All posts filed under: Long Read

To Expower the People

“Reckoning” is a new word in food-media vocabulary. For decades, food journalism flourished as a safe, G-rated corner of publishing, an agreeable refuge from the strife of politics and the passions of fiction. In the extended family of literature, gastro-journalism blossomed as the approachable younger sibling to the fiery op-ed and the moody novel. Slick journals like Gourmet or Bon Appétit projected a dinner-table fantasy ideal for suburban daydreams. Recipes, travelogues, and restaurant reviews allowed readers to escape their world without leaving their living room. The field’s rare ventures into the political usually took the form of culinary cheerleading: “Tacos are My Resistance” or “The Vietnamese Sandwich Shop Teaching Dallas how to Hire Differently.” Then George Floyd died. The residual anger from the protests hit the sheltered cradle of food media with blistering volley of accusations about racial inequity. And the reckoning was immediate. In the course of one month, the top editors of both Bon Appétit and the LA Times Food Section (Adam Rapoport and Peter Meehan respectively) were forced to resign, and culinary …

“I Was Never More Hated Than When I Tried to Be Honest”

Ralph Ellison, author of the timeless American classic Invisible Man, was among the most commanding black literary voices to emerge in the 20th century. It is a designation he would almost certainly have resented. Ellison didn’t see his work through the prism of his racial identity but as a means of transcending it—using the particulars of his experience to explore human universals. His ambition was not to be a great black writer but to be a great writer who happened to be black, competing in his own mind with Dostoevsky, Melville, Twain. He wanted to “do with black life what Homer did with Greek life” as Clyde Taylor, a professor at NYU, put it. Above all, he wanted blacks to recognize their essential place in the unfolding American story as part of a larger effort to dismantle the artificial racial barriers between disparate ethnic groups that has stalled the evolution of our shared national identity and culture. Quite unusually, Ellison’s work has resonated across the political spectrum and even pierced the bubble of pop culture. The …

The Question of Affirmative Action: An Interview with Glenn Loury

On November 2nd, 2020, Brown professor of Economics and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute Glenn Loury joined Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel’s course “Justice” to discuss the ethics of affirmative action in American higher education. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation. MICHAEL SANDEL: I wonder if I could begin with a provocative quotation from a lecture you’ve given. You’ve said that affirmative action is not about equality, it’s about “covering ass.” What did you mean by that and what do you think generally about the ethics of affirmative action? GLENN LOURY: I was drawing the listener’s attention to the difference between the institutional interest in having a diverse profile of participants and the interests, as I understand them, of the population which may be the beneficiary of this largesse. My point was: if you want genuine equality, this is distinct from titular equality. If you want substantive equality, this is distinct from optics equality. If you want equality of respect, of honor, of standing, of dignity, of achievement, of mastery, …

Requiem for a Female Serial Killer—A Review

A review of Requiem for a Female Serial Killer by Phyllis Chesler. New English Review Press, 250 pages. (November 2020) Aileen Carol Wuornos was born in Michigan in 1956 and executed by lethal injection in Florida in 2002. She has been called America’s “first female serial killer,” but that wasn’t true by a long shot. Still, she might have been the first woman to kill (or be suspected of killing) a series of complete strangers—the victims of her homicidal female predecessors had been husbands, suitors, boarders, or children, old folks, or patients entrusted to them as nurse or caretaker. Wuornos’s seven victims (and there might have been more) were men between the ages of 40 and 65 who had picked her up as a hitchhiker on Florida’s highways—mostly along Interstate 75, which slices north-south through the middle of the state, then veers west to the Gulf Coast, where it abruptly swings eastward through the Everglades to greater Miami. The first of these killings, all of which involved multiple gunshots to the torso, took place in …

Victimhood or Development?

On October 20th, Brown University professor of economics Glenn Loury and Columbia University professor of linguistics John McWhorter were joined on Loury’s Bloggingheads podcast The Glenn Show by Shelby and Eli Steele to discuss the new documentary What Killed Michael Brown? The film is written and narrated by Shelby, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an award-winning writer, and directed by his son, Eli. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that discussion. LOURY: What Killed Michael Brown? has already produced a lot of controversy. I hear that Amazon was a little bit reluctant to let you guys put your film up at their streaming service. I don’t know what that’s about, but the reviews that I have read are very positive, including the review that I offered here with John in our last conversation. So where did the idea for making this film come from? S. STEELE: This film came from the realization that we had a body dead in the street. We felt the whole American racial situation was somehow concretized, …

My Military Jail-Time in Israel

I have never done time in a civilian prison. But military jails are another matter. During my long service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—during 1967–1969 as a conscript and, thereafter, until 1990, as a reservist—I spent three stints, as far as I can remember, under lock and key. Each of them tells us something about the history of Israel and the IDF. I The first time was like a bad joke and brief, almost a non-event. It was sometime in mid-June 1967, a week or so after the IDF had defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War. In the days after the shooting had ended, the IDF was engulfed by chaos. On the front lines, at the eastern edge of the newly-conquered Golan Heights and West Bank, along the Jordan River, the forward combat units dug in, waiting for what the politicians would decide—to hold in place, to withdraw, to shift the units about. (The troops remain there, more or less along the same lines, to this day, …

The Bias that Divides Us

As we sit here over six months after the initial lockdown provoked by COVID-19, the United States has moved out of a brief period of national unity into distressingly predictable and bitter partisan division. The return to this state of affairs has been fuelled by a cognitive trait that divides us and that our culture serves to magnify. Certainly many commentators have ascribed some part of the divide to what they term our “post-truth” society, but this is not an apt description of the particular defect that has played a central role in our divided society. The cause of our division is not that people deny the existence of truth. It is that people are selective in displaying their post-truth tendencies. What our society is really suffering from is myside bias: People evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward their own prior beliefs, opinions, and attitudes. That we are facing a myside bias problem and not a calamitous societal abandonment of the concept of truth is perhaps good news in …

Why Is Funny? How America Lost Its Sense of Humor

If you grew up in Detroit in the ’70s, jokes were everywhere. Most of them were Polack jokes, which were so common that it wasn’t until middle school that I realized that not every joke had to involve a guy from Poland. Today, jokes have almost entirely disappeared from public contexts, and have become a discreet affair, reserved for trusted friends. Over my 15 years working at universities in the United States, I have never heard anyone tell a joke—not a corny pun or some stupid meme—but a real joke that actually made me laugh. You know, a funny one. Good jokes can be dangerous and the risk of getting in trouble is just too high. It might not be so bad if the prohibition against telling jokes and policing of humor was limited to scripted jokes but the problem seems to have bled into everyday social interactions. Last week, I was listening to my wife’s co-workers take turns reproaching all the selfish assholes walking around town without masks. I helpfully added that, although I …

The China Syndrome Part IV: Did China Fudge its Data?

Note: This is the concluding part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Part One looked at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; Part Two looked at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; Part Three investigated allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; this part examines charges that China falsified its pandemic data.  Allegations that China was falsifying its COVID-19 figures began to appear when its death and case rates were overtaken by even more dismal figures in parts of Europe and America. How could a repressive society like China possibly be getting this right while the West’s democracies were getting it wrong? As Western numbers climbed, commentators and politicians declared with growing certainty that China’s claim to have successfully suppressed its epidemic was simply the propagandistic lie of a mendacious totalitarian regime intended to fool its own citizenry and the rest of the world. Back in April, Bloomberg reported that, according …

The China Syndrome Part III: Wet Markets and BioLabs

Note: This is the third part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Part One looked at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; Part Two looked at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; this part investigates allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; Part Four examines charges that the Chinese have falsified their pandemic data.  Among the most controversial questions debated in the wake of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak are how and why the pandemic began in China in the first place. In the previous part of this essay, I argued that, to the extent that China was blameworthy for the pandemic, it was down to a matter of chance. Had the pandemic started in the West instead of China, it would likely have been much worse, so unless you believe in moral luck it doesn’t make sense to blame China. However, if the outbreak began as a result of Chinese negligence …