Is the Media Walking Us Into Another War

On September 20, just days after the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans had been murdered in a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, a crowd of some 30,000 Libyans jammed the main square of that city to protest his death. They carried signs that read, “We want justice for Chris” and “The ambassador was Libya’s friend” and “Libya lost a friend.” When members of the Ansar al-Sharia militia—an Islamist terrorist organization linked to al Qaeda—tried to hold a counter-demonstration, the crowd erupted into fury, chanting, “You terrorists, you cowards, go back to Afghanistan.” Read More

The Twenty-Three Best Train Songs Ever Written–Maybe

Below, my list of the best train songs ever written. In America, at least. Scoff at it, hate it, love it, add to it — you’ll probably be right. My list was selected to reflect the incredible variety of musical genres in which train songs have been written. Folk, rock, blues, big band, gospel, show tunes, skiffle, bluegrass, Newgrass — you name it. Really: outside of the basics — sex, death, love, God, food, dances, and drugs — have so many popular songs ever been written about anything else? Particularly an inanimate mode of transportation? I don’t think so. 1. “Folsom Prison Blues,” by Johnny Cash. Yes, Read More

The Near-Death of Grand Central Station And How It Foretold the 2008 Financial Crisis

Many consider the destruction of New York’s original Pennsylvania Station in 1963 to have been the architectural crime of the twentieth century. But few know how close we came to also losing its counterpart, Grand Central Terminal, a hub every bit as irreplaceable. Grand Central’s salvation has generally been told as a tale of aroused civic virtue, which it was. Yet it was, as well, an affirming episode for those of us convinced that our political culture has become an endless clown-car act with the same fools always leaping out. “In New York then, I learn to appreciate the Italian Read More

Ayn Rand’s Rapture of the Rails: The Train Deaths of ATLAS SHRUGGED

Few people in this world have ever loved trains as much as Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, a.k.a., Ayn Rand, the proudly adulterous, cult-leading, atheist, Russian–Jewish immigrant who has somehow become the idol of today’s sexually immured, Christian fundamentalist, xenophobic Republican Party, as exemplified by the primary victory last week of Professor David Brat. Being aboard a western train for my July Harper’s Magazine folio story, as we navigated around washed out rails and dealt with a malfunctioning electrical system while in Washington Republicans were preparing to shut down the federal government, my thoughts naturally turned to Rand. In her major opus, Atlas Shrugged, railroad management exemplifies Read More

Obama’s Bland Bargain: A Dispassionate President Disavows the Liberal Idea

  Maybe the most trenchant observation on election night came from MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who called out President Obama for his failure, in his victory speech, to thank Bill Clinton or the Democratic Party in general: The Democratic Party really wasn’t given any attention tonight. The president is the leader of the Democratic Party. Whatever forging of relationship he’s going to do with the other side, it’s going to start with unity . . . They did very well, these Senate candidates, because they ran on the same platform, basically, as everyone pointed out tonight: stronger regulation of Wall Street, redress of Read More

Angry White Men: Can the G.O.P. Genuinely Change Its Attitude Toward Minorities and Women?

  Today was a good day. Any day you get to vote as a free man in a free country is a good day. My polling place—the Alfred E. Smith School, named for the original Happy Warrior of politics, the one man ever to truly rise from our city slums to win a major-party nomination—was jammed again, just as it was four years ago. People stood patiently in line for an hour or more on the soft, stained, ancient parquet floor of the gym, waiting to give their names and get their ballots, then fill them out in the silly Read More

The Withdrawal of the American Establishment

An election-eve elegy for the country’s former guardians of sanity Regardless of what happens in the presidential election tomorrow, the one undeniable fact to come out of this campaign is that the American establishment has punted. Since before the Second World War, the establishment—the powerful, the affluent, the leading opinion-makers in the national press, clustered disproportionately but not exclusively along the Northeast Corridor—has claimed the right to shape the acceptable parameters of our national debate, and to define what our national priorities should be. No more. What this election has made clear is that our elite has seceded so far Read More

Is the Media Walking Us Into Another War, Part II

Recently in this space, I wondered if the media was willing to walk this nation into yet another war, much as they did in meekly accepting the Bush Administration’s false allegations that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—a charge, incidentally, that many Americans still believe to this day, thanks largely to the news coverage they follow. Now, with the press’s collective shrug over the foreign policy debate on Monday, the question becomes more urgent. Governor Romney’s amazing ignorance, indifference, and casual bellicosity on nearly every issue discussed seems to have gone largely unnoticed by our national press corps, even Read More

Welcome to Easter Island

You could have predicted the outcome of Monday night’s debate on foreign policy by the expressions on the faces of both candidates. President Barack Obama had his game face on, as watchful and aggressive as a hawk. Romney, by contrast, was missing the bellicose mien from his previous debates. He smiled nervously, and crinkled his eyes, and, as several observers noted, perspiration began to appear on his cheeks and upper lip. As Albert Brooks tweeted, referring to his role in Broadcast News, “Any more flop sweat and he owes me a royalty.” The sweat, and the nervousness, gave away a pathetic Read More