The Wilson Quarterly

Articles from Vol. 36, No. 2, Spring

Africa: Storms Ahead
THE SOURCE: "Climate Change, Rainfall, and Social Conflict in Africa" by Cullen S. Hendrix and Idean Salehyan, in Journal of Peace Research, Jan. 2012. MANY RESEARCHERS HAVE LONG believed that climate conditions can be tied to the civil wars that...
A Genius for Languages
BABEL NO MORE: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners. By Michael Erard. Free Press. 306 pp. 425.99 A WELTER OF TONGUES erupted from the assembled crowd, in speech so rapid that individual phrases could barely be...
A Manifesto at 50: The Port Huron Statement Launched America's New Left in 1962. Today It Seems Naive and in Some Ways Misguided-Yet It Raised Questions That Still Agitate Americans Today
"WE ARE PEOPLE OF THIS GENERATION, BRED IN at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit." So begins the audacious manifesto known as the Port Huron Statement, the product of 60 idealistic young...
An Economy of Regard
SOMEDAY ALL THIS WILL BE YOURS: A History of Inheritance and Old Age. By Hendrik Hartog. Harvard Univ. Press. 353 pp. $29.95. THE STORY BEHIND HENDRIK Hartog's important newbook sounds almost like the setup to a joke: What does a Princeton...
A Small World after All? the Internet Has Changed Many Things, but Not the Insular Habits of Mind That Keep the World from Becoming Truly Connected
WHEN THE COLD WAR ENDED, THE WORK OF America's intelligence analysts suddenly became vastly more difficult. In the past, they had known who the nation's main adversaries were and what bits of information they needed to acquire about them: the number...
A Wealth of Insight
WHEN I WAS A CHILD I READ BOOKS. By Marilynne Robinson. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 206 pp. $24 MARILYNNE ROBINSON IS one of America's most important novelists. What often gets lost in the swooning over her fiction is that she is also...
Big Medicine
THE SOURCE: "The New Goliaths" by Margot Sanger-Katz, in National Journal, Feb. 18, 2012. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA'S Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010 with the promise of bringing down the cost of health care, which currently consumes more than...
Blowin' in the Wind
THE SOURCE: "The Future of History" by Francis Fukuyama, in Foreign Affairs, Jan.-Feb. 2012. IN THE END OF HISTORY (1992), Francis Fukuyama famously argued that the collapse of Soviet communism marked the end of human ideological evolution. Liberal...
Disaggregating the Bible
THE SOURCE: "Christianity and the Future of the Book" by Alan Jacobs, in The New Atlantis, Fall 2011. THE KORAN CALLS CHRISTIANS "People of the Book." It's an apt description. "There is an intimate connection between the Christian message, the...
Don't Blame Bonuses
THE SOURCE: "Bankers' Bonuses and the Financial Crisis" by Ian Tonks, in Vox EU, Jan. 8, 2012. EVERYONE HAS A THEORY ABOUT what caused the 2008 financial crisis. One idea that's made the rounds is that the money flashed at bank executives in the...
Electronic Intimacy: Friendships That Were Once Maintained with the Rudimentary Technology of Pen and Paper Are Now Reinforced 24/7 with the Stroke of a Few Keys. A Longtime Letter Writer Reflects on What Has Been Gained ... and Lost
WE MET AT MUSIC SCHOOL IN VERMONT IN THE 1980s. He was the golden boy, popular and cocksure. I wore thick glasses and played the bassoon. Somehow we formed a friendship, much to the annoyance of his string of romantic conquests and my friends, who...
From Confucius to Chopin
THE SOURCE: "Why Chinese People Play Western Classical Music: Transcultural Roots of Music Philosophy" by Hao Huang, in International Journal of Music Education, Oct. 11, 2011 (online). THERE MAY BE NO PLACE IN THE world where the great works of...
From Think Tank to Do Tank
THE SOURCE: "Devaluing the Think Tank" by Tevi Troy, in National Affairs, Winter 2012. THINK TANKS ONCE HAD SUCH studious, genteel atmospheres that they were known as "universities without students." That era is long over, writes Tevi Troy, a senior...
Hashtag Heroics
THE SOURCE: "Social and News Media Enable Estimation of Epidemiological Patterns Early in the 2010 Haitian Cholera Outbreak" by Rumi Chunara, Jason R. Andrews, and John S. Brownstein, in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Jan. 2012....
Human Circuit Board
CONNECTOME: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. By Sebastian Seung. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 359 pp. $27 WHO ARE YOU? ONCE, THAT question was answered by philosophers. Today, it's often the province of geneticists who parse our...
Immigration Impasse
Immigration reform has fallen on hard times. In 2007, Republicans and Democrats defeated President George W. Bush's efforts to overhaul the system. President Barack Obama has not pursued a major immigration initiative. The issue, discussed at the fifth...
India's Underbelly
BEHINDTHE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. By Katherine Boo. Random House. 256 pp. $27 IN BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, A portrait of a slum in Mumbai, India, Katherine Boo sketches characters with Dickensian...
India's Unique Path
THE SOURCE: "Economic Liberalization and Indian Economic Growth: What's the Evidence?" by Ashok Kotwal, Bharat Ramaswami, and Wilima Wadhwa, in Journal of Economic Literature, Dec. 2011. ONCE ONE OF THE WORLD'S most heavily regulated and protectionist...
Japan Shrinks: Many Nations Have Aging Populations, but None Can Quite Match Japan. Its Experience Holds Lessons for Other Countries as Well as Insights into the Distinctiveness of Japanese Society
IN 2006, JAPAN REACHED A DEMOGRAPHIC AND social turning point. According to Tokyo's official statistics, deaths that year very slightly outnumbered births. Nothing like this had been recorded since 1945, the year of Japan's catastrophic defeat in World...
Leader of the Pack
JULIETTE GORDON LOW: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts. By Stacy A. Cordery. Viking. 382 pp. $28.95 MILLIONS OF AMERICAN women have worn a Girl Scout uniform, including Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Lucille Ball, Mariah Carey, and Sandra...
Left, Right, and Science: Liberals and Conservatives Alike Wrap Groupthink in the Cloak of Science Whenever Convenient. the Results Are Seldom Good
WHEN BARACK OBAMA PROMISED IN HIS 2009 inaugural address that "we will restore science to its rightful place," he invoked not so much a debate as a set of widely shared assumptions. According to conventional wisdom, liberals and Democrats are the party...
Mexico's Gruesome Icon
DEVOTED TO DEATH: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint. By R. Andrew Chesnut. Oxoford Univ. Press. 221 pp. 424.95 IN 1998, ON A STATICKY television in a small Oaxaca town, I watched Mexico's most famous newscaster interview one of the country's...
Middle School Munching
THE SOURCE: "Competitive Food Sales in Schools and Childhood Obesity: A Longitudinal Study" by Jennifer Van Hook and Claire E. Altman, in Sociology of Education, Jan. 2012. MORE THAN A THIRD OF AMERICAN six-to-11-year-olds are overweight or obese....
Move over, Einstein
THE SOURCE: "The Accidental Universe: Science's Crisis of Faith" by Alan Lightman, in Harper's, Dec. 2011. THEORETICAL PHYSICISTS USED to dream of producing a "theory of everything" that would relate the two principal breakthroughs of 20th-century...
Noble Savages
MORAL ORIGINS: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame. By Christopher Boehm. Basic Books. 418 pp. $28.99 THE STORIES WE'VE BEEN told about the role of competition in our evolution have been unnaturally selective. Sound-bite pop science,...
No Help for Displaced Workers
THE SOURCE: "Does Trade Adjustment Assistance Make a Difference?" by Kara M. Reynolds and John S. Palatucci, in Contemporary Economic Policy, Jan. 2012. AS GLOBALIZATION PULLS JOBS from American factories, the federal government has created programs...
Noisy Library: Our Long National Nightmare Still Isn't Over
When a presidency ends, the campaign for history's approbation begins. The battleground is often the president's official library, according to Benjamin Hufbauer, the author of Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory (2005)....
One Nation under God
SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, SHIELD OF FAITH Religion in American War and Diplomacy. By Andrew Preston. Knopf. 815 pp $37.50 THE MODERN ERA HAS DEFINED ITSELF against religion. At worst, religion is reviled; at best, it is regarded as a subject...
Packing Prisoners
THE SOURCE: "The Strategic Use of Prisons in Partisan Gerrymandering" by Jason P. Kelly, in Legislative Studies Quarterly, Feb. 2012. OTHER THAN ELECTIONS, NO battles are more bitterly fought in American polities than the redistricting fights that...
Remote Possibilities
Is it possible anymore to speak of a person being in a "remote location"? A writer I know told me recently of editing an essay on her iPhone while camping in Alaska, and it's almost commonplace to note that African farmers now check commodity prices...
Ringing Up Better Pay
THE SOURCE: "Why 'Good Jobs' Are Good for Retailers" by Zeynep Ton, in Harvard Business Review, Jan.-Feb. 2012. CASHIERS HAVE TO BE SKILLED at counting nickels and dimes for more than one reason: They brought home less than $20,000 in pay on average...
Rollin' through the Years
ENGINES OF CHANGE: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars. By Paul Ingrassia. Simon & Schuster. 416 pp. $30 "THE SUN IS MIRRORED even in a coffee spoon," declared Siegfried Giedion, the great historian of technology and champion...
School's out Forever
THE SOURCE: "Unschooling" by Astra Taylor, in n+1, Winter 2012. IMAGINE BEING A KID AND HAVING no school bus to wait for, no quizzes to fret over, no curriculum to slog through. Imagine that the only thing guiding your education is your own curiosity,...
Spreading the Word, Bit by Bit: Search Engines of Creation
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is burnishing its brand. Since 2010, the church has spent millions of dollars on cheery TV ads and billboards featuring diverse Americans--a surfer, a veteran of the Iraq war, a black woman who's the...
Still Standing
THE SOURCE "Not Fade Away" by Robert Kagan, in The New Republic, Feb. 2, 2012. A GLANCE AT THE CURRENT AFFAIRS titles at any bookstore would suggest that the United States is on the verge of an irreversible decline. Not only are commentators exaggerating...
Sweet Possessives
THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND: Woody Guthrie and the Journey of an American Folk Song. By Robert Santelli. Running Press. 256 pp. $24. IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN popular songwriting, few composers have better blended hope and scorn than Woodrow...
Tehran's Iraq Headache
THE SOURCE: "Iran's Declining Influence in Iraq by Babak Rahimi, in The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2012. FROM SADDAM HUSSEIN'S FALL in 2003 until 2009, Iran rapidly increased its influence in Iraq. Tehran quietly supported various Shiite militias,...
The Birth of English 101
THE SOURCE: "Browning in Hackney" by Alexandra Lawrie, in Time, Literary Supplement, Jan. 20, 2012. FOR ALL ITS DUBIOUS PRACTICALITY, English is still one of the most popular college majors around. But the discipline is relatively new to academia,...
The Call-Of the Future: Today We Worry about the Social Effects of the Internet. A Century Ago, It Was the Telephone That Threatened to Reinvent Society
IN 2009, THE UNITED STATES CROSSED A DIGITAL Rubicon: For the first time, the amount of data sent with mobile devices exceeded the sum of transmitted voice data. The shift was heralded in tech circles with prophetic fury: "The phone call is dead,"...
The Debate Debate: Has Elvis Left the Building?
The campaign for this year's Republican presidential nomination has featured some two dozen debates. Have the real winners been the American people, as the bromide insists? Far from it, according to two new studies--and journalists are to blame. ...
The First Jews for Jesus
THE SOURCE: "Jews, Christians, and Judaeo-Christians" by Geza Vermes, in Standpoint, Dec. 2011. EARLY CHRISTIANITY TOOK A while to gain a critical mass. Proclaiming the miracle of Jesus's death and resurrection didn't make Christ's early followers...
The Limits of Knowledge
THE SOURCE: "Trials and Errors" by Jonah Lehrer, in Wired, Jam-Feb. 2012. THE 18TH-CENTURY SCOTTISH philosopher David Hume was famously skeptical of human perceptions of the relationship between cause and effect. Causes, in Hume's estimation, were...
The Meritocracy Machine Hiccups
THE SOURCE: "Is a College Degree Still the Great Equalizer? Intergenerational Mobility Across Levels of Schooling in the United States" by Florencia Torch, in American Journal of Sociology, Nov. 2011. BY LEVELING THE PLAYING field, a college degree...
The Periodical Table: Backing Back Issues
Ron Unz, Silicon Valley software entrepreneur, former candidate for governor of California, and publisher of The American Conservative, has started a new venture: a prodigious online library, featuring works by some 400,000 authors. Along with books...
The Spirits of Independence: Founding Foodies
Few history books mention Mrs. Clappams in Boston, Tondee's Long Room in Savannah, or other 18th-century taverns. Baylen J. Linnekin wants to change that. Taverns were the era's "most essential" public spaces, Linnekin argues in The Hastings Constitutional...
The Torture of Solitary: Solitary Confinement, Once Regarded as a Humane Method of Rehabilitation, Unravels the Mind. Yet Today, More Than 25,000 U.S. Prisoners Languish in Isolated Cells
HERE IS WHAT I KNEW ABOUT JOE LOYA BEFORE stepping into his car: During a 14-month stretch in the late 1980s, he stole a quarter-million dollars from 30 Southern California banks by donning a tailored suit and, occasionally, a fedora, striding up to...
The Urban Future
THE GREAT INVERSION AND THE FUTURE OF THE AMERICAN CITY. By Alan Ehrenhalt. Knopf. 276 pp. $26.95 IS GENTRIFICATION THE "fifth great migration," that will fill old downtowns with upper-middle-class white folks, while the tract mansions of...
Tortured Muser
THE SOURCE: "I Thought You Were a Poet" by Joshua Mehigan, in Poetry, July-Aug. 2011. PITY THE PLACID BARD. "READERS are disappointed by poets who aren't at least a little mad, which is to say visionary, melancholic, tormented, debauched, or somehow...
Tough Talk on Tehran
Former Israeli deputy defense minister and legislator Ephraim Sneh pulled no punches in his discussion of Iran at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Middle East Forum in February. "The real problem is not the nuclear project," Sneh argued. "The problem is...
Unanchoring the Navy
THE SOURCE: "Sea Change" by Ronald Spector, in The Quarterly Journal of Military History, Winter 2012. IN ITS UNIFORMS, RANKS, AND lexicon, the U.S. Navy retains the trappings of an earlier era. One could be forgiven for thinking of it as a "traditional,...
United States of Givers
PHILANTHROPY IN AMERICA: A History. By Olivier Zunz. Princeton Univ. Press. 381 pp. $29.95 DESPITE THE SLUGGISH economy, Americans gave a staggering $290 billion to charity in 2010. There is no shortage of causes clamoring for our attention--and...
Wonder Bread
THE SOURCE: "Atomic Break Baking at Home" by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, in The Believer, Feb. 2012. YOUR AVERAGE LOAF OF SLICED white bread may not inspire much wonder, but its unassuming character masks an intriguing provenance. According to political...