Tuesday, September 5th, 2023


Rome If You Want To

For decades, being a Superpower has been America's superpower. For a variety of wildly obvious reasons, now seems as good a time as ever to reflect on the state of American democracy and the country's changing role in the world. John Rapley, author of Why Empires Fail, takes stock of America's status and compares it to another empire. Rome. "Like modern America, Rome attained a degree of supremacy unprecedented in its day. But the paradox of great imperial systems is that they often sow the seeds of their own downfall. As Rome grew rich and powerful from the economic exploitation of its peripheries, it inadvertently spurred the development of territories beyond its European frontiers. In time, the larger and politically more coherent confederations that emerged acquired the ability to parry — and eventually roll back — imperial domination. In the same way, America's decline is a product of its success." NYT (Gift Article): America Is an Empire in Decline. That Doesn't Mean It Has to Fall. (Maybe America needs a pep-talk from Deion.)

+ Are you in the right demo? In The Atlantic, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt cover a related, but perhaps more pressing, issue. The state of American democracy (which isn't as strong as it superpowerdom): How American Democracy Fell So Far Behind. "Since 2016, America has experienced what political scientists call 'democratic backsliding.' The country has seen a surge in political violence; threats against election workers; efforts to make voting harder; and a campaign by the then-president to overturn the results of an election—hallmarks of a democracy in distress. Organizations that track the health of democracies around the world have captured this problem in numerical terms. Freedom House's Global Freedom Index gives countries a score from 0 to 100 each year; 100 indicates the most democratic. In 2015, the United States received a score of 90, roughly in line with countries such as Canada, France, Germany, and Japan. But since then, America's score has declined steadily, reaching 83 in 2021. Not only was that score lower than every established democracy in Western Europe; it was lower than new or historically troubled democracies such as Argentina, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Taiwan." It really couldn't be more clear. America's greatest threat comes from within.


Food Glorious Food

"Among adults with hypertension, we saw that systolic blood pressure decreased by 8 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure decreased by about 5 mm Hg, which could have a meaningful impact on health outcomes...Among people with uncontrolled diabetes, their A1C levels, which is a 2-3 month average of their blood sugar, also declined significantly, by about .6 percent." So what's the new miracle drug that achieved these excellent outcomes? Food. NPR: Prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables help boost heart health.


It’s Not a Dry Heat

"Climate-fueled disease — tied to heat, pathogens and toxins — is an emerging, lethal threat that countries are ill-prepared to confront. The Post visited ground zero for this new era, Pakistan, to see what the future holds." Some great (depressing) reporting from WaPo (Gift Article) on what climate change is already doing. Climate-Linked Ills Threaten Humanity.

+ There are still some who don't believe dire headlines like the one above and think climate change is an overstated problem. Insurance companies are not among them. Home insurers cut natural disasters from policies as climate risks grow.


Jailhouse (Soft) Rock

This was the summer of Taylor Swift and it might seem like the story of Swifties has been been told from every possible angle. At least that's what I thought. Until I came across this lede in The New Yorker: "The first time I heard about Taylor Swift, I was in a Los Angeles County jail, waiting to be sent to prison for murder." Listening to Taylor Swift in Prison. (Most readers will experience this as a human story about a prisoner's relationship to art. Writers will read this and think, So that's what it takes to get published in The New Yorker...)


Extra, Extra

With Friends Like These: "North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's reported plans to visit Russia this month have caused concern among the US and its allies. He and President Vladimir Putin intend to discuss the possibility of North Korea providing Moscow with weapons to support its war in Ukraine." (I can imagine at least one leading presidential contender is feeling some major Fomo right now.) This is a pretty good sign of just how desperate Putin is for allies.

+ BYD Your Time: "At the time, it wasn't clear electric vehicles would ever go mainstream, and even less clear whether BYD, a battery maker, would be the company to make it happen. Despite opposition from the rest of BYD's management, Wang acquired a troubled state-owned carmaker. In the days following the announcement, in January 2003, BYD shares plunged by over a quarter. U.S. investors called Wang, demanding he cancel the deal. But he was adamant. 'I have decided that the second half of my life would be about cars,' Wang said at the time. He added that he was just learning to drive." Most Americans haven't heard of BYD, but the carmaker is dominating China. Can it go international? Rest of World: BYD dominates the Chinese EV market. Now it's coming for the world. Chinese-made cars are already making a mark in Germany. German cars aren't. NYT: Chinese Cars Star at Munich Auto Show, Underscoring German Economic Woes.

+ Banana Republic: "The South American country is the world's largest exporter of bananas, shipping about 6.5 million metric tons (7.2 tons) a year by sea. It is also wedged between the world's largest cocaine producers, Peru and Colombia, and drug traffickers find containers filled with bananas the perfect vehicle to smuggle their product." We're seeing the drug trade ruining a country in realtime. AP: Security in Ecuador has come undone as drug cartels exploit the banana industry to ship cocaine.

+ Endless Summer Ends: "It seemed wistfully appropriate, somehow, that news of Jimmy Buffett's death emerged at the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, the demarcation point of every American summer's symbolic end. Because for so many, the 76-year-old Buffett embodied something they held onto ever so tightly as the world grew ever more complex: the promise of an eternal summer of sand, sun, blue salt water and gentle tropical winds." Americans have long wanted the perfect endless summer. Jimmy Buffett offered them one. When we learned of his death, it seemed like everyone I follow on social media shared a photo of themselves with Jimmy Buffett. The guy got around and shared a lot of joy. The Ringer: Remembering the 'Margaritaville' singer, who built an island of chillness and invited everyone to join him.

+ School Closure: It seems like my kids have missed school for everything: Fires, smoke, floods, a pandemic. But not this. Wow. "Two school districts near Philadelphia closed campuses on Tuesday as police search for an escaped murderer hiding in the woods, but who continues to be spotted on surveillance cameras, authorities said." Man, when I was young, I was up all night scared of imaginary threats. This must be terrible for these kids.

+ The Kiss of Death: "Spain's women's soccer coach was fired on Tuesday just two weeks after leading his team to the World Cup title, the latest fallout from an unwanted celebratory kiss moments after the match." This wasn't even the guy who kissed the player.

+ The Big Muddy: "Even during normal years, exodus traffic jams can last for six to nine hours, according to the organizers." This was no ordinary year. The rain and the mud came to Burning Man. Burning Man festival attendees, finally free to leave, face hours of traffic. It really looked ugly out there. Like really.


Bottom of the News

Everyone has a terrible travel story. But this could be among the worst. "A Delta flight from Atlanta to Barcelona was forced to turn around due to a passenger's diarrhea, which the pilot considered a "biohazard issue," according to reports. Around two hours into the transatlantic flight last Friday, Flight 194 was reportedly asked to return to Georgia. 'We've had a passenger who's had diarrhea all the way through the airplane, so they want us to come back to Atlanta,' the pilot reportedly said." Holy sh-t.

+ "A part of China's Great Wall has been severely damaged by construction workers in central Shanxi province, who used an excavator to dig through it. Police say two people are suspected of trying to create a shortcut for their construction work."

+ "It's an Autzen Stadium tradition. Anytime the Oregon Ducks score, the Duck mascot does a regimen of pushups to match the team's current point total." On Saturday, the Ducks scored 81 points. That's a lot of ducking pushups.