The Self-Help Compulsion

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘How to Win Friends and Influence People” has generally been viewed as the self-help mother ship. But long, long before the 1936 publication of Dale Carnegie’s guide to self-betterment and reinvention (30 million copies sold and counting), the untutored and insecure had a choice of reading matter for the lowdown on how to live well and prosper. In fact, such books date back to antiquity, according to Beth Blum, author of “The Self-Help Compulsion.” What is Ovid’s “Ars Amatoria,” she asks, “but an ancient Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus?” As for one of the major works of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, it is “cognitive behavioral therapy before its time.”

Age has apparently not withered the appeal of the genre. In the past 30 years, notes Ms. Blum, an assistant professor of English at Harvard, the self-help category has been among the most lucrative in publishing. It’s easy to understand why. Self-help makes the sort of claims and promises—a whole new you! a whole new in-control, wise, cultivated, savvy, beautiful you!—that readers find it hard to resist.

A recondite, sedulously researched monograph, “The Self-Help Compulsion” traces the evolution of self-help books, places them in historical context, and, perhaps most strikingly, suggests that they’re worthy of more respect than they get. Ms. Blum also discovers a kind of cross-pollination between literature and self-help, certainly liberal borrowing. The wall separating the two genres, she argues, has been frequently breached, sometimes mockingly, sometimes admiringly, sometimes to teach a moral lesson. The titles of several works of literary fiction—among them, Sheila Heti’s “How Should a Person Be?,” Mohsin Hamid’s “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” and Jesse Ball’s “How to Set a Fire and Why”—cunningly ape self-help language.

Ms. Blum offers a close analysis of works by Gustave Flaubert, Edith Wharton, Virginia Wolff and James Joyce, offering a compelling argument for “Ulysses” as a self-help manual par excellence. Joyce, she says, employed proverbial advice in his works as “an anchor for his more experimental, esoteric formulations.” One particular favorite: “Let bygones be bygones.” She notes that Flaubert drew on a popular contemporary manual, fittingly titled “Self-Help”—by Samuel Smiles, a Scottish writer and reformer—to lampoon the foolish aspirations and failed DIY projects of the title characters in his posthumous novel “Bouvard and Pécuchet.” Flaubert, Ms. Blum says, showed how self-help advice “can’t account for the infinite particularities of real life” and “needlessly meddles with the natural order.” In Wharton’s novel “Twilight Sleep,” meanwhile, the main character is so ensorcelled by the latest self-help guru that she doesn’t notice her husband falling in love with their daughter-in-law.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Immortality, Inc.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amid today’s technological wizardry, it’s easy to forget that several decades have passed since a single innovation has dramatically raised the quality of life for millions of people. Summoning a car with one’s phone is nifty, but it pales in comparison with discovering penicillin or electrifying cities. Artificial intelligence is being heralded as the next big thing, but a cluster of scientists, technologists and investors are aiming higher. In the vernacular of Silicon Valley, where many of them are based, their goal is nothing less than disrupting death, and their story is at the center of “Immortality, Inc.” by science journalist Chip Walter.

Seeking to slow the aging process—if not halt it altogether—is far from a novel quest. In the 16th century, the explorer Ponce de León supposedly sought a fountain of youth in Florida, and the search for magical elixirs didn’t end when he failed to find it. Even so, the medical establishment has traditionally assigned only limited resources to aging, perhaps because, as odd as it may seem, death from old age is a relatively recent phenomenon. At the end of the 19th century, life expectancy in the United States was 48 years for whites and 34 for blacks. Aging, as a cause of death, took a back seat to tuberculosis, pneumonia and much else.

Americans began living longer in the 20th century, thanks to better sanitation and more effective vaccines and medicines. But growing old meant an increased vulnerability to other ailments, from heart disease to cancer. Progress in treating those conditions, in turn, has led to a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s. And while average life spans have been getting longer in much of the world—though declining in the United States in recent years—the outer limits of longevity haven’t changed much.

That is the backdrop to Mr. Walter’s absorbing story, which he begins with a visit to Alcor, the Arizona-based organization that says it preserves corpses at minus 124 degrees Celsius “in an attempt to maintain brain viability after the heart stops.” (Current “patients” include baseball legend Ted Williams.) While this life-extending strategy, known as “cryonics,” is often ridiculed, the individuals profiled in “Immortality, Inc.” are high-status, highly regarded figures whose initiatives can’t be easily dismissed. What links them, writes Mr. Walter, is that “they are all troublemakers at heart.” They believe that the “conventional approaches” of most medical researchers and practitioners are, “at the very least, misguided.”

One key figure in the story is Bill Maris, a venture capitalist with a background in neuroscience. In 2012, dismayed by the lack of research into aging, he began meeting with some of his fellow Silicon Valley heavyweights, like Google co-founder Larry Page, who took an immediate interest. In short order, recounts Mr. Walter, they met with Arthur Levinson, an Apple board member who had spent 14 years as chief executive of the biotech trailblazer Genentech. Less than a year later, Mr. Levinson founded Calico, a company devoted to drug development and extending the human life span. Google kicked in $750 million, as did the pharmaceutical company AbbVie.

Mr. Levinson’s maverick mind-set shines through in a discussion he had a few years ago with several scientists and doctors. According to Mr. Walter, he asked them how much the average life span would increase if all cancer were eliminated. Most assumed about a decade. The answer, said Mr. Levinson, was just 2.8 years. The prospect of such a modest return helped inspire Mr. Levinson and his Calico colleagues to concentrate even more intensely on unraveling the mysteries of life-span biology. (One of their finds, so far, is a rodent native to Africa that shows “little to no signs of aging.”)

. . . .

“As recently as five years ago,” Mr. Walter writes, “the great pashas at [the National Institutes of Health] . . . looked upon aging research as largely crackpot.” He faults the Food and Drug Administration for refusing to classify aging as a disease. As a result, clinical trials—the foundation of medical research—can’t be conducted.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG was going to opine but, surprisingly, decided not to do so.

Italian Book and Newspaper Publishers Reveal Scale of Piracy

From Publishing Perspectives:

As Much as 23 Percent of the Market Impacted

Calling for a government intervention, the Association of Italian Publishers (Associazione Italiana Editori, AIE) and the Federation of Italian Newspaper Publishers (Federazione Italiana Editori Giornali, FIEG) have presented results of newly commissioned study on the impact of piracy in the Italian market.

. . . .

“This data reveals the need for the imposition of strong law enforcement and the education of users who are not always fully aware of the effects of their behavior.”

AIE and FIEG are reporting an annual loss of some €528 million (US$585 million) to the books industry and an aggregate of €1.3 billion when news publishing is added in, accounting for as much as 23 percent of the market, exclusive of exports and educational content.

. . . .

Some of the most interesting revelations in the report have to do with who the researchers can identify are the pirati, the pirates.

As is often the case–and a part of what makes combatting the problem so difficult–the culprits are everyday users, many of them unaware of how damaging their fondness for free or cheap content can be.

Some 36 percent of users–more than one in three Italians older than 15, the researchers found–carried out at least one act of piracy with a work of published content in the last year.

  • One in four users are estimated to have downloaded an illegal ebook or audiobook free of charge at least once
  • Seventeen percent of those surveyed said they’ve received at least one ebook from a friend or family member
  • Eight percent said they’d been given at least one photocopied book by a friend or acquaintance
  • Seven percent of respondents said they’d bought at least one photocopied book in the last year

In the university setting, the issue is more dramatic, with some 80 percent of university students committing at least one act of piracy–involving either physical or digital content–in the last year. And 81 percent of professional respondents–including attorneys, notaries, accountants, engineers, and architects–said they’d committed at least on act of piracy in the past year.

Speaking in the morning’s session for the research effort, however, IPSOS president Nando Pagnoncelli said the general public, for the most part is not unaware that piracy is illegal.

Some 84 percent of those older than 15 told researchers this, he said. But 66 percent said that piracy is unlikely to be discovered and punished by authorities, and 39 percent said that they don’t consider piracy to be serious enough to prosecute.

. . . .

And he also made the point, frequently heard now in piracy discussions, that ensuring easy legitimate access to content is important, the “abundance over scarcity” context in which it’s believed that piracy is less attractive because users don’t have to resort to illicit means to attain content they want.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

‘Collapsologie’: Constructing an Idea of How Things Fall Apart

From The New York Review of Books:

Marco is particularly well-liked among the residents at the retirement home where he works. He attends painstakingly to their every need and discomfort. They confide in him, just as he confides in them. He has painted a collage of bright scenes on the bedroom window of one elderly woman with whom he is particularly close, and with whom he shares a taste in crass humor. As he adds a red rocket ship to the motley tapestry, however, he notices something rustling in the woods down below.

His former co-workers, gone presumably for several days, are carting away the home’s remaining food. When he goes out to stop them, they tell Marco that it’s futile: more supplies will not come, and he’s silly to chain himself to this spot. They tell him where they’re camping that night and that he’s welcome to join. After a moment or two of protest, he goes back inside and tries to pretend as if nothing has changed. But the hopelessness of the situation finally catches up with him. Affixing a respirator to a gas tank unhinged from a utility closet, Marco goes about the thankless task of helping his residents check out early.     

So goes the sixth episode of the new French mini-series, L’Effondrement, that premiered this fall on the Canal+ network. Made up of eight stand-alone vignettes, L’Effondrement, or “Collapse,” is set in the near future. This dystopia, as the title suggests, inverts the logic of shows such as the British drama series Black Mirror, which allows viewers to savor their claustrophobic entanglement in a watertight technological apparatus beyond their control. Max Weber’s “iron cage” of modern society’s bureaucratic rationality is not so rigid, L’Effondrement would have us believe. Instead, confronted by the rickety foundations of all we’d taken for granted, we relish the possibility that we might be swept away once everything falls apart.

A global spike in energy prices, frozen industrial supply chains, climate shocks such as crop-destroying heat waves and rapid ecosystem decay—it is not until the series’s fi nal episode, a flashback to the days before the collapse, that we get something of the broader picture. A group of activists, Extinction Rebellion style, have hatched a plot to sneak a rogue climate scientist into a talk show studio where the environment minister is slated to give a reassuring appearance. When the activists rush the stage, the minister graciously allows the scientist to give his rant, after which she dismisses him as an extremist: “You’re a collapsologue!”

. . . .

Collapsologie—or, as Servigne and Stevens define it, the “applied and transdisciplinary science of collapse”—proposes to free environmentalist thought from the linear or progressive understanding of history implicit in such faiths as “sustainable development,” “green growth,” or the energy “transition.” The story of human societies, which Servigne and Stevens suggest is ultimately the story of their interactions with their natural environments, is circular. The pendulum of human history swings between moments of our being harmoniously embedded within natural processes and periods of population concentration, political centralization, and an urge to transcend the earth’s resource constraints. We develop economies of scale, agglomerate extractive industry on a grand scale, but ultimately overexploit our natural foundations.

Building off Jared Diamond’s 2005 book Collapse, which focused on these dynamics in primarily pre-modern societies, Servigne and Stevens argue that the same iron law of history applies to our hyper-connected, concentrated, and self-confident industrial society of today. The reasons are manifold—and many will be familiar to readers of recent anglophone environmental bestsellers such as David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth, arguably a mass-market work of collapsology in its own right.

. . . .

Yves Cochet was the environmental minister under Lionel Jospin’s Socialist government in the early 2000s. He has since emerged as one of France’s more high-profile collapsologues, and was a co-founder and president of what might as well be considered the group’s first think tank, the Institut Momentum. Cochet regards the trajectory of traditional environmentalism, with which he was heavily engaged, as largely a “failure.” When I asked him what he thought of the new radical turn embodied by visions such as the Green New Deal, he was circumspect, seeing in them little more than a rehashed and slightly democratized version of the old sustainable development.

“I don’t believe in it for one instant,” he said. Efforts such as the Green New Deal suffer ultimately “from the technological illusion. It’s the Californian technological dream in disguise.”

For Servigne and Stevens, the horizon of sustainable development, a greened industrial society shorn of its addiction to fossil fuels, ignores what they call the earth’s “uncrossable thresholds.” The earth being a closed system, in which a finite quantity of resources is available to a variable population of exploiters (us), poses the inexorable question of limits. Plans to “transition” our energy system from fossil fuels to renewable sources such as wind and solar power, for example, and still assume an exponential expansion in energy use, will not be able to overcome the fact that these new technologies depend on the exploitation of a very limited quantity of rare-earth metals. As the work of Michael Klare, author of The Race for What’s Left, and Guillaume Pitron, author of La guerre des métaux rares, shows, the race to access these resources is rapidly becoming a geopolitical battlefield in its own right. The age of expanding energy exploitation remains the age of fossil fuels.

Ultimately, the critique goes, the fatal weakness of traditional environmentalism is its inability to think beyond economic growth. 

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost

Elderhood

From The Wall Street Journal:

If books, like movies, were given ratings, Louise Aronson’s “Elderhood” ought to be rated PG-80. Not all that many people 80 or older are likely to have living parents, true, but some warning is nevertheless necessary if you have attained to that august (november? december?) age and plan to read her book. Here are just a few gloomy facts that Dr. Aronson, a geriatrician, bestows upon her readers: 5.3 million Americans had one form or another of dementia in 2015, and more than 80% of these were older than 75; 13 million Americans are incontinent (if the phrase “adult diapers” doesn’t shiver your timbers, nothing will). Half of all adult Americans over 65 will have some form of arthritis. Immunity from infection and disease lessens with advancing age. Loss of acuity in hearing begins in one’s 50s and diminishes further with advancing age. Of sexual activity, about which Dr. Aronson graciously does not provide any dismaying details, let us, too, not speak.

Then there are Dr. Aronson’s case studies, scattered throughout the book, of elderly patients who suffer from every illness and disease going, with the possible exception of dandruff. Here is a characteristic sentence, recounting a visit Dr. Aronson made to the home of one of her patients: “Inez, obese and bedbound with moderately severe vascular dementia, lay propped up in her hospital bed, her mouth open and chest visibly rising and falling.” Then there is Eva, who is “very weak, has audible bone-on-bone arthritis in all major joints, frequent spasms in her left hip, minimal clearance of her right foot and could not move her left foot,” not to mention “a blood cancer that she hoped was cured, asthma, some kind of heart problem, and both glaucoma and macular degeneration.” And you think you’ve got problems.

“Live long enough,” Dr. Aronson writes midway through her book, “and eventually the body fails. It betrays us. Our flesh wrinkles, sags, and sinks. Strength wanes. We lose speed, agility, and balance. . . . Sometimes the mind follows the body’s descent, words, logic, insight, and memories dropping away. We fall ill more often and more gravely. We become frail. The smallest, most ordinary tasks—eating, showering, walking—become time-consuming, difficult, dangerous, or impossible.” One could go on, and Dr. Aronson, relentlessly, does, closing this particular paragraph with: “We fight and flirt with death.”

. . . .

Wedged in between its overwhelming sadness, the book has an upside. According to a study cited by Dr. Aronson—and she cites many studies—life, so to say, begins at 60. “Data from the United States and Western Europe,” she writes, “confirm that most people are around sixty before they achieve levels of well-being comparable to those of twenty-year-olds, and rates climb thereafter.” Arriving at 60 and beyond presumably brings freedom from worry, lessened depression and anger, a firmer sense of one’s self and what one values, greater contentment and happiness. And so it often does, providing one arrives at 60 or beyond without too lengthy a list of regrets.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

A Decade of Personal Exploration Ahead in US Self-Help Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

This week’s update from the NPD Group on the growth of the self-help books sector in recent years provides a helpful understanding of another driver of nonfiction in the United States’ book market.

. . . .

Unit sales of self-help books have grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR), NPD reports, of 11 percent in six years, reaching 18.6 million in 2019.

NPD’s BookScan report also includes a cautionary note of the kind that publishers sometimes don’t appreciate: you may be producing too many these books.

Despite the growth of the sector, the data shows, growth in the number of published titles in self-help outpaced the rate of sales growth, with the number of unique ISBNs rising nearly three-fold from 30,897 in 2013 to 85,253 in 2019.

In a prepared statement, NPD book industry analyst Kristen McLean—familiar to many in the international trade industry for her insights into the market, especially in children’s literature—describes what occurs when over-production comes into play.

“This increasing competition will make this high-growth category a challenge for new titles looking to break out and find readers,” McLean says, “as publishers and authors compete fiercely for attention.

“This is definitely a hot category for aggressive publisher investment,” she says, “because consumers have placed an increasing focus on mindfulness and minimalism in recent years,

“People are yearning for meaning, peace, and calm in today’s somewhat chaotic culture—and they’re looking for ways to slow down and unplug, which is part of the reason books that inspire people to do just that are doing well.”

And as Publishing Perspectives readers know, this is not just a US and/or Western phenomenon. There’s a similar trend evident in China, where self-help—especially in the realm of positive personality imaging and exploration of self-worth—features frequently on our China bestseller lists.

. . . .

Some 4.3 million units were sold in 2019, NPD’s report says, in the motivational-inspiration area, by comparison to 1.4 million units in 2013.

. . . .

Journaling is another activity that NPD sees recently “skyrocketing” in popularity. Accounting for fewer than 50,000 units in 2015, the company says, sales reached 700,000 units in 2019 in the States.

And in that vein, books that focus on creativity logged especially strong growth in 2019, per BookScan’s information, with unit sales increasing 43 percent over 2018.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

‘SAM’ Review: Building a Better Bricklayer

From The Wall Street Journal:

Spiders can spin intricate webs. Birds weave branches into cozy nests. Bees build hives with near-perfect hexagons. It should be easy for an advanced robot complete with lasers and artificial intelligence to lay a simple brick wall. But, as the journalist Jonathan Waldman chronicles in “SAM,” the quest for a bricklaying robot has been bumpier than the work of a mason with vertigo.

The tale follows Scott Peters, a 30-something engineer in western New York and co-founder of Construction Robotics, as he spends most of the past decade developing SAM (Semi-Automated Mason), prodded by the inspiration and funding of his architect father-in-law, Nate Podkaminer. We watch as the two create a company, hire engineers, experiment with marketing and finally stack walls, haltingly.

Several themes run through the book. First is the often-unsung adaptability of organic intelligence. Engineers have sought for decades to make devices that build with blocks. “Getting an inanimate machine to do what only hands and brains could was apparently some kind of universal geek fantasy,” Mr. Waldman writes. “And while it sounded like child’s play, it was phenomenally difficult. To put it in context: The first machine that successfully picked up small wooden blocks did so only eight years before humans landed on the moon.”

The minute adjustments a human makes when manipulating objects, especially in messy environments like construction sites, result from billions of years of evolution. We make it look easy, until you give instructions to a robot and watch it fumble around or freeze up when it gets a little dirt on its face. Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief A.I. scientist, once told me, “I would declare victory if in my professional lifetime we could make machines that are as intelligent as a rat.”

Mr. Peters has laudable motivations. “By creating a bricklaying robot,” Mr. Waldman writes, “he aimed to eliminate lifting and bending and repetitive-motion injuries in humans; to improve the quality of walls; to finish jobs faster and safer and cheaper; and to ease project scheduling and estimation. Basically: to modernize the world’s second oldest and most primitive trade.”

. . . .

The robot’s development is an object lesson in debugging. The engineer who crafts the code for the arm has the six stages of debugging posted in the office: “1. That can’t happen. 2. That doesn’t happen on my machine. 3. That shouldn’t happen. 4. Why does that happen? 5. Oh, I see. 6. How did that ever work?” The team swaps out parts, rewrites code and reconfigures designs, sometimes in rain or under a blazing sun. Often the solution is an utterly familiar one: Switch the damn thing off and on again.

A second theme is that technological advancement requires debugging not only hardware and software but also humans. Some of that problem-solving is simple workflow optimization: loading bricks and mortar properly and promptly, keeping people out of the way. Some of it requires deeper psychological and sociological renovation. It’s hard to smooth relations with workers who don’t want to share a job with SAM in the first place. Some masons said its work was sub-par (but more colorfully). Some said it threatened to steal their jobs. And some just didn’t like doing things differently. “The construction industry, the engineers began to learn, was as slow to change as baseball,” Mr. Waldman writes. Similar lessons are emerging from the front lines of semiautomation in medicine, manufacturing and other fields.

. . . .

Mr. Waldman follows all the drama like a fly on a brick wall, richly reporting scenes and conversations, many on job sites where both circuitry and civility break down. The book is reminiscent of a reality-TV show about a scrappy startup, complete with backstory segments as we learn the pasts and personalities of each new hire. There are also a lot of digressions—the history of the bricklayers union, how much pinboys at bowling alleys were tipped, how literal sausages are made, Mr. Peters’s 16th-century ancestors, his high-school swim coach’s career as a famous-in-Japan professional wrestler. 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG has worked with very bright inventors a couple of times during his business life and has found them to have a unique mindset and combination of talents and personality traits.

Of course, authors are a species of inventors, creating stories out of keystrokes.

Both authors and inventors rely upon the protection of intellectual property laws – copyright and patents – to permit them to control and exploit their creations in the way they deem best.

What John Dos Passos’s “1919” Got Right About 2019

From The New Yorker:

U.S.A. is the slice of a continent,” John Dos Passos wrote, in his novel “The 42nd Parallel,” from 1930. “U.S.A. is a group of holding companies, some aggregations of trade unions, a set of laws bound in calf, a radio network, a chain of moving picture theatres, a column of stockquotations rubbed out and written in by a Western Union boy on a blackboard, a public-library full of old newspapers and dogeared historybooks with protests scrawled on the margins in pencil. U.S.A. is the world’s greatest rivervalley fringed with mountains and hills, U.S.A. is a set of bigmouthed officials with too many bankaccounts. U.S.A. is a lot of men buried in their uniforms in Arlington Cemetery. U.S.A. is the letters at the end of an address when you are away from home. But mostly U.S.A. is the speech of the people.”

The “U.S.A.” trilogy—written by Dos Passos in the late nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties, and consisting of “The 42nd Parallel,” “1919,” and “The Big Money”—was an attempt to describe American life in tumult, from top to bottom. Writing at a moment of economic dissolution and technological transformation, Dos Passos hoped to show how Americans of all kinds were responding to the bustling mess of modernity—what his friend Edmund Wilson called “the American jitters.” In its time, the trilogy sold well, and it was highly praised by Jean-Paul Sartre, William Faulkner, and others. But since then its fortunes have been jittery, too. For many decades, the “U.S.A.” novels, often published as a single volume, were a yellowing tome, more respected than read. Dos Passos came to be seen as an also-ran—a secondary character in the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and other writers of the Lost Generation. Then, in 1998, a board of luminaries convened by the Modern Library placed the trilogy on its list of the best novels of the twentieth century. In 2013, David Bowie listed “The 42nd Parallel” as one of his favorite books; that same year, George Packer—who has written about Dos Passos for The New Yorker—used the trilogy as a structural inspiration for “The Unwinding,” his nonfictional account of twenty-first-century America on the fritz.

There’s a reason that Dos Passos’s Depression-era modernism seemed suddenly relevant. The present was coming to look a lot like the past. The novels combined the stylistic innovations of the European modernists, which Dos Passos had used to evoke a shifting media landscape, with fiercely committed leftist politics that were resurgent in the new millennium. He had written a linguistically adventurous national portrait for a precarious age—his, and ours.

. . . .

In the “Newsreel” sections, text from actual newsreels flows together with snippets from newspaper articles, lines from popular songs, and excerpts from radio broadcasts. These bursts of information seem random but were carefully selected for maximum effect. Hurtling themselves at the reader, they are too brief to be fully explicable, but too portentous to be ignored:

It is difficult to realize the colossal scale upon which Europe will have to borrow in order to make good the destruction of war
bags 28 huns singlehanded
Peace Talk Beginning To Have Its Effect On Southern Iron Market
local boy captures officer
one third war allotments fraudulent
There are smiles that make us happy
There are smiles that make us blue . . . .

Today, of course, the “Newsreel” sections evoke the social-media feed—another venue for the associative, sometimes surreal juxtaposition of image, sound, and text. Usually, online randomness doesn’t cohere: video clips and cat memes fit randomly alongside disturbing headlines or worrisome data points. But sometimes sudden, unexpected juxtapositions can speak volumes about the state of the country. The other night, scrolling through Facebook, I saw a clip from James Baldwin’s famous debate with William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1965. Baldwin talks about his place in American history: “I am stating very seriously . . . that I picked the cotton . . . and I built the railroads, under someone else’s whip, for nothing,” he said. The next item in the feed was a Fox News segment urging viewers to call their local schools to inquire about whether students were saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker