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Regular dispatches from our contributors.

Base Culture

Base Culture

This land is Helmand.

What I will say is that the explosions were regular and the combat was minimal. I was more a spectator than a participant. No matter how close I got, I was always at a remove. I never pulled the trigger, not even in the foot patrol that resulted in my Combat Action Ribbon (CAR). Everyone on that patrol was awarded the CAR. Rounds were fired by us and at us, and at one point we were forced to sprint and hit the prone behind some shrubbery. But after the initial fire had subsided and we had been ensconced long enough to feel comfortable, we took photographs of each other with someone’s cell phone, waiting for the air strike that never came.

The Korean Peace Process

The Korean Peace Process

American foreign policy hasn’t done any real thinking in two years

Peace is possible, if just barely, on the Korean peninsula neither thanks to nor in spite of America’s leadership, but because America isn’t leading at all. The country’s ruling party has been thrown into such chaos by Trump’s election that it lacks a coherent geopolitical strategy, and the State Department is a nonfunctioning husk of its former self. What Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in have done is recognize America’s geopolitical incoherence as an opportunity to act on their own behalf. The peace process is primarily of South Korean design, it was underway months before Trump flew to Singapore, and it illustrates the kinds of space that open up, and the kinds of diplomacy that become possible, as the US begrudgingly starts to cede its place at the head of the world’s table.

Carbonated

Carbonated

William T. Vollmann confronts climate change

Carbon Ideologies does not appear to aspire to readability. The primer’s level of technical detail simply doesn’t justify the hemorrhaging of readers it will unquestionably induce. It should have been published online, along with the notes. The section on Fukushima makes a certain amount of chronological sense (the disaster occurred in 2011, as Vollmann was embarking on the project), but from a conceptual and narrative point of view it is misplaced. For one thing, this leg of the project doesn’t fit neatly under the heading of a “carbon ideology.” The argument seems to be that, once we have come to terms with the damage we are doing to the atmosphere with our overuse of carbon fuels, we will move onto newfangled forms of energy that are equally destructive, albeit in different ways. But then why not include all this at the end, as a disconcerting epilogue?

The Muslim Lady with a Dog

The Muslim Lady with a Dog

At least I have Champ, she’d say, what do they have? Fat and lazy husbands?

Neutering Champ was probably the right call, since testosterone unnerved him. When Champ wasn’t around I would hug Dadi-ma and sneak her my kisses. If he spotted me touching Dadi-ma in any way, I had to deal with his barking, and then if he got close enough, his biting. But Dadi-ma never scolded Champ. She’d look on with affection whenever he tormented me, as a mother does with her two bickering sons.

Engulfed

Engulfed

Apologizing loudly is expected to serve as a substitute for meaningful change.

It’s worth pausing at the sheer strangeness of this moment. In the weeks since Khashoggi’s murder, the speed and the intensity of the renunciations have been as striking as the renunciations themselves. The institutions that have benefited from Gulf money and funneled Gulf-friendly perspectives to the American public have been vocal in their outrage. This spectacle has to be seen as a form of institutional self-flagellation. But it’s hard not to read these gestures as shallow and perfunctory, performed with the knowledge that the news cycle will move on quickly, which in fact it has.

Perpetual Fear

Perpetual Fear

I don’t like the electric lock on the door to our shul.

My shul is in Philadelphia, directly across the state from Pittsburgh, where eleven Jews were murdered in October at the Tree of Life Synagogue by an anti-Semite with an AR-15. To have been young and Jewish in this country in the ’80s and ’90s was to have lived in a subconscious state of fear. That was my idiosyncratic experience, anyway—unconscious, inarticulable fear, the product of knowing enough of the “never again” canon, of a Jewish education that emphasized Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi and Deborah Lipstadt, Schindler’s List and Shoah and Night and Fog. In the ’60s and ’70s, the facts of the Shoah were being recovered. No one needed to be reminded not to forget while actively endeavoring to remember.

Make Ford Great Again

Make Ford Great Again

For now, yesterday is where the money is.

Blunt and regressive, Ford’s new TV commercials make do without jingles or CEOs, opting instead for Breaking Bad’s scary-manly-paternal (don’t forget Malcolm in the Middle) Bryan Cranston. Dressed in Steve Jobs gear, Cranston is on the verge of delivering a “Future Talk” when he shakes it off at the last minute: “The future wasn’t made in a keynote speech,” he declares. (Presumably this includes Jim Hackett’s keynote speech about Ford’s future.) Next he’s in an easy chair aboard Air Force One: “A presidential speech did not land us on the moon.” Cut to men with pocket protectors sweating over the Apollo Lunar Lander. “Millions of man hours did.”

Poetry After Poetry

Poetry After Poetry

On Anne Boyer

Anne Boyer’s negativity is capacious, incorporating explicit political action as well as more opaque forms of noncompliance. In “No” it’s exemplified by both children who refuse dinner and workers who slow the line. “Some days my only certain we is this certain we that didn’t, that wouldn’t, whose bodies or spirits wouldn’t go along.”

Movie Stars in Bathtubs

Movie Stars in Bathtubs

48 Movies and 2 Incidents: 1916–2002

John Carpenter emerged from the same California milieu in the 1970s as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. He has worked in the same Hollywood as they have, in the same genres, but in many ways he is the anti-Spielberg and the anti-Lucas. They Live is the most extreme example of this. It criticizes not only spectacular entertainment but commercial image-making in general. That it does this in a cheap, blunt sci-fi flick starring a professional wrestler is nothing to sneeze at. Here Carpenter reveals himself as an enemy of what one of this film’s villains calls “our ongoing quest for multi-dimensional expansion.”