James Baldwin’s ‘The Fire Next Time,’ Published On This Day in 1963

The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.

-From James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, published January 31, 1963.


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/01/31/james-baldwins-the-fire-next-time-published-on-this-day-in-1963/

‘A Place of Refuge and Protection’: Roxane Gay Calls on Booksellers to ‘Rise to the Occasion’

Throughout my life books have been my best friends. In bookstores and with books I have been able to forget the cruelties of the world. I have been able to shield myself when I needed safety. I have been able to find solace and joy. I have been able to find sanctuary—a consecrated place, a place of refuge and protection.

I have been thinking a lot about sanctuary lately during this rising age of American disgrace. I have been thinking about how I have long believed that to write as a woman and to write as a black woman is political and that words are my sanctuary and more than ever, I need refuge.

-From a stirring keynote by author Roxane Gay, during the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute. “You are not just selling books,” she said. “You are providing sanctuary. You are the stewards of sacred spaces.”

Read the full keynote


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/01/31/a-place-of-refuge-and-protection-roxane-gay-calls-on-booksellers-to-rise-to-the-occasion/

A Moleskine In Every Satchel, and a Board Game On Every Table

In the New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben uses his review of David Sax’s new book, The Revenge of Analog to meditate on the enduring joy — and human necessity — of playing board games or writing things with paper and pen.

But back up far enough and many things our species does are silly. The premise of the digital world is that we can do all these silly things…faster and more easily. But why exactly would we want to? Why should efficiency be the standard measure, and not pleasure? I defy you to read Sax’s book without wanting to buy a Moleskine, put an LP record on a turntable, or play a game of Scrabble with your friends. It’s true that he mostly ignores some of the deepest questions raised by the digital age: the obsolescence of human labor against the tide of automation; the endless, uncheckable spread of surveillance. But the small rebellions he chronicles help us understand the general shape of a threat that goes beyond Karl Marx and his nineteenth-century complaints about capitalism; it’s in our digital era that all that was solid really did melt into air. Or into Wi-Fi, anyway.

Read the review


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/01/31/a-moleskin-in-every-satchel/

The Biologist Who Believes in the Possibility of ‘Spider-Man-like’ Transformations of People

In MIT Technology Review, Antonio Regalado has a profile of a biologist named Brian Hanley, who is testing out gene therapy by injecting copies of a gene he has designed into his own body. Hanley believes that “Spider-Man-like transformations of people” are possible in the near-future.

Most gene therapy involves high-tech, multimillion-dollar experiments carried out by large teams at top medical centers, with an eye to correcting rare illnesses like hemophilia. But Hanley showed that gene therapy can be also carried out on the cheap in the same setting as liposuction or a nose job, and might one day be easily accessed by anyone.

In an attempt to live longer, some enthusiasts of anti-aging medicine already inject growth hormone, swallow fullerenes, or gulp megavitamins, sometimes with disregard for mainstream medical thinking. Now unregulated gene therapy could be the next frontier. “I think it’s damn crazy,” says Bruce Smith, a professor at Auburn University who develops genetic treatments for dogs. “But that is human nature, and it’s colliding with technology.”

Read the story


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/01/31/the-biologist-who-believes-in-spider-man-like-transformations-of-people/

Pablo Neruda on the Intersection of Politics and Poetry

In 1970, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) sat down for an interview with The Paris Review just months before abandoning his campaign for president, running as the Chilean Communist Party candidate. American author Rita Guibert conducted the interview at Neruda’s home in Isla Negra, just south of Valparaiso:

Oh, there is no advice to give to young poets! They ought to make their own way; they will have to encounter the obstacles to their expression and they have to overcome them. What I would never advise them to do is to begin with political poetry. Political poetry is more profoundly emotional than any other—at least as much as love poetry—and cannot be forced because it then becomes vulgar and unacceptable. It is necessary first to pass through all other poetry in order to become a political poet. The political poet must also be prepared to accept the censure which is thrown at him—betraying poetry, or betraying literature. Then, too, political poetry has to arm itself with such content and substance and intellectual and emotional richness that it is able to scorn everything else. This is rarely achieved.

… My poetry has passed through the same stages as my life; from a solitary childhood and an adolescence cornered in distant, isolated countries, I set out to make myself a part of the great human multitude. My life matured, and that is all. It was in the style of the last century for poets to be tormented melancholiacs. But there can be poets who know life, who know its problems, and who survive by crossing through the currents. And who pass through sadness to plenitude.

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/01/31/pablo-neruda-on-the-intersection-of-politics-and-poetry/

Loving the Difficult Places

The Kalmiopsis will probably never provide the kind of blissful recreational experiences portrayed in outdoor-equipment catalogs. Zach Collier, a river guide who occasionally runs trips on the Illinois and the Chetco, told me that he grills his prospective clients. “When people call me to book it, I actively try to talk them out of it,” he says. “It’s physically demanding and not much fun.”

But Peter Landres, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and an expert in wilderness studies, says the very difficulty of visiting the Kalmiopsis helps it fulfill the more abstract needs that Zahniser described. “It’s exactly what we need in the age of the Anthropocene,” Landres says. “We can feel we’re a small part of this larger universe. That reinforces the feelings of humility and restraint,” feelings, he says, we need now more than ever.

The Kalmiopsis is also a superlative example of wilderness’ role as an ecological safe harbor. “Wilderness is the best place and maybe the only place that evolution can go on its merry way,” Landres says. As the climate changes, disrupting ecosystems along with it, those pockets of intact landscape where non-human life can adapt are increasingly precious. The Kalmiopsis, he says, is a perfect example of such a place. It’s rare to find a swath of low-lying hills as intact and protected as these among the alpine and desert areas that make up most legally designated wilderness areas. And the region’s plant diversity is off the charts.

In High Country News, editor Kate Schimel narrates her grueling trek into Oregon’s Kalmiopsis Wilderness with the people who voluntarily clear its impenetrable trails and swim its clear creeks, showing why America needs road-free, undeveloped areas just like it. Schimel’s piece is a love letter to the demanding places that don’t easily share themselves with us, and that many of us find ourselves inexplicably drawn to anyway.

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from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/01/31/loving-the-difficult-places/

Finding the Limit of a Nation of Laws: Integrity, or the Lack Thereof

Rushed to publication because of the speed with which the Trump administration is already damaging the rule of law in the U.S., this David Frum piece in The Atlantic  is a roadmap to Trump’s likeliest path to authoritarianism and self-enrichment — and therefore also a guide to what Americans of conscience need to do to protect democracy.

If Congress is quiescent, what can Trump do? A better question, perhaps, is what can’t he do?

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who often articulates Trumpist ideas more candidly than Trump himself might think prudent, offered a sharp lesson in how difficult it will be to enforce laws against an uncooperative president. During a radio roundtable in December, on the topic of whether it would violate anti-nepotism laws to bring Trump’s daughter and son-in-law onto the White House staff, Gingrich said: The president “has, frankly, the power of the pardon. It is a totally open power, and he could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ And technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

That statement is true, and it points to a deeper truth: The United States may be a nation of laws, but the proper functioning of the law depends upon the competence and integrity of those charged with executing it. A president determined to thwart the law in order to protect himself and those in his circle has many means to do so.

Read the story


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/01/31/finding-the-limit-of-a-nation-of-laws-integrity-or-the-lack-thereof/