Monthly Archives: June 2009

Links — June 30, 2009, 4:52 pm

Links

As newspapers and magazines shrink and shutter their book review sections, one could easily fret that with them will go that other great literary institution: the author-critic feud. Fortunately, as Alice Hoffman’s weekend meltdown suggests, the form is still thriving — in 140-character nuggets. Smarting from a so-so review of The Story Sisters in the Boston Globe, the prolific novelist tweeted her fury to the world. She came out swinging, calling reviewer Roberta Silman “a moron,” quickly moving on to “idiot,” then expanding her repertoire to dis the newspaper and the city of Boston itself. But the real jaw-dropper in …

Washington Babylon — June 30, 2009, 3:52 pm

Coleman Concedes: The good news and the bad news

From the New York Times: Nearly eight months after Election Day, Al Franken, a former comedian and an author, appeared certain on Tuesday to become the next United States senator from Minnesota, giving the Democratic Party at least symbolic control over Senate filibusters. Outside his St. Paul home, the incumbent, Norm Coleman, a Republican who had held the seat for one term, conceded the election to Mr. Franken, bringing an end to a lengthy battle that had resulted in thousands of pages of legal documents, cost tens of thousands of dollars, and had left many ordinary Minnesotans weary. Mr. Coleman’s …

Washington Babylon — June 30, 2009, 3:50 pm

Clinton’s Latest Boner: Ex-president poses with dictator’s daughter

Two trusted sources have sent me a picture of former President Bill Clinton posing for the camera with a woman who the sources say is Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the dictator of Uzbekistan, one of the world’s worst regimes. The picture is undated but was clearly taken recently. I haven’t published it because I don’t know who owns the rights, but I have compared it with photographs of Gulnara on the web and it certainly appears to be her. Gulnara is not your run-of-the-mill dictator’s daughter. She may succeed her father as head of Uzbekistan and she has been implicated …

Washington Babylon — June 30, 2009, 9:41 am

The Evil of Sam Zell

I used to work at the Los Angeles Times and still read it online regularly, although I rarely see a hard copy. I was just in Los Angeles for a week and was surprised to see that — despite Sam Zell’s best efforts to destroy it — it’s still an exceedingly good newspaper. There were strong stories every day I checked, especially this piece by Mike Anton about agricultural workers in the Coachella Valley, and this story by Greg Miller about soon-to-retire CIA lawyer John Rizzo (“John was kind of the legal enabler of the agency,” said a senior CIA …

Washington Babylon — June 30, 2009, 9:35 am

I hate the U.S. (Soccer Team)

Americans almost always interpret international sports victories as demonstrations of national superiority, so it was wonderful to watch the U.S. soccer team’s massive choke in the Confederation Cup final against Brazil. Ahead 2-0 at the half, the Americans watched helplessly as Brazil scored three goals in the second half to win. (Actually four, but the referee blew a call and failed to credit what I, watching the game on television, could see was an obvious goal by Kaka.) All the hype in American newspapers about the national team’s second place finish obscures the fact that the U.S. team is mediocre …

Washington Babylon — June 30, 2009, 9:24 am

Snack Attack: Industry lobbies on junk food

From the Wall Street Journal: The food and beverage industries are coming around to support some efforts in Washington to limit the sale of junk food in school vending machines, the Washington Post suggests. There are a few reasons for the shift. For one thing, many companies now have divisions that could profit from a shift to healthier foods. Coca-Cola, for example, might not mind so much if kids drank less Coke— as long as they switched to Dasani water, another Coca-Cola product. What’s more, as states look to fight childhood obesity, they’re considering taking matters into their own hands …

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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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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:

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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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