A Few Interesting Articles from the News, Pt. 5

Okay, I’m finally done getting caught up on my news clippings from the past couple months. (See also pt. 3 and pt. 4.) This batch is the longest out of the three, all admittedly too long to begin with. I do hope, however—in scanning through these clippings—that someone out there does find something interesting in these epic lists nevertheless!  

I think, as I’ve been working on this, I’ve realized that what I’ve actually been doing is chronicling a really crazy, tumultuous period in our history. I’ve also realized that the drumbeat of major news just within the past few weeks has become so exhausting—apocalyptic fires and hurricanes, mass protests and police killings, the death of RBG, the release of Trump’s taxes—that I need to take a break from this chronicling. It’s been interesting, but need a break. I may even take a news fast for a few weeks.

Part of me would rather sleep through the election and just hope for the best. (Don’t worry, I’ve already voted by mail.) As I said last week, let’s all hope these are just the dark hours before the dawn. Here’s my rundown…

1.) “The Emotionally Challenging Next Phase of the Pandemic” – by Juliette Kayyem, The Atlantic, Sept. 6, 2020

A weary friend of mine—another working mom—recently texted to say she couldn’t decide which aspect of daily life during the coronavirus pandemic was worse: “the insanity or the monotony.” Either way, the misery will not end when 2020 does. …

On NPR Thursday, Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said that an effective vaccine by the end of next month is “extremely unlikely” and that population-wide distribution of a vaccine could take until the middle of next year. In other words, the American coronavirus crisis will end—just not soon. …

This timetable comes as difficult news. Summer is ending. Americans were told that this season, the season of outdoors and open windows, would create the best conditions to manage COVID-19. The nights are now shorter, the mornings darker. … Windows in much of the country will soon be closed for months, outdoor dining and events will be harder to enjoy, and a regular flu season will begin. … And still, over the past week, an average of nearly 1,000 Americans a day died of COVID-19 …

Today, more than 75 percent of Americans—including in red states such as Mississippi and South Carolina—are living under statewide masking policies, and 74 percent of Americans favor a mandatory national one. Biden has embraced such a policy. If Trump had done so months ago, efforts to reopen the economy would be much further along.

Instead, get your head around it: Rules and regulations controlling our movement and masking could well be in place for another year. The dilemmas facing retailers, airlines, and many other private-sector companies, such as how strict to be with customers who don’t wear masks, are not passing problems that time will solve. Whether a crisis lasts a few weeks or 18 months inevitably affects your own personal risk calculations. Some normal activities, including seeing family in a faraway state, making new friends, or going to the gym, are easy to put off for a few months, but avoiding them forever carries a cost. The bad habits that you might have formed in the spring—smoking or drinking as a form of stress relief—no longer look like short-term vices.

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/americas-coronavirus-ordeal-wont-end-when-2020-does/616108/

2.) “Four more years of Trump’s contempt for competence would be devastating” – by The Editorial Board, The Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2020

[Trump’s] 2016 campaign was run from the gut, under the explicit rationale that “experts are terrible” and that whatever someone with a degree and years of experience could do in any area of government, he could do better relying on instinct. His White House has conducted itself according to this philosophy, to devastating effect. …

[A] similar contempt for competence and impartiality has seeped through the government these past four years. The Justice Department has suffered, and the State Department, as a former ambassador and former undersecretary said, has seen “the most significant departure of diplomatic talent in ages.” Almost half of the agency’s career ministers left or were forced to leave in the initial two years of Mr. Trump’s tenure.

The complete lack of interest in performing essential functions well has had immediate costs: When the administration agreed, under pressure, to reunite the children it was keeping in cages at the border with their parents, it couldn’t — because it hadn’t bothered to keep close enough track of the parents to find them. With diplomats who have spent years forging relationships and representing U.S. interests suddenly yanked away from their duties, enemies started to take advantage; China has stepped into the gap in global influence. Allies are ceasing to trust. …

While the pandemic represents the most immediately lethal consequence of the know-nothing president’s disdain for know-how, an even greater danger looms. Mr. Trump conducted his campaign crowing that climate change was a “hoax,”… Meanwhile evidence of the threat to the planet becomes steadily more alarming, especially where the destructive impact of that extra 2 degrees Celsius has already become apparent — algae blooming, lobsters dying, century-old redwood trees burning, unfrozen lakes depriving ice fishermen of their income, homes washing out to sea. Greenhouse gas emissions shot up during Mr. Trump’s tenure after three consecutive years of decrease. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency blithely goes on deregulating; this administration has so far rolled back 100 supposedly burdensome strictures. …

The contempt for good performance and for facts is devastating to the government. Talented professionals in all sectors, forced to play sycophants, instead are choosing to leave, while the next generation of talent is choosing not to apply. Nine former intelligence chiefs put it just right in The Post this spring…: This isn’t only about a few respected senior officers and the immediate risk to security posed by their unceremonious dismissal. It’s about the future — about the workers who will calculate that fealty is more important than honesty, and about the “countless more talented young Americans” who “will decide that federal service, indeed public service, is not a worthy calling.”

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/07/four-more-years-trumps-contempt-competence-would-be-catastrophic/?arc404=true

3.) “America’s Plastic Hour Is Upon Us” – by George Packer, The Atlantic, Oct. 2020

“There are in history what you could call ‘plastic hours,’” the philosopher Gershom Scholem once said. “Namely, crucial moments when it is possible to act. If you move then, something happens.” In such moments, an ossified social order suddenly turns pliable, prolonged stasis gives way to motion, and people dare to hope. Plastic hours are rare. They require the right alignment of public opinion, political power, and events—usually a crisis. They depend on social mobilization and leadership. They can come and go unnoticed or wasted. Nothing happens unless you move.

Are we living in a plastic hour? It feels that way.

Beneath the dreary furor of the partisan wars, most Americans agree on fundamental issues facing the country. Large majorities say that government should ensure some form of universal health care, that it should do more to mitigate global warming, that the rich should pay higher taxes, that racial inequality is a significant problem, that workers should have the right to join unions, that immigrants are a good thing for American life, that the federal government is plagued by corruption. These majorities have remained strong for years. The readiness, the demand for action, is new.

What explains it? Nearly four years of a corrupt, bigoted, and inept president who betrayed his promise to champion ordinary Americans. The arrival of an influential new generation, the Millennials, who grew up with failed wars, weakened institutions, and blighted economic prospects, making them both more cynical and more utopian than their parents. Collective ills that go untreated year after year, so bone-deep and chronic that we assume they’re permanent—from income inequality, feckless government, and police abuse to a shredded social fabric and a poisonous public discourse that verges on national cognitive decline. Then, this year, a series of crises that seemed to come out of nowhere, like a flurry of sucker punches, but that arose straight from those ills and exposed the failures of American society to the world. …

The year 1968—with which, for concentrated drama, 2020 is sometimes compared—marked the end of an era of reform and the start of a conservative reaction that resonated for decades. In 1968 the core phenomenon was the collapse of order. In 2020 it is the absence of solidarity. Even with majorities agreeing on central issues, there’s little sense of being in this together. The United States is world-famously individualistic, and the past half century has seen the expansion of freedom in every direction—personal, social, financial, technological. But the pandemic demonstrates, almost scientifically, the limits of individualism. Everyone is vulnerable. Everyone’s health depends on the health of others. No one is safe unless everyone takes responsibility for the welfare of others. No person, community, or state can withstand the plague without a competent and active national government.

Nothing about this opportunity [for transformative change] is inevitable, or even likely. The election could end in confusion and chaos, or in another stunning upset for Donald Trump and his party. If Joe Biden wins, a continued Republican Senate majority could obstruct his policies… Even a Democratic White House and Congress could encounter ferocious resistance from an opposition party and conservative infrastructure grasping for lost power. Pressure from organized money in the worlds of finance and tech could sap the Democrats’ reformist zeal. The left’s penchant for splittism could break the party into warring factions. On a deeper level, our institutions might have calcified to the point that they’re no longer able to realize far-reaching reforms. The public could lapse back into cynicism and distrust made all the more enervating by raised expectations.

Eventually, the country will need a sane and healthy Republican Party. But for any kind of national renewal to take place, the Republicans must first suffer a crushing defeat in November. A Democratic administration and Congress must quickly pass bold legislation for economic relief, job creation, social protections, and voting rights. But a new era won’t arrive like a pendulum that swings according to the laws of physics. It will take more than the triumph of a candidate, a party, or even a sweeping agenda. The obstacles are greater than just politics, and so is the opportunity. Our collapse is so complete that the field lies open—the philosophical questions brought on by despair allow us to reimagine what kind of country we can be.

There were three eras of reform in the United States in the 20th century. Our historical moment has elements of each of them. A new period of reform would need to bring together the best values of all three.

The Progressive era at the beginning of the century was the least ideologically distinct of them. With no obvious leader, faction, or defining issue, currents of Progressivism ran through both of the major parties, while absorbing ideas from the Populists and Socialists, and through every region of the country, in local, decentralized bursts of reform. Progressivism was more an impulse than a program, a moral awakening among mostly middle-class Americans to the sense that the country had drifted from its democratic moorings. Their chief concerns were corporate power, corruption at every level of government, and the “shame of the cities” (as the muckraker Lincoln Steffens had it)—urban bosses, slums, and sweatshops. The new conditions of modern life—industrialization, technological change, mass immigration—galvanized them to act, but they were hardly revolutionaries. Their main answer to social ills was to create better citizens. …

[In his 1914 Progressive manifesto, Walter] Lippmann proposed bringing the destabilizing new freedom of modern life under the purposeful control of science—experts, managers, forward-thinking leaders. But in his brilliant survey of American life, Black Americans are scarcely mentioned. Most Progressives, even muckraking journalists, were blind to racial injustice, and some—Woodrow Wilson is the best known—were outright racists and eugenicists. Rather than build on the achievements of Reconstruction—that earlier, ill-fated reform era—Progressivism set out to reinvigorate a democracy of white Americans.

The New Deal, propelled by the greatest economic crisis in American history, turned many Progressive ideas into national realities, including unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and collective bargaining rights. The labor movement and the Communist Party created interracial alliances, but Roosevelt’s national programs were enacted by a Congress that left Jim Crow in place while limiting protections for Black and other disenfranchised Americans—domestic workers, farmworkers, the intermittently employed.

The civil-rights movement in the early to mid-1960s produced a burst of creativity in Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. Johnson was a creature of the Senate, an institutional figure in every good and bad way… When he succeeded John F. Kennedy—another president in the technocrat-as-visionary mold—Johnson was scorned by eastern liberals as a crude, big-eared Texan, a party hack, and a bigot. But he took Kennedy’s stalled agenda on civil rights and poverty and realized it in the most vigorous set of laws and actions for social justice in America since the 1930s. Johnson had two advantages over Kennedy: unparalleled knowledge of Congress and an atmosphere of crisis amid mobilization in the streets. He also benefited from an electoral mandate in 1964. The analogies to Biden are not hard to see.

Just as the New Deal nationalized local Progressive ideas, the Great Society tried to consummate the New Deal for all Americans. But it soon disintegrated amid urban riots, big Republican gains in the 1966 midterm elections, and the catastrophe in Vietnam. The coalition for reform—civil-rights groups, unions, peace marchers, academic experts, liberal politicians—collapsed as the country exploded, and the left splintered into fragments that grew more and more extreme.

Like the Progressive era, our age is marked by monopolistic corporate power that has created immense inequality and threatens democracy itself. Like the 1930s, our decade has begun with mass unemployment and vivid demonstrations of the vulnerability of American workers. Like the 1960s, our moment is animated by a dynamic young generation passionately inflamed by ongoing racial injustice.

Most American reform movements carry a strain of puritanism, a zeal for personal self-correction so powerful that it can sometimes replace the effort to make concrete changes to material conditions. These movements begin with protest from below—by impoverished farmers, striking workers, disenfranchised Black southerners—and rise up into the middle class, which adopts the cause with what the historian Richard Hofstadter, writing of the Progressives, called “a rather strenuous moral purgation.” A personal sense of guilt produces a quasi-religious fervor directed toward social and political ills and a longing for redemption in solidarity with the downtrodden. Progressive crusaders ventured into the slums to expose the squalid conditions of immigrant life; in the ’30s, bourgeois Communists and fellow travelers exalted the proletariat and sacrificed intellectual independence to the iron will of the party; in the ’60s, white college students joined the struggle for Black freedom in the South and then decided that they required their own liberation, too, by means of taking over campuses and curricula.

In the past few years, we’ve seen fitful bursts of a new moral awakening…

Under Democratic governance, the left would have to move from critique to coalition-building. It would be pulled between its own impulses toward institutional reform and cultural transformation. President Biden would immediately face an overwhelming crisis in employment and health; if the left pushes him hard on divisive cultural issues such as decriminalizing illegal border crossings, eliminating standardized testing, and defunding the police, it will weaken his hand for a political and economic transformation on the scale of the New Deal. The identity politics that more and more defines the left has a built-in political flaw. It divides into groups rather than uniting across groups; it offers a cogent attack on the injustices and lies of the past and present, rather than an inspiring vision of an America that will be.

But an ambitious legislative agenda isn’t enough, because the problem extends far beyond Washington, deep into the republic. Americans have lost faith in institutions, in one another, in democracy itself. Everything conspires against our role as citizens—big money, indifferent officials, byzantine election rules, mutual hatred, mutual ignorance, the Constitution itself. There is no remedy except the exercise of muscles that have atrophied. Not just by voting, but by imagining what kind of country we can live in together. We have to act like citizens again.

Last year, a commission created by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences spent months talking to a variety of groups around the country. Disaffection with the state of American democracy was nearly universal, but so was a longing for connection to a unifying American identity. In June the commission released a report … which put forth 31 proposals, some quite bold. They include political reforms that would make institutions more representative: enlarge the House of Representatives; adopt ranked-choice voting; end gerrymandering by having independent groups of citizens draw district lines; amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United; appoint Supreme Court justices to 18-year terms, with one new nomination in each term of Congress.

Other recommendations are designed to change the political culture: make voting easier but also mandatory, connect voters with their representatives, train community leaders around the country, rebuild social media as a more constructive public space, shape an active citizenry through civic education and universal national service. The aim is not to realize any partisan cause, but to set Americans into motion as civic actors, not passive subjects. “Democracy works only if enough people believe democracy works,” Eric Liu, a co-chair of the commission … told me.

Ideas like these, some new, others lying around for decades, come to the fore in hinge years. They are signs of a plastic hour. I began writing this essay in a mood of despair. The mood had grown so familiar, really almost comfortable, that it made me sick of myself and my country. But because I can’t give up on either—suicide is too final, and expatriation is no longer possible—I tried to think about the future and the past. And this is what I’ve come to believe: We have one more chance—in Lincoln’s words, a “last best hope”—to bring our democracy back from the dead.

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/10/make-america-again/615478/

4.) “A Dentist Sees More Cracked Teeth. What’s Going On?” – by Tammy Chen, The New York Times, Sept. 8, 2020

“I’ve seen more tooth fractures in the last six weeks than in the previous six years,” I explained.

Unfortunately, that’s no exaggeration. I closed my midtown Manhattan practice to all but dental emergencies in mid-March… Almost immediately, I noticed an uptick in phone calls: jaw pain, tooth sensitivity, achiness in the cheeks, migraines. Most of these patients I effectively treated via telemedicine. But when I reopened my practice in early June, the fractures started coming in: at least one a day, every single day that I’ve been in the office. On average, I’m seeing three to four; the bad days are six-plus fractures.

What’s going on? One obvious answer is stress. From Covid-induced nightmares to “doomsurfing” to “coronaphobia,” it’s no secret that pandemic-related anxiety is affecting our collective mental health. That stress, in turn, leads to clenching and grinding, which can damage the teeth.

But more specifically, the surge I’m seeing in tooth trauma may be a result of two additional factors. First, an unprecedented number of Americans are suddenly working from home, often wherever they can cobble together a makeshift workstation: on the sofa, perched on a barstool… The awkward body positions that ensue can cause us to hunch our shoulders forward, curving the spine into something resembling a C-shape. If you’re wondering why a dentist cares about ergonomics, the simple truth is that nerves in your neck and shoulder muscles lead into the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which connects the jawbone to the skull. Poor posture during the day can translate into a grinding problem at night.

Second, most of us aren’t getting the restorative sleep we need. Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve listened to patient after patient describe sudden restlessness and insomnia. These are hallmarks of an overactive or dominant sympathetic nervous system, which drives the body’s “fight or flight” response. … Because of the stress of coronavirus, the body stays in a battle-ready state of arousal, instead of resting and recharging. All that tension goes straight to the teeth.

[S]ince many of us will be continuing to work from home for months, it is imperative to set up a proper work station. Ideally, when seated, your shoulders should be over your hips, and your ears should be over your shoulders. Computer screens should be at eye level; prop up your monitor or laptop on a box or a stack of books if you don’t have an adjustable chair or desk.

Consider, too, that in our new home offices, it’s not uncommon to roll out of bed, find a couch, then sit for nine hours a day. Try to mix it up with some standing, whenever possible, and incorporate more movement. Use each and every bathroom break, or phone call, as an opportunity to take more steps…

At the end of the workday, I advise my patients to — excuse the very technical, medical term here — “wiggle like a fish.” Lie down on the floor on your back, with your arms extended straight above your head, and gently wiggle your arms, shoulders, hips and feet from side to side. The goal is to decompress and elongate the spine, as well as release and relieve some of that tension and pressure. …

Then, right before bed, take five minutes to quiet your mind. Close your eyes, suction your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and breathe in and out through your nose, in and out through your nose. It’s a decidedly low-tech solution, but deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, which controls the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. 

Teeth are naturally brittle, and everyone has tiny fissures in their teeth from chewing, grinding and everyday use. They can take only so much trauma before they eventually break.

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/well/live/dentists-tooth-teeth-cracks-fractures-coronavirus-stress-grinding.html

5.) “In Dark Times, I Sought Out the Turmoil of Caravaggio’s Paintings” – by Teju Cole, The New York Times, Sept. 23, 2020

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, born in late 1571 in Milan, is the quintessential uncontrollable artist, the genius to whom normal rules do not apply. “Caravaggio,” the name of the Northern Italian village from which his family came, reads like two words conjoined, chiaroscuro and braggadocio: harsh light mixed with deep dark on the one hand, unrestrained arrogance on the other. Raised in Milan and the village of Caravaggio in a family that some say was on the cusp of minor nobility, Caravaggio was 6 when he lost both his father and grandfather, on the same day, to the plague. He was apprenticed around age 13 to Simone Peterzano, a painter in the region, from whom he must have learned the basics… [I]t was probably while studying with Peterzano that he absorbed the pensive atmosphere of Leonardo da Vinci and great Northern Italian painters of the 16th century…

Caravaggio most likely first went to Rome in 1592, and the reason might have been his involvement in an incident in Milan in which a policeman was wounded (the details, as with so much else in his life, are foggy). It would be far from the last time he had to get out of town. In Rome, it did not take him long to gain both acclaim and notoriety, and by the mid-1590s, his paintings had settled into the styles and subjects we often think of as Caravaggesque: lutenists, cardplayers, a panoply of brooding androgynous youths. Eminent collectors vied for his work… Success went to his head, or perhaps it activated something that had always been there. His language coarsened; his drinking worsened; he got into fights often and was arrested multiple times.

In 1604, Caravaggio was 32. He already had behind him a string of indelible masterpieces, made for Roman patrons and churches… By that year he had also completed “The Entombment of Christ,” a work of profound grief and astonishing achievement, even by Caravaggio’s already high standards. But in his personal conduct, he remained reckless. “Sometimes he looked for a chance to break his neck or jeopardize the life of another,” writes Giovanni Baglione, a contemporary and one of his first biographers. Giovanni Pietro Bellori, a later 17th-century writer, tells us, “He used to go out on the town with his sword at his side, like a professional swordsman, seeming to do anything but paint.” At lunch in a tavern one day, he ordered eight artichokes, and when they arrived, he asked which were cooked in butter and which in oil. The waiter suggested he smell them to figure out the answer himself. Caravaggio, always quick to suspect insult, sprang up and threw the earthenware plate at the waiter’s face. Then he grabbed a sword; the waiter fled.

As a boy in Lagos, I spent hours poring over his work in books. The effect his paintings have on me, the way they move me but also make me uneasy, cannot be due only to long familiarity. Other favorites from that time, like Jacques-Louis David, now seldom excite me, even as Caravaggio’s mesmerizing power seems only to have increased. And it cannot only be because of his technical excellence. The paintings are often flawed, with problems of composition and foreshortening. My guess is that it has to do with how he put more of himself, more of his feelings, into paintings than anyone else had before him.

The themes in a Caravaggio painting might derive from the Bible or from myth, but it is impossible to forget even for a moment that this is a painting made by a particular person, a person with a specific set of emotions and sympathies. The maker is there in a Caravaggio painting. We sense him calling out to us. His contemporaries may have been interested in the biblical lesson of the doubting Thomas, but we are attracted to Thomas’s uncertainty, which we read, in some way, as the painter’s own.

But there’s more than subjectivity in Caravaggio: There’s also the way his particular brand of subjectivity tends to highlight the bitter and unpleasant aspects of life. His compact oeuvre is awash in threat, seduction and ambiguity. Why did he paint so many martyrdoms and beheadings? Horror is a part of life we hope not to witness too often, but it exists, and we do have to see it sometimes. Like Sophocles or Samuel Beckett or Toni Morrison — and yet unlike them — Caravaggio is an artist who goes there with us, to the painful places of reality. And when we are there with him, we sense that he’s no mere guide. We realize that he is in fact at home in that pain, that he lives there.

Late in May 1606, two years after the artichoke incident, Caravaggio lost a wager on a game of tennis against a man named Ranuccio Tomassoni. A fight ensued, in which several others participated, and Caravaggio was injured in the head, but he ran his sword through Tomassoni, killing him. After two days of hiding in Rome, he escaped the city… He had become a fugitive.

Caravaggio’s mature career can be divided in two: the Roman period and then everything that came after his murder of Tomassoni. The miracle is that he accomplished so much in that second act, on the run. His work changed — the brushwork becoming looser, the subject matter more morbid — but he remained productive, and he remained valued by patrons. He worked in Naples, in Malta, in as many as three different cities in Sicily and in Naples again before he set out for Rome in 1610, in the expectation of a papal pardon. He died on that return journey. …

He was a murderer, a slaveholder, a terror and a pest. But I don’t go to Caravaggio to be reminded of how good people are and certainly not because of how good he was. To the contrary: I seek him out for a certain kind of otherwise unbearable knowledge. Here was an artist who depicted fruit in its ripeness and at the moment it had begun to rot, an artist who painted flesh at its most delicately seductive and most grievously injured. When he showed suffering, he showed it so startlingly well because he was on both sides of it: He meted it out to others and received it in his own body. Caravaggio is long dead, as are his victims. What remains is the work, and I don’t have to love him to know that I need to know what he knows, the knowledge that hums, centuries later, on the surface of his paintings, knowledge of all the pain, loneliness, beauty, fear and awful vulnerability our bodies have in common.

“The Flagellation of Christ” (1607), by Caravaggio.
“Burial of St. Lucy” (1608), by Caravaggio.
“The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” (1608), by Caravaggio.

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/magazine/caravaggio.html

6.) “Racism is a sin and we are all sinners” – by Theo Hobson, The Spectator, Aug. 13, 2020

The current resurgence of debate about racism shows that we still need the concept of sin. Seriously, sin? Yes. …

In the past, moral campaigns were tied to concrete demands for changes in legislation, or government policy… The BLM movement is rooted in frustration: it knows that laws already exist outlawing discrimination, but feels that such laws are hugely inadequate. For such laws cannot uproot systemic racism, which is built into the mindset of the majority. It declares that liberalism is too vague, too non-judgmental, too laissez-faire. … It is unconsciously reviving a more religious worldview: people should be judged according to the desires of their hearts. If you do not desire racial justice and do not express this desire in the proper pious way, you are complicit.

But when secular movements ape religion, they create something narrower than the original. By putting huge emphasis on one form of immorality, the BLM movement creates a dubious division between the pure and the impure. It implies that people who are free of racism, either because they are its victims or because they ardently side with its victims, are morally superior in a general way. This is where old-fashioned religion is crucially wiser: it says that we are all sinners, even if we zealously uphold this or that aspect of morality. Even if we do no discernible outward harm, we are prone to wrongdoing, we gravitate to it. Our hearts are not pure. In theory at least, this realism dampens the zeal of religious moralists: it reminds them that they share the same sort of impulses that result in the immorality they condemn in others.

To [some], this sounds evasive and complacent. Saying that, on some level, we are all guilty is just a way of saying that nothing much needs to change, isn’t it? No actually: a quick glance at history shows that most of the main abolitionists and anti-racism campaigners simultaneously believed that racism was a sin and that they themselves were sinners. Isn’t that a contradiction? No, because they saw sin as wider than any particular moral evil. They saw slavery and racism as manifestations of human sin that must be opposed, but also saw that the root cause of the problem would stubbornly remain, for human beings are greedy, proud, tribal, and hungry for any claim to supremacy that is available.

Only the language of sin allows us to be at all honest about racism. We ought to admit that it is a major moral evil — a sin. And we also ought to admit that it is a manifestation of the general human capacity for evil that none are free from.

Check it out here: https://spectator.us/racism-sin-all-sinners-black-lives-matter/

7.) “The history of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ the Black anthem being played at NFL games” – by DeNeen L. Brown, The Washington Post, Sept. 10, 2020

Starting on Thursday night in Kansas City, the National Football League plans to feature live performances of “Lift Every Voice” before its season-opening games, a move prompted by the police brutality and racial justice protests that have swept the country… The league’s decision to play “Lift Every Voice” could expose millions of Americans to the song for the first time.

The song, known as the Black national anthem, will be played before “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was written by slaveholder Francis Scott Key and includes lyrics about the capture of escaped slaves who fought for the British during the War of 1812. Many NFL players plan to kneel during “The Star Spangled Banner” to protest racism and police violence — a move repeatedly denounced by President Trump.

“Playing the Black national anthem is wonderful … but that doesn’t negate the racist authorship of the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ ” said CeLillianne Green… “Most people don’t know what the second and third stanzas say in the national anthem and that Francis Scott Key was outraged by Black people fighting for their freedom. They hide those stanzas.”

“Lift Every Voice” was composed as poem in 1899 by novelist, poet and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson when he was principal of a Black high school in the segregated city of Jacksonville, Fla. … The song would become known as the “Negro national anthem,” after Booker T. Washington recognized it in 1905, and the NAACP adopted it as an official song.

Johnson… said that even after so many years, whenever he heard the song, he was moved. “The lines of this song repay me in an elation, almost of exquisite anguish, whenever I hear them sung by Negro children.” Johnson… was the first Black man admitted to the bar in Florida… In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Johnson to diplomatic positions in Venezuela and Nicaragua. … He later taught creative literature at Fisk University and edited anthologies on poetry and spirituals. But his life was cut short in 1938 after his car was hit by a train on the Maine Central Railroad. He was 67. …

Over the years, “Lift Every Voice” continued to grow in power, sung by celebrated artists at concerts and ordinary people in church on Sunday mornings. … In 2009, the Rev. Joseph Lowery quoted from the anthem during the benediction at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. In 2018, Beyoncé performed “Lift Every Voice” during her headliner performance at Coachella. …

Here are the lyrics to the entire song:

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/09/10/nfl-lift-every-voice-black-national-anthem/

8.) “How should we respond to our former Trump-loving friends?” – by Nancy Gibbs, The Washington Post, Sept. 4, 2020

the quiet Republican asks whether everyone had seen the latest Trump sound bite. The two Democrats clench and look to change the subject. But then the proud Trump supporter allows, to everyone’s surprise, that she cannot abide the incumbent president and his crew any longer.

What’s the wise response? Pause, ponder, weigh the possibilities.

Whether it’s your friend or someone in your family, or anyone with whom you’ve been at partisan odds these past four years, the temptation is to fire back that “You voted for him, you wanted him, cheered for him, you funded and fueled him, and now you have regrets?” There must be penance and flagellation, expiation in exile, bread-and-water rations, a vow of abstinence from Fox News.

Or you can gently affirm them in a way that welcomes them back to the fold without rebuke. A celebration of the prodigal returned, because anyone can be wrong, even profoundly and flamboyantly wrong, and there is no way forward without finding a way to leave what’s past behind. Yes, reconciliation would be easier if they said, “Gee, I was so blind about him, I can’t believe I fell for his gaslighting, I’d do anything to undo my vote…”

But that’s a lot to expect and, besides, that is not how people convert. Maybe alone, in the dark of night, they reckon with their judgments and quietly whisper to themselves, “How could I be so stupid?” But by daylight, they face the fear of being cast out of their tribe or abandoned by all sides. You can brand them with a scarlet T and scorn them forever, or you can recognize that flaunting your righteousness is not just shallow, it is also shortsighted. …

No one will ever be persuaded to your cause if you deride their character and dismiss their dignity. Neither burning at the stake nor reform school has much chance of working on individuals who wandered away from the traditional GOP into MAGA America and now find themselves in the wilderness. Pride and denial make the journey back rocky. Smooth the path for them. Suck it up. Let it go. We have work to do. …

There’s no room for complexity on Twitter, and it has all but vanished from our politics, which grow ever more virtual and, therefore, unpracticed with real people. But complexity is where progress incubates, where compromise lives, where hope resides.

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/09/04/how-should-we-respond-our-former-trump-loving-friends/?arc404=true

9.) “Has lockdown left you with existential angst?” – by Giles Fraser, UnHerd, Sept. 3, 2020

Over the past months, a stark contrast has emerged between two very different experiences of lockdown among my congregation. Some have had lots of time on their hands, but have experienced a kind of existential malaise of meaning and purpose. Others have had a surfeit of purpose — often, but not always, centered around the care for young children — but no time for themselves.

The former are often younger, single people who have left the bosom of their families. Without work to get up for, and experiencing extended periods of introspective solitude and perhaps even loneliness, the night demons are free to do their worst. During lockdown, questions of what life is all about have pressed down hard on the single bedroom in the flat share. What is the use of having all the freedom in the world to make one’s own life choices, when all the options available look equally empty? From this perspective, death contains a kind of debilitating terror that can be dwelt upon, often over and over.

Those of the latter type have literally no time for such existential worries. Especially mothers with young children. Without the support and respite provided by nursery schools or childminders, the day and the night are dominated by a continual concern for the welfare of their dependents. As weeks turned to months, the constant and unrelenting responsibility for children or elderly and vulnerable adults has left many exhausted, drained and feeling like they have lost themselves in the care for others. There is a form of death in this experience, too — a loss of self that is often what the fear of death amounts to. “There is no me left,” as one of my congregation and mother of three explained to me the other week.

It was with her words ringing in my head that I read Tom Chivers’s intriguing piece in UnHerd about those who desire to live on and on, if not forever, then for a much greater length of time than our bodies presently allow. … [Chivers’s piece] got me thinking about how we approach death.

Martha Nussbaum, in a brilliant essay on why the immortal Greek gods sometimes fall in love with mortal human beings — Calypso with Odysseus, for example — explains that there are certain attractive virtues that the gods, being immortal, are unable to manifest precisely because of their immortality. Top of the list is sacrificial love. What sense can be made of sacrificial heroism, risking one’s life to save another, if one’s life is never really in danger? Odysseus risks everything for the one he loves, even his own death, and that makes him so much more attractive and commendable. And what sense can be given to the motherly love of the immortals, she questions, when there are never any issues about the welfare of their immortal children? Mrs Zeus is not bothered that the stair gate is closed. Her one-year-old wouldn’t hurt himself if he fell, so what’s the worry? Mrs Zeus wouldn’t say “there is no me left”. She would happily and calmly have her nails done as her kids played with matches and the petrol can.

In other words, so much of what we value about human life — and sacrificial love especially — is bound up with intrinsic human vulnerability. What makes human beings so beautiful is precisely their willingness and ability to sacrifice themselves, their time, their health, their sanity, for others. As Chivers concludes: “you-cannot-die immortality is likely a curse, not a blessing. No one reads vampire stories or ghost stories – souls forced to wander the earth long after all their loved ones have died, unable to rest – and thinks ‘Yup, gotta get me some of that’. Immortality is the archetypal monkey’s-paw wish-that-goes-wrong.”

There are, of course, plenty who are ready to die. Those who have a sense that their time has come. But I think there’s another sort of death experience that’s worth pointing out: the giving up of oneself in such a way that all the self-focused anxiety of what-will-become-of-me seems to drop away.

Towards the end of the piece Chivers wonders: “Maybe this [cryogenic technology] is all just a nerd’s version of praying for the afterlife, although I think not.” And he is right to think not. In Christian terms, eternal life is not a life without death or one that has developed some curious mystical technology to avoid it. “Those who lose their life will find it” is an invitation to find liberation … by dissolving oneself in the love of others – an invitation of which motherly love is the most obvious and impressive example.

When St Paul writes that death has lost its sting, he is claiming that there is a glorious kind of freedom to be enjoyed when one gets beyond the obsessive anxiety of endless self-preservation. For those who have placed the center of gravity of their lives outside of themselves, then the prospect of one’s own death can never be as it was before. Death loses its sting.

Most of us, though, experience the problem of death on a number of levels at once; both as a threat to our own singular unique existence and as the loss of self that takes place as we care more about things other than ourselves. Only those we call saints are able to travel fully beyond their own existential anxieties by losing themselves in the service of others.

I have met a few in my time. My old boss, the priest who trained me to become a priest, died a couple of months ago. An extraordinary man, he once told me – and I completely believed him — that he was totally uninterested in the question of what would become of him after death. That claim made a lasting impression on me, and still seems to be the mark of someone who has been liberated in just the way St Paul described. The more my old boss gave away of himself, the more of his own needs that he abandoned and set aside, the more he seemed to grow into a kind of serenity. And he met death with the same composed equanimity. … I have known people smile as they die. I want what they have.

Check it out here: https://unherd.com/2020/09/has-lockdown-left-you-with-existential-angst/

10.) “Whose Streets?” – by Samantha Michaels, Mother Jones, Sept./Oct., 2020

Reed, then 35, had recently been released from federal prison… [He] was being sought by outreach workers who wondered if he’d like to meet with a life coach to help him get his feet back on the ground. It was the latest version of a strategy to drive down gun violence in a city with one of the country’s highest murder rates. The program, called Operation Ceasefire, draws on data to identify people who are at the highest risk of shooting someone or being shot themselves. At a meeting with police and community members, known as a call-in, the recruits are told they’ll be punished if they keep engaging in violence. But they’re also offered access to housing, jobs, medical care, and life coaches, plus a monthly stipend if they accomplish goals like signing up for health insurance, opening a savings account, and staying in touch with probation officers. The idea is to try to prevent shootings not by flooding the streets with armed police, but by connecting people with resources and helping them build relationships.

Reed seemed like a perfect candidate. For nearly his entire childhood, his dad had been in prison, and Reed himself had been in and out of juvenile detention since the seventh grade. And he’d already had run-ins with gun violence. …

The question of how to reach men like Reed, who are at high risk of committing or falling victim to violence, is pressing in cities like Oakland. Nationally, murder rates have fallen since their last peak in the 1990s and are now back to their 1965 levels. But the progress has been uneven. For Black men between the ages of 15 and 24 in the United States, homicide, mostly by gunfire, is still the leading cause of death by far, killing more of them than the next nine top causes of death combined. During the first few months of the pandemic, shootings crept up again in some cities, including Oakland.

Many politicians have long believed that to reduce violence, cities have to put more officers on the streets and make more arrests. President Donald Trump announced in July that he plans to send hundreds of federal officers to cities around the country, with a goal of ramping up prosecutions. Ceasefire flips that script: It calls for fewer arrests for nonviolent acts, an end to the scorched-earth tactics that fueled the drug war, and an emphasis on reaching the relatively small number of people involved in most shootings. In 2015, half of all gun homicides in the United States took place in just 127 cities and towns; more than a quarter were in neighborhoods representing only 1.5 percent of the total population, according to a 2017 report by the Guardian. An analysis of shootings in Oakland revealed that just 0.1 percent of the city’s population was responsible for most of its homicides. But many men at the highest risk of this violence—often members of gangs, with a history of shooting or being shot—are also the most isolated from social services, or the most resistant to them.

Dozens of cities have experimented with programs like Ceasefire in recent decades, starting with Boston in 1996. Yet the approach, which goes by various names, has had mixed results, partly because cities have rolled it out in vastly different ways. Some city leaders promise social services but spend more money on the policing aspect of the program: They lean on cops to track down men at risk of violence, threaten them with punishment, and arrest them if they don’t get in line.

When outreach workers in Oakland first got in touch with Reed, he knew Ceasefire had a reputation in the neighborhood—guys who slipped up again could find themselves in handcuffs. And going back to prison was the last thing he wanted. Plus, he was tired of case managers. …

Oakland’s residents have other reasons to be skeptical of a reform effort involving the police. The city’s cops have been under federal oversight for brutality and civil rights abuses for 17 years. And Oakland tried and failed to implement Ceasefire twice before, in 2007 and 2011. In 2013, at the behest of pastors and other residents, the city rolled out Ceasefire for a third time, but with a twist: The program would scale back its emphasis on law enforcement and focus, through life coaching, on helping participants develop positive relationships with mentors who grew up in similar neighborhoods as they had.

It’s working. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of shootings in Oakland dropped by more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, arrests have declined, and officers are solving more murders than they once did. Police departments in New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC, have sent officials to observe the city’s alternative model. “What Oakland’s doing is certainly the Ceasefire strategy, but it’s a very evolved version,” says Mike McLively… Life coaches, clergy, and victims’ family members all play important roles in reaching out to at-risk men. Oakland “paid much more attention to a strong community voice and to providing a more robust set of social services,” says researcher Thomas Abt…

And now, amid nationwide protests to defund law enforcement and rethink how cities handle public safety, curiosity about Oakland’s strategy is growing.

Check it out here: https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2020/07/oakland-ceasefire-shootings-murder-rate-social-services-life-coach-boston-miracle-thomas-abt-david-kennedy-cat-brooks/?utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=naytev&utm_medium=social

11.) “What Biden Understands That the Left Does Not” – by Yascha Mounk, The Atlantic, Sept. 4, 2020

But Biden not only beat a dozen competitors to win the Democratic Party’s nomination he has also persistently led Donald Trump in the polls, adeptly handling the extraordinarily turbulent politics of 2020. … The simplest explanation is that people like Joe Biden, and they like him for a reason: In contrast to Trump and certain vocal parts of the Democratic Party, he actually expresses the view of most Americans. If Democrats manage to win back the White House—and avert the danger that four more years of Trump would pose to peace, unity, and democracy in America—it will be thanks to qualities that a younger or more radical candidate would probably lack.

When mass protests over the killing of George Floyd spread across the United States, the American public reacted in a far less divided way than a quick look at the partisan media landscape might suggest. According to opinion polls, most Americans believe that Derek Chauvin committed murder, that police brutality is a serious problem, and that we need to do more to eliminate racism. Other polls show that most Americans also believe that violent protest is illegitimate and that it is a bad idea to “defund the police.”

But many political and media elites have failed to capture this consensus. The worst offender is, as always, Donald Trump… But some on the left have also veered toward the extremes. They have embraced deeply unpopular messages such as “defund the police,” or refrained from criticizing violent protesters.

In the past few months, writers for publications including The Nation and The New York Times have dismissed the idea that looting and rioting are forms of political violence. Just a few days ago, NPR published a soft interview with a white author who defends looting by claiming that it “strikes at the heart of property, of whiteness and of the police.” And anyone on Twitter will have seen numerous versions of the argument that rioting and looting aren’t happening at a significant scale, that it doesn’t matter if they are happening, and that at any rate, such behavior is a reasonable reaction to injustice. This abdication of moral responsibility by parts of the commentariat has made it more difficult for elected Democrats to oppose political violence.

As George Packer has rightly noted in these pages, the violent clashes in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Portland; and other cities around the country have opened a big opportunity for the incumbent president: “If Donald Trump wins, in a trustworthy vote, what’s happening this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will be one reason.”…

Thankfully, most Black officials and community leaders have ignored online hand-wringing about the perils of criticizing lawlessness. They have wholeheartedly embraced the mass movement for racial justice—and unreservedly condemned the extremists and opportunists who loot stores, burn down neighborhoods, or engage in juvenile fantasies of political revolution.

Black politicians including Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, and John J. DeBerry Jr., a Democratic state representative in Tennessee, have denounced those intent on destruction. Citizens with the most personal reasons to seek revenge, including George Floyd’s brother and Jacob Blake’s mother, have made moving pleas not to descend into disorder.

The Democratic Party’s nominee for president has also condemned violence early, often, and without ambiguity. On June 2, Biden made clear that he does not condone riots, no matter the cause they supposedly serve: “There is no place for violence, no place for looting or destroying property or burning churches, or destroying businesses.” …

Perhaps the most powerful moment of Biden’s speech came when he dismissed, with a wry smile, the idea that he might have secret sympathies for political violence: “Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” …

If unrest isn’t becoming a vulnerability for Biden, that’s because he has been so much more astute in avoiding Trump’s trap than the young and online. The latter have absorbed the preposterous lesson that to criticize riots (many of which are perpetrated by white political extremists) is to betray the movement for racial justice.

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/what-biden-understands-left-does-not/616000/

12.) “The Three Worst Jobs In A Medieval Castle” – by JL Matthews, Medium, Aug. 25, 2020

In scene two of that masterpiece of historical satire, Monty Python and The Holy Grail, the comedy troupe pointed out what is easy to forget about the past: it was a filthy placeLiterally.

The scene follows a cart through a scene of muck and death, as the cart master urges townsfolk to ‘bring out your dead’ as he steadily bangs a cowbell. To close the scene, King Arthur ‘rides’ by, prompting the following exchange:

CUSTOMER: Who’s that, then?

CART MASTER: I dunno. Must be a king.


CART MASTER: He hasn’t got shit all over him.

However funny and absurd, the scene hits on a sad truth. Medieval life was, for lack of a better word, shitty. Running water was rare, food was scarce, and ‘health care’ as we know it did not exist.

So with this reality in mind, what were some of the truly unpleasant jobs that people had to do? …


Rat-catchers, the forerunners of modern pest exterminators, were distressingly busy in medieval times. Rats and other vermin flourished inside the walls of medieval towns. Castles — designed to withstand a siege — often contained stores of surplus grain, vegetables, and herbs. Along with their cool, dark interior, these stores provided a superb habitat for rats and mice.

As bad as catching rats was, you did earn the respect of your fellow residents. Even before the connection between rats and disease was widely understood, medieval peasants hated rats. Why? Well, in a society that often lived on the razor’s edge with regard to starvation, an infestation of rats could mean the difference between life and death in a medieval town. …


You might be thinking, “I love gardening. Why was that such a horrible job?” Well, the job of medieval gardening was quite a bit different from today’s modern hobby of gardening.

For one thing, medieval gardeners lacked today’s modern equipment. Need to trim some grass? No lawnmower — only a scythe or crude shears. Need to water the flowers? No hoses — water would have to be carried in pails from the nearest stream or well.

The backbreaking work was punctuated by the constant need to prune and weed the gardens by hand. Since there were no artificial fertilizers or pesticides, each plant was highly valued. Therefore, a diseased or infested plant needed to be removed quickly to prevent further losses. …

Gong Farmer

When it comes to horrible jobs in a castle, gong farmer has to win the prize. Gong farmers, also known as nightmen, were responsible for cleaning out human excrement from the cesspits within the castle walls. These unfortunate souls would then transport the waste outside the castle walls, to prearranged locations where it was dumped and buried.

Cesspits, the medieval forerunner of the septic tank, were often located on the lowest level within a castle. The gong farmer would quite literally dig up weeks, months, even years’ worth of excrement from the bottom of these pits. They were paid by the ton — giving some example of how much work they performed. Given the tight quarters they operated in, and the contents of what they were digging up, there were cases of gong farmers suffocating on the job.

Check it out here: https://medium.com/exploring-history/the-three-worst-jobs-in-a-medieval-castle-9201c008ce0a

13.) “Trump is shouting his racism. He must be stopped.” – by Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post, Sept. 7, 2020

To those who raise banners proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” Trump tweets a defiant response: “LAW & ORDER.” He claims, utterly without foundation, that a Biden administration would “destroy” the suburbs nationwide by forcing them to accommodate “low-income housing” — not-so-coded language for “Black and Brown people moving in next door.” The GOP convention featured an appearance by the St. Louis couple now facing criminal charges for brandishing firearms at peaceful racial justice protesters walking past their house.

Trump’s message to Whites is unmistakable: Be afraid. Those people — you know who I mean — are trying to take over your country. I will stop them. All of this is nothing less than undisguised white supremacy. Trump wants White voters to fear the Black Lives Matter movement. He wants them to see it not as a demand for justice and fairness but as a mortal threat to White privilege — to fear the very concept of White privilege as some kind of attack.

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-shouting-his-racism-he-must-be-stopped/2020/09/07/06036768-f13a-11ea-bc45-e5d48ab44b9f_story.html

14.) “The Electoral College Will Destroy America” – by Jesse Wegman, The New York Times, Sept. 8, 2020

It’s hard to find anyone who disputes that Mr. Biden will win the most votes. This isn’t a liberal’s fantasy. In a recent panel discussion among four veteran Republican campaign managers, one acknowledged, “We’re going to lose the popular vote.” Another responded, “Oh, that’s a given.” The real question is will Mr. Biden win enough more votes than President Trump to overcome this year’s bias in the Electoral College.

Mr. Silver’s analysis is bracing. If Mr. Biden wins [the popular vote] by five percentage points or more — if he beats Donald Trump by more than seven million votes — he’s a virtual shoo-in. If he wins 4.5 million more votes than the president? He’s still got a three-in-four chance to be president. Anything less, however, and Mr. Biden’s odds drop like a rock. A mere three million-vote Biden victory? A second Trump term suddenly becomes more likely than not.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me really angry. Yes, I am aware that the United States has never elected its president by a direct popular vote; I wrote a whole book about it. I still cannot fathom why, in a representative democracy based on the principle that all votes are equal, the person who wins the most votes can — and does, repeatedly — lose the most consequential election in the land.

It happened in 2016 to Hillary Clinton, who won nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump — a margin of more than two percentage points — but lost because of fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. Two months away from Election Day, the odds of something like this happening again are disconcertingly high. That’s a bad thing. The presidency is the only office whose occupant must represent all Americans equally, no matter where they live. The person who holds that office should have to win the most votes from all Americans, everywhere.

The Electoral College as it functions today is the most glaring reminder of many that our democracy is not fair, not equal and not representative. No other advanced democracy in the world uses anything like it, and for good reason. The election, as Mr. Trump would say — though not for the right reasons — is rigged.

The main problem with the Electoral College today is not, as both its supporters and detractors believe, the disproportionate power it gives smaller states. Those states do get a boost from their two Senate-based electoral votes, but that benefit pales in comparison to the real culprit: statewide winner-take-all laws. Under these laws, which states adopted to gain political advantage in the nation’s early years… states award all their electors to the candidate with the most popular votes in their state. The effect is to erase all the voters in that state who didn’t vote for the top candidate.

Today, 48 states use winner-take-all. As a result, most are considered “safe,” that is, comfortably in hand for one party or the other. No amount of campaigning will change that. The only states that matter to either party are the “battleground” states — especially bigger ones like Florida and Pennsylvania, where a swing of a few thousand or even a few hundred votes can shift the entire pot of electors from one candidate to the other.

The corrosiveness of this system isn’t only a modern concern. James Madison, known as the father of the Constitution… wrote in an 1823 letter [that] states using the winner-take-all rule “are a string of beads” and fail to reflect the true political diversity of their citizens. He disliked the practice so much he called for a constitutional amendment barring it.

It’s not only liberals who understand the problem with winner-take-all. In 1950, a Texas representative named Ed Gossett took to the floor of Congress to vent about the unfairness of a system that gave some voters more influence in the election than others, solely because of where they live. … “Is it fair, is it honest, is it democratic, is it to the best interest of anyone in fact, to place such a premium on a few thousand” votes … “simply because they happen to be located in two or three large, industrial pivotal states?” …

Given that abolishing the Electoral College is not on the table at the moment, for a number of reasons, the best solution would be to do what Madison tried to do more than two centuries ago: get rid of statewide winner-take-all laws. That can be achieved through the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among states to award their electors to the candidate who wins the most votes in the whole country, not just within their borders. When states representing a majority of electoral votes join, the compact takes effect, making all Americans’ votes relevant, and all of them equal to one another. The popular-vote winner then automatically becomes president.

If you think this is a plot by bitter Democrats who just want to win, consider this: Texas is going to turn blue. Maybe not this year, maybe not even in 2024. But it’s headed in that direction, and when it gets there, Republicans will be in for an unpleasant surprise. In 2016, Donald Trump won about 4.5 million votes in Texas. The moment the Democratic nominee wins more, all those Republican voters suddenly disappear, along with any realistic shot at winning the White House. As Ed Gossett asked, how is that fair?

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/opinion/electoral-college-trump-biden.html

15.) “If You Can Grocery Shop in Person, You Can Vote in Person” – by Russell Berman, The Atlantic, Sept. 8, 2020

Zeke Emanuel has a message for jittery Americans ahead of a momentous election: Voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic is about as safe as going to the grocery store. …

Even now, after the country has gradually and often fitfully reopened, some Democrats are reluctant to say definitively whether it’s safe to vote in person. Yet with the start of in-person early voting just weeks away in some states, Emanuel is back with an update. Public-health officials have learned a lot about the transmission of COVID-19 since the spring, Emanuel told me, and the message around voting must change. “There’s a legitimate concern, but I do think we can make it much safer by following the precautions,” he said. “You don’t want people to be disenfranchised by the pandemic, and you should encourage people that it’s safe. It’s like shopping.”

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/09/voting-during-pandemic-pretty-safe/616084/

16.) “Secular Faiths Are Remaking the American Religious Landscape” – by David Zahl, Christianity Today, Aug. 17, 2020

“Meaning-making is a growth industry.” That’s how Harvard researcher Casper ter Kuile put it in a 2018 interview for Vox. He was commenting on the explosive popularity of extreme fitness regimes like CrossFit and SoulCycle, noting how the overt spirituality of both programs allowed them to function almost as secular churches.

At the time, ter Kuile’s words may have sounded like the sort of exaggeration that effortlessly attaches to exercise fads. Two years later, it appears he understated matters considerably. The fitness industry, of course, has plenty of company in the field of contemporary spiritual entrepreneurship. If you want to sell Americans on razors these days, don’t talk about follicles—talk about toxic masculinity. Don’t pitch your hotel as luxurious—pitch the enlightening potency of self-care. If “sex sells” used to be Madison Avenue’s favorite maxim, today it might be “meaning sells.” Righteousness, too.

It is no coincidence that the person sitting across from ter Kuile was journalist (and recent Christian convert) Tara Isabella Burton. … Burton has compiled her findings [over the past several years into] Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World… It is an essential work for anyone interested in understanding—or addressing—our rapidly transforming cultural and religious landscape.

On one level, Strange Rites is a book-length refutation of the conventional narrative of religious decline invoked with increasing carelessness to explain the rising numbers of “nones.” Americans, it would appear, have become not less religious but differently religious. But the form these new faiths are taking represents a deep and [at times] troubling departure from [traditional religion].

Diving into the numbers and stories of the spiritually unaffiliated, Burton coins a new term: the “Remixed religious,” or the Remixed for short. The Remixed may check “none” (or “spiritual but not religious”) when the census asks about religion, but that’s only because no other label really fits (and they abhor labels to begin with). … Just as the printing press fueled the rise of Protestant denominations, the Remixed owe much of their traction to the internet. With the help of Harry Potter, Burton illustrates how the bespoke tribes found online can morph into bespoke faiths. In her view, all that’s needed are four components: meaning, purpose, community, and ritual—preferably a type of ritual that fosters what sociologist Emile Durkheim called “collective effervescence.

Yet like the technology that fuels their evangelism, the Remixed are hardly monolithic. Lacking a common object of worship, they share a mode of meaning-making, relying fully on intuition and eschewing institutions at all costs. …

The bulk of the book is spent exploring pockets of the Remixed in unflinching detail. Burton begins with fan culture—in particular the aforementioned Harry Potter fan culture, from which she weaves a beguiling if somewhat tenuous web of connections. In her telling, those books marked an inflection point in the development of internet tribes. …

Up next is the behemoth known as Wellness Culture, with its ubiquitous hashtag #selfcare. What began as a statement of personal dignity on behalf of minority women has, in the hands of Instagram influencers, become both a moral imperative and a license to self-indulgence. As Burton observes, “Self-care has become a marketing slogan, one designed to lend legitimacy to behavior that might, in other moral systems, be considered merely selfish.” …

Then we come to a more unfamiliar region of Remixed spirituality, which Burton calls the Magic Resistance: a mixture of feminist politics, New Age curiosity, and self-divinization. (There are more witches in the United States, it turns out, than Jehovah’s Witnesses.) From here it’s a fairly straight line to a squirm-inducing chapter on sexual utopianism, which Burton sees as the logical outcome of an intuitive spirituality that exalts personal authenticity. In fact, an unquestioned valorization of personal authenticity rears its head in pretty much every chapter. The Remixed make very little allowance for healthy self-suspicion. On the contrary, they are convinced of their fundamental goodness—and certain that only external forces can frustrate their path to perfection.

Finally, Burton transitions into the heart of her analysis, profiling three movements vying to become America’s new, outwardly godless civil religion: social justice culture, Silicon Valley techno-utopianism, and a reactionary alt-right.

Each contender offers a totalizing—and in some cases intoxicating—narrative of the world, our place in it, and the wicked forces that need to be rooted out. Radical social justice movements build their cosmology entirely upon “nurture”: the tabula rasa of humanity corrupted by the original sin of Western patriarchy. By contrast, the alt-right leans exclusively on “nature,” declaring that the original sins of political correctness and feminism have obscured certain uncomfortable, biologically grounded realities. And although it claims fewer actual adherents, techno-utopianism—with its promise of bio- and cyber-hacking our way to eternal life—boasts by far the most cash. Not inconsequentially, it also controls the platforms (and devices!) on which its two rivals wage their battles.

While Burton refuses to predict a winner, social justice culture looks an awful lot like the frontrunner at the moment—at least if real-world repercussions (firings, cancellations, statue removals) are any measure of its influence. Burton describes its spiritual appeal this way: “The social justice movement is so successful because it replicates the cornerstones of traditional religion—meaning, purpose, community, and ritual—in an internally cohesive way. It takes the varied tenets of intuitionalism—its prioritization of the self, emotions, and identity, its suspicion of authority, its utopian vision of a better world born phoenix-like from the ashes of the old—and threads them together into a visionary narrative of political resistance and moral renewal.” …

If Burton is right [about all of these secular faiths], then the old story of the [Christian] gospel has not lost a shred of potency. To a culture inclined to locate sin and evil out there, we can speak the unifying word of Eden: that “the line separating good and evil,” as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously phrased it, runs “right through every human heart.”

We can present a faith born of love rather than rage, of sacrifice rather than conflict—one that glories in human frailty instead of denying or despising it. We can speak of a God who liberates us from the shackles of self and the never-ending mandate of perfection. We can speak of the Holy Spirit, active and alive in the world, bringing goodness, light, and healing far beyond our capacity or imagination. Most of all, we can offer the one thing that all these new religions conspicuously lack: an ethic of forgiveness and reconciliation, which is to say, the miracle of God’s grace. In Jesus of Nazareth, we have a way forward for victims and victimizers alike. …

This Good News might not be a growth industry right now, but just you wait: To those burnt out on saving the world and themselves, all it takes is a mustard seed.

Check it out here: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/september/tara-isabella-burton-strange-rites-secular-faiths.html?share=TDj6TxrJjVND%2FDXRoUWo9Z4qTxjHMceW&fbclid=IwAR26s8rKIZ1jH0Sv-PeN3e3N5jW10FzvsVUmauW6XwV7XvKcqFgVQwgpTZk

17.) “Big Oil Is in Trouble. Its Plan: Flood Africa With Plastic.” – by Hiroko Tabuchi, Michael Corkery and Carlos Mureithi, The New York Times, Aug. 30, 2020

Confronting a climate crisis that threatens the fossil fuel industry, oil companies are racing to make more plastic. But they face two problems: Many markets are already awash with plastic, and few countries are willing to be dumping grounds for the world’s plastic waste.

The industry thinks it has found a solution to both problems in Africa. According to documents reviewed by The New York Times, an industry group representing the world’s largest chemical makers and fossil fuel companies is lobbying to influence United States trade negotiations with Kenya, one of Africa’s biggest economies, to reverse its strict limits on plastics — including a tough plastic-bag ban. It is also pressing for Kenya to continue importing foreign plastic garbage, a practice it has pledged to limit.

Plastics makers are looking well beyond Kenya’s borders. “We anticipate that Kenya could serve in the future as a hub for supplying U.S.-made chemicals and plastics to other markets in Africa through this trade agreement,” Ed Brzytwa, the director of international trade for the American Chemistry Council, wrote…

In 2019, American exporters shipped more than 1 billion pounds of plastic waste to 96 countries including Kenya, ostensibly to be recycled, according to trade statistics. But much of the waste, often containing the hardest-to-recycle plastics, instead ends up in rivers and oceans. And after China closed its ports to most plastic trash in 2018, exporters have been looking for new dumping grounds. Exports to Africa more than quadrupled in 2019 from a year earlier. …

Exxon Mobil has forecast that global demand for petrochemicals could rise by nearly 45 percent over the next decade, significantly outpacing global economic growth and energy demand. Most of that would come from emerging markets.

The American Chemistry Council’s April 28 letter to the trade representative’s office laid out the group’s vision. Kenya’s growing ports, railways and road networks “can support an expansion of chemicals trade not just between the United States and Kenya, but throughout East Africa and the continent,” Mr. Brzytwa wrote. To foster a plastics hub, he wrote, a trade deal with Kenya should prevent the country from measures that would curb plastic manufacture or use, and ensure Kenya continues to allow trade in plastic waste, demands that experts said were unusual and intrusive.

Those terms could “literally encapsulate every kind of bag ban, bottle ban,” said Jane Patton, a plastics expert at the Center for International Environmental Law. She called it an industry-led effort “to erode these democratically enacted policies” in foreign countries. Daniel Maina, the founder of the Kisiwani Conservation Network in Mombasa, Kenya, said the trade talks were coming at a particularly vulnerable time, as Kenya was starting to feel the economic effects of the pandemic. “If they were to force this sort of trade agreement on us, I fear we will be easy prey,” he said.…

In Nairobi, local groups are worried. “My concern is that Kenya will become a dumping ground for plastics,” said Dorothy Otieno of the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development. “And not just for Kenya, but all of Africa.”

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/30/climate/oil-kenya-africa-plastics-trade.html

18.) “We’re All Socially Awkward Now” – by Kate Murphy, The New York Times, Sept. 1, 2020

Deprive people of interactions with peers, and their social skills will atrophy. This is yet another side effect of the pandemic.

As the school year begins amid a pandemicmany are concerned about the negative impact that virtual or socially distanced learning may have on children’s developing social skills. But what about grown-ups? It seems adults deprived of consistent and varied peer contact can get just as clumsy at social interactions as inexperienced kids.

Research on prisonershermitssoldiersastronauts, polar explorers and others who have spent extended periods in isolation indicates social skills are like muscles that atrophy from lack of use. People separated from society — by circumstance or by choice — report feeling more socially anxious, impulsive, awkward and intolerant when they return to normal life.

Psychologists and neuroscientists say something similar is happening to all of us now, thanks to the pandemic. We are subtly but inexorably losing our facility and agility in social situations — whether we are aware of it or not. The signs are everywhere: people oversharing on Zoom, overreacting to or misconstruing one another’s behavior, longing for but then not really enjoying contact with others. It’s an odd social malaise that can easily become entrenched if we don’t recognize why it’s happening and take steps to minimize its effects.

Even the most introverted among us, she said, are wired to crave company. It’s an evolutionary imperative because there’s historically been safety in numbers. Loners had a tough time slaying woolly mammoths and fending off enemy attacks. So when we are cut off from others, our brains interpret it as a mortal threat. Feeling lonely or isolated is as much a biological signal as hunger or thirst. And just like not eating when you’re starved or not drinking when you’re dehydrated, failing to interact with others when you are lonely leads to negative cognitive, emotional and physiological effects

Even if you are ensconced in a pandemic pod with a romantic partner or family members, you can still feel lonely — often camouflaged as sadness, irritability, anger and lethargy — because you’re not getting the full range of human interactions that you need, almost like not eating a balanced diet. We underestimate how much we benefit from casual camaraderie at the office, gym, choir practice or art class, not to mention spontaneous exchanges with strangers.

Many of us have not met anyone new in months.

The privation sends our brains into survival mode, which dampens our ability to recognize and appropriately respond to the subtleties and complexities inherent in social situations. Instead, we become hypervigilant and oversensitive. Layer on top of that a seemingly capricious virus and we’re all tightly coiled for fight or flight.

Isolation experts say it’s a slippery slope and advise taking steps to keep your social skills as nimble as possible during this unsocial time. Dr. Haney said inmates who rebound after solitary confinement are the ones who realized their isolation was a serious threat to their sense of self and security and took every opportunity to reach out to other people. … “It’s the ones who withdraw deeply in and eschew contact with others who do the worst.”

That’s why it’s important to block out time every day to connect with others, whether through a socially distanced chat, telephone call or, at the very least, a thoughtful text.

People inevitably change over time and certainly after something significant, like a pandemic, upends their lives and shakes their confidence in what they thought they knew. Values shift. Personalities alter. None of us are the same. So give yourself and everyone else a break. Have patience for your own and other people’s weirdness.

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/01/sunday-review/coronavirus-socially-awkward.html

19.) “One City. Two Neighborhoods. A 30-Year Gap in Life Expectancy” – by Alec Soth, The New York Times, Sept. 5, 2020

Streeterville is a neighborhood of mostly white, affluent, college-educated families living in townhomes and high-rise condominiums along the shore of Lake Michigan. A baby born there in 2015 could expect to live to 90. In nearby Englewood, a poor, predominantly Black neighborhood of low-rise apartments in the shadow of Interstate 94, a baby born in 2015 could not expect to reach 60.

There are many reasons for such extreme differences in life expectancy between rich and poor in the United States, including access to health care, environmental factors such as pollution and the chronic stress associated with poverty. The pandemic is likely to have only widened the gap. The poorer Englewood had one confirmed death from the coronavirus for every 559 residents, while in Streeterville there was just one confirmed death for every 8,107 residents.

Babies do not choose where they are born. But their parents’ ZIP code has a shocking bearing on the quality and length of life they can expect to live. Here’s a look at two of the extremes.


ENGLEWOOD – $20,991


ENGLEWOOD – $115,400




Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/05/opinion/inequality-life-expectancy.html

20.) “High numbers of Los Angeles patients complained about coughs as early as December, study says” – by Ben Guarino, The Washington Post, Sept. 10, 2020

The number of patients complaining of coughs and respiratory illnesses surged at a sprawling Los Angeles medical system from late December through February, raising questions about whether the novel coronavirus was spreading earlier than thought, according to a study of electronic medical records.

The authors of the report, published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, suggested that coronavirus infections may have caused this rise weeks before U.S. officials began warning the public about an outbreak. But the researchers cautioned that the results cannot prove that the pathogen reached California so soon, and other disease trackers expressed skepticism that the findings signaled an early arrival. …

The researchers examined six years of electronic health records, representing nearly 10 million patients, at the UCLA health system from July 2014 through February. … That approach revealed an uptick in patients that began the week of Dec. 22 and remained elevated for 10 weeks. The number of extra people exceeded the researchers’ predictions by 50 percent, totaling about 1,000 more patients compared with the previous five flu seasons.

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2020/09/10/los-angeles-patients-covid-coughing/

21.) “Prepare for election month, not election night” – by Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post, Sept. 10, 2020

All of us need to start preparing for a deeply worrying scenario on Nov. 3. It is not some outlandish fantasy, but rather the most likely course of events based on what we know today. On election night, President Trump will be ahead significantly in a majority of states, including in the swing states that will decide the outcome. Over the next few days, mail-in ballots will be counted, and the numbers could shift in Joe Biden’s favor. But will Trump accept that outcome? Will the United States? …

Several surveys have found that, because of the pandemic, in-person and mail-in ballots will show a huge partisan divide. In one poll, 87 percent of Trump voters said they preferred to vote in person, compared with 47 percent of Biden voters. In another, by the Democratic data firm Hawkfish, 69 percent of Biden voters said they planned to vote by mail, while only 19 percent of Trump voters said the same. The firm modeled various scenarios and found that, based on recent polling, if just 15 percent of mail-in ballots are counted on election night, Trump would appear to have 408 electoral votes compared with Biden’s 130. But four days later, assuming 75 percent of the mail-in ballots are counted, the lead could flip to Biden, and after all ballots are counted, Biden would have 334 electoral votes to Trump’s 204.

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/prepare-for-election-month-not-election-night/2020/09/10/c8ae8c16-f3a1-11ea-bc45-e5d48ab44b9f_story.html

22.) “‘Keep calm and carry on’: Trump compared himself to Brits in the Blitz. But that phrase was never used in WWII.” – by Tim Elfrink, The Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2020

Facing a second day of fierce blowback over revelations that he deliberately misled the public about the risks of the novel coronavirus, President Trump on Thursday reached for a historical analogy to explain himself. “As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, ‘Keep calm and carry on.’ That’s what I did,” Trump told a crowd of supporters in Freeland, Mich.

While some critics took Trump to task for comparing his decision to misinform the public about a virus that has now killed at least [200,000] Americans to the British government’s battle with the Nazis, others noted that he was the latest to fall for a common myth.

Those uber-popular “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters? They were never actually used during World War II. In fact, critics noted, that message contrasted noticeably with many of Winston Churchill’s famed speeches, which urged Britons to fight to the death — not to carry on as if life were normal.

Trump has long idolized Churchill and his administration has often sought to link the president to the former British prime minister… The president did so again on Thursday. “When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, a great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak. And he always spoke with calmness. He said, ‘We have to show calmness,’” Trump said.

Journalists and historians quickly called that account into question on Thursday, noting that … the speeches [Churchill] did give were often jarringly grim in their realism. Many pointed to arguably Churchill’s most famous wartime speech, when he told Britain’s House of Commons in May 1940, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” before warning that, “We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

Just as dubious is Trump’s claim that the British government’s message to its people during the war was to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Although the phrase is now ubiquitous … the wartime British public never heard it, according to a British government history of the slogan. The phrase was one of three created by a nascent Ministry of Information in 1939…

Although millions of “Keep Calm” posters were printed with the signature stylized crown and red and white colors, they were never distributed. … When Britain faced a severe paper shortage in early 1940, virtually all the posters were pulped. Only a few stray samples survived — one of which was discovered in 2000 by the owners of Barter Books in Alnwick, a town in northeastern Britain. The owners framed it and hung it on the wall, where it proved so popular that they began to reprint and sell it.

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/11/trump-churchill-covid-calm/

23.) “Pope Francis Says Having Sex And Eating Good Food Is ‘Simply Divine’” – by Jeremy Blum, The Huffington Post, Sept. 11, 2020

Pope Francis wants you to eat well and enjoy sex. The pope spoke on cuisine and intercourse during a series of interviews with Carlo Petrini, an Italian culinary writer and activist behind the “slow food” movement, which positions itself as the opposite of fast food and advocates a slower, more meaningful pace of life.

“Pleasure arrives directly from God,” Francis told Petrini. “It is neither Catholic, nor Christian, nor anything else. It is simply divine.”

Francis critiqued the “overzealous morality” of a Roman Catholic Church that denounced pleasure in the past, calling it a “wrong interpretation of the Christian message.”

“The church has condemned inhuman, brutish, vulgar pleasure, but has on the other hand always accepted human, simple, moral pleasure,” Francis said. “The pleasure of eating is there to keep you healthy by eating, just like sexual pleasure is there to make love more beautiful and guarantee the perpetuation of the species. … The pleasure of eating and sexual pleasure [comes] from God.”

Francis pointed to the 1987 film “Babette’s Feast,” saying it represented his ideas on pleasure. The pope has lauded the film in the past, particularly praising the actions of its protagonist, a chef who prepares an elaborate feast for members of a Protestant village. “The most intense joys in life arise when we are able to elicit joy in others, as a foretaste of heaven,” Francis wrote in “Amoris Laetitia,” his 2016 apostolic exhortation. “We can think of the lovely scene in the film ‘Babette’s Feast,’ when the generous cook receives a grateful hug and praise: ‘Ah, how you will delight the angels!’ It is a joy and a great consolation to bring delight to others, to see them enjoying themselves. This joy, the fruit of fraternal love, is not that of the vain and self-centered, but of lovers who delight in the good of those whom they love, who give freely to them and thus bear good fruit.”

Check it out here: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/pope-francis-sex-food-divine-pleasure_n_5f5bd9c3c5b67602f6051a6e

24.) “How Old Is This Ancient Vision of the Stars?” – by Becky Ferreira, The New York Times, Sept. 13, 2020

The Nebra sky disk has been hailed as the oldest known representation of the cosmos. Uncovered by looters in 1999 and then recovered in a sting by archaeologists and law enforcement a few years later, the ancient bronze artifact, inlaid with gold decorations of the night sky, has provoked heated debates. Now, a pair of German archaeologists are calling into question the age and origin of the disk, adding another chapter to the complex saga of the enchanting object.

The disk is currently judged to be about 3,600 years old, dating it to the Bronze Age. The looters who initially uncovered it said it was buried on a hilltop near the town of Nebra in Germany, next to weapons from the same era. … [Two German archeologists] now propose that the disk is a product of the Iron Age, which would make it about 1,000 years younger.

The researchers also argue that the disk was most likely moved by looters to the Nebra site from another location, meaning it may not be associated with the other artifacts… “We regard the disk as a single find, as a single artifact, because nothing fits to it in the surrounding area,” Dr. Krause said. …

The artifact is thought to be affiliated with the Bronze Age items in part because soil on the objects indicated a common period, but the study points to conflicting court documents about those assessments. … The researchers suspect that the original looters may have moved the artifacts to the Nebra location to keep their site a secret from professional archaeologists. “They never tell you the place where they excavated because it is like a treasure box for them,” Dr. Gebhard said. “They just go back to the same place to get, and sell, new material.”

The Nebra sky disk, an ancient ornament discovered near Nebra, Germany.

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/science/nebra-sky-disk.html

25.) “An Ode to Small Talk” – by James Parker, The Atlantic, Oct. 2020

The correct answer to the question “How are you?” is Not too bad.

Why? Because it’s all-purpose. Whatever the circumstances, whatever the conditions, Not too bad will get you through. In good times it projects a decent pessimism, an Eeyore-ish reluctance to get carried away. On an average day it bespeaks a muddling-through modesty. And when things are rough, really rough, it becomes a heroic understatement. Best of all, with three equally stressed syllables, it gently forestalls further inquiry, because it is—basically—meaningless.

Small talk is rhetoric too. Americans in particular are small-talk artists. They have to be. This is a wild country. The most tenuous filaments of consensus and cooperation attach one person to the next. So the Have a nice days, the Hot enough for yous, the How ’bout those Metses—they serve a vital purpose. Without these emollient little going-nowhere phrases and the momentary social contract that they represent, the streets would be a free-for-all, a rodeo of disaster.

But that’s the negative view. Some of my most radiant interactions with other human beings have been fleeting, glancing moments of small talk. It’s an extraordinary thing. A person stands before you, unknown, a complete stranger—and the merest everyday speech-morsel can tip you headfirst into the blazing void of his or her soul.

I was out walking the other day when a UPS truck rumbled massively to the curb in front of me. As the driver leaped from his cab to make a delivery, I heard music coming out of the truck’s speakers… I knew the song. It’s my favorite Dead song. “ ‘China Cat Sunflower’?” I said to the UPS guy as he charged back to his truck. A huge grin: “You got it, babe!”

The exchange of energy, the perfect understanding, the freemasonry of Deadhead-ness that flashed instantaneously between us, and most of all the honorific babe—I was high as a kite for the next 10 minutes, projected skyward on a pure beam of small talk.

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/10/small-talk/615508/

26.) “Breonna Taylor’s Family to Receive $12 Million Settlement From City of Louisville” – by Rukmini Callimachi, The New York Times, Sept. 15 2020

After months of protests that turned Breonna Taylor’s name into a national slogan against police violence, city officials agreed to pay her family $12 million and institute changes aimed at preventing future deaths by officers.

The agreement, announced Tuesday, settled a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the young woman’s family. … It comes six months after the death of Ms. Taylor, a 26-year-old ER technician, in a botched drug raid, but before the state’s attorney general has said whether the officers involved in the shooting would be criminally charged — a key demand of protesters. …

The agreement, which did not require the city to acknowledge wrongdoing, was sizable… While a few similar cases resulted in larger payments… some of them came only after years in court battles. By contrast, the Louisville agreement was reached in just months.

Most of all, it was unusual because of the range of changes — a dozen in all — that the embattled city agreed to adopt in an effort to quell the protests. “Based on at least 20 years of tracking these types of cases, I’ve never seen something like this,” said Christopher 2x… “The bottom line is the monetary amount, combined with the reforms, is unprecedented.” …

Among the changes are a requirement that commanding officers review and give written approval for all search warrants, a policy that was instituted recently in Lexington, the second largest town in Kentucky, and that has led to a drastic drop in the riskiest raids…

The department has also agreed to overhaul how simultaneous search warrants are conducted…

An early warning system will be adopted to flag officers with disciplinary problems, a measure that seems aimed at Detective Brett Hankison, the officer who was fired. Multiple complaints of excessive use of force as well as sexual misconduct had been filed against Detective Hankison, according to portions of his personnel file obtained by The Times…

And to promote better relations between the department and the community, officers will be encouraged to perform two hours of paid community service each pay period and will receive housing credits to encourage them to live in the neighborhoods they police…

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/15/us/breonna-taylor-settlement-louisville.html

27.) “Miss Breonna Taylor” – by Robin Givhan, The Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2020

The Kentucky attorney general kept calling her Miss. Miss Taylor. Miss Breonna Taylor. …

Wednesday afternoon, Daniel Cameron (R-Ky.) was standing before the news cameras, and therefore the country, to explain the grand jury’s decision in her death. Speaking precisely, calmly and with a measured cadence from behind a lectern … It was a tableau of professional propriety, civic responsibility and racial bliss.

Cameron used the genteel title — “Miss” — as a matter of formality but also as a kind of armor. The nicety would serve as evidence of his respectfulness of Taylor and of his regard for the criminal justice system. The title would also give feeble cover to the system’s indifference to the value of this 26-year-old Black woman’s life. The word would teeter atop a mountain of historical disregard that continues to grow.

Taylor was killed and the system shrugged. But at least Cameron called her Miss. …

What truth did [the investigators] uncover in all their searching? What did they heroically reveal? The criminal justice system decided that the police officers were “justified” in their use of force, “justified” in the return of deadly fire, “justified” in protecting themselves. Taylor’s killing was “justified.”

But of course, none of that is true. Those determinations are not gospel. They are twisted beliefs, biased understandings, preexisting cultural conditions, falsehoods.

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/23/miss-breonna-taylor/

28.) “Louisville breaks annual homicide record after 4 men were fatally shot overnight” – by Billy Kobin, The Louisville Courier Journal, Sept. 19, 2020

2020 has surpassed Louisville’s previous record for yearly homicides [and it’s only September!], after four men were shot and killed in two separate incidents late Friday and early Saturday, according to police. …

The four deaths overnight brought this year’s criminal homicide count to 121, according to a Courier Journal review of LMPD data. … Louisville’s previous record for murders was reported in 2016, when LMPD investigated 117 homicides.

Check it out here: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/crime/2020/09/19/louisville-breaks-2016-homicide-record-after-4-fatally-shot-overnight/5837693002/

29.) “This NuLu farm-to-table restaurant is closing its doors after nearly 10 years” – by Lucas Aulbach, The Louisville Courier Journal, Sept. 10, 2020

[Note: This was my favorite restaurant in Louisville.]

A popular Louisville restaurant will serve customers for the final time this weekend. Harvest, which has served farm-to-table meals in NuLu since opening in 2011, is closing due to the coronavirus pandemic, its owners announced Wednesday night on Facebook. Its final day of service is Sunday.

“Restaurants don’t run without customers — supporters, really — and we’re so grateful to the many who spent their money with us in order to further and enjoy our cause. The many friends you became and memories you helped us make over the years will not be forgotten,” the post from owners … said. …

Profits in the restaurant business are “modest, even under the best of circumstances,” the owners said. Committing to buying the best ingredients possible as locally as possible means “costs rise even higher and margins narrow in step. A pandemic as we’re enduring now has made operating profitably largely impossible.” …

Harvest joins a growing list of more than 20 Louisville restaurants that have closed during the pandemic, including fellow NuLu staple Rye.

Check it out here: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/entertainment/dining/restaurant/2020/09/10/harvest-restaurant-nulu-closing-after-nearly-10-years/5767913002/

30.) “Walt Whitman, Poet of a Contradictory America” – by Jesse Green, The New York Times, Sept. 14, 2020

[Note: There’s a lot more to this rather strange article about a strange but great American poet, but here’s a taste…]

Six days after the first cannonades of the Civil War boomed out at Fort Sumter, S.C., Walt Whitman, the great ennobler of the American soul, made a resolution: to go on a diet. He scribbled the plan in his notebook. “By ignoring all drinks but water and pure milk” — and by avoiding fatty meats and late suppers as well — he would “inaugurate” for himself a “great body,” a “purged, cleansed, spiritualized, invigorated body.”

It was not in hopes of reaching fighting trim that Whitman decided to cut back… At 41, though robust, he was too old and certainly too much of what he called a “loafer” to join the Union effort as a grunt. Nor was he merely seeking to express in flesh, as he had so often done in type, an ideal of physical vigor for its own sake: an ideal that for all its Olympian language seemed carnal at its core. The 13-part newspaper series on manly health he wrote a few years earlier, in 1858, under the pseudonym Mose Velsor, is full of epigrammatic dictums — “the beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat” and “we have spoken against the use of the potato” — but for long passages comes off as unintentional gay porn.

Of course, so do long passages of his signed work. Six years before the war, in June 1855, Whitman published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” a book of poems he would prune and shape, like a massive topiary, until his death in 1892 at the age of 72. That he believed it to be not just his masterpiece but America’s, and that America somehow came to agree, seems so wildly unlikely when you actually read it that the reading throws you into a time warp. Are we in classical Greece, as the antique cadences and references sometimes suggest? Adamic Eden? The Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury? Pre-Columbian America? Or tonight on Grindr? … Not many other masterpieces of the 19th century fill their pages with kisses among “camerados,” testicular gropes (“the sensitive, orbic, underlapp’d brothers”), hydrothermal ejaculations (“the pent-up rivers of myself”) and the scent of armpits “finer than prayer.” Even in the unlikely event that Whitman merely imagined such things, they have the authenticity of aspiration.

We moderns are always being warned not to impose our words on old worlds or scrutinize the past through our progressive lenses. That warning wouldn’t be necessary if the urge weren’t so pressing to rescue from history the heroic forebears it so often hides from us. Whitman, for all his faults, has surely become one of those heroes: not just as “The Good Gray Poet” … or as an aesthetic radical whose verse experiments announced a new American art form, but as a touchstone for hippiedom, women’s lib, self-actualization, environmentalism, bootstrap pride and Brooklyn beard culture.

It is only as an icon of queerness that Whitman’s legacy is sometimes denied, as if gay people, rooting through the crypts of time, had dug up the wrong body. For decades, heterosexual critics commonly treated the homoerotic passages as metaphor or, like Harold Bloom, asserted that all those loving comrades were actually just platonic friends. … And though it’s true … that in old age the poet casually, even cruelly, dismissed an anguished acolyte’s plea to acknowledge the actual sex shadowing the metaphysical sex in his work — “morbid inferences,” he answered in an 1890 letter, “disavow’d” and “damnable” — that hasn’t stopped gay men since liberation from celebrating the truth for what it is and making Walt their poster boy. After all, how metaphysical can an erection be? (In the preface to the 1856 edition of “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman pledges to restore the “desires, lusty animations, organs, acts” that had been “driven to skulk out of literature with whatever belongs to them.”) Whether or not he sired six children, as he sometimes claimed, though none are known to have come knocking in search of a handout or benediction, they would not be dispositive anyway: Most homophile men have until recently also had wives and children — and Whitman called at least one of his likely young lovers “dear son.”

But even if you deny that Whitman the man had sex with men, you have to accept that Whitman the poet did. His verse is what we would now call queer, its fleshliness vital to his vision: “I too had receiv’d identity by my body,” he writes in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” first published in 1856 as “Sun-Down Poem.” What he isn’t, at least at the time he went on his milk diet, nor during the years when he produced the first editions of “Leaves of Grass,” is amatively mature. “The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious,” he admits in the same poem. “Many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word.” Despite their enthusiastic (and unquestionably transporting) wide-world embraces, these early writings often suggest high school aesthetes pining in diaries for high school athletes. They want more from others than they dare say directly.

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/t-magazine/walt-whitman-cover.html

31.) “A new study from Rwanda is the latest evidence for just giving people money” – by Kelsey Piper, Vox, Sept. 15 2020

In the last decade, organizations working to improve the lives of people in poor countries have increasingly embraced randomized trials to determine whether the interventions work. When it comes to helping the world’s poor, plenty of interventions — such as work training programs and distributions of free food or medication — have been found to have more impact compared with doing nothing at all.

But is “better than doing nothing at all” the right place to set the bar? “Off the back of RCTs [randomized controlled trials] getting very popular,” Joe Huston, managing director at GiveDirectly, told me, “we’ve realized that pure treatment versus control wasn’t always the right question.”

For the last several years, more and more experts have argued that we should be checking something else: whether a given intervention is more effective than just taking the money you would have spent on that intervention, dividing it up evenly, and giving it to the intended beneficiaries as cash. In other words, is the intervention you’re implementing actually better than just giving people money?

This is called “cash benchmarking.” The idea is that people often know what’s best for them, and by giving them money, they can spend it whatever way best meets their family’s needs. We should introduce other aid programs only when we can demonstrate that they do more good than cash itself. Sometimes they do; often they don’t.

On September 3, researchers … published a study using this approach to evaluate a [USAID] development program in Rwanda. McIntosh and Zeitlin have looked at this before: In 2018, they found a nutrition program in Rwanda didn’t deliver better results than just giving people an equivalently priced cash transfer.

This time, they collaborated with … [nonprofits] to study the Huguka Dukore/Akazi Kanoze program… Beginning in 2017, the … program provided 40,000 young people in Rwanda with employment training, including 10 weeks of “workforce readiness preparation,” 10 weeks focused on “individual youth entrepreneurship,” and 10 weeks of technical training for a trade.

The question was: Does doing all of that improve employment outcomes more than just giving people money? Eighteen months after the program concluded (there’ll be another study at the three-year mark), the answer appears to be not really. The study found that participants in the work training program were not any likelier to be employed, nor did they have higher incomes or consumption. They did work slightly longer hours and have more savings, and they were happier than the control group and performed better on a test of their business knowledge.

What about the effects ofcash? The money was distributed by GiveDirectly, a nonprofit that has participated in tons of research on cash as a development intervention. …

The researchers found that “the cost-equivalent cash grant performed significantly better than Huguka Dukore at increasing monthly income, productive assets, subjective well-being, beneficiary consumption, and household livestock wealth.” Increased business knowledge was the only outcome in which the job training program performed better than cash — however, it appears those higher test scores haven’t translated to more business success, because giving people cash did more for income and household wealth.

Check it out here: https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/21427889/cash-benchmarking-usaid-global-poverty

32.) “Sufjan Stevens’s Problem With America” – by Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, Sept. 16, 2020

One stipulation was made before I interviewed Sufjan Stevens by phone last month. It would be nice, a publicist wrote along with a smiley face in an email, to avoid questions about the “50 States Project” “where possible.” …

So I did not ask Stevens where the California or Idaho songs are. But I did note that his sprawling new album, The Ascension, out on September 25, might be heard as the final subversion of his early-2000s output. “I’m ashamed to admit I no longer believe,” he sings on the lead single, “America,” before the knife-flick of a chorus: “Don’t do to me what you did to America.” Some listeners have speculated that the 12-minute track is about Stevens breaking up with God, but Stevens explained to me that it’s not a religious song at all. It instead articulates a “crisis of faith about my identity as an American, and about my relationship to our culture, which I think is really diseased right now … It’s overtly a political protest song, specifically about America.”

To the notion that such protest is in tension with his early work, Stevens, 45, said with a laugh, “I have changed. I’ve grown old and world-weary. I’m exhausted. I’m disenchanted. I’m a curmudgeon.” But he insisted that his point of view hadn’t radically shifted. “There’s a lot of criticism on those [early] records; it’s all just hidden behind a facade of joyfulness,” he said. “But I’m inherently a pessimist … For the first time ever, on The Ascension, I’m being honest about what I feel about the world.” …

“The election of Donald … stirred something in me that made me think I was entitled to this cynicism and mean-spiritedness,” Stevens said. “I had been holding back a lot of resentment towards pop culture and American culture … But when all of the shit hit the fan, I realized, I should say something.” …

The lyrics impressionistically address love, death, and drugs with an overarching call to defy modern society’s materialism, lies, and idol worship. … It’s an intimidating album, and I asked whether he was worried about coming off as didactic or preachy. “I think I’ve earned the right to be didactic and preachy,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and how many songs have I written about my own personal grievances [with] judgment against myself, self-deprecation, and sorrow? I was like, No, I don’t want to write another song about my dead mother. I want to write a song that is casting judgment against the world.”

On a later track, “Goodbye to All That”… [he sings] “It’s too late to have died a young man.” The song, like the Joan Didion essay it’s named for, is his kiss-off to New York City. It’s also a call for the listener, and the world, to make a break with the toxic past.

“I decided to move on, and I wonder if that’s what needs to happen culturally and politically,” Stevens said. “What if we just cut it off? Severed the limb that causes you to stumble … and tried something new? Like, what if we rewrote the Constitution? What if we split up the country into different geopolitical regions and we were multiple countries? What if we put 10-year-olds like my niece in charge?” If these are jarring proposals to hear from an artist once thought to be a keeper of national mythology, Stevens would argue that his critiques are grounded in hope. “I don’t want anyone to think that what we’re going through is unsolvable, because I don’t believe that,” he said. “I still have faith, I still have hope, I still have love … Yeah, we got to break shit up, but we should also build something better.”

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/09/sufjan-stevens-ascension-bossy-and-bitchy/616366/

33.) “A Secret Diary Chronicled the ‘Satanic World’ That Was Dachau” – by David Chrisinger, The New York Times, Sept. 4, 2020

His cheekbones stuck out like mountaintops from a barren valley. Gnawing hunger had tortured him for months. Day and night, his thoughts vacillated between fantasies of his favorite foods — of chewing even — to how he might take his own life. A prisoner’s existence in Neuengamme concentration camp… he later explained, was like walking a tightrope. The only way to keep from falling was to focus on yourself and avert your eyes from the unimaginable misery all around you.

Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz wasn’t Jewish or a Communist … but in November 1940 he was sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, apparently for the crime of being a pacifist. When he was transferred to Neuengamme, he thought there was no place on Earth worse than Dachau. He was wrong. In four months of crushing labor and near-starvation rations at Neuengamme, he lost nearly 100 pounds. When he was sent back to Dachau, in late April, with about 500 other sick prisoners, the comrades he knew there just a few months previously no longer recognized him. He no longer recognized himself.

Just over a year and a half later, Edgar was assigned to work as an office manager in a screw factory just outside where most of Dachau’s inmates were housed. This new position spared him from some of the arbitrary violence that befell other prisoners, and it also provided him clandestine opportunities to keep a secret diary.

“Some comrades spoke to me about writing yesterday evening,” he wrote on Feb. 12, 1943. “They expect a book from me about Dachau, a book that says everything, that illuminates everything correctly and does not hide anything.” By the time Dachau was liberated by American forces, in April 1945, Edgar had written more than 1,800 pages.

Part of what makes Edgar’s diary so astonishing — other than its sheer size and scope — is that it survived the war at all. While the number of postwar memoirs written by survivors of the Holocaust is enormous, the number of testimonies that were actually written inside German concentration camps is far smaller. The ones that do exist are often fragmentary…

Edgar began keeping his diary in November 1942, soon after he had been assigned the job in the screw factory. “It was well known that I was useless for work,” Edgar wrote early on, but he was a good writer, and that saved his life. “They shook their heads, smiled meaningfully and left me alone, because each of them would come to me sooner or later needing a poem.”

Taking advantage of his sheltered position, Edgar wrote down nearly everything he saw, heard, and thought, amassing precise descriptions of the sealed universe of the camp, “a world in itself, a satanic world.”

No detail was too small or too cruel for him to preserve. Thanks to Edgar we know that the SS liked to have the camp orchestra play during roll call and sometimes made the exhausted prisoners sing. The music sounded like “a waltz at a funeral,” Edgar wrote. …

Edgar hid his diary balanced atop a curtain rod in the factory where he worked — a place he considered “too obvious” for prying eyes to bother with. When the pages grew too bulky for their perch, he used his position as office manager to have a wooden box made, and he fitted it with a false bottom to conceal the diary. He stashed his box under cartons of office supplies.

After a typhoid epidemic swept through Dachau, Edgar and the other workers were ordered to sleep at the factory to limit their exposure to the sick and dying back at the main camp. This new living arrangement afforded Edgar the opportunity to sneak back into his tiny closetlike office and write while his fellow inmates slept. To avoid detection by the guards, Edgar sealed the cracks around the door so that no light would escape. He would write until 2 or 3 in the morning, exhausted, in constant fear of discovery, near collapse in the airless room.

“I often believed that I couldn’t go on,” Edgar confessed once. … There were times, in fact, that he thought of destroying his diary, so that he could finally stop worrying about it, stop giving up his precious sleep for it.

By October 1944, the diary had become so large that it was no longer easy to hide — and such a valuable testament that Edgar was anxious for its safety. One of his co-workers… offered to dig a hole in the concrete floor in another part of the factory, where the diary could be buried for posterity. To help preserve it from damp and decay, Edgar wrapped the manuscript in layers of oil paper… Otto lowered the bundle into the floor and sealed the hole with fresh concrete, in a spot where it was hidden under a rack of hundredweight iron bars. …

American troops liberated the prisoners of Dachau on April 29, 1945. A week later, in the presence of an American officer, Edgar helped dig out his manuscript. His heart beat in anticipation as he uncovered the parcel. What shape would the diary be in after all that time? “Thousands of our comrades were dead who were alive when we buried it,” Edgar wrote. Had the elements destroyed the memorial he had worked so hard to create? …

The manuscripts themselves had become heavy wet bales of paper.” For the next month, Edgar used several rooms in the camp, guarded by the Americans, to dry out the hundreds of wet pages. … Finally the results were clear: “Almost everything is saved,” he rejoiced. More than a record of his time at Dachau, Edgar’s diary was ready to be used to convict those who had persecuted him and had beaten, starved, tortured and killed his fellow prisoners. …

The 465 trials that collectively came to be known as the Dachau Trials began in November 1945. By the time the court permanently adjourned two years later, it had tried some 1,200 defendants for war crimes and convicted nearly three-quarters of them. With Edgar’s diary as evidence, a number of former Dachau guards were punished for their part in a pattern of horrific crimes.

By the time he died at age 85 in 1991, Edgar was back in Germany and nearly penniless. He never achieved the sort of recognition that came to other chroniclers of the Holocaust. But he could do one thing he hadn’t been able to when he first returned to Dachau from Neuengamme: He could look in the mirror and recognize the face staring back at him. He could know, in the deepest part of his being, that he had not only done all he could to survive the terror and utter hopelessness of life inside a concentration camp; he had not averted his eyes to the suffering of his comrades. He had focused his attention on their agony, recorded it, and in the process he had resisted the Nazis by bearing witness to their atrocious crimes.

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/04/magazine/-secret-diarist-dachau.html

34.) “Brazil Fires Burn World’s Largest Tropical Wetlands at ‘Unprecedented’ Scale” – by Maria Magdalena Arréllaga, Ernesto Londoño and Letícia Casado, The New York Times, Sept. 4, 2020

A record amount of the world’s largest tropical wetland has been lost to the fires sweeping Brazil this year, scientists said, devastating a delicate ecosystem that is one of the most biologically diverse habitats on the planet. The enormous fires — often set by ranchers and farmers to clear land, but exacerbated by unusually dry conditions in recent weeks — have engulfed more than 10 percent of the Brazilian wetlands, known as the Pantanal, exacting a toll scientists call “unprecedented.”

The fires in the Pantanal, in southwest Brazil, raged across an estimated 7,861 square miles between January and August… That’s an area slightly larger than New Jersey. …

And to the north, the fires in the Brazilian Amazon — many of them also deliberately set for commercial clearing — have been ruinous as well. The amount of Brazilian rainforest lost to fires in 2020 has been similar to the scale of the destruction last year, when the problem drew global condemnation … But experts called this year’s blazes in the Pantanal a particularly jarring loss and the latest ecological crisis that has unfolded on the watch of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose policies have prioritized economic development over environmental protections. …

Across the Pantanal, firefighters, local tourism professionals and volunteers have banded together to help firefighters combat the fires, a herculean task that has often felt hopeless… “We received calls from people in tears asking for help to combat fire on their property, but we couldn’t do anything,” Lt. Col. Jean Oliveira… told firefighters… “Fighting forest fires is really like war, and every day is a battle.”

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/04/world/americas/brazil-wetlands-fires-pantanal.html#:~:text=The%20enormous%20fires%20%E2%80%94%20often%20set,toll%20scientists%20call%20%E2%80%9Cunprecedented.%E2%80%9D

35.) “A Climate Reckoning in Fire-Stricken California” – by Thomas Fuller and Christopher Flavelle, The New York Times, Sept. 10, 2020

Multiple mega fires burning more than three million acres. Millions of residents smothered in toxic air. Rolling blackouts and triple-digit heat waves. Climate change, in the words of one scientist, is smacking California in the face.

The crisis in the nation’s most populous state is more than just an accumulation of individual catastrophes. It is also an example of something climate experts have long worried about, but which few expected to see so soon: a cascade effect, in which a series of disasters overlap, triggering or amplifying each other.

“You’re toppling dominoes in ways that Americans haven’t imagined,” said Roy Wright… “It’s apocalyptic.” …

California’s simultaneous crises illustrate how the ripple effect works. A scorching summer led to dry conditions never before experienced. That aridity helped make the season’s wildfires the biggest ever recorded. Six of the 20 largest wildfires in modern California history have occurred this year. …

Philip B. Duffy, a climate scientist who is president of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, said many people did not understand the dynamics of a warming world. “People are always asking, ‘Is this the new normal?’” he said. “I always say no. It’s going to get worse.”

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/10/us/climate-change-california-wildfires.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

36.) “Every Place Has Its Own Climate Risk. What Is It Where You Live?” – by Stuart A. Thompson and Yaryna Serkez, The New York Times, Sept. 18, 2020

Thinking this way transforms the West Coast’s raging wildfires into “climate fires.” The Gulf Coast wouldn’t live under the annual threat of floods but of “climate floods.” Those are caused by ever more severe “climate hurricanes.” The Midwest suffers its own “climate droughts,” which threaten water supplies and endanger crops.

This picture of climate threats uses data from Four Twenty Seven, a company that assesses climate risk for financial markets. … We selected the highest risk for each county to build our map… “Every single county has some sort of climate threat that’s either emerged and is doing some damage right now or is going to emerge,” said Nik Steinberg…

Despite the clear environmental threats, people still tend to believe climate change is something “far away in time and space,” … [S]urveys show that while 61 percent of Americans say climate change poses a risk for people in the United States, only 43 percent think it will affect them personally. …

The solution may be found in research showing that addressing climate change in emotional and personal terms is far more persuasive. “There is a lot of evidence behind the idea that personalizing climate change and helping people understand the local impacts are more important than talking about how it’s influencing melting glaciers or talking about wildfires when you live in Ohio,” said Jennifer Marlon…

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/18/opinion/wildfire-hurricane-climate.html

37.) “Your Cheatin’ Wallet” – by Jancee Dunn, The New York Times, Feb. 14, 2020

When my daughter was a newborn, I fell into a routine of shopping during her afternoon nap. Too foggy-brained to read, I’d scroll through website after website of baby clothes, soothed by the parade of sherbet-colored onesies, socks and tiny cardigans. Then I started buying. And buying. As packages began piling in our hallway, I would breezily mention to my husband, Tom, that I got the baby a “few new things.” What I neglected to inform him was that I was spending hundreds of dollars a month — money that we most emphatically did not have lying around.

As a couple who married relatively late, Tom and I found it easier to split bank accounts and finances down the middle… so my purchases were easy to hide. I finally had to come clean one day when I couldn’t pay the bill for a boatload of soon-to-be-outgrown rompers I’d impulsively bought. I had committed what is known as “financial infidelity,” described by Emily Garbinsky… as “engaging in a financial behavior expected to be disapproved of by one’s romantic partner, and intentionally failing to disclose this behavior to them.” It can run the gamut from mild deceptions, such as neglecting to mention your daily coffee habit, to huge transgressions, like gambling away the kids’ college fund.

As it turns out, Tom had also been up to some financial skulduggery. A fanatical cyclist, he always seemed to be bringing a dizzying procession of bike-related merchandise into the house, the price of which he was constantly playing down. …

We’re not alone. A 2018 Harris poll found that 42 percent of adults in relationships admitted to financial waywardness. A 2019 survey from TD Bank found the most pervasive secrets people kept from their significant others were, in order from most common to least: credit card debt, hidden bank accounts, a gambling hobby and unpaid student loans. … And because relationship conflicts over money tend to be recurrent and intense, Garbinsky added, they have become a top reason for divorce. A 2017 survey from financial advisers Ramsey Solutions found that money fights were the second leading cause of divorce behind extramarital affairs.

If financial infidelity appears to be an ongoing problem, consider seeing a financial therapist, who can address the emotions and psychological issues behind money. If you don’t understand your emotional relationship with money, it can be tough to follow a financial plan. Purnell recommended that partners have regular meetings about finances. …

And set clear ground rules for discretionary spending, whether it’s “any purchase over X amount requires a conversation” or agreeing on a monthly sum that each partner can spend any way they like… without having to review it with each other.

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/14/parenting/financial-infidelity.html

38.) “Re-watching [Ken Burns’] ‘The Civil War’ during the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd protests” – by Gillian Brockell, The Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2020

[Note: I am a big fan of Ken Burns’ work, but I also felt that this was a pretty justified critique. I wish Ken Burns would remake the whole series with an updated—and more accurate—historical approach.]

This scene has been played, parodied, rewound and played again countless times in the 30 years since it first aired on PBS. But it is no less affecting now than it was in 1990 when the Ken Burns series, “The Civil War,” became a cultural phenomenon. The nine-part documentary drew 40 million viewers — one in every six Americans alive at the time. President George H.W. Bush watched it. … And it has had a lasting, and in many cases, misleading impact on how Americans see the war.

Like “Gone With The Wind” and statues that glorify Confederate generals, the series romanticized a conflict fought over the right of White Southerners to own, profit from and brutalize enslaved Black people. …

Sarah Sanders once invoked the documentary to defend a senior Trump official who’d claimed a “lack of an ability to compromise” caused the Civil War. Historians online said the claim was outrageous, offensive even. Even Burns chimed in, tweeting, “Many factors contributed to the Civil War. One caused it: slavery.”

But the press secretary had prepared a defense that day. “I don’t know that I’m going to get into debating the Civil War,” she told reporters, “but I do know that many historians, including Shelby Foote in Ken Burns’s famous Civil War documentary, agree that a failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War.” She was partially right. Not about the cause of the Civil War, nor about Foote being a historian — he wasn’t, not a trained one anyway. But in the first few minutes of the series, Foote does in fact say the conflict happened “because we failed to do the thing we have a real genius for, which is compromise.”

While still giving credit where it’s due, scholars have spent three decades trying to undo the damage of “The Civil War,” writing op-ed after op-ed, and even whole books of criticism, charging large sections of it are misleading and inaccurate.

Re-watching the series now, after a summer of protests sparked by the police killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other Black Americans, popular culture may have finally caught up to those historians. Much of the documentary comes off as hopelessly dated, archaic even, and at times breathtakingly tone-deaf.

Foote’s screen time is dripping with Lost Cause fables as thick as his accent. Stonewall Jackson looks out over a gruesome battlefield, eating a peach. A Confederate private, on duty alone at night, has a conversation with an owl. And Nathan Bedford Forrest — a slave trader who oversaw the massacre of hundreds of Black soldiers at Fort Pillow and founded the Ku Klux Klan — is as much a genius as Abraham Lincoln, physically attractive, “born to be a soldier the way John Keats was born to be a poet.”

Historian Keri Leigh Merritt, who called for a new Civil War documentary series in 2019, is stunned by the flowery compliments bestowed on Forrest. “There’s no such thing as a good slaveholder, but there were slaveholders who were not horrifically violent. He was horrifically violent,” Merritt said in a phone interview. “And that was well-known at the time. That was well-documented. Both Foote and Burns clearly knew that.” …

“If he, Ken Burns, and his co-writers had been trained … they would have learned that the people they were relying on for much of this history were in fact white supremacist, pro-Confederate, pro-Lost Cause men. White men,” Merritt said. The academy is generally a few decades ahead of popular culture, Merritt explained, and it was entirely possible to make a more accurate film in 1990 had they relied on other scholarship…

Instead, the series suffers from an inappropriate presentation of “both sides.” Again, showing both sides is often a sign of responsible journalism. But the problem with the Lost Cause narrative is not just that it isn’t “woke” by today’s standards. It is also not true.

Check it out here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/09/26/ken-burns-civil-war-breonna-taylor-george-floyd-shelby-foote/

39.) “The Great Liberal Reckoning Has Begun” – by Alan Z. Rozenshtein, The Atlantic, Sept. 22, 2020

But the outpouring of grief that has followed her death is not just for the passing of a revered figure in American law but also for the end of an important force in American society: the liberal faith in the Supreme Court.

This faith is more recent than many people recognize. A century ago, the biggest critics of the federal judiciary were on the left, and for good reason. For most of its history, the Supreme Court was the most conservative of the three branches of government, consistently blocking, or at least delaying, efforts at social, political, and economic reform. From Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Court upheld the subordination of racial minorities, to Lochner, which denied the government the ability to regulate much of economic life, the Court epitomized what William F. Buckley would later identify as the conservative credo: the impulse to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop.” By the Progressive Era and the Great Depression, it was widely held that the Supreme Court could only hinder, not help, the cause of reform.

But then, for a few decades, everything changed. The fundamental reason was politics: Over his 12-year presidency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed a record eight new justices, nearly an entire Supreme Court’s worth, two of whom—the liberal icons Hugo Black and William O. Douglas—served into the 1970s. The context changed as well: The federal government’s massive expansion during the New Deal and World War II transformed both elite and popular understandings of the Constitution. This change was so profound that Dwight Eisenhower, the first Republican president elected after FDR, appointed the two justices, Earl Warren and William Brennan, who would later lead the Court to its liberal zenith. These were the decades of Brown v. Board of Education, of the removal of religion from public schools, of the expansion of free speech and the rights of criminal defendants. In these decades the Court was a true partner in the political branches’ attempt to move the country forward.

Richard Nixon began the Supreme Court’s shift back to the right, appointing conservatives like Warren Burger, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist. Liberals still won a few important victories—most notably 1973’s Roe v. Wade—but since 1969 Republican presidents have appointed 14 justices. Democrats have appointed only four. The past half century of American constitutional law is defined, more than anything else, by this simple fact.

From today’s vantage point the fragility of the mid-century liberal judicial victories is abundantly clear. …

The choice to focus on courts has had its most fateful results with abortion, in which the lion’s share of liberal organizational energy has gone into desperate, rear-guard defenses of judicially granted abortion rights. Despite the work of groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, anti-abortion-rights advocates have captured statehouses in red states and many purple ones, with one-third of the more than 1,000 abortion restrictions since Roe passed in just the past decade. Roe failed to create a durable political consensus in favor of abortion rights, as occurred over the same period in Western Europe, where abortion rights were secured by legislatures rather than courts. This failure has been one of the key criticisms of Roe from pro-choice advocates, and RBG herself criticized Roe’s sweeping reach on these grounds in a 1985 essay, noting, “The political process was moving in the early 1970s, not swiftly enough for advocates of quick, complete change, but majoritarian institutions were listening and acting. Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.

If the Supreme Court has proved itself, time and time again, to be unwilling or incapable of advancing the liberal conception of justice, why have so many liberals, for so long, let themselves be victims of judicial gaslighting? Part of it is that the Warren and early Burger Courts painted a vivid, alluring picture of what justice by judiciary could look like. And even if liberals understood, deep down, that those two decades were an aberration in American legal history, the Court has given them just enough victories since then to keep the dream alive. …

But eventually liberals lost faith that the Court would interpret the Constitution in their favor. What started as a trickle of disillusionment … became a torrent when Roberts became chief justice in 2005 and led the conservative wing to undermine a number of liberal legal priorities, from gun control to campaign-finance law to voting rights. Although many liberal lawyers still dutifully fight in federal court to protect rights where they can, they do so with the increasing understanding that they are simply delaying the inevitable. And legal scholars have gradually given up on the Court as a guarantor of constitutional values… Whatever was left of the Court’s sacred aura as above partisan politics was ripped away by Mitch McConnell’s denial of a vote to Merrick Garland in 2016 and the bitterness of the confirmation hearings over Brett Kavanaugh two years later.

The clearest sign that many liberals are giving up their remaining idealism about the Court is that, for many moderate Democrats (not to mention those on the progressive left), court packing has gone from a fringe theory to not just a viable option but a moral imperative if Joe Biden wins in November and the Democrats take back the Senate. Court packing is straightforwardly constitutional—the Court’s size fluctuated before the Civil War, and its current composition of nine justices is set by statute. But adding justices in retribution for the perfidy of Senate Republicans would require taking a wholly instrumental view of the Court—just another veto point in America’s groaning vetocracy, super-legislature subject to the same politics as Congress or the White House. It’s a truth that many historians and political scientists have understood for a long time but that many lawyers are only beginning to accept. And it’s a hard, disenchanting truth.

In time, liberals may yet win the battle over the federal courts, but any victory will be bittersweet, because in their hearts they will know that the lofty dream is dead. Law is no savior from politics; it is only a temporary reprieve from the struggle between powers over power. Battle is coming. The question is: Do liberals still remember how to fight? Because conservatives certainly do.

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/liberal-reckoning-courts/616425/

40.) “Term Limits Won’t Fix the Court [But They Could Help Restore Confidence In It]” – by Ilya Shapiro, The Atlantic, Sept. 22, 2020

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday has prompted, once again, a wave of discussion about the idea of limiting the terms of Supreme Court justices. If only Ginsburg had been forced to retire years ago, the theory goes, the country would not be facing down the uncertainty of a confirmation fight in the midst of an already tumultuous election season. The hope, which first gained traction in modern times after Robert Bork’s failed nomination in 1987, is that by more regularly replacing longtime justices with newer ones, adding predictability to when those switches occur, the judicial-nomination process would become less divisive and disruptive. This is largely right—term limits could help restore confidence in the confirmation process and eliminate the morbid health watches we now have as justices age—but there are other problems they wouldn’t fix.

[In 2006] Steven Calabresi and James Lindgren … argued for staggered 18-year terms, such that a vacancy would occur every two years, in nonelection years, giving each president two appointments per term. They … recommended a constitutional amendment to achieve their goal. …

[T]he reasons for the growing public interest are clear. First, the average length of tenure has increased as a result of rising life expectancies, increased prestige of the job, and a reduction in the difficulties associated with service. Second, life tenure enables justices to time their retirement for political purposes, which takes away from the idea that the Court is detached from the partisan gamesmanship of Congress and the presidency. Third, the longer justices serve, the less accountable they become to democratic sentiments and the more independent they’re perceived to be from the cultural zeitgeist that inevitably informs the public’s response to the Court’s rulings. Finally, as Calabresi and Lindgren put it, “the irregular occurrence of vacancies on the Supreme Court means that when one does arise, the stakes are enormous,” and the brutal and often-drawn-out political combat that results affects the Court “directly, since it is deprived of one of its nine members, and indirectly, since rancorous confirmation battles lower the prestige of the Court.” …

But there are real risks, and ways in which instituting staggered term limits could spectacularly backfire. Imagine a scenario in which a GOP-controlled Senate blocks a Democratic president’s 2025 and 2027 nominations. A Republican president is then elected in 2028 and the Senate confirms four nominees: in 2029 and 2031, to serve the regular 18-year terms, and for the two empty seats, with 14 and 16 years left on their terms, respectively. This could happen in every cycle of divided government, and would exacerbate, not lessen, the politicization of the confirmation process. …

What’s more, if these 18-year terms had been around for the past few decades, the Court’s makeup would hardly be different; there would now be three George W. Bush appointees, four Barack Obama appointees, and two Donald Trump appointees. In the past 50 years, there have been 30 years of Republican presidents and 20 years of Democratic ones; if anything, liberal voices have been overrepresented on the Court. In other words, term limits wouldn’t change the ideological composition of the Court over time. Nor, for that matter, would they address the fundamental power that each justice wields, which is the reason we see such ferocious political battles every time a vacancy occurs.

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/term-limits-wont-fix-court/616402/

41.) “If You Care About the Court, Don’t Talk About It” – by Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic, Sept. 20, 2020

I know that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s empty Supreme Court seat has provoked an epic, long-awaited clash between Democrats and Republicans, that the very principle of judicial independence hangs dangerously in the balance. I realize that the social-media wave cannot be stopped, that the talking heads cannot be silenced, and that Democrats in Congress must fight this nomination. Nevertheless, let me try to convince anyone who will listen: Democrats should not spend the weeks between now and November talking solely about judges, Mitch McConnell, and the Supreme Court.

Why? Fixating on the Court organizes the electorate along two fronts of a culture war, and forces people to make stark ideological choices. Instead of focusing voters on the president’s failure to control COVID-19 or the consequent economic collapse, the culture war makes voters think only of their deepest tribal identities. To put it differently: Americans who define themselves as “pro-life” or as socially conservative might consider voting for Joe Biden if the issue at stake is the botched pandemic response. If the issue is conservative judges versus liberal judges, then they may stick with the Republicans.

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/dont-make-the-election-about-the-court/616417/

42.) “How Ginsburg’s Death Has Reshaped the Money Race for Senate Democrats” – by Shane Goldmacher and Jeremy W. Peters, The New York Times, Sept. 21, 2020

For much of 2020, Al Gross’s Senate campaign in Alaska has proceeded as something of an afterthought for most Democrats, a distant contest that was off the radar in terms of determining control of the U.S. Senate. … But in the hours after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Friday, Dr. Gross’s campaign … saw an infusion of attention and cash that could reshape the race: Nearly $3 million has poured into his coffers — about as much total money as the campaign had in the bank at the end of July. …

From Alaska to Maine to North and South Carolina, Democratic strategists working on Senate campaigns described a spontaneous outpouring of donations the likes of which they had never seen, allowing Democrats the financial freedom to broaden the map of pickup opportunities, or press their financial advantage in top battlegrounds already saturated with advertising.

By Monday, Democratic contributors had given more than $160 million online through ActBlue, the leading site for processing digital donations. ActBlue broke one record after another — its biggest hour in 16 years, its busiest day, its busiest weekend — after Justice Ginsburg’s death, with an estimated tens of millions of dollars going toward efforts to retake the Senate…

At least 13 Democratic candidates or senators raised more than $1.3 million each since Friday from a single fund-raising effort.

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/21/us/politics/ginsburg-senate-donations.html

43.) “A Failure of Empathy Led to 200,000 Deaths. It Has Deep Roots.” – by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic, Sept. 22, 2020

In reality, the COVID-19 death toll probably passed 200,000 some time ago. And yet “the photos of body bags have not had the same effect in the pandemic” as after other mass-casualty events such as Hurricane Katrina, says Lori Peek… “Is our national empathy—our care and love and concern for one another—at such a low level that we are not truly feeling, in our bones, in our hearts, and in our souls, the magnitude of the loss?”

It’s hard for anyone to comprehend the sheer horror of mass death. As I wrote in April, “compassion fade” sets in when victims are no longer individuals but statistics, and few Americans have witnessed something of this scale before. But there’s an additional explanation for this empathy deficit: Part of the reason this majority-white, majority-non-elderly country has been so blasé about COVID-19 deaths is that mostly Black people and old people are dying. Eight out of 10 American COVID-19 deaths have been among people older than 65; the rest of the dead are disproportionately Black. White people’s brains psychologically sort minorities as “out-groups” that stir less empathy. Segregated neighborhoods have also helped insulate white Americans from the horror Black Americans face, because the ambulance sirens and the packed hospital wards are typically far from their own zip codes. “We literally don’t see those deaths in the same way we might if we didn’t experience segregation,” says Nour Kteily

Ageism reduces human beings’ capacity for caring too. Globally, people don’t value elderly lives as much as they do young people’s, research shows. When it comes to deciding who lives or dies, there’s a disregard for the elderly, even among the elderly. …

One major insight into this phenomenon comes from a 2018 study called the “Moral Machine experiment,” which invites participants to determine how to program a self-driving car. People who play the Moral Machine game are shown two images, each of which depicts an out-of-control car driving into a different group of people (or, in some of the images, a cat or a dog.) For example, the game might tell the player that if you let the car plow ahead, the car will kill three little girls and two adult men. But if you swerve to the right, the car will instead kill two elderly men, two elderly women, and another, non-elderly woman. Would you swerve, or stay straight? Who would you kill?

After it launched in 2016, the Moral Machine experiment went viral a few times, which meant that millions of people in 233 countries and territories ultimately played it. Through the game, its authors were able to glean country-specific preferences for sparing or sacrificing different types of lives. The strongest signals that came out of all those sessions were that people preferred to spare a greater number of lives, to spare human lives, and yes—to spare young lives. The most likely lives to be saved in these simulated car accidents were those of babies, children, pregnant women, and male and female doctors. Male or female homeless people and overweight men, meanwhile, were likely to be sacrificed.

Overall, older men and women were some of the least likely to be spared, ranking just above dogs, human criminals, and cats—disturbingly, in that order. (“People like dogs,” says Azim Shariff… This could explain why the large number of coronavirus cases in prisons has also provoked a collective yawn from policy makers.) …

The only places where people showed a weaker preference for killing the old—though they still preferred it to sacrificing the young—were in East Asian countries, such as Japan and Taiwan, and in majority-Muslim countries, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The two countries where people most preferred to sacrifice the elderly, meanwhile, were France and Italy. At the peak of the pandemic, this question became real for Italians, and doctors in the most affected regions of Italy used 80, or even 65, as their “cutoff age” for access to scarce ventilators. …

At 74 years old, President Donald Trump falls smack in the COVID-19-death demographic. Yet he has also minimized the threat of the virus repeatedly. This makes sense: The elderly … typically don’t think of themselves as such, says Susan Fiske… The “old” are always just a little bit older than ourselves. For the rest of us, there might be a more sinister impulse behind ageism. Most of us know someone who is elderly, be they an aging parent or grandparent, and those ties make us subconsciously crave control over how the elderly behave, Fiske says. Younger people subconsciously want to be sure that the elderly don’t hog a disproportionate amount of time and resources.

The only American cultures that have consistently positive views of the elderly are African Americans and Native Americans, Fiske has found in surveys. She’s not sure why, but speculates that the adversity these communities have faced has made them prize older people’s wisdom and experience.

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/09/covid-death-toll-us-empathy-elderly/616379/

44.) “How Boomer Parenting Fueled Millennial Burnout” – by Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic, Sept. 20, 2020

The writer Anne Helen Petersen’s new book is primarily about “burnout,” a condition endemic to the Millennial generation that she describes as a persistent “sensation of dull exhaustion” and “the feeling that you’ve optimized yourself into a work robot.” Expanding on a widely read BuzzFeed News article from two years ago, Petersen follows lines of cultural and economic inquiry in an effort to identify the root causes of this generational malaise.

But her book, titled Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, is also about parenting. It is about how many Baby Boomers’ hands-on, sometimes overbearing approach to parenting was the product of the anxious economic milieu that they came of age in and how many Millennials’ overbooked upbringings set them up for burnout later in life. This hardly describes the experience of every child of the 1980s and ’90s, but this “intensive” parenting style was practiced widely, and not just by the middle-class parents who pioneered it. … I recently spoke with Petersen about these ideas. …

PINSKER: What connections do you see between how many Millennials were raised and how burned out many of them are now, as adults?

PETERSEN: There are two major factors. The first is conceiving of children as mini-adults—trying to cultivate behaviors, postures, and skills that are associated with adults, like being able to carry on conversations with adults or advocating for themselves when they feel something is unfair. I think we often admire that sort of precociousness without understanding what’s lost when you cultivate that in a child. The other component is thinking of childhood as a means to an end, and that end is getting into a good college. So instead of viewing childhood as simply childhood, parents are thinking, “How can these various experiences—everything from playdates to piano lessons—lead to this larger résumé-building path to college?”

When childhood is treated that way, it can eliminate space for the formation of personality, independence, or confidence. Anything not oriented toward that goal of college—things like hobbies—gets lost.

PINSKER: You suggest in the book that many aspects of this approach to parenting in the ’80s and ’90s had to do with the nature of the economy when Baby Boomers were entering adulthood. How so?

PETERSEN:In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the middle class was larger and more prosperous, and a lot of Boomers grew up with at least a modicum of financial and class stability. But as adults in the ’80s and ’90s, they felt that stability slipping away, as well-paid middle-class jobs started disappearing. So a lot of the parenting decisions they made were attempts to add that stability that they felt had been lost over the course of their lives.

PINSKER: When I read the chapter in your book about Millennials’ own parenting, it seemed like many of them were doing the same things their own parents did, just more intensely.

PETERSEN:Yeah, whether it’s more activities, more schedules, more supervision, more attention to the specifics of schooling—all of those things just keep going up. It does make sense that now, as Millennials have reached adulthood and often have even less stability than their parents, they’re taking a lot of the same strategies their parents used and just ratcheting them up.

PINSKER: Is the implication that today’s kids are destined for even more burnout in adulthood than Millennials are experiencing, since many of them are being subjected to a more extreme version of the parenting experience that Millennials had growing up?

PETERSEN:Well, there’s also the possibility that they just rebel entirely, because I do think you can reach a breaking point. Maybe Gen Z will do that, whereas I just do not remember that much rebellion against these ideas when I was in high school. …

PINSKER: Near the end of the book, you say that one of the best pieces of advice you’ve heard for reducing burnout isn’t about reducing it for yourself, but considering how your own behavior enflames and encourages it in other people. What do you think that advice looks like in the context of parenting?

PETERSEN:There’s one woman I interviewed who said something like, “We’re all so tired, but we are all so scared to actually ask for help from one another”—as if asking for help somehow makes you seem like you are failing at motherhood, like you don’t have it all together. But there are so many ways that we could take some burdens off of one another. For instance, both kids’ parents are often present for playdates. I’m like, let that kid go play! This is supposed to make excess time for at least one of the parents, not take up time for both of them. …

Check it out here: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/09/anne-helen-petersen-burnout-millennial-parenting/616406/

45.) “The Age of Electric Cars Is Dawning Ahead of Schedule” – by Jack Ewing, The New York Times, Sept. 20, 2020

As car sales collapsed in Europe because of the pandemic, one category grew rapidly: electric vehicles. One reason is that purchase prices in Europe are coming tantalizingly close to the prices for cars with gasoline or diesel engines. At the moment this near parity is possible only with government subsidies that, depending on the country, can cut more than $10,000 from the final price. Carmakers are offering deals on electric cars to meet stricter European Union regulations on carbon dioxide emissions. …

Electric vehicles are not yet as popular in the United States, largely because government incentives are less generous. Battery-powered cars account for about 2 percent of new car sales in America, while in Europe the market share is approaching 5 percent. Including hybrids, the share rises to nearly 9 percent in Europe…

As electric cars become more mainstream, the automobile industry is rapidly approaching the tipping point when, even without subsidies, it will be as cheap, and maybe cheaper, to own a plug-in vehicle than one that burns fossil fuels. The carmaker that reaches price parity first may be positioned to dominate the segment. A few years ago, industry experts expected 2025 would be the turning point. But technology is advancing faster than expected, and could be poised for a quantum leap.

Some industry experts are even more bullish. Hui Zhang, managing director in Germany of NIO, a Chinese electric carmaker with global ambitions, said he thought parity could be achieved in 2023. …

The holy grail in the electric vehicle industry has been to push the cost of battery packs — the rechargeable system that stores energy — below $100 per kilowatt-hour, the standard measure of battery power. That is the point, more or less, at which propelling a vehicle with electricity will be as cheap as it is with gasoline. … Current battery packs cost around $150 to $200 per kilowatt-hour, depending on the technology. That means a battery pack costs around $20,000. But the price has dropped 80 percent since 2008

Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/20/business/electric-cars-batteries-tesla-elon-musk.html#:~:text=FRANKFURT%20%E2%80%94%20An%20electric%20Volkswagen%20ID,dinner%20for%20two%20in%20Paris.

46.) “‘I’ll Never Question 1938 in Germany Again’: An Ex-Republican Strategist Surveys the Wreckage of Trump’s GOP” – by Joe Hagan, Vanity Fair, Sept. 2020

On the latest episode of Inside the Hive, former Republican strategist Stuart Stevens described the GOP under Donald Trump as a party of cynics, stooges, racists, and obsequious enablers whose profiles in cowardice bear an uncomfortable resemblance to 1930s Germany. “When I talk to Republican politicians, I hear Franz von Papen,” he says, referencing the German chancellor who convinced Germans that so-called radical leftists were a far greater threat than Adolf Hitler. “They all know that Trump is an idiot. They all know that he’s uniquely unqualified to be president. But they convinced themselves that he was a necessity.”

Not surprisingly, Stevens, an adviser to two George W. Bush presidential campaigns and a top strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 bid against Barack Obama, has become the latest apostate to his party, declaring … that Republicans have sacrificed every last belief and principle they held dear on the bonfire of Trump’s vanity. And now, not even the catastrophically mismanaged coronavirus pandemic can wake them from their stupor. 

“It is the combination of the anti-intellectualism, the anti-education elements of the Republican Party, and the anti-elite elements of the Republican Party, so-called, that have culminated in this toxic brew that is killing tens of thousands of Americans,” says Stevens, who recently joined … the Lincoln Project. …

“Trump is the logical conclusion of what the Republican Party became over the last 50 or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race, self-deception, and anger that became the essence of the Republican Party. Trump isn’t an aberration of the Republican Party. He is the Republican Party in a purified form.”

Check it out here: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/09/ex-republican-strategist-surveys-the-wreckage-of-trumps-gop

47.) “Yes, This Is The Face Of A Tyrant” – by Andrew Sullivan, The Weekly Dish, Sept. 2020

If there’s one enduring theme about tyrants in myth, literature, and history it is that, for a long time, no one takes them seriously. And there are few better examples of this than Shakespeare’s fictional Richard III. He’s a preposterous figure in many ways, an unsightly hunchback, far down the line of royal accession, socially outcast, riven with resentment, utterly dismissible — until he serially dismisses and/or murders everyone between him and the throne. What makes the play so riveting and often darkly funny is the sheer unlikelihood of the plot, the previously inconceivable ascent to the Crown of this indelibly absurd figure…

I’ll never forget watching a performance by Antony Sher of Richard decades ago — playing him as a spider, instinctually scuttling on two legs and two black canes, to trap, murder, and ingest his foes. The role is, of course, a fictional portrait, designed to buttress the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty that followed Richard III and that Shakespeare lived under. But as an analysis of the psychology of tyranny, it’s genius. …

The background of the drama is England’s “War of the Roses”, the civil war between two regional dynasties from which Richard emerged. And that’s often key in tyrant narratives: it’s when societies are already fractured into tribes, and divisions have become insurmountable, that tyrants tend to emerge, exploiting and fomenting chaos, to reign, however briefly, over the aftermath.

The war seems resolved when the victorious Edward, Richard’s older brother, succeeds to the throne: “For here I hope begins our lasting joy!” And no one thinks the deformed, bitter sibling, of all people, would be a threat. It seems preposterous. But it’s true. And at each unimaginable power grab by Richard — murdering one brother, killing the late king Edward’s young heirs, killing his own wife, and then trying to marry his niece to secure the dynasty — Richard’s peers keep telling themselves that it isn’t really happening. Greenblatt notes: “The principal weapon Richard has is the very absurdity of his ambition. No one in his right mind would suspect that he seriously aspires to the throne.”

But he has one key skill, Greenblatt notes, the ability to lie shamelessly: “‘Why, I can smile and murder whiles I smile, And cry ‘Content!’ to that which grieves my heart, And wet my cheeks with artificial tears, And frame my face to all occasions.’” It’s a skill that serves him well — and there seems no limit to the number of those eager to believe him. His older brother George, Duke of Clarence, told by thugs that Richard wants him dead, exclaims: “Oh no, he loves me, and he holds me dear. Go you to him from me.” At which point the hired goons reply — “Ay, so we will” — and merrily murder him, taking him to Richard as a corpse. …

Denial. Avoidance. Distraction. Willful ignorance. These are all essential to enabling a tyrant’s rise. And keeping this pattern going is Richard’s profound grasp of the power of shock. He does and says the unexpected and unthinkable in order to stun his opponents into a kind of dazed passivity. It’s this capacity to keep you on your heels, to keep disorienting you with the unacceptable (which is then somehow accepted), that marks a tyrant’s relentless drive. He does this by instinct. He craves chaos, lies, suspense, surprises — not because he’s a genius, but because stability threatens his psyche. He cannot rest. He is not in control of himself. And whenever the dust settles, as it were, he has to disturb it again. 

This is what we’ve been dealing with in the figure of Donald Trump now for five years, and it is absurd to believe that a duly conducted election is going to end it. …

You need competence if you want to run an effective government, or plan a regular campaign, or master policy with a view to persuading people, or hold power for the sake of something else. You need competence to create and sustain something. But you do not need much competence to destroy things. You just need the will. And this is what tyrants do: they destroy things. Richard III ruled for two short years, ending in his own death in battle, and a ruined country.

This is Trump’s threat. Not the construction of a viable one-party state, but the destruction of practices, norms, civility, laws, customs and procedures that constitute liberal democracy’s non-zero-sum genius. He doesn’t need to be competent to destroy our system of government. He merely needs to be himself: an out-of-control, trust-free, malignant narcissist, with inexhaustible resources of psychic compulsion, in a pluralist system designed for the opposite. All you need is an insatiable pathological drive to avoid any constraint on your own behavior, and the demagogic genius to carry a critical mass of people with you, and our system, designed as the antidote to tyranny, is soon unspooling into incoherence, deadlock, and collapse.

In every Shakespeare play about tyranny — from Richard III to Coriolanus to Macbeth — the tyrant loses in the end, and often quite quickly. They’re not that competent at governing, or even interested in it. The forces they unleash come back to wipe them from the stage, sooner or later. They flame out. Richard III lasted a mere couple of years on the throne.

But in every case, they leave a wrecked and reeling society in their wake. Look around you now and see the damage already done. Now imagine what we face in the next few months. We are tethered to Trump at this point because he is the legitimate president: the man who cannot control himself is in control of all the rest of us. And that’s why I desperately want to appeal to right-of-center readers at this point in the campaign to do everything they can to vote and to vote for Biden. This is not about left or right. This is about the integrity of a system that can give us such a choice. It really is an existential moment for liberal democracy, and its future, not just here but across the world. The next few months are critical.

It fills me with inexpressible rage that we have been brought to this. But there is no way out now other than through. 

Check it out here: https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/p/yes-this-is-the-face-of-a-tyrant?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoxMjY2OTE3MywicG9zdF9pZCI6MzMyOTMyMCwiXyI6InJja05kIiwiaWF0IjoxNjAxMDYxMjM4LCJleHAiOjE2MDEwNjQ4MzgsImlzcyI6InB1Yi02MTM3MSIsInN1YiI6InBvc3QtcmVhY3Rpb24ifQ.rxFKalRSW2AIQP4tJS8C59ATciU5aAlXIw1dToAl1XY

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