On this, the fifth anniversary of the Tahrir Square demonstrations that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, it is worth noting that Egypt is now imprisoning more journalists than any other country except China. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists:
Perhaps nowhere has the climate for the press deteriorated more rapidly than in Egypt, now the second worst jailer of journalists worldwide. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi continues to use the pretext of national security to clamp down on dissent. Cairo is holding 23 journalists in jail, compared with 12 a year ago. As recently as 2012, no journalists were in jail for their work in Egypt.
Back when the scent of freedom was still in the air, I was fortunate to teach an online course to journalists in Egypt and other Arab Spring countries about covering elections in a democracy. These journalists were so eager to be freed to do their job of informing the public! I was a little worried that the approach of non-partisan, even-handed coverage I proposed would go over poorly -- but that turned out not to be the case. It was an inspiring group of journalists.
In the online discussions we had as part of the course, some of the journalists asked me what to do in the event of a government crackdown. I was ill-prepared to answer these questions, accustomed as I am to operating under the protection of the First Amendment. They were asking me how much risk to take.
As it turned out, many Egyptian journalists have risked their livelihoods, their freedom and their well being. They deserve to be remembered.
I was a student at Fordham when Martin Sheen came to screen 1983’s In the King of Prussia, a hastily and inexpensively produced “film” shot on video about the Ploughshares Eight. A friend active in social-justice issues, knowing I was a fan of Sheen for his performances in Badlands and Apocalypse Now, encouraged me to attend the daytime event. Certainly the organizers must have been counting at least a little bit on Sheen’s celebrity appeal, but as I recall the screening was lightly attended. As for the film—well, Sheen’s performance as a judge in the re-enacted trial of the group that entered a General Electric plant in 1980 and damaged nosecones designed for nuclear warheads doesn’t quite match the work he did for Terrence Malick or Francis Ford Coppola. That said, the appearances in the film of Molly Rush, Philip and Daniel Berrigan, and the rest of the Ploughshares Eight did leave an impression. So did Sheen’s evident interest in social justice and other issues—which my mere fandom at the time had not previously admitted the possibility of.
Though still more partial to Sheen as Kit Caruthers and Capt. Benjamin Willard than as Jed (The West Wing) Bartlet or Thomas (The Way) Avery, I’ve since continued to follow his faith-driven activism. It’s what prompted me to catch up with his appearance last week on Krista Tippet’s On Being podcast. Now, I’m not much for Tippet’s style of interviewing, but this wasn’t such a problem with the garrulous Sheen on hand.Read more
As the implications of the San Bernadino attack further sink in, it's been an interesting week of front pages in New York. For the first time since 1920, The New York Times has run an editorial on its front page. The paper decided to drop the usual distinction between news and opinion to front with today's editorial on "The Gun Epidemic," which declared, "It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency."
On Thursday, the Daily News "wood" was "GOD ISN'T FIXING THIS" -- an attack on politicians such as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham whose tweeted responses to the San Bernadino massacre were that their thoughts and prayers went out to the victims. Elected officials who could actually do something about gun violence were offering only "platitudes," the News charged. Meanwhile, the Post ran with MUSLIM KILLERS after the slain assailants in the San Bernadino attack were identified as Muslims. On Friday, the News ran a cover that lumped NRA chief Wayne LaPierre with a group of accused mass murderers. All were terrorists, the paper contended.
Highly opinionated covers are nothing new for the News and the Post, but that's not the case for The Times, which takes more seriously the traditional divide between news and opinion. All of these covers have gotten a lot of attention, and that would not have been the case if the same material had appeared only on the home pages of the papers' websites rather than on page one.
The News might keep that in mind, since there is much talk that it will soon abandon its print edition to focus solely on its website, which has excelled at the not-so -xcellent task of aggregation -- recycling others people's work in its tabloidy style. A web-only News won't get the same buzz the paper is now receiving for its front pages.
For all that is said about the fading of the MSM, they still have a lot to say about the news you receive. It's true that their work may be stolen -- I mean aggregated -- or twisted by commentators major and minor. It's true that they may be despised by large segments of the public. But they are still setting the agenda, in many ways, for the discussion.
Two blocks from the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on a plaza facing the East River, behind a gleaming mall, sits a temporary museum. Or that is what Glade, a brand of SC Johnson, is calling it. The Museum of Feelings is housed in a small building with shifting colored lights projected on its white walls. Tuesday night, its opening night, a young man in black clothes ushers confused people inside or makes them wait at the door when it becomes too crowded.
The subway advertisements for the Museum promise only a URL, a street address, and the dates the exhibit is open. If your curiosity is sufficiently piqued by these ads or the Facebook event and you visit TheMuseumofFeelings.com, the first thing you are cued to do is to create a MoodLens — a “living, emotional portrait that changes to reflect feelings,” the page explains. If you click “Get Started,” your computer’s built-in camera will photograph your face and with another click, your computer’s microphone can pick up your voice. This data is collected along with the weather in your current location and the “general feelings on social media in your region” to calculate your mood.Read more
Last Sunday the front page of the New York Times Book Review carried a thoughtful review by Mark Lilla of a new book on Saint Augustine. Congratulations to the editors, as well as to Lilla. No good deed goes unpunished, however, something Augustine probably explained somewhere; and the Book Review’s good deed made me wonder, somewhat skeptically, if 2015 might be the year when its annual “Holiday Books” issue would break precedent and actually give some notice to serious books about religion.
I am hardly the first to roll my eyes about the oddity of the “Holiday Books” almost ostentatious neglect of religion. It’s long been an annual joke among many people who believe that religion deserves thoughtful, knowledgeable explorations beyond the usual pressure points where it intersects with (a) violence; (b) sex; (c) politics; (d) celebrity; and (e) greed. Oh, and did I mention violence, sex, and politics?
Granted, the “Holiday Books” issue is essentially a cash-cow, chockfull of ads and reviews for gifty-ish books in categories like Travel, Photography, Pop Music, Humor, Cooking, Gardening, and Hollywood. “Holiday,” in effect, means hobby, avocation, entertainment, recreation, and so on. It certainly doesn’t mean anything to do with the beliefs and sentiments that gave birth to these holidays. Don’t imagine that anyone celebrating those holidays might be grateful for books addressing those very beliefs and sentiments. And might shell out good money for them.
There’s no war against Christmas here. “Holiday Books” is just a seasonal expression of the Book Review’s normal practice. Which is to feature every commercial press’s Washington memoir or big-name fiction while ignoring any university (or especially religious) press’s significant probing into the relationship of faith and reason. Last Sunday’s front-page review, I’m afraid, was the exception proving the rule.
The “Holiday Books” issue is not all gifties, however. It usually lists “100 Notable Books,” of the year, half from Fiction and Poetry, half from Nonfiction. Profound religious and spiritual questions always run like seams of rich ore through that Fiction and Poetry—and through some of the Nonfiction, too. Such is the human condition.
But in 2014 was there one book, one single book, of theology, or of philosophy of religion, or of religious history, sociology, biography, or art, worthy, in the eyes of the Book Review’s editors, to be listed among those fifty Nonfiction notables?
Maybe 2015 will be different. This is the season of hope.
UPDATE, November 28: The "100 Notable Books of 2015" has arrived, and I'm afraid the exception did prove the rule. Augustine, the biography by Robin Lane Fox was on the Non-Fiction list. The only other book that might possibly qualify was Witches of America by Alex Mar, "journalistic profiles of fascinating moern practitioners of the occult." Perhaps readerss have their own nominees.
Some years back, a representative of the Holy See spoke out in a United Nations General Assembly session about the importance of freedom of the press:
the right to freedom of thought and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to exchange ideas and information and the consequent freedom of the press: the observance of this right is necessary for the fulfillment of each person, for the respect of cultures and for the progress of science.
These comments in support of press freedom were in step with various church documents of the post-Vatican II era. But with the Vatican’s decision to indict two Italian journalists -- Gianluigi Nuzzi and Emiliano Fittipaldi – for using leaked documents in two books that evidently embarrassed and angered powerful people in the Holy See, we take a step back in time.
To 1832, for example, when Pope Gregory XVI assailed the “harmful and never sufficiently denounced freedom to publish any writings whatsoever.” Or to Pope Piux IX’s Syllabus of Errors, which faulted “openly and publicly manifesting whatsoever opinions and thoughts.”
Simply put, this indictment is an attempt at censorship. It won’t work: It will multiply the sales of the books in question, for starters. It will invigorate other journalists to probe further. And it undermines the church’s effort to champion human rights, including the right to freedom of religion.
One of the many interesting things about the new movie Spotlight is that it shows how slow the Boston Globe was to chase the story that it ultimately published in 2002 about the systematic coverup of clergy sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese. The newspaper had gotten similar information five years earlier, it turned out, but editors who either felt a connection to the Catholic Church or were otherwise reluctant to offend a mostly Catholic readership had edged it aside. Under the leadership of a new editor, the paper sought and reported the truth.
This comes to mind as the Vatican pursues the disastrous course of criminally investigating two Italian journalists who wrote books based on documents leaked from the Vatican. What is this but an effort to intimidate journalists from reporting the truth?
Respect for a free press -- a media free to report the truth -- requires that news reporters not be coerced into giving up their confidential sources. Most states in the United States have shield laws that offer reporters some measure of protection. There is a great need for a federal version of that law, but even without it, procedures the Justice Department has in place make it unusual for reporters to be subpoenaed -- much less placed under criminal investigation themselves for reporting the news. Italy also has protections for reporters. Vatican City does not.
There have been many fine Vatican statements about the duty of the news media to seek the truth, including addresses by Pope Francis, but they don't mean much if the church is going to be bent on criminalizing investigative reporting. The Vatican should stop this investigation immediately. If it can't do so for the right reason -- to respect the role of a free press -- then it should consider the public relations disaster that would develop if it files criminal charges against these journalists.
Over at Politico magazine, Peter Steinfels has written a frank, thoughtful, and (for liberal Catholics especially) challenging take on the pope's upcoming visit. He cautions against frenzied papal-centrism and the temptation to use the "banner of papal authority" in political arguments.
Christian faith has political implications. But you can’t go directly from breaking bread with the homeless to a public housing program anymore than you can go from affirming the humanity of the unborn to particular laws restricting abortion. If in our enthusiasm for Francis’ emphasis on poverty, immigrants and climate change, liberal Catholics fail to acknowledge this, if, for example, we dismiss reasonable questions about the pope’s economics, we will be undermining our own political consistency as well as Francis’ attempt to assure room for disagreement within the Church.
Steinfels reminds us that the Catholic Church is not a "kind of religious Marine Corps that barks orders from the top for its well-drilled troops to follow blindly"—a common misunderstanding in the United States, where
the image of the church as an unquestioning, dutiful force bending to the pope’s will is deeply engrained. The “Catholic vote” is still discussed as a monolithic whole. [And] Polls detecting disagreement among Catholics over church teaching are treated like the discovery of new planets.
And, Pope Francis himself has long been opposed to the "over-centralization of church decision-making in Rome." When Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires he referred to his trips to Rome there as “penances,” and as pope, he has
acted to renew the periodic synods of bishops from around the world as occasions for genuinely free discussion. Vatican officials have previously controlled them with a heavy-hand. Francis recently delegated oversight of marriage annulments to local bishops rather than a Vatican office. He has put lay people in key positions in the Vatican. Francis, too, doesn’t want the church to be all about him.
So, how can we re-organize the story of Catholicism so that it isn't centered on the pope? That's a good question, and now is a good time to mull it over.
The other day, as I was heading home to my apartment in Washington Heights—a small, somewhat close-knit neighborhood, geographically isolated from the tourism and crowds generally associated with Manhattan—I encountered a young man and woman with clipboards, gently trying to intercept passersby. "Hey," the man made eye contact, "have you heard about Bernie Sanders?" "Yeah,” I said, giving a thumbs-up and walking on, proud I'd been able to answer them in the affirmative. But they both lunged toward me, and started speaking very quickly. "Awesome! Are you registered? Do you know about our group? Are you interested in participating in our events? Do you want to volunteer?"
Brooklyn native Bernie Sanders currently doesn't have a New York City campaign office because, as I was to learn in the course of my encounter, he "didn't think people would like him this much." And so groups like the one I ended up learning about that day—Washington Heights for Bernie Sanders (they call themselves Bernie WaHi)—are getting ready for when he sets one up.
"We realized that the campaign didn’t have the structure yet in New York or as much funding as some other candidates,” said Adam Masser, one of three Sanders organizers who facilitate events and volunteer assignments in Northern Manhattan. Masser and his friends saw a "real opportunity to get the word out on behalf of Bernie and start organizing." So they started inviting their friends, and then their neighbors, to mobilize fellow Bernie supporters while also cultivating new ones.
Still a problem for Bernie at the moment is name recognition: “Bernie Sanders” doesn’t register with the same immediacy that “Hillary Clinton” does. So Bernie WaHi will focus on that, while also hosting more events and recruiting more volunteers. Voter registration is also part of the plan: Supporters are seeking to sign up people who’ve never voted, and to get registered Independent and Green Party voters to register as Democrats before the October 9 deadline.
Bernie WaHi takes its name from Washington Heights, but it covers a wider geographic area that includes Northern Manhattan, Harlem, Inwood, and the South Bronx—all bordering neighborhoods. At a citywide organizing meeting with twenty other organizing leaders, Adam and others agreed to work together and make sure every voting district is covered.
I asked him if they had official word Sanders was opening an office or if this was all "just hope." "Definitely not just hope. But,” Masser admitted, “there hasn't been any official word." Sanders has offices in New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, and in his home state of Vermont. Whether or not an office is ever opened in Manhattan, there will “definitely be campaign events,” Masser said, and he will definitely have a body of volunteers mobilized.
A sentiment I have heard repeated is “I don’t really like Hillary, but Bernie is…” Too old, too left, too radical, too something. And then I hear, “I would love to see him as president, but I don’t have too much hope it will happen.” But the more I meet people like Masser and his fellow Sanders supporters, the less I accept that.
Sanders is in an “upward trajectory,” Masser pointed out. His main message—that this country belongs to all of us, not just the billionaire class—resonates with a lot of people. He is the only candidate who doesn’t have a super PAC—something not lost on those most turned off by the state of presidential politicking.
But Sanders would probably be the first to admit he needs all the help he can get, where he can get it. Could the grassroots efforts in his hometown provide another boost?
Years ago I interviewed a portrait artist whose portfolio included some distinctly unappealing clients. When I asked if clients had ever expressed buyer's remorse over his honest portrayals, he said most people—at least those seeking a public profile—like what they see in the mirror.
On another level, most people seeking a public profile like what they hear when they speak. During my years as a daily newspaper reporter, whenever I quoted someone making what I considered a bigoted or ignorant remark I braced myself for accusations of misrepresentation. But that almost never came.
One particularly virulent homophobe actually called to congratulate me on fairly presenting his views.
That's why I wasn't at all surprised by the reaction last week when "Daily Show" correspondent Jessica Williams revisited some disgraced—at least in the majority view of the show's audience—interview subjects. Her task during Jon Stewart's final week at the helm was to see if they harbored any grudges.
No, said the pastor who once compared Obama to Hitler, he wasn't a bit sorry he had appeared on the show. But he conceded that he had changed his mind about Obama—whom he now related to Satan.
One of the many brilliant aspects of Stewart's "Daily Show" was that Stewart knew the surest way to skewer ignorance or bigotry is to simply let it speak for itself. He made most of his points simply by running footage of the target.
And while interviews were blatantly edited to allow "correspondents" to insert their—often astounded—reactions, you had the sense that the person being interviewed was given every chance to redeem him- or herself.
Stewart consistently called himself a comedian, not a journalist, yet he exemplified the journalistic lesson that honest means are also the most effective.
Searing as his satire was, he was a rare positive presence on the political and media landscape. Probably that's why he was remarkably successful in getting people he disagreed with to come on his show.
Sure, they did it in large part because of his popularity. But they also came, I think, because they trusted he wouldn’t try to misrepresent them. Rather, he honestly revealed them—and there's satisfaction all around in that.
Although a big part of me wanted former NBC news anchor Brian Williams to be fired after he embellished and even downright fabricated stories about his reporting in the field, I can accept his just announced return to a new and different job at MSNBC. Lester Holt has held the NBC anchor chair since Williams was suspended without pay for six months, and it would have been unforgivable on two counts—at least among journalists—to give Williams his old job back.
One, Holt has done a fine job. He's more Walter Cronkite, while Williams is more Johnny Carson. Two, even though Williams lied mostly on talk shows, not from the anchor chair, he shouldn't get to lead a news organization. Not even if viewers—and therefore advertisers—don't care. Surely corporate news executives retain, or feel compelled to exhibit, at least that much decency.
But given that Williams has apologized and been humiliated for his sins, I don't think it's necessary that he be drummed entirely and permanently out of the news business. I must say, however, that during my years in the business I've seen non-celebrity journalists drummed out for less.Read more
There is a passage by Iris Murdoch from The Sovereignty of Good where she describes joy in teaching herself the Russian language. “Attention is rewarded by a knowledge of reality,” she writes. “Love of Russian leads me away from myself towards something alien to me, something which my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal.” Because the rules of Russian grammar are difficult to master, learning the language pushes Murdoch’s full attention into a humble posture. She’s describing devotional attention, in other words, and its devotional character is what’s most true about it because it makes one’s body and mind confront something you’re not meant to just use, but see.
Matthew Crawford uses Murdoch’s lines in both his books, Shopclass as Soul Craft, and his latest The World Beyond Your Head (reviewed here in Commonweal) where he takes up the issue of “distraction.” His broader argument hinges on this idea that how we train—or don’t train—our focus, even more than what we set it on, shapes whether or not we become the kind of people who can make free and meaningful choices. It’s a philosophical stab at a moral, social, and economic problem: How can we be more than consumers, but free individuals? We can’t, really, if we hand over our focus to whoever and whatever wants it.
Attention, reality, consumerism—worrying about these things now means thinking about digital technology, especially since a lot of us carry a small machine seductively designed for infinite distraction in our pocket. Rand Richards Cooper recently wrote on how Smartphones allow us to check out from where we’re standing. He writes, “Technology is a majestic human story, and the benefits we’ve gotten from farming out our tasks to machines are incalculable. But what happens when what we’re farming out is consciousness itself—the ability to be ourselves, with ourselves, amid the glories of creation?”Read more
In writing on the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, E.J. discusses "The Two Santa Claus Theory" put forth by supply-siders in the 1970s and says that Sanders may be tapping into something:
The senator from Vermont has little chance of defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he is reminding his party of something it often forgets: Government was once popular because it provided tangible benefits to large numbers of Americans...
Read all of "The New St. Nick" here.
And, among the highlights from our new issue is Robert Gascoigne writing on the affinities between Christians and the "secularists" who "share with Christians many of the key ethical values that can motivate and energize democratic political life."
[The] significant commonality of ethical and political ideals between secular humanism and the contemporary Catholic Church has a complex and turbulent historical background. The litany of suffering of members of the church at the hands of revolutionary political movements is a long and terrible one. Yet the relationship between the Catholic Church and movements for democratic change and social justice has happily, and surprisingly to many, developed into a shared commitment to defending human rights.
Read all of "Shared Commitments" here.
And, Rand Richards Cooper pens a Last Word on the troubling ubiquity of smartphones and the baffling "universal desire to be connected everywhere and all the time":
[T]hat’s America these days: people everywhere with their heads bent, fingertips flicking at their screens. Couples in restaurants, silently flicking. A schoolbus full of teenagers, heads bent as if in prayer.... But what happens when what we’re farming out is consciousness itself—the ability to be ourselves, with ourselves, amid the glories of creation?
Many who are responding to the 62.4% majority vote to nationally legalize same-sex marriage in Ireland are making much of Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin's frank but vague remarks in the New York Times:
The church needs to take a reality check.... It’s very clear there’s a growing gap between Irish young people and the church, and there’s a growing gap between the culture of Ireland that’s developing and the church.... [I]nside the church becomes almost alien territory to them in today’s society…
That there is a growing gap between young people and the church on this issue is not new news, nor is it exclusive to Ireland. Martin is right to point out that anyone who doesn't recognize this is in "severe denial." That's why I think this referendum is such good news. It's a reality check, yes, but it's also an opportunity to let go of the fight against same-sex marriage. If bemoaning the referendum becomes the church's basis for strengthening "its commitment to evangelization," as the Vatican's secretary of state suggests, the gap between young people and the church will only widen.
I don’t have the polling data to prove this, but I can't imagine that many young Catholics enjoy being recruited to fight a culture war, especially if the opposition includes family, friends, and peers. They find it alienating when a priest homilizes about the essential differences between men and women; they would rather hear that “all are welcome” at Mass and rather the homily stick to the gospel. When Catholic identity becomes less about spirituality and more about political battles, something essential is lost…along with thousands of believers.
Is there a way for Catholics to simply disagree with same-sex marriage supporters instead of having to “defend traditional marriage”? Is there a widespread movement to force the church to change its teaching on marriage? Why can’t traditional marriage exist inside the church, with same-sex marriage outside the church? Agreeing to disagree relieves the opposing parties of the burden of needing to win. Ireland has decided, by majority vote, to legalize same-sex marriage. At least one front in this protracted culture war has gone quiet. What a relief.
Over at NCR Michael Sean Winters wonders if it’s possible that “those Irish young people did not vote for same sex marriage despite their Catholic education, but, in part, because of it?” That’s a very good question. I suspect they did. Catholics have imagination. Tradition isn’t a force that eternally battles advancing armies. It’s the way the substance (not the accidents) of church teaching is passed down through generations of believers who contribute to this process by reexamining and reexamining again what their faith means.
We've just posted three new stories to the homepage.
1. In his latest Letter from Rome, Robert Mickens suggests the possible reasons behind the Vatican Secretary of State's "apocolyptic assesment of the the Irish referendum" is culture, "particularly Italian culture," because Italy is "the most conservative country in all of Europe when it comes to social conventions and customs," especially concerning the family.
Mickens also reveals who exactly has been holding "secretive meetings and initiatives" in the run-up to October's Synod on the Family that deal with "some of the more thorny issues" the bishops will be debating, including the Kasper proposal.
2. The Editors present reasons, if the Amtrak derailment isn't enough of one, for why the U.S. government’s failure to invest in infrastructure must change:
The United States now spends less than 2 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, less than half of what Europe spends—and less than half of what we were spending in the 1960s....The American Society of Civil Engineers gave [the nation's infrastructure] a grade of D+... [and] noted that the average age of the country’s 84,000 dams is fifty-two, and that one in nine of its bridges is considered structurally deficient. Every few years one of these bridges collapses, occasioning a brief outburst of bipartisan concern on Capitol Hill. Then nothing changes.
Read all of 'Signal Failure.'
3. George Dennis O'Brien, pondering the future direction of Catholic education, looks backward:
The dominant style of higher education in the ancient world was not academic but humanistic, directed at educating future political leaders who needed to learn the art of persuasion.... [T]he humanistic “classical curriculum” dominated American colleges from colonial times until the end of the nineteenth century.
Are Catholic institutions replacing the humanistic style with the "academic style of close argument and verifiable truths"?
In the lingering aftermath (or afterglow, depending on your degree of fandom) of the Mad Men finale, it’s worth recalling The Paris Review interview of show-runner Matthew Weiner a couple of years ago. In it he explains his method of plotting and the influence of certain films (Apocalypse Now, North by Northwest, Days of Heaven) that resisted or flouted narrative convention.
People [like] to talk about “act breaks” and “rising action” leading to a climax, but what about Apocalypse Now? Someone’s on a journey, and sure, we’re heading toward a climax, but there are so many digressions. To me, those digressions are the story. People would say to me, What’s holding this together? Or, How is this moment related to the opening scene, or the problem you set up on page 15? I don’t know. That’s where the character went. That’s the story. So many movies in the seventies are told this way, episodically, and they feel more like real life because you don’t see the story clicking.
Celia Wren, writing in our current issue, raises valid points about the occasionally frustrating aspects of Mad Men’s seven-season unspooling. While the creator of a work should not be let off the hook for its shortcomings, I think some should be seen in the context of the general challenges of television production – actors leave, schedules are delayed, budgets and salaries change, as do perceived business needs – and to the particular production of Mad Men: ninety-two period-piece episodes engaging to lesser or greater degree the cultural, political, and historical issues of a decade, filmed over eight years about a half-century after the time depicted.
A time that many can remember first-hand, and that many more have relived or experienced second-hand, and vividly, through innumerable and infinitely replayed documentaries and TV programs. The audience thus viewed it through their own filtered stores of memory and recall – as well as with the expectations cultivated by deeply internalized notions of television convention. Unhappiness with the show was inevitable, and there were suggestions of it in how energetically the final-season prediction mill churned. Would Don Draper commit suicide? (Based on what – an opening-credit sequence that showed a suited man falling? Then what about his safe landing on an office couch in iconic draped-arm pose, cigarette dangling from fingertips?). Would he prove to be seventies myth-folk figure D.B. Cooper? (Why? This would be completely outside the dramatic universe Weiner so carefully constructed). Would Peggy find love, would Joan and Roger get together, would Sally become a Patty Hearst-like figure? There was an observable method to Weiner’s Mad Men, and it was not to go out with a shocker, address a nostalgic yearning, or tidy up storylines. Though some of that was delivered after all, which proved too much for fans like The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum: “There was nothing wrong with those other, often very pleasurable stories, in aggregate, although for a person like myself, who tends to like her finales like her men, without too much closure or wish fulfillment, the fan-service element made me twitch a few times.” You can’t please everyone, not even those who like you.Read more
We’ve just posted our June 1 issue to the website. Among the highlights:
Amanda Erickson describes the struggle of a Catholic parish community in Freddie Gray's Baltimore neighborhood to respond adequately, in the wake of the riots, to the root causes of hopelessness there:
The life expectancy of those born in Sandtown-Winchester is thirteen years shorter than the national average. Those are problems that can’t be fixed by one man, or in one morning. So instead, Rev. Bomberger grabbed a broom and headed across the street.
Andrew Bacevich reviews Andrew Cockburn’s “imperfect but exceedingly useful book,” Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, about the motives behind and justifications for targeted assassinations and drone warfare—now common practices in U.S. foreign policy.
Cockburn quotes one U.S. Air Force general bragging, “We can now hit any target anywhere in the world, any time, any weather, day or night.” Yet why bother with bombing bridges, power plants, or communications facilities, when taking out Mr. Big himself provides the definitive shortcut to victory? Here was the ultimate critical node: Decapitate the regime. As an approach to waging war, what could be more humane, not to mention efficient?
Plus: New poetry from Marie Ponsot, Celia Wren explains why the once-promising plotlines of Mad Men hit a dead end, Paul Johnston reviews the latest from Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi, Molly Farneth reviews the latest, uncomprehensive but newly non-Eurocentric Norton Anthology of World Religions, and Charles Morris reveals the dirty little secret of major-league banking bankers don't want to believe.
See the full table of contents here.
On the website now, our May 15 issue. Here are some of the highlights:
Isolate the contagion. Prevent transmission. Treat outbreaks instantly and aggressively.
Classical theology has the angels deciding their destiny in a single, unalterable choice. I sometimes dream of being able to imitate such an act, one that would free me from all my ambiguities and contradictions, my half-hearted aspirations and ineffectual resolutions. This is not the way things work, however...
Read all of "Knowing Jesus" here.
Eve Tushnet reviews an exhibit produced by over 40 artists at the National Museum of African Art that recreates Dante's Divine Comedy on three floors:
I’m sitting in hell with a couple of little boys, who are trying to prove they’re not scared. We’re watching a cloth-wrapped figure prostrate itself and bang its fists against the floor, as sobs and wordless singing give way to a howled “I, I, I surrender!”
Read about the beautiful, horrific, beatific and redemptive show here.
Also in the May 15 issue: James Sheehan on how Greece and Ukraine are "testing Europe"; reviews of books about abortion, the short history of the black vote, a young Lawrence of Arabia, and secular humanism—plus poetry from Michael Cadnum, Thomas Lynch, and Peter Cooley; and Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill reflects on bodily decrepitude and wisdom.
"All journalists are manipulated." I have to say, that line Judith Miller used in her interview with Jon Stewart this week is irking me. It's probably true, certainly for myself, that at some time or another, skillful PR people have managed to mislead, sidetrack, obstruct and otherwise manipulate every reporter.
But part of the job is to recognize when that's being done, and Miller, promoting her new book The Story, comes across under Stewart's questioning as willfully oblivious to that.
During the interview, Stewart calls Miller's attention to a September 8, 2002 front-page New York Times story Miller wrote (with Michael Gordon, as she noted) showcasing the Bush administration’s contention that Saddam Hussein had “embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.”
Stewart pointed out the phrase that says administration “hard-liners” were arguing that the first “smoking gun” to be sighted from Saddam's supposed build-up could be a “mushroom cloud.” (Condoleeza Rice used the line publicly the same day, and President George W. Bush repeated it in a speech the following month.)
“It’s a very powerful line, and it explains their thinking,” Miller responds.
Stewart retorts that the phrase originated with a White House speechwriter, Michael Gerson. “It’s a political line directly tied to the White House,” he says. In other words: recognize that it's spin.
"Jon, were we not to report what it was that had the community, the intelligence community to be so nervous about Saddam?" Miller replies. "Were we supposed to keep that from the American people?"
Stewart: "No-- you should have reported it though, in the context that this administration was very clearly pushing a narrative and by losing sight of that context by not reporting"--
Miller: "I think we did, the story said"--
Stewart: "I wholeheartedly disagree with you."
Miller: "Now, that’s what makes journalism."
Stewart: "It’s actually not what makes journalism, so let’s continue with this."
E.J. Dionne Jr. provides a deeper look into social problems in Baltimore--how globalization of the economy, technological change, and deindustrialization have taken manufacturing jobs out of the city without ever replacing them. Dionne interviews Thomas J. Vicino, author of Transforming Race and Class in Suburbia: Decline in Metropolitan Baltimore, who explains:
“This is a double-whammy for poor black people left in the city....They are not in a position to share in the development downtown and, with the loss of manufacturing jobs, they are left, at best, with access to relatively low-paying service jobs. This, in turn, creates a spiral for those left behind, damaging families and devastating neighborhoods.”
This cycle hurt working-class whites as well, Vicino added, “but whites were in a better position to move elsewhere, whereas black mobility was limited by housing discrimination.”
Reading all of "The Roots of Baltimore's Anguish" is worth your time.
Also, in “Does the Earth Have Rights?,” Robin Darling Young writes on the anticipation (and political polarization) surrounding Pope Francis's upcoming encyclical on the environment. Both Climate skeptic Catholics and non-Catholics with assumptions about the church's views on science will be surprised to learn just how traditionally Catholic progressive scholarship is. In Young's view this raises serious questions:
How [are we] to balance individual moral responsibility, described in the moral teachings of the church, against a general Catholic or human responsibility as developed in more than a century of modern Catholic social teaching?
More broadly and just as important:
What could it mean for nature itself to have rights—rights that are being flagrantly violated by human beings? And what could it mean for Catholic theology if a pope says this?
Read the whole thing (and get thinking) here.
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