A weekly digest of the most important news, ideas and culture from around the world. Host Michael Washburn summarizes the best journalism from the week that was, including the publications you never have time to read. www.themediaglobe.com
Reading the Globe #017: Democracy in Peril, Eric Adams’ Brother, Nukes in Vietnam
The Future of the UnionThe Economist’s January 1 issue features a bold lead editorial, entitled “Walking away,” about the perceived fragility of democracy in America one year out from the trauma of the January 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. It sounds a dire note about the growing polarization in the country and the tendency of members of either major political party to view the other side with suspicion and fear.Eric Adams Becomes MayorMany people concerned about the crime surge in New York City have welcomed new mayor Eric Adams, a former cop who did not mince words during the electoral race about the problems facing the city and the tough measures needed to turn things around. This past weekend, a robber at a Burger King in East Harlem fatally shot a 19-year-old cashier who had recently expressed concerns to management about her safety because of the lateness of her shift and the number of homeless people who gathered on the sidewalk outside, according to a January 9 report in the New York Post. This horrible incident comes on the heels of other high-profile crimes including the murder of a Columbia University graduate student from Italy and the assault and robbery of a young Thai model on a 14thStreet subway platform.One would like to think that the city really will take a new direction under Mayor Adams, who repudiates the weak, permissive stance of failed mayor Bill de Blasio. Many of us still believe in Adams, even though he has defended one of his recent top-level appointments in a curious manner. An article by Sam Raskin appearing in the New York Post on January 9 details how Mayor Adams defended the choice of his brother, former New York cop Bernard Adams, to serve as deputy NYPD commissioner.The Radioactive Road Not Taken in VietnamAll too often the problems of the present become magnified and we lose perspective and imagine that we today face crises unequalled in history. An article by Erik Villard in the February 2022 issue of Vietnam magazine, entitled “Did the U.S. consider using nukes?”, looks into that question and says that, yes, no fewer than three U.S. presidents gave consideration to the use of tactical nuclear weapons to prevent North Vietnamese forces from overrunning key objectives.Villard’s article emphasizes the consideration given to political fallout, but it goes without saying that any sensible president would do everything in his power to prevent the use of nuclear weapons and to signal to the world that their use would be unacceptable and unconscionable. Public opinion is an important but far from the sole issue here. The use of nukes in Vietnam would have upped the ante in conflicts worldwide to a point where the annihilation of hundreds of thousands of lives and the spread of radiation and devastation of the natural environment would come not to seem extraordinary at all.How the Mayans LivedOur understanding of the civilization and way of life of the Mayans takes another step forward with the publication of a short but intriguing article, “New Neighbors,” by Marley Brown in the January/February issue of Archaeology magazine.The article is a reminder of the splendor and sophistication, as well as the frequent aggression and conquest, characterizing one of the most fascinating and idiosyncratic ancient civilizations.
Reading the Globe #016: Gotham, Didion, North Korea and Germany
Gotham in DeclineThose of us who grew up in New York City in the 1980s have troubling memories of a grimy, graffiti-ridden urban landscape where danger was a part of everyday life and you could not walk the streets without anticipating the possibility of becoming a victim of harassment or worse.The election of Rudolph Giuliani in the 1993 mayoral race drew howls of outrage from the left, but under Giuliani, and his police commissioner William Bratton, the city at last began to make steps to becoming slightly more civilized and habitable. The tough approach continued under Michael Bloomberg, but it came to an abrupt end under Bill de Blasio, who rejected tough policing as unfair to minorities in New York. De Blasio did not seem to understand or care that while crime and disorder affected almost everyone, those who benefited most from a decline in the homicide rate were precisely the city’s racial minorities.Now, at the end of De Blasio’s awful tenure, incidents happen every day that cannot fail to summon memories of the 1980s.Germany’s Man of the HourThe Economist of December 11-17 features a profile of Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz. The article, “Enter the Quiet Man,” presents Scholz as a moderate pragmatist with a strong work ethic. According to the article, some of Scholz’s fellow Social Democrats find him a bit too moderate, far from the politician who would be needed to spearhead a reenergized European left.Or at least that was the case until the Covid pandemic came along, the article tells us. On North Korea Another article in The Economist, Sunflower state ,” presents the findings of researchers from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, an organization based in Seoul. With neither the freedom to choose between a vocation and spending time with family, nor the competitive salaries that they might be earning in western countries, men in North Korea may come to feel something the class-tinged resentment that finally turns one of the protagonists of Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite homicidal. But overthrowing a totalitarian regime by force from the inside is arguably an even more doomed proposition than acting out a revenge fantasy against a callous and snooty upper-class family.On Joan DidionThe website Book and Film Globe, edited by Neal Pollack, features my thoughts on the passing of Joan Didion, the pioneering and prolific essayist, memoirist, critic, and novelist who showed us all how porous the borders between fiction and nonfiction narrative really are. To read Didion is to see that there is no reason an account of a trip to El Salvador, a Doors rehearsal, a Bay Area courtroom during a trial of Black Panthers accused of murder, or a stint in New York City during a tender and impressionable time of life cannot have all the passion, drive, and power of riveting fiction. Since Didion’s passing on Thursday, December 23, tributes have come pouring in from critics, journalists, editors, and publishers all over the world, and I tried in my Book and Film Globe piece to convey at least some sense of why readers are so passionate about the late celebrity.
Reading the Globe #015: Alec Baldwin, Bangladesh violence, RIP Ed Shames, and Mario Vargas Llosa
Alec Baldwin Blames Everyone But HimselfThe shocking news that Alec Baldwin shot dead the cinematographer on the set of a film on October 21 has clearly been hard for Baldwin to digest. There can be no doubt as to the unintentional nature of the fatal shooting and the sincerity of Baldwin’s wish that this terrible unexpected event had never happened. In his relatively few photo-ops and interviews since the death of Halyna Hutchins, Baldwin appears genuinely distraught and remorseful, as would anyone who is not psychotic. But that does not mean that Baldwin’s conduct, and his legal maneuverings, in the time since that awful incident have set a standard of exemplary conduct. Baldwin seems determined not to own the consequences of the lack of safety and industry-wide protocol for which he bore ultimate responsibility. Real IntoleranceThe Economist’s November 6 issue contains an incisive article, “Spilling over,” on a wave of horrific violence in Bangladesh driven largely by sectarian hatred. It details how the alleged discovery of a copy of the Koran wedged under the feet of a Hindu idol sparked a series of vicious attacks on Hindus and other religious minorities in the 90% Muslim country. The article describes how a crowd of 10,000 Muslims gathered outside the mosque in Dhaka chanting “Hang the culprits” and how rioters inspired by sectarian fervor and a desire to avenge the alleged desecration attacked Hindus and seized their property, leaving at least three dead, including a 62-year-old man, Dilip Das, who had set out to worship in the Hindu temple in Cumilla in eastern Bangladesh.According to the article, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, did not condemn the violence unequivocally but rather blamed it on the treatment that Muslims have received in India. The article notes that Muslims living in that nation are not entirely without legitimate grievances, given that the Hindu nationalist government of Narendra Modi recently implemented a streamlined path to citizenship for refugees, excluding those who happen to be Muslim, and that the ruling party has labeled Muslims from the border regions of India “infiltrators.” Violence against Muslims in India, the article notes, quickly followed the wave of anti-Hindu attacks.Ed Shames, RIPColonel Ed Shames, one of the last surviving members of the famed Band of Brothers who fought heroically in the Second World War, died on December 3 at the age of 99. Shames was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and lived a good part of his life in the Hampton Roads area, save for military training and preparations that took him to a number of places in the U.S. and abroad, including Petersburg, Virginia, Toccoa, Georgia, and England during the run-up to D-Day. According to his Legacy.com obituary, Shames was the first member of the 101st to enter the Dachau concentration camp, and he entered and took cognac from Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest headquarters, later using the cognac in a toast at the bar mitzvah of his eldest son.
The D.B. Cooper Mystery at 50
On November 24, 1971, the day before Thanksgiving, a man walks into the terminal at Portland International Airport. Giving his name as Dan Cooper, he pays with cash for a seat on a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727 jet scheduled to make the quick flight from Portland up to Seattle.Thus begins one of the strangest and most fascinating crimes in American history, a crime that remains unsolved til this day.In this special edition of Reading the Globe, AudioHopper presents “The D.B. Cooper Mystery at 50.”Michael Washburn takes us deep into a true crime thriller in which a pseudonymous man extorted $200,000 in ransom and parachuted into thin air over southwestern Washington State. He was never conclusively spotted again, dead or alive. After interviewing nearly 1000 suspects over 30 years, the crime remains, according to New York magazine, “the only skyjacking in the world that has gone unsolved.”In this special feature featuring archival audio, much of the record is corrected, including the legend that “Cooper” left nothing behind. In fact, he did—his clip-on tie (and tie pin), among other items. The author also makes a powerful case that the skyjacker may have been Canadian.Was he eaten? Where’s the parachute? How did a young boy find $3000 of the ransom money? Why are some of the possible subjects buying cars with cash and making death-bed confessions? What the hell happened?At 50, the case still fascinates all true-crime junkies. Washburn, an expert on the case, presents a reasoned analysis of every possible known subject and presents a compelling case for one of them being the skyjacker. It’s the perfect holiday listen.
Reading the Globe #013: Éric Zemmour, CRT, Book-Burning and the Tet Offensive
Zemmour RisingOne of the most widely reported phenomena on the French political scene is the rise in opinion polls of Éric Zemmour, who looks set to rival the incumbent president, Emmanuel Macron, in next April’s election. While Zemmour has decided views on many issues, he opposes unchecked immigration above all as an existential threat to France.Zemmour has long been a fringe figure. Some know him as an essayist who states in a polemical form certain of the themes, ideas, and messages found in the work of the enfant terrible of French letters, Michel Houellebecq.An article by Angelique Chrisafis in theGuardian Weekly’s October 15 edition, “From pundit to president? The far-right rise of Eric Zemmour,” quotes two sources who are fiercely hostile to Zemmour. Stanford University Professor Cécile Alduy tells the Guardian that Zemmour’s message is not new but that it is quite unprecedented for someone espousing such views to gain the platform that Zemmour has acquired. The article also quotes French comedian Yassine Belattar calling Zemmour a provocateur and making the questionable assertion that never before in history has racism run so high.Radical Fist-Pumping as EducationAn article in the Economist’s October 23 issue, entitled “Race and class,” (paywalled) denounces the moves that eight U.S. states have made to ban critical race theory from public school curricula, and makes a case for ethnic studies lessons. The Economist details how San Francisco’s school district launched an ethnic studies pilot program in 2010-2011, relying heavily on faculty of San Francisco State University. The article cites findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that purport to show that the implementation of ethnic studies curricula in San Francisco schools has had positive effects. The same Economist article reports findings of Sade Bonilla of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and her colleagues purporting to show that the program boosted high-school attendance by six to seven percentage points and also had an effect on graduation rates. But perhaps the most significant finding reported in the article is the UMass researchers’ claim of a higher GPA for those who have enrolled in ethnic studies courses.The radical educators have the last laugh. The Economist notes that California plans to make ethnic studies a requirement for graduation throughout the state by 2030.Books Are BurningWhen published in 1953, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 stood as a warning about where consumerism, instant gratification, and anti-intellectualism might lead. It depicts a dystopia where corps of firemen make the rounds, not putting out fires but gathering whatever books they can find and setting them ablaze. From our vantage point in 2021, the awful truth is that Fahrenheit 451 is a more literal prophecy than readers, critics, and maybe even the novel’s own author believed it to be. Yes, ideologues and fanatics are burning books. One example cited in my recent review for Book and Film Globe is a book-burning organized in Ontario in 2019 as part of a supposed effort at reconciliation with indigenous people who have been the victim of racist stereotyping in the past. And more...
Reading the Globe #012: EU on Empty; Adams Backs the Blue; Curtains for Durst
Whither the European Union?The reasons for voting in favor of the 2016 Brexit were many and varied, but with some hindsight, it is hard to deny that voters frustrated with the workings of the E.U. had a basis for their grievances. Just look at the gas crisis that is making life in the E.U. unbearable for millions of people.An article by Laurence Norman in the Wall Street Journal’s October 14 edition, “Gas Crisis Prompts Fresh Proposals from E.U.,” quotes energy commissioner Kadri Simson calling the crisis an unusual situation and maintaining that E.U. energy policies over the last 20 years have worked well. But the article details how the European Commission is grasping for solutions to deal with the tripling of wholesale gas prices within E.U. borders and the concomitant spike in inflation, which jeopardizes the economic recovery everyone has been hoping for as the continent tries to move on from the Covid pandemic.A New Direction for New YorkMayoral candidate Eric Adams once again has refused to mince words or tiptoe around an issue of growing concern to New Yorkers: the scourge of shoplifting that has left entire shelves bare in some stores, drugstores in particular, and about the need to back law enforcement unequivocally, a brave stance to take in this age of rabid anti-police activism and hysterical rhetoric.An article in the New York Post on October 14, “Mayoral hopeful Eric Adams talks tough against NYC shoplifting spike,” quotes Adams saying that once he takes office, his administration will adopt an aggressive stance toward the crime wave plaguing New York. He plans to visit precincts in person and reiterate his strong support for the police. Adams spoke partly in response to public concerns aroused by repeat offenders like the so-called Man of Steal, who police have arrested no fewer than 57 times this year, including 46 arrests for retail theft.Curtains for DurstRobert Durst, the real estate heir suspected in crimes that provided tabloid fodder and inspired both a feature film and a six-part HBO documentary, is unlikely ever to be a free man again. Evan Symon’s October 15 article in The California Globe, “Robert Durst Receives Life Sentence in LA Superior Court Ruling,” details the outcome of a lengthy proceeding complicated by the Covid pandemic and concerns about the health of the wheelchair-bound 78-year-old defendant. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham has sentenced Durst to spend the remainder of his life in prison, with no chance of parole, for the murder of Susan Berman, whose body police found in her Benedict Canyon home on December 24, 2000. Evidence implicating Durst in the crime included letters with the same misspellings that Durst had made in other correspondence. Durst is also on camera in the HBO documentary confessing to having committed murders. And more...
My new go to!
Being a regular listener of the pop culture happy hour podcast, I am fond of this type of entertainment. I will be checking in here from
now on to get my weekly entertainment news, more details and variety!
Valuable - when not grinding axes
One of the root causes of America’s political discourse malaise is echo chambers on the left and right and the dwindling number of people who still care to listen to the other side and engage meaningfully.
I value Reading the Globe for mostly doing a very good job of both making me aware of interesting stories I wouldn’t have otherwise seen (e.g., “the longest power cable in the world, extending 3,800 kilometers underwater from wind and solar energy generators in the Guelmin Oued-Noun region roughly in the middle of Morocco to the U.K.”) and ones I’ve seen headlines on but haven’t had a chance to read (“Robinhood got hit with the largest fine ever levied by the Financial Industrial Regulatory Authority”).
And Washburn has opened my eyes to thoughtful takes I wouldn’t have seen or sought out on important events.
At times, however, the message is marred by commentary that seems designed to pander to Trump cultists: “Australia, where people are enduring restrictions on their movements and activities that make a dystopian novel like Orwell‘s 1984 seem tame.” Come on, man.