Reviving Humanities Education: A Counterintuitive Suggestion

A few things seem certain to me. If the United States is going to go beyond neoliberalism — if we are going to create a social democratic society in which a market-based individualistic ethos does not shape our attitudes and institutions — we will need some common cultural understandings. Such understandings, to be truly common, must be inclusive and thus must be anti-racist, anti-sexist, in a word, humane.

I am also certain that a humanities education will be central to creating a culture that is both common and humane insofar as it is possible. As such, we must defend and promote the humanities. But how shall we go about this crucial task? ...

Our disciplinary methods are important forms of knowledge that students should learn. But these methods should not be the sole focus of our teaching. If we want students to flock to our humanities classes — if we wish to revive humanities education — we should allow students to revel a bit in the things that inspire them. We should allow them to dream.
— Andrew Hartman

How a Wave of Honest History Museums Is Changing Black Tourism

Through years of tours of historic colonial sites, antebellum-era plantation houses, and more, we’ve been that black couple in the background raising our eyebrows and keeping a running commentary of sotto voce corrective facts and cynical asides. Of course, that’s when we have the mental energy to visit these kinds of attractions in the first place. More often, we’re just not up for the whitewashing and the unchallenged Founding Fathers boosterism that pervades so many American history sites.

Navigating those historical spaces is inevitably exhausting for black tourists like us. Sometimes we’re worn out simply from deciding whether to ‘Well, actually’ a plantation tour guide who claims that master and Miss Anne treated their ‘servants’ like family. For others, it might mean buying extra books and doing background research before a trip to help a young child understand historical figures who were less heroic than the reverent museum renderings would have us believe. As black travelers in the U.S., we’re certainly used to all of this—but that doesn’t make it any less tiresome. ...

For us, it was a surprisingly candid walking tour of Charleston, South Carolina, that suggested something has changed.
— Ashton Lattimore

Barbara’s Backlash

The more people talk about Barbara Bush, the more confusing grows the disjunction between the image and the woman. Two apparently contradictory threads run through her history. The first is her rigorous fealty to the gender roles of her day. And the second is the clear force of her personality—the commanding will that has been diverted and disguised, but never extinguished, by her life as the humble helpmate of George Herbert Walker Bush. The two threads of her life come together in an uneasy suspicion that she has paid a heavy price for the image she has lived.
— Marjorie Williams (1992)

JFK vs. the Military

‘Why are you so concerned with saving their lives?’ [an Air Force general] asked the lead author of a Rand study that counseled against attacking Soviet cities at the outset of a war. ‘The whole idea is to kill the bastards … At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win.’ ...

The strains between the generals and their commander in chief showed up in exasperating ways. When Bundy asked the Joint Chiefs’ staff director for a copy of the blueprint for nuclear war, the general at the other end of the line said, ‘We never release that.’ Bundy explained, ‘I don’t think you understand. I’m calling for the president and he wants to see [it].’ The chiefs’ reluctance was understandable: their Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan foresaw the use of 170 atomic and hydrogen bombs in Moscow alone; the destruction of every major Soviet, Chinese, and Eastern European city; and hundreds of millions of deaths. Sickened by a formal briefing on the plan, Kennedy turned to a senior administration official and said, ‘And we call ourselves the human race.’
— Robert Dallek (2013)

The States Where People Die Young

Since 1990, 21 states have seen an increase in the death rate among people aged 20 to 55. In five states—Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Wyoming—the probability of early death among young adults rose by more than 10 percent in that time frame. Meanwhile, in New York and California, young and middle-aged people became much less likely to die in the same time period. The authors note that opioids, alcoholism, suicide, and kidney disease—which can be brought on by diabetes and alcoholism—were the main factors leading to the increases in early deaths.
— Olga Khazan

That One Night: The Oral History of the Greatest Office Episode Ever

Lee Eisenberg (co-writer): ... ‘Greg gets on the phone and the executives are on the other line, on speakerphone. Only the writers have read the scripts so far and this is, you know, before the table read, and they get on the phone, and they go, “This script is really, really dark.” And Greg said, “Yeah.” And there’s a pause and they said, “It’s really dark.” And Greg said, “Yeah. It is.” And they go, “It’s really dark.” And he goes, “Yup.” And then he goes, “OK, anything else, guys?” And they said, “Uh . . . nope.”‘
— Andy Greene

Why Are There So Many People in Jail in Scranton, PA?

Small cities and rural counties have been driving jail incarceration across the country, according to In Our Own Backyard, a recent Vera report. The number of people held in local jails on any day in the United States has increased four-fold since 1970. While the jail incarceration rate in large counties (with more than one million residents) has grown almost three-fold during this period, the jail incarceration rate in small counties (with fewer than 250,000 residents) increased almost seven-fold. ...

Ninety-two percent of Lackawanna County’s population is white, mostly descendants of Italian, Irish, and Polish immigrants who came to the area around the turn of the 20th century to work in the coal, steel, and iron industries. The jail incarceration rate for these residents was 494 per 100,000 people in 2014. However, the rate of incarceration for black people, who made up 2.5 percent of the population in 2010, was 6,145 per 100,000 in 2014—or 6 of every 100.
— Jack Norton

Why Silicon Valley Billionaires Are Prepping for the Apocalypse in New Zealand

[Peter] Thiel’s interest in New Zealand was certainly fuelled by his JRR Tolkien obsession: this was a man who had named at least five of his companies in reference to The Lord of the Rings, and fantasised as a teenager about playing chess against a robot that could discuss the books. It was a matter, too, of the country’s abundance of clean water and the convenience of overnight flights from California. But it was also inseparable from a particular strand of apocalyptic techno-capitalism. To read The Sovereign Individual was to see this ideology laid bare: these people, the self-appointed ‘cognitive elite,’ were content to see the unravelling of the world as long as they could carry on creating wealth in the end times.
— Mark O'Connell

Two Minutes to Midnight: Did the US Miss Its Chance to Stop North Korea's Nuclear Programme?

And potatoes. In the run-up to the Perry mission, North Korean officials had signalled that Kim Jong-il was convinced that potatoes were the way out of famine. In return for allowing US weapons inspectors to visit a suspicious underground site shortly before Perry’s visit, Pyongyang had initially demanded $300m, but eventually settled for 100,000 tonnes of potatoes.
— Julian Borger

America's Preacher: Remembering Billy Graham

To businessmen like hotel magnate J. Willard Marriott, a Mormon multimillionaire, Billy was ‘the leading religious man of our time’—not the least, Marriott explained, ‘because he is non-controversial.’ Billy consciously positioned himself above the mean streets of social conflict. ‘I am,’ he always maintained, ‘a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.’

In fact, Graham was utterly captivated by his privileged access to the princes of this world—especially those who occupied the White House. For decades he virtually owned a key to the Lincoln bedroom. He was in the White House with Lyndon Johnson during the bloody 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. (Indeed, in his autobiography Graham wrote that Johnson had told him earlier that he would not run and offered to put the whole Democratic Party apparatus behind Graham if the evangelist someday ran for President himself.) Graham was there again on Johnson’s last night in office and woke the next morning to preside at the inauguration of his close friend Richard Nixon.

Graham believed that American Presidents, once chosen, were divinely mandated. But Nixon was special: the one president in whom both God and Graham were well pleased.
— Kenneth L. Woodward

The Land Ethic

No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions. ... We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.
— Aldo Leopold, "The Land Ethic," A Sand County Almanac, 209-210 and 214

There Is No Case for the Humanities

The reality is that the humanities have always been about courtoisie, a constellation of interests, tastes, and prejudices which marks one as a member of a particular class. That class does not have to be crudely imagined solely in economic terms. …

Deep down, what most humanists value about the humanities is that it gives them participation in a community in which they can share similar tastes in reading, art, food, travel, music, media, and yes, politics. …

But … justifying the tastes and prejudices of that class without reference to the internal logic of the arts themselves is impossible. The justification for the humanities only makes sense within a humanistic framework. Outside of it, there is simply no case.
— Justin Stover