Margaret Renkl | What Has Happened to My Country? – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — There I was, snug in my own bed in the middle of the night, turning to sleep on my side, when wham! the room slid sideways. Then it took off, spinning and spinning as though a sadistic carnival barker had flipped a switch and pushed the speed to max.

Reader, I will spare you the details except to say that I have lately learned how delicate an instrument is the human ear, how many ways there are to disrupt its functions. As when, say, a lump of wax detaches itself from the ear canal through an exactly wrong combination of angles and gravity, lodges itself in the eardrum, and transforms the human vestibular system into a Tilt-a-Whirl. For days I lay in bed, trying not to move my head and reciting to myself lines from “The Second Coming,” a poem by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

At the otolaryngologist’s office, the source of my torture finally emerged after half an hour of patient manipulations by a doctor wielding tiny power tools. In the newly stationary room, I looked at it, amazed. How fragile the human body is that it can be thrown into chaos by something so small!

The same can be said for the body politic. Right-wing politicians and media outlets have turned American democracy upside down through nothing more than a lie. They put forth Supreme Court candidates who assure Congress that they respect legal precedent but who vote to overturn Roe v. Wade the instant they have a majority on the court. They endorse political candidates who openly state that they will accept only poll results leading to their own election.”

Bret Stephens | This Is the Other Way That History Ends – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“The End of History was supposed to have happened back in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell and Francis Fukuyama announced the conclusive triumph of liberal democracy. We know how that thesis worked out. But what happens when the other kind of History — academic, not Hegelian — starts to collapse?

That’s a question that James H. Sweet, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the president of the American Historical Association, tried to raise earlier this month in a column titled “Is History History?” for the organization’s newsmagazine. It didn’t go well.

Sweet’s core concern in the piece, which was subtitled “Identity Politics and Teleologies of the Present,” was about the “trend toward presentism” — the habit of weighing the past against the social concerns and moral categories of the present.”

David Lindsay: One of Bret’s best pieces, and the comments are glowing with praise, on a complex and difficult subject.

Opinion | They Are the Heirs of Nazi Fortunes, and They Aren’t Apologizing – The New York Times

Mr. de Jong is a former reporter for Bloomberg News and the author of “Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties,” from which this essay is adapted.

“The backbone of Germany’s economy today is the car industry. It’s not just that it accounts for about 10 percent of G.D.P.; brands like Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen are recognized around the world as symbols of German industrial ingenuity and excellence. These companies spend millions on branding and advertising to ensure they are thought of this way. They spend less money and energy on discussing their roots. These corporations can trace their success directly back to Nazis: Ferdinand Porsche persuaded Hitler to put Volkswagen into production. His son, Ferry Porsche, who built up the company, was a voluntary SS officer. Herbert Quandt, who built BMW into what it is today, committed war crimes. So did Friedrich Flick, who came to control Daimler-Benz. Unlike Mr. Quandt, Mr. Flick was convicted at Nuremberg.”

Good article, and I felt great sympathy for these poor almond growers, until I read these top comments at the NYT:

M. Green
Fort Bragg, CA 2h ago

Have you noticed that almonds are everywhere in milk, mixed nuts, cereals? With water shortages throughout California, almond farmers are monopolizing Central Valley water only to ship huge surpluses overseas, Drive through orchard lands and read signs that cry over not getting enough of our water. It’s hard to sympathize.

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Yo commented 2 hours ago

Halfway2h ago

These rich cowboys are growing water intensive crop in a drought stricken desert and now crying foul when market economics takes a course they don’t benefit from. Almonds are luxury food crop, stop growing.

1 Reply107 Recommended

Opinion | Book Bans, From a Student’s Perspective – The New York Times

“BURBANK, Calif. — In late 2020, when the Burbank Unified School District removed five classic novels from mandatory reading lists in my city’s classrooms, I started a petition to protest the decision. The petition, which is still open, has more than 5,000 signatures.

I was a sophomore at Burbank High School at the time, and had read four of the five books in school — “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain; “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor; “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee; and “The Cay” by Theodore Taylor. The fifth, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, I read on my own a few years earlier.”

By Jane Burbank | Russia’s War, Driven by the Grand Theory of ‘Eurasianism’ – The New York Times

Dr. Burbank is a professor of Russian history, recently retired from New York University.

“President Vladimir Putin’s bloody assault on Ukraine, nearly a month in, still seems inexplicable. Rockets raining down on apartment buildings and fleeing families are now Russia’s face to the world. What could induce Russia to take such a fateful step, effectively electing to become a pariah state?

Efforts to understand the invasion tend to fall into two broad schools of thought. The first focuses on Mr. Putin himself — his state of mind, his understanding of history or his K.G.B. past. The second invokes developments external to Russia, chiefly NATO’s eastward expansion after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, as the underlying source of the conflict.

But to understand the war in Ukraine, we must go beyond the political projects of Western leaders and Mr. Putin’s psyche. The ardor and content of Mr. Putin’s declarations are not new or unique to him. Since the 1990s, plans to reunite Ukraine and other post-Soviet states into a transcontinental superpower have been brewing in Russia. A revitalized theory of Eurasian empire informs Mr. Putin’s every move.

The end of the Soviet Union disoriented Russia’s elites, stripping away their special status in a huge Communist empire. What was to be done? For some, the answer was just to make money, the capitalist way. In the wild years after 1991, many were able to amass enormous fortunes in cahoots with an indulgent regime. But for others who had set their goals in Soviet conditions, wealth and a vibrant consumer economy were not enough. Post-imperial egos felt the loss of Russia’s status and significance keenly.”

Yaroslav Hrytsak | Putin Got Ukraine Completely Wrong – The New York Times

“LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine is once again at the center of a potentially global conflict. World War I, as the historian Dominic Lieven put it, “turned on the fate of Ukraine.” World War II, according to the legendary journalist Edgar Snow, was “first of all a Ukrainian war.” Now the threat of a third world war hinges on what could happen in Ukraine.

It’s a striking repetition. Why has Ukraine, a midsize country of more than 40 million people on the eastern edge of Europe, been at the epicenter of warfare not once, not twice, but three times?

Part of the answer, at least, is geographical. Set between Russia and Germany, Ukraine has long been viewed as the site of struggle for the domination of the continent. But the deeper reasons are historical in nature. Ukraine, which has a common origin point with Russia, has developed differently over the course of centuries, diverging in crucial ways from its neighbor to the east.

President Vladimir Putin likes to invoke history as part of the reason for his bloody invasion. Ukraine and Russia, he asserts, are in fact one country: Ukraine, in effect, doesn’t exist. This, of course, is entirely wrong. But he is right to think history holds a key to understanding the present. He just doesn’t realize that far from enabling his success, it’s what will thwart him.

In 1904 an English geographer named Halford John Mackinder made a bold prediction. In an article titled “The Geographical Pivot of History,” he suggested that whoever controlled Eastern Europe would control the world. On either side of this vast region were Russia and Germany, poised to do battle. And in between was Ukraine, with its rich resources of grain, coal and oil.

There’s no need to go into the finer details of Mackinder’s theory; it had its flaws. Yet it proved extremely influential after World War I and became something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thanks to the Nazi geopolitician Karl Haushofer, the concept migrated into Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” Lenin and Stalin had not read Mackinder but acted as if they had. For them, Ukraine was the bridge that would carry the Russian Revolution westward into Germany, making it a world revolution. The path to conflict again ran through Ukraine.”

David Lindsay:  Yes sir. And here is a good comment:

Downtown Verona, NJMarch 19

In 2017, the author J K Rowling trenchantly tweeted a full description of the former guy after the former shoved aside other foreign leaders so he could have a ‘good spot’ in the group photo at a NATO summit in Brussels: “You tiny, tiny, tiny little man.” Never a finer description has been offered for America’s greatest Presidential abomination. And who were this tiny man’s biggest heroes ? Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and China’s Xi Jinping, of which the former said “we love each other.” Authoritarians love authoritarians and authoritarianism. The rest of us need to rise up and defend ourselves from these individuals who are allergic to freedom, democracy, modernity and evolution. Twelve cheers for Ukraine, Ukrainians, Zelensky and the cause of freedom. We need to support them in every way.

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How Long Should It Take to Grieve? Psychiatry Has Come Up With an Answer. – The New York Times

“After more than a decade of argument, psychiatry’s most powerful body in the United States added a new disorder this week to its diagnostic manual: prolonged grief.

The decision marks an end to a long debate within the field of mental health, steering researchers and clinicians to view intense grief as a target for medical treatment, at a moment when many Americans are overwhelmed by loss.

The new diagnosis, prolonged grief disorder, was designed to apply to a narrow slice of the population who are incapacitated, pining and ruminating a year after a loss, and unable to return to previous activities.

Its inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders means that clinicians can now bill insurance companies for treating people for the condition.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Fortunately, not everything is about money. I applaud this report by Ellen Barry and the doctors behind this research. I have a friend who lost someone close, and after three years, they are still reclusive. In ancient China, three years was the official, minimum grieving period for a family member. Maybe they knew something. Probably some people will benefit greatly from professional help. I lost my eldest son to heroin laced with fentanyl, just before his 21st birthday, and while the grieving never stops, the pain lessened significantly after about ten years. However, I never stopped functioning, since my self remedy was to throw myself into my writing. I now blog here and at, and after Austin’s death, I finished my first novel, “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction on Eighteenth Century Vietnam,” which I had first drafted in the 1980’s. One great memory I have just before Austin passed, he and I drove to Berea Kentucky, and read my unpublished manuscript out loud to each other in the car. He liked the book, and made excellent comments.

Margaret Renkl | It’s Possible to Learn the Right Thing From the Wrong Person – The New York Times

“In 1980, my senior year of high school, I sat in an auditorium watching “A Man for All Seasons.” The film, based on Robert Bolt’s play of the same title, won the 1967 Academy Award for best picture, as well as five other Oscars. It was also one of the formative artistic experiences of my life.

“When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his hands, like water,” Sir Thomas More tells his daughter in the film. “And if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.” In a dark room in Alabama, 4,000 miles and half a millennium distant from Tudor England, those words burned into me. In a few months, I would be leaving home for the first time. Already I wondered who I would be after I did.

In my dorm room that fall, I kept a postcard replica of a portrait of More by Hans Holbein the Younger. I love that painting still. Of all the glorious art that New York City spreads out like an endless banquet of beauty and provocation, it’s always the one I visit first. Holbein’s portrait tugs at something in me so deeply attached it feels integral. A singular, irreplaceable organ. A self.

Nearly 500 years after he painted his haunting portrait of More, Holbein is having a moment. A retrospective at the Morgan Library & Museum has inspired rapturous reviews. “A flabbergasting talent,” wrote Peter Schjeldahl in The New Yorker. “A mastery of optics and color theory and classical history,” Jason Farago noted in a review for The Times. “Daring on an intimate scale,” Jenny Uglow wrote in The New York Review of Books.”

M.T. Anderson | In Medieval Europe, a Pandemic Changed Work Forever. Can It Happen Again? – The New York Times

Mr. Anderson is the author of “Feed” and “Landscape With Invisible Hand.”

“In the wake of a devastating pandemic, millions of people are dead and many more have had their lives upended. Many of those who survive, worn down by a sense of futility in their work and by the impassable gap between the wealthy and everyone else, refuse to return to their old jobs or quit en masse. Tired of being overworked and underpaid, they feel they deserve a better life.

This could be a story about today, but it is also the pattern that emerged across Europe in the aftermath of one of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history, the Black Death.

The struggles over wages and the value of labor that defined the post-plague years were in some ways as dramatic as the pandemic itself. Eventually, Europe erupted into violence. Given where we are right now, it’s worth paying attention to the chain of events that led, link by link, from pandemic to panic to bloody uprising.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Wonderful essay, thank you M.T. Anderson; One of the best things I did, right before the pandemic, was read all of the book, “A Distant Mirror,” by Barbara Tuckman, about the century that included the black death, and how it changed just about everything, but the seven deadly sins. I was surprised by countless stories, but especially how the disintegration of European society often included scapegoating the Jews, and wiping out many enclaves of Jews to assuage anger and frustration, and distract desperate peasants and townspeople.

Jamelle Bouie | Why We Are Not Facing the Prospect of a Second Civil War – The New York Times

“. . . .  Plantation agriculture rapidly exhausted the soil. The sectional balance of Congress aside, planters needed new land to grow the cotton that secured their influence on the national (and international) stage. As Karp explains, “Slaveholders in the 1850s seldom passed up an opportunity to sketch the inexorable syllogism of King Cotton: the American South produced nearly all the world’s usable raw cotton; this cotton fueled the industrial development of the North Atlantic; therefore, the advanced economies of France, the northern United States, and Great Britain were ruled, in effect, by southern planters.” The backlash to slavery — the effort to restrain its growth and contain its spread — was an existential threat to the Southern elite.

It was the realization of that threat with the election of Abraham Lincoln — whose Republican Party was founded to stop the spread of slavery and who inherited a federal state with the power to do so — that pushed the Southern elite to gamble its future on secession. They would leave the union and attempt to forge a slave empire on their own.”

David Lindsay: This is a great essay, and it had me struggling with the hope it is right. The following comment helped articulate some of my reservations.


The majority of southerners did not benefit from slavery and even the plantation owners could have paid salaries and possibly made higher profits, as F.L. Olmstead believed he had proven after taking a year off from his practice to study the issue. He was shocked that friends who owned plantations were not interested in his findings- he decided the reason was that it was absolute power and not profit that motivated devotion to slavery. However, civil wars, like traffic accidents, are caused by different things in different countries in different eras, and they are often the result of ethnic hatred, often hatred exploited by politicians seeking power. Ignorance and resentment are key and the GOP donor elite has spent the last 50 years recruiting voters who embrace ignorance and resentment. These mostly boil down to very superstitious religious constructs and resentment, even hatred, of the professional class and “non-whites”. These people, seemingly allergic to exercising deductive reasoning, have never in our history been so concentrated in a single party, and like drunk passengers on a boat, if they all congregate on one side, the boat may capsize. This has led to a largely dysfunctional government, but however well armed many members of the GOP base may be, our military would have to split up against itself to create a civil war. More violent civil unrest is the more likely outcome to our current situation.

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