It broke the WikiLeaks story, then the Snowden scandal, now Alan Rusbridger’s crusading newspaper is trying to break America. But with its US campaign on the brink of disaster, has the deadline passed to beat a dignified retreat?
News outlets want to break big stories but at the same time not be overwhelmed by them – a certain detachment is well advised. It is an artful line. But the Guardian essentially went into the Edward Snowden business – and continues in it. It’s a complex business, too: to ally yourself with larger-than-life, novelistic characters, first Assange, and then Snowden, and stranger-than-strange middle men, like the Guardian’s contract columnist Glenn Greenwald, who brought in the story. The effort to pretend that the story is straight up good and evil, that this is journalism pure and simple, unalloyed public interest, without peculiar nuances and rabbit holes and obvious contradictions, is really quite a trick.
Remembering a New York friendship. Excerpted from Manguso’s new book, The Guardians: An Elegy, out Feb. 28:
“The Thursday edition of the Riverdale Press carried a story that began An unidentified white man was struck and instantly killed by a Metro-North train last night as it pulled into the Riverdale station on West 254th Street.
“The train’s engineer told the police that the man was alone and that he jumped. The police officers pulled the body from the track and found no identification. The train’s 425 passengers were transferred to another train and delayed about twenty minutes.”
Doug Bock Clark | Longreads | November 2017 | 6,868 words
From his tent in the illegal shantytown carved out of a Bangladeshi forest, 25-year-old Abdul watched as men, women, and children limped into the refugee camp, gaunt from not eating for days. They were his people, the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority that has been widely called the world’s most persecuted people. Abdul had arrived in the camps ten months earlier, when 66 thousand refugees fled the neighboring country of Myanmar in the last months of 2016. Nearly a year later, the Rohingya were once again on the run, with hundreds of thousands fleeing to Bangladesh through grooves worn in the swamps made by the more than 1 million refugees who had preceded them over seven decades.
The most recent violence began on August 25, 2017, when armed Rohingya groups attacked as many as 30 Burmese police and military posts near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. The army’s retaliation had been swift, with soldiers razing more than 200 villages, causing about 600 thousand Rohingya to flee. The refugees told stories of Burmese soldiers ambushing their villages, raping the women, and shooting the men or decapitating them with knives. They described landmines being laid along the well-known escape routes. Each morning, corpses of Rohingya who had drowned trying to cross the mile-wide Naf River, which divides Myanmar from Bangladesh, washed onto the shore where they had once sought safety.
Abdul called the new arrivals into his shelter, which was made of discarded plastic stretched over bamboo slats, though all he could offer them was a spot on the red-clay floor. Soon, 30 people were occupying just 80 square feet. But they counted themselves lucky: Most new arrivals slept under monsoon-season skies. Nearly a million Rohingya now crammed into a narrow peninsula on the southern tip of Bangladesh, almost all of them in squatter settlements ringing the U.N.-run camps, which have been at capacity for decades. Eventually, Abdul’s tent became so crowded that he had to bed down at a nearby mosque. But having made a similar escape with shrapnel embedded in his shoulder just 10 months earlier, Abdul felt he had to help.
Leslie Kendall Dye | Longreads | November 2017 | 10 minutes (2,770 words)
The onset of a southern California rainstorm, as seen from the back seat of my mother’s Toyota Corolla: A single raindrop lands with the sound of a bullet against an armored car. A splash across the windshield — heart stopping. As the sky shifts from pearl gray to dense slate, the fusillade comes faster, staccato, rapid fire. The car is engulfed in water, great pooling streams slide across the windshield; the wipers can barely keep up. The rainwater mixes with oil drops on the road — a hazardous blend: The tires struggle to gain traction and the car swerves on the suddenly slick pavement.
I awake tonight to a first bullet in such a cascade, but it is not rain.
It is pain.
Flipping through a magazine — if you’re like me and still do that — you’ll often encounter a colorful advertisement beckoning you to visit some place like Montenegro or Switzerland. “Belarus,” the slogan says. “Hospitality beyond borders.” But do you even know where Belarus is? What images does its name conjure? At The Guardian, Samanth Subramanian tells the story of a whole sector of the marketing industry outside tourism, whose machinations remain invisible to consumers, but whose work shapes our opinions about place.
Many people associate Mexico with drugs, China with pollution, and Russia with spies and snow, but each country has so much more to offer than those social ills. A host of marketing firms now work with nations, regions and cities to sculpt their public image, crafting an identity that either polishes preexisting rough edges, or builds one from scratch from history, character and potential. To attract visitors, a place must be safe and full of activities, but tourism is not rebranding’s only objective. Some places want to reposition themselves on the map of public opinion. They want to increase their status and respect among their neighbors. Many want foreign investment, and to attract business, they must appear flourishing and stable.
Nation-building requires more than writing taglines and designing logos. It requires psychology, and firms can conduct years worth of research and interviews to identify how to fix image problems or make places like Primorsky Krai visible in the first place. As with all marketing, some part of the image is a lie, and branding’s inherent manipulations don’t always work. Example A: Gaddafi’s Libya. As Subramanian asks in his piece: What makes a nation a nation?
Of all their projects, the Grands are proudest of Tatarstan, which has bolstered their reputation among the people who run Russia’s regional governments. The government of Tatarstan, a republic of around 4 million people in south-western Russia, was convinced it wasn’t getting the recognition it deserved, either in Moscow or overseas. In 2013, they hatched a plan to promote the region’s heritage.
When Instid was hired, the government merely wanted a thick book, with glossy photos and text about the artefacts in Tatarstan’s museums. The Grands expanded this meagre vision. They reached into the period of the Bulgar kings, who ruled this region between the seventh and 13th centuries, and distilled a set of attitudes and values that had persisted into modern-day Tatarstan. The people were perfectionists, the Grands decided. They honed their skills and craftsmanship continuously, they were competitive, and valued pragmatism; they also bore a sense of loss about their past, and they prized the material over the spiritual or the intangible.
The products of such study – lessons from medieval history, or patter about “mastery,” “decisiveness” and “speed” – can seem amorphous, or even concocted. But they lent structure to some of Tatarstan’s initiatives, Alex Grand said. Schools and universities folded these cues into their syllabuses; architects based blueprints on them. In their annual reports, government officials took to naming sections after the values the campaign celebrated. The tourism sector, which was never encouraged as warmly as industry, received a dose of state enthusiasm: its own ministry, more funds, better training.
Laurie Penny | Longreads | November 2017 | 12 minutes (3,175 words)
“I’m sick of being asked to suffer so a man can grow.”
– Alexandra Petri
“Everyone. Fucking. Knew.”
– Scott Rosenberg
This is actually happening.
The so-called “revelations” about endemic male sexual aggression in Hollywood, in the media, in politics, in the tech world, and in communities large and small have not stopped, despite every conceivable effort to dismiss, discredit, shame, and belittle the survivors coming forward to demand a different world. The most uncomfortable revelation is the fact that none of this, really, was that revelatory.
A great many people knew. Maybe they didn’t know all of it, but they knew enough to feel tainted by a complicity that hobbled their compassion.
It turns out that this isn’t about individual monsters. It never was. This is about structural violence, about a culture that decided long ago that women’s agency and dignity were worth sacrificing to protect the reputation of powerful men and the institutions that enabled their entitlement. Everyone, including the “good guys,” knew it was happening. We just didn’t think it was all that wrong. At least, not wrong enough to make a fuss about, because the people groping their callous, violent way through life knew they’d get away with it, and most of the men around them were permitted the luxury of ignorance.
Except that now that seems to be changing. Now, Old Dinosaurs are wondering how to negotiate with an oncoming asteroid. Current or former Stupid Young Men are in a state of panic about their imminent introduction to the concept of “consequences,” leading to the question: what, precisely, is the age when men are expected to take responsibility for their behavior?
The answer, with any luck, is “The Digital One.”
Very few men seem sure what to do in this situation. I have been asked, repeatedly, what men and boys ought to be doing now. How should we behave differently? How guilty should we be feeling? What do women actually want?
Good. You’re finally asking. I suspect that if more of you had asked that question earlier, if you’d asked it often, and if you’d paid attention to the answers, we wouldn’t have to have this conversation — which nobody wants to be having — right now. It’s a shame, honestly, that it had to come to this. But here we are, and here we’re going to stay while powerful scumbags all over the world take a break from public life to spend more time with the police, and while people who’ve nursed private hurts for years start putting the puzzle pieces together until they recognize the shape of injustice.
I’m sorry; you’re new here. The notion that women’s agency and dignity might be more important than men’s right to act like grabby children whenever they want may feel like uncharted territory, but some of us have lived here all along. You don’t know your way around, and the whole place seems full of hidden terrors, and you’re tired and scared and being here makes you feel ignorant and powerless. You haven’t learned the language — they didn’t offer it at your school — and you wish you knew how to ask basic questions, like where is the nearest station, and how much is that sandwich, and do you know the name of a good defense lawyer? You wish you knew how to translate simple ideas, like: I’m hungry, and I’m lonely, and my entire life I’ve let my fear of women’s rejection control my behavior and that fear seemed so overwhelming that it didn’t matter who got hurt as long as I didn’t have to feel it and everyone else seemed to agree and now I don’t know who to be or how to act, or I think there’s a train leaving soon and I might need to be on it. Read more…