What’s in a Name?

Meet OZY

Here’s what drives us at OZY: the idea that more is possible. And we’re not afraid to challenge assumptions about the way the world is in order to see the world the way it could be. That conviction is right in our name. Yep, it’s from the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem “Ozymandias.” And yep, most folks read that poem as a caution against big egos and the impermanence of power.

We read it differently. To us, the poem says think big, but be humble, lest you end up “two vast and trunkless legs … in the desert.”

We know that’s an unconventional interpretation. And that’s who we are. Because in a world littered with conformity, we like to see things differently. We hope, through OZY, you will too.

 

Eric Cantor, We Hardly Knew Ye

Eric Cantor smiling with joy

We have come not to bury Eric Cantor. There are plenty of people gleefully lined up to do that.

Nor to praise him. There are also gaggles of folks at the ready to do that.

No. We’ve come, in full Death of a Salesman fashion, to pay some attention to the passing of a man whose ignominious defeat during this last Republican primary saw him lose a 30-point lead to an economics professor, political neophyte and tea party favorite whom he outspent 40 to 1.

Ouch.

…the monster claims the masters…

This was something that ended up being a surprise to establishment Republicans who — faster than they could say “Et tu, Brute?” — found themselves fired by the same creature they’d created as soon as they lost the presidency: A creature composed of, in equal part, good ol’ American resistance, obstruction and a global distrust of the machinery of government.So after 14 years, this former Republican rising star joins a rank and file of other promising once-was’ers: three-time incumbent Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, 18-term GOP incumbent Rep. Ralph Hall and 11-term Rep. Jack Kingston (most recently in a Republican runoff election for Georgia’s U.S. Senate nomination) — all struck down by aggressive challenges from the further right of the tea party.

As well as concern about … ? The unknowns we now face.And in an irony of ironies, the monster claims the masters. And as we cruise into midterm elections facing Republican unknowns, we can’t help but feel a twinge of nostalgia for the knowns we’ve left behind.

So forthwith: an OZY tribute to the once and still Eric Cantor.

Is This the Weirdest Movie to Hit Mainstream Theaters All Summer?

Screengrab of Guardians of the Galaxy

When we first heard that Marvel Studios was plotting to bring the obscure Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen back in the summer of 2010, even superhero geeks like me laughed. Even by wide-eyed superhero movie standards, this science fiction film projected an out-there cast of intergalactic characters. Sure, there were the familiar comic book tropes amongst the oddities: an earth-born, wise-cracking thief and the Guardians’ unlikely leader with a proverbial heart of gold (Star-Lord); a green-skinned female alien trained as a merciless assassin, who was now seeking redemption (Gamora); and a hulking behemoth out to avenge the death of his beloved family (Drax the Destroyer).

But from there, it all just gets completely weird.

Never mind that the ragtag crew all have criminal backgrounds. One Guardian member, Groot, is a size-changing sentient tree whose only words are “I AM G-R-O-O-T.” And his partner Rocket, the most talked about (and controversial) Guardian member, is a genetically engineered raccoon (you read that right) and a gun-toting, sh*t-talking, spaceship-flying mercenary.

Once you do the weird stuff and people buy it, you can do anything.

“A raccoon will be the downfall of Marvel,” proclaimed “JimmyPasta” in 2012 on the influential fanboy site Ain’t It Cool News. And that was a heartbreaking prediction to make. The superhero world had just  gone mainstream, thanks to Iron ManCaptain AmericaThor and the billion-dollar-grossing Avengers.

But no alarm bells are necessary. This film is an artistic game changer for Marvel.

“I always felt that it was very strange that people felt so negative that they wouldn’t accept a talking raccoon and tree, but they would absolutely accept a super soldier from World War II being frozen in ice and then thawing out in modern day,” says Spencer Perry, associate editor at the popular site SuperHeroHype, referring to the aforementioned red, white and blue hero Steve Rogers. “I definitely think Guardians is a stepping stone for Marvel because once you do the weird stuff and people buy it, you can do anything.” 

 

Backed by a savvily casted lineup, including Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt, WWE pro wrestler Dave Bautista, “it” girl Zoe Saldana, Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper and action-hero deity Vin Diesel (the latter pair voice the CGI-creations Rocket and Groot, respectively), Guardians looks on track to earn $68 to $70 million according to Deadline for its opening weekend in theaters. This is optimistic news for a film that features comic book characters that have mainly sat on the D-lister bench in the superhero world.

And it all points to a new kind of risk-taking on Marvel’s part. Up next, in 2015, is Avengers: Age of Ultron. Currently in development: Doctor Strange, a flick chronicling a former neurosurgeon turned sorcerer supreme; Ant-Man, all about a hero with the ability to shrink down to the size of … an ant to communicate with Earth’s hardest working insects. And in addition to OZY’s own reports of a Black Panther movie in the works, there’s also talk that Marvel is plotting to take on arguably its strangest comic-to-film gamble yet: The Inhumans, a race of advanced beings who live on the moon. Their silent leader, Blackbolt, can level an entire city just by uttering a word.

Southern Europe’s Climb Out of Depression

A logo sits on display outside the headquarters of Bankia SA in the Kio towers as pedestrians pass in Madrid, Spain, on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.

Half a decade has passed since the debt crisis plunged southern Europe into deep depression. Now, after bailouts, riots, spending cuts and elections, it’s starting to look up — just a little.

Who’s found the best path to recovery?

“Things seem to be improving but it’s still very hard for most,” says Lara Baste, a 26-year-old Spanish doctor who just returned to a job in Barcelona after a year working in Florida. “I’m just hoping I won’t be forced to choose again between having a career and staying with my family.” She tells OZY she’s happy to be home even if earning only a third of what she made abroad.

As members of the eurozone, they lacked the traditional remedy for a failing economy: to devalue the currency.

Baste was fortunate to escape the misery that most in Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal have endured. The countries faced similar problems: boom and bust growth, soaring debt, sky-high unemployment, plunging wages, deadbeat banks, discredited politicians. But as members of the eurozone, they lacked the traditional remedy for a failing economy: to devalue the currency, which makes exports cheaper and inflates away domestic debt. Instead, they’ve put people out of work and cut wages and spending.

So which of the four might win the tortoise’s austerity race to recovery?

Aerial view of beach with people on it

Tourists enjoy sunshine and the sea at a beach on Zakynthos island, Greece

Source Getty

GREECE

Greeks hurt like no one in Europe. Athens is covered with foreclosure signs and political graffiti protesting soaring taxes, pension cuts of 40 percent and unemployment at 26.3 percent.

After repeated bailouts and rescue packages, the public national debt is still 175 percent of annual economic output and the government’s always one crisis away from collapse.

But from that far down, some things look up. The government has finally balanced its budget and posted a small surplus (before interest payments). It’s recorded the first current account surplus in history, as imports shrank and tourism increased.

Greece has not yet convinced investors that it is at a stage of recovery.

“Artists are increasingly moving here because rent is 50 percent cheaper than before the crisis and the situation poses interesting creative questions about whether we should reinvent or demolish the current system,” says Pantelis Arapinis, owner of the Alpha Beta Gallery in Athens.

After four years when no bank would touch it, Greece was able to borrow abroad by issuing 5-year bonds at 4.75 percent interest, raising 3 billion euros. A booming tourism industry — occupancy rates are up by 25 percent — has helped the economy return to timid growth but doesn’t provide a long-term solution.

Foreign investment? Just a dream. “Greece has not yet convinced investors that it is at a stage of recovery,” says Nicholas Economides, professor of economics at NYU and UC Berkeley.

That might require greater public spending for investment — an IMF no-no — and politically difficult structural reforms like cutting protections for industries or making it easier to fire workers.

ITALY

Italy has a shot at the podium, with less than half of Greece’s unemployment — 12 percent — and strong exports.

The country initially raised taxes to finance public spending but Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government has ambitious new plans to kick-start the economy through labor reform and tax cuts.

Italians’ biggest concern is stubbornly high unemployment. “I know I’m never going to find a job in Italy,” says despairing Lorenzo Fantacuzzi, 42, who moved to Gibraltar to work in a casino. Many young university graduates have fled to serve coffee in London or babysit in Berlin. 

A protester waves a flag with Che Guevara's face during a demonstration against the privatization of the commons and the austerity policies to deal with the economic crisis in Italy.

Italians protest against the privatization of the commons in Rome, Italy.

Source Getty

A drastic drop in demand for industrial goods has recently darkened the outlook, and the Italian central bank cut its GDP growth forecast for 2014 from the 0.8 percent promised by the government to a measly 0.2 percent.

Political bickering and widespread corruption undermine government effectiveness. “The major roadblocks to economic growth are a bloated public administration and unclear boundaries between public and private activities,” says Pier Giorgio Ardeni, professor of political economy at the University of Bologna.

SPAIN

Macroeconomic indicators are looking up across the board after harsh austerity measures imposed by the ruling center-right People’s Party following a decisive electoral win in 2011.

Tourism and revived industrial exports, like cars, have driven growth.

Behind each abandoned building site, empty residential compound and unfinished road lies a mountain of private debt.

“Spaniards are starting to trust their economy which is crucial because it’s increasing consumption,” says José García-Montalvo, professor of economics at University Pompeu Fabra.

Spain’s government decided to rebel against austerity and now plans to cut both corporate and personal taxes early next year. The IMF recently doubled the nation’s forecast growth for 2014 from its initial 0.6 percent to 1.2 percent.

Still, one in every four people is unemployed and new jobs are mostly poorly paid and part time. “Everybody is saying that things are getting better but it’s just not true! I have a job coming up but it’s only a six-month contract and doesn’t pay enough for me to move out,” says Miquel Palanca, 28, who lives with his girlfriend’s parents in Granada and hasn’t worked for over two years.

Debt’s also a drag. Behind each abandoned building site, empty residential compound and unfinished road lies a mountain of private debt and bankrupt companies.

Jobseekers queue to enter an employment center before opening in Madrid, Spain, 2014.

Jobseekers queue to enter an employment center before opening in Madrid, Spain, 2014.

Source Getty

PORTUGAL

In May, Portugal got up the nerve to exit its international bailout package — a rescue line that came with conditions attached — after cutting the budget deficit to 4.9 percent of GDP from 6.4 percent in 2012. Very modest economic growth should return this year. 

Government reforms to the labor market have paid off, with unemployment now at 15.2 percent, down from 17.4 percent in 2013, as more people went to work for lower wages.

…the city is eroded due to austerity — it is abandoned, empty, impoverished…

“This means there are good opportunities for foreign investment and lots of wasted resources that can easily be put to productive use,” says Luís Aguiar-Conraria, professor of economy at the University of Minho. 

But the fragility of Portugal’s banks continues to scare European markets. Regulators stepped in early in July to prevent panic selling in shares of Banco Espírito Santo, the country’s second largest bank, and its former CEO was arrested in connection with an investigation into money laundering and tax evasion.

“Right now the uncertainty is so high that it is very risky to invest in Portugal,” says Aguiar-Conraria. 

Meanwhile, domestic consumption struggles.

“The crisis is still visible everywhere: the city is eroded due to austerity — it is abandoned, empty, impoverished,” says Pedro Figuereido, a seasoned architect turned tourist guide in Porto.

And the winner is…

SPAIN!

At least for now. How to restore growth in these economies was never a mystery. It was rather which government had the guts, determination and staying power to inflict pain on its citizens, quickly and decisively. An electoral mandate, like the one given to Spain’s People’s Party, can make all the difference.

Spain’s not out of the woods, but the return of consumer confidence may be the best sign it’s started on a self-sustaining path to recovery, unmatched by its tortoise-economy rivals.

Creative Ways to Think About Making $$$

Cash set in puzzle

Getting Rich: More Common Than You Think

We tend to think of income groups such as the “top 1 percent” as being relatively stable collectives that, despite popular rhetoric, enjoy rather low levels of social mobility. But the truth is more complicated, and more volatile: The average American’s chances of attaining the American dream, at least in terms of a high income, are greater than we may realize, according to analysis in a new book. The researchers argue that “even when looking at shorter periods of time, affluence is a relatively common event” in America. Good news, right? Maybe not. That wealth is also typically short-lived. Read the story here.

Bumper Business: Sponsor Your Commute

The average commuter in large, congested cities like Los Angeles and New York spends the equivalent of 2.5 days stuck in traffic each year — and it’s even worse in other parts of the world. That’s a lot of time staring at the bumper in front of you. By placing advertisements on car bumpers, companies and brand managers not only gain access to prime, undeveloped ad space, they also grow brand loyalty by providing thousands of drivers with a sponsored commute. Whether it’s for gas money or a portion of your next car payment, wouldn’t you consider renting out your bumper? As Mark Twain once said, “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.” If advertisers can figure out how to rent some real estate on your rear bumper, that small thing might just turn out to be your wallet. Read the story here

 

Paying What You Want: Can It Work?

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, we’re told — or is there? Around the world, a smattering of businesses are experimenting with a new pricing model that lets customers pay what they want. Some of these firms are even managing to stay afloat. That’s partly because of something behavioral economists call “self-signaling.” When given the chance to choose how much to pay for a sandwich, album or taxi, very few of us are callous enough to pay nothing. But some are uncomfortable with making the decision what to pay: We then have to confront how generous or selfish we are. As with any business model that takes a bet on human nature, PWYW can be risky. Oftentimes it flops. Read the story here

The Life + Lessons of Gertrude Bell

The archaeologist and explorer Gertrude Bell (1868-1926).

As the Middle East spirals out of control, Western leaders could learn a lot from their World War I predecessors. They recognized the vast complexity of the Arab world and, to gain a better understanding, drew together a small group of intellectuals with unparalleled knowledge of the region and its language, politics and culture. 

The most famous member of Britain’s “Arab Bureau” was T.E. Lawrence, but the title of most intriguing goes to Gertrude Bell, the first woman employed by the British Intelligence Service and one of the pre-eminent desert explorers of her time. An archaeologist, mountaineer, writer and unofficial diplomat, Bell played a decisive role in the foundation of modern-day Iraq.  

Bell earned entry into circles that few, if any, women had ever joined before.

Gertrude Bell in Iraq, 1909

Gertrude Bell in Iraq, 1909

Source Corbis

Born to a wealthy English family in 1868, Bell was, like all women of her class, expected to become a wife and mother and to acquire the skills necessary to circulate in high society: dancing, music and languages. But her parents soon realized that Gertrude — far more intelligent than her governesses — would not be satisfied with that life. They sent her to school in London and Oxford, where she became the first woman to earn a degree in modern history with top honors.

She traveled extensively throughout her 20s and became an Alpine mountaineer. In 1892 she visited relatives in Tehran, a pivotal trip that prompted her to study advanced Persian and Arabic, eventually attaining fluency. 

Bell’s early adventures may have been made possible by her family’s wealth, but by the time war broke out in 1914, she had established herself as one of the best-qualified “Arabists” in the British Empire, earning her a place in the Cairo Bureau.

Over the next 12 years, Bell traveled across the Middle East six times, visiting Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. She crossed the desert on horseback, with a team of Arab guides, servants and guards, meeting with nomadic Bedouin leaders. Arab communities had then, as now, conservative views regarding the role of women, but Bell’s foreignness and her careful attention to etiquette gave her access to circles that few, if any, women had ever joined before.

Bell played a decisive role in the foundation of modern-day Iraq.

Their work was dedicated to tipping the balance of Arab loyalty in Britain’s favor. Housed in the smoke-filled rooms of grand Cairo hotels, this think tank would eventually instigate the Arab Revolt, which was essential to the Allied victory over Turkey. 

Bell certainly stood out among her colleagues, sporting a wartime uniform that, according to biographer Georgina Howell, consisted of “blue and white striped cotton dresses with flowers at the waist and large straw hat.” Yet she matched her colleagues in every task and, like many women spies, sometimes used her gender to her advantage, teasing valuable information out of those who didn’t take her seriously.

 

From 1915 onwards, she advised the British government on its wartime strategy, outlining the influence and personality of Arab leaders to powerful figures back home, including Winston Churchill, with whom she corresponded directly. Her insight was right on the money: She highlighted, for example, that a young man called Ibn Saud was the most influential leader in the region, a theory borne out today as the House of Saud continues to rule Saudi Arabia.

After the war, she attended the Paris Peace Conference and lobbied the victorious allies to uphold their promises of Arab independence, and wrote an authoritative white paper on civil administration in Mesopotamia, which was applauded by both Houses of Parliament and laid the groundwork for her greatest achievement: the establishment of modern Iraq. Bell helped map the boundaries of the new country, contributed to the design of its constitution and was a trusted adviser to King Faisal I. Later, she founded the Baghdad Archaeological Museum and supported social projects, including the construction of schools for Iraqi girls. 

[Bell had] an intimate knowledge of the Arab world, which she used to map boundaries, suggest policies and smooth international tensions.

Bell’s role in establishing the Middle East as we know it today could be used to implicate her in its current crises. And while that’s true to an extent — Faisal was, for example, a Sunni leader whose appointment alienated many Shi’a and Kurds — Bell in fact opposed many of the West’s most damaging interventions in the Arab world. She was not informed of and later vocally criticized the Sykes-Picot agreement which, secretly signed in 1916, is an ideological focal point for today’s Islamic State. The militants reject the Sykes-Picot borders between Iraq and its neighbors.

Iraqi gravekeeper Ali Mansur points to the tomb of Gertrude Bell in Iraq, April 30, 2006.

Iraqi grave keeper Ali Mansur points to the tomb of Gertrude Bell in Iraq on April 30, 2006.

Bell also questioned Britain’s early promises of a Zionist homeland in what was then Palestine, fearing that the British administration had not given due consideration to the existing population, which she believed would breed a Jewish-Arab conflict.  

Unfortunately, Bell saw little of Iraq’s development. Intense work, the harsh climate and a string of personal tragedies combined to take a toll on her physical and mental health, and in 1926, at just 57, she overdosed on sleeping pills.  

In a period of ever-increasing hostility between Arab and Western nations, it’s difficult to imagine the emergence of a contemporary Gertrude Bell. While she freely roamed the desert, today’s diplomats need security vetting, an armored car and bodyguards to venture outside the Green Zone. She, too, faced considerable risk, but Bell’s extensive travels equipped her with a far-reaching and intimate knowledge of the Arab world, which she used to map boundaries, craft policies and ease international tensions.

Sadly for today’s aspiring Middle East diplomats, no amount of schooling can translate to Bell’s extraordinary level of access and expertise.

Baijiu + Chinese Firewater Cocktails

Profile of a woman while holding a small glass of baijiu.

Beer and wine would top anyone’s list of the world’s most popular alcoholic beverages. Spirits could include vodka, whisky or rum. Hardly anyone would guess what could easily head the list of the world’s most widely consumed: Chinese baijiu. 

The national drink is crudely translated as “white alcohol.” A lot of it is more like white lightening. Imbibing is sort of a right-of-passage for foreigners in China. Richard Nixon famously toasted Maotai — the best-known baijiu — with China’s leader Mao Zedong.

The Communist Party even has an official state baijiu that’s served at all government dinners, including visits from foreign dignitaries.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before Chinese began to reinvent the ancient drink as a shi shi bar cocktail, upending over 5,000 years of tradition.

Baijiu comes from distilled sorghum or glutinous rice, and has been enjoyed across China’s society, from farmers in the most remote provinces to top government officials in Beijing, though they hardly drink the same brands. Baijiu’s a must-have lubricant for business deals and almost any celebration. The Communist Party even has an official state baijiu that’s served at all government dinners, including visits from foreign dignitaries.

Factory worker grabbing bottle of baijiu off a production line. Blurry factory workers in the background.

Workers package China Kweichow Moutai Distillery Co. baijiu liquor, Guizhou Province, China.

Source Getty

Yet there’s one thing in common: Despite the brands, tastes and strengths (40–65 percent alcohol), the Chinese drink it with a meal. No one would think to find it in a bar or choose it for a casual evening tipple.

Until now.

An increasing number of bars in Beijing now offer baijiu-based cocktails on the menu. The most adventurous of these, Mao Mao Chong, is hidden away down one of Beijing’s last surviving traditional alleyways, Banchang Hutong.

The bar attracts a mix of trendy Chinese youths and foreign ex-pats. Yet it hardly looks like a trendsetter until you mention the word baijiu. Upon informing the bartender Gezi (“Pigeon” in Chinese) of my wish to try a baijiu cocktail, the establishment kicks into life.

The combo of ginger, lime and spice are more often found on the dinner table than in a glass, but work harmoniously with the baijiu.

While telling me about cocktails on the menu, she rushes around the bar checking her baijiu stocks, including a personal bottle from her handbag, in the hope of creating the next unique concoction.

She selects a dusty, forgotten bottle from the corner of the bar, which she explains has been infused with Sichuan peppers, and gets to work, exploring the bar and the kitchen for inspiration. When the drink arrives in a tumbler heavily laden with ice and sliced lime, Gezi’s excitement turns to anticipation.

The numbing sensation provided by the Sichuan peppers soon gives way to a taste that just feels, well, Asian. The combination of ginger, lime and Sichuan spice are more often found on the dinner table than in a glass, but work harmoniously with the baijiu.

Gezi tells me the Hutong hangout’s most famous concoction, the Jing Fling, had recently been removed from the menu. “The Jing Fling had become a cocktail that groups of patrons would challenge each other to drink. Our goal was to create a baijiu-based drink that people would enjoy and appreciate.” Drinking contests didn’t fit the bill.

Pigeon Cocktail 

4 tablespoons Sichuan peppers

750-milliliter bottle of baijiu

1 shot Thai lime juice

2 shots ginger beer

1 teaspoon palm sugar 

Add the Sichuan peppers to the bottle of baijiu at least two days prior to use. Add 1 shot of the pepper-infused baijiu and the Thai lime juice to a cocktail mixer and shake well. Top up with ginger beer and stir in 1 teaspoon of palm sugar. Serve with a generous amount of ice and two lime slices.

The taste of baijiu doesn’t naturally go with mixers, so the bartenders at Mao Mao Chong often infuse the spirit with fruits and spices, such as in the China Sling (the local take on the Singapore Sling). “We use a baijiu combined with a mix of berries to create a more gin-like flavor,” Gezi explained.

Although trying the drink neat with a meal is an experience in itself, these cocktails offer a different introduction to the unrivalled, eye-watering kick baijiu offers, disguised in an arrangement of unconventionally delicious flavors.

Whose Populism Is That, Anyway?

People facing camera holding American flag

It began on the fringes a few years ago, with the Tea Party. Then came the smart, motley crews of Occupy Wall Street. The following summer, then-Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren used her Democratic National Convention keynote to talk about hard-working people up against a system that’s rigged against them. Glimmers all — until this season of primaries and midterms and a looming presidential campaign.  

Get out your pitchforks, everyone, because populism is back. From left to right, American politicians are picking up a populist mantle that’s been stuffed in a closet for about 100 years. Senator Warren’s crusading about it on book tour; the enraptured crowds want her to run for president. In June, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was soundly defeated in a primary by Tea Party member David Brat, an economist who spent his campaign talking about how bankers should’ve gone to jail after the 2008 financial crisis. Last week, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan jumped in with an anti-poverty plan whose raison d’etre could have been cribbed from Warren’s book: “Both big government and big business like to stack the deck in their favor. And though they are sometimes adversaries, they are far too often allies.”

Populism has become a meme.

That’s American populism’s message, in a nutshell: business and government are in cahoots, and they’re screwing over the common man. It made its first dramatic appearance in the late 1800s, when leaders like William Jennings Bryan channeled farmers’ anger against Eastern elites. (The pitchfork as populist symbol comes from its origins as a peasant movement.) Teddy Roosevelt, running under the banner of the Bull Moose (Progressive) Party in 1912 campaigned to “dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics.” 

While populism never disappeared from the American stage, it’s played mostly bit parts since then: Think Ross Perot, or John Edward’s “Two Americas.” The new populists are more mainstream. They’re out to avenge avenge crony capitalism and special interests. Moral outrage is their fuel. 

Paul Ryan speaking

Paul Ryan

Source Corbis

“Populism has become a meme,” says Roger Hickey, who co-directs the progressive Campaign for America’s Future. In May, it convened the New Populism Conference, featuring speakers like Warren and other Democrats, like Senators Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown. 

But the new populism isn’t just a progressive phenomenon. Republicans had their own awakening after Mitt Romney’s defeat, which showed the GOP that the “47 percenters” he privately disparaged as moochers were voters, too. It’s just what American Enterprise Institute scholar Tim Carney has been waiting for. “I’ve been saying for a while that to defend free enterprise, you have to fight crony capitalism,” he says. “And now Republicans are saying that, and they’re saying let’s advance policies that actually help regular people. It’s a new thing for Republicans to say.”

The pundits are debating whether the new populism has staying power, especially beyond the midterms, or whether it’s just lip service intended to coddle America’s anxious middle class. Even if their dislike of crony capitalism is genuine, Republicans face a serious rift in their own party, between establishment, Chamber-of-Commerce types and insurgent moralists like Ryan. Democrats have their own big-business issues — in 2008, Barack Obama raked in more Wall Street money than John McCain — and the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is as liberal-elite as they get. 

The new populists differ on who was corrupted and who did the corrupting. 

Still whatever its fate, the new populism sets out interesting possibilities. Among them: the prospect of a conservative-progressive alliance on certain issues. After all, left or right, the new populists share a common enemy in the unholy alliance between big  business and big government. 

That’s what Ralph Nader thinks, anyway. You remember him, right? The 80-year-old consumer-rights crusader and onetime Green Party presidential candidate just published a book called Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. It calls for the left and right to play nice together in the interest of toppling crony capitalism. 

Observers say there’s room for populist alliances on some issues, like military spending, net neutrality and job creation measures. But deep ideological rifts between the parties would prevent broad-based cooperation. Left and right agree that big business and government are in bed together, sure, and that they shouldn’t be. Where they differ is on the matter of who was corrupted and who did the corrupting.

In the right-wing version of populism, government corrupted free enterprise. For those on the left, big business and capital corrupted government. The remedies in each case are different. Those on the right pare back government regulation of business, while those on the left would regulate more. 

The upshot? Instead of joining together in a bipartisan crusade for the little guy against elite interests, Republicans and Democrats will continue doing what they usually do: fight. In this case, they fight about who’s the real populist. That’s why Warren has come under fire for supporting the Export-Import Bank, which finances certain corporations overseas, while Tea Party types have gotten reamed for sucking up to billionaire ideologues like the Koch brothers.

In this case, they fight about who’s the real populist.

“I don’t think anybody owns populism, or can own populism,” says Michael Kazin, a Georgetown historian who is also editor of the leftist Dissent magazine. Kazin’s 1998 book, The Populist Persuasion, argues that populism is “not an ideology, but an impulse and a language, a way of talking about the People as a moral assemblage,” he says. “And they are being betrayed, robbed, exploited — use your favorite adjective — by the elite.” 

Ideological malleability and moral force are its strengths, in some ways. “Populists are good at building constituencies and movements,” he says. But they’re also weaknesses: “They have a hard time winning national office” because, he says, populists come off as too angry and dark. The electorate, it seems, prefers sunshine in the Oval Office. 

It’s a Smartphone Revolution

woman on plane holding her iphone with window in background

Smartphone Breaks at Work = A Good Thing

If you see your employee texting away or playing Candy Crush on their smartphone, resist the urge to put an immediate stop to it. Turns out, smartphone breaks at work aren’t such a bad idea. A new small study shows that the average worker spends a surprisingly small percentage of the workday on a smartphone — not much more than an occasional bathroom break. In the study, the participants noted how they felt about their well-being at the end of each workday. The workers who took “microbreaks” were happier come quitting time, having been able to check in with family or friends or play a quick stress-relieving game. But this study doesn’t mean every human resources department should start advocating for iPhone time. Read the story here

The Call for Fair Phones

This Dutch designer thinks that in order to make the world a fairer place, we should get to know our products better — starting with our beloved smartphones. Bas Van Abel, an advocate of open design and a prominent member of the global maker community, lives by the motto, “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” And, after learning about the use of conflict minerals — tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold — to manufacture smartphones, the Dutch designer turned entrepreneur founded Fairphone, a company that sells conflict-free smartphones. He found a DRC mine where profits didn’t go to warlords, chose a Chinese factory to produce his phone and launched a crowdfunding campaign (within a month, he raised $3.5 million). Van Abel has no intention of becoming the next Nokia; his main goal is to show industry giants that a transparent and fairer supply chain is possible and that consumers really want it. “This is about changing the minds of people, more than trying to solve the war in Congo.” Read the story here

 

 

Soap (Kinda) for Your Phone

According to recent scientific studies, one of the most common contaminants of mobile devices is — wait for it — fecal matter. When we inevitably use our gadgets outside of our sparkling clean living areas, our hands have come in contact with the filthiest of the filthy. Those germs are then transferred to our mobile phones, tablets, etc. Have you ever wondered why those pesky stomach and flu bugs keep returning? It’s most likely your poop-infested phone. Using a disinfectant wipe is one way to get out of germs’ way — but given how sensitive today’s internal phone parts are, moisture isn’t exactly the best idea. Which is why the folks over at Phonesoap have developed a combination sanitizer and charger that uses ultraviolet rays to zap bacteria. You have enough crap to deal with already. At least you can de-nastify your phone. Read the story here

Marcela Uliano da Silva’s Crusade Against the Golden Mussel

Amazon river from the air

Save the Earth by killing it? Sure, but only a little part of it. So goes the philosophy of young superstar Brazilian biologist Marcela Uliano da Silva, who wants to eradicate a foreign species encroaching on the Amazon River’s shores: the golden mussel.

It’s controversial.

But before she can stamp out the mussel, she’s decided to arm herself with the nerdiest of all weapons … sequencing the invasive species’ genome. The golden mussel began its life in the Americas as a stowaway on Chinese ships in the 1990s; within about a decade, it looks set to fully invade Amazonian waters. And it’s already vastly altered its new environment, killing some existing inhabitants. Which means bad news if the hardy bivalves reach the Amazon River — home to the most numerous freshwater fish species in the world.

Her game plan?  Identify and target the genes that underlie the mussel’s MO instead of relying on chemicals that also harm neighboring species.

Invasive species are migrants, a product of globalization — and the golden mussel is just one example of the many foreign bodies that could threaten native environments in the coming years.

“The Amazon River is very precious,” said Uliano da Silva, a Ph.D. student at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

And its treasure isn’t just theoretical — it’s got some dollar signs attached to it: Golden mussels have already begun clogging power plant pipes, incurring losses of $20,000 a day.

 

But while the idea of attacking an invader species isn’t new, Uliano da Silva’s high-tech approach is significant, especially because it comes from a youngster in the science research world: a 27-year-old with Hollywood-blond hair and no Ph.D. … yet. Instead of introducing predators to the environment that then take over, or spraying chlorine and other chemicals — think chemotherapy for the environment — she wants to use a laser focus — think surgery — to target the genes that underlie the mussel’s MO. One strategy? To inject mussels in the lab with molecules called silencing RNAs that recognize and turn off only golden mussel survival genes. These modified mussels would then be released into the wild to breed so that future generations won’t express these genes, either.

Uliano da Silva’s work is a helluva lot more interesting than what ecologists typically rely on to eradicate invasive species; mostly, her colleagues depend on educational outreach and fighting for policy measures (like federal laws requiring ships to empty their ballasts — where golden mussels often hitch a ride — before they sail into the Amazon). Only in the past five years has DNA sequencing become cheap and user-friendly enough to wield against invasive species.

Marcela in front of tire with mussels on it on dock

Marcela on the dock in front of a tire with mussels on it.

So far, other researchers are developing a “lampricide ” that silences genes crucial for embryonic development in lampreys invading the upper Great Lakes. Biotech startup Cotyledon Consulting is devising a similar strategy against invasive plants in Victoria, Canada. What Uliano da Silva is working on could be the face of a smart new way to think about ecology.

You have to be able to live in agony. Otherwise, you’re not going to do great things.

But plenty of sequencing’s possibility is still theoretical, said Daniel Simberloff, a professor of ecology at the University of Tennessee. “A number of ideas have been floated … but there’s been very little in the way of development.” 

Others warn that altered genes could undergo further changes when introduced to the wild — with unexpected, and possibly undesirable, consequences. “We know that evolution does not stop,” said James Collins, a professor of evolutionary biology at Arizona State University. How can scientists be certain that Mother Nature won’t tamper with their handiwork? 

The daughter of a salesman and housewife, Uliano da Silva led a frugal childhood in the small metropolis of Criciúma (population less than 200,000) so she could afford to attend private school — “the only way” to ensure admission to a top university in Brazil, she said. Her dad worked constantly, and her family spent holidays close to home. She started tuning in to the Discovery Channel — mainly because of her best friend, a biology geek. Which soon evolved into a bona fide passion, and she went on to study molecular and cell biology on scholarship at the Federal University of Santa Catarina.

She met her Ph.D. adviser, Mauro Rebelo, as an undergraduate, when she presented her research at a local university — an opportunity open only to Ph.D. students. Undaunted, she had applied to be a presenter and was accepted anyway. That’s a ballsy move in the science research world, whose unspoken hierarchy relegates inexperienced undergrads to the bottom of the totem pole. Rarely are they expected to conduct, much less present, their own research. 

“Every day, I’m anxious,” Uliano da Silva said. “But you have to be able to live in agony. Otherwise, you’re not going to do great things. … You cannot be safe. You need to take risks.” 

Rebelo describes Uliano da Silva as “idealistic … curious and determined.”  But as with most people, “her strongest points … can also be her greatest weaknesses.” Her idealism can sometimes cloud her “real view of the world,” he says. Which is exactly what critics might say about her hopes that the intellectually rigorous exercise of DNA sequencing can have real impact — that these hopes are not anchored in convincing, concrete evidence. But if she’s right, then this is one big idea. And that steel-jawed resolve might make her just the person to halt the golden mussel’s relentless spread.

So far, Uliano da Silva has sequenced the golden mussel DNA regions that encode genes, or the transcriptome, outlining her findings in the journal PLOS ONE in July. She identified genes that enable the mussels to cling to boat hulls and other surfaces, resist disease even in crowded conditions, and thrive anywhere — from power plants to fishes’ digestive tracts.

Next up? She wants to engineer reproductive genes to generate and release sterile mussels, causing the population to perish over time — similar to the “designer mosquitoes” released in Brazil and other countries. And she’s successfully crowdfunded her $20,000 sequencing project —  a less common but emerging approach, as researchers struggle with limited government funding

For Uliano da Silva, protecting the Amazon River reflects a deeper philosophy about our role on the planet. “That’s one thing I really like about molecular biology,” she said. “Science is saying to us, ‘We are all related, from bacteria to humans, because we share the same genetic code.’”