Finding the beauty (sort of?) in a relentless torrent of campaign pamphlets
Day after day they come to my house. By mail. By hand. Borne along with an urgent smile by canvassers who stalk the neighborhood looking for opportunities like me. Stuffed into the handle of my door. Blown around by the wind when I walk the dog. With an eye toward this piece, toward perhaps making some meaning of the insanity of it all, I started keeping them only about a month ago, after I had already received (and promptly tossed out) at least 200 more. They will continue to come, I know, until early November, until the eve of the coming election, when the people who send them will finally realize that it's just too late.
As the resident of a swing state, evidently in or near a swing district, I live today in a pamphlet world. Every politician seeking my vote this election cycle seems to have decided that the best way to reach me -- and to reach me -- is to send me colorful, high-gloss, thick-stock political pamphlets pitching me on this or that. What the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling has done for the television and radio industries -- think those television campaign commercials are free? -- these pamphlets surely have done for the printing industry. I don't remember ever receiving as many mailed election pitches as I have this year.
One day, all of the pamphlets I have, and all of the ones I will collect between now and November 6, will either be recycled or will help me start wood fires in my fireplace on the days when I can. Some of this garbage may make a difference in the races on which it touches. Some, no doubt, were as wasted on me, and on the related campaign, as all the other junk mail that comes. In the meantime, since I have them here, I thought I would go back through them to give you a sense of the language of the race, far away from the glare of the debates or the cheers of the crowd.
Political operatives are spending millions upon millions of dollars this cycle -- more than ever before, I reckon -- to get their message into my home, figuratively and literally. And what those messages say tells us an awful lot about the awful nature of politics in America in 2012. On balance, I would say I've received many more mailings from Republicans and conservative operatives than I have from Democrats and liberal operatives. Sometimes, it's impossible to tell, so couched in dog whistles and focus-group-speak is the language of the pamphlets. Here is just some of the poetry of the campaign, taken directly from the text of the mailings:
Straight from the horse's mouth.
The road to prosperity is not paved in debt.
The truth washes it off easily.
In scary situations, trust someone who knows what they're doing.
They're not on your side.
If Penn State happened in your elementary school, would you want to know?
Who betrayed our children's safety for a campaign donation?
Which [state] politician thinks money grows on trees?
She paid into Medicare and Social Security all her life. But [politician] wants to leave her out in the cold. Who's tired of politics as usual?
[Politician] knows that good jobs don't grow on government trees.
[Politician] is a weaselly politician. He raised our taxes but dodged paying his own.
[Politician] is fed up with politicians ignoring our community.
[Politician] didn't raise her taxes. But she is happy to raise yours.
[Politician] creates jobs on Main Street, not Wall Street.
More runaway spending. Higher taxes. More jobs lost.
And to bring better jobs to [state], we need [politician].
We need to focus on getting people back to work. We're better together.
Where in the world did all our jobs go?
New industries demand new jobs.
[Politician] is just plain selfish.
[Politician] was caught red handed dodging his fair share of taxes.
[Politician] supports real education reform.
[Politician] would allow big insurance companies to deny women access to life saving preventative care like mammograms. [Politician] has the experience and values we need.
Unemployment worse. Taxes worse. Income worse. Mortgage worse.
Working to build a better [state].
Standing up for our small businesses
She would like to be working. But there are no jobs.
Working toward common sense solutions. Working for you.
[Politician] wants to cut taxes for millionaires like himself but raise taxes on the rest of us.
[Politician] knows that what children learn today determines their bright futures.
[Politician] wants to give politicians unlimited spending power.
[Politician] will follow his party bosses, even if it means raising taxes for middle class families. [Politician] is still treating us like his own ATM!
After more than a year of rumors and speculation, Bruce Jenner publicly came out as transgender with four simple words: “I am a woman.”
“My brain is much more female than male,” he explained to Diane Sawyer, who conducted a primetime interview with Jenner on ABC Friday night. (Jenner indicated he prefers to be addressed with male pronouns at this time.) During the two-hour program, Jenner discussed his personal struggle with gender dysphoria and personal identity, how it shaped his past and current relationships and marriages, and how he finally told his family about his true gender identity.
The show went to impressive lengths to explain unfamiliar concepts of gender and sexuality to its audience, although it didn't always go smoothly. Sawyer’s questions occasionally came off as awkward and tone-deaf, mirroring a broader lack of understanding by many Americans about the difficulties that trans people face. But Sawyer’s empathy also shone when explaining concepts like gender identity and transitioning to her audience—a rare experience on primetime American television. It was a powerful signal of how much progress the LGBT movement has made over the past twenty years, even though the T in that acronym still lags behind the other three letters in both social acceptance and legal protections, and in how much progress remains to be made.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Leon Trotsky is not often invoked as a management guru, but a line frequently attributed to him would surely resonate with many business leaders today. “You may not be interested in war,” the Bolshevik revolutionary is said to have warned, “but war is interested in you.” War, or at least geopolitics, is figuring more and more prominently in the thinking and fortunes of large businesses.
Of course, multinational companies such as Shell and GE have long cultivated an expertise in geopolitics. But the intensity of concern over global instability is much higher now than in any recent period. In 2013, the private-equity colossus KKR named the retired general and CIA director David Petraeus as the chairman of its global institute, which informs the firm’s investment decisions. Earlier this year, Sir John Sawers, the former head of MI6, Britain’s CIA, became the chairman of Macro Advisory Partners, a firm that advises businesses and governments on geopolitics. Both appointments are high-profile examples of a much wider trend: an increasing number of corporations are hiring political scientists, starting their board meetings with geopolitical briefings, and seeking the advice of former diplomats, spymasters, and military leaders.“The last three years have definitely been a wake-up call for business on geopolitics,” Dominic Barton, the managing director of McKinsey, told me. “I’ve not seen anything like it. Since the Second World War, I don’t think you’ve seen such volatility.” Most businesses haven’t pulled back meaningfully from globalized operation, Barton said. “But they are thinking, Gosh, what’s next?”
The editors of Smithsonian magazine have announced the winners of their 12th annual photo contest, selected from more than 26,500 entries. The winning photographs from from the competition's six categories are published below: The Natural World, Travel, People, Americana, Altered Images and Mobile. Also, a few finalists have been included as well. Captions were written by the photographers. Be sure to visit the contest page at Smithsonian.com to see all the winners and finalists.
In India’s state of Uttar Pradesh, the village of Kannauj lies a dusty four-hour drive east of the Taj Mahal, the white-marbled wonder built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third and favorite wife. Empress Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 giving birth to their 13th child. The Taj is Jahan’s grand paean to lost love. But he also mourned his queen in much more personal ways. For one thing, Jahan never again wore perfume. Fragrant oils—known in India as attars—had been one of the couple’s great shared passions.
Then and now, Kannauj was the place to fetch the fine scents—jasmine oils, rose waters, the roots of grasses called vetiver, with a bouquet cooling to the nose. Exactly when attar-making began there, no one is certain; archaeologists have unearthed clay distillation pots dating back thousands of years to the ancient Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley. But today, Kannauj is a hub of a historic perfumery that draws much of the town to the same pursuit. Most of the villagers there are connected to fragrance in one way or another—from sinewy craftsmen who steam petals over wood fires in hulking copper pots to mothers who roll incense sticks in the shade while their toddlers nap on colorful mats nearby.
One of the most shocking parts of watching Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is finding out that the god of grunge was once a really cute kid. Director Brett Morgen peppers his documentary with Super 8 clips in which the future Nirvana singer can be seen as an infant, toddler, and grade-schooler, blowing out birthday candles, carrying around a stuffed panda, and sending kisses to the camera. Towheaded and cheery-eyed, wearing tiny suit jackets and cardigans, lil Cobain could have been in a Normal Rockwell painting. That he was the iconic all-America boy helps explain his later rebellion, making him an avatar for how traditional domestic life begat counterculture, and …
... oh, wait. I’m mythologizing, aren’t I? Assuming causes and effects that can’t ever be known, turning a human being into an abstraction:Montage of Heck, in some theaters now and airing on HBO on May 4, was created specifically to ward against this sort of thing. In 2007, Courtney Love gave Morgen access to a trove of previously unexamined recordings, notes, and artwork relating to her late husband, with one bit of instruction that would take the director eight years to carry out. “It was time to examine this person and humanize him and decanonize these values that he allegedly stood for—the lack of ambition and these ridiculous myths that had been built up around him,” Love told The New York Times.
This month, many of the nation's best and brightest high school seniors will receive thick envelopes in the mail announcing their admission to the college of their dreams. According to a 2011 survey, about 60 percent of them will go to their first-choice schools. For many of them, going away to college will be like crossing the Rubicon. They will leave their families -- their homes -- and probably not return for many years, if at all.
That was journalist Rod Dreher's path. Dreher grew up in the small southern community of Starhill, Louisiana, 35 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. His family goes back five generations there. His father was a part-time farmer and sanitarian; his mother drove a school bus. His younger sister Ruthie loved hunting and fishing, even as a little girl.
In 1996, Chuck Palahniuk spun a seven-page short story into his first full-length novel. Three years later, the director David Fincher immortalized Fight Club’s manic protagonists on film with the help of Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter. Surpassing cult status with its anti-consumerism message, the story captured the frustrations of the worker bees getting through the day's soulless pursuits. And it struck a chord: Real fight clubs sprung up around the world. “Tyler Durden Lives” became familiar graffiti. A new, widely quoted lexicon was born. Today, everyone knows the first rule of fight club.
At turns deeply poignant and very funny, Palahniuk’s freakish fables capture a twisted zeitgeist and add an oddly inspirational and subversive voice to the contemporary canon. For those shackled to tired routines and coping mechanisms, his Fight Club characters offer the DIY rules for rebirth. This month, the story gets its own resurrection in the form of a 10-issue comic-book series titled Fight Club 2, out May 27. Penned by Palahniuk and illustrated by Cameron Stewart (Catwoman, The Other Side) the first installment picks up the narrative 10 years later, on the ninth wedding anniversary of the narrator and his partner Marla. In the post-9/11 present, a hyperactive, Internet-obsessed, war- and recession-weary America apparently needs Tyler again.
When healthcare is at its best, hospitals are four-star hotels, and nurses, personal butlers at the ready—at least, that’s how many hospitals seem to interpret a government mandate.
When Department of Health and Human Services administrators decided to base 30 percent of hospitals’ Medicare reimbursement on patient satisfaction survey scores, they likely figured that transparency and accountability would improve healthcare. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials wrote, rather reasonably, “Delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care requires us to carefully consider the patient’s experience in the hospital inpatient setting.” They probably had no idea that their methods could end up indirectly harming patients.