David Remnick

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The heart is a lonely hunter. Also it’s the organ in your chest that pumps blood through your veins and arteries.

An old metaphor ran up against new medicine in 1982 when Dr. William DeVries performed the first artificial-heart transplant on patient Barney Clark, who lived 112 days with the battery-powered pumper. A stunning media circus ensued, with the Frankenstein factor riling many Americans, as cutting-edge technology was introduced before old dreams and superstitions had been put to rest. “I was surprised that people think it’s as big a deal as they think it is,” DeVries said later in the year.

Far thornier questions about reimagining nature are close at hand as our greater understanding of genetics promises to allow us to drive evolution. Let’s hope this time the debate is more rational, since the application of such information will have profound implications–for good and ill.

There’ll be the opportunity to “delete” sicknesses preemptively and the temptation to improve upon what’s already basically fine. If Homo sapiens isn’t done in first by a cold war or a heat wave, then we’ll almost definitely explore “human enhancement,” and these experiments will likely be decentralized, with not only states and corporations competing but also startups in garages.

In a conversation with David Remnick on the New Yorker Radio Hour, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, a great science writer as well as a cancer specialist, talks about the gene, which he calls, in his most recent book, “one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of all of science.” The host offers that new genetic knowledge has greater game-changing potential than the splitting of the atom–and the games will likely be messy and possibly dangerous. In fact, they’ve already begun.

An excerpt:

Siddhartha Mukherjee:

I draw a formal analogy between those two moments. The splitting of the atom really opened up the possibility of controlling energy and matter, so that opened up an immense technological possibility full of promise and peril. The promise being nuclear technology, the peril being Fukushima. 

The genome also opens up that idea of promise and peril. The promise being the curing of deadly diseases, the early diagnosis of breast cancer, the capacity of being able to predict, in our children, those that will carry devastating mutations that will make them, potentially, have lives of extraordinary suffering. 

But the peril is also questions of identity. What if we learn, and we are going to learn, not about one gene but multiple genes that govern sexual identity? What if we learn about genes that predispose to illness but don’t cause extraordinary suffering?

David Remnick:

And the decisions to abort or not abort that would come along with it.

Siddhartha Mukherjee:

That’s right. And just to give you one example, this is not fantasy: In India and China, based on very crude genetic diagnosis, whether you’re a boy or girl, that phenomenon is already in action and has skewed the selective abortion of those diagnosed genetically as female…has skewed the gender ratio in Indian and China to something absurd, 700 women to 1,000 men, in some parts of India and similarly in some parts of China. 

David Remnick:

So the tragic mistakes are already being made at an early stage.

Siddhartha Mukherjee:

That’s right. The tragedy is not tomorrow’s tragedy. It is today’s tragedy. In fact, it’s yesterday’s tragedy. Those societies have already been destabilized by genetics.•

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I read Sean Penn’s “El Chapo Speaksat the beginning of 2016, and spent the rest of the year trying to absorb as many great articles as I could to erase from my mind the awful reporting and prose. “Espinoza is the owl who flies among falcons,” wrote the actor-director-poetaster. Yes, Sean, okay, but go fuck yourself.

The following 50 articles made me feel pretty good again. In time, I myself once more began to fly among the falcons.

Congratulations to all the wonderful writers who made the list. My apologies for not reading more small journals and sites, but the time and money of any one person, myself included, is limited.

1) “Latina Hotel Workers Harness Force of Labor and of Politics in Las Vegas” and 2) “A Fighter’s Hour of Need(Dan Barry, New York Times).

As good as any newspaper writer–or whatever you call such people now–Barry reports and composes like a dream. The first piece has as good a kicker as anyone could come up with–even if life subsequently kicked back in a shocking way–and the second is a heartbreaker about the immediate aftermath of a 2013 boxing match in which Magomed Abdusalamov suffered severe brain damage.

Even when Barry shares a byline, I still feel sure I can pick out his sentences, so flawless and inviting they are. One example of that would be…

3) “An Alt-Right Makeover Shrouds the Swastikas by Barry, Serge F. Kovaleski, Julie Turkewitz and Joseph Goldstein.

An angle used to dismiss the idea that the Make America Great White Again message resonated with a surprising, depressing number of citizens has been to point out that some Trump supporters also voted for Obama. That argument seems simplistic. Some bigots aren’t so far gone that they can’t vote for a person of a race they dislike if they feel it’s in their best interests financially or otherwise. That is to say, some racially prejudiced whites voted for President Obama. Trump appealed to them to find their worst selves. Many did.

Likewise the Trump campaign emboldened far worse elements, including white nationalists and separatists and anti-Semites. Thinking they’d been perhaps permanently marginalized, these hate groups are now updating their “brand,” hiding yesterday’s swastikas and burning crosses and other “bad optics,” and referring to themselves not as neo-Nazis but by more vaguely appealing monikers like “European-American advocates.” It’s the same monster wrapped in a different robe, the mainstreaming of malevolence, and they won’t again be easily relegated to the fringe regardless of Trump’s fate.

This group of NYT journalists explores a beast awakened and energized by Trump’s ugly campaign. It’s a great piece, though we should all probably stop calling these groups by their preferred KKK 2.0 alias of “alt-right.”

4) “No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along” (Charles Blow, New York Times)

In the hours after America elected, if barely, a Ku Klux Kardashian, most pundits and talk-show hosts encouraged all to support this demagogue, as if we could readily forget that he was a racist troll who demanded the first African-American President show his birth certificate, a deadbeat billionaire who didn’t pay taxes or many of his contracted workers, a draft-dodger who mocked our POWs while praising Putin, a sexual predator who boasted about his assaults, a xenophobe who blamed Mexicans and Muslims, a bigot who had a long history of targeting African-Americans with the zeal of a one-man lynching bee. In a most passionate and lucid shot across the bow, Blow said “no way,” penning an instant classic, speaking for many among the disenfranchised majority. 

5) “Lunch with the FT: Burning Man’s Larry Harvey (Tim Bradshaw, Financial Times)

If self-appointed Libertarian overlord Grover Norquist, a Harvard graduate with a 13-year-old’s understanding of government and economics, ever had his policy preferences enacted fully, it would lead to worse lifestyles and shorter lifespans for the majority of Americans. In fact, we now get to see many of his idiotic ideas played out in real-life experiments. He’s so eager to Brownback the whole country he’s convinced himself, despite being married to a Muslim woman, there’s conservative bona fides in Trump’s Mussolini-esque stylings and suspicious math.

In 2014, Norquist made his way to the government-less wonderland known as Burning Man, free finally from those bullying U.S. regulations, the absence of which allows Chinese business titans to breathe more freely, if not literally. Norquist’s belief that the short-term settlement in the Nevada desert is representative of what the nation could be every day is no less silly than considering Spring Break a template for successful marriage. He was quote as saying: “Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.” Holy fuck, who passed him the peyote?

In his interview piece, Bradshaw broke bread in San Francisco with Harvey, co-founder of Burning Man and its current “Chief Philosophic Officer,” who speaks fondly of rent control and the Bernie-led leftward shift of the Democratic Party. Norquist would not approve, even if Harvey is a contradictory character, insisting he has a “conservative sensibility” and lamenting the way many involved in social justice fixate on self-esteem.

6) “The World Wide Cageand 7)Humans Have Long Wished to Fly Like Birds: Maybe We Shall” (Nicholas Carr, Aeon)

One of the best critics of our technological society keeps getting better.

The former piece is the introduction to Carr’s essay collection Utopia Is Creepy. The writer argues (powerfully) that we’ve defined “progress as essentially technological,” even though the Digital Age quickly became corrupted by commercial interests, and the initial thrill of the Internet faded as it became “civilized” in the most derogatory, Twain-ish use of that word. To Carr, the something gained (access to an avalanche of information) is overwhelmed by what’s lost (withdrawal from reality). The critic applies John Kenneth Galbraith’s term “innocent fraud” to the Silicon Valley marketing of techno-utopianism. 

You could extrapolate this thinking to much of our contemporary culture: binge-watching endless content, Pokémon Go, Comic-Con, fake Reality TV shows, reality-altering cable news, etc. Carr suggests we use the tools of Silicon Valley while refusing the ethos. Perhaps that’s possible, but I doubt you can separate such things.

The latter is a passage about biotechnology which wonders if science will soon move too fast not only for legislation but for ethics as well. The “philosophy is dead” assertion that’s persistently batted around in scientific circles drives me bonkers because we dearly need consideration about our likely commandeering of evolution. Carr doesn’t make that argument but instead rightly wonders if ethics is likely to be more than a “sideshow” when garages aren’t used to just hatch computer hardware or search engines but greatly altered or even new life forms. The tools will be cheap, the “creativity” decentralized, the “products” attractive. As Freeman Dyson wrote nearly a decade ago: “These games will be messy and possibly dangerous.”

8) “Calum Chace: Ask Me Anything” (Chace, Reddit)

The writer, an all-around interesting thinker, conducted an AMA based on his book, The Economic Singularity, which envisions a future–and not such a far-flung one–when human labor is a thing of the past. It’s certainly possible since constantly improving technology could make fleets of cars driverless and factories workerless. In fact, there’s no reason why they can’t also be ownerless. 

What happens then? How do we reconcile a free-market society with an automated one? In the long run, it could be a great victory for humanity, but getting from here to there will be bumpy.

9) “England’s Post-Imperial Stress Disorder(Andrew Brown, Boston Globe)

Not being intimately familiar with the nuances of the U.K.’s politics and culture, I’m wary of assigning support for Brexit to ugly nativist tendencies, but it does seem a self-harming act provoked by the growing pains of globalism. It’s not nearly as dumb a move as a President Trump, for instance, but some of the same forces are at play, particularly when it comes to the pro-Brexit, anti-immigration UKIP party.

It’s not shocking that Britain and the U.S. are trying to dodge the arrival of a new day and greater competition, a time when empires can’t merely strike back at will. We’re richer now, we have better things, but the distribution is very uneven and we feel poor inside. For some, maybe a surprising number, blame must be assigned to the “others.” As Randy Newman sang: “The end of an empire is messy at best.”

10) My President Was Black” (Ta-Nahesi Coates, The Atlantic)

It wasn’t the color of President Obama’s suit that so bothered his critics but the color of his skin. Sure, Bill Clinton was impeached and John Kerry swiftboated, but there was something so deeply disqualifying about the antagonism that faced 44, something beyond mere partisanship, which boiled over into Birtherism, interruptions during the State of the Union, denial of his Christian faith and vicious insults hurled at his gorgeous wife.

The old adage that black people have to be twice as good at a job as white people proved to be mathematically refutable: The Obamas were a million times better, and it wasn’t nearly enough for their detractors. When Obama even mildly suggested that institutional racism still existed, something he rarely did, he was labeled a “jerk” by prominent Republicans. Worse yet, his most overtly bigoted tormentor will succeed him in the White House. 

That raises an obvious question: If the perfect son isn’t good enough, then what kind of chance do his siblings have?

In a towering essay, Coates reflects on Obama’s history and the “fitful spasmodic years” of his White House tenure, which had pluses and minuses but were a gravity-defying time of true accomplishment which will never happen the same way again. In addition to macro ideas about race and identity, Coates’ writing on the Justice Department under this Administration is of particular importance.

11) “The Problem With Obama’s Faith in White America (Tressie McMillan Cottom, The Atlantic)

Hope is usually audacious but sometimes misplaced.

Without that feeling of expectation in a country founded on white supremacy that has never erased institutional racism, Barack Hussein Obama would certainly have never been elected President of the United States, not once, let alone twice. But his hope has also served as an escape hatch for white Americans who wanted to not only ignore the past but also the present. By stressing the best in us, Obama overlooked the worst of us, and that worst has never gone away.

It’s doubtful he behaved this way merely due to political opportunism: Obama seems a true believer in America and the ideals it espouses but has never lived up to. I love him and Michelle and think they’re wonderful people, but the nation has never been as good as they are, and even on a good day I’m unsure we even aspire to be. A painfully true Atlantic essay by Cottom meditates on these ideas.

12) “We’re Coming Close to the Point Where We Can Create People Who Are Superior to Others” (Hannah Devlin, The Guardian)

Devlin interviews novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who wonders if liberal democracy will be doomed by a new type of wealth inequality, the biological kind, in which gene editing and other tools make enhancement and improved health available only to the haves. Ishiguro isn’t a fatalist on the topic, encouraging more public engagement.

Some believe exorbitantly priced technologies created for the moneyed few will rapidly decrease in price and make their way inside everyone’s pockets (and bodies and brains), the same distribution path blazed by consumer electronics. That’s possible but certainly not definite. Of course, as the chilling political winds of 2016 have demonstrated, liberal democracy may be too fragile to even survive to that point.

13) “The Privacy Wars Are About to Get a Whole Lot Worse” (Cory Doctorow, Locus Magazine)

Read the fine print. That’s always been good advice, but it’s never been taken seriously when it comes to the Internet, a fast-moving, seemingly ephemeral medium that doesn’t invite slowing down to contemplate. So companies attach a consent form to their sites and apps about cookies. No one reads it, and there’s no legal recourse from having your laptop or smartphone from being plundered for all your personal info. It quietly removes legal recourse from surveillance capitalism.

In an excellent piece, Doctorow explains how this oversight, which has already had serious consequences, will snake its way into every corner of our lives once the Internet of Things turns every item into a computer, cars and lamps and soda machines and TV screens. “Notice and consent is an absurd legal fiction,” he writes, acknowledging that it persists despite its ridiculous premise and invasive nature.

14) “The Green Universe: A Vision” (Freeman Dyson, New York Review of Books)

I’ve probably enjoyed Dyson’s “pure speculation” writings as much as anything I’ve read during my life, particularly the Imagined Worlds lecture and his NYRB essays and reviews. In this piece, the physicist goes far beyond his decades-old vision of an “Astrochicken” (a spacecraft that’s partly biological), conjuring a baseball-sized, biotech Noah’s Ark that can “seed” the Universe with millions of species of life. “Sometime in the next few hundred years, biotechnology will have advanced to the point where we can design and breed entire ecologies of living creatures adapted to survive in remote places away from Earth,” he writes. It’s a spectacular dream, though we may bury ourselves beneath water or ash long before it can come to fruition, especially with the threat of climate change.

15) “The Augmented Human Being: A Conversation With George Church” (Edge)

CRISPR’s surprising success has swept us into an age when it all seems possible: the manipulation of humans, animals and plants, even perhaps of extinct species. Which way forward?

The geneticist Church, who has long had visions of rejuvenated woolly mammoths and augmented humans, realizes some bristle at manipulation of the Homo sapiens germline because it calls into question all we are, but apart from metaphors, there are also very real practical concerns over the games getting messy and possibly dangerous. The good (diseases being edited out of existence, organs being tailored to transplantees, etc.) shouldn’t be dreams permanently deferred, but it is difficult to understand how bad applications will be contained. Of course, the negative will probably unfold regardless, so we owe it ourselves to pursue the positive, if carefully. Church himself is on board with a cautious approach but not one that’s unduly so.

16) “The Empty Brain(Robert Epstein, Aeon)

Since the 16th century, the human brain has often been compared to a machine of one sort or another, with it being likened to a computer today. The idea that the brain is a machine seems true, though the part about gray matter operating in a similar way to the gadgets that currently sit atop our laps or in our palms is likely false. 

In a wonderfully argumentative and provocative essay, psychologist Epstein says this reflexive labeling of human brains as information processors is a “story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand.” He doesn’t think the brain is tabula rasa but asserts that it doesn’t store memories like an Apple would.

It’s a rich piece of writing full of ideas and examples, though I wish Epstein would have relied less on the word “never” (e.g., “we will never have to worry about a human mind going amok in cyberspace”), because while he’s almost certainly correct about the foreseeable future, given enough time no one knows how the machines in our heads and pockets will change.

17) “North Korea’s One-Percenters Savor Life in ‘Pyonghattan‘” (Anna Fifield, The Washington Post)

Even in Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian state there are haves and have-nots who experience wildly different lifestyles. In the midst of the politically driven arrests and murders, military parades and nuclear threats, there exists a class of super rich kids familiar with squash courts, high-end shopping and fine dining. “Pyonghattan,” it’s called, this sphere of Western-ish consumerist living, which is, of course, just a drop in the bucket when compared to the irresponsible splurges of the Rodman-wrangling “Outstanding Leader.” Still weird, though.

18) “Being Leonard Cohen’s Rabbi (Rabbi Mordecai Finley, Jewish Journal)

The poet of despair, who lived for a time in a monastery, spent some of his last decade discussing spirituality and more earthly matters with the Los Angeles-based rabbi, who explains how the Jewish tradition informed Cohen’s work. “We shared a common language, a common nightmare,” he writes. One remark the prophet of doom made to Finley hits especially hard with the demons awakened during this election season: “You won’t like what comes next after America.”

19) Five Books Interview: Ellen Wayland-Smith Discusses Utopias (Five Books)

In a smart Q&AWayland-Smith, author of Oneida, talks about a group of titles on the topic of Utopia. She surmises that attempts at such communities aren’t prevalent like they were in the 1840s or even the 1960s because most of us realize they don’t normally end well, whether we’re talking about the bitter financial and organizational failures of Fruitlands and Brook Farm or the utter madness of Jonestown. That’s true on a micro-community level, though I would argue that there have never been more people dreaming of large-scale Utopias–and corresponding dystopias–then there are right now. The visions have just grown significantly in scope.

In macro visions, Silicon Valley technologists speak today of an approaching post-scarcity society, an automated, quantified, work-free world in which all basic needs are met and drudgery has disappeared into a string of zeros and ones. These thoughts were once the talking points of those on the fringe, say, a teenage guru who believed he could levitate the Houston Astrodome, but now they (and Mars settlements, a-mortality and the computerization of every object) are on the tongues of the most important business people of our day, billionaires who hope to shape the Earth and beyond into a Shangri-La. 

Perhaps much good will come from these goals, and maybe a few disasters will be enabled as well. 

20) “Sam Altman’s Manifest Destiny” (Tad Friend, New Yorker)

Friend’s “Letter from California” articles in the New Yorker are probably the long-form journalism I most anticipate, because he’s so good at understanding distinct milieus and those who make them what they are, revealing the micro and macro of any situation or subject and sorting through psychological motivations that drive the behavior of individuals or groups. To put it concisely: He gets ecosystems.

The writer’s latest effort, a profile of Y Combinator President Sam Altman, a stripling yet a strongman, reveals someone who has almost no patience for or interest in most people yet wants to save the world–or something.

It’s not a hit job, as Altman really has no intent to offend or injure, but it vivisects Silicon Valley’s Venture Capital culture and the outrageous hubris of those insulated inside its wealth and privilege, the ones who nod approvingly while watching Steve Jobs use Mahatma Gandhi’s image to sell wildly marked-up electronics made by sweatshop labor, and believe they also can think different.

When envisioning the future, Altman sees perhaps a post-scarcity, automated future where a few grand a year of Universal Basic Income can buy the jobless a bare existence (certainly not the big patch of Big Sur he owns), or maybe there’ll be complete societal collapse. Either or. More or less. If the latter occurs, the VC wunderkind plans to flee the carnage by jetting to the safety of his New Zealand spread with Peter Thiel, who has a moral blind spot reminiscent of Hitler’s secretary. A grisly death seems preferable. 

21) “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans” (Neal Gabler, The Atlantic)

The term “middle class” was not always a nebulous one in America. It meant that you had arrived on solid ground and only the worst luck or behavior was likely to shake the earth beneath your feet. That’s become less and less true for four decades, as a number of factors (technology, globalization, tax codes, the decline of unions, the 2008 economic collapse, etc.) have conspired to hollow out this hallowed ground. You can’t arrive someplace that barely exists.

Middle class is now what you think you would be if you had any money. George Carlin’s great line that “the reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it” seems truer every day. It’s not so much a fear of falling anymore, but the fear of never getting up, at least not within the current financial arrangement. Those hardworking, decent people you see every day? They’re just as afraid as you are. They are you.

In the spirit of the great 1977 Atlantic article “The Gentle Art of Poverty” and William McPherson’s recent Hedgehog Review piece “Falling,” the excellent writer and film critic Gabler has penned an essay about his “secret shame” of being far poorer than appearances would indicate.

22) “Nate Parker and the Limits of Empathy(Roxane Gay, The New York Times)

We have to separate the art and the artist or we’ll end up without a culture, but it’s not always so easy to do. There was likely no more creative person who ever walked the Earth than David Bowie, whose death kicked off an awful 2016, yet the guy did have sex with children. And Pablo Picasso beat women, Louis-Ferdinand Céline was an anti-Semite, Anne Sexton molested her daughter and so on. In Gay’s smart, humane op-ed, she looks at the controversy surrounding Birth of a Nation writer-director Parker, realizing she can’t compartmentalize her feelings about creators and creations. Agree with her or not, but it’s certainly a far more suitable response than Stephen Galloway’s shockingly amoral Hollywood Reporter piece on the firestorm.

23) “The Case Against Reality (Amanda Gefter, The Atlantic)

A world in which Virtual Reality is in wide use would present a different way to see things, but what if reality is already not what we think it is? It’s usually accepted that we don’t all see things exactly the same way–not just metaphorically–and that our individual interpretation of stimuli is more a rough cut than an exact science. It’s a guesstimate. But things may be even murkier than we believe. Gefter interviews cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman who thinks our perception isn’t even a reliable simulacra, that what we take in is nothing like what actually is. It requires just a few minutes to read and will provoke hours of thought.

24) “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” (Masha Gessen, New York Review of Books)

For many of us the idea of a tyrant in the White House is unthinkable, but for some that’s all they can think about. These aren’t genuinely struggling folks in the Rust Belt whose dreams have been foreclosed on by the death rattle of the Industrial Age and made a terrible decision that will only deepen their wounds, but a large number of citizens with fairly secure lifestyles who want to unleash their fury on a world not entirely their own anymore. 

I’ve often wondered how Nazi Germany was possible, and I think this election has finally provided me with the answer. There has to be pervasive prejudice, sure, and it helps if there is a financially desperate populace, but I also think it’s the large-scale revenge of mediocrity, of people wanting to establish an order where might, not merit, will rule.

Gessen addresses the spooky parallels between Russia and this new U.S. as we begin what looks to be a Trump-Putin bromance. Her advice to those wondering if they’re being too paranoid about what may now occur: “Believe the autocrat.”

25) “The Future of Privacy” (William Gibson, New York Times)

What surprises me most about the new abnormal isn’t that surveillance has entered our lives but that we’ve invited it in.

For a coupon code or a “friend,” we’re willing to surrender privacy to a corporate state that wants to engage us, know us, follow us, all to better commodify us. In fact, we feel sort of left out if no one is watching.

It may be that in a scary world we want a brother looking after us even if it’s Big Brother, so we’ve entered into an era of likes and leaks, one that will only grow more profoundly challenging when the Internet of Things becomes the thing.

In a wonderful essay, Gibson considers privacy, history and encryption, those thorny, interrelated topics.

26) “Why You Should Believe in the Digital Afterlife” (Michael Graziano, The Atlantic)

When Russian oligarch Dmitry Itskov vows that by 2045 we’ll be able to upload our consciousness into a computer and achieve a sort of immortality, I’m perplexed. Think about the unlikelihood: It’s not a promise to just create a general, computational brain–difficult enough–but to precisely simulate particular human minds. That ups the ante by a whole lot. While it seems theoretically possible, this process may take awhile.

The Princeton neuroscientist Graziano plots the steps required to encase human consciousness, to create a second life that sounds a bit like Second Life. He acknowledges opinions will differ over whether we’ve generated “another you” or some unsatisfactory simulacrum, a mere copy of an original. Graziano’s clearly excited, though, by the possibility that “biological life [may become] more like a larval stage.”

27) “Big Data, Google and the End of Free Will” (Yuval Noah Harari, The Financial Times)

First we slide machines into our pockets, and then we slide into theirs.

As long as humans have roamed the Earth, we’ve been part of a biological organism larger than ourselves. At first, we were barely connected parts, but gradually we became a Global Village. In order for that connectivity to become possible, the bio-organism gave way to a technological machine. As we stand now, we’re moving ourselves deeper and deeper into a computer, one with no OFF switch. We’ll be counted, whether we like it or not. Some of that will be great, and some not.

The Israeli historian examines this new normal, one that’s occurred without close study of what it will mean for the cogs in the machine–us. As he writes, “humanism is now facing an existential challenge and the idea of ‘free will’ is under threat.”

28) “How Howard Stern Owned Donald Trump(Virginia Heffernan, Politico Magazine)

Whether it’s Howard Stern or that other shock jock Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump’s deep-seated need for praise has made him a mark for those who know how to push his buttons. In the 1990s, when the hideous hotelier was at a career nadir, he was a veritable Wack Packer, dropping by the Stern show to cruelly evaluate women and engage in all sorts of locker-room banter. Trump has dismissed these un-Presidential comments as “entertainment,” but his vulgarity off-air is likewise well-documented. He wasn’t out of his element when with the King of All Media but squarely in it. And it wasn’t just two decades ago. Up until 2014, Trump was still playing right along, allowing himself to be flattered into conversation he must have realized on some level was best avoided.

For Stern, who’s become somewhat less of an asshole as Trump has become far more of one, the joke was always that ugly men were sitting in judgement of attractive women. The future GOP nominee, however, was seemingly not aware he was a punchline. He’s a self-described teetotaler who somehow has beer goggles for himself. During this Baba Booey of an election season, Heffernan wrote knowingly of the dynamic between the two men.

29) “I’m Andrew Hessel: Ask Me Anything” (Hessel, Reddit)

If you like your human beings to come with fingers and toes, you may be disquieted by this undeniably heady AMA conducted by a futurist and a “biotechnology catalyst” at Autodesk. The researcher fields questions about a variety of flaws and illnesses plaguing people that biotech may be able to address, even eliminate. Of course, depending on your perspective, humanness itself can be seen as a failing, something to be “cured.”

30) “What If the Aliens We Are Looking For Are AI? (Richard Hollingham, BBC Future) 

If there are aliens out there, Sir Martin Rees feels fairly certain they’re conscious machines, not oxygen-hoarding humans. It’s just too inhospitable for carbon beings to travel beyond our solar system. He allows that perhaps cyborgs, a form of semi-organic post-humans, could possibly make a go of it. But that’s as close a reflection of ourselves we may be able to see in space. Hollingham explores this theory, wondering if a lack of contact can be explained by the limits we put on our search by expecting a familiar face in the final frontier.

31) “We Are Nowhere Close to the Limits of Athletic Performance” (Stephen Hsu, Nautilus

If performance-enhancing drugs weren’t at all dangerous to the athletes using them, should they be banned?

I bet plenty of people would say they should, bowing before some notion of competitive purity which has never existed. It’s also a nod to “god-given ability,” a curious concept in an increasingly agnostic world. Why should those born with the best legs and lungs be the fastest? Why should the ones lucky enough to have the greatest gray matter at birth be our best thinkers? Why should those fortunate to initially get the healthiest organs live the longest? It doesn’t make much sense to hold back the rest of the world out of respect for a few winners of the genetics lottery.

Hsu relates how genetic engineering will supercharge athletes and the rest of us, making widely available the gifts of Usain Bolt, who gained his from hard work, sure, but also a twist of fate. In fact, extrapolating much further, he believes “speciation seems a definite possibility.”

32) “How Democracies Fall Apart(Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz, Foreign Affairs

If we are hollow men (and women), American liberty, that admittedly unevenly distributed thing, may be over after 240 years. And it could very well end not with a bang but a whimper.

Those waiting for the moment when autocracy topples the normal order of things are too late. Election Day was that time. It’s not guaranteed that the nation transforms into 1930s Europe or that we definitely descend into tyranny, but the conditions have never been more favorable in modern times for the U.S. to capitulate to autocracy. The creeps are in office, and the creeping will be a gradual process. Don’t wait for an explosion; we’re living in its wake.

Kendall-Taylor and Frantz analyze how quietly freedom can abandon us.

33) Khizr Khan’s Speech to the 2016 Democratic National Convention (Khan, DNC)

Ever since Apple’sThink Different ad in 1997, the one in which Steve jobs used Gandhi’s image to sell marked-up consumer electronics made by sweatshop labor, Silicon Valley business titans have been celebrated the way astronauts used to be. Jobs, who took credit for that advertising campaign which someone else created, specifically wondered why we put on a pedestal those who voyage into space when he and his clever friends were changing the world–or something–with their gadgets. He believed technologists were the best and brightest Americans. He was wrong.

Some of the Valley’s biggest names filed dourly into Trump Tower recently in a sort of reverse perp walk. It was the same, sad spectacle of Al Gore’s pilgrimage, which was answered with Scott Pruitt, climate-change denier, being chosen EPA Chief. Perhaps they made the trek on some sort of utilitarian impulse, but I would guess there was also some element of self-preservation, not an unheard of sense of compromise for those who see their corporations as if they were countries, not only because of their elephantine “GDPs,” but also because of how they view themselves. I don’t think they’re all Peter Thiel, an emotional leper and intellectual fraud who now gets to play out his remarkably stupid theories in a large-scale manner. I’ve joked that Thiel has a moral blind spot reminiscent of Hitler’s secretary, but the truth is probably far darker. 

What would have been far more impressive would have been if Musk, Cook, Page, Sandberg, Bezos and the rest stopped downstairs in front of the building and read a statement saying that while they would love to aid any U.S. President, they could not in this case because the President-Elect has displayed vicious xenophobia, misogyny and callous disregard for non-white people throughout the campaign and in the election’s aftermath. He’s shown totalitarian impulses and has disdain for the checks and balances that make the U.S. a free country. In fact, with his bullying nastiness he continues to double down on his prejudices, which has been made very clear by not only his words but through his cabinet appointments. They could have stated their dream for the future doesn’t involve using Big Data to spy on Muslims and Mexicans or programming 3D printers to build internment camps on Mars. They might have noted that Steve Bannon, whom Trump chose as his Chef Strategist, just recently said that there were too many Asian CEOs in Silicon alley, revealing his white-nationalistic ugliness yet again. They could have refused to normalize Trump’s odious vision. They could have taken a stand.

They didn’t because they’re not our absolute finest citizens. Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who understand the essence of the nation in a way the tech billionaires do not, more truly represent us at our most excellent. They possess a wisdom and moral courage that’s as necessary as the Constitution itself. The Silicon Valley folks lack these essential qualities, and without them, you can’t be called our best and brightest.

And maybe Khan’s DNC speech is our ultimate Cassandra moment, when we didn’t listen, or maybe we did but when we looked deep inside for our better angels we came up empty. Regardless, he told the truth beautifully and passionately. When we went low, he went high.

34) “The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S.” (Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane)

It was thought that the Russian hacking of the U.S. Presidential election wasn’t met with an immediate response because no one thought Trump really had a chance to win, but the truth is the gravity of this virtual Watergate initially took even many veteran Washington insiders by surprise. This great piece of reportage provides deep and fascinating insight into one of the jaw-dropping scandals of an outrageous election season, which has its origins in the 1990s.

35) “Goodbye to Barack Obama’s World” (Edward Luce, The Financial Times

He must be taken seriously,” Luce wrote in the Financial Times in December 2015 of Donald Trump, as the anti-politician trolled the whole of America with his Penthouse-Apartment Pinochet routine, which seems to have been more genuine than many realized.

Like most, the columnist believed several months earlier that the Reality TV Torquemada was headed for a crash, though he rightly surmised the demons Trump had so gleefully and opportunistically awakened, the vengeful pangs of those who longed to Make America Great White Again, were not likely to dissipate.

But the dice were kind to the casino killer, and a string of accidents and incidents enabled Trump and the mob he riled to score enough Electoral College votes to turn the country, and world, upside down. It’s such an unforced error, one which makes Brexit seem a mere trifle, that it feels like we’ve permanently surrendered something essential about the U.S., that more than an era has ended.

In this post-election analysis, Luce looks forward for America and the whole globe and sees possibilities that are downright ugly.

36) “The Writer Who Was Too Strong To Live” (Dave McKenna, Deadspin)

A postmortem about Jennifer Frey, a journalistic prodigy of the 1990s who burned brilliantly before burning out. A Harvard grad who was filing pieces for newspapers before she was even allowed to drink–legally, that is–Frey was a full-time sportswriter for the New York Times by 24, out-thinking, out-hustling and out-filing even veteran scribes at a clip that was all but impossible. Frey seemed to have it all and was positioned to only get more.

Part of what she had, though, that nobody knew about, was bipolar disorder, which she self-medicated with a sea of alcohol. Career, family and friends gradually floated away, and she died painfully and miserably at age 47. The problem with formidable talent as much as with outrageous wealth is that it can be forceful enough to insulate a troubled soul from treatment. Then, when the fall finally occurs, as it must, it’s too late to rise once more.

37) “United States of Paranoia: They See Gangs of Stalkers” (Mike McPhate, The New York Times)

Sometimes mental illness wears the trappings of the era in which it’s experienced. Mike Jay has written beautifully in the last couple of years about such occurrences attending the burial of Napoleon Bonaparte and the current rise of surveillance and Reality TV. The latter is something of a Truman Show syndrome, in which sick people believe they’re being observed, that they’re being followed. To a degree, they’re right, we all are under much greater technological scrutiny now, though these folks have a paranoia which can drive such concerns into crippling obsessions.

Because we’re all connected now, the “besieged” have found one another online, banning together as “targeted individuals” who’ve been marked by the government (or some other group entity) for observation, harassment and mind control. McPhate’s troubling article demonstrates that the dream of endless information offering lucidity has been dashed for a surprising amount of people, that the inundation of data has served to confuse rather than clarify. These shaky citizens resemble those with alien abduction stories, except they seem to have been “shanghaied” by the sweep of history.

38) “The Long-Term Jobs Killer Is Not China. It’s Automation. (Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times)

Many people nowadays wonder what will replace capitalism, but I believe capitalism will be just fine.

You and me, however, we’re fucked.

The problem is that an uber technologized version of capitalism may not require as many of us or value as highly those who’ve yet to be relieved of their duties. Perhaps a thin crust at the very top will thrive, but without sound policy the rest may be Joads with smartphones. In this scenario, we’d be tracked and commodified, given virtual trinkets rather than be paid. Our privacy, like many of our jobs, will disappear into the zeros and ones.

While the orange supremacist was waving his penis in America’s face during the campaign, the thorny question of what to do should widespread automation be established was left unexplored. That’s terrifying, since more and more outsourcing won’t refer to work moved beyond borders but beyond species. Certainly great investment in education is required, but that won’t likely be enough. Not every freshly unemployed taxi driver can be upskilled into a driverless car software engineer. There’s not enough room on that road.

Miller, a reporter who understands both numbers and people in a way few do, analyzes how outsourcing will increasingly refer to work not moved beyond borders but beyond species.

39) “Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself(Sasha Von Oldershausen, Texas Monthly)

Surveillance is a murky thing almost always attended by a self-censorship, quietly encouraging citizens to abridge their communication because perhaps someone is watching or listening. It’s a chilling of civil rights that happens in a creeping manner. Nothing can be trusted, not even the mundane, not even your own judgement. That’s the goal, really, of such a system–that everyone should feel endlessly observed.

The West Texas border reporter finds similarities between her stretch of America, which feverishly focuses on security from intruders, and her time spent living under theocracy in Iran.

40) “Madness” (Eyal Press, The New Yorker)

“By the nineties, prisons had become America’s dominant mental-health institutions,” writes Press in this infuriating study of a Florida correctional facility in which guards tortured, brutalized, even allegedly murdered, inmates–and employed retaliatory measures against mental health workers who complained. Prison reform is supposedly one of those issues that has bipartisan support, but very little seems to get done in rehabilitating a system that warehouses many nonviolent offenders and mentally ill people among those who truly need to be incarcerated. It seems a breakdown of the institution but is more likely a perpetuation of business as it was intended to be. Either way, the situation needs all the scrutiny and investigation journalists can muster.

41) It May Not Feel Like Anything To Be an Alien(Susan Schneider, Nautilus)

Until deep into the twentieth century, most popular dreams of ETs usually centered on biology. We wanted new friends that reminded us of ourselves or were even cuter. When we accepted we had no Martian doppelgangers, a dejected resignation set in. Perhaps some sort of simple cellular life existed somewhere, but what thin gruel to digest.

Then a new reality took hold: Maybe advanced intelligence exists in space as silicon, not carbon. It’s postbiological.

If there are aliens out there, maybe they’re conscious machines, not oxygen-hoarding humans. It’s just too inhospitable for beings like us to travel beyond our solar system. He allows that cyborgs, a form of semi-organic post-humans, could possibly make a go of it. But that’s as close a reflection of ourselves we may be able to see in space. 

Soon enough, that may be true as well on Earth, a relatively young planet on which intelligence may be in the process of shedding its mortal coil. Another possibility: Perhaps intelligence is also discarding consciousness.

Schneider’s smart article asserts that “soon, humans will no longer be the measure of intelligence on Earth” and tries to surmise what that transition will mean.

42) “Schadenfreude with Bite(Richard Seymour, London Review of Books)

The problem with anarchy is that it has a tendency to get out of control.

In 2013, Eric Schmidt, the most perplexing of Googlers, wrote (along with Jared Cohen) the truest thing about our newly connected age: “The Internet is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history.”

Yes, indeed.

California was once a wild, untamed plot of land, and when people initially flooded the zone, it was exciting if harsh. But then, soon enough: the crowds, the pollution, the Adam Sandler films. The Golden State became civilized with laws and regulations and taxes, which was a trade-off but one that established order and security. The Web has been commodified but never been truly domesticated, so while the rules don’t apply it still contains all the smog and noise of the developed world. Like Los Angeles without the traffic lights.

Our new abnormal has played out for both better and worse. The fan triumphed over the professional, a mixed development that, yes, spread greater democracy on a surface level, but also left truth attenuated. Into this unfiltered, post-fact, indecent swamp slithered the troll, that witless, cowardly insult comic.

The biggest troll of them all, Donald Trump, the racist opportunist who stalked our first African-American President demanding his birth certificate, is succeeding Obama in the Oval Office, which is terrible for the country if perfectly logical for the age. His Lampanelli-Mussolini campaign also emboldened all manner of KKK 2.0, manosphere and neo-Nazi detritus in their own trolling, as they used social media to spread a discombobulating disinformation meant to confuse and distract so hate could take root and grow. No water needed; bile would do.

In the wonderfully written essay, Seymour analyzes the discomfiting age of the troll.

43) “An American Tragedy(David Remnick, The New Yorker)

It happened here, and Remnick, who spent years covering the Kremlin and many more thinking about the White House, was perfectly prepared to respond to a moment he hoped would never arrive. As the unthinkable was still unfolding and most felt paralyzed by the American embrace of a demagogue, the New Yorker EIC urgently warned of the coming normalization of the incoming Administration, instantly drawing a line that allowed for myriad voices to demand decency and insist on truth and facts, which is our best safeguard against the total deterioration of liberal governance.

44) “This Is New York in the Not-So-Distant Future” (Andrew Rice, New York)

Some sort of survival mechanism allows us to forget the full horror of a tragedy, and that’s a good thing. That fading of facts makes it possible for us to go on. But it’s dangerous to be completely amnesiac about disaster.

Case in point: In 2014, Barry Diller announced plans to build a lavish park off Manhattan at the pier where Titanic survivors came to shore. Dial back just a little over two years ago to another waterlogged disaster, when Hurricane Sandy struck the city, and imagine such an island scheme even being suggested then. The wonder at that point was whether Manhattan was long for this world. Diller’s designs don’t sound much different than the captain of a supposedly unsinkable ship ordering a swimming pool built on the deck just after the ship hit an iceberg.

Rice provides an excellent profile of scientist Klaus Joseph, who believes NYC, as we know it, has no future. The academic could be wrong, but if he isn’t, his words about the effects of Irene and Sandy are chilling: “God forbid what’s next.”

45) “The Newer Testament” (Robyn Ross, Texas Monthly)

A Lone Star State millennial using apps and gadgets to disrupt Big Church doesn’t really seem odder than anything else in this hyperconnected and tech-happy entrepreneurial age, when the way things have been are threatened at every turn. At Experience Life in Lubbock, Soylent has yet to replace wine and there’s no Virtual Reality confessionals, but self-described “computer nerd” Chris Galanos has done his best to take the “Old” out of the Old Testament with his buzzing, whirring House of God 2.0. Is nothing sacred anymore?

46) “The New Nationalism Of Brexit And Trump Is A Product Of The Digital Age” (Douglas Rushkoff, Fast Company)

“We are flummoxed by today’s nationalist, regressively anti-global sentiments only because we are interpreting politics through that now-obsolete television screen,” writes Rushkoff in this excellent piece about the factious nature of the Digital Age. The post-TV landscape is a narrowcasted one littered with an infinite number of granular choices and niches. It’s empowering in a sense, an opportunity to vote “Leave” to everything, even a future that’s arriving regardless of popular consensus. It’s a far cry from not that long ago when an entire world sat transfixed by Neil Armstrong’s giant leap. Now everyone is trying to land on the moon at the same time–and no one can agree where it is. It’s more democratic this way, but maybe to an untenable degree, perhaps to the point where it’s a new form of anarchy.

47) “The Incredible Fulk(Alexandra Suich, The Economist 1843)

The insanity of our increasingly scary wealth inequality is chronicled expertly in this richly descriptive article, even though it seems in no way intended as a hit piece. The title refers to Ken Fulk, Silicon Valley’s go-to “lifestyle designer,” who charges billionaires millions to create loud interiors, rooms stuffed with antique doors from shuttered mental institutions and musk-ox taxidermy, intended to “evoke feelings” or some such shit.

As the article says: “His spaces, when completed, have a theatrical quality to them, which Fulk plays up. Once he’s finished a project he often brings clients to their homes to show them the final product, a ceremony which he calls the ‘big reveal.’ For the Birches’ home in San Francisco, he hired men dressed as beefeaters to stand outside the entrance and musicians to play indoors. For another set of clients in Palm Springs, he hired synchronized swimmers, a camel and an impersonator to dress up and sing like Dean Martin.” It’s all good, provided a bloody revolution never occurs.

Fulk acknowledges a “tension between high and low” in his work. Know what else has tension? Nooses.

48) “Truth Is a Lost Game in Turkey. Don’t Let the Same Thing Happen to You.(Ece Temelkuran, The Guardian)

Nihilism is sometimes an end but more often a means.

Truth can be fuzzy and facts imprecise, but an honest pursuit of these precious goods allows for a basic decency, a sense of order. Bombard such efforts for an adequate length of time, convince enough people that veracity and reality are fully amorphous, and opportunities for mischief abound.

Break down the normal rules (written and unwritten ones), create an air of confusion with shocking behaviors and statements, blast an opening where anything is possible–even “unspeakable things”–and a democracy can fall and tyranny rise. The timing has to be right, but sooner or later that time will arrive.

Has such a moment come for America? The conditions haven’t been this ripe for at least 60 years, and nothing can now be taken for granted.

Temelkuran explains how Turkey became a post-truth state, a nation-sized mirage, and how the same fate may befall Europe and the U.S. She certainly shares my concerns about the almost non-stop use of the world “elites” to neutralize the righteous into paralysis.

49) “Prepping for Doomsday: Bunkers, Panic Rooms, and Going Off the Grid” (Clare Trapasso, Realtor.com)

Utter societal collapse in the United States may not occur in the immediate future, but it’s certainly an understandable time for a case of the willies. In advance of the November elections, the bunker business boomed, as some among us thought things would soon fall apart and busied themselves counting their gold coins and covering their asses. In a shocking twist, the result of the Presidential election has calmed many of the previously most panicked among us and activated the fears of the formerly hopeful.

50) “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Lives in the Future” (Caroline Winter, Bloomberg Businessweek)

Jacque Fresco, one of those fascinating people who walks through life building a world inside his head, hoping it eventually influences the wider one, is now into his second century of life. A futurist and designer who’s focused much of his work on sustainable living, technology and automation, Fresco is the brains behind the Venus Project, which encourages a post-money, post-scarcity, post-politician utopia. He’s clearly a template for many of today’s Silicon Valley aspiring game-changers.

Winter traveled to Middle-of-Nowhere, Florida (pop: Fresco + girlfriend and collaborator Roxanne Meadows), to write this smart portrait of the visionary after ten decades of reimagining the world according to his own specifications. He doesn’t think the road to a computer-governed utopia will be smooth, however. As Winter writes: “Once modern life gets truly hard, Fresco believes there will be a revolution that will clear the way for the Venus Project to be built. ‘There will be a lot of people getting shot, including me,’ he says wryly.” Well, he’s had a good run.•

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In some quarters of national political discourse, a theory holds that Americans elected Donald Trump not because they thought he would keep his promises but because they wanted to explode the status quo and burn down the house. This may be received wisdom.

If so, the citizens grossly undervalue the stability of the traditional state of affairs, which, for all its flaws, has served them better than they may accept. More likely, many Trump supporters are true believers, maybe not convinced he’ll build a gold-splattered wall to protect us from a nonexistent Mexican invasion but certain he would “drain the swamp” despite his long career as a creature from the black lagoon.

The thing is, some of the goods he swore he’d deliver (e.g., a return to manufacturing greatness) are all but impossible and others (say, tax breaks for billionaires, harassment of immigrants and the press) may lead to ugly consequences for all. Mix in the usual GOP voodoo that could now be realized (gutting Medicare, devastating labor unions, etc.), and it may soon be a bell-ringing hangover for those who got drunk at the Trump Winery. Further, a descent into actual autocracy is now on the table, the Constitution resting in the pocket of a careless man who may pretend to forget it’s there.

In the aftermath of the worst possible political outcome for the country, Holger Stark of Spiegel interviewed New Yorker Editor-in-Chief David Remnick, whose whole career has prepared him well for a moment he wished would never arrive. In addition to the ramifications of the appalling turn of events on Election Day, they discuss the failings of the Democrat Party, Putin’s use for Trump and the emergence of fake news. The opening:


On the night of the election, you published a stunning warning that the election’s outcome was “surely the way fascism can begin.” It’s been three weeks now. Has fascism begun?

David Remnick:

No it has not and I want to be clear about what I wrote. The whole sentence, the complete thought is this: I don’t think there will be fascism in America, but we have to do everything we can to fight against it. As the Germans know better than we do, disaster can take a nation by surprise, slowly, and then all at once. My deep sense of alarm has to do with his seeming lack of fealty to constitutionalism. He seems to think it is within his rights to trample the First Amendment, to disdain the press, to punish protesters or flag-burners, to ban ethnic categories of immigrants, and so on. He has myriad conflicts of interest. He appoints people of low quality, to say the least. He lies with astonishing frequency and in stunning volume. His temperament and character is precisely what you would hate to see in your children, much less your president. We can wish all these things will magically change once he is in office, but will they?

I’ve lived through terrible presidents, we all have. I lived through the Nixon administration, which prolonged a horrific war for years and ran a criminal operation out of the White House, and I lived through the years with George W. Bush. And I lived for years in the Soviet Union and have seen the promise of democratic development turn, with Putin, into an authoritarian state. So yes, I think we should be alarmed, watchful, and, as journalists, rigorous and fearless. I think we should be alert.


Similar developments have taken place in other countries as well.

David Remnick:

Trump’s election is part of an international trend that’s no less alarming, in Britain, in France, in Germany, in Austria. Vladimir Putin wanted to see this outcome no less than he would like to see nationalists and anti-Europeanists win in France. He wants to become the de facto head of an illiberal, xenophobic, hypernationalist trend in world politics.•

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David Remnick has as ably as any journalist met the considerable challenge of analyzing the stunning election to our highest office of a cartoonish Reality TV star who is clearly unprepared for the position, and one who throughout the campaign acted as a Berlusconi aiming to be a Mussolini. Before most of us had closed our laptops on Election Night, the New Yorker EIC had already penned a piece warning that the press would soon normalize this Bull Connor as a condo salesman, who had alternated dog whistles and dog bites to activate our absolute worst nationalistic impulses. The commentary hit the mark as “normalization” has become a recurring phrase of the post-election scrum, and that can’t hurt, though 61.2 million votes and counting says a significant part of the electorate has already deemed acceptable Trump’s vulgar, fascistic stylings. Remnick also penned a heartbreaking piece about the improbable end to the Administration of President Obama, perhaps, at least until now, the truest believer of us all. 

The editor just conducted a Reddit Ask Me Anything. A few exchanges follow.


Your article the day after the election scared the hell out of me (it was great, but depressing). Has Trump’s somewhat milder behavior in the ensuing weeks changed your mind any or are we doomed? Also, some people are saying Trump is using Twitter in a genius fashion to direct people away from his real scandals? could he really be that smartly manipulative?

David Remnick:

Milder? Hmmm. The appointments of Mr. Bannon, Senator Sessions, and Gen. Flynn hardly seem “mild” to me. As for his use of Twitter, it doesn’t evoke confidence in me. I’m not really sure the best use of a President-elect’s time at 2 AM is to rant about SNL or a polite dissent on the stage of Hamilton. But I admit it sure was an effective tool during the campaign. Effective and deeply worrying…


Why do you think Hillary lost?

David Remnick:

I think I get the impulse behind the question. No, she did not lose the popular vote. But we live in the system we live in—and the Electoral College persists. Alas. But it persists. And were there, to put it politely, “irregularities”? Well, starting with the DNC hack courtesy of Russian hackers and WikiLeaks…..that seems pretty damn irregular to me.


Do you think that Trump will repeal Obamacare? Would that be a good or a bad thing?

David Remnick:

I don’t think he will—or not completely. Once people have a benefit, a boon to their lives, that they did not have before, they are loath to give it up. Twenty million people have health care who didn’t have it before. So, start with that….Does Trump want to take that away? I bet not, and he has already said as much.


As a keen historian of the Soviet Union and Russia, do you find the coming Trump administration problematic in regards to handling Putin?

David Remnick:

jWell, yes. It seems pretty clear that Vladimir Putin wanted Trump over Clinton; we also hear that American intelligence is convinced that Russian hackers worked in that quest, beginning with the hack of the DNC. Putin clearly wants a weaker, more chaotic, more pliable figure at the top. And he appears to have gotten his wish.


What are the most important steps that the press can take to help safeguard American civil rights in the new political climate?

David Remnick:

We should do our jobs—write and broadcast fairly, rigorously, and fearlessly. That is a good start. And we can get out into the country more deeply, and into the world more widely. And that is, I know, a hard thing in an era of cost-cutting. But it is absolutely necessary.


How do you think history will remember Obama?

David Remnick:

Kindly. His Administration made the hard decisions to rescue a failing economy; got as close to universal health care as it is politically possible to get; embodied a level of tolerance never seen before in the White House; went eight years without scandal; etc etc


Were you personally reassured by President Obama’s answers and demeanor in the conversations you had with him after election day?

David Remnick:

Not entirely, no. And I don’t think Obama is convinced of his own language of hope. He is, after all, playing a role: the assuring still-in-office President, who is hoping against hope that Trump will be less bad than feared. We shall see.•

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Pretty much said most of what I wanted to say about the election on Sunday, when I feared it had become a toss-up. I felt that way since the FBI’s shenanigans, though in retrospect the race was always probably much closer than it seemed. That’s likely not due to pollster incompetence but because many didn’t want to admit they were voting for Trump’s “Make America White Again” campaign.

This election was clearly not one about economics or small government, not with Trump’s budget-busting proposals. He wasn’t elected because of policy or even because most of his supporters truly believe he’ll build a wall. They just wanted to stamp their feet and blame others for awhile. It’s not that the factories are disappearing, but that America as the property of white males is.

That acting-out will cost dearly, in fact it will hurt many of the Trump voters worst of all. As with the insincere sellers of “Family Values” of the ’80s, ’90s and aughts played the masses in order to gain power, Trump used anxieties about a non-white world to achieve the same. The only difference is the Gingriches and Roves desired power for political reasons while Trump wanted it because of his deep psychological neediness. But the awful cast who surround him–Giuliani, Thiel, Bannon, etc.–definitely aim to use the authority to shape the country for decades. It will be a shape that fits the new populace poorly.

You can take some solace from Hillary likely winning the popular vote–at least a slim majority of us aren’t in support a deeply racist, sexist, xenophobic clown, a mix of Lampanelli and Mussolini–but it’s just a sliver of peace. For all the pundits now rushing to make lists of “Winners” and “Losers” and treat the country like’s it’s merely a game, a horse race, go fuck yourselves. The loser is America and everything it supposedly stands for.

David Remnick spoke to the horrible results immediately, beautifully and passionately. I’d much rather be focusing on his recent Leonard Cohen profile–one of my favorite writers writing about one of my favorite writers–but today’s not that day. In one section, the New Yorker EIC addresses something I’ve discussed in the days leading to the election, that our new technological tools have not made us better as was promised. He asserts that “on Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences.” So true. An excerpt:

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Trump ran his campaign sensing the feeling of dispossession and anxiety among millions of voters—white voters, in the main. And many of those voters—not all, but many—followed Trump because they saw that this slick performer, once a relative cipher when it came to politics, a marginal self-promoting buffoon in the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York, was more than willing to assume their resentments, their fury, their sense of a new world that conspired against their interests. That he was a billionaire of low repute did not dissuade them any more than pro-Brexit voters in Britain were dissuaded by the cynicism of Boris Johnson and so many others. The Democratic electorate might have taken comfort in the fact that the nation had recovered substantially, if unevenly, from the Great Recession in many ways—unemployment is down to 4.9 per cent—but it led them, it led us, to grossly underestimate reality. The Democratic electorate also believed that, with the election of an African-American President and the rise of marriage equality and other such markers, the culture wars were coming to a close. Trump began his campaign declaring Mexican immigrants to be “rapists”; he closed it with an anti-Semitic ad evoking “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; his own behavior made a mockery of the dignity of women and women’s bodies. And, when criticized for any of it, he batted it all away as “political correctness.” Surely such a cruel and retrograde figure could succeed among some voters, but how could he win? Surely, Breitbart News, a site of vile conspiracies, could not become for millions a source of news and mainstream opinion. And yet Trump, who may have set out on his campaign merely as a branding exercise, sooner or later recognized that he could embody and manipulate these dark forces. The fact that “traditional” Republicans, from George H. W. Bush to Mitt Romney, announced their distaste for Trump only seemed to deepen his emotional support.•



I’m largely very admiring of David Remnick’s tenure as EIC at the New Yorker, but his remarks about Gay Talese’s regrettable article (and book), The Voyeur’s Motel, are wrong-minded and tone-deaf. I’m speaking specifically about the quote he gave Erik Wemple of the Washington Post after the piece got even dicier as new information came to light:

“The central fact of the piece, that Gerald Foos was, in the late Sixties and Seventies, a voyeur, spying on the guests in his motel, is not in doubt in the article or in the Post’s article. The fact that he could sometimes prove an unreliable and inaccurate narrator is also something that Gay Talese makes clear to the reader, repeatedly, and is part of the way Foos is characterized throughout the article. This is not an account of, say, national security. This was, from the start, a profile of a very peculiar character, to say the least, and Gay Talese flagged those qualities honestly and repeatedly.”

Two things:

  • This comment explicitly states that journalism that’s not about something as important as national security needn’t adhere to the same rules of scrutiny. That shouldn’t be the case. Even if lives aren’t in the balance, nonfiction articles on any topic, from baseball to ballet, should be treated with the same standards in regards to editorial oversight and fact-checking.
  • The article Remnick refers to is NOT a puff piece. A woman is purported to have been brutally murdered, which Gerald Foos says he didn’t alert the police to at the time it occurred and Talese didn’t report when he learned of its possibility later on. Maybe it was all a twisted fantasy or perhaps it was truly a horrible crime, but trying to diminish this story into one in which no one could have possibly have been hurt is a convenient rationalization.

The last thing anyone wants to do is beat up on an octogenarian who’s done lots of interesting work, but if someone remains in the game at an advanced age, they should expect their work and ethics to be scrutinized as much anyone’s else’s. I would think Talese wholly accepts this reality.

This imbroglio reminds me of something Remnick said a couple years back, when paraphrasing Condé Nast Creative Director Anna Wintour. He told Politico that “I’ve learned a lot by talking with her about how she does what she does…when you’re dealing with writers or other editors, God knows if you’re running something larger like a country, Hamlet-like indecision may be interesting, but it’s highly ineffective.”

This line references Wintour’s 2013 comments in which she said: “I realized possibly that what people working for [an editor] hate most is indecision. Even if I’m completely unsure, I will pretend to know exactly what I’m talking about and will make a decision.”

This statement wasn’t sensible when Wintour made it nor when Remnick parroted it. No one in leadership should waver endlessly, but there is a difference between right and wrong, often a huge one, and having a spine of steel won’t change that, won’t make everything equally okay regardless of the direction taken. In the case of Talese’s piece, Remnick should have taken more time to decide. What he may be forgetting is that the really decisive Hamlet did far more damage than the dithering version.•

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  • Comparing the low-level insult comic Donald Trump to Don Rickles, as some have, is like saying an insane person who severed his tongue with a piece of broken glass is just like Harpo Marx.
  • I’m not a psychiatrist, so I can’t definitively say that Donald Trump is deeply mentally ill, but perhaps we can agree that he exhibits many of the behaviors of mentally ill people who’ve gone untreated, and if any of our friends or relatives acted like him, we would seek professional help for them.
  • Trump’s Simon Cowell-Mussolini mash-up may not strictly speaking play out as Fascism in the context of our laws and Constitution despite all his sound and the fury in that direction, but even without the support of his party, wouldn’t he as President be able to plunge us into an place as dark an any we’ve experienced since the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII?

Excerpts from two pieces follow: 1) David Remnick’s sharp analysis of the GOP nominee’s predictably disgusting response to the horrific Orlando massacre, and 2) T.A. Frank’s Vanity Fair “Hive” argument that the nightmarish realization of Trump winning the White House won’t result in full-on Fascism despite whatever damage will result.

From Remnick:

With every month, it has become clearer that Trump is a makeshift politician, whose rancid wit resides in his willingness to say whatever it takes to arouse the fears of a political base. He might have started his campaign with the idea of winning some votes and publicity, increasing his profile as a marketing whiz, and then dropping out. Good for business! But now that he has stunned the political world—and, likely, himself—he has shown little inclination (or, perhaps, capacity) to grow into his role, to modify his language, be it for the sake of the Republican establishment or of simple decency. He’ll have none of that. Whatever inflates his sense of self and prods the anxieties of the country—that’s what works for him.

It feels indecent on such a day to engage these comments of Trump’s at all. But their velocity, vapidity, and sheer ugliness reflect his character, his emptiness, and, most of all, the shape of the election campaign to come. Since Trump has ascended, it’s been clear that his demagogic instincts could be tested precisely by the sort of tragedy suffered in Orlando. And, when faced with the path of modesty and the path of dark opportunism, he has chosen the latter. That’s what he is about. It’s who he is.•

From Frank:

Luckily, when it comes to true dictatorship, Trump lacks many of the most ominous traits.

For all of his incendiary rhetoric, there’s limited evidence of any belief in racial superiority or hatred of other races. Suggesting that Mexican immigrants and rape go hand in hand may be heinous, but it is not the same thing as white supremacy, and Trump is less right-leaning on many matters of race than some traditional Republicans. Regarding affirmative action, a policy that many conservatives are working to eliminate, Trump has said, “I’m fine with it,” merely laying out that one day “there will be a time when you don’t need it.” As careless as Trump has been about distinguishing the vast majority of peaceful illegal immigrants from the small minority who commit crimes, and as sinister as a “deportation force” sounds, the candidate has mostly confined his demonizations to the powerful: politicians, high-ranking officials, the media, foreign governments.

The worst tyrants of the past century or two also presided over a lot of soldiers or paramilitary forces before they came to power. Benito Mussolini had hundreds of thousands of Black Shirts, and Hitler had hundreds of thousands of Brown Shirts. Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, and Robert Mugabe all headed large guerrilla forces. Many dictators came from the military, like Idi Amin, Muammar Qaddafi, and Juan Peron. Trump just went to military school.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Trump is entering politics too late to become a proper tyrant. The dictators of the past two centuries have had a commitment to political agitation from a young age: Saddam Hussein was a passionate Baathist in his 20s. Stalin was a revolutionary from the moment he was expelled from school. (Dictators who have come late to politics have cropped up in South America, with figures like Jorge Videla in Argentina and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, but they were senior military officials in countries with histories of military coups.) The quality that made these tyrants so brutal was not primarily thin-skinnedness or impulsivity but fanaticism. Trump is getting into politics late in life after a successful career doing other things. He’s volatile and impulsive, but he’s not fanatical.

In a best-case scenario, Trump would be less dangerous to civil liberties and democratic norms than someone like Marco Rubio, because his own party is willing to break ranks with him.•

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There are numerous reasons for the surprising success of Donald’s Trump’s racist bumfight of a campaign, something even the hideous hotelier himself didn’t really want. He impetuously entered the race to “burnish his brand,” which stinks like a cheap cologne concocted from sewer water. A troll NEVER really wants to be king.

The emotional homunculus was subsequently aided by myriad factors: the the drift into the fringe by the GOP base, the initially overcrowded field of lacklustre candidates, a racist backlash to the first African-American President and struggling media companies gladly accepting free content, no matter how ugly or inappropriate the Reality TV show was. It’s not that cable news should have ignored the rise of Trump, but it shouldn’t have abetted it to erase the red ink, either. But there was CNN, Jeff Zucker’s clown car of infotainment, pretending populism in the name of the bottom line, and Maureen Dowd realizing far too late that Trump had never been a “fun brand” and had actually become something fascistic. They were not alone in their opportunism or blissful ignorance.

Two passages about this Baba Booey of an election season, one from Markus Feldenkirchen in Spiegel and a couple of David Remnick quotes from The Hollywood Reporter.

From Feldenkirchen:

The political culture that is emerging here is a mixture of primary school, mafia, and porn industry. It alternates between cries of “He started it!,” brawls, misogyny, and penis size comparison. It’s almost as if guests at a formal dinner, where basic table manners were a given, suddenly began to belch and break wind without restraint. America is currently experiencing not only political but also moral bankruptcy. Dirty tricks are not new in US election campaigns, but the new lows to which the candidates are currently stooping are unprecedented.

It’s not just the two bullies at the top who are to blame. Their rise was made possible through a decline in values such as decency, honesty, tolerance and fairness — a process that has been hastened by the Republican Party more than anyone else. For too long, it has pursued fiscal, economic and social policies that served only companies and the rich, the financial backers of their election campaigns. At the same time, millions of Americans slid into precarity. Cultural declines are often the consequence of real economic decline. Propriety isn’t the primary concern of those with financial worries, those who are embittered and living without hope. Instead, the neglected long for a culture of radicalism and coarseness. Destruction, they believe, may presage something better.

Over the course of decades, the Republicans have likewise built up a culture of contempt for public goods and services. They argue for educational policies that exclude the non-privileged, instead pushing them towards stultification and barbarization. They allow billionaires like the Koch brothers to direct the party’s policy and appoint it’s key candidates. A few years ago, Republicans furthermore embraced the radical and destructive Tea Party movement, thus marking the party’s departure from any semblance of moderation.It is too late to turn back the clock.•

From Remnick:

“Donald Trump, for decades, occupied a kind of comic space in the New York ego-scape,” [Remnick] continued. “He was the guy who discovered, ‘If I just say outrageous things and behave like a cartoon of Louis XIV, I will become enormously famous. It doesn’t matter that I’m wrong or it doesn’t matter that I’m ill-informed and it doesn’t matter that I’m even racist. Some portion of people will find this hilarious.’ But now it’s not a question of whether or not he gets to put his name on the side of a skyscraper. It’s whether he has the nuclear codes.”

Not surprisingly, The New Yorker’s coverage of the presidential candidate has been withering. Remnick penned a piece in the March 14 issue of the magazine that dredged up some Trump bon mots that would make even the shameless billionaire wince (marveling about Melania’s bowel movements or his willingness to have sex with Princess Diana). “This is not a Seth Rogen movie; this is as real as mud,” Remnick wrote.

Regardless of the outcome, the 2016 presidential campaign will go down in the annals of politics thanks to Trump, Remnick told THR.

“I can’t believe that in 100 years, we won’t remember the bizarre, frightening, hilarious — did I mention bizarre? — quality of this race, and it begins and ends with Donald Trump,” he added. “You have an American demagogue getting very close to the Republican nomination. This is as close as an American demagogue has gotten to power in history. George Wallace, Huey Long, all those people never got as close as Donald Trump. We may laugh and find it all a gas. And for journalists, it’s a kind of welfare program. Everybody’s ratings get boosted and people read about it and everybody’s happy, but it’s pretty damn frightening.”•

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The type of buoyant journalism career the late Ben Bradlee enjoyed barely exists anymore, and that’s both a good and bad thing. It’s great that American media is in far more hands now in our decentralized world, the “barbarians” having stormed the gates, though it would be better if more of those thumbing at keypads aspired to greatness. Of course, that’s not so easy with that industry’s currently complicated financial picture.

In David Remnick’s excellent New Yorker post-mortem of his late Washington Post boss, he shares that Jason Robard’s big-screen depiction of Bradlee was more restrained than the reality: “Younger people watching the actor Jason Robards’s portrayal of Bradlee in All the President’s Men can be forgiven for thinking it is a broad caricature, an exaggeration of his cement-mixer voice, his cocky ebullience, his ferocious instinct for a political story, and his astonishing support for his reporters. In fact, Robards underplayed Bradlee.”

Bradlee’s reaction to the film’s D.C. premiere, recorded in an April 19, 1976 People article, was far less revealing. An excerpt about Bradlee and his “chum” Sally Quinn:

“Jason Robards’ portrayal of Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee drew raves from Sally Quinn, a Post reporter who is a close Bradlee chum. ‘Amazing,’ she gushed. ‘Robards only met him twice, but he had his mannerisms down to a T.’ Bradlee himself would say only: ‘It was an interesting film.’ (The Post reviewer was less kind—he called the movie ‘absorbing,’ but carped at its lack of drama.)

Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, who declined to be portrayed in the movie, said she wanted to play down the paper’s role. ‘We just kept the story alive,’ she said, ‘until the process took over and worked.’ Then, asked whether the film would lure hordes of young people into investigative reporting, she gulped, ‘God, I hope not.'”

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In a Women’s Wear Daily interview conducted by Alexandra Steigrad, New Yorker EIC David Remnick reminds of something that is all but forgotten these days: During Web 1.0, the overwhelming consensus was that nobody wanted to read long articles (let alone books) on a computer screen, and they never would. I worked in some places that had 300-word limits on writing for this reason. It wasn’t mainly that there were slow downloads, rudimentary design and navigation and unwieldy devices (though all of that is true), but rather that industry professionals believed there was some neurological barrier to enjoying longreads online. It was like designing automobiles with the expectation that drivers would use them in their neighborhoods but never over great distances. Seems silly now, with certain adventurous readers devouring War and Peace on smartphones. Perhaps there was initially a neurological barrier, but if so we rewired our brains with repetition. An excerpt:


Is long-form journalism still alive and well?

David Remnick:

I think it’s absolutely alive and well. I was interested in the Web from the get-go. I used to get invited to digital events, knowing I was being invited as a Brontosaurus editor from an old media outlet, The New Yorker. I would go to these sessions with really smart people, usually in there 20s, and, at the time, I was in my 40s. There were evangelical tenets to what was true and what was not true, and one of the things that was thought to be 100 percent true was that no one would read anything long on the Internet. That turned out to be absolute nonsense. Some of the most widely read things for The New Yorker on the Web are [around] 10,000 or 25,000 words long. When I think about our future, it’s an encouraging thing to know that this is what we’ve been trying to be great at for a very long time.”

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Last year Seymour Hersh made comments about the official U.S. government report regarding the Obama bin Laden killing, labeling it as “bullshit.” It was taken to mean initially that the journalist believed the terrorist hadn’t actually been eliminated, but he quickly clarified, saying that bin Laden was dead but that the White House version of the mission was fantastical. In a wide-ranging New Republic interview conducted by Isaac Chotiner, New Yorker editor David Remnick pushes back at his contributor’s assertion. An excerpt:

Isaac Chotiner:

Speaking of Hersh, he claims that the U.S. government’s story of the Osama bin Laden raid is bullshit. What do you say to that given that your magazine ran a piece that relied heavily on government sources?

David Remnick:

I thoroughly stand by the story we published.

Isaac Chotiner:

And his comments?

David Remnick:

Look, there is a difference between what people say loosely or in speeches and what we publish. All I can be in charge of is what we publish. I have enormous respect for him.

Isaac Chotiner:

Hersh wrote a piece a few months back hinting that the rebels were the ones who used chemical weapons in Syria. Why did that run in the London Review of Books and not The New Yorker?

David Remnick:

Or The Washington Post. I have worked with Sy on many dozens of pieces and am proud of that work. And a lot of those pieces had the potential to break a lot of crockery. I was willing, and am still willing, to go to the wall with investigative journalism. But if he and I disagree, it is not an easy thing. I hope we will work again together. I hope you will print this: I wish him all the best, and I think he is one of the great journalists of our age.”

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I’m there whenever David Remnick focuses on politics or boxing or writers. Other topics also, but those three in particular. The New Yorker EIC touches on that trio of subjects in a piece about President Obama, who is trying to sprint to the finish line rather than run out the clock. Three quick clips from the early stages of the article follow.


Obama spent his flight time in the private quarters in the nose of the plane, in his office compartment, or in a conference room. At one point on the trip from Andrews Air Force Base to Seattle, I was invited up front for a conversation. Obama was sitting at his desk watching the Miami Dolphins–Carolina Panthers game. Slender as a switch, he wore a white shirt and dark slacks; a flight jacket was slung over his high-backed leather chair. As we talked, mainly about the Middle East, his eyes wandered to the game. Reports of multiple concussions and retired players with early-onset dementia had been in the news all year, and so, before I left, I asked if he didn’t feel at all ambivalent about following the sport. He didn’t.

“I would not let my son play pro football,” he conceded. “But, I mean, you wrote a lot about boxing, right? We’re sort of in the same realm.”


When Obama leaves the White House, on January 20, 2017, he will write a memoir. “Now, that’s a slam dunk,” the former Obama adviser David Axelrod told me. Andrew Wylie, a leading literary agent, said he thought that publishers would pay between seventeen and twenty million dollars for the book—the most ever for a work of nonfiction—and around twelve million for Michelle Obama’s memoirs. (The First Lady has already started work on hers.) Obama’s best friend, Marty Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman, told me that, important as the memoir might be to Obama’s legacy and to his finances, “I don’t see him locked up in a room writing all the time. His capacity to crank stuff out is amazing. When he was writing his second book, he would say, ‘I’m gonna get up at seven and write this chapter—and at nine we’ll play golf.’ I would think no, it’s going to be a lot later, but he would knock on my door at nine and say, ‘Let’s go.’ ” Nesbitt thinks that Obama will work on issues such as human rights, education, and “health and wellness.” “He was a local community organizer when he was young,” he said. “At the back end of his career, I see him as an international and national community organizer.’

Yet no post-Presidential project—even one as worthy as Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs or Jimmy Carter’s efforts to eradicate the Guinea worm in Africa—can overshadow what can be accomplished in the White House with the stroke of a pen or a phone call. And, after a miserable year, Obama’s Presidency is on the clock. Hard as it has been to pass legislation since the Republicans took the House, in 2010, the coming year is a marker, the final interval before the fight for succession becomes politically all-consuming.


Obama’s advisers are convinced that if the Republicans don’t find a way to attract non-white voters, particularly Hispanics and Asians, they may lose the White House for two or three more election cycles. And yet Obama still makes every effort to maintain his careful, balancing tone, as if the unifying moment were still out there somewhere in the middle distance. “There were times in our history where Democrats didn’t seem to be paying enough attention to the concerns of middle-class folks or working-class folks, black or white,” he said. “And this was one of the great gifts of Bill Clinton to the Party—to say, you know what, it’s entirely legitimate for folks to be concerned about getting mugged, and you can’t just talk about police abuse. How about folks not feeling safe outside their homes? It’s all fine and good for you to want to do something about poverty, but if the only mechanism you have is raising taxes on folks who are already feeling strapped, then maybe you need to widen your lens a little bit. And I think that the Democratic Party is better for it. But that was a process. And I am confident that the Republicans will go through that same process.”•


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As David Remnick prepares to offer analysis of Russia’s Winter Games, which hopefully will be a safe and joyous event, here’s the opening of E.J. Kahn’s 1972 New Yorker reportage in the direct aftermath of the tragedy in Munich, the so-called “Serene Olympics” which became anything but:

“Into the unreal Olympic world, where inches and ounces and seconds are what traditionally matter most, the real world cruelly intruded at five o’clock three mornings ago. The first inkling most of the four thousand journalists here had of the dreadful events that should have terminated these now cheerless Olympics came just before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, at which hour we had been invited to attend a press conference with the American swimmer Mark Spitz, who, having won an unprecedented seventh gold medal the night before, has been crowned by the German press ‘der König von München.’ Like just about everything else around here, though, his gilt had been tarnished. He had carried a pair of brand-name athletic shoes to the presentation ceremony for the third medal, and had felt constrained—probably under pressure from the United States Olympic Committee and under at least indirect pressure from Avery Brundage, the crusty American octogenarian who is retiring this year after twenty years as president of the International Olympic Committee—to make a public apology to his teammates. On my way to the conference, I glanced at the first editions of the local morning papers. They featured a queen not just of Munich but of all West Germany—the sixteen-year-old high jumper Ulrike Meyfarth, who had never cleared six feet until the previous afternoon, when she went three and a half inches above that and won a hysterically applauded gold medal of her own. Her glory was brief, for we learned during our wait for Spitz to show up that the Olympic Village had been murderously invaded. While we were reeling from that shock, Spitz arrived and gave sober, clipped answers to a few meaningless questions. He remained seated throughout the session, and a factotum explained, ‘Mark Spitz does not want to come to the microphone, because of the Israeli incident.’ (He is Jewish, and nobody knew who, if anyone, might be the next target.) As a result, the swimmer’s responses were all but inaudible to us. It didn’t much matter, because must of the questions, dredged from the near-bottom of the sportswriters’ cliché barrel, were absurd and obviously irrelevant. Indeed, all the things that had been ceased to seem very consequential—even the prodigies of the regal Spitz himself.”•


“Our greatest hopes and worst fears are seldom realized”:

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Because of the Costas factor, I tend to mute or just block out a lot of NBC’s Olympics commentary, but hiring David Remnick, longtime Russia expert, for its coverage of the Sochi Games was a smart move by the network. Remnick tells Richard Deitsch, in his steadfastly excellent Sports Illustrated “Media Circus” column, what his role will be. An excerpt:

“[Jim] Bell said Remnick’s role for the opening ceremonies will come during what NBC calls the ‘creative part of the broadcast,’ where the host country usually tells a story about itself. Remnick served as a Moscow bureau chief for The Washington Post and earned a Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction and the George Polk Award for excellence in journalism in 1994 for his book Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.

‘I have an interest in sports and I grew up in a time where the Olympics were highly charged events,’ Remnick said. ‘I’m 55 so I have pretty vivid memories of Mexico City. I remember Bob Beamon, as apolitical an act as there could be, and John Carlos and Tommie Smith. I think that everyone would have benefitted in 1968 from understanding what a gesture of black power meant in the context of a sporting event because not everyone was paying attention to the splits between the Black Panthers and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. What happens invariably at every Olympics is there is a kind of non-athletic aspect to it that gives it dimension.’

Remnick said he had been given assurances by NBC Sports that he would have editorial independence with his commentary. Among the topics he will surely address: LGBT issues within Russia, the relationship between Russia and the Ukraine and the nature of post-Soviet Russia.

‘There is nothing in the world — and I know they don’t intend to hinder me in this way — where I would not be honest in my analysis,’ Remnick said.”

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Fo shizzle.

Fo shizzle.

Courtesy of Joe Pompeo in Capital New York:

“‘This detail is funny and irrelevant so I’ll retail it,’ he said. ‘I was in a meeting with President Obama not long ago, on foreign policy, that was off the record. One of the people was kind of hectoring about the fact of how much money we give to Egypt, to which the president replied, ‘True dat.”

The crowd erupted.

‘I thought, I will bet this is the first time that this has happened in any kind of briefing ever in the White House,’ said Remnick.”

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David Remnick can write about any topic brilliantly, but it’s always special when he focuses on American politics, boxing or Russia. He has a new New Yorker article on the latter topic, focusing on Vladimir Putin at a time when the once and perhaps future president of the Russian Federation is facing vociferous dissent from his people for the first time. The opening:

“On the night of November 20th, two weeks before elections for the State Duma, Vladimir Putin set aside the cares of the Kremlin and went to the Olympic SportComplex for an ultimate-fighting match—a ‘no rules’ heavyweight bout between a Cyclopean Russian named Feodor (the Last Emperor) Yemelianenko and a self-described anarchist from Olympia, Washington, named Jeff (the Snowman) Monson. The bout was broadcast nationally on Rossiya-2, one of the main state television channels. Putin, wearing a blue suit and no tie, was at ringside. He has always been eager to project the macho posture of a muzhik, a real man. He has had himself photographed riding horses bare-chested, tracking tigers, shooting a whale with a crossbow, piloting a firefighting jet, swimming a Siberian river, steering a Formula One race car, befriending Jean-Claude Van Damme, and riding with a motorcycle gang. Once, on national television, he tried to bend a frying pan with his bare hands. He did not quite succeed, but the effort was appreciated. And now ultimate fighting: the beery crowd of twenty thousand—some prosperous, some less so—were his own, Putin’s people.

Yemelianenko and Monson were of a rough equivalence: heads shaved, two enormous sacks of rocks, though the Russian was distinguished by his unstained skin; Monson had tattoos from ankle to neck, including two in crowd-friendly Cyrillic—svoboda and solidarnost’. The gesture got him nowhere. Almost from the start, the Russian dominated the fight. Yemelianenko, with a deft and powerful kick, snapped a bone in Monson’s leg, causing the American to limp pitifully. But, even as Yemelianenko took command, steadily reducing Monson to a swollen, bloody pulp—a source of pleasure to the crowd—it was hard to tell if Putin was enjoying himself. The camera flashed to him now and then. He barely betrayed a smile. His face, now smoothed with Botox and filler (it is said), is more enigmatic than ever. What was more, he had larger concerns. He knew that, no matter how hard his operatives tried to get out the vote in the provinces and massage the results, the Kremlin party, United Russia, was going to lose ground.

At the end of the bout—a unanimous decision for Yemelianenko—the Prime Minister climbed through the ropes to pay tribute to the loser and to congratulate his countryman. By this time, the American handlers were tenderly helping their warrior to the dressing room. Monson could no longer walk. His lips were as fat as bicycle tires.

Putin had a kind word for Monson (‘a real man’) and paid Yemelianenko the ultimate compliment of Russian masculinity, calling him a ‘nastoyashii Russki bogatyr‘—a genuine Russian hero. As Putin spoke, and as the national audience watched, many in the crowd started to jeer and whistle. This had never happened to Putin before, not once in two four-year terms as President, not in three-plus years as Prime Minister. And yet now, having announced his intention to reassume the Presidency in March, possibly for another twelve years, he was experiencing an unmistakable tide of derision.”


Bending frying pans:

Emelianenko crushes Monson:

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From David Remnick’s excellent 1991 Washington Post coverage of Mikhail Gorbachev’s ignominious ouster from the Kremlin, which occurred after he dismantled the Cold War Soviet machinery, leaving the former superpower less a danger to the rest of the world but seemingly no less a danger to itself:

“Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, whose battle to reform socialism has ended with the collapse of Leninist ideology and the Soviet Union, left the Kremlin tonight an exhausted and bitter man.

In his final days, Gorbachev told aides that he felt ‘balanced’ and ‘at peace’ with his choices, his place in history. But as he sat in the eerie quiet of his office last weekend receiving visitors and watching news reports on television, he learned that the presidents of the former Soviet republics, who had met to form the new Commonwealth of Independent States, had discussed not only an end to the Soviet Union but, with unconcealed relish, the details of his pension. Down the hall, members of President Boris Yeltsin’s Russian government were already taking measurements and inventory for their imminent move into the Kremlin.

‘For me, they have poisoned the air,’ Gorbachev confided to one reporter. ‘They have humiliated me.’

Gorbachev has tried hard to conceal his emotions, to cover them over with pride and the language of political euphemism. Yet his sense of rejection and betrayal from all sides seems no less profound for him than it was for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was ousted in 1964, or for Winston Churchill when he was summarily voted out of 10 Downing St. after leading Britain to victory in World War II. Four months ago, Gorbachev’s closest aides in the Communist Party, the military and the KGB arrested him and made clear an implicit threat of murder. Once back in Moscow, Yeltsin and other republics’ leaders leached him of all authority, making him look hollow and weak.”


In 1996, Gorbachev is interviewed by noted male impersonator, Rosie Charles:

If you’d like, they can stuff the crust with cheese, comrade:

Another David Remnick post:

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"The Passion of Muhammad Ali," April 1968, "Esquire."

Brilliant, blustery and belligerent, Bronx-born advertising legend George Lois created some of the most iconic magazine covers ever, alongside editor Harold Hayes, for Esquire in the 1960s. They were the kind of uncluttered, political and thought-provoking images that are rarely even attempted today in a magazine world governed by a focus-group mentality. Lois has never been shy about his utter disdain for contemporary magazine covers, but in a new Vice interview, he reveals a few he’s liked. An excerpt.

Vice: Have you seen a single cover from the past few years that you liked?

George Lois: Once in a while, and it really thrills me.

The New Yorker did two or three terrific covers over the last couple of years that really nailed what was going on. That terrific drawing of Obama and Hilary Clinton in bed together, answering the phone, was fucking good. David Remnick is a fan of mine. We had lunch once and he said, ‘Do you think I should do some photographic covers?’ I said, ‘What? Are you fucking nuts? You’re the only mag that stands out or has a chance of standing out! You don’t fill it with blurbs; you have drawings, which in many cases are whimsical and sweet. That’s terrific, but you should do a cover about something that happened last Thursday. Have somebody come up with a great idea on Friday, and then it comes out the next Monday. You’ll nail what happened!’ Then he did three or four of them, and I said, ‘Jesus Christ, somebody’s listening to me!’ But that’s about it.”

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“Just Enough Liebling” has a foreword by current “New Yorker” editor David Remnick. (Image by North Pointe Press.)

An indifferent student from a wealthy Upper East Side family, A.J. Liebling had an endless curiosity of all things, especially French food, press criticism and pugilism. “The University of Eighth Avenue” is a piece from the latter category though not from the New Yorker. It’s a great two-part story from a pair of December 1955 issues of Sports Illustrated, about an old-school fighter named Billy Ray, who was soon to turn 90. In it, Ray recalls the raffish, cold-blooded side of the 19th-century Brooklyn sporting scene. (Read the full article, part one and part two.) An excerpt:

“Ray grew up in the gracious old Brooklyn of Henry Ward Beecher, in which prizefighting was as much against the law as cocking mains or dogfights, but less frowned upon, since there were no Humane Societies needling the police to stop the fist fighters. Left to their own devices the police were lenient. ‘A fellow named Hughie Bart ran a great place around 1882,’ Mr. Ray said. ‘It was right across the street from Calvary Cemetery and there would be dogfights in the basement, rooster fights on an upper floor, and we would be fighting on the ground floor, all at the same time. Mourners would stop in on their way back, to take their mind off their loss. The gravediggers were old tads with beards. They’d sit in Hughie’s drinking between jobs, and when they were watching a fight you dassn’t quit, because they would split your skull with a spade.'”

See also:

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“You think the Kardashians lack genius?” (Image by Martin Schneider.)

Robert Birnbaum of the Morning News has a fun, freewheeling interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick. The Q&A is pegged to Remnick’s new book about Obama, but the two cover a number of topics, both serious and silly, in an off-the-cuff manner. A few excerpts follow.


Robert Birnbaum:

What is going to happen with newspapers and such?

David Remnick:

I’m not a fortune teller. I know it would be interesting if I sat here and told you without a trace of uncertainty that in 10 years all magazines are going to be projected on screens on the side of the Empire State Building and the Prudential Building. Or alternately, they would be projected on the inside of your sunglasses in the summertime. I don’t know. Here’s what my job is, and I share that with other editors, too: We are in this moment of technological uncertainty and transition. The goal for me is to make sure we find a way, willy-nilly, to be healthy so that we can do the thing itself. The thing itself is what I care about most. Given a choice between the survival of the long-form narrative journalism, criticism, cartooning—all the things that we do—and print itself, there is no contest. No contest. I, at the age of 51, may still think, for me, the best technology for reading the New Yorker at this moment is the print version. But that’s just me. If your son, decides otherwise, that he wants to read it on an iPad, kenahorah [so be it].

Remnick’s “The Devil Problem and Other True Stories” is one of my favorite non-fiction collections.

Robert Birnbaum:

I have to say I am befuddled by what flits across my TV screen—who are these Kondrashian [sic] people?

David Remnick

You think they lack genius?

Robert Birnbaum


David Remnick


Robert Birnbaum

Someone must have genius associated with them.

David Remnick

Something I have never found interesting at all—two unbelievably popular things on television. One is reality television—it never interested me at all. And the other is this neo-talent-show stuff, like American Idol. The reason I don’t like American Idol is that a lot of the talent seems to be a replication of the singing style of Mariah Carey and Whitney Huston. I don’t need it.


David Remnick

David Owen is a fantastic golf writer.

Robert Birnbaum

I find golf to be the least interesting of pastimes.

David Remnick

To me it looks like a nervous breakdown with a stick.

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Donald Barthelme: "Grace Paley is a wonderful writer and troublemaker. We are fortunate to have her in our country."

I love the Bronx-born short-story writer Grace Paley, especially her 1974 collection Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. The book contains only 17 stories, but there’s so much humor, pathos and wisdom packed into those pages. (Although I actually recommend you instead buy The Collected Stories, since you can get all 45 of her published short works for just pennies more.)

A political activist as well as a writer, Paley’s work in Enormous Changes was informed by the tumult of New York in the ’60s and early ’70s. She was the perfect writer for that time and place.

Here’s an excerpt from a 1985 David Remnick article about Paley (when she was 62) from the Washington Post:

“‘I’ve been here for almost forever,’ she says. Take ‘here’ to mean New York, and that is true. Paley’s background is richer than just the block. Her parents, Isaac Goodside and Manya Ridnyik, left Russian around 1905 and settled in New York, first on the Lower East Side and then in the Bronx. When they were young in Russia they had been Social Democrats opposed to the czar. Goodside had been exiled to Siberia and Ridnyik to Germany.

In New York, Goodside helped teach himself English by reading Dickens. He became a doctor. Paley’s mother took care of the house–Paley herself often escapes to sweeping and washing when her stories won’t come unstuck.

‘When I was little I used to love to listen to my parents’ stories, all the talk that went on,’ she says. ‘I loved to listen and soon I loved to talk and tell.'”

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