Money and Power

A Trained Pigeon

A Trained Pigeon

Are these dark times, or are they unconscionably stupid times?

And most bizarre, I think—the moment I will not be able to forget, so utterly sincere and consistent and emotional did it seem, the emotional peak of his long, rambling statement—was when Kavanaugh told us the single thing he loves doing most in the world. Not the law (though this is the job he’s interviewing for). Not parenting (though he is a sentimentalist of kids and parents, or perhaps of himself-as-a-kid-and-parent). It was coaching youth athletics. “I love coaching more than anything I’ve ever done in my whole life.” Then a pause, and the explosion. “But thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to coach again.”

George Soros on George Soros

I don’t think I have ever expressed an optimism that history is headed in the right direction

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I am less of an optimist, which is why I have spent my life actively trying to bend the arc in a positive direction. But recognizing that I am a biased evaluator of my life’s work, I will submit it to the judgment of history.

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.

Workers Full of Poems

Workers Full of Poems

On Eddie Sadlowski, 1938–2018

Sadlowski embodied the wish for organized labor to wake from its postwar slumber and again throw its weight behind a great movement for a different country, as it had done in the 1930s and before. The AFL-CIO had shamefully backed the Vietnam War; Sadlowski opposed it and denounced the growth of “the weapons economy”—of which steel was very much a part. Many of the unions in the federation, including the USWA, had dragged their heels at best on racial integration of their workplaces; Sadlowski called for strengthening the union’s civil rights apparatus, attracting the support of Jesse Jackson and members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Much of organized labor met environmentalism with hostility; Sadlowski dissented. “It’s one hell of a thing for me to say—we just don’t need any more steel mills. We don’t need that kind of industrial growth, at the expense of what the environment should be.” He followed the thought where it led: “Enough with the car!” What more radical claim could a blue-collar worker make about postwar society than to doubt the automobile?

The Globalist

The Globalist

George Soros after the open society

From his earliest days as a banker in postwar London, Soros believed in a necessary connection between capitalism and cosmopolitanism. For him, as for most of the members of his cohort and the majority of the Democratic Party’s leadership, a free society depends on free (if regulated) markets. But this assumed connection has proven to be a false one.

Money, Power, Gay Shenanigans

Money, Power, Gay Shenanigans

On Alan Hollinghurst

At this point, you might be wondering what the plot of this book is, and that’s a fair question. “My old friend the novelist Lawrence Norfolk used to say, ‘You write marvelous descriptions, but why do you have these terrible plots?’” Hollinghurst noted in The Paris Review, in 2011. “I like evoking atmospheres and analyzing relationships and feelings, but plot I feel faintly embarrassed by.” If I try to explain the wider plot of The Sparsholt Affair, and the half-tangled lives of a cast of supporting characters who flit in and about without too much consequence, it all begins to fall apart. In the fourth section, as the book begins—very slowly—to wind down, Johnny is living a relatively untroubled life in London as a moderately successful portrait painter. He’s a vegetarian. He fathers a child with a lesbian couple. He has a long-term partner called Pat, of whom we only really glimpse his “broad back and hairy thighs and long fat member, retiring now after a hard half-hour’s work,” and who later dies, of cancer, essentially in a footnote.

We’re the Good Guys, Right?

We’re the Good Guys, Right?

On the Marvel movies

Marvel’s first hit, Iron Man, was released in 2008, just as the surge in Iraq was coming to a close. This marked the end of the hot wars of the Bush years and the transition to a cooler state of continuous half-war, characterized less by boots on the ground than by eyes in the sky. The Obama era revealed that the war on terror would be unlike past wars, with beginnings and ends. It was a way of life rather than a discrete event, a chronic condition rather than an acute one. The war was routinized and, with the dramatic surge in the use of drones, mechanized.

The Prequel Boom

The Prequel Boom

Why do studios keep doing prequels if fans hate them? And why do fans hate them so much in the first place?

In other words, though the term is recent, the narrative technique of the prequel is not as new as it may appear. What is new, it seems, in modern prequels is their much lower ideological stakes. People were willing to kill and die over the legitimacy of Julius Caesar’s consolidation of imperial power in Rome, and despite the heated rhetoric of online debate, it is difficult to imagine anyone working up as much real-world fervor over George Lucas’s decision to posit a racial-biological basis for susceptibility to the Force in The Phantom Menace. Yet as the debates over diversity in casting and the portrayal of female leadership in the recent Star Wars films shows, story-telling decisions do carry a political-ideological charge, which is presumably not unrelated to their ability to provide the foundation for community and identity among particularly enthusiastic fans.