Category Archives: NewYorker

Hannah Arendt, Remembering W. H. Auden

January 20, 1975: “There was nothing more admirable in Auden than his complete sanity and his firm belief in sanity; in his eyes all kinds of madness were lack of discipline.”

I met Auden late in his life and mine—at an age when the easy, knowledgeable intimacy of friendships formed in one’s youth can no longer be attained, because not enough life is left, or expected to be left, to share with another. Thus, we were very good friends but not intimate friends. Moreover, there was a reserve in him that discouraged familiarity—not that I tested it, ever. I rather gladly respected it as the necessary secretiveness of the great poet, one who must have taught himself early not to talk in prose, loosely and at random, of things that he knew how to say much more satisfactorily in the condensed concentration of poetry. Reticence may be the déformation professionnelle of the poet. In Auden’s case, this seemed all the more likely because much of his work, in utter simplicity, arose out of the spoken word, out of idioms of everyday language—like “Lay your sleeping head, my love, Human on my faithless arm.” This kind of perfection is very rare; we find it in some of the greatest of Goethe’s poems, and it must exist in most of Pushkin’s works, because their hallmark is that they are untranslatable. The moment poems of this kind are wrenched from their original abode, they disappear in a cloud of banality. Here all depends on the “fluent gestures” in “elevating facts from the prosaic to the poetic”—a point that the critic Clive James stressed in his essay on Auden in Commentary in December, 1973. Where such fluency is achieved, we are magically convinced that everyday speech is latently poetic, and, taught by the poets, our ears open up to the true mysteries of language. The very untranslatability of one of Auden’s poems is what, many years ago, convinced me of his greatness. Three German translators had tried their luck and killed mercilessly one of my favorite poems, “If I Could Tell You” (“Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957”), which arises naturally from two colloquial idioms—“Time will tell” and “I told you so”:

Time will say nothing but I told you so.
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so. . . .

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so. . . .

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Francis Fukuyama Postpones the End of History.

  The New Yorker, 

The political scientist argues that the desire of identity groups for recognition is a key threat to liberalism.

In February, 1989, Francis Fukuyama gave a talk on international relations at the University of Chicago. Fukuyama was thirty-six years old, and on his way from a job at the rand Corporation, in Santa Monica, where he had worked as an expert on Soviet foreign policy, to a post as the deputy director of policy planning at the State Department, in Washington.

It was a good moment for talking about international relations, and a good moment for Soviet experts especially, because, two months earlier, on December 7, 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev had announced, in a speech at the United Nations, that the Soviet Union would no longer intervene in the affairs of its Eastern European satellite states. Those nations could now become democratic. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War.

At rand, Fukuyama had produced focussed analyses of Soviet policy. In Chicago, he permitted himself to think big. His talk came to the attention of Owen Harries, an editor at a Washington journal called The National Interest, and Harries offered to publish it. The article was titled “The End of History?” It came out in the summer of 1989, and it turned the foreign-policy world on its ear.

Fukuyama’s argument was that, with the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, the last ideological alternative to liberalism had been eliminated. Fascism had been killed off in the Second World War, and now Communism was imploding. In states, like China, that called themselves Communist, political and economic reforms were heading in the direction of a liberal order.

So, if you imagined history as the process by which liberal institutions—representative government, free markets, and consumerist culture—become universal, it might be possible to say that history had reached its goal. Stuff would still happen, obviously, and smaller states could be expected to experience ethnic and religious tensions and become home to illiberal ideas. But “it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso,” Fukuyama explained, “for we are interested in what one could in some sense call the common ideological heritage of mankind.”

Hegel, Fukuyama said, had written of a moment when a perfectly rational form of society and the state would become victorious. Now, with Communism vanquished and the major powers converging on a single political and economic model, Hegel’s prediction had finally been fulfilled. There would be a “Common Marketization” of international relations and the world would achieve homeostasis.

Even among little magazines, The National Interest was little. Launched in 1985 by Irving Kristol, the leading figure in neoconservatism, it had by 1989 a circulation of six thousand. Fukuyama himself was virtually unknown outside the world of professional Sovietologists, people not given to eschatological reflection. But the “end of history” claim was picked up in the mainstream press, Fukuyama was profiled by James Atlas in the New York Times Magazine, and his article was debated in Britain and in France and translated into many languages, from Japanese to Icelandic. Some of the responses to “The End of History?” were dismissive; almost all of them were skeptical. But somehow the phrase found its way into post-Cold War thought, and it stuck.

One of the reasons for the stickiness was that Fukuyama was lucky. He got out about six months ahead of the curve—his article appearing before the Velvet Revolution, in Czechoslovakia, and before the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, in November, 1989. Fukuyama was betting on present trends continuing, always a high-risk gamble in the international-relations business.

Any number of things might have happened for Gorbachev’s promise not to cash out: political resistance within the Soviet Union, the refusal of the Eastern European puppet regimes to cede power, the United States misplaying its hand. But events in Europe unfolded more or less according to Fukuyama’s prediction, and, on December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union voted itself out of existence. The Cold War really was over.

Events in Asia were not so obliging. Fukuyama missed completely the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in China. There is no mention of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in “The End of History?,” presumably because the piece was in production when it happened, in June, 1989. This does not seem to have made a difference to the article’s reception, however. Almost none of the initial responses to the piece mentioned Tiananmen, either—even though many people already believed that China, not Russia, was the power that liberal democracies would have to reckon with in the future. “The End of History?” was a little Eurocentric.

There was also a seductive twist to Fukuyama’s argument. At the end of the article, he suggested that life after history might be sad. When all political efforts were committed to “the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands” (sounds good to me), we might feel nostalgia for the “courage, imagination, and idealism” that animated the old struggles for liberalism and democracy. This speculative flourish recalled the famous question that John Stuart Mill said he asked himself as a young man: If all the political and social reforms you believe in came to pass, would it make you a happier human being? That is always an interesting question.

Another reason that Fukuyama’s article got noticed may have had to do with his new job title. The office of policy planning at State had been created in 1947 by George Kennan, who was its first chief. In July of that year, Kennan published the so-called X article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” in Foreign Affairs. It appeared anonymously—signed with an “X”—but once the press learned his identity the article was received as an official statement of American Cold War policy.

“The Sources of Soviet Conduct” defined the containment doctrine, according to which the aim of American policy was to keep the Soviet Union inside its box. The United States did not need to intervene in Soviet affairs, Kennan believed, because Communism was bound to collapse from its own inefficiency. Four decades later, when “The End of History?” appeared, that is exactly what seemed to be happening. That April, Kennan, then eighty-five, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to declare that the Cold War was over. He received a standing ovation. Fukuyama’s article could thus be seen as a bookend to Kennan’s.

It was not the bookend Kennan would have written. Containment is a realist doctrine. Realists think that a nation’s foreign policy should be guided by dispassionate consideration of its own interests, not by moral principles, or by a belief that nations share a “harmony of interests.” To Kennan, it was of no concern to the United States what the Soviets did inside their own box. The only thing that mattered was that Communism not be allowed to expand.

The National Interest, as the name proclaims, is a realist foreign-policy journal. But Fukuyama’s premise was that nations do share a harmony of interests, and that their convergence on liberal political and economic models was mutually beneficial. Realism imagines nations to be in perpetual competition with one another; Fukuyama was saying that this was no longer going to be the case. He offered Cold War realists a kind of valediction: their mission, though philosophically misconceived, had been accomplished. Now they were out of a job. “Frank thought that what was happening spelled the end of the Realpolitik world,” Harries later said. It must have tickled him to have published Fukuyama’s article.

Twenty-nine years later, it seems that the realists haven’t gone anywhere, and that history has a few more tricks up its sleeve. It turns out that liberal democracy and free trade may actually be rather fragile achievements. (Consumerism appears safe for now.) There is something out there that doesn’t like liberalism, and is making trouble for the survival of its institutions.

Fukuyama thinks he knows what that something is, and his answer is summed up in the title of his new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The demand for recognition, Fukuyama says, is the “master concept” that explains all the contemporary dissatisfactions with the global liberal order: Vladimir Putin, Osama bin Laden, Xi Jinping, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, gay marriage, isis, Brexit, resurgent European nationalisms, anti-immigration political movements, campus identity politics, and the election of Donald Trump. It also explains the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, Chinese Communism, the civil-rights movement, the women’s movement, multiculturalism, and the thought of Luther, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Freud, and Simone de Beauvoir. Oh, and the whole business begins with Plato’s Republic. Fukuyama covers all of this in less than two hundred pages. How does he do it?

Not well. Some of the problem comes from misunderstanding figures like Beauvoir and Freud; some comes from reducing the work of complex writers like Rousseau and Nietzsche to a single philosophical bullet point. A lot comes from the astonishingly blasé assumption—which was also the astonishingly blasé assumption of “The End of History?”—that Western thought is universal thought. But the whole project, trying to fit Vladimir Putin into the same analytic paradigm as Black Lives Matter and tracing them both back to Martin Luther, is far-fetched. It’s a case of Great Booksism: history as a chain of paper dolls cut out of books that only a tiny fraction of human beings have even heard of. Fukuyama is a smart man, but no one could have made this argument work.

Why is the desire for recognition—or identity politics, as Fukuyama also calls it—a threat to liberalism? Because it cannot be satisfied by economic or procedural reforms. Having the same amount of wealth as everyone else or the same opportunity to acquire it is not a substitute for respect. Fukuyama thinks that political movements that appear to be about legal and economic equality—gay marriage, for example, or #MeToo—are really about recognition and respect. Women who are sexually harassed in the workplace feel that their dignity has been violated, that they are being treated as less than fully human.

Fukuyama gives this desire for recognition a Greek name, taken from Plato’s Republic: thymos. He says that thymos is “a universal aspect of human nature that has always existed.” In the Republic, thymos is distinct from the two other parts of the soul that Socrates names: reason and appetite. Appetites we share with animals; reason is what makes us human. Thymos is in between.

The term has been defined in various ways. “Passion” is one translation; “spirit,” as in “spiritedness,” is another. Fukuyama defines thymos as “the seat of judgments of worth.” This seems a semantic overreach. In the Republic, Socrates associates thymos with children and dogs, beings whose reactions need to be controlled by reason. The term is generally taken to refer to our instinctive response when we feel we’re being disrespected. We bristle. We swell with amour propre. We honk the horn. We overreact.

Plato had Socrates divide the psyche into three parts in order to assign roles to the citizens of his imaginary republic. Appetite is the principal attribute of the plebes, passion of the warriors, and reason of the philosopher kings. The Republic is philosophy; it is not cognitive science. Yet Fukuyama adopts Plato’s heuristic and biologizes it. “Today we know that feelings of pride and self-esteem are related to levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain,” he says, and points to studies done with chimps (which Socrates would have counted as animals, but never mind).

But so what? Lots of feelings are related to changes in serotonin levels. In fact, every feeling we experience—lust, anger, depression, exasperation—has a corollary in brain chemistry. That’s how consciousness works. To say, as Fukuyama does, that “the desire for status—megalothymia—is rooted in human biology” is the academic equivalent of palmistry. You’re just making it up.

Fukuyama resorts to this tactic because he wants to do with the desire for recognition what he did with liberalism in “The End of History?” He wants to universalize it. This allows him to argue, for example, that the feelings that led to the rise of Vladimir Putin are exactly the same (albeit “on a larger scale”) as the feelings of a woman who complains that her potential is limited by gender discrimination. The woman can’t help it. She needs the serotonin, just like the Russians.

Hegel thought that the end of history would arrive when humans achieved perfect self-knowledge and self-mastery, when life was rational and transparent. Rationality and transparency are the values of classical liberalism. Rationality and transparency are supposed to be what make free markets and democratic elections work. People understand how the system functions, and that allows them to make rational choices.

Beto O’Rourke for Senator

Today is November 3, just three days before the Mid-Term Elections which many of us hope will be the very first step of tossing Trump out the door of the White House. And a very first step in this process would be that Beto O’Rourke beats Ted Cruz, he who was called Lying Ted by the earlier Trump although now he is one of Trump’s  most despicable toadies. For me that result, Senator O’Rourke instead of Senator Cruz, would mean that Democracy is not dying in darkness (the great fear of the Washington Post) but that we the people can get it together, turn on the lights, and find and  elect honest men and women to the House and the Senate.

Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz in the Final Stretch of the Texas Senate Race

By Emily WittNovember 2, 2018

Since he began his Senate campaign, Beto O’Rourke has made personal appearances in each of the two hundred and fifty-four counties in Texas.

At 7 a.m. on Monday, October 22nd, an hour before the polls for early voting were set to open in Texas, the parking lot of the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, in central Houston, was full, and the line to vote began at the door and continued down the street. On the other side of West Gray Street, a crowd of two hundred or so people gathered near the palm trees at an entrance to the parking lot of the River Oaks Plaza, a mini-mall, waiting for Beto O’Rourke. The sun had barely risen; the Dressbarn and Dollar Tree had not yet opened. The smell of bacon, from Café Express, hung in the air. The crowd was cheerful, holding babies and wheeling strollers with sleepy children clutching stuffed animals. A woman held aloft a gilt-framed portrait of Barack Obama.

As the crowd waited for him to arrive, O’Rourke broadcast a live stream of his drive to River Oaks under the dawn sky. “What’s up, Texas?” he said. “First day of early voting!” In his 1948 Senate campaign, Lyndon B. Johnson famously crisscrossed Texas in a helicopter; in 2018, O’Rourke is known for his gray Dodge Grand Caravan. The van is unmarked by campaign signs, although someone had written “Grapevine Loves U” in the dust on the back windshield, and the word “Beto” inside of a heart.

As those who follow his Web streams know, O’Rourke usually drives himself, freeing his aides to do their texting and e-mailing on the long stretches of road between stops. His events and logistics director, Cynthia Cano, sits in the passenger seat. His communications director, Chris Evans, sits in back. That morning, they listened to

the Rolling Stones (“Happy”),
I need a love to keep me happy
I need a love to keep me happy
Baby, baby keep me happy
Baby, baby keep me happy… More

Willie Nelson (“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”)

Roll me up and smoke me when I die
And if anyone don’t like it,
just look ’em in the eye
I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leavin’
So don’t sit around and cry
Just roll me up and smoke me when I die.

and the Kinks (“20th Century Man”).
This is the age of machinery,
A mechanical nightmare,
The wonderful world of technology,
Napalm hydrogen bombs biological warfare, … More

“Look at what a beautiful scene this morning,” he said as he waited at a crosswalk outside an elementary school. He set the video feed outward to record the dads and moms holding the hands of small children with giant backpacks as they crossed the street. “I like that crossing guard making sure everybody’s safe.”

In the parking lot, shouts of “He’s here!” came from the crowd as they spotted the van. When O’Rourke steps out, people have a tendency to run toward him holding their phones, and he walks to and from his car surrounded by enthusiasts. Cano will intercede, taking the phones to snap portraits while also guiding the candidate toward whatever bench or stepladder he will be standing on that day to address the crowd. Evans follows them, broadcasting the live stream from a phone on a selfie stick. At River Oaks Plaza, O’Rourke stood on a bench and spoke into a bullhorn. “Good morning!” he said. “This is an extraordinarily beautiful day. I think you’ll agree with me, right? Look up at the sky—it’s cool, it’s fall.”

The crowd looked up.

“It’s voting day!” yelled someone happily.

“We’re going to vote,” O’Rourke said.

He outlined some points of his platform: universal health care, raising wages for teachers, ending the separation of families at the border, and granting citizenship to Dreamers. After his speech, he went to visit some college students who had spent the night in a tent to be first in line the next morning in the polls. They all climbed into the tent together, like children in a fort, and O’Rourke conducted a small meeting, during which he invited everyone to come camping outside of El Paso.

For the final two weeks of the campaign, O’Rourke has settled on what he called “in some ways the least sophisticated strategy you’ve ever seen,” which is, “literally just showing up everywhere all the time, and never discriminating based on party or any other difference.” Since he started running for the Senate, O’Rourke has made personal appearances in each of the two hundred and fifty-four counties in Texas, including the reddest and the bluest ones. During the past eleven days of early voting, he has been making as many as eight or nine stops a day within a single metropolitan area. Most of these are at gatherings of a hundred to two hundred people outside of early-voting centers, where his supporters are encouraged to “Go to the polls with Beto!” This strategy has put him face-to-face with more than a thousand people every twenty-four hours, plus appearances before larger crowds at rallies on many evenings. At every stop, he lets as many supporters as time allows take photographs with him and encourages them to share the photographs on social media. He live-streams his drives between stops, making a reality show of the highways and gas stations of Texas that people have watched by the thousands. His campaign has encouraged supporters to open pop-up offices in homes, offices, restaurants, and bars, from which volunteers organize block walks and phone banks. The campaign claims that volunteers have knocked on a million doors and made 8.7 million phone calls since October 5th.

 
Continue reading Beto O’Rourke for Senator

Decomposing Dolphin Brings New Life to Seafloor

At first I hesitated to create a video with footage that most people would think is gross. But in the big picture, this video is about science and discovery, and one of National Geographic Society’s grantees doing something very challenging underwater: capturing what happens when a dolphin carcass sinks to the seafloor. Eddie Kisfaludy and his team were able to secure the carcass, build a structure for the time-lapse cameras, and keep them running continuously for almost a year. It was no small feat!

—Carolyn Barnwell, producer/editor

Beethoven’s An die Freude by Flashmob, Banco Sabadell, Spain

Published on May 31, 2012       https://www.bancsabadell.com

En el 130º aniversario de la creación de Banco Sabadell hemos querido rendir un homenaje a nuestra ciudad con la campaña “Som Sabadell”. Esta es la flashmob que realizamos como colofón final con la participación de más de 100 personas de la Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès y los coros Lieder y Amics de l’Òpera y la Coral Belles Arts.

(On the 130th anniversary of the founding of Banco Sabadell we wanted to pay homage to our city by means of the campaign “Som Sabadell” (We are Sabadell) . This is the flashmob that we arranged as a final culmination with the participation of 100 people from the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, the Lieder, Amics de l’Òpera and Coral Belles Arts choirs.)

Banco de Sabadell, S.A. (Catalan: Banc Sabadell) is a banking group headquartered in Sabadell, Spain.

Ode to Joy” (German original title: “An die Freude“) is the anthem of the European Union and the Council of Europe; both of which refer to it as the European Anthem[1][2] due to the Council’s intention that, as a semi-modern composition with a mythological flair, it does represent Europe as a whole, rather than any organisation. It is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony composed in 1823, and is played on official occasions by both organisations.


Ode an die Freude

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen
und freudonvollere.
Freude! Freude!

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
(Schiller: Was der Mode Schwert geteilt;
Bettler werden Fürstenbrüder,)
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Chor

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder – über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.

Taliban captures NATO dog

In a video posted to a Twitter account heavily armed Taliban fighters cheer their newest prisoner of war—a Belgian Malinois, these dogs chosen for their agility and endurance train to parachute and rappel with their handlers. …

A Taliban spokesman told the Washington Post that “the dog was of high significance to the Americans” and carries the rank of colonel. A Coalition spokesman confirmed on Thursday that a military dog attached to a British special forces unit was lost during an operation in December.