Tuesday Reads: Altered States While Driving, Plus Some News.Posted: July 14, 2015
I’m getting a slow start today. I was exhausted after my trip home, and I slept most of yesterday afternoon. I feel as if I could do that again today, and I just might.
There is lots of news this morning, but first I want to share a small epiphany I experienced while driving through Ohio on Saturday. Traffic was light and the weather was nice, partly cloudy and warm–with just enough sun to be bright but not enough for me to need sunglasses.
I was listening to an interesting program on NPR–I think it was Radiolab–about a man who described himself as solitary–practically a hermit–because he experienced so many problems in interacting with people. He enjoyed being alone more than anything else. His marriage to his first wife had broken up and she had taken their two children, whom he loved. The only relationships he had had that weren’t problematic were with his son and daughter. At one point, he learned that his ex-wife’s boyfriend was abusing his children, and he sued for custody. He didn’t get it because when he went to a psychological evaluation, he mistook another little girl in the office for his daughter. The psychologist questioned how he could be a good parent if he didn’t even recognize his own child.
The man moved to California and found a job where he didn’t have to interact with other people except over the phone, and it worked very well for him. Eventually he met a woman who seemed to understand him, and they lived together for years and eventually married.
I really identified with the story, because I find most of my difficult experiences involve interactions with other people. I have always preferred being alone to spending time with people–especially in large groups. As a child, I loved to read and could lose myself in a book and shut out the entire world. As a teenager, I loved to listen to music alone in my room, and I still read constantly. I always felt different–as if I didn’t belong in this world. I think that is the reason I like to drive long distances–I can be alone with no one to bother me, unless I want them to.
Anyway, it turned out that the man in the NPR story had prosopagnosia, or face blindness, a visual processing disorder in which a person has difficulty perceiving faces. He discovered this while he and his wife were watching a 60 Minutes program on this unusual cognitive problem. Interestingly, famed neurologist Oliver Sacks suffers from prosopagnosia.
At the point where the man learned what his problem was after years of struggling in relationships, I suddenly had my epiphany. I became aware of a feeling and I thought to myself. This is how it feels to be happy. I’m happy right now. Of course once I had the thought, I was no longer in the present moment, but the good feeling continued for some time as I listened to other stories on NPR.
Now I don’t think I have prosopagnosia–at least I got 6 right on a video test for it–so I don’t know why the NPR program had such a profound effect on me–maybe because I think there’s something wrong with me but I don’t know what it is. It would be great to have an answer. Why am I happiest when I’m alone but still can be in touch with people over the internet or on the phone? Maybe I’ll never know, but I definitely did have one of those peak experiences that Abraham Maslow wrote about.
On Sunday, the second day of my trip, I was tired all day long and had trouble staying awake. I made good time across New York despite quite a bit of traffic; but the final leg of the trip on the Mass Pike was torturous. I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for more than an hour at one point and the the traffic was hellish the entire way. Oddly, I still felt that my experience of happiness the previous day made it all worthwhile.
I tried to find the NPR prosopagnosia story on-line, but I didn’t have any luck. I’d like to listen to it again.
Now that I’ve likely bored you to tears, I’ll get on with the news.
A deal has been reached with Iran. Politico reports: U.S., world powers reach historic deal with Iran.
The United States and five other world powers have reached a deal with Iran that would place strict limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for ending sanctions on its economy, the culmination of years of delicate diplomacy pursued by President Barack Obama despite warnings the agreement could strengthen Iran’s Islamist regime and leave it dangerously close to a nuclear bomb.
The historic accord, reached by Secretary of State John Kerry and his international counterparts in Vienna on Tuesday after 18 days of intense negotiations, now faces review from a hostile Republican-led Congress, opposition from every GOP presidential candidate, from Israel’s government and from Sunni Arab monarchs. The deal’s long and complex implementation process also leaves it vulnerable to unraveling.
Speaking from the White House Tuesday morning, Obama called the deal a victory for diplomacy that would prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and avert a possible conflict with Iran.
“No deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East,” Obama said. He reaffirmed America’s commitment to Israel’s security and Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia, while adding that the U.S. is “open to engagement on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.”
Obama also hinted at the possibility of a larger thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations. ”It is possible to change,” Obama told Iranians, urging them to take a “different path, one of tolerance, of peaceful resolution to conflict… This deal opens an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.”
“This is the good deal that we have sought,” Kerry said in a statement from Vienna.
It’s another stunning victory for Obama. More from CNN: Landmark deal reached on Iran nuclear program.
After arduous talks that spanned 20 months, negotiators have reached a landmark deal aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear program.
The agreement, a focal point of U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, appears set to reshape relations between Iran and the West, with its effects likely to ripple across the volatile Middle East.
Representatives of Iran, the United States and the other nations involved in the marathon talks were holding a final meeting in Vienna on Tuesday.
Obama praised the deal reached Tuesday morning, saying the agreement met the goals he had in place throughout negotiations.
“Today after two years of negotiation the United States together with the international community has achieved something that decades of animosity has not: a comprehensive long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said from the White House, with Vice President Joe Biden at his side.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also praised the deal, speaking after Obama finished, as televisions in Iran broadcast the U.S. President’s statement live, translated into Farsi.
“Negotiators have reached a good agreement and I announce to our people that our prayers have come true,” Rouhani said in a live address to the nation following Obama.
The essential idea behind the deal is that in exchange for limits on its nuclear activities, Iran would get relief from sanctions while being allowed to continue its atomic program for peaceful purposes.
And from The Wall Street Journal: Oil Prices Fall as Nuclear Deal Paves Way for Iran Exports.
The possibility of up to a million new barrels of Iranian oil flooding global markets—the amount Iranian officials aim to deliver within months—comes at a critical time. China’s stock-market turmoil in recent weeks could slow an economy that was expected to account for a lot of energy-demand growth. U.S. production remains strong, and oil giants such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia are pumping record amounts.
With new Iranian supply, that has raised the specter of a fresh oil glut.
After recovering somewhat from a 60% drop earlier this year, global benchmark Brent crude has lost 15% since early Ma.. It fell further on Tuesday morning in London trading, to $57.30 a barrel on London’s ICE futures exchange. WTI crude futures, a benchmark largely for American oil, was down 1.7% on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
“Iran’s efforts to raise oil exports could not have come at a worse time, given the market’s lingering oversupply,” said Michael Cohen, an energy analyst at Barclays.
In 2012, the U.S. and European Union imposed strict sanctions on Iran’s energy and financial sectors, and the country’s oil exports have been cut nearly in half as a result, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Iranian exports averaged 1.4 million barrels a day in 2014, down from 2.6 million barrels a day at the end of 2011, federal data show.
The speed and quantity of new oil that Iran can export hinge upon many difficult-to-predict factors. They include when Iran might be able to satisfy various countries and the United Nations that it has met the requirements of the deal, triggering the start of sanctions relief. Western officials have said that likely won’t happen until the end of 2015.
More bellyaching from the top 1% at the link.
The other big story is the major economic speech Hillary Clinton gave yesterday. Here’s a preliminary analysis by Paul Waldman at The American Prospect: Clinton Tries to Move the Economic Conversation Beyond Jobs.
As most of us understand, “Do I have a job?” is not the only question you might ask about your economic situation. That understanding is what Hillary Clinton is counting on as she delivers her first major economic address Monday, an attempt to articulate a vision that will not only provide a means of understanding the collection of policy changes she’ll be advocating in her 2016 campaign for president, but also contrast with the now 17 Republicans who want to face her next fall.
I’m writing this before the full text of Clinton’s speech is available, so what I have to go on is only the outline and selections that have been leaked to a couple of reporters (see here and here). But it’s clear that Clinton is attempting to expand the economic conversation beyond the two measures that usually dominate the discussion: job growth and GDP growth. “The measure of our economic success,” she’ll say, “should be how much incomes rise for middle-class households, not an arbitrary growth figure.”
So while Clinton is going to offer some proposals like an infrastructure bank meant to create jobs, most of her emphasis is going to be on increasing wages and improving working conditions with things like paid sick leave. To see why this is aimed at the Republican candidates, pay close attention to what they say when they’re asked about issues like wage stagnation and inequality. What you almost inevitably get is a brief acknowledgment that these things are indeed a problem, then a quick redirection to the policies they say will accelerate growth and create jobs. The last thing they want is to get into a detailed discussion about wages. If pressed, the best explanation they can come up with for why wages are stagnant, or why inequality has been increasing for many years, is that, like everything else that is not as we would like it to be, it’s the government’s fault.
That’s the nature of the problem they face where their ideological beliefs meet the requirements of a presidential campaign. They don’t believe that government can do much affirmatively to improve the economy, so their proposals tend toward “getting government out of the way”—in other words, not doing something new, but stopping something that’s already happening. But if you put a Democratic proposal like paid sick leave alongside a Republican proposal like loosening environmental regulations, it’s a lot easier to understand how the first is supposed to help workers than how the second would.
So as the discussion on economics shifts, Clinton can advocate for at least some policies that are new and meant to react to the changes that have taken place in the American economy. The Republicans, on the other hand, are unlikely to advocate much beyond what they always advocate. There may be some differences in the details, but its essence will be all too familiar: Cut taxes (particularly on the wealthy), cut regulations on corporations, accelerate the decline in collective bargaining, and wait for our glorious future of prosperity to begin.
More reactions following the speech–links only:
Business Insider: Hillary Clinton just called out the economic problem of the next decade.
FiveThirtyEight: The Numbers Behind Hillary Clinton’s Economic Vision
I’ll add a few more news links in the comments. So . . . what stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the thread below.