U2 may have advanced the theory that “midnight is where the day begins,” but most of the world’s songbirds don’t clock in till dawn. The famous exception is the nightingale. Unattached males will sing through the night to attract a mate, while males in general sing during the hour before sunrise as a chest-puffing exercise in defending their territory. Keats believed that the nightingale has never known “the weariness, the fever, and the fret” of groaning men. But singing all night for a mate and then continuing on to maintain your turf has to be a slog. The bird might as well be holding a boombox over its head.
As a resident of North America, I didn’t think much about the night part of nightingales until I heard birdsong at 2 a.m. It was strange to gradually register the lone trilling piercing through the temporary void of urban acoustics north of Boston. The solitary voice was both beautiful and sad. I knew it couldn’t be a nightingale—most of all because it sang like a mockingbird.
I was surprised to learn that male mockingbirds will sing all night for the same reasons as male nightingales—looking for a mate, asserting their territory. I wondered why I’d never heard a nighttime mockingbird before this, but then this was the first time I’d lived next to a park, urban mockingbird territory to stake out and defend with your last breath. Read more
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of living under this atmospheric condition, imposed by House Democrats, that I call We Can’t Impeach the Authoritarian President for Actions That Are Impeachable (We Just Can’t).
The literary metaphor this impasse brings to mind is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, a novel in which the protagonist butler fails to act for the entirety of the narrative. You wait for the something that you feel has to be coming, but, no—he just scrapes away his masters’ crumbs as an older and older man. The story ends up being about his being exactly how he is and nothing more—a fate the Democrats are toying with.
Our current Remains of the Day started when Pelosi told the Washington Post that she didn’t think the nation “should go down that path” in regard to Donald Trump and impeachment because “he’s just not worth it.” The phrase seemed the coordinating dinnerware to her State of the Union clap. Democrats who still manage to have hope tried to convince themselves of some elaborate political strategy buttressing the phrasing and the timing. To me, however, “He’s just not worth it” indicated yet another wrong detour away from democracy. Read more
On February 5 the world rings in the Chinese Lunar New Year of Earth Pig and says goodbye to that of Earth Dog. The Spinner of the Years stops toiling for no one, but I must admit I will miss the reign of Earth Dog.
I will miss Earth Dog because of the prediction that came with her: “corruption is rooted out, tyranny and oppression overturned, and justice prevails.”
Who could argue with justice prevailing? We know the familiar Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “Let us realize [that] the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The words are nice, but is there such a thing as a “moral universe”? (If the universe was moral, why wouldn’t justice be pre-installed?) I’m afraid Dr. King was letting us down easy. No one wants to hear that the people who go without or take the hits to build an endowment are often not the ones reaping its dividends. Read more
Back on September 4, CNN photographer Khalil Abdallah was in the right place at the right time to capture this image of lightning striking the White House. Presidential timeline-wise, the thunderstorm raged about halfway between the Washington Post’s publication of excepts from Bob Woodward’s Fear and the chest-thumping of an anonymous White House “resistance” figure in the New York Times.
The first thing this weather event brought to mind was the similar hand-of-God coincidence on July 17, one day after Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and refused to acknowledge Russian interference in the 2016 election. During an Oval Office press event, the lights went off just as the President professed his “full faith” in the U.S. intelligence agencies.
The second thing the lightning brought to mind, though, was the tarot card The Tower. In the weeks since that strike to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—and especially in the wake of the midterms—the connections between Donald Trump and The Tower tarot could not be more pronounced. Read more
Ikeep hearing and reading two phrases in regard to the twin conflagrations consuming ever more real estate on the home pages of the New York Times and Washington Post: “It will get ugly” and “We are fucked.”
The first fire is the coordinate effects of Bob Woodward’s new book and the anonymous Times op-ed by a senior White House official; the second, the Senate’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Though we longed for the implosion of Donald Trump, we didn’t want the implosion of our republic to go with it. “It will get ugly” owing to the unhinged chief executive but more so to the void of democracy known as Republicans—this lockstep conglomerate of testosterone who will devastate the country with their minority rule until either January 2, 2019, or forever.
“We are fucked” because for the past 40 years, right-wing dollars have greased a conservative legal movement to wrest control of the nation’s courts. This calculated takeover of the people’s government relied on Republicans’ sinister gerrymandering to control both the House and state governments and their unearned advantage in the U.S. Senate (all those population-challenged Red States getting the same two votes as the 39.5 million residents of California). Republicans have used these exploitations to win the Electoral College and shape the Supreme Court. Read more
I often wonder if someone is tracking the number of times Donald Trump has uttered or tweeted the words “disgrace” and “disgraceful” since assuming the presidency.
The stuff that gushes from his mouth and/or Twitter feed has been pretty well categorized.
There’s the third-grade-vocabulary propaganda hammered home with endless repetition and occasional enhancements—as when “witch hunt” was upgraded to “rigged witch hunt,” slathering on a generous lapse of logic.
Then there’s the outright gutter talk and the “people are saying” innuendo that gets filed under “dog whistle.” (Calling Omarosa Manigault Newman a “dog” is a twofer in this regard.)
“Where Is Barack Obama?” New York Magazine wants us to know that we should want to know.
Apparently people are unhappy that the 44th president seems to have ghosted himself from public life right when we’re entering months of nail-biting over the midterm elections.
One thing the cover article showed me is that the baseline cliché of every superhero franchise has thoroughly colonized the American psyche. Commissioner Gordon is flashing the bat-signal to no avail. And he’s doing so just as DC restaurants (and their patrons) are confronting/harassing/shunning members of the Trump White House.
How quickly we forget Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high.” That got a lot of applause, but then Trump got a lot of electoral votes.
I was recently trying to condense the cache of papers I’ve saved through the years and came across an entire issue of Harper’s Magazine from November 1990.
I remembered why I saved that issue. I was young and visiting Paris on my own, during La Crise du golfe. I had brought books to read, and I bought the International Herald Tribune daily for news about the situation in the Gulf. But Harper’s was lighter to carry around, and besides that, it had become a sense of home—a manifestation of the America I wanted to believe was true, especially then. I had the magazine with me when I ate alone in restaurants and cafés.
I think the reason I kept that issue was less its value as travel memento than the impact of an essay by Lewis Lapham, the publisher at the time. Lapham could be an annoyance in his vitriolic monthly columns. Yes, yes, you’d say. But what are we going to do about it? I’d start a column but often had to stop when his too-clever-by-half putdowns got in the way of his message.
After a series of FBI raids in the summer of 2010, federal prosecutors accused eleven people of being part of a Russian spy ring, living under false names and deep cover in Manhattan and Yonkers; Montclair, New Jersey; Arlington, Virginia; and Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was a slow-cooking scheme to penetrate America’s elite “policy-making circles.”
The event ricocheted around popular culture for quite a while, inspiring the FX series The Americans and catapulting to stardom the Sex and the City spy, Anna Chapman, back in the motherland.
The New York Times story breaking the news made an impression on me because of what a teenage neighbor had to say about two of the accused, a husband and wife in suburban Montclair: “They couldn’t have been spies. Look what she did with the hydrangeas.” Read more
Maira Kalman has created some great New Yorker covers over the years. One of my favorites appeared on February 5, 2001: “Annual February Misery Day Parade.” I guess the evergreen joke is Oh, those gloomy New Yorkers. But this was also sixteen days after the installation of George W. Bush, who managed to win the popular vote on the Supreme Court. I’m assuming the misery had something to do with that.
Of course, the sad irony is that 9/11 was still seven months and six days away. Misery Day 2002 would only be worse.
I think about that cover every February, when the Northeast winters really drag. The light comes back gradually day by day but steals itself away a little too heartlessly. Because of this, it began to make sense that America should observe some version of Kalman’s Misery Day—as a collective, secular rite, similar to the atonement of Yom Kippur. Read more