The American military effort in Afghanistan has been a waste from start to finish.
July 22, 2021
From that point on she was fully formed, and she could write about whatever she liked
When I read In the Freud Archives for the first time, I understood myself to be looking for facts, dates, quotations—material. The material was there, and like a good nonfiction writer I dutifully underlined and annotated, but I also found that the particulars of the story she told had difficulty competing with the writing she used to tell it.
July 10, 2020
Notes on music #1
For a while in the 2010s, music critics were obsessed with “hauntology,” the return of dead and disappeared genres to contemporary music in ghostly form. Hauntology was not just nostalgia, the idea that the past was better and that we’d like to return to it. The most famous practitioner of hauntology in music, Burial, produced loving memorials to British rave music of the early ’90s based not on his own memories—he was too young to go to the raves—but on stories told to him by his older brother. Rave culture promised a future that Burial should have inhabited as an adult, but that future never arrived, and that sense of the past failing to keep its promises to those who came after is what made hauntology such a fruitful project for those born to the wealthiest generation in world history.
Bush’s decisions to invade Iraq and Afghanistan were obviously the most consequential of his presidency, but the decision to…
August 16, 2019
On David Berman
Much of what David Berman wrote and performed throughout his life was country music: songs about the sadness and difficulty of trying to get by in the world, along with descriptions of that world. “When God was young, he made the wind and the sun,” Berman sang on the opening song of Bright Flight. “And since then, it’s been a slow education.” When country songs are successful, it is because their outward simplicity, their plain-spokenness, their colloquialisms emerge out of enormous and delicate efforts of emotional compression. You can tell when a country song is just simple—when the necessary effort hasn’t been made—and you can tell when a songwriter hasn’t pulled off the compression, because then the song sounds mannered. But when both elements are working, a country song can shimmer, throb, or glare at you with an uncomfortable intensity.
March 20, 2019
The killings in New Zealand
American foreign policy hasn’t done any real thinking in two years
Peace is possible, if just barely, on the Korean peninsula neither thanks to nor in spite of America’s leadership, but because America isn’t leading at all. The country’s ruling party has been thrown into such chaos by Trump’s election that it lacks a coherent geopolitical strategy, and the State Department is a nonfunctioning husk of its former self. What Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in have done is recognize America’s geopolitical incoherence as an opportunity to act on their own behalf. The peace process is primarily of South Korean design, it was underway months before Trump flew to Singapore, and it illustrates the kinds of space that open up, and the kinds of diplomacy that become possible, as the US begrudgingly starts to cede its place at the head of the world’s table.
March 2, 2018
Discussions of terrorism and mass shootings lean heavily on a sense of danger that bears little resemblance to the threats that actually face us.
This time around, magical forces (that is, children) were supposed to save us from the gun control debate. There was something unsettling or self-serving about the excess of praise adults heaped on the Stoneman Douglas students who boarded charter buses bound for the Tallahassee statehouse just a few days after watching their classmates die. “This shooting is different from the other ones,” a 16-year-old boy told a Times reporter. “I just have a gut feeling—something is going to change.” It’s understandable that he should feel this way; insofar as no previous school shooting had happened in his school, to his friends and teachers, this time was different. But his representatives quickly demonstrated that it was not different enough. Florida’s legislature voted down a motion to debate an assault weapons ban.
December 1, 2017
On The Vietnam War
November 8, 2017
It has become safer to assume that the American military has a presence in a given country in Africa than not.
Faced with political instability in the developing world—often a region of the developing world in which the US and its allies have at least some interest in resource extraction—the US advises weak governments to fight “terrorism,” providing training and material assistance as needed. When the government proves unable to stand on its own two feet, the US sends in troops of its own.
August 11, 2017
On Barbara Lee and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force
The AUMF is the War on Terror’s key piece of legislation. The text of the law is brief, beginning with, “Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens,” and ending with an assurance that nothing in it would supersede “any requirement of the War Powers Resolution,” the 1973 law passed (over Nixon’s veto) to prevent any more Presidents from waging undeclared war, as they had for years in Korea and Vietnam.
June 19, 2017
The US has no prospects for improving the stability of Afghan politics through military force.
The US army, through a combination of historical ignorance and disastrous blundering, failed to populate Afghanistan’s post-invasion government with the people who could have given it a chance at real stability. The US pretended as though the Afghan civil war had never occurred, and allowed mujahedeen and warlords who had terrorized the country throughout the 1990s to assume positions of political power, which did not endear Afghans to their new rulers.