Category Archive 'New Yorker'
14 Sep 2018

Too Bloody Real

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22 Jul 2018

The African Perspective

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An Igbo with his slave.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, in the New Yorker, has news for Ta-Nehisi Coates and all the other noisy SJWs denouncing European Civilization and America for the sin of Slavery: Slavery existed in Africa long before the European Reconnaissance and has continued right down to the present day, long after Slavery was abolished in America and everywhere else in the Western World. Africans, unlike Americans, are proud of the slave-owning ancestors and despise complaining slave descendants.

There is no Atlantic magazine in Nigeria, TNC!

Down the hill, near the river, in an area now overrun by bush, is the grave of my most celebrated ancestor: my great-grandfather Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku. Nwaubani Ogogo was a slave trader who gained power and wealth by selling other Africans across the Atlantic. “He was a renowned trader,” my father told me proudly. “He dealt in palm produce and human beings.”

Long before Europeans arrived, Igbos enslaved other Igbos as punishment for crimes, for the payment of debts, and as prisoners of war. The practice differed from slavery in the Americas: slaves were permitted to move freely in their communities and to own property, but they were also sometimes sacrificed in religious ceremonies or buried alive with their masters to serve them in the next life. When the transatlantic trade began, in the fifteenth century, the demand for slaves spiked. Igbo traders began kidnapping people from distant villages. Sometimes a family would sell off a disgraced relative, a practice that Ijoma Okoro, a professor of Igbo history at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, likens to the shipping of British convicts to the penal colonies in Australia: “People would say, ‘Let them go. I don’t want to see them again.’ ” Between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, nearly one and a half million Igbo slaves were sent across the Middle Passage.

My great-grandfather was given the nickname Nwaubani, which means “from the Bonny port region,” because he had the bright skin and healthy appearance associated at the time with people who lived near the coast and had access to rich foreign foods. (This became our family name.) In the late nineteenth century, he carried a slave-trading license from the Royal Niger Company, an English corporation that ruled southern Nigeria. His agents captured slaves across the region and passed them to middlemen, who brought them to the ports of Bonny and Calabar and sold them to white merchants. Slavery had already been abolished in the United States and the United Kingdom, but his slaves were legally shipped to Cuba and Brazil. To win his favor, local leaders gave him their daughters in marriage. (By his death, he had dozens of wives.) His influence drew the attention of colonial officials, who appointed him chief of Umujieze and several other towns. He presided over court cases and set up churches and schools. He built a guesthouse on the land where my parents’ home now stands, and hosted British dignitaries. To inform him of their impending arrival and verify their identities, guests sent him envelopes containing locks of their Caucasian hair.

Funeral rites for a distinguished Igbo man traditionally include the slaying of livestock—usually as many cows as his family can afford. Nwaubani Ogogo was so esteemed that, when he died, a leopard was killed, and six slaves were buried alive with him. My family inherited his canvas shoes, which he wore at a time when few Nigerians owned footwear, and the chains of his slaves, which were so heavy that, as a child, my father could hardly lift them. Throughout my upbringing, my relatives gleefully recounted Nwaubani Ogogo’s exploits. When I was about eight, my father took me to see the row of ugba trees where Nwaubani Ogogo kept his slaves chained up. In the nineteen-sixties, a family friend who taught history at a university in the U.K. saw Nwaubani Ogogo’s name mentioned in a textbook about the slave trade. Even my cousins who lived abroad learned that we had made it into the history books. …

Are you not ashamed of what he did?” I asked.

“I can never be ashamed of him,” he said, irritated. “Why should I be? His business was legitimate at the time. He was respected by everyone around.” My father is a lawyer and a human-rights activist who has spent much of his life challenging government abuses in southeast Nigeria. He sometimes had to flee our home to avoid being arrested. But his pride in his family was unwavering. “Not everyone could summon the courage to be a slave trader,” he said. “You had to have some boldness in you.” …

The British tried to end slavery among the Igbo in the early nineteen-hundreds, though the practice persisted into the nineteen-forties. In the early years of abolition, by British recommendation, masters adopted their freed slaves into their extended families. One of the slaves who joined my family was Nwaokonkwo, a convicted murderer from another village who chose slavery as an alternative to capital punishment and eventually became Nwaubani Ogogo’s most trusted manservant. In the nineteen-forties, after my great-grandfather was long dead, Nwaokonkwo was accused of attempting to poison his heir, Igbokwe, in order to steal a plot of land. My family sentenced him to banishment from the village. When he heard the verdict, he ran down the hill, flung himself on Nwaubani Ogogo’s grave, and wept, saying that my family had once given him refuge and was now casting him out. Eventually, my ancestors allowed him to remain, but instructed all their freed slaves to drop our surname and choose new names. “If they had been behaving better, they would have been accepted,” my father said.

he descendants of freed slaves in southern Nigeria, called ohu, still face significant stigma. Igbo culture forbids them from marrying freeborn people, and denies them traditional leadership titles such as Eze and Ozo. (The osu, an untouchable caste descended from slaves who served at shrines, face even more severe persecution.) My father considers the ohu in our family a thorn in our side, constantly in opposition to our decisions. In the nineteen-eighties, during a land dispute with another family, two ohu families testified against us in court. “They hate us,” my father said. “No matter how much money they have, they still have a slave mentality.

RTWT

08 Mar 2018

The New Yorker Meets the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug

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Brown marmorated stinkbug (Halyomorpha halys).

The New Yorker lavishes its prose upon the brown marmorated stinkbug.

The species is not native to this country, but in the years since it arrived it has spread to forty-three of the forty-eight continental United States, and—in patchwork, unpredictable, time-staggered ways—has overrun homes, gardens, and farms in one location after another. Four years before Stone’s encounter, a wildlife biologist in Maryland decided to count all the brown marmorated stinkbugs he killed in his own home; he stopped the experiment after six months and twenty-six thousand two hundred and five stinkbugs. Around the same time, entomologists documented thirty thousand stinkbugs living in a shed in Virginia no bigger than an outhouse, and four thousand in a container the size of a breadbox. In West Virginia, bank employees arrived at work one day to find an exterior wall of the building covered in an estimated million stinkbugs.

What makes the brown marmorated stinkbug unique, though, is not just its tendency to congregate in extremely large numbers but the fact that it boasts a peculiar and unwelcome kind of versatility. Very few household pests destroy crops; fleas and bedbugs are nightmarish, but not if you’re a field of corn. Conversely, very few agricultural pests pose a problem indoors; you’ll seldom hear of people confronting a swarm of boll weevils in their bedroom. But the brown marmorated stinkbug has made a name for itself by simultaneously threatening millions of acres of American farmland and grossing out the occupants of millions of American homes. The saga of how it got here, what it’s doing here, and what we’re doing about it is part dystopic and part tragicomic, part qualified success story and part cautionary tale. If you have never met its main character, I assure you: you will soon.

RTWT

IMHO, ground zero is Fauquier County, Virginia. At our home in Hume, we had them throughout the year with a short timeout resulting from the arrival of the first hard frost. They seemed to wake up again, though, right after Christmas. On a typical day, I would collect about 100 stinkbugs using a Dyson hand vacuum. They are here in Central Pennsylvania, too, just not in the same prodigious numbers.

One tip: Taigan puppies will eat stinkbugs!

01 Jan 2018

This Morning

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HopperNewYear

17 Nov 2017

A Selection of the 30 Most Disappointing People Under 30

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Bess Kalb chooses, in the New Yorker:

Will Heller, twenty-six
After a month at a Zen silent-meditation retreat, Heller went back to his job at Goldman Sachs as a commodities trader in oil and gas.

Victor Chen, twenty-eight
Chen used an app to hire a person to pick up and deliver a Chipotle burrito to him every night for twenty-two consecutive nights.

Joanna Feldman, twenty-two
Misquoted E. E. Cummings in her rib-cage tattoo.

Rebecca Meyer, twenty-nine
Since earning her M.F.A. in fiction from Columbia, Meyer has been at work writing her début novel in her sprawling Chinatown loft, which was paid for in full by her parents. She has written sixteen pages, and they’re not very good.

Haley DiStefano, twenty-seven
DiStefano is known for posting pictures of her eight-thousand-dollar Cartier bracelets on Instagram, accompanied by the hashtag “#ManicureMonday.”

David Saperstein, twenty-six
Shared an article about fatalities in Syria accompanied by the comment “So many feels.”

Oksana Iyovitch, twenty-four
Iyovitch purchased a Scottish Fold kitten after seeing a picture of one on the Twitter feed Cute Emergency. Tried to return the cat to the breeder when it “got too big.”

Tim Harris, twenty-seven
Started a Bay Area “summer camp” where exhausted tech bros can “unplug” for two thousand dollars a weekend.

Lizzy Balanchine, nineteen
Bad dancer.

Max Kaiserman, twenty-five
Shared upward of two Bernie Sanders-related Facebook posts daily from March through July, then continued to post anti-Hillary articles after she secured the nomination.

Bess Kalb, twenty-nine
Kalb started a screenplay, talked about it to at least thirty friends and family members and two Uber drivers, and then never finished it.

24 Oct 2017

The Urban Establishment’s Nightmare

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23 Oct 2017

Libertarian Cop

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Tom O’Donnell, in the New Yorker, March 31, 1994.

I was shooting heroin and reading “The Fountainhead” in the front seat of my privately owned police cruiser when a call came in. I put a quarter in the radio to activate it. It was the chief.

“Bad news, detective. We got a situation.”

“What? Is the mayor trying to ban trans fats again?”

“Worse. Somebody just stole four hundred and forty-seven million dollars’ worth of bitcoins.”

The heroin needle practically fell out of my arm. “What kind of monster would do something like that? Bitcoins are the ultimate currency: virtual, anonymous, stateless. They represent true economic freedom, not subject to arbitrary manipulation by any government. Do we have any leads?”

“Not yet. But mark my words: we’re going to figure out who did this and we’re going to take them down … provided someone pays us a fair market rate to do so.”

“Easy, chief,” I said. “Any rate the market offers is, by definition, fair.”

He laughed. “That’s why you’re the best I got, Lisowski. Now you get out there and find those bitcoins.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on it.”

I put a quarter in the siren. Ten minutes later, I was on the scene. It was a normal office building, strangled on all sides by public sidewalks. I hopped over them and went inside.

“Home Depot™ Presents the Police!®” I said, flashing my badge and my gun and a small picture of Ron Paul. “Nobody move unless you want to!” They didn’t.

“Now, which one of you punks is going to pay me to investigate this crime?” No one spoke up.

“Come on,” I said. “Don’t you all understand that the protection of private property is the foundation of all personal liberty?”

It didn’t seem like they did.

“Seriously, guys. Without a strong economic motivator, I’m just going to stand here and not solve this case. Cash is fine, but I prefer being paid in gold bullion or autographed Penn Jillette posters.”

Nothing. These people were stonewalling me. It almost seemed like they didn’t care that a fortune in computer money invented to buy drugs was missing.

I figured I could wait them out. I lit several cigarettes indoors. A pregnant lady coughed, and I told her that secondhand smoke is a myth. Just then, a man in glasses made a break for it.

“Subway™ Eat Fresh and Freeze, Scumbag!®” I yelled.

Too late. He was already out the front door. I went after him.

“Stop right there!” I yelled as I ran. He was faster than me because I always try to avoid stepping on public sidewalks. Our country needs a private-sidewalk voucher system, but, thanks to the incestuous interplay between our corrupt federal government and the public-sidewalk lobby, it will never happen.

I was losing him. “Listen, I’ll pay you to stop!” I yelled. “What would you consider an appropriate price point for stopping? I’ll offer you a thirteenth of an ounce of gold and a gently worn ‘Bob Barr ‘08’ extra-large long-sleeved men’s T-shirt!”

He turned. In his hand was a revolver that the Constitution said he had every right to own. He fired at me and missed. I pulled my own gun, put a quarter in it, and fired back. The bullet lodged in a U.S.P.S. mailbox less than a foot from his head. I shot the mailbox again, on purpose.

“All right, all right!” the man yelled, throwing down his weapon. “I give up, cop! I confess: I took the bitcoins.”

“Why’d you do it?” I asked, as I slapped a pair of Oikos™ Greek Yogurt Presents Handcuffs® on the guy.

“Because I was afraid.”

“Afraid?”

“Afraid of an economic future free from the pernicious meddling of central bankers,” he said. “I’m a central banker.”

I wanted to coldcock the guy. Years ago, a central banker killed my partner. Instead, I shook my head.

“Let this be a message to all your central-banker friends out on the street,” I said. “No matter how many bitcoins you steal, you’ll never take away the dream of an open society based on the principles of personal and economic freedom.”

He nodded, because he knew I was right. Then he swiped his credit card to pay me for arresting him.

02 May 2017

Two Photos

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New Yorker profile photo of Rod Dreher by Maude Schuyler Clay.

Rod Dreher writes prolifically, at some times even well, and his recent book, The Benedict Option, which argues that the secular Left has won decisively, there is no hope for America or Western Civilization, and traditionalist Shventobazdies* like Dreher ought to emulate St. Benedict of Nursia and retreat from the world to private Christian communities resembling the monastery at Monte Cassino attracted enough attention on the part of the wicked, fallen world that he was profiled by the New Yorker.

*anglicized spelling of a sarcastic Lithuanian term for a person of publicly conspicuous piety, for someone sanctimonious, for a holier-than-thou, meaning literally “holy flatulator.”

Maude Schuyler Clay’s New Yorker photo (above) of Dreher makes him look like D.H. Lawrence Jr., like one of those mad British poets or writers (Henry Williamson or T.H. White, Gavin Maxwell or even T.E. Lawrence) who took to living somewhere deep in the English countryside in a thatched-roof cottage with a Goshawk or an otter. In her photo, Dreher looks like the suffering artist or visionary.

The photographer sent along to Dreher photo 2 (below), which prompted Dreher to write up another column, publishing both photos, and confessing that he thinks he really looks more like the latter.

And what a photograph the latter is. Dreher looks precisely like the very typos of the metrosexual hipster. As P.G. Wodehouse would probably observe: His knotted and combined knots part and each particular hair stands end on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine. And he is wearing glasses every bit as hideous as the glasses Marine Corps recruits are issued at Boot Camp, known universally as “Birth Control Glasses.”

Give that man a Pabst.

Hat tip to Maggie Gallagher.

08 Oct 2016

View From Trump Tower

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An update of the famous 1976 Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover.

viewfromtrumptower

05 Aug 2016

From the New Yorker

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TrumpNewYorkerCartoon

13 Jun 2016

The New Yorker Looks at the Election

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TrumpFrown

David Remnick, in the New Yorker, contemplated the horror show that is the 2016 election slate. He got off one particularly good line, summing up the perspective of NeverTrumpers:

[T]hose who reject Trump as some noxious combination of Father Coughlin and Ethelred the Unready.

Read the whole thing.

01 Jan 2016

This Morning

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HopperNewYear

12 Dec 2015

“Lord of the Flies” Re-written in PC

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Lord-of-the-Flies

In the New Yorker, Jack Keohane imagines Lord of the Flies rewritten for our Politically Correct Age.

“Just because we’re stranded doesn’t give you the right to use non-inclusive language,” Jack said.

Read the whole thing.

15 Oct 2015

New Yorker Dismisses Thoreau as “Pond Scum”

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thoreau-walden

In the New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz looks at Henry David Thoreau through the lenses of contemporary leftist community of fashion ideology, and does not like what she sees. Thoreau may have been keen on Abolition, but he is not a leftist radical at all. He is a shameless individualist, and if you look closely enough, eeek! he is liable to remind you of Ayn Rand.

The real Thoreau was, in the fullest sense of the word, self-obsessed: narcissistic, fanatical about self-control, adamant that he required nothing beyond himself to understand and thrive in the world. From that inward fixation flowed a social and political vision that is deeply unsettling. It is true that Thoreau was an excellent naturalist and an eloquent and prescient voice for the preservation of wild places. But “Walden” is less a cornerstone work of environmental literature than the original cabin porn: a fantasy about rustic life divorced from the reality of living in the woods, and, especially, a fantasy about escaping the entanglements and responsibilities of living among other people. …

Thoreau went to Walden, he tells us, “to learn what are the gross necessaries of life”: whatever is so essential to survival “that few, if any, whether from savageness, or poverty, or philosophy, ever attempt to do without it.” Put differently, he wanted to try what we would today call subsistence living, a condition attractive chiefly to those not obliged to endure it. It attracted Thoreau because he “wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.” Tucked into that sentence is a strange distinction; apparently, some of the things we experience while alive count as life while others do not. In “Walden,” Thoreau made it his business to distinguish between them.

As it turns out, very little counted as life for Thoreau. Food, drink, friends, family, community, tradition, most work, most education, most conversation: all this he dismissed as outside the real business of living. Although Thoreau also found no place in life for organized religion, the criteria by which he drew such distinctions were, at base, religious. A dualist all the way down, he divided himself into soul and body, and never could accept the latter. “I love any other piece of nature, almost, better,” he confided to his journal. The physical realities of being human appalled him. “The wonder is how they, how you and I, can live this slimy, beastly life, eating and drinking,” he wrote in “Walden.” Only by denying such appetites could he feel that he was tending adequately to his soul.

“Walden,” in consequence, is not a paean to living simply; it is a paean to living purely, with all the moral judgment that the word implies. In its first chapter, “Economy,” Thoreau lays out a program of abstinence so thoroughgoing as to make the Dalai Lama look like a Kardashian. (That chapter must be one of the highest barriers to entry in the Western canon: dry, sententious, condescending, more than eighty pages long.) Thoreau, who never wed, regarded “sensuality” as a dangerous contaminant, by which we “stain and pollute one another.” He did not smoke and avoided eating meat. He shunned alcohol, although with scarcely more horror than he shunned every beverage except water: “Think of dashing the hopes of a morning with a cup of warm coffee, or of an evening with a dish of tea! Ah, how low I fall when I am tempted by them!” Such temptations, along with the dangerous intoxicant that is music, had, he felt, caused the fall of Greece and Rome.

I cannot idolize anyone who opposes coffee. …

Unsurprisingly, this thoroughgoing misanthrope did not care to help other people. “I confess that I have hitherto indulged very little in philanthropic enterprises,” Thoreau wrote in “Walden.” He had “tried it fairly” and was “satisfied that it does not agree with my constitution.” Nor did spontaneous generosity: “I require of a visitor that he be not actually starving, though he may have the very best appetite in the world, however he got it. Objects of charity are not guests.” In what is by now a grand American tradition, Thoreau justified his own parsimony by impugning the needy. “Often the poor man is not so cold and hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. It is partly his taste, and not merely his misfortune. If you give him money, he will perhaps buy more rags with it.” Thinking of that state of affairs, Thoreau writes, “I began to pity myself, and I saw that it would be a greater charity to bestow on me a flannel shirt than a whole slop-shop on him.”

The poor, the rich, his neighbors, his admirers, strangers: Thoreau’s antipathy toward humanity even encompassed the very idea of civilization. In his journals, he laments the archeological wealth of Great Britain and gives thanks that in New England “we have not to lay the foundation of our houses in the ashes of a former civilization.” That is patently untrue, but it is also telling: for Thoreau, civilization was a contaminant. “Deliver me from a city built on the site of a more ancient city, whose materials are ruins, whose gardens cemeteries,” he wrote in “Walden.” “The soil is blanched and accursed there.” Seen by these lights, Thoreau’s retreat at Walden was a desperate compromise. What he really wanted was to be Adam, before Eve—to be the first human, unsullied, utterly alone in his Eden. …

Thoreau never understood that life itself is not consistent—that what worked for a well-off Harvard-educated man without dependents or obligations might not make an ideal universal code.) Those failings are ethical and intellectual, but they are also political. To reject all certainties but one’s own is the behavior of a zealot; to issue contradictory decrees based on private whim is that of a despot.

This is not the stuff of a democratic hero. Nor were Thoreau’s actual politics, which were libertarian verging on anarchist. Like today’s preppers, he valued self-sufficiency for reasons that were simultaneously self-aggrandizing and suspicious: he did not believe that he needed anything from other people, and he did not trust other people to provide it. “That government is best which governs least,” Jefferson supposedly said. Thoreau, revising him, wrote, “That government is best which governs not at all.”

Yet for a man who believed in governance solely by conscience, his own was frighteningly narrow. Thoreau had no understanding whatsoever of poverty and consistently romanticized it. (“Farmers are respectable and interesting to me in proportion as they are poor.”) His moral clarity about abolition stemmed less from compassion or a commitment to equality than from the fact that slavery so blatantly violated his belief in self-governance. Indeed, when abolition was pitted against rugged individualism, the latter proved his higher priority. “I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I may almost say,” he writes in “Walden,” “as to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign form of servitude called Negro Slavery, there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both North and South. It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself.” …

Although Thoreau is often regarded as a kind of cross between Emerson, John Muir, and William Lloyd Garrison, the man who emerges in “Walden” is far closer in spirit to Ayn Rand: suspicious of government, fanatical about individualism, egotistical, élitist, convinced that other people lead pathetic lives yet categorically opposed to helping them. It is not despite but because of these qualities that Thoreau makes such a convenient national hero. …

[T]he mature position, and the one at the heart of the American democracy, seeks a balance between the individual and the society. Thoreau lived out that complicated balance; the pity is that he forsook it, together with all fellow-feeling, in “Walden.” And yet we made a classic of the book, and a moral paragon of its author—a man whose deepest desire and signature act was to turn his back on the rest of us.

Read the whole thing.

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