Seth Meyers Hosts Climate Scientist To Rebut The “Ignorance” Of Donald Trump And Ted Cruz
BENJAMIN SANTER (ATMOSPHERIC SCIENTIST, LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY): I'm honored.
MEYERS: Good. I'm honored to have you. I want to start by saying this though, you work at a national lab, but you want to make -- you want to stress that you are here tonight as an individual, as a private citizen. Why is that important for you to make that distinction?
SANTER: These are strange and unusual times, and it seems kind of important to talk about the science that we do, but I'm not sure how the folks who fund my research will feel about that so it just seems kind of safer to do it this way.
SANTER: It feels tough. Imagine, if you will, that you spend your entire life trying to understand one thing and that thing is the cause of change in the climate system. Best of your ability you do that, and then someone comes and dismisses everything you've understood, all of that scientific understanding as a hoax, as a conspiracy, as worthless, as a contrived phony mess. You have a choice. What do you do with that? You can either retreat to your office, close the door, and be silent. Or you can choose to push back against ignorance and say, “Hey, this is not our understanding. We know something about the causes of climate change.”
Former Trump Campaign Chief Blackmailed Over Meeting Between Trump And Pro-Russian Forces In Ukraine
Former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort quit Trump’s campaign in August under a cloud of suspicion, but it now appears that more than potential investigations may have been behind his departure.
The undated communications, which are allegedly from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, include a text that appears to come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, seeking to reach her father, in which he claims to have politically damaging information about both Manafort and Trump.
Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to “bulletproof” evidence related to Manafort’s financial arrangement with Ukraine’s former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.
Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist, has claimed to have no connection to the texts, but whatever their source, the author seemed to have advance knowledge of the investigation launched by Ukrainian officials into more than $12 million in off the books payments supposedly funneled to Manafort.
In 2011, I was hired, straight out of college, to work at the White House and eventually the National Security Council. My job there was to promote and protect the best of what my country stands for. I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman––I was the only hijabi in the West Wing––and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included.
Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this––or because of it––I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens.
I lasted eight days.
When Trump issued a ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and all Syrian refugees, I knew I could no longer stay and work for an administration that saw me and people like me not as fellow citizens, but as a threat.
The evening before I left, bidding farewell to some of my colleagues, many of whom have also since left, I notified Trump’s senior NSC communications advisor, Michael Anton, of my departure, since we shared an office. His initial surprise, asking whether I was leaving government entirely, was followed by silence––almost in caution, not asking why. I told him anyway.
I told him I had to leave because it was an insult walking into this country’s most historic building every day under an administration that is working against and vilifying everything I stand for as an American and as a Muslim. I told him that the administration was attacking the basic tenets of democracy. I told him that I hoped that they and those in Congress were prepared to take responsibility for all the consequences that would attend their decisions.
He looked at me and said nothing.
It was only later that I learned he authored an essay under a pseudonym, extolling the virtues of authoritarianism and attacking diversity as a “weakness,” and Islam as “incompatible with the modern West.”
My whole life and everything I have learned proves that facile statement wrong.
My parents immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh in 1978 and strove to create opportunities for their children born in the states. My mother worked as a cashier, later starting her own daycare business. My father spent late nights working at Bank of America, and was eventually promoted to assistant vice president at one of its headquarters. Living the American dream, we’d have family barbecues, trips to Disney World, impromptu soccer or football games, and community service projects. My father began pursuing his Ph.D., but in 1995 he was killed in a car accident.
I was 12 when I started wearing a hijab. It was encouraged in my family, but it was always my choice. It was a matter of faith, identity, and resilience for me. After 9/11, everything would change. On top of my shock, horror, and heartbreak, I had to deal with the fear some kids suddenly felt towards me. I was glared at, cursed at, and spat at in public and in school. People called me a “terrorist” and told me, “go back to your country.”
My father taught me a Bengali proverb inspired by Islamic scripture: “When a man kicks you down, get back up, extend your hand, and call him brother.” Peace, patience, persistence, respect, forgiveness and dignity. These were the values I’ve carried through my life and my career.
I never intended to work in government. I was among those who assumed the government was inherently corrupt and ineffective. Working in the Obama White House proved me wrong. You can’t know or understand what you haven’t been a part of.
Still, inspired by President Obama, I joined the White House in 2011, after graduating from the George Washington University. I had interned there during my junior year, reading letters and taking calls from constituents at the Office of Presidential Correspondence. It felt surreal––here I was, a 22-year-old American Muslim American woman from Maryland who had been mocked and called names for covering my hair, working for the president of the United States.
In 2012, I moved to the West Wing to join the Office of Public Engagement, where I worked with various communities, including American Muslims, on domestic issues such as health care. In early 2014, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes offered me a position on the National Security Council (NSC). For two and a half years I worked down the hall from the Situation Room, advising President Obama’s engagements with American Muslims, and working on issues ranging from advancing relations with Cuba and Laos to promoting global entrepreneurship among women and youth.
A harsher world began to reemerge in 2015. In February, three young American Muslim students were killed in their Chapel Hill home by an Islamophobe. Both the media and administration were slow to address the attack, as if the dead had to be vetted before they could be mourned. It was emotionally devastating. But when a statement was finally released condemning the attack and mourning their loss, Rhodes took me aside to to tell me how grateful he was to have me there and wished there were more American Muslims working throughout government. America’s government and decision-making should reflect its people.
Later that month, the evangelist Franklin Graham declared that the government had “been infiltrated by Muslims.” One of my colleagues sought me out with a smile on his face and said, “If only he knew they were in the halls of the West Wing and briefed the president of the United States multiple times!” I thought: Damn right I’m here, exactly where I belong, a proud American dedicated to protecting and serving my country.
Graham’s hateful provocations weren’t new. Over the Obama years, right-wing websites spread an abundance of absurd conspiracy theories and lies, targeting some American Muslim organizations and individuals––even those of us serving in government. They called us “terrorists,” Sharia-law whisperers, or Muslim Brotherhood operatives. Little did I realize that some of these conspiracy theorists would someday end up in the White House.
Over the course of the campaign, even when I was able to storm through the bad days, I realized the rhetoric was taking a toll on American communities. When Trump first called for a Muslim ban, reports of hate crimes against Muslims spiked. The trend of anti-Muslim hate crimes is ongoing, as mosques are set on fire and individuals attacked––six were killed at a mosque in Canada by a self-identified Trump supporter.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, I watched with disbelief, apprehension, and anxiety, as Trump’s style of campaigning instigated fear and emboldened xenophobes, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes. While cognizant of the possibility of Trump winning, I hoped a majority of the electorate would never condone such a hateful and divisive worldview.
During the campaign last February, Obama visited a Baltimore mosque and reminded the public that “we’re one American family, and when any part of our family starts to feel separate…It’s a challenge to our values.” His words would go unheeded by his successor.
The climate in 2016 felt like it did just after 9/11. What made it worse was that this fear and hatred were being fueled by Americans in positions of power. Fifth-grade students at a local Sunday school where I volunteered shared stories of being bullied by classmates and teachers, feeling like they didn’t belong here anymore, and asked if they might get kicked out of this country if Trump won. I was almost hit by a car by a white man laughing as he drove by in a Costco parking lot, and on another occasion was followed out of the metro by a man screaming profanities: “Fuck you! Fuck Islam! Trump will send you back!”
Then, on election night, I was left in shock.
The morning after the election, we lined up in the West Colonnade as Obama stood in the Rose Garden and called for national unity and a smooth transition. Trump seemed the antithesis of everything we stood for. I felt lost. I could not fully grasp the idea that he would soon be sitting where Obama sat.
I debated whether I should leave my job. Since I was not a political appointee, but a direct hire of the NSC, I had the option to stay. The incoming and now departed national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had said things like “fear of Muslims is rational.” Some colleagues and community leaders encouraged me to stay, while others expressed concern for my safety. Cautiously optimistic, and feeling a responsibility to try to help them continue our work and be heard, I decided that Trump's NSC could benefit from a colored, female, hijab-wearing, American Muslim patriot.
The weeks leading up to the inauguration prepared me and my colleagues for what we thought would come, but not for what actually came. On Monday, January 23, I walked into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, with the new staffers there. Rather than the excitement I encountered when I first came to the White House under Obama, the new staff looked at me with a cold surprise. The diverse White House I had worked in became a monochromatic and male bastion.
The days I spent in the Trump White House were strange, appalling and disturbing. As one staffer serving since the Reagan administration said, “This place has been turned upside down. It’s chaos. I’ve never witnessed anything like it.” This was not typical Republican leadership, or even that of a businessman. It was a chaotic attempt at authoritarianism––legally questionable executive orders, accusations of the press being “fake,” peddling countless lies as “alternative facts,” and assertions by White House surrogates that the president’s national security authority would “not be questioned.”
The entire presidential support structure of nonpartisan national security and legal experts within the White House complex and across federal agencies was being undermined. Decision-making authority was now centralized to a few in the West Wing. Frustration and mistrust developed as some staff felt out of the loop on issues within their purview. There was no structure or clear guidance. Hallways were eerily quiet as key positions and offices responsible for national security or engagement with Americans were left unfilled.
I might have lasted a little longer. Then came January 30. The executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries caused chaos, without making America any safer. Discrimination that has existed for years at airports was now legitimized, sparking mass protests, while the president railed against the courts for halting his ban. Not only was this discrimination and un-American, the administration’s actions defending the ban threatened the nation’s security and its system of checks and balances.
Alt-right writers, now on the White House staff, have claimed that Islam and the West are at war with each other. Disturbingly, ISIS also makes such claims to justify their attacks, which for the most part target Muslims. The Administration’s plans to revamp the Countering Violent Extremism program to focus solely on Muslims and use terms like “radical Islamic terror,” legitimize ISIS propaganda and allow the dangerous rise of white-supremacist extremism to go unchecked.
Placing U.S. national security in the hands of people who think America’s diversity is a “weakness” is dangerous. It is false.
People of every religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and age pouring into the streets and airports to defend the rights of their fellow Americans over the past few weeks proved the opposite is true––American diversity is a strength, and so is the American commitment to ideals of justice and equality.
American history is not without stumbles, which have proven that the nation is only made more prosperous and resilient through struggle, compassion and inclusiveness. It’s why my parents came here. It’s why I told my former 5th grade students, who wondered if they still belonged here, that this country would not be great without them.
Stephen Colbert Highlights How "Far-Right Conspiracy Theorist" Alex Jones Is An "Information Source" For Trump
STEPHEN COLBERT (HOST): And I hope that doesn't upset Donald Trump because he's a bit of a hot head.
I don't know how to explain this, but just watching that clip he somehow got spittle on me.
JONES: The reason there's so many gay people now is because it's a chemical warfare operation.
COLBERT: So to recap: one of the counselors to the president knows what it sounds like when a monkey fucked a football.
Trump Administration Rescinds Obama Era Guidelines On Transgender Students
The Trump Administration has rescinded guidelines issued by the Department of Education and Department of Justice under the Obama Administration regarding the rights of transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room corresponding to their gender identity rather than their biological gender:
WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, overruling his own education secretary and placing his administration firmly in the middle of the culture wars that many Republicans have tried to leave behind.
In a joint letter, the top civil rights officials from the Justice Department and the Education Department rejected the Obama administration’s position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.
That directive, they said, was improperly and arbitrarily devised, “without due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy.”
Morning Digest: GOP Poll Gives Tammy Baldwin An Early Double-digit Lead In Wisconsin Senate Race
Until now, we haven't heard about any Republicans considering challenging Walker.
It's very likely that there are plenty of other Republicans eyeing this post regardless of what Walker does, but they're evidently being quiet about their interest.
● AL-Gov: On Tuesday, CBS Sports reported that Tommy Tuberville, who served as head coach of the Auburn University football team from 1998 to 2008, was considering seeking the GOP nomination next year.
As we've noted before, Tuberville could have trouble in the GOP primary if he gets in.
Last month, David Gelernter, the pioneering Yale University computer scientist, met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of joining the White House staff. An article about the meeting in the Washington Post was headlined, “David Gelernter, fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist, is being eyed for Trump’s science adviser.”
It is hard to imagine a more misleading treatment.
By one common definition, anti-intellectualism is “hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science, as impractical and contemptible.”
Here is the exchange that I had with Gelernter when I reached out to ask if he would be interested in discussing the substance of his views on science, politics and culture.
Conor Friedersdorf: The Founding era had as significant a scientist and inventor as Benjamin Franklin playing major parts in the revolution and experiment in self-government.
What might a science advisor offer elected officials today?
David Gelernter: I think the lesson of Franklin is not that a science advisor can tell you all sorts of things about government and diplomacy and human nature, but that thoughtful people are almost never defined by a pre-existing intellectual shoe-box. The best scientists aren't the dedicated drudges who have no other interests. The best take after Newton, Einstein and tens of thousands of lesser lights in their devotion to science andother things too. As a scientist handing out advice on the study of science, something I do as a college teacher, one of my main messages is that you can't be an educated human being on the basis of science alone; another main message is that, sometimes, you can't even be a scientist or technologist on the basis of science alone.
If I were loosely gathering topics of study into categories, I might call them arts, religion, scholarship, and science. As important as scholarship and science are, arts and religion are more important. Those were my main goals (my wife’s, too) in educating our two boys, who are now both in their 20s. Arts and religion define, in a sense, a single spectrum rather than two topics. And this spectrum is where you find mankind's deepest attempts to figure out what's going on in the universe. A student who doesn't know the slow movement of Schubert's B-flat major op post sonata, or the story of David and Absalom, needs to go back to school and learn better.
The best scientists are often the ones who are plainest about their non-scientific interests. Feynman's intro physics books are the best of all physics intros in part because he talks freely about beauty: Here's a beautiful theorem. Here's a beautiful fact. My own small contributions to software were guided at every step by my search for beautiful design. More important, as I argue in my recent book on the spectrum of consciousness: who knows most about the human mind? Today's it's John Coetzee, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick. That’s why the book turns to novelists and poets at least as often as to neurobiologists and psychologists. I've had far more sustained, intense reaction to my one novel (1939) than to anything else I've published.
The short stories I've published over the years in Commentary have been read by maybe 6 people each; but the reaction from readers of those stories, in seriousness, intelligence, and depth, swamps the reaction to any science, tech, or political piece I've published.
Friedersdorf: One of the few newspaper columns that has stuck with me for years is Charles Krauthammer's meditation on Fermi's Paradox and what he calls “the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves.” This is a fear Baby Boomers associate with nuclear weapons. How do those products of the World War II era compare to other advances in technology that stoke existential worries? I am thinking of the people who worry about AI risk, or warn that we're on the cusp of greatly expanding the number of people who can engineer a low-cost bio-weapon, or perhaps something entirely beyond my knowledge. The pessimist in me worries that advances in science and technology are always outpacing our ability or inclination to guard against their destructive potential. Is there something beyond nuclear-weapons policy that presidents should be doing to lessen the chance of humanity destroying itself?
Gelernter: Charles Krauthammer runs to pessimism, and I think he has this wrong—in fact backwards. The striking thing is that Stalin had the bomb and Mao had the bomb and neither ever used it. If both of those mass-murdering thug-tyrants were able to restrain themselves, it's not too surprising that their successors did too. You worry that "advances in science and technology are always outpacing our ability or inclination to guard againstthem,” but it seems to me that this is exactly what hasn't happened.
The U.S. and our allies have escaped nuclear, chemical, and bio attacks not because of the humane ideals of our enemies, but because we devote huge energy and effort to defense, and to our own mass-destruction weapons. Of course terrorists would love to murder huge numbers of westerners, and chemical weapons and perhaps some kinds of bio-weapons are easier to acquire and handle than nuclear weapons; and terrorists don't have hostage states and populations like a Stalin or Mao. But we have to assume that the terrorists have been trying this sort of attack since at least October 2001.
What's amazing isn't that they nearly always fail but that occasionally, on a small but tragic scale, they succeed. If you think about it, they have men willing to die for the cause but so do we—every American infantryman, every front-line soldier of the U.S. and our allies has put his life on the line; and our police, FBI and their allies do it routinely, too. We don't call them suicide fighters, we call them brave, patriotic, big-hearted Americans—or British, French, Israelis—but that doesn't change the facts.
And our soldiers are about 1,000 years further along in technology, much better-trained and equipped, and fighting for their homes and families, and freedom, which are better causes than medieval tyranny, the annihilation of Jews and Christians, and the enslavement of women—not the most inspiring ideas to fight and die for.
I find it amazing that there's so little discussion and analysis of where Mideast terrorism came from. When I was a child, Israel faced mortal danger every day, but Israel-hating terrorists didn't care much about the West in general. What happened? We know exactly what. Jimmy Carter let the Shah fall and let Khomeini replace him. It was one of the stupidest moves in modern history; it's caused unspeakable suffering in Iran and throughout the Middle East. What have we learned?
To lessen the chances of mankind destroying itself, I'd say we ought to do what we did in the Cold War: stand up for the things we believe and try to encourage them everywhere on earth, without fighting wars ourselves. (Anyway, that was our goal.) Our cowardly refusal to arm the Ukraine, the reluctance we showed in helping the Kurds, are exactly what we shouldn't be doing to maintain peace. To have peace, we ought to make sure that basically evil men are scared of basically good ones. That's been U.S. policy since 1945, basically, for all presidents; I say, keep on down this road, helping make the world a little safer and freer every time in every way we can.
Friedersdorf: If our domestic policy were informed by a similar lodestar—to stand up for what is basically good, to oppose what is basically evil, and to have the wisdom to know the difference (and when neither good nor evil are implicated), how should we approach the most controversial intersections of science and policy?
I am thinking of questions like how much today's humans owe to future generations; if or when it is permissible to do research on stem cells from human embryos or to edit the human genome; what restrictions, if any, there ought to be on abortion or euthanasia; whether factory farms, or zoos, are wrong, etc. I don't mean to imply that these matters are all alike, or the most pertinent, but how you might guide policymakers who approach you in the course of trying to figure out what's best.
Gelernter: Frankly, I think that guiding citizens (insofar as I'm able to guide anyone) is far more important than advising policymakers. I've published a series of pieces over the years on this sort of question in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (they translate them), which have led in turn to contributions to German anthologies on these topics, occasional lectures in Germany, etc. I've never found a place to publish such things in English, not for a handful of academics but for the educated public.
That being said, I'm not quite sure I understand the question.
Does it ask how I'd make a decision, or what decisions I've actually made? I make my own decisions from inside the modern-orthodox Jewish world; I try to read relevant Talmudic and halakhic and responsa literature. The rabbis, my rabbis, are my moral guides. But it's often the case that they haven't dealt quite with the right question, or I disagree (Jewish theology is a literature of constant disagreement; nor of course do I present my views as any sort of rabbinic position—considered becoming a rabbi long & hard, but didn't). In any case, I then turn on my brain and do my best to figure out the question. I'm too old to foist off the final responsibility on anyone but myself. So that's how I make these decisions. (There are philosophers who influence me, but as authors more than arbiters. Nietzsche and Wittgenstein have always enchanted me, more for the way they embrace art than for their doctrines. Wittgenstein would sit in the nave of Ely, not far from Cambridge, and admire it. Something I love to do, though he had a lot more opportunity.)
As to my answers, I've written & argued in Germany that (for example) computers & social nets ought to be treated like bars or strip joints: not acceptable for children. (At least we ought to consider treating them that way.) I don't like the idea of legal restrictions. But I might urge that we get computers out of schools until our children are able to read & write half decently—at least as decently as they used to during the middle two-thirds of the 20th Century.These are local decisions. But a science advisor's most important role is facing the public, not the president. A science advisor has to convince Americans that they're out of their minds to turn their backs on science. It is foolish, dangerous, and a waste of a beautiful opportunity.
AI presents tremendously serious moral problems which we leave to Kurzweil and friends. But in practical terms, there's no way on earth I could get a piece from a very different viewpoint before a mass audience.
The ideological narrowness of mainstream commercial magazines is one of the deep, deep frustrations of my life. We have a thriving conservative intelligentsia in this country; it includes many (in fact most) of the smartest people I've ever met. (Think about Norman Podhoretz, George Will, Bill Bennett, Donald Kagan—radically different sorts of thinker, all four strikingly brilliant. There are a few dozen more even at this exalted level.) It's a pleasure and a high honor to be part of America's conservative culture. But the Left hears nothing we say: nothing. Nothing. Most have shrugged this off; only a few of us care. Because I teach at Yale and, more important, because I belong to the art world & have since birth, I can't help caring—and sometimes being outraged, sometimes just grief-stricken. What a damned mess we've made of intellectual life in this absurdly wealthy, lucky, blessed nation.
Friedersdorf : What's something you've wanted to get before a mainstream American audience? I'm especially eager to discuss anything that lends insight into your original thinking. Let's talk about whatever it is that you want to talk about.
Gelernter: This was the most fascinating invitation by far I've ever got (“an opportunity to put any viewpoint you'd like...”)—yes, more than the White House Chanukah parties! More than my chance to ride in my second cousin's Corvette Stingray when I was 10! I don't want to bury you—I want something clearly expressed and organized, and concise.
[5 days elapsed, before I heard from Gelernter again.]
Gelernter: I've attached 20 ideas.
I'm sorry to list so many; but the chance you've given me is unique… I've profited enormously, and I appreciate it... Every assertion is merely my own opinion. Lots of people will disagree, but it's boring to read "in my opinion... in my opinion..." I've only tried to sketch out what I'm pondering & working on right now, as briefly as I can.
Even at that, I've gone far too long.
Letting toxic partisanship heal. Everyone knows that we live in politically superheated times; partisanship feels more bitter and more personal than it ever has in my lifetime.
There are many reasons, but here is one: we all know that faith in the Judeo-Christian religions is dramatically weaker than it used to be. But human beings are religious animals, and most will find an alternative if the conventional choices are gone.
The readiest replacement nowadays for lost traditional religion is political ideology. But a citizen with faith in a political position, instead of rational belief, is a potential disaster for democracy. A religious believer can rarely be argued out of his faith in any ordinary conversational give-and-take. His personality is more likely to be wrapped up with his religion than with any mere political program. When a person’s religion is attacked, he’s more likely to take it personally and dislike (or even hate) the attacker than he is in the case of mere political attacks or arguments. Thus, the collapse of traditional religion within important parts of the population is one cause of our increasingly poisoned politics. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.
Turn back to the generation after the Second World War. The collapse of religion is well underway, but there is another alternate religion at hand: art.
Think of the extraordinary blaze-up of art in America in the postwar years, especially the 1950s and first half of the ‘60s: painting above all; choreography in New York (Balanchine, Robbins, the American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey and other regional companies); serious music, led by Bernstein’s Young Peoples Concerts broadcast nationwide by CBS; intense interest in new American novelists; Frost; the Americanized Auden, Eliot and Delmore Schwartz; the great quartet of European masters as seen from the US: Picasso and Matisse, Giacometti and Chagall; the European film as an art form (Swedish, Italian and French––Hitchcock’s Birds, for that matter, opened in the early ‘60s at MOMA); in the architecture of the Americans Wright and Kahn and Eero Saarinen, and the Europeans Mies and Corbu and Gropius; in the design of the Eames studio, in the museum show as an event, in drama and the Actor’s Studio; art-books, magazines, posters, high-fidelity audio, Lincoln Center, the Dick van Dyke show; a situation comedy with frequent episodes about the theater, galleries, art films--and on and on.
An astonishing era.
Among much else, it helped politics go down easier. (Only a little easier; but every bit helped.) Other things did too, of course; and art, as always, was its own reward. But we miss something if we don’t see how the religion of art took pressure off politics.
Nowadays it’s mostly gone. But it doesn’t have to be. Art itself is the reason to bring art back to center stage. But some of the merely incidental benefits might be enormous.
Beauty is objective.
Take any civilization, ask for its artistic masterpieces; today, they are almost guaranteed to be valuable all over the world. There’s almost nothing less subjective than the sense of beauty.
Yale is building two new “colleges” or dormitories, modeled on Oxford and Cambridge colleges. The buildings are gothic—but copied not from the originals but from early-20th-century Yale gothic, mainly by James Gamble Rogers (an eminent architect who deserves to be studied alongside Pope and White and Lutyens, and will be someday).
Students love the Rogers colleges, and I like the university noticing the fact. They love quads.
But if Yale had turned on its brain, it could have had quads and something exciting and new, instead of something that tries so hard to be boring and old. Yale has mostly had enormous success over the years when it was willing to take new architecture seriously.
Take a chance, dammit.
Quads are good; quads are necessary. But why not build a college with four separate quads stacked up like a pile of book, each half-overlapping the one beneath? Each quad except the topmost has partly sun, then runs underneath the next-higher quad, into the shade. Students are guaranteed to make up new sports played on all four levels simultaneously. Lit up at a night, the four quads make the most fascinating party-space. Performances (music, plays, movies) are set up on the outside half of the bottom quad, and observed from higher quads and from all over the college.
Or, imagine a fjord sort of building with four fairly steep, severe outer walls. There’s a dramatic slit in each exterior wall, and four pathways lead (windingly) to the heads of four separate routes around the hidden central quad—one for walking, one for running, one for swimming and a fourth for rowing (in the winter, skating). The central quad is almost filled by a large glass cube with a carousel inside. The glass walls keep a fair amount of sound enclosed, so that the carousel can play its carousel music–children and parents from the neighborhood can be admitted (through an underground passage) during several hours most afternoons. Take a chance!
It used to be that nearly all American children were reared as Christians or Jews. In the process they were given comprehensive ethical views, centering on the Ten Commandments and the “golden rule,” and God’s requirements as spelled out by the prophet Micah: “Only to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
As a result American were not paragons; but they had a place to start. Today many or most children in the intellectual or left-wing part of the nation are no longer reared as Christians or Jews. What ethical laws are they taught? Many on the left say “none, and it doesn’t matter”—a recipe for one of the riskiest experiments in history.
The left, and my colleagues in the intelligentsia, need to come to terms with this issue. Rear your children to be atheists or agnostics—fine. But turning them loose on the world with no concept of right and wrong is unacceptable. You might well say that Jewish and Christian ethical teaching managed to accomplish remarkably little; but if you believe that, and propose to teach your children even less than the bare bones that proved (you say) so inadequate, then your irresponsibility is obvious. Choose the ethical code you like, but choose something and make sure they know it.
Long ago, I wrote a novel (also a history) about the 1939 NY World’s Fair. My parents had been there; I’d been at the 1964 Fair as a boy. At the time (mid ‘90s) I believed the party line: it would be crazy to have a new world’s fair. I was wrong. A modern nation can’t operate unless the science world and the public are on speaking terms.
The public must pay the bills, and tolerate the long-term planning, that substantial science and technology projects require.
The sharpest, smartest young people must be excited about science. More than ever, every prospective science student has excellent reasons to do something else—go into law or business and be richer, into government and wield power, or into medicine, to be incomparably richer and to be treated with respect and admiration nearly everywhere. Only deep excitement can overcome obstacles like those. No world’s fair can do the job all by itself, but we’re crazy to sacrifice any tool we can bring to bear.
At a time when the population is threatening to fall apart into countless spiky crystals that have nothing to do with or say to one another, a world’s fair helps bring populations together and gives everyone something to think about aside from how much they dislike everyone else. Of course a new one would lose a ton of money; but we’ve never needed a change of topic and a stiff dose of intellectual excitement more than today. You can’t measure the value of what we’d gain, but it would be gigantic.
Our cultural revolution, roughly 1945-1970, created modern America—created the nation and the world we live in. It happened because of a strange circumstance: Two large social changes (separate though related) happened at almost the same time and their effects overlapped. As a result two tidal waves, which would each have produced major changes, came together and overturned everything.
The effect, loosely and broadly speaking, was to move the nation decidedly to the left. But no conspiracy created it. In fact, the left itself doesn’t even begin to understand; has never analyzed it. But we must all understand this event, unquestionably the most important in American history since the end of the Second World War. Of course Civil Rights were important. Feminism was important. But those two changes happened the way they did because of the Cultural Revolution.
Two big waves flowing in the same direction:
First, the major American colleges, run heretofore by WASPs, opened their doors, after the Second World War, to all sorts of people—first, Jews. A decade later, blacks and women. Jews were admitted as students, then faculty members, finally bosses—deans and presidents. Naturally, big changes resulted. College faculties were left-leaning anyway, but a significant Jewish contingent made them even more so.
Second, a growing belief that college, like high school, was good for everyone—and the “professionalization” of all sorts of fields where a BA used to be plenty: the rise of business schools, the growing importance of education schools and of journalism schools were three of the most important aspects of this big change. The transformation of journalism from a battered-hat group of rough-speaking, hard-drinking, widely-admired “ordinary guys” who were thought to be mostly conservatives to penetrating, opinionated intellectuals who are mainly liberal is a major story in itself.
The unbigoted-colleges revolution, which pushed colleges to the left and helped detach them from their old WASP bases, together with the professionalization and college-for-everyone revolution, which increased colleges’ reach and influence, were post-war revolutions that coincided, swamping American culture. The result was a 1970s America vastly different from the 1940s version, dominated by academic ideas. Thus "political correctness," e.g., is an issue not only in academic promotions but in naming Navy warships (!). The new version had good and bad aspects, but whether you’re pleased, horrified, or neutral, there’s no way to miss the huge importance of these events. But most historians have missed them.
Most seem intent on ignoring the Cultural Revolution—or tying it to a strange concoction of Vietnam, rock music, drugs, birth-control, the Civil Rights movement and so on. Yet if Vietnam or rock had never existed, if Civil Rights had been fought out in the 1930s or had only grown serious in 1975, a Cultural Revolution would still have transformed this nation during the post-World War II generation.
Where does a writer’s stuff appear?
A small, distinguished quarterly has asked me to write a piece explaining the more-or-less inevitable end of the colleges (which I wrote about in the WSJ a few weeks ago), and what will replace them. I’m grateful to them for asking, and will probably say yes. In a different world, I’d be writing the piece for a commercial magazine, and a general audience would actually read it. I’m a professional writer; I wrote a weekly culture-and-politics column for the New York Post in the ‘90s and the LA Times in the ‘00s. I’d rather write for a wider audience. But no commercial mag will touch me. One pays a price for one’s political beliefs. (Yet the price, in this society, is so trivial compared to what men have paid in living memory, the price they pay today in Islamic states, Marxist utopias and all kinds of tyrannies, that it is truly stupid, truly infantile to complain.)
Artificial Intelligence is going nowhere until we have mastered Artificial Emotion. AI will continue to solve particular, set problems brilliantly, as it has been doing with slowly-increasing prowess since the 1950s, but AI software won’t show a glimmer of originality or creativity, which are essential to the very idea of thought, until it can simulate emotion as accurately as it does other mental phenomena.
We think with emotions as well as ideas.
But psychology and personal bias has led philosophers of mind starting with Descartes, and psychologists, neurobiologists & AI researchers, to demote emotions to second-class status. Our first successful humanoid robot—the first robot that is clearly on the road to a human-like imitation mind—won’t happen until we know how to imitate human emotions, and how to integrate them completely into artificial thought. Of course, such robots will feel nothing; we have no way to make a computer or any machine feel, and we probably never will. But we will learn to build artificial minds that work as if they can feel—and can see and hear and think and imagine too.
What makes emotion crucial?
We’re capable of assembling two basic kinds of mental sequence, but we tend to ignore one of them. The logical sequence is well-known—we work our ways from some problem or starting point to a solution, explanation, plan of action. This is reasoning, broadly speaking. We assemble ideas using the rules of informal logic. But we also assemble sequences of feelings—sensations and emotions. (Usually such sequences assemble themselves: we enter some new environment and sensations arrive, observations occur to us, and often we respond emotionally.) Logical ideas tend to be stepping-stones to our mental destination. Feelings, on the other hand, tend to be “translucent”—we can overlay them and see through a whole stack of them, although each element adds some color or special effect to the ensemble. We tend to bring such feelings to bear not one-by-one, stepping-stone-wise, but all at once.
Assembling a sequence or a stack of feelings tends to yield one particular, highly-specific feeling—incorporating aspects of many different emotions and sensations. We tend to label memories with particular, specific emotions; some memories consist entirely of a stack of feelings. How do we decide quickly (using emotion, not analysis or reasoning) that we like some applicant and want to hire him, dislike someone else, like or dislike a book that we’ve barely started, or are fascinated by a sight or a room or house or painting that we’ve only just glanced at? These abilities suggest to many psychologists and philosophers that emotions are a “parallel mind,” alongside the analytical, reasonable mind. But how does the parallel mind work?
How do emotions yield judgments so quickly? Judgments we’re often at a loss to explain, except post facto, but that are often right?
Say we meet someone, start a book, wander into a forest path, look at a building. In this new “environment,” our sensations, observations and emotions pile up. Suppose we now examine these feelings all at once, as if we were gazing through a stack of translucent images. If we use this highly-specific, specialized, multi-element feeling as a memory cue, we tend to recall episodes associated with roughly the same set of sensations and emotions. When we pull out of memory a recollection associated with the same sort of feelings we’re experiencing now… it’s natural to apply the outcome or conclusion or analysis we arrived at then. And that’s (in briefest outline) how emotions work as a “parallel mind,” how they lead us to fast conclusions we can’t necessarily explain--but they feel right. It all depends not on a step-by-step logical sequence but on a step-by-step emotional one.
A similar mechanism allows the mind to link together far apart, radically-different memories, which share something deep although they seem to share little or nothing, yielding a brand-new analogy, which in turns yields a mental “restructuring” or a new way to look at things, which in turn yields an original invention or viewpoint. That’s how one important type of creativity works—or at least, how it starts.
AI is one of the most important technologies in history, and we’re going about it wrong. To do it right, we need information about the mind. The people who know the mind best aren’t neurobiologists, they’re novelists & poets. Science must learn from the arts.
A scientist who know only science is in no position to do science.
That’s why my recent Tides of Mind has far more quotes from Shakespeare & Wordsworth & Jane Austen, and Coetzee and Roth and Cynthia Ozick, than from any scientist or psychologist.
Tides of Mind is a sort of commentary on Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K. I can only understand Michael K. himself as an almost implausibly-perfect example of what I mean by “low-spectrum thinking.” I argue for a “spectrum of consciousness” running from concentrated, rational, emotionally-controlled, vigorous thought (when energy is high) to diffuse thought, saturated with emotion and recollections, that leads into sleep. Upper-spectrum thought is abstract, full of language and even numbers; lower-spectrum thought is concrete, full of sensation and emotion.
One way to describe the spectrum is as a continuum from doing to being: the mind is capable of doing-- acting, planning, noticing and solving problems; deciding on goals and concocting plans. This is the aspect of mind we usually focus on. But the mind is also capable of passively experiencing some particular state. As we move from the focused, logical, reasonable, analytical, planning-and-solving mind towards the diffuse, emotional, reminiscing, sitting-back-and-watching mind, and even farther “down spectrum,” into the dreaming mind, which shuts out external stimuli and responds to a hallucinated, emotion-saturated, hot-house reality… we’re moving from a mind whose main business is acting to one whose main business is being.
Ordinarily, we each drift through the spectrum every day, from a relatively up-spectrum point towards the bottom and sleep. But it’s also clear that different personalities have different biases—different spectrum points that are most natural and comfortable, different home bases to which they repeatedly return. Michael K shows us what a low-spectrum personality is like. “There seemed nothing to do but live. He sat so still that it would not have startled him if birds had flown down and perched on his shoulders.”
This is being, not doing.
“I have never seen anyone as asleep as you,” a friend tells him.
“I am like a woman whose children have left the house, he thought; all that remains is to tidy up and listen to the silence.” This is being, feeling, observing, versus talking and thinking and doing. “As summer slanted to an end, he was learning to love idleness…. As a yielding up of himself to time, to a time flowing slowly like oil from horizon to horizon over the face of the world… ‘I am not clever with words,’ he said, nothing more.”
Words and language are the central abstractions of human life. Abstraction is up-spectrum; but when we think visually, emotionally, narratively, we are thinking concretely—down-spectrum. Michael’s uneasiness in using language is the main reason why nearly everyone regards him as a simpleton. There is much more to be said about this reading of Michael K—what we learn about the book, and the spectrum.
The Ambassadors is Henry James’s finest novel, and ranks alongside Emma as one of the two finest in English. Everyone notices the symmetry of the two-section, twelve-chapter plan.
But critics don’t seem to notice the center of the symmetry.
The Ambassadors is about Paris. Paris is unusual in having an exact psychological and approximate physical center—Notre Dame and the parvis out front, where there’s a milestone embedded in the pavement from which distances throughout France are measured.
The church itself stands towards the middle of the island in the middle of the river in the middle of the city. And James has arranged for Notre Dame, the center of Paris, to be the exact center of his book about Paris too.
It is the center of the episode on which the plot hinges.
Strether, the hero, comes to the church on the first page of the first chapter of part II. He enters a mere respectful outsider, an admirer but no intimate of the church, the city or the heroine. Inside he sees (without recognizing) Marie de Vionnet in the distance, from the back. She is lost in meditation or prayer. Moreover “there are no altars for him” in the great Catholic church—either because he is a New England puritan or just a New England skeptic. But he leaves with Mme. de Vionnet on a new basis of close friendship. And now there is an altar for him in Paris. She is the altar.
Although the story ends in a kind if disillusionment, Strether is transformed by his religious experience. The Ambassadors remains the perfect study of the woman-worship that is so important to James; that appears at the center of each of his last two novels also.
And it’s important in earlier James too, perhaps most strikingly in The Awkward Age—an underrated, first-order masterpiece with a wholly-undeserved reputation for difficulty. It includes James’s most dazzling, most breathtakingly beautiful set pieces—the subtle, wordy, moody, moving conversations among a small unchanging group on which he thrives. It is about the worship of a woman that outlives her death to be handed on like a precious sacred vessel, frail yet almost intact, to her granddaughter. This act of handing-on is the novel—as critics can’t seem to see.
It’s impossible not to wonder where this theme has gone. Have men stopped worshipping women?
During feminism’s heyday feminist leaders made clear that they didn’t choose to be worshiped. But it was never up to them. Such emotions are part of a man’s life, not a woman’s.
If we take (say) the novels of Roth and of Coetzee as representing the last several generations of great novels in English, the one instance of woman-worship that comes to mind in all their novels is startling: the magistrate’s love for the unnamed barbarian girl in Waiting for the Barbarians. He loves her not for her perfection but exactly for her imposed imperfection, for the wounds and the suffering visited on her by the secret police.
(The lack of interest in woman-worship as a central theme seems to hold for such relatively young novelists as Sean O’Reilly, Patrick Flanery, Anthony Schneider, Robert Seethaler and Jenny Erpenbeck too.) We seem to have lost something essential, a matter of life and death.
John Brockman believes I invented the term “Cloud”; I’m not sure. But we did build the first cloud, in the course of building a network-programming system called Linda, when I was a grad student at SUNY Stony Brook and an assistant prof at Yale in the 1980s.
My book Mirror Worlds (’91) was “one of the most influential books in computer science” (Tech Review, 7/07) and directly inspired the creation of the Java net-programming language (according to Bill Joy, once head scientist at Sun Microsystems); generally said to have "foreseen” the World Wide Web (Reuters, 3/20/01, and others).
Lifestreams, which we built in the 1990s (it was Eric Freeman’s dissertation project), was the world’s first social network (in the modern, online sense). The first blog on the internet (“Women in Computing”) ran on top of our first Lifestreams system at Yale, in 1996.
Since then I’ve tried to push Lifestreams into the limelight, where it belonged (this Wednesday I met with three undergrads who are beginning yet another in the long series of Lifestreams implementations); but in recent years I’ve worked mainly on AI and philosophy of mind, which yielded the book Tides of Mind (Norton ’16: “A new paradigm for the study of human consciousness,” Nick Romeo, Chicago Tribune); I am working now on “let me build you a robot,” about emotion in robots and AI and the mind generally.
And also a novel, set in the early years of the 1960s. My novel 1939 did better by far than any other of my books. But I’m not sure how I’ll manage to get the new one published.
How you’ll shop. Someone will make a lot of money some day (soon, I think) by using software in a fairly dense, fairly typical suburb to organize an “orbiting supermarket.”
You buy a small fleet of trucks and distribute your wares over the fleet. Then you send them out to cruise. (They could easily be electrics.) When we need something, we hang out a digital flag—need a loaf of bread, or “a loaf of vitamin-enhanced 50-slice Wonder Bread,” or whatever; we choose from dazzling high-resolution menus, so we can buy exotic produce we can’t even name. When a fleet’s truck is in your area, software checks whether you’ve got flags out, and whether your flags correspond to something onboard. The robotized little warehouse behind the driver, together with ordinary sat-nav, make the drop-off quick. If one of your flags is getting old (45 minutes, say, and you still haven’t gotten your milk), software routes an appropriate truck to your front door whether or not it was in your area.
The plan seems to save customers time at the expense of added truck-use and road-use. What happens in fact is much like a series of raster-scans executed by vans over the “screen” of your neighborhood. Vans rarely go out of their way or retrace steps. Flying drones might eventually be cheaper. (But how do we quantify the value of low-skills jobs and a friendly face? Customers will come to know all the drivers…. And when package-delivery services and the post office coordinate services with the orbiting supermarkets, we’ll have an impressively efficient system.)
How you’ll get from the suburbs to downtown and back. To get into Manhattan, I’d start out in my own car and hang out a digital flag with my exact destination. At some point along the highway, software tells me: “pull over & park in #57 in the roadside parking lot.” I do so & stay put in my car--and within 5 minutes, a van picks me up and I’m on my way, straight to a destination drop-off in the city. When traffic is light, the rendezvous happens close to the city; when it’s heavy, it happens much further out—and bigger vans do the carrying. This sort of “mass transportation” would be more & not less convenient than driving; would also be more predictable and flexible. (In the van I’d put on my headphones & disappear into my own world.)
The New York Times is outraged. We should be getting the public onto the trains, at gunpoint if necessary!
But even left-wing Connecticut would rather drive—not for love of driving but because, for most of us, trains are grossly inefficient, an insultingly ludicrous waste of time.
(1) I drive to the station—then park, get a ticket, shoehorn myself into the schedule—waste time waiting, or count on missing my train sometimes; (2) take the train; (3) get into some other transit system to reach my destination, (4) get back in, to return to the station, (5) train, and (6) drive home—usually through the local rush-hour. Unless you happen to live near a station, it’s infuriatingly wasteful of the thing that matters most: your life.
Transportation in the eastern corridor is a disgrace. It must change. Why not change it using the networks we’ve got instead of new networks, merely adding software and—admittedly—a huge fleet of vans, buses and drivers? But simulate the thing carefully first—which should have started decades ago; then try it in a small test…. Or will we do nothing until the local economy literally starts to fall apart? That will happen, because we each have only so many hours to throw away….
The next Web. (The stream-based cybersphere.) The Cybersphere isn’t a Web; instead it’s trillions of streams trickling down some immense mountainside. Each stream is a time-organized “feed” (like the AP feed, or a Twitter stream, or a Facebook wall). Each stream has a broad theme—the stream of the European paintings department at the Met, NY, or the official stream of the NY Mets, of Simon & Schuster, Ferrari, the XYZ hospital pathology dept, the pizza place on the corner, the association for Hiberno-Saxon mss, Fox News, C-SPAN, England, Wells, St. Cuthbert in Wells. Most streams belong to persons: My stream is a chronological list of every document I create (text, videos, spreadsheets, photo-albums). Each stream-element is marked with allowed readers. I mark nearly all my elements “private.” Elements I’ll share with the world—my website, in effect—I mark “public.” Or an element might be for “family,” “project Zep,” “Ozick readers of CT,” etc.
This is essentially the whole structure of the new web (the worldbeam)—and of every user’s private operating system; one system for all his computers, phone, car-computers, audio equipment and so on.
All streams have a future as well as a past.
If I have a meeting at 2PM tomorrow, I add a note to the future of my lifestream at 2PM tomorrow. I can search and browse the whole stream, past, present and future. Every stream flows from the future towards the present, from the present into the past, at the speed of time. I build my computing world by mixing into my own stream any other streams that are interesting: maybe streams belonging to my family-members and close colleagues and best friends. Maybe streams for local schools. Maybe streams for stores where I shop; news streams of all sorts; streams for organizations I care about.
Everything I’m interested in comes to me, and flows right past. I might notice something interesting as it passes by, or might look for it by searching and browsing. If built right, this is the only operating system or web browser anyone ever needs.
Something important we haven’t noticed: recursive structure is a fundamental part of sophisticated architecture, especially of gothic and of the parade of styles--mainly renaissance, baroque and neo-classical—that occupied the centuries down to the 20th (or in some cases, down till today). Recursive structure means that a structure is repeated within itself: An octagonal spire, for example, is decorated with small spires, identical to the large one, at the base of the four angled faces of the octagon.
The curve of a large church’s apse is repeated in the curves of the scooped-out chapels running along the face of the apse. Art historians have noticed this important fact, naturally.
But “recursive structure” is a term from computer science; there’s no comparable term in art or architectural history—and as a result of separating science and art, every historian who writes about the phenomenon makes up his own terminology, and the generality of the technique, the big picture, remains hidden. What a shame!—we could understand everything from the delicate structure of a masonry edging in a late medieval English chantry chapel to the whole east end of Salisbury Cathedral, or Michelangelo’s giant orders, as instances of the same deep phenomenon. But we don’t. A wall separates computing from the arts. Another wall, more impregnable, separates conservative intellectuals from the mainstream. I published a piece about this phenomenon (with many examples and good photos) in the Weekly Standard’s books-and-art section. But I’ve yet to find a single art historian, or anyone with an interest in medieval art or architectural history, who ever saw it.
We don’t understand great medieval churches properly.
The extent to which western churches are based on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem is implicit in parts of the literature, but doesn’t seem to have been studied thoroughly, especially in the way that a Christian’s progression from the west-end to the sacred east-end recreates the pilgrimage in miniature—in the sense that the Christian’s steps trace an easterly path which is a literal part of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Thus the font at which Christian life begins is usually at or near the west end. (Southern cathedrals such as Florence’s, with the baptistery as a separate building west of the main church, underline the start of the pilgrimage.) A pilgrim heads eastward through the nave and arrives at the crossing; moving into the choir, he is usually approaching the high altar, east of the choir. A saint’s shrine, in England especially, was apt to be east of the high altar (thus the Confessor’s shrine at Westminster Abbey, Becket’s former shrine at Canterbury, and many, many other cases).
The east end of the church is a re-creation of the Celestial Jerusalem—of Paradise, of the goal of the pilgrimage. This is true of the traditional French apse or chevet, concave to enclose the pilgrim—but also of the great eastern window at Lincoln (for example) or the glass wall at the east end of York or Gloucester. The English tradition of siting a lady chapel in the easternmost position—east of the altar, east of the shrine, as in Salisbury or Winchester or Exeter or Wells, and in some parish or former abbey churches (such as Abbey Dore)—underlines the pilgrimage theme. At Wells, for example, the great east window hovers above the altar. This is the main source of light from the east, the light of Paradise towards which a Christian life leads.
But beneath the great east window, light enters from a distance, from the beautiful reticulated windows of the octagonal lady chapel. Just as a choir within the west façades of Wells and Salisbury, singing through hidden sound-holes, welcomes pilgrims and processions into church on feasts such as Easter, the light of the easternmost windows sneaking in beneath the great east window, beyond the altar, calls pilgrims east, to the lady chapel and the celestial Jerusalem and Paradise.
Who is history’s greatest composer? (I encourage my students to ask this sort of wildly unpopular question because it sharpens one’s critical understanding, and forces one to make choices.)
The composer is Franz Schubert; he died at 31, and none of his three competitors had finished masterpieces to compare with his at 31. His three opus posthumous sonatas are among the deepest achievements in art. The slow movements of the last two might be the most beautiful in all of music—in competition only with Mozart’s Requiem and the last movement of Beethoven’s op 111 sonata. And what if Schubert’s competitors had each died at 31? Beethoven had finished his stupendous C minor piano concerto, op. 37, and several perfect piano sonatas; but his great work was yet to come.
Bach had finished Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, one of his finest cantatas and his single biggest hit (it includes “Jesus Joy of man’s desiring”); but his greatest music all came later.
Mozart is the toughest competitor, because he finished Figaro at 30—Figaro, greatest of his operas, greatest of all operas, the best answer in music (better even than Don Giovanni) to the hardest of all musical problems--how to come to an end. But listen carefully once more to the three sonatas and Schubert wins. (Which doesn’t change the underlying truth, that Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, his op 110 and 111 sonatas, his string quartet in C# minor and the Gross Fuge are the greatest music of all.)
My own paintings are inspired by the great NY abstract expressionists of my youth (especially de Kooning) and a couple of Francophones (Matisse and Giacometti, who was born in Italian Switzerland but lived in Paris)—and by medieval architecture (especially the decorative patterns invented by masons and carpenters in the late English gothic of the 14th through 16th centuries) and the great Insular Gospel Books, especially Lindisfarne and Kells—probably the two greatest artworks we have. Nearly all of my paintings include texts, usually in Hebrew.
Each one is a setting of a text in the same way, broadly speaking, that Schubert sets a text in a lied. But there are some portraits also. Only orthodox Jews and Israelis can read the texts; orthodox Jews have no great love of painting, and the Israeli art world is fiercely secular. What does an artist do when he’s stuck (by his own choice entirely!) in a hole no one cares about? Should he shrug it off and get on with his work, or does an artist’s work include proselytizing for his own vision? In my case, that includes the deeply visual character of Judaism—and the visual character of much of thought.
The extraordinary graphic power of new computers ought to have set up a blizzard of new thoughts and new work on images and the mind, teaching images, reading images, expressing ourselves in images. That it hasn’t, that it’s set up nothing, is one of the surest ways to see that western culture is almost dead––is surviving on royalty checks from heroes of the past.
But there’s still more than enough time to change everything.
Fox News Dismisses Huge Town Hall Participation As Paid Liberal Organizing
Members Of Congress Hold Town Halls In Their Districts During Congressional Recess
Wall Street Journal: “Members Of Congress Are Preparing To Confront A Wave Of Activism When They Return Home To Their Districts.” Members of Congress are going back to their home districts and holding town hall events with their constituents “for the first congressional recess since President Donald Trump took office.” According to The Wall Street Journal, “Some lawmakers are holding telephone conferences with constituents instead of in-person events.
Members of Congress are preparing to confront a wave of activism when they return home to their districts next week for the first congressional recess since President Donald Trump took office, as liberal activists plan to use town halls and other public events to pressure members to oppose the new administration’s agenda.
Some lawmakers are holding telephone conferences with constituents instead of in-person events.
With so many other confrontations over immigration already raging, it was easy to overlook that new skirmish that Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia started last week.
Just weeks into office, President Trump is embroiled in legal and political struggles over his contested travel ban on seven Muslim-majority nations and the expanded criteria for deporting undocumented migrants his administration finalized this week. Cotton and Perdue opened a new front in these escalating immigration wars by proposing legislation that would cut in half the number of legal immigrants and refugees allowed into the U.S from today’s combined level of about 1.1 million annually. Echoing Trump, Cotton insisted that high immigration levels undermined wages for working-class Americans and threatened to leave them as “a near permanent underclass.”
The bill faces a steep hill because it’s unlikely to attract enough Democrats to break a Senate filibuster. But the legislation will still measure how many Congressional Republicans are embracing Trump’s effort to redefine their party around a bristling defensive nationalism––and how many Congressional Democrats feel compelled to join them.
Although few Republicans represent places with large immigrant populations, in recent years most GOP legislators have hesitated about opposing legal immigration.
The last serious conservative push to reduce it came in 1996-and it failed decisively despite Republican control of both Congressional chambers. Though restrictions cleared the House Judiciary Committee, one-third of House Republicans joined most Democrats to strip them on the floor. In the Senate, legal immigration reductions attracted just 20 votes, drawing opposition from almost all Democrats but also nearly three-fourths of Republicans-including John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Mitch McConnell.
Cotton and Perdue would squeeze legal immigration even more tightly than the GOP proposed then. Based on preliminary estimates, the Pew Research Center projects that limiting future immigrants and refugees to about half their current level would, over roughly the next 50 years, reduce the foreign-born share of the population to just below 10 percent. That's lower than at most points in American history, and significantly below today’s level of around 14 percent. Such a diminished share, however, would track Trump's campaign call to limit future immigration flows to a level that would return the foreign-born population share to what he termed "historical norms"––which has averaged about 10 percent since the Civil War, according to Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew's director of Hispanic research.
Pew’s projections also suggest that with immigration levels like those envisioned by Cotton and Perdue, the number of working-age Americans in coming decades would remain essentially unchanged at around 175 million. By contrast, under current law and migration trends, Pew Research projects the number of working-age Americans will increase by about 30 million over the next 50 years, with immigrants and their descendants contributing almost all of the increase.
Cotton and Perdue say preempting that growth would increase economic opportunities for native-born workers, and some economists agree-to a point. In an exhaustive study last fall, the National Academy of Sciences found “little evidence” that increased immigration significantly affected employment levels for native-born workers, but did see indications it has pressured wages for lower-skilled workers––primarily recent immigrants themselves but also native-born workers who didn’t finish high school (a slim share of the overall workforce). But even there, the study concluded immigration’s impact on wages for native workers “is very small…when measured over a period of 10 years or more.”
Any benefit that might derive from squeezing immigration to benefit those workers would carry other costs. Smaller workforce growth would mean lower overall economic growth. Fewer workers also threaten Social Security and Medicare. The Social Security trustees estimate the senior population will soar from about 48 million now to 86 million in 2050. Without more workers, the taxes needed to support those retirees could reach unsustainable levels, increasing pressure for benefit cuts. Immigration helps maintain a more sustainable balance between the working age and retired population, especially because a significantly higher share of foreign-born adults (half) than native-born (one-third) are younger than 45.
A version of that dynamic is already evident in communities across the Rustbelt states central to Trump’s electoral success. Cities of all sizes there have been actively recruiting legal immigrants to combat population decline and replenish their workforce. In an important study for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, public policy consultant Rob Paral found that the native-born working age population declined from 2000-2010 in dozens of Rustbelt cities––from Detroit, St. Louis and Kansas City to Akron and Sheboygan––as families left for faster-growing regions. Those places all mitigated that crippling contraction by increasing their population of working-age foreign-born adults.
Although many whites across the region view large-scale immigration as an economic or cultural threat, in fact, “In the Midwest and the Northeast virtually all the metro areas have become dependent on immigration,” Paral says. “Immigration cuts would pull the rug out from under them.”
Like Trump’s protectionist trade agenda, the Cotton/Perdue immigration restrictions envision a zero-sum economy, in which any gains for foreign interests mean losses for domestic workers. That contrasts with the dynamic vision of mutual benefit that an alliance of mostly technology companies-including Apple, Google, Intel and Facebook-presented in their legal brief opposing Trump’s seven-nation travel ban.
“Immigrants make many of the Nation’s greatest discoveries, and create some of the country’s most innovative and iconic companies,” the companies wrote. “The energy they bring…is a key reason why the American economy has been the greatest engine of prosperity and innovation in history.”
In the Trump era, the chasm is quickly widening between those who believe the best way to ensure America’s prosperity (and security) is to build bridges to the world––and those who are determined to erect walls against it.
<b>Don't Be Fooled By Milo Yiannopoulos' Latest Doe-Eyed Act. It's Hollow. Here's The Proof.</b>
Former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos revealed that he was a survivor of child sexual abuse during a press conference held to address the controversy that erupted after a video surfaced of him “condoning pedophilia.” Yiannopoulos apologized for his words (though with several caveats) and offered an olive branch by promising to donate a percentage of his book’s royalties to charities supporting survivors of child sexual abuse.
After the video circulated, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) revoked Yiannopoulos’ speaking invitation, Simon and Schuster canceled his book deal, and Yiannopoulos resigned from his role at Breitbart.
Yiannopoulos also came out as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, citing this history as the reason for his “usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor.” He also said he was “horrified” that his videotaped comments may have been perceived as “advocacy” for pedophilia or “a lack of care for other victims.” Yiannopoulos continued:
I will not apologize for dealing with my life experiences in the best way that I can, which is humor.
The Problem With The Country Is People Believing 2+2=5
On April 4, 2017, almost 90 art house movie theatres across the country in 79 cities and in 34 states, plus one location in Canada, will be participating collectively in a NATIONAL EVENT DAY screening of the 80's movie 1984 starring John Hurt, who sadly died last month.
Orwell's novel begins with the sentence, "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
Participating theaters that charge admission will be donating a portion of the proceeds to local charities and organizations, or using the proceeds for the purposes of underwriting future educational and community-related programming.
In modern politics, the very nature of trying to debate objective reality has become a multiple-choice game between differing ideologies, wherein facts are suspect and the patently absurd is given equal-time.
<i>The Atlantic </i> Politics & Policy Daily: Planets 7 From Outer Space
Today in 5 Lines
The Trump administration plans to revoke Obama-era guidance that required public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are scheduled to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and other officials in Mexico later today. Astronomers discovered a system of seven Earth-size planets orbiting a nearby star, according to new findings published in Nature magazine. The U.S. Supreme Court gave Duane Buck, a Texas death-row inmate, a second chance to avoid the death penalty, ruling that his lawyers had unconstitutionally introduced evidence that suggested he was more likely to commit future crimes because he is black. The 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference kicked off in Washington, D.C.
Today on The Atlantic
Mea Culpa: Following outrage over his past comments about pedophilia, Milo Yiannopoulos held a press conference in New York where he announced his resignation from Breitbart News and offered an unprecedented, albeit small, display of remorse. (Rosie Gray)
Hijacking the Movement: Many left-leaning Brits are re-directing their frustrations with the Brexit referendum by forming a U.K.-based anti-Trump coalition. But, Linda Kinstler writes: “By training their efforts on him, movements like the Stop Trump Coalition may have picked the wrong target.”
‘The Economy Is Not Doomed’: Derek Thompson spoke with renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs about the future of prosperity in the United States and the end of us-versus-them politics.
‘Democracy in Action’: Frustrated constituents are filling up meeting rooms across the country to voice their concerns to Republican members of Congress. Here’s what’s happening at those town-hall meetings, from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Fairview, Tennessee. (The New York Times)
#WeWillReplaceYou: A new campaign by Bernie Sanders’s supporters and former campaign staff presents Democratic lawmakers with an ultimatum: “oppose Donald Trump at every turn, or face a primary challenger who will.” But Sanders has declined to comment on the strategy. (Ruby Cramer, BuzzFeed)
A Contender for Cruz: Congressman Beto O’Rourke, “a Mexico-loving liberal,” might challenge Ted Cruz for his seat in the U.S. Senate. “Can a Democrat really win in this deeply red state—against Cruz, who will be running one of the best-financed campaigns in the country?” (Ben Terris, The Washington Post)
‘33 Questions About Trump and Russia’:Vox's Matthew Yglesias poses a series of questions about the Trump Organization, Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the president's relationship with Russia.
Shower With Affection: Former Trump campaign staffers shared their secret to reducing his inflammatory tweets during the race: “Ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise,” writes Tara Palmeri. “And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up.” (Politico)
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow:View these graphics to learn how the Trump administration’s proposed visa restrictions could affect the country’s future innovation and economy. (Samuel Granados, The Washington Post)
Question of the Week
After a visit to the National Museum of African American History, President Trump pledged to “bring this country together.” What's an effort you've seen in your community—or one you've participated in yourself—that you think could help heal a polarized nation?
Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org, and our favorites will be featured in Friday’s Politics & Policy Daily.