Skip to content

Category: Contemporary Life

#PandemicDreams

Recurring theme in my pandemic-era dreams: I am in a social situation with many other people, and then I notice none of us is wearing a mask. These scenes used to freak me out, even wake me up. Now my dreaming mind sometimes thinks, “not this again.” Seems the thrill is gone.

Leasership Failure

… As senators and House members trapped inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday begged for immediate help during the siege, they struggled to get through to the president, who—safely ensconced in the West Wing—was too busy watching fiery television images of the crisis that was unfolding around them to act or even bother to hear their cries for help.
“Six Hours of Paralysis”

Statistics and Tears

In fact, the more who die, sometimes the less we care, [Paul] Slovic said in an interview. In greater numbers, death becomes impersonal, and people feel increasingly hopeless that their actions can have any effect.

Statistics are human beings with tears dried off," Slovic said. "And that’s dangerous because we need tears to motivate us.”

William Wan and Brittany Shammas

Children Watching

“The Children Were Watching,” dir. Robert Drew and Richard Leacock, USA 1961, 25 min. — This documentary doesn’t feel as old to me as I wish it did. In part that’s because I watched it in Trump’s America during an especially difficult year, but something deeper is at play. The film’s ongoing relevance represents an ambiguous answer to its directors’ main question: What were the children of a New Orleans neighborhood learning as they watched their parents during the conflicts surrounding school integration in November 1960?

Looking forward to a more productive week in quarantine now that martial law and the end of our democracy appear to be off the table for the time being.

Curfew

The disturbing emergency alert sound from my phone (for DC’s 4th curfew night) makes me think of an air raid siren. The blaring is an apt metaphor for this presidency.

Riots

Minnesota Governor Walz’s assertion that ongoing riots are no longer about George Floyd ring true in a way. But were they ever about one man? Floyd’s death was certainly no one-off. The protests—and the participation of so many young people—should give pause to those leaders who would gloss over this society’s brutal injustices and disparities.

‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington’

I watched “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) last night. Despite the many differences to today’s world and the oversimplification of the state political machine, the politics in the film strike me as relevant to our own time. Thing is, though, it would probably resonate with Americans regardless of ideological or party orientation. Anti-Trump people could take its anti-corruption and pro-democracy message to heart. Pro-Trump people could embrace how the Washington outsider triumphs, and credulous pro-Trumpers could go for the anti-corruption, pro-democracy stuff too. Finally, the rough-and-tumble quality of the political game would resonate across the political spectrum.

To stand in Mann’s study today, with editions of Goethe and Schiller on the shelves, is to feel pride in the country that took him in and shame for the country that drove him out—not two Americas but one. In this room, the erstwhile “Greatest Living Man of Letters” fell prey to the clammy fear of the hunted. Was the year 1933 about to repeat itself? Would he be detained, interrogated, even imprisoned? In 1952, Mann took a final walk through his house and made his exit. He died in Zurich, in 1955—no longer an émigré German but an American in exile.

— Alex Ross, “The Haunted California Idyll of German Writers in Exile,” The New Yorker, March 9, 2020 issue.

The Changing Faces of Nationalism

As a historian who sometimes teaches about Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, I have to give Trump credit for one thing: His constant upending of the broad political consensus that emerged after World War II and the Cold War means that basic historical terms are constantly making it into the news and national discourse as quasi new problems, new questions. As upsetting as these times are, as abhorrent as Trump is, it is hard to deny the value of Ron Elving’s reaction to the president’s recent statement about… Read more The Changing Faces of Nationalism

Monsters in the News

If you have the stomach for more on relating to a filmmaker’s work who you now know (but perhaps tried to forget) is a child molester, this piece from May 2016 by Matt Zoller Seitz is worth considering: “I Believe Dylan Farrow.” Such is the kind of reading I sometimes find myself doing these days when I least expect it. I’ll try to escape the everyday with a comedy, but then I’ll dig around the web to learn more about its makers or players. If this effort lands me back… Read more Monsters in the News

The caption reads, “I’ve decided to accept God, but he has to become Italian.” The German here for “accept,” “gelten lassen,” could also be translated as “allow.” Source: Simpicissimus, May… Read more

I have had health insurance through my employer these past seven years, but I still depend on the Affordable Care Act. It has made the scope of coverage meaningful, especially… Read more