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January 27, 2012

I’ve gotten backed up a bit this week with things I had wanted to read, but for which time simply would not allow.  That said, here’s a selection of stuff I think will be worth your attention:

  • Up first, please make sure to check out two recent pieces by my good friend Michael Washburn, who is simply on fire with his reviews in The Boston Globe and the San Francisco GateThe first is a lovely look at Cullen Murphy’s God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, a book Michael considers “Richly detailed and exquisitely told.” In the second, Michael looks at Andrea Hiott’s Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle.  “One of the keen pleasures of “Thinking Small,'” Michael argues, “is Hiott’s feel for the idiosyncrasy of minor geniuses, particularly Ferdinand Porsche, the visionary behind the Beetle’s design. This was decades before his elite, eponymous vehicles hit the road. Hitler indulged Porsche, whose desire to create the “Strength Through Joy Car” surpassed even Hitler’s. While Germany trembled before the Fuhrer, Porsche made reckless demands, such as ending hostilities so that the VW factory could cease fabricating Panzer parts and return to manufacturing Beetles. It’s true that Porsche never joined the Nazi Party, but Hiott’s enthusiasm for Porsche and his design compatriots runs deep, and she doesn’t dwell on the implications of complicity.”
  • My friend Steven Thrasher has an excellent piece at the Village Voice detailing the recent, musical protest actions aimed at disrupting the public auctions selling off foreclosed upon properties that have been taking place at the Brooklyn Supreme Court. It’s pretty intense stuff.  Steven writes that “Activists took up song to protest a “public” foreclosure auction in Brooklyn Supreme Court this afternoon. Many of those gathered (from FUREE, Housing Is a Human Right, Organizing for Occupation, and a new group called Occupied Real Estate) had taken part in another singing act of protest last Octoberto temporarily halt foreclosure proceedings and bring attention to the fact that every week, week after week, foreclosure auctions take place which leave families homeless when members of the “public” successfully buy the homes. But this time was rather different. Far more people participated, with the courtroom being filled with about 60 people initially, according to Michael Premo of Housing is a Human Right; we personally saw over 20 people arrested, and organizers say approximately 35 were taken into custody. And, since after court resumed and everyone but people the guards thought were buyers were barred from the courtroom (including members of the press), it couldn’t really be called a “public” auction at all.” Later, Steven reports that ” But the hallway was plenty full of protestors still singing, who were driving the police crazy; strangely, though they yelled (and even begged) a couple of times for them to please stop singing, they didn’t threaten to arrest them for that. What they did threaten them for was not staying on one side of a nebulous, invisible line in the middle of the hallway, and for using any media (recording devices, phones, video cameras) in the hallway, even though signs on the wall clearly said such machines were barred from the courtroom but didn’t seem to be from the rest of the building. We were threatened by this fellow at the end of the below video, who said if we kept recording us he was going to have handcuffs slapped on us.” Ridiculous.
  • My thanks to Michael Pollock for bringing to my attention this blog piece by Seth Ackerman who, like the rest of the Jacobin staff, continues to churn out excellent writing and analysis on the regular.  Michael suggested it to me during an exchange over a comment I made on Facebook to the effect that I thought Newt Gingrich’s victory in the South Carolina primary marked a closing chapter in the Tea Party saga in the United States.  I hadn’t realized that Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson published a book on the Tea Party movement over the winter, though this shouldn’t be a surprise given Skocpol’s scholarship on social movements and civic engagement, and Ackerman’s take on the situation is largely persuasive to me.  I think I agree that the Tea Party is old wine in new caskets, as it were, but my argument–separate from this–is that the utility of the TP packaging has likely run its course.  What’s left, and probably always will be, is the Republican base which Ackerman rightly describes as “white, affluent, Protestant, and deeply right wing.”
  • Laura Agusti has a nice piece at Counterpunch on the New York Times‘ man about the global village, Nicholas Kristof. Among other observations, Agustin notes that “It is important not to take at face value claims to be Helping, Saving or Rescuing just because people say that is what they are doing and feel emotional about it. Like many unreflective father figures, Kristof sees himself as fully benevolent. Claiming to give voice to the voiceless, he does not actually let them speak. Instead, as we say nowadays, it’s all about Kristof: his experience, terror, angst, confusion, desire. Did anyone rescued in his recent brothel raid want to be saved like that, with the consequences that came afterwards, whatever they were? That is what we do not know and will not find out from Kristof.”
  • Emma Larkin, the pen name of an anonymous writer reporting from Burma, has a new essay in The New Republic detailing what we can only hope will prove to be positive and lasting change in country.  It would seem that the junta there has gotten serious about relaxing the iron grip of authoritarianism, though many are correctly still wary of the government’s recent about face.  Still, Larkin’s piece shines a light on what could prove an important moment in Burma’s history.  Whatever is happening, it has members of the American political establishment sold.  Mitch McConnell–recently returned from a trip to explore foreign direct investment possibilities–was nothing less than smitten with the country’s new leader, Thein Sein, noting that the general is “a genuine reformer.” We’ll see.
  • I’m starting off the spring semester by introducing students in my year-long seminar on public policy to the ethics of social science research, and the role of the Institutional Review Board in university life. To illustrate matters, I’ve assigned, and therefore revisited myself, Christopher Shea’s “Don’t Talk to the Humans,” from the sadly defunct Lingua Franca. Every time I sift through the contents of old issues, I’m reminded of the loss that LF represents. For me, the magazine was like the New Yorker with the gloves off–and, frankly, featured better writing.
  • If you want to ruin your weekend, spend time with this must-read feature by Ronen Bergman–an analyst for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth–at the New York Times assessing possibilities of an Israeli attack on Iran. Bergman warns that “Most analysts here and abroad… argue that while the Iranian government remains unpopular, the nuclear program has wide support in Iran, and one way to unite the people behind their rulers would be through an Israeli strike….A former senior official who had top security clearance said he was worried that Mr. Barak and Mr. Netanyahu wanted to attack Iran—a step requiring agreement from other top ministers—and that such a step would be catastrophic both militarily and diplomatically.”  Depressingly, Bergman concludes, “After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012. Perhaps in the small and ever-diminishing window that is left, the United States will choose to intervene after all, but here, from the Israeli perspective, there is not much hope for that. Instead there is that peculiar Israeli mixture of fear — rooted in the sense that Israel is dependent on the tacit support of other nations to survive — and tenacity, the fierce conviction, right or wrong, that only the Israelis can ultimately defend themselves.” Fucking hell.
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