June 25, 2017

Just What Was on Trial in the Bill Cosby Case?

MORRIS Oh, feelings. They obviously had a role to play in this case and yet aren’t the usual basis for a legal strategy. So little of this trial was concrete. Mr. Cosby didn’t take the stand in his defense, which meant the case, in some sense, came down to Ms. Constand’s recollection versus his legacy.

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WORTHAM As soon as the push notification announcing the outcome of the trial arrived on my iPhone, I began obsessing over what part of the trial cast enough doubt to some of those 12 people. The answer is important, because it reveals so much about our culture’s relationship to women and how they are supposed to function within systems of power. What about Ms. Constand gave the jury pause? Her sexual identity? Her decision to trust Mr. Cosby? Her inability to recall the exact details of being drugged? Her initial reluctance to take legal action against someone she considered to be a friend, with the only thing compelling her to speak out being the deep knot in her gut that something happened that night that was not right? To me, she seemed to be trying to make the best decision possible at every moment, and abiding by a simple trust: that each of us lives according to a moral code that keeps us from harming one another unnecessarily.

MORRIS Too true. I’ll also tell you that this case has done a number on my 88-year-old grandmother and her 73-year-old baby sister. They sided with Mr. Cosby, partly because we’re from Philadelphia, where it’s cheesesteaks, Ben Franklin and Bill Cosby. But the bulk of my family’s support comes from being black women who’ve seen too many black men and women harassed by the city and the courts. When I talked with them about the case, we talked about the evidence. But we also talked about a history of feelings. And how a lot of their alignment has to do with the awareness that the criminal justice system tends to disfavor black people.

The travails of regular civilians might seem entirely separate from Mr. Cosby, who is American royalty. And I didn’t see race as a factor, even though many of his accusers are white. He made a case for integration on “I Spy” and exemplified black decency on “The Cosby Show.” His meaning as a uniter of all people might have made it tough to believe that he would abuse that power.

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Andrea Constand, Bill Cosby’s accuser, leaving the courthouse after the judge announced his decision. Credit Pool photo by Ed Hille

But any time a black person is on trial, there’s a sinking feeling that blackness might be on trial, too.

WORTHAM Oh man. The degree to which your point — “any time a black person’s on trial, there’s a sinking feeling that blackness might be on trial” — had escaped me is slightly embarrassing. That’s exactly it. Mr. Cosby has not been part of the conversation around blackness and identity for decades, but his life means very much to those who remember feeling validated and vindicated by his presence during his heyday. A Cosby conviction would require a rebuilding of infrastructure too fraught to replace — his legacy spanned too many years, his foundation too fundamental to unearth.

MORRIS There’s also something potentially toxic about the mix of black men, white women, power and celebrity that we keep reliving, whether it’s famous entertainers or college athletes. We believe in black-white interracial romantic relationships, and yet there’s something fishy about them, too (see this season’s “The Bachelorette”). The year’s biggest sleeper hit, “Get Out,” is a movie about that very fishiness. That distrust comes from a long history of black men falsely being accused of raping white women. And even though no one has said a word about that history, it’s hard to read about this trial and not feel nausea.

WORTHAM You’re right — it’s there, lurking. This question brings me back to the moment in “O.J.: Made in America,” Ezra Edelman’s phenomenal documentary from last year, when black jurors reveal that their decision to acquit O.J. Simpson was framed partly as retribution for the police beating of Rodney King. A community activist, Danny Bakewell, says, “Now you know how it feels.”

Mr. Cosby isn’t O.J. — but is there anything more telling than the statement by Mr. Cosby’s publicist after the verdict? He said: “The legacy didn’t go anywhere. It has been restored.”

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Bill Cosby leaving the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa., on June 17 after his case was declared a mistrial. Credit Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Has it? Will we treat him like R. Kelly — acknowledging him as problematic but still, to varying degrees of reluctance, giving him a place in contemporary culture?

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MORRIS Argh. Probably. Certainly. I don’t know! Last fall we debated this with Nate Parker and the resurfacing of 1999 rape charges against him in the months before his heavily anticipated movie, “The Birth of a Nation,” was set to open. He was acquitted, but many moviegoers had to decide whether to see his film, which wasn’t the hit its makers hoped it would be. That choice seemed acutely moral for black people, whose support was important to his film’s success.

There is something absurdly Kafkaesque about these trials; they’ve become crucibles that show the country where black America truly stands. It’s this nightmare that lies just beyond language and resides in the pits of our stomachs. When bad news breaks, we pray that neither the culprit nor the victim is black, because who could bear another mistrial, acquittal or conviction that feels as if it were beneath justice? Why must we bear these questions about what to do with a defendant’s art — and why is that answer bound up with who black people are or should be?

WORTHAM Wesley, I’ve just spent hundreds of words trying to work my way toward acceptance of the Cosby verdict, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get there. I’m exhausted by the realities of living in this country. The feeling of annihilation without repercussions looms larger and larger with each passing season. In addition to the mistrial, we also found out that the cop who shot Philando Castile in front of his young child was acquitted of murder. At the same time, the body of Nabra Hussein, a Muslim teenage girl, was found dead in a pond in the county not far from where I grew up in Virginia. Her friends say a man driving a red car got out and confronted the group, and assaulted Ms. Hussein.

Each of these events are inherently different, but they feel somehow linked, evoking an American dream gone sideways. And yet that’s the theme of 2017, isn’t it? This is what Solange is singing about on “Weary” when she says, “I’m weary of the weight of the world.”

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Clockwise from center, the cast of “The Cosby Show”: Mr. Cosby, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Lisa Bonet, Tempestt Bledsoe, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Phylicia Rashad and Sabrina Le Beauf. Credit Al Levine/NBC and NBCU Photo Bank, via Getty Images

MORRIS I’m weary, too, Jenna and Solange! And yet, for the last few weeks, I’ve watched a lot of “The Cosby Show.” What a shock to rediscover its feminism, its catholic appreciation of art, its fantastical belief that Cliff and Clair Huxtable could have produced children as phenotypically, facially varied as the five they had. The show was funny. It was loosely topical. In Clair and as played by Phylicia Rashad, the show conjured a near-weekly idealization of womanhood and motherdom as fierce, glamorous, romantic and always right. Ms. Rashad made Clair intoxicatingly starry yet robustly human and distinctly feminist (somebody on this show is always letting a chauvinist in the front door).

There’s a great moment in which a friend played by Leslie Uggams comes to town, and the two of them put on wigs and do a high-energy version of the Bobbettes’ “Mr. Lee.” We knew Clair could sing — early on, she performed a solo with the church choir. But you were always discovering something new about this woman. And the show’s belief in Clair matched my belief in my own mother, that she could do anything.

This is all to say that, unlike Nate Parker or especially R. Kelly — whose music exploits his peccadilloes (his best songs are about the freakiest sex) — “The Cosby Show” is about a lot more people than the man it’s named after. It might be too good to just throw out.

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WORTHAM Amid all this heaviness, on Sunday night I went to see Alice Smith, a young jazz musician, perform in Manhattan. At one point, she slid into her rendition of Nina Simone’s take on “I Put a Spell on You.” In Simone’s version, the tone suggests a playful warning and forms a declaration of inevitability. As Simone sings, a bossy horn instrument flirts with her, teasing out all the ways that she is marking the territory of claiming her true love. In Ms. Smith’s version, she has all the malaise of Simone, but the playfulness contains a somberness deepened by sorrow. The piano accompaniment is a shade more haunting, invoking something closer to a demon lover than a terrestrial being who has done her wrong.

Ms. Smith’s recipe doubles Simone’s lyrics, stretching them out, repeating “I love you” a half-dozen times, as each line grows more resolute and determined than the last. In her hands, the song becomes a dirge to loving something that doesn’t return the favor, and conveys her resolve to carry on, anyway.

At the end of the song, her voice has pitched into a wail, and she sings,

You ain’t got to want me
I’m yours right now
I’m yours right now
Gon’ make you mine

The angst pouring out of her matched my own, but uncovered something new — a determination to make this place my own, regardless of its resistance to keep me from feeling at home within it.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/arts/television/bill-cosby-mistrial-sexual-assault-constand-cosby-show-.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

State of the Art: How Battling Brands Online Has Gained Urgency, and Impact

But the effects of these campaigns go beyond business. In a nation where politics have grown pitched and sclerotic, fighting brands online suddenly feels like the most effective political action many of us can take. Posting a hashtag — #deleteUber, for instance, or #grabyourwallet — and threatening to back it up by withholding dollars can bring about a much quicker, more visible change in the world than, say, calling your representative.

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Brand-focused online activism can work for every political side, too: Don’t like a New York theater company’s Trump-tinged production of Shakespeare in the Park? There’s a boycott for you, and Delta and Bank of America will give in.

Yet the mechanics of social media suggest it will be the cultural and political left, more than the right, that might win the upper hand with this tactic — especially when harnessing the power of brands to fight larger battles for racial and gender equality, as in the Uber and Fox News cases.

“Women and people of color have gravitated to social media and were early adopters of it,” said Shannon Coulter, a marketing consultant who co-founded Grab Your Wallet, a campaign aimed at urging retailers to stop selling Trump-branded products. “Social media is actually a lever for social justice. It’s a way of leveling the playing field.”

To see why, we must first understand why brands are suddenly more vulnerable to consumer sentiment than they once were. It all comes down to one thing: Social media is the new TV.

In the era when television shaped mainstream consumer sentiment, companies enjoyed enormous power to alter their image through advertising. Then came the internet, which didn’t kill advertising, but did dilute its power. Brands now have little say over how their messages get chewed up through our social feeds.

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Yes, they can run ads on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and everyplace else. But social media elevates consumers over corporate marketing; suddenly what matters isn’t what an ad says about a company, but what your friends think about that company.

It’s no coincidence that the only ads that get talked about these days are those that ignite some kind of social-media outrage — Pepsi’s strange Kendall Jenner commercial, for example, or the Budweiser Super Bowl ad that some viewers took to be a pro-immigration political statement. Just about every cultural sentiment — even what to think about a piece of corporate messaging — comes to you filtered through a social feed.

It’s this loss of power that explains why brands have become so jumpy and reactive. Take the production of “Julius Caesar” that opened last week in Central Park as part of Shakespeare in the Park. In the play, a Caesar who is styled to look like Mr. Trump is graphically assassinated on stage, which many on the right took as disparaging the president.

A Shakespeare scholar might point out that a production of “Julius Caesar” that features the assassination of a Trump-like king is not likely to be an endorsement of presidential assassination — after all, one point of Shakespeare’s play is to warn against political violence. The scholar might also point out that featuring present-day personalities in old plays is an age-old practice; in 2012, a New York company staged a “Julius Caesar” with an Obama-like king, Delta sponsored it, and nobody got really bent out of shape about it.

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But none of that matters in 2017, when Twitter shapes the news. On social media, there’s no room for nuanced portrayals of complex artistic treatments. There are only quick snatches of graphic imagery in your scrolling feed — and the sight of a Trump-styled Caesar getting assassinated proved too much for powerless brands to stomach.

The dropped “Caesar” sponsorship — and JPMorgan Chase’s recent decision to hold back advertising on NBC News’s interview with the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — prompted some worries that brand boycotts could chill art and journalism. But Ms. Coulter, of Grab Your Wallet, argued that even so, they were legitimate expressions of political sentiment.

“I think it’s ultimately healthy and positive even when I don’t agree with it — it’s healthy and positive that consumers are making themselves heard,” she said.

She also argued that it is the causes she is fighting for, including women’s equality, that will likely benefit from pressure on brands in the long run. Women tend to dominate social media. On most metrics, including sharing and usage, they outrank men online. If you’re a man, there’s a good chance your social feed was programmed by a woman. Women are also more deeply enmeshed in the consumer economy than men — by some estimates, they account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases.

“It’s only in the last 15 years that women became aware of their own consumer power,” Ms. Coulter said. “And now, online, they can show that they’re willing to flex it.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/technology/how-battling-brands-online-has-gained-urgency-and-impact.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Feature: The Boys From Baga

After the training ended, the boys were taken back to the palace in Malam Fatori. The largest building was used as the private quarters of the leader, or babban emir, but there were other structures, too — a labyrinth of spaces for purposes the boys did not know. Gathered in the sandy courtyard, the babban emir stood before them with his two subordinates, whom the boys called the second emir and the third emir. Tall and mature, the babban emir wore a traditional white jalabiya and cap. Mustapha wasn’t sure how old he was, no more than 30. The babban emir divided the assembled boys. Kolomi was sorted into the third emir’s unit and told to get up and follow his new leader. Mustapha and Zanna, bigger and stronger, were assigned to guard the babban emir’s palace.

Zanna took a post at the back side of the palace with 20 others. He tried not to talk to anyone — it wasn’t safe. Every day, from the time of his abduction through his training, he prayed in his heart for a chance to escape. Mustapha, too, was afraid, but more, he was confused. This was a problem with no solution. No help was coming. What to do?

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The rhythm of camp life enveloped the new abductees. Activity was concentrated around the palace, everyone working to fortify the heart of the base against the Nigerian military, which periodically probed their defenses, trying to retake Malam Fatori. Boko Haram had declared itself a caliphate and pledged its alliance to ISIS. A tug of war for the arid earth had ensued. Every morning, the deputy emirs, whose units lived in the surrounding villages to protect the center, would come to greet the babban emir, entering his building for a private audience. Directives from Shekau may have been conveyed by satellite phone. There was coordination with the other babban emirs as well, but the boys of Malam Fatori never interacted with neighboring fiefs. Though Boko Haram was hierarchal, it was also fragmented, each division preoccupied with ensuring its own survival.

In the morning, groups set out on patrol in their trucks, checking the areas around Malam Fatori for traces of movement overnight — new tire prints, footsteps or animal tracks. Mustapha would quietly accompany the insurgents on patrol. He wanted to see how everything worked. Throughout the day, women who had been captured from nearby towns cooked food, which the insurgents ate from communal troughs. At night, the boys could sleep in any room in the palace compound, so long as it wasn’t in a room where women were kept. They barely prayed, and no one knew what day it was — only Fridays stood out, because on that day, they were fed rice with meat stew.

Mustapha again drew close to those who whispered. This was not a place to isolate yourself. He noticed the senior insurgents didn’t like people who didn’t have action. Those without action are lazy. When they talk, they cannot command, so they cannot send fear into someone. Men of action, however, were free to go where they wanted: to the market, to the tarred road outside the camp, even to other Boko Haram-controlled villages, where they could stay overnight.

One night after dinner, Mustapha was sitting in a room with the guards, reflecting on his problem. Boys chatted lazily by torchlight. There was no solution. No help was coming. What to do? If you do not put in effort, they will not draw you close. You will just be among those that they could do without. He turned it over again. What to do? Look, Mustapha told himself, if I want to get out of this place, let me obey whatever they say. Let me do as they want. Is it not by cooperating with them that I can get my freedom? If I want to survive here, let me just be doing what they like. When they notice that, they will trust me. No, more, let me do what will earn me commendation.

Mustapha started looking for his chance.

After weapons training, Fannami was taken to a village on the outskirts of Malam Fatori to join his unit. Their leader, the second emir, was fat and well kept, his house cooled by an air-conditioner powered by a generator. He told his new recruits that they were the Special Forces, a strike force for dangerous missions. Fannami learned his group did not accept anyone older than 15. They didn’t want people who would be thinking about their family. “We want people who when they are determined to do something, they will just go ahead and do it,” their emir told them.

A second round of training began. The boys in his unit were taught how to climb trees and lay ambush on soldiers, how to counter military attacks, how to use a rocket launcher. They now learned to work different types of bombs — heavy ones that could be exploded by remote control, others they threw by hand and some they buried in the ground for vehicles.

Training took place every day in an open field. As they practiced, instructors circled them in a kiriku, a small armored tank not much bigger than a car. The kiriku dropped bombs on the ground, unleashing heavy booms. The explosions initially scared Fannami, but he grew used to the sound. They learned to drive the kiriku, as well as cars and motorcycles. They were taught how to arrange themselves in the trucks for operations: The front seat was for those people who killed without a second mind; the rest piled into the back.

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Ali was kept alive by Boko Haram for his farming skills but severely beaten and burned when he refused to go to a training camp. After he escaped, he was held in the Army’s infamous Giwa Barracks for months. Credit Glenna Gordon for The New York Times

At the end of the training, the insurgents returned them to the emir’s palace, where Fannami found some uniformed persons — military or police — tied to a stake. “Shoot and kill,” the instructors commanded. If a boy was not able to kill, the men would take the boy away and beat him seriously, then bring him back another day to shoot and kill. So it was then that Fannami learned to kill human beings. Fannami knew the insurgents were always watching. He learned that if they were to go out on operation, they would identify those who performed excellently and reward them. They could promote them to the front seat of a truck, or let them go and friend a girl from the two rooms where abducted women were kept. The boys would be killed if the magic dates or charmed water failed and a person returned to his senses, making unguarded statements about wanting to go home or that what they were doing there was wrong — saying so many things.

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At night, the boys would sleep in the village’s deserted houses in shifts. Some rooms held up to 10 boys. They didn’t have mattresses, they didn’t even have mats. There were so many mosquitoes. When the wind blew, it got cold. Fannami would squeeze himself into his clothes — all he had was what he was abducted in, a red T-shirt and black trousers, and his new turban. Sometimes, the cold entered his body while he slept, and he would wake up and remember Baga. There, if it was cold, he would wake to find himself covered in a cloth. In the morning, he would ask his mother, and she would say she was the one who covered him. If there were many mosquitoes, his mother would come and use a cloth to drive them away and light a mosquito coil in his room. All those things — anytime Fannami woke up, he would realize he was missing them.

It was after Mustapha’s first raid on a village — after they’d killed many people and returned to find their men rejoicing and were fed a great celebratory feast of jollof rice with fish. It was after he was ordered to shoot an elderly man for an offense — he didn’t know what. It was after he was asked to go with five insurgents to a village for “a small thing,” which turned out to be a beheading, and where Mustapha, being the newest of the group, was told to do it. It was after he killed a man on a motorcycle just to commandeer the shiny bike. (When Mustapha thinks of it now, this is the one he mourns. “The first two, I killed them on instruction,” he explains. “The last one, nobody asked me to kill him.”) It was after all these attempts to gain Boko Haram’s trust that one day, some weeks after training ended, he volunteered to go and find two fellow insurgents who had been arrested and detained by the authorities.

Mustapha tracked them to a nearby police station. When he arrived, playing the part of a local villager, the police stopped him and inquired what he was doing. He asked if there was anything he could help them with but was sent away. Back in Malam Fatori, he collected a few others and led them to the station, where they opened fire. The group killed six policemen. They abducted two girls and freed the insurgents.

When the babban emir heard of this, he gathered the men of the camp and addressed Mustapha. “You went,” he said. “You rescued these two without any injury. You killed those policemen. You took their vehicle and brought it to us. You are definitely going to be very useful to us. I’m proud of you.”

“I thank you so much,” Mustapha responded and presented the babban emir with the girls they abducted. “I dash you these ones.”

“You are now the second emir of the camp,” the babban emir told Mustapha, and gave him a new name. The other emirs were demoted to third and fourth in the camp. Everyone cheered “Allahu akbar!” and shot their guns into the air. The babban emir divided those assembled before him again and led Mustapha to his new base — an abandoned village on the side of town. They inspected the terrain together. The babban emir told the second emir which house should be his. Mustapha’s new home had a master bedroom with a bed and a mattresses and, what Mustapha liked most, a sitting room with a big rug, two wooden chairs and enough windows to allow a gentle cross breeze. He now had three trucks at his disposal, though he did not know how to drive.

The second emir’s men — 60 of them, of all ages — carried things from the babban emir’s stores: food, women and ammunition. Mustapha told them where everything should go. He let his people select the best houses in the village. That night, all those earlier confusions vanished. Mustapha had found his solution. I will go all out to execute the babban emir’s instructions, he decided, rightly or wrongly.

The night the third emir announced the operation, Fannami had trouble sleeping. Before morning prayer, he readied himself, tucking his shirt into his trousers, tying on his turban and putting on the big green military helmet snatched from a dead soldier. Fannami never found a uniform to fit his scrawny frame. The boys stuffed handfuls of dates into their pockets and climbed into the backs of the trucks, eating as the convoy moved.

The trucks stopped in an open field. Hopping down, they saw that the senior insurgents were standing near thick bundles of grass that concealed holes in the earth: entrances to tunnels. The insurgents had honeycombed the area around their base. The most experienced knew which tunnel would take them beneath the soldiers and which one could turn you into a target. “Go into that one!” they commanded. “Go around. Go to that side!” Fannami bent down and walked through one for a long time. When he emerged, he found himself directly behind a large group of uniformed soldiers.

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The insurgents were still organizing when the fighting began. They had not expected such a large enemy force. These soldiers were not like usual Nigerian military units, who spent more time shooting into the air and running back and forth, uselessly. They were organized and immovable. (Later, Fannami learned they were from the Multinational Joint Task Force — special forces from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Chad and Cameroon.) Fannami knew he was supposed to be at the front, leading the attack: The insurgents had told him the soldiers didn’t like killing young ones. But he hated it there; he always tried to go to the middle or even to the back. He scanned for somewhere to take cover. As he looked ahead, he realized how many in the front had been killed. His mind cut, and his heart thrummed. His legs were too weak to carry him. Others must have felt the same, because many were turning back, so Fannami tried to run, but he tripped and fell. Something metal pierced his flip-flop.

Fannami watched as a boy running past him stopped. He threw his gun to the ground and heaved Fannami onto his back. There was so much blood. As the boy ran, Fannami’s blood trickled down the boy’s pants. When the boy tired, he put Fannami down.

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“Thank you,” Fannami said.

“I was afraid, but I couldn’t leave you there,” the boy replied. “I had to carry you.” His name was Sale. It was then that Fannami decided this boy would be his friend.

Fannami and Sale began finding each other at meals. They liked to take the individual plates they were served and mix them into one big pile to share. Sale told Fannami his mother died when he was born. Fannami told Sale his father died when he was small, but he still remembered him. He talked about his kind mother. They wished over and over again that they could go home.

“Don’t worry,” Sale told him, “by the special grace of God, sooner or later, we shall leave here. God will not leave us in this place.”

“That is true,” Fannami replied. “We shall surely leave, by the will of God.”

They repeated these words to each other cautiously, aware that if insurgents realized you were fond of spending time with someone, they would also suspect you might be planning an escape. So Fannami and Sale mixed their food only once every three days. When they did, they made sure not to sit together for more than an hour. If they really wanted to stay in each other’s company, they would go into the bush and pretend to hunt.

One night Fannami dreamed that the insurgents told them that the war was over, that they had conquered Nigeria. “Everybody go back home!” they said. When Fannami returned, his mother saw him and was crying: “Where have you gone? You have spoiled yourself. You have carried a lot of sins.” She put him in a room, bathed him and changed his clothes. In his dream, he was happy.

Fannami’s mother had taught him not to fight, even when people insulted him. It was a sin to do so. But in the bush, Fannami saw everyone’s bad habits were magnified. Those who were bad now had the opportunity to be worse, and they were. Now that I have found myself where I should not be, Fannami told himself, I should not make my situation worse by fighting people. The best thing is, let me be showing gratitude to God by exhibiting good habits.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/21/magazine/boko-haram-the-boys-from-baga.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

‘I’m Right Here!’ Sean Spicer Says While Toiling to Find Successor

“We’ve been meeting with potential people that may be of service to this administration,” said Mr. Spicer, who has done some of the outreach himself.

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Yet few have been a good fit — and most Republicans in Washington said it would be among the hardest jobs to fill in the Trump administration.

The biggest shift Mr. Trump is discussing is a dramatic change to the briefing room schedule, including limiting briefings that he has described as a “spectacle” to once a week and asking reporters to submit written questions. Some of Mr. Trump’s outside advisers, including the Fox News host Sean Hannity, have urged him to curtail the freewheeling — and often embarrassing — barrage of questions. Mr. Trump has been particularly irked by CNN, and other allies such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have suggested banning the cable network.

“Donald Trump might as well get behind the podium himself, as the press coverage is the part of his presidency he cares the most deeply about,” said Tim Miller, who was communications director for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign. “You can’t be a credible press secretary when your boss makes you tell preposterous lies. You can’t be a credible press secretary when you don’t know what your boss thinks on key issues because he changes his mind depending on the last person he talked to.”

Among the candidates: Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host, about whom Trump advisers remain “iffy”; Kimberly Guilfoyle, the Fox News commentator who said publicly that Mr. Trump had called her in recent weeks (she said she didn’t want the job); and David Martosko, an editor for The Daily Mail who was briefly considered for the role during the transition and has been talked about for other roles now (White House aides said he was liked by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but was never under serious consideration and put out a statement withdrawing his name).

Filling the role of communications director, open for the last few weeks, has not gone much more smoothly.

Scott Jennings, a veteran Republican operative and a George W. Bush administration alumnus, was brought in to discuss the job. But he signed on with CNN as a commentator. Mark Corallo, the spokesman for Mr. Trump’s legal team, also discussed taking that role with two Trump advisers. And Jason Miller, who was Mr. Trump’s communications adviser in the 2016 campaign and is a favorite of the president, has remained out of the White House despite pleas to return.

A cluster of Trump advisers have been working on what has become a monthslong project of improving media relations for a president who prefers to take matters into his own hands, in 140-character increments on Twitter, undercutting whatever his advisers say on his behalf.

Several Trump aides, including Mr. Kushner, Mr. Spicer, Stephen K. Bannon and the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, have made their own phone calls searching for potential job candidates, sometimes not telling others in the building what they’re doing. Some believe that the communications director needs his or her own lane; others believe that the person should report to Mr. Spicer, for whom a new role as a deputy chief of staff has been discussed. Others said there might not be any kind of change.

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But so far, there has been no real signoff from the only person whose vote matters: the president.

The job is not all downside — Mr. Spicer has been pummeled on late-night shows and “Saturday Night Live,” but he went from being an obscure party spokesman with a reputation for blackballing reporters he didn’t like to being asked to pose for selfies with fans at the congressional baseball game last week.

The current setup is “sustainable, but it’s not a good way to get things done,” said Charles Black, a veteran Republican lobbyist.

“Donald Trump has been successful for 50 years speaking for himself both in public and in private, and he is indeed the best spokesman for himself,” Mr. Black said. “But presidents don’t have the luxury of speaking for themselves and representing themselves on every issue, every day. They need loyal people who can speak for them and answer multiple questions from reporters about things that the president doesn’t need to deal with.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/20/us/politics/im-right-here-sean-spicer-says-while-toiling-to-find-successor.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Netflix Lets Viewers Pick the Plot

Although the streaming service has not made plans to feature this kind of interactive viewing in, say, a future season of “House of Cards,” the potential is there for it to eventually expand beyond children’s programming.

Kids Interactive Adventure | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix Video by Netflix

The interactive initiative comes as Netflix is locked in a battle with the rival streaming services Amazon and Hulu over creating and acquiring as much children’s programming as possible.

Last year, Nielsen released a study that said that children 2 to 11 were watching two fewer hours of live television a day but that the amount of content they watched on digital platforms had spiked.

And the streaming services, which depend on paid subscriptions, are doing everything they can to hook children, and, by extension, their parents’ wallets. Last summer, Amazon acquired a significant amount of PBS’s library of original series to exclusively stream on its service, stealing away many titles previously available on Netflix and Hulu.

HBO is involved in the game, too: Two years ago it acquired first-run rights to “Sesame Street.” (The episodes still air on PBS at a later date.)

Netflix, which has spent serious money on original dramas, stand-up comedy and even Emmy campaigning, has made a huge investment in children’s programming. Currently Netflix has 47 original shows for kids, a number expected to jump to nearly 60 by year’s end and to 75 by the end of next year, a spokesman for the service said.

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An image from “The Adventures of Puss in Boots.” Netflix released an episode of the show that includes interactive elements.

Netflix said its interactive project was more than two years in the making. As the creative team behind “Puss in Boots” developed plot points, Netflix needed time to improve its technology. Netflix will release another interactive episode next month involving its “Buddy Thunderstruck” series. Next year will bring an interactive episode of “Stretch Armstrong.”

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In a blog post published on Tuesday, Ms. Fisher said: “The children’s programming space was a natural place for us to start since kids are eager to ‘play’ with their favorite characters and already inclined to tap, touch and swipe at screens. They also talk to their screens, as though the characters can hear them. Now, that conversation can be two-way.”

It is an open question whether other streaming services will follow with similar interactive programming.

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Hulu has a virtual reality project in development tailored for adults for its VR app. The series, called “Door No. 1” is a choose-your-own-adventure show that revolves around a 10-year high school class reunion, though it has not been picked up to series yet. There are no interactive children’s programs in the works.

PBS, as part of its PBS Kids live stream, is planning digital interactive games that will complement programming that children have just finished watching. It is expected to be available later this year.

Amazon declined to comment on any plans.

Ms. Fisher said Netflix did not consult with educational experts before kicking off this experiment.

Nevertheless, some experts applauded the effort on Tuesday. “They guessed right,” said John Black, the director of the cognitive science program at the Teachers College at Columbia University.

“Having kids think about different ways in how stories could play out will lead some to think more deeply about the stories and to comprehend them more deeply,” he said.

There are others, however, who have concerns about the sheer volume of children’s programming developed by streaming services.

“A lot of this is unexplored territory,” said Melissa Henson, program director for the Parents Television Council. “The potential pitfall is video streaming services aren’t subject to the educational video requirements put on traditional broadcasters.”

Whether or not this kind of interactivity could be used with expensive dramas remains to be seen. TV’s top dramatic shows can cost $7 million to $10 million an episode to produce. Adding shooting time, and various plot lines that only a percentage of viewers may see, would make costs rise further.

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At this point, Netflix is in wait-and-see mode.

“As you can imagine, with two years of development, I’m really excited to see how our members engage with this,” Ms. Fisher said. “From there, we’ve built this tool set for our creators, and it’s ultimately about finding creators who want to tell complex stories in this way. We’ll see where things go.”

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/20/business/media/netflix-interactive-television-puss-in-boots.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Books of The Times: In ‘The Changeling,’ the Dark Fears of Parents, Memorably Etched

“When he pulled forward and gasped, the lock resisted, and he slumped backward,” LaValle writes. “As soon as he did, the back of his exposed neck touched the steam pipe like a pork cutlet pressed against a hot skillet.”

A pan-seared neck is the least of his problems. Apollo’s wife then clubs him in the face with a claw hammer. After cracking his cheekbone, she wanders into the baby’s room, serenely balancing the teakettle in the palm of her hand.

Admirers of LaValle inevitably declare him the love child of some unlikely artistic union. He’s Haruki Murakami mixed with Ralph Ellison. (Anthony Doerr came up with that one.) He’s Gabriel García Márquez mixed with Edgar Allan Poe. (Mos Def, whose album “The Ecstatic” was inspired by LaValle’s book of the same name.) He’s Colson Whitehead mixed with H. P. Lovecraft, Thomas Pynchon mixed with Shirley Jackson. (These are mash-ups of mash-ups, a kind of critical metaconsensus.)

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Victor LaValle Credit Teddy Wolff

The point is that readers are always struggling to communicate the odd hybridity of LaValle’s work, which blends social criticism with horror with the supernatural, while remaining steadfastly literary. And it’s true: His novels are tough to classify.

The difficulty with hybrids, though, is that they’re often more awkward than elegant. You see the exact ridge in the sinew where man becomes beast.

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“The Changeling” has some of this gracelessness. It starts out as engagingly as any of LaValle’s novels — “Big Machine,” “The Devil in Silver” — and it stays that way for a good while, telling the story of Apollo Kagwa, a used-book dealer and new father who’s struggling against inauspicious odds to succeed in both roles. His fortunes change — we assume for the better — when he goes to an estate sale in the Bronx and discovers a first edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” with an inscription from Harper Lee to Truman Capote.

“Here’s to the Daddy of our dreams,” she wrote.

The message is plump with meaning. Apollo’s father abandoned his family when Apollo was just 4. He’s been having the same recurring nightmare about the vanished man ever since.

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But Apollo’s luck, as that bike lock scene might suggest, takes yet another turn shortly thereafter. His wife starts getting mysterious photographs on her phone of both Apollo and their son — who took them? who’s watching them? — and then something terrible happens to his darling boy, and his wife vanishes, and the world becomes eerie and fantastical. New York City turns into a land of the Brothers Grimm — enchanted isles and magic forests, demon giants and glowing witches.

None of these fantastical elements are a problem per se. All LaValle novels come to that sharp bend in the river where things start rippling toward the weird. The problem, in “The Changeling,” is that LaValle sometimes skywrites his main themes so that no one will miss them — he explains his own allegory, essentially, in real time. At one point, a character laments that fairy tales lost their spooky appeal once people began assigning morals to them. Yet that’s often what’s going on here.

“When you have to save the one you love, you will become someone else, something else,” that same character later tells Apollo. “You will transform. The only real magic is the things we’ll do for the ones we love.”

These lines feel unworthy of the author. They made me disconnect from the story entirely. It was as if the line had gone dead.

But I did find my way back. The questions LaValle asks are hairy and urgent: How do we protect our children? Especially in the digital age? For it turns out that Apollo has been taking many, many pictures of his beautiful son — why wouldn’t he? — and uploading them to Facebook, as all modern parents do.

They’re the modern equivalent of Chekhov’s gun. They might sit harmlessly onscreen in Act I. But they’ll be fully weaponized by Act III. “Posting online is like leaving your front door open and telling any creature of the night it can enter,” one of the story’s villains tells him.

Anxiety over the safety of our children is the black mold that grows on almost every parent’s soul. It is also the stuff of most folk tales, which surely isn’t a coincidence — little boys and girls are lost, tortured, sacrificed. (Modern fairy tales, too. Maurice Sendak’s “Outside Over There” assumes a totemic status in this book.) What LaValle seems to be asking is: How did the parents in those stories actually feel?

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How I wish “The Changeling” had been more artful in exploring these questions and ideas. I also could have done without the strained allusions to Donald J. Trump, Fox News and the far right, which seem to have blown in from some neighboring land until they finally reveal their connection.

But Lavalle’s observations about race remain, as ever, both stinging and mordantly funny. (“That was fast,” Apollo, who is black, says when he’s stopped by a cop in a white section of Queens.) And his imagery is a source of immense satisfaction. Stepping into a brown shag-carpeted room “was like being inside a Wookiee’s armpit”; when Apollo zonks on the laundry room couch, he “nuzzled into it like a tick”; a monster is “as tall as the sail of a sloop.”

If monsters are your subject, writing like an angel helps.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/20/books/review-changeling-victor-lavalle.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

After Inquiry Into Cast, ‘Bachelor in Paradise’ Will Resume Taping


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Chris Harrison, the host of “Bachelor in Paradise.” The show will return after an investigation of cast members’ behavior found no wrongdoing. Credit Richard Shotwell/Invision, via Associated Press

In a surprising twist, the latest season of ABC’s “Bachelor in Paradise” is to resume taping after an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct did not turn up evidence of wrongdoing, according to Warner Bros., the studio behind the show.

Cast members for the reality show were sent home two weeks ago — a rare occurrence, especially for a series that is part of ABC’s powerful “The Bachelor” empire — following the allegation of sexual misconduct, against a cast member. The temporary hiatus played out in the media for weeks, with tawdry headlines, mounting accusations and near certainty within the industry that this season would never air.

But in a statement on Tuesday, Warner Bros. said that it had reviewed the tape and that it “does not support any charge of misconduct by a cast member.”

It added, “Nor does the tape show, contrary to many press reports, that the safety of any cast member was ever in jeopardy.”

Warner Bros., which is part of Time Warner, said through a studio spokesman that the investigation was conducted with a law firm based in Los Angeles, Munger, Tolles Olson.

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The “Bachelor in Paradise” roster is made up of former cast members from “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” and takes place in a tropical location where alcohol flows and physical intimacy among participants is encouraged.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/20/arts/television/bachelor-in-paradise-to-resume-taping-after-inquiry.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Eater Hires a San Francisco Restaurant Critic


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Rachel Levin, Eater’s first dedicated restaurant critic in San Francisco, is likely to concentrate on midrange and affordable places. Credit Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Eater, the website devoted to food and restaurant news in nearly two dozen American cities, is expanding its footprint in San Francisco with its first dedicated restaurant critic there.

The website, which is owned by Vox Media, has hired Rachel Levin for the position. Ms. Levin is a freelance writer who has covered that city extensively and has also reported on food and restaurants for publications such as The New Yorker, Sunset and The New York Times. She will join Ryan Sutton, who reviews high-end restaurants in New York; Robert Sietsema, whose beat is New York’s more affordable restaurants; and Bill Addison, the site’s restaurant editor, who covers restaurants across the country.

In an email, Amanda Kludt, Eater’s editor in chief, said that since Ms. Levin will be the only Eater reviewer in San Francisco, she is likely to concentrate on midrange and affordable restaurants. She will be “hitting the very high and very low end only occasionally,” Ms. Kludt said.

As for why Eater decided on San Francisco, a city awash in money from the technology industry, Ms. Kludt said it was chosen in part because of its dynamic restaurant scene, which includes affordable options and a number of high-end tasting-menu restaurants. “The concentration of capital in the Bay Area continues to impact the area’s restaurant scene in a way that’s relevant to a national audience,” she added, “so any investment we can make in our coverage in the region is an important one.” Finally, she cited the fact that restaurant criticism in San Francisco has been in the same hands for decades, so Eater thought it would be a good idea to add a new voice.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/20/dining/eater-restaurant-critic-san-francisco-rachel-levin.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

U.K. to Decide on 21st Century Fox Deal for Sky by June 29

As part of their review, British regulators scrutinized whether 21st Century Fox met the country’s broadcasting standards and whether the 11.7 billion pound, or $14.9 billion, takeover unfairly hampered the British media landscape. They also evaluated whether 21st Century Fox executives were “fit and proper” to retain broadcasting licenses in the United Kingdom.

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The timing is awkward for Mr. Murdoch and other 21st Century Fox executives, including his sons, James and Lachlan. They have tried to put an end to a sexual harassment scandal at Fox News that led to the ouster of its top host, Bill O’Reilly, and a chairman, Roger Ailes, yet those issues have arisen in the British review.

It is also likely to renew criticism that Rupert Murdoch holds too much sway over the British media, which he has denied.

James Murdoch, chief executive of 21st Century Fox and the chairman of Sky, said last month that he was confident the proposed transaction would be completed by the end of the year.

Here’s what you need to know about the British review, and how it may affect the Murdochs and plans for 21st Century Fox.

What is the review about?

Two politically independent British regulators — the Office of Communications, or Ofcom, and the Competition and Markets Authority — were asked by the government to review 21st Century Fox’s proposed takeover of Sky soon after the deal was announced in December.

Much of the focus has centered on Ofcom’s investigation. It looked at whether the takeover would limit the types of media access British consumers would have and whether 21st Century Fox executives met the country’s broadcasting standards.

In a separate but connected review, the regulator also determined if 21st Century Fox’s management, particularly James Murdoch, were “fit and proper” to retain Sky’s broadcasting licenses. Ofcom will publish details of its ruling by June 29.

The “fit and proper” point represents a possible stumbling block for 21st Century Fox. When the company tried to acquire Sky in 2010, Ofcom criticized James Murdoch’s handling of a phone hacking scandal at The News of the World, a British newspaper — since shuttered — that was then part of News Corporation, a predecessor to 21st Century Fox. While the regulator said that James Murdoch’s actions “fell short,” he was cleared and Sky ultimately was deemed “fit and proper” in that review.

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Now, 21st Century Fox is grappling with the aftermath of a sexual harassment scandal at Fox News. Regulators at Ofcom have met with lawyers who represented several of the accusers as well as one woman who made sexual harassment allegations against Mr. O’Reilly. These meetings have raised questions about whether Ofcom would take into account the allegations, and the company’s handling of them, in its judgment on whether the company passes the “fit and proper” test.

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21st Century Fox has said in a statement about the scandal that it had taken “prompt and decisive action” and had overhauled the leadership and management at Fox News.

Analysts say there are four possible outcomes.

Ofcom may give its unconditional backing to the takeover, or recommend that the government block the deal, both of which are considered unlikely. It could recommend that 21st Century Fox make concessions, such as guaranteeing the independence of Sky News, the British news organization owned by Sky. Or the authorities may call for a more in-depth review by Britain’s competition authority, extending the outcome until the autumn.

Why does Rupert Murdoch want Sky?

Rupert Murdoch has long coveted total ownership of Sky, whose assets include broadband services, a Pan-European satellite television network and popular original broadcasting with rights to sporting events like the English Premier League.

He founded Sky in the early 1990s, helping to jump-start a satellite television revolution in Britain that quickly spread across Europe. The company is now one of the region’s largest private broadcasters.

Mr. Murdoch’s previous plans to buy the stake in Sky that he did not already own were scuttled because of the hacking scandal, leading to a widespread reorganization that included splitting his media empire into a publishing business and an entertainment business.

The possible takeover of Sky would cement Mr. Murdoch’s position in the fast-changing media sphere, where Netflix and Amazon are offering consumers new forms of programming. Sky owns NowTV, a European rival to these streaming services, which could help 21st Century Fox to compete.

Has the British election had an impact?

When 21st Century Fox proposed in December to take over Sky, many opposition lawmakers — and even some from the governing Conservative Party — were vocally opposed to the deal.

That situation has become even more complicated since British elections this month left Prime Minister Theresa May without a majority in Parliament, just as talks on Britain’s leaving the European Union put severe strains on her government.

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Opposition politicians have argued that the deal would limit the country’s media offerings and that the Fox News scandal is evidence that the company does not pass Britain’s “fit and proper” test. 21st Century Fox denies both allegations.

What’s at stake for 21st Century Fox?

A decision — however unlikely — that 21st Century Fox executives are unfit to hold Sky’s broadcasting license would be a major reputational blow for Mr. Murdoch and his sons.

The proposed takeover is also central to 21st Century Fox’s global ambition to become a crucial player in determining how people watch programming online. Consumers now watch videos and shows on their mobile devices, an area where Mr. Murdoch’s company is lagging some of its rivals.

Analysts say that Sky — which is highly profitable and has 22 million customers across Europe — can offer 21st Century Fox direct experience with consumers, both as a provider of television and broadband services and through NowTV, its streaming unit.

And while 21st Century Fox is primarily interested in Sky’s programming and internet assets, potential concessions required by the British officials to guarantee the independence of Sky News may also weaken Mr. Murdoch’s hold over much of the British media.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/business/dealbook/sky-21st-century-fox-murdoch.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Books of The Times: In ‘The Retreat of Western Liberalism,’ How Democracy Is Defeating Itself

The strongest glue holding liberal democracies together, Luce argues, is economic growth, and when that growth stalls or falls, things tend to take a dark turn. With growing competition for jobs and resources, losers (those he calls the “left-behinds”) seek scapegoats for their woes, and consensus becomes harder to reach as politics devolves into more and more of a zero-sum game.

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Edward Luce Credit Niamh King

“Many of the tools of modern life are increasingly priced beyond most people’s reach,” Luce writes. One study shows it now takes the median worker more than twice as many hours a month to pay rent in one of America’s big cities as it did in 1950; and the costs of health care and a college degree have increased even more. There is rising income inequality in the West; America, which “had traditionally shown the highest class mobility of any Western country,” now has the lowest.”

As nostalgia for a dimly recalled past replaces hope, the American dream of self-betterment and a brighter future for one’s children recedes. Among the symptoms of this dynamic: a growing opioid epidemic and decline in life expectancy, increasing intolerance for other people’s points of view, and brewing contempt for an out-of-touch governing elite (represented in 2016 by Hillary Clinton, of whom Luce writes: “her tone-deafness towards the middle class was almost serene”).

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Trump’s economic agenda (as opposed to his campaign rhetoric), Luce predicts, will “deepen the economic conditions that gave rise to his candidacy,” while the “scorn he pours on democratic traditions at home” endangers the promotion of liberal democracy abroad. America’s efforts to export its ideals had already suffered two serious setbacks in the 21st century: George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and the calamities that followed; and the financial crisis of 2008, which, Luce writes, was not a global recession but an Atlantic one that raised serious concerns about the Western financial model. (“In 2009, China’s economy grew by almost 10 percent, and India’s by almost 8 percent.”)

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What fund of good will the United States retained, Luce suggests, Trump has been “rapidly squandering,” with his dismissive treatment of NATO and longtime allies, and his overtures toward autocratic leaders like Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. “Within days of his inauguration,” Luce writes, “Trump had killed the remaining spirit of enlightened self-interest that defined much” of post-World War II America. Given this situation, Luce adds, “the stability of the planet — and the presumption of restraint — will have to rest in the hands of Xi Jinping and other powerful leaders,” though he predicts that “chaos, not China, is likelier to take America’s place.”

Luce’s conclusions are pessimistic but not entirely devoid of hope. “The West’s crisis is real, structural and likely to persist,” he writes. “Nothing is inevitable. Some of what ails the West is within our power to fix.” Doing so means rejecting complacency about democracy and our system’s resilience, and “understanding exactly how we got here.”

Luce’s book is one good place to start.

Follow Michiko Kakutani on Twitter: @michikokakutani

The Retreat of Western Liberalism
By Edward Luce
234 pages. Atlantic Monthly Press. $24.

A version of this review appears in print on June 20, 2017, on Page C4 of the New York edition with the headline: Inside Job: The Harm the West Is Inflicting on Itself.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/books/review-retreat-of-western-liberalism-edward-luce.html?partner=rss&emc=rss