Links

Links — March 24, 2011, 3:52 pm

Links

Trailer for the film Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, by Tamra Davis, screening on PBS’ Independent Lens on April 16. See John Berger’s essay on Basquiat in the April 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine, out now. In memory of Elizabeth Taylor, a weird old Harper’s story about her; The Wire seen through Victorian eyes; carbon dioxide is ruining everything; on losing a dog The 44-year-old ex-heavyweight champion is in bed by 8 and often up as early as 2 in the morning, at which point he takes a solitary walk around the gated compound in the Las Vegas suburb where …

Links — March 3, 2011, 1:08 pm

Links

By the time I come aboard in late September, Tara has been drifting for one year. The sun makes a complete revolution around us each day, while slowly spiraling downward. The crew has been using the ship’s bulletin board to keep time, posting the sun table and the weekly weather forecasts, conjecturing how far the ship will drift in the coming week. On October 4 the sun sinks below the horizon, and a season of perpetual twilight begins. The transition is like walking around with your eyes half closed. You get sleepier and sleepier; your eyelids drop another millimeter each …

Links — February 16, 2011, 2:29 pm

Links

The strange thing about this is that at twenty I imagined I would spend my middle age reading books that I didn’t have the patience to read when I was young. But now, at forty-one, I don’t even have the patience to read the books I read when I was twenty. At that age I plowed through everything in the Arnoldian belief that each volume somehow nudged me imperceptibly closer to the sweetness and light. I read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Ulysses, Moby-Dick. I got through The Idiot even though I hated practically every page of it. I didn’t …

Links — January 20, 2011, 1:57 pm

Links

Another policewoman points out the entrance to Pavilion B, housing the Shining Path inmates. I’m signed in a third time, and am being escorted up a staircase when a figure darts forward. Trout-brown eyes, long dark hair parted in the middle, and a muslin scarf draped over her shoulders, embroidered with small flowers. Her face is thinner, more striking than in photographs. She wears loose black trousers and blue high-heeled shoes. “Maritza?” She nods, smiles. Instinctively, I embrace her. —“The Dancer and the Terrorist,” Nicholas Shakespeare, Intelligent Life McGovern recalls Sarge’s gift; how to make a disaster-proof home in Haiti; …

Links — December 19, 2010, 11:11 pm

Links

There’s a peculiar comfort in imagining the companionship of great composers, for it is among them that a child prodigy is at home. Mozart rules the hopeful parent: homeschooled, composing harpsichord minuets at the age of five, playing the Viennese court at six, visiting Johann Christian Bach in London at age eight. He was one of the earliest celebrated child performers, and like Barbara, he was born to the profession—his father was a violin master. Then again, in some arts, there is almost an inevitability to the appearance of prodigies. Pablo Picasso’s charming Bullfight and Pigeons—drawn in 1890, when he …

Links — December 14, 2010, 9:44 am

Links

It is hard today to convey the significance and implications of the timetable, which first appeared in the early 1840s: for the organization of the railways themselves, of course, but also for the daily lives of everyone else. The pre-modern world was space-bound; its modern successor, time-bound. The transition took place in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and with remarkable speed, accompanied by the ubiquitous station clock: on prominent, specially constructed towers at all major stations, inside every station booking hall, on platforms, and (in the pocket form) in the possession of railway employees. Everything that came after—the …

Links — November 2, 2010, 3:29 pm

Links

That’s important for later: the simplicity and brevity of Werther is what made it ripe for mass consumption, which also made it ripe for parody. People could read it fast, and it could be printed fast. Unofficial –- since there wasn’t such a thing as “official” –- Werther merchandise filled the cultural landscape. Tailors sold outfits that let men look like Werther, the Edward Cullen of the story. Guys began carrying around Werther pistols. Napoleon wrote fan-fiction. At least one woman committed suicide with a copy of it in her pocket. This international obsession was referred to as “Werther-Fieber,” (Werther …

Links — October 27, 2010, 11:52 am

Links

I once asked an old, tired-looking black man to play James P. Johnson’s “Snowy Morning Blues” and he obliged after first turning around to take a better look at me. That tune was written in New York in 1920s and recorded a couple of times by Johnson himself and a few others. Its name already sets up a scene in one’s imagination. Someone has woken late, drawn open the curtains and found the rooftops and streets covered with snow. It must be a Sunday, because the tune evokes the melancholy and the quiet joy of someone lounging around, reminiscing about …

Links — October 20, 2010, 12:21 pm

Links

The three-power occupation of Iran, which began in 1941 and did not end until the Russians finally left in 1940, took the form of zoning. It therefore tended to reduce communications, not to improve them as they were improved in Egypt or Syria. Thus the provinces retained their ancient isolation, and the peasant his ignorance of anything beyond his immediate surroundings and his daily needs. Moreover, allied preoccupation with the long, thin lifeline to Russia caused impoundings of transport and a dislocation of supplies which rendered the foreigner unwelcome and unpopular. So did a tremendous upset of prices and an …

Links — October 14, 2010, 8:53 am

Links

Bradley Manning, still effectively a boy, had few friends, and his family had all but fallen apart. In a time before Facebook and sustained long-distance friendships, he was leaving his two best friends for what could easily have been the last time (for Shanée Watson, it was). He didn’t need to tell them he was gay in order to confess a hidden affection, to explain a behavior or even to allow his friends to know him better–in a short time he would be gone. And yet, presumably for no other reason than that he was who he was and wanted …

Links — October 13, 2010, 11:23 am

Links

Teaching often facilitates a relationship with one’s own ignorance: only by confronting the limits of my knowledge can I begin to ask questions, begin to imagine how questions will be asked of me. This is a confrontation I have learned to accept readily, as a useful practice, a gentle intellectual and spiritual stretching in the safe and narrowed context of a classroom. But outside the door of the San Quentin classroom is a prison yard, and beyond that, stairways that lead to cellblocks and dorms where thousands of men live literally stacked against each other. I do not understand how …

Links — October 12, 2010, 9:30 am

Links

Gladwell, who has built a wildly successful career curating and synthesizing other people’s research for the common reader’s consumption, has been surprisingly remiss in examining the social web’s impact on various forms of activism. In a recent New Yorker article, in fact, he declared that “the revolution will not be tweeted” — that social media are practically useless when it comes to serious activism. While I don’t question his remarkable intelligence or unique talent — I fully subscribe to the work of psychologist Howard Gardner, whose latest book, Five Minds for the Future, demonstrates the value of the kind of …

Links — October 8, 2010, 8:51 am

Links

Because I am a Jew, and a New York Jew at that, and because I am furthermore employed in publishing, I am, as is well known, bound by tradition and perhaps even natural law to sign a book deal. And so I have. It’s a rather pleasant thing to do, entering into a writing contract, despite the mental labor required to produce a book (I grow weary even now as I think of it). I do, however, work for a monthly magazine at which several colleagues have either written a book, are currently writing one, or are mulling the idea …

Links — October 5, 2010, 9:03 am

Links

To read The Kreutzer Sonata after one has read the diaries of both Sophia and Leo Tolstoy is to realize two things simultaneously: one, the story line (except for the murder) is very nearly a transcript of daily life inside the Tolstoy marriage; two, the marriage itself is something that Dostoevsky more easily than Tolstoy might have written. In Tolstoy’s writing we have characters who, at once in thrall to both inner limitation and the force of circumstance, are placed on a landscape of world-and-self that steadily widens and deepens. In Dostoevsky we have these same characters living so completely …

Links — October 1, 2010, 12:01 pm

Links

Gaitskill’s compassionate analysis of sexual urges that could be lazily labeled “extreme” or “subversive” is most explicit in her recent collection, Don’t Cry (2009), which often invokes suffering and its alleviation through reflection rather than dialogue and action. In “Folksong,” the narrator reads a news item about a woman who has sex with 1,000 men in a row in hopes of breaking a world record. The narrator then imagines the complexity behind this woman’s attempt to turn herself into a “fucking machine.” Unlike Millet, whose sole concern would seem to be a graphic representation of her couplings, Gaitskill describes the …

Links — September 29, 2010, 6:52 am

Links

President Obama, according to many Republican politicians and media personalities, is not only the most liberal President in American history, he is a mortal threat to the American way of life. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently described Obama as “the most radical President in American history,” and right-wing entrepreneur Dinesh D’Souza describes him as “the most anti-business President in a generation, perhaps in American history.” Over the course of his administration, the President has been alternately accused of being a Socialist, a secret Muslim, an atheist, a foreigner – and now a Kenyan anti-colonialist. Oddly enough, Obama has largely …

Links — September 27, 2010, 7:30 am

Links

There’s no doubt that in Somalia, crime pays—it’s about the only industry that does. There is even a functioning pirate stock exchange in Xarardheere, where locals buy “shares” in seventy-two individual pirate “companies” and get a respectable return if the company is successful. Most of the money, though, is frittered away. Boyah, who personally has made hundreds of thou- sands of dollars if not millions, asked me for cigarettes when I met him. When I asked what happened to all his cash, he explained: “When someone who never had money suddenly gets money, it just goes.” He also said that …

Links — September 23, 2010, 8:42 am

Links

I make a medium-sized chunk of my less-than-medium-sized income writing about books in print publications. So it’s pretty annoying when some guy corners me in a hallway at a party while I’m trying to get my crunk on (often the case), sticks a sweaty thumb on my nose – nail nubbed to bone – and tells me that the book review is dead, no one cares anymore, we are the citizenry of ADD-America with no interest in the written word, and, in fact, no tolerance for texts longer than 350 words. Usually this speech is followed by my interrogator – …

Links — September 20, 2010, 5:50 am

Links

Who is it this time? The biggest celebrity of all, Barack Obama. Following in the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt’s Hero Tales from American History, and Jimmy Carter’s The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer, the president has come up with Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, a set of 13 “inspirational tales” of American pioneers. Frankly, just the title makes me want to stick my fingers in my ears and scream. Even though it is taken from My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, it reeks of patronising, pseudo-didactic, blood-freezing smarm. And that’s not mentioning the subtitle – honestly, what children’s book …

Links — September 17, 2010, 11:12 am

Links

Do you date men or women or both? Both. Is dating men and women different? Normally with women you have to play all kinds of little games. You have to make vegetarian sushi even if you’re not a vegetarian. And we all have to be sensitive. It’s a long project. Whereas with men, it’s much easier to seduce them. Just yesterday I wrote a really naughty email to a spiritual master. And I met him in a course, I was listening to his talk but I didn’t stay for the ritual afterward because I knew I would stay to impress …

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“You’re being reborn,” the voice says. “Exiting the womb of your mother. Coming into the earth as a small baby. Everything is new.” It is a Saturday morning in mid-March, and right now I’m lying on a yoga mat in a lodge in Ohio, surrounded by fifty other men who’ve come to the Midwest for a weekend of manhood-confirming adventures. The voice in question belongs to Aaron Blaine, a facilitator for Evryman, the men’s group orchestrating this three-day retreat. All around me, men are shedding tears as Blaine leads us on a guided meditation, a kind of archetypal montage of Norman Rockwell boyhood. “You’re starting to figure things out,” he says, in somniferous baritone. “Snow, for the first time. Sunshine. Start to notice the smells, the tastes, the confusion. The fear. And you’re growing. You’re about ten years old. The world’s huge and scary.”

Even though it’s only the second day of the Evryman retreat, it’s worth noting that I’ve already been the subject of light fraternal teasing. Already I’ve been the recipient of countless unsought hugs. Already I have sat in Large Groups and Small Groups, and watched dozens of middle-aged men weep with shame and contrition. I’ve had a guy in the military tell me he wants to be “a rock for his family.” I’ve heard a guy from Ohio say that his beard “means something.” Twice I’ve hiked through the woods to “reconnect with Mother Nature,” and I have been addressed by numerous men as both “dude” and “brother.” I have performed yoga and yard drills and morning calisthenics. I’ve heard seven different men play acoustic guitar. I’ve heard a man describe his father by saying, “There wasn’t a lot of ball-tossing when I was growing up.” Three times I’ve been queried about how I’m “processing everything,” and at the urinal on Friday night, two men warned me about the upcoming “Anger Ceremony,” which is rumored to be the weekend’s “pièce de résistance.”

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The WASP story is personal for me. I arrived at Yale in 1971 from a thoroughly mediocre suburb in New Jersey, the second-generation hybrid of Irish and Italian stock riding the postwar boom. Those sockless people in Top-Siders, whose ancestors’ names and portraits adorned the walls, were entirely new to me. I made friends with some, but I was not free of a corrosive envy of their habitus of ease and entitlement.

I used to visit one of those friends in the Hamptons, in the 1970s, when the area was about wood-paneled Ford station wagons, not Lamborghinis. There was some money in the family, but not gobs, yet they lived two blocks from the beach—prime real estate. Now, down the road from what used to be their house is the residence of Ira Rennert. It’s one of the largest private homes in the United States. The union-busting, pension-fund-looting Rennert, whose wealth comes from, among other things, chemical companies that are some of the worst polluters in the country, made his first money in the 1980s as a cog in Michael Milken’s junk-bond machine. In 2015, a court ordered him to return $215 million he had appropriated from one of his companies to pay for the house. One-hundred-car garages and twenty-one (or maybe twenty-nine) bedrooms don’t come cheap.

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I slept for a good seven hours on the overnight flight from Spain to Peru, and while I slept I dreamed that I was leading American visitors around a park in Berlin, looking for birds on a hazy, overcast day. There wasn’t much to see until we noticed a distant commotion in the sky. Large raptors were panicking, driven back and forth by something threatening them from above. The commotion moved closer. The clouds parted, an oval aperture backed with blue. In it two seraphim hovered motionless. “Those are angels,” I told the group.

They were between us and the sun, but an easy ­I.D. Size aside, no other European bird has two sets of wings. The upper wings cast their faces into shadow. Despite the glare I could make out their striking peaches-­and-­cream coloration. Ivory white predominates, hair a faint yellow, eyes blue, wings indescribably iridescent. Faces blank and expressionless, as with all birds.

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Last May, the families of students at Cypress Academy, an independent charter school in New Orleans, received an email announcing that the school would close when classes ended the following week and that all its students would be transferred to another nearby charter for the upcoming year. Parents would have the option of entering their children in the city’s charter-enrollment lottery, but the lottery’s first round had already taken place, and the most desirable spots for the fall were filled.

Founded in 2015, a decade after New Orleans became the nation’s first city to begin replacing all its public schools with charters, Cypress was something of a rarity. Like about nine in ten of the city’s charter schools, it filled spaces by lottery rather than by selective admission. But while most of the nonselective schools in New Orleans had majority populations of low-income African-American students, Cypress mirrored the city’s demographics, drawing the children of professionals—African-American and white alike—as well as poorer students. Cypress reserved 20 percent of its seats for children with reading difficulties, and it offered a progressive education model, including “learning by doing,” rather than the strict conduct codes that dominated the city’s nonselective schools. In just three years, the school had outperformed many established charters—a particular feat given that one in four Cypress students had a disability, double the New Orleans average. Families flocked to Cypress, especially ones with children who had disabilities.

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how high? that high

He had his stick that was used mostly to point at your head if your head wasn’t held up proudly.

I still like that man—Holger! He had been an orphan!

He came up to me once because there was something about how I was moving my feet that wasn’t according to the regulations or his expectations.

The room was a short wide room with a short wide window with plenty of artificial light.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

The limited edition Nike Air Max 97s, white sneakers that have holy water from the Jordan River in their soles and have frankincense-scented insoles, sold out in minutes.

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At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

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