Yearly Archives: 2008

Weekly Review — December 31, 2008, 11:59 pm

Yearly Review

The United States marked the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. Over four million Iraqis had fled the country or been internally displaced, and the total cost of the war, currently about $650 billion, was expected to rise to $2 trillion over the next five years. Oil rose above $147 a barrel, and Abu Dhabi bought New York City’s Chrysler Building for $800 million. Somali pirates stole a Saudi supertanker. President George W. Bush announced that North Korea was no longer a state sponsor of terrorism. The CIA expanded its covert operations in Iran. Bozo the Clown died, as …

No Comment, Quotation — December 31, 2008, 5:22 pm

Rumi’s Parable of the Three Fish

This is the story of the lake and the three big fish that were in it, one of them intelligent, another half-intelligent, and the third, stupid. Some fishermen came to the edge of the lake with their nets. The three fish saw them. The intelligent fish decided at once to leave, to make the long, difficult trip to the ocean. He thought, “I won’t consult with these two on this. They will only weaken my resolve, because they love this place so. They call it home. Their ignorance will keep them here.” Read the rest… –Mawl?n? Jal?l-ad-D?n Muhammad R?m? (Rumi) …

No Comment — December 31, 2008, 1:51 pm

Fredo for the Defense

Times are tough for Alberto Gonzales. Once he figured near the top of the legal profession; he was widely mentioned as a Supreme Court nominee for Bush. David Broder, with characteristic vision, hailed him as a moderate who would restore the reputation of the Justice Department after the “radicalism” of John Ashcroft. Gonzales, the accepted wisdom held, would serve out his term as Bush’s second attorney general, and then would return to a law-firm partnership where he would take down a few million a year. After all, what law firm wouldn’t hire a former attorney general as a partner? Well, …

No Comment — December 31, 2008, 12:22 pm

The Argus-eyed University

We could hardly end 2008 without delivering a George Orwell Honorable Mention to the University of Alabama at Birmingham for its truly extraordinary “acceptable use” policy on employee Internet use. There’s nothing strange about the language of the policy–in fact it’s pedestrian (the Internet “may not be used for any activity which is destructive, disruptive, or illegal” it says). But how the university interprets and applies this prohibition might surprise an observer–unless, of course, the observer is attuned to the peculiarities of Alabama politics. Case in point: The university recently fired Roger Shuler, a long-time public relations employee who blogs …

Sentences, Six Questions — December 31, 2008, 8:37 am

A False Story: Six Questions for Ken Waltzer

In my previous post, I discussed Herman Rosenblat’s memoir An Angel at the Fence, which was revealed over the weekend as a deception. The discovery and exposure of that deceit comes thanks to the work of Ken Waltzer, a professor and director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University. Today, a conversation with Waltzer about Rosenblat’s memoir, memoir in general, and Waltzer’s book-in-progress about the children of Buchenwald. 1. How did Herman Rosenblat’s book reach your radar? In researching a book on children and youths at Buchenwald and its sub-camps, including the Schlieben camp, I interviewed many survivors who were …

Commentary — December 31, 2008, 8:36 am

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From: Jim Grobe Subject: “What Motivates the Torture Enablers?,” by Scott Horton, December 20, 2008 What got me, as a 30 year veteran of the US Navy, was when Rivkin commented that the the use of tough techniques in SERE training justifies the use of tough techniques and Alexander replied that SERE training and being an actual prisoner were two different things. For me this was the crux of the debate. When I joined the Navy in 1961 we were given lectures showing that we treat POWs in accordance with the Geneva Convention. In fact we were given Geneva Convention …

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It has become something of a commonplace to say that Mike Pence belongs to another era. He is a politician whom the New York Times has called a “throwback,” a “conservative proudly out of sync with his times,” and a “dangerous anachronism,” a man whose social policies and outspoken Christian faith are so redolent of the previous century’s culture wars that he appeared to have no future until, in the words of one journalist, he was plucked “off the political garbage heap” by Donald Trump and given new life. Pence’s rise to the vice presidency was not merely a personal advancement; it marked the return of religion and ideology to American politics at a time when the titles of political analyses were proclaiming the Twilight of Social Conservatism (2015) and the End of White Christian America (2016). It revealed the furious persistence of the religious right, an entity whose final demise was for so long considered imminent that even as white evangelicals came out in droves to support the Trump-Pence ticket, their enthusiasm was dismissed, in the Washington Post, as the movement’s “last spastic breath.”

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Just after dawn in Lhamo, a small town on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau, horns summon the monks of Serti Monastery to prayer. Juniper incense smolders in the temple’s courtyard as monks begin arriving in huddled groups. Some walk the kora, a clockwise circumambulation around the building. Others hustle toward the main door, which sits just inside a porch decorated in bright thangka paintings. A pile of fur boots accumulates outside. When the last monks have arrived, the horn blowers leaning out of the second-floor windows retire indoors.

When I visited Lhamo in 2015, most monks at Serti attended the morning prayers, but not Ngawang Chötar, the vice president of the monastery’s management committee, or siguanhui. Instead, he could usually be found doing business somewhere on Lhamo’s main street. Like all Tibetan monks, he sports a buzz cut, and his gait, weighed down by dark crimson robes, resembles a penguin’s shuffle. When he forgets the password to his account on WeChat, China’s popular messaging service—a frequent occurrence—he waits for the town’s cell phone repairman at his favorite restaurant, piling the shells of sunflower seeds into a tidy mound.

Illustration by Simon Pemberton
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As he approached his death in 1987, the photographer Peter Hujar was all but unknown, with a murky reputation and a tiny, if elite, cult following. Slowly circling down what was then the hopeless spiral of ­AIDS, Peter had ceaselessly debated one decision, which he reached only with difficulty, and only when the end drew near. He was in a hospital bed when he made his will that summer, naming me the executor of his entire artistic estate—and also its sole owner.

The move transformed my life and induced a seething fury in lots of decent people. I can see why. Peter did not make me his heir for any of the usual reasons. I was a good and trusted friend, but he had scads of those. I was not the first person he considered for the job, nor was I the most qualified. In fact, I was a rank amateur, and my understanding of his art was limited. I knew his photographs were stunning, often upsetting, unpredictably beautiful, distinctively his. I also knew they were under­rated and neglected. But I did not then really grasp his achievement.

Photograph by Peter Hujar
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The friendly waitress at the Pretty Prairie Steak House delivers tumblers of tap water as soon as diners take their seats. Across Main Street, the Wagon Wheel Café offers the same courtesy. Customers may also order coffee or iced tea, but it all starts at the same tap, and everyone is fine with that. This blasé attitude about drinking water surprised me: everyone in this little farm town in Reno County, Kansas, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the liquid flowing from the municipal water tower was highly contaminated with nitrate, a chemical compound derived from fertilizer and connected to thyroid problems and various cancers. At the time I visited Pretty Prairie, last fall, nitrate levels there were more than double the federal standard for safe drinking water.

Illustration by Jen Renninger.
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Nothing But·

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The truth—that thing I thought I was telling.—John Ashbery To start with the facts: the chapter in my book White Sands called “Pilgrimage” is about a visit to the house where the philosopher Theodor Adorno lived in Los Angeles during the Second World War. It takes its title from the story of that name by Susan Sontag (recently republished in Debriefing: Collected Stories) about a visit she and her friend Merrill made to the house of Adorno’s fellow German exile Thomas Mann in the Pacific Palisades, in 1947, when she was fourteen. It seemed strange that the story was originally …
Photograph by Augusta Wood

Percentage of US college students who have a better opinion of conservatives after their first year:

50

Plastic surgeons warned that people misled by wide-angle distortion in selfies were seeking nose jobs.

Trump fires missiles at Syria, a former FBI director likens Trump to a Mafia boss, and New Yorkers mistake a racoon for a tiger.

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"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

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