Mixed Signals: Why People Misunderstand Each Other
Stephen Harper in Canada. Tony Abbott in Australia. John Key in New Zealand. And now, impressively re-elected, a second-term David Cameron in the United Kingdom.
Center-right leaders are in charge of every one of America’s closest English-speaking allies. Only in the United States does the liberal left govern. With Hillary Clinton holding strong leads in the polls over all her likely opponents, this form of “American exceptionalism” looks likely to persist for some time to come. Why?
Their American detractors may grumble, but these other conservatives are indeed “real conservatives” (Harper and Abbott tend to be more popular among their U.S. counterparts than Cameron and Key). After coming to power in 2010, the Cameron government cut personal and corporate income taxes. It imposed tough new work requirements on physically capable welfare recipients. Government spending as a share of GDP will decline to pre-2008 levels next year. Thanks to Cameron’s reforming education minister, Michael Gove, more than 3,300 charter schools (“academies,” as the British call them) are raising performance standards in some of Britain’s toughest neighborhoods—a 15-fold increase since 2010. Under the prime minister’s leadership, the post office was privatized.
The name of the poor wretch is lost to history, but the year is recorded: It was in 1631 that last German Jew was burned at the stake, falsely accused of desecrating the Host.
Flash forward a few hundred years. In 1989, the AIDS activist group ACT UPdisrupted services in St Patrick's Cathedral, New York. One protester grabbed a consecrated communion wafer, broke it, and tossed it to the floor. He and some 100 others were arrested. A few of the protesters were sentenced to community service. None went to prison. Needless to say, none was burned at the stake.
From a Catholic perspective, defiling a consecrated communion wafer does violence to the body of God. It would be hard to imagine a more brutal affront to the most cherished beliefs of faithful Catholics.
After viewing news photographs from China for years, one of my favorite visual themes is "large crowd formations." Whether the subject is military parades or world-record attempts, mass exercises or enormous performances, the images are frequently remarkable. The masses of people can look beautiful or intimidating, projecting a sense of strength and abundance. Individuals can become pixels in a huge painting, or points on a grid, or echoes of each other in identical uniforms or costumes. I've gathered some of these images below, taken around China over the past several years.(Note: a few of these images can create a dizzying effect when viewed while scrolling, which is fun, but could be surprising.)
What is the Islamic State?
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.
Matthew B. Crawford’s first book, the best-selling Shop Class as Soulcraft(2009), established him as a polemical champion of the superiority, mental and moral, of manual labor over the kind of employment typically sought by college graduates, including any work done on a computer and in a cubicle. For some readers, the fact that the author had earned a doctorate in political philosophy and also owned a motorcycle-repair shop lent a certain kick-ass authenticity to his enterprise. Now ensconced at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, Crawford is back with a heady argument against headiness, and to aid him he invokes as models a couple of artisans and an array of regular guys—short-order cooks, hockey players, and, of course, any dude who knows his way around a Harley. In The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, he doesn’t just herald the soul-cleansing properties of skilled craftwork. He indicts the philosophical tradition that he believes has robbed us of the world beyond our muddled, misdirected minds. Crawford calls this tradition the Enlightenment, though his description of the European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries distorts it almost beyond recognition.
In a four-bedroom, white house by the airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2-year-old Jacob squirmed around in Mickey Mouse pajamas, his explosion of poofy black hair pulled into a topknot. He smiled shyly, pushed a red toy car back and forth, and shoved his fingers into his mouth. He appeared to be a typical toddler. Meanwhile, his mother, Amber Briana Smith, was 40 miles away in Taft, Oklahoma, sharing a prison dorm with dozens of other women after having pled guilty to neglecting Jacob by using meth while she was pregnant with him. Three of her other six children were also born with drugs in their systems. She’s seen Jacob just a handful of times in the past year, she says, and some of her other offspring even less frequently. (I changed the names of all the children in this story to protect their privacy.)
Almost every day brings fresh evidence that running for president is now less an exercise in wooing voters than in wooing the ultra-rich. On Thursday, The New York Timesreported that “Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin personally courting donors for a ‘super PAC’ supporting her candidacy.” Super PACs, for those blessedly unaware, are the instruments through which rich people give candidates unlimited amounts of money. The Obama campaign established one in 2012 but because, in theory, super PACs are independent from the candidates they support, President Obama did not appear at its events. Hillary is showing no such restraint. According to the Times, she will spend much of the coming weeks nibbling hors d’oeuvres in the company of people she hopes will write her super PAC five-, six- or even seven-figure checks.
Santa Cruz is a sleepy college town nestled at the base of a mountain range on California’s Central Coast. Recently, the city, famous for its beach boardwalk and redwood forests, experienced an act of civil disobedience by six of the university’s students.
This news might seem unremarkable for a college community known for its alternative lifestyle and liberal leanings. But the demonstration—held in early March in opposition to tuition hikes across the state—has led to some soul-searching for the University of California, Santa Cruz, which is coming under scrutiny for abandoning its tradition of political activism and the values it still uses to market itself. Despite lasting only a few hours, the protest has also dragged Santa Cruz into the center of national conversations about student debt, generational divides, and the efficacy of certain protest tactics designed to attract attention.
Her name, at this point, is almost onomatopoeic: the elegantly coiled, haute-American Sylvia, poised and serpentine, and then the Germanic exhalation ofPlath, its fatal flatness like some ruptured surface resealing itself. Her whole history is in there somehow: the shining prizewinner with a death obsession, the supercharged, comical/terrible talent whose memory is the lid of a sarcophagus.
“This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary / The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.” That’s the Plath-world, freakishly bleak, exerting its tractor-beam fascination on American culture. Fifty years after she killed herself, we find her vital, nasty, invincible, red-and-white poetry sitting in a region of cultural near-exhaustion. Her short life has been trampled and retrampled under the biographer’s hoof, her opus viewed and skewed through every conceivable lens of interpretation. A Massachusetts girlhood; a precocious literary ascent interrupted by an early nervous breakdown; a decampment to England; marriage to—and separation from—the poet Ted Hughes; suicide. In her lifetime, she published just one book of poetry (The Colossus and Other Poems), one novel (The Bell Jar), and a few stories in magazines. Upon her death, the bulk of her work—including the completed manuscript of Ariel—was still unknown to readers.
It’s been 70 years since the end of World War II in Europe. The German leadership signed the unconditional surrender after a final battle that flattened Berlin. Some 600,000 apartments were destroyed, along with many public buildings. Much of the damage remained visible for decades to come, particularly along the route of the Berlin Wall that divided the city between East and West. But there has been substantial redevelopment since German reunification in 1990, and today many parts of the city are utterly unrecognizable.
The Brandenburg Gate, arguably Berlin’s most famous symbol, remained in ruins for the Cold War period and beyond due to its location right next to the Berlin Wall. It was fully restored between 2000 and 2002.
From the poodle cut to the mohawk, a century of follicle fashion
In the aftermath of the Kent State shooting, President Nixon took an impromptu 4 a.m. walk to the Lincoln Memorial. Was he losing his mind?