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Regular dispatches from our contributors.

The Distracted State of the Union

The Distracted State of the Union

To live in America today is to sit slackjawed at a helpless recline.

I began writing nonfiction in the wake of September 11—and was published in print, in hard copy, by newspapers and magazines that would go on to cut pages, wages, and staff, if they didn’t fold altogether. Meanwhile, online was busy revising responsibility for the attacks: Bush II ordered them, Cheney let them happen, the American Deep State colluded with the Israelis, the Israelis colluded with the Saudis.

On My Way Again

On My Way Again

In what possible way could airports be considered inferior to actual cities, nowadays?

April on the motorway, the sun’s red streaks across the asphalt, the world all delicately decorated with a glaze from the recent rain—an Easter cake. I’m driving on Good Friday, at dusk, from the Netherlands to Belgium—I don’t know which country I’m in now, since the border has vanished; unused, it’s been expunged.

The Death of an Entire System of Political Rule

The Death of an Entire System of Political Rule

On the elections in Mexico

It became increasingly clear, in fact, that PRI rule was little more than a PR façade, behind which the orgy of elite self-enrichment went on as usual. Whatever legitimacy the party had possessed had quickly eroded. But still more crucially, the mechanisms through which the party secured and wielded power had also been hollowed out over time. Clientelism no longer worked in the old ways. An early warning came in the gubernatorial elections in Mexico state in 2017, where the PRI nominee—tightly connected to Peña Nieto’s political clan, and therefore able to use its considerable resources—only just managed to defeat MORENA’s candidate, despite extensive fraud and widespread violence and intimidation. At the time, this was seen as a major political shock; but if anything, it understated the reversal that lay in wait for the PRI.

What is Energy Dominance?

What is Energy Dominance?

The Trump Administration off the leash and unleashing

Trump’s national security strategy, published as a 68-page booklet in December of 2017, stated that one aim of “energy dominance” was to “help our allies and partners become more resilient against those that use energy to coerce,” in effect a realignment of the global energy order away from OPEC and Russia and toward the US. Though this policy rhetoric seemed to dovetail nicely with the call to consider “America First,” it was hardly isolationist. Economically, it was imperialist, encouraging dependence by smaller and developing countries, India in particular, on US fossil fuel supplies, and aiming to shore up our trade deficit with China, which has historically relied on others for their fossil fuels. When Trump recently opened the NATO conference—this even before the apparently meager breakfast of only cheese and pastries was officially served—by rebuking Angela Merkel for approving the Nord Stream 2, a proposed gas pipeline that would run from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany, he was in effect accusing her of betraying the alliance.

Objective Clarity in Our Visions of Each Other

Objective Clarity in Our Visions of Each Other

On Adrian Piper

In an essay from 1988 called “The Joy of Marginality” Piper made explicit the scope and purpose of her own political and socially-critical art. “My work is an act of communication that politically catalyzes its viewers into reflecting on their own deep impulses and responses to racism and xenophobia, relative to a target or stance that I depict,” she wrote. To achieve this goal (or any goal of effecting psychological change through art), Piper thought it was essential to engage the viewer in what she called the “indexical present” of the work of art: a here-and-now created in the transaction between artist and audience. (Conversely, she expressed skepticism about the efficacy of “global political art” that attempts to educate or persuade the viewer concerning a situation represented as being external to the viewer’s own experience). In another text, “Performance: The Problematic Solution,” Piper championed the didactic and the confrontational as central aspects, or modes, of this form of artist–viewer engagement.

Corruptions and Duplicates of Form

Corruptions and Duplicates of Form

He looks near-homeless at times, a street creature in a movie where pizza rat meets Pizzagate.

This post-Wonka kid’s movie about future videogame competition in dystopian cyberspace contains every pop 1980s reference imaginable, including “Blue Monday,” and stuffs them by the handful into a recycling bag like cans worth five cents each. The movie is cynical and manipulative because the ’80s it exploits means nothing to Spielberg. He uses items from that decade because he noticed that’s what kids are into, even though the movie takes place three decades from now. To Spielberg, the digitized fodder of Ready Player One is not truly classic, and can therefore be further trivialized for any reason. If money can be squeezed out of it from an undiscerning audience of nerds, so it should be and must be. Here, Spielberg has truly become Disney.

The Monks

The Monks

How is just being at the temple helping anyone, except you guys, who get to do a few less chores every day?

It’s not that I don’t like the monks. Some are chill. Two of them split cigs with me in the mornings, after our prayer sessions and before our chores. I call them Monk B and Monk C because we don’t talk or share things about ourselves, like our names. We smoke out by the fountain, away from all the statues of Buddha in the garden. I think the monks are trying to hide their smoking habits from all those Buddhas.

Revelation

Revelation

You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.

Suddenly everything I had been looking at—not just over these past months in Moscow, but over the past few years in academia, and over the past fifteen years of studying Russia— became clear to me. Russia had always been late to the achievements and realizations of Western civilization. Its lateness was its charm and its curse—it was as if Russia were a drug addict who received every concoction only after it was perfectly crystallized, maximally potent. Nowhere were Western ideas, Western beliefs, taken more seriously; nowhere were they so passionately implemented. Thus the Bolshevik Revolution, which overthrew the old regime; thus the human rights movement, plus blue jeans, which overthrew the Bolshevik one; and thus finally this new form of capitalism created here, which had enriched and then expelled my brother, and which had impoverished my grandmother and killed Uncle Lev. You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.

What a Long Day, Now Pizza!

What a Long Day, Now Pizza!

Tweets of the post-troll

Though he can come across as unhinged, Salvini knows exactly what he’s doing—unlike Trump, who only seems to stumble, periodically, into a message that resonates. Trump would never repeat criticism of himself without distorting it beyond recognition. Salvini, a fan of the suggestive retweet, confronts his haters head-on: last month he retweeted a La Repubblica piece that declared him “racist and a populist” and “like Mussolini” and a remark by a Democratic Party politician who said that “[Salvini’s] words sound like HITLER’s.” “Unbelievable! He should be ashamed,” Salvini replied, fully aware that his fans enjoy the frisson of the comparison. He used the hashtag #ècolpadiSalvini—“it’s Salvini’s fault”—when he retweeted a newspaper article titled “migrants revolt against Salvini.” Salvini understands the political utility of smug irony. The best way to persuade Italians that he is the uomo forte—the strong man who’s come to do the dirty work—is to be above it all while not being above anything.

The Logic of Militant Democracy

The Logic of Militant Democracy

From domestic concentration camps to the war on terror

The pervasive fears over existential threats, the belief that foreign enemies were supported by internal subversion, and the sense that victory required the total destruction of our foes all fueled the conviction that “foreigners” were enemies and thus had no rights. The American concentration camps of the 1940s exemplified the logic of such war. Foreigners were guilty until proven otherwise.

Check Out the Neymar Rolling Meme

Check Out the Neymar Rolling Meme

World Cup update

Uruguay vs. Portugal brought us, mercifully, to the point where Ronaldo was also gone. Nothing against either of them, but their presence is such that even having one of them involved means the epic Messi–Ronaldo debate eats up all the air time and “analysis.” Men who know nothing pontificate. Good and evil are spoken of in utter seriousness. 7 percent of the internet is devoted to this debate, so let me take a moment to end it. They are both utterly amazing! And brace yourselves: they are equally amazing, and they are differently amazing. I don’t know why this is so hard for people to accept. There is no way, in a team sport, to bring the issue to further clarity, so I recommend everyone drops this line of debate. Please, take the fact that the universe put them out in the same round as a sign.