Your Rights In The Rearview Mirror

by Michael Liss

Whoever attentively considers the different departments of power must perceive, that, in a government in which they are separated from each other, the judiciary, from the nature of its functions, will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. –Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 78

It’s my oldest memory. I am three, standing harnessed between my parents, in a brand-new two-seater 1959 Jaguar convertible roadster. We are on an empty gravel road someplace in Virginia and my Dad decides to let his new baby fly. I can see In front of me the windshield and, below, a gray leather dashboard that has two things of great interest…a speedometer and a tachometer. The motor hmmmmmms as he takes the car through the forward gears, the tachometer first rising and then falling, the speed increasing. The big whitewall tires are crunching the rough road; cinders are flying; we hit 60 MPH, then 70, then 80; and I’m clapping my hands and piping out “Faster, Daddy! Faster!” My mom goes from worried to furious “Slow down, Ernie, slow down!” As he passes 90, I look down for a moment and she’s slapping her yellow shorts. I peek at the rearview mirror and see a huge cloud of dust. 95, 100, and finally 105. Then without warning, and without using the brakes, he starts to slow, gradually downshifting; the speedometer and tachometer fall; and that’s where my memory ends.

I have been thinking about writing a Supreme Court piece since the conservative bloc’s muscle-flexing on Texas’s SB-8 abortion law, and, each time I do, the memory of that beautiful sportscar flying down the road keeps gnawing at me. The thrill of it, the uncertainty, the obvious danger. My Dad’s going through whatever decision-making process he did to start, continue, and end.

We’ve got a new Sheriff in town, a new driver for that beautiful car. Justices Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch and Barrett are taking the wheel and the throttle. Just where is their ultra-conservative vision taking us, and at what cost? Read more »

Stories Of Collapse

by Usha Alexander

[This is the seventeenth in a series of essays, On Climate Truth and Fiction, in which I raise questions about environmental distress, the human experience, and storytelling. All the articles in this series can be read here.]

The peopling of Polynesia was an epic chapter in world exploration. Stirred by adventure and hungry for land, intrepid pioneers sailed for days or weeks beyond their known horizons to discover landscapes and living things never before seen by human eyes. Survival was never easy or assured, yet they managed to find and colonize nearly every spot of land across the entire southern Pacific Ocean. On each island, they forged new societies based on familiar Polynesian models of ranked patrilineages, family bonds and obligations, social care and cohesion, cooperation and duty. Each culture that arose was unique and changeable, as islanders continually adjusted to altered conditions, new information, and shifting political tides. Through trial and hardship, most of these civilizations—even on some of the tiniest islands, like Anuta and Tikopia, discussed in the preceding essay—persisted for centuries or millennia, up to the present day. But others faltered, failing to thrive or even to maintain continuity.

Most Polynesian societies that met the tragic fate of famine and disintegration were on remote islands measuring but a few square miles. But size alone was not the decisive factor. In fact, the most famous case occurred on a substantially larger island of about sixty square miles, called Rapa Nui1, widely known as Easter Island. Despite its relatively generous size, Rapa Nui suffered certain drawbacks. Owing to its more southerly latitude, outside the tropics, it was cooler, drier, and windier than most Polynesian islands—suboptimal conditions for some of their primary crops. Freshwater sources were also few, relative to the island’s size, and sometimes difficult to access. And the cooler surrounding ocean didn’t support the shallow reefs more common to tropical seas, making the islanders’ survival dependent on deep-sea fishing.

On the other hand, when the migrants first arrived, almost eleven hundred years ago, the pristine island was crowned with a dense forest of enormous trees, including a colossal species of palm found nowhere else on Earth, as well as other edible and useful plants. Small fish and shellfish could be gathered along the coast. In addition to several species of non-migratory birds inhabiting the forestland, seabird rookeries crowded the surfaces of rocky mounts just offshore. And the island’s three dormant volcanoes provided great quarries of stone suitable for making fine tools. The fate of the Rapanui people was in no way preordained. Read more »

Monday Poem

That Came, Not Chosen

7 a.m. sungold flings photons from mountaintop across the river
yesterday’s snow clings to a hedge of arbor vitae’s shadowgreen
just as Mom’s flour dusted the tools of her art upon the table
sifter, spatula, cups and spoons as if a painting of an arctic fable
her baked art emerges from oven fresh in probed corners of recall
warm scents sweet against this day’s elements

the twisted angularity of our apple tree spreads from hoop-house
to the spent purple plum, dead limbs an armature for the reach of Trumpet vine,
plumwood backbone for its thin vine limbs and orange bell-blossoms
which in summer float upon green raft blowing reveille for the garden
here now frozen

….. suddenly
….. unexpected
….. a gift
….. a grace
….. that came
….. ,
….. not
….. chosen

Jim Culleny

The Long Fight: Hierarchies of Power and the Soft, Slow Motion Coup

by Akim Reinhardt

Tension (geology) - WikipediaThe United States has always faced a fundamental tension. On one side are those who champion, enforce, and/or profit from hierarchies of power: white supremacist racism, sexist patriarchy, Christian fundamentalism, and capital concentrations chief among them. Arrayed against these hierarchies of power are people who promote and work for racial equality, gender and sexual equality, cultural tolerance, the amelioration of poverty, and genuine freedom both for and from religious beliefs and practices.

For nearly two and a half centuries, these tensions have produced victories and defeats for all sides. While more of course remains to be done: the 20th century witnessed a steady rise in poor people’s (and everyone else’s) quality of life; women began making substantial advances a hundred years ago; racial, ethnic, and religious minorities have made important gains since World War II; LGBT people have achieved remarkable progress during the last half-century; and more recently, agnostics and atheists have begun carving out spaces of acceptance.

While these struggles are all longstanding, dividing lines are usually not very simple or clear cut. Ever since settler colonial slave owners began authoring stirring documents about freedom, many Americans have been on the side of freedom and equality on an issue or two, and against it on others. History offers no shortage of racist feminists, sexist civil rights workers, exploitative plutocrats who seek to help the poor in their spare time, homophobes of every stripe, and so on. Because there are so many divisions and contests, and because the lines of alliance and contestation are often unclear and shift over time, the major U.S. political parties have historically teetered back and forth on various issues. Read more »

It’s Hailing Calligraphy

by Leanne Ogasawara

Michael Cherney: Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie


It was Tetsuya’s idea to start calligraphy lessons.

I had wanted to study Aikido. But according to Tetsuya, I was already dangerous enough. “And, anyway,” he said, “You know what Confucius said: the pen is mightier than the sword.”

“Confucius definitely did not say that.” I rolled my eyes.

His idea, however, grew on me. So, a few weeks later, the two of us found ourselves standing in front of a tidy, two-story home in suburban Hachioji. Located at the end of the Keio line, Hachioji is as far west as you can travel in Tokyo without arriving in Kanagawa Prefecture.

A few days before our first class, Tetsuya had a long consultation by phone with the teacher, Yufu-sensei, and it had been decided that I should be placed in the class with grammar school students, since at that point I only knew the kanji through 5th grade. When I tried to resist being in a class of kids, Tetsuya told me to get rid of my pride immediately or this won’t end well for you.

Anyway, he said, he would sit in the class with me to make sure I was okay. With that promise, I felt confident. Tetsuya had beautiful handwriting. He was already proficient at writing with brush and ink, though he told me that all he could manage was kaisho, the “square style” or “standard style.” Kaisho is the first style that shodō practitioners usually learn and master, he said.

The lessons were held on the second floor of the teacher’s home. A hush fell over the room as we entered. Not only were adults joining the kids’ class but one of those adults was not Japanese. Definitely not Japanese.

The children just stared in disbelief. Read more »

Wine Of The Country

by Rafaël Newman

Arnold Böcklin, “Odysseus and Polyphemus” (1896), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

It’s the final day of February 2022, a month that began with the centenary of the publication, on February 2, 1922, of Ulysses, on what was also the 40th birthday of its author, James Joyce. Commemorations were held, among other places, in Dublin, where Joyce was born and which plays a central role in the novel, and in Zurich, where Joyce wrote parts of Ulysses, where he died, and where he is buried.

The commemoration in Zurich took the form of an all-day reading of sections of the novel at thematically appropriate locations throughout the city. The marathon was organized by friends of the James Joyce Foundation, a center for the study of the writer’s works under the direction of the eminent Swiss Joyce scholar Fritz Senn; and because I have myself been involved in other events organized by the Foundation, and count among my acquaintances people associated with it, I was asked to take part, on Saturday, February 5, as a reader.

By a happy chance, the section I was invited to read from, alongside Andreas Flückiger and William Brockman, two associates of the Foundation, at the James Joyce Pub in Pelikanstrasse in downtown Zurich, was the Cyclops episode, the 12th of the novel’s 18 chapters. This pleased me because I have cherished the episode for years, in part because my Greek teacher at high school had begun our reading of Homer’s Odyssey with the ninth book of that 24-book poem, in which the Greek hero cunningly escapes death at the hands of the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, and which serves as the template for Joyce’s episode; and in part because, when I first came to read Ulysses, at university in the 1980s, it was the Cyclops chapter that appealed to me most, as it contained what I found the most cogently political encounter in Joyce’s novel—and politics was what interested me most at the time. Read more »

A Few Þhings about Iceland

by Bill Murray

The ditch


The boundaries between tectonic plates are where big things happen, lasting geologic things. They are among the most remarkable bits of land on earth. The mid-Atlantic ridge is one of those boundaries, the longest mountain range in the world, separating the diverging Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. Trouble is, it mostly lies undersea, so there aren’t many places you can inspect it.

In the Arctic there’s Jan Mayen Island. Farther south there’s the Azores, Ascension and St. Helena islands and the UK’s Tristan da Cunha way down in the middle of nowhere. And there’s Iceland.

As manifest in Iceland, to the east lies a raised lava ridge, the Eurasian plate, from which the North American plate, to the west, pulls up from the earth and apart.

The width of the point of contact varies. Just here it’s about a three foot deep grass covered crevasse. That’s a term mountain climbers use and it’s too dramatic for where I’m standing, really just in a ditch a little wider than your arms can reach. It’s pretty underwhelming, truth be told, bit it’s a historic ditch. A ditch full of history and portent. An auspicious ditch with worldwide ramifications.

Whatever you call it, it’s a singular place, a patch of grass you can jump down in and stand on a spot where the earth is coming apart. Elsewhere it’s twice the height of a man and filled with icy, transparent-as-the-ether water. Which is where we stop in a kind of Icelandic gulch.

“Now we are on the Eurasian plate,” our guide Sven says.

With a hop, “Now the North American.”

Hop. Europe. Hop. North America. You can change continents in Istanbul too but you have to drive across a bridge. Read more »

Shark City Sacrifice: A Girardian reading of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws

by William Benzon

I forget just how I came to watch Steven Spielberg’s Jaws several years ago. Most likely I saw it on my Netflix homepage and, noting that I’d not seen it when it came out in 1975, I said to myself, “Why not?” I knew it had made Spielberg’s career and was generally regarded as the first summer blockbuster [1]. And John Williams’ two-note theme was by now as recognizable as the opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

I watched it, was shocked at the appropriate times – for example, when the shark first comes up behind the Orca, prompting Sheriff Brody to utter the best-known line in the movie, “You’re gonna’ need a bigger boat.”

And that was that.

Until a couple of months ago.

I decided to revisit Jaws. I watched the film several times, making notes. I watched Jaws 2 as well. It isn’t as good as the original.

“Why,” I asked myself, “is the original so much better than the sequels?” Two things struck me rather quickly: first, Jaws 2 was more diffuse than Jaws, and second, there’s no character in the Jaws 2 comparable to Quint, the Ahab-like shark hunter. On the first, consider the way the last two fifths of Jaws is devoted to the hunt while Jaws 2 wanders from plot strand to plot strand the entire film. As for Quint, I asked myself: “Why did he have to die?” Sure, he’s arrogant and abrasive, but that doesn’t warrant death. Something more is required.

That’s when the light went on: sacrifice. Quint, not the shark, but Quint, is being sacrificed for the good of the community. That in turn suggested the ideas of René Girard, the literary and cultural theorist who has come to see the myth-logic (my term) of sacrifice as being central to human community. I now had a way of thinking about Quint’s death.

Caveat: This runs a bit long. So pour some tea, a single-malt, whatever suits, and settle back. Read more »

Charaiveti: Journey From India To The Two Cambridges And Berkeley And Beyond, Part 33

by Pranab Bardhan

All of the articles in this series can be found here.

After my several visits to Kerala, I wrote up an article, “On Life and Death Questions in India” for EPW, where I highlighted the welfare and demographic achievements of Kerala, the most advanced region in India in terms of many indicators of social democracy. Soon Raj and his colleagues (including my friend, T.N.Krishnan) produced a large, quantitative report for the United Nations Development Program, which brought to international attention the so-called Kerala model of development.

Back to Delhi, I was soon after invited to two conferences which were somewhat different from the usual specialized technical conferences I was used to. One was a conference organized jointly by the World Bank and the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex on the general theme of how to achieve fair distribution and economic equality without sacrificing economic growth in developing countries. The emphasis was not so much on paper presentation with specialized research but more on thinking aloud on big issues. The conference was held in the grand surroundings of Villa Serbelloni, the conference center at Bellagio on a hill facing the beautiful blue Lake Como in Italy (the Villa’s history goes back a few centuries: it is claimed that Leonardo da Vinci was a guest there).

At this conference I met a number of important development economists, who became long-term friends; these included Albert Fishlow and Irma Adelman (both of whom were later my colleagues at Berkeley) and Lance Taylor (later at New School of Social Research), apart from Montek Ahluwalia (later a top economic-bureaucrat in Delhi) and Clive Bell (later a professor at Heidelberg), who were among the conference organizers and the editors of a subsequent volume titled Redistribution with Growth (for which they commissioned me to write a short section). Read more »

A conversation with Timothy Aubry

Timothy Aubry and Jessica Swoboda in The Point:

Jessica Swoboda: What are the biggest challenges of academic writing?

Timothy Aubry: One of the big challenges is that you feel like you have to write in a certain mode. I remember having an inferiority complex in grad school because I felt like no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make my prose unreadable and complicated and weird and forbidding like all the scholars we were assigned, whether that was Gayatri Spivak, or Judith Butler, or Homi Bhabha, or the academics who were imitating them. They wrote these unbelievably complicated sentences with words like “imbricate,” and “pharmakon,” and “liminal,” and I would try to write papers that sounded like their books and essays, with multiple subclauses that would be hard to decipher. And it was a complete failure.

Over time I did learn to write more in accord with academic protocols and so forth, despite my misgivings. And, according to my family, I do write obscure, unreadable academic prose—so I must have succeeded in getting there to some degree at least.

More here.

Why the Trees Are Marching Northward

Andru Okun in Undark:

Although the speed and severity of climate change are both uncertain, it’s clear by now that warming is inevitable. Rising temperatures will impact every organism on the planet and recast the landscape. In truth, highlights British writer Ben Rawlence, this process is well underway. In “The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth,” he devotes his attention to the boreal forest, also known as the taiga, the broad tract of deciduous and coniferous forests covering the far northern expanses of the Earth. Spanning roughly 1.5 billion acres, the boreal contains a staggering one-third of the Earth’s trees. However, as Rawlence writes, “The trees are on the move.”

As the melting of permafrost and Arctic sea ice hastens atmospheric warming, the boreal is pushing farther north. The implications of this shift are troubling. While southern regions of the boreal have been marred by deforestation, tundra — the typically cold and treeless landscape ringing the North Pole — has begun transforming into woodland. As the trees propagate in formerly barren northern regions, microbial activity is warming the soil further, thawing frozen earth containing large quantities of greenhouse gas.

More here.

Finding the Mother Tree: Uncovering the Wisdom and Intelligence of the Forest

Leon Vlieger in The Inquisitive Biologist:

The idea that trees communicate and exchange nutrients with each other via underground networks of fungi has captured the popular imagination, helped along by the incredibly catchy metaphor of a “wood-wide web”. Suzanne Simard, a Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia, has developed this idea more than anyone else and happily talks of mother trees nurturing their offspring. This idea has not been without controversy in scientific circles, if only for its anthropomorphic language. I was both sceptical and curious about her ideas. High time, therefore, to give her scientific memoir Finding the Mother Tree a close reading.

First, a quick biology lesson to get you up to speed. At the heart of this story are not just trees but foremost fungi. Except for their above-ground fruiting bodies that we call mushrooms, fungi largely weave their way unseen through soil, decaying wood, and other substances. Here, they form mycelium: networks of fine tubular cells.

More here.

Chris Hedges: Chronicle of a War Foretold

Chris Hedges in ScheerPost:

I was in Eastern Europe in 1989, reporting on the revolutions that overthrew the ossified communist dictatorships that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a time of hope. NATO, with the breakup of the Soviet empire, became obsolete. President Mikhail Gorbachev reached out to Washington and Europe to build a new security pact that would include Russia. Secretary of State James Baker in the Reagan administration, along with the West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, assured the Soviet leader that if Germany was unified NATO would not be extended beyond the new borders. The commitment not to expand NATO, also made by Great Britain and France, appeared to herald a new global order. We saw the peace dividend dangled before us, the promise that the massive expenditures on weapons that characterized the Cold War would be converted into expenditures on social programs and infrastructures that had long been neglected to feed the insatiable appetite of the military.

There was a near universal understanding among diplomats and political leaders at the time that any attempt to expand NATO was foolish, an unwarranted provocation against Russia that would obliterate the ties and bonds that happily emerged at the end of the Cold War.

More here.

Sunday Poem

“When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Martyr”

is surely a peculiar answer for any teacher to receive when
asking a kindergartner, but on second take, what word best
describes me, crossbreed of butterfly and Super Fly aesthetics,
other than peculiar? I suppose calling me a keen kid would
also suffice in explaining my avidity for the kind of death that
progresses the narrative of a gentling history, because that’s
the only frame for greatness I seem to find for boys my shade
and age to aspire to, short of having the height and hops to
touch the rim, or the bulk and burst to break through the
defensive line like a bullet.
……………………………… And, no, I haven’t given up
on the prospect of Bulls starting shooting guard yet, but
the God-fearer impressed upon me begs the mythology of
goodness delivered to the multitudes like loaves and fish;
……… how King is talked about in black Christian tradition still
……… in mourning over his lost rays of light, the way mentioning
……… the name of Malcolm makes mice of shady white men some
thirty years after the shotgun and he’s sung of as a prince:
I want to evoke that level of pride in American democracy’s
dark downtrodden because I know what it evokes in me,
young and impressionable, watching Denzel’s mimicry
for the one millionth time in my abbreviated existence—
drawing an X on my undeveloped chest, pushing it out
into the unknown-ahead hoping a Mecca for melanin rises
from the man-shaped hole I’d left in my loved one’s lives.

……… I bet my parents would be so proud of me.
I bet post offices would close on my birthday.
I bet God would dap me up
……… when I got up there and Jesus —

……………… dying on a cross to meet me.

by Cortney Lamar Charleston
Poetry Journal, Vol.211, No. 2 (Nov. 2017
The Poetry Foundayion