Political Asylum

Political Asylum — November 9, 2012, 3:59 pm

Obama’s Bland Bargain

A dispassionate president disavows the liberal idea.

Political Asylum — November 8, 2012, 6:03 pm

Angry White Men

Can the G.O.P. genuinely change its attitude toward minorities and women?

Political Asylum — November 6, 2012, 2:01 pm

The Electoral Battle Between Corporationism and Empiricism

Obama’s data-driven approach may decide today’s race—and determine the future of the G.O.P.

Political Asylum — November 5, 2012, 9:42 pm

The Withdrawal of the American Establishment

An election-eve elegy for the country’s former guardians of sanity

Political Asylum — October 25, 2012, 1:33 pm

Is the Media Walking Us Into Another War? (Part II)

A New York Times op-ed writer nods his head along with Mitt Romney.

Political Asylum — October 24, 2012, 5:40 pm

Welcome to Easter Island

On a narrowly defined, narrowly argued foreign policy presidential debate.

Political Asylum — October 19, 2012, 4:26 pm

Is the Media Walking Us Into Another War?

The right’s strange new trope: bloodless regime change in Libya was bad; bloody, useless regime change in Iraq and everywhere else is good.

Political Asylum — October 17, 2012, 2:07 am

The Right Time

Recapping Mitt Romney's most blatant and risible falsehoods at the second presidential debate.

Political Asylum — October 15, 2012, 1:03 am

David Brooks Wants to Mix It Up

On the genteel Republican Party of David Brooks’s imagination

Political Asylum — October 9, 2012, 12:25 pm

Yes. We. Can.

“Who knew it was going to be the Skypilot himself, Flight Chief Obama, scrambling for the eject button while the rest of us tried to batter down the cockpit door and force him back into his seat?”

Political Asylum — October 4, 2012, 10:14 am

The Man Who Would Be Ex-President

After watching the first presidential debate, it’s hard not to wonder whether Barack Obama genuinely wants to remain in office.

Political Asylum — October 3, 2012, 3:05 pm

Mitt Romney Announces His Intention to Cheat

"The presidential debate in Denver this evening is supposed to be exclusively about domestic policy. But in today’s New York Times, we read that 'advisers said he would try to broaden the argument against Obama’s job performance by raising questions about how his administration handled the attack on a diplomatic mission last month in Libya that killed four Americans.'"

Political Asylum — October 2, 2012, 11:33 am

Unlikely Questions for the First Presidential Debate

A sampling of topics we're not likely to hear discussed at the first, “domestic” presidential debate. These are the questions that, if they are somehow asked, we can expect both candidates to strenuously avoid answering.

Political Asylum — October 1, 2012, 3:27 pm

The Crybabies’ Response to the Centrist

Mark Lilla says he's a centrist Democrat who was “relieved” to observe Obama's “political liberalism and instinctual conservatism.” But which of the social programs generated by the Great Society's legislative “overreach” does he so object to?

Political Asylum — September 26, 2012, 3:31 pm

The Literary Art of W. Mitt Romney

"Some have begun to detect a literary current in Mitt Romney’s seemingly mindless ramblings—a stream-of-consciousness that reflects, perhaps, the romantic wistfulness of the middle-aged man facing his own mortality."

Political Asylum — September 25, 2012, 3:18 pm

Wall Street Places Its Election Bets

How do the two presidential candidates stack up in the eyes of America's investment class?

Political Asylum — September 21, 2012, 11:22 am

Teatime With the Tea Party

"There’s little point now in trying to suss out whether Mitt Romney is at heart as much a thoroughgoing, Social Darwinist creep as the one he plays for rich donors. After a while, as Kurt Vonnegut once put it, “You are what you pretend to be.” And Romney’s pretenses have now infected not just the Republican leadership but its rank-and-file as well.??"

Political Asylum — September 14, 2012, 10:58 am

Ruin and Rebirth in the South

The South is, perhaps, the last romantic place in America, in all the best and worst senses of that word. It is a region where the wail of a freight train whistle is never very far away, and where you can see both lovely, fetid green swamps and nuclear-reactor towers from your train window. It is where a stretch of highway might bring the majestic spectacle of summer lightning illuminating a rolling cloud bank, or a gigantic American flag flying proudly over an auto dealership—or the Chernobyl-like remains of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s old Heritage USA, Christian theme park …

Political Asylum — September 13, 2012, 2:03 pm

Ybor Stories

“There was music in the cafés at night/ And revolution in the air . . .”—Bob Dylan Some may conclude from reading this blog that I believe downtown Tampa to be a soulless, sun-blasted hellhole made up of little besides empty sidewalks, endless parking lots, and sterile glass boxes. Some would be right. But there are many other parts of the Tampa Bay area that have real style and character. My own favorite is Ybor City, which was where Jack and I stayed during our sole- and soul-blistering trip to the Republican National Convention. Despite the name, Ybor is not a separate city, …

Political Asylum — September 9, 2012, 9:52 am

Party Like It’s 1984

I was struck, attending the Republican and Democratic political conventions, by how woefully inadequate the two southern host cities were to the task. I completely understand the political calculations that spurred these choices—Charlotte and Tampa are both “new” Sun Belt cities in important swing states. But c’mon. Minneapolis and Denver, the 2008 choices, were bad enough. This was ridiculous. Charlotte looks like Stamford, Connecticut, on steroids—a collection of overgrown glass boxes with bizarre roofs that are mostly the result of a fight between two of our greediest banksters, plus a NASCAR museum bigger than many NASCAR racetracks. Its slogan reads: …

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The Wood Chipper·

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I was tucked in a blind behind a soda machine, with nothing in my hand but notepad and phone, when a herd of running backs broke cover and headed across the convention center floor. My God, they’re beautiful! A half dozen of them, compact as tanks, stuffed into sports shirts and cotton pants, each, around his monstrous neck, wearing a lanyard that listed number and position, name and schedule, tasks to be accomplished at the 2019 N.F.L. Scout­ing Combine. They attracted the stunned gaze of football fans and beat writers, yet, seemingly unaware of their surroundings, continued across the carpet.

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Common Ground·

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Thirty miles from the coast, on a desert plateau in the Judaean Mountains without natural resources or protection, Jerusalem is not a promising site for one of the world’s great cities, which partly explains why it has been burned to the ground twice and besieged or attacked more than seventy times. Much of the Old City that draws millions of tourists and Holy Land pilgrims dates back two thousand years, but the area ­likely served as the seat of the Judaean monarchy a full millennium before that. According to the Bible, King David conquered the Canaanite city and established it as his capital, but over centuries of destruction and rebuilding all traces of that period were lost. In 1867, a British military officer named Charles Warren set out to find the remnants of David’s kingdom. He expected to search below the famed Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, but the Ottoman authorities denied his request to excavate there. Warren decided to dig instead on a slope outside the Old City walls, observing that the Psalms describe Jerusalem as lying in a valley surrounded by hills, not on top of one.

On a Monday morning earlier this year, I walked from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to the archaeological site that Warren unearthed, the ancient core of Jerusalem now known as the City of David. In the alleys of the Old City, stone insulated the air and awnings blocked the sun, so the streets were cold and dark and the mood was somber. Only the pilgrims were up this early. American church groups filed along the Via Dolorosa, holding thin wooden crosses and singing a hymn based on a line from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Narrow shops sold gardenia, musk, and amber incense alongside sweatshirts promoting the Israel Defense Forces.

I passed through the Western Wall Plaza to the Dung Gate, popularly believed to mark the ancient route along which red heifers were led to the Temple for sacrifice. Outside the Old City walls, in the open air, I found light and heat and noise. Tour buses lined up like train cars along the ridge. Monday is the day when bar and bat mitzvahs are held in Israel, and drumbeats from distant celebrations mixed with the pounding of jackhammers from construction sites nearby. When I arrived at the City of David, workmen were refinishing the wooden deck at the site’s entrance and laying down a marble mosaic by the ticket window.

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The Black Axe·

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Eleven years ago, on a bitter January night, dozens of young men, dressed in a uniform of black berets, white T-­shirts, and black pants, gathered on a hill overlooking the Nigerian city of Jos, shouting, dancing, and shooting guns into the black sky. A drummer pounded a rhythmic beat. Amid the roiling crowd, five men crawled toward a candlelit dais, where a white-­robed priest stood holding an axe. Leading them was John, a sophomore at the local college, powerfully built and baby-faced. Over the past six hours, he had been beaten and burned, trampled and taunted. He was exhausted. John looked out at the landscape beyond the priest. It was the harmattan season, when Saharan sand blots out the sky, and the city lights in the distance blurred in John’s eyes as if he were underwater.

John had been raised by a single mother in Kaduna, a hardscrabble city in Nigeria’s arid north. She’d worked all hours as a construction supplier, but the family still struggled to get by. Her three boys were left alone for long stretches, and they killed time hunting at a nearby lake while listening to American rap. At seventeen, John had enrolled at the University of Jos to study business. Four hours southeast of his native Kaduna, Jos was another world, temperate and green. John’s mother sent him an allowance, and he made cash on the side rearing guard dogs for sale in Port Harcourt, the perilous capital of Nigeria’s oil industry. But it wasn’t much. John’s older brother, also studying in Jos, hung around with a group of Axemen—members of the Black Axe fraternity—who partied hard and bought drugs and cars. Local media reported a flood of crimes that Axemen had allegedly committed, but his brother’s friends promised John that, were he to join the group, he wouldn’t be forced into anything illegal. He could just come to the parties, help out at the odd charity drive, and enjoy himself. It was up to him.

John knew that the Black Axe was into some “risky” stuff. But he thought it was worth it. Axemen were treated with respect and had connections to important people. Without a network, John’s chances of getting a good job post-­degree were almost nil. In his second year, he decided to join, or “bam.” On the day of the initiation, John was given a shopping list: candles, bug spray, a kola nut (a caffeinated nut native to West Africa), razor blades, and 10,000 Nigerian naira (around thirty dollars)—his bamming fee. He carried it all to the top of the hill. Once night fell, Axemen made John and the other four initiates lie on their stomachs in the dirt, pressed toge­ther shoulder to shoulder, and hurled insults at them. They reeked like goats, some Axemen screamed. Others lashed them with sticks. Each Axeman walked over their backs four times. Somebody lit the bug spray on fire, and ran the flames across them, “burning that goat stink from us,” John recalled.

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Who Is She?·

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I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get up—­just couldn’t get up, couldn’t get up or leave. All day lying in that median, unable. Was this misery or joy?

It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? A habit or phase, a marriage, a disease, children or drugs, money or debt—­something you believed inescapable, something that had been going on for so long that you’d forgotten any and every step taken to lead your life here. What did you do? How did this happen? When you try to solve the crossword, someone keeps adding clues.

It’s happened to us all. The impossible knowledge is the one we all want—­the big why, the big how. Who among us won’t buy that lotto ticket? This is where stories come from and, believe me, there are only two kinds: ­one, naked lies, and two, pot holders, gas masks, condoms—­something you must carefully place between yourself and a truth too dangerous to touch.

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Murder Italian Style·

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The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.

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.

A federal judge in South Carolina ruled in favor of personal-injury lawyer George Sink Sr., who had sued his son, George Sink Jr., for using his own name at his competing law firm.

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