This feature is no longer in a place where I can accurately call it “weekly,” but the content will, hopefully, make up for the prolonged absence. Here are some thought-provoking things I have read recently:
Jonathan Franzen, the Great American Novelist(™) whose work both inspired me to write both through its successes and its failures to talk about The Way We Live Now and other such grandiose themes, no longer cares. He’s a rebel against the court of public opinion, and instead of reacting angrily to a host of trends that in the past that he saw as sources of civilizational decline, he has found equanimity in ignoring Twitter feuds. The question is, has it come at the cost of his skills as a searing social observer? Can one write about The Way We Live Now without living it directly? Or is that very question the wrong one to ask about contemporary literature? If the new novel he’s starting mentioned in this New York Times Magazine piece takes place in the present, we may soon find out.
Why have I not been blogging much lately? One, because I have been having a social life, but also because I’ve been absorbed by the World Cup, which remains a delightful exercise is international athletics, even if Neymar flops too much. It’s been an odd one, with my ancestors the defending champs bombing out in the group stage, Argentina looking like a royal mess, the Spanish dynasty running out of gas, and the Brazilian whole once again failing to equal the sum of its parts. It’s provided some moments of joy; for me, the high water mark game was probably Uruguay, a personal favorite, using its lethal two-man strikeforce to vanquish defending European champion Portugal in the Round of 16. Now, however, we are down to a final four. The French are the mild favorites, with 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe being the breakout star of the Cup, but Belgium’s dynamic attack will pose a great test in a tasty-looking semifinal. On the other side of the bracket, England has been exorcising demons and look like a team on a mission under Gareth Southgate, but first must get past maestro Luka Modric and his orchestra from Croatia. (Few things in sports are as aesthetically pleasing than a diminutive midfielder slaloming around a pitch and singlehandedly running an attack.) But yes, the four semifinalists are all European. How does that happen in what should be a globalizing sport? FiveThirtyEight crunches some numbers on the question here.
Shifting gears: Mexico has a new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. AMLO has been a polarizing public figure for the better part of two decades since his rise to become the Head of Government of Mexico City and his narrow, contentious loss in the 2006 election. When I spent a semester in Mexico City as an undergrad four years after that election, there were still regular protests in the Alameda disputing the result. By 2018, however, the script has flipped: AMLO won last week’s presidential election in a landslide, and his fairly new party, MORENA, has huge pluralities in both chambers of congress.
Mexican politics has been flipped upside down. The conservative PAN, which led the way in Mexico’s democratic revolution in the first decade this century, finished a distant second. The long-ruling PRI, which was an exhausted relic even before Enrique Peña Nieto’s miserable six-year term, got shellacked. The original leftist party, the PRD, was eviscerated. The election could be a watershed moment in Mexican history. Something revolutionary is afoot in Mexico, for good or ill, and if AMLO, a fascinating figure, can deliver on his lofty expectations, it could have implications for politics in a lot of places. Here, Jon Lee Anderson, the New Yorker’s remarkable roving Latin America correspondent, profiles AMLO as he follows his campaign.
Another random World Cup season note: Cuauhtémoc Blanco, one of Mexico’s most accomplished fútbol stars, was elected governor of Morelos state under the MORENA coalition banner. I did a double-take when I saw that one.
Meanwhile, back in the States, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic Socialist, has won a Democratic primary in New York. But what does that look like in practice, and how does it compare to the Democratic Socialism of the movement’s standard bearer, Bernie Sanders? Reihan Salam investigates in the Atlantic.
Finally, in the London Review of Books, John Lancaster pens a superb overview of global economy since the start of the Great Recession in plain English. It’s a thorough take that puts the macroeconomics of the past decade into sobering perspective. I particularly enjoy his note, paraphrasing Napoleon, that to understand someone’s view of the world, one must understand what the world looked like when he was twenty. Expect me to riff on this more in the coming weeks, both in terms of my own outlook at that of others.