“THIS TIME THERE IS NO WAY BACK,” Hamid said. “People have imagined life without them.”
He had to yell these words into his phone to record the WhatsApp voice message he sent me, or else the background din would have drowned him out. He was standing on a street in Tehran, in the thick of a protest on an early autumn afternoon. Around him, people were chanting in one moment and stampeding the next while cars roared and honked, paintballs hissed, and police sirens shrieked. He was forced to run for safety before he could finish speaking, so his last words were interrupted by panting. Despite the danger, his voice was loaded with excitement.
Hamid and I have been friends for nearly twenty years. We regularly met to talk politics while I was in Iran and stayed in touch after I left. The last time I heard him speak so excitedly was in June 2009, during the early days of the Green Movement, which rose in protest of the result of the presidential elections.
I listened to his message in my home in a small town in upstate New York.
Friday’s brutal attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, at their San Francisco home was overtly political — and a logical endpoint to the decades deeply personal villainization House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has weathered from her political opponents.
It’s now clear the speaker was the target of Friday’s attack. The assailant broke into the home looking for her, reportedly shouting, “Where is Nancy?” — echoing the chant insurrectionists called out when they breached the US Capitol on January 6 — and saying that he would wait “until Nancy got home” as he tried to tie up Paul Pelosi. The speaker’s husband suffered a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands that required surgery after the assailant bludgeoned him with a hammer. (A spokesperson for the speaker said in a statement that Paul Pelosi is expected to make a full recovery.)
Even before she became speaker, Republicans in the party, and those adjacent to it, have demonized Pelosi regularly featuring her in attack ads and lambasting her on Fox News. At least one of her colleagues in the House, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), has directly indicated support for violence against her. And members of right wing militia groups such as the Oathkeepers and the Three Percenters have sought her assassination.
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court took a break from wrecking our rights to hear oral arguments in a case about a series of Andy Warhol silkscreen prints of Prince. It was an unusually raucous affair. Justice Kagan ribbed Justice Thomas when he confessed to liking Prince’s music in the 1980s. “No longer?” she asked. “Only on Thursday nights,” he replied. The courtroom erupted with laughter then and a dozen or so other times over the course of the morning. In a term full of proceedings that will imperil voting rights, affirmative action, and democratic elections, perhaps the Court felt it deserved some levity in a case about a pop star and an iconoclast. But the stakes are high here, too. Depending on who you ask, the case has the potential to diminish copyright protections or chill artistic progress.
The dispute arose in 2016 when a rock photographer named Lynn Goldsmith claimed that Warhol had infringed the copyright of a picture she’d taken of Prince when he used it to make several prints. In deciding the case, the Justices will have to clarify when artists can lawfully borrow from copyrighted artworks under a doctrine called fair use.
On 29 October 1922, Benito Mussolini was propelled to power by the March on Rome, inaugurating L’Era fascista. The date was subsequently declared the first day of Year One of the Fascist calendar. Like any founding event, the March was also the staging of a spectacle and the forging of a myth. An early and opportunistic reader of Georges Sorel’s Reflections on Violence (1908), Mussolini was persuaded that politics was inseparable from mythmaking, that it was a kind of mythopoiesis. In his Naples speech a few days before the March, he announced that
We have created our myth. Myth is a faith, a passion. It is not necessary that it be a reality. It is a reality to the extent that it is a goad, a hope, faith, courage. Our myth is the Nation, our myth is the greatness of the Nation. And to this myth, to this greatness – which we want to translate into a fulfilled reality – we subordinate everything else. For the Nation is above all Spirit and not just territory.
The myth of the Nation, of its lost and future greatness, continues to animate the resurgent far right across the globe. As in the speech delivered this week by the new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, this myth is now often accompanied by paeans to ‘freedom’ which are meant to serve as antidotes to lingering suspicions of authoritarianism. This is not freedom as emancipation or liberation, but market freedom – yoked to what Meloni, quoting Pope John Paul II, described as ‘the right to do what one must’. Without rushing to shaky historical analogies, it may help to revisit fascism’s origins, one hundred years since its emergence, in order to understand its particular relationship with the market, and complicate the widespread perception of it as liberalism’s antithesis.
Nubar Hovsepian and Peter Beinart revisit Edward Said’s 1989 letter, in Jewish Currents. Nubar Hovsepian:
“THE WAY BEFORE US is quite clearly marked,” Edward Said wrote in 1989, in an unpublished “Open Letter to American-Jewish Intellectuals.” “We are either to fight for justice, truth, and the right to honest criticism, or we should quite simply give up the title of intellectual.” Said was responding to what he saw as an epidemic of bad faith among the American Jewish intellectuals of his time with regard to Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians. By offering support for Israel via the “dehumanization, dismissal, and, after the mid-1970s . . . demonization of the Palestinian people,” Said argued, these intellectuals had “played a critical role” in providing the Jewish state with ideological cover for its destruction of Palestinian life.
I read Said’s piece late in 1989 when he was trying to decide whether to publish it. Edward Said and I had been close friends since the 1970s; he was intrigued that I, an Armenian from Egypt, was involved in Palestinian movement politics in Beirut. I secured the rights to publish his book Orientalism in Arabic, and together we collaborated on many efforts in the struggle for justice in Palestine. I favored publishing the piece, but other friends and advisors—the socially well-connected writer and editor Jean Stein, literary scholar Masao Miyoshi, and Pakistani political theorist Eqbal Ahmad—disagreed. Entries from the diary I kept during that period record that these interlocutors thought the article was “not constructive enough” and that it “would expose him to great criticism.” They were right in the sense that, had Said gone ahead and published his entreaty, angry denunciations from Jewish intellectuals would have filled the pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, Commentary, and The Atlantic.
Yet I ultimately found their caution misguided, because Said, the most prominent Palestinian in the US, was already under attack on multiple fronts.
Earlier this month, Brazilians went to the polls in an election billed as the most momentous since democratization in 1985. Far-right president Jair Bolsonaro faced off against former two-term president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Though Lula did win the first-round election by more than 5 percentage points, or 6 million votes, it was not enough to clear the 50 percent threshold needed for first-round victory. The opponents will face a polarizing run-off on October 30.
In Brazil, the national and state-level executives are elected by direct proportional representation for four-year terms. This is also the case with the Senate, comprising eighty-one seats, each serving eight-year terms. The lower-house national legislature, the Chamber of Deputies (comprising 513 seats, each serving four-year terms) is elected via open list proportional representation through state-based lists, with a 2 percent threshold and a rather complicated alliance system between parties. As a result, there has systematically been a disjuncture between the executive and the legislative in the country, and presidents need to cobble together shifting alliances to try and form the temporary majorities they need to legislate. At best this has led to weak governments, and at its worst it has been the breeding ground for semi-legal practices and various corruption scandals over the years.
The results from Brazil’s first round show a sharp turn to the right in the legislature—for which there are no run-offs—as well as in gubernatorial races.
It’s barely Halloween. The ball won’t drop in Times Square for another two full months, and more good books will surely appear before the year ends. But I already know: My favorite novel of 2022 is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Demon Copperhead.”
Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, this is the story of an irrepressible boy nobody wants, but readers will love. Damon is the only child of a teenage alcoholic — “an expert at rehab” — in southwest Virginia. He becomes aware of his status early, around the same time he gets the nickname Demon. “I was a lowlife,” he says, “born in the mobile home, so that’s like the Eagle Scout of trailer trash.” The more he grasps the connotations of words like “hick” and “redneck,” the more discouraged he becomes. “This is what I would say if I could, to all the smart people of the world with their dumb hillbilly jokes. … We can actually hear you.”
The K stands for “Kindred.” It was a family name, but if there’s anyone who can forgive a fanciful imputation of significance, it is Philip K. Dick. How lovely that a poet of alienation would come into existence bearing that word.
Perhaps you’ve nurtured a suspicion that you have the makings of a Dick fan. The writer’s influence is everywhere, though mainstream acknowledgment of his talents arrived belatedly. (His obituary in this newspaper is under 200 words and lists his age of death incorrectly. He was 53, not 54.)
The question is where to start. Dick’s published output — at least 35 novels and countless short stories — ranges from sublime to inscrutable, which is partly a result of volume. His book advances were skimpy and there was a family to support, so he wrote quickly, often fueled by amphetamine tablets.
Sometimes he’d be washing the car . . . all by himself and he’d say, “Damn!” or sweeping the last morsels of leaves onto an old dustpan saved just for outside for when he was alone in the silence of summer afternoons he’d say. “Damn!” He didn’t go to his abuelita’s funeral He wasn’t there when his father died He was with somebody else he loved, and he wasn’t there the moment she died Y le pasaba, sabes? An anvil of loneliness would fall onto his chest and he’d say, “Damn!”
by Cézar A González from Paper Dance Persea Books, NY, NY, 1995
Y le pasaba, sabes (and it happened to him, you know)
In his new book, “The Song of the Cell,” Siddhartha Mukherjee has taken on a subject that is enormous and minuscule at once. Even though cells are typically so tiny that you need a microscope to see them, they also happen to be implicated in almost anything to do with medicine — and therefore almost anything to do with life. Guided by Mukherjee’s granular narration (“As you keep swimming through the cell’s protoplasm …”), I was repeatedly dazzled by his pointillist scenes, the enthusiasm of his explanations, the immediacy of his metaphors. But I also found myself wondering where we were going. What kind of organism might these smaller units add up to? What was the shape of the story he set out to tell?
They’re questions that Mukherjee himself anticipates in the early pages of “The Song of the Cell,” drawing a contrast between the structure of his new book and the arcs of his previous ones. “The Gene” (2016), he says, “was propelled by the quest to decode and decipher the code of life”; his first book, the superb “The Emperor of All Maladies” (2010), which won a Pulitzer Prize, was animated by “the aching quest to find cures for cancer or to prevent it.” This latest effort — with sections on cell biology, on neurons, on immunotherapy, among other topics — “is itself a sum of parts,” Mukherjee writes. “The organization is cellular, if you will.”
Now comes news of a maniac breaking into a house in the middle of the night, bludgeoning an 82-year-old man in the head with a hammer while demanding to know where his famous wife was. Perfect Halloween movie fare. Except it actually happened. One of the most macabre stories to come out of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and democracy, ginned up by Donald Trump, was when the mob roamed the halls, pounding the speaker’s door with bloodcurdling taunts of “Where’s Nancy?” Speaker Pelosi was not there, thank God. She was huddling with other top officials in a secure bunker, placing call after call for help that was slow to arrive.
Imagine taking in an orphaned baby bird, giving it food and shelter so that it could grow, and then one day it swoops down and attacks the family hamster.
Peter Brooks says he experienced something similar in December 2000, when George W. Bush, then the president-elect, presented the members of his cabinet to the American public. Brooks had spent his career arguing for the importance of narrative and storytelling; his book “Reading for the Plot” (1984) was already considered a classic of literary criticism. But hearing Bush talk mistily about how each of his appointees “has got their own story that is so unique, stories that really explain what America can and should be about,” Brooks found himself, well, losing the plot.
“It was as if a fledgling I had nourished had become a predator,” he writes in his intriguing new book, “Seduced by Story.”
An international team of astrophysicists has made a puzzling discovery while analyzing certain star clusters. The finding challenges Newton’s laws of gravity, the researchers write in their publication. Instead, the observations are consistent with the predictions of an alternative theory of gravity. However, this is controversial among experts. The results have now been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In their work, the researchers investigated open star clusters. These are formed when thousands of stars are born within a short time in a huge gas cloud. As they “ignite,” the galactic newcomers blow away the remnants of the gas cloud. In the process, the cluster expands considerably. This creates a loose formation of several dozen to several thousand stars. The weak gravitational forces acting between them hold the cluster together.
Homo sapienshave existed on the planet for about 300,000 years, or more than 109 million days. The most dangerous of all those days — the day when our species likely came closer than any other to wiping itself off the face of the Earth — came 60 years ago today, on October 27, 1962. And the person who likely did more than anyone else to prevent that dangerous day from becoming an existential catastrophe was a quiet Soviet naval officer named Vasili Arkhipov.
On that day, Arkhipov was serving aboard the nuclear-armed Soviet submarine B-59 in international waters near Cuba. It was the height of the Cuban missile crisis, which began earlier that month when a US U-2 spy plane spotted evidence of newly built installations on Cuba, where it turned out that Soviet military advisers were helping to build sites capable of launching nuclear missiles at the US, less than 100 miles away.
That led to the Cold War’s most volatile confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union — 13 days of high-stakes brinkmanship between two nuclear powers that seemed one misstep away from total war.
The astounding influence that Chinese poetry in translation has had on the English language throughout the 20th century—from the Modernist, Imagist revolution of Ezra Pound’s Cathay (1915)through its mid-century, counter-cultural incarnation by Gary Snyder, Kenneth Rexroth, and others—can be traced to this ragtag assortment of drunkards, hermits, and exiles. Very few collections, however, situate the Tang poets fully within their political and historical context, drawing out both the urgency and stakes of their verse. Many anthologies, such as Witter Bynner’s classic The Jade Mountain (1929), simply follow the model of Three Hundred Tang Poems (1763)compiled by the Qing scholar Sun Zhu, which for many decades remained the standard text. In the Same Light (The Song Cave, 2022), translated by the Chinese-Singaporean-Irish poet Wong May, does something different. Collecting 200 poems by 38 poets, Wong May promises to find parallels between their time and the present and, in so doing, update them “for our century.” To do this, she excavates her own story and its resonance with those of the Tang poets.
What counts as resurrection? A general rising of the dead, a return from the afterworld at the end of time in some physical embodiment, is specific to a small group of monotheistic religions: Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity. Irksome sympathizers say that the dead person will “live” in memory. Reincarnation, especially prevalent in the belief systems collected under Hinduism, is an expansive view of resurrection. The “undead”—whether zombies or ghosts—cluster at the threshold of living again. Science fiction and the superrich try to upload the self to a mechanical container. Some physicists propose the eventuality of a quantum resurrection out there in this universe or another. The corpse fertilizes the cemetery grass. What I began seeking, though, was a straight-up rewinding, my own Lazarus, selfsame.
But even Lazarus’s resurrection, a case of supercharged healing, faces the problem of change. Although Lazarus aged like an ordinary man, he supposedly never smiled again.
My mother had me in Boston but really by the Beit El checkpoint. I trace my begats to the burning bush, just blooming henna but it makes me a citizen of the roadmap. I just have to fill out the forms. I’ll never escape the past but at least I can call my kitchen an embassy, my refrigerator a stockpile of milk and honey. They carried the promise around on a palanquin. Remember Nazis shriveling, rays shooting out between gold angels, the thing then wheeled to a spot in a warehouse? He found manna jars labeled Heavy Water on a shelf and became the last raider of the lost ark. He leaked the truth and got eighteen years for assaulting the holy land with a deadly weapon. But he can visit me for pancakes and not violate his house arrest. You should be ashamed, someone said, and perhaps someone should. They made Moses wear a veil, his face ablaze when he walked down the mountain, its whereabouts classified. It takes God willing times two hundred to protect a desert, all my mugs and bowls waiting for the archaeologists.