Nearly Spring Quick Hits and Good Reads

This is not what it looks like outside. But a fella can pretend, right?

It’s Friday, and after a day of false spring here in Chicago, we seem destined for another spell of cold drear. But dammit, I enjoyed yesterday, and I’ll enjoy today, even if the sun is fleeting. What does today care for tomorrow’s Smarch?

Nothing, brother, that’s what. These are strange and terrible times, where every day brings some numbing horrors. But that makes taking the brief burst of spring when you can, and sine-waving your arms in the warming wind.

So dammit, let’s do some quick hits, and gird ourselves for the battles to come.

Patricia Lockwood on the troubles of writing now

Writing about politics in deeply political times is pretty easy. Writing about other things isn’t, because politics seeps into every nook of our brain. And it isn’t just politics: it’s the leering dumbface of our lowing idiot, and the carnival of horrors his cheap victory opened in town square.

It is omnipresent, amplified of course by our ever-present media, the supercomputers in our pockets, which even in the best of times (2015) was impossibly distracting. All of this makes it difficult to practice the serious slow thinking that serious writing deserves.

In an essay/lecture in TinHouse the poet Patricia Lockwood tackles this problem, capturing precisely the weird recursive anger that any thinking person has these days. She is asking, titularly, how do we write now? How can anyone really write in this moment?

It’s funny, angry, depressing, uplifting, and never saccharine. In the end, the advice is just to read things that slow you down, which I think we can all do. Here’s a good sample.

Read diaries, which make the day permanent. Read anything that slows you down to the pace of real life, like Zora Neale Hurston’s preservations of dialect that walk in dresses down dirt roads. Read one of those Annie Dillard books where she watches an ant fuck for like fourteen straight hours and at the end of it somehow believes in God even more than she did already.

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Friday Good Reads and Quick Hits

It’s been a busy sort of week at the homefront, but we’ve got some exciting articles in the hopper for next week. In the meantime, to slake the omniscient society-hurdling thirst percolating in your word-hungry oppressed and power-lusting eyes (ed note: I’ve been taking writing lessons from Mr. Sean Penn!), here are some quick hits and good reads.

  • The White Sox, now projected to be among the teams with a 162-0 record, are also on pace to hit over 900 home runs this year, a new MLB high mark! In a year that’s between rebuilding and contending, that was a fun start. Matt Davidson has been the forgotten man, going from a top prospect to bust to a steady player. I don’t really expect him to hit three dingers every game (which I think is generous and understanding of me), but he has undeniable raw power, and could become a genuine steadying surprise. As it is, this is the weirdest and worst off day in baseball history.
Image result for matt davidson three homers

Giancarlo Davidson

  • Sticking with baseball for one more second, read David Roth’s little piece on Rickey Henderson the Involved Landlord. He’s exactly how you’d expect Rickey to be, sweeping the floors with his own nutball perfectionism, even explaining, in the traditional third person, that ‘Rickey needs Rickey’s houses to be clean!” It’s a bit of fluff, but a fun brief look at one of the 10 greatest, and probably 10 weirdest, baseballers of all time. And while you’re at it, take a look at Rickey’s stats. Did you know he led the league in stolen bases in 1998, 18 years after the first time he did? That’s nuts. Granted, 66 wasn’t super high for him, but it still would have led the league last year. Actually, it’s only been surpassed 5 times in the last two decades. That’s partly because we’ve gotten smarter about the risk/reward of a stolen base, but to reiterate my earlier point: that’s nuts.
  • All right, slightly more serious: read Peter Salisbury’s latest in-depth report on Yemen for Chatham House, this time on the Southern Question. I don’t think there is any question that the south is key to all of Yemen, and it is being largely ignored in the Saudi/Houthi/US/GCC/Qaeda-ISIS mix. But the Southern Question is really asking “what is Yemen“, and the answer doesn’t seem to be reflected in anyone’s policy. This piece is comprehensive and important, and you should read it all.
  • As a side note, Salisbury’s piece and a maybe-poorly-worded tweet by me spurred a bunch of private conversations, some angry but mostly civil, with southern Yemenis. I’m working on a long piece about the Southern Question that was born of those conversations, and obviously influenced by Salisbury’s great paper.
  • Alana Semuels has a harrowing piece on poverty and segregation in Chicago, making the what-should-be-obvious-point, often completely ignored in our politics and punditry, that “people at the bottom are struggling as much as they always have, if not more—illustrating that it’s not just the white rural poor who are being left behind in today’s economy.” Chicago is vibrant and wealthy and beautiful, filled with fit and educated people biking along luxurious lakefront trails and eating at incredible restaurants, and it is a scuffling dangerous and violent city, where life can be snuffed out in a flash of an instant, the police are another gang, and opportunity is denied by dint of education, by the misery of geography, and by the willful neglect of history. Something as simple as a rail line means the difference between getting a job and staying poor. These two cities rarely intersect.
  • This was illustrated to me at the March for Our Lives on Chicago’s near west side last week. The rally was held in Union Square, now at the far end of one of the hottest restuarant-and-condo districts in the city, which until recently was a meat-packing district. Beyond it a few blocks, the city becomes the “other city”. The rally was filled with the Good Sign Crowd, as boisterous as we were at the women’s marches. But the students, who live in the forgotten Chicago, weren’t interested in the NRA or in Trump or even, really, in Parkland. They reminded us, without pulling any punches, that they were afraid for their lives every day, and that a vast system, in which the petty bloodmanship of the NRA only played a part, kept them oppressed and poor. Those were the two cities colliding; then half of us walked back east, back toward downtown, back toward the gleaming skyscrapers and cool brunch places and open suburbs. The other went back to their lives.
  • London could face water scarcity in 2040! As Circle of Blue points out,  “demand for water could outstrip London’s supply by 2040″, by as much as 20%. Maybe when the rich areas of the world start to run out of water, as opposed to just the poor hot places, we might take it seriously. Ah, but 2040 is a long time away, right? There’s no need for…for…
  • Unrelatedly, 2040 from 2018 is equidistant as 2018 is from 1996.
  • But of course, things don’t just get bad the year of projections. It’s steadily worse. Like, when they say the seas will rise X meters by 2100, it’s not like we’ll go to bed dry and wake up deluged. Climate change is already happening, and happening quickly. That’s the point of this Inverse article about the record rate of arctic ice disappearance. The ice disappears because the planet is getting warmer, and disappearing ice means less solar reflection, which means more heat trapped on the planet. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle, which is why long-term projections might actually be optimistic.
  • Another stark reminder of that is Noah Sneider’s Letter from Siberia, in this month’s Harper’s. Titled “Cursed Fields”, it is about an anthrax outbreak that slaughtered reindeer in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, where reindeer are the primary economic driver for the Nenet people. While there are some who think the anthrax (or some other poison) was spread by Gazprom to drive away the locals in order to access the sweet sweet oil and gas of the peninsula, the probable truth is even more terrifying. Global warming is melting the permafrost (as seen in vast sinkholes and methane explosions, another self-reinforcing cycles), and unleashing microbes dormant from earlier outbreaks. And maybe even earlier diseases to which we aren’t immune. It’s a gripping piece, and a great look at a life in a vast and difficult land, an old way of life uprooted, for ill and for good, by oil and gas in the last century. Sneider also points out that Russia stands to benefit enormously from the treasures unlocked by a melting permafrost, which go hand-in-hand with the diseases pouring forth.
  • Happy Easter and Passover to everyone celebrating. Easter isn’t my favorite holiday, per se, but it might be my favorite one to celebrate. We go to my Aunt Marilyn’s house, as we have every year since I was born. She, and my Uncle Leo while he was alive, lived in the same house for that entire time, raised a family, had us over every year. It is in Wheeling, which is now a booming suburb, but when they moved there was past the outskirts of Chicagoland. Even when we were going there when I was growing up, there was farmland all around their little pocket of houses. It struck me as odd and exotic then, and I felt a powerful nostalgia for it that I couldn’t place, even while it was still there. Maybe it was just being there once a year, every spring, in dewy and never-quite-warm days, but I always felt an intense and unspeakable loss for the day even while I was there, even while I was a kid. And every year the farmlands got smaller, subdivisions were built, and now those subdivisions are old, showing their age, part of the landscape. The slow flattening of America caught up to it, homogenized. But I still see parts of the openness I remember, in carved out fields filled with power lines, in old drainage ponds that used to be for irrigation, in cul-de-sacs that seemed designed for Spielbergian heroes in that 80s borderland of sameness and weirdness, of suburbia and the still-wild rural areas in which monsters lurked. That’s gone now. It was fleeting even while it existed. But you know what they say: you can’t stop progress.

bloom

  • But, on the plus side, I can always say “I remember when this was all farmland”, and feel good and properly old.

Quick Hits and Weekend Reads on our post-Priebus Friday

reince-scaramucci

Reince just lost a turf battle to this guy. Good for him- he deserves it.

1) Man, I don’t even know what to talk about this week. Let’s talk about Reince, who was just pushed out after losing a turf battle with the human incarnation of an $8 tip on a $400 bill.

I remember when Reince was first elected the chairman of the GOP in 2011, because it seemed impossible that he was real. He won by bragging that he owned eight guns, or at least that’s all I remembered beside the name. He was a weakling and a sniveling toady, the perfect embodiment of modern Wisconsin, a Kenosha kid who took it upon himself to make the lives of those he grew up around harder. With Scott Walker and Paul Ryan, he helped ruin a good state.

His legacy is presiding over the GOP as it tipped from gibbering into full madness, as he helped stoke powerful forces of anger and atavism, failed to stand up to Trump, and then enabled his every idiocy. No sympathy for the petty manner of his dismissal or his loss to a guy who thinks that calling the New Yorker means the assumption of off-the-record. He’s a terrible person who deserves fully every humiliation.

This is nice, though. Wikipedia is cold, man. This was up like 45 seconds after the news broke.

wiki

2) That reminds me: we started this week mostly talking about Jeff Sessions. Remember that? How Trump was pushing him out? (Can you believe the Mooch interview came out like 25 hours ago?)  There’s been some sympathy for Sessions because Trump has treated him so poorly, but remember that Jeff Session deserves much, much worse.

That’s the one nice thing about Trump ritually humiliating and abusing everyone around him. Choosing to be around Trump is proof that you are an asshole, and deserve to be ritually abused and humiliated. I can’t wait for it to happen to Mooch.

3) This week, we talked about the tragedy of Cairo, Illinois. I was honored to be linked by Avram Grynszpan at Ruminations in an Emergency (great name), who has been doing great work on Cairo. For more background on what is happening there, and why, please head on over to his joint. He is also more action-oriented on what we can to to help Cairo. The whole blog is really interesting, so make it a destination.

GOOD READS FOR THE WEEKEND

Image result for quiet library

Nah, go nuts

Looking for a few reads? Well, here you go.

  • If you like baseball, here’s a cool and fun Deadspin article on players who have had two separate Hall of Fame careers, by WAR. That is to say, if you took like their first ten years and second ten years, both would be HoF worthy, or at least in consideration. I think most people would be surprised to see Alex Rodriguez on here, though you shouldn’t be. He was so good and none of you cared. It’s also fun to remember how great Rickey Henderson was, and gape in awe again at Babe Ruth.
  • Less fun, but super important: Katherine Zimmerman at Critical Threats (An AEI joint, showing my political ecumenicism) has an excellent report, originally published in a statement to the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence on how al-Qaeda is strengthening by consistently adapting its approach and methods while still focusing on the primary goals. They are still thinking long-term, whereas ISIS thinks short (a position with which this blog is sympathetic). She wants US policy-makers to understand this persistent and pervasive threat, as well as the threat of Salafi-jihadism, which as she says “predates” either group and “will generate another transnational organization if they are defeated.”  It’s a good global look at the movement, and while I would be interested to see how she thinks ISIS impacted AQ (even just by altering the landscape of the ideas of its recruits), it is a sober and thoughtful and comprehensive report.
  • Timothy Garton-Ash, that great observer of political change in Europe, is strangely optimistic about the Anglo-American world’s ability to rebound from the intertwined Trump/Brexit madness. Well, at least, he sees it as a possible future, which is better than me on most days. He also produces a great line: “The transcript of Trump’s recent interview with the “failing” New York Times reveals the egocentric, superficial stream-of-consciousness disorder of his mind: Leopold Bloom meets the National Enquirer.”
  • A video! This isn’t reading at all! Looks like old man O’Neill is pivoting to the future! Don’t get too excited, because this is about parking, or rather, the madness of how we’ve designed cities around parking and minimum requirements. It doesn’t get into how the auto industry influenced these decisions, which meant that our towns are unwalkable, but that short-sightedness is demonstrated. This is a minor obsession around here, and this short video is a great introduction to the issue. It seems obscure, but it gets to the heart of how we live and interact with our lived environment. And the expert in it is awesome.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Let’s see if we can get through a weekend without a disaster.