Micah Rosen in Taxis:
It was February 20, 1939, two days before George Washington’s birthday. Fritz Kuhn, leader of the prominent pro-Nazi German American Bund, took the stage at Madison Square Garden. Behind him stood a towering 30-foot portrait of the first US president between giant swastikas, and around him twenty thousand rally-goers. Posters at this infamous Pro-America Rally promised a “mass-demonstration for true Americanism,” bringing National Socialist ideals to the American people. Participants waved American flags, marched to loud drum rolls, and heard pro-fascist speeches. Speakers urged the audience to embrace National Socialism, not merely to show support for Germany, but above all because it was fundamentally American.
The event met with widespread condemnation. New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia called it an “exhibition of international cooties.” Others were critical, but did not see great cause for alarm. Shortly after the event an editorial in the New York Times expressed confidence that the rally-goers were no more than a harmless fringe group. “The Bund, functioning freely, is its own best argument against itself,” read the piece. “We are not, to state the case mildly, afraid of the Bund. The limits to which this or any group… may go are definite.”
But to one young man by the name of Peter Viereck, there was more cause for concern. A twenty-two-year-old poet and student of history at the time, Viereck feared the implications of rallies like this — both for his family and his country. Just five years earlier, when he was in college, his German-American father, George Sylvester Viereck, had stood on the same stage and proclaimed his support for Hitler to a crowd of tens of thousands of Nazi sympathizers.
Greg Miller in Nieman Lab:
The United States of America was founded on a conspiracy theory. In the lead-up to the War of Independence, revolutionaries argued that a tax on tea or stamps is not just a tax, but the opening gambit in a sinister plot of oppression. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were convinced — based on “a long train of abuses and usurpations” — that the king of Great Britain was conspiring to establish “an absolute Tyranny” over the colonies.
“The document itself is a written conspiracy theory,” says Nancy Rosenblum, a political theorist emerita at Harvard University. It suggests that there’s more going on than meets the eye, that someone with bad intentions is working behind the scenes. If conspiracy theories are as old as politics, they’re also — in the era of Donald Trump and QAnon — as current as the latest headlines. Earlier this month, the American democracy born of an eighteenth century conspiracy theory faced its most severe threat yet — from another conspiracy theory, that (all evidence to the contrary) the 2020 presidential election was rigged. Are conspiracy theories truly more prevalent and influential today, or does it just seem that way?
The research isn’t clear. Rosenblum and others see evidence that belief in conspiracy theories is increasing and taking dangerous new forms. Others disagree. But scholars generally do agree that conspiracy theories have always existed and always will. They tap into basic aspects of human cognition and psychology, which may help explain why they take hold so easily — and why they’re seemingly impossible to kill. Once someone has fully bought into a conspiracy theory, “there’s very little research that actually shows you can come back from that,” says Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge whose research focuses on ways to combat misinformation. “When it comes to conspiracy theories, prevention is better than cure.”
Prospect Park Lament
On the first day I took secateurs to Prospect Park and cut out some forsythia.
On the second day I ate garlic by the bulb.
On the third day I heard the crackle of my lungs and remembered hiding out once
…………….. in an attic padded with fiberglass.
On the fourth day I watched the neighbors leave.
On the fifth day I ordered pineapple linzer sandwich cookies from the
…………….. shut-down tea-house.
On the sixth day, countryhouseless, I thought of Basho:
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.
From black bananas I made bread.
hen I gambled in the stock market with the extra black bananas.
Then my Adam’s apple became a sweet gumball fruit. Then an avocado stone.
Then I stood on my balcony and cried for the clerks and the nurses.
I cried for my city wheezing under its viral load.
I cried for the ventilators lost in the warehouses.
Then I ordered a nebulizer, Sunshine chorella tablets, meyer lemons,
…………….. 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol, albuterol, Annie’s Shells and Cheese,
and macadamia nut milk over the internet.
Then I attended a funeral on Zoom.
Then I learned how to be a crow and a pigeon.
Then I sweat out what had entered via my thumb pad into the corner of my eye.
Then I gave up my unclean hands to the sky, and got on my clothesline
and sang for the dead.
by Anna McDonald
from National Poetry Library
Fawzia Afzal-Khan in Counterpunch:
My daughter, a Pakistani American mother of two young children, married to an African American man of Jamaican parentage, is understandably excited about our new Veep-to-be, Kamala Harris. She keeps sending me articles by “desi” women like herself in relationships with Black men, who are excited about this new chapter dawning in American history.
What is particularly poignant for young mothers of biracial kids like hers, is the hope that Kamala’s ascension to the second most powerful position in the country’s leadership, will simultaneously mitigate the anti-Black racism within the South Asian community. Thus, when Sharda Sekaran, a “Blindian” (Black and Indian) young woman interviewed for a recent essay in The Lily that my daughter sent me this morning, interprets Kamala Harris’ election as “a validation of the identity I’ve had to fight for”— how can one not feel elated at the prospect of people like my own darling granddaughter growing up feeling similarly empowered in their identities as Black South Asians for the first time in US history? How can I deny that as a Pakistani immigrant myself, I’ve not seen the anti-black prejudice that one associates largely, if not exclusively with white supremacy, also prevalent in my own “desi”- American community?But the question that doesn’t get raised in these expressions of delight at having one’s “identity” now represented at the highest levels of officialdom, is whether having a “Blindian” woman as Vice President is enough of a victory against the forces of regression. The title of the recent article in The Lily, “Kamala Harris has elevated the Blindian community: ‘It’s a validation of the identity I’ve had to fight for’” —begs the question, is the “validation” that may come from seeing a Black and Desi woman “elevated” to high office really worth all the excitement and anticipation? In other words, is identity politics at the level of representation enough, by itself?
I’m old enough to remember first hand a similar excitement many of us who were new immigrants from countries of the global South like Pakistan, felt when the Reverend Jesse Jackson created his National Rainbow Coalition as a platform for his 1984 presidential run.
Joel Whitney at the Poetry Foundation:
During the mad rush of leaving, they had to find homes for 60 animals, a menagerie of horses, snakes, turtles, and various other creatures. Only two made the cut to tag along with them: their blue budgie parakeet, Bird, who went eerily still as they crossed the Sonoran Desert, and their Doberman, Kinch, who panted in the scorching heat.
Traveling with their 10-year-old daughter Linda and their friend Raf in a red Dodge, George and Mary Oppen fled Redondo Beach, California, on June 11, 1950. They were in flight from the FBI. Special agents had visited their house days earlier to ask about the Oppens’ relief work during the Depression, and about a former roommate now suspected of espionage. Nationally, it was a tense time. North and South Korea would clash two weeks later, launching another war. Dissent was unpatriotic; a person’s past could send them to prison. Case in point: The Oppens’ friend Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter who was blacklisted after he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, spent most of that year in a Kentucky prison for contempt of Congress. Having worked with the Communist Party USA during the Depression, the Oppens knew they were considered enemies of the state. They headed toward Tucson, and to the border beyond. They spent the next decade in Mexico City, under constant surveillance. They called themselves political refugees.
George famously stopped writing during this period. His silence lasted 25 years.
Ethan Siegel in Forbes:
No matter how much we might try and hide it, there’s an enormous problem staring us all in the face when it comes to the Universe. If we understood just three things:
1. the laws that govern the Universe,
2. the components that make up the Universe,
3. and the conditions that the Universe started off with,
we’d be able to do the most remarkable thing of all. We could write down a system of equations that, with a powerful enough computer at our disposal, would describe how the Universe evolved over time to transform from those initial conditions into the Universe we see today.
Every single event that occurred in our cosmic history — to the limits of classical chaos and quantum indeterminism — could be known and described in great detail, from the individual interactions between quantum particles to the largest cosmic scales of all. The problem we face, when we try to do exactly that, is that despite all we know about the Universe, what we predict and what we observe don’t quite match up unless we add at least two mystery ingredients: some type of dark matter and some type of dark energy. It’s a remarkable puzzle to solve, and something every astrophysicist has to reckon with. While many love to present alternatives, they’re all even worse than the unsatisfying fix of dark matter and energy. Here’s the science of why.
Bernie Sanders in The Guardian:
A record-breaking 4,000 Americans are now dying each day from Covid-19, while the federal government fumbles vaccine production and distribution, testing and tracing. In the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years, more than 90 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured and can’t afford to go to a doctor when they get sick. The isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in mental illness.
Over half of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck, including millions of essential workers who put their lives on the line every day. More than 24 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work, while hunger in this country is at the highest level in decades.
Because of lack of income, up to 40 million Americans face the threat of eviction, and many owe thousands in back rent. This is on top of the 500,000 who are already homeless.
Meanwhile, the wealthiest people in this country are becoming much richer, and income and wealth inequality are soaring. Incredibly, during the pandemic, 650 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by more than $1tn.
Two Exhausted Bodies
My insides are a flooded field. Though the field outside is larger and I have played there, laid
down there, ran through it over and again, I have never spilled over its boundary.
I don’t know why pebbles
keep tumbling from my ears.
It’s been happening since yesterday.
They don’t hurt my ears.
My ears don’t ache… I just feel thirsty.
I often miss myself.
Recently I realized
that’s why I drink water before bed.
My friend’s question—Why do we think about our past, these days, especially our childhood?
—compelled us to open all the doors and windows. I don’t know if he swats the stars away from
his face like me.
This morning he was not aware
that a star had fallen between us while we slept.
We both forgot
to look for it.
Neither of us stumbled as we left the room.
I wish everything had been stolen
like my shoe at the mosque—
Even so, I didn’t return home barefoot; my insides were enough for me then, and I didn’t ever
allow myself to miss myself.
I wanted to tumble from my insides,
but many things must be tightened
when they come loose.
That inner distance, neither loosening
Perhaps the boundary between two fields was too small a space for deception.
by Xosman Qado
from Plume Magazine
translated by Zêdan Xelef and David Shook
Myron Magnet at The New Criterion:
“Know thyself” is easy to say; but how, exactly, are we mortals supposed to obey the Delphic command? Surely not through the human “sciences.” Psychology, sociology, and anthropology all seem misapplications of a method of inquiry too abstract to explain messy human reality, depersonalizing what is quintessentially personal. If you want to make sense of human actuality, to ponder what makes our lives meaningful and why we do what we do, think what we think, and hope what we hope, the best guide I know is literature.
A recent rereading of Middlemarch brought that thought home forcefully, and the decades since my last reading have taught me also to appreciate why so many authors consider this the greatest of all English novels, one of the few, Virginia Woolf thought, written for grown-ups.
Marina Benjamin at The Paris Review:
In all its varied symptomology, menopause put me on intimate terms with what Virginia Woolf, writing about the perspective-shifting properties of illness, called “the daily drama of the body.” Its histrionics demanded notice.
Menopause asked that I pay closer attention to bodily experience almost minute by minute, because with each bodily dip and lurch, each hormonal spike and roundabout, every shiver and sweat that wrenched my guts, a new filter was placed between my reality and that of the larger world. As Woolf described: “Meaning comes to us sensually first, by way of the palate and the nostrils, like some queer odour.” But because this proximal knowing—raw, experiential, strangely insistent—so fully absorbs us as it twists our existence around the new co-ordinates of illness, “the whole landscape of life lies remote and fair, like the shore seen from a ship far out at sea.”
From The Christian Science Monitor:
Build a working coalition
By Leon E. Panetta
Mr. Panetta is a former director of the CIA and secretary of defense under President Barack Obama.
…The nation cannot withstand four more years of partisan gridlock and dysfunction. In our democracy, we govern either by leadership or by crisis. If leadership is willing to take the risks necessary to build consensus, we can avoid or certainly contain crisis. But if leadership is not there, we will inevitably govern by crisis. But there is a price to be paid for relying on crisis – the loss of trust of the American people in our system of governing.
You know what it takes to work together to get things done. It is about building relationships, and the best time to build that working coalition is in the first 100 days of the new administration. The nucleus for that coalition can begin with the bipartisan members of the House and Senate who successfully worked on the last COVID-19 aid package.
Your first legislative efforts should focus on delivering opportunity for all.
Adam Gabbatt in The Guardian:
The inauguration of Joe Biden featured a slew of high-profile performers on Wednesday, but for many it was the lesser-known Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in US history, who truly wowed the crowd. Gorman, who was named the first-ever national youth poet laureate in 2017, gave a powerful, five-minute performance after Biden was sworn in. She recited a poem she had written, in part, on the day of the US Capitol riots on 6 January. It was a tour-de-force from Gorman, who was approached by the Biden inaugural committee in late December, as the 22-year-old called for Americans to “leave behind a country better than the one we were left”. “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it,” Gorman read. “Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy. And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”
The performance won instant plaudits, including from Michelle Obama, who sat just behind Gorman as she spoke. “With her strong and poignant words, @TheAmandaGorman reminds us of the power we each hold in upholding our democracy. Keep shining, Amanda! I can’t wait to see what you do next,” Obama tweeted.
Phuong Phan in the Asian Review of Books:
Like his many previous literary endeavors, Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s new book Orange is about Istanbul, or rather how the city appears in his eyes. The book consists of color photographs of the city’s streets which Pamuk has been perpetually constantly taking for several years, always with the same technique and choice of motif. The result is a visual essay dedicated to the alleys and corners of his hometown. Over the author’s more than six decades living in Istanbul, Pamuk has witnessed the constant transformation of the city, notably from the gradual change from orange street lamps to white over the last ten years or so, not that the actual duration of the change matters. What does matter is the stark visible disappearance of the yellow-hued fluorescent lamps bringing a loss of the magical moments in a city landscape he dearly loves; the change is one he accepts only with some bitterness.
Yet, flipping through the book’s pages, it appears that the intention of saving the magical moments of golden light was not the project’s only raison-d’être.
Richard Bronk at the LSE:
The daily press conferences from Downing Street since March 2020 underline the prominence given to epidemiologists, behavioural scientists and the medical profession in driving policy reaction to the Covid-19 crisis. This may be evidence of a welcome return of scientific expertise to the heart of government after a period when much of the population and elements of the government had, in the words of Michael Gove, ‘had enough of experts.’ But, despite the obvious glories of vaccine research, there is a danger that continual reference by elected governments to scientific modelling to justify contentious policy choices may further undermine scientific expertise and evidence-based policy in the eyes of the electorate.
Popular distrust of social-science expertise has been growing for some time. Economics, in particular, suffered a near-fatal blow to its credibility in the court of public opinion after the 2008 financial crisis, thanks in part to the widespread misuse of economic models to make predictions of unwarranted precision as a result of a basic confusion between calculable risks and radical uncertainty. Distrust was intensified by the tendency for policymakers to justify controversial decisions by delegating them to the outputs of ‘black box’ (cost-benefit, risk-measurement or macroeconomic) models promising to solve the equations of life.
Alex Trembath in Slate:
We still don’t have all the technologies we need to address climate change.
Fortunately, the incoming Biden administration might have the biggest opportunity in more than a decade to drive innovation in climate-friendly technologies.
Consider the terrain. In December, for example, Kairos Power announced plans to build a prototype of its novel salt-cooled high-temperature nuclear reactor at the East Tennessee Technology Park, a campus of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Kairos, like dozens of other companies in the advanced nuclear power industry, hopes to build reactors that are smaller, simpler, and easier to manufacture and deploy that conventional nuclear technologies. Climate action will depend largely on the success or failure of companies like Kairos, and government agencies like the National Laboratories are deeply invested in their success.
There is a lesson here for President-elect Joe Biden.