• print • Dec/Jan 2013

    Seeing Red

    Why is there no socialism in the United States? Why, when the industrialization of every other Western nation was accompanied by the evolution of institutions to insure the population ever more generously against economic risk, did the mightiest industrial nation of all go the other way? (Pace the paranoid fantasies of the Tea Party Right.)

    The most famous answer came from the German sociologist Werner Sombart, who blamed material abundance, arguing in 1906 that “on rafts of beef and apple pie, socialist utopias of every description go down to destruction.” But what about the Great Depression,

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  • print • Dec/Jan 2013

    Narrative Shortcomings

    Prosecutors, a judge, and a jury put Jeffrey MacDonald behind bars more than three decades ago for the murder of his pregnant wife and two young daughters. But according to Errol Morris, he’s been kept there by the power of narrative. “You can escape from prison, but how do you escape from a convincing story?” asks Morris in his new book, A Wilderness of Error.

    The narrative was the handiwork of journalist Joe McGinniss, whose 1983 best seller Fatal Vision portrayed MacDonald, an army physician, as a narcissistic sociopath who killed his family in a diet-pill-fueled rage, then injured himself

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Revolution Nine

    At first glance, The Oath seems to be a curious title for Jeffrey Toobin’s battlefield account of the current state of constitutional combat in the United States. Toobin opens his book with Greg Craig, President Obama’s first White House counsel, spending his first full day in office fretting whether it really mattered that US Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts had slightly misstated the presidential oath of office at the inauguration the day before. To those who knew the oath—as Roberts manifestly did—something did sound wrong when he stumbled over the proper placement of the word “

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Look Out Below

    I opened Twilight of the Elites with some skepticism—not so much out of any quarrel I had with its argument as from worries that stemmed from the conditions of its production. It’s certainly true, as Nation correspondent Chris Hayes argues here, that growing numbers of Americans who’ve worked hard and played by the rules, as Bill Clinton put it, are deciding that the rules have been rigged—by Clinton as well as others—and that something’s wrong with the game itself. But we’re rarely driven to develop such thoughts further, in large part because our income, support networks, cultural tastes,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Organ Solo

    In 2007, Naomi Wolf warned us that the specter of fascism was haunting America. The radical Right was set to become a homegrown American version of the brownshirts. The free press was withering under a steady stream of disinformation and newspeak. A craven cabal of political elites was bullying the voting public into submission with cries for endless war. There were only a handful of patriots, in Wolf’s estimation, actively stemming the authoritarian tide. To increase their numbers and bolster the democratic cause, she published Give Me Liberty in 2008. The subtitle was A Handbook for American

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Down and Out in Motown

    You would have to look back to the fall of Rome for a spectacle of urban collapse to rival Detroit over the last sixty years. The city’s population, which brushed the two million mark in 1950, is now barely seven hundred thousand and falling. Depopulation and economic decline have created a desolate landscape of burned-out businesses and busted houses sagging in on themselves around open roofs and vacant windows. Whole districts have reverted to grassland, with a few fortified homesteads and useless fire hydrants to mark where bustling neighborhoods once stood. Looming over the urban prairie

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Where the Sidewalk Ends

    Taken out of context, Mohandas Gandhi’s famous remark of 1921, that “India lives in her villages,” lends itself to multiple interpretations. Gandhi might have meant, as indeed he believed, that the country’s bedrock spirit and the traditions to serve it best resided in its rural heartland. He might have referred to pure demographics; at the time, nearly 90 percent of India’s populace of 251 million was rural. He might also have wished to note, by way of political strategy, that an independent India would emerge only if the nationalist movement escaped from the cities and ventured into the

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    The Address Book

    IN 1983, ARTIST SOPHIE CALLE found an address book on a Paris street. Before returning it, she photocopied its contents, called the people listed, and asked to interview them about the book’s owner, whom she calls Pierre D. “I will try to discover who he is without ever meeting him,” she writes. Calle’s pursuit struck some—including Pierre—as a privacy invasion worthy of public retribution. He threatened to sue Libération, the French newspaper that ran the serialized interviews, and he backed off only when they published nude photos of Calle. She agreed not to publish The Address Book while

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Peeping Ron

    In January of 1965, FBI agents closing in on mobster Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno discovered that the hellion son of an FBI informant code-named T-10 was raising hell alongside Bonanno’s own teenage son. Agents looked to exploit the two boys’ relationship to help break the case—until, that is, J. Edgar Hoover ordered his underlings to instead warn informant T-10 that his son’s mob associations might harm the confidential source’s fledgling political career. The Justice Department never did manage to pin a decent indictment on Joe Bananas. But T-10—and his fledgling political career—did just

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    School of Rock

    The title promises the definitive lowdown. Between these covers, it implies, you will find everything you’ll ever need to know about the dynamics of collaboration, the craft of stage performance and studio recording, the nitty-gritty of the music industry. But you’ll also learn about how music affects us emotionally and what, ultimately, it is for.

    A tall order, you might think, but if anybody is qualified to take a stab, it’s David Byrne. He’s an insider with over forty years’ experience as a practitioner under his guitar strap; he’s also an art-school-educated intellectual capable of taking

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Hot Chocolate City

    Singer and guitarist Chuck Brown invented go-go music in mid-’70s Washington, DC; it was an infectious blend of funk, Latin rhythms, and audience call-and-response that became the sound of African-American DC for decades. By the time of Brown’s death in May at age seventy-five, he had become the undisputed godfather of the genre, and a civic icon, even though go-go never found much of an audience outside the capital city. At Brown’s funeral, DC Council chairman Kwame Brown (no relation) began his eulogy in a defiant tone. “I am go-go,” he declared. “To the media, you better get that right. For

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2012

    Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music

    IF YOU DRIVE ACROSS the US or even anywhere outside the I-95 corridor, you discover that country music dominates the airwaves. New Mexico, Maine, or Montana—regardless of region, the radio twangs in tones redolent of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Country music is without a doubt this country’s music. Its cultural associations—the clothes, attitudes, and politics—also hold sway: Country style’s quixotic combination of the outlandish (rhinestones, tattoos, hard drinkin’, and bolo ties) with that old-time religion generates a paradoxical—but no less enjoyable—frisson. Sin and salvation have been

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