Iran’s Protests Are Not Just About Gas Prices

In a country where anti-government demonstrations are not allowed, widespread protests with an explicit anti-regime tone are significant. But to understand the meaning of these protests—to know what motivated protesters and why—is exceedingly difficult, given the restrictions on free expression and international communication that currently prevail in Iran. The identities and agendas of the protesters matter for their own sake. They also matter because Iran is a country eternally in the spotlight and often misunderstood.

Iran is a developmental state that has made a considerable investment in education, health care, and infrastructure nationwide. The counties that have experienced protests are among those whose development has benefited most from state support—and where people are therefore particularly likely to oppose its withdrawal, in the form of cuts to energy subsidies. Islamic Republic officials have called protesters “thugs” and depicted their mobilization across the country as a plot against the state directed from abroad. But our findings suggest that the Islamic Republic has itself empowered the citizens who now defy it on the streets.

Today’s protests have arisen in places with some distinct, shared characteristics. They are developed, populous, and urbanized counties with large numbers of young men. And they are places where significant numbers of eligible voters either choose not to vote or vote for the moderate candidate. Such counties will likely remain at the forefront of oppositional political activity in Iran.

If it is true, as our findings suggest, that nonvoters and voters for moderate candidates have converged in resorting to street protests, then the repressive tactics that have met those protests will likely bring these groups closer still.

The Islamic Republic has long relied on elections to gain support and legitimacy. But our results suggest that when nonelectoral institutions obstruct Iranian citizens from achieving the goals they pursued as voters, they may turn to protest instead.

Source: Iran’s Protests Are Not Just About Gas Prices

Why learning a new language is like an illicit love affair | Aeon Ideas

Those are the languages that will consume you – all of you – as you do everything to make them yours.

You dissect syntax structures. You recite conjugations. You fill notebooks with rivers of new letters. You run your pen over their curves and cusps again and again, like you would trace your fingers over a lover’s face. The words bloom on paper. The phonemes interlace into melodies. The sentences taste fragrant, even as they tumble awkwardly from your mouth like bricks built of foreign symbols. You memorise prose and lyrics and newspaper headlines, just to have them at your lips after the sun dips and when it dawns again.

Verbs after adverbs, nouns after pronouns, your relations deepen. Yet, the closer you get, the more aware you become of the mirage-like void between you. It’s vast, this void of knowledge, and you need a lifetime to traverse it. But you have no fear, since the path to your beloved gleams with curiosity and wonder that is almost urgent.

What truths will you uncover amid the new letters and the new sounds? About the world? About yourself?

Source: Why learning a new language is like an illicit love affair | Aeon Ideas

Pluck and hard work, or luck of birth? Two stories, one man | Aeon Essays

Occupants of the American meritocracy are accustomed to telling stirring stories about their lives. The standard one is a comforting tale about grit in the face of adversity – overcoming obstacles, honing skills, working hard – which then inevitably affords entry to the Promised Land.

But you can also tell a different story, which is more about luck than pluck, and whose driving forces are less your own skill and motivation, and more the happy circumstances you emerged from and the accommodating structure you traversed.

Source: Pluck and hard work, or luck of birth? Two stories, one man | Aeon Essays

The Myths of the Thanksgiving Story and the Lasting Damage They Imbue | Smithsonian

In Thanksgiving pageants held at schools across the United States, children don headdresses colored with craft-store feathers and share tables with classmates wearing black construction paper hats. It’s a tradition that pulls on a history passed down through the generations of what happened in Plymouth: local Native Americans welcomed the courageous, pioneering pilgrims to a celebratory feast.

But, as David Silverman writes in his new book This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving, much of that story is a myth riddled with historical inaccuracies.

Beyond that, Silverman argues that the telling and retelling of these falsehoods is deeply harmful to the Wampanoag Indians whose lives and society were forever damaged after the English arrived in Plymouth.

Source: The Myths of the Thanksgiving Story and the Lasting Damage They Imbue | History | Smithsonian

Hybrid Actors

Influential armed groups continue to confound policymakers, diplomats, and analysts decades after their transformational arrival on the scene in the Middle East and North Africa. The most effective of these militias can most usefully be understood as hybrid actors, which simultaneously work through, with, and against the state.

This joint report from The Century Foundation identifies the factors that make some hybrid actors persistent and successful, as measured by longevity, influence, and ability to project power militarily as well as politically. It finds that three factors correlate most closely with impact: constituent loyalty, resilient state relationships, and coherent ideology.

Source: Hybrid Actors

Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: Spring 2019

Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA) provides academic and business economists, government officials, and members of the financial and business communities with timely research on current economic issues.

Source: Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: Spring 2019

U.S. Inspectors General

How officials reporting to both executive officials and congressional representatives work to keep the government honest, efficient, and effective.

Inspectors general are important players in the federal government, and their work often draws considerable public attention when one of them uncovers serious misdeeds or mismanagement that make the headlines.

This book by two experts in public policy provides a comprehensive, up-to-date examination of how inspectors general have operated in the four decades since Congress established the offices to investigate waste, fraud, and mismanagement at federal agencies and to promote efficiency and effectiveness in government programs.

Source: U.S. Inspectors General

The Eagle and the Trident

An insider’s account of the complex relations between the United States and post-Soviet Ukraine

The Eagle and the Trident provides the first comprehensive account of the development of U.S. diplomatic relations with an independent Ukraine, covering the years 1992 through 2004 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The United States devoted greater attention to Ukraine than any other post-Soviet state (except Russia) after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Steven Pifer, a career Foreign Service officer, worked on U.S.-Ukraine relations at the State Department and the White House during that period and also served as ambassador to Ukraine.

With this volume he has written the definitive narrative of the ups and downs in the relationship between Washington and newly independent Ukraine.

Source: The Eagle and the Trident

The Little Ice Age is a history of resilience and surprises | Aeon Essays

Many of us think of today’s extraordinarily rapid, human-caused climate change as an existential threat to humanity, one that will inevitably wipe away cities, industries, countries, perhaps even our species – or at least our way of life.

Many historians, archaeologists and natural scientists have thought about the modest, natural climate changes that preceded the 20th century in much the same way: as existential threats to past civilisations. In their accounts, communities and societies wedded to old ways of life had little recourse when previously predictable weather patterns abruptly changed.

Time and again, they argue, past climate changes provoked civilisational ‘collapse’: a sudden unravelling of social and economic complexity, culminating in a catastrophic decline in population. In popular books and articles, journalists and scientists draw on these ideas to argue that because natural climate changes destroyed past civilizations, anthropogenic warming could well doom ours.

Yet new research is telling us something very different. It is revealing that many – perhaps most – communities successfully endured past climate changes.

Source: The Little Ice Age is a history of resilience and surprises | Aeon Essays

How the Bento Box Can Change How We Think About the World | Time

We don’t think of the bento box as an important innovation, but we should. Created sometime in 12th or 13th century Japan, the bento box arguably invented food packaging as we know it today.

The secret to the bento box’s success is in its name: bento derives from a Japanese word meaning convenience. The bento’s four internal compartments and lid enable someone to easily carry a balanced meal of a variety of dishes without it getting spoiled. Ten centuries after its invention, the bento box remains one of the most balanced, healthy, and convenient meals around.

Could the bento box do the same for how we see our self-interest?

Source: How the Bento Box Can Change How We Think About the World | Time