2020: My Year in Music

Ending this year limping and shaking out my wings. Here’s the music that got me through. This list is dedicated to Andy, who wrote me something like seventy-five postcards, each describing a piece of new music that had struck him, over the spring and summer; to Paulie, who tells me every year that I can earn their respect by waiting to post my year-in-music list until the year is over; to Riz Rollins, musical godparent of two decades, whose heavenly “Drive Time” show on KEXP now falls on my house-dinner cooking nights; to Lace Cadence who fills in for Riz sometimes and throws confetti over me with his Afropop sets; and to everyone who shared a moment with me to one of these songs.

For sheer plays, my year winner is Sean Shibe’s Bach, a setting of two lute suites and a prelude-fugue-allegro for solo guitar. It’s just exquisite– not too bright, brisk, or flashy, mic’d nice and close, letting the emotional richness and unbelievable subtlety of the music come through. Finn loves this record– they call it “the morning music.” It feels impossible as I listen that a human mind could have created something so radiant in its symmetries: as if it were a 17th-century German who designed the first nautilus shell or coral reef. Earlier in this brutal year, it was Pablo Casals’ recording of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor that got me out of bed, those first few low sorrowing notes soothing my own grief and pain. Nothing cerebral or analytical about it.

Black power and cosmic future-in-the-stars aspirations thread through Kareem Ali‘s techno. The amazing “Night Echoes” was my entrypoint, a perfect chamber of time that I first entered mid-year, but here’s another beautiful one, and Ali has an ideas-are-for-sharing ethos and lots of other albums and singles to choose from. Dive in! My kitchen dancefloor hit of the year was the Souldynamic bootleg of Sierra Leone All Stars’ “Mother in Law” (Bandcamp only): try listening with a wooden spoon in your hand. My other favorite techno of the year was Andrea’s Ritorno. In it, time is measured in elements moving forward and backward in the mix rather than in builds toward ecstasy or dissolution as in most dancefloor music. (Though there are some delicious beatdrops!) You’ll fall in deep sexy love with the sound of this record: big soft echoing fogbanks and tide-washes, variable reverb and flanging effects that seem to pull you nearer, ease you back, pull you nearer again.

Anderson .Paak’s “Lockdown” made my heart pound; it’s lived in me like an echo since the public fury and gathering visions of the summer: you should have been downtown, the people were rising. Loping and funky and limber, it’s the opposite of the crowded, urgent, all-of-everything rush of Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture,” a song about the unbearable contradictions, rage, grief, and militant hope of life in the cage that white racism has built. The guts and dignity of this song captivate me. (Met both of these through critic Joe Levy’s Uprising 2020 playlist on Spotify.) The album that felt closest to uprising for me this year was Crack Cloud’s Pain Olympics: hectoring, utopian, angry gathering-music, forged by an artistic core of folks who met in Vancouver through addiction recovery and added to by many, many, many artists, dancers, players, and makers. Despite the declamations and jeering, there’s a visionary impulse in this music: Crack Cloud can see the better world. Though some songs are more mood and energy (begun from jams?) than tune, the whole is seamless, and I guarantee that when concerts come back, Crack Cloud will tear you up. Run the Jewels’ RTJ4, another kind of movement music, got me through a long bleak drive: gleeful, furious, obscene. (To hear another facet of Killer Mike, check his interview on the Bad Faith podcast on base-building in Georgia.) Ka’s Descendants of Cain is one of my favorite books of poetry of the year. Ka has sounded old for a decade, weaving myths of honor, loss, sacrifice, and death into his continuous-recent-past stories of hustling and surviving in Brooklyn. Ka’s raps are epigrammatic and intricate, wry and grim at once (“quiet and frigid disposition, growin’ up in the cold / surprised I ain’t get high from what I was low enough to behold”), his heart breaking despite his tough front. For a completely different energy, rap for the club, I absolutely loved DJ Mustard and Roddy Ricch’s “Ballin”: you’ll snap your fingers to the beat instantly, and Ricch’s flow is intricate, effortless, and catchy, a testimony how far into pop the possibilities of technical proficiency in rap have extended. Same joy at Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage Remix” featuring Beyonce, and Tarrus Riley’s “Lighter,” with vocals from Shenseea and Rvssian, a sublime summer-night radio-up song that should be twice as long.

Not all the indie rock I loved this year felt young: X’s “Cyrano de Berger’s Back,” an 80s B-side the band finally remade for their first original-lineup album in thirty-five years, swings like soul music; Waxahatchee’s “Lilacs” and a few other moments on the acclaimed Saint Cloud have a timeworn sturdy feel, fresh fruit from an old tree; Clem Snide’s “Roger Ebert” is timeless wisdom right from the dissolving brink of death; Katy Davidson’s early work collected on Dear Nora’s Three States: Rarities 1997-2007 sounds like the murmurings of an old desert soul even when Davidson was fresh out of high school.

But Beach Bunny’s “Ms. California,” a soaring pop song about being eaten away by insecurity and jealousy, puts me right back in first-love feelings, that burning and blurry feeling of craving what my beloved craves, even to the edge of losing myself. And Great Grandpa’s Four of Arrows sounds like a college crush: it runs on the everything-out vulnerability of Alex Menne’s vocals, their big bashing highs and collar-grabbing drama. “Bloom” and “Mono No Aware” sound like a million bucks, and in a just world would have made Great Grandpa major indie stars; I prefer, though, the broodier more intricate stuff like “English Garden” and “Mostly Here.” Palehound’s “Aaron,” a declaration of faith to a partner through his changes, is the love song I loved best this year. Angelica Garcia’s “Karma the Knife” could cut your throat: this song bangs, and Garcia, sounding like a swaggering high schooler, is a natural star. And I absolutely cannot resist Kiwi Jr.’s Football Money, skeptical and clangorous and funny and tuneful, admissions and shaggy-dog stories of an amused barely-adult small-town librarian dropped in the big city, too broke to be white collar, too clever to quit. The literal only thing you’ll dislike about Football Money is that it ends too soon. Lastly, I grew into loving Phoebe Bridgers’s Punisher. She’s a stunning lyricist, youthfully severe but free of bile and judgment, excellent at offhand details and at zingers too. Punisher’s production sounded mushy, wispy, and vague in a typically indie way at first, but the louder I played it, the better I liked it, the more its details and meticulousness– as precise as the lyrics, as precise as the neat 60s-type chord turnarounds– grabbed me. Live, I bet I’d love these songs even more.

My jazz records this year are Immanuel Wilkins’s Omega and the reissue of the Beaver Harris-Don Pullen 360 Experience’s Well-Kept Secret album from 1985 (on Bandcamp, not streaming). Wilkins, a hugely talented Julliard grad overflowing with prodigious energy and tunes at twenty-three, has made an album saturated in the grief and rage of America’s racist violence. His quartet is dynamic, the songs’ feels constantly shifting; I especially love the stormy drama of pianist Micah Thomas, ricocheting off Wilkins’s solos that sometimes evoke gospel, sometimes spiritual-jazz ecstasy and fury. I first fell for Pullen, who as a young hotshot was Charles Mingus’s last pianist, on Mingus’s rangy joyful late live return Jazz in Detroit, and I’ve come to love his assertive, sneaky and inside-outside playing. Pullen can be exuberantly funky or right on the edge of burning up, and on Well-Kept Secret— featuring steel drums, lots of oddball brass and percussion as well as its co-leaders’ drums and piano– he’s both on every song. “Goree,” a raging many-part suite named for the Portuguese slave-trade hub, will hold you for its entire 17 minutes; “Newcomer” lifts my heart.

Another classical album I loved: Daniel Hope’s Belle Epoque is a two and a half hour reverie, a dream-gallery of an era in London, Paris, and Vienna– from just before the turn of the century to just before WWI, as the first coals of musical modernism flared to heat but before “civilization” tore itself apart. Belle Epoque includes pieces by Debussy, Ravel, and Massanet, but also early works by prickly weirdos like Berg, Webern, Schoenberg; there are duets, small ensembles, orchestras and even a few vocalists; but the whole work circles back to sound, the gliding sweet sensitive quality of Hope’s violin. (Listen to how it takes the place of the vocalist on Hahn’s “A Chloris”: listen to how he makes that melody sing without a singer.) Belle Epoque circles back, too, to memory, nostalgia: do I love this music in part for its sweetness-before-the-disaster evocation, a warped and backwards-cast longing for an innocence I’ll never feel again?

Speaking of innocence, one oddball record I guarantee I would never have listened to if Andy hadn’t told me to is Gaby Moreno and Van Dyke Parks’s Spangled!, a Mexico-to-Argentina songbook album (drawn mostly from the mid-century El Cancionero Picot anthology, but also including tunes by Ry Cooder, Dorival Caymmi, and Harry Nilsson) sung by the LA-via-Guatemala Moreno and arranged by Parks in vivid technicolor. The songs may evoke dashed dreams, racist indifference, heartsick love, or eternal longing, but Moreno sings with optimistic dazzle and the sheer harmonic inventiveness of the arrangements suggests a spirit that hard times can’t snuff out.

Why do cool kids disdain Jason Isbell? He’s an astounding songwriter, his tenor voice is beautiful, his songs about getting sober are as good as Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, and he stuck his neck way out to write “White Man’s World” (and had a lot of country music’s doors slammed in his face in response). I’m coming to him late and backwards, but please do listen to Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit’s Reunions. The songs all hit, the big roomy production soars, he doesn’t let himself off the hook for his unforced adult disasters. Other somewhat-in-the-region-of-country songs that killed me this year are Ashley McBryde’s “Sparrow,” a forthright and splendidly beautiful song about fame vs. family; Ray LaMontagne’s “Weeping Willow,” a perfect guitar-and-voices oldie that could have been written seventy years ago; and Caroline Spence’s “Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes,” about the messes you watch yourself make as if from miles away.

Some singalongs this year include Paul McCartney’s “Calico Skies,” a perfect song I just met from this year’s reissue of Flaming Pie, and the Magnetic Fields’ “Come, Life, Shaker Life!,” a ritual incantation for the sacred feminine ecstasies of another century, off Quickies. And on a lot of long drives I’ve belted along to Sunday Service Choir’s “Weak,” a gospel tune with a melody so good it calls back the 90s R&B that first thawed my fussy punk heart. (Also dig “Souls Anchored” if you like what you hear in this one.)

A few good nocturnal atmospheres this year in the beautiful and dead-simple love song “Better Part” by Meerna, the eerie insistent slow nightmare Lynchian tug of Men I Trust’s “Say, Can You Hear,” and the intricacy, tightening and deepening, of Lianne La Havas’s cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes.” But for the nights when time gets elastic or swells enormously and the mind reaches to its own edges, I put on Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Heavy Rain, a dub reworking of 2019’s Rainford. Perry– the forefather of dub, of studio-as-instrument, of the remix– sounds identical now, at eighty-three, to how he did at fifty-five on my beloved Lord God Muzick, but the musical palette conjured here by co-producer Adrian Sherwood is much less digital and hard-edged. Perry is possessed, gleeful, freaky, and the atmosphere is consistent even the music’s dynamics lurch, hiccup, drop away, and swell as dub can. One of the album’s surprise pleasures is how much room it provides for individual instrumental expression: grumbling looping trombone, the weaving harmonica of “Heavy Rainford,” and some splendid violin playing in “Above and Beyond.” An album to live in.

Oh and I can’t possibly leave here without talking about Prince’s Sign “O” the Times (Super Deluxe Edition), a reissue I’ve prayed for ever since Prince’s estate began reissuing and digitally licensing his huge catalogue. Sign “O” the Times is some of my favorite music, 81 perfect minutes, and Sign is just about three-quarters of what any obsessive would want. And, right, deluxe though it is (91 songs! eight hours!), it still leaves things out. On the way to Sign in 1986-87, Prince spun off multiple test-pressings for an album called Dream Factory as well as an all-Camille alter-ego/persona/second-soul album and then tried to pitch Warner on a triple LP called Crystal Ball before being forced to winnow his material to the mere double LP that is Sign. Along the way, he broke up the Revolution, deleting their original backing tracks and redoing them himself. This deluxe set includes very few of these original Revolution takes of the songs; it also, infuriatingly, omits ten or so complete songs slated for Dream Factory, Camille, and Crystal Ball that have turned up elsewhere: on the third disc of Hits/B-Sides, the Black Album, movie soundtracks, and the confusingly named 1998 Crystal Ball rarities set. (If you’re fanatical, you can re-create these albums song for song; if you’re less fanatical, at least please do yourself a favor and listen to “Good Love.”) Omissions aside, I’m forever going to be thankful for the long version of “Shockadelica,” the original “Rebirth of the Flesh,” and the unstoppable complete live set. Join me, sweeties, in sitting in the sunglow of a supreme creative gift?

Oh and since you ask: older music I fell in love with this year, a Merman Top 40: Erykah Badu, Mama’s Gun. Sonny Boy Williamson II, His Best. Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta. Lois Maffeo & Brendan Canty, The Union Themes. Prefab Sprout, “Appetite.” Bill Evans, The Paris Concert Editions One and Two. Mississippi John Hurt, Avalon Blues: the Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings. R.E.M., Green. Hezekiah Walker, “I Need You to Survive.” Joe Pass, Portraits of Duke Ellington. Art Pepper with George Cables, Goin’ Home. Ray Charles, “In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down).” The Mekons’ cover of John Anderson’s “Wild and Blue.” Cheap Trick, Greatest Hits: the Japanese Singles Collection. Boston, “Peace of Mind.” Salt-N-Pepa, “None of Your Business.” Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman. Nanci Griffith, “Ford Econoline.” Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor, No Protection. Dischord 1981: the Year in Seven Inches. Bessie Smith, “Backwater Blues.” Benny Carter, Further Definitions. Blur, “Tender.” Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga, Virunga Volcano. X, “4th of July.” American Music Club, Mercury (again). Joan Armatrading, “Willow.” Dorival Caymmi, Caymmi e Su Violao. Elis Regina and Antonio Jobim, Elis & Tom. Don Byas, Savoy Jam Party and At Nalen with Jan Johansson: 1962. Arvo Part, “Summa (version for choir)” from Pilgrim’s Song. Frank Sinatra, Nice ‘n Easy. Jimi Hendrix, First Rays of the New Rising Sun. Pavement, Wowee Zowee. Charlie Rich, “Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs.” Sprigs of Time: 78s from the EMI Archive.

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The Fifteen Best Things on the Internet: September 2020

Hi dears. A few times a year I pull together my notes on the essays, Twitter threads, podcasts, and bird memes that have stuck with me, challenged me, or taught me something. Here you go:

1 and 2. Elizabeth Weil, “They Know How to Prevent Megafires. Why Won’t Anybody Listen?” and Marissa Correia, “The Real Cause of California Wildfires.” As I write this, Seattle is blanketed with noxious, purple-gray haze from massive wildfires in Washington and Oregon; 3.4 million acres of California have burned. Why is this happening? Weil, a California journalist, writes: “We keep doing overzealous fire suppression across California landscapes where the fire poses little risk to people and structures. As a result, wildland fuels”–dry grass, dead trees, and dense groundcover–“keep building up. At the same time, the climate grows hotter and drier. Then, boom: the inevitable.” Weil profiles numerous Cassandras, ecologists and fire experts who’ve warned of the dangers decade after decade yet still grimly watch as California steadily deepens its fuel imbalance.

There’s only one large-scale solution, say Weil’s experts: more good fire, creating “a black-and-green checkerboard across the state,” creating dampers and dead ends past which seasonal fires couldn’t spread. But barriers to this include fire politics, property laws, and the size of good fire needed to restabilize. Academics believe that, before colonization and genocide by the Spanish and Americans, “between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres [of California] burned each year,” generally in many much-smaller fires. By comparison, in the last twenty years, California’s fire-management organizations permitted only 13,000 acres of annual controlled burns. Though the state is slowly facilitating more burns, the backlog of fuel on the ground is just too huge. “In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.

California’s indigenous communities understood fire and practiced controlled burning. These communities had observed that, as Correia notes, “fire helps soil retain water, keeps brushy vegetation down, encourages growth of native plants, helps certain trees reproduce and kills off pathogens and overpopulation of destructive insects.” But these communities were ravaged by disease, pushed out, politically marginalized, or exterminated; white cultural memory in the state was deeply imprinted by the devastating fires following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which killed 3,000 and left more than 100,000 homeless: fire became an adversary.

In that time, Correia writes, California was crowded with invasive grasses such as wild oats, an annual that depletes water (forcing out fire-resistant native perennial bunch grasses) and then dies in the summer heat, leaving a dry, brittle, flammable blanket. The state has also been plagued with pine beetles, who live longer due to the warmer weather and loss of predators; the beetles leave tinder-y dead pines throughout drought-afflicted California forests.

In the same period, California’s fire control agencies have become a big business, approaching $1 billion in federal aid this year and contracting full fire suppression (including hugely costly aerial spraying) out to private agencies. By comparison, “planning a prescribed burn is cumbersome”; while a wildfire is an emergency, a planned burn “need[s] to follow all environmental compliance rules” (meaning it can be canceled because of smog levels elsewhere in the state, etc). Such a burn is also politically risky: “Burn bosses in California can more easily be held liable than their peers in some other states if the wind comes up and their burn goes awry. At the same time, [they] typically suffer no consequences for deciding not to light.”

Weil concludes that a healthy state fire policy would require residents to include intentional fire in their land management plans, and to “rethink our ideas of what a healthy California looks like”–including, possibly, acclimating to the idea of regionally smoky skies for much of the summer, as early white settlers reported. One leader in returning to intentional fire is the Yurok Tribe, who were only recently permitted by changing conservation regulations to resume their historical practice of controlled burns.


3. What spell does this cast for you? Bruce Springsteen in Paris in 1985, singing “I’m on Fire”: I’ll always adore Jo Barchi, a poet I’ve never, like, “met,” for sharing it.


4. Kevin Henderson and Joseph J. Fischel, “Four Ways to Escape a Sex Panic.” Progressive mayor and part-time U Mass adjunct Alex Morse’s run against long-time House Rep. Richard Neal was torpedoed by bogus homophobic smears about his romantic and sexual life. These attacks were found to be politically motivated, concocted by the state party and by U Mass College Democrats seeking jobs in Neal’s office, but this late revelation wasn’t enough to sway the election’s outcome: Neal won 59-41%. Henderson and Fischel examine the how of moral panic: an exaggerated threat to social order used “stoke public fear, fear that is politically and financially profitable.” Sex panics exist “the confluence of stakeholder manipulation, media sensationalism, and political, regressive fallout too easily triggered by sex—stubbornly and especially queer sex.” The term points to important questions: “How does one measure the difference between wrongful panic and rightful concern?… Might the charge of ‘panic’ glibly trivialize sexual violence?” How can we discern when we’re being manipulated? Henderson and Fischel offer four pointers:

First, when there’s only smoke, look for a smoke machine”: beware of claims without specifics, or sentences without subjects (from the College Democrats’ attack of Morse: “Where such a lopsided power dynamic exists, consent becomes complicated”). The fuzziness of this claim masks the fact that “there is no charge that the small-town mayor had sexual relationships with a subordinate, an intern, or one of his students.” So where’s the smoke coming from?

Second, “reread the accusations.” As Lisa Duggan writes, “when the terms ‘sexual abuse’ or ‘sexual harassment’ are replaced with ‘sexual misconduct’ or ‘inappropriate sexual behavior,’ that is a red flag that we are leaving the arena of critical politics for the landscape of moral judgment.” It feels, well, gross to some people that Morse, a 31-year-old, had sex with college students (though not his own). The authors write that they, personally, differ “about whether to favor university bans on sexual contact with all undergraduates (‘categorical’) or only those you personally instruct (‘supervisory’),” while acknowledging that “for some students, perhaps especially queer ones looking at smaller dating pools, the categorical ban may itself be a deprivation.”

Third, “be uncomfortable with ‘uncomfortable.'” The College Democrats’ letter wrote that Morse made (again, unnamed) students feel uncomfortable by DMing them on Instagram or matching with them on Tinder, to which these authors bluntly reply: “Nobody has a right not to be uncomfortable. The rhetorical conversion of discomfort into harm and abuse can only serve a sex-negative culture that heaps scorn and shame upon queers, women, and gender minorities, whose bodies and pleasures will too often be sources of “discomfort” under prevailing norms of propriety, monogamy, and coupledom… Morse is not required to come out as a mayor whenever he flirts or has sex. It is the weaponization of discomfort that criminalizes trans men for not having ‘proper anatomy’ in their sexual relations; that disproportionately criminalizes Black men for HIV nondisclosure; that legitimates, or used to, straight men’s violence against transgender women; and that licenses ‘gay panic’ as a criminal defense. Discomfort may signal when something is awry, but it might equally reiterate bias, stereotype, and prejudice. Feelings aren’t facts.

Finally, “Look around for a political contest.” There’s a long and ugly history of sex panics targeting queers, leading to antigay violence and rollbacks of civil rights; in this case, the attacks on Morse stuck enough to cost him a victory against an entrenched corporate Democrat.


5. Chris Arnade, “The Non-Voter” and Glenn Greenwald, “Nonvoters Are Not Privileged.” Yes, GOP voter suppression is real and pernicious, but nonvoting is overwhelmingly a choice, and those who don’t vote are disproportionately poorer, younger, less educated, and nonwhite. (But the nonvoting population does not skew left or right: progressive- and conservative-identified people are just as likely not to vote.) Arnade, a photographer and journalist who works among Americans surviving poverty and addiction, writes experientially: “Not voting is about a justified cynicism forged from a lifetime of being screwed over by the status quo… In their minds, and from their experiences, voting has no clear upside… Voting means entering institutions that have given them problems. From schools, where they were tested, measured, and prodded endlessly, only to be then ignored, scolded, or demeaned. To municipal buildings where they were taxed, fined, or charged. Voting means interacting with a class of people who filled and embodied those institutions… It is rejoining a part of America that doesn’t value them, from the way they dress to the way they think… Voting means getting further entangled with a bureaucracy that has done nothing but tangled them up. Hell, it might even come with jury duty.” Unlike the wealthy, successful, or highly educated, who have money on the line in an election, nonvoters know “the outcome won’t change their life because it never has.” Politics, especially presidential politics, is a distant nuisance, or at best, a spectator sport that doesn’t involve them, much less care about them. “[Nonvoters] have strong views, and they might get emotionally involved for a bit, but they know their place is to watch.”

But our political class has done almost nothing to understand this community. As Greenwald writes, as soon as Biden clinched the nomination, political rhetoric around voting Democrat became overwhelmingly shamey, a scolding of hypothetical privileged, clueless Bernie-or-bust leftists whose pouting will return the presidency to Trump. In reality, the primary motive for nonvoting “is not voter suppression but a belief that election outcomes do not matter because both parties are corrupt or interested only in the lives of the wealthy.” As Pew found, “44 percent of eligible unregistered individuals say they do not want to vote,” while another “25 percent say they are unregistered because they have not been inspired by a candidate or issue.” Unsurprisingly, “the candidates most closely associated with the status quo are ones most likely to drive voters away from the polls, while those who appear to be outsiders who intend to deviate from bipartisan consensus are most likely to motivate them”: while he was in the running, Sanders was the candidate with the highest favorability among those who identified as nonvoters.


6. Surely someone else also identifies with this plate-raider


7. Mike Davis on coronavirus politics. Like Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Mike Davis is a true movement elder–an internationally-minded socialist, a many-decades scholar of global public health, class politics and racism, and urban politics–who we’re incredibly lucky to have in this moment. Davis, recovering at home following cancer surgery, was interviewed on Jacobin’s The Dig in late March. I have a hard time with Dig host Daniel Denvir’s voice, but he asks great and open-ended questions and Davis connects zillions of points in ways I’d never heard before. (The middle of the interview, now sadly dated stuff on the Democratic National Convention, is skippable.) For instance: sub-Saharan Africa has become a site of many new viral illness in part because European overfishing in the Gulf of Guinea forced many Africans to subsist on bushmeat (wild game), increasing opportunities for animal-to-human transmission. Or: in addition to being unspeakably cruel, factory farms are “superspreader events” for viral illness; China’s factory pigs were ravaged by a relative of coronavirus last year before it leaped to humans. Or: we could have had a multi-year, “universal” flu vaccine years ago (as we now do for, say, tetanus), but there’s too little money in it for Big Pharma to bother. Or: while the Global North could barricade itself against the climate-change miseries we’ve inflicted on the Global South, there’s no protecting ourselves from the diseases that neoliberal agriculture and rotten public health are unleashing there. (As wealthy Victorians, moving to London’s West End to avoid the East End’s coal smoke, still couldn’t escape the smallpox devastating London’s poor.) It goes on! When he’s pressed on post-Bernie movement strategy, Davis urges the Left to nurture investigative journalism (not just analysis and commentary) at its news outlets, and to focus on developing an “organization of organizers”–an International-style gathering space to debate strategy and boil down our demands.


8. Jia Toletino, “Interview with a Woman Who Recently Had an Abortion at 32 Weeks.” The agony, the terrible burden, the love, the gnawing self-doubt, the impossible moral choices of the subject of this profile have stayed with me.


9. Michael Hobbes, “Everything You Know about Obesity Is Wrong.” As Americans have gotten larger over the last forty years, our medical community has blamed fat people for being fat. The science behind this is flatly wrong, and “the emotional costs are incalculable.” Hobbes interviews half a dozen fat adults who have experienced a lifetime of contempt, wrongful termination, medical abuse, mockery, and suffering; he also exposes two widely-documented truths about the science of obesity “that could have improved, or even saved, millions of lives.”

The first is that diets do not work. “Not just paleo or Atkins or Weight Watchers or Goop,” Hobbes writes, “but all diets… 95 to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight fail and two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost.” Losing weight and keeping it off means “fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.”

Second, “weight and health are not perfect synonyms.” Many lean people are actually deeply unfit, while between a third and three quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy, “with no elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance, or high cholesterol… Dozens of indicators, from vegetable consumption to regular exercise to grip strength, provide a better snapshot of someone’s health than looking at her from across a room.” We’ve been trying the same fixes over and over for “the obesity epidemic” and they don’t work.

Meanwhile, doctors receive very little nutrition education (an average of 19 total hours in four years of instruction), and are ill-equipped to give detailed diet or exercise advice. They routinely urge self-starving fat patients to keep it up, pressure those who fail at meal-replacement diets to try again, and show far less rapport with fat patients. Money is one factor: “While procedures like blood tests and CT scans command reimbursement rates from hundreds to thousands of dollars, doctors receive as little as $24 to provide a session of diet and nutrition counseling.” It’s unsurprising, then, that higher-weight patients tend to avoid doctors, with sometimes fatal consequences.

The misery of social stigma has real consequences for fat people, prejudice against whom has increased as their numbers have grown. “More than 40 percent of Americans classified as obese now say they experience stigma on a daily basis… and 89 percent of obese adults have been bullied by their romantic partners.” Those who feel discriminated against have shorter life expectancies than those who don’t, suggesting “the possibility that the stigma associated with being overweight is more harmful than actually being overweight.” The effects of weight bias are worse for people of color, as shown by increased rates of stress, depression, bulimia, and cardiovascular disease.

Fat pride, however, faces many of the same hurdles as any nascent movement: internalized shame and self-judgment, and cultural disbelief that their identity should exist as something to declare. “Fat people grow up in the same fat-hating culture that non-fat people do… They still live in a society that believes weight is temporary, that losing it is urgent and achievable, that being comfortable in their bodies is merely ‘glorifying obesity.'”

What is actually killing us? Not our portions, but our food supply. “it’s not how much we’re eating—Americans actually consume fewer calories now than we did in 2003. It’s what we’re eating.” Just 4 percent of US food subsidies go to fruits and vegetables, while 60 percent of Americans’ calories are high-sugar, low-fiber, and include additives, throwing off “all of our biological systems for regulating energy, hunger and satiety”: “No wonder that the healthiest foods can cost up to eight times more, calorie for calorie, than the unhealthiest.

As for Americans who do get care from a dietician, “the decisive factor” (not in losing weight, but in reducing prediabetes and cardiovascular risk) “was not the diet patients went on, but how much attention and support they received while they were on it.”

What policy alternatives exist? “The most effective health interventions aren’t actually health interventions,” Hobbes writes; “they are policies that ease the hardship of poverty and free up time for movement and play and parenting,” while reducing things like suburban sprawl and lengthy commutes. “Developing countries with higher wages for women have lower obesity rates” than the US; policies such as Seattle’s Fresh Bucks program (doubling the value of food stamps spent on farmers’ market produce) increase fruit and vegetable consumption. “Policies like this are unlikely to affect our weight. They are almost certain, however, to significantly improve our health.” Living wages, pay equity, produce subsidies, and better education for doctors are among the campaigns for fat activism and American public health. “Fat activism isn’t about making people feel better about themselves,” one activist says. “It’s about not being denied your civil rights and not dying because a doctor misdiagnoses you.”


10. Sister Thea Bowman’s address to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1989, less than a year before her heartbreaking and untimely death, on Black dignity and brilliance, Christian racism, pastoral leadership, and the spiritual endurance and genius it takes to thrive in an oppressive society. You feel her pushing at the edges of the room.


11. A Twitter thread by Suyi Davies Okungbowa on the history of the Benin Empire’s interactions with Europe. This–studious ignorance, economic bullying, military violence, looting of treasures–is what a term like “underdevelopment” means in practice. This thread encapsulates, in miniature, the dreadful starting point from which many Global South nations entered “modernity.”


12. William Davies, “Who Am I Prepared to Kill?” There’s a lot for me to love in the London Review of Books, which is erudite, prickly, eclectic, snappy, and full of excellent writers. I’ve stayed thinking about this essay on our culture of debate in the Global North. It’s become, writes Davies, a massive plebiscite: up- and down-voting rather than debating, “a society of perpetual referendums” instead of argument and deliberation, with products set before us to “acclaim or decry.” Real-time feedback has permanently changed the way culture is produced and evaluated. On social media, Davies writes, “chunks of ‘content’ – images, screengrabs of text, short snatches of video – circulate according to the number of thumbs up or thumbs down they receive. It is easy to lose sight of how peculiar and infantilising this state of affairs is. A one-year-old child has nothing to say about the food they are offered, but simply opens their mouth or shakes their head. No descriptions, criticisms or observations are necessary, just pure decision.” Likewise, “once history itself becomes a matter of plebiscitary decision, we are assigned to cultural camps that we had no hand in designing, and whose main virtue is that the other camp is even worse. One stupid position (‘You can’t judge the past by the standards of the present!’) presumes its only marginally less stupid opponent (‘We must judge the past by the standards of the present!’).” Likewise, “the friend-enemy distinction has become a new type of ‘judgment device’, in which my preferences and tastes are most easily decided by the fact that they’re not yours. Things which you hate must ipso facto be good. It becomes embarrassing or even shameful to appreciate something, if the ‘wrong people’ are also praising it.”

Sure, critiques like this in a bigshot intellectual outlet can feel mummified and complainy, but Davies isn’t interested in carping or performing mob-victimhood; he instead weighs this culture’s values and risks for movements for justice. “It’s hard to deny that focused [and plebiscitary] efforts such as Rhodes Must Fall have had a rallying effect” for decolonization struggles in the UK, “while the evolution of Black Lives Matter would be unthinkable without the forms of ‘acclaim’ and ‘complaint’ that social media is so effective at propagating. The reason racism is being discussed by broadcasters, politicians and historic institutions as never before is largely thanks to publicity tactics that start with a smartphone video of an act of police violence and scale up from there. The challenge is to avoid conflating tactics with goals, as if movements for justice were solely concerned with imagery, reputations and statues. Conservatives and media outlets share a common interest in restricting politics to the level of sporting spectacle, occupying the space where other forms of inquiry and understanding might occur.” Progressives should resist buying in.

This culture of up-or-down fosters parallel delusions in our political culture. The right has been taken over by splitting and projection: “Fearful of having to face up to an unbearable national guilt, the right projects its anxiety onto a culture of violent ‘wokeness’ which it claims is pulling society apart.” But the equivalent symbolic temptation for the online left is “the prospect of the unambiguous baddie, whose condemnation will absolve others of all sin.” This thinking ignores that “guilt and innocence are rarely as easily distinguishable as we might like them to be. This is what it means for a problem to be systemic. Bad things don’t happen simply because bad people intend them; and good people often play an integral part in terrible political acts and institutions.”


13 and 14. Atul Gawande, “Why Americans Are Dying from Despair” and System Update: “Social Fabric Unraveling.” Cultural sickness is not a metaphor: the isolation and threat-calculus imposed by the pandemic have made existing trends–of isolation, economic precarity, and the politicization of fear–much worse. Our country is killing itself by promoting economic policies that lead to generational joblessness and wage stagnation, eating away at social ties once found in spiritual community and labor union membership, making guns and opioids easily available, promoting a politics of polarization and hate, and cutting away the safety net for those who lost their jobs due to automation and outsourcing. Rates of addiction, anxiety, chronic pain, alcoholism-induced liver disease, depression, and suicidality (one in four Americans between 18-24 “seriously considered” suicide in June) are exploding. Our culture is sick, and it’s getting sicker. Greenwald references Johann Hari, who’s studied depression in Western societies; here’s a TED talk, breezy but still informative, that Hari gave on related themes.


15. Brandon Taylor and Garth Greenwell, “Queer Beatitudes.” I promise you will love this learned, joyful, hyperbolic, consistently brainy conversation. I jumped out of the bath to start taking notes, saying YES aloud, twenty minutes in, and, if you’re in the bath, I bet you will too.

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Filed under poetry, politics, spirit

The Fourteen Best Things on the Internet: May 2020

Hey dears, long time coming: a post of the podcasts, essays, music videos, beautiful internet jetsam/takes that I’ve been thinking about and wrestling with since shelter-in-place began. As I noted when I started this post series, it’s way too easy for me to retweet-broadcast-resonate with something I read online without actually digesting it, learning from it, or responding fully to it; this series is my attempt to do more justice to challenging thinking, human complexity, and good art I encounter online. Many of these articles are old-ish; I grind slowly. Look for another post like this one soon.


1. Journalist Connie Walker’s CBC limited series Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo is the best podcast I’ve ever heard. Finding Cleo brings historical research, bloodhound sleuthing, structural political analysis, and shattering emotional power to a story of a missing Cree girl: Cleopatra Semaganis Nicotine, forcibly taken from her mother in Little Pine, Saskatchewan, and forced into foster care by white social workers in Canada’s “sixties sweep” of Indigenous children and teens. Cleo was separated from her siblings, given a new name, adopted into the United States, and then– as her siblings heard secondhand– died under mysterious circumstances. But US and Canadian governments offered the family no further information on her short life: no death certificate, no information on her series of foster and adoptive families, and no information on where Cleo was buried. Finding Cleo is the attempt by Walker (also a Cree woman from Saskatchewan) to find answers for the Semaganis siblings on what happened to Cleo. Thank you to Bri for telling me about it.

2. Bernard Avishai, “By Barring Two Congresswomen, Trump and Netanhayu Set a Trap for Democrats.” This take is seven months old, but Avishai’s take on authoritarian populism, American Jewish politics, B.D.S., and Trump’s relationship with Netanhayu has stuck with me. Avishai– an Israeli liberal who seems to have moved toward supporting a one-state “confederation” of Israel and Palestine and a right of return for all Palestinian refugees– writes of Trump’s long-term plan to paint Democrats as anti-Semitic and Israel and the United States as partners: partners not around “shared democratic values” and civil rights for oppressed minorities, but around “hard nationalism,” military might, and “traditional, populist, wall-building” majoritarian politics. Last summer, Trump publicly pushed Netanyahu to take the unprecedented step of banning Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both Muslim, from visiting Israel. Netanyahu’s government, which has passed legislation barring supporters of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (B.D.S.) from entry to Israel, was willing to comply. Both Omar and Tlaib have expressed qualified support for B.D.S., which calls for a boycott of “Israel’s apartheid regime, complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions,” and “all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights.”

What does Avishai think of B.D.S.? “It has never been clear,” Avishai points out, “whether the external pressure that the leaders of the movement are trying to mobilize is aimed at ending the occupation or at ending the state of Israel itself.” B.D.S., Avishai concedes, makes a clear moral point: the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is cruel, authoritarian, and hardening by the year; Israel remains in the control of fundamentalists and it continues to deny Palestinian national and civil rights. Progressive Americans, including Jews, increasingly believe that Palestinian refugees deserve a right of return to a secularized and reconstituted nation; that Israel’s current policy represents “a civil-rights violation on the world stage”; and that “B.D.S., for its part, seems… a reasonable, nonviolent way to confront it.” Through a B.D.S. campaign, “[y]ou boycott Israeli institutions and agitate for disinvestment from Israeli businesses, or from global companies that partner with them; you agitate to sanction Israeli government officials, and threaten to take them to the International Criminal Court,” making Israelis “hurt until they get the message.”

But, Avishai writes, “B.D.S. is an unexamined, contradictory bundle, because boycott, divestment, and sanctions are three very different things, hurting very different slices of Israeli society.” (This comment echoes Noam Chomsky’s sober criticism of B.D.S.’s aims, given while also affirming its goals: boycott, divestment, and sanctions are divergent strategies with differing likelihoods of success.) If Omar and Tlaib had been permitted to visit Israel, Avishai imagines, they would have seen a nation whose internal divisions seem “utterly familiar”: a “comparatively élite, cosmopolitan—and frustrated—Tel Aviv coast up against poor, pietistic Jerusalem and the rest of the country.” This, Avishai seems to believe, would have shown them the nuances of Israel’s domestic politics and thus softened their support for B.D.S.

There are better tools than B.D.S., Avishai believes, to economically challenge injustice inside Israel: “One can imagine governments sanctioning Israeli settlement policies, much like George H. W. Bush did, in 1991, when he warned that he would deduct any sum that Israel spent on settlements from American loan guarantees. One can imagine international organizations setting telecommunications standards sanctioning Israelis for hogging bandwidth from Palestinian telecom companies.” But a boycott, Avishai argues, would undermine, not empower, Israel’s progressive constituencies and leadership: “[B]oycott the Hebrew University and you boycott scholars trying to bridge the studies of the Holocaust and the Nakba. Boycott Israeli chipmakers and you boycott companies setting up research offices in Palestine.” Instead, Avishai believes, American progressives need to better educate themselves on, and work to empower, their Israeli counterparts. “In both places,” he admits, “it will be a long haul.”

Left out of Avishai’s analysis is a look at support for B.D.S. among Israelis sympathetic to Palestinian demands for justice, or a cost-benefit analysis of politically isolating Israel’s current government (and possibly empowering Netanhayu’s nationalist us-versus-a-threatening-world rhetoric) as a consciousness-raising strategy to educate and mobilize fence-sitting moderates.


3. When something is neither blessed nor cursed, it’s blursed:


4. How can municipal governments make their police forces less violent, and what policy changes can activists demand that most effectively reduce state violence in their communities? I first heard about scholar and policy analyst Samuel Sinyangwe from an admiring tweet by DeRay Mckesson; he’s an insightful presence who thinks empirically and intersectionally about justice issues. Here’s a thread of his research-based solutions to police violence. (Kudos to him too for updating his conclusions slightly since he first posted his research on this topic.)


5. Troy Vettese, “Sexism in the Academy.” It’s not getting better. The representation of women in academia shrinks the higher you go; the percentage of female full professors in the US is just 32%, and there are two tenured men for every tenured man. Women have been the majority of undergrads for decades– it’s not that the pipeline hasn’t let them through yet. Male scholars “are more zealous about safeguarding time for research, they are skeptical of women’s competence, and they endanger and demoralize female scholars through sexual harassment.” Undoing sexism in the academy, Vettese writes, requires confronting a “vast ramshackle machinery” that pushes men up the ivory tower while pushing women out.

What does this this machinery consist of? First, a skepticism of women’s talent at all levels of mentorship: there is “a widespread assumption that only men can be brilliant.” This toxic belief is especially prevalent in elite life science labs (where male PIs ensure that women make up only 31% of their postdoc workforce), but it shows up as well in fields as diverse as literature, musical composition, and philosophy. In all sciences, women lose time “proving a result again” to skeptical supervisors. (The data are inarguable: female scholars as a whole are asked to spend 9-12% more time making revisions when preparing work for publication.) In the world of grants, the gender gap in awards is about 7 percent and “when women are successful in their grant applications, they usually receive less funding, about eighty cents to a man’s dollar.”

Second, the widespread and naked ugliness of sexual harassment: “women often have to change field sites, topics, or even departments to avoid predatory men, diversions that eat up precious time for scholarship, not to mention the stress of such experiences.” One fifth to one half of female postgrads experience sexual harassment from a colleague, mentor, or supervisor.

Third, the power of citation. This is pervasive and pernicious. It shows up as skepticism of entire fields of study, where “[m]ethods pioneered by female scholars, such as feminist critiques of science or constructivism in international relations, are seen by male peers as ‘soft,’ and these peers are less likely to cite works employing such approaches.” It also shows up in male self-citation: “[a] male scholar is nearly twice as likely to cite his previous work [accounting for a tenth of all citations] than a female peer is to cite her own… Self-citation builds up the base of a paper’s citation count, leading other scholars to cite that paper at a rate of about four new citations for every self-citation.” This might seem like harmless ego-stroking by male scholars, but the simple numerical weight of citation matters for tenure.  And unsurprisingly, men are overall less likely to cite women: “In one study of economics articles, men were half as likely as women to cite the work of female scholars, while women manifested no such bias.”

Fourth, let’s not forget students. Course evaluations are critical for advancement to tenure, and male students overwhelmingly privilege male faculty and peers. Male students expect maternally-coded care from female professors: “students tend to evaluate a female instructor according to how well prepared she is in the classroom, which forces women to spend significantly more time preparing than men… By comparison, students expected their male teachers to be charismatic and knowledgeable, traits that require much less preparation to perform. Again, the widespread expectation held by boys and men is that only boys and men can be brilliant.” This, of course, trickles down to peer relationships among students as well: “In a study of three US undergraduate biology courses, students voted for their most intelligent peer during the semester. Generally the women gave a very slight edge to other women in their voting, but men favored other men by a nineteenfold margin.” (My emphasis.)

Fifth (for fifth column), husbands and male partners of female academics. Men are much, much less likely to sacrifice a work opportunity or research time, to take on childcare, or to explicitly value the career of a female partner than vice versa. “A woman was much more likely to say that her career was as important as her partner’s. This was true a majority of the time, even if women were making more money than their male partners, while the obverse was much less common.”

Finally, the simple fact that academic advancement is often conducted informally and secretively. A system that permits men to advance the colleagues in their networks they most admire, without any public or standard evaluation process, will inevitably favor other men. Most academic job applications are noncompetitive or unpublicized. “The problem in the academy comes down to men’s relative advantage over women, rather than any absolute gains women may make.”

Vettese examines the effects of having women in positions of academic leadership. It’s indispensable, he concludes, “though not a complete solution.” When women became chairs, deans, or central administrators, writes one scholar, “a woman’s holding of this position would devalue or minimize it somewhat, casting it into the service mode, not the power mode. We heard this comment so frequently across all disciplines that we finally named it gender devaluation.” Further, “When women step in to help other women, such as when they act as ‘diversity czars’ in the US to ensure hiring and tenure reviews are equitable, they risk provoking a backlash from men... The high risks and scanty rewards of feminist solidarity are likely why the levels of politicization among female faculty tend to be surprisingly low. Many scholars seem to see the burdens they carry as the result of their own choices or the behavior of individual misogynistic men, rather than as structured by a larger patriarchal system.”

What current models exist for alternatives? Vettese cites Turkey. At least before the AKP ascended to power, “the Turkish academy employed proportionately almost twice as many female full professors as the EU average.” This is not because Turkey is less sexist than other countries. Rather, it’s due to a mix of factors: first, the country’s universities have strict, open, and competitive guidelines regulating the appointment of professors. Turkey’s universities also mandate “that all competitions must be announced in a major newspaper, and applicants are judged on the basis of a defined portfolio.” An academic career is also considered a “safe” choice for Turkish women, serving as an outlet for “the career aspirations of bourgeois women denied other options.” Of course, as elsewhere in the world, bourgeois Turkish women’s advancement is dependent on cheap women’s labor: servants [who] relieve female professors of the burdens of cooking, cleaning, and child care.”

So what can be done? Vettese is blunt: new rules at all levels of the academy. The struggle against sexism in the academy is zero-sum– women’s advancement depends on power being taken from men– and so, Vettese argues, strong rules to destroy informal sexist networks of advancement are the only way to break men’s strong resistance.Courses on women’s history or feminist philosophy should be mandatory. Until male students are taught to reflect upon their biases, they should be barred from evaluating peers and teachers. Similarly, male scholars’ power to evaluate female peers and students should also be restrained. At the very least, mixed panels for a scholar’s career assessments ought to be required… [R]ising quotas should be in place for hiring more female scholars in all stages of the tenure track.” Universities should make salaries public to help ensure pay equity, and they should publish “referees’ reports to journal editors to reduce vitriol and bias. Spousal-hire programs could persuade more husbands to follow their wives.”

Further, “[f]ree state- or university-run crèches, day care centers, after-school activities, and canteens” would be a valuable partial remedy to theunequal distribution of social labor. A shortened workweek would also be an across-the-board gift: “Reducing the workweek to thirty-five hours would allow those within the academy time to enjoy their intellectual endeavors and carry out social reproduction, while spreading work among more colleagues and absorbing the glut of underemployed doctoral graduatesa group that is composed mostly of women because they drop out of the academy at every career milestone at twice the rate men do, according to one study of women in the sciences.”

This is a matter of individual suffering, not just institutional self-impoverishment: “like all scholars, women eschew potential riches to seek their intellectual fortune, motivated by a passion to learn and teach. That so many are forced to relinquish this goal because of condescending or lewd supervisors, selfish spouses, smug students, and prejudiced hiring committees is in every case a personal tragedy of an unfulfilled life.” Thanks to Lindsay Turner for tweeting about this article and letting me know it existed.


6. Robyn’s video for “Ever Again,” a Labyrinth re-enchantment: you know that kind of desire where you want someone and want to be them at once?


7. Jeet Heer, “Leftists Shouldn’t Go on Tucker Carlson.” One of my beloved “irresponsible Twitter clowns” and a fan of my bottom-dollar favorite science fiction author, Heer is also a serious-minded and big-picture lefty national-affairs writer. And, since I once semi-admiringly shared here a conservative anti-war-machine essay that Carlson wrote, I thought I owed some attention to Heer’s argument that leftists shouldn’t grant Carlson a platform, or accept a space on his Fox News show. Heer argues that it’s still sometimes worthwhile for leftists to go on Fox News generally: for politicians and candidates, “politics inevitably involves convincing those outside the fold.” But for activists and writers, “there’s a delicate balance to strike between getting the message out while also making sure that bigotry isn’t normalized.” Carlson is crafty, “as insidious as he is odious,” and is skilled at channeling anti-war and grassroots anti-business rhetoric to serve an isolationist politics and an ideological hatred of immigrants and of “coastal elites.” On the other hand, CNN and MSNBC are hostile to anti-war leftists; on which other cable show can you criticize hawks, or to argue against intervention in Syria or Venezuela? How can you not “agree with someone [such as Carlson] in a way that lends itself to bigotry”? It’s a complex dance, but Heer insists that leftists should engage it carefully, lest they build the platform of a very dangerous figure, a true American proto-fascist.


8. Jasper Bernes, “Between the Devil and the Green New Deal.” Bernes takes a hard look at the supply chain of supposedly renewable energy: the fossil fuels needed for the steel and concrete of new high-speed rail, new “green” power infrastructure, etc., yes, but also the costs of extracting copper, selenium, and lots and lots and lots of lithium for electric cars, solar panels, and wind turbines. These elements are rare– they’re as subject to exhaustion as fossil fuels– and they’re also incredibly toxic to mine and process. “In exchange for these terrestrial treasures—used to power trains and ships and factories—a whole class of people is thrown into the pits.” Bernes is skeptical that the Green New Deal’s target– zero emissions in the US by 2030– can be met: throwing open the doors to industry to meet this goal would begin “a race… likely to be ugly, in more ways than one, as slipshod producers scramble to cash in on the price bonanza, cutting every corner and setting up mines that are dangerous, unhealthy, and not particularly green.” And to build this green infrastructure, what would power the mining equipment, the container ships, the construction machinery, and the remediation needed for cleaning up the radioactive tailings ponds the mines leave behind? Probably fossil fuels; maybe biofuels, but growing these “requires land otherwise devoted to crops, or carbon-absorbing wilderness.” And reducing emissions, while still using pesticides and further extending human development into animal habitat, will do little to slow rates of species loss. The growth demanded by capitalism is going to be fatal for our species. “There is no solution to the climate crisis,” Bernes flatly says, “which leaves capitalism’s compulsions to growth intact.”

But could the Green New Deal be implemented to begin with? To force a transition to green power would “require far greater power over the behavior of capitalists than the New Deal ever mustered,” especially now that, thanks to fracking, the price of oil is going to stay low. Renewables are getting cheaper. But to be a good investment, renewables will need to be not slightly cheaper than fossil fuels, but vastly cheaper, since there are trillions of dollars sunk into fossil fuel infrastructure, “and the owners of those investments will invariably choose to recoup some of that investment rather than none of it.” There is $50 trillion worth of oil still in the ground, and forcing investors to leave it there will be an unbelievable battle: “If you propose to wipe out $50 trillion, one-sixth of the wealth on the planet, equal to two-thirds of global GDP, you should expect the owners of that wealth to fight you with everything they have, which is more or less everything.” They will fight not because they’re villains, but because they’re helpless: “Even if these owners wanted to spare us the drowned cities and billion migrants of 2070, they could not. They would be undersold and bankrupted by others. Their hands are tied, their choices constrained, by the fact that they must sell at the prevailing rate or perish.”

Some see advocacy for the Green New Deal as a transition (never named as such) to a socialist economy. Bernes is skeptical that the capitalist institutions that the Green New Deal would build up would be open to a sudden change of plans: “Beware that, in pursuit of the transitional program, you do not build up the forces of your future enemy.” And the Green New Deal’s core assumption– that its world “is this world but better—this world but with zero emissions, universal health care, and free college”– is an impossible one.

So what, besides the nightmares of geoengineering or the fortressing of the wealthy against the tides of the poor, is possible? “A revolution that had as its aim the flourishing of all human life would certainly mean immediate decarbonization, a rapid decrease in energy use for those in the industrialized global north, no more cement, very little steel, almost no air travel, walkable human settlements, passive heating and cooling, a total transformation of agriculture, and a diminishment of animal pasture by an order of magnitude at least.” But this wouldn’t be a gray, bleak world. “An emancipated society, in which no one can force another into work for reasons of property, could offer joy, meaning, freedom, satisfaction, and even a sort of abundance. We can easily have enough of what matters—conserving energy and other resources for food, shelter, and medicine. As is obvious to anyone who spends a good thirty seconds really looking, half of what surrounds us in capitalism is needless waste.” Bernes would rather work for this than for what he believes the Green New Deal is: a fantasy.


9. Cecil Taylor, “Spring of Two Blue-J’s (Pt 1).” What a holy and electrifying racket!


10. Meme upon meme upon meme: source.


11. Always read Kary Wayson’s poems:

Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Kary Wayson



12. Isaac Ariail Reed, “The King’s Two Bodies and the Crisis of Liberal Modernity.” What is it, exactly, that’s propelling right-wing populism and revealing the tattering of the social fabric of western democracies? We’re economically exploited and spiritually alienated, yes, but Reed’s answer to this urgent question doesn’t draw mostly from (say) Marx’s understandings of the dynamics of capitalism, nor from Weber’s theories of modernity’s disenchantment and its differentiation of the individual (into a being of many communities, spheres, and sources of meaning). Instead, Reed focuses on the ongoing relevance of “ancient human tendency to imagine that in the leader is contained the community.” Kingship in medieval times stretched far beyond the life and death of a given monarch; the “second body” of the king was seen as present in statecraft, commerce, ideology. Medieval lives were constituted by a felt relationship to “king and country.” When mourners cried, “the king is dead, long live the king!” they were embracing the presence of kingship beyond the life of an individual monarch.

This myth was rewoven in modernity. The American and French revolutions of the 18th century were fought against the king and on behalf of the people, a new binding and mystical body. But who, exactly, got to be people, and what is their common good? The longing of the modern era is for a good society where “every individual has two bodies… [and is] imbued with the dignitas that formerly accompanied the king.” But this longing has never been made real in a modern liberal democracy: slavery and colonial violence underlies the modern state. And it’s no accident that in modernity racism and ethnic hatred became increasingly potent as instruments of “denying access to democratic politics,” since the question of delegation of political agency in the new states was foundational to these states’ senses of themselves. “To secure delegation in a world in which every citizen is a king in his own castle, the distribution of personhood became fiercely, violently strict about its boundaries.”

And in the 20th century, we’ve seen further blurrings or complications of personhood: “Corporations become legal persons, cars have personalities, and information wants to be free.” We’ve also seen the draining of that royal dignitas from offices, institutions, and collective representations of all sorts: belonging no longer confers meaning as it used to. We are in a “crisis of all of the institutional developments that replaced the image of the king as the defender of the weak against the strong, and, in their very development, made social life not only about the strong and the weak, but also about justice as fairness, and equality as the precondition for the pursuit of distinction.” These assumptions are decaying in every modern society.

Reed also suggests that, since the Cold War ended, America has returned to a pre-modern re-enchantment with the person of our president (as opposed to the office of the presidency): George W. Bush’s cowboy shtick shaping American response in Iraq; Obama’s race as a source of a liberal’s fantasy of healing racial wounds or a racist’s nightmare of usurpation; and of course Trump’s boorish ugly “authenticity.” And Trump now (like Orban, like Netanyahu) makes himself available for a kind of hero worship, founded on explicitly racial and nationalist appeals, that invites again a medieval “incorporation of the individual in the authority of the leader.” Bigots see themselves in Trump as medieval subjects saw themselves in their king, and this identification makes brutality against excluded persons easy.

Can this crisis be resolved? Reed, a sociology professor at UVa and a Jew, saw neo-Nazis marching out his window in 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us.” The horrors of the last century are close by. He quotes political philosopher Danielle Allen in the wake of that spectacle: “The simple fact of the matter is that the world has never built a multiethnic democracy in which no particular ethnic group is in the majority and where political equality, social equality and economies that empower all have been achieved. We are engaged in a fight over whether to work together to build such a world.”

But can such a fight be won? “It is possible for popularly elected leaders to respect the authority of reformable institutions, for open societies to meet demands for equality and fairness, and for the rule of law to find its moral grounding in an ethically pluralistic society. It is even possible—though it has not yet been tried—that every single living individual can be recognized as sacred, and understood as a flourishing, inevitably contradictory, and wonderfully human author of action. But what is the language in which these possibilities for sacred dispensation will be articulated?” This is the crisis Reed names and leaves us twisting in. A leftist response might be that capitalism undermines the power of social tie and institution in any society it takes root in. Until it’s checked, both authoritarian nostalgia and social decay are inevitable. A conservative (or communitarian leftist) response might be that liberalism’s empowerment of the autonomous individual as the center of society ultimately leaves that individual plummeting through space: that a world where we’re all “king of our own castle” would be a place not of equality and fairness, but of total war.


13. Rachel Kushner, “Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind.” This is the best article I’ve read in a mainstream publication on the philosophy of prison abolition. I wonder how many minds it changed? Gilmore, a lifelong activist and a scholar at CUNY, explains that “abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they ‘mess up.'”

Gilmore is also at pains to complicate some of the shorthand other activists use in discussing the carceral state. First, she says that mass incarceration is not about profit, but about the competition among state agencies for government revenue. “Under austerity, the social-welfare function shrinks; the agencies that receive the money are the police, firefighters and corrections. So other agencies start to copy what the police do: The education department, for instance, learns that it can receive money for metal detectors much more easily than it can for other kinds of facility upgrades. And prisons can access funds that traditionally went elsewhere — for example, money goes to county jails and state prisons for ‘mental health services’ rather than into public health generally.” The DOC isn’t an avaricious corporation, but an almost uniquely powerful lobby group that has captured the “surplus state capacity” of investors in public finance.

Gilmore also speaks of the violence and degradation of mass incarceration but disputes that it is “a modified continuation of slavery,” the uncompensated extraction of labor under threat of punishment. “The overwhelming problem for people inside prison,” she says, “is not that their labor is super exploited; it’s that they’re being warehoused with very little to do and not being given any kind of programs or resources that enable them to succeed once they do get out of prison.” Those incarcerated are “surplus labor,” carved out of the economy by urban deindustrialization and rural decay brought on (in California at least) by declining land values and lack of irrigation water. Until our economy is radically transformed, these people will remain an abandoned and abused surplus, whether behind bars or not. Gilmore argues that prison abolition is a structural, not an institutional, struggle, encompassing labor, wealth distribution, conflict resolution, racism, and the allocation of state dollars.


14. Shoutout to you for reading this far! Below, the true work of art speaks for itself:

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Filed under music, poetry, politics

2019: My Year in Music

Hi dear hearts, this comes to you late after a month of a broken computer, a thumb I split while splitting kindling, and some good deep hard work in my community and relationships that kept away from my beloved nerdy pleasures.

But so: here’s the music that kept me alive from this year, plus an accompanying playlist. As always, it includes some treasures from last year that I just now got to.

First thing is that this is a year that contemporary jazz really opened up for me with three very different records I adored. Steve Lehman’s The People I Love is presented as his tribute to the classic saxophone-quartet format, but the record starts out with a severity that I had to reach for my limited antecedents for: Dave Liebman’s scorching live show I saw in a big churchy stone space a decade ago with other slack-jawed grad students. Lehman’s playing is dextrous, fast-moving, and extreme; I love the conversations he locks into with digressive and tuneful pianist Craig Taborn on “qPlay” (dig too the skittering synthesized drums below it) and drummer Damion Reid on “Beyond All Limits.” Music about energy, not narrative; solos about dialogue, not commentary. (Lehman’s on Bandcamp, but not on Spotify.) I also loved the Marta Sanchez Quintet’s El Rayo de Luz; Sanchez’s sense of harmony in her horn charts is eerie and exquisite, and the music’s emotional center is in the way the piano will answer, tug at, twist up, and return a melody back to her two saxophonists: it’s subtle, brainy, tender. It makes my ribcage ache. For presence and aural pleasure, I love Gerald Cleaver’s Live at Firehouse 12: again, the limitations of my listening history don’t leave me much to draw on, but I love that jazz-drummer thing of keeping the beat and commenting on it at once, riffing back to his soloists or shifting suddenly under them and forcing them to duck after him. The piano is mixed low: the attention is much less on underlying chordal structure than on all on the ideas Cleaver tosses up to his horns and gets tossed back. The horns’ melodies are sometimes twisty, sometimes downright jolly: the climax of “Detroit” is as polyphonic as Dixieland.

Two jazz reissues this year I also loved: the rangy small-group playing of Charles Mingus’s Jazz in Detroit, recorded live (with accompanying interviews) at a short-lived collective space, the Strata, in 1973. After the fun gigantism of his big-band comeback, Let My People Hear Music, Mingus seemed to be in the mood for exploring wider spaces with a smaller group: his players here are all young, some new to playing with him, and they all stretch. By contrast, Eric Dolphy’s Musical Prophet: the Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions feels not like rovings but like musings. Dolphy’s playing could be fiery-intense and rough and there are a few big full-band tunes, but for most of these recordings, Dolphy seems to deliberately downplay forward motion: instead, the music keeps collapsing into self-reflection, irony, melancholy (“Come Sunday”‘s moaning bass floating alongside Dolphy’s murmuring bari sax), buried self-assertion (the theme of “Alone Together” doesn’t fully show up until 12 minutes of musical conversation between Dolphy and his bassist), and a cerebral exploratory quality held up by an inexhaustible melodic creativity. Dolphy contained multitudes; he died of undiagnosed diabetes less than a year after these recordings. How many other jazz musicians died of health conditions aggravated by structural racism?

The mood of our big quiet hemlocks and swift icy creek are caught by Emily A. Sprague’s Water Memory, a beautiful ambient project from a musician best known in her singer-songwriter work as Florist. Sprague doesn’t wear down listeners’ distinct attention under reverb or drones: instead, each instrument is a small clearly-rendered organism– or a small repeated movement, like the flickering of a flagellum, inside an organism– and the songs’ colors vary across the album. A meeting with a perfect musical creature in 40-plus minutes.

I absolutely can’t get enough of Jamila Woods’s LEGACY! LEGACY!, an album of subtly shifting influences and musical colors, driven by Woods’s arching twisting sense of vocal melody. She’s a queenly, sharp presence (“shut up motherfucker, I don’t take requests”), and her sense of pride stretches way back– her companions and lovers and “holy books” are all drawn from way back, from a deep sense of musical and communal history. I especially treasure the little skirls of jazzy guitar on “BASQUIAT” and the soothing-then-strutting two-part “GIOVANNI.” Also word to Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs, out at some extreme where hip-hop meets avant-garde jazz and experimental poetry; Earl may still be in his Xany-gnashing, Caddy-smashing youth but he’s making a world of his own around it if so. My bangers of the year were Lizzo’s “Tempo,” with the inexhaustible and self-possessed Missy Elliott, and Normani’s perfect “Motivation,” who I first heard alongside Doja Cat, thank you Sayer for introducing me. Let’s take a moment too and be grateful for how much good pop there is right now about easy, confident pleasure in material flash or in guilt-free, un-power-tripping free-agent-type sex: if you want to, it’s easy to avoid bellows of lost entitlement, emotional blackmail, stray shots or empty bottles and stay in the Top 40. Oh and I give up, I also loved Katy Perry’s “Never Really Over.”

I looked forward to a dozen-plus indie rock albums this year but wound up adoring only a few. Frankie Cosmos’s Close It Quietly is Greta Kline’s absolute best work so far, a work on tip-toe balance between assertion and minimalism, small acts of emotional courage and small touches of self-deprecating humor. Kline’s songs are mostly tiny, so when she repeats a chorus (as on “So Blue”) you really feel it, and when a hook kicks in (as in the B section of “Rings [on a Tree]”) it hits you right in the shoulders. Laura Stevenson’s The Big Freeze is finally a whole album of hers I’ve loved as much as I loved 2012’s single “Runner.” But where that song’s dynamism and surge thrilled me, Freeze is more austere and spacious: it’s a big roomy recording of overdriven electric, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and an underlining of low harmony. Its sound reminds me of Brian Paulson’s groundbreaking production on Spiderland, letting distorted and acoustic instruments speak to each other without violence. I also loved (Sandy) Alex G’s House of Sugar. Alex Giannascoli’s earlier records were characterized by a lo-fi slacker shrug that, when pushed, stiffened into open resistance. He’d blast off synth rackets, snip songs short just as they took off, process instruments through a tin can. The musical ingredients on House of Sugar have evened out a little: the listener can expect close-mic’d and often double-tracked acoustic guitar, hanging looped-up synthesizers, violin, far-off wailing or pitch-shifted backing vocals, some nostalgic sax, and a fake accent or two, not easy but not self-undermining either. There’s a self-enclosed musical richness to these arrangements and a good-enough-for-me roughness that’s belied by the pathos and grief of the lyrics; Giannascoli is absolutely soaked in a fear of death and split by gender-ambiguous heartbreak. Most lo-fi albums feel smaller as they go on; House of Sugar widens instead into something big and melancholy.

I spent a week of evenings in the kitchen getting electrocuted by Mannequin Pussy’s Patience, an album of romantic longing, heartsickness, and rage all together, and a lot of drives with the New Pornographers’ In the Morse Code of the Brakelights. Brakelights is an album dominated by gigantism: cliffs of big bright reverby guitar, abrupt bangs of processed snares, melodies impossible to trace as lines of overlapping gray mountains, strings and ah-ah-ahs that swoop by like mountain wind. A.C. Newman is the last songwriter left in the group, and he’s stayed cerebral as he’s aged: he’s not particularly heated, cynical, disillusioned, etc.; he writes more about patterns of relationship than about relationships. I guess this is one way to age contentedly. Please also do not neglect the stunning big kingdom of Helen America’s Red Sun. One-off songs I loved this year: Pedro the Lion’s “Clean Up,” Big Thief’s “Cattails,” Black Ends’ “Sellout” (a freaky math-rock jam from my favorite new Seattle band), Jay Som’s “Tenderness” (though also shoutout to “Superbike” and “Devotion”: Melina Duterte’s guest-packed ensemble playing evoked less personality than she did playing every instrument on Everybody Works, but the gleaming compressed guitar and her small turned-inward voice are still a pleasure everywhere in her music), and Priests’ “I’m Clean,” an arch and nervy kiss-off that helps me feel human and brave when I need it.

A PS for the truly riveted: here are the older albums I’ve completely fallen for this year: Donato Dozzy’s K, Fiona Apple’s Idler Wheel, Jonathan Richman’s Action Packed compilation, lots and lots and lots of 80s and 90s dancehall reggae, Bach’s violin sonatas and partitas, Schubert’s piano sonatas, Team Dresch, Joe Lovano’s I’m All for You, Hank Jones’s The Trio (the 1978 one), the Spinanes’ Manos, PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, Orchestre Baobab’s Made in Dakar, Mingus’s big-band record Let My Children Hear Music, Arthur Blythe’s Lenox Avenue Breakdown, John Prine’s Sweet Revenge and Storm Windows, Velocity Girl’s first compilation and Copacetic, Al Green’s I’m Still in Love with You, Dave Edmunds’s Repeat When Necessary,  Bonnie Raitt, Luther Vandross’s compilation The Best of Luther Vandross… The Best of Love, Emmylou Harris’s Roses in the Snow, George Jones’s All Time Greatest Hits Vol. 1, John Fahey’s Of Rivers and Religion, Teddy Pendergrass’s TP, Pharoah Sanders’ Message from Home (produced by the mighty Bill Laswell), the Fastbacks’ Answer the Phone, Dummy, Sonny Rollins’s Sonny Plus 4 (his first album as a bandleader, the final studio recording Clifford Brown made before his death), Miles Davis’s 70s electric albums Black Beauty and Big Fun, the many treasures of Gary Giddins’ two-part “Post-War Jazz: an Arbitrary Roadmap,” The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, Vol. 4: Kings and Queens of Township Jive, and— on the turntable right now— The “King” Kong Compilation collecting Leslie Kong’s pioneering early reggae productions.

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Two New Critical Publications: Poetry Northwest and Full Stop

I’m glad to have two new reviews up! I reviewed Lauren Levin’s Justice Piece // Transmission, the followup to their thrilling collection The Braid, for Full Stop. I’ve also inaugurated a new column, Other Rooms, at Poetry Northwest: this series will lift up unique, noteworthy, and wonderful work in contemporary journals. It’s starting with an appreciation of Paul Killebrew’s monster long poem “The Bisexual Purge,” from this year’s issue of Oversound.

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The Ten Best Things on the Internet: February 2019

10. The opera teacher Salvatore Fisichella’s master class with tenor Andrew Owens: when Cait showed this to me, she said, “This is why I hope humans don’t go extinct.” I don’t understand more than few phrases of what he’s saying but when his (very famous!) student gets it right, I feel it too.

9. Moira Donegan, “Sex During Wartime: the return of Andrea Dworkin’s radical vision.” In college, I knew from my radical friends to dislike and disparage Andrea Dworkin, the unfun dogmatic anti-porn scold, without having read more than a few pages. But ideas central to her work are now being shone back to our larger culture, and I was very grateful for Moira Donegan’s reflection on Last Days at Hot Slit, a new selection of her work. Donegan, summarizing Dworkin’s thinking, writes that “[rape is] not an anomaly, but the fulfillment of a foundational cultural narrative. Rape is not exceptional but common, committed by common men acting on common assumptions about who men are and what women are.” Male power-over, our reduction of women to compliant or brutalized objects, for Dworkin prefigured all other forms of oppression and societal violence; but Dworkin also remained intersectional in her thinking, advocating for accessible trans healthcare and charging middle-class white women to reject the false comforts of their relative privilege to stand alongside, and support, women of color and poor women. And what is the spiritual work of men in undoing the antagonism, humiliation, and violence we’re taught to apply to women? In 1983, she addressed a male audience: “Have you ever wondered why we are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.” Can we men imagine and work for a world where non-men are equal historical selves? Our humanity depends on it.

8. A cheat/double: a special shoutout to bad reviews. Most big juicy bad reviews are fun but pointless— critics implicitly flattering their own taste, giving themselves over to purple writing whose insults aren’t as evocative as they think they are. Youngish critics, in their bad reviews, tend toward an overstated outrage at the violation of their precious sensibility; oldish critics in their bad reviews turn “shrill and stale at once” (James Wood on Harold Bloom), pounding at the same advancing targets long past anyone caring. Both types of reviews are fun are fun to nibble on and have next to zero shelf life.

But there are exceptions. Literary critic Andrea Long Chu reviews Jill Soloway’s way-acclaimed memoir She Wants It, on Soloway’s self-discovery as a director and her work creating the TV show Transparent. Chu’s tone is a measured disbelief at the narcissism, sloppiness, and vacuity she finds in Soloway’s book. In Soloway, Long Chu writes, “one finds the worst of grandiose Seventies-era conceits about the transformative power of the avant-garde guiltlessly hitched to a yogic West Coast startup mindset”; on Soloway’s own performance of identity, Chu writes that “all we need remember is that being trans because you want the attention doesn’t make you ‘not really’ trans; it just makes you annoying”; as to the book’s damage-control subtext, Chu decides that “Jill Soloway has an unstoppable, pathological urge to tell on herself.”

And an ever-relevant good oldie: Eugene McCarraher, a history professor at Villanova, produced what’s still my favorite critical response to the New Atheism, a scrupulous dismantling of Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great called “This Book Is Not Good.” I went back to McCarraher’s essay after reading John Gray’s Seven Types of Atheism, curious to see if I still loved it, and boy I do. Hitchens’ book, McCarraher says, is a “haute middlebrow tirade” that has nothing insightful or honest to say about theology, philosophy, or history and is fed by “a gooey compound of boosterish bromides and liberal nationalism.” As to a dreamt-of world free of religion, Hitchens’ moral imagination sees only “in terms of professional and managerial expertise,” a world given over to technocratic bosses who are in reality every bit as capable of obfuscation, domination, violence, and backwardness as theocratic states. Our war in Iraq, McCarraher says, should show us the brutality and ideological folly our secular, capitalist state is capable of; Hitchens’ delighted assurance in the virtue of that very war sickens him.

7. Our president, wayward and flatterable, has wandered off from his own stated intent to withdraw troops from Syria. Too bad. But Matt Taibbi’s piece in Rolling Stone on the planned withdrawal is still outstanding. Taibbi describes the outrage Trump’s decision drew from our two war parties, and he captures the absolute mind-boggling scope of our venality, violence, and never-ending military mission drift in the Middle East. It can be easy for those of us resisting imperialism to assume our enemies are cunning and all-powerful. It’s not true. Read Taibbi to be reminded just how dumb empire can be. (See also this essay from a genuine conservative on the credulousness and bullying self-importance of two extremely famous pro-war #nevertrumpers.)

6. Obsessed— obsessed obsessed obsessed— with Tierra Whack’s 15-minute, 15-song music video.

5. Journalist Jesse Singal, with Freddie de Boer’s permission, returns to online availability three of de Boer’s bombthrowing essays on the state of Left cultural and academic discourse. I don’t agree with everything in these essays, but de Boer’s moral rage at the left’s internalization of cop culture– what Sarah Schulman would call the equating of conflict with an existential assault, complete with a pile-on on the offender led by a mob of virtuous citizens— is a tonic.

4. Just how much does it cost to call out love-and-light good-vibes spiritual thinkers for their ignorance of racism, persistent inequality, and state violence? Black Muslim feminist spiritual educator Layla F. Saad answers: “I Need to Talk to Spiritual White Women about White Supremacy” part 1 and part 2. The culture industry Saad identifies is associated with female entrepeneurs, but the apothecary-nice-guy subculture is just as guilty of checking out, repeating platitudes, and getting ugly when confronted. Dig the workbook on Saad’s main site too.

3. Lindsay Zoladz is one of my favorite music critics, a brainy and nimble writer who can set a scene in just a few sentences and who’s unafraid to fan out on her loves; her “December Boy: on Alex Chilton” taught me a lot about the lost years of this mercurial genius and reminded me of what I freaking love about Big Star. Growing up weird in a Navy town, my 12-year-old self found in indie music the immense relief of knowing my sensibility wasn’t alone. But most of what I found– John Fahey, Kate Bush, Aphex Twin, Husker Du, Sleater-Kinney, the Velvet Underground– wasn’t remotely utopian. These temperaments had survived, but they didn’t have an imagined better world out there to point me to. Big Star felt different: what was so cool about Big Star’s first two records was how they posited a whole alternate adolescence. In their music I could hang out, fall into a crush, break up, get my ears blasted in the backseat, watch the sunrise.

2. Who was King writing to in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”? Broderick Greer gives the answer, quoting from “A Call for Unity,” the 1963 letter from white Alabama clergymen who sympathize with civil rights protestors’ “natural impatience” but call their continued direct actions, demonstrations, and protests “unwise and untimely.” King’s letter, smuggled from his cell, is his reply. The voice of the sensible middle never, ever changes. More and more I think of social justice work in terms of strategic radicalism: not “how can we reach across the aisle to create a compromise that will satisfy everyone,” but “how can we tactically force our sorta-allies in the middle to join our moral stand against what we find intolerable”?

1. And: live your best 1:14 by watching this clip of King on the origins of entrenched racial inequality, and the sole demand that will undo it. I showed this one to Finn.

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2018: the Year in Music

This is the music that got me through the year, that disrupted or seized or soothed me. As always, includes a few records from the previous year I came to late.

This year the instrumental music I’ve loved best has foregrounded somatic emotional experience, bodily sensation. I absolutely cannot get enough of PAN’s compilation Mono No Aware: it’s ambient music that foregrounds not concepts or memory-qualities but big feelings and strong transformations. Its songs can be as hot and close as tears, as intimate as a lover pressed up against you, or as creepy as feeling yourself grow hooves or wings. Some of the textures/moods near the middle are too extreme and abrasive for me to do anything else to but listen, but that’s its own kind of ambience.

Speaking of bodily pleasure, Four Tet‘s New Energy, especially “Scientists,” is a further step in a good direction for Kieran Hebden, away from the skittering nerves of his first few records, toward a beating heart and a sense of collective ecstasy: there are at least two or three other songs on this record that are on my permanent dance playlist. Jazz drummer Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings (tied for my favorite record of the year) is body-music too. It’s some of the most rich and joyful ensemble playing I’ve heard in a long time, each of its four sides–London, New York, Chicago, LA–edited from popup studios and live jams into a distinct mood. Side two, knotting itself into the breathless “Atlantic Black” (Tomeka Reid and Shabaka Hutchings twisting and feeding off each other) is the funkiest and my favorite, but each has an everything-here-now urgency, even when the soloists play harp or cello. I’ve loved to go back to again and again. A smaller-scale pleasure has the been the totally out-of-the-box improvised duet/duel from pianist Irene Schweizer and drummer Joey Baron on Live! This record is gymnastic, violent, childlike, playful, and exhilarating.

Speaking of timbre, I had to love it as a lullaby first but I’ve come around to Yo La Tengo’s sleepy subtle new record, There’s a Riot Going On: I couldn’t pay any direct attention to it on its first few plays but its presence has stayed with me, a blanket I can always crawl under even as the lyrics suggest uncertainty, dread, the brevity and fragility of consolation. And then songs started coming out of the sound: “Forever,” “Polynesia #1,” “Let’s Do It Wrong,” “For You Too.” I similarly took awhile to love the new Ought, Room inside the World. I was puzzled and put off by the polish and spaciousness of the production after loving by the loose wires and crumpled metal of Sun Coming Down, but that smooth coating covers some good medicine and Tim Darcy, writing gorgeous lyrics I like even better than his old taunting chants or aspirational cries, still sings like someone clowning on Jimmy Stewart. They’re growing into grandeur.

It’s so easy to tap through on Spotify, try the next of the million flavors, that I have to browse new music in a way that’s less attentive but more feel-sensitive if I want anything to sink in or spur a response for me: when I browse, it’s not for argument but for appetite. Popping out in a long shuffle, Maximum Joy‘s glorious new reissue (seven singles on four sides of vinyl) I Can’t Stand Here on Quiet Nights was delicious right away– spaceyness and heavy bottom of the dub bass, kiddish chanting of Janine Rainforth, spikes of guitar. There’s a sense of communitarianism, utopian hope, in the music’s borrowings and interpolations (reggae, shrieks, guitar jangle, dumb squawking sax) that makes me think of second-wave ska or African Head Charge, defiant of its desperately bleak, individualist political moment of England in the early 80s.

I loved Maximum Joy because its roominess and blending was aspirational: one of my other favorite records of the year, Mountain Man’s Magic ShipI loved for how it too felt like an invitation to a way to live. Three-part harmonies and a single guitar around a single mic, songs to the Moon and friends named Stella and naked bodies swimming. Speaking of moods, Kacey Musgraves’s “Slow Burn” projected a serenity that’s pure gift, when you can bless and thank all of life from eight miles above it. And (Sandy) Alex G’s “Bobby” twisted on the knifepoint of its desire: my favorite crush song in years. I spent a plane flight to Cleveland completely swept up in the grief and lean hard economy of Big Thief’s Capacity, music that takes its strength from the urgency with which it treats its material.

I finally loved a Nicki Minaj record all the way through this year! Praise the Queen! Maybe it’s because on this one the best stuff is the hard stuff and there’s more hard stuff (though there’s one ballad I love too, “Come See about Me”); maybe it’s because I’m finally getting the hang of dancehall reggae; maybe all her rivalries and beefs have sharpened her writing; but the cold-eyed pride of the record is a single mood and I’m in love. Also loved Rapsody‘s album, Laila’s Wisdom: the record has old-school virtues (gospel backing vocals, live guitar) and an old-fashioned sense of legacy (Laila’s her grandmother), and Rapsody shines out with all sort of emotional colors rare in modern hiphop: curiosity, loneliness, loving exasperation. Off of albums that didn’t catch me as a whole, I really loved Janelle Monae’s “Django Jane,” Future’s “Incredible” and GoldLink’s “Have You Seen That Girl?” I grudgingly also adored Drake’s “Nice for What” (New Orleans bounce) and “Passionfruit” (something more nocturnal and sad, love that pulsing drum): his played-up tenderness and silly tough-guy routines are annoying but as a synthesist of sounds, Drake is hugely capacious, sensitive, and ambitious: he listens widely and sounds completely natural in a huge international variety of sounds. Lastly, although Finn got obsessed with “Walk It Like You Talk It,” my own recent favorite Migos single was the just-pre-Culture one-off, “Cocoon.”

My beloved pop records this year were Christine and the Queens’ Chris and Ariana Grande’s Sweetener. Chris is cocky, lonely, charged by pride and scarred by old trauma, and I didn’t know what to expect from her show when Cait and I went to Showbox Sodo. Watching Christine/Heloise, I realized she’s an entertainer rather than a witch– holding a mirror back up the audience’s longing and desire (like, say, Michael Jackson) rather than performing a transformation on herself for the sake of the audience’s soul (like, say, Anhoni or Perfume Genius). But that’s cool, the world needs more entertainers as good as her! And Sweetener, damn! Now that Grande’s not trying to Disnefy/naughty-kitten herself anymore, something superhuman has emerged in her— that incredible virtuosic voice, her poise and reflectiveness in the face of awful tragedy and ordinary pain, her radiant confidence in great song after great song. Other bangers close to my heart this year were Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” and (speaking of superhuman maturity) Lorde’s “The Louvre.” And just to agree with everyone, Robyn’s “Honey” is a gorgeous sacramental song about sexuality, the way deep shared pleasure is a sinking into time.

A special shoutout to Bob Dylan’s Trouble No More: the Bootleg Series, Vol. 13 (1979-1981), the recent live collection of his gospel years. Dylan’s songwriting had always prized instinct, conviction, and heat over subtlety, irony, and intellect, so I guess it’s not surprising that, when he became a Christian, he chose Protestant austerity and fundamentalist hellfire. I’ve never loved the gospel albums all the way through, but this collection gathers the best from this whole period and shows off outstanding backing vocalists and an absolutely dynamite band. The liner notes from the mighty Amanda Petrusich are a welcome close-reading and contextualization too. Trouble ends with Dylan’s dissatisfied live tinkering (new lyrics, new arrangements) with some of his best late-gospel songs, “Caribbean Wind” and “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar,” tunes he’d later abandon, but the first three-quarters of the set is delivered with fearsome conviction and swing. I can’t get enough of it.

Randy Newman is a singer of inversions: at his worst, he’s sentimental or he curdles into the passive ironic pessimism of rich liberals, but at his best he makes songs out of undersides and shadows, out of feelings most of us are scared to even put words to (“I Want You to Hurt Like I Do,” “Rollin’,” “Same Girl,” “God’s Song,” “Lover’s Prayer”). Dark Matter is otherwise mediocre late-career “mature record”: over-reviewed like recent Nick Lowe or Marianne Faithfull, because few critics can resist writing about their fondness for an artist’s legacy rather than the actual art in front of them. But “Wandering Boy” is a tender song for a grief I hope I never experience: at a celebration of your long life, remembering the child you lost, not to death but to life. The other songs of impossibly delicate beauty this year: Frank Ocean’s “Moon River” (points to any singer who can outdo Jerry Butler’s version of anything), “I Wonder If I Take You Home” from Meshell Ndegeocello‘s covers album, and Sampha’s “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano.”

My bolt of left-wing disbelief, rage, and hope this year was Superchunk’s What a Time to Be Alive. Unlike most long-lived groups, Superchunk’s overpraised “grownup” phase came mid-career, with four albums of stuffy overproduced 60s-ish classical pop. Then, somehow, miraculously, they aged out of it backward into the righteous Majesty Shredding, the death-haunted and youthfully heartbroken I Hate Music, and now this incredible bright-burning sparkler of a punk record. Speaking of lefty rock, I believe Merrill Garbus and I wish I loved all of Tune-Yards’ I Can Feel You Creep into My Private Life, but it’s hard to make communitarian and body-moving art from the kind of chastened, newly-awoken, and frequently paralyzed white-anti-racist perspective of the record: “Colonizer” sounds like some true pain went into it, but I just can’t bear to listen to it, a guilt-plumbing that plays like reverse self-obsession. But a few songs did get me– “Honesty” is my favorite– and I still can’t wait for the next record. Other rage to dance to: !!!’s “Five Companies.”

Ending with my (see Universal Beings above) tied-for-first: Dear Nora’s Skulls Example. Katy Davidson began their career fully-fledged making subtle complicated funny indie that called back to Henry’s Dress, Tiger Trap, and Sleater-Kinney. Over a decade, their band has grown into something more spartan and more preoccupied with Davidson’s obsessions: our eerily-fake social reality, weird cacti, climate change, and the impassive barren gorgeousness of nature. What else do you need?

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“Takes,” poems, Tweet threads, reviews, and editorials I’ve read over the last six months that have stuck with me, and why. Punctuated with pictures so no one’s eyes have to cross with exhaustion.

Mary Margaret Alvarado, “On Memory with No Devices.” This is an essay you will never want to end.

Dan Arnold and Alicia Turner, “Why Are We Surprised When Buddhists Are Violent?” While I take issue with the piece’s implicit “we,” the authors make an important point about secular-dominant progressive American political consciousness. Most of us know Buddhism primarily through the ecumenical, culturally-mixed forms of Buddhism introduced in the last 50 years in colonizer states, which emphasize individual meditation and mindfulness and largely forego the religion’s incredibly varied forms of belief and ritual life throughout Central and East Asia. Because of our American context, it can be difficult for secular progressives to fathom how Buddhism— in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and now certainly in Myanmar— is used to justify horrible mass ethnic-national violence. The causes of this bloodshed are never simply religious, but in each case involved ethnic and state power; and in each case, the violence had passionate Buddhist critics. But Arnold and Turner are at pains to remind readers that any religion can be an instrument of nationalist violence.

Emily Bazelon, “When the Supreme Court Lurches Right.” Though this survey understates its own major point (that the Supreme Court has spent most of its history as a fundamentally reactionary and anti-egalitarian body), it remains a good overview of the shifting history of the court in American public life.

Peter Beinart, “American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza–and the Truth.” Beinart deeply identifies as a Zionist— he rejects the idea that the formation and expansion of Israel is intrinsically a settler-colonialist project, and strongly opposes the B.D.S. movement— but he’s been a consistent progressive critic of settlement expansion and of the corrupt, reactionary presidency of Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s also filled with moral horror at the consequences of Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and the spiritual costs to Israel of the human suffering that the state has brought on Palestinians. (His association with Israeli peace groups and his authorship of pieces such as this one are likely behind his recent detention at Ben Gurion Airport.)

Patrick Blanchfield, “The McCain Phenomenon.” This is the best piece I’ve read— free of sentimental glow but also of contrarian reflex— on the meaning of McCain in American public life: it’s a progressive’s examination of McCain as a symbol of America’s reverence for individualism, military honor, and matured rogueishness.

Zach Carter and Paul Blumenthal, “Former Obama Officials Are Riding Out the Trump Years by Cashing In.” Lockheed Martin, Uber, Covington and Burling, Booz Allen Hamilton, Morgan Stanley, Amazon: as soon as their government tenures ended, many of the most powerful figures from Obama’s administration stepped through the revolving door into comfortable positions selling weapons, subprime loans, union-busting regulations, and more.

Jeff Chang on De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. A joyful essay, an in-depth history of a unique cultural text: a work of incredible lyrical skill and bonkers musical invention, one that you still can’t get on Spotify.

Thomas B. Edsall, “The Democrats’ Gentrification Problem.” Educated middle-class white people and urban black communities exist across a widening fault line of money-mobility, neighborhood history, and a wealth gap deepened by racist housing policies. While this article says little about the role of organized multiracial communities in pressuring lawmakers from the bottom up to create housing equity, it’s still a top-down view of a deep tension between two important Democratic constituencies and the continuing power of white racial kinship networks in maintaining a black economic underclass.

Eve Fairbanks, “Well-Off Millennials Are All Julia Salazar. I Wish We Weren’t.” This piece diagnoses a real social problem— affluent folks feeling they have to exaggerate, or invent, a hard-luck biography to be seen as authentic, especially in high-stakes elite institutions— but avoids looking right at the sources of, or responses to, this phenomenon. My response is: yes. But privileged folks also just need to stop lying about our privilege. First, because it trivializes the reality of suffering we pretend to have experienced. Second, because it’s built on the cancerous belief that a safe, materially-comfortable upbringing makes us inauthentic. But how can we believe this, if we hope to create a world that (while growing beyond capitalist definitions of safety and comfort) actually is safe and comfortable, rich in possibility and relationship for all people? A sense of possibility and comfort isn’t the toxic aspect of privilege: emotional numbing is. The cost of buying in to privilege is choosing to ignore the dehumanization of those on which our comfort depends. (I also think that this habit of exaggeration leaves us less likely to honor the actual pain, our own or others’, that comes with any life. This is its own form of dehumanization.) Fairbanks does describe the transmutation of pain– into visible, nameable forms— she witnessed among her privileged cohort. But I wish she’d gone way, way further– and perhaps even ventured into encountering lives characterized by the suffering our material comfort is built upon. Or questioning the social value of high-stakes elite institutions altogether.

Max Fisher, “Israel Picks Identity over Democracy. Other Nations May Follow.” We’re in a global moment of parliamentary democracies shifting toward autocracy and ethnically-defined nationalism. The question for radicals is: what does the call to solidarity look like as states contract toward reactionary politics? How can we ourselves live out an alternative to the deep comfort of seeking company only in others like us? What is genuinely collective about collective liberation, and how can we articulate the value of the collective when compared to the shortfalls and exclusions of parliamentary democracy?

Paul Gilroy interviewed by George Yancy, “What ‘Black Lives’ Means in Britain.” Gilroy speaks about the power of corporate multiculturalism in Britain and the US; argues that inequality is a relationship, not the possession suggested by the term “privilege”; and describes the difficulties in black-solidarity organizing in a country defined (as Britain is) by economic-imperialist ventures and migration pressures different from the US importation of chattel slaves.

Jack Goldsmith, “Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 and Trump’s Press Conference with Putin.” Bush II’s former Assisant Attorney General (who left in the wake of the Iraq War and the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib) asks: What rules of international espionage did Russia break, that the US is willing to pledge to respect? What blowback or unwelcome reciprocity is the DOJ inviting by issuing subpoenas to foreign nationals? What vulnerabilities remain in our e-mail and voting systems? And: what unthinkable disasters are journalists inviting on themselves by encouraging the prosecution of Wikileaks?

Briahna Joy Gray, “How Identity Became a Weapon against the Left.” Gray has argued, here and in The Intercept, that as center-left institutions become fluent in the language of intersectional politics, they employ the signaling characteristics of that language to attack the left as racist and sexist for its emphasis on class. Doing so requires erasing the women and queer folks of color active in movements for (e.g.) single-payer healthcare, fighting Wall Street corruption, strengthening the green economy, or raising the minimum wage, but the center-left has a fabulous track record of doing so already.

N.K. Jemisin’s acceptance speech for her third consecutive Hugo Award win for the Broken Earth trilogy. It’s “a massive, shining, rocket-shaped middle finger” and a reflection on creative and spiritual survival against a steady deluge of racist shit.

Tim Maudlin, “The Defeat of Reason.” Phew, there’s a lot here. This article reviews two huge, argumentative, intellectually ambitious books: Adam Becker’s What Is Real?: the Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics, on the puzzles, obfuscations, and final hope for clarity in quantum mechanics, and Errol Morris’s The Ashtray (or the Man Who Denied Reality), an attack by a former student on the philosophical and cultural legacy of anti-foundationalist intellectual Thomas Kuhn. In the first part of Maudlin’s review, he explores Becker’s historical work and conclusion that the conclusions popularly attributed to a quantum mechanical view of reality— fundamental smeariness, observer-dependence, and inconsistency— are bogus, the result of Niels Bohr’s Kantian dogmatism in defense of his version of QM and the physics community’s shut-up-and-calculate attitude. But Becker suggests that, though quantum mechanics may in fact be more deterministic than Bohr believed, it’s still spooky: electrons must be able to change from waves to particles in an instant, even if the waveform showing the electron’s possible location is immense: a faster-than-light change effected at a distance. Meanwhile, Morris, who despises his onetime teacher Kuhn as a relativist who discounted the importance of reason and evidence, charges at the legacy of Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn introduced the notion of paradigms (the rules, practices, and examples that bound a theory of reality) and their importance in shaping scientific thought. A paradigm never wins out “by logic and experiment alone” but by power, persuasion, and culture. Further, no two paradigms are commensurable: the inhabitants of two different theoretical frameworks live in two different realities. Therefore, no neutral adjudication is possible– only conflict, and later history written by the winners. In a time where politics and philosophy were questioning the legitimacy of received authority, this idea was a sensation. Morris, now an investigative documentary filmmaker, hates it: “It is one thing to remark how hard truth can be to establish,” Maudlin writes, “and quite another to deny that there is any truth at all.” Morris’s book explores the nature of the reference of terms (the theory of how any noun picks out or denotes something in the real world) and ultimately argues that a belief in shared, neutral, objective truth is a moral issue. “If… we all live in worlds of our own manufacture, worlds bent to conform to our beliefs rather than our beliefs being adjusted to conform to the world, then what becomes of truth?” What are the consequences of believing that we impose, rather than discover, structure in reality? Maudlin’s essay falls short of exploring the appeal of Immanuel Kant’s Transcendental Idealism at the root of both Bohr and Kuhn’s philosophies. I want to hear his argument for why we’re tempted to believe that we merely impose, rather than actually experience, things such as time or cause-and-effect, etc.

Philip Metres, “Imagining Iraq: on the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Iraq War.” How can Americans hope to understand Iraq as more than a backdrop of our imperial history? Metres, author of the intricate and morally damning poetry collection Sand Opera, explores possible paths out of imperial memory.

Ann Pettifor, “Irish House Prices Sky-High Due to Finance Not Scarcity.” Dublin’s housing crisis is even worse than Seattle’s. And, as in Seattle, this is generally justified in microeconomic terms: massive demand on a limited supply. But in reality, the main driver is macroeconomic: housing is such a good investment that there’s a worldwide rush from the wealthy to buy in. If you buy a house, you don’t need to live in it to make money off it, especially if its value grows 6-10% a year. If you invest in a townhouse block and all six units are bought at 10-20% over list price in two months, you’ve just made a handsome return. Until we start taxing investment in things like condo development (or in buying a home you don’t intend to occupy or rent out), house prices will keep exploding.

Hilary Plum, a poem I love called “Lions” and an essay on war, Orientalism, historical memory, and the moral position of citizens in empire “Narrating Forgetting.”

Sebastian Purcell, “Life on the Slippery Earth.” An introduction to what’s survived in the historical record of Aztec moral philosophy, especially its emphasis on group– rather than individual– virtue.

EDIT to add this single tweet from Dana Regev, which– out of the whole spectacle of vicious male backlash and horrible retraumatization for women and femme folks in Kavanaugh’s nomination, Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony, Kavanaugh’s ugly response, and his subsequent appointment to the Supreme Court– felt like the thing that I as a man/cismen most needed to sit with, journal about, talk with other men/cismen about, let haunt me.

Nate Silver, “There Really Was a Liberal Media Bubble.” It’s incredible the extent to which many professional journalists and think tank intellectuals are able to make a living having opinions while talking to almost no one but one another. Silver is, of course, not exempt from this himself, but it’s to his credit that he includes his own organization, FiveThirtyEight, in the scrutiny of this article.

Tim Urban, “The Fermi Paradox.” Why don’t we see evidence of the presence of other intelligent species in the Milky Way? This article, chirpy listicle style and all, is a good look at a scientifically and philsophically significant question, a different perspective on literally every sort of human problem I can imagine.

Blanca Varela, “Material Exercises” (tr. Jeannine Pitas). A great, strange poem, beautifully translated.

Bonus feature, “now without clip art!,” on the institutional Catholic Church: The Church as an institution is in a state of huge crisis; here are some readings about it.

A grand jury report of widespread, decades-long sexual abuse by priests, and coverups by leadership, in Pennsylvania coincided with the revelation that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had preyed for decades on seminarians and altarboys.

A bomb-toss of a letter from pissed-off former Papal Nuncio (ambassador) Carlo Maria Vigano alleged in August that Pope Francis was aware that Cardinal McCarrick was a serial predator, and that Francis had nonetheless lifted the sanctions imposed on McCarrick (a lifetime of prayer and penance and withdrawal from public life) by the previous pope, the traditionalist Benedict XVI. Vigano claimed that Francis was willing to tolerate McCarrick’s behavior as he sought McCarrick’s help as an ally in fundraising and the appointment of more-progressive archbishops.

So: what to make of it? Well, Vigano’s letter is full of awful homophobic sinister-gay-mafia bile equating gay relationships, same-gender sexual abuse, and pedophilia. In its direct attack on Francis himself the letter is clearly intended as a means for right-wing European and American Catholics to concentrate their rage at Francis’s attempted reorientation of the church (toward suspect things like mercy, political egalitarianism, inclusivity, environmental stewardship, and concern for migrants and the poor) and build power for their own political projects. Finally, Vigano’s letter has since been revealed to be wrong in its particulars: it now seems that Benedict had never formally sanctioned McCarrick, but as of 2010ish informally asked him to keep a low profile. Nonetheless, there’s strong circumstantial evidence that Francis, like popes before him, was willing to trust his advisers in overlooking credible evidence of abuse to rehabilitate a potential political ally.

Here’s a Tweet thread from a Catholic with whom I imagine I’d agree on very little except for the moral parallel between two clubby, secretive institutional cultures that would tolerate those credibly accused of abuse: the Catholic hierarchy’s welcome for McCarrick and the Yale-Federalist-DC world’s support of Brett Kavanaugh.

And, you ask, where are the voices of actual gay clergy, in the midst of a shitstorm of fingerpointing, secrecy, and homophobia? Here’s one voice, from Fr. James Alison.

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New Poetry in COAST | No COAST

Hi friends, the excellent upstart cross-country journal COAST | No COAST has published another section from a long poem of mine, Like Honey, along with great poems by Sierra Nelson, E.J. Koh, and Roberto Ascalon, as well as some truly amazing and unclassifiable work from Mary Margaret Alvarado. Check it out here; you can get a physical copy at Open Books too.

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