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The Ham of Fate

The Ham of Fate

Does Boris Johnson believe any of his own claims, and do his followers in turn believe him? In both cases, the answer is yes, but only in the highly qualified way that an actor inhabits his role and an audience knowingly accepts the pretense. Johnson’s appeal lies precisely in the creation of a comic persona that evades the distinction between reality and performance.

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Iran: The Case Against War

Iran: The Case Against War

The similarities between the current situation and the prelude to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2002–2003 are unmistakable. A pugnacious and insecure US president obsessed with a government he has demonized is unconstrained due to a disrupted interagency process and a Congress paralyzed by a cowed and craven Republican Party. Sycophantic advisers and inordinately influential foreign powers insist that he can remake a region purportedly forsaken by his despised liberal predecessor. It is probably lost on Bolton and Pompeo—and certainly on Trump—that the US intervention in Iraq ended up increasing Iranian influence there and elsewhere in the region. It may also be lost on them that a war with Iran could be even more disastrous than the war in Iraq.

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The New Fugitive Slave Laws

The New Fugitive Slave Laws

There are still individuals who, regardless of race and ethnicity, do not accept or support their government’s unjust and inhumane policies. If the history of slavery and the fight against it has taught us something, it is that racial proscriptions and divisions suit those who seek to dehumanize and exploit people they construe as the other. For this reason, the interracial nineteenth-century abolition movement can provide valuable inspiration to those involved in today’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to migrants and refugees and to resist the threatened descent into authoritarianism, mass atrocity, and inhumanity.

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A Historic Win for New York Tenants

A Historic Win for New York Tenants

On June 14, the State Legislature in Albany passed a bill that will profoundly change the tenor of life in New York City. The law—known officially as the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, but dubbed by its advocates “universal rent control”—strengthens tenant protections for the city’s nearly one million privately owned, rent-stabilized apartments. The release from distress for thousands of people facing the prospect of displacement will ripple through the city. With the passage of this bill, the lament that has become a cliché—that New York has lost its soul, that it offers no space for the unconventional, that it is home only to the rich and ruthless—will be significantly less true.

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The Magic of Iris Murdoch

The Magic of Iris Murdoch

It started about ten years ago when I was walking around in the west village with my girlfriend Jolie. In the Housing Works on West 10th I saw a copy of The Good Apprentice. I’d never heard of Iris Murdoch before but I liked the description on the back. I started reading it that night, and was hooked. It’s about search for meaning, has a big cast, it’s mysterious, and has a hint of weird magic. As I read more of her books, I’d see that that could describe almost all of them. So, what happens in an Iris Murdoch novel?

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Which Way to the City on a Hill?

Which Way to the City on a Hill?

Recently, at a lunch with a group of graduate students, conversation turned to American colonial history, then to John Winthrop’s 1630 speech “A Modell of Christian Charity,” associated now with an image borrowed from Jesus, “a city on a hill.” This phrase has been grossly misinterpreted, both Winthrop’s use of it and Jesus’. In any case, the students pronounced the speech capitalist, with a certainty and unanimity that, quite frankly, is inappropriate to any historical subject, and would be, even if the students, or the teachers who gave them the word, could define “capitalist.” Because I encounter variants of this conversation in such settings all over the country, I should not be heard as criticizing any particular university when I say that such certainty is not the product of good education. Indeed, it is distinctively the product of bad education.

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A Radical Realist View of Tibetan Buddhism at the Rubin

A Radical Realist View of Tibetan Buddhism at the Rubin

For many people in the West, Buddhism is completely divorced from its history. So many of the beliefs and rites have been stripped away that many Westerners regard it purely as a philosophy, rather than a religion. As well-intentioned as this version of Buddhism might be, it is also a fantasy that places its practice on a higher moral and spiritual plane and erects an unbridgeable distance between us and its real, historical significance in Tibet. This exhibition offers an unsentimental, non-Orientalist perspective on Tibet, in which violence is a normal part of the political and religious discourse, as elsewhere in the world.

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The Incendiary Sexual Politics of ‘Burn This’

The Incendiary Sexual Politics of ‘Burn This’

In Burn This, currently in revival at the Hudson Theatre, male force is the prelude, perhaps even the key, to female seduction. Here’s how I explain it: to be socialized as female is to be told that a man knows your desire better than you do. If what a man wants to do is force you to kiss him, who are you to say you don’t want to be kissed? If what a man wants to do is hurt you, who are you to say you don’t want to be hurt? I do not mean to deny female agency; I mean to contextualize it. Can a woman willingly submit to a man? Yes, and in any number of ways. But she inevitably does so under the umbrella of patriarchy, her desires not defined, but in some way colored, by its shadow.

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My Chernobyl Vacation Friend

My Chernobyl Vacation Friend

They’d have looked like regular vacationers had it not been for a slightly startled expression they all shared. They followed the waiters obediently. Suddenly, a whisper ran through the dining hall: “Chernobylskye.” People from Chernobyl. In a moment, we got new neighbors: a woman in her early thirties and a girl of five. By the meal’s end, we’d learned that Varya and Katya were from Gomel, a Belarus city about seventy miles north of Chernobyl. At the beginning of June, the plant where Varya worked had started distributing free vouchers to Black Sea resorts. The sea air was healthful and healing, the plant’s management had told them, though nobody would say what they might need healing from.

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‘Almost All of Us Here Are Widows’: Searching for Words in Mali

‘Almost All of Us Here Are Widows’: Searching for Words in Mali

I first met Fanta in the fens of the flooded Inner Niger Delta. I walked with her, taking the annular route her ancestors had established during the nineteenth-century Macina Empire, or possibly earlier. Last year, after the attacks in Koumaga and Somena, Fanta’s family abandoned their usual route and drove their cattle toward sunset. Now they are among the more than a quarter of a million Malians displaced by conflict. Their most recent camp is about a hundred miles away from their historic pastures, in a part of Mali where they had never walked before.

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