Archives For: Premium

The Censor As Literary Critic

Oct 2 2014 @ 10:23am

Drawing on his new book Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature, Robert Darnton declares that censorship is “essentially political; it is wielded by the state” – but also finds that its historical use has gone far beyond just banning certain texts:

Reading was an essential aspect of censoring, not only in the act of vetting texts, which often led to competing exegeses, but also as an aspect of the inner workings of the state, because contested readings could lead to power struggles, which sometimes led to public scandals. Not only did censors perceive nuances of hidden meaning, but they also understood the way published texts reverberated in the public.

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Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Testifies To House Committee On Recent Security Breaches At White House

After a series of security breaches, Secret Service director Julia Pierson resigned yesterday. Bryce Covert doesn’t fault Pierson:

This is the first year since 2010 that the agency isn’t operating with a budget below what it requested. And since that year, personnel levels have seen a severe decline. In her testimony before Congress, Pierson said that the agency’s current 550 employees is below “optimal level.”

The understaffing, for which Pierson was not responsible, could have played a significant role in the breach that led to her losing her position. Former secret service agents told the Washington Post that the incident may have been related to the severe staffing shortage in the division responsible for securing the White House. It’s gotten so bad that the agency has had to fly agents in from around the country, who are less familiar with the grounds and response plans.

Ron Fournier mostly blames the state of the Secret Service on the decision “fold it into the fledgling monstrosity that would come to be known as the Homeland Security Department”:

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Marilynne Robinson’s much-anticipated Lila returns to the small town in Iowa where two previous novels, Gilead and Home, were set – but this time, she focuses on the woman who drifted into the life of the much older Rev. John Ames and gave him an unexpected son. Reviewing the book, Leslie Jamison marvels at the story Robinson tells, which grapples with “what makes grace necessary at all—shame and its afterlife, loss and its residue, the limits and betrayals of intimacy”:

The novel weaves together two narrative threads: the present arc of courtship, marriage, and pregnancy; and the entire past life that delivered Lila to Ames’s church in the first place. Ames, marked by early grief after his first wife and their baby died in Lilachildbirth decades earlier, is no stranger to loss himself. “I had learned not to set my heart on anything,” he tells Lila, and she is drawn to this. “He looked as if he’d had his share of loneliness, and that was all right. It was one thing she understood about him.” When you’re scalded, touch hurts: one of the scalded recognizes another, and touches carefully, always. They are both haunted—Lila by the ghost of Doll, the wild woman who cared for her, and Ames by the specter of the life he never got to live with his first family. Part of the beauty of their bond is a mutual willingness to honor the integrity of their former lives. He prays for the “damned” souls of her past, and she begins to tend the grave of his late wife, clearing weeds and pruning the roses.

Lila takes as its core concern what might have constituted, in another narrative, a happy ending: two lonely souls who never expected happiness somehow finding it. But Robinson’s quest is to illuminate how fraught this happiness is, shadowed by fears of its dissolution and the perverse urge to hasten that dissolution before it arrives unbidden.

Jamison adds these thoughts about the grace suffusing Robinson’s writing:

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Obama’s War Budget

Oct 1 2014 @ 7:53pm

Jessica Schulberg reads a new report that attempts to tally the cost of the ISIS war so far:

Due to the vaguely defined scope of the conflictPresident Barack Obama has vowed not to deploy U.S. combat troopsit has been hard to put a dollar amount on the operation. But a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) report released Monday estimates that the U.S. has already spent between $780-$930 million in Iraq and Syria. In just the past month, the cost was $250-$400 million, or $9-$14 million per day. …

Because Obama has yet outline any long-term plan for U.S. efforts in Iraq and Syria, CSBA’s long-term cost estimates are based on likely hypothetical levels of warfare. If the U.S. draws down airstrikes to approximately 100 targets a month (there have been 200 targets this month, but air campaigns usually peak early because targets learn to hide) and caps U.S. personnel at 2,000, the cost is estimated to be between $2.4 and $3.8 billion a year. But if the administration follows recommendations to deploy 25,000 ground forces and raises the number of air strikes to 200 a month, it will be closer to $13-$22 billion annually.

“To put this in perspective,” she adds, “the U.S. spent approximately $1.1 billion in total direct expenditures in the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya.” But notes that these estimates are “far less than the roughly $150 billion the U.S. spent during the peak years of the Afghan (2011) and Iraq (2008) wars.” Business Insider looks at where the money to fight ISIS is coming from:

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Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything, argues that capitalism is largely to blame for our climate crisis. How Klein describes her book in an interview:

Changes EverythingWhat I’m arguing in this book is that we need to return to the progressive tradition of responding to deep crisis by trying to get at the root causes of the crisis. And the best example of that is the way in which the progressive movement responded to the Great Depression. It became an opportunity to change the way we organized our economies, to regulate banks, to launch social programs that got at the roots of inequality.

If we really believed that climate change is an existential crisis, if we believed climate change is a weapon of mass destruction, as John Kerry said, why on Earth would you leave it to the vagaries of the market?

In another interview, Klein clarifies her position:

I’m not saying that markets have no role in combatting climate change. I think the right market incentives can play a huge role—we can point to all kinds of companies doing great stuff. The issue is not to say the market has no role. It’s the idea of leaving this to the market. We can mint solar and wind millionaires and still not get there because we have these hard targets we have to meet. There will have to be a strong role for the public sector, a strong role for regulations and, yes, incentives. But the idea of just leaving our collective fate to the market is madness. You wouldn’t treat any other existential crisis in that way.

Zachary Karabell strongly disagrees with Klein’s thesis. He fears that “rhetoric risks obscuring just how much is being done by large companies around the world to reduce their carbon emissions and environmental footprint”:

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Would You Eat A Black Bun?

Oct 1 2014 @ 5:15pm

Tiffanie Wen discusses the reception of a black burger in Burger King restaurants in Japan:

Americans have been both intrigued and repulsed by the images. “Finally #BurgerKing makes a burger the way your body sees it … disgusting and cancer-causing,” one Twitter user wrote. Another tweeted: “It’s the black cheese that freaks me out the most. It looks like the kind of rubber they use to make gimp masks.”

But the burger is enjoying a “favorable reception” in Japan, according to the Guardian—so why do Americans have such a negative response to it?

She offers an answer:

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Critical Thinking On The Job

Oct 1 2014 @ 4:32pm

Tara Mohr flags startling new research on the criticism men and women receive in the workplace:

Across 248 reviews from 28 companies, managers, whether male or female, gave female employees more negative feedback than they gave male employees. Second, 76 percent of the negative feedback given to women included some kind of personality criticism, such as comments that the woman was “abrasive,” “judgmental” or “strident.” Only 2 percent of men’s critical reviews included negative personality comments.

She offers some practical advice:

In my coaching practice and training courses for women, I often encounter women who don’t voice their ideas or pursue their most important work because of dependence on praise or fears of criticism. …

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A reader shares a harrowing series of stories and insights on corporal punishment, which at times borders on torture:

This email is too long, Andrew. But I don’t know another way to do it. Those last sentences in your post on “The Racial Divide On Spanking Kids” are packed with the stuff I’ve been struggling with all week. I’m sending this because I took so much time to write it. I’ve been close to tears often this week, and I suppose it’s a way of defending that tenderness.

“Discipline”: It was a belt or a switch in my house, except for the handful of times I was slapped. I hail from a poor, white, fundamentalist family in Texas. Sometimes we managed to get a hold of the bottom rung instead – lower-middle class, or is it upper-lower class? – but it wasn’t ever a very firm grip. I think that matters, our economic and social status – how it operated on my parents, their sense of self, their sense of control and agency, their standing, that fuzzy line between “poor” and “trash,” the dependable hierarchy at home of respect and obedience. But I can’t unpack all of that, and I don’t know what it would mean for anyone else if I did.

Whenever I got caught swearing – or if someone told my mother I’d been swearing – I had my mouth washed out with soap. In practice, even this is a stupid and violent thing to do. Really, the logistics of the sink and the soap and the faucet, the mouth and the hands, the gagging and spitting and crying – it’s jammed with aggression. I was six the first time.

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An expert from the in-tray weighs in:

I am a political scientist, and my research focuses on executive power and the American warfare state. I’m writing in response to the ongoing discussion about the Obama administration’s tenuous legal rationale to wage war against ISIL without requesting permission from Congress. Most legal scholars that you cite agree that a congressional authorization is constitutionally required in order to carry out extended air strikes. You pushed this normative case even further, balking that “Obama…has blown a hole so wide in any constitutional measures to restrain the war machine that he has now placed future presidential war-making far beyond any constraints.”

However, there are very logical (if troubling) reasons why presidents continually assume the prerogative to carry out their national security agendas unilaterally, and why Congress’ power to declare war has become nearly obsolete.

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Readers may understandably be concerned by my continued dissent on the new war counter-terrorism operation in Iraq and Syria – which has no chance to roll back a Sunni insurgency that will endure as long as Iraq is still kept as a unitary “state”, huge chances that blowback will bring terror to the US again, and has only token Sunni support in a region where the Shi’a-Sunni war may well continue for years or decades. But I have long argued that we should look at Obama’s long game in assessing results. And with two years to go, the long game can begin to be assessed.

The results in foreign policy? A new open-ended years’ long war in Iraq and an indefinite continuation of thousands of troops in Afghanistan. These were not wars, it turns out. They were operations in which the United States became permanently responsible as a neo-imperial power for two more failed states. More to the point, as ISIS has managed to become the new al Qaeda, Americans have returned to their 2002 mindset, with a new Congress looking as if it will be dominated by Republicans, who are all-too-eager for ever more wars against ever more non-threats to the United States. The last two years of Bush were more hopeful for some kind of unwinding of this war machine. But now a liberal Democrat has given them bipartisan legitimacy – and fueled the fires for a Cheneyite comeback.

Gitmo, of course, remains open. More to the point, even as war criminals have been given total immunity, the Senate Intelligence Committee report remains bottled up, as the CIA is allowed to doctor, redact and openly challenge it, while the president sits back and lets Denis McDonough protect the war criminals we once had some aspiration to at least expose. James Clapper has been revealed as a liar to the Congress and suffers no consequences; he admits he failed to anticipate ISIS’s breakout, and the president retains full confidence in him. John Brennan runs an agency which actually spied on its Congressional over-seers, lies about it in public – and retains the president’s full confidence. And now we discover that a real current issue of mistreatment of detainees in Gitmo is being covered up:

The Obama administration has asked a federal judge to hold a highly anticipated court hearing on its painful force-feedings of Guantánamo Bay detainees almost entirely in secret, prompting suspicions of a cover-up.

Justice Department attorneys argued to district judge Gladys Kessler that allowing the hearings to be open to the public would jeopardize national security through the disclosure of classified information. Should Kessler agree, the first major legal battle over forced feeding in a federal court would be less transparent than the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay.

That’s precisely what we supported Obama for, isn’t it? That allegations of abuse of detainees in Guantanamo Bay be kept completely secret – and that no one will ever be held accountable for it. The actual videotapes of the force-feeding – critical evidence to allow anyone to judge whether these methods are indeed a form of torture – are barred from any public viewing.

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