Broad Street in Lower Manhattan

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“The idea that people can then ride in on the subway with a bomb or whatever and come straight up in an elevator is awful to me,” said Claudia Ward, who lives in 15 Broad Street and was among a group of neighbors who denounced the plan at a recent meeting of the local community board. “It’s too easy for someone to slip through. And I just don’t want my family and my neighbors to be the collateral on that.”

-“In New Proposed Subway Elevators, Some See a Terrorism Risk

Let me tell you about the very rich.
They hate their children and live in glass towers.
The simplest pleasures are beyond their meager powers
of imagination; mostly, they like to bitch
about the minor incursions of normal life, the itch
of unsanctioned human contact, the fleeting sour
stench of the breathing millions they’ll rush to shower
off in their marble hangars. A muddy ditch
or a modest home appear as misery
defined; they do fear violence of a certain kind,
not terrorism, but a reborn Terror
without the killing—like, meeting the delivery
boy, or paying cash, or waiting in line.
Mere human contact is their Robespierre.

Girl, I Want Your Body

Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Media, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

We’ll call this the room of love. In this room,
you get to know someone and a spark is struck,
e.g., your research assistant’s down to fuck,
and your marriage, each bitter workday’s-end exhumed
for dinner’s silent paces, then re-entombed,
is done—you haven’t told your wife, but luck
may intervene; she’ll find some other schmuck
to love, right? Sex is the bud that blooms
through every season that does not accrue
to years as age; sex is an intimation
of immortality, for him at least;
why harass when you can simply do
a book together? It stinks of limitation,
a rough but two-backed slouching beast.

 

A Few Colossi

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We must never, ever take anything down.
Build on top of the built world, accrete
and do not pare; fill every ordered town
with statues of its residents, and choke the streets
with statues of the statues of the statues till they drown
all empty space beneath a solid sheet
of human matter; burst the borders; frown
at the vast wilderness, incomplete
without commemorating plaques
and towers named after long-dead architects
and roads to nowhere and great retaining walls
retaining other walls; let Atlas’ back
break; he can no longer shrug, his neck
has also snapped. We’ll build a statue to his fall.

Drinking from the Tap

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I don’t stand behind anything. I stand
before, above, upon, athwart, beyond.
Perhaps your mortal speech must correspond
to fixed categories, but please understand
I am not a mortal, I’m a brand,
self-contained and self-defined, a bond
self-issued and self-paid, and a natural blond.
Small men perceive mere truth as reprimand.
But truth is like the cat the fellow put
into the box, at once alive and dead;
simply a glance can change the very nature
of a thing: the truth can’t win a game or foot
a bill. When will you get it through your head:
your eternal truths are merely nomenclature.

When Her Muscles Start Relaxin’

Culture, Education, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, War and Politics

People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War,
if you think about it, why? Could we have not,
like, talked it out, I mean, over a pot
of black coffee? I hear they’ve got this tour
of Antietam, this wonderful field, where actually more
folks were killed and wounded than I thought,
I mean, you can’t imagine, like: a lot.
Couldn’t they settle over nine holes, lowest score?
Or match play? My point is, I don’t think
many of us appreciate how rough
it was to die in mud. The telegraph
was all they had to get the news. One blink
at negotiations? I’d have gotten tough.
Life in the seventeen hundreds! What a laugh!

/pol/ite society

Culture, Economy, Education, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Uncategorized, War and Politics

This is the future that liberals want: a cool
return to norms after the tan excrescence
is excised. Peace? Well, purity of essence.
Articulate. Harvard Law or a comparable school.
Personally dedicated to the rule
of law. A paragon. A recrudescence
in an empire seemingly sunk in convalescence.
Judicious. Stylish. Not a raving fool.
Across an ocean in a dusty town a boy
who’s barely past a cracking voice is set
to marry a girl he’s only recently met.
He vacillates from morbid fear to joy.
He’s droned and bleeds to death at evening prayer.
The liberal president pretends to care.

Thrown on the Sure

Culture, Education, Justice, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, War and Politics

The past as precedent is overrated.
Even its angel gazing back across
the racked, wrecked pile of death and loss
can never turn to see what it’s created
now. The present is the wreck, abated
briefly; the past, a stone, but we are moss
fuzzing the surface, a broken pebble tossed
into a sea. A story often related
about the same sea is that a king
stood at its edge and ordered the tide to cease.
We’re told the moral has to do with pride.
In fact, Canute was warning: worshipping
a man’s short power and swiftly expiring lease
blasphemed. The waves went on. He ruled and died.

Resident Chumps

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What I felt when Donald Trump won the presidential election last night was weirdly akin to what I felt on 9/11—yes, that 9/11: not terror at a catastrophe whose suddenness and magnitude were unprecedented in the history of the world, but rather sad, weary recognition of a smaller, more acute disaster whose antecedents and precedents were all too obvious, an inevitable result—I won’t hesitate to use that word—of a long series of choices that we’d made. I didn’t predict the hour, and I was very, very surprised when it arrived. But I wasn’t shocked.

We are in for a long and unproductive argument about whether or not Trump’s victory represents the revenge of the economically forgotten against the managerial political class or the petit-bourgeois revolt of classic fascism or some stinking eructation of the perpetual sin of American racism. I think it is at once all and none of these things. All of them are symptoms of the deliberate disorder of an unequal society in which the power, wealth, and influence—the real power, wealth, and influence—accrue endlessly to the same tiny sliver of the population, leaving hollow communities in the wake. Even people who are doing well by American standards—I am personally doing very well by American standards—are mostly doing so at greater personal expense to themselves and their families, their friends, and their communities.

This isn’t meant to be a defense of racism and sexism and homophobia and all the other sins against identity, which are evil and wrong. But just as we recognize that terrorism, which is evil and wrong, has roots in the deliberate policies of the American government, so are we obligated to recognize that the persistence of prejudice, even as it tilts into violence, is not the result of some inexplicable defect in the innate character of human beings, but the savage, misdirected lashing out against nearer, vulnerable targets when the real enemy is so impossibly powerful and distant. Wrongs have explanations; they even have reasons.

I didn’t know Trump was coming, but I knew a Trump was coming when I saw the response to the financial crisis. There are plenty of other ills of the American empire, but that was so viciously unjust and so close to home. (I anticipated a Trump as long ago as high school, when I saw what America had done to the old coal town where I grew up, but that was just an inchoate dread that turned me into some kind of political radical.) Sooner or later, I thought, all the useless pablum about everyone getting a bachelor’s and learning to code while the Blankfeins of the world walked free, prospered even more than before, would bring this upon us. It was like a magic spell. It was a misdirected prayer to a trickster god, and here we are living in the accidental fulfillment of our vain rulers’ stupid wish.

Sure Trump was lying—bullshitting is probably a better word, since I don’t suspect he tells untruths instrumentally; he just lives in a collapsed distinction between true and false. But he acknowledged the material circumstances of the country out there, all those people, poor and middle-class alike, who are outside of the communion. Is their rage pathological? Yes. But he had the wherewithal to diagnose it and turn the endemic into a contagion. It got him just enough bodies. Meanwhile, a vaccine existed. The mildest—I mean, the mildest—sort of redistribution would have done it. Instead, we said: go be a programmer, as if everyone could, as if that would do anything for the people who’d still remain in Uniontown, PA.

I happen to believe our civilization will survive this. The Romans managed plenty of crises without collapsing; we focus on the ending only because it appears in retrospect the most spectacular. (In fact, it was slow and almost imperceptible to those who lived it.) Inertia is a powerful thing. I guess I counsel something like a cautious vigilance. I do however think we should stop pretending it’s all malice without cause. It’s shameful; it’s embarrassing; it will be dangerous, and we should be prepared. But no matter who they are, let’s not collapse on the old canard that they simply hate our freedom.

We Didn’t Start, We’re Fired

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soap

Blame millennials for the missing bar of soap.
But blame their parents for the rest of it:
the postwar settlement they turned to shit;
the rising seas; the flattening and declining slope
of income growth; the OD rate for dope;
George Bush invading Baghdad in a snit;
“prestige” TV; Armstrong’s hematocrit;
Fox News, CNN, the man from Hope.
Even the awful form of this complaint
is accidentally due to Billy Joel,
another boomer bastard: they’ve destroyed
the world in increments, but now they faint
at the minor foibles of the kids today, a whole
generation dad left unemployed.

Whatever It Is, I’m Against It

Culture, Economy, Education, Media, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

Mark Twain, like an twitter journalist claiming their child wondered how we could entrust the nuclear codes to a man who doesn’t understand the Triad, attributed to Benjamin Disraeli the now-famous saying: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But I tend to take a less charitable view of the misapplication of statistical evidence in the pursuit of Trend Journalism. I am in the Harry G. Frankfurt school on this; I consider it less a lie than a more pernicious type of bullshit. The liar uses untruth intentionally and instrumentally, but she recognizes the difference between the lie and the truth—in fact, a precise appreciation of truth is necessary for a good lie. But the bullshitter makes no categorical distinction; the bullshitter collapses the categories. The bullshitter is a sort of sub-Nietzschian superman, beyond truth or fiction.

So we find in this recent Times piece, where a few grumbling, mostly older male alumni of certain exceedingly selective and prestigious undergraduate institutions have told our reporter that they will no longer give generously to their alma maters where, as I’m sure you can already imagine, they are shocked and horrified by a benighted culture of political correctness.

Students are too wrapped up in racial and identity politics. They are allowed to take too many frivolous courses. They have repudiated the heroes and traditions of the past by judging them by today’s standards rather than in the context of their times. Fraternities are being unfairly maligned, and men are being demonized by sexual assault investigations. And university administrations have been too meek in addressing protesters whose messages have seemed to fly in the face of free speech.

College protest is as old as college, and whatever you think of the apparently extreme sensitivities of today’s students—I tend to be amused rather than threatened—by and large, it’s salutary for students to flex their new political muscles over topics that, while silly to us old folk, are deeply meaningful to them. Student housing, campus dining, the content and delivery of course material—these are at least as important, as fundamentally life-altering, to a third-year undergrad than, say, the carried interest tax exemption to a hedge fund manager. Speaking of which:

“I don’t think anything has damaged Yale’s brand quite like that,” said [Scott C.] Johnston, a founder of an internet start-up and a former hedge fund manager. “This is not your daddy’s liberalism.”

The that that Mr. Johnson is referring to here is the much-publicized and briefly infamous “Yale student who was videotaped screaming at a professor, Nicholas Christakis, that he had failed ‘to create a place of comfort and home’ for students in his capacity as the head of a residential college.” But I’m more interested in Your Daddy’s Liberalism. Mr. Johnson “graduated from Yale in 1982,” placing his birth date at roughly 1960, meaning that the Daddy Liberalism these-kids-today have viciously traduced with their signs and chants is no more or less than the precise political values of one Mr. Scott C. Johnson himself. What did we used to say at my prestigious, selective, not-at-all-representative-of-the-vast-majority-of-institutions-of-higher-learning institution of higher learning? The personal is the political? Huh.

Having discovered a small band of wandering anecdotes, the reporter must fence them in with empirical evidence, and this is where the 1-year variations in annual giving and participation are carefully deployed to suggest struggles where none really exist.

At Princeton, where protesters unsuccessfully demanded the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from university buildings and programs, undergraduate alumni donations dropped 6.6 percent from a record high the year before, and participation dropped 1.9 percentage points, according to the university’s website. A Princeton spokesman, John Cramer, said there was no evidence the drop was connected to campus protests.

So. A one-time drop from a “record high” with no prior period information to contextualize the multi-year and multi-decade trends is correlated by implication with a campus protest to which in the same paragraph we are told that there is no evidence of a connection. Oh by the way, in 2015, Princeton’s overall endowment earned 12.7% or $1.7 billion dollars, to reach an overall value of $22.7 billion. Yale, Mr. Johnson’s struggling little scrapper, runs what may be the world’s most successful venture capital fund and has an overall endowment of $25.57 billion.

Not every college is Yale, but even at poor, grotty little Amherst we find an almost identical story:

At Amherst, the amount of money given by alumni dropped 6.5 percent for the fiscal year that ended June 30, and participation in the alumni fund dropped 1.9 percentage points, to 50.6 percent, the lowest participation rate since 1975, when the college began admitting women, according to the college. The amount raised from big donors decreased significantly. Some of the decline was because of a falloff after two large reunion gifts last year, according to Pete Mackey, a spokesman for Amherst.

You do have to love an article that unironically notes that dudes once stopped giving because they let in the chicks and now will stop giving because “men are being demonized by sexual assault investigations.” But once again, I’m more focused on the figures. Once again, we see a sharp but single-year decline coming off a big reunion year: reunion-year giving always spikes high. What is the 10-year-trend? Who knows?

This story is bullshit in the true, philosophical sense of the term: utterly unconcerned with truth. There may or may not be an interesting story about alumni giving at elite institutions, but you couldn’t tell either way from this farrago of bad information and missing context. And as I’ve observed before and will surely observe again, there’s a small shame and a big shame here. The small shame is that some reporter wrote this. The larger shame is that an editorial staff approved it and permitted its publication.