In Russia during the Soviet era, government control made the challenge of getting a ballet onto the stage no less onerous than being admitted into the ballet schools of Moscow or Leningrad. The daunting auditions of Soviet legend—teachers scrutinizing preadolescents for the slightest physical imperfection—found an ideological parallel in the required inspections by censorship boards at the Bolshoi and the Mariyinsky–Kirov Theaters. First the subject of a prospective ballet was adjudicated in terms of its fulfillment of the demands for people-mindedness; the music and the dance would be likewise assessed. There would follow a provisional closed-door runthrough to decide if the completed ballet could be presented to the public, after which it would either be scrapped or sent back to the creative workshop for repairs. Dress rehearsals were subsequently assessed by administrators, cognoscenti, politicians, representatives from agricultural and industrial unions, and relatives of the performers. Even then, after all of the technical kinks had been worked out, an ideological defect could lead to the sudden collapse of the entire project.
Bodies as well as plots were changed by politics. The traditional emploi that defined danseurs noble and demi-caractère endured, but emphasis was placed on bigger builds and altogether less softness in the curves. In sculpture, “Soviet man” became like a Greek or Roman demigod, the muscles stronger than steel. So too he became in ballet.
Direct measurements of the magnetic field now span almost two hundred years, and iron-rich volcanic rocks on the ocean floor provide a lower-fidelity chronicle of its erratic behavior—including wholesale reversals in polarity—back about a hundred and fifty million years. But reconstructing the field’s behavior between these two extremes has been difficult. The trick is to find an iron-bearing object that locked in a record of the magnetic field at a well-constrained time in the past, in the way that wine of a given vintage preserves an indirect record of that year’s weather conditions. For this sort of remnant magnetism to form, the object generally must have been heated and then cooled through its Curie temperature—the threshold, named for Pierre, at which iron-oxide particles will align themselves with the ambient magnetic field. At best, however, young volcanic rocks can only be dated to within a few thousand years. Fortunately, natural rocks aren’t the only ones with magnetic memories; archeological materials like fired pottery and even smelting slag may bear similar information.
In his timely new book, “A World in Disarray,” Richard Haass — president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the senior Middle East adviser to President George H. W. Bush — takes a calm, reasoned look at the world today and America’s foreign policy, but comes to the unsettling conclusion that the global trend is “one of declining order.” Haass writes that “the 21st century will prove extremely difficult to manage, representing as it does a departure from almost four centuries of history — what is normally thought of as the modern era — that came before it.”
Schutt does not shy away from the ambiguities in the existing evidence, nor does he linger unnecessarily on those stories that have little substance: he does not need to, for there is plenty to intrigue and entertain here.
Kaze no Oto, in a suburb of Yokohama, is one of a few restaurants in Japan catering to an aging population with meals for those who have difficulty chewing or swallowing. In the way that restaurants have long offered children’s menus, some are now offering special senior meals, too.
With its expanding efforts to accommodate the growing population of the elderly, Japan offers a foretaste of the kinds of societal changes that are beginning to shake a number of wealthy places with rapidly aging populations, including many countries in Western Europe as well as South Korea and Hong Kong.