TIME europe

Europe’s Economic Woes Require a Japanese Solution

Rome As Italy Returns To Recession In Second-Quarter
A pedestrian carries a plastic shopping bag as she passes a closed-down temporary outlet store in Rome, Italy, on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. Italy's economy shrank 0.2 percent in the second quarter after contracting 0.1 percent in the previous three months. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The region’s economy is starting to resemble Japan’s, and that threatens to condemn Europe to its own lost decades

No policymaker, anywhere in the world, wants his or her national economy to be compared to Japan’s. That’s because the Japanese economy, though still the world’s third-largest, has become a sad case-study in the long-term damage that can be inflicted by a financial crisis. It’s more than two decades since Japan’s financial sector melted down in a gargantuan property and stock market crash, but the economy has never fully recovered. Growth remains sluggish, the corporate sector struggles to compete, and the welfare of the average Japanese household has stagnated.

The stark reality facing Europe right now is that its post-crisis economy is looking more and more like Japan’s. And if I was Mario Draghi, Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande, that would have me very, very nervous that Europe is facing a Japanese future — a painful, multi-decade decline.

The anemic growth figures in post-crisis Europe suggest that the region is in the middle of a long-term slump much like post-crisis Japan. Euro zone GDP has contracted in three of the five years from 2009 and 2013, and the International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth of about 1.5% a year through 2019. Compare that to Japan. Between 1992 and 2002, Japan’s GDP grew more than 2% only twice, and contracted in two years. What Europe has to avoid is what happened next in Japan: There, the “lost decade” of slow growth turned into “lost decades.” A self-reinforcing cycle of low growth and meager demand became entrenched, leaving Japan almost entirely dependent on exports — in other words, on external demand — for even its modest rates of expansion.

It is easy to see Europe falling into the same trap. Low growth gives European consumers little incentive to spend, banks to lend, or companies to invest at home. Europe, in fact, has it worse than Japan in certain respects. High unemployment, never much of an issue in Japan, could suppress the spending power of the European middle class for years to come. Europe also can’t afford to rely on fiscal spending to pump up growth, as Japan has done. Pressure from bond markets and the euro zone’s leaders have forced European governments to scale back fiscal spending even as growth has stumbled. It is hard to see where Europe’s growth will come from – except for increasing exports, which, in a still-wobbly global economy, is far from a sure thing.

This slow-growth trap is showing up in Europe today as low inflation – something else that has plagued Japan for years on end. Deflation in Japan acted as a further brake on growth by constraining both consumption and investment. Now there are widespread worries that the euro zone is heading in a similar pattern. Inflation in the euro zone sunk to a mere 0.4% in July, the lowest since the depths of the Great Recession in October 2009.

Sadly, Europe and Japan also have something else in common. Their leaders have been far too complacent in tackling these problems. What really killed Japan was a diehard resistance to implementing the reforms that might spur new sources of growth. The economy has remained too tied up in the red tape and protection that stifles innovation and entrepreneurship. And aside from a burst of liberalization under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the early 2000s, Japan’s policymakers and politicians generally avoided the politically sensitive reforms that might have fixed the economy.

Europe, arguably, has been only slightly more active. Though some individual governments have made honorable efforts – such as Spain’s with its labor-law liberalization – for the most part reform has come slowly (as in Italy), or has barely begun (France). Nor have European leaders continued to pursue the euro zone-wide integration, such as removing remaining barriers to a common market, that could also help spur growth.

What all this adds up to is simple: If Europe wants to avoid becoming Japan, Europe’s leaders will have to avoid the mistakes Japan has made over the past 20 years. That requires a dramatic shift in the current direction of European economy policy.

First of all, the European Central Bank (ECB) has to take a page out of the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) recent playbook and become much more aggressive in combating deflation. We can debate whether the BOJ’s massive and unorthodox stimulus policies are good or bad, but what is beyond argument at this point is that ECB president Draghi is not taking the threat of deflation seriously enough. Inflation is nowhere near the ECB’s preferred 2% and Draghi has run monetary policy much too tight. He should consider bringing down interest rates further, if necessary employing the “quantitative easing” used by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

But Japan’s case also shows that monetary policy alone can’t raise growth. The BOJ is currently injecting a torrent of cash into the Japanese economy, but still the economic recovery is weak. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally seems to have digested that fact and in recent months has announced some measures aimed at overhauling the structure of the Japanese economy, by, for instance, loosening labor markets, slicing through excessive regulation, and encouraging more women to join the workforce. Abe’s efforts may prove too little, too late, but European leaders must still follow in his footsteps by taking on unions, opening protected sectors and dropping barriers to trade and investment in order to enhance competitiveness and create jobs.

If Europe fails to act, it is not hard to foresee the region slipping hopelessly into a Japan-like downward spiral. This would prove disastrous for Europe’s young people — already suffering from incomprehensible levels of youth unemployment — and it would deny the world economy yet another pillar of growth.

TIME Media

Stop Pretending Nothing Happens in August

President Richard Nixon Resignation At White House In Washington On August 9Th 1974
President Richard Nixon Resignation at White House in Washington on August 9th 1974. Keystone-France—Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

The month of beach vacations is also when World War I broke out, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The headlines these days all seem to demand exclamation marks. Iraq is teetering on the brink! Russian troops are massing on the Ukrainian border! Gaza lies in ruins! World’s worst Ebola epidemic afflicts Africa!

Oh, and it is also National Goat Cheese Month. Welcome to another quiet and peaceful August.

Yeah, right. One of the puzzles of summer is why so many of us persist in pretending that August is a month when nothing happens, when we can step back, tune out, take a break, and recharge. Europeans even think they are entitled to take the entire month off.

Perhaps there’s something about late summer, a couple months gone since school let out in June, that makes us forget our history. This year, August is full of reminders. We’re commemorating the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.

Bellicose August also brought the Gulf of Tonkin incident that triggered our involvement in Vietnam, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the failed coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in 1939 that enabled Hitler to invade Poland on September 1, and the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 and ensuing Japanese surrender. Hurricane Katrina also occurred in August, but let’s leave Mother Nature out of it.

There’s a melancholic quality to August, a month nearly synonymous with “waning days of summer.” Less acknowledged in our cultural vernacular is the extent to which the “waning” feeling is as much about the end of another year as it is about the end of summer.

Sure, we sing “Auld Lang Syne,” kiss under the mistletoe, and wish each other a “Happy New Year” when December turns to January. But who among us doesn’t feel that the real reset moment each year, the new beginning, comes in September, the day after Labor Day? The fall is when we start school and football season and the U.S. government fiscal year, and when we get serious, if we ever do, about our work.

August, then, is about the waning not only of summer, but also of each passing year, and lost possibilities. It is about the waning of life, even. There is a grasping, desperate quality to many of the historical events that took place in August—hence the resonance of the title of Barbara W. Tuchman’s historical bestseller about the outset of World War I, The Guns of August. It’s quite fashionable to study the sequence of events that led to the so-called “Great War,” which in retrospect appear like dominoes falling as if on a predetermined course. The rest of the war is far less fashionable to read about, as it proves too muddled a narrative. Best to focus on the August beginning, and how it ended all that came before.

Mischief conspires with melancholia in August, the notion that mice can play while the cat’s vacationing. It’s not clear whether Saddam Hussein thought he would get away with taking over Kuwait if he did so while the American president was summering in Maine, or whether that president’s son, when he was in office a decade later, would have taken warnings of an airborne al Qaeda plot more seriously had he been briefed about them at some time and place other than August at his Texas ranch.

August and the waning days of summer (and of the year, I insist) is when we let our guards down, creating an opening for those with an agenda, be it the invasion of Poland or Kuwait, or the shorting of the pound (George Soros famously bet against the British currency in August 1992, and won big). So keep your eye on colleagues who seem especially busy and eager to stick around the office this month. Who knows what they’re up to?

Financial markets are notoriously slow in August, the month of lowest trading volumes, when bankers follow their clients to the beach. But “slow” can be a deceptive term in business as in life, given that lower volume and less liquidity in a market can make it more volatile, and more susceptible to speculation. If you buy or sell 1,000 shares of a company, you are far more likely to influence that stock price on a day when only 5,000 shares trade hands than on a day when 100,000 shares trade hands.

That same dynamic applies to anyone seeking to influence the outcome of any event: your influence increases the fewer people are engaged. Which is what makes this such a dodgy month, and the current news headlines so ominous.

And now, I’m off to the beach for a week. It’s August, after all.

Andres Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.

TIME psychology

5 Secrets to Improve Learning and Memory

I’ve already posted a research round-up on becoming an expert at anything. That was focused on the big picture of how to master something over a period of years.

This time let’s get less macro and focus more on the nitty-gritty of what you need to do when you sit down, roll up your sleeves and try to learn something new.

Yeah, It’s Gonna Take Effort

No, I’m not going to lecture you like Grandpa about the virtues of hard work, but your brain takes in a lot every day and remembering everything isn’t realistic. Research consistently shows effort is how you let your grey matter know something is worth retaining.

The more effort you expend, the better you learn:

…undergraduates in the study scored 29 to 63 percentage points higher on tests when they used study techniques like recording complete notes, creating comparative charts, building associations, and crafting practice questions on their screens.

You’re not going to learn much passively. Re-reading material four times was not nearly as effective as reading it once and writing a summary. Even just writing by hand is beneficial. More effort, better results.

There is a system for developing a near-photographic memory and it works, but takes some practice.

The two key things to remember here are testing yourself and spacing out learning over time.

In more than two dozen studies published over the past five years, he has demonstrated that spaced repetition works, increasing knowledge retention by up to 50 percent. And Kerfoot’s method is easily adapted by anyone who needs to learn and remember, not just those pursuing MDs.

Get Invested

Feeling a connection to the material is powerful. Finding an angle on the subject that makes you curious about it is gold.

Is it too boring? Get invested by betting on your ability to remember it. Yeah, like gambling. Promise yourself a reward before you go to bed and you’ll learn more as you sleep.

Don’t just try to drill knowledge in, connect it to things you already know. Really try to understand it, not just memorize it. This is why teaching someone else is a great way for helping you learn. If you can’t explain it, you don’t know it.

Steroids For Your Brain

Save the healthy eating for another time, coffee and a donut is steroids for your brain. Yes, it’s science. Yes, Red Bull isn’t just for partying, it’s also for studying.

I don’t want to recommend cigarettes to anyone but if you’re already a smoker, light up before you learn. Nicotine does improve cognitive performance.

Fundamentals

We’re always looking for a magic bullet. Truth is that just as with getting in shape, fundamentals like getting enough sleep and regular exercise have far greater effects than well-marketed supplements. Seriously, naps after learningare powerful.

You need to calm down and concentrate. Turn off the music. No group studying. Stop kidding yourself — you can’t multitask. (Guys, when studying stay away from pretty girls. Don’t even think about them.)

Little Tricks

There are lots of little tips that can help as well:

Too lazy for all this? Get a good luck charm. Seriously, they work.

Related posts:

Join over 90,000 readers and get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree

TIME psychology

How to Be Happy at Home and Fulfilled at Work

businessman-leaning
Getty Images

Do what you’re good at.

Using your “signature strengths” — those qualities you are uniquely best at, the talents that set you apart from others — makes you stress less:

The more hours per day Americans get to use their strengths to do what they do best, the less likely they are to report experiencing worry, stress, anger, sadness, or physical pain…

Using your strengths makes you feel better:

Americans also gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their strengths. The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.

Using your signature strengths on a daily basis can make you significantly happier for months.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups. And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a full month later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.

A job that lets you use your talents will make you consistently happier at work:

The more signature strengths were applied at the workplace, the higher the positive experiences at work. This study showed that character strengths matter in vocational environments irrespective of their content. Strengths-congruent activities at the workplace are important for positive experiences at work like job satisfaction and experiencing pleasure, engagement, and meaning fostered by one’s job.

Increasing the amount of flow you experience at work is largely the result of using your unique talents. That may be one of the reasons the most creative people focus on doing what they’re good at:

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

(2) Creative individuals leverage their strengths. They determine their strongest area and build their achievements around these potent intelligences. They do not worry about what they do not do as well; they can always get help from others and perhaps barter their areas of strength with those who have complementary skills.

 

Related posts:

What’s the secret to enjoying your work?

What 7 activities does Harvard happiness expert Shawn Achor recommend?

What 6 rules should be guiding your career?

Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Opinion

No, Catcalling Is Not a Form of Empowerment

People walking, blurred motion
Getty Images

A New York Post writer explains why she loves being catcalled and finds it empowering. Here's why she's wrong.

The first time I was harassed on the street it was physical. Walking down St. Marks Place in Manhattan, I screamed when a man riding a bicycle grabbed me from behind and continued riding. No one nearby said a word, no one chased after the guy, no one asked me if I was OK. In fact, the surrounding crowd of people made me feel embarrassed for screaming.

Since then, I’ve been grabbed only one other time, but the number of times I’ve been verbally harassed is too many to count. It gets my blood boiling every time—I’ve tried ignoring them, I’ve tried giving them dirty looks, I’ve tried talking back to them. I’ve even gone to such lengths as wearing a sweater over my workout clothes every single time I step out the door, even mid-summer, as my curves in Spandex seem to give men—of any age, race or neighborhood—the welcome invitation to comment on my body.

So when the New York Posts’s Doree Lewak published an article called “Hey, ladies—catcalls are flattering!” it made me almost as angry as when men comment on my body. Lewak attempts to make the point that seeking out attention goes hand-in-hand with feminism, which is about self-empowerment. She adds that she prefers compliments to crude comments. But the message she’s sending is wrong. Street harassment is a gateway to physical harassment. If you send the message that any kind of verbal harassment is acceptable, you send the message that all harassment is OK.

Lewak cites her “first time,” when she was 20 and construction workers called after her. But it’s not just construction workers who are verbally harassing women. The construction-worker whistle is an outdated stereotype that Lewak is using to simply stir up controversy. If women only had to put up with whistling from a few men in hard hats, an eye roll could suffice as a reaction. What women are actually dealing with are verbal attacks that make us feel unsafe, that make us feel threatened.

She also writes that these hardy construction workers “need something to look at” when they’re breaking for lunch, and she’s happy to be that distraction—which is her right. But the assertion that men “deserve” or should be allowed to expect this is something else altogether.

To legitimize catcalling is to give voice to those who don’t deserve it: the man who told me he wanted to perform oral sex on me, the man who said he wanted it the other way around and the man who said he could have me if he wanted me. Instead of empowering all women, you empower the man who grabbed my dress in the East Village, who licked his lips and looked me up and down.

Self-empowerment means being empowered from within. Not being empowered by catcalls.

TIME foreign affairs

How Hope for a Kurdish State Vanished Overnight

IS-led militants driven from Mosul Dam
Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces take security precautions against possible ISIS-led attacks around the Mosul Dam on August 19, 2014 in Mosul, Iraq. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Many thought it would be the future of Iraq. Then ISIS came along

Just one month ago, the Chief of Staff to Kurdish President Barzazi and the Kurdish Defense Minister travelled to Washington, D.C., and policy makers wondered if, finally, the time was ripe for an independent state. The Iraqi province of Kurdistan was held up as what Iraq could be: a secure area with a booming economy and a what was thought to be a well-trained army.

After the American-led no fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991, the Kurds focused on internal economic growth by taking advantage of the vast supply of oil. The Kurdish Regional Government convinced oil companies like ExxonMobil, Total and Gazprom to defy the government in Baghdad and invest in the region by showing them how stable their investment would be–while the rest of Iraq became engulfed in the rising number of IEDs.

A model for regional stability, an independent Kurdistan was the future of Iraq, many (including Vice President Biden) thought.

Then ISIS came.

In June, ISIS took over the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and quickly focused their sights on the northeastern Kurdish region. While groups like the Afghan Taliban receive funding through the illicit trade of illegal drugs like heroin, ISIS is much more sophisticated, said Steve Levine, a New America Future Tense Fellow, at a recent panel discussion held at New America. They are doing something that no terrorist group has been able to do so far: gain control of standard resources like wheat fields, oil refineries and dams that power hydroelectric plants. They’re organized, they have a central command and control center, they’re logistically sophisticated and they have democratized violence using social media for their own purposes. All of these things have allowed ISIS to continue their advance and drive at the heart of the Kurdish independent region, that is, oil refineries in the north, and so the bubble has burst on dreams of an independent Kurdistan.

As recently as last week, the Kurdish city of Erbil was attacked in a strong offensive by ISIS, and American diplomats living in the city were in danger. Fearing another Benghazi disaster, which left four American diplomats dead, President Obama ordered the use of targeted airstrikes to slow the advance of ISIS. Bolstered by these airstrikes, the Peshmerga have pushed back ISIS in concentrated areas. But in vast areas without air support, the losses of the Peshmerga have continued. Without proper training and experience, the Peshmerga simply have not performed as expected, said Derek Harvey (Ret.), a Former Senior Analyst for Iraq for General David H. Petraeus. The losses currently being felt by the Peshmerga may be due to the fact that after the Iraqi government pulled out of several towns, and that the Kurds over-extended their territory, extending their borders by almost 40 percent overnight, said Denise Natali, a Senior Research Fellow at the National Defense University.

At the same time that Kurds have been taking these significant territorial losses, the backbone of their economy — their oil industry — evaporated almost overnight. All of the major oil companies in the Kurdish region have left, and the economy has come to a virtual standstill, said Natali. More so, Kurdish tankers that are currently carrying oil have been operating in international legal limbo and sitting just off shore. Unable to dock and unload their cargo, a legal battle has began in American civil courts. To the delight of the government in Baghdad, the State Department has actively called countries and oil traders to discourage the oil from being purchased.

In fact, even if the oil industry was operating as usual, the idea of an economically vibrant Kurdish state was a myth. “The Kurdish economy has been propped up by the government in Baghdad, the United States, and even Iran,” said Natali. “Even if the oil industry is operating at full capacity, they would essentially be a client state of Turkey.”

The advance of ISIS has shown that Kurdistan cannot succeed without a strong Iraq, and vice versa. The U.S. airstrikes that have bolstered the Kurds have been closely coordinated with the government back in Baghdad, and the intelligence shared between the two armies has been essential. As for the Kurdish oil, it can only be exported if Baghdad drops its proprietary claims and allows it to be sold on the international market. Put simply: the fantasy of a Kurdish independent state has evaporated for the time being. But if the Kurds continue to work with the government in Baghdad, there’s a chance that they could prevent ISIS from spreading into Jordan or Lebanon and further destabilizing the region, and, if they’re lucky, they could start to rebuild the region — together.

Justin Lynch is the Social Media Coordinator at the New America Foundation. Emily Schneider is a research associate for the national security program at New America. This piece originally appeared on The Weekly Wonk.

TIME U.S.

Ferguson Pastor: How to Handle a Confrontation With the Police

The Rev. Willis Johnson confronts 18-year-old Joshua Wilson as protesters defy police and block traffic on West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014.
The Rev. Willis Johnson (right) talks to 18-year-old Joshua Wilson as protesters defy police and block traffic on West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014. Sid Hastings—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Within African-American communities and families, “the talk” is too often a cautionary tale

Every parent has had “the talk” at some time or another. All of us, no matter what our socioeconomic situation, race or ethnicity, have sat across from our children and shared with them what to do or how to behave when faced with the sometimes troubling realities of life. There is no script that tells us what to say, where to stand or how to feel. Despite this, as parents know, we try to equip our children for when these inevitable yet unpredictable situations arise.

As a pastor and community leader in Ferguson, Missouri, I have tried to keep protestors out of harm’s way. Within African-American communities and families, “the talk” too often has been a cautionary tale of how to respond to the police – how to navigate the precarious relations between citizens and those who are supposed to protect and serve the community.

Like many young men, when I was beginning to drive, my father sat me down and told me what to do if ever pulled over by the police. I was to present myself respectfully and do whatever was asked of me in order to remove myself from the immediate situation—to get out of harm’s way. He also taught me to be observant, and to get a badge number or an officer’s name if possible so that there would be a means to protect myself should it come to that. Unfortunately, I have had to use my father’s instructions throughout my life. I have been stopped while driving as a teen, as a university student, and just weeks ago.

My own experiences with the police are not much different from that of anyone else. I have been pulled over for just cause. Who hasn’t? But the reality is that you do not have to have done anything wrong to be stopped. Most recently, an officer followed me for about a quarter of a mile before turning on his siren lights. I was stopped for not having two license plates and got off with a warning. But throughout this encounter, I replayed my father’s instructions in my mind.

Anytime I am pulled over, I turn down my music and sit still. I make my hands visible. While I look in the direction of the officer, I rarely make eye contact. I usually have my ID, registration and insurance card ready. But if I don’t, I ask permission to reach into my console before doing so. Through my body language, I try to show deference to the officer. And I will often share that I am a pastor, to try to diffuse the situation. However, even that has the potential to be received as dangerous. A sharp mind can be considered a threat to the police.

Most people think you must have done something in order to be stopped. But that is not always the case. My father’s advice and the advice of many parents is don’t give the police probable cause. Don’t even put yourself in the situation where police can get handcuffs on you because they will put them on as tight as they can. Because if they stop you for anything, they will find something.

The talk my father gave me as a teen was a natural progression of regular talks that began as a small boy. The earliest version of this talk was to simply follow directions. His advice helped shape my encounters with police, and I have drawn on his wisdom in my own conversations with my children, especially my teenage son. And I know it will not be the last conversation I have with either my son or daughter on the subject. This is our reality.

My conversations with my children focus on ways in which they might be able to succeed and thrive in a challenging world, not just on surviving a particular situation. Our talks are about recognizing the dangers lurking around the corner, while also creating a way of being in the world. Above all else, these talks are about my desire to protect my children.

Situations like the one we face in Ferguson are not isolated incidents in our country, or even our world. For so many families across the country, these conversations are a regular occurrence. My role as a pastor and community leader is to not tell people what to think, but to encourage them to ask questions and to use the community as a resource. There is no one-size-fits-all guide. The talk I have with my children will sound different than yours. If you do not know where to begin, seek out faith communities, veteran parents, social workers and teachers in your school system. There are people willing to guide you through this rite of passage.

There is a whole lot of talk going on right now. The shooting of Michael Brown has fueled conversation at the national level. At some point, the cameras and reporters will go home and the headlines about Ferguson will recede. And parents will still sit across from their children and begin “the talk.” As a human being, and as a citizen, pastor and father, I am invested in what that conversation sounds like. I think you should be, too.

A third-generation educator, Dr. F. Willis Johnson is senior minister of the Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominately African-American intergenerational urban church plant. He was educated at United Theological Seminary in Dayton.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 19

1. To understand the conflict in Ferguson, we must acknowledge and overcome structural racism.

By Karen J. Aroesty in the St. Louis Dispatch

2. As we leave Afghanistan, we owe justice and transparency to civilians caught in the crossfire of our occupation.

By Christopher Rogers in Al-Jazeera America

3. The wisdom of crowds: The CIA is learning a lot by aggregating the guesswork of ordinary Americans.

By Alix Spiegel at National Public Radio

4. In the age of MOOCs, remote labs are making a comeback and giving STEM students affordable new ways to do research.

By Steve Zurier in EdTech

5. Delaying child bearing and getting a high school diploma could drastically alter the future for today’s teen moms.

By Emily Cuddy and Richard V. Reeves at the Brookings Institution

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME medicine

When Will I Die? How I Decided Whether to Test for Early-Onset Alzheimer’s

The author bakes cookies with his 3-year-old twins
The author bakes cookies with his 3-year-old twins Courtesy Matthew Thomas

The disease killed my father. At 39, I had to choose how much I wanted to know about my own fate

People ask me all the time if I want to find out how and when I’m going to die. But that’s not exactly how they ask it. What they ask is whether I’m going to get tested for the gene associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It’s hard, though, to miss the subtext in the question: How morbidly curious are you? How much terror can you withstand?

I don’t blame them. These friends know I’m 39 and that my father started showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s in his early fifties (and possibly earlier). They know that after a handful of difficult years my father was diagnosed when I was a freshman in college and that he died less than a decade later. They wonder if I’m going to take advantage of the remarkable opportunity science affords us to uncover our genetic destinies and plan accordingly.

Modern life is all about making us forget we’re capable of dying. We love to feel in control of our mortality, even if we understand that that control is only an illusion. Alzheimer’s disease is the opposite of modern life. It’s the ascendancy of entropy and chaos.

My father’s disease had a devastating effect on our family. It didn’t just take away our time with him and his with us. It also took away his time with the not yet conceived children who would populate the family in his absence. He would have been in his 70s now, surrounded by three grandchildren through my sister and two through my wife and me. It’s painful to know what a resource he would have been for them and how much they’ve lost. He will live, faintly grasped, if at all, only in stories.

When he was still living, we tried to make the best of the situation. When my sister got married, my mother brought my father’s tux to the nursing home and had the staff dress him in it. After the ceremony, while everyone else headed to the reception, two limos carrying my immediate family took a detour to the nursing home for photos.

When I look at the framed shot of us huddled around my father in his wheelchair, I see how hard my sister is trying to keep her emotions in. She’s smiling big, but tears are streaming down her face. We are all smiling hard, though there’s no driving off the pain and awkwardness of the moment. Everyone’s looking at the camera except my father, who is gazing vacantly the other way, his mouth hanging open. Moments later we drove to the reception, leaving him behind, feeling terrible for doing so. I wanted him not to understand a thing that was happening in that scene, but you never knew what he knew.

For most of my youth, my father seemed to know everything. A universe of information swirled around in his brain. I could hardly put a question to him that he couldn’t answer. The rare times he came up short, he pulled me into his study, took a book off the shelf, lay it on the desk and stood flipping through it with me. I think sometimes he pretended not to know things just so that we could look them up together.

Once, when I was about 10 and my sister about 14, we were walking with my father on the outskirts of his old neighborhood. He stopped in front of a town house and told us Winston Churchill’s mother was born there.

“The iconic English statesman of the century!” he said. “A mother from Brooklyn!” He gave us a look almost wild with the significance of what he was about to say. “The wit!” he said. “The chutzpah! That was the Brooklyn in him!”

Three decades later, I can still remember the moment, bathed in that ethereal light that we reserve for our happiest memories. Why do I remember it, though? How did such a quotidian moment burrow its way into my consciousness and survive? Was it the juxtaposition of incongruous worlds, England and Brooklyn? I don’t think so. I think it was the joy my father took in sharing his knowledge with us.

My father would have loved my twin children. They’re 3 years old and full of vitality and personality. My son is unusually strong for such a skinny kid, and remarkably agile. He climbs whatever is available, with a monkey’s speed. When he sits at the piano and pounds the keys, it sounds as if he’s playing a real song. My daughter is a sensitive cuddler who remembers everything. “Daddy, is this from the hotel we stayed at?” she asked the other day, handing me a pad from a Marriott where we stayed six months ago.

Recently my daughter came into our bed in the early morning, lying between my wife and me, and started in on iguanas. “Iguanas are baby alligators,” she said, and I chuckled at the powers of observation of a developing mind. “Can iguanas learn to open doors?” she asked, and after I offered the opinion that they couldn’t, I pulled her close, gave her kisses and began to choke up.

Maybe when my twins are older, science will have caught up to this disease. We have the best scientific minds working on the problem of Alzheimer’s. Much like the search for the cure for cancer, there is a massive payout at the end of the rainbow for anyone who comes up with a solution. If there’s anything to put one’s faith in in the health care system, it’s that the confluence of genius and capital will, in this case, produce the outcome if the outcome is producible. And I do believe it’s producible. But if it isn’t produced in time, no amount of awareness of my fate, if it is to be my fate, is going to forestall its unfolding on me.

My wife and I have little battles over my forgetfulness. She asked me to fix the kink in the hose that runs from the humidifier in our basement to the French drain. A few days later, she gave up and fixed it herself. We had a grill delivered for our backyard, and the flame kept going out on it as soon as we lit it. I was supposed to call about it the next morning, but I’d more or less forgotten that we’d bought a grill in the first place when I heard my wife on the phone with the store. These aren’t terrifying signs in themselves — everyone is a little forgetful occasionally — but they make me pause enough to wonder if the worst is coming.

I’m built like my father, I sound like him, and if I have a genetic mutation in one of three genes that are all variations of the apolipoprotein E gene, then I will likely develop early-onset Alzheimer’s like him. These genes are rare, accounting for only 1% to 5% of all Alzheimer’s cases. But if I inherited the mutation from my father, then I will probably get the disease.

My grandfather — my father’s father — died relatively young of other causes, so there’s no saying whether he would have gotten early-onset Alzheimer’s. No one else in the family had it that we know of. I have as good a chance of getting familial Alzheimer’s as I have of avoiding it. Genetic testing would settle the question for good.

But what would I gain by knowing I was getting Alzheimer’s? I wouldn’t gain another day with my family. I wouldn’t gain a leg up on planning. My wife and I have taken care of practical considerations. We have wills. My wife has a durable power of attorney that enables her to make decisions on my behalf. Every policy, every asset, is in both our names. We opened college savings accounts for the kids. I’m working hard on my next book. How much more could I prepare?

After some deliberation, I’ve decided not to get genetic testing done. Instead, I’m going to try to live every day as if I know that I’m dying. The fact is, we are all dying. If I try to wring the most I can out of every moment, if I set aside time every day that my wife and I keep as inviolate as possible, if I give my wife and children quality interactions whenever we’re in the same room, if I leave the smartphone on the counter and realize there is no information more important than the information I get in my interactions with my loved ones, then how different is any of that from what I’d do if I knew I was getting Alzheimer’s?

Scientific studies suggest that my children are at just the age when they can begin to form lasting memories of their experiences. If I’m aware that I’m going to be gone someday and I consider it possible that that day will come far sooner than I’d like, then I want them to grow up not only knowing their father well but also knowing that they are well loved. I want to get in better shape for them, because I’d like them to see what a truly vital father looks like. And I’ve decided to read to them whenever they ask, if I possibly can. I don’t have any memory of my father telling me, “No more books” at bedtime. I will forever picture him with an arm around me, holding a book out before me, showing me the world.

Thomas is the author of the debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves, out today.

TIME career

Women: What Does Success Mean to You? Take Our Poll

For most women, the definition of "success" is constantly changing. How does yours stack up?

A new national poll conducted for Time and Real Simple asked women how they define success and what it takes to get there. The results revealed that a woman’s view of success changes significantly as she ages and is heavily influenced by whether she wants to have children. Young women tend to be more ambitious, with 73% saying it was “very important” for them to be successful at work, compared to 37% of women in their 60s. And while 48% of 20-somethings said they cared about being promoted within their company (compared to 20% of women in their 60s), 57% of older women said being spiritual was important to success (compared to 42% of younger women). In other words, older women tend to have a much broader and less conventional definition of success. (You can read more about our poll here.)

How does your definition of success compare to other women’s? How different are women from men in the way they think about their careers? Take this quiz and find out:

(These results were based on the interviews conducted by the polling company Penn Shoen Berland with 1000 women and 300 men from May 16, 2014 to May 22, 2014.)

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,078 other followers