Posts Tagged ‘alex ross’

In this week’s New Yorker

August 17, 2017


During this deeply disheartening week in American life, I have nourished myself with the feast that is this week’s issue of The New Yorker, with its stellar if dismaying contents.


Two extraordinarily pertinent, deeply reported pieces demand wide attention: Adam Davidson’s “No Questions Asked,” which lays out the evidence that Donald Trump’s real estate dealings have engaged extensively in illegal international money-laundering, and Raffi Khatchadourian’s long but riveting “Man Without a Country,” which incorporates both unusually abundant access to Julian Assange and scrupulous outside reporting to establish that Assange set out very purposefully to do everything in his power to sabotage Hilary Clinton’s campaign for presidency, a desire so red-hot in his heart that it’s possible he allowed himself to be used by Russian cybersecurity experts wanting to influence the election in favor Donald Trump. There will never be a smoking gun that says “The American President is a crook and must be removed from office.” It will take the accretion of carefully reported stories like these and the kind of relentless work of following the money trail that Rachel Maddow has been doing.


In “Is There Any Point to Protesting?” Nathan Heller reviews a bunch of books analyzing the impact of street activism on social and political change, and the conclusions he reaches are uncomfortable but persuasive, especially the ideas presented by Zeynep Tufekci in her book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. Here’s a key passage:

Tufekci believes that digital-age protests are not simply faster, more responsive versions of their mid-century parents. They are fundamentally distinct. At Gezi Park, she finds that nearly everything is accomplished by spontaneous tactical assemblies of random activists—the Kauffman model carried further through the ease of social media. “Preexisting organizations whether formal or informal played little role in the coordination,” she writes. “Instead, to take care of tasks, people hailed down volunteers in the park or called for them via hashtags on Twitter or WhatsApp messages.” She calls this style of off-the-cuff organizing “adhocracy.” Once, just getting people to show up required top-down coördination, but today anyone can gather crowds through tweets, and update, in seconds, thousands of strangers on the move.

At the same time, she finds, shifts in tactics are harder to arrange. Digital-age movements tend to be organizationally toothless, good at barking at power but bad at forcing ultimatums or chewing through complex negotiations. When the Gezi Park occupation intensified and the Turkish government expressed an interest in talking, it was unclear who, in the assembly of millions, could represent the protesters, and so the government selected its own negotiating partners. The protest diffused into disordered discussion groups, at which point riot police swarmed through to clear the park. The protests were over, they declared—and, by that time, they largely were.

The missing ingredients, Tufekci believes, are the structures and communication patterns that appear when a fixed group works together over time. That practice puts the oil in the well-oiled machine. It is what contemporary adhocracy appears to lack, and what projects such as the postwar civil-rights movement had in abundance. And it is why, she thinks, despite their limits in communication, these earlier protests often achieved more.

I’ve been curious to read Garth Greenwell’s highly praised novel What Belongs to You, so it was great to get a taste of his meticulous prose style in the short story “An Evening Out.” Amanda Petrusich’s piece on Adam Graduciel and his rock band The War on Drugs definitely makes me want to hear their most recent albums. And I’m grateful to Alex Ross for his detailed description of Peter Sellars’ production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at the Salzburg Festival.

I love being well-informed, culturally enriched, and entertained by the New Yorker — the issue also has a bunch of especially good cartoons.

In last week’s New Yorker

October 22, 2015

recognition nyorker coverI haven’t done this in a while, and I’m still working my way through this week’s, but last week’s issue of the New Yorker was unusually stuffed with exceptional pieces worth catching up on:

  • “Thresholds of Violence,” Malcolm Gladwell’s riveting and disheartening report about how many school shootings specifically intend to replicate the massacre at Columbine. The piece leads and ends with a hair-raising account of a rampage that was aborted and concludes: “The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.”
  • “Road Warrior,” Jane Kramer’s in-depth up-close-and-personal profile of Gloria Steinem, which increased my already high regard for the feminist icon exponentially.
  • “Drawing Blood,” in which reporter Adam Shatz introduced me to French-Arab cartoonist Riad Sattouf, whose book The Arab of the Future I can’t wait to read.
  • “Cold Little Bird,” Ben Marcus’s short story about a father struggling to adjust to the reality of his ten-year-old’s son personality change.
  • critical essays by Alex Ross and Hilton Als on two artists near and dear to my heart, Laurie Anderson and Sam Shepard (Hilton was kind enough to reference my Shepard biography in his review of the Broadway production of Fool for Love).

    Not to mention Adrian Tomine’s cover image (above), which will induce groans of recognition from many writers who live in NYC.

In this week’s New Yorker

September 16, 2014

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I haven’t even gotten to this week’s issue, but I just finished last week’s, which is remarkably loaded with good substance, notwithstanding its enigmatic untitled Saul Steinberg cover.

I was taken by virtually all the major features:

* Kelefa Sanneh’s “The Eternal Paternal,” a profile of Bill Cosby that brings up but never satisfactorily addresses accusations of sexual assault;

* Jerome Groopman’s highly technical but engrossing report on a breakthrough in leukemia treatment;

* John Lahr’s profile of Al Pacino, full of weirdly specific mundane details; and

* William Finnegan’s “Dignity,” a moving portrait of the budding labor movement among fast-food workers and an admirable demonstration of a male gringo reporter identifying with a non-English-speaking Latina McDonald’s employee.

Also surprisingly gripping: Alex Ross’s essay on the Frankfurt School of early 20th century intellectuals, centering on the combative friendship of Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno and their various takes on pop culture (Adorno and Max Horkheimer, in their 1944 book Dialectic of Enlightenment, opined that the culture industry offered “the freedom to choose what is always the same”).

In this week’s New Yorker

July 28, 2013

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The most interesting read is Atul Gawunde’s Annals of Medicine piece called “Slow Ideas,” which painstakingly lays out the evidence of how changes in medical practice (and profound social interaction) actually take place and what impedes them. The fascinating example he uses focuses on efforts to reduce infant mortality in Uttar Padesh, one of India’s poorest states. Nurses are taught a checklist of steps to take in the course of childbirth. They’re simple and commonsensical (wash your hands, keep the newborn warm by having the mother hold it against her own skin) but were often overlooked by harried, undertrained nurses.

“In the era of the iPhone, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become enamored of ideas that spread as effortlessly as ether. We want frictionless, ‘turnkey’ solutions to the major difficulties of the world—hunger, disease, poverty. We prefer instructional videos to teachers, drones to troops, incentives to institutions. People and institutions can feel messy and anachronistic. They introduce, as the engineers put it, uncontrolled variability.

“But technology and incentive programs are not enough. ‘Diffusion is essentially a social process through which people talking to people spread an innovation,’ wrote Everett Rogers, the great scholar of how new ideas are communicated and spread. Mass media can introduce a new idea to people. But, Rogers showed, people follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take it up. Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process.”

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I also read with interest Alex Ross’s essay on Ira Aldridge, America’s first Shakespearean leading actor, and his daughter Luranah, one of the first non-white singers to appear in European productions of Wagner’s operas.

In this week’s New Yorker

November 11, 2012


Aside from Adrian Tomine’s spiritually if not literally accurate depiction of Election Day in Sandy-smashed New York City (above), I was taken by three major features:

* Wendell Steavenson’s “Letter from Cairo,” detailing the disturbing backlash against women in post-Mubarak Egypt and the inspiring courage of the young women unwilling to shut up and stay home;

* Judith Thurman’s entertaining profile of Betty Halbreich, the crusty, truthtelling 85-year-old personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman; and

*Alex Ross’s “Love on the March,” an intimately personal essay about several books on the history of the gay rights movement, most notably David Halperin’s How to Be Gay: Male Homosexuality and Initiation. Sample passage: “As Halperin puts it, ‘every identity is a role or an act.’ it’s just that straight-male performance is granted instant authenticity. Super Bowl Sunday, seen from a certain angle, is a pageant as intricate and contrived as the annual invasion of the drag queens on Fire Island.”

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