As the Obama administration announced plans to step up its military campaign against ISIS this spring, a twenty-eight-year-old army officer, Captain Nathan Michael Smith, took President Barack Obama to court. He argued that the war against ISIS is illegal because Congress has not authorized it. Smith’s action highlights persistent problems with the legal basis for the military campaign, and has generated interest and support from leading legal scholars. And so President Obama, a law professor turned president who pledged to bring in the rule of law to restrain presidents’ use of force, finds himself the target of a lawsuit arguing that his own military initiative is unlawful.
Captain Smith is stationed in Kuwait, as part of the American military effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. His claimed injury is that fighting an illegal war requires him to violate his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His lawsuit challenges the fractured logic of the legal basis for the military campaign, including the idea that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against those who perpetrated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their supporters somehow extends to an organization that did not exist at the time.
But something more fundamental underlies this dispute. The reason the president has been unable to get Congress to pass a new war authorization isn’t because Congress opposes military action against ISIS, and it isn’t a simple matter of partisan stalemate. It is because there is no real political constituency for military matters. Faraway conflicts upend lives on the battlefield. As long as someone else’s family does the fighting, U.S. military operations have little impact on Americans at home. Most Americans are protected from the costs of armed conflict. There is no required military service since Congress eliminated the draft in 1973. Other changes in the way the country wages war—relying on contractors to reduce the number of troops, and on technologies that make war appear more precise and less destructive—contribute to a buffer between American civilians and the wars their country is fighting. Without voters paying attention, neither the president nor Congress is held accountable.
Roslyn Fuller and Andrew Sullivan in the LA Review of Books:
ANDREW SULLIVAN’S RECENT New York magazine essay,Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic, rattled many a reader and provoked a heated debate that spilled over to the pages of The New York Times, among other publications (seehere). Sullivan’s provocative thesis is that the United States, in this election year of the Trump candidacy, may be perilously close to a collapse into tyranny precisely because it is too democratic — drawing on Plato’s critique of the instability of a “government by the people.” To the exact contrary is the view of LARB contributor Roslyn Fuller, whose recent book Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose takes the American system to task for modeling itself on the Roman Republic instead of the Athenian democracy; that is, for not being democratic enough. We invited Roslyn Fuller to offer a riposte to Sullivan’s views, and gave Andrew Sullivan an opportunity to reply — which he embraced. What follows is Fuller’s all-out attack on the notion that we may be suffering from a surfeit of democracy and Sullivan’s reply.
— Don Franzen, Los Angeles Review of Books‘s Law Editor
America Needs More Democracy, Not Less by Roslyn Fuller
It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and nowhere was this more apparent to me than when reading Andrew Sullivan’s recent article inNew York magazine. In it, Sullivan uses a smattering of knowledge about ancient Greece to declare that the United States is falling apart because it has too much democracy. In Sullivan’s view, just like the ancient Greeks, we have become a permissive and disorganized society, incapable of passing any judgment on ourselves and decaying from within. The final proof: Donald Trump.
It would be a much more convincing argument if ancient Greek democracy had decayed from within or if it had looked anything like what passes for democracy in the United States of America. But while Sullivan complains about others’ lack of judgment, he falls into the opposite category — judging in ignorance.
What sage could have predicted that heteronormativity would eventually make its way into the vocabulary of teen magazines and shareable web content? Only, perhaps, the queer theorist Judith Butler.
Butler laughs when I tell her about the Teen Vogueverdict on Jaden Smith. “I think there aren’t very many of us who could have foreseen it,” Butler says, considering the blossoming mainstream interest in gender issues. We are speaking shortly after President Obama publicly voiced his support for transgender rights in the fight against North Carolina’s bathroom law, and gender — as something in need of definition, as something potentially ambiguous or complex — is at the center of national debate. “Such an utterance coming out of a U.S. president would be impossible in the 1990s,” Butler says.
Gender Trouble, published in 1990, made Butler a star: It introduced “performativity,” the idea that gender isn’t something we are but something we continually do, opening the door for “cultural configurations of sex and gender [to] proliferate,” as she put it in the book’s conclusion, “confounding the very binarism of sex, and exposing its fundamental unnaturalness.” If not for Butler’s work, “you wouldn’t have the version of genderqueer-ness that we now have,” says Jack Halberstam, a gender-studies professor at Columbia.
I like how different the language of the sky is from everyday English – indeed, we might give it its own name, Aeroese (though it’s also sometimes, and less aspirationally, called Aviation English). Above all, I love how Aeroese can somehow manage, in its technical, obscuring precision, to capture the high romance of flight – an aspect of my job, no matter how much I love it, that in the cockpit we rarely have reason to consider directly.
A prominent feature of Aeroese is its deep nautical roots. Think portand starboard, forward and aft; deck; log; captain and first officer;bulkhead, hold and galley; rudder and tiller; wake; knot; even waves, as in mountain waves, an atmospheric disturbance that can produce turbulence. And of course the word aeronautical itself.
In a profession that, for all its joys, often seems to lack deep traditions, I like that aviation has borrowed much of its language (and its uniforms) from the older world of the sea. This heritage is something I went out of my way to capture in the title of my book, Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot(2015). Seafaring is a word I’ve always loved – it makes me think of icy masts, and charts held in place by oil lamps, and of Herman Melville’sMoby-Dick (1851), written a mile or so from my childhood home in western Massachusetts, which so carefully chronicles and sanctifies the language of the sea. Skyfaring, then, I convinced my editors; a word I thought I’d coined, until I found it was the title of a poem by William Watsonpublished in the late 19th century, some years before the Wright Brothers got airborne.
Ali spent twenty-one years as a fighter, between 1960 and 1981, and the best fight images from that time work as counterpoint. His brashly promised defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964 made him champion, and their rematch a year later provided his most iconographic fight image, a violent pietà: Ali looming over Liston, who buckled in the first round, demanding furiously of him: “Get up and fight, sucker!” The complement to this moment comes with Ali’s first defeat, in the “Fight of the Century” against Joe Frazier (1971), in the echo of Frazier’s left hook: Ali tilting backward, his legs crooked and useless, his face wearing a cancelled look. Other images, other moments, connect this way: Liston staring from his stool (1964), mentally zapped, ignoring the bell for the seventh round, inaugurating Ali’s wild career as champion, countered by Ali slouched on his own stool in the fight against Larry Holmes (1980), a fight widely dreaded (Ali, thirty-eight, was already showing signs of damage in his slurred speech). Ali looks so bruised and zombie-like in this photo, it seems doctored. He would fight once more after this, but against Holmes the door was basically shut.
Photographs of Ali’s fights are innumerable, many of them hypnotic, but the images of him in more common circumstances are what both humanized and beatified him: meditative at training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, or clowning on a Louisville sidewalk, or talking easily with a gaggle of children in his front yard in Miami.
Angela Merkel has emerged the loser from the refugee crisis. And, alongside her, the Kantian imperative, a philosophy deeply entrenched in German culture, has lost as well. This is true despite 70 percent of Germans professing a moral obligation to help refugees and people in need. Derived from the Golden Rule, this obligation has even entered the German language in idiomatic form: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” To Kant, for whom religion was mostly a reservoir for moral rules of action, it also suited the universal approach to ethics in the Enlightenment era. His moral imperative remains a cornerstone of German ethics. But despite the high approval ratings, this past year Germany has witnessed the rise of a massive right-wing populist movement strongly opposed to Kant’s dictum.
Citizens in other European countries express less of a moral obligation towards refugees. For example, the English have struggled to understand the actions of the German government: “The Germans have gone crazy,” they say. Or, in the English parliament: “Angela Merkel has become impertinent.” Something about the English has become clear: defined by David Hume’s utilitarianism, they could not be further from Kant, who looked at a thing by its very nature (“a thing in itself”) rather than at its overall usefulness.
“I’ve kind of made peace with the fact that we are where we are,” he says, “and I can’t really do anything to change that. Often trying to change that big picture actually makes it worse. I’m just going to do what I can do in my small life. Work this land, do my writing, see where that goes. If you’re really convinced that we’re living the wrong way, then you have to make some attempt to live the right way, don’t you? Even though you are part of the same culture, you can’t ever be a paragon of anything or an example to anybody. But it’s like Rilke said, ‘You must change your life.’”
He explains: “What that means to me is that you must change your opinions and write different things but you must do some stuff. Build a compost toilet and plant some trees and work the land – and that kind of knocks the hard edges off your ideologies as well, when you do that.”
If those hard edges were the result of his upbringing, he doesn’t make that connection. His father died nearly a decade ago but they made peace, he tells me, after his first two books were published: this was the kind of success that his father could recognise.
In 2010, a startling rumor filtered through the number theory community and reached Jared Weinstein. Apparently, some graduate student at the University of Bonn in Germany had written a paper that redid “Harris-Taylor” — a 288-page book dedicated to a single impenetrable proof in number theory — in only 37 pages. The 22-year-old student, Peter Scholze, had found a way to sidestep one of the most complicated parts of the proof, which deals with a sweeping connection between number theory and geometry.
“It was just so stunning for someone so young to have done something so revolutionary,” said Weinstein, a 34-year-old number theorist now at Boston University. “It was extremely humbling.”
Mathematicians at the University of Bonn, who made Scholze a full professor just two years later, were already aware of his extraordinary mathematical mind. After he posted his Harris-Taylor paper, experts in number theory and geometry started to notice Scholze too.
Late in his life, Freud asked the famous question “Was will das Weib?”, “What does a woman want?”, admitting his perplexity when faced with the enigma of the feminine sexuality. A similar perplexity arouses today, apropos the Brexit referendum: what does Europe want?
The true stakes of this referendum become clear if we locate it into its larger historical context. In Western and Eastern Europe, there are signs of a long-term re-arrangement of the political space. Till recently, the political space was dominated by two main parties which addressed the entire electoral body, a Right-of-centre party (Christian-Democrat, liberal-conservative, people’s…) and a Left-of-centre party (socialist, social-democratic…), with smaller parties addressing a narrow electorate (ecologists, neo-Fascists, etc.). Now, there is progressively emerging a one party which stands for global capitalism as such, usually with relative tolerance towards abortion, gay rights, religious and ethnic minorities, etc.; opposing this party is a stronger and stronger anti-immigrant populist party which, on its fringes, is accompanied by directly racist neo-Fascist groups. The exemplary case is here Poland: after the disappearance of the ex-Communists, the main parties are the “anti-ideological” centrist liberal party of the ex-prime-minister Donald Tusk and the conservative Christian party of Kaczynski brothers. The stakes of Radical Center today are: which of the two main parties, conservatives or liberals, will succeed in presenting itself as embodying the post-ideological non-politics against the other party dismissed as “still caught in old ideological specters”? In the early 90s, conservatives were better at it; later, it was liberal Leftists who seemed to be gaining the upper hand, and now, it’s again the conservatives.
Jean Edward Smith’s biography of George W. Bush goes on sale a day before the former President’s seventieth birthday, and it’s safe to say that no one will be bringing it as a present to the ranch outside Crawford. Smith, a well-regarded practitioner of military history and Presidential-life writing, comes straight to the point in the first sentence of his preface: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” By the book’s last sentence, Smith is predicting a long debate over whether Bush “was the worst president in American history,” and while the biographer doesn’t vote on the question himself, the unhappy shade of James Buchanan will feel strongly encouraged by his more than six hundred pages.
…Smith points out that Bush attended no meetings of the National Security Council in the seven months prior to September 11, 2001. In her reports on these gatherings, Condoleezza Rice—Bush’s national-security adviser, workout partner, and something of an alter ego—tended to synthesize disagreements among the participants, leaving Bush with a false feeling of consensus. The President’s own focus was chiefly on matters like stem-cell-research regulation and the sort of educational reforms he had pushed through a Democratic legislature as governor of Texas. On the morning of 9/11, Laura Bush was in Ted Kennedy’s Senate office, having come to testify for the No Child Left Behind Act; the White House she returned to later that day was a wholly different place, a domestic cruise ship that had become an aircraft carrier. In Smith’s view, the military and moral calamities began right then. If he is moderately critical of the President for being “asleep at the switch” in the period before the terrorist attacks—Bush felt no particular alarm when an August 6th C.I.A. briefing indicated that Osama bin Laden was up to at least something—the biographer is simply aghast once Bush seizes the controls. Within three days of September 11th, he says, the President had acquired a “boundless” confidence that put the country on a “permanent war footing” and the White House into a “hothouse climate of the President’s certitude.”
Walker and Ritchie were part of a project at the Roslin Institute and spin-off PPL Therapeutics, aiming to make precise genetic changes to farm animals. The scientific team, led by Roslin embryologist Ian Wilmut, reasoned that the best way to make these changes would be to tweak the genome of a cell in culture and then transfer the nucleus to a new cell.
Ritchie: The simple way of describing nuclear transfer is that you take an oocyte, an unfertilized egg, and you remove the chromosomes. You then take a complete cell which contains both male and female chromosomes — all of our cells do, apart from the gonads. You take that cell and fuse it to the enucleated egg, activate it — which starts it growing — and transfer it to a surrogate mother. Hopefully, with your fingers crossed, you will get a cloned offspring, a copy of the animal you've taken that cell from.
Walker: Tedious is absolutely the word. You're sitting, looking down a microscope and you've got both hands on the micromanipulators. It's kind of like the joysticks kids use nowadays on games. If your elbow slipped, you could wipe the whole dish out.
A year earlier, the team had produced twin sheep, named Megan and Morag, by cloning cultured embryonic cells in an effort spearheaded by Roslin developmental biologist Keith Campbell. But on this day in February 1996, problems with the fetal cell lines they had planned to use meant that they would need another nuclear donor.
Walker: My memory is of flapping like a chicken, thinking, 'What are we going to put in?' because the cells we were going to use aren't there. The last thing you want to do is waste those oocytes you've got. We wanted to try something, at least.
Angela Scott, cell-culture technician, PPL: I received word from Karen to say that the cells they were expecting had been contaminated. They asked me if I had any cells that they could use. The cells I had were ovine mammary epithelial cells: we were looking to increase expression of proteins in milk. These were adult cells.
“What’s the purpose of your visit?” the officer asked. The epaulets on his blue button-down shirt hung over his narrow shoulders. His eyebrows joined above the bridge of his nose.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.