marginal resolve

Friday Longreads

  1. The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama
    In his crystalline April 2015 piece, Tom Junod indicts the Obama Presidency and specifically, its drone program, with a failure uncharacteristic of the former President: foresight. When Junod wrote the following words, he did not know that an oversized cheetos-based growth would be sitting in the Oval Office.

    But here's something simpler, and more human. You have made sure that you will not be the only Lethal President. You have made sure that your successor in the White House will also be a Lethal President, as well as someone somewhere else in the world.

    What if the next Lethal President is not as good and as honorable as you? What if he is actually cruel or bloodthirsty?

    What if he turns out to be — like you, Mr. President — just a man?

  2. Inside Trump's Cruel Campaign Against The USDA's Scientists by Michael Lewis
    Michael Lewis has always been excellent at explaining systems. But excellent, is only the baseline for Vanity Fair. Lewis has an almost uncanny ability to connect, as Malcolm Gladwell put it, 'his characters with their work.' As Lewis explores the unwieldy and deeply moral organisation chart of the US Department of Agriculture, he leaves us with a sense not only of bureaucracy, science, and an almost idealistic commitment to goals, but also sentiment for bureaucrats and the federal government, which is, to say the least, not easy.

    Zaidi marveled at how hard it was for Americans to see the source of their society’s strength. People who came to the United States from other countries had this one advantage: they didn’t take it for granted. “The immigrant journey has a time compression to it,” he said. “Within a generation you’re able to see how the rungs of the ladder of opportunity are laid out in front of you, and you can see the hands that pull you up. You see people pull you up and you say, O.K., I’ve got to do the same thing for other people.

    “I came up that ladder of opportunity, but even I didn’t know the names of the government programs that made up the ladder itself. Growing up, what was obvious to me was the kindness of community members. But government was less visible. You need to work really hard to appreciate it.”

    And who wants to do that?

Saul Bellow on Values and Modernity


I was reading Herzog by Saul Bellow when I came across this famous passage:

“For instance? Well, for instance, what it means to be a man. In a city. In a century. In transition. In a mass. Transformed by science. Under organized power. Subject to tremendous controls. In a condition caused by mechanization. After the late failure of radical hopes. In a society that was no community and devalued the person. Owing to the multiplied power of numbers which made the self negligible. Which spent military billions against foreign enemies but would not pay for order at home. Which permitted savagery and barbarism in its own great cities. At the same time, the pressure of human millions who have discovered what concerted efforts and thoughts can do. As megatons of water shape organisms on the ocean floor. As tides polish stones. As winds hollow cliffs. The beautiful supermachinery opening a new life for innumerable mankind. Would you deny them the right to exist? Would you ask them to labor and go hungry while you enjoyed delicious old-fashioned Values? You — you yourself are a child of this mass and a brother to all the rest. Or else an ingrate, dilettante, idiot. There, Herzog, thought Herzog, since you ask for the instance, is the way it runs.”

The sentences washed over me, detailing what I had never been able to articulate. In addition, I had distinct impression that I'd read this before. That's when it struck. Ian McEwan, as the epigraph to his crystalline Saturday, uses this very quote from Saul Bellow. This passage from Herzog is the condensation, then, of what Saturday stands for. Here's a passage from Saturday, which I will leave you with.

Twitter's 300: How To Avoid Distraction


Twitter is free from peer-pressure. Unless you're one of the privileged few whose following lists are subject to analysis, no one cares who you follow. A month ago, I deleted Twitter because I couldn't keep up with the 300 or so people I was following. As with the battle of Thermopylae, 300 is more than it seems.

300, including respectable magazines and newspapers in the dusk of their relevance, desperately re-posting links and neon-sign images.

300, including organizations tweeting events and campaigns, press releases and damage control, statistics I can't do anything about and petitions that will come to nothing.

300, including a President of the United States who repels you and transfixes you in your seat with his repulsiveness as you watch with horrified satisfaction the tragedy porn that is the unraveling of the state of a union.

300, including titans and deplorables, newsmen and fake-news, and every single voice I want to agree with or rebut, with either unqualified approbation or knowing derision, on brand, it comes with the box, I'll have fries with that, thank you.


To escape the 300 and their depredations, you need rules. Good sense and rules allow me to curate a Twitter feed I can sift through every morning.

Follow people, not organizations. I love Vox. But I don't follow them. Instead, I follow Ezra Klein, their editor-at-large, and the host of some of my favorite podcasts. He reliably retweets anything noteworthy, along with his own observations about Vox's publications. Wherever possible, follow journalists and not newspapers. Follow people, not organizations.

Poem: Money


Money walks around me in circles;
I try not to give away what I have,
For what salesmen make me want.

But they surround me,
with purple lace, and books,
Large apartments, unfurnished nooks.
With their pleading eyes,
and their daily sadness.
I try not to let them down.

They want me to buy things,
high heels, kettles,
and new tires,
Bowling pins, and electric fire.

I pay the gods who decide my fate,
and then the restauranteur for what I ate.
A trainer, then, to keep me fit,
And cigarettes that patches don't help me quit:
I pay them all:
to kill me
and to keep me alive.
Doctors prohibit my early end;
They have to send me bills,
So does the Government.

Money gives me moments,
they are fleeting but true.

My wise friend shouts:
“Burn paper money, you fool,”
That I will gladly do.

These moments, they are fleeting,
But yet they are true.
As true as you and true as me,
Or was it you?
The moment gives me whiplash,
permit me to turn the corner,
stretch and bend,
and swerve right to avoid the end.

But even ending is only just,
Perhaps we would like forever for us,
Immortal hydras chained to roots,
cursed with wanderlust.

Money is what they have
and what I want.
The men and women, come and go:
Talking, like Prufrock, in a farther room,
Talking of stocks, and talking of bonds,
Talking of precious rocks, and expensive haunts,
Talking of money, and Michelangelo.

Poem: There To Die


I wrote this over Whatsapp, which is the worst focused-writing app ever devised. Every line of the poem was sent as a standalone text message, unedited and unadorned. I am sure this is visible. You may feel the rough edges and fallacies on your palate, reader. You will feel them, when you walk around a ruined and infested fountain, weeping and cursing and thinking of the dead.

Her voice was the swirling sky,
and her eyes were starry nights.
Her story was a fantastic lie,
and she showed me love atop the Golan Heights.

She turned over and sighed,
and turned out the lights.

My voice was rocky ground, with shattered bone,
I found my mind with a bloodhound,
scavenging alone.
She picked me up unwound the knots,
in the back of my mind.

I may really have lied,
I betray my own kind.
None of this is mine.
None of this is owned.

And then I asked her, among the works of days and hands,
what sins and sorrows
had led her to find my outstretched hand.

She said, she had told a lie, sold exotic furs,
lied and cheated, hurled a curse
and land and land and land.

The sea is open, and I am free.
At the helm of my destiny.
Alone, and I ignore the shore.

A lone tree beckons, and I murmur
"Not today. I must tender to a festering sore.
I must take care of the herd. I must write down
the truths that I have heard"
"I must walk among the the crowds, and speak in a voice of thunder

I must walk with kings and gods,
and tear nations asunder.
I must be cold with hate,
and I must tender to my grudges
It must not get too late, I cannot wait for spring bloom or golden midges.

And then she called, and I followed.
I grew old, and my living room halls
were legend, hallowed.
I sold the sea, and blotted out the sun.
Set the price of tea, and shook gunpowder
out of gun.
I bought this happy isle, under a swirling sky.
Recanted all my lies, and lay there with her.
there to die.