I got to be in the company of a lot of amazing people last week. In addition to chatting folks up for a piece in progress on the president and race, I spent some time at the Associated of Writers and Writing Programs conference. I haven't been to AWP in over 15 years. The last time I was there, I heard Yusef Komunyakaa read and had a physical reaction. He was that good.
Anyway I felt a little strange at first, given that many of the people there are either students in writing programs or teaching in them. I've had a foot in that world since my college days when I was aspiring to do an MFA in poetry. But if writers are wizards, poets are that secret order wielding amazing powers that no one really understands. At the time, I felt I had neither the talent, nor the work ethic, to really be good at it. And so I moved over to literary journalism where I still work the rhythm of words, and enjoy license to ask all my deep-felt questions. And so here I am with you.
But I enjoyed myself quite a bit and got to spend some time in the company of some truly amazing writers--Melissa Febos, Josh Wiel, Lily Tuck, Peter Mountford, Skip Horack, and my old friend Thomas Sayers Ellis. One thing I've been thinking on is the limits of technique. I got to hang a bit with Matt Johnson and we were batting around the thing that makes a book come "alive." Like, your research can be perfect, your language beautiful, your characters carefully drawn, and yet when you put it all together, the automaton is still cold on the table.
This is scary. I mentioned this yesterday in comments--writing fails all the time. And writers often can't even see it coming. Some of us were discussing how important it is to have action high in your book and understand plot. And yet I feel like Ragtime doesn't get started until about a third of the way in. But then maybe that's because the architecture is gorgeously executed. Matt says that he thinks of it as "incantation."--that you are trying, through an accumulation of spell components to summon up the world. And either the spell works, or it doesn't.
Common always struck me in that same way. Technique-wise, he's a lot harder for me to nail down then, say, Black Thought, Gza, Raekwon or Rakim. But riffing off yesterday's coffee, and this notion of space, he really has the Chicago incantation down. "Now I roll in a Olds with windows that don't close" or "The world is cold, the block is hot as a stove." What he's doing is a kind of impressionistic take on Chicago.
Even prominent right-wing populists are beginning to worry that they invested their faith in an unstable leader.
This week, as Donald Trump publicly attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an assault one restrained observer described as “a multitiered tower of political idiocy, a sublime monument to the moronic, a gaudy, gleaming, Ozymandian folly,” even David Horowitz, the anti-Leftist intellectual and author of Big Agenda: President Trump’s Plan to Save America, felt compelled to admit something to his Twitter followers: “I have to confess, I'm really distressed by Trump's shabby treatment of Sessions.”
Trump has always been vehemently opposed from the left and distrusted on the right by Never Trump conservatives, who continue to be dismayed by his behavior. But this week as never before, public doubts surfaced among Trump boosters and apologists, prompting Jay Cost to quip, “at the end it's just gonna be Sean Hannity huddled in a corner, quietly whispering to himself that Trump is a great American.”
“I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests,” Browder writes.
The financier Bill Browder has emerged as an unlikely central player in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sergei Magnitsky, an attorney Browder hired to investigate official corruption, died in Russian custody in 2009. Congress subsequently imposed sanctions on the officials it held responsible for his death, passing the Magnitsky Act in 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government retaliated, among other ways, by suspending American adoptions of Russian children.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who secured a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, was engaged in a campaign for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, and raised the subject of adoptions in that meeting. That’s put the spotlight back on Browder’s long campaign for Kremlin accountability, and against corruption—a campaign whose success has irritated Putin and those around him.
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is no vulnerable GOP squish—she wields significant power over the Interior Department and once won her seat as a write-in candidate.
Updated on July 27 at 1:22 p.m. ET
It’s arm-twisting time in the Senate as Republicans close in on a decisive health-care vote, and the arm President Trump has decided to wring hardest belongs to Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Murkowski, a former member of the party leadership now beginning her third six-year term, angered the president by defying him on a key procedural vote to begin debate on Tuesday. Along with Senator Susan Collins of Maine, she was one of two Republicans voting against the motion, which succeeded only when Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie. Trump ignored Collins but assailed Murkowski in a tweet on Wednesday morning, saying she “really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday.”
More than two years ago, soon after Donald Trump entered the presidential race, I noted online that no one like him—with no political, military, judicial, or public-service experience, with no known expertise on policy matters, with a trail of financial and personal complications—had ever before become president. Therefore, I said, it wasn’t going to happen this time.
Quite obviously that was wrong. Penitent and determined to learn from my errors, I’ve avoided any predictions involving Trump and his circles ever since.
But a few days ago, I edged back into the danger zone, after my very first look of the just-named White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, on TV. Via the ever-perilous medium of Twitter, I observed that he seemed more at ease on camera than Sean Spicer ever had, and less committed to flat-Earth stonewalling denials than Kellyanne Conway or Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Maybe his smooth-schmoozy approach would be what the Trump team needed? Maybe the press should get ready to be handled by a pro?
What Russian officials mean when they talk about “adoptions”
Let’s get something straight: The Magnitsky Act is not, nor has it ever been, about adoptions.
The Magnitsky Act, rather, is about money. It freezes certain Russian officials’ access to the stashes they were keeping in Western banks and real estate and bans their entry to the United States. The reason Russian (and now, American) officials keep talking about adoption in the same breath is because of how the Russian side retaliated to the Magnitsky Act in 2012, namely by banning American adoptions of Russian children. The Russians vowed they were punishing Americans who violated the human rights of Russians, after an adopted Russian toddler died of heat stroke in a Virginia family’s car. But the only Americans the bill directly targeted were the ones involved in putting the Magnitsky Act together.
A new study finds that believing society is fair can lead disadvantaged adolescents to act out and engage in risky behavior.
Brighton Park is a predominantly Latino community on the southwest side of Chicago. It’s a neighborhood threatened by poverty, gang violence, ICE raids, and isolation—in a city where income, race, and zip code can determine access to jobs, schools, healthy food, and essential services. It is against this backdrop that the Chicago teacher Xian Franzinger Barrett arrived at the neighborhood’s elementary school in 2014.
Recognizing the vast economic and racial inequalities his students faced, he chose what some might consider a radical approach for his writing and social-studies classes, weaving in concepts such as racism, classism, oppression, and prejudice. Barrett said it was vital to reject the oft-perpetuated narrative that society is fair and equal to address students’ questions and concerns about their current conditions. And Brighton Elementary’s seventh- and eighth-graders quickly put the lessons to work—confronting the school board over inequitable funding, fighting to install a playground, and creating a classroom library focused on black and Latino authors.
For the past few decades, the unstoppable increase in college tuition has been a fact of life, like death and taxes. The sticker price of American college increased nearly 400 percent in the last 30 years, while median household income growth was relatively flat. Student debt soared to more than $1 trillion, the result of loans to cover the difference.
Several people—with varyingdegreesof expertisein higher-ed economics—have predicted that it’s all a bubble, destined to burst. Now after decades of expansion, just about every meaningful statistic—including the number of college students, the growth of tuition costs, and even the total number of colleges—is going down, or at least growing more slowly.
Less than a week into his job, White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci is accusing President Trump’s chief of staff of leaking damaging information to the press.
When Anthony Scaramucci was named White House communications director last week, he had a dual mandate to fix the president’s dysfunctional press shop and end leaks. So far, those two goals are steeply at odds, as Scaramucci’s fierce, sudden attack on White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Wednesday and Thursday show.
An enigmatic series of tweets Wednesday night erupted into a stunning CNN interview Thursday morning in which Scaramucci compared his relationship with Priebus to Cain and Abel (he didn’t indicate which is which) and said he didn’t know whether his relationship with Priebus was “repairable.” He also implied that national-security leakers ought to be executed.
The NSC’s top official for the Middle East was abruptly dismissed on Thursday.
Updated on July 27 at 1:44 p.m. ET
A top Middle East official on the National Security Council was removed from his post on Thursday.
Derek Harvey, a former top adviser to David Petraeus who was brought into the administration by former National-Security Adviser Michael Flynn to serve as the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East, was informed he was being moved off the NSC by current National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Thursday morning.
“General McMaster greatly appreciates Derek Harvey’s service to his country as a career Army officer, where he served his country bravely in the field and played a crucial role in the successful surge in Iraq, and also for his service on Capitol Hill and in the Trump administration,” said NSC spokesman Michael Anton. “The administration is working with Colonel Harvey to identify positions in which his background and expertise can be best utilized.”
It looks like the two tech titans are arguing about AI’s impact on humanity. Really they’re protecting their personal brands.
Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are having a spat about whether or not artificial intelligence is going to kill us all.
Musk, the chief of Tesla and SpaceX who has longstanding worries about the potentially apocalyptic future of AI, recently returned to that soapbox, making an appeal for proactive regulations on AI. “I keep sounding the alarm bell,” he told attendees at a National Governors Association meeting this month. “But until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react.”
In a Facebook Live broadcast, Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, offered riposte. He called Musk a “naysayer” and accused his doomsday fears of unnecessary negativity. “In some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible,” Zuck scolded. Musk then retorted on Twitter: “I’ve talked to Mark about this. His understanding of the subject is limited.”