Thursday, April 27, 2017

"The Utterly Predictable Fruit of the Democratic Party's Neoliberal Turn"

"The way I see it, the critical test for our system will come late next year. The billionaire great-maker in the Oval Office has already turned out to be an incompetent buffoon, and his greatest failures are no doubt yet to come. By November 2018, the winds of change will be in full hurricane shriek, and unless the Democratic Party's incompetence is even more profound than it appears to be, the D's will sweep to some sort of mid-term triumph.
But when 'the resistance' comes into power in Washington, it will face this question: this time around, will Democrats serve the 80% of us that this modern economy has left behind? Will they stand up to the money power? Or will we be invited once again to feast on inspiring speeches while the tasteful gentlemen from JP Morgan foreclose on the world?"

Thomas Frank at The Guardian writes that "Democrats can have no excuse for not seeing the wave of heartland rage that swamped them last November."

"The Bile Poured on Him from Every Quarter Makes Today's Internet Vitriol Seem Dainty"

"This process of distillation obscures how Lincoln was perceived in his own time, and, by comparison, it diminishes our own age. Where is the political giant of our era? Where is the timeless oratory? Where is the bold resolve, the moral courage, the vision?
"Imagine all those critical voices from the 19th century as talking heads on cable television. Imagine the snap judgments, the slurs and put-downs that beset Lincoln magnified a million times over on social media. How many of us, in that din, would hear him clearly? His story illustrates that even greatness—let alone humbler qualities like skill, decency, good judgment, and courage—rarely goes unpunished."

Mark Bowden in a 2013 Atlantic article explores Northern criticism of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"It Requires Us to Supplement How We've Come to View the Origins"

"I see a lot of power and persuasive force in the traditional model that focuses first and foremost on how kind of race-baiting politicians used race to cynically win votes, and how our relative indifference to black suffering at the national level is part of what's blinded people to the pain and the misery that is mass incarceration. I lay what I’m doing alongside those. I think we have failed to focus on all of these little tiny decisions. When you stack them up and you add them up across time and across the country, and when you add them up throughout the criminal-justice system from police on the one end, through prosecutors and judges and legislatures and probation and parole officers at the other end of the process—when you look at all of these actors over time and over space and across the country, if everyone only becomes somewhat more punitive, but everyone does it together and everyone does it for decades, you get mass incarceration.
"I do think that’s a crucial part of the story, and I don't think it’s one that has gotten enough attention. Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and the War on Drugs are the kind of natural hinge points for the story, and they're important. But they’re not the only things that are important. It's harder to see some of these smaller decisions."

Matt Ford at The Atlantic interviews James Forman, Jr., author of Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America .

"Delights in Skewering the Left and the Right Simultaneously"

"It asks why there aren’t more places like St. Francisville—places where faith, family, and community form an integrated whole.
"Dreher's answer is that nearly everything about the modern world conspires to eliminate them. He cites the Marxist sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who coined the term 'liquid modernity' to describe a way of life in which 'change is so rapid that no social institutions have time to solidify.' The most successful people nowadays are flexible and rootless; they can live anywhere and believe anything. Dreher thinks that liquid modernity is a more or less unstoppable force—in part because capitalism and technology are unstoppable. He urges Christians, therefore, to remove themselves from the currents of modernity. They should turn inward, toward a kind of modern monasticism."

"Shut It Down"?

"Nearly all American politicians in both major parties support some limits on legal immigration, and some measures to enforce those laws. Virtually all of them define 'some human beings as "unworthy of legal standing"'—a position Baer insists does not deserve to be defended in public at all. Perfectly cogent arguments can and have been made that, say, Hillary Clinton advocates systemically racist policies or that Bernie Sanders encourages sexism. The ability to associate disagreeable ideas with the oppressor, and to quash free speech or other political rights in the name of justice for the oppressed, is a power without any clear limiting principle. Historically, states that rule on that basis tend to push that power to its farthest possible limit."

Jonathan Chait at New York revisits the state of the "illiberal left."

"Professor of Mambo"

"Thompson wants his students to recognize how aspects of African cultures infuse not only the music, art, and dance of the Americas, but also philosophy, religious practice, textile design, everyday gestures, and even vocabulary as quotidian as Uh-huh (yes) and Unh-unh (no). According to David Doris '02PhD, a professor of African art history at the University of Michigan, 'He coined the term that became prevalent in academia: "Black Atlantic."' Says Thompson, 'We can't know how American we are unless we know how black we are.'"

In a 2010 Yale Alumni Magazine article, Cathy Shufro profiles art historian Robert Farris Thompson.

"Gave the Music Its Sound and Its Attitude"

"It could be said that Berry wore the mask, though he did it in trickier ways. When that mask really dropped, at the end of the 1950s, he lost just about everything. Yet such was Berry's importance that if not for him, the Beatles, Dylan, the Rolling Stones and countless others wouldn't have had a model or map. Rolling Stone wouldn't be here without him. If ever there was an American who deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature, it was Chuck Berry. If ever there was an American who did not, it was Chuck Berry. If ever there was an American, it was Chuck Berry."

Mikal Gilmore at Rolling Stone writes an appreciation of Chuck Berry, who died at age ninety in March.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"Why CDs May Actually Sound Better Than Vinyl"

"'Every way you can measure it, digital is going to be superior,' Metcalfe says. 'It really does come down to the preference of the end user.'
"Or, as Kees Immink says: 'Some people like marmalade and some people like mustard. If people like to listen to vinyl, do so, enjoy life. But don't say that the sound is better.'"

In a 2015 LA Weekly article, Chris Kornelis explains.

"Early Front-Runners in the Race to Make Sense of It All"

"There is no Big Reveal, no shocking secret answer. Instead we get a slow-building case against the concept and execution of the Clinton campaign, with plenty of fault falling squarely on the candidate herself.
"Far from a juggernaut, the campaign we see in these pages is plagued with division, unease and anxiety practically from the outset. When things go right, it only means they are soon to go terribly wrong. Win a primary, lose a caucus. Quash a rumor, see three more go viral. Close one wound and find another torn open again."

Ron Elving at NPR reviews Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes's Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign.

"His Ascent Is a Death Knell for an Entire Era"

"However deranged Bannon's assumptions, this willingness to call the system into question goes a long way toward explaining Trump's political success.
"Liberals see no such system. Instead, they see more or less qualified individuals who either have the right ideas or not, in government or business: cultural diversity, a fervent belief in incremental rather than structural change, and a firm commitment to meritocratic success. Rather than thinking historically—and preferring to avoid the whole idea of neoliberalism—they profess an ethos. And since they cannot recognize neoliberalism as a system, they cannot acknowledge its political and economic dissolution, its steady descent into incoherence. They cannot acknowledge the loss of the historical soil of their selfhood."

J.M. Bernays at The Baffler considers liberals in the Trump era.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"An Inducement to Wonder"

"A true stimulant to the imagination, as the modernists saw it, color just might work social and spiritual transformations in a world cowering before the oppressive gray of industry, the foul brown of the trenches. It was 'a power which directly influences the soul,' in the words of Wassily Kandinsky, and at the Bauhaus, where he arrived in 1922 after leaving Communist Russia for Germany, he proposed the theory that primary colors are intrinsically linked with basic forms. In a kind of utopian holy trinity, triangles were yellow, squares red, and circles blue. These pairings became the foundation of a new design grammar to be applied not just to canvas and sculpture but to daily existence—refashioning everything from buildings and chairs to cradles and nursery toys. 'Fortunately,' Frank Lloyd Wright wrote, summing up the wishful credo of innocence reclaimed, 'human beings are really childlike in the best sense when directly appealed to by simple, strong forms and pure, bright color.'"

Sebastian Smee in a 2014 Atlantic article looks at books about color.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"I Kept Finding Parallels"

"The Buddha doubted the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God. In his doctrine of 'emptiness,' he suggested that we have no real evidence for the existence of the outside world. He said that our sense of self is an illusion, too. The Buddhist sage Nagasena elaborated on this idea. The self, he said, is like a chariot. A chariot has no transcendent essence; it's just a collection of wheels and frame and handle. Similarly, the self has no transcendent essence; it's just a collection of perceptions and emotions.
"'I never can catch myself at any time without a perception.'
"That sure sounded like Buddhist philosophy to me—except, of course, that Hume couldn't have known anything about Buddhist philosophy.
"Or could he have?"

In a 2015 Atlantic article, Alison Gopnik describes her efforts in investigating a link between Buddhism and David Hume.

Friday, April 21, 2017

"That Humility Has Been Lost"

"It's hard to recapture the horror that earlier generations of Americans felt about preventive war when it was still something that other countries did to the United States and not merely something Americans contemplate doing to others. They viewed it the way some Americans still view torture: as liberation from the moral restraints that human beings require. One of the things that frightened them most about the Nazis was that Hitler had dispensed with the concept of original sin. He had aimed to create a new class of infallible, god-like, humans who need not be encumbered by the fetters that bound lesser races. Totalitarianism, argued Arthur Schlesinger in The Vital Center, aimed 'to liquidate the tragic insights which gave man a sense of its limitations.' For Schlesinger, Reinhold Niebuhr, Walter Lippmann and other intellectuals who shaped America’s foreign policy debate in the early Cold War, acknowledging these limitations was part of what made America different. Because Americans recognized that they were fallible, fallen creatures, they did not grant themselves the illegitimate, corrupting power of preventive war."

Peter Beinart at The Atlantic looks at the American embrace of preventive war.

Preoccupied with 1995

"Most of the URLs the Times printed in 1995 are now dead, including those that led to a guide for backpackers and wilderness trekkers; a livestream of a coffee pot; a Grateful Dead fan page; a map of estuaries; a federal spending website; a hub for online gaming; a gardening site; a site devoted to legislation affecting Massachusetts; Wired's coverage of legal issues in cyberspace; Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology; a graphic novel about living with cancer; an illustrated explanation of an infamous flaw in Intel's Pentium chip; a cybermall; a site for making hotel reservations in San Francisco; a site dedicated to subway routes; a virtual frog dissection; a wine-tasting club; a digital map viewer that let you zoom in to any spot on Earth; Yahoo's internet directory from when it was still hosted by Stanford; and an informational site about zebrafish."

 at The Atlantic revisits a list of websites from an article in The New York Times back in 1995.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Cities vs. Trump"

"In the 2016 election, virtually every large urban center and many small ones—white Boise and majority-black Baltimore, wealthy San Francisco and beaten-down Detroit, sprawling sunwashed megalopoli and shrinking union strongholds—rejected the man who became president, often by yawning margins. The density that is one of the defining characteristics of cities forces encounters that, more and more, seem to strengthen Democratic principles—and separates urban dwellers from their rural cousins."

Justin Davidson in New York asserts that the "urban-rural divide is more significant" to contemporary politics.

Friday, April 14, 2017

"If You Thought George W. Bush Was Generally Swell, but too Racially Inclusive, You Are Going to Like Trump's Presidency"

"Donald Trump ran an ethnonationalist cult-of-personality presidential campaign, in which his status as a (real) nonpolitician and (imaginary) business genius would allow him to transcend and solve every policy problem. He has retained the ethnonationalist themes, while abandoning, one by one, almost every other populist element differentiating him from the generic Republican brand."

Jonathan Chait in New York argues that "Trump has become a conventional party man."

"The Truly Paranoid Style in American Politics"

"Conspiracists are by nature anti-heroic—they believe that faceless networks must be far more powerful than ordinary individuals. A marginal figure like Ross could never have built his cocaine empire alone; Oswald could not have killed a president; a few dozen men in Afghan caves could not have brought down the Twin Towers. The romance of the conspiracy hunt lies in the way it transfers vitality from the assassin to the buff, at home alone, searching for the plot’s true source. In this, it matches perfectly the romance of the Internet, which perhaps explains why conspiracy has found such a resolute home there. If Ross, Oswald, and Hani Hanjour are merely pawns, then the story needs a hero, and the ­puzzle-solver himself raises his hand."

In a 2013 New York article, Benjamin Wallace-Wells looks at "50 years of conspiracy theory."

"That Shadow Has Mostly Subsided"

"These days, the black-and-white artifices of midcentury studio films often seem overly mannered to viewer who didn't grow up watching them on TV as Harry and Sally did. And while young men will always struggle to define masculinity in a way that feels authentic, the world in which they're struggling has changed dramatically. The bitter stoicism that made Bogey cool in the eyes of Allen Felix might look like emotionally stunted self-pity to Felix's son."

Laura Miller at Slate explores if Casablanca is losing its reputation as a beloved movie. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

"I Keep Telling People I'm a Fashion Icon"

"He knows that you probably didn't know that he's an actual living person, or that if you had at one point heard that he was a tennis player, you most likely thought he was already dead. 'I'd love to sit here and say the success of the shoe has been totally because I'm such a great guy or I'm such a great player or whatever. But, you know …' So what is it like when a shoe named after a man is way more famous than the man born with the name himself? To have your name mean so much beyond who you actually are? When you Google Stan Smith, only one of the first 100 images are of the man."

Lauren Schwartzberg at New York talks with Stan Smith, of the eponymous tennis shoe.

Friday, February 24, 2017

"They're Telling the Truth about Words"

"Words belong to everyone. That was Noah Webster's premise, and now, in a world Webster couldn't have imagined, his successors are delivering that message in newly definitive ways. As the rest of us debate the existence of 'alternative facts,' they're keeping it simple:"

James Sullivan at The Boston Globe describes how the Merriam-Webster dictionary continues on in the twenty-first century.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Conflict and Consensus"

"Perhaps they're right to be cautious. In framing a narrative about a nation, there's always the danger of letting description shade into prescription—as Hartz saw when he wrote about the 'compulsive power' of consensus. Stories about the past are bound to leave things out, and any narrative will eventually come to grief as neglected groups disrupt settled assumptions to make themselves known. Yet we can acknowledge those dangers and still recognize that Woodward was also right. The task for the next generation of American historians will be to draw a new roadmap of our country’s history—simple but not simplistic, rigorous but not rigid, inclusive but not incoherent. As our most recent history has shown, we refuse this task at our peril: if Americans are not offered realistic stories about their country's past, they may well choose mythological ones."

Scott Spillman at The Point asserts that "historians no longer know how to tell a narrative history of the United States because they no longer know what to think about the United States."

"The Chain of Responsibility Is Too Long and Obscure to Have Any Bearing on the Average Voter"

"Here is the story. The House of Representatives has refused to investigate either one of the two massive ongoing legal and ethical violations involving the Trump administration: President Trump's opaque ties (financial and otherwise) to Russia, and his ongoing self-enrichment in office and violations of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
"If the House won't investigate, what happens next? Well, the next-best course of action would be some form of public debate on the matter. This is not nearly as good as a real investigation, since the absence of subpoena power means Republicans can simply deny Trump has done anything wrong while blocking any efforts to acquire the evidence that would prove the case. But at least it's something. That's why House Democrats introduced a 'resolution of inquiry' that would force House action on these issues.
Jonathan Chait at New York explains how Donald Trump gets away with it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

"Obama's Lost Army"

"As we now know, that grand vision for a postcampaign movement never came to fruition. Instead of mobilizing his unprecedented grassroots machine to pressure obstructionist lawmakers, support state and local candidates who shared his vision, and counter the Tea Party, Obama mothballed his campaign operation, bottling it up inside the Democratic National Committee. It was the seminal mistake of his presidency—one that set the tone for the next eight years of dashed hopes, and helped pave the way for Donald Trump to harness the pent-up demand for change Obama had unleashed."

Micah L. Sifry at The New Republic calls "the failure to keep the grassroots movement going" Barack Obama's "original, and most costly, political mistake."

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

"It Illuminates the History of Not Only the School, but of New York, Too"

"After the revolution, King's College changed its name to Columbia. Then slavery was abolished gradually in New York. Little by little Columbia's direct connection fades away. But New York City in the 1830s and '40s is still very tied into the cotton trade. We don't like to think about this as New Yorkers, we like to think of it as a bastion of liberalism. But New York was a pro-slavery city. The economy was very connected to the South and to slavery."

Gillian B. White at The Atlantic interviews Eric Foner about Columbia University and Slavery, a historical research project.