely considered in Western societies to be important for overall . Yet soaring rates and break ups of de facto relationships across Europe and the U.S. show these plans and ideals are failing. Many scholars attribute the increasing rates of breakdown to economic forces and changes in sexual divisions of labor, but this does not fully explain the continuing rise in those rates. The research was carried out by José-Manuel Rey of the Department of Economic Analysis, at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, and aimed to provide a to explain rising rates of marital breakdown. Using the optimal control theory model, Rey developed an equation based on the “second thermodynamic law for sentimental interaction,” which states a relationship will disintegrate unless “energy” (effort) is fed into it.

The results of the mathematical analysis showed when both members of union are similar emotionally they have an “optimal effort policy,” which results in a happy, long-lasting relationship. The policy can break down if there is a tendency to reduce the effort because maintaining it causes discomfort, or because a lower degree of effort results in instability. Paradoxically, according to the second law model, a union everyone hopes will last forever is likely break up, a feature Rey calls the “failure paradox”.

More here.