CRF Blog

Every Country in the World (Part 1)

When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools

by Bill Hayes

In When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools for the Atlantic, Timothy D. Walker looks at the different environment for teachers in American and Finnish schools.

“I have been very tired — more tired and confused than I have ever been in my life,” Kristiina Chartouni, a veteran Finnish educator who began teaching American high-school students this autumn, said in an email. “I am supposedly doing what I love, but I don’t recognize this profession as the one that I fell in love with in Finland.”

Chartouni, who is a Canadian citizen through marriage, moved from Finland to Florida with her family in 2014, due in part to her husband’s employment situation. After struggling to maintain an income and ultimately dropping out of an ESL teacher-training program, a school in Tennessee contacted her this past spring about a job opening. Shortly thereafter, Chartouni had the equivalent of a full-time teaching load as a foreign-language teacher at two public high schools in the Volunteer State, and her Finnish-Canadian family moved again. (Chartouni holds a master’s degree in foreign-language teaching from Finland’s University of Jyväskylä.) [more]

Large Majorities Favor Checks and Balances, Right to Protest

by Bill Hayes

In a recent survey, the Pew Research Center reports that Large Majorities See Checks and Balances, Right to Protest as Essential for Democracy.

Large majorities of the public, Republicans and Democrats alike, say open and fair elections and a system of governmental checks and balances are essential to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States.

However, there is less consensus about the importance of other aspects of a strong democracy — notably, the freedom of news organizations to criticize political leaders. [more]

Broad public agreement on importance of many aspects of a strong democracy

Interview of the Day: John Lahr

by Bill Hayes

As part of its By the Book series, the New York Times Book Review interviews writer John Lahr.

What are the best books ever written about the theater? Is there one book that is of particular importance to you personally?

For historical witness and theatrical insight, Elia Kazan’s “A Life” is in a class by itself. I also admire the depth and range of Margaret Brenman-Gibson’s psychoanalytic approach in “Odets: American Playwright.” For the punishing and hilarious infighting of backstage politics, Michael Blakemore’s “Stage Blood,” about creating Britain’s National Theater with Sir Laurence Olivier, is first-rate: unusual both for its candor and its elegance. As a seminal academic study of Shakespeare, C. L. Barber’s “Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy” stands out for me down the decades as a revelation about comedy and its relation to Elizabethan society. [more]

The Era of Reformation

by Bill Hayes

In The Era of Reformation for the New York Times Book Review, Michael Massing reviews Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450–1650 by Carlos M. N. Eire.

Few periods pose as great a challenge to historians as the Protestant Reformation. It features a vast canvas of people, texts, conclaves, and political and intellectual developments, including the birth of printing, the rise of humanism, Wycliffe and Hus, the 95 Theses, the Diet of Worms, Leo X, Charles V, Henry VIII’s divorce, Thomas More’s execution, the Anabaptists, the Puritans, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the King James Bible and a series of epic conflicts, culminating in the Thirty Years’ War — a horrific bloodletting that itself has generated a shelf-ful of studies. Historians must also address the Reformation’s consequences, apparent in everything from Pope Francis’ efforts to reform the Roman Curia to the prominence of the Bible in American life. [more]

Democracy in Hong Kong

by Bill Hayes

Backgrounders from the Council on Foreign Relations are primers on pressing world issues. They usually include histories, summaries, images, graphs, video, and links to additional resources.

A recent Backgrounder was on Democracy in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with certain political and economic freedoms based on the notion of “one country, two systems.” The former British colony is a global financial capital that has thrived off its proximity to China, but in recent years many in Hong Kong have become frustrated by growing economic disparities in the city and weary of delays in democratic reform.

Democracy activists in Hong Kong usually rally on the anniversaries of the 1997 handover to China and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, but protests in the fall of 2014 reached record levels in what was dubbed the “Umbrella Movement.” Experts say that Beijing views these demonstrations and the increasing popularity of pro-democracy parties as a direct challenge to its legitimacy, and fears a political compromise could have dangerous implications for other regions like Taiwan or Tibet.

Hong Kong is an SAR of China that is largely free to manage its own affairs based on “one country, two systems,” a national unification policy developed by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. The concept was intended to facilitate the reintegration of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao with sovereign China while preserving their unique political and economic systems. After more than a century and a half of colonial rule, the British government returned Hong Kong in 1997. (Qing Dynasty leaders ceded Hong Kong Island to the British Crown in 1842 after China’s defeat in the First Opium War.) Portugal returned Macao in 1999, and Taiwan remains independent. [more]

Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.

by Bill Hayes

In Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up., Wired magazine looks at the upside and downside of DNA editing.

In a way, humans were genetic engineers long before anyone knew what a gene was. They could give living things new traits—sweeter kernels of corn, flatter bulldog faces — through selective breeding. But it took time, and it didn’t always pan out. By the 1930s refining nature got faster. Scientists bombarded seeds and insect eggs with x-rays, causing mutations to scatter through genomes like shrapnel. If one of hundreds of irradiated plants or insects grew up with the traits scientists desired, they bred it and tossed the rest. That’s where red grapefruits came from, and most barley for modern beer.

Genome modification has become less of a crapshoot. In 2002, molecular biologists learned to delete or replace specific genes using enzymes called zinc-finger nucleases; the next-generation technique used enzymes named TALENs.

Yet the procedures were expensive and complicated. They only worked on organisms whose molecular innards had been thoroughly dissected — like mice or fruit flies. Genome engineers went on the hunt for something better.

Scientists have used it to render wheat invulnerable to killer fungi. Such crops could feed billions of people.

As it happened, the people who found it weren’t genome engineers at all. They were basic researchers, trying to unravel the origin of life by sequencing the genomes of ancient bacteria and microbes called Archaea (as in archaic), descendants of the first life on Earth. Deep amid the bases, the As, Ts, Gs, and Cs that made up those DNA sequences, microbiologists noticed recurring segments that were the same back to front and front to back—palindromes. The researchers didn’t know what these segments did, but they knew they were weird. In a branding exercise only scientists could love, they named these clusters of repeating palindromes Crispr.

jThen, in 2005, a microbiologist named Rodolphe Barrangou, working at a Danish food company called Danisco, spotted some of those same palindromic repeats in Streptococcus thermophilus, the bacteria that the company uses to make yogurt and cheese. Barrangou and his colleagues discovered that the unidentified stretches of DNA between Crispr’s palindromes matched sequences from viruses that had infected their S. thermophilus colonies. Like most living things, bacteria get attacked by viruses — in this case they’re called bacteriophages, or phages for short. Barrangou’s team went on to show that the segments served an important role in the bacteria’s defense against the phages, a sort of immunological memory. If a phage infected a microbe whose Crispr carried its fingerprint, the bacteria could recognize the phage and fight back. Barrangou and his colleagues realized they could save their company some money by selecting S. thermophilus species with Crispr sequences that resisted common dairy viruses. [more]

My Dinners With Harold

by Bill Hayes

In My Dinners With Harold for California Sunday Magazine, Daniel Duane tells of his experiences with a man who “revolutionized the science of cooking and became revered in the most famous kitchens in the world.”

The first time I had dinner with Harold McGee, he didn’t touch the food. McGee is the bookish 65-year-old author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, first published in 1984, last revised in 2004, and so dense with gripping material like the denaturing effect of heat on meat proteins that it cannot possibly have been read cover to cover by more than two or three people, McGee included. On Food and Cooking is also a perennial bestseller with hundreds of thousands of copies in print — a bible for home cooks and chefs all over the world and the primary reason that McGee has become the great secret celebrity of the contemporary food scene.

I knew for years that McGee lived in my San Francisco neighborhood, and I had been fantasizing about dinner with him ever since the night I tried to make mayonnaise by putting an egg yolk and a teaspoon of water in a bowl and whisking in half a cup of extra-virgin olive oil. This mixture deteriorated into such a disgusting pool of grease that I threw it out. I cracked a second egg, separated the yolk, added more water, and tried whisking in another half cup of olive oil. Heartbreak again, this time coupled with self-doubt.

I repeated this process five times, ever more certain that something was wrong with me, until I had gone through ten dollars’ worth of oil and all but one of my eggs with only minutes before my dinner guests were due. I owned On Food and Cooking, having bought it long before in the hope of making myself into a superior cook, but I had given up on reading it after repeated runs at Chapter 1: “Milk and Dairy Products.”

The mayo mess broke my OFAC impasse. Frantic, I scanned the index, found my subject between matzo and mead, and read McGee’s primer on emulsified sauces, of which mayonnaise is one. I felt calmed by McGee’s explanation that the essence of an emulsion is the dispersal of oil into a zillion tiny droplets suspended in water, aided by an emulsifier in egg yolks known as lecithin. I felt reassured by the news that fancy olive oil is notoriously temperamental in mayonnaise,  and I nearly wept with relief at the sight of a section titled, “Rescuing a Separated Sauce.” Following McGee’s directions, I put a few tablespoons of water in a cup and then, whisking vigorously, slowly drizzled in my final batch of yolk-speckled oil. Moments later, I emerged as the man I am today, capable of making mayonnaise with confidence. [more]

The Most-Read Stories of 2016

by Bill Hayes

OK, this is late, but still worth a look: The New York Times lists its Most-Read Stories of 2016.

‘Honest placebos’

by Bill Hayes

In ‘Honest placebos’ for the Los Angeles Times, Ted J. Kaptchuk shows how “medicine can work without any actual medicine.”

Placebo is a label that marks a drug as ineffective and disqualifies research subjects who respond to “bogus” treatments.

But what if patients who take “honest placebos” — meaning they are told explicitly that they are swallowing sugar pills — can still experience relief from discomfort and disability? That’s been the result of a number of studies by my research group at Harvard Medical School and other teams around the world over the last few years. While these trials were relatively small and short in duration, they collectively challenge our greatest assumption about placebos: that they require deception in order to be effective. [more]

The Will to Power

by David De La Torre

In The Will to Power, The Economist reports on the life and times of Fidel Castro.

TO MEET Fidel Castro was to notice, first of all, his sheer physical presence. He was tall, erect and had a high, domed forehead that made him look naturally imperious. He was strong: as a youth he was awarded a prize as the best all-round sportsman in Cuba. He was brave to the point of recklessness: as a boy, he once rode a bicycle straight into a wall to prove his mettle. And he was determined, convinced of his own rightness, intolerant of contradiction and immune to compromise. These characteristics he had inherited from his father, a Spanish migrant who brought with him to Cuba the innate stubbornness of the gallego and who became a prosperous landowner.

The son, who was born illegitimate in Birán, in rural eastern Cuba, in 1926, added a prodigious ambition for power. Even the Jesuits who taught him saw danger coming in the big, headstrong boy, whose country slang from the cane fields of Oriente marked him out among his urban classmates. The Cuban revolution as it turned out — though not as many of its supporters had originally hoped — was above all an expression of Mr Castro’s will and the unbridled exercise of his massive ego. In his cold-war heyday, he turned his small island into a pocket superpower, fomenting revolution across Latin America, dispatching armies to Africa and brazenly sheltering fugitives, political and criminal, from the United States.

Fidel — he was one of the few world leaders widely referred to by his first name — was lucky, too. He might have been killed many times: as an aspiring leader in the gangsterish ambience of Havana student politics; in his quixotic assault on the Moncada barracks in 1953, where some of his followers died; or in the desperate early weeks after the botched landing of the Granma, the overloaded pleasure boat that transported his tiny force of 82 rebels from Mexico three years later. Then there were the hundreds of attempts by the CIA to assassinate him …. [more]

Modern Democracy Has Plenty of Trump Precedents

by Bill Hayes

In Modern Democracy Has Plenty of Trump Precedents, Bloomberg Businessweek looks at similar leaders in other democratic states.

Instead, it’s better to study the slew of elected autocracies that have taken over developing nations during the past decade — and touched richer countries such as Italy, Hungary, and Poland. According to the monitoring group Freedom House, democracy has been on the decline worldwide since the late 2000s, with the rise of elected autocrats — legitimately elected leaders who then undermine democratic institutions and culture — a major reason for freedom’s ebb. These elected autocrats include people on the left of the spectrum, such as former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, as well as right-leaning leaders such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who dominates Poland’s current ruling Law and Justice Party.

Many of these elected autocrats had little or no government experience before winning national elections. [more]

NASA’s new online archive

by Bill Hayes

The Verge reports that NASA’s new online archive is a treasure trove of free research articles.

NASA launched a free online archive for science journal articles that were funded by the space agency. The archive, which was announced this week, is called PubSpace, and it will make available research and data that are often hidden behind the subscriptions and paywalls of scientific journals. PubSpace will be managed by the National Institutes of Health as part of its own database called PubMed Central. [more]

Mirror Stage

by Bill Hayes

In Mirror Stage for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell reviews The Dark Art: My Undercover Life in Narco-Terrorism by Edward Follis.

Follis joined the Drug Enforcement Administration after a stint in the Marine Corps, and from the moment of his first bust — when he posed as a buyer for a group of Mexican heroin wholesalers — he was “hopelessly addicted to undercover.” During the next three decades, he fought the drug war in Thailand, Mexico, and Korea, and rose to become the agency’s chief representative in Afghanistan. The cast of characters he met along the way could populate a movie set. There was Dragan, “a young Rutger Hauer, six-one, close-cropped blond hair and cobalt-blue eyes,” for whom the D.E.A. put together an entire warehouse of advanced weaponry in a drugs-for-arms deal. “His demeanor remained ice-cold,” Follis writes: “… Didn’t so much as nod. And he damn sure didn’t smile. I don’t think he was a white supremacist, but to me, he had an almost neo-Nazi appearance; he held your gaze for too long, and those blue eyes were chilling. I’ve learned with guys who look like that, guys who think they’re bad-asses, you don’t keep your distance from them. You move in closer.”

Then, there was Kayed Berro, scion of the infamous Berro clan, from the Bekaa Valley, in Lebanon, and an alleged associate of the Pakistani heroin kingpin Muhammad Khan, who, Follis tells us, was widely feared and never seen, in the manner of “the Keyser Soze character in The Usual Suspects.” In Thailand, Follis went in search of the elusive Khun Sa, the opium warlord known as the Prince of Death. Follis became so fluent in Thai that his Thai girlfriend once exclaimed, after listening to him set up a meeting with a trafficker, “When I listen to you speak, I wouldn’t even know you were white.” He hauled duffelbags stuffed with five hundred thousand dollars in small bills through a secret passageway under Hong Kong International Airport. He stared down an ex-con named Mike, who pointed an Uzi between his eyes, wondering if Follis was who he said he was. (“What are you talkin’ about, Mike?” Follis fired back. “Think I’m a fuckin’ cop or something? . . . How could I be a cop? Listen, man, I’d be in … jail for what I’ve done with you so far.”) When one of his informers was grabbed in Kabul, he picked up an M4 carbine, a Glock, and a bowie knife, and took off through the city’s streets in a scene worthy of the “Fast and Furious” franchise …. [more]

Collateral Consequences of Conviction

by Bill Hayes

The American Bar Association has compiled the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction. It’s a database showing the consequences, other than the direct punishment, of being convicted of a crime. Click on a state or federal government, and see what the consequences are for that jurisdiction.