dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

dotCommonweal Blog

Elsewhere

In the New York Times Magazine, Eliza Griswold on the plight of Christians in the Middle East:

For more than a decade, extremists have targeted Christians and other minorities, who often serve as stand-ins for the West. This was especially true in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, which caused hundreds of thousands to flee. ‘‘Since 2003, we’ve lost priests, bishops and more than 60 churches were bombed,’’ Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, said. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christians began to leave Iraq in large numbers, and the population shrank to less than 500,000 today from as many as 1.5 million in 2003.

The Arab Spring only made things worse. As dictators like Mubarak in Egypt and Qaddafi in Libya were toppled, their longstanding protection of minorities also ended. Now, ISIS is looking to eradicate Christians and other minorities altogether. The group twists the early history of Christians in the region — their subjugation by the sword — to legitimize its millenarian enterprise. Recently, ISIS posted videos delineating the second-class status of Christians in the caliphate. Those unwilling to pay the jizya tax or to convert would be destroyed, the narrator warned, as the videos culminated in the now-­infamous scenes of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya being marched onto the beach and beheaded, their blood running into the surf.

"Yes, Racism is Rooted in Economic Inequality," says the Jacobin's Seth Ackerman:

[I]f racial inequality isn’t merely a symptom of economic inequality, what is it a symptom of?

I already feel like I can hear the answer: it’s a symptom of hundreds of years of slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, and urban apartheid.

Yes. But what were slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow, and urban apartheid if not extreme forms of economic inequality?[...]

And what exactly do you think all those African slaves were doing in the American South?

To quote Barbara Fields:

"Probably a majority of American historians think of slavery in the United States as primarily a system of race relations — as though the chief business of slavery were the production of white supremacy rather than the production of cotton, sugar, rice and tobacco. One historian has gone so far as to call slavery ‘the ultimate segregator’. He does not ask why Europeans seeking the ‘ultimate’ method of segregating Africans would go to the trouble and expense of transporting them across the ocean for that purpose, when they could have achieved the same end so much more simply by leaving the Africans in Africa."

The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik on Max Beerbohm, whom George Bernard Shaw called "The Icomparable Max":

Beerbohm’s best writing is a form of criticism of other people’s; his gift for the observation of manners is small next to his gift for the understanding of how writing engraves itself on our brains. “Note that I am not incomparable,” he said once to , protesting the “incomparable” label. “Compare me.” If we do, we find that, among the great English essayists, he is the one whose genius depends least on the apprehension of immediate experience and most on what happens when we read. Everything good he writes is about how books, after building us up for life, let us down once we’re in it.

And that Iranian money?

What will the Iranians do with all of that money when sanctions are lifted. Some opponents of the nuclear agreement have argued that they will buy conventional weapons and carry on with their terrorism, etc.

Questions: How much money are we talking about? Whose money is it? This helpful rundown from Al-Monitor may not be definitive, but it lays out some of the amounts, the owners, and the entanglements that come with international finance. The phrase, "usable funds" figures in the analysis, "Will Iran Get Its Billions Back."

In Defense of Germans

Can I say a few words in defense of Germans? The Euro crisis that’s been building for years now, with Greece as its molten core, is hard to comprehend. I mean, I get the general idea. Two dozen nations (give or take) are united by one currency but lack a governing entity that can set fiscal policies. It’s like trying to run an orchestra without a conductor. But is it in fact true, as Paul Krugman has been repeating for years, that Brussels and its technocrats are “trying to run Europe on the basis of fantasy economics”? For an untrained person, the fine points (or any points) of macroeconomics and international finance can get pretty murky.

What has been clear is the role increasingly assigned to Germany, at least here in the United States: villain. A recent article from the New York Times, ominously titled “Germany’s Destructive Anger,”  faults the Germans not merely for being selfishly shortsighted in their economic policies, but for being rigid, vindictive, self-righteous and dyspeptic. The article is by an economist, and that’s significant. Most “average” Americans may only vaguely know that a Euro crisis is happening (“you mean, the soccer thing?”), but if you sketch for them the outlines of the current situation, most will say that the Greeks need to clean up their act and pay their debts. Why should the Germans be blamed?  But the opposite opinion prevails among economists, almost all of whom see Germany at fault. The main points:

1) Austerity in Europe has been a mistaken policy. When financial crisis hit here in 2008, our government responded with bailouts, government spending, and cheap money to inflate the economy. Europe should do the same.

2) Germany fails to grasp its own self-interest. If lesser countries are allowed to leave the Euro zone—or forced out—it will over time almost certainly damage Germany’s powerful export machine. But Germans are choosing to punish Greece, rather than taking a coolly systemic view of the situation.

3) Germans are conveniently forgetting the role debt and debt forgiveness played at critical moments in their own history: after World War I, when massive debt destabilized governments and led to fascism; and after World War II, when the victorious allies chose the Marshall Plan (another proposal, the Morgenthau Plan, which sought to keep Germany perpetually under-developed, was rejected), forgave war debts, and laid the foundation for the postwar “economic miracle” in West Germany.

Increasingly, though, the critique rests on the idea that Germans are mean and vindictive.

Read more

What's the problem? (Cont.)

(Continuation): A California Superior Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order barring further releases of videos surreptiously made by David Daleiden and the guerrilla film maker, Center for Medical Progress. This ABCnews story seems to imply that the company StemExpress is featured in those videos. (StemExpress was featured in the science section of the NYTimes story previously posted).

The legal grounds for the judge's action are unclear; a hearing is scheduled for August 19. Any legal beagles here able to clarify the grounds for the restraining order? [UPDATE: The Washington Post offers this legal analysis, which may turn on a California law requiring both parties to agree to a taping of a conversation.]

This story has legs and I can't help observing that taking it to court gives it very long legs. (Are there bachelor degress in film-making that teach students how to keep a story going?)

Prominent Ladyjerk Gets Happy Ending

In the movie Trainwreck, the comedian Amy Schumer stars as a reckless but successful magazine editor who has been drinking for love in all the wrong places. Like Schumer’s sketch-comedy series Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central), Trainwreck contains its share of off-color humor. (“You dress him like that just so no one else wants to have sex with him? That's cool,” she asks her sister about her husband.) She may not be everyone’s cup of tea; critics deride her work as self-gratifying, crude, and offensive. But her fans call her a brilliant, courageous feminist leader. Whatever one makes of her work, there’s no denying that she is unapologetically herself. It’s not a shtick. Schumer wants to challenge the ways in which we talk about feminism—as loaded a term as that may be.

As my friends and I left the theater after seeing the movie, all we could say was how much we love Schumer. Her voice is refreshing in a time when the culture seems to see feminism through one or the other of two opposing lenses. There are those who believe that feminism means that women should be able to do anything they want sexually without any criticism or fear of consequences – “if men can do it, so can we.” Suggest otherwise and you’re keeping women down. And then there are those who believe that by policing our own behavior, we can flourish as true women. “True empowerment” means being modest, thinking about consequences, and avoiding risky behavior.

In the movie, Amy drinks and sleeps around and explicitly avoids seeking a long-term relationship—at least at first.

Read more

There Will Be No Buckley Revival

"It’s as if he never existed," Andrew Ferguson reports a friend recently commenting about William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review who died in 2008. Ferguson's friend mainly was referring to Buckley's place—or rather, lack thereof—among the rising generation of writers, and he goes on to suggest that "it’s not clear that younger journalists, tweeting and Snapchatting and texting and Instagramming all the livelong day, have more than a vague notion of who he was." His interlocutor is right, I think, but for reasons Ferguson might be too kind to consider directly.

Rather than blaming the digital lives of young writers for their lack of attention to Buckley, my explanation is simpler. Buckley really never wrote much of lasting significance. If you had to associate him with one form, it would be the newspaper or magazine column; the sustained work of seriously crafted books and essays eluded him. He never wrote a movement-shaping book like Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind. His intellectual virtues, from what I've been able to discern, are those of the debater and polemicist more than the studious man of letters.

Think about it this way: If you wanted to introduce Buckley to a young writer, what book of his would you choose?

Read more

What's the problem? II

Don't want to prolong this discussion, but the Science section of the NYTimes (July 28) tells us some more about fetal research, fetal tissues, and fetal parts pricing. I'm guessing Mr. Daleiden's video prompted the story. The First Post...

De-screening

Every summer for two weeks we rent a cabin in the woods of Vermont while our nine-year-old daughter goes to a Quaker-run farm and wilderness day camp nearby. Our getaway seats us in the very lap of nature. Birds of all kinds sing outside our windows; giant variegated moths drowse on the screens; the staccato tree work of woodpeckers forms a background percussion. Some unidentifiable creature howls in the woods at 2 a.m. That’s enough to make me rethink sleeping outside in my tent.

But what truly scares some potential renters of the cabin, its owner tells me, is not the presence of wild animals, but rather the absence of something else: internet. The cabin, christened “Off the Grid,” offers no TV, no WiFi, no computers, no cellphone reception. To make a call, we drive a mile down the road to a little spot between the hills where you can get a signal. To triage my email, I drive over to Woodstock twice a week and spend half an hour on the computers at the library.

The prospect of an unplugged vacation turns out to be highly polarizing. “It pretty much instantly rules out two-thirds of the people who inquire,” the cabin’s owner says. “The other third wouldn’t have it any other way.”

We are—and very happily—in that other, neo-Luddite third.

My jeremiads on the topic of handheld-addiction and digital distraction are well known to my friends. Among those friends are many who, in theory anyway, share my belief that digital devices have become a kind of mass addiction, yet still find it really hard to unplug for any substantial period. That’s a widespread reality these days. Every few months, it seems, I read an essay breathlessly touting some device-free getaway camp whose adult attendees rhapsodize proudly about unplugging—for a weekend!   

Being away from screens for two weeks poses some logistical challenges, especially in trying to clear work and correspondence away beforehand—and catch up afterward. But the benefits, for my wife and me anyway, outweigh them. Time and space to read more. To exercise and be outdoors more. To prepare a real meal, instead of throwing something together in haste, as is (alas) too often the rule at home.

And, most of all, de-screening spurs conversation.

Read more

Grace Abounding

On this feast of Saint James, fifty years ago, I celebrated my "first Mass" in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome. My parents and then sixteen year old brother were present, along with relatives and friends from the United States and Italy. In those pre-cellphone and pre-Skype days, I had not seen or even spoken with my family for almost three years.

Many of those who were present that day have, of course, gone before "marked with the sign of faith."

The first reading for today's Mass has only grown in meaning in the intervening years:

We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us ... We too believe and so we speak, knowing that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will raise us also with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. Indeed, everything is for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people, it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God (2 Cor 4:7,14&15).

A blind man on a galloping horse

My father left school at the age of 16. His father was not pleased and told him that if he wasn’t going to school, he was going to work and brought him down to the brickyards with him. It didn’t take long before my father decided that perhaps he should look for something else to do. He went to secretarial school in New York City, learned shorthand and typing, and found his first real job as a travelling secretary on The Twentieth-Century Limited, the crack train that ran between New York and Chicago. He was available to take dictation and prepare documents for passengers. These would be included in mailbags that, hung outside the speeding train, were snatched by hooks at various stations and sent on their way by the Post Office.

My father lost that job when the Great Depression began and my mother and he struggled through the first years of their marriage (in 1930) as he looked for jobs. Eventually he was hired as a court stenographer in the Rockland County Courthouse, a job he continued in for some thirty-five years.

He was very good at his job, very fast at shorthand and at typing. In a sense his work was only half-done when he came home, because then he had to sit at his typewriter and turn what looked to me like scribbles into perfectly clean and readable type. These were the days before copying machines, and if more than one copy was needed, he would use as many as five or six sheets of carbon paper to make them. I can still see him, if he made a typo, having to correct it on all the copies. We children all learned how to proof-read and help him.

My father was not as good at other tasks, although God knows he tried to save money by taking on other projects inside our large house or out in the backyard. Once he built a kind of outside fireplace out of cinder blocks where we could burn our garbage–this was long before recycling and restrictions on outdoor fires. He was frustrated because he couldn’t put a nice cement facing on the blocks, something that masons could do so easily. “But then,” he said, “they probably can’t type 200 words a minute either.”

He had a favorite saying if something he was working on didn’t turn out as perfect as he wanted it to be: “Well, a blind man on a galloping horse couldn’t notice it.” I looked up the expression and found that it’s original meaning was the opposite of the one he gave it. If you wanted to say that something was completely obvious, you’d say, “Lord, a blind man on a galloping horse could see that!” But I also like my father’s use of the image, and when something my brother and I are working on doesn’t turn out quite the way we wanted, one of us is sure to say, “A blind man on a galloping horse couldn’t tell the difference.”

Any other words of wisdom gleaned from your childhood?

Now on the website

There's new content on the website.

First, E.J. Dionne Jr. explains why Donald Trump should win an award for exposing the double-standards of certain politicans: "For Republicans, Trump was a genius until he wasn’t."

The bowing before Trump, you’ll recall, was happening when the man was the midwife of birtherism. Over and over, he questioned whether President Obama was eligible to be in office because he had allegedly not been born in the United States....

The whole thing is worth a read.

Also, we've made available the best interviews conducted by Commonweal since 1939—including Woody Allen, Jorge Luis Borges, Mary Gordon, (Sister) Elizabeth McAlister, Christian Wiman, and Mario Cuomo. The list spans seventy-six years, five popes, and thirteen U.S. presidents. Each interview covers a broad range of topics, but all share the Commonweal style of putting faith in dialogue with contemporary culture in multifarious forms.

See the full list here.

Moral Voices from The East

On Monday afternoon we finished, here in Bangalore, our first ever Pan-Asian Conference of Theological Ethicists: “Doing Catholic Theological Ethics in a Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Asian Context.”  There were 95 ethicists, among whom were 14 plenary speakers and another 36 presenting paper during concurrent sessions.

One of the finest plenary sessions, “Doing Interfaith Ethics in Asia” involved three speakers from countries where Catholics are very much a minority. Delivering a flawless paper, “A God by any other name,” Sharon Bong covered the trajectory of lawsuits filed by the Catholic church in Malaysia against its government’s decision to permit only Muslims to use the word “Allah” in referencing God. For twenty centuries, Malay-speaking Christian Malaysians have used “Allah” as their word for God, easily predating the Muslim use of the word. In 2008, the Catholic press was banned from using the word, or else it would forfeit licensing. With a final court decision ultimately upholding the government ban, Bong entertained whether forgiveness or resistance marks the proper ethical response.

Haruko Okano from Japan proposed an argument on how feminist Catholic writings on “moral responsibility” could help contemporary Japanese ethics. Explaining how much a shaming culture inhibits any autonomous accountability, Okano considered how often a Japanese apology is a face-saving action that has little to do with assuming personal or social moral culpability. When asked what was the meaning of the Japanese apology for World War II, she answered that it was a way of simply saying, let bygones be bygones, a reply that left the audience speechless.

Read more

Talk about wasting your money!

AIPAC, Sheldon Adelson, and some other members of the U.S. Jewish establishment have announced their intention to spend millions (maybe billions!) to defeat the Iran nuclear deal.

And Yet...the dependable J.J. Goldberg of The Forward tells us that much of the Israeli military and intelligence establishment thinks Israel should support its passage. Instead of being obstructionists, they argue, Israel should work with the Obama Administration to insure its implementation. What a great idea!

P.S. Saudi Arabia appears to be on board with the agreement.

Elsewhere

From the London Review of Books, an excellent piece by Tariq Ali about the current situation in Greece. He begins by comparing the Syriza government's capitulation to E.U. demands with the U.S.-backed military coup in 1967:

The date 12 July 2015, when Tsipras agreed to the EU’s terms, will become as infamous as 21 April 1967. The tanks have been replaced by banks, as Varoufakis put it after he was made finance minister.

Greece, in fact, has a lot of tanks, because the German and French arms industries, eager to get rid of surplus hardware in a world where wars are fought by bombers and drones, bribed the politicians. During the first decade of this century Greece was among the top five importers of weapons, mainly from the German companies Ferrostaal, Rheinmetall and Daimler-Benz. In 2009, the year after the crash, Greece spent €8 billion—3.5 per cent of GDP—on defence. The then Greek defence minister, Akis Tsochatzopoulos, who accepted huge bribes from these companies, was convicted of corruption by a Greek court in 2013. Prison for the Greek; small fines for the German bosses. None of this has been mentioned by the financial press in recent weeks. It didn’t quite tally with the need to portray Greece as the sole transgressor. Yet a Greek court has been provided with conclusive evidence that the largest tax avoider in the country is Hochtief, the giant German construction company that runs Athens airport. It has not paid VAT for twenty years, and owes 500 million euros in VAT arrears alone. Nor has it paid the contributions due to social security. Estimates suggest that Hochtief’s total debt to the exchequer could top one billion euros.

From the New York Times, Carl Cederstrom on the "dangers of happiness":

When happiness is recast as an individual choice, attitude becomes everything and circumstances are made irrelevant. Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, has worked hard to spread this message, referring to studies that suggest that victims of car crashes are, on the whole, neither less nor more unhappy than lottery winners.

Even if we find such insights interesting or inspiring, they do not form a particularly helpful basis when we seek to make happiness the goal of politics. If we may all be equally happy, irrespective of our circumstances, then that would equip politicians like [Jeb] Bush with a convenient excuse to stop looking at structural issues like class, social and economic inequality or poverty.

It is tempting to see the Conservative British prime minister David Cameron’s sudden interest in happiness in this light. When he decided a few years ago to initiate a so-called happiness index, he did so at the height of austerity, when public spending was being cut, and the “circumstances” were made worse for many people, especially those on benefits. As it happens, this survey was inspired by Mr. Seligman, producing an echo of the “circumstances make no difference” mantra.

What's the problem? UPDATE

July 26 Update: Douthat is on the case.

Today's (July 21) NYTimes has a sort-of interview with the man who made the "fetal parts available" video. "Sort- of" because as David Daleiden says, "I don't think I'm the story." Distributing organs from aborted fetuses in a non-profit way seems to be legal as Planned Parenthood claims. So I suppose the view of the media is that this isn't about Planned Parenthood, but about Daleiden: "What's his problem."

Daleiden has posted a second video and promises more. He has strategically released these to churn the Republican presidential race. At the moment, the Democrats are saying that Planned Parenthood is doing a good job of defending itself (they don't need our help!).... We'll see how that goes.

If Planned Parenthood's charging for processing, handling, and postage is not illegal (I don't actually know that), than what about the moral status of this practice?

1. Giving the woman having the abortion the right to informed consent to this practice seems wobbly. She doesn't want the baby. What claims does she have in distributing its parts?

2. Who actually buys the parts. Daleiden, in order to give his inquiries legitimacy, set up a dummy corporation that appears to do research but doesn't. Does Planned Parenthood (or others) practice due dilligence in distributing the organs. Who do they actually distribute them to? Is there a list?

3. Is the research done on these organs being done ethically? There are established federal regulations about the use of fetuses and/or their organs in medical and scientific research. Are these being observed?

4. I'm sure you can think of more!

Daleiden has an interesting bio included in the interview.

Sr. Mary Scullion Writes on the Firing of Margie Winters

dotCommonweal reader Jack Marth and members of the Waldron Mercy Academy parent community have highlighted a column in support of the school’s former religious instruction director Margie Winters, whose dismissal I wrote about last week. One of the co-authors of the piece is Mary Scullion—a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy and co-founder and executive director of Project H.O.M.E., an organization devoted to ending homelessness in Philadelphia. Scullion is well known both inside and outside the city, having received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 2011 and being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009. Joan McCannon—co-founder of Project H.O.M.E., fellow recipient of a Laetare Medal, and parent of a Waldron graduate—also lent her byline, as did philanthropist James J. Maguire, president of the Maguire Foundation. Scullion’s input on the firing comes as a welcome development to the parents I’ve been in touch with, many of whom had been hoping for her to comment.

From the column, which appeared yesterday on Philly.com:

The recent controversy at Waldron Mercy Academy brings to light that we are at a critical moment for the Catholic Church, and for all persons of faith and conscience in this country. It is a moment rife with pain and struggle, but also hope. ...

[W]e believe that the Church’s truest integrity is at risk when it emphasizes orthodoxy and doctrine without meaningful engagement with human and historic realities. We love the Church: We draw deeply from its rich traditions of spirituality, compassion, service, and justice. But we also recognize (and need to take responsibility for) our many historic blind spots—persecution of heretics, oppression of indigenous peoples in the name of “mission,” and second-class status for women.

While it is painful for us to have to publicly dissent, we are convinced that this is a moment when insistence on doctrinal adherence is clashing with what we believe the Spirit is unfolding in our history—just as it has in the past, with issues like slavery, the rights of women, and the environment. Many Christian denominations have listened to the movement of the Spirit and moved toward both full inclusion and full embrace of the gifts of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers.

The Church is at its best when it listens to the Spirit speaking in our times and through human experiences. As we listen, we hear the Spirit speaking through the testimony of hundreds of parents and former students, who affirm that Margie has been a marvelous teacher and influence. She has been a gift to the Church, nurturing the faith and morals of countless young people, fostering a spirit of mercy, compassion, and justice.We believe the controversy surrounding Margie Winters is the Spirit inviting us to reflect on Church doctrine that upholds the dignity of every person. ...

As we work through the pain and conflict, as we listen to each other, as we struggle to make sense of the power of tradition and the challenge of newness, we believe this can be a moment of hope and grace.

Mayors Gather at Vatican to Urge Climate Pact

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called it "an extraordinarily effective act" -- the Vatican's move to draw together 60 mayors from around the world to sign a statement today that "human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity." 

Of course, it's easy to be skeptical of the value of high-minded but non-binding statements like this one. But on a number of counts, it seems to be a very smart form of political engagement.

First of all, it's meant that Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si' is playing on the evening news once again in 60 cities, and then some. Second is that the national leaders who've been slow to respond to global warming are being circumvented with a pitch to big-city mayors , who have to deal up close with poverty and the extremes of weather that may be caused by climate change. And, depending on the country and region, the mayors do have local authority in such areas as transportation, local real estate development, taxes and so forth. The mayors can push their national governments to do more--and they gain some political cover by being able to portray themselves as carrying out the mission of  a popular pope. De Blasio, who is not affiliated with any religion, described Francis in his speech at the conference as "the highest moral authority." 

It's worth noting, as the Guardian did, that all of the U.S. mayors who participated--they included Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis; Ed Murray of Seattle; Edwin Lee from San Francisco; Mitch Landrieu from New Orleans and Boston's  Martin Walsh--were Democrats. "While some Republican mayors were invited to attend the function, a person familiar with the organisation of the conference said that none accepted," the Guardian reported.

Whether Francis's visit to the U.S. in September can help to encourage a consensus remains to be seen.

Kasich Enters the Race, Which Makes... How Many?

There are about 470 days left until the 2016 presidential election, almost as many as the number of candidates there are for the Republican nomination, a group that grows one larger today with the entrance of Ohio governor John Kasich. For a primer on Kasich--whose nickname in childhood was "Pope" and who once considered the priesthood--you could do worse than read E. J. Dionne Jr.'s latest column, which we're featuring here. He assesses Kasich mainly in contrast to another midwestern governor, Wisconsin's Scott Walker, contending that the former deserves a fuller hearing given, among other things, his support for the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion in his state--a case he made on moral grounds, "arguing that at heaven’s door, St. Peter is 'probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.'” Kasich, too, though undeniably a conservative, sensibly "recalibrated" after Ohio voters rejected his bid to end collective bargaining for public union employees, then reached out to "his previous enemies" so successfully he won the endorsement of the Carpenters' Union last year.
 
Just where this sensible approach will help him wedge into the clown car is questionable, especially with the manspreading Donald Trump taking up more than his fair share of space. Trump is at the top of the most recent polls at 24 percent, double the support of the second-place Jeb Bush, although most of the survey was taken before his comments denigrating Sen. John McCain's war record and imprisonment, and now the DesMoines Register has called for him to drop out. But Rush Limbaugh says Trump can survive it. Voters, he told his listeners Monday, "have not seen an embattled public figure stand up for himself, double down and tell everybody to go to hell ... Trump is not following the rules that targets are supposed to follow. Targets are supposed to immediately grovel, apologize." It's hard to think that there are American voters who are so disaffected that Limbaugh will prove right.
 
Donald Trump.... Is there another public figure aside from maybe Al Sharpton who has so conclusively disproved the adage that if you ignore something long enough it will go away? Nearly thirty years ago, in my first job out of college, my colleagues and I were already following his skewering by the old satirical magazine Spy--which unfailingly referred to him, at every mention, as "short-fingered vulgarian Donald Trump." I'll risk speaking on behalf of New Yorkers in saying we've been especially oppressed by his presence these many decades since.
 
Read more

Summer Reading

Maybe no scene from a television series speaks so perfectly to my life as this one from season two of Gilmore Girls:

Like Rory, I spend far too much time debating which books I should bring with me when I leave the house. And like Rory, I always decide that loading up is the safer option than winnowing down. Just last week, I went to the doctor’s office and, before leaving my apartment, convinced myself that I needed to bring a book of poetry (Marie Ponsot’s Springing), a work of nonfiction (Clifford Thompson’s Twin of Blackness), and a novel (Octavia Butler’s Dawn). Rationally, I know that this kind of overpacking is unnecessary, even neurotic; emotionally, I’m panicked if I’m not carrying a library with me.

(For the record, I didn’t end up reading any of the above books in my five minutes in the waiting room. I found another novel, Adam Thirlwell’s Lurid & Cute, in the car and read that instead.)

This tendency to overpack causes a real problem when I go away for vacation. If I need three books for a trip to the doctor, how many do I need for a week away from home? In the hopes of helping out others out who suffer from this very particular literary problem, I’ll list five books that I’ve read so far this year that would be worth the precious space in your suitcase:

Read more

What's in a Name?

David Brooks wrote recently in the Times about what he calls “The Robert E. Lee Problem.” The column assesses the implications of scrubbing symbols of the Confederacy from the South and elsewhere. By now the Confederate battle flag has come down from the South Carolina statehouse and elsewhere (I’m fascinated by the tipping-point dynamics of this move -- once Walmart gets on board, you know the thing is irreversible). But what about other symbols and figures that may bear a similarly odious taint?

Among the historical figures dear to the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee is paramount – and the map of the South is dotted with sites bearing his name. Brooks notes that Lee was, in his private life, a man of rectitude, intelligence and charm. Yet he joined the slave-owning insurgency, betrayed his oath of duty as an officer, owned nearly 200 slaves himself, and led the forces of a rebellion that triggered the deaths of 750,000 Americans. Should he come down, along with the Stars and Bars?

Brooks says yes. “Every generation has a duty to root out the stubborn weed of prejudice from the culture,” he writes. “We do that, in part, through expressions of admiration and disdain.” He goes on to recommend removing Lee’s name from “most schools, roads and other institutions.”

I lived for years in Germany, among places and institutions dedicated to opponents and victims of the Nazis – all those Bonhoeffer Platzes and Sophie-Schollstrassen, streets and schools named for the rejected and reviled, the murdered and the martyred. There were no Himmler Parks to be found anywhere. Nor would anyone expect there to be. When a country is vanquished, or a despised ruling power toppled, the transitions of memorialization are simple: the statues come down. In a civil war, the challenge can be more complicated – especially one, like ours, in which a high premium was placed on national political reconciliation, and certain core conflicts and resentments were never worked out. 

Read more