Saturday, January 30, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt fourteen)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

‘I’m going to turn it over now to the newest addition to our English department,’ he says and gives me an introduction, too. Somehow he has taken the information from my resume and made it sound good, my paltry publications and grad school prize.

There’s a bit of clapping, and I walk up to the podium. I see a few clusters of students I teach and many others I don’t know. Their faces are lifted up to me. I think of Holden Caulfield, wanting to catch children before they fall off the cliff, and I get it now. I take a long breath. A kid from eleventh grade gives a little whoop.

Friday, January 29, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt thirteen)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

There’s a receptionist at a desk in a small waiting area. She gets up and shows me in. Up close Aisha isn’t as severe. She smiles easily and takes off her shoes as soon as she sits back down. She folds one leg under her. We’re in green wing chairs near the window.

‘What is amusing you?’

‘Oh.’ I can’t think of anything to say but the truth. ‘I was just thinking about this book that has a wing chair in it.’ I touch the hard green wing by my head.

‘Which book?’

Woodcutters. By Thomas Bernhard.’

Thursday, January 28, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt twelve)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

At Iris, a woman takes a bite of her BLT and sends it back. She says she doesn’t like the spicy mayonnaise. The kitchen makes another, with a milder aioli. I bring it out to her, and a few minutes later she asks me to bring some of the spicy mayonnaise back.

‘I thought I didn’t like it, but I did,’ she says.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt eleven)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

I drift over to the wall of fiction. Annie does have a good collection. Many of my favorites are there: The Evening of the Holiday, Beloved, Independent People, Trouble, Housekeeping, Woodcutters. In college, my litmus test for a bookstore was Hamsun’s Hunger. It’s there, too. They calm me, all these names on spines. I feel such tenderness toward them. I brush my fingers across the row of Woolf novels. I don’t own many books anymore. I shipped my books to Spain but I couldn’t afford to send them back. They’re still at Paco’s. I doubt I’ll see them again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt ten)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

Nearly every guy I’ve dated believed they should already be famous, believed that greatness was their destiny and they were already behind schedule. An early moment of intimacy often involved a confession of this sort: a childhood vision, teacher’s prophesy, a genius IQ. At first, with my boyfriend in college, I believed it, too. Later, I thought I was just choosing delusional men. Now I understand it’s how boys are raised to think, how they are lured into adulthood. I’ve met ambitious women, driven women, but no woman has ever told me that greatness was her destiny.

My father had this kind of drama in him, sudden surges of despair about his life and wasted chances and breaks he never got. It took me a while to understand that my wins on the golf course, no matter how hard he strived for them, only made him feel worse. I figured that an actually successful man like Oscar would have outgrown all that crap.

Monday, January 25, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt nine)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

The technician is rough. She shoves and tugs my right boob into place on the glass plate and brings the other plate down with the touch of a button and just when it is as tight and squished as I can bear, she lowers it more. Sometimes she has to lift it back up a bit and cram my flesh in deeper. She should be a potter or a chef. Her hands are strong and certain. She reminds me of the line cooks stuffing potatoes.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt eight)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:


‘Five-time Rolex Junior All-American, AJGA Player of the Year, winner of eleven national—’

‘I was never going to—’

‘Yes, you were,’ he says, beginning to stand up before he realizes where he is. ‘You don’t know anything because you gave up.’ That narrow face, those yellow-green eyes. He looks just the same now, all the extra years shaved off.

‘Robbie,’ Ann says more sharply.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt seven)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

I put my key in the lock. I’m in the mood to call my mother, that happy, shift in the wind mood. I calculate the time in Phoenix. Nearly noon. Perfect. The bolt retracts, and I remember she died.

Friday, January 22, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt six)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

‘It’s weird, isn’t it? My sister and I drove cross country once. She got all these books on tape, big books like War and Peace and stuff. But we started talking and never listened to them. It was kind of a joke we had, that when we ran out of things to say we’d listen. We just kept talking, though. And now I can’t remember what we said.’

The air between us crackles, as it does when you speak of your beloved dead. But it’s hard to know what to say next.

We wander through Art of the Ancient World, past a Babylonian lion, Etruscan urns, an enameled Nubian bracelet, body parts from Greek statues: a sandaled foot, a muscular male bum with one thigh. It’s good to see art, to remember what a natural human impulse it has always been. We move into Art of Europe, the haloes and angels, the sacred birth and bloody murder of one man over and over, a whole continent possessed by one story for centuries.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt five)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

Out on the street, daylight surprises me. Somehow between the top floor and the bottom I forgot brunch, not dinner. The Square is quiet. I head to the river on foot. My dinner shift starts in less than an hour. I’m still in my uniform. The sun has come out and burned off most of the rain. I feel the sun on my back, the warmed air on my arms. I walk up the Larz Anderson Bridge, thinking of Faulkner and Quentin Compson, remembering Quentin as I would an old love, with a swollen heart, Quentin who buckled under the weight of Southern sins, who cracked the crystal on the corner of the dresser and twisted the hands off his grandfather’s watch his last morning and, later in the afternoon, cleaned his hat with a brush before he left his Harvard dorm room to kill himself.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt four)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

Waiting on writers is my undoing. Jayne Anne Phillips came in a few weeks ago, and my face flamed up every time I went to the table. Her collection Black Tickets is like a prayer book to me. When she and her two friends ordered tea, the cups rattled on their saucers as I set them down. I’ll have to get Mary Hand to take over Oscar Kolton’s table.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt three)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

Muriel calls me over and makes me squeeze on the couch between her and her grad school friend George, who turned up unexpectedly that afternoon, which apparently he does from time to time. She’s told me about him. He’s unhappy and lives in North Carolina. We’re pressed together on the couch and have to lean away from each other to be in focus. He has a smooth plump face and gold-rimmed glasses. Big round eyes hrough the lenses.

Harry is on the other side of Muriel, and they have enhanced the intensity of their conversation to force George and me to talk to each other. I already know part of his story. He and his wife arrived in Ann Arbor together for grad school. He was in the fiction program with Muriel, and his wife was in nonfiction. During their second year there she started getting migraines and was sent to a specialist. At her third appointment, the doctor locked the door and they had sex. On the examining table with the crinkly paper. The doctor remained standing the whole time. I shouldn’t know these details, but I do. They’re all writers in the chain—his wife, George, and Muriel—so the particulars didn’t get lost. Now the wife is migraine-free and living with the doctor, and George is heartbroken and teaching freshman comp at UNC-Greensboro.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt two)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

It’s just one small room with an army cot to the right covered with a gray wool blanket and a sloped desk to the left, painted green. On the far wall is a brick hearth and a potbellied stove in front of it. All I can feel is the effort of reproduction. Nothing of Thoreau is here.

Luke takes my hand and tugs me to sit on the bed with him. There’s a dead spider on the blanket whose legs look woven into the wool. He would like that. It would probably end up in a poem. I take pleasure in not showing it to him.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt one)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

I didn’t mean to move back to Massachusetts. I just had no other plan. I don’t like being reminded of those days on Chauncy, wriing stories in my dormer window on the third floor, drinking Turkish coffee at Algiers, dancing at the Plough and Stars. Life was light and cheap, and if it wasn’t cheap I used a credit card. My loans got sold and sold again, and I paid the minimums and didn’t think about the ballooning balance. My mother had moved back to Phoenix by then, and she paid for my flighs to see her twice a year. The rest of the time we talked on the phone, talked for hours sometimes. We’d pee and paint our nails and make food and brush our teeth. I always knew where she was in her little house by the noises in the background, the scrape of a hanger or the chime of a glass being put in the dishwasher. I’d tell her about people at the bookstore, and she’d tell me about people at her office in the state house in Phoenix-she was working for the governor then. I’d get her to retell some of her stories from Santiago de Cuba, where she grew up with her American-born, expat parents. Her father was a doctor, and her mother sang show tunes at a nightclub. Every now and then she’d ask if I had done my laundry or changed my sheets and I’d tell her to stop being maternal, it wasn’t in her nature, and we’d laugh because it was true and I had forgiven her for that. I look back on those days and it feels gluttonous, all that time and love and life ahead, no bees in my body and my mother on the other end of the line.

Friday, January 15, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt fourteen)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Throughout history, pandemics have led to an expansion of the power of the state: at times when people fear death, they go along with measures that they believe, rightly or wrongly, will save them—even if that means a loss of freedom. In Britain, Italy, Germany, France, the United States, and many other places, there was a consensus that people needed to stay home, that quarantines needed to be enforced, that police needed to play an exceptional role. But in a few places, fear of disease became, alongside the other unsettling aspects of modernity, inspiration for a whole new generation of authoritarian nationalists. Nigel Farage, Laura Ingraham, Mária Schmidt, and Jacek Kurski, along with the trolls who work for Vox in Spain or the alt-right in America, had already prepared the intellectual ground for that kind of change—and so it came to pass. At the end of March, Viktor Orbán in Hungary enacted a law allowing himself to rule by decree and allowing his government to arrest journalists and jail them for five years for criticizing official efforts to fight the virus. There was no need for these measures, and they did not help the Hungarian hospitals that were also overburdened, as in Poland, by lack of investment and emigration. The point was to use the measure to shut down debate. Opposition politicians who objected were jeered by the state media as “pro-virus.”

Thursday, January 14, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt thirteen)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

The inaugural speech did not directly express a longing for a cleansing episode of violence. But the speech on “Western civilization” that Trump delivered in Warsaw a year later, in July 2017—the one Bardaji and his friends helped write—most certainly did. Trump, who seemed surprised by some of what he was reading from the teleprompter (“Think of that!” he marveled at a mention of the Polish origins of Copernicus), was clearly not the author. But the real authors, including Bannon and Stephen Miller, used some of the same language as hey had in the inaugural: “the people, not the powerful … have always formed the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of our defense,” they wrote, as if Trump himself were not a wealthy, powerful elite businessman who had dodged the draft and let others fight in his place. In a passage describing the Warsaw Uprising—a horrific and destructive battle in which, despite showing great courage, the Polish resistance was crushed by the Nazis—they had Trump declare that “those heroes remind us that the West was saved with the blood of patriots; that each generation must rise up and play their part in its defense.” The ominous overtone was hard to miss: “each generation” means that patriots in our generation will have to spill their blood in the coming battle to rescue America from its own decadence and corruption too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt twelve)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Buchanan’s pessimism derives partially from his sense of white decline but also, like some of those diametrically opposed to him on the left, from his dislike of American foreign policy. Over the years he has evolved away from ordinary isolationism and toward what seems to be a belief that America’s role in the world is pernicious, if not evil. In 2002, he told a television audience, using language that could have equally come from Noam Chomsky or a similar left-wing critic of America, that “9/11 was a direct consequence of the United States meddling in an area of the world where we do not belong and where we are not wanted.”

Stranger still, a man who resisted false Soviet narratives for many decades fell hard for a false Russian narrative, created by Putin’s political technologists, that Russia is a godly, Christian nation seeking to protect its ethnic identity. Never mind that only a tiny percentage of Russians actually go to church, or that fewer than 5 percent say they have ever read the Bible; never mind that Russia is very much a multiethnic, multilingual state, with a far larger Muslim population than most European countries; never mind that Chechnya, a Russian province, is actually governed by sharia law, or that its government forces women to wear veils and tortures gay men; never mind that many forms of evangelical Christianity are actually banned. The propaganda—the photographs of Putin paying homage to an icon of Our Lady of Kazan, for example, or the incorporation of religious services into his inaugurations—worked on Buchanan, who became convinced that Russia was an ethnic nationalist state of a sort superior to America, which he describes with disgust as a “multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial, multilingual ‘universal nation’ whose avatar is Barack Obama.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt eleven)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

A similar international network went into high gear after the 2019 fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. ISD tracked thousands of posts from people claiming to have seen Muslims “celebrating” the fire, as well as from people posting rumors and pictures that purported to prove there had been deliberate arson. A site called CasoAislado had one up almost immediately, claiming that “hundreds of Muslims” were celebrating in Paris and using an image that looked as through people with Arabic surnames were posting smiley-face emoticons under scenes of the fire on Facebook. A few hours later, Abascal tweeted his disgust at these “hundreds of Muslims,” using the same image. He linked to it via a post by the American alt-right conspiracy theorist Paul Watson—who, in turn, sourced the same image to a French far-right activist named Damien Rieu. “Islamists want to destroy Europe and Western civilization by celebrating the fire of #NotreDame,” wrote Abascal: “Let’s take note before it’s too late.”

These same kinds of memes and images then rippled through Vox’s WhatsApp and Telegram fan groups. Members of these groups shared an English-language meme showing Paris “before Macron” with Notre Dame, and “after Macron” with a mosque in its place. They also shared a news video, made about another incident, that seemed to be alluding to arrests and gas bombs found in a nearby car. It was a perfect example of the American alt-right, the European far right, and Vox all messaging the same thing, at the same time, in multiple languages, attempting to create the same emotions across Europe, North America, and beyond.

Monday, January 11, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt ten)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Some of the Spaniards I met were also suffering from déjà vu, though of a different kind: they thought they heard the echoes of the past in Vox’s rhetoric. Older Spaniards can still remember the ostentatious nationalism that characterized the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, the chants of “Arriba Espańa!” or “Go Spain!” at rallies, the solemn atmosphere of forced patriotism. During most of the four decades that followed the dictator’s death in 1975, it seemed as if nobody wanted any of that back. Instead, Spain in the late 1970s went through a transition parallel to the one that Poland and Hungary experienced in the 1990s, joining European institutions, rewriting the constitution, and establishing a national truce. In its way, the democratization of Spain was the postwar world’s true proof of concept. The democratization and integration of France, Germany, Italy, and the rest had proved so successful by the time of Franco’s death that Spaniards, who had set out on a quite different course after the way, finally clamored to join them.

After the transition was completed, Spain’s new democracy was almost ostentatiously consensual. Two main political parties emerged from the old one-party state, and together they agreed to agree. Many former Francoists and their children found their way to the new center-right Popular Party; many former Franco opponents and their children found their way to the new center-left Socialist Party. But both sides arranged tacitly, and sometimes openly, not to talk about the things that had once divided them. Franco was allowed to remain in his elaborate tomb, part of a memorial known as the Valley of the Fallen. His left-wing opponents were allowed to celebrate their own veterans. The civil war that had divided them went undiscussed. The past, seemingly in defiance of Faulkner’s famous remark, remained past.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt nine)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

What factors, in the modern world, might provoke people to react against complexity? Some are obvious. Major demographic change—the arrival of immigrants or outsiders—is a form of complexity that has traditionally inflamed that authoritarian impulse, and it still does. It was not a surprise that the migration of hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East to Europe during the Syrian war of 2016—some arriving at the invitation of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel—inspired a rise in support for political parties in Europe that use authoritarian language and symbols. In some countries, especially those with Mediterranean coastlines, these large numbers really did create a set of genuine problems: how to house and care for people arriving by boat, how to feed them, what to do with them next. Elsewhere in Europe, especially Germany, there were also real issues of housing, training, and assimilation of new immigrants. In some parts of the United States and the United Kingdom, there is evidence that new immigrants create unwelcome competition for some jobs. In many countries there have been serious outbreaks of crime or terrorism directly associated with the newcomers.

But the relationship between real immigrants and anti-immigrant political movements is not always so straightforward. For one, immigration, even from places with a different religion or culture, does not always cause a counterreaction. In the 1990s, Muslim refugees from the wars in former Yugoslavia arrived in Hungary without causing undue distress. Muslim refugees from Chechnya caused no major backlash in Poland either. In recent years, the United States absorbed refugees from Russia, Vietnam, Haiti, and Cuba, among other places, without much debate.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt eight)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Caldwell also praised the mystical “organic community” that he believes Orbán has created instead. Though only a foreigner would call Orbán’s closed, corrupt, one-party state—a world in which the prime minister’s friends, family, and cousins get rich, people are promoted and demoted depending on their party loyalty, and everyone else is left out—an “organic community.” And only an ideologue could believe that Hungary’s European neighbors are annoyed by Orbán’s “Christianity.” In reality, they are annoyed by the cultivated xenophobia of the anti-Soros and anti-European campaigns, they are annoyed by the legal manipulations that have given the Hungarian prime minister nearly complete control of the press and the electoral process, and they are annoyed by his corruption and use of EU money to fund cronies. In the spring of 2020, they were outraged when Orbán used the coronavirus as an excuse to give his government near-dictatorial power, including the power to arrest journalists who criticized the government’s response to the pandemic. The hypocrisy is infuriating, too: In fact, plenty of non-Europeans and non-Christians—Syrians, Malaysians, Vietnamese—do emigrate to Hungary. They just have to pay.

Friday, January 8, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt seven)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Round about the same time, I went out to dinner with Johnson and a couple of other people, and we would up talking about a possible referendum on British membership in the EU, which was then in the air. “Nobody serious wants to leave the EU,” he said. “Business doesn’t want it. The City [London’s financial district] doesn’t want it. It won’t happen.” This was how he spoke when he was the liberal mayor of a great, modern, multicultural British city, one that flourished thanks to its deep connections to the outside world.

Nevertheless, he chose Brexit in the referendum campaign. And he supported Brexit with the same sunny insouciance, and the same disregard for consequences, that he had long demonstrated in his journalism and his personal life. He went on telling jokes and stories. He calculated that Brexit would lose. He texted David Cameron, the prime minister: “Brexit will be crushed like a toad under the harrow.” But supporting it would, he thought, make him a hero among he Euroseptic Tories whom his writing had done so much to cultivate. And in a sense, his calculation came out right, though perhaps not in the way he expected.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt six)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Johnson—born in the United States like me, and very attuned to American ideas—also flourished in that somewhat sleepy, eccentric world. Indeed, he was one of its real stars, capable of finding something amusing to say about a dull European summit one day and of entertaining an audience on a TV quiz program the next. But at some point, both of us began to look for other things o do. I moved back to Poland in 1997 and started writing history books; he ran for Parliament. Later, he became mayor of London, but he got bored there too. In 2013 he told an interviewer that the mayor’s office felt far away from the House of Commons, the place where real things happened: “I’m so isolated, I’m like Colonel Kurtz. I’ve gone upriver,” he said, before hastily assuring the interviewer that that was the only thing he had in common with the psychopathic hero of Apocalypse Now. In the same interview he repeated a rugby metaphor that he had used before. As always, Johnson said that he wasn’t actively trying to take over his party’s leadership—but “if the ball came loose in the scrum” he wouldn’t mind picking it up.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt five)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Americans are of course familiar with the ways a lie can increase polarization and inflame xenophobia. Long before he ran for president, Donald Trump entered American politics promoting birtherism, the false premise that President Barack Obama was not born in America—a conspiracy theory whose power was seriously underestimated at the time. But in at least two European countries, Poland and Hungary, we now have examples of what happens when a Medium-Size Lie—a conspiracy theory—is propogated first by a political party as the central plank of its election campaign, and then by a ruling party, with the full force of a modern, centralized state apparatus behind it.

In Hungary, the lie is unoriginal: It is the belief, now promoted by the Russian government and many others, in the superhuman powers of George Soros, the Hungarian Jewish billionaire who is supposedly plotting to destroy Hungary through the deliberate importation of migrants. This theory, like many successful conspiracy theories, is built on a grain of truth: Soros did once suggest that wealthy Europe might make a humanitarian gesture and admit more Syrians, in order to help the poorer nations of the Middle East cope with the refugee crisis. But the propaganda in Hungary—and on myriad European and American far-right, white supremacist, and “identitarian” websites—goes far beyond that. It suggests that Soros is the chief instigator of a deliberate Jewish plot to replace white, Christian Europeans—and Hungarians in particular—with brown-skinned Muslims. These movements do not perceive migrants just as an economic burden or even a terrorist threat, but rather as an existential challenge to the nation itself. At various times, the Hungarian government has put Soros’s face on posters, on the floors of subway trains, and on leaflets, hoping that it will scare Hungarians into supporting the government.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt four)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

The best-known journalists were fired and replaced by people who had previously worked for the far-right press, on the fringes of public life. Very quickly, news broadcasts ceased to make any pretense of objectivity or neutrality. Instead, they produced twisted news reports and carried out extensive vendettas against people and organizations whom the ruling party didn’t like. As it turned out, these vendettas were not just ugly, they were lethal. For months on end they ran a vicious, repetitive campaign against the popular mayor of Gdańsk, Pawel Adamowicz, accusing him of everything from corruption to treason. And someone was listening: On January 13, 2019, a recently released criminal, who had been watching state television in prison, leapt onto a stage at the climactic moment of a charity concert and plunged a knife into Adamowicz’s chest. The mayor died the next day.

Neither Kurski nor Kaczyński ever acknowledged the role that the channel had played in radicalizing the murderer. On the contrary: Instead of apologizing, Telewizja Polska turned its venom on others. Among them was the new mayor of Gdańsk, Alexandra Dulkiewicz, who now needs a bodyguard. The mayor of Poznań, along with several other mayors, has had death threats as well. The taboo against political violence has been broken in Poland, and no one is cerain who might be the next victim.

Monday, January 4, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt three)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy, democracy—all of these ways of organizing societies were familiar to Plato and Aristotle more than two thousand years ago. But the illiberal one-party state, now found all over the world—think of China, Venezuela, Zimbabwe—was first developed by Lenin, in Russia, starting in 1917. In the political science textbooks of the future, the Soviet Union’s founder will surely be remembered not just for his Marxist beliefs, but as the inventor of this enduring form of political organization. It is the model that many of the world’s autocrats use today.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt two)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

But theorists often leave out another crucial element in the decline of democracy and the construction of autocracy. The mere existence of people who admire demagogues or feel more comfortable in dictatorships does not fully explain why demagogues win. The dictator wants to rule, but how does he reach that part of the public that feels the same? The illiberal politician wants to undermine courts in order to give himself more power, but how does he persuade voters to accept those changes? In ancient Rome, Caesar had sculptors make multiple versions of his image. No contemporary authoritarian can succeed without the modern equivalent: the writers, intellectuals, pamphleteers, bloggers, spin doctors, producers of television programs, and creators of memes who can sell his image to the public. Authoritarians need the people who will promote the riot or launch the coup. But they also need the people who can use sophisticated legal language, people who can argue that breaking the constitution or twisting the law is the right thing to do. They need people who will give voice to grievances, manipulate discontent, channel anger and fear, and imagine a different future. They need members or the intellectual and educated elite, in other words, who will help them launch a war on the rest of the intellectual and educated elite, even if that includes their university classmates, their colleagues, and their friends.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt one)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

But after Law and Justice won a slim majority in 2015, its radicalism became immediately clear. The new government violated the constitution by improperly appointing new judges to the constitutional court. Later, it used an equally unconstitutional playbook in an attempt to pack the Polish Supreme Court and wrote a law designed to punish judges whose verdicts contradicted government policy. Law and Justice took over the state public broadcaster—also in violation of the constitution—firing popular presenters and experienced reporters. Their replacements, recruited from the far-right extremes of the online media, began running straightforward ruling-party propaganda, sprinkled with easily disprovable lies, at taxpayers’ expense.

State institutions were another target. Once in power, Law and Justice sacked thousands of civil servanta, replacing them with party hacks, or else cousins and other relatives of part hacks. They fired army generals who had years of expensive training in Western academies. They fired diplomats with experience and linguistic skills. One by one, they wrecked cultural institutions too. The National Museum lost its excellent acting director, an internationally respected curator. He was replaced with an unknown academic, with no prior museum experience, whose first major decision was to dismantle the museum’s exhibition of modern and contemporary art. A year later he would resign, leaving the museum in chaos. The director of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews—an institution unique in Europe, opened with great fanfare only a few years earlier—was suspended from his job with no explanation, horrifying the museum’s international supporters and funders. Those stories were echoed by thousands of others that didn’t make headlines. A friend of ours lost her job in another state institution, for example, after she had completed too many projects too quickly. Her new and unqualified director seemed to perceive her as a threat.

There was very little pretense about any of this. The point of all these changes was not to make government run better. The point was to make the government more partisan, the courts more pliable, more beholden to the party. Or maybe we should call it, as we once did, the Party.