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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Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, “and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve. Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide. On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise. Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews. The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs — and with those who share them. The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.

Yet we know that people do change their minds. We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. In the essays that follow, seven writers explore the ways that persuasion operates in our lives, from the intimate to the far-reaching. Some consider the ethics and mechanics of persuasion itself — in religion, politics, and foreign policy — and others turn their attention to the channels through which it acts, such as music, protest, and technology. How, they ask, can we persuade others to join our cause or see things the way we do? And when it comes to our own openness to change, how do we decide when to compromise and when to resist?

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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On a balmy day last spring, Connor Chase sat on a red couch in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Columbus, Ohio, and watched the traffic on the street. His bleached-blond hair fell into his eyes as he scrolled through his phone to distract himself. Waiting to see Mimi Rivard, a nurse practitioner, was making Chase nervous: it would be the first time he would tell a medical professional that he was transgender.

By the time he arrived at the Equitas Health clinic, Chase was eighteen, and had long since come to dread doctors and hospitals. As a child, he’d had asthma, migraines, two surgeries for a tumor that had caused deafness in one ear, and gangrene from an infected bug bite. Doctors had always assumed he was a girl. After puberty, Chase said, he avoided looking in the mirror because his chest and hips “didn’t feel like my body.” He liked it when strangers saw him as male, but his voice was high-pitched, so he rarely spoke in public. Then, when Chase was fourteen, he watched a video on YouTube in which a twentysomething trans man described taking testosterone to lower his voice and appear more masculine. Suddenly, Chase had an explanation for how he felt — and what he wanted.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
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In the summer of 2016, when Congress installed a financial control board to address Puerto Rico’s crippling debt, I traveled to San Juan, the capital. The island owed some $120 billion, and Wall Street was demanding action. On the news, President Obama announced his appointments to the Junta de Supervisión y Administración Financiera. “The task ahead for Puerto Rico is not an easy one,” he said. “But I am confident Puerto Rico is up to the challenge of stabilizing the fiscal situation, restoring growth, and building a better future for all Puerto Ricans.” Among locals, however, the control board was widely viewed as a transparent effort to satisfy mainland creditors — just the latest tool of colonialist plundering that went back generations.

Photograph from Puerto Rico by Christopher Gregory
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In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
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After losing their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, seniors Barb and Chuck find seasonal employment at Amazon fulfillment centers.

Cost of a baby-stroller cleaning, with wheel detailing, at Tot Squad in New York City:

$119.99

Australian biologists trained monitor lizards not to eat cane toads.

Trump tweeted that he had created “jobs, jobs, jobs” since becoming president, and it was reported that Trump plans to bolster job creation by loosening regulations on the global sale of US-made artillery, warships, fighter jets, and drones.

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How to Make Your Own AR-15

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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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