Plans for a worker-led economy straddle America’s political divides

Rana Foroohar in the FT:

Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan has never been about effecting any real change at home. It’s always been about punishing adversaries — even allies — via tariffs, both real and threatened. While Mr Trump’s ability to disrupt the status quo is singular, he has no idea how to create a sustainable, long-term growth model for the US. But a spate of Democratic 2020 candidates, and even some Republicans, have. They want to Make America Great Again too, via radical shifts in economic thinking that represent a 21st century industrial policy for the US.

Most notable among them is Elizabeth Warren, who last week announced her “plan for economic patriotism”. That phrase, along with her assertion that “the giant ‘American’ corporations who control our economy . . . have no loyalty or allegiance to America”, sounds like something that could come out of the president’s hawkish economic adviser Peter Navarro’s mouth. This is a calculated move — Democrats need to win back the red states hit hardest by globalisation.

But unlike the Trump camp, Ms Warren has a theory for how to create sustainable growth. She points out — correctly — that despite the pushback around state planning, which most Americans view as suspiciously “socialist”, it’s a myth that our government doesn’t make economic choices — they’ve simply made the wrong ones, choosing to support a debt-driven, two-speed economy rather than one that prioritises income and industry.

More here.

Better Schools Won’t Fix America

Nick Hanauer in The Atlantic:

Long ago, i was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

More here.

Saturday Poem

Theories of Beauty

1. Hook that pulls us out of time.

2. or a lure to catch us in it

3. Rupture in the boundary
….caused by delight, recognition of what
….we aren’t, then suddenly are?

4. Longing solidified

5. Flaunts some flaw
….—evanescence, radical pink—
….and owns that quality
so firmly it triumphs

6. Rilke: You, you only, exist.
….We pass away, till at last,
….our passing is so immense
….that you arise: beautiful moment,
….in all your suddenness . . .

7. The moment budded out of us?
by Mark Doty
from School of the Arts
Harper Collins, 2005

Suketu Mehta’s Manifesto: This Land is Our Land

Krzysztof Iwanek in The Diplomat:

Suketu Mehta traveled the same route five times. As a child, he settled with his family, originally from Gujarat in India, in the United States. As an adult, he returned to India, where he lived in Mumbai (Bombay) for two and a half years and wrote a book about the city. Titled Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and published in 2004, it was a highly acclaimed work that I can’t recommend enough. Mehta later returned to the United States, only to retrace his footsteps years later – but this time in his reminisces and feelings – in a new book, where he returns to the memories of his family voyage, to the story of how they, like so many others, moved to America, the promised land of generations of migrants. The second part of the title of Mehta’s new work says it all — This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto. It is a powerful defense of people’s right to migrate, a song of praise for multiculturalism, and a strong critique of Washington’s policies toward immigrants and refugees under President Donald Trump. The author took pains to travel and collect various stories of migration – he took these pains quite literally, as a large part of the book is a cataloging of sorrows that people shared with him. Focusing mainly on the United States as a destination country, he provides statistics and cases to show where and how migration policies are failing. Mehta wrestles with the exorbitant fears of the “Other,” with the myth that the influx of migrants will sweep the country away.

He also reminds us of the link – historical and moral – between migration and colonialism. Mehta’s grandfather was once asked by a British man what he was he doing in the United Kingdom, to which the Indian man replied: “We are the creditors. You took all our wealth [in the colonial period]… Now we have come to collect.” This is also Mehta’s standpoint. Not only does he believe that the West has a moral obligation to accept people from countries it had once ruled or influenced, but he thinks this responsibility comes also from the West’s (mainly the United States’) current military engagements in countries like Iraq. “Before you ask other people to respect the borders of the West, ask yourself if the West has ever respected anybody else’s border,” he remarks. And then there are the practical arguments: Developed countries need migrants for demographic and economic reasons.

More here.

Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch enabled white Americans to talk amongst themselves

Linda Besner in National Post:

To Kill a Mockingbird is a drama of white nobility in a white context, in which educated white people struggle decorously for black rights against the dangerous unreasonableness of uneducated white people. In one of the many passages in which Lee uses Atticus’ conversations with his children, Jem and Scout (the narrator of the novel) as Socratic expositions of the problems with the 1930s justice system, Jem asks this question: “why don’t people like us and Miss Maudie ever sit on juries? You never see anybody from Maycomb on a jury—they all come from out in the woods.” Jem is philosophically ready to abolish juries altogether. Atticus doesn’t put up much of an argument for why juries are necessary, saying only, “You’re rather hard on us, son” — meaning, presumably, that democracy has its good points too. Instead, Atticus offers a different solution: “I think there might be a better way. Change the law. Change it so that only judges have the power of fixing the penalty in capital cases.”

There is, of course, another, more egalitarian solution — though it may seem anachronistic to ask why there are no black jurors in To Kill A Mockingbird. In fact, black men have had the right and duty to serve on juries since 1880, due to the Supreme Court decision Strauder v. West Virginia. (Black women, like white women, would be largely automatically dismissed from jury duty in America until the 1970s). Harper Lee is widely believed to have based much of the book on the Scottsboro Boys, a case tried in 1931 in which an all-white jury convicted nine black defendants of raping two white women on a train. In 1934 a new lawyer, Samuel Leibowitz, argued before the US Supreme Court that the jury selection process had been unfair: qualified black jurors had been intentionally kept off the jury rolls. Upon examining the district’s list of potential jurors with a magnifying glass, the Supreme Court justices found that the names of black citizens had been written in after the fact.

More here.

June 14, 2019

Salman Rushdie on What Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” Tells Us Now

Salman Rushdie in The New Yorker:

I first read “Slaughterhouse-Five” in 1972, three years after it was published and three years before I published my own first novel. I was twenty-five years old. 1972 was the year of inching slowly toward the Paris Peace Accords, which were supposed to end the war in Vietnam, though the final, ignominious American withdrawal—the helicopters airlifting people from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon—would not take place until three years later, at which point, by way of a small footnote to history, I had become a published writer.

I mention Vietnam because, although “Slaughterhouse-Five” is a book about the Second World War, Vietnam is also a presence in its pages, and people’s feelings about Vietnam have a good deal to do with the novel’s huge success. Eight years earlier, in 1961, Joseph Heller had published “Catch-22” and President John F. Kennedy began the escalation of the United States’ involvement in the conflict in Vietnam. “Catch-22,” like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” was a novel about the Second World War that caught the imagination of readers who were thinking a lot about another war. In those days, I was living in Britain, which did not send soldiers to fight in Indochina but whose government did support the American war effort, and so, when I was at university, and afterward, I, too, was involved with thinking about and protesting against that war. I did not read “Catch-22” in 1961, because I was only fourteen years old. As a matter of fact, I read both “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Catch-22” in the same year, a decade later, and the two books together had a great effect on my young mind.

More here.

Examining how people’s emotions are influenced by others

Alex Shashkevich in Phys.Org:

In a new study, Stanford psychologists examined why some people respond differently to an upsetting situation and learned that people’s motivations play an important role in how they react. Their study found that when a person wanted to stay calm, they remained relatively unfazed by angry people, but if they wanted to feel angry, then they were highly influenced by angry people. The researchers also discovered that people who wanted to feel angry also got more emotional when they learned that other people were just as upset as they were, according to the results from a series of laboratory experiments the researchers conducted.

…To learn how people react to upsetting situations and respond to others around them, the researchers examined people’s anger toward politically charged events in a series of laboratory studies with 107 participants. The team also analyzed almost 19 million tweets in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. In the laboratory studies, the researchers showed participants images that could trigger upsetting emotions, for example, people burning the American flag and American soldiers abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The researchers also told participants how other people felt about these images. The researchers found that participants who wanted to feel less angry were three times more likely to be more influenced by people expressing calm emotions than by angry people. But participants who wanted to feel angry were also three times more likely to be influenced by other people angrier than them, as opposed to people with calmer emotions. The researchers also found that these participants got more emotional when they learned that others also felt similar emotions to them.

More here.

Let’s Go Around The Room And Introduce Ourselves, For Introverts

Sarah Cooper in McSweeney’s:

Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.

Let’s go around the room and feel a rush of adrenaline as your mind races into a panic about which movie, superpower or most recent accomplishment you’re going to mention.

Let’s dart our eyes around the room, searching for the nearest exit.

Let’s go around the room and pretend you just got an urgent text message on your phone.

Let’s go around the room, cross our arms, and find a spot on the ceiling to stare at.

Let’s go around the room and email a personal bio to the instructor, telling her to read it whenever but never, ever mention it again.

Let’s go around the room and hug a large pillow against your stomach and rock back and forth so slowly it’s imperceptible to the naked eye.

More here.

Physicists are out to unlock the muon’s secret

Sabine Hossenfelder in Back Reaction:

Physicists count 25 elementary particles that, for all we presently know, cannot be divided any further. They collect these particles and their interactions in what is called the Standard Model of particle physics.

But the matter around us is made of merely three particles: up and down quarks (which combine to protons and neutrons, which combine to atomic nuclei) and electrons (which surround atomic nuclei). These three particles are held together by a number of exchange particles, notably the photon and gluons.

What’s with the other particles? They are unstable and decay quickly. We only know of them because they are produced when other particles bang into each other at high energies, something that happens in particle colliders and when cosmic rays hit Earth’s atmosphere. By studying these collisions, physicists have found out that the electron has two bigger brothers: The muon (μ) and the tau (τ).

The muon and the tau are pretty much the same as the electron, except that they are heavier. Of these two, the muon has been studied closer because it lives longer – about 2 x 10-6 seconds.

The muon turns out to be… a little odd.

More here.

Mexico’s Little-Known Attempt to Save Freud From the Nazis

Rubén Gallo in The MIT Press Reader:

In the spring of 1938, the Mexican press reported on the perils faced by Sigmund Freud in post-Anschluss Austria: The Gestapo had raided the offices of the Psychoanalytic Publishing House, searched the apartment at Berggasse 19, and briefly detained his daughter Anna. Freud himself — once reluctant to consider emigration — made up his mind to leave Vienna, but his decision seemed to come too late: obtaining an exit visa had become a nearly impossible ordeal for Austrian Jews. Freud would have been trapped in Vienna had it not been for a group of powerful friends who launched a full-scale diplomatic campaign on his behalf: William Bullitt, the American ambassador to France; Ernest Jones, who lobbied British Members of Parliament; and Princess Marie Bonaparte, who was in direct communication with President Roosevelt himself.

In Mexico, President Lázaro Cárdenas — one of the most popular leaders in twentieth-century history — had turned his country into a haven for persecuted intellectuals: after the fall of the Spanish Republic, he offered political asylum to thousands of refugees, and Mexico received a massive influx of artists, poets, academics, and philosophers who played a crucial role in postwar culture. In a world threatened by the rise of fascism, Cárdenas opened his nation’s doors to socialists and fellow travelers of all kinds. Leon Trotsky accepted Cárdenas’s invitation and settled in Mexico City in 1937. He would be followed by an impressive lineup of cosmopolitan refugees from Spain, France, Germany, Austria, and many other countries.

More here.

Nabokov’s discarded ending to Camera Obscura

Olga Voronino at the TLS:

The discarded ending of Camera Obscura, transcribed and translated here for the first time, sheds light on Nabokov’s authorial strategies and narrative ethics. Instead of its single door, through which people are bursting, the final version features two doors, both wide open. Instead of its clatter and commotion, there is blissful silence. In the cast-off ending, we see not only the many hands grabbing Kretschmar but also the hero’s own bloodied hands palpating Magda’s bullet-ravaged face. In the text Nabokov chose to publish, all of that touching and fumbling gives way to the invisible presence of someone who guides the hero’s life – and death. The hand pointing out the objects in the room is that of the author’s own “assistant producer” (to borrow from a story of that name that Nabokov also saturates with film-script narration), a phantom manager of happy outcomes and tragic destinies for everyone who appears on the page.

more here.

Friday Poem


I have swum too far
out of my depth
and the sun has gone;

the hung weight of my legs
a plumb-line,
my fingers raw, my arms lead;

the currents pull like weed
and I am very tired
and cold, and moving out to sea.

The beach is still bright.
The children I never had
run to the edge

and back to their beautiful mother
who smiles at them, looks up
from her magazine, and waves.

by Robin Robertson
Read Good

June 13, 2019

The Genesis of “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom”

Karen V. Kukil at The Hudson Review:

Sylvia Plath was hungry for new experiences when she returned to Smith College as a junior in the fall of 1952 and wrote “Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom.” Over the summer she won a $500 prize in the Mademoiselle fiction writing contest with her short story “Sunday at the Mintons’.” When this psychological story was later featured in the Fall 1952 issue of the Smith Review, a literary journal Plath helped revive, it earned her the respect of Mary Ellen Chase, a successful author of novels, critical writings, and commentaries on Biblical literature who became Plath’s trusted mentor. In recommending Plath for graduate school, Chase wrote that in her twenty-seven years as an English professor at Smith she had not known a more gifted “literary artist.” Professor Chase contributed the first article to the Fall 1952 issue of the Smith Review—a definition of Smith College: “the one thing we are afraid of is apathy and indifference toward learning and toward life.” In “Mary Ventura and the Ninth King­dom,” Plath reinforces Chase’s criticism of complacency when Mary’s traveling companion remarks sadly that others on the train “are so blasé, so apathetic that they don’t even care about where they are going.

more here.

Carlos Chávez’s Indian Symphony

Sudip Bose at The American Scholar:

Although Chávez—born on this date in 1899—received his earliest musical training from his brother, and though he did study for a time with the composer Manuel Ponce, he largely taught himself how to write music by studying the scores of others. Early on, he became interested in furthering the cause of Mexican classical music, while reimagining its possibilities in the 20th century. Should it draw heavily from folk styles? How Mexican should it be? How avant-garde? Perhaps most crucial of all: How could a composer forge a style out of so many various elements: native Indian music, the plainsong brought by the conquistadores, the peasant dances of the countryside, the ballad-like corridos—to say nothing of the European symphonic and operatic literature? These questions must have been swimming in his head when, at the age of 21, Chávez traveled to Austria, Germany, and France. In Paris, he befriended Paul Dukas (composer of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), who instructed the young man to incorporate vernacular Mexican music into his pieces, pointing to the example of Manuel de Falla, who had been doing similar things in Spain with Spanish music.

more here.

The Dictatorship of the Present

John Michael Colón in The Point:

Thirty years ago socialism was dead and buried. This was not an illusion or a temporary hiccup, a point all the more important to emphasize up front in light of its recent revival in this country and around the world. There was no reason this resurrection had to happen; no law of nature or history compelled it. To understand why it did is to unlock a door, behind which lies something like the truth of our age.

Some will say I exaggerate. But it’s best not to mince words about such things if you want to grasp or even to glimpse how the world really works—something more and more people are interested in nowadays, even as that world spirals beyond the reach of the ideas they’d previously used to understand it. And there is no greater obstacle to understanding than euphemism. So again I will insist: probably in 1989 and certainly by the time I was born in 1993, socialism was at an end.

There are a thousand ways to tell the story of why and how this came to be so. But the best—because the most concise and spiritually invested in the matter—remains George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the fairy tale I read about it when I was fourteen.

More here.

Tiff Massey and Laura Raicovich on why the art world needs a new model

Hannah Ongley in Document:

Entering Red Bull Arts Detroit, housed in the cavernous basement of the old Eckhardt & Becker Brewery in Eastern Market, you’re lured toward the main exhibition space by a pink fluorescent glow. The curious light emanates from a neon sign by the multidisciplinary Detroit artist Tiff Massey, one of Red Bull’s three artists in residence for the program’s first cycle of 2019, reading, “Bitch don’t touch MY HAIR!!” Written in cursive font and followed by exactly two exclamation points, it’s both foreboding and inviting, an entryway into Massey’s world. Massey, who holds an MFA in metalsmithing from Cranbrook Academy of Art, has exhibited in international galleries across Europe, but she’s adamant about who she creates for: black women. The centerpiece of her Red Bull Arts Detroit exhibition is a shrine-like display of 22 hairstyles, each braided and beaded in the same splendid shade of gold, and walled in on either side by distorted black-and-white photographs from an African-American hair salon, which feature primarily caucasian models. On an adjacent wall is a row of oversized pink barrettes repurposing another aspect of Detroit’s history: big manufacturing. “Craftsmanship is first,” Massey tells curator Laura Raicovich in the following conversation. “I want you to be seduced by the work. Whether it’s the colors, or the form, or whatever.”

Raicovich, through her work as a curator and author, is also a fearless advocate for equity in the historically exclusive art world. She resigned from her position as director of the Queens Museum at the beginning of last year, after riling more conservative board members with progressive initiatives including increased access for the local immigrant community.

More here.

Wolfgang Paul Was A Great Physicist, Not A Typo Of ‘Wolfgang Pauli’

Ethan Siegel in Forbes:

Wolfgang Paul (right, with glasses) in characteristic form outside the Council Chamber at CERN during a Scientific Policy Committee meeting in 1977. He was chair of the committee at the time (1975–1978) and a delegate to Council.

If you ever take a visit to the physical site of CERN, where the Large Hadron Collider is located, you’ll immediately notice something wonderful about the streets. They’re all named after influential, important figures in the history of physics. Titans such as Max Planck, Marie Curie, Niels Bohr, Louis de Broglie, Paul Dirac, Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein have all been honored, along with many others.

One of the more interesting surprises you might find, if you look hard enough, is a street honoring the physicist Wolfgang Paul. You might immediately think, “oh, someone vandalized the street of Wolfgang Pauli,” the famous physicist whose exclusion principle describes the behavior of all the normal matter in our Universe. But no; Pauli has his own street, and Wolfgang Paul is entirely his own Nobel-winning physicist. Here’s the story you haven’t heard.

More here.

The Prescient Anger of Arundhati Roy

Samanth Subramanian in The New Yorker:

Nine months can make a person, or remake her. In October, 1997, Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for her first novel, “The God of Small Things.” India had just turned fifty, and the country needed symbols to celebrate itself. Roy became one of them. Then, in July of 1998, she published an essay about another such symbol: a series of five nuclear-bomb tests conducted by the government in the sands of Rajasthan. The essay, which eviscerated India’s nuclear policy for placing the lives of millions in danger, wasn’t so much written as breathed out in a stream of fire. Roy’s fall from darling to dissident was swift, and her landing rough. In India, she never attained the heights of adulation again.

Not that she sought them. Through the decades since, Roy has continued to produce incendiary essays, and a new book, “My Seditious Heart,” collects them in a volume that spans nearly nine hundred pages. The book opens with her piece from 1998, “The End of Imagination,” but India’s nuclear tests were not Roy’s first infuriation. In fact, in 1994—after she had graduated from architecture school, and around the time that she was acting in indie films, teaching aerobics, and working on her novel—she wrote two livid articles about a Bollywood movie’s unscrupulous depiction of the rape of a real, living woman. That tone has never faltered. Every one of the essays in “My Seditious Heart” was composed in the key of rage.

More here.