Whom we mourn

May Ethan Schmidt and Amy Prentiss, who were shot to death yesterday in Cleveland, Mississippi, rest in peace, and may those who love them commemorate their lives by living as fully as possible.

Ethan Schmidt, a professor at Delta State University, was killed in his office; Amy Prentiss was killed at home.  As a “school shooting,” Ethan Schmidt’s death dominated US cable news for several hours, and led to massive law enforcement activity on and around the campus of Delta State.

That coverage and law enforcement activity led me to think about social class. What if Ethan Schmidt had been killed at his workplace, not as the professor he was, but as the liquor store clerk he might have been?  Would MSNBC, CNN, and Fox have given the event saturation coverage?  Would dozens of square miles have been subjected to a virtual state of martial law, with multiple local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies on site, until progress was made in the case?  Or would the whole thing have been unlikely to make the front page even of the local paper in Cleveland more than twice, and would the one police officer assigned to investigate the case have faced a challenge trying to get the resources necessary to conduct a proper investigation?

I think of a friend of mine who for some time had two part-time jobs.  He taught a couple of French classes in the same university where I teach. He also worked as the night clerk at a liquor store. Had he been (God forbid!) shot in his office at the university, no doubt it would have provoked the same massive response from the media and law enforcement that followed the death of Ethan Schmidt.  Had he been (God forbid!) shot at the counter in the liquor store, perhaps there would eventually have been some kind of news story about his distinguished record as a teacher on several continents, but for him in his capacity as a liquor store clerk, surely there would have been the same underwhelming response that usually greets crimes against people in that line of work.

May all liquor store clerks killed at work rest in peace, and may those those who love them commemorate their lives by living as fully as possible.

A sensible emptiness

Ever since Alexander Cockburn died in July, Counterpunch, the newsletter he founded and co-edited, has tended to let in more and more academic leftism.  Where a pungent, demotic style once prevailed, the pedantic jargon of reheated Marxism now roams wild.

Despite this sad falling-off, Counterpunch still carries news and comment worth reading.  I’d mention a piece that appeared today on Counterpunch’s website, “Atheism and the Class Problem,” by David Hoelscher.   True, it exhibits several academic vices that would never have survived Cockburn’s blue pencil, but it’s well worth reading nonetheless.

Here’s an interesting paragraph from Mr Hoelscher’s piece:

It is too often overlooked that economics is inextricably mixed up with religion. David Eller, an atheist and anthropologist, helpfully reminds us that the realistic view on this point is the holistic perspective. It sees religion as a component of culture, and as such “integrated” with and “interdependent” on all the other “aspect[s] of culture—its economic system, its kinship practices, its politics, its language, its gender roles, and so on.” It was not for nothing that Max Weber insisted that, in the words of Joel Schalit “the economic order is a reflection of the religious order.” It is no accident, then, that in the face of massive public debt and a wretchedly inadequate social safety net, various levels of ostensibly secular government in the U.S. grant 71 billion dollars in subsidies annually to religious organizations (as calculated by Professor Ryan T. Cragun and his students Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega.)

That sounds a bit like Irving Babbitt, who started his 1924 book Democracy and Leadership thus:

According to Mr. Lloyd George, the future will be even more exclusively taken up than is the present with the economic problem, especially with the re­lations between capital and labor. In that case, one is tempted to reply, the future will be very superficial. When studied with any degree of thorough­ness, the economic problem will be found to run into the politi­cal problem, the political prob­lem in turn into the philosophi­cal problem, and the philosophi­cal problem itself to be almost indissolubly bound up at last with the religious problem.

Of course, Babbitt’s point was the opposite of Mr Hoelscher’s.  For Babbitt, the most important questions were ethical questions, and the most important function of a social system was the formation of moral character.  Some virtues are best cultivated in conditions of prosperity; for that reason, Babbitt is prepared to grant that economics is worthy of some concern.  For Mr Hoelscher, however, economic inequality is the greatest of evils, and religious institutions are among the forces that sustain that evil.

I’d like to quote another bit of Mr Hoelscher’s, this one consisting of two rather long paragraphs:

Take for instance Noam Chomsky. The New Atheist message, he once told an interviewer, “is old hat, and irrelevant, at least for those whose religious affiliations are a way of finding some sort of community and mutual support in an atomized society lacking social bonds.” If “it is to be even minimally serious” he continued, “the ‘new atheism’ should focus its concerns on the virulent secular religions of state worship” such as capitalism, imperialism and militarism. Shortly after the death of New Atheist polemicist Christopher Hitchens in December 2011, Chomsky’s longtime friend, radical scholar Norman Finkelstein, derided Hitchens’ anti-theist provocateuring as “pissing on other people’s mostly innocuous beliefs.” (emphasis mine) Brothers and doctoral psychology students Ben and Bo Winegard, in an erudite article effusively praising Chomsky, argue that the so-called New Atheists are directing their prodigious intellectual firepower at the wrong target. They believe, correctly in my view, that today in the U.S. “The most potent mythology [“even among believers”] is neoliberal nationalism and the most powerful institution is the corporation.” The church, they assert “is no longer an inordinately powerful institution” and thus the New Atheists have “mistakenly dragged a 200 year old corpse into the modern world.”

But religion as a cultural force is not nearly as moribund as the Winegards suggest. Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center released its latest survey of religious belief, which found that 80 percent of American adults “said they never doubt the existence of God.” How is that possible if religion is so weak? Diane Arellano, program coordinator for the Women’s Leadership Project in Los Angeles (and former student of Sikivu Hutchinson), writes compellingly about how most of the African American and Latina students she works with “come from highly religious backgrounds that discourage any form of questioning about gender roles” and about how it is not particularly unusual for her to learn of a pregnant teen who eschews the option of abortion “because she can’t ‘kill’ God’s creation.” On the political front, Christian “conservatives” are largely devoted to the fascist Republican Party while most liberal religionists are devoted to the plutocratic Democratic Party. In his perceptive book What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, Thomas Frank offers a convincing explanation for why large numbers of poor and working class people vote Republican and therefore against their own economic self-interest. The basic dynamic is that right-wing political leaders and spokespeople succeed in achieving a “systematic erasure of the economic” from discussions about class and replace it with messages that warn of liberal “elites” bent on undermining mid-American Christian cultural values. Frank’s argument is not a comprehensive explanation for the success of radical corporatism across a wide swath of the country—other important factors, including moral rot inside the Democratic Party, widespread anti-intellectualism (itself in large part an effect of religion), and the sophistication of state propaganda are a large part of the mix as well—but it does capture a substantial part of our political reality.

How is it possible that 80 percent of American adults claim never to doubt the existence of God if religion is so weak?  I can think of an explanation.  In the USA, participation in religious groups has been declining steadily for forty years; for much of that time, so much publicity was given to the growth of the fundamentalist Christian groups that many people seemed not to notice that the mainline Protestant churches were losing more followers than those groups were gaining.  Now the fundamentalists are declining too, and the mainline is still shrinking.  This is not because some atheist campaign has persuaded millions to deny the existence of God; if anything, larger majorities now express agreement with theistic statements than did back in the early 1970s, when over 60% of Americans attended church on a weekly basis.  There is no paradox here; it is easy to say the words that go along with an orthodox belief if you know that no one will ever expect you to adjust your behavior to exemplify that belief.  Mr Hoelscher makes much of the fact that the poor are likelier to say that they hold conservative religious beliefs than are the rich; a fact he does not mention is that the likelihood that a person will participate in a religious group generally varies in direct proportion with that person’s income.  Again, it’s easy to say that you’re orthodox if there’s no one around to hold you to it.

T. C. Frank’s phrase, “systematic erasure of the economic,” got me thinking.  It certainly is true that political discourse in the USA is strangely disengaged from economics and class realities.  I’d say it’s giving the right-wing too much credit to say that they are solely responsible for emptying politics of any direct expression of these concerns.  The various left wings that have come and gone throughout American history have succeeded in convincing virtually everyone in the USA that class divisions are a very bad thing, and that their existence is a reproach to society.  Since the liquidation of class divisions does not seem to be an imminent prospect, that leaves Americans with few options beside denialism and despair.  Among those who are interested, not so much in liquidating all class distinctions, but in countering the worst effects of them and building a sustainable social compact, there might be considerable social activism, as there was in the mid-twentieth century when organized labor was a power on the land.  But those days are past.  Unions are marginal players in American politics today, and nothing has grown up to take their place.  As Mr Hoelscher notes, the Democratic Party and other institutions that are supposed to be vehicles of the center-right are as silent about class division as are their counterparts on the right, and offer the public no means to resist the demands of the super-rich.  Where we might expect conflict, we find a strange absence.

As much as American life has emptied politics of challenges to the power of the financial oligarchy, so too has it emptied religion of challenges to individual moral character.  Theology, doctrine, and myth still waft about in people’s speech and in their minds.  These abstractions are surely the least valuable parts of any religious tradition.  Absent the human connections sustained by common worship, absent the presence of admirable people whose good examples can form the character of those around them, absent the sense of purpose that comes from the feeling that one is a participant in a vast multigenerational enterprise upon which inconceivably important matters depend, it is difficult to see what can come of theology, doctrine, and myth except conflict and needless confusion.  That’s what brought Richard Wilbur’s “A World Without Objects is a Sensible Emptiness” to my mind; in that poem, its title a quote from mystic Thomas Traherne, Mr Wilbur rejects the idea of a placeless sanctity, of a spirit that lives in isolation from the flesh.  It is “the steam of beasts” that is “the spirit’s right oasis,” not the “land of sheer horizon” where “prosperous islands” “shimmer on the brink of absence.”  American life has become too much a matter of absences, its politics a contest of absences, its religion an organized absence, its art a proclamation of eternal, everlasting absence.  It’s high time we turn to presence again.

The Nation, 23 March 2009

Photographer Walker Evans collected picture postcards, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is exhibiting them.  Here’s one:


Evidently Calvin Trillin reads Los Thunderlads.  Here’s the first half of this week’s doggerel:

Republicans had hoped they might rekindle
Their party’s prospects through one Bobby Jindal.
But Jindal proved an easy man to mock
(He’s like the dorky page on 30 Rock).

Below find an excerpt from an article headlined “America is #… 15?” by Dalton Conley.  23-march-2009-nationThe article is about the Human Development Index, or HDI, a statistic that has since 1990 been used to gauge the relative well-being of people in various countries.  The American HDI was released for the first time last year.  As the article puts it, “The score consists of three dimensions: health, as measured by life expectancy at birth; access to knowledge, captured by educational enrollment and attainment; and income, as reflected by median earnings for the working-age population.”  The HDI was first developed by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq to enable humanitarian aid groups and development economists to gauge the relative well-being of people in poor countries.  “With some slight adjustments, the index was retrofitted to work for rich countries,” and the results for the USA are quite disturbing. 


Sad news for ViewMaster fans




News in the latest email from Las Vegas’ 3D Stereo Store:

View-Master Closing:
On a sad note, Mattel/Fisher-Price has announced the permanent closing of the Custom/Commercial/Scenic View-Master division of View-Master. Scenic reels and the Classic Model L will cease to exist. All of the special special 3 Reel sets such as Old TIme Cars, and the on-location ones such as Grand Canyon will no longer be produced.  No more commercial Reels either.

The economic downturn and Mattel/Fisher-Price’s association with China has claimed another victim.  And even though, at least, executive salaries and bonuses will be saved by pending layoffs in excess of a thousand U.S. workers, an era that lasted almost seven decades comes to an end.

Children’s titles produced with Wal-Mart’s approval are planned to be continued for the present.

What’s to be done?  I don’t know.  It sounds like a done deal.  

Stereoscopy in general and Viewmaster in particular have a great deal to offer adults.  To peer into the viewer and tease out 3D effects is a meditative exercise.  Not only is it an extremely relaxing use of a few minutes, it also trains the eye to take a more attentive look at the world.   Trade with China, disparity between workers’ wages and executive compensation, the recession, the power of Walmart, etc, all play into the decline of the medium, but the root cause is something deeper.  The people in charge of corporations like Mattel just don’t believe that American adults are interested in sitting still and using their minds.  They may be right.  But if they are, it becomes a vicious circle.  Loud entertainment systems that allow their users to be passive sell quite well, so capital devotes all its resources to promoting loud entertainment systems that allow their users to be passive.  After a while, we as a society forget the use of quietness, the value of stillness, the importance of simplicity. 


The Nation, 1 December 2008

Nick Turse looks into American forces’ conduct of the war in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta in the period from 1 December 1968 to 1 April 1969.  Turse concludes that the facts were much worse than has generally been known in the USA.  Civilians were targeted more systematically than has been acknowledged, more of them were killed than has been acknowledged, and a coverup of the some of the worst atrocities continued for decades.  Turse quotes a contemporary letter signed “Concerned Sergeant.”  The otherwise anonymous soldier denounced the operations to which he was attached and estimated that the rate at which unarmed civilians were being killed amounted to “a My Lai a month.” 

Ever since Studs Terkel died, The Nation has been memorializing him.  In this issue, his editor, Andre Schiffrin, remembers their attempt to put together an oral history on the topic of power.  The project failed because none of their prospective subjects would even admit that he held power, let alone give insight into what it was like to use it.  That’s hardly surprising when Schiffrin describes the key to Terkel’s work.  His subjects talked to him, Schiffrin explains, because “he approached people with utter respect.  Those he talked to immediately felt this and poured their hearts out.”  Powerful people usually seem to expect to be approached with utter respect, if not indeed with abject servility.  That so many people from so many backgrounds found it a shock to be approached with respect is a sad commentary on our society. 

Hoosiers and others marveling at the fact that Indiana voted for Obama will enjoy Mark Hertsgaard’s piece about Luke Lefever, a plumber (a real one!) who volunteered for the Obama campaign in Elkhart. 

Siddhartha Deb reviews several novels by Elias Khoury.  At first, Deb praises the “fragmented” style of Khoury’s work as suitable to his native Lebanon, but at the end he suggests that the time may have come for a smoother style of writing and, apparently, a more settled view of Lebanese identity.

This brings us to Barry Schwabsky’s review of Art Worlds by Howard S. Becker and Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton.   Becker’s newly reprinted 1982 book is a sociological study of various milieux from which products came that could be called “art,” while Thornton, also a sociologist, spent her time in “an art world that claims the right to call itself the art world.”  Schwabsky puts the question:

In the sociologist’s art world, hierarchies, rankings, and orders of distinction proliferate.  Status and reputation are all, and questions about them abound.  Why does the seemingly kitschy work of Jeff Koons hang in great museums around the world while the equally cheesy paintings of Thomas Kinkade would never be considered?… How do conflicting views on the value of different kinds of artworks jell into a rough and shifting consensus about the boundaries of what will be considered art in the first place?

That’s quite a weighty question.  As for the Koons/ Kinkade riddle, my suspicion is that perspective drawing and the rest of the conventional skills of representational art are not really all that difficult to master.  Some years ago I read an essay by Eric Gill called “Art in Education: Abolish Art and Teach Drawing,” in which he argued that given a chance virtually any child could and would learn these techniques.  I haven’t seen any scientific work testing this hypothesis, but it doesn’t seem fantastic to me to think that if all children were introduced to art in the same way that, let’s say, Thomas Kinkade was, that some large percentage of the population would grow up to paint pictures very much like his.  If that is so, then the problem with Kinkade isn’t that he’s cheesy, but just that they are nothing special.  If a collector wants to attain a high rank, s/he can hardly buy paintings that may be very pleasant but that could be equalled by, let’s say, a third of the adult population. 


This June’s Issues of The Nation

It’s been a few months since any “Periodicals Notes” have gone up here about The Nation.  In part that’s because it’s so topical that there aren’t many articles in each issue that I think I’ll want to have notes about, in part because I’ve been busy and have been slacking on “Periodicals Notes” generally, and in part because it comes out every week, so that as soon as I’m done reading one issue another shows up.  Anyway, here are a few notes about recent issues.

2 June- A lot of presidential campaign coverage, an essay about Nick Cave’s career and his latest album, and a review of a book about the game Second Life.

9 June- The Spring books issue.  Michael Massing voices reservations about Samantha Power’s biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, concluding that the books shortcomings might be due to the difficulty Power faces in transitioning from “an independent critic working outside the system to being a high-profile figure operating within it.”  Massing never sees fit to mention that Power was a propagandist for “humanitarian intervention” long before she joined the Obama campaign.  This omission especially compromises Massing’s ability to analyze Power’s treatment of the Balkan wars of the 90’s.  For example, “Power’s chapter on Vieira de Mello’s time in Bosnia (which is based on her own eyewitness research) is devastating, and after reading it I fully expected her to draw the obvious conclusion- that his vaunted pragmatism too often degenerated into simple amorality.  But this she refuses to do.”  Because, Massing suggests, Power’s feelings just won’t let her stop “clinging to her image of him as an exemplar of democracy and multilateralism.”  Consider Power’s role in the mid-90’s as a cheerleader for the war party, and a far less innocent explanation for her resistance to fact and her rosy account of Vieira de Mello’s antics begins to emerge.  The West’s anti-Serb policy in those years was “simple amorality” from the beginning- there was no lofty height of idealism from which it could have degenerated.  

16 June- HBO’s John Adams miniseries was based on David McCullough’s biography of Adams, a book which The Nation gave to Daniel Lazare to slam for its whitewashing of Adams’ genuinely catastrophic presidency.  Unfortunately, Lazare didn’t get to review the TV show.  They gave that job to Nicholas Guyatt, who takes a much more sedate appriach.  Fatema Ahmed reviews two reissued novels by 30’s literary cult figure Patrick Hamilton, whose work leads her to say that “Neglected writers are often overestimated in rediscovery.”  Movie reviewer Stuart Klawans pans some summer blockbusters, then praises Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin’s Auf der anderen Seite (called here The Edge of Heaven) for its anarchic moments and Canadian Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg because it “refutes the conventional wisdom that other people’s dreams are always boring.”

23 June- Reviewing Jacob Heilbrunn’s They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, Bruce Schulman and Julian Zelizer’s Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970’s, and a reissue of Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative, Corey Robin writes “Conservatives have asked us not to obey them but to feel sorry for them- or to obey them because we feel sorry for them.”  Barry Schwabsky reviews the touring exhibition “Jess: To and From the Printed Page,” arguing that the exhibition’s insistent historicism goes too far and obscures the whimsy that gives that collagist his real worth. 

30 June- “A Special Issue: The New Inequality.”  The highlight is “Ending Plutocracy: A 12-Step Program,” by Sarah Anderson and Sam Pizzigati.  The 12 steps are written as a tribute to Alcoholics Anonymous-style programs and a suggestion that the USA is not only saddled with plutocracy, but addicted to it.  About 20 policy prescriptions appear under these 12 steps.  Most of those policies have been proposed in Congress in the last few years, and the rest have been proposed in state legislatures.  It’s rather an upbeat article, suggesting that something can be done about our #1 problem and that there are at least a few people in positions of power who would like to do it.

Chronicles, April 2008

One of the preoccupations of this ultra-ultra-right wing publication is the value of distinctions among people- class distinctions, ethnic distinctions, gender distinctions, etc.  Most of its contributors are firmly convinced that the great trouble with the current age is that such distinctions are being elided.  They say that what they dread is not equality- that what will come when all the old distinctions are destroyed or concealed is not an egalitarian society, but its opposite.  The new elite will rule brutally, while the ruled will be atomized, unable to form bonds of solidarity among themselves. 

Several pieces in the current issue explore this worry.  Editor Thomas Fleming writes the obituary of the bourgeoisie: “The old bourgeoisie is as dead as the old aristocracy.  The two classes, at least in America, have merged into a single type.”  With them has perished the citizen who feels himself to have a stake of ownership in the state, and so too have perished the republican virtues that made free government possible.  Historian John Lukacs laments “The End of the American Middle Class,” finding that only a tiny number of Americans truly own any property.  Most of those who claim to be owners really hold only an abstraction, and that on the sufferance of the bank.  As a result, “We now live in a largely classless society.  Not unforeseeable is the emergence of a new kind of ruling class- but who, and how, and when, no one can tell.”  James O. Tate’s “Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used to Be: Arriving at Indistinction” traces the idea that “the flattening out of all distinctions would put an end to war” through various twentieth century American novelists.  Scott Richert analyzes the consequences of current trade policy on our future class structure, concluding that “we can see the ranks of the underclass swelling, while the new-new rich drive the transformation.”    

Some of the magazine’s other preoccupations crop up, too.  Its “neoconfederate” streak shows up in an extremely hostile item about Abraham Lincoln’s refusal to negotiate with secessionists in the period from November 1860- April 1861.  Christie Davies writes about the horrors that her native Britain is supposedly suffering as the result of allowing large-scale immigration from Muslim countries.  Lefalcon’s idol Srdja Trifkovic documents both the uses to which secessionist movements around the world have put the USA’s recognition of Kosovo’s declaration of “independence” and the distrust that recognition has inspired in American allies who face secessionist movements of their own.  In particular he calls attention to intense unease in India, where public opinion fears that the USA will try to win favor with Pakistan by recognizing a similar declaration in Kashmir.  A review of three movies dealing with abortion (including the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, reviewed favorably in the Nation a few weeks back) is dominated by horror and indignation at the procedure.  The critic praises 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, because the filmmaker’s prochoice views are overpowered by graphic scenes near the end.

The Nation, 31 March 2008

Alex Cockburn’s column treats the NY Governor prostitution scandal, characterizing Spitzer’s behavior as “various rendezvous with consenting adults.”  I suppose I should familiarize myself with scholarship like that of somebody’s mother, but it strikes me that this phrase doesn’t capture what goes on with prostitution- mutual consent means that both parties consent to the same thing.  When men like Spitzer consent to a sex act, women like “Kristen” consent to sleeping indoors, having enough to eat, and not being so badly beaten by their pimps that they need reconstructive surgery to breathe.   

An editorial points out that it used to be routine in the USA for botched elections to be redone.  Several articles document the economic cost of the Iraq war, both in terms of lost wealth and of increased income inequality.  Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky collect statements powerful Washington types made in 2002-2004 predicting that the Iraq War would pay for itself. 

 Three reviews treat the work of Chilean writer Roberto Bolano.  Carmen Bullosa analyzes the assemblage of pseudo-biographical vignettes known as Nazi Literature in the Americas; Marcela Valdes surveys Bolano’s life and work; and Forrest Gander tries to decide which of Bolano’s works is best.  Catching my attention, Valdes quotes Nicanor Parra’s remark:

The four great poets of Chile

Are three

Alonso de Ercilla and Ruben Dario.

While Gander mentions that “Bolano considered Tres (Three), a book of poems published in 2000, to be ‘one of my two best works.'”  So the two best works of Bolano/ Are one/ Three.

Chronicles (four issues)

My subscription to this ultra-ultra conservative publication ran out a couple of years ago, but they keep sending it to me nonetheless.  I suppose they really mean it when they say they believe in tradition. 

November 2007: Gregory McNamee remembers his friend Edward Abbey, alternately acknowledging his faults (“Was he a racist?  Undoubtedly, at least after a fashion”), even praising him for what others might regard as faults (the fact that Abbey “never bothered himself with developing a coherent politics apart from that most old-school of tenets: The individual trumps the collectivity, the collectivity is always suspect, freedom is the sine qua non of existence, the world is a fine place and worth fighting for.”)  Lefalcon’s idol Srdja Trifkovic compares the current phase of the US occupation of Iraq to the USSR’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Ted Galen Carpenter analyzes likely consequences of Kosovo’s “independence,” bringing up the six members of the Kosovo Liberation Army caught planning to attack Fort Dix. 

January 2008: Clyde Wilson looks at what it would mean if the USA were indeed a “Proposition Nation” as some like to say, finding that the consequences of such a belief are quite brutal; Kirkpatrick Sale argues that the time has come for the states to secede from the USA; Sale and Tobias Lanz sympathetically review books propounding a new agrarian vision; and Srdja Trifkovic finds the American Empire compromised, even paralyzed, on every front, and concludes that the best thing for the USA would be for this paralysis to continue indefinitely.

February 2008: Leon Hadar looks at calls for Washington to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and finds “Another Middle East Fantasy.”  “America’s role as facilitator of a potential peace accord [can] only be achieved if and when the Israelis and Palestinians reach the conclusion that the costs of continuing to fight have become so high that they require agonizing compromises over Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, and the Israeli settlements.”  For all its influence, the American government is in no position to create a situation from which this cost-benefit anaysis would flow.  A recent case of “Honor Killing” in Canada, coupled with the Canadian establishment’s panicked attempts to prevent public discussion of the case, prompts a brief note calling for “more open debate in Canada” about immigration policy.  Chronicles editor (and classics PhD) Thomas Fleming discusses neoconservative ideas about domesticating Islam and taming Muslims, finding these ideas to be delusions that have issued in disaster, most recently in Kosovo’s “independence.”  Gregory McNamee provides a miniature biography of Billy the Kid, a surprisingly fresh and informative little sketch.  Roger D. McGrath writes about his favorite western movies, Clay Reynolds about his least-favorite specimens of the same genre.  Taki Theodoracopulos tells a story about an English judge who fined him the equivalent of $400,000 for the offense of explaining the origins of some words derived from Greek.  John Willson reviews a favoriable biography of Senator Joe McCarthy, adding hgis own fervent commendation.  Andrei Navrozov explains his multiple marriages by quoting an alleged Russian proverb to the effect that a man should marry three times- the first time for no reason, the second time for love, the third for love.  And Srdja Trifkovic finds in Kosovo’s “independence” a catastrophe of global dimensions.   

March 2008: Gregory McNamee discusses the immiseration of the average Mexican over the last few decades, connecting it to the mass migration of her citizens northward.  McNamee argues that this migration is not only a result of Mexico’s declining standard of living, but in several ways a cause of it.  William Lutz reports on educational controversies in Texas.  Taki provides his usual story of boozy life among the jet set, then tacks on some chilling facts about Kosovo.  A review of Chilton Williamson’s Immigration and the American Future focuses on ways in which mass migration of unskilled workers increases economic inequality.  A review of a biography of Dick Cheney appears under the headline “A Self-Made (Mad)Man.”  And Joseph E. Fallon points out the similarities between the ongoing massacres in the Sudanese region of Darfur and the Ethiopian region of Ogaden.  “Why the outrage over Darfur, but not over Ogaden?  There are three reasons: Islam, oil, and China.”

The Atlantic Monthly, October 2007

For some time I’ve been thinking I ought to take notes when I read magazines.  Not very extensive or systematic notes, just a few jottings of things I might want to remember.   To motivate myself to start doing this, I’ve decided to post these jottings on the blog.  Here’s are my notes on the current issue of THE ATLANTIC.

In a review of C L R James’ BEYOND A BOUNDARY, Joseph O’Neill laments the decline of American cricket since the brief period in the 1760’s when the sport was popular here.  He argues, apparently in earnest, that James’ book is so good that it justifies the lifetime of cricket fandom necessary to appreciate it. 

 Clive Crook notes that several prominent economists have in recent years suggested that globalization might not be the road to paradise and assures us that this is because they are growing senile.  “No empirical work even comes close to supporting the claim that globalization is failing to benefit America in the aggregate.”  Crook does not ask how those benefits have been distributed among Americans, let alone whether globalization will create new forms of inequality and what those new forms of inequality might mean for our society and politics.  For me, these are the essential questions about trade policy. 

Vthunderlad might be interested in Graeme Wood’s “Riders on the Storm,” an article about new technological developments that promise to give us a degree of control over the weather.  Christopher Hitchens’ nasty review of Philip Roth’s latest novel will bring a chortle to any right-wing antiwar types  who are so uncharitable as to enjoy the spectacle of two well-known left-wing hawks at each others’ throats.  And the “Word Fugitive” column’s canvass for words that would mean ” that happy feeling of kinship one feels for a car of the same make and model as one’s own” (the winner is “”badgeraderie”) and “that guy (or girl) who, once he starts dating someone new, abandons all of his friends” (they choose “hiberdater.”)

The cover story is about rich guys like Bill Clinton who try to take control of people and groups to whom they donate money.  Of course, the magazine is owned by David Bradley, who is just such a guy, so they present this as a good thing.  It’s the “new philanthropy”!  Other feature stories deal with “social investing,” the evolution of altruistic behavior, and the future of Pakistan.