Immovable Objects, Irresistible Forces

Harper’s Magazine, February 2013


The price exacted for good journalism is, occasionally, a cynical screed. Reporters look at events and public personalities with a practiced, often jaundiced eye and, I suppose an occasionally overly critical piece is to be expected.

This is the case with Thomas Frank’s take on the Spielberg movie, “Lincoln.” The movie’s message, claims Frank is one of success through the corruptions of intimidation and bribery. This wasn’t my takeaway (and maybe I’m a Pollyanna politically) but I thought Frank’s comments overly caustic – although, in perspective, he had much truth to espouse concerning the limitations of the U.S.’s form of government.

Elsewhere in this issue, the theme of immovable objects jousting with irresistible forces played out plainly. In “This Land Is Not Your Land,” Ted Genoways reduces immigration issues to Fremont, Nebraska, and its Hormel plant. Here, Hormel has been ridding itself of union workers, even domestic workers in general, in favor of illegals. Out of work locals tilt at illusory windmills in Fremont in the form of deporting all immigrant/illegal workers. But what’s to be the upshot of that? Locals reduced to working for minimum (or less) wages and overlong hours?

In “Kabubble,” Matthew Aikins takes a hard look at the state of the Afghani state with Kabul as microcosm as Allied forces continue to withdraw troops and money. Well meant money has provided jobs and a creakingly emerging middle class in Kabul. What’s to become of Afghanistan, then, as money and jobs draw down? Aikins wonders if this emerging middle class will escape the country, fall back into poverty, or endure – and his best guess isn’t a positive one.

Even Cynthia Ozick’s too-erudite piece of fiction, “The Bloodline of the Alkanas,” pits  a creative writing father against a techno-daughter, this story a lament for the work of undiscovered and misunderstood writers.

There are also a couple of excellent book reviews here: Michael Scammell’s take on “Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956,” by Anne Applebaum, and John Crowley’s intriguing view of American spirituality, centered on Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, “Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality,” by Gary Lachman.

There’s an item here and there to take issue with, but all told this is an issue worthy of a cover to cover read.

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