David Remnick, writing on the occasion of Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency of the United States.
The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President — a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit — and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet David Remnick — he calls Obama “a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit” because it takes one to know one — and it is remarkable to hear him write like this. At times, he sounds downright unhinged. But he’s not wrong. This is our reality now and looking for upsides right now seems like grasping at straws. Donald Trump has told us, repeatedly and proudly, who he is over the past 16 months, and it seems foolish not to take him at his word.
On a personal note, I am so emotionally overloaded right now I feel empty. It’s difficult to see how to move on from this, where to go from here, even as it relates to my work. Right now, I can’t access the part of me that knows kottke.org, if only in a small way, is a thing that needs doing. At its best, I hope that the site is a source of thoughtful optimism and that it celebrates the best of humanity, the spirit of curiosity, and the necessity of art, writing, photography, science, music, and other pursuits that allow people tell their stories and explore what it means to be human. I hope we’ll be able to explore those things together again soon, but not today.
Today, hug your loved ones. Connect with your friends. Be there for someone else. Yes, look for the helpers, but also take a moment to help someone out. Start small. Build. We’ll get there.
Seymour Hersh, writing for the London Review of Books, says that the American account of how Osama bin Laden was located, captured, and killed is not entirely true. In particular, he alleges that bin Laden was being held in Pakistan since 2006 and that members of the Pakistani military knew of and supported the raid.
It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.
And the plan all along was to kill bin Laden…the Pakistanis insisted on it.
It was clear to all by this point, the retired official said, that bin Laden would not survive: ‘Pasha told us at a meeting in April that he could not risk leaving bin Laden in the compound now that we know he’s there. Too many people in the Pakistani chain of command know about the mission. He and Kayani had to tell the whole story to the directors of the air defence command and to a few local commanders.
‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive - to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, “Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.”’ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.
Hersh is a regular contributor to the New Yorker — he broke the Abu Ghraib story in the pages of the magazine — so I wonder why this story didn’t appear there? Perhaps because it goes against the grain of their own reporting on the subject?
Update: Max Fisher writes in Vox that Hersh’s story has many problems — inconsistencies and thin sourcing to start — and is indicative of Hersh’s “slide off the rails” from investigative journalism to conspiracy theories.
On Sunday, the legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh finally released a story that he has been rumored to have been working on for years: the truth about the killing of Osama bin Laden. According to Hersh’s 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books, the official history of bin Laden’s death — in which the US tracked him to a compound in Abottabad, Pakistan; killed him a secret raid that infuriated Pakistan; and then buried him at sea —- is a lie.
Hersh’s story is amazing to read, alleging a vast American-Pakistani conspiracy to stage the raid and even to fake high-level diplomatic incidents as a sort of cover. But his allegations are largely supported only by two sources, neither of whom has direct knowledge of what happened, both of whom are retired, and one of whom is anonymous. The story is riven with internal contradictions and inconsistencies.
The story simply does not hold up to scrutiny — and, sadly, is in line with Hersh’s recent turn away from the investigative reporting that made him famous into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
The single source for most of the juiciest details in the piece was the most glaring issue. My Spidey Sense started tingling as I read the latter third…it sounded like Hersh was quoting some dude in a bar who “had a friend who told me this story”. I wonder how much of this was fact-checked and corroborated?
And on Hersh’s affiliation with the New Yorker, they repeatedly rejected the story:
(Indeed, when I first heard about Hersh’s bin Laden story a few years from a New Yorker editor — the magazine, the editor said, had rejected it repeatedly, to the point of creating bad blood between Hersh and editor-in-chief David Remnick — this was the version Hersh was said to favor.)
If you look at Hersh’s page at the NYer, his contributions have dropped off. His only piece in the past two years was a revisiting of his earlier reporting on My Lai. (via @tskjockey)
Update: From Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine, Why Seymour Hersh’s ‘Alternative’ bin Laden History Did Not Appear in The New Yorker.
When I spoke to Hersh earlier today, it was clear that there is tension. Hersh told me that he published the piece in the LRB because Remnick was not interested in having him write a magazine piece on the bin Laden raid. Hersh explained that, days after the May 2, 2011 SEAL operation, he told Remnick that his intelligence sources were saying Obama’s account was fiction. “I knew right away that there were problems with the story,” Hersh told me. “I just happen to have sources. I’m sorry, but I do.” Hersh told Remnick he wanted to write a piece for the magazine.
“David said, ‘Do a blog,’” Hersh recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t want to do a blog.’ It’s about money. I get paid a lot more writing a piece for The New Yorker [magazine] … I’m old and cranky.” (Remnick declined to comment).
Through reporting of its own, NBC News has confirmed parts of Hersh’s story.
The NBC News sources who confirm that a Pakistani intelligence official became a “walk in” asset include the special operations officer and a CIA officer who had served in Pakistan. These two sources and a third source, a very senior former U.S. intelligence official, also say that elements of the ISI were aware of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The former official was emphatic about the ISI’s awareness, saying twice, “They knew.”
R.J. Hillhouse claims she should get credit for breaking this story because of two pieces she wrote in 2011, using information from “clearly different” sources.
Some light weekend reading: the New Yorker’s David Remnick checks in on how the Obama Presidency is going, five years in.
When Obama leaves the White House, on January 20, 2017, he will write a memoir. “Now, that’s a slam dunk,” the former Obama adviser David Axelrod told me. Andrew Wylie, a leading literary agent, said he thought that publishers would pay between seventeen and twenty million dollars for the book-the most ever for a work of nonfiction-and around twelve million for Michelle Obama’s memoirs. (The First Lady has already started work on hers.) Obama’s best friend, Marty Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman, told me that, important as the memoir might be to Obama’s legacy and to his finances, “I don’t see him locked up in a room writing all the time. His capacity to crank stuff out is amazing. When he was writing his second book, he would say, ‘I’m gonna get up at seven and write this chapter-and at nine we’ll play golf.’ I would think no, it’s going to be a lot later, but he would knock on my door at nine and say, ‘Let’s go.’” Nesbitt thinks that Obama will work on issues such as human rights, education, and “health and wellness.” “He was a local community organizer when he was young,” he said. “At the back end of his career, I see him as an international and national community organizer.”
Remnick also wrote about Obama’s first campaign back in 2008.
Barack Obama could not run his campaign for the Presidency based on political accomplishment or on the heroic service of his youth. His record was too slight. His Democratic and Republican opponents were right: he ran largely on language, on the expression of a country’s potential and the self-expression of a complicated man who could reflect and lead that country. And a powerful thematic undercurrent of his oratory and prose was race. Not race as invoked by his predecessors in electoral politics or in the civil-rights movement, not race as an insistence on tribe or on redress; rather, Obama made his biracial ancestry a metaphor for his ambition to create a broad coalition of support, to rally Americans behind a narrative of moral and political progress. He was not its hero, but he just might be its culmination.
Writing for the New Yorker, David Remnick covers the Bolshoi acid attack and the larger ills that afflict the historic ballet company.
At around eleven, Filin, feeling tired and eager to see his wife, steered the Mercedes into a parking lot outside his building and headed for his door. The snow was icy and thick. Filin was reaching for the security buzzer when he heard someone behind him call out his name. Then the voice said, “Tebye privet!” — literally, “Hello to you!,” but more abrupt and menacing, as though someone were relaying an ominous greeting from a third party.
Filin turned and saw a man in front of him. He was neither tall nor short. He wore a woolly hat and a scarf wrapped around his face. His right arm was crooked behind him, as if he were concealing something.
A gun, Filin thought, in that flash of confrontation: He’s holding a gun and I am dead. Bolt! But, before he could move, his attacker swung his arm out in front of him. In his hand was a glass jar filled with liquid, and he hurled its contents at Filin’s face. A security camera in the parking lot fixed the time at 23:07.
The liquid was sulfuric acid — the “oil of vitriol,” as medieval alchemists called it. Depending on the concentration, it can lay waste to human skin as quickly as in a horror movie. Scientists working with sulfuric acid wear protective goggles; even a small amount in the eyes can destroy the cornea and cause permanent blindness.
Filin was in agony. The burning was immediate and severe. His vision turned to black. He could feel the scalding of his face and scalp, the pain intensifying all the time.
Always good to read Remnick on Russia…he was The Washington Post’s Moscow correspondent for a few years in the late 1980s.
The New Yorker’s editor in chief David Remnick strongly urges President Obama to take decisive action on gun control.
Barack Obama has been in our field of vision for a long time now, and, more than any major politician of recent memory, he hides in plain sight. He is who he is. He may strike the unsympathetic as curiously remote or arrogant or removed; he certainly strikes his admirers as a man of real intelligence and dignity. But he is who he is. He is no phony. And so there is absolutely no reason to believe that his deep, raw emotion today following the horrific slaughter in Connecticut-his tears, the prolonged catch in his voice-was anything but genuine. But this was a slaughter-a slaughter like so many before it-and emotion is hardly all that is needed. What is needed is gun control-strict, comprehensive gun control that places the values of public safety and security before the values of deer hunting and a perverse ahistorical reading of the Second Amendment. Obama told the nation that he reacted to the shootings in Newtown “as a parent,” and that is understandable, but what we need most is for him to act as a President, liberated at last from the constraints of elections and their dirty compromises-a President who dares to change the national debate and the legislative agenda on guns.
The New Yorker’s David Remnick urges President Obama to address climate change during his second term in a Kennedy-esque “we choose to go to the Moon” fashion.
Barack Obama can take pride in having fought off a formidable array of deep-pocketed revanchists. As President, however, he is faced with an infinitely larger challenge, one that went unmentioned in the debates but that poses a graver threat than any “fiscal cliff.” Ever since 1988, when NASA’s James Hansen, a leading climate scientist, testified before the Senate, the public has been exposed to the issue of global warming. More recently, the consequences have come into painfully sharp focus. In 2010, the Pentagon declared, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that changes in the global climate are increasing the frequency and the intensity of cyclones, droughts, floods, and other radical weather events, and that the effects may destabilize governments; spark mass migrations, famine, and pandemics; and prompt military conflict in particularly vulnerable areas of the world, including the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. The Pentagon, that bastion of woolly radicals, did what the many denialists in the House of Representatives refuse to do: accept the basic science.
The economic impact of weather events that are almost certainly related to the warming of the earth — the European heat wave of 2003 (which left fifty thousand people dead), the Russian heat waves and forest fires of 2010, the droughts last year in Texas and Oklahoma, and the preelection natural catastrophe known as Sandy — has been immense. The German insurer Munich Re estimates that the cost of weather-related calamities in North America over the past three decades amounts to thirty-four billion dollars a year. Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, has said that Sandy will cost his state alone thirty-three billion. Harder to measure is the human toll around the world-the lives and communities disrupted and destroyed.
Robert Birnbaum interviews David Remnick.
But I remember, one week after getting [the New Yorker editor job], in the almost absurd way I got it, I had to go to San Francisco, and I was at dinner and some guy came up to me. He had been in the Midwest and lived in San Francisco and he came up to the table where we were having dinner and grabbed my arm in a way that was slightly alarming and his message to me was, “Don’t fuck this up!”
The whole thing is great.
David Remnick lists the top 100 essential jazz albums. Caveat:
I thought it might be useful to compile a list of a hundred essential jazz albums, more as a guide for the uninitiated than as a source of quarrelling for the collector.
The list is a companion piece to Remnick’s article on jazz DJ Phil Schapp.
David Remnick on the current state of Russian politics and the head of the tiny anti-Putin movement, former chess champion Garry Kasparov.
In recent years, Putin has insured that nearly all power in Russia is Presidential. The legislature, the State Duma, is only marginally more independent than the Supreme Soviet was under Leonid Brezhnev. The governors of Russia’s more than eighty regions are no longer elected, as they were under Yeltsin; since a Presidential decree in 2004, they have all been appointed by the Kremlin. Putin even appoints the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg. The federal television networks, by far the main instrument of news and information in Russia, are neo-Soviet in their absolute obeisance to Kremlin power.
There’s also an audio interview of Kasparov by Remnick.
I could read interviews with David Remnick all day long. “In many ways, the magazine that we’re publishing every week reflects what I want to read or what the people around me - this group of editors - find amusing or deep, or funny, or intelligent or whatever.” (thx, emdashes)
David Remnick speculates on Al Gore, candidate for the 2008 Presidential election. “Gore, more than any other major Democratic Party figure, including the many candidates assembled for next year’s Presidential nomination, has demonstrated in opposition precisely the quality of judgment that Bush has lacked in office.”
Writer Roger Angell on a leisurely approach to reporting. “Shawn didn’t have a sense of deadline. [David] Remnick now wants it next week, which is fine. It’s that sort of a magazine, and I try to oblige. Shawn thought, Everybody knows what the news is; now tell us something else about it.” More on William Shawn.
In the 1960s, a young Al Gore had the good fortune to study under Roger Revelle at Harvard University. Revelle was one of the first scientists to claim that the earth may not be able to effectively deal with all of the carbon dioxide generated by the earth’s rapidly increasing human population. The American Institute of Physics called Revelle’s 1957 paper with Hans Suess “the opening shot in the global warming debates”. Gore took Revelle’s lessons to heart, becoming a keen supporter of the environment during his government service.
Since losing the 2000 Presidential election to George W. Bush, Al Gore has focused his efforts on things other than politics; among other things, he’s been crisscrossing the world delivering a presentation on global warming. Gore’s presentation now forms the foundation of a new film, An Inconvenient Truth (view the trailer).
In organizing my thoughts about the film, I found I couldn’t improve upon David Remnick’s review in the New Yorker. In particular:
It is, to be perfectly honest (and there is no way of getting around this), a documentary film about a possibly retired politician giving a slide show about the dangers of melting ice sheets and rising sea levels. It has a few lapses of mise en scene. Sometimes we see Gore gravely talking on his cell phone—or gravely staring out an airplane window, or gravely tapping away on his laptop in a lonely hotel room—for a little longer than is absolutely necessary. And yet, as a means of education, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a brilliantly lucid, often riveting attempt to warn Americans off our hellbent path to global suicide. “An Inconvenient Truth” is not the most entertaining film of the year. But it might be the most important.
Watching the film, I realized — far too late to move to Florida and vote for him in 2000 — that I’m a fan of Al Gore. He’s smart & intellectually curious (the latter doesn’t always follow from the former), understands science enough to explain it to the layperson without needlessly oversimplifying, and despite his reputation as somewhat of a robot, seems to be more of a real person than many politicians. As Remnick says:
One can imagine him as an intelligent and decent President, capable of making serious decisions and explaining them in the language of a confident adult.
The film has some small problems; many of the asides about Gore’s life (particularly the 2000 election stuff) don’t seem to fit cleanly into the main narrative, the connection it makes between global warming and Katrina is stronger than it should be, and the trailer is a little silly; this is a documentary about Al Gore and global warming after all, not The Day After Tomorrow or Armageddon. But the film really shines when it focuses on the presentation and Gore methodically and lucidly making the case for us needing to take action on global warming. An Inconvenient Truth opens in the US on May 24…do yourself a favor and seek it out when it comes to your local theater.
Interview with David Remnick about the revitalization of the New Yorker and what exactly it is that makes that magazine unique. “My principle in the magazine - and I am not being arrogant - is that I don’t lose sleep trying to figure what the reader wants. I don’t do surveys. I don’t check the mood of the consumers. I do what I want, what interests me and a small group of editors that influences the way of the magazine.” (thx, george)