Are millennials the canary in the coal mine for the broken economy?

Michael Hobbes on how millennials—those born between 1982 and 2004—have become the canary in the coal mine for the languishing economy in the United States. 

But generalizations about millennials, like those about any other arbitrarily defined group of 75 million people, fall apart under the slightest scrutiny. Contrary to the cliché, the vast majority of millennials did not go to college, do not work as baristas and cannot lean on their parents for help. Every stereotype of our generation applies only to the tiniest, richest, whitest sliver of young people. And the circumstances we live in are more dire than most people realize.

A few statistics: 

  • We've taken on at least 300% more student debt than our parents
  • We are about half as likely to own a home as young adults were in 1975
  • 1 in five of us is living in poverty
  • Based on current trends, many of us won't be able to retire until we're 75
  • "My father’s first house cost him 20 months of his salary. My first house will cost more than 10 years of mine."

Lot's to chew on here. Not be be an old here, but it's best to read this on a larger screen. 

Why portrait painting is important (now)

Dushko Petrovich on why portrait painting is gaining in reputation, even before the unveiling of Barack and Michelle Obama's official portraits. 

So why is portraiture returning now? For one, there is an institutional urgency to speak to a more diverse audience with painting that depicts the black community, the Asian-American experience, the Latino face, to attract the various people who had been excluded from the museum by remaking the history of figurative painting, this time with color. Not that the trend toward realist portraits is exclusive to artists of color. It is evident in the rococo renderings of Sam McKinniss, who paints pop culture figures — Prince, Lorde, Flipper — like hallowed aristocrats. It was clear in a series of self-portraits by Justin Vivian Bond — who is best known for experimental cabaret performances — that were displayed at the New Museum last fall, and seemed to casually but definitively announce Bond’s identity as a trans artist.

And there is another reason for figurative paintings’ resurgence as well: We live in a time in which reality is almost daily warped in ways that were unimaginable even 18 months ago. We have swiftly entered an era where the very notion of truth, or facts, is considered fungible. As we reassess the various power structures that landed us here, it is stabilizing and reassuring to look at the work of an artist who is clearly in control of her craft, who is able to depict a reality that is material and grounded in recognition — of seeing, in the Facebook age, a painting that looks like who it is meant to.

Tribalism, politics and you

I’ve always enjoyed former lawyer and current baseball analyst Craig Calcaterra’s Twitter-length take on how tribalism is responsible for most of our opinions: 

The world is less aggravating when you accept that 75-90% of all opinions on everything are informed by base tribalism. Including your own.

Recently, David Brooks had his own Op-Ed-length take on tribalism and political beliefs through the lens of the gun debate in the US: 

We don’t really have policy debates anymore. We have one big tribal conflict, and policy fights are just proxy battles as each side tries to establish moral superiority. But just as the tribal mentality has been turned on, it can be turned off. Then and only then can we go back to normal politics and take reasonable measures to keep our children safe.

Looking back to the darkest days of the 20th century, you'll see we can't just turn tribalism off. George Orwell called it by a different name — Nationalism — but in the hyper-tribal World War II era, it looked largely like it does today (although with very different consequences). 

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.

Perhaps we may not be able to completely move away from tribalism — Orwell's nationalism — is because it's coded in our DNA. If you want to place blame for tribal identity, look to evolution, argues Jonathan Haidt of the Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion

...As Darwin said long ago, the most cohesive and cooperative groups generally beat the groups of selfish individualists. Darwin’s ideas about group selection fell out of favor in the 1960s, but recent discoveries are putting his ideas back into play, and the implications are profound. We’re not always selfish hypocrites. We also have the ability, under special circumstances, to shut down our petty selves and become like cells in a larger body, or like bees in a hive, working for the good of the group. These experiences are often among the most cherished of our lives, although our hivishness can blind us to other moral concerns. Our bee-like nature facilitates altruism, heroism, war, and genocide.

Once you see our righteous minds as primate minds with a hivish overlay, you get a whole new perspective on morality, politics, and religion. I’ll show that our “higher nature” allows us to be profoundly altruistic, but that altruism is mostly aimed at members of our groups. I’ll show that religion is (probably) an evolutionary adaptation for binding groups together and helping them to create communities with a shared morality. It is not a virus or parasite, as some scientists (the “new atheists”) have argued in recent years. And I’ll use this perspective to explain why some people are conservative, others are liberal (or progressive), and still others become libertarians. People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.

'I love that question'

In Mousse Magazine, the artists Julia Phillips and Aaron Gilbert converse about each others' art, some of their inspiration...and this section on evil and love. As with many conversations captured for print, the questions are as interesting as the answers. 

Aaron Gilbert…These pieces could be described as artifacts that have a sole purpose of committing evil acts. Do you believe in evil? Which is a certain inverse of saying: Do you believe in the sacred?

JP: I do believe in evil acts. And I am interested in what drives us humans to commit them. Forceful transgressions of boundaries being one example. Self-serving manipulation being another. And both are based on the idea that—not necessarily sacred—but ethical acts are led by the understanding that the human body, as well as the psyche, shall be maintained in their wellness. I like to think of evil as one end of the spectrum of the human psyche’s capacity. I believe that we have it within us and have ideas for it. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a market for horror movies and thrillers. A fascination...

Julia Phillips: Are you consciously depicting alternative, counter images for pop-cultural depictions of love? Our youth culture obsession conversation comes to mind. And the question of the need for love, and the kind of love as something that matures with us as we go through different ages in our lives. The images easily accessible and brought to us through media in an overflow are the ones of youth culture. Is your work a reaction to a drought?

AG: I love that question. I think love fills this profound need at all stages of our lives, and the nature of how we need it shifts as a newborn, as a young child, as someone elderly. I’m weary of the way youth culture is placed front and center in the art world...In the end, it’s a question of where we place value. Of all the pop songs in the past twenty years, how many of them place the voice or the needs of a young child or an elderly person at the center? I’m sure I’m missing a few outliers, but it feels like we have to go back to Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder with this one (“They Don’t Care About Us” and “Earth Song” at least felt age-neutral). I think we often are too narrow in who we give voice to in our narratives. There’s room for a fuller breadth of human experience, and I pose this mostly to myself as a question of what work I should be making in the present.

'More artistic than most typical official portraits'

Slate speaks to Richard J. Powell, a professor of art and art history at Duke University and an expert in the history of black portraiture, about the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, which were unveiled recently

Rachelle Hampton: So what did you think of the portraits and of the Obamas’ choice of artists? 

Richard Powell: I was surprised by the portraits and what I mean by that is, I found them to be more artistic than most typical official portraits are. If you go to the National Portrait Gallery and look at portraits of famous people, they tend to be real vanity pictures and often by artists who are able to do a likeness but they’re not able to really make what I would consider a profound artistic statement. There are lots of great portraits out there, but these are really strong works of art as well as portraits. 

As to the choice of the artists, I thought it was special. Amy Sherald has been in the pipeline for a little while, but not as long as Kehinde Wiley, and so choosing to place someone I would still call up and coming alongside someone I would certainly call a veteran was inspired. 

What statements do you think the artists are trying to make here? What do you think they’re trying to communicate? 

Well, I want to separate them out. I want to start with the Michelle Obama portrait: It’s very much in Sherald’s style, which are these figures that are often placed on very flat backgrounds. She experiments with chroma so that the figures are not necessarily representing things in a realistic way, but they provide an interesting relationship of one color to another to another. What I was struck by in the Michelle Obama portrait was the graphic quality of it, and when I say graphic I mean that the dress is this dramatic abstract statement—the patterns in it, the bold shapes, the limited color palette—and that has an interesting way of interacting with Mrs. Obama’s figure, her famous arms are there, and they frame her head. Amy Sherald really is attuned to the interrelationship between the body and a pose and the accoutrements that surround that pose, in this case a very bold dress



A $60 million pop-up Olympic stadium

Pyeongchang’s Olympic stadium cost South Koreans $60 million dollars and will be used exactly four times. That’s by design. From Citylab

The 35,000-seat pentagonal Olympic Stadium is an extreme example of pop-up architecture, a mega-event venue with a planned lifespan shorter than the career of an aerial snowboarder. The stadium will be used four times in all—for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Games and Paralympics. Then it’s slated to be torn down.

With its simple structure and open roof, the temporary structure was designed with demolition in mind—a technique that has been employed before in previous Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, in 1992. Given the sub-freezing temperatures expected, the unheated and roofless facility is perhaps less than ideal.

But the alternative—a more costly permanent structure—is probably an even worse idea, experts say. Pyeongchang is a rural outpost of around 45,000 people in one of the poorest areas of South Korea, a country where winter sports have a small following. If the stadium isn’t torn down, it would likely be fated to join a mighty herd of white elephants from Olympics past—infrastructure that has gone unused decades after the athletes went home, yet continue to drain public money in upkeep costs.

Reading Shakespeare: New source found for Bard's plays

From The Guardian: Scholar finds new sources for parts of Shakespeare’s plays. 

Independent scholar Dennis McCarthy and LaFayette College professor June Schlueter used WCopyfind software to compare passages from Shakespeare’s plays with George North’s 1576 unpublished manuscript, A Brief Discourse of Rebellion, about the dangers of rebelling against a king. They were able to trace more than 20 passages back to the essay, including Gloucester’s opening soliloquy in Richard III, Macbeth’s comparison of dog breeds to different classes of men, the Fool’s Merlin prophecy in King Lear, and the events surrounding Jack Cade’s fatal fight with Alexander Iden in Henry VI.

Transcience: Washing those memories right out of your hair

From Harvard Health on transcience, one of the seven types of memory loss:


This is the tendency to forget facts or events over time. You are most likely to forget information soon after you learn it. However, memory has a use-it-or-lose-it quality: memories that are called up and used frequently are least likely to be forgotten. Although transience might seem like a sign of memory weakness, brain scientists regard it as beneficial because it clears the brain of unused memories, making way for newer, more useful ones.

Daniel L. Schacter, author of the Seven Sins of Memory. on how transience may come about because memories aren't stored in our brains forever like a hard drive. Rather,  memories are most likely impermanent.

Discussions about the cause of long-term forgetting have focused on whether forgetting is attributable to actual loss of information from memory storage, to retrieval failure that can be reversed by provision of appropriate cues, or both. There is no doubt that retrieval failure plays an important role in forgetting. Some experiences may be rendered temporarily inaccessible because of interference from related experiences, and it is well-established that cues and hints can elicit recall of seemingly forgotten memories. Nonetheless, such findings need not indicate that all forgetting is attributable to access failure. The view that experiences are recorded permanently, with all forgetting attributable to access failure, is surprisingly common—even among psychologists. However, it seems likely that information is also lost from storage over time.

The tyranny of academic metrics

Jerry Z. Muller, a history professor at Catholic University, on the Tyranny of Metrics, on how colleges and universities lean on simple black-and-white statistics to determine important grey-area decisions like faculty hiring, retention and tenure. 

When individual faculty members, or whole departments, are judged by the number of publications, whether in the form of articles or books, the incentive is to produce more publications, rather than better ones. Really important books may take many years to research and write. But if the system rewards speed and volume, the result is likely to be a decline in truly significant scholarship. 


Even if you leave aside the accuracy and reliability of these metrics, consider the message they convey. Initiatives like the College Scorecard treat higher education in purely economic terms: Its sole concern is return on investment, understood as the relationship between the monetary costs of college and the increase in earnings that a degree will ultimately provide. Those are, of course, legitimate considerations. College costs eat up an increasing percentage of family income or require the student to take on debt; and making a living is among the most important tasks in life.

But it is not the only task in life, and it is an impoverished conception of college that regards it purely in terms of its ability to enhance earnings. If we distinguish training, which is oriented to production and survival, from education, which is oriented to making survival meaningful, then metrics are only about the former.




What happens when the house that capitalism built burns down

From the introduction to the Intellectual Origins of the [2008] Global Financial Crisis, Roger Berkowitz explains how he uses the example of Hannah Arendt's study of totalitarianism to better understand why our economic system melted down a decade ago.  

Arendt didn't want to understand or explain totalitarianism from a historical point of view, which would have not only made it seem natural and premeditated, but also would have normalized it. (In a way you can normalize or justify any action from the past.) You have to look at the issue in a new light, and (he quotes Arendt) “the unpremeditated, attentive facing up to,
and resisting of, reality— whatever it may be.” We need to Berkowitz quotes again "think about what we are doing."

To look at the 2008 financial straight in the eye, Berkowitz found it was born not from easy money, nor the allure of easy money or the lack of regulations, although each of them played a part. Rather, Berkowitz took the problem and made it larger: The 2008 global financial meltdown was caused by capitalism taking over our lives. 

At the heart of Max Weber’s account is his claim that the rise of an unnatural and specifically capitalist ethic—to earn more and more money
combined with the a strong work ethic that limits the spontaneous enjoyment of life outside of work— is rooted in the increasing rationalization
of society, culture, and humanity itself. What capitalist rationality demands is that humans act according to the reason of profit and loss.

Capitalist rationality is enormously powerful in allocating resources efficiently and increasing general prosperity. But such rationalization is
also dehumanizing. For if humans must act rationally, they must abandon spontaneous feelings, passions, instincts, even commonsense moral sensations— all of which are rejected as irrational. Th e great paradox that Weber discovered in capitalism is that the pure rationalism of capitalist activity is irrational. And yet, the power of capitalist rationality is, it seems, irresistible.

The irresistibility of capitalism is part and parcel of the demand for certainty. Capitalism offers the certainty of a balanced ledger and the clarity of profit and loss. Capitalism thus offers objective criteria on which to rationally evaluate all decisions. In its promise of objective certainty, capitalism is a symptom of what Hannah Arendt calls the experience of homelessness. Our world, the world defined by the loss of the authority
of religions and the decay of traditions, is also a world defined by the loss of a spiritual home. Capitalism— the social system that defines good and bad, winners and losers, status and power, by clear and certain criteria of salary and wealth— is one way that a homeless humanity sets itself on a
certain and stable foundation, albeit one of its own making.

The biggest threat in US-Russia relations

Ivo H. Daalder, writing in Foreign Affairs, on the difference between the last period of US-Russia combativeness and competitiveness and this one. 

Speaking almost a decade after Putin lambasted nato and the United States at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev returned to the same podium last year to lament that “we have slid back into a new Cold War.” But the current confrontation is very different from the actual Cold War, an ideological clash that extended to every part of the world. Huge armies were deployed on either side of the Iron Curtain, many thousands of nuclear weapons were ready to launch at a moment’s notice, and proxy wars were fought as far away as Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Today’s confrontation lacks the intensity, scale, and ideological divisiveness of that earlier, deadlier conflict.

Moreover, the biggest threat today is not a deliberate war, as it was then, but the possibility of miscalculation. One worry is that Russia might not believe that nato would actually come to the defense of its most exposed allies-which is why strong statements of reassurance and commitment by all nato countries, and not least the United States, are so vital.

Michael Stipe & REM, the 1980s and growing up in public

Michael Stipe, former singer of former band REM, spoke to The Guardian about the favorite songs he wrote and sang. During a conversation about the band’s World Leader Pretend, Stipe had this to say about REM’s early days: 

Being in REM through the 80s meant growing up in public, Stipe says. It also meant learning what being in a group entailed. “I didn’t know the bass player made the low notes until the second album – I was that naive about music and how it’s made.” By the time of Green, the slightly nerdy group from Athens, Georgia, had become stars, and the intensely shy Stipe had to change the way he worked, especially live. “We didn’t have LED screens, so I started dressing in brighter clothes on stage. I started allowing gestures to be larger, which I wouldn’t in the early 80s because I thought it was fake and stupid and popstarish.”



Can you have a single culture in populations dominated by expats?

By official estimates, the population of Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates is 80 percent expatriate and 20 percent Emirati. How do you create a common identity -- a common culture -- in a nation of hyperpolyglots. 

In New Statesman, Sukriti Yadava explores

Because no matter how one defines culture – a unique set of behaviours and traditions ingrained into the people of the nation; the group of histories and events that a nation chooses to identify with – it is always rooted in the past.

In the case of Dubai, however, most expats seem to practice the ideal of “living in the present”. Dubai’s modern cultural markers aren’t particularly visible or tangible, and they aren’t pegged to the past: old cobblestone streets, or pierogi recipes passed from grandmother to granddaughter, or kitschy memorabilia from old movies.

Instead, the culture of Dubai is more psychological, a utopian vision shared by its nomadic residents, at times naïve, but reportedly happy. And while this modern culture brewing in Dubai may seem invisible, it exists all the same.

How academic libraries can boost OER and affordable content on campus

Libraries interested in establishing a new OER or affordable course content program, partnering on an existing one, or focusing one on student success will likely find an environmental scan useful...It is likely that individual faculty, or even program-level faculty cohorts are using open resources or engaged in strategies to reduce costs to their students. Leveraging those initiatives, but more importantly, the faculty champions behind them can prove vital to the success of the program. It can also help to avoid the sense among earlier adopters that the new initiative is seeking to fix a problem that does not exist. Finally, highlighting local examples can make the creation or adaptation of OER or the adoption of OER and affordable alternatives seem much more feasible in the local environment. It facilitates being able to answer questions pertaining to the local culture and institutional policies related to intellectual property and licensing, documenting the work involved in creating or adopting OER or affordable content for tenure and promotion, and the workflow for creating, storing, and making discovering OER.

During the environmental scan, librarians should also be on the lookout for programmatic partners interested in supporting open licensing and/or finding ways to reduce student costs. This could be as simple as reaching out to the university bookstore to working with specific departments or even student-facing entities like academic computing. You never know how these organizations may already be supporting OER or affordable content programs. 

The paper Open Pathways to Student Success: Academic Library Partnerships for Open Educational Resource and Affordable Course Content Creation and Adoption
is found in the The Journal of Academic Librarianship