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Meet Sebastian Kurz, the 31-Year Old Opportunist In Charge of Austria Now

2 hours 19 min ago

Wiener Wiener Chicken-Diener. Screengrab: WIENER ZEITUNG

Well, I guess “congratulations” are in order to everybody’s most annoying freshman roommate who never left his Ayn Rand phase, 31-year-old Austrian politician Sebastian Kurz, who has just (presumably) become the youngest national leader in the European Union—a thing he probably hates, or is at least pretending to hate to appeal to the new far-right base of his revamped party, the ÖVP, or Austrian People’s Party.

On Sunday, Kurz and the ÖVP won the Austrian Nationalratswahl (NOTT-see-oh-NOLL-rotts-VOLL), or national legislative election, with 31.5 percent of the vote. On the surface, this doesn’t seem too bad. The ÖVP have long been the Austrian center-right sister party to Germany’s CDU, headed by your mom and mine, Angela Merkel. Alas, Mutti-Style centrism wasn’t winning elections in the land of Mozart (perhaps it just had too many notes). So, what better thing to do to Austria—a country where it legit still feels like 1910 many places, and an impressive portion of the population still spends 5 hours a day nursing a single cup of coffee and reading print newspapers in a Kaffeehaus whilst still somehow being gainfully employed—than “disrupt” that motherfucker with some good old Millennial populism?

Sebastian Kurz saw the way the wind was blowing: Bleak youth unemployment rates all across Europe, plus the recent refugee crisis, plus Austria’s long habit of nativist sentiment in a portion of the population (for more on that, check out this book by Janek Wasserman), equals…a whole bunch of young people ready to do shit like sail out into the goddamned ocean with the express purpose of blocking boats full of desperate refugees. Or, at any rate, vote for Kurz, if he packaged himself right. (This also involved changing the party’s long-held official color from black to a shade of turquoise Michael Kors might call very now if he were your Austrian grandmother.)

Kurz has been interested in conservative politics since his very recent youth; he attempted to rebrand the ÖVP at 16. Once he came of age, though, they started taking him seriously: He rose quickly through the ranks, becoming Europe’s youngest Foreign Minister when he was just 27 (at which age I worked nights as, I kid you not, a “professional TV watcher” at a nebulous startup near Canal Street).

In May of this year, Kurz assumed leadership of the ÖVP, whereupon he yanked the party so far right (on the surface, at least), that a competing party founded by actual former Nazis, the FPÖ (Freedom Party) accused him of plagiarizing its super-awesome ideas, such as Euroscepticism, denying social welfare to immigrants and closing Islamic Kindergartens—which, of course, will immediately result in way more jobs for Austrian young people. (How?)

Backpfeifengesicht or nah? Photo: EE2017EE Estonian Presidency/Wikimedia Commons

Now, I cannot be the only one who sees this guy and immediately thinks, Oh Jesus H. Christ, the Austrians just elected Richard Spencer Lite. Indeed, Vienna tabloid Falter caused a huge hubbub with this cover, essentially the print version of clickbait (aka the most Austrian thing that has ever existed), proclaiming Kurz Der Neofeschist, or “the Neo-fesch-ist,” a very edgy wordplay that means, essentially, “the well-dressed asshole,” but which contains obvious connotations.  

Neo-what now? I needed somebody to talk me down; fortunately, I have some Austrian friends who know some things, from my year spent Promoting Mutual Understanding Between Cultures as a 2008-2009 Fulbright grantee in Vienna. So I tracked down Felix Faltin, who at 31 himself is sort of the anti-Sebastian Kurz. He’s a lifelong Social Democrat and currently works for the party as a policy adviser, and he took some time to explain Sebastian Kurz using very small words so that even I could understand. Haircut and smirk aside, Kurz is not, actually, a Richard Spencer Who Actually Speaks German Well. “I see more parallels with Ronald Reagan, to be honest,” Faltin told me. “Both glammy media stars, both kind of without content, and all the more vicious for it.”

So here’s the thing about Sebastian Kurz. He’s not like the AfD in Germany—the far-right party with those crazy racist pig posters, that just entered parliament but that nobody even wants to sit next to in the chamber. He’s not even really like the FPÖ, even though he deliberately copped their steez to win. “He’s a 31-year-old cosmopolitan on the outside,” explains Faltin, “but a 64-year-old petty bourgeois [Spießer, pronounced SHPEE-sur] on the inside. It’s 2017, and this guy is afraid of globalization, diversity and big cities. Vienna, the most livable capital in the world, gives him the creeps. Kurz stands for nothing, which allows people to project anything onto his slick, well-managed political persona.”

His platform, Faltin says, is just “a random collection of special-interest positions and common-sense policies, glossed over with catchy headlines.” (Sounds familiar.) Austria, that Socialist hell-hole with literally the best standard of living anywhere, is “about to see a massive redistribution of wealth from the bottom half of the income distribution towards the very top.” And that, of course, is and has been the VPÖ’s MO all along, racism be damned. That’s why it’s so perplexing that much of Kurz’s support came from young people. You’re a young person, I said to Faltin. What’s the deal?

“I wouldn’t overstate millennial support for the extreme right,” he cautions. “There’s a lot of progressive energy in my generation. But [there’s] also impatience. I think the far right (and sometimes left) offers clarity on this point. Instead of explaining how we can make society work for everyone, which is often quite complicated, they say You’re right, they’re wrong. That’s just what hyper-individualistic Millennials with short attention spans want to hear.” Kurz reached that 31.5 percent, then, by bringing just enough young men into the fold to bolster the ÖVP’s stronghold with the 64-year-old Spießer demographic—plus a few older women, thanks possibly to the Schwiegersohnphänomen (SHWEEG-ur-zone-PHAY-noe-MAYN), or “son-in-law phenomenon,” meaning that Kurz is just the kind of well-to-do young man that the older conservative mom would like to see marry her daughter.

When Donald Trump won the US presidential election, I was depressed, yes, but also probably more surprised than I should have been. With Austria, I’m depressed, but not surprised at all. This is because the year I lived in Vienna, 2009, was also an election year (fact: there is always an election in Austria), and everywhere I went, I saw posters from the FPÖ insisting that I lived in a Sharia-controlled hellhole.

This translates to “The West in Christian Hands,” but they use the Olde-Tyme word for The West, Abendland, or “Occident.” Photo: Rebecca Schuman

Ironically, I did live in Vienna’s Sixteenth District, which has a large immigrant population and is thus considered a “bad” neighborhood (it is most decisively not). Still, when Jörg Haider, the flamboyant onetime FPÖ leader (and later head of his own splinter party), died in a car accident a month after I arrived, one of my neighbors (presumably not the Polish, Serbian or Turkish one) changed their wireless router name to Jörg Haider, ein Held, i.e. “Jörg Haider, a hero,” correct comma placement and all—so that the rest of us knew, I suppose, to watch our backs. Meanwhile, before Haider, there was Kurt Waldheim, an actual ex-Nazi who got elected President in 1986. Austria has survived all of those guys, so it will probably survive Sebastian Kurz, who by all accounts is intelligent, if (more than) a bit opportunistic.

Whether any of Kurz’s more extreme campaign promises come to fruition depend once again on the efficacy of a parliamentary democracy distinguished largely by its ability to gridlock itself. What is certain, however, is the depressing current in European (and, yes, worldwide) politics. In more and more countries, in order to be electable, the shrewd politician today must appeal to the powerful far-right Millennial male demographic—a sentence that makes me nauseous to even type.

A Poem by Matthew Zapruder

3 hours 27 min ago

When I Was Fifteen


When I was fifteen
I suddenly knew
I would never
understand geometry.
Who was my teacher?
That name is gone.
I only remember
the gray feeling
in a classroom
filled with vast
theoretical distances.
I can still see
odd shapes
drawn on the board,
and those inscrutable
formulas everyone
was busily into
their notebooks scribbling.
I looked down
at the Velcro
straps of my entirely
white shoes and knew
inside me things
had long ago gone
terribly wrong
and would continue
to be. When
the field hockey star
broke her knee,
I wrote a story
for the school paper
then brought her
the history notes
in the snow.
She stood
in the threshold,
a whole firelit life
of mysterious
familial warmth
glowing behind her,
and took them
from my hands
like the blameless
queen of elegant
violence she was.
Walking home
encased in immense
amounts of down
I listened to
the analog ghost
in the machine
pour from the cassette
I had drawn
flowers on.
Into my ears
it sang everything
they told you
makes you believe
you are trapped
in a snow globe
forgotten in a dark
closet where exhausted
shadows argue
what is sorrow
cannot become joy,
but I am here
from the future
to tell you
you are not,
all you must do
is stay asleep
a few more years
great traveler waiting to go.


Matthew Zapruder is editor at large for Wave Books and teaches at Saint Mary’s College of California. “When I Was Fifteen” appears in print in Fifteen, an anthology of writing to celebrate 826 Valencia’s 15th anniversary.

The Poetry Section is edited by Mark Bibbins.

D.K. / S.K.

4 hours 36 min ago

D.K. / S.K. by D.K. / S.K.
You know the part of the Bible where it talks about how terrible things are gonna get and it’s like, “In the morning you will wish it were evening and in the evening you will pine for the day, because everything your eyes see around you will be so fucking horrible all the time”? I am not by any means a religious man but I can’t help feeling like we might have pissed off God or something. Anyway, here’s the new collaboration between Suzanne Kraft and Dang-Khoa Chau. Pitchfork is lukewarm about it but if you’re looking to Condé Nast for music recommendations that’s on you. Anyway, enjoy.

New York City, October 17, 2017

Wed, 2017-10-18 19:11

★★★★ The sun and the reflected sun sparkled together relentlessly, lighting up individual strands of hair. The exertion of hurrying from the school to the apartment to fetch the forgotten viola music served to take the edge off the chill. A ray of light did a trick shot off a high window of the Lincoln Building, under the subway canopy, and down the stairs to hit the mezzanine floor. The cool air tightened up the scalp. The lit-up teeth on the top of the Parsons building looked like the cutting edge on a box of aluminum foil. At lunchtime, the whole Flatiron Building, with the sun behind it, seemed to be levitating in an aura. Air conditioners threw afternoon shadows 10 or 15 feet long. Once again the shade in the cross street did a passable imitation of premature nightfall.

Let The New York Times Google That For You

Wed, 2017-10-18 12:50

Image: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

In 1908, there was no sparsely decorated webpage with a blinking cursor silently begging to answer every stupid question that had ever decided to staycation in your brain. So when New York Times reader F.S. Shaw wanted to know the know the heights of the Eiffel Tower and the Singer Building in order to settle a bet, his best option was sending a letter to the newspaper. When fellow subscriber David Levy was curious about the population of Salt Lake City, he did the same, as did the person who just wanted to know how Benedict Arnold’s descendants were doing. Eventually, the answers appeared in a column in the fashion and society section, forbear to the Sunday Styles, next to articles about the Long Branch dog show, the fine weather at Bar Harbor, and diatribes against the dearth of small hats this season. It was called “Queries from the Curious and Answers to Them.” It was mail-order Google for the exceptionally patient.

The column could stretch for more than a page if the answers or questions were complex two-parters, which they often were. It began with a disclaimer: “This department does not pretend to be infallible.” The ink-stained sleuths refused to answer questions about “the correctness of English sentences,” as discerning New York Times readers should be more than capable of consulting a reference book, or the cost of coins or stamps, because no one else cares about your philatelic concerns. If you complain about the word “cocktail,” prepare to be shamed. (“Avast there! Let the cocktail alone. Its name comes from the hoary past and is not a thing to be lightly treated.”) And don’t even think about asking for “a list of all persons who have died in England leaving fortunes. Obviously it would be impossible to give such a list.”

The rest was fair game—a mix of the practical and the questions that friends think up after a late night of drinking. Like, was the person who used to live down the street from me related to Alexander Hamilton? One man just wanted to know the names of the senators from Texas, Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, and New Mexico. The list goes on: Has March 4 ever fallen on a Sunday? Why do barber poles look like that? Where did Teddy Roosevelt get his turkeys from? Was the death of Oscar Wilde a hoax? A significant number of the questions need to be resolved for bets. You can now answer all these questions yourself using the same device you’re using to read this piece, unless you, like M.D. Bailey, just wanted to know where the hell Ambrose Bierce went.

Some of the questions are far too delicious to be forgotten once answered, like this one from L.M.S.: “Not long since I chanced to read an article in which was the statement that the web of a spider had at one period changed the whole history of Scotland. Will THE TIMES please oblige one of its readers by explaining how this could have been possible?” Most questions felt curious, but every once in awhile desperation would creep in at the edges as readers asked about immigration or inheritance law, making you wonder about the context that left them asking such personal questions to the entire world.

But this semi-regular scavenger hunt, which treated this entire strange world as its playground, was not the greatest content called “Queries and Answers” in the New York Times. That distinction goes to the similarly named if far more specifically inclined section that ran weekly in the Book Review for over half a century. It was basically Shazam, but for poetry. Instead of an app with terabytes of data at its beck and call, all it had was millions of Times readers, superheroes armed with a jumbled mass of verses memorized in the sixth-grade, and the ability to acquire an endless number of stamps. Readers would send in snippets they remembered from their school days or ran across in their day-to-day lives in the hopes that another fellow Times lover would return it to them whole a few weeks later. And amazingly, they often did. Dozens of people from all over the country would send an envelope to Manhattan with the lost bit of verse, creating a Shop Around the Corner in which the Times acted as mediator, an epistolary romance in which those involved fell in love with literature instead of each other.

Hazel Felleman took over the column in 1923, and continued doing so until her retirement in 1951. She was the first line in the Times’ literary Pinkerton agency, consulting the archives to see if a request had already been answered (If the quote was from “Evolution,” by Langdon Smith, it had already been answered dozens of times, please stop sending it in), if it could be found in her collection of reference books, or if a librarian or academic knew the answer. If those methods didn’t work, the quotation would appear in the paper under the headline “Appeals to Readers.”

In 1936, she published a book titled, The Best Loved Poems of the American People, featuring the poems that readers kept writing in to find. There were other editors through the years, like S.N. Behrman, a playwright who was fired from the Times after his bosses learned that he was sending his own questions to the column to make things more interesting. Recurring characters appeared in the Queries and Answers canon, namely the women who answered more questions than anyone else—the Jeopardy champions of their age. Mrs. Henry D. Holmes appeared in Queries and Answers so many times that she was named  “Vermont’s most widely known woman” in a short item in the Times. Louella D. Everett located homes for so many literary fragments that fans started sending completed poems to her, per the New Yorker. (Ex. “Louella D. Everett, Boston, Mass., / Must be an industrious, painstaking lass.”)

Many of the poems that people wrote in to report lost fall into the “one day will appear on a knick-knack at your grandma’s house” school of verse, like “Love is wealth, but wealth is naught without health.” Other letter writers wanted to know where that poem their dad recited came from, or were looking for “the full text of a poem which was in the school books of Nova Scotia some thirty years ago.” A few readers thought that the stanzas etched in headstones found on a walk through a cemetery were poignant, and others just had flashes of Shakespeare rolling around their skull, waiting to be mated with the rest of its folio. Often, the memory wasn’t very complete. In 1945, C.W. was looking for a sonnet with the line, “My (something) lost (or gone), and my ambition blind.” The internet tells us—after a Google search of “and my ambition blind”—he wanted “I cry your mercy-pity-love! -aye, love!” by John Keats, but how the heck was anyone in the 1940s supposed to find it?

“Queries and Answers” became as much of a journalistic behemoth as other reader-generated content of the time, offering serialized iamb-sized mysteries for readers and succumbing to the fate of all things that grow far more popular than anyone imagined: It inspired takes and parodies, often from critics who thought the whole exercise was a waste of time. In 1941, The New Yorker published a poem with the subheading, “A poem designed for eventual reproduction in the Queries and Answers Department of the New York “Times’ Book Review.” Thirteen years earlier, the magazine ran an amusing piece titled “At Home With Genius,” imagining an interview with one of the column’s top contributors that quickly descends into a quote-off, with the Queries and Answers zealot yelling “Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door” as a New Yorker reporter runs away, determined to send a letter to the Times to find out the source of her retort.

The Times seems to have been besieged by nearly as many letters about Queries and Answers as it was letters for it. People in Scotland, China, New Zealand, and Portugal wrote to declare their love of the literary lost and found. “Your department,” another reader wrote, “is worth to all serious readers many times the price of the Sunday Times.”

Not everyone agreed. Gelett Burgess, the humorist, author of “The Purple Cow” and the Goops books, wrote a letter to the Times in 1910 to declare his disdain for everything Queries and Answers stood for. “Who,” he grumbled, “are these effeminate old bachelors and anaemic old maids who are continually whining for their lost doggerels? … Is there, in heaven’s name, nothing to be inquired about but silly, old-fashioned newspaper verse?”

“Perhaps these queries,” he added, “contain secret ciphers, and enable burglars or eloping couples to communicate with each other. This is the only charitable explanation.” He suggested that the publisher just start rerunning old Queries and Answers to save money, as no one would notice the difference.

“To suppress the department of Queries and Answers,” the Times responded to Burgess, “would be to cause nationwide unhappiness. We doubt that any department in any other periodical in the United States has been the source of so much solid satisfaction to its readers as this. Suppress it? It would be infinitely more humane to suppress Mr. Burgess himself.”

Sarah Harvey Porter, another writer, agreed with the Times, and sent the paper a takedown of Burgess defending Queries and Answers a few months later. The letter throws so much shade, one wonders if Burgess ever saw the sun again after it was published; it also stands as a defense of nostalgia, specifically the type that makes sure that the junk drawer of our mind is always too full to close. “The years that one lives in the present are few,” Porter writes. “By the age of thirty most men and women begin to look backward. The tendrils of the heart are as willful as those of the wild-grape vine, clinging to all sorts of objects, worthless and otherwise. Often a bit of verse absolutely without intrinsic literary value, a fragment of an old song, even an absurd byword may bring ‘thoughts that do lie too deep for tears.’”

The Queries and Answers department no longer exists, having died shortly before the paper published an obituary for Felleman in 1975. As technology advanced, the answers started appearing elsewhere. CBS News had a radio segment called “Ask Dimension” where Walter Cronkite would answer questions from listeners, explaining the difference between a civil liberty and a civil right and finding the number of home runs hit by Mel Ott. Eventually the internet came along, and now we all live in a Queries and Answers column, rabbit holes fueled by nostalgia (What are the lyrics to “Magic Dance” by David Bowie?) and the answer to nearly every question (Where is Ambrose Bierce?) at our fingertips.

But the algorithms do not pretend to be infallible. Even now, there are queries that only another human being can answer. So when kavya needed the answer to the immortal question, “how is babby formed? How girl get pragnent?” he or she went to Yahoo! Answers. On Quora, the post Y2K incarnation of Yahoo! Answers for those who have opinions on the term “millennial,” users are still trying to figure out what happened to Ambrose Bierce. Genius brings together lyrics that have been unfortunately separated from the rest of their song. And on Twitter, teens look for the poems they memorized in sixth grade and can no longer remember. The New York Public Library runs a “human Google” service, answering tens of thousands of phone calls, chats, and emails. Among the queries considered over the past few decades are “What does it mean when you dream you’re being chased by an elephant?” and “How many neurotic people in the US?”

The agony of waiting for your question to appear in the New York Times, and the anticipation of waiting to see if there was someone out there who could help, may now be compressed, but it has just been replaced with another form of torture. With the internet, questions breed like invasive species, sprouting in HTML and devouring all of our time. There can never be only one, a Wikipedia page turns into ten, and suddenly you’ve found a page listing all the snakes in South Dakota and are posting everything on the “Lists of unsolved problems” page on Twitter to try and crowdsource answers. And if you look up Nostradamus in the Times archives, there’s always a danger you’ll learn of a defunct column about poems and start wondering if J.R.W. ever found that book by a humorist with a description of a crawfish, or if B.M.C. ever located her poem about Irish potato cake, or whether it’s time to take to Yahoo! Answers to finally find them, along with the key to time travel, so they can finally be returned.


Wed, 2017-10-18 10:49

Max Cooper, "Stacked Moments"

Wed, 2017-10-18 09:55

Question for you: When was the last time you were able to say, “Wow, today just flew by”? I’ll wait. That’s all I do now, is wait. That’s all we all do. We wait and wait and wait and wait and an ending never arrives. Each day is longer than the one that came before and the hours you spend wishing it would all be over only take seconds off the clock. Want to feel old? Monday was nine million years ago. Anyway, here’s music. Enjoy.

New York City, October 16, 2017

Tue, 2017-10-17 18:27

★★ The bright parts in the overcast sky went from fuzzy glowing spots to choppy-looking rifts. Far inland, on the horizon beside the apartment slab and over the river, ran a band of clear pale blue. But the rifts closed again and the clouds over Manhattan stayed dark. Leaves and garbage spun in a sweeping curve without rising high enough to menace the eyes. The pale blue stayed out of reach, a bright band framed at the far end of the cross streets, as the cold wind blew. This was the day the color disappeared from everyone’s wardrobes: black jackets, black sweaters, pants of no shade at all. The sun finally did appear, only to be lost again in the hastening evening shadows. High white wisps of cirrus were moving fast from south to north, while low pink shreds were moving north to south even faster.

Let's Rename The Williamsburg Bridge

Tue, 2017-10-17 14:10

Obviously there are issues of greater importance in the world right now but seeing as a bill to rename the Williamsburg Bridge after Sonny Rollins has been introduced in the City Council we want to go on record as being fully in favor of the proposal. To quote an underappreciated genius, “If we don’t do this soon some future mayor will name it after Bloomberg instead,” and nobody wants that. Learn more here.

Matt Kibbe And The Liberteens

Tue, 2017-10-17 12:03

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

“The great political philosopher, Frank Zappa, once noted that if you want to be a real country, you have to have a beer and you have to have an airline,” says Matt Kibbe. He’s on a roof deck, speaking into a camera, surrounded by beer. The former president and CEO of conservative astroturf group, FreedomWorks, Kibbe co-authored the Tea Party manifesto, Give Us Liberty, and was one of the movement’s main architects. “Well as it turns out, under socialism, you can’t even get a beer anymore.” He’s referring to the the troubles of Cerveceria Polar, Venezuela’s main beer manufacturer. At the age of 54, Kibbe has ditched his creepy sideburns and grown a beard. If before he looked like a guy who’d just been fired from GameStop, now he is reassuring and vaguely paternal. “See this beer?” he says, looking straight into the camera. “This beer is freedom and you’ll pry it from my cold, dead hands.” The bottle opener sitting on the table next to him appears to be a replica of a cherub.

Kibbe says he became a Libertarian at the age of thirteen, after hearing the Rush album 2112. (In an email to me he mistakenly referred to it as 2012.) A concept album set in a dystopian future in which the world is controlled by the “Priests of the Temples of Syrinx,” 2112 is dedicated to “the genius of Ayn Rand,” specifically her book Anthem. The band is pretty popular among libertarians, in 2015, Rush drummer, Neal Pert, told Rolling Stone that he’d sent Rand Paul a number of cease-and-desist letters to get him to stop quoting Rush in his speeches.

Thirteen-year-old Kibbe found Anthem at a garage sale, “devoured” the rest of Ayn Rand’s oeuvre. By 2004, he was president of Citizens for a Sound Economy (which became FreedomWorks), a position he held until 2015 despite an internal dustup in which he was escorted out of the building by an unnamed man with a gun. Today, he and his wife, Terry, refer to themselves as “America’s most badass libertarian power couple.” If you’ve read Atlas Shrugged you may remember Ragnar Danneskjöld, a pirate who intercepts humanitarian aid ships and straight up delivers the money to the rich (“Of all human symbols,” he says, “Robin Hood is the most immoral and the most contemptible”). Matt and Terry Kibbe named one of their cats after him.

The Kibbe’s latest venture is Free the People, a 501(c)3 charity intended to bring libertarian values to the youth. Kibbe’s nonprofit does not do very well in Google search results, but they’re very determined not to be your weird uncle’s libertarianism. They make memes, they have a blogger named Logan, who writes hard-hitting like “How Did Hamburgers Get So Darn Good?” (Capitalism). Logan Albright was previously a research analyst at FreedomWorks, but he is also an Oberlin graduate, complete with moustache. Kibbe has tattoos, wears Vans, and distressed jeans. Free the People’s creative director and token Attractive Teen is a former actor named Sam Martin—“an enthusiastic advocate for the Millennial generation,” according to his bio—who used to perform spoken word poetry about the free market in a Youtube series called Liberty Beats.”We have the right to pursue happiness our own way/ But not the right to happiness, per se,” Martin recites over swelling violins in the 2014 video, “Obamacare.”

Like the mainstream media, Kibbe has pivoted to video. “Beer is Freedom,” he told me over email, is a video series that “uses beer as a metaphor for entrepreneurial disruption, and the value of risk-taking in free markets.” “Beer is Freedom Part Two” begins with a close-up of Kibbe mouthing “FREE-DOM” in slow motion and quoting Hunter S. Thompson. Presumably, all of this is supposed to attract millennials, but it’s pretty clunky. Young men, Kibbe has noticed, love beer and Hunter S. Thompson and easily digestible sweeping generalizations. Why does America have all these beloved signifiers of performative masculinity? Capitalism, Kibbe explains. It’s bait for the kind of person who wants to be able to insult things they don’t understand with pithy, reductive talking points. Last August, Kibbe’s AlternativePAC paid marking consultants Treehorn LLC, $30,000 for “internet web memes” in support of Gary Johnson; Free the People appears to be a continuation of that strategy, a whole think tank devoted to bad memes. Treehorn is listed as part of their core team and Kibbe claims that Free the People’s “demographics are the opposite of the Tea Party—73% of engagement comes from people under age 44.”

Whether or not that engagement is actually reflective of the viewers’ ideology is debatable. As of this writing, Free the People only has 682 subscribers on YouTube, and Kibbe’s attempts to attract young people thus far have been entertaining primarily because they’re so absurd. AlternativePAC’s “Dead Abe Lincoln” video, for example, featured a reanimated Lincoln trying to convince the 2016 electorate that Gary Johnson was Batman. Set against the ascendant neo-Nazi movement, Kibbe obviously doesn’t seem like the nation’s greatest or most immediate threat. He’s in favor legalizing weed and against mass incarceration. He says things like “if you really want to understand the Austrian concept of spontaneous order, hang out in a Grateful Dead parking lot for an afternoon.” He can’t stand Trump, and in his awkward attempt to situate himself within the resistance, if not the #Resistance, he’s zeroed in on the only thing that unifies voters—disgust.

“Like a lot of Americans, I’m feeling pretty politically homeless right now,” Kibbe wrote to me. “I’m always looking for candidates that will defend liberty, but it may turn out that they are no longer welcome as Republicans or Democrats…the old rules that entrenched the two-party duopoly are collapsing.” But the idea that he represents some sort of righteous alternative to the existing political system is fundamentally absurd and his efforts would be laughable if he didn’t have such a track record of success with the Tea Party.

“The Tea Party,” Kibbe wrote to me, “was a profound and beautiful social movement, but politics eventually corrupted it…[But] the best members of Congress, like Rand Paul and Mike Lee, Thomas Massie and Justin Amash, are all a product of this social movement, and these are all liberty legislators willing to push back against Donald Trump’s authoritarian tendencies.” According to FiveThirtyEight’s vote tally, Rand Paul has voted in line with Trump 87% percent of the time, Mike Lee 92%, Thomas Massie 74%, and Justin Amash 66%. When they’ve broken with Trump, it’s generally been on things like repealing and replacing Obamacare—but only because the replacement did not seem cruel enough. Kibbe refers to these men as “liberty legislators,” although both Amash and Massie most recently voted to ban abortions after twenty weeks.

According to a June study released by the Democracy Fund that plotted respondents from conservative to liberal on two indexes—economics and identity issues—only 3.8 percent of the 2016 electorate are economically conservative and socially liberal. Essentially, no one is a libertarian. Not because it’s an endearing, underdog ideology, because it’s an ideology that serves no one but the exquisitely wealthy. The Tea Party wasn’t a “profound and beautiful social movement,” it was a handful of billionaires who scammed voters into doing their bidding. It was also very racist and while it’s wonderful that Matt Kibbe doesn’t personally consider himself a racist, he’s certainly gained considerable power by fanning its flames and advocating racist policy, as have his “liberty legislators.”

Kibbe prefers not to focus on this, and characterizes his tiny demographic as “‘moderates,’ who are generally turned off by the authoritarian impulses coming from both right and left.” As of late, he’s focused on fear-mongering in response to the rise of the DSA. His critique of socialism is pretty one note—Venezuela—and he uses it as a cudgel to dismiss literally any institution associated with a strong central government  as a sign of tyranny. In the first of his “very dark” 39 video series, “Socialism Kills,” Kibbe stands in front of a fire hydrant and a wall of corrugated sheet metal, plotting “The Deadly Isms” (progressivism, nationalism, fascism, socialism, “Islamo-Fascism”, etc.) along a parabola. All of them lead to Totalitarianism. All except for libertarianism, man.

Like Bella Hadid, Matt Kibbe sounds like a undercover cop trying to convince you he can fuck. “What the f–k is up with Michael Moore?” he says in the second “Beer is Freedom,” video (“fuck” is bleeped out). After the Brexit vote last year, Moore tweeted that the European Union should “take us” to replace Britain. “We want what Europe has,” Moore wrote. “Free healthcare, free college, real beer!” This was an opportunity for Kibbe, who supports immigration and free trade but does not want to be labeled a globalist cuck. “What the f–k is his problem? I get it, he’s a socialist.” He launches into rant about violence in Cuba and Venezuela, without explaining how any of that connects to European beer. “Look at this stuff. You cannot get any of this stuff in Venezuela. If you go to Europe? You will not find a beer made out of lobster…The bottom line: America makes good beer.” It’s a weak attempt at an everyman shtick—beer doesn’t have to taste good it just has to get you drunk—and the lesson he’s trying to teach falls apart when applied to his broader principles. Healthcare doesn’t need to be artisanal, it just has to be affordable. The most popular beer in America is Bud Light.

Kibbe has called Free the People a “transpartisan” organization, characterizing his problem with progressives as economic rather than moral. Liberals, as far as he is concerned, just don’t understand economics. (The right has been using that line for decades and it’s only become more illogical as inequality has increased.) If you, like Matt Kibbe, are opposed to welfare and Obamacare and raising the minimum wage, what you’re advocating is essentially eugenics. The numbers don’t make sense in terms of survival—you’re telling poor people that their lives do not matter, and it doesn’t take an avowed socialist to see that.

Free the People currently has a petition up to abolish the Department of Education, but despite Kibbe’s band t-shirts, he’s not much of a “radical” in the way that young people are generally attracted to the concept. Libertarianism doesn’t have much populist appeal outside of the wealthy and the odd disgruntled mall goth, so it’s unlikely Kibbe will make any major inroads with teens. Libertarians don’t really need populist appeal though—they have money and the right has already managed to redistrict most of the country. Kibbe has relied enormously on Koch Brothers money in the past, but because Free the People didn’t begin operating in earnest until this year it won’t be clear where the mass of his funding is coming from until 2017 tax forms are filed.

Assuming we survive this presidency, Kibbe will emerge relatively unscathed as far as optics go, but he shouldn’t be allowed to. He’s polite, he sounds reasonable, and he retweets Jonathan Chait occasionally. He can appeal to centrist Democrats who fear their party’s slide to the left and Republicans who don’t want to feel like the bad guys. People like Matt Kibbe are dangerous, not necessarily because their memes are effective, but because they will literally never go away. They will be there at the very end, handing you a joint at Burning Man and telling you that the upcoming right-to-work legislation is “groovy,” writing garbled op-eds about the dangers of “alarmism” and “virtue-signaling” as cities sink into the sea. There are no shortage of monsters in today’s political landscape and Kibbe is by no means the worst, but it’s the veneer of virtue that makes him so infuriating. Manners are not more important than morals and at the very least these people should be publicly shamed.


Rebecca McCarthy is on Twitter.

An Interview with Viet Thanh Nguyen

Tue, 2017-10-17 11:20

This conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen took place a few days after he received a MacArthur  “genius grant”. As the author of a Pulitzer prize-winning novel (The Sympathizer), and a collection of short stories (The Refugees), as well as a nonfiction work chronicling narratives of the Vietnam War (Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War), Nguyen is both a scholar and a storyteller. He explores the confluence of narrative and memory throughout his oeuvre, and how the experiences of Vietnamese refugees, and Vietnamese-Americans, are molded by both; in an essay for the New York Times last year, Nguyen noted that “it is precisely because I do not look like a refugee that I have to proclaim being one, even when those of us who were refugees would rather forget that there was a time when the world thought us to be less than human.”So could you talk a little bit about the receiving the call?

It was definitely a big shock and a big surprise. I had just come back from a summer in Paris, so I’d just been home for a couple of days, and I got this phone call from a strange number. I didn’t know who it was, but I texted the number, “Who is this”, and they texted back, “It’s the MacArthur Foundation”. I thought I better call these people right away, and I just had to sit down for the duration of the conversation.

But by the time the news broke, I’d had a month to think about it. And it was actually a huge relief once it was out there, and I could finally start acknowledging it to everybody.

Can you recall your earliest memories of writing?

Well, I think the first book I wrote was actually in the third grade. In elementary school, we made our own books, that type of thing. So I wrote it, drew it, bound it, and it won a prize at the public library, and I think it was the first time the thought occurred to me that I could actually do something with this.

Then I dabbled in writing throughout grade school, and high school, and I started getting more serious about it in college.

Did you have a support system when you were starting out? When you were younger, your parents opened a Vietnamese market in San Jose—did you receive any encouragement from them, or from any of your instructors?

Yeah, I think my parents didn’t directly support the writing—that would’ve been very strange for them, to think about something like that. But they supported me directly in terms of providing everything I needed materially. That was enormously important. Many people don’t have that kind of support. And, you know, I was not the best writer when I was developing. So I think I got good feedback from my writing instructors, but I often think that they never thought I would become anything [Laughs]. And for good reason—I don’t think I was a very good writer.

But I’ll mention a particularly important incident from that: I got into Maxine Hong Kingston’s nonfiction writing seminar when I was at Berkeley. You had to compete to get into this class. And I don’t think I realized how lucky I was, because it was a class of fourteen students, and you never had classes with fourteen students at Berkeley. I went to class every day, and I sat three or four feet away from her, and every single day I fell asleep. That must have demonstrated how motivated of a student I was. But at the end of the semester, she wrote everybody a note, and I think she was very right in that letter pointing out that I needed to be more open to people, to ask more questions, to be awake, literally, but also spiritually, you know? I think that was part of the beginning of my very long, slow, maturation process towards being a writer.

Do you remember what influences you were taking in around that time? And what you were reading?

Well, I was an English major, and all of that was very important to me. The whole canon of English and American literature, and I continued reading that very systematically in graduate school. And I went to graduate school immediately after undergraduate, so I ended up reading the entire body of 19th- and 20th-century American literature, from basically Ben Franklin up until the present. I was 23, 24 years old, when I took my qualifying exams in those fields, and that was very important to me because it gave me a sense of the English canon, and of American literary history, and where I might fit into that.

When I wrote The Sympathizer, I found my reading notes from that qualifying exam period in this binder, and I kept them by my desk as a reference. In case I ever needed to look back on what I thought about Thoreau or Emerson or something. I never did open that binder, but it reminded me that I wanted to put myself in that American literary history. And that literary history included other classes I was taking as an ethnic studies major at Berkeley, which was my other undergraduate major. African-American literature, Asian-American literature, and Chicano literature were all of these traditions within American literature that were really, enormously, influential for me.

On that note, do you think your academic background had a heavy influence on how you conceive of narrative? You’re a scholar, as opposed to a writer who came up through an MFA program. Does it shape how you see stories, or do you think your mindset would be different if you had started in the MFA system?

I’m pretty sure it has. There are a lot of generalizations about both the world of MFAs and the world of the PhD, and let’s assume that some of those generalizations are true. And, if so, their approaches to literature tend to be different. The MFA population tends to be very much concerned, I think, first and foremost, with questions of aesthetics, technique, and craft. And of course there has to be a sense of literature that’s important to that, but I think an awareness or a commitment to theory, and broad overviews of how literature works outside of its immediate effect on the reader, is not so much of a concern, in general, for American MFA students and systems.

And what I learned from a PhD program, or what I did not learn, was an appreciation for aesthetic technique, for example. We never talked about “how a story worked,” or anything like that. But we were deeply immersed in literary history, and theoretical ideas of what kinds of functions literature could perform, and, especially for me, what kinds of political functions literature could perform. And that meant that I did I bring all of those concerns from a critical and scholarly perspective to my fiction writing. I had to think about how my own fiction fit into my critical understanding. If I’m seeing certain trends in contemporary American fiction, for example—some of which are good, some of which are bad—how can my own fiction participate in those things or review those things?

In both The Refugees and The Sympathizer, I’m trying to work through those critical issues in a fictional way, but in a way that was very deliberate for me.

When you were writing The Refugees, which was crafted over the course of twenty years, did you have a theme in mind from the beginning? Or were you starting each story with a narrative? Or were themes, and theory, the foundation of those stories?

I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write stories focussed on Vietnamese experiences, and especially Vietnamese-Americans. When I first sat down to start writing these stories in the ’90s, I guess the theme would’ve been just simply giving voice to Vietnamese people. And that’s a very common theme in contemporary American fiction: giving voice to some population that has been rendered voiceless, or is perceived to be voiceless. And that’s important work that needs to be done, because there are so many of these populations, and so many of them are underserved, or underrepresented, in the larger American cultural landscape, whether it’s literature or anything else.

But it’s also a limited theme. This was something that was very obvious to me as a literary scholar. It wasn’t enough to desire, or claim, to have a voice, because that desire has a limited critical usefulness. And it’s easily co-opted by the literary, cultural, and political marketplaces, because what usually happens is that someone becomes “the voice for the voiceless,” at a certain period, and then is forgotten, and then someone else becomes the voice for that voiceless population, and it just goes in cycles. And nothing changes for the voiceless. And literature, especially what we call multicultural literature in the United States, can become totally subjugated to that kind of desire.

But when I was writing The Refugees, I was just trying to figure out how to write the stories. That’s hard enough to do as it is, without also trying to figure out how I could disrupt this thematic problem that is so dominant in contemporary American fiction. How could I refuse to give voice to the voiceless, or bring attention to that problem? And I think that’s something that The Sympathizer is much more aggressive about confronting.

Another motif that’s prevalent in your work is sexuality. “The Other Man” immediately comes to mind, which is a story about a gay refugee, a young man who’s been doubly displaced both geographically and sexually. So how do you think about sexuality in addition to all of your themes in your stories?

You know, that’s been very important to me. Given my own background, it was easy for me to think first and foremost about questions of race, or ethnicity, or nationality, or culture, and more difficult to think about gender or sexuality. It just goes to show how normalized I was to my own gender and sexuality. So it was a very deliberate move to make myself think, as I completed each of those stories, about what kinds of themes I was dealing with. And I literally have an excel sheet where I said, OK, here’s this story, and it’s written from the perspective of a man. Well, the next story should be from the perspective of a woman. And this one’s about a straight person. And this one should be about a gay person. And I realized I wanted to demonstrate the whole range of diversity within a single category that we might assume to be homogenous, like, “Vietnamese people.”

But Vietnamese people are not homogenous. They have many different facets, each of them individually. And these different facets allow them to connect with other populations who are not Vietnamese. So in the example of that story, “The Other Man,” foregrounded not just in Liem being Vietnamese and a refugee, but also someone with his own sexual identity and struggles and everything, meant that his problems couldn’t simply be put into one category as a refugee coming to America. The fact that he was beginning to recognize his homosexuality meant that he would no longer fit within the traditional Vietnamese community either.

I think, with each of those stories, I intentionally tried to do that. There are multiple problems and identities that the characters were all struggling with.

Is there anything you’re hoping to accomplish through your work as a cumulative body? Is there something you’re working towards as a whole?

I think that, as a whole, I’m deeply interested in—and have been, ever since I was a student—the intersection of art and politics. And how art can be a political force without being reduced to politics. The Refugees is one way of dealing with this, but in a way that’s perhaps more amenable to mainstream cases, because its politics are kind of muted. The Sympathizer is a much more aggressive novel, in which the politics are much more foregrounded in both the content and the form of the novel as well.  I think that it’s an intersection, and a set of themes I’m continuing to work with, and trying to figure out how the next novel can do the same thing, or can do it differently in terms of this negotiation with art and politics.

As for the future, and as for the recent cluster of books that I’ve published, particularly those two and Nothing Ever Dies, the larger theme is not simply to talk about Vietnam or Vietnamese people, which are certainly major concerns, but also to talk about the nature of war and the nature of memory, which are universal concerns. And so, the Vietnam War in that sense is important not just because of itself, but because of what it can tell us about war and memory in general. That’s what those books are engaged with.

What are you working on now? And will the MacArthur influence it anyway?

I’m working on the sequel to The Sympathizer. One way to understand that book is that it’s a spy novel, and a genre novel—and I love genre. Many kinds. Including literary fiction as a genre. But in genres like spy fiction, or detective novels, and so on, there’s a little mystics for sequels to continue the adventures of characters. And that’s one of the things I want to do with The Sympathizer—to continue exploiting that genre aspect of it; but I also want to acknowledge that, for me, the journey of the antihero wasn’t finished by the end of  the book. And I wanted to figure out where he was going to go. And how he would continue to struggle with his politics. And how I would continue to struggle with the problem of literature and politics within the novel.

Takuya Matsumoto, "Jump Rope Music" (Different World Remix)

Tue, 2017-10-17 09:01

I guess this is the day we can all start complaining about how cold it is. Congratulations, we made it. Anyway, here’s music. Enjoy.

New York City, October 15, 2017

Mon, 2017-10-16 17:13

★ The humid, gloomy morning seemed to be breaking apart, as the forecast said it would, around 11. Buildings shone in the distance. By noon, though, the light had shut off again. Without the sun, the breeze in the forecourt was clammy. Leaves tossed; debris blew. A motorcycle bore down on a pigeon, which reluctantly took flight. At great intervals a drop of rain would fall. The children rode around for a while on a scooter and the balance bike, despite the dimness, still wearing shorts for the day they’d been told about, the better part that never arrived. Neither the heavens nor the newspapers make enforceable promises, or even apologize for what goes undelivered. A woman in a puffy jacket sat smoking a cigarette with focus and intensity. Nothing improved.

Penis mugs, Houdini's handcuffs, and a souvenir from James Monroe's disinterment

Mon, 2017-10-16 11:34

Lot 1: Handle with Care

Image: Courtesy of Rago Arts

Had you the foresight to secure that plywood penis table at Sotheby’s last year, you’d now have the opportunity to add some perfectly compatible drinkware: three ceramic mugs with phallus form handles. Cock cups, if you will. Estimated at only $500-700, the whimsical Disco-era vessels would certainly discomfit the members of your book club-coffee klatch, and for that, they’re worth every penny.

The mugs feature in a New Jersey auction on October 22 brimming with awesomely off-kilter oddities, e.g., a collection of rubber mushrooms, a box of glass eyes from the early twentieth century, and a Victorian hand-cranked vibrator.Lot 2: Off the ’Cuffs

Image: Courtesy of Potter & Potters Auctions

Harry Houdini, master magician and ‘king of handcuffs,’ loved to flaunt his cuff-cracking act. What really pissed him off were copycat escape artists, particularly those who tried to usurp his faux-regal title. So he had handcuffs modified to “break,” or stump, his competitors. (He also tried to patent his tricks.) This Lilly Iron was made around 1875 and then customized with a special bolt by Houdini in 1905; any performer who made the attempt would thus demonstrate his own mediocrity. According to the auctioneer, this set is among the most prized Houdini owned/used restraints. Hence the estimated sale price of $8,000-12,000. Special key included.

These cuffs last appeared at auction in Vegas in 2004. This time around, they’ll materialize in Chicago on October 28 as part of the collection of Vaudeville magician Harry Blackstone Sr.

Lot 3: RIP, but Not in NYC

This delicate silk ribbon calls to mind that time when Southerners decided President James Monroe’s corpse was no longer safe in New York City. Monroe, our fifth president, died in New York in 1831 and was buried in the East Village’s Marble Cemetery. But Virginia wanted him back, and so in July of 1858, the man was disinterred, briefly put on display, and then conveyed by barge back to the ‘Old Dominion’ for reburial.

The image of a goddess stomping her crowned male enemy captioned with the words “Sic Semper Tyrannis”—from Virginia’s state flag—hints at the political motivations at play in exhuming and returning a native son. Whatever the reason, moving presidential remains is a thing, and this morbid little keepsake could be worth $400+ to bidders when it goes to auction on October 21.

Says the auction catalog, “The only example we have seen, and as close as the serious ribbon collector will get to having an example from our fifth President.” Serious ribbon collectors, you’ve been warned.


Rebecca Rego Barry is the author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places.


Live Alone, But Die in a Very Large Group If You Can

Mon, 2017-10-16 11:25

Image: kbcanon via Flickr

“I’m having trouble with my roommate. What should I do?” —Troubled Terry

Human beings were never meant to live with one another. We’re just not built for it. Adam and Eve, look how they fucked that relationship up. Blaming each other, listening to snakes. Their sons killing each other. All we do is get on each other’s nerves, constantly, for almost no reason. Basically all American sitcoms are about how impossible it is to cohabitate with anyone, including our families. If we were smart we would have long ago adopted those Japanese Hotel Pods everywhere. Make them sound proof, so I don’t have to hear my neighbor’s Creed CDs on full blast. Lock yourself in and everyone just live and sleep in dark, soundproof, lonely silence.  We think humans are the cure for loneliness. But the cure is probably robots. Or at least, talking boxes.

Have you ever tried sharing a bed with someone? It’s practically damned near impossible. They’re always stealing your blankets and pillows, complaining about your snoring, pushing your stuffed animals off the bed, eating your Pop Tarts, messing with your porn. They want to be held all night, which basically involves them crushing your arm with some part of their body. I used to have six arms! Most have fallen off. Because they got crushed by people sleeping all over me at night.

Sleep is really one of the last pure joys in my life now that I’m 44 ½. Eating tacos is second. Sex is like 10th on that list. All I really want is to walk around my apartment naked, watch old cop show re-runs, and occasionally work on my left-handed wiffle ball swing. Thankfully I have a roommate who understands and nurtures these activities in my life. I’m very lucky. I was introducing Ben to an old friend of mine, and Ben said one of the sweetest things anyone has ever said about me. “Jim’s trash,” he told my friend, “but he’s mine.” The other sweetest thing Ben ever said about me was that I could pass as an Eastern European mobster.

Ben took me in out of some kind of wild mix of pity and bewilderment. And we’ve been thick as thieves ever since. But we have our troubles. Ben likes the kitchen sink clear at all times. Which is hard to maintain, because I used to love to keep dirty things in there, in the hope they would disintegrate. Now I have to hide all my dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Which Ben doesn’t like but I think he can respect. I run it once in awhile, sometimes just as a distraction during a roommate squabble. “I can’t hear you over the dish washer! Let’s talk about this later!” That kind of thing. “Are you talking to me? I can’t hear you over the dish washer!” And so our lives roll forward.

People are going to tell you that communication is the best quality to have with roommates, but that usually means leaving little passive aggressive notes for each other. “PLEASE DO NOT DRINK MY BEERS AND EAT MY CHEESE.” That kind of thing. The “please” is just there to mock you.

I had a big blow-up with Ben about cheese. I like to leave cheese out. I like the idea that cheese is but a knife motion away, in another room, waiting for me whenever the whim to eat it arises. Ben thinks that cheese should be eaten in an orderly way and refrigerated whenever the cheese-eating is completed. It’s definitely two different ways of looking at the universe. In one of the universes, cheeses can be eaten at any moment. At others cheeses must be constantly unwrapped and rewrapped. And the eating of cheese is regulated by the swinging of the refrigerator door.

How long should cheese sit out, being ready to eat? That’s between you and whoever you live with. And be prepared for some erudite debates on the matter. They key to living with anyone is having your own space. Is there someplace you can hide, close your eyes, and pretend that no one is around? I do this on the subway all the time, standing there in a crowded train car imagining I am in a very large field populated by fireflies under a huge curve of stars. Sometimes I imagine the field isn’t grass, it’s flannel sheets. Anyway, if you carve out a little mental space just for yourself, get a indoor tent or some kind of closet you can scream in, you’ll be cooking with gas. Which is good.

You can get some of those headphones that just block out everything, sit cross-legged in your tent with the lights out. I learned this breathing thing in yoga, blocking one nostril and trying to breathe in and out using the other one. It really calms me down. Do that in your tent. Emerge from your tent only when you need cheese. Understand that you’ve never felt truly complete outside of the womb and that you will probably never completely trust anyone ever. It really puts things in perspective, with this stranger you’re living with listening to Tori Amos just over there in the other room. But they could be miles away with the darkness you’ve made, the breathing you’re doing and the silence that completely envelopes you.

You may need to live with people just to pay your bills. But you create your own understanding of the world. Walls, buildings, yards, fields: these are all perceived constructs. Things we’ve created to mitigate how connected we are to everyone else. And humans are only fun to deal with in bits and pieces. So let them in when you need. Ride out their rants about cheeses. Try to see things from their point of view, a point of view that is inherently wrong because it is not centered around you. Understand their point of view, identify something unspeakable about that person, and then slowly use it against them for as much time as you can stand to be together. At some point they will completely give up on trying to change you. Just as, eventually, a river turns a mountain into a fjord. Hang in there, Terry! Unless you win the lottery or something. Then you can buy an island! Full of cheese!


Jim Behrle lives with Ben in Jersey City, NJ.

How To Make Plans

Mon, 2017-10-16 10:50

Dave Bry, 1970-2017

Sun, 2017-10-15 23:12

Dave Bry, part of The Awl since very shortly after its inception and one of its most prolific contributors, passed away on Sunday. Dave’s Public Apology column, one of the first recurring features here, was the genesis for the book of the same name he put out in 2013. The generosity at the heart of everything he wrote was, if anything, wildly underplayed: His decency was essential to his character. Dave is survived by his wife and son. He was 46.

New York City, October 12, 2017

Fri, 2017-10-13 17:42

★★★ A gentle, exhausted rain fell on the walk to school. By the time the shouts of morning recess were carrying over the street, the edges of the sidewalk squares were drying out and low shreds of gray were flying under higher, sun-whitened clouds. Somewhere in there was a gap or two of blue. The wind was coiling around and whipping. Then the clouds broke apart and the sun was warming where it came through. It was a mistake, but not a serious one, to head out without a jacket.

It's A Metaphor

Fri, 2017-10-13 14:23

Jared Kushner Doesn't Get Inoculated

Fri, 2017-10-13 14:05

Image: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office via Flickr

JARED and IVANKA are lounging around in pajamas. Their DAUGHTER is the shadow President per a coup last week in which she cast the deciding vote for herself. Her first order of business, after she ushered her grandfather into an assisted living facility, is to change the dress code. Onesies if you have them. Most pajamas are flame retardant, she explains sensibly as she distributes the new policy, acknowledging that she understands STEVE BANNON set booby traps, many of them involving fire, before he departed the White House. GARY COHN is rubbing Cheez-it crumbs on his gums like they’re cocaine. GENERAL KELLY is definitely not resigning. He’s playing the piano with GENERAL MATTIS and they’re singing “Sister Christian” to KUSHNER DAUGHTER like they’re Archie and Edith. KELLYANNE CONWAY walks in with DR. BEN CARSON, who is rolling a cart of syringes and carrying many bags. 

IVANKA [wearing an IVANKA-branded onesie and expensive jewelry]: Secretary Carson.

THE GENERALS [in unison, and excitedly rising from the piano, wearing onesies depicting all of Ken Burns’s documentaries]: Is the Twenty-fifth Amendment vote happening?

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [wearing a Wonder Woman onesie]: I determined it was actually less dangerous to America’s housing and urban development if Ben administered flu shots and not run HUD.

[There are audible gasps and crosstalk.]

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [declaratively but happily]: This administration now ascribes to the Germ theory of disease. And we certainly ascribe to herd immunity. [KUSHNER DAUGHTER passes out copies of The Hot Zone to all STAFF.]

[KELLYANNE CONWAY, wearing a Pat’s King of Steaks onesie, begins weeping, as JARED scuffs over to DR. BEN CARSON, his sneakers, still squeaking. JARED is wearing a ThunderCats onesie.]

JARED [tracing his fingers along his forehead and to his temples]: So I have these headaches.

[DR. BEN CARSON is so immersed in his flu shot cart, finally doing a job that aligns with his skill set, that he doesn’t hear JARED. He is wearing scrubs, not a onesie.]

GARY COHN [wearing an Odell Beckham Jr. onesie]: It’s just sympathy CTE. I get them too.

[KUSHNER DAUGHTER texts “chronic traumatic encephalopathy = Dad??” to herself. She also texts “What happens if we leave NAFTA?” to HILLARY CLINTON.]

GARY COHN [wisely]: You were watching the game last night. That’s probably why.

JARED [grimacing]: The Nationals?

GARY COHN [pithily but wrong]: What? Fuck no. Baseball is for people who read The New Yorker and worship their fathers.

IVANKA [powerfully]: He does neither of those.

BEN CARSON [pointing the syringe like it’s the world’s tiniest assault rifle]: Who’s first?

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [leading from behind]: The generals and I have come up with a ranking of who is most likely to catch the flu this year. We’ll just do it in order, if that’s okay with everyone? I’m in charge, but it’s also important that my authority is derived from consensus and not from the threat of state violence. [KUSHNER DAUGHTER hands DR. BEN CARSON the ranking.]

BEN CARSON [reading from the list]: Jared, you’re up first. I’ll just need a form of government ID. [He looks to KUSHNER DAUGHTER who nods approvingly.]

KELLYANNE CONWAY [interrupting]: To be clear, the only people the federal government should be in the business of identifying are Democratic-leaning voters in Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia. So we can purge them from the voter rolls.

[JARED looks helplessly to IVANKA, because she already shredded all of his paperwork.]

BEN CARSON [bureaucratically]: A driver’s license would work.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [unabashedly]: He doesn’t drive.

BEN CARSON [bureaucratically]: What about a passport?

GARY COHN [winking]: Globalists don’t really need those.

BEN CARSON [looking to KUSHNER DAUGHTER]: Does he have an insurance card at least?

[KUSHNER DAUGHTER’s phone pings. She reads that her grandfather has gutted one more Obamacare protection, this one adversely affecting employees of small businesses.]

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [crossly]: No one wants that. Can someone explain to me how the President is still signing executive orders? I thought he was in an assisted living facility?

GARY COHN [nostalgically]: Livia Soprano inflicted so much havoc from a hospital bed.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [sensibly]: Gary, look at me. I’m six. That show ended two years before I was born.

IVANKA [warmly]: If anyone spoils the ending of “The Sopranos” for my daughter, so help me.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [pressing her temples]: Dad, can you get me a coffee? Now I have a headache.

JARED [weakly]: I didn’t get my shot yet.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [to DR. BEN CARSON]: Can I just sign an affidavit that he is who he says he is? And you can give him the shot when he gets back.

[DR. BEN CARSON smiles at KUSHNER DAUGHTER’s reasonableness. He sticks the syringe behind his ear like it’s a pen.]

GARY COHN [decisively]: Fuck it. Do me then. I need three though. One for each arm. And then do one right in my face. [GARY COHN points at his nose, closes one nostril and snorts.]

[KUSHNER DAUGHTER holds up her right index finger at DR. BEN CARSON and mouths, “Only one.”]

GARY COHN [nostalgically, again]: The last time I was sick from work I was at U.S. Steel. Ten months at U.S. Steel. One sick day to interview on Wall Street. And then straight to the top. [GARY COHN shoots his hand up to the ceiling.]

IVANKA [sarcastically]: Your pivot from manufacturing to finance helped us win Ohio.

BEN CARSON [agreeably]: Can I do Gary next?

[KUSHNER DAUGHTER scans her ranking and sees that GARY COHN is in fact next. She nods. DR. BEN CARSON reaches into a leather satchel for two more syringes.]

GENERAL KELLY [bounding across the room]: No! That bag is the nuclear football

GARY COHN [confused]: The nuclear football is a murse?

GENERAL KELLY [exasperatedly]: It used to be inside a real football but whenever your grandfather saw it, he’d yell at it, and then he’d keep yelling. Support the anthem, support the police.

GENERAL MATTIS [clutching the nuclear football]: Sometimes for hours.

GENERAL KELLY [mimicking TRUMP]: Why is the football on the ground? Is the football kneeling?

KELLYANNE CONWAY [bemusedly]: Last week we thought he was going to give himself a stroke. He couldn’t think of the word for “football” or for “anthem” or for “kneeling” so he was just screaming sounds. My mother always said, you learn something new every day, and that day we learned that using words helps deliver oxygen to the President’s brain.

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [sternly]: Help me understand here, Kellyanne. If it being a football was going to cause a stroke, why—[to IVANKA] can I swear, Mom?

[IVANKA nods.]

KUSHNER DAUGHTER [powerfully]: Why the fuck didn’t you keep it a football?

[IVANKA smiles at her daughter as the GENERALS deliberately and carefully move the nuclear football away from DR. BEN CARSON. KUSHNER DAUGHTER taps out an office wide email that going forward and as long as she is the shadow President, the nuclear football will be referred to as the nuclear purse.]