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Links: Best of 2021
As usual, here’s an early Christmas gift with this year’s 4-star links. I’ve done my best to rank them by quality. (But really, they’re all very good.)
Stunning, haunting piece. If you haven’t read it yet, you must:
If you took an Uber in Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago, there was a chance your driver was one of the greatest living Uyghur poets. Tahir Hamut Izgil arrived with his family in the United States in 2017, fleeing the Chinese government’s merciless persecution of his people. Tahir’s escape not only spared him near-certain internment in the camps that have swallowed more than 1 million Uyghurs; it also allowed him to share with the world his experience of the calamity engulfing his homeland. The following articles are Tahir’s firsthand account of one of the world’s most urgent humanitarian crises, and of one family’s survival.
Before I met Tahir, I knew his poems. I encountered them soon after I began working as a translator in Xinjiang, the Uyghur region in western China. A close friend there kept telling me that if I really wanted to understand Uyghur culture, I had to read the poetry. Like many Americans, I rarely felt drawn to poetry, but one day, another friend put a sheaf of Tahir’s verses in my hand. Poetry had never affected me so deeply. […]
Tahir and his family are now in the midst of the asylum application process. A few years passed before Tahir was ready to set down his experiences in writing. Once he began, it poured out of him. He sent me new entries faster than I could translate. The articles that follow comprise one man’s recounting of the political, social, and cultural destruction of his homeland—corroborated by The Atlantic’s fact-checkers, who contacted others intimately familiar with these details, and who reviewed personal documentation, reports from the press and human-rights organizations, and similar eyewitness testimonies collated by the Xinjiang Victims Database. […]
Most of the Uyghurs detained in the mass arrests had been summoned by phone to the local neighborhood-committee office or police station and then taken away. But some, especially intellectuals, had been spirited from their homes in the middle of the night. The police would knock on the door of the person they planned to arrest, slap handcuffs on their wrists, and haul them off. They wouldn’t let them change clothes; whatever they were wearing was what they would leave in. Some people had even been taken away in their pajamas.
Everyone knew what happened next. The police would imprison these people in cells or lockups where there was nothing besides a high ceiling, four thick walls, a camera in every corner, an iron door, and a chilly cement floor. If you felt hot, you could remove clothes, but if you were cold, there was nothing you could do. Even in high summer, this was a practical problem. If someone knocked on my door in the middle of the night, I planned to put on these warm clothes and autumn shoes before answering. Kamil was arrested during the day, but I had a strong feeling that they would come for me at night.
Merhaba and I were both silent for a moment. We lay side by side on the bed. I turned out the light.
“I’m going to ask you something,” I said to Merhaba, “and you have to promise me you’ll do it.”
“What is it? Tell me first,” she said.
“I’m serious. Promise me first,” I said firmly.
“All right,” she replied quietly.
“If they arrest me, don’t lose yourself. Don’t make inquiries about me, don’t go looking for help, don’t spend money trying to get me out. This time isn’t like any time before. They are planning something dark. There is no notifying families or inquiring at police stations this time. So don’t trouble yourself with that. Keep our family affairs in order, take good care of our daughters, let life go on as if I were still here. I’m not afraid of prison. I am afraid of you and the girls struggling and hurting when I’m gone. So I want you to remember what I’m saying.”
“Do you have to talk like you’re heading to your death?”
“You know the PIN numbers for my bank cards.”
Merhaba began crying. In the pitch black, there was no sound besides her weeping.
For more than fifty years, my wife and I shared a world. Then, as Diana’s health declined, her hallucinations became her own reality. […]
She is fully articulate, in many ways her familiar self. She asks me if I saw the opera. I’m not sure which opera she means; we’ve seen many over the fifty years that we’ve been married. She means the one last night in our back yard. She describes it in detail—the stage set, the costumes, the “really amazing” lighting, the beautiful voices. I ask her what opera was performed. Now I get another look, not a sly one but a suspicious one.
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
I say that it’s not a matter of belief but of perception. I can’t see what she sees. She tells me that this is a great pity. I miss so much of life. I used to have something of an imagination, but I’ve evidently lost it. Maybe she should start spending time with someone else. Also, she knows about my girlfriend. The one in the red jacket. There is no girlfriend, but there is a red jacket hanging over the back of her walker. Suddenly, she forgets the girlfriend and remembers the opera. “Oh,” she says. “It was ‘La Traviata,’ and we went together with Anna Netrebko before she sang.”
Now I have my own brief vision. Diana is only twenty-one, I am twenty-five. We have just arrived in South Bend, where I am teaching English at Notre Dame. A friend wrote about us in those days as having appeared to him like two fawns in the grove of our local Arcadia. Diana wore the clothes she had brought from England, including her miniskirt, and people in cars would honk their horns and stare. In London, where we had met, it had been the middle of the nineteen-sixties; at our Midwestern college, it was more like the fifties. A former student told me that when I held classes at home, for a change of scene, he and his classmates took bets on who would be lucky enough to talk to her.
I see her walking in from the kitchen with tea and her homemade scones. College boys—only boys were admitted back then—lift china cups balanced on wafer-thin saucers. Some have never eaten a crumbly scone or sipped tea out of such a delicate cup. Diana is often told she looks like Julie Christie, and my students all want to be Omar Sharif, Christie’s co-star in “Doctor Zhivago.” Some write poems inspired by Lara, Zhivago’s muse. Diana smiles at them, greeting those whose names she remembers. Hello, Vince. Hi there, Richard. She dazzles them. She dazzles me.
Several people recommended this piece highly, and it also picked up a ton of buzz online. But while reading its first half, I was thinking this was a solid three-but-not-four-star piece. Stick with it; by the end, it seemed pretty clearly one of the best articles I’ve read this year.
When Bobby McIlvaine died on September 11, 2001, his desk at home was a study in plate tectonics, coated in shifting piles of leather-bound diaries and yellow legal pads. He’d kept the diaries since he was a teenager, and they were filled with the usual diary things—longings, observations, frustrations—while the legal pads were marbled with more variety: aphoristic musings, quotes that spoke to him, stabs at fiction.
The yellow pads appeared to have the earnest beginnings of two different novels. But the diaries told a different kind of story. To the outside world, Bobby, 26, was a charmer, a striver, a furnace of ambition. But inside, the guy was a sage and a sap—philosophical about disappointments, melancholy when the weather changed, moony over girlfriends.
Less than a week after his death, Bobby’s father had to contend with that pitiless still life of a desk. And so he began distributing the yellow legal pads, the perfect-bound diaries: to Bobby’s friends; to Bobby’s girlfriend, Jen, to whom he was about to propose. Maybe, he told them, there was material in there that they could use in their eulogies.
One object in that pile glowed with more meaning than all the others: Bobby’s very last diary. Jen took one look and quickly realized that her name was all over it. Could she keep it?
Bobby’s father didn’t think. He simply said yes. It was a reflex that he almost instantly came to regret.
Usually, Dave Hartsock packed his own parachute. He could just about do it with his eyes shut: straighten the lines, roll the canopy, fold in the outside, press out the excess air, then crease it into a package and carefully place the fabric in the deployment bag.
That was for solo jumps, though. Leading tandem sky dives was different. The canopies were so big, and the pressure so great to move one load of customers after another, that instructors rarely packed their own chutes.
And this Saturday afternoon, Aug. 1, 2009, was crazy as always. For the crew at the Skydive Houston drop zone in Waller County, Texas, it was all they could do to get customers up and back down in time to keep up with demand. Dave had made his first jump at 9 a.m. and five more since. Now, at 4 p.m., he was getting ready to clock out for the day when Todd Bell, the drop-zone manager, approached. Do us a solid, he said. Can you take up one more jumper?
Dave was tired and sweating intensely; the Texas air was still above 100º, even late in the afternoon. But he was game. He took a slug from a bottle of Gatorade, grabbed a prepacked parachute off the wall peg and turned to his final jumper of the day, a blonde, grandmotherly type. With his broad shoulders and close-cropped brown hair, Dave could be imposing. Which is why, as always, he deployed his best smile upon meeting the customer.
The smile told her that she could relax. That he had this. That everything was going to be O.K.
Usually, Shirley Dygert avoided risks. She steered clear of any vacation with the word adventure attached to it. She didn’t like driving at night. And when her older son Will, now a father to three, had decided to go skydiving on his 30th birthday a year earlier, she’d lobbied against it, without success.
Now here she was, wearing a bulky flight suit and preparing to jump out of an airplane. She wondered, What in the world am I doing?
Delightful, excellent piece from 1993 that — I imagine — is even better with hindsight:
At the moment, the best way to communicate with another person on the information highway is to exchange electronic mail: to write a message on a computer and send it through the telephone lines into someone else’s computer. In the future, people will send each other sound and pictures as well as text, and do it in real time, and improved technology will make it possible to have rich, human electronic exchanges, but at present E-mail is the closest thing we have to that. […]
Sitting at my computer one day, I realized that I could try to communicate with Bill Gates, the chairman and co-founder of the software giant Microsoft, on the information highway. At least, I could send E-mail to his electronic address, which is widely available, not tell anyone at Microsoft I was doing it, and see what happened. I wrote:
I am the guy who is writing the article about you for The New Yorker. It occurs to me that we ought to be able to do some of the work through e-mail. Which raises this fascinating question—What kind of understanding of another person can e-mail give you? . . .
You could begin by telling me what you think is unique about e-mail as a form of communication.
I hit “return,” and the computer said, “mail sent.” I walked out to the kitchen to get a drink of water and played with the cat for a while, then came back and sat at my computer. Thinking that I was probably wasting money, I nevertheless logged on again and entered my password.
“You have mail,” the computer said. […]
We began to E-mail each other three or four times a week. I would have a question about something and say to myself, “I’m going to E-mail Bill about that,” and I’d write him a message and get a one- or two-page message back within twenty-four hours, sometimes much sooner. At the beginning of our electronic relationship, I would wake up in the middle of the night and lie in bed wondering if I had E-mail from Bill. Generally, he seemed to write messages at night, sleep (maybe), then send them the next morning. We were intimate in a curious way, in the sense of being wired into each other’s minds, but our contact was elaborately stylized, like ballroom dancing. […]
When Gates was in his twenties, his mother color-coördinated his clothes—he had green days, beige days, blue days—and then the job was taken over by girlfriends, and now it will presumably fall to his wife, but so far no one has really handled the task successfully. “A lot of his friends have said, ‘Bill, come on, let’s go on a shopping spree, we’ll buy you some clothes,’ but it never works,” Ann Winblad, who is now a highly respected venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, and was the woman in Bill’s life for five years, told me. “Bill just doesn’t think about clothes. And his hygiene is not good. And his glasses—how can he see out of them? But Bill’s attitude is: I’m in this pure mind state, and clothes and hygiene are last on the list.” Esther Dyson, who edits a computer industry newsletter called Release 1.0., says, “I’m told that within Microsoft certain people are allowed to take Bill’s glasses off and wipe them, but I’ve never done it. You know, it’s like—‘Don’t try this at home.’ ”
I’m pretty late on this (it’s about two months old and got a lot of buzz when it came out); it’s definitely worth reading:
That month, Joshua had read about a new website that had something to do with artificial intelligence and “chatbots.” It was called Project December. There wasn’t much other information, and the site itself explained little, including its name, but he was intrigued enough to pay $5 for an account.
As it turned out, the site was vastly more sophisticated than it first appeared.
Designed by a Bay Area programmer, Project December was powered by one of the world’s most capable artificial intelligence systems, a piece of software known as GPT-3. It knows how to manipulate human language, generating fluent English text in response to a prompt. While digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa also appear to grasp and reproduce English on some level, GPT-3 is far more advanced, able to mimic pretty much any writing style at the flick of a switch. […]
As Joshua continued to experiment, he realized there was no rule preventing him from simulating real people. What would happen, he wondered, if he tried to create a chatbot version of his dead fiancee? […]
That night in September, Joshua hadn’t actually expected it to work. Jessica was so special, so distinct; a chatbot could never replicate her voice, he assumed. Still, he was curious to see what would happen.
And he missed her.
Otarbai learned that the police had found WhatsApp, a messaging client that is blocked in China, on his phone. Otarbai protested that the app was common in Kazakhstan, where he now lived. The officers asked if he knew what he had saved in his WhatsApp account. Otarbai immediately understood what they meant. In Koktokay, he’d told the police that he didn’t pray regularly. Now he remembered that there were a few videos of imams preaching and inspirational images related to the practice of praying five times a day. “I know there is some religious instruction,” he told them. “I know it is there.”
Otarbai’s interrogation ended soon after he acknowledged his phone’s contents, and the police took him to a nearby hospital for a medical checkup. Although he was the only patient there in shackles and handcuffs, he still hoped that he would be freed. Instead, the police took him to Tacheng’s pretrial detention center. He spent the next three months there, sharing crowded jail cells with as many as twenty-two other prisoners. By his own account, Otarbai was a badly behaved detainee. He shouted at guards, demanding his release, which led to beatings. During one encounter, a guard told Otarbai that he would rot in jail, then struck his head with a metal baton, causing him to bleed. “Nobody interrogated me,” he said. “Nobody told me what was happening.” He assumed his detention was a mistake that would soon be corrected. On November 22nd, three months after Otarbai entered the detention center, police officers read aloud a list of prisoners who would be transferred to a “political learning center.” More than two dozen detainees were handcuffed, shackled, hooded, and loaded into police minivans. Otarbai was among them.
The Antikythera Cosmos: Experts recreate a mechanical Cosmos for the world's first computer | YouTube
Very, very cool new research:
Researchers at UCL have solved a major piece of the puzzle that makes up the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism, a hand-powered mechanical device that was used to predict astronomical events.
Known to many as the world's first analogue computer, the Antikythera Mechanism is the most complex piece of engineering to have survived from the ancient world. The 2,000-year-old device was used to predict the positions of the Sun, Moon and the planets as well as lunar and solar eclipses.
Published in Scientific Reports, the paper from the multidisciplinary UCL Antikythera Research Team reveals a new display of the ancient Greek order of the Universe (Cosmos), within a complex gearing system at the front of the Mechanism.
Lead author Professor Tony Freeth (UCL Mechanical Engineering) explained: "Ours is the first model that conforms to all the physical evidence and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions engraved on the Mechanism itself. […]
However, until now, a full understanding of the gearing system at the front of the device has eluded the best efforts of researchers. Only about a third of the Mechanism has survived, and is split into 82 fragments - creating a daunting challenge for the UCL team.
The biggest surviving fragment, known as Fragment A, displays features of bearings, pillars and a block. Another, known as Fragment D, features an unexplained disk, 63-tooth gear and plate.
Previous research had used X-ray data from 2005 to reveal thousands of text characters hidden inside the fragments, unread for nearly 2,000 years. Inscriptions on the back cover include a description of the cosmos display, with the planets moving on rings and indicated by marker beads. It was this display that the team worked to reconstruct.
I worry sometimes that I send too many articles about China. Partly because while I aim impossibly to be an unbiased and dispassionate curator of the best things I read, perhaps you’ll assume (especially if we’ve never met and you know me only by name) that these articles are more interesting to me than to you. And to be fair, while my parents are from Taiwan and not China, there might be some truth to that; my guess is I send more about China than other newsletter writers.
That said, I want you to read this article even if you don’t care much about China. Because there’s something interesting and nuanced about why the Chinese government behaves the way it does (beyond the usual suspects of maintaining power, crushing dissent, and other useful simplifications about the CCP’s immorality). And while I disagree with the CCP’s approach on this and most other things, I think it’s fair to say they’ve looked carefully at America’s ills and are trying to do something different to avoid them. Which is pretty interesting.
Behind this veil of carefully cultivated opacity, it’s unsurprising that so few people in the West know of Wang, let alone know him personally.
Yet Wang Huning is arguably the single most influential “public intellectual” alive today.
A member of the CCP’s seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, he is China’s top ideological theorist, quietly credited as being the “ideas man” behind each of Xi’s signature political concepts, including the “China Dream,” the anti-corruption campaign, the Belt and Road Initiative, a more assertive foreign policy, and even “Xi Jinping Thought.” Scrutinize any photograph of Xi on an important trip or at a key meeting and one is likely to spot Wang there in the background, never far from the leader’s side. […]
But what is singularly remarkable about Wang is that he’s managed to serve in this role of court philosopher to not just one, but all three of China’s previous top leaders, including as the pen behind Jiang Zemin’s signature “Three Represents” policy and Hu Jintao’s “Harmonious Society.”
In the brutally cutthroat world of CCP factional politics, this is an unprecedented feat. […]
Once idealistic about America, at the start of 1989 the young Wang returned to China and, promoted to Dean of Fudan’s International Politics Department, became a leading opponent of liberalization. […]
“He was most concerned with the question of how to manage China,” one former Fudan student recalls. “He was suggesting that a strong, centralized state is necessary to hold this society together. He spent every night in his office and didn’t do anything else.” […]
Wang, having defeated National Taiwan University by arguing that human nature is inherently evil, foreshadowed that, “While Western modern civilization can bring material prosperity, it doesn’t necessarily lead to improvement in character.” […]
Either way, our world is witnessing a grand experiment that’s now underway: China and the West, facing very similar societal problems, have now, thanks to Wang Huning, embarked on radically different approaches to addressing them. And with China increasingly challenging the United States for a position of global geopolitical and ideological leadership, the conclusion of this experiment could very well shape the global future of governance for the century ahead.
In 2009, the only remaining eligible breeders — Sudan and Suni and Najin and Fatu — were brought back to Africa, to a wildlife conservancy in Kenya. It was a moonshot: a hope that their native continent might stir something deep in the biology of the final four, that it might produce a miracle.
Alas, it did not. Suni died, then Sudan. Suddenly, there were only two northern whites left. They were still out there in the field, doing the things their ancestors had always done: eating grass, wallowing in mud holes, taking naps in the shade of trees. But now everything was different. They lumbered around in a world between life and death, both here and not-here. Every mouthful of grass they ate was one mouthful closer to the last that would ever be eaten.
After Sudan died, I could not stop thinking about the last two. What were they like? What did they do all day? I found their existence strangely cheering. Although their story was almost unbearably tragic, they themselves were not tragic — they were just rhinos. To meet them would be a chance to look mass extinction in the face.
This is a great framework, and it’s followed by a bunch of thoughtful (if high-level) commentary:
I think different people have radically different pictures of what it means to "work toward a better world." I think this explains a number of the biggest chasms between people who think of themselves as well-meaning but don't see the other side that way, and I think different pictures of "where the world is heading by default" are key to the disagreements.
Imagine that the world is a ship. Here are five very different ways one might try to do one's part in "working toward a better life for the people on the ship."
When Anar Sabit was in her twenties and living in Vancouver, she liked to tell her friends that people could control their own destinies. Her experience, she was sure, was proof enough.
She had come to Canada in 2014, a bright, confident immigrant from Kuytun, a small city west of the Gobi Desert, in a part of China that is tucked between Kazakhstan, Siberia, and Mongolia. […]
Growing up in this remote part of Asia, a child like Sabit, an ethnic Kazakh, could find the legacy of conquest all around her. […]
As a child, Sabit imbibed Communist Party teachings and considered herself a committed Chinese citizen, even as the bingtuan maintained a colonialist attitude toward people like her. Han residents of Kuytun often called Kazakhs and Uyghurs “ethnic persons,” as if their specific culture made no difference. Sabit accepted this as normal. Her parents, a doctor and a chemistry professor, never spoke of their experiences of discrimination; they enrolled her in schools where classes were held in Mandarin, and they taught her to embrace what she learned there. […]
Sabit excelled as a student, and after graduating from high school, in 2004, she moved to Shanghai, to study Russian, hoping that it would open up career opportunities in other parts of the world. She loved Shanghai, which thrummed with the promise of glamorous, fast-paced living. But she was still an “ethnic person.” If she told a new acquaintance where she was from, it usually derailed the conversation. Some people, believing that “barbarians” lived in Xinjiang, expressed surprise that she spoke Mandarin fluently. Just before she completed her degree, the tech company Huawei hosted a job fair, and Sabit and her friends applied. She was the only one not offered an interview—because of her origins, she was sure.
Sabit brushed off this kind of prejudice, and became adept at eliding her background; when circumstances allowed, she fibbed and said that she was from some other region. She found a well-paying job with an investment company. The work was exciting—involving travel to places like Russia, Laos, and Hong Kong—and she liked her boss and her colleagues.
While Sabit was in Shanghai, her parents immigrated to Kazakhstan. They urged her to move there, too, but she resisted their pleas, believing that China was a more powerful country, more forward-leaning. She had spent most of her life striving to be a model citizen, and was convinced that her future lay with China—even as the politics of her homeland grew more fraught.
While I don’t agree with every point, Tony Blair’s criticism of Western progressive parties is pretty cogent; well worth reading in full, no matter your politics:
Joe Biden’s victory in the United States apart, progressive politics across the globe is badly placed: four election defeats for the UK Labour Party and no one betting against a fifth; the German SPD placed behind a moderate Green Party; the French Socialists, who won the presidency in 2012, now polling at 11 per cent; the Italian left imploded and divided; the Spanish and Swedish socialists hanging on to power, but way below their earlier levels of support.
And truth be told, no sensible Democrat or democrat should overplay the Biden victory. He won against an incumbent like no other, considered by centre-ground voters to be uniquely strange and unacceptable in his behaviour. […]
The progressive problem is that, in an era where people want change in a changing world, and a fairer, better and more prosperous future, the radical progressives aren’t sensible and the sensible aren’t radical. The choice is therefore between those who fail to inspire hope and those who inspire as much fear as hope. So, the running is made by the new radical left, with the “moderates” dragged along behind, uncomfortably mouthing a watered-down version of the left’s policies while occasionally trying to dig in their heels to stop further sliding towards the alienation of the centre.
The result is that today progressive politics has an old-fashioned economic message of Big State, tax and spend which, other than the spending part (which the right can do anyway), is not particularly attractive. This is combined with a new-fashioned social/cultural message around extreme identity and anti-police politics which, for large swathes of people, is voter-repellent. “Defund the police” may be the left’s most damaging political slogan since “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. It leaves the right with an economic message which seems more practical, and a powerful cultural message around defending flag, family and fireside traditional values. To top it off, the right evinces a pride in their nation, while parts of the left seem embarrassed by the very notion. […]
The thinking of the new left radicals across the West – which is really the rediscovery of 1960s Marxist-inspired left policy by a new generation – is largely redundant to answering the challenge. Public ownership of industry, “free” university tuition, much heavier regulation – all of these traditional solutions, as well as being politically challenging, will not materially impact people’s lives in anything like the manner of technological change, and may be regressive if they reduce the power of social mobility and social aspiration. They seem “radical” because they come from a traditional left which presented them as such, but politically they are mostly now museum pieces, lingering relics of outdated ideology. […]
You can literally go through the policy catalogue, from crime to defence to the environment, and in every case the potential of technological change is enormous and revolutionary. This is the future. But you can’t organise the future with a playbook from the past.
Precisely because a new younger generation are looking for radical policy, as every new generation does, and because they’re not really finding it in an economic message which doesn’t enthuse, so progressives have defaulted to issues around culture, gender, race and identity. Handling these issues successfully is an equally great challenge for modern progressives.
Yet another one of those articles that everyone seems to be writing about — that manages to live up to the hype:
“Bullshit! Bullshit!” the crowd chanted. It was a peculiar mixture of emotion that had become familiar at pro-Trump rallies since he lost the election: half mutinous rage, half gleeful excitement at being licensed to act on it. The profanity signalled a final jettisoning of whatever residual deference to political norms had survived the past four years. In front of me, a middle-aged man wearing a Trump flag as a cape told a young man standing beside him, “There’s gonna be a war.” His tone was resigned, as if he were at last embracing a truth that he had long resisted. “I’m ready to fight,” he said. The young man nodded. He had a thin mustache and hugged a life-size mannequin with duct tape over its eyes, “traitor” scrawled on its chest, and a noose around its neck. […]
“After this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you,” Trump told the crowd. The people around me exchanged looks of astonishment and delight. “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them—because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength.” […]
The attack on the Capitol was a predictable apotheosis of a months-long ferment. Throughout the pandemic, right-wing protesters had been gathering at statehouses, demanding entry. In April, an armed mob had filled the Michigan state capitol, chanting “Treason!” and “Let us in!” In December, conservatives had broken the glass doors of the Oregon state capitol, overrunning officers and spraying them with chemical agents. The occupation of restricted government sanctums was an affirmation of dominance so emotionally satisfying that it was an end in itself—proof to elected officials, to Biden voters, and also to the occupiers themselves that they were still in charge. After one of the Trump supporters breached the U.S. Capitol, he insisted through a megaphone, “We will not be denied.” There was an unmistakable subtext as the mob, almost entirely white, shouted, “Whose house? Our house!” One man carried a Confederate flag through the building. A Black member of the Capitol Police later told BuzzFeed News that, during the assault, he was called a racial slur fifteen times.
I followed a group that broke off to advance on five policemen guarding a side corridor. “Stand down,” a man in a maga hat commanded. “You’re outnumbered. There’s a fucking million of us out there, and we are listening to Trump—your boss.”
“We can take you out,” a man beside him warned.
From the always-brilliant Caitlin Flanagan:
Elite schools breed entitlement, entrench inequality—and then pretend to be engines of social change. […]
“Next it’ll be a heliport,” said a member of the local land-use committee after the school’s most recent remodel, which added two floors—and 12,000 square feet—to one of its four buildings, in order to better prepare students “for the exciting world they will inherit.” Today Dalton; tomorrow the world itself.
So it was a misstep when Jim Best, the head of school—relatively new, and with a salary of $700,000—said that Dalton parents couldn’t have something they wanted. The school would not hold in-person classes in the fall. This might have gone over better if the other elite Manhattan schools were doing the same. But Trinity was opening. Ditto the fearsome girls’ schools: Brearley, Nightingale-Bamford, Chapin, Spence.
How long could the Dalton parent—the $54,000-a-kid Dalton parent—watch her children slip behind their co-equals? More to the point, how long could she be expected to open The New York Times and see articles about one of the coronavirus pandemic’s most savage inequalities: that private schools were allowed to open when so many public schools were closed, their students withering in front of computer screens and suffering all manner of neglect?
The Dalton parent is not supposed to be on the wrong side of a savage inequality. She is supposed to care about savage inequalities; she is supposed to murmur sympathetically about savage inequalities while scanning the news, her gentle concern muffled by the jet-engine roar of her morning blowout. But she isn’t supposed to fall victim to one.
My dad had gotten out of prison, and, for the first time in years, we were sitting down to dinner. It turned out to be the last time I ever saw him alive.
This was 1984. We were at Newport’s, in the West End, drinking Anchor Steam beers, and the mood was one of celebration. A former light heavyweight boxer, my dad was still physically imposing, even at 70 years old, but he was slimmer after his most recent stint inside. His sports coat hung loose on him, and his red-blond hair had thinned. It was a busy Friday night, and cheerful voices bounced off the brick walls of the restaurant. The air was perfumed with the scent of mesquite-grilled swordfish. We raised our glasses to toast my father’s freedom. I can still picture his big grin.
His name was James Dolan, same as mine, but everyone called him Doc. He’d been in and out of my life since I was a boy, but when I was in my early 30s, Doc and I reconnected. His life as a gangster, I’d learn later, brought him into the orbit of criminal organizations around the country, including Jack Ruby’s circle in Dallas. But long before I realized my father’s connection to the JFK assassination, I was just happy to have him back in my life.
I was a struggling 33-year-old psychotherapist trying to get a break in my field. He’d begun to open up a little about his own work, a process he’d begun with dozens of letters he’d written to me during his most recent time with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, first in USP Atlanta and then FCI El Reno, in Oklahoma. I’d always known he was a misanthrope, someone who didn’t have much regard for the law, but now he was getting specific.
Harris and other live-streamers had been chatting on camera with Balch and a member of his cohort: a talkative teen-ager in a backward baseball cap, with a semi-automatic rifle slung across his chest. A videographer said, “So you guys are full-on ready to defend the property?” The teen-ager, whose name was Kyle Rittenhouse, replied, “Yes, we are,” adding, officiously, “Now, if I can ask—can you guys step back?”
Rittenhouse’s chubby cheeks and high, arched eyebrows gave his face a bemused, childish quality. A first-aid kit dangled at his hip. He explained that he planned to provide first aid to anyone needing it, and said that his gun was for self-protection—“obviously.” He wasn’t old enough to be a certified E.M.T., yet he shouted, “I am an E.M.T.!,” and proclaimed, “If you are injured, come to me! ” Adopting the language of first responders, he told a streamer, “If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way.” […]
Rittenhouse stood over McGinniss for half a minute. Amid the sound of more gunfire, he didn’t stoop to check on the injured man or offer his first-aid kit. “Call 911!” McGinniss told him. Rittenhouse called a friend instead. Sprinting out of the parking lot, he said, “I just shot somebody!”
Demonstrators were yelling: “What’d he do?” “Shot someone!” “Cranium that boy!” Rittenhouse ran down the street toward the whirring lights of police vehicles. To those who had heard only the gunfire and the shouting, he must have resembled a mass shooter: they tend to be heavily armed, white, and male.
A demonstrator ran up behind Rittenhouse and smacked him in the head. When Rittenhouse tripped and fell, another man executed a flying kick; Rittenhouse fired twice, from the ground, and missed. Another demonstrator whacked him in the neck with the edge of a skateboard and tried to grab his rifle; Rittenhouse shot him in the heart. A third demonstrator approached with a handgun; Rittenhouse shot him in the arm, nearly blowing it off. […]
The protest footage had convinced them that Rittenhouse was a patriot who, after months of destructive unrest in U.S. cities, had finally put “Antifa” in check by bravely exercising his Second Amendment rights. Carlson, on Fox News, declared, “How shocked are we that seventeen-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”
The glorification extended, weirdly, to Rittenhouse’s street instincts. Gun users praised his “trigger discipline,” noting that he’d fired only when “attacked.” A sportsman in Washington State blogged that Rittenhouse had “accomplished” the feat of hitting “several moving ‘targets’ closing in from multiple angles, throwing things at you, kicking you in the head, and hitting you in the head.” Another fan concocted a macabre “Kyle Drill” at a shooting range. On YouTube, a survivalist praised Rittenhouse’s “mind-set” during “urban warfare.” The worshipful tone intensified when Rittenhouse’s admirers learned more about Joseph Rosenbaum, the first man he’d killed. Rosenbaum wasn’t an antifascist, but he’d spent more than a decade in prison for child molestation.
Glass made headlines in 1998 when he was fired by the New Republic for inventing characters, scenes, and entire articles for that magazine and several others. The tale of his downfall became a Hollywood film called Shattered Glass, which is largely accurate but still contains fabricated scenes about a fabricator. Glass’s notoriety peaked in 2003 when the film was released and he published The Fabulist, a fictionalized account of his saga that was widely panned. […]
When I looked into Glass after I got to Duke, I found he hadn’t said much publicly since then. He had moved to Los Angeles and become a legal assistant for a personal-injury firm. In 2013, he was briefly in the headlines again because he was seeking admission to the California bar, which opposed his application. Lawyers didn’t like the idea of a liar in their midst.
It took me a couple of years, but I eventually connected with Glass and he agreed to come to Duke and talk with students in my ethics class in the spring of 2016. I first met him for breakfast at a coffee shop near campus, where he insisted on paying for his oatmeal just as he had paid for his flight and hotel. He said he did not want to profit from his lies in any way. I had seen old photos of the twentysomething Glass and was surprised how he looked in his late 40s: a high forehead, thin dark hair, and taller than I expected. (Maybe I thought fabulists were short people?)
I had assigned my ethics students to watch the film, and then surprised them by bringing him to class. “I’d like you to meet Stephen Glass,” I said as we walked in. For an hour he answered their questions about his motivations for lying, the impact of the movie, and his efforts to redeem himself. […]
Glass didn’t win over the crowd. The students later said they were impressed to meet him and glad to hear about the payments, but they felt he came off as introspective and a little meek. When I asked them in a survey if they would consider hiring him as a political fact-checker, most said they would not.
That day he told me about his wife, Julie Hilden, who had early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He didn’t mention that he was engaged in a new lie, one that he would later describe as “the biggest lie of all.”
In the past six years, the European Union, weary of the financial and political costs of receiving migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, has created a shadow immigration system that stops them before they reach Europe. It has equipped and trained the Libyan Coast Guard, a quasi-military organization linked to militias in the country, to patrol the Mediterranean, sabotaging humanitarian rescue operations and capturing migrants. The migrants are then detained indefinitely in a network of profit-making prisons run by the militias. In September of this year, around six thousand migrants were being held, many of them in Al Mabani. International aid agencies have documented an array of abuses: detainees tortured with electric shocks, children raped by guards, families extorted for ransom, men and women sold into forced labor. “The E.U. did something they carefully considered and planned for many years,” Salah Marghani, Libya’s Minister of Justice from 2012 to 2014, told me. “Create a hellhole in Libya, with the idea of deterring people from heading to Europe.” […]
Once the Coast Guard has the coördinates, it races to the boats, trying to capture the migrants before rescue vessels arrive. Sometimes it fires on the migrant boats or directs warning shots at humanitarian ships. In the past four years, according to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (I.O.M.), the Coast Guard and other Libyan authorities have intercepted more than eighty thousand migrants. In 2017, a ship from the aid group Sea-Watch responded to distress calls from a sinking migrant boat. As Sea-Watch deployed two rescue rafts, a Libyan Coast Guard cutter, called the Ras Jadir, arrived at high speed, its swells causing some of the migrants to fall overboard. Coast Guard officers then pulled the migrants out of the water, beating them as they climbed aboard. Johannes Bayer, the head of the Sea-Watch mission, later said, “We had a feeling the Coast Guard were only interested in pulling back as many people to Libya as possible, without caring that people were drowning.” One migrant jumped overboard and clung to the Ras Jadir as it accelerated away, dragging him through the water. According to Sea-Watch, at least twenty people died, including a two-year-old boy. A migrant told Amnesty International that this past February a Coast Guard ship damaged a migrant boat while officers filmed with their cell phones; five people drowned.
The Coast Guard appears to operate with impunity. In October, 2020, Abdel-Rahman al-Milad, the commander of a Coast Guard unit based in Zawiya, who had been added to the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions list for being “directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using firearms,” was arrested by Libyan authorities. Milad had attended meetings with Italian officials in Rome and Sicily in 2017, to request more money. This past April, authorities released him, citing a lack of evidence. The Coast Guard, which did not respond to requests for comment for this piece, has often pointed to its success in limiting migration to Europe, and argued that humanitarian groups hinder its efforts to combat human trafficking. “Why do they declare war on us?” a spokesman told the Italian media. “They should instead coöperate with us if they actually want to work in the interest of the migrants.” The spokesperson for the Trust Fund said that the E.U.’s work with the Coast Guard is intended “to save the lives of those making dangerous journeys by sea or land.”
Only stranieri (foreigners) had to take this entrance exam. In retrospect it may well have been a way of excluding them, because there were so many stranieri attracted by the idea of studying art in Florence that the Italian students would otherwise have been outnumbered. I was in decent shape at painting and drawing from the RISD foundation that summer, but I still don't know how I managed to pass the written exam. I remember that I answered the essay question by writing about Cezanne, and that I cranked up the intellectual level as high as I could to make the most of my limited vocabulary.
I'm only up to age 25 and already there are such conspicuous patterns. Here I was, yet again about to attend some august institution in the hopes of learning about some prestigious subject, and yet again about to be disappointed. The students and faculty in the painting department at the Accademia were the nicest people you could imagine, but they had long since arrived at an arrangement whereby the students wouldn't require the faculty to teach anything, and in return the faculty wouldn't require the students to learn anything. And at the same time all involved would adhere outwardly to the conventions of a 19th century atelier. We actually had one of those little stoves, fed with kindling, that you see in 19th century studio paintings, and a nude model sitting as close to it as possible without getting burned. Except hardly anyone else painted her besides me. The rest of the students spent their time chatting or occasionally trying to imitate things they'd seen in American art magazines. […]
The best thing about New York for me was the presence of Idelle and Julian Weber. Idelle Weber was a painter, one of the early photorealists, and I'd taken her painting class at Harvard. I've never known a teacher more beloved by her students. Large numbers of former students kept in touch with her, including me. After I moved to New York I became her de facto studio assistant.
She liked to paint on big, square canvases, 4 to 5 feet on a side. One day in late 1994 as I was stretching one of these monsters there was something on the radio about a famous fund manager. He wasn't that much older than me, and was super rich. The thought suddenly occurred to me: why don't I become rich? Then I'll be able to work on whatever I want.
Meanwhile I'd been hearing more and more about this new thing called the World Wide Web. Robert Morris showed it to me when I visited him in Cambridge, where he was now in grad school at Harvard. It seemed to me that the web would be a big deal. I'd seen what graphical user interfaces had done for the popularity of microcomputers. It seemed like the web would do the same for the internet.
If I wanted to get rich, here was the next train leaving the station. I was right about that part. What I got wrong was the idea. I decided we should start a company to put art galleries online. I can't honestly say, after reading so many Y Combinator applications, that this was the worst startup idea ever, but it was up there. Art galleries didn't want to be online, and still don't, not the fancy ones.
The climate crisis haunts Chicago’s future. A Battle Between a Great City and a Great Lake | New York Times
In the search for a big-city refuge from climate change, Chicago looks like an excellent option. At least, it does on a map.
It stands a half-continent away from the threat of surging ocean levels. Its northern locale has protected it, to some extent, from southern heat waves. And droughts that threaten crops, forests and water supplies in so many places? Chicago hugs the shore of one of the grandest expanses of freshwater in the world.
Water is, in fact, why Chicago exists. The nation’s third-largest city grew from a remarkable geographical quirk, a small, swampy dip in a continental divide that separates two vast watersheds: the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin. In the 19th century, Chicagoans dug a canal linking those two watersheds, transforming their muddy town into a metropolis of commerce by making the riches of the American Midwest accessible to the world.
The mule-drawn barges that worked its canals long ago gave way to trains, planes and eighteen-wheelers.
But the same waters that gave life to the city threaten it today, because Chicago is built on a shaky prospect — the idea that the swamp that was drained will stay tamed and that Lake Michigan’s shoreline will remain in essentially the same place it’s been for the past 300 years.
The lake may have other plans.
Climate change has started pushing Lake Michigan’s water levels toward uncharted territory as patterns of rain, snowfall and evaporation are transformed by the warming world. The lake’s high-water cycles are threatening to get higher; the lows lower. Already, the swings between the two show signs of happening faster than any time in recorded history.
Early evening in late summer, the golden hour in the village of East Hampton. The surf is rough and pounds its regular measure on the shore. At the last driveway on a road ending at the beach, a cortège of cars—S.U.V.s, jeeps, candy-colored roadsters—pull up to the gate, sand crunching pleasantly under the tires. And out they come, face after famous face, burnished, expensively moisturized: Jerry Seinfeld, Jimmy Buffett, Anjelica Huston, Julianne Moore, Stevie Van Zandt, Alec Baldwin, Jon Bon Jovi. They all wear expectant, delighted-to-be-invited expressions. Through the gate, they mount a flight of stairs to the front door and walk across a vaulted living room to a fragrant back yard, where a crowd is circulating under a tent in the familiar high-life way, regarding the territory, pausing now and then to accept refreshments from a tray.
Their hosts are Nancy Shevell, the scion of a New Jersey trucking family, and her husband, Paul McCartney, a bass player and singer-songwriter from Liverpool. A slender, regal woman in her early sixties, Shevell is talking in a confiding manner with Michael Bloomberg, who was the mayor of New York City when she served on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Bloomberg nods gravely at whatever Shevell is saying, but he has his eyes fixed on a plate of exquisite little pizzas. Would he like one? He narrows his gaze, trying to decide; then, with executive dispatch, he declines.
McCartney greets his guests with the same twinkly smile and thumbs-up charm that once led him to be called “the cute Beatle.” Even in a crowd of the accomplished and abundantly self-satisfied, he is invariably the focus of attention. His fan base is the general population. There are myriad ways in which people betray their pleasure in encountering him—describing their favorite songs, asking for selfies and autographs, or losing their composure entirely.
I don’t think I’ve ever recommended that you not read a 4-star link “cover-to-cover,” but in this case…maybe just skim the middle bit where Scott assesses literally every single ivermectin study he could find? (For the record, as with all of my links, I did read it cover-to-cover and was fascinated throughout.) Still, this is a masterpiece. And it reads like a detective story, to the point where I’m resisting the urge to give away the ending:
I know I’m two months late here. Everyone’s already made up their mind and moved on to other things.
But here’s my pitch: this is one of the most carefully-pored-over scientific issues of our time. Dozens of teams published studies saying ivermectin definitely worked. Then most scientists concluded it didn’t. What a great opportunity to exercise our study-analyzing muscles! To learn stuff about how science works which we can then apply to less well-traveled terrain! Sure, you read the articles saying that experts had concluded the studies were wrong. But did you really develop a gears-level understanding of what was going on? That’s what we have a chance to get here!