Posts Tagged ‘david sedaris’

In this week’s New Yorker

August 8, 2021

The most important story in the issue comes from Jane Mayer, The New Yorker‘s intrepid Washington reporter. As with her 2016 book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Mayer collects all the receipts to tell a crucial story for right this minute: “The Big Money Behind the Big Lie.”

“Although the Arizona audit may appear to be the product of local extremists, it has been fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives. Dark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote,” Mayer writes.

One of the movement’s leaders is the Heritage Foundation, the prominent conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. It has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (alec)—a corporate-funded nonprofit that generates model laws for state legislators—on ways to impose new voting restrictions. Among those deep in the fight is Leonard Leo, a chairman of the Federalist Society, the legal organization known for its decades-long campaign to fill the courts with conservative judges. In February, 2020, the Judicial Education Project, a group tied to Leo, quietly rebranded itself as the Honest Elections Project, which subsequently filed briefs at the Supreme Court, and in numerous states, opposing mail-in ballots and other reforms that have made it easier for people to vote.

Another newcomer to the cause is the Election Integrity Project California. And a group called FreedomWorks, which once concentrated on opposing government regulation, is now demanding expanded government regulation of voters, with a project called the National Election Protection Initiative.

These disparate nonprofits have one thing in common: they have all received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Based in Milwaukee, the private, tax-exempt organization has become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules—a tactic once relegated to the far right. With an endowment of some eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation funds a network of groups that have been stoking fear about election fraud, in some cases for years. Public records show that, since 2012, the foundation has spent some eighteen million dollars supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.

It might seem improbable that a low-profile family foundation in Wisconsin has assumed a central role in current struggles over American democracy. But the modern conservative movement has depended on leveraging the fortunes of wealthy reactionaries. In 1903, Lynde Bradley, a high-school dropout in Milwaukee, founded what would become the Allen-Bradley company. He was soon joined by his brother Harry, and they got rich by selling electronic instruments such as rheostats. Harry, a John Birch Society founding member, started a small family foundation that initially devoted much of its giving to needy employees and to civic causes in Milwaukee. In 1985, after the brothers’ death, their heirs sold the company to the defense contractor Rockwell International, for $1.65 billion, generating an enormous windfall for the foundation. The Bradley Foundation remains small in comparison with such liberal behemoths as the Ford Foundation, but it has become singularly preoccupied with wielding national political influence.

Mayer’s article builds a case for these people as the real “enemies of the people.” She focuses at length on Cleta Mitchell, a fiercely partisan Republican election lawyer; J. Christian Adams and Hans von Spakovsky, “who are members of what [has been] termed the Voter Fraud Brain Trust; John Eastman, co-director of The Public Interest Legal Foundation, a group funded by the Bradley Foundation; and Tyler Bowyer, CEO of Turning Point, “which has received small grants from the Bradley Foundation, is headquartered in Arizona, and it has played a significant role in the radicalization of the state, in part by amplifying fear and anger about voter fraud.”

Every accusation of substantial voter fraud has been solidly debunked.

“What explains, then, the hardening conviction among Republicans that the 2020 race was stolen?” Mayer asks.

“Michael Podhorzer, a senior adviser to the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which invested deeply in expanding Democratic turnout in 2020, suggests that the two parties now have irreconcilable beliefs about whose votes are legitimate. “What blue-state people don’t understand about why the Big Lie works,” he said, is that it doesn’t actually require proof of fraud. “What animates it is the belief that Biden won because votes were cast by some people in this country who others think are not ‘real’ Americans.” This anti-democratic belief has been bolstered by a constellation of established institutions on the right: “white evangelical churches, legislators, media companies, nonprofits, and even now paramilitary groups.” Podhorzer noted, “Trump won white America by eight points. He won non-urban areas by over twenty points. He is the democratically elected President of white America. It’s almost like he represents a nation within a nation.”

Mayer explains a somewhat arcane point of constitutional law that clearly drives this movement for voter suppression: “for conservative state legislators to reëngineer the way the Electoral College has worked for more than a hundred years, in essence by invoking the Independent Legislature Doctrine. The Constitution gives states the authority to choose their Presidential electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Since the late nineteenth century, states have delegated that authority to the popular vote. But, arguably, the Constitution permits state legislatures to take this authority back. Legislators could argue that an election had been compromised by irregularities or fraud, forcing them to intervene.”

I hope my summary encourages you to read the whole story or at the very least listen to Jane Mayer interviewed about the story by Terry Gross for “Fresh Air.”

Some other excellent stuff in the magazine this week:

  • it feels a little weird to refer to David Sedaris’s writing as “sweet,” but “Happy-Go-Lucky,” his remembrance of the last chapter in the life of his father, who died recently, is remarkably affectionate and, we could say, forgiving;
  • “Manufacturing Nature,” Eric Klinenberg’s article about Kate Orff, a landscape architect who has made a tremendous impact on New York’s aquatic ecosystem, including using oyster reefs to mitigate storm surges; and
  • “On an Epic Scale,” a profile of epochal painter Kerry James Marshall (see his “Past Times,” below) by the great chronicler of artists, Calvin Tomkins.

In this week’s New Yorker

July 13, 2018

For self-protection, I avoid TV news. I’m content to get my news of the world from the kind of deep dives that the New Yorker specializes in.

The current midsummer double-issue is extra-good, in a roller-coaster way.

Adrian Chen’s “No More Secrets,” about a guy who live-streams his mundane existence, reflects up-to-the-minute technology but in a way that fills me with despair — THIS is what people pay attention to? Yuk. But I guess it’s good to know.

David Sedaris writes hilariously, as always, about going to a shooting range with his sister Lisa (“Active Shooter”), where the instructor keeps calling him “Mike,” which he finds an amusing alternative to what he often gets when he presents his credit card (“Are you THE David Sedaris?”).

In “Tunnel Vision,” William Finnegan profiles the new head of the MTA, a Brit named Andy Byford who’s determined to overhaul the NYC subway system as he did in London and Toronto.

How cool to get a look at a mural Charles Addams painted for a Hamptons hotel in 1952, which has been quietly hanging in a library at Penn State.

Ariel Levy writes about a fascinating Iranian-American novelist named Ottessa Moshfegh (below, photographed by Dru Donovan) and her crazy romantic life (“Not From Around Here”).

And Hilton Als pays tribute to Anika Noni Rose, who’s starring in a production of “Carmen Jones” directed by John Doyle that sounds worth seeing at Classic Stage Company (“Working It”).

In last week’s New Yorker

June 19, 2017

Before even having a look at this week’s issue, I want to make some notes about last week’s unusually good issue.

First of all, I hope Rachel Aviv has a really good therapist. She consistently does in-depth, long-term reporting on some of the most grim topics in American society, exposing herself to endless accounts of trauma and abuse. Her story “Memories of a Murder” is a perfect example. In the tiny town of Beatrice, Nebraska, a 68-year-old widow was raped and murdered in 1987. The crime remained unsolved for two years until a farmer who enjoyed watching crime shows on television took on the job of unpaid private investigator and with the expert advice of a local psychologist succeeded in concocting a story that resulted in the arrest and conviction of six small-town residents, several of them mentally ill or developmentally disabled. Years later a DNA test showed that the blood and semen at the crime site belonged to a juvenile delinquent whose grandmother lived in the same building and had subsequently died of AIDS.  The point of Aviv’s long, absorbing article is that detectives and psychological professionals can be so attached to a narrative that they can convince innocent people that they committed crimes they had nothing to do with. (Online the title of the article is more pointed: “Remembering the Murder You Didn’t Commit.”)But it’s also a dismaying tale about the ignorance and preconceptions that face outsiders in a small town.

To balance out the grimness, there’s David Sedaris writing about his alcoholic mother (“Why Aren’t You Laughing?”) and another brilliant Shouts & Murmurs piece by Paul Rudnick, “Jared & Ivanka’s Guide to Mindful Marriage.” My favorite: “Family is everything. We treasure the special moments, like the time our kids used their crayons to make Jared a construction-paper subpoena. We have game nights, when we play such favorites as Pin the Tail on Whoever’s Out of Favor, Let’s Dress Jeff Sessions in Doll Clothes, and Who Can Hug Mommy Without Touching Her Hair?”

I got through college without having to read “The Confessions of St. Augustine.” Esteemed classicist Stephen Greenblatt, in “The Invention of Sex,” makes him sound even more entertainingly bizarre than I imagined, with his account of a spiritual orgasm shared with his mother and his fixation on how “some people can do things with their bodies that others find impossible. ‘Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together.’ Others, as he personally had witnessed, could sweat whenever they chose, and there were even people who could ‘produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region.”’ ”


What else? Zadie Smith writes a beautifully detailed and empathetic profile decoding the work of a young black British painter and writer named Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (“A Bird of Few Words”). I enjoyed reading Andrew Sean Greer’s short story “It’s a Summer Day,” though I couldn’t help noticing that it’s the second piece of fiction the New Yorker has published in a month that centers on a writer winning an obscure prize. I admire critic-at-large Kelefa Sanneh’s music writing, though his essay “The Persistence of Prog-Rock” indulges in some historical revisionism. When I was growing up, contemporary bands like Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were viewed as “art-rock,” a different flavor but related to Zappa and the Mothers, David Bowie, and other arty rockers. And my memory is that the term “prog-rock” was never used in those days. It’s been tossed around familiarly only in retrospect by the people who weren’t even alive then.

In this week’s New Yorker

June 27, 2014

The single most noteworthy sentence in this week’s issue comes early in Jeffrey Toobin’s long, must-read profile of loathsome Texas senator Ted Cruz, who has spent an insane amount of time attempting (sometimes singlehandedly) to repeal “every blessed word” of the Affordable Care Act: “Cruz gets his own health-care coverage from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a vice-president.” Could anything make this smug bastard more despicable?

ted cruz

Another remarkable sentence flies quickly by in John Colapinto’s profile (“Shy and Mighty” — great headline) of the xx, the British quietcore trio whose songs are written and sung by Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim (below, center and right), whose aural and onstage intimacy suggests that of current or former lovers: “Another defining aspect of the xx’s music — the tamped-down eroticism of the singers’ entwined voices — was also unintended, since both are gay.” Huh. I didn’t see that coming. Makes me love them all the more.

the xx
Aside from those pieces, Nathan Heller’s long profile of filmmaker Richard Linklater is worth reading, along with the always entertaining David Sedaris’s essay, “Stepping Out,” about his obsession with Fitbit.

robot pet cartoon

The New Yorker has had some stellar issues lately. Last week’s, for instance (July 23, 2014), had four very different, all fantastic feature stories:

* Jill Lepore’s “The Disruption Machine,” a meticulous takedown of of the current valorization of disruption as a business ideal, based on her close reading of the book that preached the gospel of innovation, Clayton M. Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma;

* Nick Paumgarten’s hilarious and intimate profile — “Id Girls” (another great headline) — of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the creators of the Comedy Central hit series Broad City, for which Paumgarten got an astonishing amount of reportorial access, a quality his article shares with…

* the great Janet Malcolm’s “The Book Refuge,” a family portrait of the women who run the Argosy Bookstore, the antiquarian bookseller on 57th Street; and

* Sarah Stillman’s long, sad, infuriating article “Get Out of Jail, Inc.,” about how the so-called “alternatives to incarceration” industry preys on the poorest Americans, exorting vast sums of money for offenses like driving with expired license plates or an unpaid parking ticket.

gift bag cartoon

The issue before that, the Summer Fiction: Love Stories double-issue (June 9 & 16), was noteworthy for me primarily for Margaret Talbot’s “The Teen Whisperer,” a superb profile of young-adult novelist John Green, completely unknown to me but now strangely prominent on my radar, to the point where I’m actually curious to see the movie based on his big hit, The Fault in Our Stars (which, weirdly, shows up fleetingly in season 2 of Orange Is the New Black).

kept awake

In this week’s New Yorker

March 28, 2012

Hilton Als lets us know that he loves Jesus, the same way Patti Smith does, but boy, does he not love Des McAnuff’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway.

Rebecca Mead provides a coolly factual portrait of Christine Quinn, who may well be the next mayor of New York City.

David Sedaris writes a Personal History essay about his favorable experience with socialized medicine (specifically his dentist) in France, in contrast to current American preconceptions: “One thing that puzzled me during the American health-care debate was all the talk about socialized medicine and how ineffective it’s supposed to be. The Canadian plan was likened to genocide, but even worse were the ones in Europe, where patients languished on filthy cots, waiting for aspirin to be invented.”

But the highlight of the issue by far is “The Transition,” an excerpt from the great Lyndon B. Johnson biographer Robert A. Caro’s next volume microscopically detailing the events of the morning of November 22, 1963. Even though the outline of that infamous day in American history is known to one and all, not so well-known aspects to the story are:  the brewing financial scandal LBJ was facing (quickly squashed when he became president), exactly how miserably he hated being Vice President, what happened inside the cars in the presidential motorcade in Dallas, how delicately thoughtful and solicitous LBJ was of Jackie Kennedy, and all the logistical details that led up to his being sworn in after the assassination. A must-read.

Then there’s the cover by George Booth, titled “Rite of Spring.” As Andy noted, what the hell are we supposed to think is going on here?

%d bloggers like this: