Thursday, June 23, 2016
As you know, we are able to run the site only because our regular readers support us through subscriptions or one-time payments.
Whichever you'd like to do, please take a couple of minutes and use the appropriate button near the top of the left-hand column to make a contribution.
Please do it now!
New posts below.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Laila Lalami in The Nation:
“I’m here to give a reading.” I had come to Palestine with a group of poets and writers for a literary festival, with scheduled stops in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nablus, and Haifa.
The officer glanced at the line behind me. “How many are in your group?”
“I don’t know.”
“How many US passports?”
“I don’t know.”
He raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Everything is ‘I don’t know’ ?”
But I really didn’t know. I had met the other writers at a hotel in Jordan the night before, and it hadn’t occurred to me to count their number while we were on the bus from Amman to the Allenby border crossing, nor to ask how many were American. He swiped my blue passport in the machine, then looked up at me with surprise. “You were born in Morocco?”
Here we go, I thought. It had taken me 20 hours to travel from California to Palestine. I dreaded being deported by Israeli immigration, as had happened to some of my Arab friends. “Yes, that’s right.”
Alison Hawkes in Bay Nature:
Every year, as summer turns to fall, the mouse population on the South Farallon Islands explodes to plague-like densities, numbering 490 mice per acre, among the highest found on any island in the world. The scientists who live and work there describe the assault of the invasive house mouse as a kind of purgatory in the otherwise stunning, windswept smattering of rocky islets and sea stacks 30 miles outside the Golden Gate.
“At night they would be everywhere,” says Peter Pyle, a wildlife biologist who spent more than 20 fall seasons living at the research station on Southeast Farallon Island. “I had them crawling on top of me at night and in my hair. I tried to mouse-proof the house but we’d catch 50 mice in the night.”
Besides making scientific research on the Farallones a harrowing experience, the common house mouse, Mus musculus, has substantially disrupted the island ecosystem — spreading the seeds of invasive plants, eating the endemic Farallon camel cricket as well as a species of daisy called maritime goldfields that provides critical nesting material for birds, and indirectly causing the demise of the island’s breeding population of ashy storm- petrels, a California bird of special concern.
It’s a familiar story on islands all over the world where rodents — prolific feeders and breeders — are a leading cause of extinctions. Massive efforts have been undertaken to kill invasive rodents and usually involve broadcasting rodenticide; other options, like trapping mice or releasing biological controls in the form of snakes or cats, have been ineffective.
Daniel E. Pritchard in Drunken Boat:
In “Six Further Studies,” which lies near the midpoint of Keith Waldrop’sSelected Poems (Omnidawn, 2016), the poet writes of a sundial that “does not, in the modern sense, ‘keep’ time, but celebrates its flight, its recurrence, its brightness.” It’s an apt metaphor for Waldrop’s own poetry, which over the course of half a century has not so much attempted to capture and communicate experience as to examine many modes of experience, the cyclical movement of being, awareness itself, and the experience of being aware of one’s own awareness, which cannot itself be fully explained or revealed, only constantly re-imagined.
Waldrop’s exceptional erudition is evident from the very first pages, not only from the innumerable allusions nested in his verse but also, far more clearly, from the interplay of ideas. The poems have been selected and arranged by the author and his wife, the equally accomplished poet Rosemary Waldrop. Together, the two have directed Burning Deck Press, an essential publisher of experimental poetry, for more than four decades. They approach the daunting editorial task of culling five decades of verse into a single, manageable volume each with a lifetime of experience, and it shows. The poems are grouped by the collection in which they first appeared, but they aren’t sequenced in strict chronological order, as is so often the case. Instead, the groups are arranged in an almost argumentative structure. The sequence builds and diverts, connecting common styles and themes, in a fashion not unlike a playlist.
Abdellah Taïa’s novels are impatient for justice in the streets and homes of Morocco and beyond. Taïa is an iconic gay-rights activist in the Arab world, as well as in France, the country to which he fled for his life in his youth. Since arriving in France, he has published seven novels, directed a film adaptation of his third novel, Salvation Army, and edited the collection of essays, Letters to a Young Moroccan. In 2006, Taïa became the first eminent, openly gay Arab writer ever; in 2013, with Salvation Army, he gave the Arab world its first gay protagonist on the big screen. But Taïa remains little known in the US. That’s despite three of his novels being translated and published in English and a light rain of press in recent years, including two of his own op-eds and an artist profile appearing in the New York Times.
The Times profile headline ran as a triptych: “Muslim, Gay, and Making No Apologies.” Three years earlier, in Out Magazine, Taïa wrote an opinion piece under a nearly identical banner: “Muslim, Gay, and Free.” This list of identities is ponderous but not useless, and adding to it that Taïa is no pacifist, I fear that we avoid engaging with his work because it directly confronts prevailing beliefs about the world that many, if not a majority of, Americans hold close.
There’s no American dream here, not to embrace or shake off. There’s no such privilege. There are other things. Taïa’s portrayal of his homeland is “a Morocco that is not perfect. A Morocco tense and feverish. A surging Morocco. Possessed.”
It was once said of Voltaire, by his friend the Marquis d’Argenson, that “our great poet forever has one foot on Mount Parnassus and the other in the rue Quincampoix.” The rue Quincampoix was the Wall Street of eighteenth-century Paris; the country’s most celebrated writer of epic and dramatic verse had a keen eye for investment opportunities. By the time d’Argenson made his remark, in 1751, Voltaire had amassed a fortune. He owed it all to a lottery win. Or, to be more precise, to several wins.
Lotteries were all the rage in eighteenth-century Paris. There had been a financial crisis in 1719, and France had nearly gone bankrupt. The bankers were to blame, having devised financial instruments that magicked debt away, only for it to return multiplied once it was discovered that the collateral wasn’t there. With the ensuing austerity came the lottery and the blandishments ofla bonne chance. Why tax a weary and resistant populace when luck might seduce them?
The lottery craze began in 1694 (the year of Voltaire’s birth) when the English Parliament established a lottery in order to raise one million pounds for the country’s treasury. Once the first winners were announced, the craze started to spread around Europe. “We’d never heard so much talk of lotteries,” wrote Swiss theologian Jean Leclerc in a book on lotteries published in Amsterdam in 1696, “before they created one in England two years ago.”
But, if the world will not end for Britain, neither will the key issues at the heart of the Brexit debate have been resolved – or even properly addressed. Hostility to the EU, not just in Britain, but throughout Europe, has been driven by frustrations about democracy and resentment about immigration. The Remain (pro-EU) campaign, recognizing that it has few answers, has largely avoided both issues, focusing almost entirely on economic arguments. Leave (anti-EU) campaigners have been equally opportunistic in the way they have addressed questions of democracy and immigration.
Many EU supporters dismiss the charge that the EU is undemocratic, pointing to the existence of the European parliament whose members are elected by all EU citizens. This is not only to overstate the influence of MEPs on policy making, it is also to miss the point about popular resentment. The reason that people see the EU as undemocratic is not because they don't think they can vote in EU elections. It is because they feel that despite their vote, they have little say in the major decisions that shape their lives.
Bernie Sanders in The New York Times:
During my campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I’ve visited 46 states. What I saw and heard on too many occasions were painful realities that the political and media establishment fail even to recognize. In the last 15 years, nearly 60,000 factories in this country have closed, and more than 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Much of this is related to disastrous trade agreements that encourage corporations to move to low-wage countries. Despite major increases in productivity, the median male worker in America today is making $726 dollars less than he did in 1973, while the median female worker is making $1,154 less than she did in 2007, after adjusting for inflation.
Nearly 47 million Americans live in poverty. An estimated 28 million have no health insurance, while many others are underinsured. Millions of people are struggling with outrageous levels of student debt. For perhaps the first time in modern history, our younger generation will probably have a lower standard of living than their parents. Frighteningly, millions of poorly educated Americans will have a shorter life span than the previous generation as they succumb to despair, drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, in our country the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Fifty-eight percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. Wall Street and billionaires, through their “super PACs,” are able to buy elections. On my campaign, I’ve talked to workers unable to make it on $8 or $9 an hour; retirees struggling to purchase the medicine they need on $9,000 a year of Social Security; young people unable to afford college. I also visited the American citizens of Puerto Rico, where some 58 percent of the children live in poverty and only a little more than 40 percent of the adult population has a job or is seeking one.
Let’s be clear. The global economy is not working for the majority of people in our country and the world. This is an economic model developed by the economic elite to benefit the economic elite. We need real change. But we do not need change based on the demagogy, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment that punctuated so much of the Leave campaign’s rhetoric — and is central to Donald J. Trump’s message.
Deer Walk Upon Our Mountains
When they see me said the old woman
they stop where they are
and gaze into my eyes for as long
as I am willing to stand there
in the wind
at the edge of the forest
You are speaking of my mortal enemy
said the dark red tulip
they have eaten many of my family
they do not spare children
they are pests
beauty excuses nothing
Oh cried the dog
the very thought of them
thrills me to the bone
the chase as much as the capture
the scent weaving ahead of me like a flag
saliva spinning from my teeth
by Alicia Ostriker
from The Old Woman, and The Dog
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Jason Cowley in The New Statesman:
JC One of the key slogans of the Brexiteers is to regain control. Why does this resonate with so many? And are you somewhat sympathetic to that line of argument?
MS Well, I do think it resonates deeply. And I see this not only in Britain, I see this in the American political campaign, and I see it looking at the rise of anti-establishment parties throughout Europe. A theme running through these various political movements is taking back control, restoring control over the forces that govern our lives and giving people a voice. As to whether I have some sympathy for this sentiment, I do. I don’t have sympathy for many of the actual political forms that it takes.
One of the biggest failures of the last generation of mainstream parties has been the failure to take seriously and to speak directly to people’s aspiration to feel that they have some meaningful say in shaping the forces that govern their lives. And this is partly a question of democracy: what does democracy actually mean in practice? It’s also closely related to a question of culture and identity. Because a sense of disempowerment is partly a sense that the project of self-government has failed. When it’s connected to borders, the desire to reassert control over borders, it also shows the close connection between a sense of disempowerment and a sense that people’s identities are under siege.
A large constituency of working-class voters feel that not only has the economy left them behind, but so has the culture, that the sources of their dignity, the dignity of labour, have been eroded and mocked by developments with globalisation, the rise of finance, the attention that is lavished by parties across the political spectrum on economic and financial elites, the technocratic emphasis of the established political parties. I think we’ve seen this tendency unfold over the last generation. Much of the energy animating the Brexit sentiment is born of this failure of elites, this failure of established political parties.
Jesse Marczyk in Psychology Today:
In the somewhat-recent past, there was a vote in the Senate held on the matter of whether women in the US should be required to sign up for the selective service – the military draft – when they turn 18. Already accepted, of course, was the idea that men should be required to sign up; what appears to be a relatively less controversial idea. This represents yet another erosion of male privilege in modern society; in this case, the privilege of being expected to fight and die in armed combat, should the need arise. Now whether any conscription is likely to happen in the foreseeable future (hopefully not) is a somewhat different matter than whether women would be among the first drafted if that happened (probably not), but the question remains as to how to explain this state of affairs. The issue, it seems, is not simply one of whether men or women are better able to shoulder the physical demands of combat, however; it extends beyond military service into intuitions about real and hypothetical harm befalling men and women in everyday life. When it comes to harm, people seem to generally care less about it happening to men.
Robert Kuttner in AlterNet:
In recent days, you have read commentaries with variations on the following themes, ad nauseam. All of them contain pieces of the truth, but all miss the basic point:
Irrational Racism. This vote was a mostly racist reaction on the part of Brits who resented dark skinned foreigners in their midst, and mistakenly blamed the E.U.
Britain actually has more control over its borders than most E.U. members, since London never signed the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which got rid of border controls for travelers throughout most of the Union. Before entering Britain, Europeans must still go through passport control, just like Syrians or Americans.
Scapegoating the E.U. for Economic Frustrations. Britain actually has a better deal than most E.U. nations. For starters, it retained its own currency, and controls its own monetary and fiscal policy. But as a member of the E.U., Britain does get to send tariff-free exports to the continent and London operates as a major European financial center. All of this now at risk.
More here. [Thanks to Sarah Ives.]
I don't think I've ever had my breath taken away in New York the way I did when I first set eyes on the artist-run operation in Queens known as Knockdown Center. Not only did I not feel like I was in New York, I remembered the jealousy I always feel when I'm in Berlin or Los Angeles, walking in off some street through an unassuming doorway to a hidden huge courtyard and a magical vast building for art. I was staggered at what I saw, and then starting seeing, as possible art-world futures. New York must have a lot of derelict industrial spaces like this, in Maspeth and elsewhere, I thought. It was the most hopeful real-estate moment I've had in New York since the days of the East Village in the early 1980s (or maybe since galleries settled Chelsea in the 1990s). Somehow the man who saved Knockdown Center from developers coveting the site found a way to transform this magnificent 50,000-square-foot former door factory into a "radically cross-disciplinary" space devoted to "diverse formats, nourishing experimental impulses, questioning traditional notions of authorship, cultural production, and reception." The space also "accepts proposals" for shows. You can propose something. I met an artist who did and the show is there now.
Late Motörhead front man and Nazi-memorabilia collector Lemmy Kilmister once said of his preference for the German side’s kit that he would have collected and worn British uniforms from the same period had their khaki color not made whoever put them on look “like a fucking swamp frog.” Much the same could have been said of the US Army’s World War II uniforms, characterized by an ochreous, greenish, khaki-like color known as olive drab. And Lemmy was not alone in his disdain for the dusty greens and taupes favored by the Allies; indeed, he was late to the game. Almost as soon as the war was over, mutters of dissatisfaction with olive drab in the United States turned into explicit concern. Army brass began to feel a pressing need for an appealing, ennobling color that could distinguish the army from its rivals—the other (generally blue-toned) branches of the US armed services. Committees were formed, reports drawn up, and after much debate it was decided that olive drab had to go, no matter the cost; the all-too-familiar sight of plumbers, garbagemen, and service station attendants working in battered, shit-brown Ike jackets across small-town America had finally put an end to whatever glimmer of romantic, colonial swagger had once attached to khaki and its confreres. And anyway, the colonial age was over, at least for the Brits—the war had put paid to that set of fantasies—and something new was beginning: call it the Cold War, call it the space age, call it the age of advertising. Call it Pax Americana or the beginning of America’s long half-century.
Whatever it was, it cried out for a new color, something plastic, identifying, unifying, and good. Reluctantly, the army also concluded that it would have to be some shade of green, an unfortunate color that, as historian Michel Pastoureau has pointed out, carries a profound ambivalence in the Western tradition—“a symbol of life, luck, and hope on the one hand, an attribute of disorder, poison, the devil and all his creatures on the other.”
It began as an internal matter of party discipline. The offer of a referendum was a strategic decision made by the Conservative Party in the run up to last year’s general election. It was offered both as Prime Minister David Cameron’s concession to the eurosceptic wing of his own party—which had been hammering him on the issue of EU membership from the shires of middle England for years—and as a way of shoring up his nationalist credentials against the upstart band of blazer-wearing, spittle-spewing paranoiacs who call themselves the UK Independence Party.
Though they have one MP in the Commons (their leader Nigel Farage sits prettily in the European Parliament even as he rails against it) UKIP are more of a single-issue pressure group than a real political party. Nevertheless they have proved depressingly effective at whipping up anti-outsider sentiment: against Romanians and Bulgarians, against Turkey joining the EU, against Syrian refugees. It seemed as though they might well dilute the vote for the Tories—as well as for Labour, in some constituencies—during the 2015 election, so that giving way on the question of an EU referendum made some sense for the Conservatives. Both major parties felt comfortable, if not compelled, to make immigration a campaigning issue.
Jane Brody in The New York Times:
Christopher Beemer, a 75-year-old Brooklynite, is impressed with how well his wife, Carol, maintains friendships with other women and wonders why this valuable benefit to health and longevity “doesn’t come so easily to men.” Among various studies linking friendships to well-being in one’s later years, the 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that family relationships had little if any impact on longevity, but friendships increased life expectancy by as much as 22 percent.
...From childhood on, Dr. Olds said, “men’s friendships are more often based on mutual activities like sports and work rather than what’s happening to them psychologically. Women are taught to draw one another out; men are not.” Consciously or otherwise, many men believe that talking about personal matters with other men is not manly. The result is often less intimate, more casual friendships between men, making the connections more tenuous and harder to sustain. Dr. Olds said, “I have a number of men in my practice who feel bad about having lost touch with old friends. Yet it turns out men are delighted when an old friend reaches out to revive the relationship. Men might need a stronger signal than women do to reconnect. It may not be enough to send an email to an old friend. It may be better to invite him to visit.” Some married men consider their wives to be their best friend, and many depend on their wives to establish and maintain the couple’s social connections, which can all but disappear when a couple divorces or the wife dies. Differences between male and female friendships start at an early age. Observing how his four young granddaughters interact socially, Mr. Beemer said, “They have way more of that kind of activity than boys have. It may explain why as adults they continue to do a much better job of it.” In defense of his gender, he observed, “Men have a harder time reaching their emotions and are less likely than women to reveal their emotional side. But when you have a real friendship, it’s because you’ve done just that.” He has found that “it’s important to expose yourself and be honest about what’s going on. If you reveal yourself in the right way to the right person, it will be just fine. There are risks, you can’t force it. Sometimes it doesn’t work — you get a don’t-burden-me-with-that kind of response and you know to back off. But more often men will respond in kind.” Mr. Beemer has worked hard to establish and maintain valuable relationships with other men of a similar vintage. He joined a men’s book group that meets monthly, and after about two years, he said, “it became a group where the members really mean something to one another.”
We made our own laws.
I want to be a Hawk,
A Dolphin, a Lion, we’d say
In stores where team logos hung
Like animal skins.
We chased each other
Around the big field
Beneath branches sagging
As if their leaves were full of blood.
We didn’t notice when policemen
Came lighting tree bark
& our skin with flashlights.
They saw our game
For what it was:
Fingers clutching torso,
Shoulder, wrist—a brawl.
Some of the boys escaped,
Their brown legs cut by thorns
As they ran through the brush.
It’s true, we could have been mistaken
For animals in the dark,
But of all our possible crimes,
Blackness was the first.
So they tackled me,
And read me my rights without saying:
You Down or Dead Ball.
We had a language
They did not use, a name
For collision. We called it Touch.
by Terrance Hayes
from Hip Logic
Monday, June 27, 2016
by Michael Liss
On September 19, 1796, less than two months prior to the meeting of the Electors to choose the next President of the United States, George Washington stunned the country by publishing “The Address of General Washington To The People of The United States on his declining of the Presidency of the United States”—what came to be known as Washington’s Farewell Address.
Washington was tired. The office had made him old before his time—compare the ubiquitous Gilbert Stuart “dollar-bill” paintings done in his second term to the immensely vigorous figure you see in Charles Willson Peale’s full length portrait after the Battle of Trenton. Still, the Presidency would have been his to keep, probably for life, if he had wanted. His prestige was immense, his character considered unimpeachable, and his words carried enormous weight.
“Weight” also described the text. In an era where there were no page limits, The Farewell Address just keeps on going—32 densely-handwritten pages and well over 6000 words when set in type. And as to the prose, there is just no lift, no color, no poetry. People think they remember “beware of foreign entanglements,” but even that is incorrect--the exact quote is “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
Therein lies the paradox--the famous speech that no one can accurately recall because no one can get through it. My daughter gave me a collection of 40 great American speeches. The Farewell Address is included, but with at least 80% of it “abridged.” Seems as if the editor couldn’t get through it either.
There is something oddly appropriate about this. Washington wasn’t eloquent. Monuments rarely are. At times, it seems he was barely human—he was Flexner’s Indispensable Man, transitioning from warrior-chief to an immovable stone obelisk to which the ship of state could be lashed in any storm. What people get out of the Farewell, after wading through the prolixity, is his strength and steadfastness—his primary bequest to the country. Here, he voluntarily gives up power; there, he reassures that great things have been accomplished by forming a Union; and, finally, he warns of dangers and advises on how to reduce them.
Can we stop with that—is that enough? Do we really need more from Washington, beyond seeing him as a colossus?
by Paul North
In the third installment of "Current Genres of Fate" I want to think about a mode of fate that has been all the rage for the last 20 years or so. Let's call it "the persistence of the past." For some time before that, as is well known, it was the rage to remark on the speed with which we were leaving the past behind. Rages come and go. It was oddly pleasurable to discover, in the midst of our progress, that the past had kept right up with us. Now we happily talk about how little has changed. But however cutting edge it has recently seemed, the idea that the past persists within or behind the newness of things is at least as old as our ideas of progress. Darwin tells about a species driven toward innovation that at the same time keeps intimate ties with the deep past. Freud says a new psychic attachment is a guise for a primal ur-attachment.
You will never be rid of the past. This is surely a fateful way of understanding the past's persistence. But this fate does not have to be bad. Just because we are shadowed by the old does not mean we are its puppets or have no freedom at all. What's more, the idea that the past persists can have a salutary effect. It may soften our fetish for change, turn our fever for forward movement to reticence, relax the continual, tortured desire to "move on." On the other hand, if we admit that the past persists, it does seem unlikely that we will ever achieve total freedom. Accepting this mode of fate ruins the fantasy that we could have no constraints whatever.
An artist named Friese Undine has made it his responsibility to cast shadows on the idea of progress in life as well as in art. Undine proposes to stain putatively current images with blotches of the past. In art this is particularly hard to do, since art, visual art—‘contemporary' art—seems over the last 150 years or so to have signed a pact with progress-lovers in other walks of life, like politics and economics. Art wants to consign the past to the past just like they do. We associate this gesture with "modernism"—waving away tradition, refusing conventional subjects and traditional techniques. With its dismissive wave, modern art kept up with capitalism. "Make it new" was the aesthetic rallying cry of a century, until, at a certain point, the sheen on the plastic packing rubbed off. Newness got old. The only novelty left to plunder was the past. Yet even the return to past forms—in order to quote styles, ridicule out of date wishes, to consciously recycle images or to debase conventions, and all the rest—even this way of doing art that saw the past as a storehouse of gestures to be repurposed, also denied that the past simply persists. Artists could not proceed plundering the past if it were not dead. They could not innovate and renovate and at the same time admit that the past had never actually passed.
Taking its cue from French politics, French experimental writing has always been a clubby affair. Unlike in Britain or America, where economic and political liberalism have encouraged writers to view themselves as individual talents engaged in private agons with tradition, in France, with a few notable exceptions, avant-garde writers have presented themselves as members of an organization, complete with founding documents, by-laws, regular meetings, and a leadership structure, in short, as citoyens of a mini-republic.
Founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, the Ouvroir de littérature potentielle or Workshop of Potential Literature, known by its acronym, Oulipo, is the longest-lasting experimental writing group in history. Oulipians marry two strange bedfellows, literature and mathematics, adopting and inventing rigorous formal constraints—most famously, the lipogram, in which the use of a certain letter is proscribed, and the n+7 rule, in which every noun is replaced by the noun that follows it seven entries later in a dictionary—to generate poems, novels, essays, memoirs and "texts that defy all classification." From its ten original members, all but one of whom are now dead, the group has nearly tripled in size, "co-opting" (to use the group's official term) writers from Italy, Germany, the UK, and America. Although it has by no means achieved anything close to gender parity, five of its new co-optees have been women.
The Oulipo owes its longevity, in part, to its refusal as a collective to entertain any kind of political line, despite the avowed leftism of many of its members. In so doing, it managed to avoid the power struggles, excommunications, and splintering characteristic of the avant-garde movements that were fatally drawn into the orbit of French Marxism and Maoism. But its survival can also be attributed to the fruitfulness of constrained writing itself. The widespread availability of constrained writing techniques has enabled Oulipians to identify those who are working along parallel lines and co-opt them.
Geoffrey Farmer. The Surgeon and The Photographer. From Stage Presence, SFMOMA 2012.
Installation: paper, textiles, wood, & metal.
"... Farmer collaged photographic reproductions from books into 365 puppet-like sculptures, each approximately the size of a hand, thirty of which are included in this exhibition. The puppets bristle with multiple identities; each angle presents a new figuration as disproportionate and layered appendages cohere into forms. They are totemic but not possessed of any spirit. Rather, they are waiting for occupation and activation."
by Akim Reinhardt
Hello. My name is Akim Reinhardt, I was very, very wrong, and now it's time for me to pay for my mistakes.
The good news is, when I pay, you just might be the one to collect. My loss can be your windfall.
The catch? You'll have to publicly debase yourself almost as much I am about to do right now.
How did it come to this? You and I publicly shaming ourselves on the internet, each of us desperately hoping to salvage a little bit of joy as the world burns around us?
It's all because of that goddamned Donald Trump.
Trump is about to claim the Republican presidential nomination, and a whole lotta pundits got that one wrong. Legions of professional gabbers, from every corner of the political spectrum, badly missed the mark, assuring you that he'd never be the GOP candidate.
Despite their wishful thinking dressed up in high falutin' gibberish, it's happening anyway; Trump is poised to become leader of the pachyderm pack. And so a lot of the yakkers had to make amends.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post literally ate his words. Pass the salt and pepper.
Nate Cohn of the New York Times and David Byler of Real Clear Politics each created a laundry list of everything they got wrong, which like most analysts, was quite a lot.
Perhaps the oddest mea culpa came from polling wunderkind Nate Silver, who explained away his spectacular failure by saying that he had acted like a barbaric "pundit" instead of staying true to the "scientific method." Rather than relying on statistical modeling to figure out if Trump would win, Silver says he just made "educated guesses."
Since Silver never really explains why he traded in true reason for such wild tomfoolery, I'm just gonna assume he went on a months-long bender.
Normally, it would be very easy for me to look down my nose at these losers. After all, I'm not a statistician or a professional talking head. I'm a historian. And if there's one thing studying history has taught me, it's that trying to predict the future is pure folly.
What were these dullards thinking? Guess the future? Good luck with those crystal ball shennanigans. Studying history has shown me, time and time again, that the future is unknowable. The past is a mystery and the future is an illusion. So allow me to haughtily point a sanctimonious finger at these morons.
Except for one thing. It turns out that I'm one of those morons. I, too, am a loser.
I spouted off like all the others, publicly assuring people that Trump would not win the nomination, offering up historically informed ramblings as evidence. And just like the rest of them, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
It was a fool's errand, of course. So why did I do it?
by Humera Afridi
I want to hear her: bold; questioning; insistent, refusing to compromise her ideals. I want to understand; to see, her: this woman of deep faith, with a distinctive laugh, who "had no equal among either the women or the men of her century." Possessed of a brilliant mind and exceptional memory, she was controversial—beloved, reviled, envied, not averse to taking risks in the service of truth and justice. Falsely accused of adultery, she was publicly defended by her husband, Seal of the Prophets and a political leader, who took to the minbar and challenged the men bent on sullying her name and that of his household. At 42, she led an army against the fourth Caliph—the infamous Battle of the Camel in the mid-seventh century—in which she suffered devastating losses. Mother of the Believers, yet herself childless. Youngest wife of Prophet Muhammad. Transmitter of two thirds of his sayings, the Hadith or traditions, that are treasured keys to a deeper understanding of the Quran and the commentaries written on its divinely revealed verses.
But: where is Aisha today?
When we speak of Muslim women, or the status of women in Islam, harking back always to that distant past—seventh century Arabia—which through a prismatic lens continues to determine our present, why are the Mothers of the Believers silent, invisible, absent? Asked whom he loved the most, Prophet Muhammad, magnificent warrior against misogyny in egregiously patriarchal Arabia, unhesitatingly declared, "Aisha!" Aisha in whose lap he breathed his last breath before he passed into the Realm of Beauty.
All this to say, Aisha was far from flat. She was refreshingly complex, multi-dimensional, a "round character"—to borrow a literary term from E. M. Forster—filled with the breath of God. And she wasn't the only one. Well before her, there was Khadijah, the Prophet's first wife—with whom he had monogamous relationship for twenty-five years until her death—savvy business woman, older than him by over a decade, a former widow, who on discerning his gentle and upright character, qualities she deemed attractive in a man, proposed marriage to him when he was a lad of 25 and in her employ.
by Dave Maier
As someone who lived through the surreal drug-war dystopia of the 1980s, I have always assumed that the collected forces behind it (right-wing authoritarianism, progressive nanny-statism, the law enforcement, private-prison, and Big Pharma lobbies, general aversion to other races and/or dirty f’ing hippies, inertia and lack of imagination, etc.) would render it a permanent fixture of our political landscape, at least in the USA. So even after two states re-legalized marijuana in 2012 (and two more since), I didn’t pay much attention. It simply remained inconceivable to me that it would go beyond that.
Nowadays, however, one hears frequently that re-legalization of marijuana and perhaps even all “illicit” drugs is inevitable and in fact will happen sooner rather than later. The thought is that young people (i.e. new voters) are strongly in favor of re-legalization and only older people (i.e. those preparing to shuffle off this mortal coil and thus off the voting rolls) are strongly against – and even the latter are discovering, perhaps to their surprise, the apparently wondrous utility (if anecdote be any guide) of medical cannabis. The latest nationwide polls on the issue show Americans favoring the end of marijuana prohibition by wide margins (58-39, 56-36, numbers like that), suggesting a cultural shift as momentous and sudden (at least to those not paying attention, such as myself) as that which has led to today’s widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage.
So I thought I better get up to speed and hit the books. I don’t have a tightly argued, persuasive essay for you, and I am still only halfway through a fairly tall stack of relevant literature, but I can at least pass on some recommendations and share some speculation over the next couple of columns.
I'd start with Dan Baum’s authoritative study Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure (1996). This will fire your outrage and keep you going through some of the more pedestrian public-policy issues, as well as dauntingly complex psychopharmacology, on offer later on. Baum insists that the book is not a manifesto for legalization, but rather an examination of the genesis of the war, which he traces to the election of 1968, and its escalation into “a policy as expensive, ineffective, delusional, and destructive as government gets.”
A recurrent theme in Baum’s story, as he notes in his introduction, is that “[t]he War on Drugs is about a lot of things, but only rarely is it really about drugs.” Notoriously high on President Nixon’s paranoid list of enemies were “the blacks” and “the hippies”, and by fomenting drug war he saw a way to attack both at once. When his hand-picked Presidential Commission on Marijuana (a.k.a. the Shafer Commission) failed to provide the desired denunciations of drug use (Nixon had demanded “a goddamn strong statement about marijuana … one that just tears the ass out of them”), Nixon simply ignored it. In any case Congress had already passed the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which still determines government policy in this area to this day. The drug war – or at least its modern phase – had begun.