CRF Blog

The Evolution of Diet

by Bill Hayes

As part of an ongoing series on the future of food, National Geographic looks at The Evolution of Diet.

As we look to 2050, when we’ll need to feed two billion more people, the question of which diet is best has taken on new urgency. The foods we choose to eat in the coming decades will have dramatic ramifications for the planet. Simply put, a diet that revolves around meat and dairy, a way of eating that’s on the rise throughout the developing world, will take a greater toll on the world’s resources than one that revolves around unrefined grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

Until agriculture was developed around 10,000 years ago, all humans got their food by hunting, gathering, and fishing. As farming emerged, nomadic hunter-gatherers gradually were pushed off prime farmland, and eventually they became limited to the forests of the Amazon, the arid grasslands of Africa, the remote islands of Southeast Asia, and the tundra of the Arctic. Today only a few scattered tribes of hunter-gatherers remain on the planet.

That’s why scientists are intensifying efforts to learn what they can about an ancient diet and way of life before they disappear. “Hunter-gatherers are not living fossils,” says Alyssa Crittenden, a nutritional anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who studies the diet of Tanzania’s Hadza people, some of the last true hunter-gatherers. “That being said, we have a small handful of foraging populations that remain on the planet. We are running out of time. If we want to glean any information on what a nomadic, foraging lifestyle looks like, we need to capture their diet now.”

So far studies of foragers like the Tsimane, Arctic Inuit, and Hadza have found that these peoples traditionally didn’t develop high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or cardiovascular disease. “A lot of people believe there is a discordance between what we eat today and what our ancestors evolved to eat,” says paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas. The notion that we’re trapped in Stone Age bodies in a fast-food world is driving the current craze for Paleolithic diets. The popularity of these so-called caveman or Stone Age diets is based on the idea that modern humans evolved to eat the way hunter-gatherers did during the Paleolithic — the period from about 2.6 million years ago to the start of the agricultural revolution — and that our genes haven’t had enough time to adapt to farmed foods. [more]

What China Wants

by David De La Torre

In the essay What China wants, The Economist looks at China’s future.

FOR all this ambition, China is not bent on global domination. It has little interest in polities beyond Asia, except in as much as they provide it with raw material and markets. Talk of China’s “neo-colonialism” in Africa, for instance, is much exaggerated. The country’s stock of direct investment there still lags far behind Britain’s and France’s and amounts to only a third of America’s. Though China’s influence is undoubtedly growing, its engagement is not imperial but transactional, says Deborah Brautigam, of Johns Hopkins University. When a Japanese company bought the Rockefeller Centre in the 1980s, “Americans thought they were buying all of Manhattan,” says Ms Brautigam. “The same is true of China in Africa. It’s all about perception.” In a forthcoming book, she investigates 20 media reports of land acquisitions by Chinese firms in Africa, claimed to total 5.5m hectares. She found the real figure to be just 63,400 hectares.

Chinese foremen have abused African workers, Chinese companies have run illegal mines and annoyingly undercut local traders with cheap Chinese goods. But these are the problems of bad business, not of grand strategy. Unlike Europe’s colonial powers of yesteryear, China has no strategic vision of keeping all others out of its bit of the continent, nor any hypocritical “civilising mission”. When it perceives it could have a problem with its image, it responds pragmatically: building hospitals, paying for malaria-prevention programmes, laying down railways. In Africa and Latin America it is focusing more on taking stakes in local companies, not just buying up land and resources. It is also making forays into the use of soft power through a number of Confucius Institutes all over the world that try — in frequently ham-fisted ways — to show that China and its culture are benign.

China is “neither a missionary culture nor a values superpower,” says Kerry Brown of the University of Sydney. “It is not trying to make other people into China.” The rhetoric of American foreign policy — and frequently its content, too — is shaped by claims to be the champion of democracy and liberty. The Communist Party is less committed to universal values. Alliances often grow out of shared values; if you don’t have them, friends are harder to find. Awe can be a respectable alternative to friendship, and China has begun to awe the world — but also to worry it.

Clan-focused Confucianism and the fear bred by communism have persuaded the Chinese to mind their own business: sweep the snow from in front of your own house, goes the old saying, don’t worry about the frost on your neighbour’s roof. If it adopts similar attitudes to the world at large, that may be because China faces problems on a global scale within its own borders: it has more poor people than any other country save India. When 160m of your own citizens are living on less than $1.25 a day, and many people are beginning to complain more openly about your nation’s domestic problems, the development needs of Africans can seem less pressing.

Accordingly, there is a tension in Chinese foreign policy. The country wants to have as little involvement abroad as it can get away with, except for engagements that enhance its image as a great power. [more]

The Truth About Our Libertarian Age

by Bill Hayes

In The Truth About Our Libertarian Age for the New Republic, Mark Lilla argues that our libertarian dogma clouds our political thinking.

The truth is that billions of people will not be living in liberal democracies in our lifetimes or those of our children or grandchildren — if ever. This is due not only to culture and mores: to these must be added ethnic divisions, religious sectarianism, illiteracy, economic injustice, senseless national borders imposed by colonial powers … the list is long. Without the rule of law and a respected constitution, without professional bureaucracies that treat citizens impartially, without the subordination of the military to civilian rule, without regulatory bodies to keep economic transactions transparent, without social norms that encourage civic engagement and law-abidingness — without all of this, modern liberal democracy is impossible. So the only sensible question to ask when thinking about today’s non-democracies is: what’s Plan B?

Nothing reflects the bankruptcy of today’s political thinking more than our unwillingness to pose this question, which smacks of racism to the left and defeatism to the right (and both to liberal hawks). But if the only choices we can imagine are democracy or le déluge, we exclude the possibility of improving non-democratic regimes without either trying forcibly to transform them (American-style) or hoping vainly (European-style) that human rights treaties, humanitarian interventions, legal sanctions, NGO projects, and bloggers with iPhones will make a lasting difference. These are the utterly characteristic delusions of our two continents. The next Nobel Peace Prize should not go to a human rights activist or an NGO founder. It should go to the thinker or leader who develops a model of constitutional theocracy giving Muslim countries a coherent way of recognizing yet limiting the authority of religious law and making it compatible with good governance. This would be a historic, though not necessarily democratic, achievement.

No such prize will be given, of course, and not only because such thinkers and leaders are lacking. To recognize such an achievement would require abandoning the dogma that individual freedom is the only or even the highest political good in every historical circumstance, and accepting that trade-offs are inevitable. It would mean accepting that, if there is a road from serfdom to democracy, it will, in long stretches, be paved with non-democracy — as it was in the West. I am beginning to feel some sympathy for those American officials who led the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq ten years ago and immediately began destroying existing political parties, standing armies, and traditional institutions of political consultation and authority. The deepest reason for this colossal blunder was not American hubris or naïveté, though there was plenty of that. It was that they had no way of thinking about alternatives to immediate — and in the end, sham — democratization. Where should they have turned? Whose books should they have read? What model should they have relied on? All they knew was the prime directive: draft new constitutions, establish parliaments and presidential offices, then call elections. And after that, it was the deluge indeed. [more]

Poor in the Land of Plenty

by Bill Hayes

In Poor in the Land of Plenty for the New York Times Book Review, David K. Shipler reviews The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives by Sasha Abramsky.

Abramsky has written an ambitious book that both describes and prescribes. He reaches across a wide range of issues — including education, housing and criminal justice — in a sweeping panorama of poverty’s elements. Assembling them in one volume forces him to be superficial on occasion, but that price is worth paying to get the broad scope. In considering solutions, it’s crucial to understand how the disparate problems of poor families interact in mutual reinforcement. [more]

How cop cams can help ordinary citizens

by Bill Hayes

In How cop cams can help ordinary citizens for the Los Angeles Times, Robert Muggah praises the advantages of cop cams and other technology.

In a series of remarkable experiments from New York to Rio de Janeiro, new technologies are proving highly useful in helping to protect ordinary people from arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial violence. Law enforcement agencies have begun employing closed-circuit video, big data detection systems, crowd-sourcing tools and mobile scanners to improve their ability to anticipate, track and prevent crime. And many of these technologies also serve ordinary citizens, by recording the actions of police.

Some police departments, including the LAPD, have mounted video cameras in patrol cars. In other cities, police are wearing body cameras or other recording equipment. And these new technologies have been demonstrated to affect police behavior. [more]

An American Romantic

by Bill Hayes

In An American Romantic for the New York Review of Books, Christopher Benfey reviews American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon.

At the time of his death in 1978 at the age of eighty-four, Norman Percevel Rockwell (who had always hated his fancy, “almost effeminate” middle name) was one of the most popular artists in America and one of the most maligned. Despite the championing, late in his career, of, among others, John Updike and Andy Warhol (who, not surprisingly, bought Rockwell’s portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy), and a retrospective exhibition that traveled to seven US museums including the Guggenheim between 1999 and 2002, the suspicion has lingered — and Rockwell himself was not immune to it — that perhaps he shouldn’t have been considered an artist at all, as opposed to an illustrator (as he called himself in his charming memoirs) or, worse, a hack purveyor of kitsch, churning out his annual calendar design for the Boy Scouts or, for Hallmark, a Christmas card of Santa asleep on the job.

Did Rockwell’s principal artistic achievement, his 323 designs for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post from 1916 to 1963, really amount to a body of work comparable in any significant way to Edward Hopper’s, say, or Jackson Pollock’s? Or was he merely an ingratiating epigone to the Golden Age of Illustration, rounding off, during an era of photography, the waning narrative tradition of his idol, the Quaker depicter of pirates Howard Pyle, and Rockwell’s immediate predecessor at the Post, the now forgotten Joseph Leyendecker, creator of the Arrow Collar Man? Rockwell had nothing against modern art and considered Picasso “the greatest of them all.” He gamely, if one suspects not very seriously, tried his hand at Fauvism and abstraction, only to be reminded by his editors of his true audience.

To complicate matters, it isn’t entirely clear what Rockwell’s body of work consists of. Was it the published covers themselves, the designs often straying outside the frame and artfully incorporating the name of the magazine? Or was it the painstakingly executed oil paintings on which the covers were based, carefully framed like Dutch Masters, darkened with seemingly antique layers of varnish, and delivered by hand to the offices of the Curtis publishing firm in Philadelphia, only to be given away afterward or put aside as of no value? “I got paid for it once,” he told a dealer, in 1968, who had offered $2,500 for a painting already “bought” for a cover design by the Post. “I don’t need to be paid again.” Three such paintings will be auctioned off at Sotheby’s in December and — such are the changing fortunes of Rockwell’s reputation — one of them, Saying Grace, is expected to fetch upward of $15 million. [more]

The Crooked Ladder

by Bill Hayes

In The Crooked Ladder for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell looks at the criminal path to upward mobility.

“A Family Business” was the real-life version of “The Godfather,” the movie adaptation of which was released the same year. But [anthropologist Francis] Ianni’s portrait was markedly different from the romanticized accounts of Mafia life that have subsequently dominated popular culture. There were no blood oaths in Ianni’s account, or national commissions or dark conspiracies. There was no splashy gunplay. No one downed sambuca shots at Jilly’s, on West Fifty-second Street, with Frank Sinatra. The Lupollos lived modestly. Ianni gives little evidence, in fact, that the four families had any grand criminal ambitions beyond the illicit operations they ran out of storefronts in Brooklyn. Instead, from Giuseppe’s earliest days in Little Italy, the Lupollo clan was engaged in a quiet and determined push toward respectability.

By 1970, Ianni calculated, there were forty-two fourth-generation members of the Lupollo-Salemi-Alcamo-Tucci family — of which only four were involved in the family’s crime businesses. The rest were firmly planted in the American upper middle class. A handful of the younger members of that generation were in private schools or in college. One was married to a judge’s son, another to a dentist. One was completing a master’s degree in psychology; another was a member of the English department at a liberal-arts college. There were several lawyers, a physician, and a stockbroker. Uncle Phil’s son Basil was an accountant, who lived on an estate in the posh Old Westbury section of Long Island’s North Shore. “His daughter rides and shows her own horses,” Ianni wrote, “and his son has some reputation as an up-and-coming young yachtsman.” Uncle Phil, meanwhile, lived in Manhattan, collected art, and frequented the opera. “The Lupollos love to tell of old Giuseppe’s wife Annunziata visiting Phil’s apartment,” Ianni wrote. “Her comment on the lavish collection of paintings was ‘manga nu Santa’ (‘not even one saint’s picture’).”

The moral of the “Godfather” movies was that the Corleone family, conceived in crime, could never escape it. “Just when I thought I was out,” Michael Corleone says, “they pull me back in.” The moral of “A Family Business” was the opposite: that for the Lupollos and the Tuccis and the Salemis and the Alcamos — and, by extension, many other families just like them — crime was the means by which a group of immigrants could transcend their humble origins. It was, as the sociologist James O’Kane put it, the “crooked ladder” of social mobility. [more]

The Path of Least Resistance

by Bill Hayes

In The Path of Least Resistance for Foreign Policy magazine, Sumit Ganguly argues that India’s biggest problem isn’t its new prime minister, Narendra Modi.

Over some 40 years, the founding ideas that made India a stable, democratic, and secular nation have been eroding — an erosion accelerated by the government’s utter failure to explain the need to move from the country’s early socialist guarantees to the promises of free market prosperity. To explain, that is, the need for ideological change. Whenever the public’s expectations, whether of government care or free market prosperity, have not been met by reality, national discontent has increased. And whenever discontent has increased, there have long been opposition politicians willing to nurture base ethnic nationalism to further their own aims. The result has been a cycle of increasingly aggressive populism that does much to undermine India’s national identity and little to rectify its foundational problems. Amid a lack of real ideas, a play to the electorate’s base instincts has been the path of least resistance to power.

In May, these trends culminated in the national election that gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi a sweeping victory with both a mandate and the power to execute their agenda for India. To many observers, the dramatic ouster of the once-dominant Congress party was nothing short of a revolution. But the truth is that the BJP’s win was merely the latest swing of a pendulum between competing populisms that long ago took the place of substantive debate in India.

India retains significant national and international potential. Over 100 million of its citizens speak English, the established language of diplomacy and commerce; it has a youth bulge around the corner (in 2020 the average age will be 29); and its entrepreneurial class has demonstrated that it can compete with its global peers. Nor is India lacking in hard, material capabilities: It is a nuclear-capable state with a professional, million-man army.

But if India’s leaders insist on hewing to these lowest-common-denominator politics, the country will prove unable to address endemic problems …. [more]

List of the Day: America’s Coolest Cities

by Bill Hayes

Listing 20 cities, Forbes magazine has chosen its 2014 List of America’s Coolest Cities.

The Fight to Export U.S. Oil

by Bill Hayes

In The Fight to Export U.S. Oil, Bloomberg Businessweek looks at the debate over banning sales of U.S. oil abroad.

To sell abroad or stay at home: Those are the terms of a debate roiling the U.S. oil industry. At the heart of the disagreement is a 1975 ban on U.S. oil exports imposed by Congress when domestic reserves were dwindling and the country was still spooked by the 1973 Arab embargo. Thanks to new technology, oil production in the U.S. now tops 8 million barrels a day, the highest since 1988. That’s prompted U.S. producers to call for an end to the ban so they can serve new markets. Refiners and other companies want the ban maintained to benefit from the cheap prices of the local oil they use to make gasoline, chemicals, and plastics. “This debate is a major slugfest between industrial consumers and producers of oil,” says Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas. [more]

Charlie Rose: An Appreciation of Robin Williams

by Bill Hayes

Charlie Rose remembers Robin Williams with clips from his show.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak

by Bill Hayes

Vox explains The 2014 Ebola outbreak in 16 short cards. Below is the first card.

Why is Ebola suddenly in the news?

The deadliest Ebola outbreak in recorded history is happening right now. The outbreak is unprecedented both in infection numbers and in geographic scope. And so far, it’s been a long battle that doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

The Ebola virus has now hit four countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria.

The virus — which starts off with flu-like symptoms and sometimes ends with bleeding — has infected about 2,400 people and killed more than 1,300 since this winter, according to estimates on August 20 from the World Health Organization.

Ebola is both rare and very deadly. Since the first outbreak in 1976, Ebola viruses have infected thousands of people and killed roughly 60 percent of them. Symptoms can come on very quickly and kill fast:

Ebola Chart

Each bar here represents a different Ebola outbreak. The data is what the CDC has on record. Not every case or death always gets officially recorded, so there is always some wiggle room in numbers like these. The 2014 bar is the WHO’s estimate of the current outbreak as of August 15, 2014.

Journalist David Quammen put it well in a recent New York Times op-ed: “Ebola is more inimical to humans than perhaps any known virus on Earth, except rabies and HIV-1. And it does its damage much faster than either.” [more]

The Hot Seat

by Bill Hayes

In The Hot Seat for the New York Times Book Review, Michael Lewis reviews Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises by Timothy F. Geithner.

He’s written a really good book — we might as well get that out of the way, as so much else about Timothy F. Geithner remains unsettled. Geithner served as president of the New York Federal Reserve from late 2003 to 2008 and secretary of the Treasury from 2009 to 2013, and so sat near the center of the American financial system as it prepared to self-destruct. He then had a courtside seat to the global catastrophe. He has rich material to work with, and he has contrived to preserve its freshness. His inability as Treasury secretary to explain himself, or his actions, or the financial crisis, or his beliefs about financial reform, to the wider public will leave many readers, I suspect, feeling they are hearing his voice on these subjects for the first time.

“I had always been a backstage guy,” Geithner writes by way of general explanation, but referring specifically to his first, spectacularly unsuccessful, public speech as Treasury secretary. “I had spent my career behind the scenes. Ever since high school, I had dreaded public speaking. . . . I swayed back and forth, like an unhappy passenger on an unsteady ship. I kept peering around the teleprompter to look directly at the audience, which apparently made me look shifty; one commentator said I looked like a shoplifter….” [more]

Women in business: from classroom to boardroom

by Bill Hayes

Grant Thorton has published its annual report Women in business: from classroom to boardroom on how women are doing in businesses around the world.

From classroom to boardroom (IBR 2014) from Grant Thornton

From classroom to boardroom (IBR 2014) from Grant Thornton

Watching the Eclipse

by Bill Hayes

In Watching the Eclipse for the New Yorker, David Remnick reports on Michael McFaul’s experience as ambassador to Russia and the state of Russia today.

In January, 2012, Michael McFaul, a tenured political scientist from Stanford and President Obama’s chief adviser on Russia through the first term, arrived in Moscow with his wife and two sons to begin work as the United States Ambassador. In Palo Alto and Washington, D.C., the McFauls had lived in modest houses. In Moscow they took up residence at Spaso House, a vast neoclassical mansion that was built by one of the wealthiest industrialists in imperial Russia. Spaso features a vaulted formal dining room and a chandeliered ballroom, where William C. Bullitt, the U.S. Ambassador in the thirties, used to throw parties complete with trained seals serving trays of champagne and, on one memorable occasion, a menagerie of white roosters, free-flying finches, grumpy mountain goats, and a rambunctious bear. One guest, Mikhail Bulgakov, wrote about the bash in his novel “The Master and Margarita.” Another, Karl Radek, a co-author of the 1936 Soviet constitution, got the bear drunk. The bear might have survived the decade. Radek, who fell out with Stalin, did not.

On his first night in Spaso, McFaul wearily climbed the stairs, from the stately rooms on the ground floor to the living quarters on the second, and he noticed along the way a wall filled with black-and-white photographs of his predecessors, including the “wise men” of mid-century: W. Averell Harriman, Charles (Chip) Bohlen, George F. Kennan. Every diplomat and scholar who thinks about Russia thinks about Kennan — his mastery of the language, his chilly, and chilling, brand of élitism, and, particularly, his influence on the strategic posture of the West from the end of the Second World War until the collapse of the Soviet imperium. Kennan, who lived to be a hundred and one, had been Ambassador for only four months when, in September of 1952, Stalin declared him persona non grata and ordered him out of the country.

McFaul had no reason to expect that sort of hostility from the Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev. As a policy expert who served on Obama’s National Security Council, McFaul was a principal architect of the “reset,” a kind of neo-détente with Moscow. When, in September, 2011, Obama nominated McFaul to be his envoy to Moscow, relations with the Kremlin were hardly amorous, but a businesslike atmosphere usually prevailed. Obama and Medvedev did solid work on arms control, antiterrorism efforts, Iran’s nuclear program, and the war in Afghanistan. To the bitter outrage of Vladimir Putin, Medvedev’s predecessor and patron, Medvedev even agreed to abstain from, rather than veto, a U.N. Security Council resolution approving NATO air strikes in Libya. But a week after McFaul’s official appointment was announced Putin declared that he would return from the shadows and run for President again in March, 2012. This high-handed “castling” maneuver soured spirits in Moscow, sparking a series of demonstrations in Bolotnaya Square and elsewhere in downtown Moscow. The protesters’ slogan was “Russia Without Putin.”

In the three months between McFaul’s appointment and his arrival in Moscow, a great deal changed. Putin, feeling betrayed by both the urban middle classes and the West, made it plain that he would go on the offensive against any sign of foreign interference, real or imagined. A raw and resentful anti-Americanism, unknown since the seventies, suffused Kremlin policy and the state-run airwaves.

As a new Ambassador, McFaul was hardly ignorant of the chill, but he launched into his work with a characteristic earnestness. “Started with a bang,” he wrote in his official blog. During the next two years, McFaul would be America’s primary witness to the rise of an even harsher form of Putinism — and, often enough, he would be its unwitting target.

William Burns, a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and then a deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had, coincidentally, come to Moscow that January, and together McFaul and Burns visited a range of Kremlin officials. McFaul also presented his diplomatic credentials to the Russian Foreign Ministry. The next day, they were scheduled to meet at the U.S. Embassy with some of the best-known figures in human-rights circles and leaders of the opposition. When McFaul saw the schedule, he knew it was part of a traditional “dual-track” diplomacy — officials first, then the opposition — but he was also aware of Putin’s darkening mood. Putin had publicly accused Hillary Clinton of giving “the signal” that sparked the Bolotnaya demonstrations. He was also familiar with McFaul’s biography — his long-standing relationships with liberal activists, the shelf of books and articles he’d published on democratization.

McFaul was nervous about these meetings, but, he said, “I was the democracy guy, so we went forward.” The visitors to the Embassy included some of Putin’s fiercest critics, and, after their session with McFaul and Burns, representatives of state television lobbed accusatory questions at them as if they had just received marching orders for an act of high treason.

That night, Channel One, the biggest television station in Russia, turned its rhetorical howitzer on the new Ambassador. Mikhail Leontiev, an acid-tongued conservative who hosts a show called “Odnako” (“However”), declared that McFaul was an expert not on Russia but on “pure democracy promotion.” In the most withering tone he could summon, Leontiev said that McFaul had worked for American N.G.O.s backed by American intelligence; he had palled around with anti-Kremlin activists like the “Internet Führer,” Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption crusader who had, damningly, spent some time at Yale. (The listener was meant to interpret “some time at Yale” as roughly “some time inside the incubator of Russophobic conspiracy.”) Leontiev also noted that McFaul had written a book about the Orange Revolution, in Ukraine, and another called “Russia’s Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin.”

“Has Mr. McFaul arrived in Russia to work in his specialty?” Leontiev said. “That is, to finish the revolution?”

Like any effective propagandist, Leontiev had artfully woven the true, the half true, and the preposterous into a fabric of lurid colors. When I asked him about the broadcast recently, he smiled and shrugged: “What can I say? It was very convenient. McFaul made himself vulnerable and we exploited that.”

Andranik Migranyan, a Putin loyalist who directs a Russian-financed institute in New York, told me, “You can’t come and start your ambassadorship by seeing the radical opposition.” He compared it to a Soviet diplomat coming to Washington heading straight for “the Black Panthers or the Weathermen.” [more]