Aug 21 2022

Blue Skies Over Berlin

cross on a steeple

Apr 27 2022

25 Years of Bookbread Left to Go

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

Bookbread has been around for about 10 years. Its author will be turning 41 this summer. The male ancestors in the author’s family tend not to live past 75. And there is much demographic data to suggest (just one among many https://ifstudies.org/blog/contours-of-the-sex-recession) American single-males have a 10-year drop in their life expectancy compared to their paired partners, or (even paired, or even single women). So we will try to continue for another 25. Then that’s it.


Mar 6 2022

Russian Reading List (March 2022)

Here are approximately 125 online items about the Russian security issue (an informal hobby of mine) that I’ve happened to have read in the last 5 years.

Due to link-rot, some on the links may not work; others may now be behind paywalls when previously they were not; others may no longer exist on their original domains but may be found on things like Archive.org etc.

I look at this list as a modest contribution to the OSINT (open-source intelligence) community, but offer no opinions or criticisms or analysis of any of the following items:

wood

Aiken, Steven. “If you think Russia poses no danger to Northern Ireland, then think again,” Belfast Telegraph, March 22, 2018.

Baev, Pavel K. “Russia Stumbles in the Fog of Syrian War,” Lawfare, March 2, 2018.

Bamford, James. “The Spy Who Wasn’t,” New Republic, February 11, 2019.

Barros, George. “Dostoevsky’s ‘Russian God’: Russian Attitude Toward Faith and Christianity,” Providence Magazine, August 12, 2019.

Bauer, Bob. “The Indictment of Russia’s Super PAC and the Open Question of Trump Campaign Complicity,” JustSecurity.org, February 16, 2018.

Bellingcat Investigation Team, “ ‘V’ for Vympel’: FSB’s Secretive Department ‘V’ Behind Assassination of Georgian Asylum Seeker in Germany,” Bellingcat 17 February 2020.

–––––. “FSB Team of Chemical Weapon Experts Implicated in Alexey Navalny Novichok Poisoning,” Bellingcat.com, 14 December 2020.

Benner, Thorsten. “The Dark Arts of Foreign Influence-Peddling,” The Atlantic, February 25, 2018.

Bennetts, Marc “Why Orthodox Christians are losing faith in Putin,” Politico EU, December 24, 2019.

Bershidsky, Leonid. “Putin is Struggling to Keep His Wars Separate,” Bloomberg, February 14, 2018.

Bogomolov, Alexander and Oleksandr Lytvynenko, “A Ghost in the Mirror: Russian Soft Power in Ukraine,” Chatham House Briefing Paper, January 2012.

Borrell, Josep. “My visit to Moscow and the future of EU-Russia relations,” European Union External Action Service (EEAS), Feb. 7, 2021.

Brodsky, Joseph. “Dreams of America Behind the Iron Curtain,” Lithub, March 14, 2020.

Brundage Miles, et al, “The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation.” Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford. February 2018.

Cadwalladr, Carole, “The Cambridge Analytica Files: ‘I Created Steve Bannon’s Psychological Warfare Tool‘,” The Guardian, March 17, 2018.

Chernichkin, Kostyantyn, “Power of decentralization: New money spurs villages,” Kviv Post, May 25, 2018.

Cohen, Raphael S. and Andrew Radin, “Russia’s Hostile Measures in Europe,” RAND Corp. 2019.

Collins, Ben and Gideon Resnick, Spencer Ackerman, “Leaked: Secret Documents from Russia’s Election Trolls,” Daily Beast, March 1, 2018.

Collins, Ben and Josh Russell, “Russians Used Reddit and Tumblr to Troll 2016 Election,” Daily Beast, March 1, 2018.

Collins, Liam. “A New Eastern Front: What the U.S. Army Must Learn from the War in Ukraine,” Association of the U.S. Army, April 16, 2018.

Cottrell, Robert. “Russia’s Gay Demons,” New York Review of Books, December 7, 2017.

Der Spiegel Staff, “The Breach from the East: German intelligence officials issued warnings back in 2016 of a cyber-espionage group known as Snake,” Der Spiegel Online, trans. Paul Cohen, March 5, 2018.

Deutsch Welle, “Russia, US battle for extradition of accused hacker Nikulin,” February 24, 2018.

Dobbins, James, Howard J. Shatz, and Ali Wyne, “Russia is a Rouge, Not a Peer; China Is a Peer, Not a Rouge,” RAND Corp., October 2018.

Dorfman, Zach, “The Secret History of the Russian Consulate in San Francisco,” Foreign Policy Magazine, December 14, 2017.

–––––. “How Silicon Valley Became a Den of Spies,” Politico Magazine, July 27, 2018.

Edel, Anastasia, “My Mother’s Brilliant Career in Soviet Culture,” The New York Review of Books, May 29, 2018.

Entous, Adam and Ronan Farrow, “Private Mossad for Hire: Inside a plot to influence American elections, starting with one small-town race,” The New Yorker, February 18, 2019.

Esch, Christian interview with Oleg Sentsov, “They Try to Get Under Your Skin: Ukrainian Director Oleg Sentsov on Being a Political Prisoner in Russia,” Der Spiegel, October 15, 2019.

–––––. “I Started Seeing Agents Everywhere [Interview with Daria Navalnaya],” Der Spiegel International, December 16, 2021.

Fandos, Nicholas and Adam Goldman. “Ex-Aide Saw Gordon Sondland as a Potential National Security Risk,” New York Times, October 16, 2019.

Feldman, Evgeny and Mikhail Stavtsev (photo editor), “I hate that I’m broken: Two years ago, Dasha Lesnykh’s partner was sent to prison as part of the ‘Moscow Case’,” Meduza, December 2021.

Galeotti, Mark. “Former Russian Spy Scandal Suggests the Old Espionage Rules Are Breaking Down (Op-ed),” Moscow Times, March 6, 2018.

–––––. “Russia in 2020. Like 2019, but more so,” RaamOpRusland, December 23, 2019.

Gershman, Carl. “In an Era of Geopolitical Uncertainty, Lithuania Inspires,” World Affairs, March 2, 2018.

Gessen, Keith. “The Quiet Americans Behind the U.S.–Russia Imbroglio,” New York Times Magazine, May 5. 2018.

Gessen, Masha. “The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller’s Russia Indictments,” New Yorker, February 20, 2018.

“Getting Out from ‘In-Between’: Perspectives on the Regional Order in Post-Soviet Europe and Eurasia,” eds. Samuel Charap, Alyssa Demus, Jeremy Shaprio, (RAND Corp, 2018).

Goldsmith, Jack. “The Puzzle of the GRU Indictment,” Lawfareblog.com, 21 October 2020.

Gordin, Michael D. “Zhores Medvedev and the battle for truth in Soviet science,” Aeon Magazine, February 6, 2019.

Gorenburg, Dmitry. “Russian Strategic Decision-Making in a Nordic Crisis,” Security Insights, July 2019.

Grozev, Christo. “Russian Spying is Privatized and Competitive. Counterespionage Should Be Too,” Newsweek, July 27, 2020.

Halpern, Sue, “The Drums of Cyberwar,” NYRB, December 19, 2019.

Harding, Luke. ” ‘In Russia, the new evil is rooted in the old evil’: novelist Sergei Lebedev on Putin, poison and state terror,” Guardian, Feb. 13, 2021.

Hart, James. “Putin is Europe’s unifying villain,” Kyiv Post, March 16, 2018.

Helson, Kevin, Affidavit, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, [against Maria Butina, “Redheaded NRA spy”,] July 14, 2018.

Hertling, Mark and Molly K. McKew, “Putin’s Attack on the U.S. Is Our Pearl Harbor,” Politico Magazine, July 16, 2018.

Hink, Garrett. “Evaluating the Russian Threat to Undersea Cables,” Lawfare, March 5, 2018.

Hundley, Lindsay. “How the Kremlin Uses Agenda Setting to Paint Democracy in Panic,” Lawfare, Feb. 11, 2021.

Ioffe, Julia. “What Putin Really Wants: Russia’s strongman president has many Americans convinced of his manipulative genius. He’s really just a gambler who won big,” The Atlantic, January/February 2018.

–––––. ” ‘These Bastards Will Never See Our Tears’: How Yulia Navalnaya Became Russia’s Real First Lady,” Vanity Fair, July 8, 2021.

Johnson, Tim. “Hoax attempts against Miami Herald augur brewing war over fake, real news,” McClatchy – DC Bureau, February 24, 2018.

Kerenov, Denis. “ ‘Sovereign Russian Internet is not yet possible.’ Interviews with Internet Censorship Researchers in Russia,” Yuga.ru, February 22, 2019.

Kirchick, James, “The Roots of Russian Aggression,” National Review, May 24, 2018.

Komarnyckyi, Stephen, “A Castle Build on Sand? Ukrainian Literature and Crimea,” Los Angeles Review of Books, August 19, 2018.

Kramer, Andrew E. “Russian General Pitches ‘Information’ Operations as a Form of War,” New York Times, March 2, 2019.

Kransnikov, Denys. “Honest History: How one treaty made Ukraine vassal of Russia for 337,” Kyiv Post, June 22, 2018.

Kris, David. “Law Enforcement as a Counterintelligence Tool,” Lawfare, March 6, 2018.

Lake, Eli. “Don’t Be Fooled: Russia Attacked U.S. Troops in Syria,” Bloomberg, February 16, 2018.

Lilla, Mark “The Treason of Intellectuals [and Julien Benda],” Tablet Magazine, December 6, 2021.

Lucas, Edward. “West should have heeded Ukraine’s warnings about Russia long ago,” Kyiv Post, December 3, 2017.

Mackintosh, Eliza. “Finland is winning the war on fake news. What it’s learned may be crucial to Western democracy,” CNN Special Report, May 2019.

Magnay, Diana. “Russia’s decriminalising of domestic violence means women continue to die,” Sky News, March 21, 2021.

Manoilo, Andrey, “Interview,” in “Russia This Week – December 3, 2017,” Middle East Media Research Institute, December 3, 2017.

May, Ruth. “Putin: From Oligarch to Kleptocrat,” New York Review of Books, February 1, 2018.

McKew, Molly K. “The Gerasimov Doctrine,” Politico Magazine, September/October 2016.

–––––. “Putin’s Real Long Game,” Politico Magazine, January 1, 2017.

–––––. “How Twitter Bots and Trump Fans Made #ReleaseTheMemo Go Viral,” Politico, February 2, 2018.

–––––. “Did Russia Affect the 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable,” Wired, February 16, 2018.

–––––.”How Liberals Amped Up a Parkland Shooting Conspiracy Theory,” Wired, February 27, 2018.

–––––. “Searching for a Stronghold in the Fight Against Disinformation,” Cigi.org (Center for International Governance Innovation), June 4, 2018.

–––––. “ ‘They Will Die in Tallinn’: Estonia Girds for War with Russia,” Politico, July 10, 2018.

McLaughlin, Jenna and Zach Dorfman, “ ‘Shattered’: Inside the secret battle to save America’s undercover spies in the digital age,” Yahoo News, December 30, 2019.

Meek, James. “The Village Life,” London Review of Books, 41 (6 June 2019).

Mendick, Robert and Adrian Gatton. “BP chief executive Bob Dudley ‘poisoned in Russian plot’,” The Age, April 30, 2018.

Michel, Casey and Andrei Soldatov, “Russian journalist explains the role of the Panama Paters in Russia’s interference operations,” ThinkProgress.org, August 2, 2018.

Mishulovich, Ellis. “Why Does Russia Build So Many Doomsday Weapons?” National Review, April 19, 2018.

Morson, Gary. “Pray for Chekov: Or What Russian Literature Can Teach Conservatives,” The Heritage Foundation: Russell Kirk Memorial Lecture, December 13, 2016.

–––––. “Pig and People: The Rise and Fall of the First Russian Populists,” Weekly Standard, July 29, 2018.

–––––. “Leninthink,” New Criterion, October 2019.

Multiple interviews, “An unbeatable disappearing act: New legislation in Russia will dramatically reduce transparency when it comes to state officials and their relatives. We asked investigative journalists how this affects their work,” Meduza, Dec. 23, 2020.) trans. Karina Mamadzhanyan.

Munich Security Report, Munich Security Conference 2019, ed. chairman Wolfgang Ischinger.

Napalkova, Anastasia; Timur Sazonov, Anna Pushkarskaia, “ ‘Putin’s Palace’: Builders’ story of luxury, mould and fake walls,” BBC World, Feb. 16, 2021.

Nardelli, Alberto and Mykhailyna Skoryk, “The Professor At The Center of the Trump-Russia Probe Boasted To His Girlfriend in Ukraine that He Was Friends with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,” Buzzfeed.com, February 27, 2018.

Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), “Love, Offshores, and Administrative Resources: How Marrying Putin’s Daughter Gave Kirill Shamalov a World of Opportunity,” OCCRP.org 7 December 2020.

Paganini, Pierlugigi. “Czech President wants Russian hacker Yevgeni Nikulin extradited to Russia instead of US,” SecurityAffairs.co, February 25, 2018.

Polymeropoulos, Marc and Kristin Wood, “A Blueprint for the Future: The CIA in 2021 and Beyond,” Just Security, 20 October 2020.

Pomerantsev, Peter. “The Info War of All Against All,” New York Review of Books, August 23, 2019.

Ponomarenko, Illia. “De-mining Donbas will take up to 40 years, Ukraine’s military says,” Kyiv Post, April 3, 2018.

Priestap, Bill and Holden Triplett, “The Transformation of Business in an Age of Espionage,” Lawfareblog.com, 20 October 2020.

Quinn-Judge, Paul. “The Revolution that Wasn’t,” New York Review of Books, April 19, 2018.

Rampton, Roberta. “Obama: Russia doesn’t make anything, West must be firm with China,” Reuters/Yahoo News, August 23, 2014.

Roth, Andrew. “Covering the Russian protest: ‘Police usually let western reporters go’.” The Guardian, Feb. 8, 2021.

“Russian Analyst Tymofeev: Being In The Kremlin List Requires a Choice: ‘You Have To Decide Whose Side You Are On, The Whites Or The Reds’,” in MEMRI no 7315, February 4, 2018.

Saivetz, Carol R. “Russia’s New Crises on the Periphery,” Lawfare, February 14, 2021.

Satter, Raphael, “AP Exclusive: Undercover spy exposed in NYC was 1 of many,” Associated Press, February 10, 2019.

Schreck, Carl. “Poroshenko Accuses Moscow of ‘World Hybrid War,’ Denounces ‘Russian World’,” Radio Free Europe, February 17, 2018.

Seaton, Matt. “The Long Afterlife of the KGB,” New York Review of Books, December 5, 2020.

–––––. “Londongrad oligarchs are being forced back to Russia’s embrace,” Financial Times, June 1, 2018.

Semko, Liza. “EU top envoy’s failure in Russia draws wave of criticism,” Kyiv Post, Feb. 8, 2021.

Sharansky, Natan with Gil Troy, “The Doublethinkers: in assessing my own liberation, I recall a conformity that feels terrifyingly familiar today,” Tablet Magazine, Feb. 10, 2021.

Shedd, David R. and Ivanna Stradner, “Putin is Winning Russia’s Hybrid War against America,” National Review, December 9, 2020.

Schinder, John R. “British Intelligence: Yes, Russian Spy Was Poisoned by Kremlin,” Observer, April 10, 2018.

Shlapak, David A. “The Russian Challenge,” RAND.org, 2018.

Smith, Helena, “Greece accuses Russia of bribery and meddling in its affairs,” The Guardian, August 11, 2018.

Snyder, Timothy. “Ivan Ilyin, Putin’s Philosopher of Russian Fascism,” New York Review of Books, March 18, 2018.

Soldatov, Andrei and Irina Borogan, “Putin’s Secret Services,” May 31, 2018. Foreign Affairs, May 31, 2018.

–––––. “Some Habits Die hard. How KGB-spies abroad got a second life,” RaamOpRusland, December 16, 2019.

–––––. “Russia’s Secret Organizations Are Not Secret Anymore. It Seems They Don’t Care,” Moscow Times, December 17, 2020.

–––––. “What Has Become of the GRU, Russia’s Military Intelligence Agency?” Moscow Times, April 21, 2021.

Standish, Reid interviewing Andrei Soldatov, “There’s a New Player Leading the Kremlin’s Moves Abroad: the Russian Army,” Foreign Policy, September 3, 2019.

Stein, Jeff and Patricia Ravalgi. “Poison, Hacker, Meddler, Spy: How Russian Agents Ran Wild in 2020,” SpyTalk.com, Dec. 31, 2020.

Strokan, Sergey. “The Dashed Hopes of Trump” in MEMRI no. 7277, January 11, 2018.

Troianovski, Anton. “An Arctic Spy Mystery: An Arrest in Moscow Shakes Norway’s Far North,” Washington Post, February 3, 2018.

Tucker, Patrick. “How to Inoculate the Public Against Fake News,” Defense One, February 19, 2018.

Walker, Shaun. “Putin’s Quest for Lost Glory,” The Guardian, February 18, 2018.

Weiss, Michael, Holger Roonemaa, Mattias Carlsson, Liliana Botnariuc, Pierre Vaux, (with additional reporting by Christo Grozev, Riin Aljas, and Ruslan Trad), “The Fallen Mercenaries in Russia’s Dark Army,” New/Lines Magazine, December 19, 2021.

Weiss, Michael. “What Russia Understands about Trump,” New York Review of Books, August 2, 2018.

–––––. “The Long, Dark History of Russia’s Murder, Inc.,” New York Review of Books,December 18, 2019.

–––––“The Making of a Russian Spy,” The Atlantic, June 26, 2019.

Wood, Tony. “Putin’s Palace,” London Review of Books, Feb. 18, 2021.

Yapparova, Liliya. “ ‘It’s always a choice’ ‘Bellingcat’ lead investigator Christo Grozev explains how his team unmasked the Russian agents who tried to kill Alexey Navalny.” Meduza, December 18, 2020.

–––––. “The angry and the powerless: How the opposition protests in Belarus became a guerilla movement,” Meduza, January 5, 2021.

Yourgrau, Barry. “The Literary Intrigues of Putin’s Puppet Master,” New York Review of Books, January 22, 2018, trans. Alexei Bayer.

Zhigalkin, Yuri. “ ‘Компенсируют свои обиды’. Российская Псаки-мания” (“[‘Compensate for their grievances.’ Russian psaki-mania]”), trans. Google Chrome, Svoboda.org 01 December 2020.

Zverintseva, Tatiana. “From Stalin’s camps to Putin’s laws: How ‘the Russian mafia” came to be,” trans. Hilah Kohen, Meduza, February 19, 2019.


Dec 12 2021

Writing that Spits in Your Face: Give It To Me.

bookshelf

“Your life, won’t be worth spit!” ––Jack Palance to Jack Nicholson, Batman (1989)

I want more writing that spits in my face. Stuff that makes me squirm—not tear-jerk so much as truth-jerk. I mean the way you flinch when Truth (the Alpha-and-Omega of all reality) lurches some saliva in your face.

I need more of this spit. I’m tired of other writers’ shit for show waste of words that deny the workaday world of those blessed to lack the privilege of succumbing to educational institutionality.

Instead, give me the visceral. Give me the vitals. Give me the spit. Stop with this spick-and-span attitude and its obligatory summary of everything that never needed to be known.

“Being.” Try it sometime. The water may not be warm, but at least it’s wet.

“Being” means more of stuff like this coming from writers:

Writers like: Tim Hale, a self-professed “traveling poet,” (see end note), and his poem, “[Untitled],” Welcome to This Moment (2009)

I slept between boats
Made money off poems
That summer in seattle
I never was alone
I hung with the homeless
Took care of each other
I was closer to them
Than I am my own brother.

Alan Jacobs, professor of humanities at Baylor University, and recent blog post, “tribulation” (November, 26, 2021):

So when people whose parents loved them and expressed that love, cared for them and prayed for them, encouraged them in goodness and consoled them when they were hurt, tell me that their upbringing was terrible because those same parents were legalists and fundamentalists, well … let’s just say that I have a somewhat different perspective. I am not referring, of course, to those who suffered genuine abuse, and I see how abuse done in the name of God can be especially traumatizing. But those whose parents were merely legalistic and moralistic, narrow in their views, suspicious of mainstream culture, strict about movies and music — sure, all that’s not cool. But it could have been so, so much worse.

Esteban Rodríguez, Poet of Rio Grande Valley (currently in Austin), Texas, and his book of essays, Before the Earth Devours Us (2021):

Beside the condemned remnants of my stepfather’s mother’s small, box-shaped shack of a house, there’s an empty lot that still acts as a shortcut for the residents of the housing projects on the other side who, for decades, have ambled through with a stride slow and staggered enough to suggest third lives are the most burdened in the world, leaving behind uneven trails that make this parched, trash-riddled space of land seem like it was mowed by teenagers who had never learned an efficient pattern for their summer job.

And Hank Kirkton’s short story, “Loose Change,” (October 7, 2021):

For the first time in his life he’d felt resentment toward his son. It was an ugly feeling that he was unable to suppress or force into the margins. It was front and center. He felt hopeless. He’d found it difficult to survive on what was left of his weekly stipend. He was also attending court-ordered AA meetings and found no solace there. The support was meaningless. Sad gray people with sad gray stories. The meetings were more depressing than alcohol.

Give me the spit-gray story. Give it to me straight. That’s all I ask.

NOTES

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According to Tim Hale’s volume of poetry Welcome to This Moment (2009):

I left ‘home’ when I was 19, lived under a bridge
Had two poems and tested faith through my actions
It is now eight years later and I’m still a traveling poet.

See also:


May 8 2019

Pruning the Paragraphs

Pruning the Paragraphs

Here is a paragraph I had to prune from an essay I’m finishing up but that I think still has some worthwhile comparisons:

One also wonders whether some reactions spawned by Jussie Smollett’s alleged attack, qualify for “religiofication,” which is what American philosopher and longshoreman Eric Hoffer once defined as “the art of turning practical purposes into holy causes.”* If Smollett staged such an attack, he would be not unlike the innkeeper at the beginning of the Quixote (I, iii). For the innkeeper is someone who, being something of a knight in his younger days, is willing to placate his meddlesome guest Alonso Quijano. Quijano went mad by reading too many books of chivalry, and now wishes to be ordained into knighthood under the name Don Quixote. The innkeeper believes that by pretending (or acting) to be a knight, and going through the motions of ordination, he will send this madman on his way, and away from the inn where he causes mischief. In doing so, the innkeeper almost plays Don Quixote’s game-of-pretend better than the Don himself, for the innkeeper has inverted Hoffer’s formula and turned the Don’s holy cause into a practical purpose.

*Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), (New York: Harper & Row, 1966) § 1, p. 15.

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May 23 2018

What a Polish Social Scientist Thought of Immigration in the U.S. (c. 1934)

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What a Polish Social Scientist Thought of Immigration in the U.S. (c. 1934)

From Florian Znaniecki’s (1882-1958) The Methodology of Sociology (1934):

Even real active participation in foreign social life does not always insure against them [immigrants], for the individual participant may only grasp superficially certain significant foreign values, while their deeper meaning eludes him.*

*I have often been struck, for instance, by the stunted and superficial conception American-born citizens of foreign-born parents have of the most important standards of American social and even political life, particularly when their parents belonged to the working-class and lived in an immigrant community. Active participation there is, but reduced to secondary-group contacts, since immigrants are not admitted into intimate relationships with natives; and since secondary-group norms have grown, and still remain in some measure founded on primary-group relations, it is impossible to understand the former without knowing the matter.

(The Methodology of Sociology, (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc., 1934) p. 181.)

 


Dec 15 2017

How to Lose Friends & Influence Over People: Write about Race (Part III of III)

porticos in Bologna, Italia

How to Lose Friends & Influence Over People:
Write about Race (Part III of III)

Toward Some Solutions to the Political Problem of Writing about Race while Being Aware of One’s Own Race

Part III.

In Part I, I brought up the four questions of Al-farabi (872–950 AD) to ask for any political situation: What, How, What from, What for? And in Part II, I applied those questions to four recent articles discussing and/or involving the problem of writing about race. If Al-farabi’s fourth question, What for?, were properly applied, it would seek to find the end and final purpose for why each writer wrote what they did. “The real question in this debate,” answers Jess Row, “couldn’t be more fundamental: What are novels for, and what are novelists for?” Row insists that writers (particularly white fiction writers) write in ways and on topics that are politically relevant, because the denial that one’s art is politically relevant exposes the ignorance of the artist’s privileged place in culture, an ignorance that further represses others from partaking in that privilege.

Wesley Yang says the reason for writing about race is because: “Part of responding to the coalition of white resentment from which the [alt-right] posters emerged in ways that stanches rather than feeds its growth, then, means taking stock of the way our own thinking has been affected by polarizing memes.”

Aaron Mak wrote about race because he wants to solidify “the cooperation necessary between people of color to overcome systemic racism” without “contorting” one’s “identity” to new bureaucratic systems that establish new categories of racism. For as the Freedom Rider founder James Farmer (1920–1999) once pointed out, racism is inevitably bureaucratic. [1]

Andy Ngo wrote about race because “The lack of any ideological counterpoise has created a vacuum where ideas have no mechanism or incentive for moderation.” For Ngo, such a vacuum needs to be (ideally) eliminated, but at the very least, penetrated by asking hard questions (such as asking When is racism disguised as antiracism?). These hard questions penetrate because they modulate the discussion rather than amplify its intensity.

I have no original ideas to add to their proposed solutions. I can only thumb through my notes, find some seemingly relevant quotations—some sidelights that might shine toward some solutions to the political problem of writing about race and being aware of one’s own race while writing:

For Susan Sontag (1933–2004), translation helps the writer understand the race that the writer is not:

Literary translation, I think, is preeminently an ethical task, and one that mirrors and duplicates the role of literature itself, which is to extend our sympathies; to educate the heart and mind; to create inwardness; to secure and deepen the awareness (with all its consequences) that other people, people different from us, really do exist. [2]

For Wendell Berry (1934–), imagination helps the writer understand the race that the writer is not:

By imagination I do not mean the ability to make things up or to make a realistic copy. I mean the ability to make real to oneself the life of one’s place or the life of an enemy—and therein, I believe, is implied, imagination in the highest sense.[3]

For Harry Crews (1935–2012), creativity (artifice) helps the writer understand the race that the writer is not:

The only way to deal with the real world was [and is] to challenge it with one of your own making.[4]

NOTES

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[1] In Farmer’s words:

Curiously, by a quirk of New York state laws, my first daughter’s birth certificate lists her as a Negro and the same one is classified as white. When Tami was born, a child of mixed marriage was Negro, and when Abbey was born, a child took its race from the mother. (Lay Bare the Heart: an Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement, (Fort Worth, TX: Texas Christian University Press, 1985) 214)

[2] Sontag, At the Same Time, edited by Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump. (New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007) “The Word of India” 177. Yet, as Benedict Anderson (1936–2015) once observed:

Proverbially, a writer loses his/her book at the moment that it is published and enters the public sphere. But to feel the full melancholy force of the adage, there is nothing like facing a translation of a book into a language the author does not understand. (Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, (London: Verso, 1983), (Revised edition 2006) 228)

[3] Berry, “American Imagination and the Civil War,” The Sewanee Review, 115 (Fall 2007): 587–602 at 596–97.

[4] Harry Crews, A Childhood: the Biography of a Place, (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1978) 126.


Sep 6 2017

Two Terrific Reads on Communities and their Myths

London - Georgian Apartments

Two Terrific Reads

Here is a pair of recent articles discussing, among other things, a community’s need for myth and counter-myth:

Hurricane Harvey: a View from a Rugged Communitarian,” by Leo Linbeck III, New Geography, September 2, 2017.

 

McDonald’s as America: A Conversation with Chris Arnade,” Sam Goldstein interviews Chris Arnade, Los Angeles Review of Books, September 5, 2017.


Jul 22 2016

Big Philanthropy and Small Towns

bookbread pencil shavings

Big Philanthropy and Small Towns

Gracy Olmstead wrote the other day about rebuilding post-industrial towns and concluded:

There are other ways we can consider saving America’s towns. One I have been mulling over lately is the role wealthy individuals can play by boosting local commerce via their patronage (providing microloans, sponsoring vocational programs, providing grants and endowments, et cetera).

Recently, I’ve been reading New Harmony, Indiana: Like a River, Not a Lake (2015), a memoir by the late philanthropist Jane Blaffer Owen (1915–2010), someone whom I think somewhat fits the criteria Olmstead has been mulling over.

Like the famous architect, in terms of landscape planning, urban design, and cultural influence, Mrs. Blaffer Owen might very well be considered the Frederick Law Olmsted of New Harmony. Originally from Houston and the daughter of two oil heirs—her maternal family included founders of Texaco, her paternal, Exxon––Jane Blaffer studied under Paul Tillich and later married one of the great-great grandsons of utopist Robert Owen (1771–1858). They then moved to Owen’s home in New Harmony which she helped revitalize and preserve by starting things like the Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation, whose mission continues “to preserve, promote and support, financially, and otherwise, the various historic and educational attributes of New Harmony.”

Mrs. Blaffer Owen also oversaw building a Roofless Church for her adopted Indiana community as well as commissioning various sculptures around town which can be seen in the photographs and illustrations on nearly every other page of New Harmony––one of the most beautifully crafted modern books I’ve ever handled––right up there with Jung’s Red Book and Umberto Eco’s Book of Legendary Lands (2013).

So, for its aesthetics, Indiana University Press should be commended.  Yet the text, at times, lacks organization. If readers prior to opening this book have never heard of New Harmony, Indiana or its founder––the Welsh social reformer Robert Owen––they might feel as I did: like they’ve eavesdropped upon the middle of an ongoing conversation without ever having been invited.

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But I read New Harmony because it was a gift from my grandmother after its editor Nancy Mangum McCaslin came to a reading and signing in Lampasas, Texas, the hometown of Mrs. Blaffer Owen’s mother. And I too spent the first seventeen years of life in this small central Texas town of nearly 7,000. (The second seventeen years have been spent sixty miles south in wyrd Austin.) I too still have family back home and maintain minimum ties and tabs there—just as Rod Dreher now roves between Starhill and Baton Rouge.

Lampasas is a land of springs lying on the edge of a desert. Once dubbed “the Saratoga of the South,” it has withstood Comanche attacks, biblical floods, and even a visit from gunfighter John Wesley Hardin. And in 2016 the town seems to still be striving––yet still surviving––with or without buckets of philanthropic oil money. Since I left in 1999, the population remains about the same. Its public school population, however, has gone down. The sports teams used to compete with the bigger city schools from Waco, Killeen, and Austin, but now the schools they play against are mostly smaller, rural, and geographically closer.

Although it took me seven years to earn a bachelor’s degree, perhaps, because I remained in Austin after attending university, I too am modestly guilty for some of the “brain drain” from Lampasas. And I often wonder if the town compensated for these changes by making itself a more accommodating place for people to retire to, or tour through, rather than grow up in.

But the citizens of Lampasas are bettering the cultural health of their community, with neither my aid nor that of an oil baroness like Mrs. Blaffer Owen. For example, the Perception Creative Art School was founded in March of 2009. In 2005 an unused lot of land owned by the city was transformed into the Hanna Springs Sculpture Garden. Since 2008, Vision Lampasas has commissioned nine murals on what were once blank walls scattered around town.

One mural, “Small Town…. Big Sound,” displays a panorama of local musicians spanning generations and genres, including songwriters, gospel groups (both black and white), rock bands, country artists and their Tejano counterparts. I’ve known some of these musicians or their relatives, some now dead, others still alive. The conservative in me loves this mural for its community-memory-building capabilities; and the liberal in me loves the true diversity of musical talent acknowledged and celebrated in a single work of art.

But another mural, “Patriot,” makes for a hodgepodge of Trumpesque clichés. It’s just a bunch of eagles and flags all coated in crimson, gold, ermine and azure. While the winner of the mural design contest should be commended for donating their financial award to a charity for veterans––and they can further be applauded for not adding any stars-and-bars to the mix––the content of “Patriot” remains utterly anti-creative. It looks like the generic template that an artist would be given when commissioned to paint a patriotic mural, but nothing more.

Yet confirming patriotic imagery is not the same as affirming actual patriotism, and while Oscar Wilde got it right when he said, “all bad poetry springs from genuine feeling,” I still try to remember that the perfect must not be made the enemy of the good.


Feb 12 2016

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) & Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

bookbread athens

From Carol Zaleski at ChristianCentury.org–I never knew this:

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein loved to read Johnson’s prayers as much as he disliked to read anyone else’s. There was something so human about Johnson, Wittgenstein said; and this was no faint praise, since for Wittgenstein, philosophy’s supreme task was to understand one’s own humanity and recognize the humanity of others.

Read the rest here.