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I have covered American politics and culture from almost all of the continental USA, and observed the social devolution and rise of Trump and the MAGA. My journalism and books have been inspired by curiosity about one theme: the tension between science and religion, between reality and conspiracy theories, that has so vexed our technologically advanced world. I am writing this substack to help us keep eyes on the facts, to remember where we started and how we got here. This substack is for people of all political persuasions who resist normalizing corruption and incivility.

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The New Republic, Mar 17, 2023

Iraq was where I first saw what a malnourished wartime baby's face looks like. On a single day, I saw about a dozen of them, in the arms of women lined up on benches outside a hospital in a slum quarter of Baghdad. Shrunken like prunes, tiny caricatures of old age. These babies were starving as a result of U.S. sanctions in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, a war waged in 1991 by the first President Bush to repel Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

That war lasted just a few weeks and ended with Bush ignoring the entreaties of neoconservatives to "finish the job" by storming into Iraq to remove Hussein. Twelve years later, Bush's son followed the neocons' bidding. "Operation Enduring Freedom" launched March 20, 2003, 20 years ago next Monday, as people around the world huddled before their TV sets to watch spectacular explosions over Baghdad. The dictator was toppled, first in statue and then in person. For years afterward, the country was occupied by the American military and soldiers sent from "the coalition of the willing"--31 motley nations, excluding most of Europe, except for the U.K.

What TV didn't show: Iraqi civilians dying like flies. Depending on which study you trust, the Iraq War caused between 110,600 (AP) and 654,965 (The Lancet) violent civilian deaths. Other estimates put the numbers somewhere in between. The United States disputes all the numbers. (Wikipedia has links to the research.)

Read the rest here


August 1, 2022

For TomDispatch, published in The Nation, LA Progressive, and others 

Ever since the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, standing in a ballroom with red-hatted Trump election celebrants in the New York Hilton, I've been waiting for this moment. This eruption of misogyny, unlike any since perhaps the witch trials and the burnings of midwives at the stake, was only a matter of time.

As shocking, as wildly insulting as that pussy-grabber winning the presidency was to American women and girls, it was just the beginning of what appears to be a long season of sadism.

Who Let the Dogs Out?

The election of Donald Trump signaled a cutting of the chain-link fence behind which something drooling and ferocious had been waiting. Unfortunately, what most of us didn't fully grasp then was just how powerful that force of (male) nature was. Too late we understood that it had been long licking its wounds in a dark corner gathering strength. We sensed it for years, of course, but we didn't know just how feral and hungry it might prove to be.

Remember the things that once had the power to shock us? They seem so meh now: American voters electing to the highest office in the land someone credibly accused of sexual harassment and assault, on record advising a younger man to "grab 'em by the pussy." And that was after a presidential campaign in which he and his supporters had showered his female ("rhymes with witch") opponent with profane misogynistic abuse.

Soon, The Donald and his followers had normalized everyday misogyny, celebrating their leader's tendency to reduce all women to strip-club sexual attractiveness. Mini-Trumps sprouted in lesser elected positions across the country, publicly calling elected women or those campaigning for office witches and worse. We even got used to the seating of a new rightist Supreme Court with, for added insult, one new justice credibly accused of sexual assault and another a member of a religious cult that called women "handmaidens."

Meh, meh. That, too, it turns out, was just the beginning.

Read the rest here

June 16, 2022

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For The Nation

My Pandemic in Three Acts: Dealing with the Disease that Never Seems to Leave Town

On New Years' Eve 2019, Americans celebrated the advent of the roaring '20s with fireworks and champagne, amid ominous news alerts from China. Surely that virus would stay on the other side of the planet. I cringe at how entitled we felt then. Covid-19 has now wiped out more than a million of us (by far the worst record on Earth when it comes to wealthy countries). Up to a third of all survivors suffer the sometimes disabling effects of long Covid, with implications for society that will outlast the pandemic -- if it ever ends.

I'd like to believe we've learned a lesson about our species-wide vulnerability, our planetary connectedness. But in fact, we seem more atomized and arrogant than ever. The pandemic arrived just as technology was driving us collectively mad and pushing us further into our black mirrors.

Read the rest here

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May 12, 2022

For TomDispatch, LA Progressive, Alternet, Daily Kos

America Unmasked - Did the Long Pandemic Spawn a New Kind of Repression?

Last month, not long after Florida federal judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that the transportation mask mandate was illegal, I flew from New York City to Miami. Videos of airplane passengers in midflight ripping off their masks and cheering with joy had already gone viral following the judge's ruling.

I've traveled domestically and internationally many times since the start of the pandemic and I hate the mask as much as anyone. It makes me sneeze and it tickles. After 10 hours on long hauls, I can indeed feel like I'm suffocating. It can be almost unbearable. But after two years of obediently masking up to enter airports and planes around the world, I found my first unmasked travel experience jarring indeed, even though I kept mine on. I was not the only masked person on that American Airlines flight, but I was definitely in the minority.

Read the rest here.

"Daddy ... do you want a Dorito?" a little girl's voice asked.

"Honey, I'm making explosives, can you get away from me, please?"

That recorded exchange between Delaware trucker Barry Croft Jr. and his daughter was just one of hundreds of examples of audio, video and online chatter prosecutors presented to the jury considering the fate of four men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the fall of 2020.

Read the rest here.


For NBC:

Trumpism is not, and maybe never was, a revolt of the economically anxious or impoverished. A new study of the people charged in the Jan. 6 riot should, hopefully, once and for all end this myth.

The detailed look conducted by researchers at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats found a majority of suspects were not distressed farmers from mortgaged lands or laid-off workers from idled factories, but white-collar professionals and business owners. Their ranks included CEOs, a cardiovascular specialist, lawyers, a design engineer, accountants and the founder and president of a firm that tests satellites. In fact, the percentage of business owners among the people charged -- 26 percent -- was more than twice their percentage in the U.S. population as a whole.

Read the rest here


November is the first birthday of former President Donald Trump's election fraud lie. That lie, enabled by his supporters at all levels of the GOP, helped spawn the most violent assault on the American seat of government since the War of 1812. On top of the Capitol riot's damage to democracy, it has also diverted attention away from efforts seeking accountability for the disastrously mishandled Covid-19 pandemic. As of this writing, the pandemic has killed more than 768,000 Americans -- and counting.

As I have noted before, America has a habit of "moving on" from its mistakes and failures. The folly of the Iraq War, for example, never received the kind of comprehensive U.S. public inquiry as the British Chilcot Report. And with each passing month, the likelihood of anyone in power being held accountable for the cavalier profiteering and science denialism that marked the Trump regime's handling of the pandemic -- and the resultant and ongoing Republican Party slide into vaccine hesitancy, misinformation monetization and science rejection -- seems to grow dimmer.

Read the rest here.


THE NATION April 26, 2021

The second Moderna shot made me sick -- as predicted. A 24-hour touch of what an alarmed immune system feels like left me all the more grateful for my good fortune in avoiding the real thing and for being alive at a time when science had devised a 95% effective vaccine in record time.

To distract myself from the fever as I tried to sleep, I visualized strands of synthetic messenger RNA floating into my cells to produce the alien spike protein that attracted my warrior T-cells. I drifted off envisioning an epic micro-battle underway in my blood and had a series of weird nightmares. At about two a.m., I woke up sweating, disoriented, and fixated on a grim image from one of the studies I had consulted while writing my own upcoming book, Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic, on the Covid-19 chaos of our moment. In his Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver, Arthur Allen described how, in the days of ignorance -- not so very long ago -- doctors prescribed "hot air baths" for the feverish victims of deadly epidemics of smallpox or yellow fever, clamping them under woolen covers in closed rooms with the windows shut.

Mildly claustrophobic in the best of times, my mind then scrabbled to other forms of medical persecution I'd recently learned about. In the American colonies of the early eighteenth century, for example, whether or not to take the Jenner cowpox vaccine was a matter of religious concern. Puritans were taught that they would interfere with God's will if they altered disease outcomes. To expiate that sin, or more likely out of sheer ignorance, medical doctors of the day decreed that the vaccine would only work after weeks of purging, including ingesting mercury, which besides making people drool and have diarrhea, also loosened their teeth. "Inoculation meant three weeks of daily vomiting, purges, sweats, fevers," Allen wrote.

Read the rest here.


With July Fourth here, it's a good time to consider what the pandemic taught us about how Americans define freedom.

Though Covid-19 restrictions have eased -- for now, at least -- and the masks have come off, we should not forget all those red-blooded, liberty-loving Americans who were ripping their masks off and fighting with store employees in Costco, Target and Walmart last year and saw themselves as patriots, battling a repressive state authority like China. Fox News commentators this year have regularly turned the notion of vaccine passports into a "Democrats are totalitarians" political talking point.

Read the rest here.


Early in the 20th century, it was not uncommon for children to suffer the agonies of infectious diseases or witness family members who did. Children got terribly sick and died at home. Their survivors -- including some of our grandparents and great-grandparents -- were intimately acquainted with the sights, sounds and smells of dying and with the deaths of siblings or their own small children.

Thankfully, those traumatic experiences are long past us. Americans born after the mid-20th century belong to the vaccine-spoiled generations. Most probably don't know what diphtheria is or that it was a leading cause of childhood death in the United States before immunizations became widespread. Nor can they imagine being parents helplessly watching their small child cough to death from this bacterial infection.

I came to this understanding while writing a short book about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Read the rest here.


This story involves mass death, religious zealots, and the worst case of government malpractice to facilitate what was deemed a business opportunity in the history of the United States, so I'll choose the biblical opening:

In the beginning, there was the State.
And the ideologues said, "Let It Be Smashed."
And so it was smashed.

March 6. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Early days in the shit show.

Americans are just starting to die. Infected cruise ships are stranded at sea around the world. No one in Trump's administration has decided what to do--or if they have to do anything.

Nobody in this great edifice of American public health that is the CDC--the gold standard for the whole world, journalists will write and write again--is yet wearing a mask.

Read the rest here.


This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Now that we're all unmasking and the economy seems set to roar into the 2020s, what will we remember about how disastrously, how malignantly, the Trump administration behaved as the pandemic took hold? And will anyone be held to account for it?

The instinct to forget pandemics, as I've pointed out when it came to the 1918 "Spanish flu," has historically been strong indeed. In these years, the urge to forget official malfeasance and move on has, it turns out, been at least as strong. Washington's failure to investigate and bring to account those who led the nation and ultimately the world into the folly of the Iraq War may be the most egregious recent example of this.

In the end, that's why I wrote my new book Virus -- to memorialize a clear and accessible historical record of the deliberate and deadly decision-making that swept us all into a kind of hell. I had the urge to try to stop what happened to us from being instantly buried in the next round of daily reporting or, as appears likely now, relegated to the occasional voluminous government or foundation report on how to do things better.

Read the rest here.

An Ordinary Killing
By Sonia Faleiro

In 2012, a gang of men set upon and horrifically raped a female student on a bus in New Delhi. The crime made international news and provoked national protests that led to some changes in the laws. But Indian women with big dreams were on notice anyway. Seven years on, the Indian National Crime Records Bureau logged an average 88 rape charges a day.

Sonia Faleiro set out to examine India's rape culture, but what she ended up revealing was something even more mundane and terrifying.

Read the rest here.

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For The New Republic 2/3/2021

One of the scariest female characters in English literature is Madame DeFarge, the wine shop owner whose face is the blank, pitiless gaze of the French Revolution's Terror in Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. DeFarge sat beside other women, watching the guillotine's river of blood flow as they worked their knitting needles. In French legend, these women are known as "les tricoteuses"--the knitters--women performing an ultrafeminine domestic chore as a terrifying symbol of implacable fury.

I've found myself thinking of Madame DeFarge and les tricoteuses as it's become clearer that women played an important role in the organization of the January 6 insurrection. Groups like Women for Trump and Women for America First were the advance guard of the Capitol riot: a diversion in lipstick and heels. Using hyperfemininity as a shield, they enabled a fascist rampage right under the nose of the federal authorities. Instead of clacking their knitting needles by the guillotine, they fingered their pearls as the rioters erected a gallows.

Read the rest here.


Can Democrats still wield power once they have it? That is a question I and other political analysts have pondered a lot in the last few decades.

After watching two Republican presidents get elected despite losing the popular vote, and after the Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky stole President Barack Obama's third Supreme Court seat only to hand it to President Donald Trump, one would think the Democrats would have had enough.

Read the rest here.


NBC THINK - Last week, Loujain al-Hathloul, a young activist who fought for women to be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, appeared in court to hear that her crime has been deemed equivalent to national security and terrorism cases. Al-Hathloul, 31, hadn't been seen in person for over a year, while reports trickled out about torture and threats of rape and being "thrown in the sewer." Her parents, in court,reported that she looked weak, exhausted and shaking. So Saudi authorities have already reduced this vibrant, healthy woman to a quivering sick shell of her former self -- but apparently that is still not punishment enough.

Read the rest here.



Since the day in 2015 when Donald Trump rode down the Trump Tower escalator and started blaming "Mexican rapists" for national problems--and then sent his ex-N.Y.P.D. private-security goon onto Fifth Avenue to beat those who protested--people have been comparing him to Adolf Hitler. And in the more than five years since Trump launched his appeal to white identity, the Trump-Hitler comparisons have only grown louder and more common, from social-media memes to op-eds.

They are not wrong: one can simply go back and watch his rally performances in black and white with the sound down to be reminded of 1930s Germany. But, critical as it is of the president, the mainstream media has been reluctant to go full-on Adolf when covering Trump.

Now comes New York University historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat with a convincing, scary, and very readable book making the case for Trump as not Hitler exactly, but as an American of the same ilk, a member of a small group of malignant men (and they are all men--that's part of the point) that, in addition to Hitler, includes Italy's Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi, Congo's Mobutu Sese Seko, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Russia's Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary's Viktor Orbán--and now Trump

Read the rest here.


For Airmail Weekly

Totally Under Control, a new documentary that traces the American response to the coronavirus crisis, is not easy to watch. First, we already know the ending, and second, headlines over the past six months gave us a play-by-play of the unfolding disaster in real time.

We think we know how we got here--some combination of bad luck, bad governance, and bad timing. But the fog of chaos--deliberately and maliciously deployed, as this film, directed and produced by Alex Gibney (Enron, The Inventor), Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger, makes perfectly clear--obscured the gravest official, purposeful malfeasance in the history of modern American government.

Read the rest here.


For Airmail Weekly

Will the days of women's rage ever end? The selections in this voluminous collection remind us that generations have been issuing fiery demands for a more equal, post-patriarchal world long before the mass movement known as #MeToo sent Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein to jail and ousted many other powerful men from their jobs.

Breanne Fahs, author of a biography of the radical feminist Valerie Solanas, here connects us to the hive mind of resisting women and their comrades in arms.

Read it here.

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Women for Trump have always proclaimed that no matter how misogynistic Trump appears to be, no matter how many women have accused him of abuse, and no matter that he supports policies to abolish women's liberty, he is in fact "empowering" women. In fairness, "empowerment" is one of those famously flexible terms--akin to that other right-wing go-to word, "liberty"--that's strayed far from its original meaning. But for these women, theirs is a hobbled empowerment, literally and figuratively.

The damage done to women by the Trump administration has been incalculable, the disempowerment immense.

Read the rest Here



What is the role of women in a political movement as misogynistic as President Donald Trump's? What does it take to be the consort to an authoritarian? The first requirement for such a figure is accepting that the chief role of the feminine in an autocracy is to bolster male sexual power. "How I adore you," Clara Petacci wrote to Benito Mussolini after making love to him, according to a book of her letters. "You were so beautiful this evening, as aggressive as a lion, violent and masterful. You are the man who triumphs over other men and over life."

Read the rest here



April is the cruelest month, breeding daffodils and gin and tonics.

If we survive, I will forever associate this period of our lives with the sacrificial slicing of the lime, the pouring of the holy inebriant lightly tinctured with the presidential miracle, tonic of quinine. (Quinine, a treatment for malaria, is also found in tonic water.)

Fleeing New York like rats, my husband and I decamped north to socially isolate in a drafty house in the middle of what the locals call mud season, a time of grassless muck by day and treacherous plains of brown ice as the temperatures dip at night.

In the first weeks, we were giddy, if disoriented. It felt like setting sail on an exciting voyage, an odyssey, with our stores of grain and amphorae of olive oil and wine. And what voyage isn't inaugurated with a pour for the gods?

Read the rest here



Fomo haunted my nights for years, a rat in the dark at 2am, scratching up for review all the things I did not do to stay ahead of the game during the day.

Now, Fomo, like the handshake, belongs to another age.

I realized this a few days ago, while glancing in the mirror at my gray roots and looking down at my unkempt toenails. How swiftly the true body emerges from the polish and preening. At least I am not alone. No one else - from millionaires to paupers - is getting shined up or going anywhere. I'm not missing any premieres with movie stars or other Manhattan diversions. I am not going to hear about a dinner party to which I alone was not invited. Nobody's got good hair right now.

Read the rest here


Two years after women in Hollywood formed Time's Up to deal with the #MeToo reckoning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided that not one of the woman-helmed films was worthy of a best director nomination.

Apparently true auteurs come without a uterus.

Perhaps it's time for a modest proposal. A truly Oscar-worthy protest. One that hits the industry where it counts -- in the wallet and in the part of the wallet that women fill.

I'm referring to the red carpet.

The value of the red carpet to the industry and to media that cover and broadcast it is hard to overestimate. In terms of earned media, it likely surpasses $100 million.

Read the rest here at


Thanks to Donald Trump, American women have a fresh, iconic photo of Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the White House on Wednesday. There she is, the only woman at a table of two dozen men, standing up to object to what lawmakers confirm was Trump's verbal abuse. Meanwhile, the white male power elite of the United States look down uneasily at their collective hands.

In situations like this, as the only woman in a room full of men, Pelosi pushes all Trump's buttons at once.

This White House meeting with congressional leaders was supposed to be about the unfolding conflict between Turkey and the Kurds. Before they even got down to business, however, the conversation, perhaps predictably, unraveled. In situations like this, as the only woman in a room full of men -- a woman who is not there as eye candy to help close the deal, but who is present to actually close the deal herself -- Pelosi pushes all Trump's buttons at once.

Read the rest here.

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As we careen into impeachment autumn, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 Inaugural words, "The only thing we have to fear is... fear itself" should be uppermost in the minds of the 55 percent majority of Americans who polls indicate believe President Donald Trump should be impeached.

Trump's campaign rallies and the violent messaging of his supporters have often inspired fear. The whiff of jackboots has been enough to send a good portion of us reaching for the smelling salts. The man accused of killing 22 people in El Paso, Texas, used the same anti-immigrant rhetoric Trump has used in the past. More recently, lawyers for the whistleblower at the center of Trump's Ukraine scandal claimed the president's commentary and threats have endangered their client's safety.

Read the rest here.

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Not so long ago, there was no public shame in being a dirty old man. While political pundits proclaimed 1992 the Year of the Woman, Donald Trump was manhandling an NFL cheerleader on camera, with pedo-predator Jeffrey Epstein snickering right next to him.

In the early 2000s, when Donald Trump wasn't putting Melania on the phone with Howard Stern to purr about how much sex they had, he was bragging about how he could "get away" with "inspecting" teenage girls in dressing rooms at his pageant franchises. Har-har-har! went Howard, and millions of listeners laughed along in their cars.

In Florida, during the same years, Epstein was allegedly ordering barely pubescent American and Eastern European girls to stand naked beside him while he masturbated. He was, according to previously filed lawsuits, passing the same girls around to have sex with famous men, while his accused procurers included a prominent British socialite on familiar terms with the royal family.

Read the rest at Rolling Stone


Trump Royale


June 2019: As President Donald Trump and his family trooped into Buckingham Palace for a state banquet with Queen Elizabeth II on Monday night, royal watchers, palace protocol chiefs and journalists were on the alert. Consider, even before Trump landed, he had labeled Meghan Markle "nasty" and the London mayor "a stone cold loser."

For Trump, however, this royal dinner was clearly more than the usual state visit, as the New York Times pointed out on Tuesday. While Trump has worked hard to build his life into a glittering, eponymous brand, there has long been a royal-specific yearning in the Trump family. What is less known is that this desire arguably dates back to Trump's mother, an immigrant maid who came to America almost 100 years ago and bequeathed to her fourth child the notion that all that glitters really is gold.

Read the rest here.

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June 2019: The online phenomenon of Amanda Knox was a portent of the Age of Trump, with its elevation and celebration of unreason, as the digital age linked and energized what most charitably could be called "suspicious minds."

In 2007, Twitter was just coming online, with 5,000 Tweets per day. Facebook was still in its data-harvesting infancy, with less than 100 million users. But the Amanda Knox story tapped into something previously inchoate, a vein of irrationality, rage, misogyny, pettiness and paranoia that -- as the world has since come to understand -- has bubbled along in the human species, unshared and unspoken, until it was enabled and amplified by the World Wide Web.

Read the rest here.

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For the Republican Party -- not only the hard-right but the supposed moderates as well -- Kavanaugh must be confirmed. Only, it's not for the reason that everyone thinks. Despite his flaying in last week's bloody gender battle, the GOP's SCOTUS power play has nothing to do with overturning Roe versus Wade. It's about maintaining power. And money. And the power to make gobs more money, with which to solidify power. And the vast majority of cases the Supreme Court will rule on in the next term are about precisely that. There's only one Roe. There are dozens of cases about power and money on the docket. Decisions by the next court bear, as they often do, directly on the relative rights of the powerless and the powerful, including questions like: when companies can require arbitration and avoid the court system; when and how class action suits may be filed; issues involving Native American claims to public lands; and how much immunity international corporations are due inside the United States. (Interested parties can peruse the SCOTUS 2018-2019 docket. You will not find the word Roe.)

Read the rest here.


Robert F. Kennedy was killed 50 years ago on June 6--the third in a trio of high-profile assassinations during that dec­ade, the bloody coda to an era of political violence. Today, in our divided, uncivil time, it's worth remembering that Americans survived the horrors of the 1960s and early '70s, which began with the murder of Robert's older brother, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963. But 1968 was something of a watershed: "The year that shattered America," as Smithsonianhas called it, demolished the hippie fever dream of the '60s with an explosive cocktail of escalating war, racially charged riots, ­police brutality and the assassinations of Martin ­Luther King Jr. and then RFK.

There was no 24-hour news cycle back then. Social media was not spreading hate or forging divisive bubbles. The president wasn't fanning flames with regular tweets, covert Russian hackers weren't propagating fake news, and books proclaiming the end of democracy hadn't become a lucrative sideline for publishers--all of which exacerbates our current turmoil, which can feel intractable.

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"I am so tired of it, and also tired of the future before it comes." This epigraph by 19th century South African writer Olive Schreiner is how Doris Lessing opens the first Martha Quest novel. Standing in the stacks at the public library, holding the book in my hands, I was hooked.

I found Martha during one of my life's doldrums. I waited for the sky to change, but it never did. I was living in Springfield, Illinois, working as a journalist in one of my first jobs out of college. In my memory, the light was a perpetual February shade of dirty gray, and the temperature always just a few degrees above 40: too chilly to enjoy, not cold enough to snow.

read the rest here on the Bustle website.

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New York Times Book Review 11/03/17

The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend
By Cristina De Stefano
Translated by Marina Harss
Illustrated. 282 pp. Other Press. $25.95.

Someone should write an opera about her: La Fallaci, beautiful, extravagant, courageous survivor of war and tempestuous love affairs, speaker of truth to power. But for now, Cristina De Stefano's new biography of the Italian journalistic superstar Oriana Fallaci -- unabashed hagiography to counter the writer's late-life reputational demise -- must suffice.

Full review here.

Last fall, Nina Burleigh visited her cousins in Baghdad in hopes of better understanding Iraqis' love-hate relationship with America. Weeks later, as the bombs began to drop, her own loyalties went to war -- Mirabella, March 1999.
My first night in the Middle East, I feel as if I'm falling asleep on the dark side of the moon. There is a smoky kerosene smell and a mullah calling "Allah akbar" (God is great) from the neon green rim of a minaret. My flesh will take days to arrive in this time zone.


Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland -- Parishioners at the Stornoway High Church on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland still remember the dignified blonde who came back from America every summer. She walked with a formal, erect posture, provoking whispers about how she'd picked up her "airs and graces" in New York, where she'd married a rich man. But mostly they remember her speaking Gaelic as though she'd never left the island.

The woman, Mary Anne MacLeod, is the mother of Donald Trump, the aggressive rich kid turned real estate mogul turned President of the United States. And the contrast between her humble immigrants roots and the 1950s McMansion where she wound up is the key to understanding Trump's deep insecurity.

MacLeod spent the first 17 years of her life in Tong, a fishing village on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, closer to Iceland than to London. Though her son was raised in a mansion in Queens, she grew up among poor islanders in a two-bedroom rented cottage crammed with her and 10 siblings.

Full story here.


Newsweek 3/16/2017

President Donald Trump's Viagra budget is about what you would expect from an aging modelizer: It stiffens the outside while the inside is collapsing into a desiccated pile.

After a wasted youth as a fairly good-looking and uber-wealthy (Daddy's money) Manhattan playboy, he devoted his middle years to pimping out teen girls and young beauties in pageants by which to amuse-- ahem , pussygrab--himself and maybe keep other aged-out Lotharios in his set juiced up too.

Now, Mr Trump, verging on obese, according to his own doctor, and on the dark side of 70, is in charge of an entire nation, onto which he has projected his personal decline.

Read the rest here.

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Newsweek, October 2016:

Sadly, in 2016, it's still easy to understand why Trump--impresario and entertainer, master of reality TV, creature of the most sexist swamps of America's cultural landscape--might feel women are on Earth just to be grabbed and groped. No doubt he's heard all those rappers celebrating the fuckability of jet-loads of bitches and hoes, and he must be at least dimly aware that women produce only the most minuscule percentage of movies and television shows, and that laughably few female characters even speak in most movies. He knows women don't really have a voice. And those who are pretty are just "magnets" to his mouth.

Every woman in America who has ever stepped foot outside her house has been, at one time or another and against her will, grabbed, poked, rubbed against, kissed, sexually harassed or, in some cases, much, much worse. These experiences start young.

Like "the talk" that fathers must give their black sons, mothers give their girls dire warnings from the day they can understand speech.

Read the rest here.

Hillary Clinton

Misogyny is the last acceptable taboo, and Republicans--and even some Bernie backers--have illustrated it on numerous occasions, including Thursday, when they booed Clinton as she spoke of equal pay for women. It is almost impossible to imagine, for instance, how progressives and black Americans would have responded if the crowd in Cleveland had chanted "Lock him up" in reference to Obama, America's first black presidential candidate.

To ponder that is also to ponder the ugly direction this campaign will take over the next three months, regardless of how many soccer moms Hillary may have won over tonight with her touching personal story about her mother's hard childhood and her father's work ethic--or her deft dings about Trump tweeting his way through a nuclear crisis. "I physically cringe when I think of the battles ahead for her," said New York delegate Judith Hope, a longtime Hillary supporter.

read the rest here.


As world leaders started heading to Paris to discuss climate change, I boarded a plane last night going in another direction: south to Antarctica. From 30,000 feet, on a clear, moonlit November night flying south from New York City, the density of the lights along the eastern seaboard form a stunning lace trim along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Each of the twinkly whorls and grids represents millions of Americans living along the sea, populating a megalopolis stretching from Boston down to Richmond, and points even further south.

The heartbreaking beauty of our great eastern cities from the sky at night sometimes brings tears to my eyes. It's moving to behold what we, the thinking animals, have built and placed against that great black void of cold water.

All that, and even the jet from which to view it, we have accomplished in little more than a century. But the pace of human progress brought its own fragility, in the form of climate change.

Gazing down on those lights from the porthole of a jet brings home just what catastrophic sea level rise means.

Scientists believe that as the frozen Poles melt, which they are doing at a phenomenal rate, the sea will, like a glass of water into which ice cubes are dropped, surge upward and overflow its edges, extinguishing the lights and the great cities.

Read the rest here.

I wrote this two summers ago. They vanished but their handlers are still around.


A screenshot from the Women Against Feminism website. (Photo via Creative Commons)

Besides the warm, pumpkin-candle scented aisles of the Hobby Lobby, there's another new club for self-effacing female enablers of angry white men. Women Against Feminism had, last time I checked, 16,013 followers on Facebook. Its tumblris constructed of selfies of young women, dressed and posed like ads for DIY escort services, holding up bits of notebook paper on which they've scrawled screeds against feminism.

Here are just a few quotes from a compendium of such blinding idiocy and prejudice that it defies description.

Black nail-polished hands hold a notebook over a half-shirt exposing a bellybutton: "I don't need feminism because I don't think it's necessary to belittle and dispose of an entire gender in the name of equality."

A note is propped against the protuberant cleavage enhanced by a pushup bra under a tank top. "If I'm wearing a top like this I want you to look."

A woman with two or three lip piercings: "I don't need feminism because blaming men for your OWN insecurities and mistakes is WRONG & ABSURD."

These women are slandering the movement that enabled their freedom. They live in a world in which they and their mothers can vote, decide whether or not to work, who and when to marry, and whether and when to have children. That was not the case for women within living memory. They have feminists to thank for that, not Rush Limbaugh's ideological forebears.

But they do have Mr. Limbaugh and his ilk to thank for the cockamamie ideas they've scrawled on notebook paper, to wit:

"I need feminism because if they called it man-hate men wouldn't help us."

"I'm tired to be [sic] represented by some hysterical hipster whore."

"My problem with feminism, is that it's not just about 'building women up', but also 'cutting men down'."

"I don't need feminism because only the weak-minded buy into cults."

Man-hate. Feminist cult. Hysterical hipster whore. All catchy right-wing radio memes, presented here in pretty cursive, with hearts dotting the I's.

When I first went online looking for Women Against Feminism, I mistakenly Googled "anti-feminist site" and stumbled across a men's rights site with the same theme, and eerily, some of the identical claims. The anti-feminist men's site actually links to the Women Against Feminism site, while also including articles on how sex-hating feminists raised the age of consent for girls to 16 in the Victorian era, thereby limiting male sexual options to this day. The site includes a petition to stop the U.K.'s porn filter and a helpful YouTube class on "How to Date Russian Girls."

Everything about Women Against Feminism suggests it's a sock puppet for the aggrieved misogynists and pedophiles of the anti-feminist men's rights crowd. The main clue is that almost all the women on the site are nubile and posed in ways that fulfill dirty old men's wildest dreams about pliant young things.

Plenty of older women are against feminism, too, but these particular Women Against Feminism are barely of legal voting age. Someone, somewhere has told these young women that feminists are against sex, against men, and stand for limiting people's options. And I think we know who.

One of the longest recent comments on the Women Against Feminism Facebook site argues that feminists shouldn't "tell us" what feminism means.

"None of you can claim to own the true definition of feminism," the poster, Christian Cueva, wrote to imaginary feminist adversaries. "Everyone here has had negative experiences with feminists and decided to join this page to speak out against it. No one here became anti-feminist without a reason. I'm not interested in what you think feminism really is. Until you actually come to a consensus on the meaning of the word feminism, you don't own it."

Turns out Women Against Feminism welcomes feminist-hating men. Mr. Cueva is a man.

If we take Women Against Feminism at their word, that they really are a genuine grassroots groundswell of female opposition to the fight for women's equality, and not just pretty proxies for pervy right wing radio-addicted men blustering about women who don't shave their legs and "that whore" Sandra Fluke, then we must give intellectual legitimacy to some of their claims.

It's not easy, but that's exactly what self-titled "equality feminist" Cathy Young did inTime last week. Acknowledging that the "anti-feminist rebellion" has its "eye-rolling moments," she writes: "They make a strong argument that a 'patriarchy' that lets women vote, work, attend college, get divorced, run for political office, and own businesses on the same terms as men isn't quite living up to its label. They also raise valid questions about politicizing personal violence along gender lines; research shows that surprisingly high numbers of men may have been raped, sometimes by women." Really, Cathy?

The notion that feminism invented the patriarchy is risible on its face, in a country where less than 20 percent of Congress is female, where less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, where women make 75 cents on the dollar.

If Women Against Feminism is not actually a men's rights sock puppet, then it's a vessel for male anger, channeled through young women. Young white men (and the women on Women Against Feminism are, as far as I could tell, 100 percent blanco) are paying a huge price for the collapsing economy, and as women graduate from college in greater numbers, and jobs for men with only high school degrees diminish, the "feminists" get the blame.

For most young women, feminism is less of a bete noir than an "ehh, anyway." As Lana Del Rey said to Fader recently, "Whenever people bring up feminism, I'm like, God, I'm just not really that interested."

But it remains low-hanging fruit for right-wingers.

Sociologist Stephanie Coontz wrote in The New York Times this weekend that while the sexes have become more equal, American "society as a whole has become far less, producing especially deep losses for young men." In 1969, she wrote, three-quarters of 25-year-old men were earning wages that could support a family of four. Ten years ago, it took until age 30 for the same percentage of men to reach that income level. In 1969, only 10 percent of men ages 30 to 35 were still low earners. By 2004, almost a quarter of men in that age range remained low earners.

I'd lay odds that the young Women Against Feminism anti-feminists are the girlfriends and wives of these frustrated young men. Seeking an easy "liberal" target, they pin blame for a gigantic, systemic problem on the women who support and fight for growing gender equality. They fail to understand or choose to ignore the stinking fact that it's rich powerful greedy white guys in an era of wealth inequality who've gamed out the dysfunctional economy for their own benefit and rendered their men under-employed, bitter, and yes, bitching husbands and boyfriends.


Inside the cavernous concrete film studio where a Spider-Man movie was filmed, the hometown hero got a superhero's welcome from what he said were 15,000 people inside and another 5,000 outside. The press vultures would later estimate the crowd at 8,000 to 10,000, but he had already warned the assembled to watch out for that trick. "I love you, I love you," the crowd shouted at him. The favorite son crooned back, sounding ever so slightly Sinatra: "I love you too. I looove these people."

Donald J. Trump and his entourage had rolled into Long Island and right up to the venue. The other 10,000 people at the event were herded on an extended and inexplicable perambulation around the entire structure--a length of football field on each side--after leaving their cars. They had walked in a biting wind to the venue, a former aerospace factory building and hangar turned movie studio on the edge of Bethpage, New York.

Read the rest here.


Conservatives, jihadis and atheist Islamophobes often preach that we are engaged in a war of civilizations between the post-Enlightenment West and Islamic religious extremists. Such apocalyptic talk only feeds the Islamic State (ISIS) death-cult's recruitment. A meme with the national security punditocracy on jihadis is that they hate our freedom. Of course, the vast majority of Muslims on the planet are not at war with the West. On the contrary, tens of millions are voting with their feet right now, for the West.

But there is one of our freedoms that some of the jihadis do want to crush. How many Colognes and Tahrir Squares, how many ISIS sex slave fatwas, how many Afghan and Pakistani schoolgirls shot or threatened, and how many Saudi prison sentences for gang-rape survivors will it take before people start to understand that hatred of feminism is the first pillar of modern jihadism?

The events in Cologne, Germany, on New Year's Eve dragged the issue into the open. Up to a thousand men attacked women and girls--single, in groups, with men: it didn't matter--tearing at their clothes, groping, robbing purses and cellphones, and in some cases raping them. The mass assault was reminiscent of attacks on women in Tahrir Square. They reminded the world yet again that violence against women is the sine qua non of a certain corner of cultural Islam.

Read the rest of this.

cream and ice.jpg

It is still Earth, but Antarctica is an alien land. In his book Future of Life, Nobel-winning American biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote of Antarctica, "On all of the Earth, the McMurdo Dry Valleys most resemble the rubbled plains of Mars."

Antarctica is not as uninhabitable as Mars, but almost. It's also a place that tricks the eye, it's a trompe l'oeil of nature. On land, the whites stretch on forever, and snow, peak and cloud mingle so voyagers lose track of the difference. At sea, icebergs loom out of the fog like Gothic castles or the Sphinx, or simply abstract art, open to interpretation. But if the icebergs are Picassos, their positioning with backdrops of Alpine peaks and melted marshmallow, meringue and dollops of cream are pure Dali.

Here while the mind and eye are tricked, the body suffers extreme discomfort, from seasickness to frozen hands to frostbite and death, which might explain -- logically -- why Antarctic exploration always includes some element of the uncanny.

Ernest Shackleton and his two partners managed a death-defying sail across 800 miles of rough sea in an ice-crusted lifeboat then trekked across an island mountain range for several days to finally reach help at a whaling station. After that insane feat, the men admitted to one another that they had all sensed the presence of a "fourth man" -- an unseen someone walking beside them the whole time.

T.S. Eliot was moved to mention the mystery man in his modernist classic, The Wasteland.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you

Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded

I do not know whether a man or a woman

-- But who is that on the other side of you?

More recently, in 2012, polar explorer Felicity Aston became the first woman to ski solo across the Antarctic Continent. In 63 days alone, she started talking to the sun -- and it talked back. Eventually, she had entire conversations with it.

While voyaging around the Antarctic Peninsula, I posted the above, and some other journal entries on the website Medium. Read them all here.


HRC at the UN

Thumbnail image for hrc.jpg

HRC gave a keynote speech on how much has not changed for women and girls since the 1995 Beijing conference and Plan for Action. Her talk though, was not covered, as 200 journalists scurried to another room to wait to question her about her email storage habits while at State. I thought she did a good job not losing her cool. Here's my take in Newsweek on how she's a hero abroad, punching bag at home.


I lose my jewelry all the time. I don't now have and never had a lot of bling, but the more expensive it was the more likely it was to go down the drain, or away with the wind. I was thinking about this one day and realized that losing valuables connects me at some level with my refugee grandmother and the 51 million people rousted from their homes and wandering the planet now, and I wrote about it for the New York Times, here.

magicn.jpegIt's becoming increasingly apparent some new Koch Brothers are on the loose in Washington, lavishing money on liberals and conservatives alike. Like the Brothers K, they got rich on filthy fossil fuel revenues, and are using their booty to buy up think tanks, lobbyists and the best law firms. For good measure, they're tossing some of the nation's top liberal institutions into their shopping carts, too.

I refer here to our nominal allies, the medieval, superrich Gulf States. Thanks to investigative journalists at The New York Times and the Nation, who recently combed through reams of public disclosure documents, we now know that the Saudis, UAE and Qatar have been flooding the nation's capital with greenbacks.

Read the rest here


On the Media


A weekly critique of media hits and misses at Alternet. Exposing and laughing at Rush Limbaugh, FoxNews and blowhard entitled Viagran oafs everywhere in print or broadcast in the previous seven days.

bombshell.jpegBoko Haram is only one manifestation of an extreme backlash to global feminism. Educated women pose a grave threat to marginalized men in impoverished countries like Nigeria, but also Aghanistan, Pakistan, India, and elsewhere whose sole source of personal worth depends on their birthright to treat women and girls worse than farm animals. Read the latest Bombshell in the New York Observer here.

Nina Burleigh reviews Errol Morris's "The Unknown Known," about Donald Rumsfeld and the Iraq War.

In the opening shot of Errol Morris's The Unknown Known, Donald Rumsfeld doesn't look well. His face has the clammy plastic sheen that morticians are paid to produce. We soon come to understand that the former Secretary of Defense is alive and well, but this gray mausoleum of a movie is about death anyway.

rumsfeld.jpgRead the rest here.

Nina Burleigh on Woody AllenRead my thoughts on this in the New York Observer, right here.

Malala and Nina BurleighI met Malala in New York the night before the Nobel Committee decided to give the 2013 Peace Prize to the chemical weapons inspectors. She's young, and no one who hears her speak can doubt that she will make a difference in the world whether she gets a prize or not. But it's hard not to imagine those men sipping Aquavit in Oslo maybe missing the point that that young woman represents countless millions of abused, hopeless girls.

EVEN WITH THE Americans still in Afghanistan, the things happening every day to girls and young women under the Taliban defy belief. I met a an Afghani teacher, Razia Jan, in the audience at the event with Malala. A few weeks ago, Ms. Jan narrowly missed a bomb detonated at a major shopping center in Kabul. She said she never watches television to avoid bad news, but, when she got home, she turned it on to confirm that a friend and her children had died in the blast. Immediately after that report, the broadcast turned to a stoning in a town under Taliban control.

A girl, of age, had refused to marry an older man and married her younger lover instead. As Ms. Jan and the rest of Afghanistan watched, men in white robes stood outside a mosque, a figure draped in white was dragged to the middle of the square, and the men threw stones.

"These were not pebbles," Ms. Jan said, wiping tears. "They were bricks. And the men were laughing."

Here, in The New York Observer, you can read the rest of my thoughts on the future of teen girls under resurgent Taliban.

spy.jpegAfter the government dragnetted the AP phone records, I started to pay attention to data collection, the state and the press. And, from Barrett Brown in a Texas jail to NYT's James Risen having to lawyer up, things are not looking good. Surveillance of journalists and the breakdown of the shield laws, in the Bombshell.

cnn.jpeg(CNN) -- Last week, a 22-year-old Dutch journalist was gang-raped in Tahrir Square and had to undergo surgery for severe injuries. The assault reminds us yet again of an often overlooked aspect of the Egyptian revolution.
When Egyptians overthrew their dictator in 2011, one of the first celebratory acts in Tahrir Square included the gang beating and sexual assault of American journalist Lara Logan, who, like the Dutch journalist, landed in the hospital.
The Logan rape has always been portrayed as another unfortunate byproduct of mob violence. In fact, it was much more than that. It was a warning shot fired by men whose political beliefs are founded on a common pillar: Women must stay out of the public square.

Read the rest here.

English: Gordon Ramsay's Sesame Crusted Tuna

English: Gordon Ramsay's Sesame Crusted Tuna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It's summer and my kid is sitting in front of my desk, with the t.v. tuned to a cooking show. That reminded me of this little rant I published in the LATimes not long ago, asking what it says about America that half of us slobber over food shows like Gordon Ramsay's, while a quarter of us, including lots of children, are hungry. From the story:

The rise of our cultural obsession with the behind-the-scenes intricacies of glamorized food preparation, and the ubiquity of perfectly plated dishes on television, seems to have coincided rather neatly with the national dive into economic disaster and mass hunger. Food pantries can barely keep up with demand, and hungry, down-on-their-luck families wait in dingy public service agency offices across America, filling out forms for unemployment, WIC and welfare, while the screen on the wall is more likely than not instructing them about "drizzling virgin olive oil" on "julienned" peppers.

marylin.jpegFrom the crazy mixed-up files, here's an essay I wrote a while back about the stuff that makes me laugh, including a true story involving Donald Trump, Janet Reno, and some spitting frogs at the WHCD.
cnn.jpegMy thoughts on Amanda Knox breaking her silence, at CNN here.
bombshell.jpegHell hath no fury like a woman scorned" - William Congreve.
Musing on men, scorn and fury here.


The Knox-Haters

timelogo.gifI wrote this piece for Time about the Amanda Knox's guilter blogs. The editors shortened it, leaving in my stalking experience, cutting out examples of egregious behavior directed at others, like Candace Dempsey and Mark Waterbury, whose Facebook and wikipedia pages have been attacked and erased, among other nasty things. Proving my point, the story got 2500 comments in a few days. Some people collect garden gnomes, some do this.
Here's the full article

The Bombshell

bombshell.jpegI write a weekly column for the New York Observer, and when I'm on my game, it makes strong men weep. Read it here

bombshell.jpegWelcome to The Bombshell, a regular column about the peculiarities of the fairer sex.

Ever since the Swedes gave Obama the Nobel Prize before he'd actually done anything, I've wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of the secret chambers where they bestow such honors.

And never more than now, with the MacArthur Foundation's baffling decision to deem 43-year-old fiction writer Junot Díaz a "Genius" worthy of the legendary award's half-million-dollar paycheck.

It's not that Mr. Díaz hasn't written a great novel. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao didn't captivate me, but that's because I'm not inclined to care that much about tubby science fiction geeks with girl issues, even when limned in the admirably deft and much-praised brushstrokes of Mr. Díaz's affecting, hip Spanglish prose. In the five years since then, Mr. Díaz has written just one other book, a short story collection called This Is How You Lose Her.

But, in his brief wondrous literary career so far, Mr. Díaz--now a tenured professor at MIT--has collected more medals than Michael Phelps. Starting with his Pulitzer for fiction in 2007, awards have stuck to him like burrs. He's bagged a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim, the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, a PEN/Malamud Award, a US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize and a raft of lesser-known (to me anyway) awards including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, the 2008 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction, the 2008 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the Massachusetts Book Awards Fiction Award in 2007.

Oh, and he now sits on the 20-member Pulitzer Committee himself, perhaps in a newly created job counseling young writers about how to cope when the psychic and emotional weight of all their awards gets too heavy and they find that all their friends hate their guts.

There's something about giant literary awards that attracts other awards, like protons and electrons. But is it possible that one young writer could be deserving of all these prizes? Was there truly not another worthy writer during the last five years to whom the judges at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, say, could have granted a prize, given that their chosen boy had already had bagged a Pulitzer and a Goog?

These are subjective calls, and I reveal my own biases when I admit I would have awarded the Genius grant to Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl and her weird, sickly meditation on mother-daughter resentment, Sharp Objects; or to Lauren Groff for Arcadia, her heartbreakingly beautiful end-of-an-era novel about the generation born of hippie parents. And I'm not being sexist. There are even men who deserve it: Jess Walter, for Beautiful Ruins, and Jonathan Dee, for The Privileges--two writers whose work is brilliant, engrossing and revealing about our times.

This brings to mind a perhaps apocryphal quote I've heard attributed to Hemingway (but cannot find in any Google search this morning): "Literary prizes are like life jackets tossed to men who know how to swim and have already reached the shore."

So far in his brief wondrous life, Mr. Díaz has reached the shore with books exactly three times. He published a well-received collection of short stories first, called Drown, followed by galloping blockbuster Oscar Wao, and then, five years later, his new collection of short stories about love from the point of view of a helplessly philandering male narrator whose wayward urges prevent him from finding lasting love.

The colorful and insular world Mr. Díaz reveals in his writing is particular, but the universal theme is male concupiscence. Oscar Wao's titular antihero moves to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic and comes of age in America. But the book's chief narrator is Oscar's roommate Yunior, a self-described "player" who can't stay true to his girlfriends and is compelled to mess around with all their sisters too.

At one point Yunior shows a touch of self-awareness: "What I should have done was check myself into Bootie-rehab," he writes. "But if you thought I was going to do that, then you don't know Dominican men."

Yunior reappears in This Is How You Lose Her as a professor and writer who cheats on his girlfriends. The key plot point is curiously the same in many of the tales: the girlfriend discovers his infidelities because she cracks open his notebook and reads his diary notes about the encounters. Or, she reads his emails.

Don't you hate when that happens? The reviewers adore it. Calling Yunior "a Latino love rat in New Jersey," The Guardian writes that "the chief pleasure of these stories is the unflinching honesty Díaz brings to the subject of betrayal." Noting that Díaz "writes best about players," The L.A. Times says "it's the voice of male-driven sex and love obsessions that makes Díaz's stories most memorable."

Reading the short stories in the collection, I had a nagging sense of familiarity. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, then I realized who Yunior reminded me of: Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom.

Yes, the booty-chasing white suburban alter ego of John Updike, one of the great phallocrats of 20th century American letters, a man also constitutionally unable to cross the street with getting a literary award stuck on his shoe. And not just Updike, but Philip Roth and Norman Mailer too.

The demise of such fiction was predicted not so long ago in the pages of this very publication. Sven Birkerts, writing 15 years ago, noted that the postwar male ego in fiction was going the way of the Marlboro Man.

And no less a literary light than the sainted David Foster Wallace, also writing in these pages a decade and a half ago, called Updike "just a penis with a thesaurus" and predicted the end of the primacy of "Great Male Narcissists in American fiction. "Most of the literary readers I know personally are under 40," Wallace wrote, "and a fair number are female, and none of them are big admirers of the postwar G.M.N.'s."

Fifteen years after those declarations, literary awards jurors are irresistibly drawn to this Latino Updike, if you will, younger, hipper, bilingual, less prolific certainly, but still plowing the same field as his predecessors, along with the same sorts of all-too-accommodating women. The heart wants what it wants, right? Like the GMNs of yore, Díaz's alter ego is utterly beholden to his wandering penis, yet never examines his compulsion to bone everyone in sight.

In showering Mr Díaz with prize after prize, literary jurors seem to be saying the post-war GMN isn't dead yet. Is it the wars, the terrorism, the recession, driving the longing for a regenerated machismo that Mr. Díaz's multi-culti cred makes acceptable again? Is it a feminist backlash?

Mr. Díaz's wondrous bewitching of prize committees comes at a time when women writers remain wildly underrepresented in publishing, on both the reviewing and the reviewed side. According to VIDA, which tracks women in the arts, the count in 2011 was dismal as ever. The London Review published work by 117 women and 504 men, The Paris Review published work by 20 women and 46 men, The New York Review published work by 163 women and 627 men. It goes on and on. Interestingly, there is more parity over at Pulitzer, where, since 1982, 18 men and 12 women have won for fiction.

I suspect that there's more to Mr. Díaz's multiple awards than either sheer talent (which he does possess), latent machismo among male awards-granters or even wish fulfillment for a bunch of pointy-headed dweebs. Mr. Díaz has acknowledged being guided in his writing career at Rutgers by two female titans of the post-male, multicultural literary establishment: Sandra Cisneros and Toni Morrison. In the end, Mr. Díaz's crowded awards shelf might have as much to do with wise investments of "Who You Know" currency as anything else.

Last week, Mr. Díaz was on CBS This Morning talking to Charlie Rose about how the windfall will change his life. "It gives you an enormous amount of time and room," he reflected. "I told a friend of mine, it's like finding an extra bedroom to your apartment." Yunior would certainly put that chamber to good use.

Nina Burleigh is the author of The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox among other books. Follow her at @ninaburleigh.

Nina Burleigh
Welcome to The Bombshell, a regular column about the peculiarities of the fairer sex.

It can't be easy to be a man these days, what with the gender's looming end, but thinking about Naomi Wolf's new and much-ridiculed biography of the vagina has reminded me once again of the main reason why I would not want to be a man, or, make that a heterosexual man. Having sex with a woman is a complicated challenge. It exhausts me to think of it.

I feel sorry for the mystified males who have to have sex with us. One friend recently left by his wife wants to write a book for men called Stop, It Tickles. Here is how he explains his title: You meet a woman, she likes you a lot, you get together and maybe get married. But there always comes that night when you are doing the thing you always did, the thing she always liked, and suddenly she says: "Stop, it tickles." And that's the beginning of the end of all of it.

Read the rest at The Observer.

hpost logo.jpegIn the news, two apparently unrelated stories:

The first is that Baywatch "babe" Donna D'Errico got badly bruised climbing Mount Ararat looking for Noah's Ark. The second is a leaked document of Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's first-strike plan for Iran.

Many people have a hard time seeing the connection between a Hollywood TV bunny looking for proof of God on a hilltop in Turkey and Israeli national security state calmly planning to trigger World War 3.

Look again.

After a month visiting Biblical sites in the Middle East, the connection between God and conflict in the Middle East becomes inescapable. Israel is filled with sites holy to all three major religions, and religious Jews regard the entire nation as a sacred site. It's not just a country with a flag, and a bureaucracy, and a budget, it's actually God's country. It's the spiritual made real.

This belief illuminates and inspires all manner of odd behavior, from settlers periodically trying to take back the Dome of the Rock from the Muslims in Old Jerusalem, to thousands of amateur archaeologists sifting through rubble cast off from the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa mosque plaza, hoping to find some bits of proof that Solomon's Temple lies beneath that, bits that could be used to take it and all of Jerusalem back for modern-day Israel -- as the Bible commands.

Israel religious-nationalist politicians' sense of entitlement, inherent in plans for unilateral pre-emptive bombing, always provokes an "end of days" resignation among Americans. That passivity is just one end of a spectrum related to belief in the "history" contained in the Bible.

On the other end of the spectrum, one finds people like World of Bible Ministries "archaeologist" Randall Price taking money from donors to search for Noah's Ark, and it's not cheap. One also finds documentary filmmakers and writers cashing in handsomely. One of them was backed by no less a Hollywood patriarch than James Cameron. The producers have claimed to find things like Christ's DNA in a Jerusalem cave, or the actual nails that nailed the Messiah top the cross, or John the Baptist's Cave. They "find" them and then as reliably as the Little Drummer Boy tooting through every Rite Aid on the day after Thanksgiving, they get their "new evidence" in front of millions of Americans around Easter-time on Discovery Channel or National Geographic TV.

For the same reason that James Cameron would back such a documentary -- gulled and moneyed blind American faith in Biblical truth -- our government will tacitly go along with many of Israel's craziest, maddest schemes.

Many of the Bible stories and characters in them -- Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Solomon -- have no historical basis. The more archaeologists dig and the more historians search, the less certain they are of almost every aspect of the Bible, from Exodus to the conquest of the Promised Land to the existence of a grand ancient Israeli empire.

Certainly the real reasons behind Israel's preemptive strike plans have more to do with modern geopolitics than with the Bible. And the production of pseudo-science to sell believers on the historicity of the Bible, what one archaeologist had called "archaeo-porn" -- has more to do with money than faith.

But many among us -- from Christians in America to religious nationalists in Israel -- persist in reading the Bible, a document written in the 7th century BCE by a small group of priests in the desert, as a blueprint for God's plan for the Middle East, giving politicians like Netanyahu cover, and enriching charlatans who hawk proof of the Bible on TV and in print.

On many trips to Israel over the years, I have visited Megiddo, the site of the Biblical Armageddon -- the war to end all wars that will usher in the return of the Messiah. Busloads of Holy Land tourists -- many of them American Christians -- are driven onto this site every day, led by preachers waving the Bible, some pointing in the direction of Iran and quoting scripture about the forces of darkness and the end times, some even calculating the billions of cubic feet in the Biblical reference to rivers of blood filling the plains below at the end of days.

The site is actually one of the most fruitful and important archaeological excavations in the region, with 30 cities dating millennia on top of each other, yielding a wealth of actual information to modernity about the waves of poly-ethnic settlement in the area before and during the Biblical years, as well as the battles between the global powers of antiquity -- Egypt, Babylon, Assyria -- waged on this strategic spot.

The archaeologists who dig at the site every summer sometimes overhear the Holy Land guides spinning their Bible yarns, and they laugh at them, but no one bothers to correct them. Archaeologists and historians unfortunately don't engage much with misguided popular notions. Those who have challenged the very commercially lucrative Biblical versions of history are promptly sued or otherwise cowed into silence.

So a Baywatch beauty climbs the big hill looking for Noah's Ark and falls flat on her pretty face. And Bibi plans a Biblical-style wreaking of vengeance on the ancient force of darkness over God's mountains to the east.

I haven't been to Iran, but we already know the mullahs there are finding their own prophet-stamped encouragement for bellicosity.

Meanwhile, the godless rest of us can only stand and wait.

Or maybe we are supposed to ask God to help us.

Read the comments at Huffingtonpost.

timelogo.gifNew information in the Shaima Alawadi murder case in El Cajon, Calif., suggests that the family was cracking over a forced marriage for daughter Fatima, 17, and that Alawadi herself was preparing to divorce her husband. If female freedom turns out to be at the heart of the murder, it will highlight not so much the intolerance of Muslim immigrants by Americans, but the cultural restrictions on women in those communities and what happens when those restrictions clash with the relatively permissive rules of Western society.
Alawadi was beaten to death with a tire iron inside her home in El Cajon (home to 40,000 Iraqis) last month. For weeks the case has been regarded as a possible hate crime because someone left a note beside her unconscious body that read, "Go back to your own country. You're a terrorist." But Alawadi, 32, belonged to a culture in which families choose husbands for their daughters at a young age, and the daughters have no say in it. She was married by the age of 15. She had produced five children with her husband Kassim Alhimidi, who moved his family to the U.S. 17 years ago. Police executing search warrants on the family's house, cars and phones found documents in Alawadi's car indicating she was planning to get divorced. According to the New York Times, a family friend told police that Alawadi wanted to leave her husband and move to Texas. Her sister, however, denied that.

Read the whole essay at

salonlogo.gifAs progressives total up the ways Obama dashed their hopes for the elusive change we can believe in, there is one big, broken change-promise that no one mentions these days.

Three years ago this month, Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and told him that the West Bank settlements had to cease. "The settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward," said Barack Obama, at his first presidential meeting with the Israeli leader. A month later, the new president reiterated the criticism, in a Cairo speech that was supposed to herald a re-boot of U.S.-Muslim relations. "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," Obama said from a podium at Al Azhar. "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

But the settlements have not stopped and, rather than rebuking Israel, the U.S. government is preparing to reward it more than ever before. This week, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Appropriations passed a bill handing over the most money ever in one year to Israeli defense: just shy of a billion dollars toward three Israeli missile defense projects, called Iron Dome, David's Shield and Arrow. Last year's appropriation for the same projects was $235 million. "I don't know of any joint defense programs in the last 10 years -- probably no program with any other country - that has approached a billion," said a staffer who works with the subcommittee.
Read the whole story at Salon.

images.jpegThere's a new book out further elaborating on the conspiracy theory that Mary Meyer, the original "dangerous blonde" of the Cold War and subject of my first book, was murdered over war, peace and JFK's assassination. Peter Janney (who optioned my book for years before writing his) proposes that she had to die because she knew too much. It's a good read, although I disagree with some of Peter's conclusions. The truth is that the Mad Men of the A-Bomb, entitled arrogant alcoholics, were capable of more than we probably know. My Daily Beast story here.

timelogo.gifFans of the Olympics have seen unusual athletes engaging in some odd sports over the years. In 1912, there was the Glima competition -- a form of Icelandic wrestling in which competitors wore leather straps around their waists and thighs which opponents grabbed to score takedowns. Other Olympians have engaged in fishing, ballooning, "skijoring" (races with animals pulling humans on skis) and bandy -- a hybrid of ice hockey and soccer.

But spectators watching London's 2012 Olympics this summer will not see that extremely rare creature: the Saudi woman athlete. In fact, they are more likely to see camels racing in Piccadilly Circus than a single Saudi women kicking a ball around a London soccer field.
Full article here.


Out on the Corniche, beyond the ruined art deco beachfront high-rises -- lodging rats now, not VIPs -- you can rent a bike. No one seemed to have a map, but the mid-December sun was warm and it seemed a shame not to pedal along the seashore on my free afternoon.

A Christmas story for the LATimes, here it is.

The systematic aborting of female fetuses in India leaves entire towns male-only.
ABC's 20/20 and Elizabeth Vargas have done an amazing piece on this utterly revolting spectacle.


The Lessons


Some of the lessons we can take away from the Amanda Knox story, in the San Francisco Chronicle.

This past week might have been one of the most serendipitous in the history of global reality television programming. MTV announced that Snooki and the rest of the very racy "Jersey Shore" gang are headed to Italy to film their fourth season, just as Italy has been gripped by a torrent of wiretaps and court documents alleging a very racy sex scandal involving Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Continue reading at the Washington Post.
Genius and the lure of young flesh.

Until recently, in the western world, the right of a Great Man to man-handle a reluctant, pliant young woman was simply not questioned. With the advent of sexual harassment laws, the old order is under attack. It won't go down easily. Novels by and about angry and accused men have been written about unfortunate incidents, movies made. J.M Coetzee's Disgrace, Philip Roth's The Human Stain, even Zadie Smith's On Beauty, tend to greater or lesser degree to sympathize with the accused. These Great Men, it seems, are helpless against their urges. In fact, their genius may well depend upon their consummated desires, and young women are fuel for the fires of their brilliance. And in the end, they are really willing minxes, whether they know it yet or not. Continue reading at The Huffington Post

Israeli authorities called it "the fraud of the century": fakes passed off as archaeological finds with biblical ties. The most notorious object was the James ossuary, a limestone box inscribed in Aramaic with the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Five men were charged, and the trial has been dragging on for three years. Continue reading at the Los Angeles Times
Recently, word of a 2000-plus year-old stone, with ancient Hebrew writing in ink, splashed across the world's newspapers, beginning with the New York Times itself. The story is vaguely familiar -- in recent years we have been bombarded with similar new-old discoveries from the Holy Land -- yet also shockingly relevant to millions of faithful today. Writing on the mysterious tablet supposedly reveals a new facet of religious history, one that roots Christianity even more firmly and deeply into Judaism, the religion from whence it sprung. Continue reading at Powell's Books
Last year in Israel, poking around in the dust near the Dead Sea, I kicked over a curiously inscribed stone, carved with words in a language I could not read. Realizing that I might have stumbled upon an important piece of Holy Land archaeology, I took the object to a well-known epigrapher in Jerusalem, who, after examining the piece for some hours, concluded that it said, in ancient Hebrew: "And lo, in the year 2008, Y____h will inflict upon you a Madoff, and your prosperity will dry up like the earth after a hundred-year drought; all your goats and all your wives and all your dwellings will evaporate like water in the sun." Continue reading at The Bible and Interpretation
An atheist descends into the underworld of the Israeli antiquities trade.

I didn't go to Jerusalem to see the Holy Land. As an atheist and a journalist, I went to explore a curious case of forged biblical artifacts the Israeli authorities were calling "the fraud of the century." My earthly reward was to encounter a set of unusual characters operating in a strange world where money, faith, science and politics are intertwined like nesting snakes. Continue reading at Killing the Buddha

Excerpted from Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land.
As I write these words in an office above midtown Manhattan, armed men are disembarking from black SUVs on the street down below. A helicopter beats overhead. It's just a Homeland Security exercise, another nail in the coffin of my long-dead sense of security. Farther downtown, there's a hole where 3,000 people died, murdered by fanatical practitioners of one of the world's three great religions. Continue Reading at Powell's Books
A few weeks ago, President George W. Bush went before the UN, asking for money for the United States from the global community. It remains to be seen whether anyone will come to our aid, but it's easy to imagine the eye-rolling in Europe and especially in third world countries, at the sight of the swaggering superpower asking alms. Continue reading at History News Network
After a long winter with a new baby, my husband Erik and I needed to get away, preferably to another dimension. So we were relieved and grateful to get The Call. On ADVENTURE's $1,500 we could go someplace warm and do something athletic - preferably mountain biking, an activity that had been curtailed by the arrival of baby Felix. And nine months of being chained to feedings and changings made us eager to travel with the barest outline of a plan. We opened the atlas and zeroed in on Turkey.
In a city used to protests, Chanel blends with Che T-shirts as more than a million turn out for the mother of all May Day rallies.

The French do love an excuse to march dans les rues. About every few days, wending our way around Paris, we find inexplicable traffic blockages, heralded by truckloads of idling police buses. The cops in riot gear occasionally get out and smoke on the sidewalk, but otherwise they do nothing to either harass or encourage the protesters. Continue reading at Salon
Le Pen's victory goes a long way toward wiping the smirk of moral superiority off the faces of Parisians who love to bash America

I'm sorry I was in bed when the tear-gassing of the anti-fascist protesters was underway Sunday at the Bastille a few blocks away. I'd like to have been there, if only to witness Parisians' impassive hauteur disintegrate into something approaching embarrassment.

For Ugly Americans living in Paris, the Le Pen upset is cause for celebration. Continue reading at Salon
Being a Midwesterner transplanted to Washington's Shaw neighborhood, I was interested to hear Mayor Marion Barry's recent pronouncement that D.C. is safer than Topeka. While I love my house and my neighbors, and I have felt personally safe most of the time, I have also been closer to more shootings here than I ever was as a journalist in Baghdad or Haiti.

Soon after I moved in two-and-a-half years ago, the yellow crime-scene tape fluttered in the hot breeze on my street. Strung from the street signs to the door of an abandoned Victorian town house and blocking traffic, it gave the street an unintentionally festive air. The square it defined might have contained a used-car lot or a street fair or an ice cream social. A crowd gathered, adding to the carnival atmosphere. A sense of community descended briefly.
In recent months, the Clinton administration has launched an all-out effort to bring women voters back into the fold. The White House has recently instructed agency heads to offer up one women's event a month where the president might appear; soon it will create a new political outreach office whose sole aim will be to capture the female vote. At a cozy "roundtable" in the Old Executive Office Building earlier this spring, White House liaison Alexis Herman addressed a group of female reporters on what Bill Clinton has done for women. And Hillary Rodham Clinton has emerged from her post-health 
reform funk as a born-again feminist, expressing support for women at venues from Lahore to Copenhagen to New York.

Read all Nina's huffposts here.