You’re Watching Him!
A record? Come on! Don’t minimize what’s happening. It’s far too unique, too unprecedented even to be classified as “historic.” Call it mega-historic, if you wish. Never from Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar to Soviet despot Joseph Stalin, from the Sun King Louis the XIV to President Ronald Reagan, from George Washington to Barack Obama, has anyone — star, icon, personality, president, autocrat, emperor — been covered in anything like this fashion. In our American world, the only comparison might be to a few days of media coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan or, in more recent times, a terror attack like the one in San Bernardino. Keep in mind, though, that such coverage has been going on for more than two and a half years now. So here’s another possible point of comparison, though it only lasted a couple of hours almost […]
Six Questions for A.G. Sulzberger
March 20, 2018 Dear Mr. Sulzberger: Congratulations on assuming the reins of this nation’s — and arguably, the world’s — most influential publication. It’s the family business, of course, so your appointment to succeed your father doesn’t exactly qualify as a surprise. Even so, the responsibility for guiding the fortunes of a great institution must weigh heavily on you, especially when the media landscape is changing so rapidly and radically. Undoubtedly, you’re already getting plenty of advice on how to run the paper, probably more than you want or need. Still, with your indulgence, I’d like to offer an outsider’s perspective on “the news that’s fit to print.” The famous motto of the Times insists that the paper is committed to publishing “all” such news — an admirable aspiration even if an impossibility. In practice, what readers like me get on a daily basis is “all the news that Times […]
On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy
An excerpt from The Infernal Library by Daniel Kalder. This is a book about dictator literature—that is to say, it is a book about the canon of works written by or attributed to dictators. As such, it is a book about some of the worst books ever written, and so was excruciatingly painful to research. This is why I did it. Since the days of the Roman Empire, dictators1 have written books, but in the twentieth century there was a Krakatoa-like eruption of despotic verbiage, which continues flowing to this day. Many dictators write theoretical works, others produce spiritual manifestos, while still others write poetry, memoirs or even the occasional romance novel. Indeed, the best-selling book of all time attributed to a man rather than a deity is the work of a dictator: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung. However most of these books are entirely unread today, or are treated […]
A Planet Boiling With Unintended Consequences
You want to see “blowback” in action? That’s easy enough. All you need is a vague sense of how Google Search works. Then type into it phrases like “warmest years,” “rising sea levels,” “melting ice,” “lengthening wildfire season,” or “future climate refugees,” and you’ll find yourself immersed in the grimmest of blowback universes. It’s a world which should give that CIA term of tradecraft a meaning even the Agency never imagined for it. But before I put you on this blowback planet of ours and introduce you to the blowback president presiding over it, I want to take a moment to remember Mr. Blowback himself. And what a guy he was! Here’s how he described himself in the last piece he wrote for TomDispatch just months before his death in November 2010: “My own role these past 20 years has been that of Cassandra, whom the gods gave the gift […]