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.
The class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem.
1. The Aristocracy Is Dead …
For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies. Sometimes around Christmas, more often on the Fourth of July, my family would take up residence at one of my grandparents’ country clubs in Chicago, Palm Beach, or Asheville, North Carolina. The breakfast buffets were magnificent, and Grandfather was a jovial host, always ready with a familiar story, rarely missing an opportunity for gentle instruction on proper club etiquette. At the age of 11 or 12, I gathered from him, between his puffs of cigar smoke, that we owed our weeks of plenty to Great-Grandfather, Colonel Robert W. Stewart, a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt who made his fortune as the chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana in the 1920s. I was also given to understand that, for reasons traceable to some ancient and incomprehensible dispute, the Rockefellers were the mortal enemies of our clan.
Anything-but-the-guns mentality has reared explanations that even fellow Republicans find unnerving.
In the wake of mass shootings in America, Republicans and Democrats migrate to their respective marks as though urged on by a stage director. They read from their respective scripts, Democrats amping up their calls for gun control and Republicans stressing the need for more effective mental health care.
Friday’s mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, in which a teenager murdered 10 people at Santa Fe High School, appeared to represent a break in that script. Conservative pundits and lawmakers alike have floated several different reasons behind the shooting, from trench coats to the school’s excess of doors to ADHD medication. The array of diagnoses suggests a couple of things: one, that Republicans remain steadfastly unwilling to consider the merits of gun control, even as the number of mass shootings steadily climbs; and two, that as many Americans demand a more immediate response to gun violence from Washington, Republicans feel pressured to reach for new causes, however incongruous they may seem.
From trade deals to gun control and immigration to military deployments, the president has a consistent pattern: Talk a big game, then back down.
President Trump’s May 8 announcement that he was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal should not have come as a surprise. He’d spent years railing against the plan—“the worst deal ever,” he dubbed it—and had promised to rip it up. And yet up to the moment when the president made the final call, there was still some suspense about what he would say.
This was not merely wishful thinking by the deal’s backers, though it was partly that. It was not only that members of Trump’s team, most notably Defense Secretary James Mattis, had voiced support for the deal. It wasn’t even just that Trump relishes taking the press (and even his own advisers) by surprise.
No, the other big reason that no one could be sure was that Trump almost always folds. Faced with a tough decision, the president has consistently blinked, giving in to his opponents. Trump has mocked former Secretary of State John Kerry for his supposedly poor negotiation powers, argued that multiple past international agreements suffered from weak-kneed diplomacy, and criticized British Prime Minister Theresa May, a close U.S. ally, for her conduct of the discussion on the U.K.’s departure from the European Union.
Despite what the president says, the question is answered.
Trump aides colluded with foreign governments.
This is a simple, straightforward statement, and by this point, it ought to be an uncontroversial one. There’s ample evidence on many fronts, from legal documents to reliable reporting. This doesn’t mean that a crime was committed, because, as Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others have pointed out, collusion is not a crime per se. But it does mean that attempts to dismiss the Russia investigation as a witch hunt that lacks any evidence are not merely disingenuous—they’re simply wrong.
What do we mean by collusion? As the Columbia Journalism Review explored last year, there are a range of meanings, but a clean synthesis would be a secret compact or conspiracy with an illegal or deceitful aim. The examples of such cooperation, between Trump aides and agents of foreign governments, abound. So far, three people have pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about it. The unresolved question, at this stage of the investigation, is not whether such cooperation was attempted; it’s how successful it proved, how large an impact it actually had, who was involved, and whether they broke any laws.
Electronic mail as we know it is drowning in spam, forged phishing mails, and other scams and hacks. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
One week ago, a group of European security researchers warned that two obscure encryption schemes for email were deeply broken. Those schemes, called OpenPGP and S/MIME, are not the kinds of technologies you’re using but don’t know it. They are not part of the invisible and vital internet infrastructure we all rely on.
This isn’t that kind of story.
The exploit, called Efail by the researchers who released it, showed that encrypted (and therefore private and secure) email is not only hard to do, but might be impossible in any practical way, because of what email is at its core. But contained in the story of why these standards failed is the story of why email itself is the main way we get hacked, robbed, and violated online. The story of email is also the story of how we lost so much of our privacy, and how we might regain it.
The party is torn over a reform bill that just passed the House with the president’s support: Should it back modest changes to the criminal-justice system or hold out for more?
Many Democrats believed that a years-long bipartisan push to overhaul the federal criminal-justice systemdied with the election of Donald Trump. The president had proudly anointed himself the “law-and-order candidate” in 2016 and appointed as his attorney general Jeff Sessions, the Senate’s leading conservative critic of reducing mandatory-minimum sentences, improving federal prison conditions, and easing the transition back into society for those incarcerated.
But Trump is now backing a component of that effort—prison reform—and the sudden viability of the issue is dividing Democrats, who are torn over whether to accept a modest step toward reducing rates of recidivism or hold out for a more comprehensive solution that’s unlikely to pass while Trump is in office. The House on Tuesday eveningpassed bipartisan legislation known as the First Step Act that would authorize $250 million in new funding for prisoner-reentry programs, ban the shackling of pregnant inmates, and expedite early release for elderly inmates and those who earn “good time” credits during their sentences.
What if the answer lies in changing how college admissions work?
Many proposals for addressing school segregation seem pretty small, especially when compared to the scale and severity of the problem. Without the power of a court-ordered desegregation mandate, progress can feel extremely far off, if not altogether impossible. Some even believe—understandably though mistakenly—that no meaningful steps can be taken to integrate schools unless housing segregation is resolved.
But a new theory from Thomas Scott-Railton, a recent graduate of Yale Law School, provides reason to believe there are still new ways to think about this issue. Railton’s approach does something that’s all too rare in education-policy debates: He takes what are normally viewed as discrete issue areas—K–12 segregation, college admissions, and the lack of diversity at top universities—and says, what if those can all be addressed together? What if, in fact, it’s impossible to address them apart? Scott-Railton’s proposal, which he published in the Yale Law & Policy Review, is to reduce K–12 segregation by reforming the college-admissions process.
In the landscape where Mad Max: Fury Road was filmed, a scientist is trying to understand a natural phenomenon that has eluded explanation for decades.
One evening earlier this spring, German naturalist Norbert Jürgens strayed from his expedition in the Namib Desert. He walked away from his campsite beside Leopard Rock, a huge pile of schist slabs stacked like left-over roofing tiles, and into a vast plain ringed with red-burnished hills. He had 20 minutes of light left before sunset, and he intended to use them.
This next part may sound like a reenactment from a nature documentary, but trust me: This is how it went down.
Off by himself, Jürgens dropped down to his knees. He sank his well-tanned arms in the sand up to the elbows. As he rooted around, he told me later, he had a revelation.
At the time, I was watching from the top of Leopard Rock, which offered a bird’s-eye view of both Jürgens and his expedition’s quarry. Across the plain, seemingly stamped into its dry, stubbly grass, were circles of bare ground, each about the size of an aboveground pool. Jürgens, a professor at the University of Hamburg, was digging—and pondering—in one of these bare patches.
I’m a 40-year-old single woman. Never married, no children, and I’ve been struggling for years to get over my ex. He was my first love and we met when I was in my early 20s. It was a very immature relationship that culminated in me breaking up with him finally (for about the third or fourth time), mostly because of a growing fear that I knew I would want kids and was worried that I was wasting my time with someone who wasn’t willing to work on a future with me.
This was more than 10 years ago, and although my ex and I have occasionally stayed in touch, been intimate, and reconnected after a few years of separation, we have not been able to have a healthy relationship. I’ve tried to be honest about my wanting a different type of relationship with him, but he doesn’t seem to want that. I have tried moving on by ignoring my feelings for him, ignoring him when he has reached out to me, and repeatedly reminding myself that ours is not the kind of relationship that I want. But it all feels like a lie.
Women make up one-quarter of computer scientists. But in the field of artificial intelligence those numbers are likely much lower.
During her freshman year, Stephanie Tena, a 16-year-old programmer, was searching the internet for coding programs and came across a website for an organization called AI4All, which runs an artificial-intelligence summer camp for high-schoolers. On the site, a group of girls her age were gathered around an autonomous car in front of the iconic arches of Stanford’s campus. “AI will change the world,” the text read. “Who will change AI?”
Tena thought maybe she could. She lives in a trailer park in California’s Salinas Valley; her mom, a Mexican immigrant from Michoacán, picks strawberries in the nearby fields.* Tena has long black hair, a cheery, high-pitched voice, and an unflappably professional bearing: She refers to other students as “my peers” and her mentors as “notable professors,” and she has nailed the language of the scientific method (“My hypothesis was proven incorrect”). She had been coding for a couple of years, ever since attending a programming club at the local community college when she was still in junior high. “I prefer science over history,” she says. The summer after the 8th grade, she had flown to Los Angeles for a coding boot camp run by the supermodel Karlie Kloss, (who had gotten interested in coding after taking a class herself), where she had learned some programming languages and developed a website. She saved up for more than a year, both her allowance and her pay from working at a bubble-tea shop, and bought a new MacBook.