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#FridayReads

January 20, 2012

There was a lot of great stuff that came out of magazines, journals and newspapers this past week.  Here’s a brief selection of things I think are particularly good:

  • First of all it’s nice to see Corey Robin receiving some much deserved even-handedness from the New York Times on the debate surrounding his excellent new book, The Reactionary Mind. As I mentioned on Facebook, and on a personal note, I was happy to see the Times quote from the History News Network, which referred to Corey as “the quintessential public intellectual for the digital age.” This only begins to capture the fact. Corey is a scholar, a gentleman, a fearless critic of the worst aspects of liberalism and the Right, and an inspiring (and superhuman) political organizer. Working with him last year on the major CUNY fights was one of the highlights of my year, collectively one of the most important moments in my own political experience, and–because of Corey’s incredible leadership and skill–reminded me of the inherent hope, promise and excitement of well-organized, clear-headed, and relentless collective action against injustice. I encourage everyone to read this piece, then go out and buy his book. It’s political theory at its best and most eloquent.
  • My friend Nomvuyo Nolutshungu has a lovely review at Warscapes this week.  Looking at a new book on Zimbabwean oral histories, Nomvuyo offers critical thoughts on writing about Africa more broadly.  Excellent stuff, as always!
  • Shoeless Joe Stiglitz has a solid, and sobering analysis of our country’s economic and financial mess in this month’s Vanity Fair. It’s very much worth your while to spend some time with Stilitz’s argument, correct in my view, that this crisis has nothing to do with monetary policy and everything to do with reforming the financial architecture that allowed for the avarice and incompetence that lead to the situation in which we currently find ourselves.
  • Steve Coll’s piece on the Taliban’s Mullah Omar offers everything you want from a profile–solid reporting, top-notch writing, a critical framework, and connections to important issues.  A must-read, for sure.
  • Foreign Affairs has a couple of good pieces this week, both online and in the new print issue.  Online, Colin Kahl dishes out a royal ass-kicking to Mathew Kroenig’s argument stupid argument that it’s time to attack Iran.  This is the second answer to Kroenig that makes very clear why coercive force is a fool’s errand, for a variety of reasons.  For another good take, see Steve Walt’s series of take downs over at Foreign Policy.  Whatever you do, don’t bother with Max Boot’s “take” on the situation.  Basically, in typical Bootish style, Max offers a middle way, which is really to say: he thinks we should attack Iran…and how!
  • Another good FA essay is found in the print journal–Barry Eichengreen’s “When Currencies Collapse.”
  • Jodi Dean has been logging in some seriously good analysis of OWS and other matters at her blog, “I cite.”  In particular, you’d be well-advised to read her “Occupy Wall Street and the Left,” then surf through her other recent posts to see what catches your eye and imagination.  All of it is excellent.
  • No sooner than I thought I had seen the last of Jeffrey Sachs for a while following his disastrous NYT op-ed on Nigeria (linked last week), here he is again with his BFF, Bono, in the Guardian.  The dynamic duo do their predictable thing.  What’s remarkable about the piece, though, is Sachs’ slap at the competition.  When asked if he ever gets tired of being attacked for his ideas, Sachs replies: “I think there are two things that are completely different. One is the words, and there’s a lot of words flying around. And then there is the fact of malaria down 40% over a decade. Believe me, the only thing that matters is the second one. There’s a lot of verbiage around this issue – a lot of it by critics who don’t seem to ever leave their offices, don’t know what’s happening in the field, don’t really see it.”  Ah, right: the view from the presidential palace is much better.
  • A fun interview with Barney Frank ran today at the Times.  Among other things, the feisty representative tangled with the paper’s Andrew Goldman over marijuana legalization. This particular exchange is classic. I’m pretty sure Goldman’s “Why not?” is the most revealing part of the entire interview:

Q: You’ve long argued for the decriminalization of marijuana. Do you smoke weed?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: Why do you ask a question, then act surprised when I give an answer? Do you think I lie to people?

Q: I thought you might explain why you support decriminalizing it but don’t smoke it.

A: Do you think I’ve ever had an abortion? I don’t play poker on the Internet, either.

  • I also read two books of non-fiction this week.  Tarek Osman’s Egypt on the Brink provides a pretty decent overview of the various ingredients–social, political, economic and historical–necessary to understand the stew of Egypt today.  The book, which has been revised since the January 25 movement took hold, is good when it seeks to convey and organize historical fact. But when Osman begins offering his own political analysis, the book feels hollow and unconvincing, not least for the fact that Osman can’t fully seem to disengage with his respect for the old order, despite recognizing its myriad flaws.  This tension makes completing the book something of a task. Far more entertaining is The John Carlos Story, written by the former track and field phenom who raised his fist in protest at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, with The Nation‘s Dave Zirin. (Cornel West penned the book’s introduction.) Carlos’ story of growing up in Harlem and then becoming one of the world’s most famous and respected athletes is moving, sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad, and generally fierce in contributing to the historical record of one the most important moments in American history–the civil rights era.  Carlos is a bold, lively story-teller who never shies away from calling people out for their political cowardice, and celebrates those who stood tall against bigotry at great personal sacrifice.  As Carlos’ story makes clear, few paid as exacting price as he did for his activism and fearless willingness to speak truth to power.
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