Saturday March 05, 2016
The Feb. 22 2016 issue of The New Yorker
Like everyone, I get behind in my New Yorkers, but I spent much of this morning nursing a cold and reading the Feb. 22 issue—the one with the black-history cover: Baldwin, Ellington, Holliday, Hurston, the Nicholas Brothers, Malcolm X.
This is what's inside:
- The various iterations of the American two-party system, and their links to technological change, by Jill Lepore
- The new journey to the west by China's rich, bratty generation (a.k.a. Why Chinese Communism needs Socialism), by Jiayang Fang
- A history of TMZ and its founder and driving force Harvey Levin, by Nicholas Schmidle
- An in-depth look at Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the San Bernadino shooters, by William Finnegan
- All those 20th century leftists who turned right and enabled the conservative movement, by George Packer
Each story is worth it. Each gives a broader, less certain view of the world. It's astonishing, really, that all five are in the same issue of the same magazine. Seems unfair. To both the competition and to readers like me, who suddenly have their hands full.
Each is a downer, too, but that's often the way of the world. We go to the movies for uppers, serious literature for downers. Why so few people read seriously now.
The San Bernadino piece is particularly good. Finnegan begins with a church service for one of the victims, Nicholas Thalasinos, who seems like a good guy, then gives us the history (as we know it) of the terrorists, Rizwan and Malik, and their various intolerances, and then back to Thalasinos, who worked with Rizan and used to argue with him about religion. He was, in fact, a frequent social media poster, and made enemies there. He hated all of Islam, which he called “the cult of rape, pedophilia, antisemitism and murder.” He hated our president, too, calling him an “utterly vile pagan filthy antisemitic drug addicted maggot”; he felt that while Obama didn't necessarily deserve lynching, he should at least be tried and executed—the trial apparently perfunctory. There's a line near the end of the piece from Rizan's less-religious father, Syed Sr., which was my feeling finishing the piece: “I despair and I do not understand.”
Then I read Packer on liberal apostates and felt a step closer to understanding. Or re-understanding. Packer is writing about Whitaker Chambers, a closeted homosexual and communist, whose testimony against Alger Hiss in the late 1940s led to the rise of Richard M. Nixon (although, let's face it, nothing would stop his rise; not even his fall). It's a quote from Chambers himself about why, after a shoddy childhood, he embraced communism in 1925:
It offered what nothing else in the dying world had power to offer at the same intensity: faith and a vision, something for which to live and something for which to die.
It's what hooks so many of us: communists and capitalists; Christians and Muslims; Republicans and Democrats. That awful search for meaning that leads to so much violence and death.
Anyway, subscribe to The New Yorker when you get the chance.