Even M.I.A.'s bad vibes couldn't tamp down the campy joy on stage Sunday.
It's a credit to cinematography and choreography that for the near entirety of a Super Bowl halftime performance with so, so much to look at, Madonna remained the center of attention. That is, until the end, when white light and smoke engulfed her and she dropped down through the stage, out of sight. The camera pulled back to reveal the stadium floor's graphical display glistening with the final words on halftime 2012: "World Peace."
World peace? Really?
Well, sure. Madonna's exquisite pep rally was nothing more, and certainly nothing less, than 12 minutes of broadly pitched, seen-it-before, feel-good material. Why shouldn't it end with the most broadly pitched, heard-it-before, feel-good message?
To listen to Madonna's work over the years, in the periods of both calculated provocation and shamanistic woo-woo, is to hear her repeatedly deliver empty-sounding lines that all come from pretty much the same guiding principal: music = love = dancing = understanding = peace. And so it was on Sunday, where high-kicking, flirtatious, lip-syncing Madonna pulled off the impression that she was genuinely having fun. Peace was with her even during her opening turn as a war goddess, carted in by a phalanx of Spartan soldiers. The soundtrack, "Vogue," was enhanced for this performance by sword-unsheathing sound effects presumably lifted from the Game of Thrones editor's room. But the lyrics remain as forgettable and as instructive as they ever were: "You try everything you can to escape / The pain of life that you know," and then, of course, "Let your body move to the music." There it is: Madonna philosophy 101. Pop philosophy 101.
And that philosophy was expressed in nearly every enthralling, ridiculous second of Madonna's show Sunday. On paper, it could have been a disaster. Here were four themed birthday parties thrown in succession, and the themes were played out: ancient Greece, boy-band break dance, Bring It On cheerleading, Sister Act choir. But, of course, this is part of the genius of pop music, the way it wrings pleasure out of recognition. The other part of pop's appeal—the visceral, thump-your-chest, move-your-feet, impress-your-eyes, wag-your-tongue part—came across flawlessly. There was the crowd-pleasing trio of marching bands, gospel choirs, and acrobats. The tight, tight pacing and gee-whiz set-changes. The well-placed celebrity cameos, in which each supporting star was used for what they're actually supposed to be used for, from LMFAO's campy shuffling, to Nicki Minaj's lighting flow and amusing facial expressions, to Cee-Lo's voice, to M.I.A.'s dyspepsia.
Speaking of M.I.A., she served up the one glitch (well, other than when Madonna stumbled off a bleacher) that's already dominating conversations. Our perennial, mind-numbing debate over obscenity is upon us again. Certainly, a middle-finger to America doesn't seem like it fits with he "world peace" party line. But here, too, was pop music reductio ad absurdum. Madonna, queen of attention-grabbing, stood astride the biggest stage in America, overseeing an immaculately planned tribute to music, spectacle, artifice, and herself. And there was her guest M.I.A., making good on her "Give Me All Your Luvin'" line that she "don't give a shit," playing the role she's always played, introducing a hint of shock, upstaging her hostess. Pop's insurgent-vs.-establishment meme lives on. "Music," went the chorus of the preceding song, "mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel." So it was at the Super Bowl. World peace indeed.
Will Toronto turn its residents into Alphabet’s experiment? The answer has implications for cities everywhere.
Quayside is a nondescript, 12-acre chunk of land on the southern edge of Toronto’s downtown. It’s just three miles from my apartment, but getting there takes almost an hour by subway, bus, and foot. When I finally arrive at 333 Lake Shore Boulevard East on a windy day in early January, I find a vacant parking lot full of snow. The abandoned Victory Soya Mills silos loom at its edge—a remnant of the city’s industrial heyday. The plot is half of the future site of Sidewalk Toronto, a “neighborhood built from the internet up” by Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs. Lake Ontario is frozen and it’s colder than the surface of Mars the day I go to look at the site.
It’s a far cry from the vision that fills the Sidewalk Toronto webpage, where a crisp video shot on a sunny day makes the Victory silos look cheerful and full of potential. Torontonians in puffer vests and toques describe a vibrant city bursting at the seams. Toronto’s population grew by 4.5 percent between 2011 and 2016. The city tolerates a high cost of living and a low rental-vacancy rate.
Last weekend’s security conference in Munich was a stark reminder that this class has nothing of substance to offer a world in turmoil.
Eighty years ago in Munich, French and British politicians handed Czechoslovakia over to Adolf Hitler’s carving knife. Twenty-five years later, a German veteran of the ensuing war founded a conference in Munich that, in its own way, was designed to ensure that such a mistake would never reoccur. That veteran, Ewald von Kleist, came from a distinguished Prussian military family; he served as an officer in the Wehrmacht, had opposed Hitler, and participated actively in a plot against him. He was sent to a prison camp, and was lucky to have escaped execution.
The conference was originally called Wehrkunde (loosely translated as “military affairs”), and since 1963 it has met almost every year in Munich. The picturesque old Bayerischer Hof Hotel, where the event is held each year, becomes a seething mass of nearly 700 politicians, businesspeople, pundits, and officers, all eyed coldly and shoved out of the way by squads of contemptuous bodyguards. Attendees not eminent enough to have reserved seating often cannot elbow their way to the policy wonk mosh pit that the conference floor morphs into. The bathrooms can barely handle their traffic, and the hotel takes on the moist warmth and stale air of an aging high school gym. But still they come, now in the many hundreds, slowed by the officious motorcades of the truly important, trudging past half a dozen security cordons manned by thousands of vigilant German police.
A new study explores a strange paradox: In countries that empower women, they are less likely to choose math and science professions.
Though their numbers are growing, only 27 percent of all students taking the AP Computer Science exam in the United States are female. The gender gap only grows worse from there: Just 18 percent of American computer-science college degrees go to women. This is in the United States, where many college men proudly describe themselves as “male feminists” and girls are taught they can be anything they want to be.
Meanwhile, in Algeria, 41 percent of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math—or “STEM,” as its known—are female. There, employment discrimination against women is rife and women are often pressured to make amends with their abusive husbands.
According to a report I covered a few years ago, Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries in which boys are significantly less likely to feel comfortable working on math problems than girls are. In all of the other nations surveyed, girls were more likely to say they feel “helpless while performing a math problem.”
The path to its revival lies in self-sacrifice, and in placing collective interests ahead of the narrowly personal.
The death of liberalism constitutes the publishing world’s biggest mass funeral since the death of God half a century ago. Some authors, like conservative philosopher Patrick Deneen, of Why Liberalism Failed, have come to bury yesterday’s dogma. Others, like Edward Luce (The Retreat of Western Liberalism), Mark Lilla (The Once and Future Liberal), and Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (How Democracies Die) come rather to praise. I’m in the latter group; the title-in-my-head of the book I’m now writing is What Was Liberalism.
But perhaps, like God, liberalism has been buried prematurely. Maybe the question that we should be asking is not what killed liberalism, but rather, what can we learn from liberalism’s long story of persistence—and how can we apply those insights in order to help liberalism write a new story for our own time.
Digital stardust won’t magically make future cities more affordable or resilient.
The term “smart city” is interesting yet not important, because nobody defines it. “Smart” is a snazzy political label used by a modern alliance of leftist urbanites and tech industrialists. To deem yourself “smart” is to make the NIMBYites and market-force people look stupid.
Smart-city devotees all over this world will agree that London is particularly smart. Why? London is a huge, ungainly beast whose cartwheeling urban life is in cranky, irrational disarray. London is a god-awful urban mess, but London does have some of the best international smart-city conferences.
London also has a large urban-management bureaucracy who emit the proper smart-city buzzwords and have even invented some themselves. The language of Smart City is always Global Business English, no matter what town you're in.
They encourage profligate spending and help dictators burnish their prestige. Who needs them?
Other than fuel corruption, make countries spend pointlessly and profligately, inflame nationalist sentiment, act as onanistic stand-ins for geopolitical tensions, and cloak authoritarian leaders in legitimacy, what have the Olympics ever done for us?
It is my real and very honest question every two years: What are the Olympics good for? Why do we continue to have them? Certainly for the athletes participating they can represent the pinnacle of a career worth of hard work; maybe even a life’s ambition realized. But for the rest of us, what is the point? Aside from the temporary flash of sumptuous spectacle, there’s little good that ever comes of the Games. If anything, they exacerbate some of the worst of human nature.
The outrage directed against the New York Times writer Bari Weiss is the latest illustration of a culture that undermines the causes it seeks to advance.
One of America’s best attributes wasn’t fully real to me until I studied abroad in Seville, Spain, with Asian American classmates. Their answers to the question “Where are you from?” were often met with confusion by locals, who had trouble even conceiving of a nation without an ethnic conception of citizenship. As a Californian, I knew not only that people of Asian descent were as American as white people like me, but that many of their ancestors arrived before mine. And I saw why Americans who don’t grasp those truths offend.
Another of America’s best attributes concerns those who immigrate here. People who become U.S. citizens later in life—as did Albert Einstein, Desi Arnez, and Patrick Ewing—are no less American, no more “other,” than the native born. In fact, when my friend Andrew Sullivan was finally granted U.S. citizenship, as well as when efforts began to secure legal protections for undocumented immigrants brought here as children, I realized that my own conception about what it means to be an American is even broader than the legal definition: I’d long considered people like Andrew as well as those kids to be “one of us.”
Tech analysts are prone to predicting utopia or dystopia. They’re worse at imagining the side effects of a firm's success.
The U.S economy is in the midst of a wrenching technological transformation that is fundamentally changing the way people sleep, work, eat, shop, love, read, and interact.
At least, that’s one interpretation.
A second story of this age of technological transformation says that it’s mostly a facade—that the last 30 years have been a productivity bust and little has changed in everyday life, aside from the way everyone reads and watches videos. People wanted flying cars and got Netflix binges instead.
Let’s call these the Disrupt Story and the Dud Story of technology. When a new company, app, or platform emerges, it’s common for analysts to divide into camps—Disrupt vs. Dud—with some yelping that the new thing will change everything and others yawning with the expectation that traditionalism will win out.
Trump’s gravest responsibility is to defend the United States from foreign attack—and he’s done nothing to fulfill it.
As the rest of America mourns the victims of the Parkland, Florida, massacre, President Trump took to Twitter.
Not for him the rituals of grief. He is too consumed by rage and resentment. He interrupted his holidaying schedule at Mar-a-Lago only briefly, for a visit to a hospital where some of the shooting victims were treated. He posed afterward for a grinning thumbs-up photo op. Pain at another’s heartbreak—that emotion is for losers, apparently.
Having failed at one presidential duty, to speak for the nation at times of national tragedy, Trump resumed shirking an even more supreme task: defending the nation against foreign attack.
Last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian persons and three entities that conspired to violate federal election law, to the benefit of Trump and Republican congressional candidates. This is not the whole of the story by any means. This Mueller indictment references only Russian operations on Facebook. It does not deal with the weaponization of hacked information via WikiLeaks. Or the reports that the Russians funneled millions of dollars of election spending through the NRA’s political action committees. But this indictment does show enough to answer some questions about the scale and methods of the Russian intervention—and pose a new question, the most important of them all.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”