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Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Two Nations

 One of the many things I owe podcaster Coleman Hughes is an ad recommending the site ground.news.  It's a news aggregator with a purpose--it divides 33 news outlets into various shades of left, right and center--you can see the list here--and its Blindspot page tells you what percentage of outlets reporting a given story fall into each.  To give you the flavor, I am going to share most of today's results.

Yesterday, on St. Patrick's Day, Joe Biden joked that he's "really not Irish" because he is sober and doesn't have any relatives in jail.  Only one of ten of their sources that reported that story was centrist and none were on the left, which evidently isn't eager to share embarrassing information about the President.  Similarly, only two of fourteen sources that reported that Kamala Harris was booed at an NCAA tournament game were centrist, and the leftist outlets ignored the story.  Nine of ten sources who reported that a Canadian pastor was arrested for protesting against a drag queen story time were on the right, no leftist outlet (and only two centrist ones) mentioned that Ron DeSantis is leading 18 states opposing the Biden Administration's encouragement of environmental, social and corporate governing investing, and nearly two-thirds of the outlets reporting that the Biden family received more than $1 million from an associate of Hunter Biden who was reportedly connected to Chinese interests were on the right.  

On the other side of the fence, while 8 leftist and centrist outlets have reported this morning that Donald Trump will surrender to authorities if indicted, only one conservative organ has touched the story.  A similarly low percentage of rightwing outlets are ignoring that one of Trump's lawyers has been ordered to testify regarding the classified documents found at Maralago, and no rightwing outlet has mentioned that the Capitol police have denied Tucker Carlson's claim that they had reviewed the January 6 footage that he aired on his show, or that Michael Cohen has expressed his willingness to testify against Trump. Ron DeSantis meanwhile is establishing himself as a highly controversial figure.  While the Left ignored his anti-ESG initiative, 13 leftist outlets carried a tale of him eating chocolate pudding with his fingers on a plane.  Simultaneously, rightwing outlets are ignoring a story about his new book, The Courage to Be Free, explaining that he advocates using the power of governments to undo cultural and ideological damage at the hands of unresponsive bureaucrats and elites,

The pattern here is rather obvious: both sides like to print embarrassing or inflammatory information about the other side, while ignoring parallel information about their own side. That is also why the New York Times seems to print far more stories about Donald Trump, even now, than about Joe Biden.  It is also, perhaps, why the biggest focus of the Democratic House of Representatives in 2021-2 was the January 6 investigation, not any of the huge economic and social problems which the nation faces and which might have benefited from an extended set of hearings. Both parties are now arguing, in effect, that the electorate has no choice but to vote for them because the other side is so horrible.  And yet, if the media are any guide, both sides also seem to understand that much of what their elected officials are doing is unpopular.  It's the leftwing outlets that are reporting new Republican laws limiting transgender care and abortions, for example. 

Two weeks ago I quoted George Washington on the importance of relying upon reason, not emotion.  Our politicians and our media today have stood that warning on its head.  The market is partly to blame: emotion sells, while calm reason has become a turnoff.  We face a real world crisis--political, military, and economic.  Democracies from Israel to France to the United States are riven in two by contentious issues.  Russia may well still win the war of attrition in Ukraine.  We do  not know if our new financial system can survive high interest rates.  We are ill-equipped to handle these huge problems.

Friday, March 10, 2023

The Problem of Modern Life

About three weeks ago, I read a remarkable piece in the current New Yorker about impostor syndrome by one Leslie Jamison.  It explained that two female academic psychologists from the pathbreaking Silent generation named Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the mid-1970s.  Both of them had been very successful in school and in their careers all their lives, and both suffered chronically from doubts that they really deserved it and fears of being "found out" at any moment.  When they first published their account of the impostor phenomenon (as they still prefer to call it), they found that many thousands of other women had the same feelings.  As good 1970s psychologists, they traced the problem to family dynamics.  On the one hand, some daughters grew up in the shadow of a sibling whose parents, they felt, had defined as perfect, and impossible to equal.  (Curiously enough, I recently discovered that in some families, the "perfect" older sibling doesn't see herself that way at all.)  On the other hand, others got the message from their parents that they could do no wrong, and were shocked to discover that the rest of the world did not always agree.  In any case, those who suffered from the impostor phenomenon felt chronically anxious about their performance and had great difficulty believing that they deserved any success that they had.

It's rule of the 2020s that intersectionality divides the human race into different species with different problems.  Clance and Imes identified the impostor phenomenon as female, and Jamison followed their lead.   Here is her only mention of men: "Although men do report feeling like impostors, the experience is primarily associated with women, and the word “impostor” has been granted special feminized forms—“impostrix,” “impostress”—since the sixteen-hundreds."  I would like to suggest that leaving out half the population leads her to miss some very important points.

We have lived now for more than two hundred years in a society where success is largely a function of educational success, and that has become more and more true over the last century.  From the age of 5 onward (and sometimes earlier among the affluent today) we get the message that our performance in school will determine our whole life.  That inevitably creates terror and rage among those who do not succeed in school, and massive insecurity among many of those who do.  Men had to put up with this before women did, and they developed numerous coping strategies, some of them unhealthy.  Men may traditionally have had more trouble expressing their feelings because they had to suppress many of them to keep functioning in the wider world. Women began entering the professions in large numbers in the 1970s and discovered these emotional problems as well, and Clance and Imes researched them and gave them a name.  I have known many male academics who clearly had impostor syndrome, and it comes up repeatedly in an autobiography of a distinguished academic that I have now read in manuscript.   And I have read several interviews with professional athletes, whose achievements are a matter of record, who could never feel that they really belonged among their fellow competitors. I would suggest that we are not dealing with a female problem here, but rather with a problem of modern life, which leaves our fates in our own hands.

The omission of men from the article, moreover, is only the first step towards deconstructing what I believe is a pretty universal experience of modernity.  Jamison describes a dinner at which she described her own impostor syndrome, which was serious enough to induce her to lie about what she had actually read in classes.  Then she quotes "the only woman of color at the table." Let me quote parts of several paragraphs from the article.

"She graciously explained that she didn’t particularly identify with the experience. She hadn’t often felt like an impostor, because she had more frequently found herself in situations where her competence or intelligence had been underestimated than in ones where it was taken for granted.

"In the years since then, I’ve heard many women of color—friends, colleagues, students, and people I’ve interviewed on the subject—articulate some version of this sentiment. Lisa Factora-Borchers, a Filipinx American author and activist, told me, 'Whenever I’d hear white friends talk about impostor syndrome, I’d wonder, How can you think you’re an impostor when every mold was made for you? When you see mirror reflections of yourself everywhere, and versions of what your success might look like?'

"Adaira Landry, an emergency-medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, told me about her first day at the U.C.L.A. med school. Landry, a first-generation college student from an African American family, met a fellow first-year student, a man, who was already wearing a white coat, although they hadn’t yet had their white-coat ceremony. His mother was in health care and his sister was in med school, and they’d informed him that if he wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon, which he did, it would be beneficial to start shadowing someone immediately. Landry went home that night feeling dispirited, as if she were already falling behind, and a classmate told her, 'Don’t worry, you just have impostor syndrome.'

"For Landry, this was only the first of many instances of what she calls 'the misdiagnosis of impostor syndrome.' Landry understands now that what her classmate characterized as a crisis of self-doubt was simply an observation of an external truth—the concrete impact of connections and privilege. Eventually, Landry looked up Clance and Imes’s 1978 paper; she didn’t identify with the people described in it. 'They interviewed a set of primarily white women lacking confidence, despite being surrounded by an educational system and workforce that seemed to recognize their excellence,' she told me. 'As a Black woman, I was unable to find myself in that paper.'"

In the same way that Jamison decided arbitrarily that men's feelings don't count, these nonwhite women are saying, in words of one syllable, that white women have no right to feel impostor syndrome because the system is rigged in their favor. Now I know that some nonwhites would resent me questioning the feelings of anyone who isn't white on the grounds of my own supposed privilege, but I will go to my grave believing that the emotional similarities among human beings far outweigh demographic differences. I also believe that different groups--including straight white men--must feel free to express their opinions about individuals from other groups if we are going to live together.  The responses of the women above, it seems to me, offer them relief from the insecurity bred by modern life, insofar as they put all the responsibility for any disappointments that they may experience on a racist society, not upon themselves.   I don't think this is a healthy response, especially for them.

The Parkland Conference that I participated in last May featured an interview with the black commentator and one-time English professor Shelby Steele.  Steele argued, as he has for a long time, that the civil rights acts of the 1960s removed most of the barriers to black advancement in the United States, but that some black people prefer to regard themselves as victims rather than to risk competition in the wider world that opened up to them.  I introduced myself to him afterwards and suggested that competition within the wider world was terrifying for anyone, and that many people of all races and genders would be happy to seize on a convenient excuse that would absolve them of the responsibility for any failure.   He agreed. I can't help noting, either, that many highly successful black people--and women--continue to insist that society is rigged against them.  Isabel Wilkerson and Nikole Hannah-Jones worked for the New York Times, and Ta Na-hisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendhi have written best sellers and won MacArthur fellowships.  To assume that the system is and always will be rigged against you relieves you of the burden of wondering whether you really deserve what you have secured for yourself or not, by  submerging your personal fate within the fate of your demographic group.  It makes it impossible for you to understand the problems that other kinds of  people actually do experience.  It also lifts the burden of recognizing the family dynamics which do so much to shape all our self-images.

I will close with two general observations.  Our modern world is only a couple of centuries old and we may not yet appreciate its psychic costs fully.  Almost four years ago I discussed the sociologist Liah Greenfeld's book Mind, Modernity, Madness, which argues that bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression are diseases of the modern world that did not exist in pre-modern cultures.  She could be right.  Our professoriate and commentariat consist of people who have been relatively successful and do not understand how much more severe its burdens are for those who are not.  That may be why millions of less successful Americans vote for candidates the successful regard as beyond the pale.  This is essentially what I said to Shelby Steele: that modern life is so frightening that almost anyone would be glad to find an excuse for opting out, emotionally if not in their daily lives, of the competition it demands.  I regret that some black readers may be offended by this post.  I can only ask them to recognize its real point:  that we are all in fact in the same boat.  And it is also clear from some of the comments on the Shelby Steele interview on youtube, and from dozens of comments on the podcasts of Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, and Coleman Hughes, that many black people agree with Steele in many ways.

More importantly, it seems to me, we can only manage the psychic costs of our competitive society if we take political and economic steps to reduce the stakes of the competition.  The twentieth century showed, I think, that the lower economic half of the population will tolerate the wealthy and accept their own lot under certain specific conditions.  First, they must be assured of a decent life that is actually getting better as the years go on.  Secondly, they must feel part of a greater national enterprise that they can believe in.  And lastly, we need severe limits on how wealthy and influential the rich can be.  That was the society we built in the United States from the 1930s into the 1970s, and the one that we have moved away from since then.  The difference between success and failure is so great that we are moving away from any serious attempt to identify the smartest people among us with standardized tests or even grades.  It is no wonder that our new society is, in so many different ways, driving us mad.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Thank you, George Washington

 It has become fashionable to see our founding fathers as retrograde relics of an oppressive era.  Academics and journalists seldom refer to them without mentioning their presumed racism and sexism, and their statues came under attack three years ago in  many parts of the country.  Yet one cannot study their actual words without having to entertain a different view.  Partly because of their social position, they had grown up with the time to educate themselves, and they had used it.  They knew quite a lot about the politics of Greece and Rome.  They had believed in British institutions, and had reacted with shock to find that those institutions could lead to tyranny.  Twice, in 1776 and in 1787, they had decided to create new forms of government and they thought very carefully about how to make them work.  Most important of all, they understood the relationship between politics and human nature.  My text today is a much-neglected document, the Farewell Address that George Washington published on September 17, 1796, when he announced that he would decline a third term as president, thus ensuring that the nation and his successors would not regard the presidency as a lifetime job.  The one part of the speech that most people know about today is his warning not to enter into long-term alliances with foreign nations.  That was however only one of a series of warnings to his countrymen--a gift which no other president has even tried to repeat.  As it turns out, he identified the greatest dangers facing the new nation both in the 19th century and in the 21st.

Washington began his tour d'horizon with some remarks about national unity.  "The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize," he said. He called upon the country to reject "whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned, and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts. For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles."  Washington spent a paragraph discussing the economic interdependence of the North, South, East and West, but then moved on to political and military matters.  The different parts of the country "must derive from union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and imbitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty. In this sense it is that your union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other."  Daniel Webster was probably thinking of that passage 34 years later when he concluded his famous "reply to Hayne" with the words, "Liberty and Union,  now and forever, one and inseparable!"  Webster's generation--the last actually to remember Washington alive--kept the union together for another thirty years, but its successors needed a great war to preserve it.  Washington did not stop there.  "In contemplating the causes which may disturb our union it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations--Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western-- whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You can not shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection."  Large sections of our country have completely given in to that impulse today.

Washington also insisted that liberty and authority went together. "The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.  All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle and of fatal tendency."  Government at the mercy of "the alternate triumphs of different parties" would "make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans, digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests."  Washington knew that the "spirit of party" was "inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind," yet called upon the citizenry "to discourage and restrain it." He also called upon the different branches of the government to respect one another's authority, a chilling council today, when struggles among Congress, the executive branch and the courts dominate the news.  

Washington then took another stance that has become unfamiliar to twentieth century Americans. "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity," he said, "religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness--these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . .And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."  Washington himself was an observant but hardly devout Episcopalian who avoided taking communion, but he believed religion necessary to public order.  Yet it was not sufficient.  "Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions 'for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened," he added.  Today education itself has become factional and politicized. 

Washington also called upon his countrymen to be virtuous in their dealings towards other nations, and to exclude "inveterate antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachments for others. . . .The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave."  The government must not "adopt through passion what reason would reject."  

The founders never forgot the downfall of previous great nations and knew too much history to believe they had a magic recipe for eternal national life. "In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend," he said, "I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish--that they will control the usual current of the passions or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations."  The factional spirit increased under his successor John Adams, and Adams's Federalists and Jefferson's rival Republicans identified more and more with the British and the French in their new world war.  Jefferson however shared many of Washington's views, although Washington did not live to see Jefferson echo them in his inaugural in 1801, proclaiming, "We are all Federalists, we are all Republicans."  Thus did the nation survive its first political crisis.  And in 1865, the principle of national unity prevailed over regional loyalty.

Today the country is deeply divided not only by geography, but by race and gender, and political passions have made rational discussion of almost any major issue almost impossible. The authority of reason has come under attack from both sides, and religion has become more of a divisive element than a restraining one.  Among many the founders' involvement with slavery outweighs any of their insights and achievements.  We may finally be leaving their legacy behind.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

What We Are Missing

 The current New York Review of Books includes an article by Timothy Garton Ash on the people of Ukraine--a story of remarkable heroism and unity.  He talks about soldier who when the war broke out was pursuing an academic career in cultural studies, no less, but is  now recovering from a second set of wounds and eagerly looking forward to his return to the front. He talks about civilians who are providing storage rooms and intelligence to the Ukrainian Army in combat zones. He talks about the ways in which average citizens are providing electricity to cope with the Russian attacks on their grid.  And then comes this remarkable paragraph.

"Amazingly, in polling conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) last September, 68 percent of Ukrainians answered yes to the question “Do you consider yourself a happy person?,” compared with just 53 percent in 2017. When I asked the sociologist Nataliya Zaitseva-Chipak to help me understand this phenomenon—how on earth could people be happier during a war of terror directed against the civilian population?—she replied, 'Yes, I’m happier!' It wasn’t just the overwhelming sense of common purpose, she explained. It was also appreciating everything you still have when your compatriots are suffering so much worse in the trenches or the pulverized city of Mariupol. One journalist even told me her friends say that 'it’s okay if the missiles are falling on us because it means they’re not killing our soldiers on the front line.'”

That, of course, is not the whole story, and Ash continues with several paragraphs detailing horrible suffering.  Yet the Ukrainian people endure it willingly, and if they can win their war they will inhabit in some ways the strongest state in Europe, because they will have gone through a successful great crisis such as the Europeans have not experienced for about 80 years.  They have banded together and devoted their resources and their lives to preserving their independence, something that the United States and Western Europe have not even had to remain ready to do since 1990, and have not fought to do since the Second World War.  That long era of peace, it turns out, is a blessing that has now become a curse.

I owe this insight, of course, to the late William Strauss and his still-active collaborator Neil Howe.  Their books Generations and The Fourth Turning identified an 80-year cycle in American national life, punctuated by great crises that required the nation to pull together, sacrifice, and focus on common goals.  These were the American Revolution and the constitutional period (1774-1794), the Civil War (about 1860-5), and the Depression and the Second World War (1933-45.)  These crises faced our political leadership with  unprecedented tasks, and they proved equal to them.  They involved the whole nation in common sacrifices and common triumphs.  And the young adult generations of those crises--such as the GI or "greatest" generation that coped with the Depression and the world war--remained committed to the values they had fought for and the political and social system that emerged from the crises for the rest of their lives.  And as they died off, the new postwar generations--those who included Lincoln and Roosevelt--redefined the national mission and set the goals for the next crisis.

The United States under the leadership of the Boom generation has now lived through three serious crises that might have led to a comparable national renewal: 9/11, the 2008 financial collapse, and the pandemic.  Yet none of them led to a national renewal because of poor leadership.  George W. Bush spoke the language of crisis after 9/11 and called upon us to embark upon a new crusade for democracy, but in practice he embarked upon two useless wars that could not succeed while reducing taxes on the wealthy and ignoring the speculative bubble he had helped unleash until disaster struck.  Facing the financial crisis, Barack Obama explicitly adopted the Boomer economic theory that "restoring liquidity"--that is, massive bailouts of financial institutions--could cure a depression better than a New Deal.  That very slow approach immediately cost him the House of Representatives and any chance of a transformative presidency--not that he seems to have wanted one very much.   And Donald Trump, who had passed yet another big tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, tried to pretend that the pandemic was not happening.  As a result, the alienation of the American people from the government has increased and extremist ideologies that reject much of our national legacy have gained ground in both parties.   We have not been able to address our two biggest problems: climate change and the continuing trend towards economic inequality.  Our politics now revolve around tribal and educational divisions professing competing ideologies. Every president since Bush II has called for greater unity; none have been able to achieve it.

In past periods the great crisis has also created social and intellectual consensus.  Nearly 60 years ago such a consensus provoked an enormous revolt in the younger generations--a revolt that became an attack on authority of all kinds.  Since then our right and left have essentially agreed on the principle of doing one's own thing, even though they defined it very differently.  And today's younger generations clearly cannot even imagine the kind of consensus world we had in the 1950s and early 1960s.  If they think about it all it is as some kind of nightmare, a mix of The Birth of a Nation and The Handmaid's Tale, from which society fortunately began to escape in the 1960s.  Nothing has been able to reverse that trend and we still don't know where it will lead.

The neoliberal paradise to whom our elites and the European elites committed themselves turns out to have been a mirage.  Peace and prosperity have bred plutocracy and populist discontent.  Perhaps human being needs challenge and hardship to focus society on common goals.  Ukraine is showing us what that can mean.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

How News Has Changed

 It has been some time since I compared today's front page to the same newspaper 80 years ago, and the contrast has never been more striking today.  The contrast is not quite perfect, because the site frontpages.com does not yet have today's Washington Post front page up yet, and I will have to use Saturday's instead; but since February 19, 1943 was a Friday, that might be a better comparison than one to a Sunday paper.  The contrast is especially striking because while the 1943 page has eight columns of stories--the norm in American newspapers, I believe, until 40 or 50 years ago, when they shrank to six columns--the Post has now shrunk to five columns.  Most readers, of course, are now reading the online edition, and I will try to do a second comparison using today's online Post.  

The Second World War was raging on February 19, 1942, of course, and battlefield developments dominate the four right-hand columns of page 1.  A German offensive against American forces in Tunisia was scoring big gains, and the AP reporter who wrote the lead story did not sugarcoat the American defeat. "One Tank Corps Almost Completely Wrecked," read one subhead, and the lead paragraph reported that the Germans had captured 4000 square miles in four days.  British reinforcements, it continued, were headed for the scene of battle.  The second lead story featured rapid Soviet advances against the Germans around Rostov and elsewhere on their front, where the Soviets had recently won their great victory at Stalingrad. And a third story datelined London detailed a remarkably frank, very frightened speech by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who had said that "the Red Armies motorized divisions had "broken loose with a power eclipsing all imagination. . . .we did not correctly estimate the war potential of the Soviet Union. . . .We must act quickly and thoroughly or it might be too late."  Further down the page a story datelined Chungking detailed seven separate Japanese attacks against Chinese troops, and next to it, another story recounted a speech to a joint session of Congress by Madme Chiang Kai-shek, the "magnetic wife of China's war leader," which had received a tumultuous reception.  Two small items reported that Mohandas K. Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, was weakening after a 9-day fast in protest, and that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was ill with a cold and fever in London.  And at the bottom of columns 6-7, a London story reported a parliamentary debate on the Beveridge Report, a blueprint for postwar Great Britain that became the basis of the postwar British welfare state.

The domestic war effort dominated the center of the front page.  A story by post reporter Christine Sadler--one of the era's leading female journalists--discussed pending legislation to defer more farm laborers and more married men with children from teh draft.  Further down, the Rubber Director of the War Production Board announced that rubber inventories would fall to dangerously low levels by the end of the year, and the chairman of that Board, Donald Nelson (formerly of Sears Roebuck) had delegated authority over rubber production to his Vice Chairman Charles Wilson, of General Motors.  An amusing item told the story of an anonymous Post reporter who had gotten lost while doing a story in the new Pentagon building, and found himself detained by security personnel.  "Theseus in the Labyrinth," it headlined: "Reported Confined in Bastille After Losing Pentagon Escort."  I do wonder how many Post reporters or editors would recognize those allusions today. And in another related story, Prentiss M. Brown, the head of hte wartime Office of Price Administration, had bluntly attacked strike threats by the United Mine Workers and bills in Congress designed to raise agricultural prices.

Disasters dominated the two leftmost columns.  In Branchville, Maryland, a house fire had killed two of four children while their mother was on her way to the store.  In Seattle, a Boeing bomber had crashed into a packing plant, killing 11 on board the plane and an unknown number in the plant.  And the War Department announced the names of 17 missing after an Army transport plane had disappeared in the Pacific.  Inside the paper at the bottom of the jump of that story, brief items described three different military plane crashes within the US that had taken at least ten lives.  

Friday's Post print page 1 leads with a story related to a current war: "U.S. and allies seek to root out Russian spies."  A long feature to its left, "236 minutes of terror," deals with the contemporary equivalent of a battle: the shooting at Michigan State University.  I think it would be hard to find a wartime story that discussed any battle in such detail, unless, perhaps, it came from a reporter who had accompanied a bomber on a mission.  There are only three more stories on the page. "Fox aired false claims to avoid losing its audience" presents text message evidence released in response to a lawsuit that Fox news commentators echoed claims of a stolen election that they knew to be false. "Contenders balk at GOP push to back 24 nominee" deals with dissent within the Republican Party.  "The crisis in American girlhood" summarizes a CDC report on the fragile emotional health of young American women.  Lastly, "Bing chatbot elicits unease with volatile responses" has no parallel, obviously, in the news of 1943.

And now, to reflect how most people actually read the news today, let's look at today's Post home page.  The top story is war related: "Putin, czar with no empire, needs military victory for his own survival," it proclaims optimistically.  Datelined Moscow, this story surveys elite Russian opinion--something that obviously would have been impossible in Tokyo or Berlin 80 years ago.  Below, one story explains that President Biden's plans to "buy American" as the nation rebuilds infrastructure have come a cropper: much of what we need isn't made here any more.  A second story reports that a "far-right election denier" has been chosen over Donald Trump's pick to head the Michigan GOP.  A third story mentions that water levels in Lake Powell, our second-largest reservoir, have hit an all-time low. A fourth reports that at least four states are following Florida's lead and evaluating the proposed Advanced Placement course in African American Studies.  A fifth deals with a misdiagnosed young mother--one in a series, apparently, entitled "Medical Mysteries"--and a sixth headlines, "Biracial women say Meghan is proof racism and privilege co-exist."  And the rightmost column of the top of the page features six different opinion pieces, two of them apparent rehashes of front-page stories from the Saturday paper. 

1943 was part of one of the climactic crises of western and world history.  All over the world, governments were mobilizing resources and deploying forces, waging the greatest war of all time.  What they did both abroad and at  home was the backbone of the news, and their readers inevitably felt part of great enterprises that would determine the course of their lives.  Today, one very important ongoing war gets much less attention, and far ore of the news deals with unsolved domestic problems, domestic political conflicts, and the feelings of various kinds of Americans.  The one article on a major domestic program--infrastructure--argues that it cannot do what it promised.  Americans and citizens of most other nations no longer feel part of any great enterprise.  We are discovering whether modern society can endure without periodically renewing that feeling, as we have failed to do.