Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Deportation Deferral: A Burkean Defense

If you're in the mood to let out a hideous shriek of joyless laughter, you could do worse than read John Yoo's intervention into the debate over Obama's recent executive action on immigration. Now, John Yoo, as we know, is a firm believer in constitutional limitations on the power of the executive. These limits are apparently drawn around compelling the president, against his will, to deport 5 million people across the border. Of course, let it also be known that John Yoo is no dogmatist on this point. He has been willing -- graciously -- to concede certain powers to the executive in the past. But dammit, he knows at last where to draw the line, and it is on the side of granting presidential authorization to torture people and detain them without trial, but not on the side of granting the freedom to refrain from deporting immigrant families.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


There's one part of I-90 West where it always happens to me. By this point in the drive I'm far enough away from home and far enough still from my destination to begin feeling deserted and at the mercy of the elements. And then, at a particular curve of the road, I suddenly slam into a wall of unmoving cars, and it dawns on me that it will take at least fifteen minutes to cover the next tenth of a mile. The moment always seems to coincide, by the way, with some shift in the sky overhead, a move from clear New England sunshine to monochromatic gray.  That's when my palms sweat, and I start making tiny coughing sounds and guzzling bottled water. I turn NPR on and off, every five seconds, trying to decide if "Wait Wait... Don't Tell me!" will distract me from the rising terror, or contribute to it by fortifying my sense of forsakenness, as the sound of other people laughing together often seems to do when one is not in on the joke.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Growing Up

Any great coming-of-age tale, whether it is autobiography or bildungsroman, is chiefly a story about four things: sex, death, money, and God (or the absence thereof). And in roughly that sequence. In the case of Gandhi's Autobiography, at least, sex most definitely comes first, and death follows uncomfortably close behind it. (Gandhi was in coitus with his wife, he tells us, at the moment of his father's death-- a temporal coincidence that an adult conscience would recognize as beyond the individual's control, not anyone's fault. Gandhi, however, was no adult at the time of this event. In the mind of a child who had been married at an unconscionably young age, it became knitted into a whole web of self-doubts and inner conflicts where sexuality was concerned.) I don't remember there being as much about money, but there certainly is a great deal about God, and the struggle to find it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Spirits: A Halloween Special

This is the time of year when my skepticism is tested in the fires of various radio stories and articles sent to me by email, each one bearing tales of hauntings, paranormal encounters, and Near-Death Experiences (NDEs). I like -- most of the time -- to think my skepticism is robust, but each of these encounters confirms for me all over again that in fact it is paper-thin. If it were really so airtight, after all, I probably would ignore all these stories, or take for granted that there is some obvious and uninteresting naturalistic explanation behind them. I would not follow the hyperlink each time that leads me down the dark tunnel and toward the white light. But I have a surprisingly gothic sensibility for someone who has no official belief in the ultramundane. I always click on the link, and whatever the story is, a part of me believes it at once, and it is only after spending the whole of the next day disabusing myself that I return to my old stance. I must stitch my skepticism back together again each time from its freshly-rent tatters.