I've been digging Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy via Audiobook. In my present realm of study, there's just entirely too much to read. (Next up a book about fashion among slaves. No, seriously.) It sucks that it's so hard to find more obscure books in the audio version, and it sucks more that many of the voice actors are so bad.
That aside, Foote's book is pretty awesome. It's been whispered that he was filled with Southern bias, but I wonder if that has more to do with how he showed up in the film than with what he's actually written.McPherson's book is obviously awesome, but I think the first 200-300 pages--where he demolishes the notion that slavery wasn't the cause of the War--are its strength. (This, of course, like saying "speed" was Barry Sanders' strength.)
Foote isn't much interested in the causes of the War, as much as the personalities. The temptation is to charge him with ducking the issue. But I think in his focus on the people, you learn a lot about the causes. Here's a quote Foote digs up from the diary of a Confederate Louisiana woman (Julia Le Grand) after New Orleans falls to the Union:
This is a most cowardly struggle. these people can do nothing without gunboats. These passive instruments do their fighting for them. Beauregard in Tennessee can get no battle from them where they are protected by these huge block steamers. It is a best a dastardly way to fight. We should have had gunboats if the government had been efficient, wise or earnest. (Emphasis mine.)
The upshot seems to be that means employed by the North win are cowardice, while those same means in the hands of the South are efficiency and wisdom. This reasoning can be extended to hilarious ends--until armies are dismissed as cowards for using canons (These people can do nothing without artillery) charging with horses (These people can do nothing without hiding behind calvary) to firing an Enfield (These people can do nothing without their Springfields. Real men give the bayonet.)
It really is the same logic you see out on the street, ("You only kicked my ass, because I let you swing first.) or in sports ("The Saints only won, because of that lucky onside kick.") The logic proceeds from a deeply held notion, that at the core, somewhere in the bones, the speaker is essentially of better stock. You see this all through Southern propaganda in the Civil War--sometimes they literally speak of a "Southern race." The idea is that there is something about the Southerner, something intrinsic, that makes him a better fighter. Here's Sam Houston addressing that notion, while trying to stop Texas from seceding:
Some of you laugh to scorn the idea of bloodshed as the result of secession, but let me tell you what is coming....Your fathers and husbands, your sons and brothers, will be herded at the point of the bayonet....You may after the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives, as a bare possibility, win Southern independence...but I doubt it. I tell you that, while I believe with you in the doctrine of state rights, the North is determined to preserve this Union. They are not a fiery, impulsive people as you are, for they live in colder climates. But when they begin to move in a given direction...they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche; and what I fear is, they will overwhelm the South.
This, of course, is the 19th century, and theories about race are wild. Modern racism styles black people as physical superior, and mentally inferior. But in the 19th century, white supremacy styled whites (and in the South, Southern whites specifically) as physically and mentally superior. No one claimed to fear meeting a black man in a dark alley--the logic held that he would run and cower before the white man, his superior in all things.
Knowing that, I think, gives us some perspective on the Lost Cause. Think of it: The South didn't have the North's great industrial power or cultural sway. But what they had was a military tradition. Southerners were fighters. They could say to the North, "You may have poetry and machines, but we both know I can kick your ass." I don't want to overstate this, but I suspect going into the war, no small part of Southern secessionist ideology was built on the ability to kick ass, and that ability being decisive.
But it wasn't. Moreover, it was the secessionist who took the ass-kicking, at the hands of a bunch of effete Northerners and cowardly runaway slaves. It was as if the AV club and the weed-heads got together and beat down the football team--in front of the cheerleaders. Or it's Tyson after Douglass. Indeed since the Confederates galloped out of Richmond, some portion of this country has always been Tyson dazed on the mat, groping for the mouth-piece.
There's a way of looking at the ugliness after Reconstruction--the rise of the Lost Cause, the Klan, the lynchings--as a tragic search for Southern white male identity. First the old slave patrols go. Then the Confederate Army is subdued and humiliated. Then blacks began to dominate "manly" athletic pursuits. Then Martin Luther King exposes the immorality of the Southern system. Reeling from each successive volley, the Southern racist--and really any white racist--is left with a question: If the Southern white man is proven inferior physically, mentally, and even morally, than what is he?
It is from this question that you get protests of "losing everything," or "illegals taking over everything," or "jihad in the White House." It's about identity, and the Confederate South not as geography but as an idea. I'd argue that--from the Confederate battle flag, to all-white country clubs, to the Muslim\terrorist Obama-- the search for identity continues to this day. The Civil War commenced an assault on an notion that was, by the War's onset, some 200 years in the making. My sense is that the unholy idea may require some 200 years of unmaking.
Let's talk in 2065. One way or another, I'll be around.
Why the WikiLeaks revelation about a “pay-to-play” deal with Morocco is a quintessential Clinton controversy
The chief complaint that critics make about the Clinton Foundation is that the former and perhaps future presidents engaged in a “pay-to-play” scheme, whereby donors—many of them foreign governments—would contribute money to the charity in exchange for access to Bill or Hillary Clinton, or worse, beneficial treatment from the State Department.
On Thursday, hacked emails from WikiLeaks suggest that is precisely what happened when the king of Morocco agreed to host a Clinton Global Initiative summit and give $12 million, but only if Hillary Clinton attended the May 2015 meeting.
“No matter what happens, she will be in Morocco hosting CGI on May 5-7, 2015,” Huma Abedin, a top Hillary Clinton aide, wrote in a November 2014 email to several other advisers, including campaign chairman John Podesta. “Her presence was a condition for the Moroccans to proceed so there is no going back on this.”
What use is there today for one of the oldest virtues?
As many Americans go about their days, I imagine they have two little angels perched on their shoulders, whispering conflicting messages about happiness and material wealth. One angel is embodied by James Altucher, a minimalist self-help guru recently profiled by The New York Times. Altucher claims to have only 15 possessions, after having unburdened himself a few months ago of 40 garbage bags’ worth of stuff and never looking back. As I read about Altucher, I rolled the numbers 15 and 40 over in my mind, thinking about the belongings in my bedroom and the garbage bags under my kitchen sink.
The other angel is Tyler Brûlé, the editor in chief of the fantastically high-end lifestyle magazine Monocle and a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the sort of writer who tosses off such lines as “I zipped along the autostrada through the Val d’Aosta with the ever-trusty Mario (my Italian driver for the past 20 years) at the wheel” with little regard for how privileged and pretentious he sounds (especially in his superfluous parentheticals). Still, there is something, I’m a little ashamed to say, that I envy about Brûlé’s effortless cosmopolitanism—which, it’s hard to miss, is only made possible by unusual wealth.
Choosing a president isn’t easy in this election, but here are three ways a principled conservative might vote.
The day of decision is nearing. All the talk fades, and one mark must be made beside one box on the ballot. Many Republicans are agonizing. They reject Donald Trump; they cannot accept Hillary Clinton. What to do?
I won’t conceal, I’m struggling with this question myself. I’ve listened to those Republicans, many my friends, who feel it their duty to stifle their anger and disappointment, and vote for Trump; to cast a protest vote for the Libertarian Gary Johnson or the independent Evan McMullin; or to cross the aisle and vote for Hillary Clinton as the lesser evil. On the way to my own personal answer, I found it helpful to summarize the best case for each of these options.
Emphasize the word “best.” If your case for Trump rests on the assumption that America is hurtling toward national doom, if your case for McMullin rests on the hope of tossing the election into the House of Representatives, if your case for Hillary argues that she is a large soul eager to work cooperatively with those who think differently from her. I’d say you are not thinking very clearly. Despair and fantasy are misleading counselors.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
A neuropsychological approach to happiness, by meeting core needs (safety, satisfaction, and connection) and training neurons to overcome a negativity bias
There is a motif, in fiction and in life, of people having wonderful things happen to them, but still ending up unhappy. We can adapt to anything, it seems—you can get your dream job, marry a wonderful human, finally get 1 million dollars or Twitter followers—eventually we acclimate and find new things to complain about.
If you want to look at it on a micro level, take an average day. You go to work; make some money; eat some food; interact with friends, family or co-workers; go home; and watch some TV. Nothing particularly bad happens, but you still can’t shake a feeling of stress, or worry, or inadequacy, or loneliness.
According to Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, a member of U.C. Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center's advisory board, and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, our brains are naturally wired to focus on the negative, which can make us feel stressed and unhappy even though there are a lot of positive things in our lives. True, life can be hard, and legitimately terrible sometimes. Hanson’s book (a sort of self-help manual grounded in research on learning and brain structure) doesn’t suggest that we avoid dwelling on negative experiences altogether—that would be impossible. Instead, he advocates training our brains to appreciate positive experiences when we do have them, by taking the time to focus on them and install them in the brain.
Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.
Every day in June, the most popular wedding month of the year, about 13,000 American couples will say “I do,” committing to a lifelong relationship that will be full of friendship, joy, and love that will carry them forward to their final days on this earth.
Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way for most people. The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction. Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, which was published earlier this year.
Social scientists first started studying marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: Married couples were divorcing at unprecedented rates. Worried about the impact these divorces would have on the children of the broken marriages, psychologists decided to cast their scientific net on couples, bringing them into the lab to observe them and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were. Was each unhappy family unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy claimed, or did the miserable marriages all share something toxic in common?
It isn’t the only democratic institution that finds itself in danger.
Four years ago, as a speechwriter for President Obama, I commissioned a binder full of women.
A little context. It was the morning of the Al Smith Dinner, the election-year tradition in which both parties’ nominees don white-tie attire and deliver comedy monologues to New York City’s elite. Our opponent, Governor Mitt Romney had recently used the words “binders full of women” while discussing gender parity in government. Eager to mock the clumsy phrase, I asked a staffer on the advance team to put together a prop.
But our binder never saw the light of day. Obama nixed the idea. I remember being disappointed by the president’s decision, and wondering if POTUS was phoning it in. Of the jokes that did make it into the final draft, one in particular stood out for its authenticity.
Everything you think you know about those 13 days is wrong.
On october 16, 1962, John F. Kennedy and his advisers were stunned to learn that the Soviet Union was, without provocation, installing nuclear-armed medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. With these offensive weapons, which represented a new and existential threat to America, Moscow significantly raised the ante in the nuclear rivalry between the superpowers—a gambit that forced the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. On October 22, the president, with no other recourse, proclaimed in a televised address that his administration knew of the illegal missiles, and delivered an ultimatum insisting on their removal, announcing an American “quarantine” of Cuba to force compliance with his demands. While carefully avoiding provocative action and coolly calibrating each Soviet countermeasure, Kennedy and his lieutenants brooked no compromise; they held firm, despite Moscow’s efforts to link a resolution to extrinsic issues and despite predictable Soviet blustering about American aggression and violation of international law. In the tense 13‑day crisis, the Americans and Soviets went eyeball-to-eyeball. Thanks to the Kennedy administration’s placid resolve and prudent crisis management—thanks to what Kennedy’s special assistant Arthur Schlesinger Jr. characterized as the president’s “combination of toughness and restraint, of will, nerve, and wisdom, so brilliantly controlled, so matchlessly calibrated, that [it] dazzled the world”—the Soviet leadership blinked: Moscow dismantled the missiles, and a cataclysm was averted.
“Light” events are some of the heaviest lifting in political life. Comedy is hard to begin with, and for the kinds of people involved in politics, jokes are vastly more difficult to write or deliver than “substantive” remarks. And for presidents or presidential aspirants, we’re talking about a special kind of joke. These eminent figures need to come across as “modest” and self-deprecatory, but only up to a humble-brag point. (That is, just enough so the audience and reviewers will say, “Oh, isn’t it charming that he’s willing to laugh at himself!”) Real comedy often includes a “what the hell!” willingness to say something that will genuinely shock or offend, which national politicians can’t afford to do. The White House Correspondents Dinner, the Gridiron, the Al Smith Dinner—any event like this is hard (as David Litt, a former member of the Obama speechwriting team, explains in a very nice item just now).
Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.
On a recent evening in San Francisco, Tristan Harris, a former product philosopher at Google, took a name tag from a man in pajamas called “Honey Bear” and wrote down his pseudonym for the night: “Presence.”
Harris had just arrived at Unplug SF, a “digital detox experiment” held in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, and the organizers had banned real names. Also outlawed: clocks, “w-talk” (work talk), and “WMDs” (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices). Harris, a slight 32-year-old with copper hair and a tidy beard, surrendered his iPhone, a device he considers so addictive that he’s called it “a slot machine in my pocket.” He keeps the background set to an image of Scrabble tiles spelling out the words face down, a reminder of the device’s optimal position.