“In all my time studying fraternity rapes for my own essay, I didn’t come across a single report of anything like this. I did find reports of women who were raped by multiple men on one night—but those always involved incapacitation, either by alcohol or a drugged drink. And I did also find accounts of violent, push-down rape of the kind in the essay—but those were always by one member, not a bunch of members. (In fact, many of that kind—now that I think about it—were committed by non-members, or by visiting former members). But a planned gang rape, without alcohol or drugs, and keyed to initiation—I have never seen a case like that. Nor have I seen penetration with a foreign object—I’ve seen plenty of that committed by brothers to pledges as hazing, but I haven’t seen it in sexual assault cases. I’m sure it’s happened, but again—as part of a ritualized gang rape … Never anything like it,” – Caitlin Flanagan, author of the definitive piece on frat house culture, to Slate‘s Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt.
“After the funeral, while I was downtown desperately celebrating my birthday, a Negro soldier, in the lobby of the Hotel Braddock, got into a fight with a white policeman over a Negro girl. Negro girls, white policemen, in or out of uniform, and Negro males—in or out of uniform—were part of the furniture of the lobby of the Hotel Braddock and this was certainly not the first time such an incident had occurred. It was destined, however, to receive an unprecedented publicity, for the fight between the policeman and the soldier ended with the shooting of the soldier.
Rumor, flowing immediately to the streets outside, stated that the soldier had been shot in the back, an instantaneous and revealing invention, and that the soldier had died protecting a Negro woman. The facts were somewhat different—for example, the soldier had not been shot in the back, and was not dead, and the girl seems to have been as dubious a symbol of womanhood as her white counterpart in Georgia usually is, but no one was interested in the facts. They preferred the invention because this invention expressed and corroborated their hates and fears so perfectly. It is just as well to remember that people are always doing this. Perhaps many of those legends, including Christianity, to which the world clings began their conquest of the world with just some such concerted surrender to distortion. The effect, in Harlem, of this particular legend was like the effect of a lit match in a tin of gasoline. The mob gathered before the doors of the Hotel Braddock simply began to swell and to spread in every direction, and Harlem exploded,” – James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son“.
(Photo: A protester waves a “black and white” modified US flag during a march following the grand jury decision in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on November 24, 2014. By Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.)
“Since we are all terminally ill, each breath and each step and day one closer to the last, I must consider those sacraments which soothe our passage. I write on a Wednesday morning in December when snow covers the earth, the sky is grey, and only the evergreens seem alive. This morning I received the sacrament I still believe in: at seven-fifteen the priest elevated the host, then the chalice, and spoke the words of the ritual, and the bread became flesh, the wine became blood, and minutes later I placed on my tongue the taste of forgiveness and love that affirmed, perhaps celebrated, my being alive, my being mortal. This has nothing to do with immortality, with eternity; I love the earth too much to contemplate a life apart from it, although I believe in that life. No, this has to do with mortality and the touch of flesh, and my belief in the sacrament of the Eucharist is simple: without touch, God is a monologue, an idea, a philosophy; he must touch and be touched, the tongue on flesh, and that touch is the result of monologues, the idea, the philosophies which led to faith; but in the instant of the touch there is no place for thinking, for talking; the silent touch affirms all that, and goes deeper: it affirms the mysteries of love and mortality,” – Andre Dubus, “On Charon’s Wharf,” from Broken Vessels.
“I have been thinking about existence lately. In fact, I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly. As I was walking up to the church this morning, I passed that row of big oaks by the war memorial — if you remember them — and I thought of another morning, fall a year or two ago, when they were dropping their acorns thick as hail almost. There was all sorts of thrashing in the leaves and there were acorns hitting the pavement so hard they’d fly past my head. All this in the dark, of course. I remember a slice of moon, no more than that. It was a very clear night, or morning, very still, and then there was such energy in the things transpiring among those trees, like a storm, like travail. I stood there a little out of range, and I thought, it is all still new to me. I have lived my life on the prairie and a line of oak trees still can astonish me.
I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try,” – Marilynne Robinson, Gilead.
“The GOP has withheld cooperation from every major element of President Obama’s agenda, beginning with the stimulus, through health-care reform, financial regulation, the environment, long-term debt reduction, and so on. That stance has worked extremely well as a political strategy. Most people pay little attention to politics and tend to hold the president responsible for outcomes. If Republicans turn every issue into an intractable partisan scrum, people get frustrated with the status quo and take out their frustration on the president’s party. It’s a formula, but it works.
The formula only fails to work if the president happens to have an easy and legal way to act on the issue in question without Congress. Obama can’t do that on infrastructure, or the grand bargain, and he couldn’t do it on health care. But he could do it on immigration. So Republicans were stuck carrying out a strategy whose endgame would normally be “bill fails, public blames Obama” that instead wound up “Obama acts unilaterally, claims credit, forces Republicans to take poisonous stance in opposition.” They had grown so accustomed to holding all the legislative leverage, they couldn’t adapt to a circumstance where they had none,” – Jon Chait, cutting through the chatter as usual.
I still don’t like the executive action here – in an area appropriate for legislation. But as politics, it seems to me more successful than I expected. What Obama has done – rightly or wrongly – is break out of the zone he’s been placed in since 2010. The absolute obstructionism of the House GOP against anything the president might want to do could have rendered him utterly side-lined in his last two, critical years. In fact, that was their smug expectation. Instead the pressure has been ju-jitsued right back on them. The failure of the GOP to respond except in a succession of splutters and outrage has revealed one core reason for gridlock: the deep divide within the GOP that is now, on a critical issue like immigration, threatening to throw their future into doubt. I don’t know where this dynamic will take us. But it sure is more interesting than watching another two years of Congressional deadlock.
(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)
“Maybe it’s not metaphysics. Maybe it’s existential. I’m talking about the individual US citizen’s deep fear, the same basic fear that you and I have and that everybody has except nobody ever talks about it except existentialists in convoluted French prose. Or Pascal. Our smallness, our insignificance and mortality, yours and mine, the thing that we all spend all our time not thinking about directly, that we are tiny and at the mercy of large forces and that time is always passing and that every day we’ve lost one more day that will never come back and our childhoods are over and our adolescence and the vigor of youth and soon our adulthood, that everything we see around us all the time is decaying and passing, it’s all passing away, and so are we, so am I, and given how fast the first forty-two years have shot by it’s not going to be long before I too pass away, whoever imagined that there was a more truthful way to put it than ‘die,’ ‘pass away,’ the very sound of it makes me feel the way I feel at dusk on a wintry Sunday— …
And not only that, but everybody who knows me or even knows I exist will die, and then everybody who knows those people and might even conceivably have even heard of me will die, and so on, and the gravestones and monuments we spend money to have put in to make sure we’re remembered, these’ll last what—a hundred years? two hundred?—and they’ll crumble, and the grass and insects my decomposition will go to feed will die, and their offspring, or if I’m cremated the trees that are nourished by my windblown ash will die or get cut down and decay, and my urn will decay, and before maybe three or four generations it will be like I never existed, not only will I have passed away but it will be like I was never here, and people in 2104 or whatever will no more think of Stuart A. Nichols Jr. than you or I think of John T. Smith, 1790 to 1864, of Livingston, Virginia, or some such. That everything is on fire, slow fire, and we’re all less than a million breaths away from an oblivion more total than we can even bring ourselves to even try to imagine, in fact, probably that’s why the manic US obsession with production, produce, produce, impact the world, contribute, shape things, to help distract us from how little and totally insignificant and temporary we are,” – David Foster Wallace, The Pale King.
“In democracies it is by no means the case that all who cultivate literature have received a literary education, and most of those who have some acquaintance with good writing go into politics or adopt some profession which leaves only short, stolen hours for the pleasures of the mind. They therefore do not make such delights the principal joy of their existence, but think of them rather as a passing relaxation needed from the serious business of life. Such men will never have a deep enough understanding of literature to appreciate its refinements. Fine nuances will pass them by. With but short time to spend on books, they want it all to be profitable. They like books which are easily got and quickly read, requiring no learned researches to understand them. They like facile forms of beauty, self-explanatory and immediately enjoyable; above all, they like things unexpected and new. Accustomed to the monotonous struggle of practical life, what they want is vivid, lively emotions, sudden revelations, brilliant truths, or errors able to rouse them up and plunge them, almost by violence, into the middle of the subject.
Need I say any more? Who does not guess what is coming before I say it?
By and large the literature of a democracy will never exhibit the order, regularity, skill, and art characteristic of aristocratic literature; formal qualities will be neglected or actually despised. The style will often be strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold. Writers will be more anxious to work quickly than to perfect details. Short works will be commoner than long books, wit than erudition, imagination than depth. There will be a rude and untutored vigor of thought with great variety and singular fecundity. Authors will strive to astonish more than to please, and to stir passions rather than to charm taste,” – Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
“‘Social justice’ is an awkward term for an immensely important project, perhaps the most important project, which is to make the world a more equitable, fair, and compassionate place. But the project for social justice has been captured by an elite strata of post-collegiate, digitally-enabled children of privilege, who do not pursue that project as an end, but rather use it as a means with which to compete, socially and professionally, with each other. In that use, they value not speech or actions that actually result in a better world, but rather those that result in greater social reward, which in the digital world is obvious and explicit. That means that they prefer engagement that creates a) outrage and b) jokes, rather than engagement that leads to positive change. In this disregard for actual political success, they reveal their own privilege, as it’s only the privileged who could ever have so little regard for actual, material progress. As long as they are allowed to co-opt the movement for social justice for their own personal aggrandizement, the world will not improve, not for women, people of color, gay and transgender people, or the poor,” – Freddie DeBoer.
It’s an interesting complement to this.
“The suggestion that any feature of this ruthless business is designed to afford “protection” to the pigs, much less to the babies, is perverse. Normal, healthy mother pigs, for example, do not after birth fall over and crush their young — as if they were all just naturally clumsy. These are not exactly normal, healthy animals we’re talking about, however, after their interminable, pain-inflicting confinement in the gestation crates, among many other travails. Subject a sow to hyper-intensive breeding so that she is grossly larger than nature intended, fill her with steroids to accelerate growth still more, withhold anything resembling humane veterinary care, and through it all deny the creature her every natural need and desire, even the need to move and turn around — and, yes, she is not going to be quite herself. Just spare us this talk of how factory farmers are “protecting” the young from their mothers, when what’s needed here is protection of all these creatures from the whole wretched system.
Being immobilized for all of their existence, lying and living in their own urine and excrement, the sows are sick, sore, atrophied, usually lame, crazed or broken in spirit, and kept alive in these torments only by a massive and reckless use of steroids. The confinement of the sows, presented in terms of solicitude for the piglets, is among the causes of the welfare problem it purports to solve. And the piglets in any case are taken from their mothers in short order to begin their own lives of merciless confinement, mutilation, privation, and fear, in a process, from birth to slaughter, utterly devoid of human compassion,” – Matthew Scully, speaking truth to power, and putting governor Christie on the spot. Scully’s book, Dominion, remains a must-read on this vital moral issue.
“I wish that all nations may recover and retain their independence; that those which are overgrown may not advance beyond safe measures of power, that a salutary balance may be ever maintained among nations, and that our peace, commerce, and friendship, may be sought and cultivated by all. It is our business to manufacture for ourselves whatever we can, to keep our markets open for what we can spare or want; and the less we have to do with the amities or enmities of Europe, the better. Not in our day, but at no distant one, we may shake a rod over the heads of all, which may make the stoutest of them tremble. But I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power, the greater it will be,” – Thomas Jefferson, June 12, 1815, in a letter to Thomas Leiper.
Neoconservatives and many other hawks and hard-liners along with them view these things as former Secretary Albright did when she reportedly asked Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” The idea that the U.S. ought to conserve its strength, husband its resources, and exercise restraint gets in the way of activism and meddling overseas, and so they’ll have none of that.
What they also miss and will never concede is that our activist meddling in Iraq dramatically weakened the US, by exposing the very limited utility of its military power alone. Restraint can mean the maximizing of power; intervention can merely prove its ineffectiveness. Deterrence is thereby weakened. In my view this president has done a dogged, careful job of restoring US credibility through much more limited and focused military action, combined with a more robust diplomatic arm. And yet he is blamed for the loss of power that his predecessor ensured. That paradox may well be seen as a microcosm of Obama’s entire, pragmatic and severely under-rated presidency.