Short Fiction: An Evening Out

Sofia is famous for these clubs, where the city’s wealthy dance and drink; they’re called chalgoteki, after the pop-folk music they play. I had never been to one before, everything in my temperament kept me away from them, but now, since I was leaving Sofia, Z. had insisted that at least once I should have what he called a real Bulgarian night out, and the lure of him had overcome all my aversion to drunkenness and noise. I was eager for it, even, I planned to enjoy myself, to dance and drink, to relax in the company of these boys I genuinely liked, to be their friend for an evening and not their teacher.

From the great Garth Greenwell in the NYorker (and check out his wonderful novel What Belongs to You).

Trump & the American Dream

Trump’s pitch to the American people was the same poisonous fiction that capitalism has been telling them for decades. As inequality worsens, Trump says: vote for me, and you can have it all. Unfortunately, you can’t have it all. All you end up with, like the students who spent $30,000 on a “Trump University” education, is a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump. He still lives in Trump Tower, and you still live in your shitty apartment. You can max out your credit cards to buy a Louis Vuitton handbag, but the people who run the world will still run it, and the doors of the club are never going to actually be open to you. If you’re lucky, the billionaires may generously allow you to pay them every cent you have for the privilege of feeling like you’re in the club.
...her book is about how “we, as Americans, have gone from a traditional ethos, underpinned by Judeo-Christian values, of modesty, thrift, humility, and discretion… of helping others less fortunate, to a culture of bling, celebrity, and narcissism.”

It’s the “we” that is such a problem. One is tempted to answer: “Well, you, maybe. But leave ‘we’ out of this.” What does it even mean to say that “we” are “pathological” in our material longings, that “we” no longer have humility, and live in a culture of bling? Does it mean that everyone does? And if it’s only some people, then which people, and how many? It’s obviously true that the tendencies Greenfield describes are present in American life, and that large numbers of people embrace them. But saying that those tendencies are American life, that they define us, risks mistaking a cartoon for reality. It’s certainly tempting, now that Donald Trump is the president, to think of Trumpism as a kind of national philosophy. But the vast majority of this people in this country didn’t vote for Donald Trump. He was hugely unpopular. A suggestion that Trump is a representative ambassador for the American ethos is simply wrong.

More from Nathan Robinson here

Science Is Not “Self-Correcting.” Science Is Broken.

I post this with reservations. I tend to fall in the “science is self-correcting” camp which, according to Engber, makes me a “conservative”. So be it. But Engber, who does very good reporting on specific cases of sloppiness and error in science, has never, fully, answered what he believes is the purpose of science. That’s why I agree with Aschwanden, who Engber quotes, arguing: "that we expect too much of science; we act like it’s an engine for discovery, when it’s just a means of moving, herky-jerky, down the long and curvy road to truth.”

Anyhow, Engber is always worth reading:

In the last few years we’ve learned that science sometimes fails to work the way it should. Suggesting it might be “broken” is not the same as saying it’s in a state of utter, irreversible decrepitude—that every published finding is a lie, or that every field of research is in crisis. Rather, it suggests a dawning sense that things have gotten wonky in a widespread way. It says our vaunted engine of discovery is sputtering and that it’s time we brought it in for repairs.

Book Review: History of Wolves

History of Wolves isn’t a typical thriller any more than it’s a typical coming-of-age novel; Fridlund does a remarkable job transcending genres without sacrificing the suspense that builds steadily in the book. She’s particularly effective using descriptions of nature to provide eerie foreshadowing: “You know how summer goes. You yearn for it and yearn for it, but there’s always something wrong. ... The afternoons are so fat and long. You want to see if anything you do matters.

More from NPR books here

A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof

Any single excerpt from this amazing piece seems entirely insufficient, so just go and read the whole thing.

In Charleston, I learned about what happens when whiteness goes antic and is removed from a sense of history. It creates tragedies where black grandchildren who have done everything right have to testify in court to the goodness of the character of their slain 87-year-old grandmother because some unfettered man has taken her life. But I also saw in those families that the ability to stay imaginative, to express grace, a refusal to become like them in the face of horror, is to forever be unbroken. It reminds us that we already know the way out of bondage and into freedom. This is how I will remember those left behind, not just in their grief, their mourning so deep and so profound, but also through their refusal to be vanquished. That even when denied justice for generations, in the face of persistent violence, we insist with a quiet knowing that we will prevail. I thought I needed stories of vengeance and street justice, but I was wrong. I didn’t need them for what they told me about Roof. I needed them for what they said about us. That in our rejection of that kind of hatred, we reveal how we are not battling our own obsolescence. How we resist. How we rise.

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders's first novelLincoln in the Bardo, "is like a weird folk art diorama of a cemetery come to life."

In these pages, Saunders’s extraordinary verbal energy is harnessed, for the most part, in the service of capturing the pathos of everyday life — as experienced by the spirits of the dead, remembering missed opportunities; by Willie, as his life slips away and he enters the limbo of the bardo; and by Lincoln, as he struggles to come to terms with his son’s death and the devastation of a war that is ripping the country apart.

Who Owns the Internet?

People who worry about the fate of democracy still write (and read) books. Those who are determining it prefer to tweet.
History, Mark Twain is supposed to have said, doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Once again, the President of the United States is a Republican who lost the popular vote. Once again, he was abetted by shadowy agents who manipulated the news. And once again Democrats are in a finger-pointing funk.

More from Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker here

Trump is Wrong on Growth & Inequality

Great podcast discussion (especially the first segment) on economic inequality in America:

In France, the bottom 50 percent of real, inflation-adjusted pretax incomes grew by 32 percent from 1980 to 2014. So in America the bottom 50 percent of pretax stagnated. In France it grew by 32 percent, which was approximately the same rate as national income per adult. So France has had slower growth, but if you are in the bottom 50 percent you have gotten a lot more of it. So one thing this leads to is while the bottom 50 percent of incomes were 11 percent lower in France than in the US in 1980, they are now 16 percent higher. So while France is still poorer than America, including on a per person basis, you are now better off in the bottom 50 percent of France than you are in the bottom 50 percent of America. That feels pretty damning to me.

YGLESIAS: Yes, and these guys [the authors of the paper] are French so they pull that example out, I think, to troll us, but as best we can tell France is neither the richest nor the most egalitarian European country. If you count for leisure time these things can start to take on a quite dark hue. Americans have many fewer vacation days than French people, which is a plausible social tradeoff, but you would expect Americans to have higher material living standard than people who get two months off a year. That would be the tradeoff, and we are really not getting it particularly for people at the bottom end.